A 14-year-old Santa Rosa middle school student who was killed at the Marysville Speedway when his cousin's car flew off the track was an avid basketball player and part of an extended racing family.
Marcus Johnson was a powerhouse on the eighth-grade basketball team at Rincon Valley Middle School and known for working hard on the court and in the classroom, Principal Matthew Marshall said.
He was honored Sunday evening at a vigil held at the school.
"His two big passions were basketball and racing. It's just terribly tragic," Marshall said.
Johnson had been watching his cousin, Chase Johnson, 17, of Penngrove do warm-up laps at the Marysville Speedway at about 6 p.m. Saturday when his cousin's winged sprint car left the track, according to the Yuba County Sheriff's Department.
Chase Johnson's car was entering its first turn on the quarter-mile banked clay oval when the car instead careened forward, crashing into a concrete barrier where Marcus Johnson and another bystander, Dale Richard Wondergem Jr., 68, of Grass Valley, had been sitting, according to the Sheriff's Department and witness accounts.
Wondergem died at the scene. Marcus Johnson died at Rideout Hospital in Marysville, sheriff's officials said.
"Their whole world is shattered, and they're just great people," said Marshall of Marcus' parents, Rob and Gina Johnson.
Johnson's death also rocked his school, where about 200 people gathered in the courtyard at the Badger Road campus with candles, posters and memories. Teens stood arm-in-arm. Parents hugged children close.
The group stood in near silence as small groups walked up to an array of photographs, flowers, balloons, candles and a basketball gathered on a table.
A poster read: "We love you No. 18," referring to Johnson's number on the team.
The quiet was broken when Johnson's family arrived, surrounding his parents and his younger brother, Hayden, a fourth-grader. As they walked up to the group, Marcus' mother, Gina, sobbed and was quickly embraced by many.
Marshall, the principal, called everyone to surround the memorial table and share memories. Children and adults told stories about how Johnson carried books for a friend between classes, had a constant smile and effortlessly set an example when leaving a classroom by always saying goodbye and thanking the teacher by name.
"Marcus was an incredibly well-loved young man," Marshall said to the group, asking that they live by his example. "He was honest, caring and genuine."
The vigil followed an impromptu ceremony earlier in the day of about 40 students, led by his friends from the basketball team. The teens gathered with about a dozen adults mid-day at Rincon Valley Community Park and wrote notes and messages on balloons they released in honor of their friend. The teens wrote messages on the balloons or tied notes to the strings.
"I said, you were always fun to be around and you were always fun to play basketball with," said Alex Eagle, 13, one of Marcus Johnson's closest friends and son of Rincon Valley Middle School teacher and basketball coach Patrick Eagle. "He was never mean."