Police: Teenage car racers hit and kill respected war veteran

Rollin Gray (KOMO)

TACOMA, Wash. (KOMO) -- A Vietnam and Iraq War veteran from Spanaway died Thursday following a crash with two cars that police say were street racing.

Rollin Gray, 61, died at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tacoma on Thursday after being taken there following the Tuesday night accident.

Pierce County sheriff's deputies say Gray was traveling eastbound on 182st East in Spanaway when two cars came over the horizon at a high rate of speed in the opposite direction.

Deputies say a red 2004 Dodge Stratus, driven by a 16-year-old boy from Spanaway with only a learner's permit, was racing with a black 2004 Acura TSX driven by an 18-year-old man from Spanaway.

Witnesses told police the Acura and Dodge drivers met up at a gas station at 176th St. E. and 22nd Ave. E. Both drivers knew each other from school and exchanged comments on each other's vehicles. Both vehicles left the gas station and traveled side roads.

Witnesses told investigators they saw and heard both vehicles racing on 182nd St. E. The 18-year-old driver then cut in front of the 16-year-old driver, causing him to lose control and cross into oncoming traffic. The Stratus struck the motorcycle being ridden by Gray. The driver of the Acura left the area and was later contacted by deputies.

Gray and his black 2006 Harley-Davidson motorcycle were found by a witness in shrubs on the side of the road. Gray was suffering from severe injuries to his leg, head and back.

"It makes everyone so angry, it was a senseless stupid accident," said friend Bill Saxton, who is also a riding member in a motorcycle club Gray belonged to, the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association.

"Our organizations mottos is vets helping vets. If anyone needed help, Rollin was there," says Saxton.

He says Gray was a veteran of the Vietnam War. After fighting overseas, he battled cancer and won. It was enough of a motivation for Gray to rejoin the military, serving the combat zone during the Iraq War.

"They have taken a man's life who did nothing but give to this country, give to his community, raise a family," said Saxton. "He still has a son who's not even out of high school yet, I believe he's 15-years-old, he's his namesake and now he's left without a father."

Deputies say there were no signs of impairment were observed from either of the drivers or an 18-year-old passenger in the Dodge. The drivers of the Dodge and of the Acura were both cited and released. That was before Gray's death. It's now up to the Pierce County Prosecutor to decide if the pair warrant stiffer charges.

Saxton says Gray will be buried at the place where he worked for several years, where many local vets are buried -- the Tahoma National Cemetery. Saxton says that's where Gray's father, who is also a vet, is buried.

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