Local

Kerman mourning local businessman killed in crash

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A priceless memento sits on the porch of Rick DeKneef's Kerman home. It's the door panel of the car he drove Sunday. Much of the rest of it disintegrated in the explosive accident.

Just minutes before the crash, DeKneef's wife took a photograph of Rick and his navigator, Merle Hill, at the starting line.

"And I told them, you guys be safe and I will see you at the end," Kelly DeKneef said.

Family members estimate De Kneef was going 200 miles an hour when a tire blew out, causing the 1994 modified Chevy Camaro to flip several times then catch on fire.

"He wouldn't have wanted it any other way. He was doing what he loved to do," DeKneef said.

Rick shared his passion and knowledge about cars with his son Ridge from a very early age.

"I was always attached to my dad's hip, didn't matter where he went, what age I was, I was always there," Ridge DeKneef said.

But Ridge wasn't there at the race Sunday, he had to work. He is usually with dad, navigating the course.

Ridge has struggled through many emotions about being absent and what it would have been like to be with his father.

"I'm kind of grateful because I'm not sure what my mom and sister would do if both of us were gone, but at the same time I wish I was there," he said.

In the heart of Kerman, Rick's automotive business sat dark Tuesday. He opened it in 1980 when he turned a hobby into a way to make a living. Here he fixed foreign and domestic cars and engineered race cars.

Rick served as a mentor for other racing enthusiasts, including Rocky Phillips. He helped Phillips get a racetrack going in Firebaugh two years ago.

"I'm going to miss his suggestions, I'd call him, if I had a suggestion, he'd tell me whether I liked it or not how he would do it, what he thought, what he had heard. In fact I was getting ready to call him, we're going to have a race here coming up," Phillips said.

The dozens of races Rick has taken part in over the years are all part of a wall hanging that Rick's mother made out of T-shirts. She didn't get to finish it, but it's another priceless treasure.

Family members are focusing on celebrating Rick's life, and remembering the words he lived by.

"That was his motto: the more friends you have the richer you are. It doesn't matter what's in the bank, did he not tell you that? All the time," Kelly DeKneef said.

When Rick put on his seat belt Sunday, his wife says he knew about the dangers and she is at peace with the way his life ended.

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kerman, fresno county, accident, local, sontaya rose
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