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UC Riverside Mourns Athlete

Basketball player Kellen Dixon was one of three men who died in an accident on I-15.

September 16, 2003|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

UC Riverside athletes and administrators continued Monday to mourn the death of men's basketball player Kellen Dixon in a multi-vehicle collision on Interstate 15 over the weekend.

"The spirit of Kellen has truly come across," UC Riverside basketball coach John Masi said. "He was the embodiment of our team."

Dixon, a 21-year-old junior guard from Berkeley, was one of three people killed in a 3:40 a.m. pileup Saturday, about 17 miles northeast of Baker. Dixon, one of six people in an SUV driven by a teammate, was returning from a Friday night concert in Las Vegas.

California Highway Patrol investigators told mourners Monday at UCR that the crash, which delayed southbound traffic through most of Saturday, was triggered by an out-of-control big rig that smashed into a guardrail on the right of freeway lanes.

The truck then barreled up an embankment and apparently rolled back onto the freeway, hitting an SUV driven by UC Riverside basketball player Mike Ferrera.

UC Riverside Athletic Director Stan Morrison said CHP officials reported that traffic was moving at 80 mph when the accident occurred.

"This thing happened quickly and was over in a very short amount of time," Morrison said.

Dixon was sitting in the front passenger seat and was killed instantly, Masi said. Leroy Kirksey, a 29-year-old father of three from Moreno Valley who was sitting behind Dixon, also was killed.

The 36-year-old driver of a pickup truck that also was involved in the crash suffered fatal injuries as well, authorities said.

Ferrera, a 21-year-old San Dimas High graduate, suffered a concussion and was hospitalized in Las Vegas until Monday, when he returned home by airplane. Upon his arrival at Ontario International Airport, he was met by the entire men's basketball team, Morrison said.

The other UCR player in the SUV was Mark Peters, a senior guard from Valley View High in Moreno Valley who returned home to Fontana on Saturday morning after being treated for minor injuries at a Las Vegas hospital.

Masi said Dixon was only the second player in the coach's 24-year career to earn a scholarship after earning a spot on the team as a walk-on. The 6-foot-5, 180-pound graduate of St. Mary's High in Berkeley played in 17 games for the Highlanders last season, averaging 1.5 points.

"Kellen was a kid who persevered with an excellent work ethic and provided a bright light for a lot of our kids," Masi said. "When we recruited him, we liked his upside. We saw him average 20 points and 15 rebounds for St. Mary's. Plus, his dad was a UC Berkeley employee [as an architect], so he wanted to stay in the UC system."

Dixon's funeral probably will be scheduled for early next week in the Bay Area, Masi said. Dixon had one sibling, a 28-year-old sister, LaDonna.

"As often happens with a kid who's not high-profile, there's a tendency to take him for granted," Morrison said. "But as the kids have reflected on how hard Kellen worked, how up and effervescent he was every day, with a smile that would stop a sunrise, I think they have a full measure of what it is to be on a team -- how sometimes the bonds they make here are closer than those made with siblings. This hurts."

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