Coach hit by auto, killed
A well-respected volunteer coach and fitness advocate died Saturday after he was hit by a car while walking along North Eldorado Avenue.
Authorities say the driver, 25-year-old Armando Miguel Lara, was drunk when his car hit Gary Keppen, 73, of Klamath Falls at about 9 p.m. Saturday. Keppen was wearing reflective clothing.
Keppen was transported to Sky Lakes Medical Center after the vehicle struck him on Eldorado near Daggett Street, authorities said. He later died from his injuries.
Lara, 932 N. Eldorado Ave., was booked in the K lamath County Jail on charges of driving under the inf luence, reckless driving, criminally negligent homicide and second-degree manslaughter. His bail was set at $120,000.
Detective Cpl. Allen Bergstrom said Lara stayed at the scene of the accident and called 911. Klamath Falls police officers and Oregon State Police troopers are investigating the crash.
Many runners knew him
Dr. Alden Glidden, who knew Keppen through a mutual interest in running, called him “a physical fitness advocate and a strong community volunteer.”
He was a member of the Linkville Lopers running club and participated in races. He also volunteered as a coach for crosscounty and track at Klamath Union High School.
Bob Freirich, head cross-country coach at Henley High School, knew Keppen through coaching and the Linkville Lopers.
“With him, kids were No. 1,” Freirich said. “Just by being there, he was a role model for them. He was one of the people you want your kids to grow up to be. He’ll be greatly missed.”
R ob Cof f ma n, c r o s s country coach at Klamath Union, spoke of Keppen’s dedication to the volunteer coaching he did at the school for more than 15 years.
“He worked with everyone,” he said. “There was a mutual love and respect between him and the kids. He loved them; he cared about them. We called him coach captain or coach. I never called him by his first name because it didn’t seem respectful.”
Coffman said Keppen wasn’t just involved in the athletes’ running, but in their lives, even tutoring them in calculus on the bus. He also encouraged the students to do their best, regardless of their level as runners.
“Without a doubt, he was the epitome of Klamath Falls physical fitness,” Coffman said. “He also took a class at OIT every semester to keep his mind sharp.”
A role model
Chris Reed, a freshman at Western Oregon University, was one of the Klamath Union cross country runners who was deeply influenced by Keppen.
“ He wa s one of my heroes,” Reed said. “My first year of cross country, I didn’t know how good I could be. He came right up to me and said, ‘You know, you can be really good at this.’ No one had ever said that to me.”
He predicted Reed would go to college on an athletic scholarship, which he did.
Keppen was a constant source of encouragement, showing genuine concern, whether it was a sore muscle or a personal problem, Reed said.
“He just wanted to help and make our lives better,” he said. “I never felt a bigger loss, but I’ve never had a bigger gain, just knowing him. I’m dedicating a race I’m running tomorrow to him.”
Keppen retired from the Forest Service, where he was a ranger with the Winema National Forest.
He is survived by his wife Marlene Keppen and son Dan Keppen, executive director of Family Farm Alliance, both of Klamath Falls. O’Hair and Riggs Funeral Home is in charge of the arrangements.