Highway casualty was ‘amazingly talented’

Colfax man remembered for skiing skills, musical abilities
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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In the wake of a Colfax man’s death this week, his family still thinks about what could’ve been of the man known as the “hot dog skier.” Michael Johnston died Wednesday night after he reportedly ran out into Highway 49 traffic and was struck by an oncoming Honda Pilot sport utility vehicle. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Johnston, 53, had long been a transient in the area. He was booked several times into Placer County Jail and had a problem with alcohol, according to family members. However, his family and friends say life wasn’t always that way for a young man who showed a lot of promise. “He was amazingly talented,” said Latania Lubell, his younger sister. “He could do anything. Unfortunately, as we all know, he got lost along the way.” Johnston grew up in Colfax and Lubell estimated that he gradated from Colfax High School in 1975. Cindy McCallister, who grew up a mile down the street from the Johnstons, said she remembered Michael was “very good looking” and had many girlfriends. “I can remember in the eighth grade I was friends with his sister and I was like, ‘Oh Mike is here!’” McAllister recalled. “He was just so cute.” Lubell said that her brother was a great skier. After his first weeks on the slopes, he became an instructor, she said. “If you could do a flip, he was going to do a triple flip – that’s just who he was,” Lubell said. “He was very daring.” McCallister agreed that Johnston was known for the way he could rotate himself on skis. “Mike was very popular in high school and was what we called a ‘hot dog skier’ and was probably one of the best in California,” McCallister said. Lubell said her brother was also an aspiring musician. He was a left-handed drummer and idolized famous left-handed drummer Buddy Rich. She said one memory in particular stood out when she was 13 and Johnston was about 16. She said he picked up a trumpet that their grandmother had brought home and immediately started playing it. He then listened to a song from a Santana album three times and played along with the record. “It was amazing,” Lubell said. Lubell said her brother started using PCP, a potent recreational drug, in his early 20s and his life changed forever after that. From then on, Johnston would stay at friends’ homes. He was offered help from a multitude of community members, from the “man at the upholstery shop” to “Keith the chiropractor.” She said her family tried often to reach out and help him, but “you couldn’t hold him down.” Lubell, who lives in Colorado, said she last saw her brother in September after he had suffered a head injury. He was recuperating at their parents’ home in Colfax. “He just said, ‘I’m going to be OK. Don’t worry about it. I’m going to be OK,’” Lubell said. “That’s how he lived life.” Lubell said the family hopes that the driver of the SUV, Betsy E. Lipps of Auburn, is able to recover from the accident. “We really want the lady that hit him to please, please not feel bad,” Lubell said. “We’re very sorry it happened to her. It’s not her fault.” Lubell said she will remember her brother for his incredible talents and his kindness toward others. “I’ve got to tell you the one thing about Mike that resonates with all of us and everybody that we’ve been talking to is he was just a very kind, sweet person,” Lubell said. The family held a memorial ceremony for Johnston Saturday afternoon in Colfax. Jenifer Gee can be reached at