Matt Carp Remembered for Love of Life, Passion for Cycling

It was perhaps one of the greatest ironies of his life that Matt Carp died while riding a bicycle ...

It was perhaps one of the greatest ironies of his life that Matt Carp died while riding a bicycle -- an activity where many say he felt so wonderfully alive.

Yet as difficult as it is to comprehend, the death of the Menifee resident when struck by a car July 23 might play a positive role in the awareness of motorists and cyclists alike about the urgent need to share the road safely. Carp certainly did his part. His friends say there was no greater example of a bicyclist who treasured the open road and at the same time preached safety rules to others.

Unfortunately, his fate was out of his control because of the action of a motorist.

"He was probably the safest rider I've ever ridden with," said John Handal, a good friend of Carp, who died when struck by a motorist on Domenigoni Parkway. "He got me into riding, and he taught me all about safety, how if you're in front, there's a certain way to point out obstacles to those behind ... he taught me never to ride outside the line of a bike lane, and he never did."

Saturday afternoon, members of the Inland Empire Bike Alliance placed at the scene of the accident a "ghost bike" -- a re-purposed bike, painted all white, placed as a memorial where a cyclist was killed. In addition, ghost bikes are intended as a reminder to passing motorists to share the road.

Carp's death has revived public outcry for more driver precautions when approaching bikes on the road. But whatever the result of that discussion, those closest to Carp say a few things are certain: He loved to ride, he loved sharing that passion with others, and he was kind to anyone he met.

"Matt was a fanatical cyclist," said his brother, Marc. "He had an incredible sense of humor -- a dry sense of humor. He was always happy.

"There's a quote from a movie that says, 'He treated people all the time the way others wish they would treat people half the time.' That was Matt."

Carp's wife, Paula, said Matt loved sharing his stories of biking adventures each time he got home. An avid cyclist who often rode a "century" -- 100 miles in one day -- he seemingly couldn't get enough of his favorite hobby.

"It was like if you take a drug and get a natural high," said Paula Carp (left). "That's how it was for him. If it rained for a couple days, he couldn't wait until he could get back out there."

Matt Carp, 55, suffered a hip injury in an accident less than a year ago, when a motorist drifted into the bike lane and clipped his bike with the side mirror. Undaunted, Matt was soon back on a bike.

"Why would I ever want to take that away from him?" Paula said. "It was his passion."

One of Carp's many biking companions was Menifee resident Stephen Kaas.

"He just rode because he liked it, and I can't tell you how many people we met on rides who knew him as we passed by," Kaas said. "Everybody who rides bikes in Menifee knows Matt."

Kaas was riding with Carp in the eastbound bike lane of Domenigoni Parkway Wednesday afternoon, about to reach the crest of the hill as they had done so many times before. Kaas said they were riding side by side within the boundaries of the bike lane and chatting about the bike trip Carp had taken the weekend before.

"That's our favorite ride because it always felt like the safest," Kaas said. "It has a big wide bike lane. The cars go fast, but it's not like you're hidden anywhere. There aren't a lot of roads around with a nice bike lane like that. Bike shops host rides with big groups of riders there."

The two followed what has become standard procedure for cyclists as they approach the one stretch of road where extra care must be taken. The bike lane narrows a bit just as the road makes a gentle curve to the right. Taking no chances, Kaas pulled slightly ahead of Carp so the two could proceed through the narrower lane in single file.

"He was a little behind me," Kaas said. "I'm not sure how much, but I could barely see him to my left and behind me. He might've been on the line, but not over it."

Then, as Carp was shouting in mid-sentence with the tales of his recent trip, Kaas heard a loud crash and saw his riding companion thrown into the air. A black Acura driven by a man identified by police as Luis Aranda Llamas, 23, of San Jacinto had struck Carp from behind. Kaas narrowly escaped contact with the vehicle.

Carp, who was wearing a helmet, sustained major head trauma and internal injuries and died at the scene. Kaas (left) escaped injury.

Llamas was booked on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter and displaying a fictitious license plate on his vehicle. The investigation is ongoing, but a report from Menifee Police stated the driver was traveling at a high rate of speed.

Discussion on Internet threads the last few days has focused on the need for drivers to slow down and give a wider berth to bicyclists, who have the right of way -- as well as the need for increased public awareness of bike safety. If changes in those areas are achieved, it could be the ultimate tribute to a man whom many say was the epitome of responsible riding.

More than that, he was a loving family man whose passion for his favorite sport was simply another example of his love for life.

"He was a very respected and kind-hearted man," said Carp's son, Travis, shown at right with his mother. "He touched all our lives in so many ways. I'm gonna miss him being my dad, my coach, and my hero."

Matt's brother Mitch recalled how nothing would keep Matt from getting on his bike and riding somewhere. He preferred to have companions but would ride alone if no one else could go.

"He took it as his passion, and it was great for him because it also kept him in shape," Mitch Carp said. The bike he had before this had over 70,000 miles on it, and this one had approximately 30,000. He has kept a calendar since 2008, showing each ride, how many miles, and who he was with."

Handal, who also rode often with Carp, has known him since the 1980s, when the two started working together at Costco in Corona. He said Carp loved to help other people and was always willing to bring a friend along on a bike ride. Few shared that passion to the extent Carp did, however. Since January, he had ridden almost 500 miles a week -- including a "century" every Saturday and many Sundays.

"He would ride in groups or he would ride by himself if no one else wanted to ride," Handal said. "He would ride to Whittier, Anaheim ... one time I got a call from someone saying they thought they saw him riding past them in Carlsbad, and it turned out to be him.

"Matt was good to everybody. I don't know one person who ever said anything bad about him. And he loved to ride. We used to tease him, calling him Forrest Gump on wheels."

Funeral plans have not been announced. Carp is survived by his wife, Paula, and children Travis and Amanda. A third child, Cameron, died July 25. Arrangements are being made for funding and assistance to the family. Menifee 24/7 will publish that information when it is received.

The last word Saturday was left to Travis Carp, who recalled a time when he was about 15 years old and making his first long ride with his dad. Travis' bike was a bit too big for him and he struggled to stay on pace during a ride from Menifee to the Sizzler restaurant in Murrieta.

"I was having trouble and he knew it," Travis said about Matt. "He came up alongside and pushed me along as he rode. That's the kind of guy he was."

Matt Carp (left) and Stephen Kaas often rode together, either in training or just for recreation.
(Photo / U-T San Diego)

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