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Medford man dies in motorcycle accident

A Medford man on his way to attend a veterans' memorial in Washington, D.C., died Wednesday when his motorcycle struck a guard rail on Highway 140 near Adel in south-central Oregon, police said.

Walter Smith, 64, lost control of his 2006 Yamaha motorcycle at 1:45 p.m. while rounding a sharp curve. The motorcycle sped off the highway shoulder and hit a guard rail, Oregon State Police said in a news release.

Smith, who was traveling with three other riders, was pronounced dead at the scene. He was wearing a helmet, troopers said.

Smith was profiled in a column by Paul Fattig in last Sunday's Mail Tribune. He had been diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma, a form of kidney cancer that is considered terminal.

Smith planned to be in Washington on Memorial Day weekend for the annual gathering of Rolling Thunder, a nonprofit group of motorcycle enthusiasts committed to focusing attention on prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action. He was riding with Nick and Linda Moreau of Medford and Dave Kitchens of Brookings, a Vietnam veteran who was riding with them as far as Winnemucca, Nev.

Linda Moreau said Smith was riding ahead of everyone else, and there were no skid marks on the road indicating Smith hit his brakes before the crash. The weather and road conditions were perfect for riding, she said.

His death devastated the other riders, she said.

"He was an inspiration," she said. "He was a sweetheart, the kind of person who brightened up a room just by walking into it. We will never forget him.

"I'm thankful it was so quick," she added. "He died doing what he wanted to do. I'm glad we were there with him."

Grants Pass resident Ken Hannum, a longtime friend of the Smith family, said his friend was one of a kind.

"He was one of the best friends I ever had," Hannum said. "He was an all around good guy. I went through the cancer thing with him. I'm really going to miss seeing him."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471, or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.

From the left, Nick Moreau, Walt Smith, Linda Moreau - Bob Pennell