Local man marched 'to a different drummer'

A man killed in a pedestrian-versus-bicycle accident on the Santa Ana River bike trail was a Newport Harbor High School alumnus, according to classmates.

Johnathan "Johnny" Coontz, 58, died at 6:58 p.m. Friday at Western Medical Center in Santa Ana about an hour after a bicyclist hit him near where Atlanta Avenue meets the bike trail in Huntington Beach, according to the Orange County coroner's office.

More recently Coontz was homeless, and court records show several convictions for drinking in public, among other offenses.

One fellow student described Coontz as a jokester and skilled athlete who could do wheelies and other acrobatics on his Schwinn Sting-Ray in junior high.

"He seemed to make friends with everybody," said Gilbert Barnes, who now lives in San Diego. "He just had that personality."

Many classmates remembered Coontz for his surfing prowess.

His signature move was to walk the nose of an old longboard dangerously close to the rocks near the jetty in Newport Beach, striking a cheater five position before backpedaling, then dropping back into a bottom turn, former classmate David Kitchens said by phone from Henderson, Nev.

"We had a lot of good times together as kids," he said.

Coontz's athletic ability stretched to other aquatic sports.

He was on swim and water polo teams and was a lifeguard for Newport Beach, said former neighbor Gary Robertson.

"He was probably one of the most prolific surfers back in the early '70s," he said. "One of the top guys in Newport Beach."

Another former neighbor described Coontz as a blond surfer popular with girls and "Newport's answer to J. Riddle."

"He could run to the nose and hang five on take off, and crossover step back in time to make a regular bottom turn, a feat I still have yet to see from another surfer," said former Dover Shores-Westcliff area neighbor Larry Conn.

Kitchens said about 20 to 25 years ago Coontz worked as a gardener and may have lived in West Newport before he became homeless.

The last time Kitchens saw Coontz was about three years ago at Garcia Recycling in Costa Mesa, where he gave his former classmate his recyclables.

"He was always kind of marching to a different drummer," he said.

Fellow class of 1972 alumni missed him when Coontz didn't show up for their recent reunion.

"All of us are pretty upset because we just had our 40th reunion and we were looking for him to attend the reunion," said former classmate Lorie Smith Suntree.

Details for a memorial service for Coontz were unavailable as of press time.


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