10-year-old victim was ‘saint’ who loved her rodeo clown

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

Sweet Home Rodeo clown J.J. Harrison won’t be in Sweet Home this year. He’s planning to perform at Philomath that day.

But he didn’t forget the little girl who had become almost a regular part of his act, KateLyne Dugan. Knowing he would be absent this year, Harrison sent a stuffed puppy and a photo with a note that said, “I’m gonna miss ya, girl.”

Rodeo organizer Kellie Kem said J.J. asked her, at the Sisters rodeo but that was before KateLyne was killed when her father’s pickup rolled on a logging road, a wreck that also killed 21-year-old Brian Gilbert.

Kem had planned on giving the stuffed bear and photo to KateLyne during the rodeo, which she attended every year with her “Pops,” Bob Ikola. Now Kem is planning to present them to Ikola.

The Sweet Home Rodeo will dedicate its Friday, July 13, performance to KateLyne, Kem said.

Kem informed J.J. about the accident Friday night.

“I’m sure sorry to hear about KateLyne,” J.J. said. “She’s the girl that stood out in my mind. She certainly wasn’t just any normal fan to me. She stuck out.

“She’s one of those personalities you just don’t forget. She would chase me up and down. I’d turn and wink at her, and she’d hide.

“I see a million fans. I really do. She sticks out.”

That’s why he contacted Sue Johnston, who used to work extensively on the rodeo, and then Kem to find out how to get the stuffed puppy to KateLyne since he wouldn’t make it to Sweet Home this year.

“It tells you a little bit about where she stood on my cool meter,” J.J. said. “She’s going to be missed.”

KateLyne started attending the rodeo with Ikola, her great-uncle, after she went to live with him.

“We do foster care, and I’ve never been more impressed by a foster child in my life,” Ikola told The New Era last week. Katelyn was 5, and her little brother was 11 months. Ikola and his wife took them as foster children following some difficulties at their home.

They had them for about two years.

“I’ve never had a greater experience in my life,” Ikola said. “I’ve never had a greater loss. I’ve never seen anyone more Christ-like. She taught me how to look at things differently.

“For instance, going to the Sweet Home Rodeo was our thing. I thought she’d be so excited about the bull riding and the bronco riding.”

He was wrong, he said. Those events didn’t interest her, but when J.J. walked into the arena, she was fixated on him. She had him eating out of her hand, and she was practically part of his show after that.

She would sneak up toward him while he was performing, Ikola said. When she would get real close to him, he would leap over the fence at her, chase her and give her stuffed bears.

This went on year after year.

“Me like that clown,” she would say. “Me love that clown. Me marry that clown.”

“She had a very close relationship with God,” Ikola said. “She made it rain for me one day. It didn’t take her long to make it overcast.”

He told this story at her funeral service, held Friday night. She and he were tinkering in the carport one sunny day. All of the sudden, she just stopped and then started out of the carport.

He asked her where she was going, he said. She just said, “Hush.” He asked her again, and she told him to hush again, as if he were the child. He watched her as she reached the sidewalk and started chanting and dancing.

He asked her again what she was doing. She put her hands on her hips and said to watch. He looked around and saw a circle of clouds around Sweet Home, and soon it was sprinkling.

She was chanting, “Oh, my Dod.” Ikola said he didn’t recognize what she was really saying at first. She just got louder, chanting, “Oh, my Dod.” The louder she got, the harder it seemed to rain.

She was sopping wet as she called out to God, and Ikola, who said he “feared” his wife “more than God,” figured he’d better get her out of the rain before he got arrested for excessive noise or some kind of child abuse.

“I said, you tell Him to shut that off and get back in here,” Ikola said. “I think what she wanted me to see is there is a God, and she had a personal relationship with Him. She was a saint, one of the most special, and I’m very privileged to have known her.”

KateLyne had a life expectancy of about 30 years because of a disease, Prader-Willi syndrome, which causes a variety of difficulties including an insatiable appetite, mental retardation and an extremely high pain tolerance. As she got older, she would start suffering from it, Ikola said. “I think (God) made a decision that day.”

She touched many lives, Ikola said. Nearly 200 people attended her funeral at Green River Christian Church.

“If she had lived to 30 years old, we’d have had to have it at the football field,” Ikola said. “Anyone she came into contact with instantly loved her if they had any brains at all.

“She was supposed to be a burden to us. She turned out to be our biggest asset,” bringing those around her closer to God.

Ikola said he has no regrets about KateLyne.

“The only regret I do have is I would have spent more time with her,” he said.

KateLyne attended Foster School from kindergarten through the second grade. She attended Hawthorne in the third grade.

Ikola would like to see something positive come of this wreck. He would like to see a state law, calling it the KateLyne Dugan Law, prohibiting anyone under the age of 18 from riding in the back of a pickup truck.

If such a law passed, that would be the biggest positive, he said.