After death, family follows Dad's wish

Donald Lichliter told his family if he was ever killed on the job he wanted them to tell people about the risks he and other Caltrans employees faced as they worked on state roads.

"He told us if he was killed on the job he wanted us to let people know that (Caltrans workers) have families, and that (drivers) need to slow down," said wife Mandy Lichliter on Saturday. "People don't know how dangerous it can be."

Mr. Lichliter, 53, was applying fertilizer to trees Thursday along the south side of Highway 99 in Lodi when he was hit and killed by a truck.

The California Highway Patrol said a panel truck from Glassfab Tempering Services of Tracy struck Mr. Lichliter. The truck driver, Keith Fletcher, 45, of Stockton remained on the scene and spoke with investigators. No arrests have been made and the incident is under investigation.

Mr. Lichliter was a 27-year California Department of Transportation employee and was based in the Lodi office. He and his family lived in Modesto. He was the first Caltrans employee to die on the job this year. Caltrans had one death in 2008 and three in 2007.

Mr. Lichliter took pride in his job as a tree maintenance worker.

"He loved going down the road and saying, 'Look at that tree. I worked on that,' " his wife said. "He enjoyed making the highways look beautiful."

She said he had a green thumb at home, keeping his trees healthy and his lawn manicured.

Feared being hit

But his enjoyment at work came with the fear of being hit by a car or truck because a driver was not paying attention, Mandy Lichliter said.

On Thursday, Mr. Lichliter was with another worker applying a fertilizer treatment to keep the eucalyptus trees healthy and treat a pest. Their truck was parked on the shoulder.

The CHP said it was unclear if Mr. Lichliter stepped into the road or if the truck driver veered onto the shoulder. The accident occurred south of Victor Road.

"If (drivers) see road work ahead, they need to slow down and be cautious," Mandy Lichliter said. "They need to put away all distractions."

Despite the risk, Mr. Lich- liter was a devoted state employee who was called upon to work double shifts or late into the night if he was needed, his wife said.

She said he would go out of his way while at work to help stranded drivers along the highway.

"He would help them push their car off the road, change their tires or give them a ride," she said. "He would do anything for anybody."

Mr. Lichliter's family remembered him as a boisterous man who was the life of the party.

With a big smile on her face, Ally Lichliter remembered her dad singing the raucous lyrics of "Black Betty" on a karaoke machine at his birthday party.

Mr. Lichliter's family said he loved making jokes about everybody, and that he loved to push everyone's buttons almost as much as he loved it when people pushed his buttons.

Thought of others first

He loved driving his 2000 Buell Thunderbolt motorcycle to work or taking his wife for a leisurely ride to La Grange and Coulterville. His work ethic was matched by his dedication to his family.

"He taught us a lot about how to be responsible," said his daughter, Jollene Kelley. "He always thought of others before he thought of himself."

Mr. Lichliter is survived by his wife and four children: Nicole Lewis, 30, Jollene Kelley, 28, John Lewis, 27, Ally Lichliter, 15, and his two granddaughters Gianna Lewis, 5, and 7-month-old Lera Kelley.

A funeral service will be at 11 a.m. Thursday at First Baptist Church at 12th and Needham streets in Modesto. The public is invited.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at or 578-2394.

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