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Claremont pays tribute to a kind and gentle soul

Friends and family of Leslie Pray remembered her as a kind and gentle person.

Over 100 people attended a candlelight vigil for Ms. Pray, 54, to pay tribute and remember the Claremont resident. The vigil took place in front of the home on Mills Avenue, the spot where she was hit by a car and killed while riding her bicycle Saturday morning.

Ms. Pray’s life partner of nine years, Betsy Hipple, called her “absolutely my beloved.”

“I cherished her, she was a profoundly gentle soul, a profoundly precious soul, and she was an extraordinarily kind woman,” Ms. Hipple said.

Ms. Pray had just returned to cycling after a 25-year absence, Ms. Hipple said, and had recently rode through Glacier National Park and Mammoth Lakes. She was described as a “vegan bird watcher” who exemplified kindness wherever she went.

“For me, I think I’ll probably carry a sadness and have a pretty gaping hole in my heart for the rest of my life,” Ms. Hipple said.

Mourners gathered around the spot where Ms. Pray died, holding candles and sobbing as loved ones spoke about her life. Many of the mourners were fellow cyclists, who had ridden to the vigil in full gear.

At one point, the scene looked as if a barrier of bicycles was protecting the mourners.

Ms. Pray’s friend, Darlene Byrd, remembered her as a kind, methodical, and one of the most intellectual people she knew.

“I’ve never met anybody like Leslie,” she said. “And when I say she was so kind and gentle, she really was to every single person.”

Other mourners remembered Ms. Pray as an active tennis player, book club member and friend.

Upland resident Hope Waysz noted that Ms. Pray’s death has affected many in the cycling world, where the threat of injury or death is omnipresent.

“It’s just so sad for the family and the victim. The cycling world is both large and small, in that it could be anyone of us,” said Ms. Waysz, who helped organize the vigil along with Betty Crocker of Keeping the Good in the Neighborhood.

Ms. Waysz just started riding bikes five years ago, but her husband Chuck has been a cyclist for 40 years. “We are really going to come together through this awful tragedy,” she said.

A Ghost Bike, a bicycle painted white that represents the spot where a cyclist had been lost, was chained to the tree where the vigil took place. As mourners filtered in, flowers were placed in the spokes of the bicycle and candles surrounded it.

The ghost bike used to memorialize Ms. Pray initially belonged to Ali Mirage, a Claremont resident who was hit by a car and killed several years ago, Ms. Crocker said.

Sandra Wicksted, 61, was arrested on suspicion of murder Saturday, after police alleged she intentionally drove her car into Ms. Pray. Claremont police noted in the minutes before the incident, a number of calls had come in claiming Ms. Wicksted’s green Mercury Tracer was trying to run over other cyclists in the area.

Ms. Wicksted, who was transported to a hospital for injuries she sustained in the incident, is currently being held on $2 million bail.

A source close to Ms. Wicksted described her as someone whose mental state was deteriorating over the past several years. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) nearly a decade ago, the source added. The friend surmised that Ms. Wicksted must have “snapped” on Saturday.

Ms. Hipple said she would forever replay the moment she saw the crime scene, as well as the call from the coroner confirming Ms. Pray’s death.

“I know there’s a lot of rage, and I get that. Maybe one day I’ll be there, but right now the sorrow is way larger,” she said. “And I do want you to know, what Leslie would want more than anything at this time is for all of us to emulate her, which is kindness; to be kind and to walk gently upon the earth.”

Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.co