“I can’t go through this again,” Janel Connor said to herself when she heard the news on the Sunday afternoon before Memorial Day.
There had been a boating accident on Camp Far West lake, near Wheatland, the caller said. Connor’s brother Dustin was missing.
Connor’s mind drifted to the night six years earlier when another brother, Jack, was killed in a car crash at age 14. Not again, she thought. She and her large, tightly knit family rushed to the scene, their hearts filled with a mixture of hope and fear.
Eleven days passed before divers were able to recover Dustin’s body, which was trapped 115 feet beneath the lake’s surface. On Saturday afternoon, family and friends will gather once again for a memorial service for someone who died far too young. The man they knew as “Dusty” was 38 years old.
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“Losing a child, you never get beyond it,” said Dustin Connor’s father, also named Jack, tears welling in his eyes. “It’s with you every day.”
The family expects hundreds of people to attend Dusty’s service at Sunrise Community Church in Citrus Heights. They will pay tribute to a man who, loved ones said, made friends instantly and lived every day as though it might be his last.
“He was one of a kind,” said his good friend Bob Aubuchon. “If you knew Dusty for five minutes or 25 years, you loved him.”
Dusty Connor, who in recent years ran a boat repair shop in Granite Bay, was the father who attended all of his teenage son Andrew’s sporting events. He was the son who rode his Harley on charity motorcycle runs with his dad and brought flowers to his mother for no reason. The protective brother. The loyal friend who never turned down a cold Coors Light. The charismatic character who puttered around Citrus Heights in his golf cart, his beloved American bulldog Jameson riding shotgun.
“He was my best friend,” said Jack Connor, whose Citrus Heights home is just a few blocks from his son’s in Orangevale. “We talked every day,” about everything from work to women. “We did everything together.”
His mother, Donna Futrell, said Dusty was a feisty newborn who “came out like a football. The doctors literally had to catch him.” He lived his whole life with the same kind of vigor, Futrell said. “To the fullest.”
Dustin Connor was raised in Citrus Heights and attended Mesa Verde High. “He’s always been my big brother, my protector,” said Matt Connor, who along with brother Corey will serve as a pallbearer at Dusty’s service. “Everyone knew that I was Dusty Connor’s little brother, so nobody messed with me.” Dusty rocked out to bands like the Eagles and Metallica, and banged on pots and pans until his mother bought him a vintage Pearl drum set.
After graduation, Dusty worked for a time as a plumber, but his niche was mechanics. He found a home at SOS Marine, a boat repair shop in Granite Bay, which he ran for the past 15 years with his stepfather, Shaun Futrell.
He never made a lavish income but developed a love of the boating culture and accumulated hundreds of “boating friends,” his sister said. In his free time during warm spring and summer months, he enjoyed camping and racing boats, showing off tattoos of fish and dragons that decorated his arms. His happy place was Camp Far West lake.
Connor took his son, his dog and his “tunnel boat” to the lake over the Memorial Day weekend. He planned to return late Monday, then take off for Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, with his father on Tuesday.
“Can’t wait for Cabo!” he told his father in one of their last conversations.
In the saddle of his Harley or at the wheel of a boat, Connor liked to ride fast, family members said. But he was not reckless, they insisted. Among those on his boat when the accident happened was the young son of a friend.
Placer County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Dena Erwin said witnesses described Connor driving “at a high rate of speed” that Sunday afternoon before hitting the wake of another vessel. The impact snapped his boat in half. Only the young boy and his father were wearing life vests, she said, and both of them were unhurt. Three other passengers aboard Connor’s boat were injured and taken to a hospital.
Divers recovered Dusty’s body, trapped beneath the wreckage of his boat, in frigid, black water 115 feet deep, said Erwin.
Numerous family members who had kept vigil at the campsite since Dusty went missing were devastated. “We were all hoping it would be a different story this time,” Janel Connor said. “That they would find him, and he would be hurt.
“But not this.”
It was Donna Futrell who told Connor’s son, of whom he had full custody, that his father’s body had been found. Andrew, 15, is living with his mother now. Futrell is taking care of her son’s dog.
The family has set up an account to help pay for Andrew’s college and living expenses. To contribute to the GoFundMe account, search “Remembering Dusty Connor.” As of Friday afternoon, the account had raised $6,300.