The Rev. Lindley Ginn Royston loved motorcycles so much that he twice blessed groups of cycle enthusiasts at an Edgewater church.
He rode all over the country, logging hundreds of thousands of miles, and always preached how wearing a helmet could be the difference between life and death.
Crash at U.S. 50 ramp
But Thursday evening, the popular 56-year-old pastor of First Baptist Church in Edgewater ran his BMW motorcycle into a guardrail along an entrance ramp to U.S. 50. Apparently he wasn't wearing his helmet.
Mr. Royston and his wife, Sharon, 55, were killed instantly in the 4 p.m. crash, which closed the Route 2-U.S. 50 interchange for several hours while police picked up the wreckage that was spread out 450 feet.
"Something must have happened to him to have caused him to veer like that," said Mr. Royston's only child, 28-year-old Mitchell, of Arnold. "I know in my heart that something happened to my dad . . . He's a man of God and he loved his people. He wanted to serve his people."
Anne Arundel County police are not sure how the accident occurred. They said Mr. Royston was traveling about 55 mph when he suddenly veered left and hit the guardrail, throwing him and his wife 50 feet.
"We have a witness who saw the driver turn the handlebars and go right straight into the guardrail," said county police Sgt. Thomas F. Michalowicz. "We just can't understand why it happened."
The cause of death was still pending at the medical examiner's office yesterday. Authorities hope the autopsy will determine if Mr. Royston suffered a medical problem that may have contributed to the crash.
His son said the minister had a virus eight to 10 years ago that weakened his heart, but that he has not had any recurring problems.
Police said they do not believe the couple wore helmets, which were found in the road.
Sergeant Michalowicz said it is possible, but unlikely, that the helmets came off in the crash. "Our first inclination is that they weren't worn at all," he said "The witness couldn't say for sure."
That surprised Royston family members and friends, who said he was a safe driver who always drove the speed limit and never even sat on the cycle in his driveway without first donning his helmet.
"One thing about him is he was always very safety-oriented," said the Rev. Richard Zamostny, pastor of the Parkwood United Methodist Church in Edgewater, a fellow motorcyclist and a friend for the past decade.
"He always stressed wearing a helmet," said Mr. Zamostny, adding that the minister would drive his motorcycle to Baptist conventions all over the country. "He would spend weeks on his bike."
Mr. Zamostny said when he would sometimes venture out on short rides without headgear, Mr. Royston "would see me without a helmet . . . and he would call me and say 'That's not a wise thing to do.' "
Mr. Royston joined Mr. Zamostny in "The Blessing of the Bikes" at the Methodist church in 1989 and 1990. More than 70 people attended the event and received a blessing for their safety on the road.
Friends and family members described the minister as unassuming. "I've lived here 19 years and I couldn't ask for a better neighbor," said Henry E. Troxler, who lives across the street. "He was always there when you needed him. He was the first person to welcome us into the neighborhood."
Mr. Troxler said the community residents nicknamed Mr. Royston the "Flying Reverend" for his work with the Civil Air Patrol. The minister was an avid pilot and flying instructor. He was the chaplain of the Annapolis air patrol squadron for 20 years.
"He got involved in missions as a pilot and as a chaplain," said Capt. Robert Gaverick, the squadron commander. "He has been a very important fixture in our unit for many years. He was a real strong moral leader."
Mr. Royston, born in Atlanta, met his wife in the late 1950s while they were attending Bryan College, in Dayton, Tenn. His interest theology came from his mother, Rita Royston Lincoln, who urged him to attend a Billy Graham Crusade in 1950.
To Edgewater in 1963
Mr. Royston attended Dallas Theological Seminary in Texas, and came to Edgewater in 1963. Since then, the church has grown from 60 to well over 400 members.
Sharon Royston graduated from Bryan College with a bachelor's degree in English and had worked as a substitute teacher in Anne Arundel County and as a secretary and bookkeeper in several Edgewater businesses. She also was active in the church and participated in the prison ministry program.
Friends said the minister's motorcycle riding made him accessible to a wide circle of people. People who knew Mr. Royston simply called him "Lin."
Even the man who regularly fixed Mr. Royston's mint-condition motorcycle didn't know his customer was a minister until he called the house one day and got the answering machine. "So I figured I would just start addressing him as reverend," said Ted Porter, service manager at Bob's Used Parts in Jessup, a BMW motorcycle dealer.
Mr. Porter said the minister had an appointment scheduled for yesterday. "I have a [kick] stand set aside for him," he said. "This comes as a real shock."