Montezuma-Cortez High School social studies teacher Ray Harriman likely suffered heart failure that led to a car crash near the intersection of Fourth Street and Merritt Way in Dolores about 5:15 p.m. Tuesday, according to local officials and a family member.
“The school community is devastated by the loss of Ray Harriman,” Re-1 Superintendent Lori Haukeness said. “Our support and condolences go out to his family.”
Harriman was 61. He had taught in the district for more than 20 years, according to Haukeness. She said he was a role model and mentor for students and impacted many students’ lives.
Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin said he believed Harriman crashed after suffering a medical problem. Ray’s son, Kyle Harriman, said in an email that he suffered a precursor of heart failure before the crash.
Kyle Harriman said his father was one of the greatest Cortez teachers ever.
“He was a great man and cared so much about this community,” Kyle said of his father.
Ray Harriman was reportedly headed west on Fourth Street when he drove off the right side of the road and into the Dolores River. Traffic at the crash site typically moves 15-20 mph.
Nowlin said another motorist witnessed the accident, and deputies arrived on the scene two or three minutes after it was reported. With the help of the Dolores Fire Protection District, they pulled Harriman from the river and took him to Southwest Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead about 6:20 p.m. A dog that was in the car was unharmed, Nowlin said. Deputies and firefighters had removed Harriman’s vehicle from the river about 8 p.m.
Nowlin said Wednesday that his department was still waiting for the coroner’s office to issue an official cause of death.
Former students shared memories and thoughts of their time in Ray Harriman’s classes at M-CHS.
Ally Orton recently graduated from M-CHS and was in Harriman’s class three years in a row, she said in an email.
She said Harriman supported his students whenever they needed him, and many students thought of him as a second father.
She said Harriman was able to relate to all his students, no matter how different.
“He saw us all the same and did his best to teach us how to really think,” Orton said. “He taught us to open our eyes, look at things critically and to always question authority.”
Ray Harriman and his wife, Deborah Lux-Harriman, a former M-CHS visual arts teacher, were both “truly iconic,” said Brittny Weir, who graduated from M-CHS in 2007.
She also said the two teachers went above and beyond to help out their students.
Weir said Ray Harriman was passionate about teaching.
“Mr. Harriman taught with so much passion it would make students want to engage, and make us interested in what he was saying,” Weir said in an email.
Kayla Roofe, who graduated from M-CHS in 2009, said in an email that Ray Harriman was an engaging and passionate teacher, as well as a fair and understanding human.
Roofe recalled a time when she’d had an argument with Harriman and had left his classroom. Harriman didn’t come after her or report her to the principal, but later apologized for what happened when he ran into Roofe in the hallway.
“He was just that kind of man that wasn’t afraid to swallow his teacher pride and connect with any student from all walks of life – even moody teenage girls,” Roofe said.
“He was the teacher that could make everyone forget about their differences and bring us all together,” Roofe said.
Bob Archibeque, who coached football and basketball at Cortez Middle School and M-CHS with Harriman, said he loved life and made others happy.
“Every day I got to know Ray, he made everyone’s life around him better,” Archibeque said.
As a coach, Harriman did what was best for the team, but he also got to know the athletes very well, Archibeque said. Harriman loved helping others and was easy to get along with, he said.
“He brought joy to so many kids and people,” Archibeque said.
A celebration of life for Ray Harriman will take place Friday, June 16, at Panther Stadium at Cortez Middle School at 6 p.m.
The service will be open to the public.
A memorial page for Harriman has been set up at www.never-gone.com/Memorials/RayHarriman.
The Journal Reporter Stephanie Alderton contributed to this story.This artical was reposted on June 9, 2017, to add information about the memorial service.