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Rodeo pickup man Sonny Hansen dead at 42

As a pickup man, Sonny Hansen set hundreds of cowboys safely on the ground after their rides.

Thursday, as news of his death spread through the rodeo community, there was one common thread -- he was a good man who will be greatly missed.

"He is going to leave a huge void," said bareback rider Bobby Mote, who will make his 11th trip to the National Finals Rodeo this winter. "He was an outstanding pickup man. He's one of those people in rodeo who is always there to help. He is a huge asset to rodeo. You won't find a person who will say things will be the same with him gone."

Hansen, 42, had been a PRCA pickup man for several years and also was a longtime adviser/coach for the Treasure Valley Community College rodeo team in Ontario, Ore.

Hansen was injured Tuesday when he was thrown from a horse at the Malheur County Fairgrounds in Ontario. He suffered severe head injuries.

He was taken by Life Flight to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, where he underwent emergency surgery. He died early Thursday.

"It's been pretty tough," said Kennewick bullfighter Rowdy Barry, who last worked with Hansen at the beginning of September at the Walla Walla Fair & Frontier Days. "I've known Sonny since junior rodeo. We've been good friends through the years."

Barry said he first heard about Hansen's accident at a Columbia River Circuit board meeting Tuesday.

"We had just gotten done with the board meeting, and I was headed to Boise for business," Barry said. "The first reports I got on my way to Boise was that he was in surgery and they weren't finding too much brain activity. Then, (Barry's wife) Laura Lee called and told me he was gone.

"They kept him on life support until his mom got there. I was told he saved five different lives as an organ donor. It speaks to the character of the man that Sonny was."

Cheney bareback rider Ryan Gray said he heard the news Tuesday from his brother Kayle, who was at the CRC meeting with Barry.

"It's tough to hear something like that," Gray said, who last got assists from Hansen at Lewiston and Coeur d'Alene. "It just broke my heart. He was a good man, a good father -- I watched those boys (twins Clayton and Chase, who are high school seniors) grow up. I've always enjoyed his family. He will definitely be missed."

Mote, who broke ribs and lacerated his pancreas when he was slammed against the chutes last month at the Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., said every cowboy takes a risk when he gets on a horse.

"It's a sobering reality -- horses are dangerous," Mote said. "No one was more capable than Sonny. He was killed doing what he loved -- being a cowboy.

"There is a common denominator that most everyone has an awareness in faith and God. This could happen to any one of us. We are willing to go out and do this and put it in God's hands. We never know when it's our time."

Hansen, who worked August's Farm-City Pro Rodeo in Hermiston, was scheduled to work the CRC finals Nov. 11-12 in Redmond, Ore., one of the last stops before the NFR.

"Everyone who nods their head will miss him," Mote said. "It will hit us at circuit finals. They aren't going to make another one like him. It's a shame he never got to pick up at the National Finals. He was every bit the same caliber as the other guys they bring in."

Barry, the CRC president, said he never had to worry about Hansen showing up for the circuit finals.

"We are both of the same attitude -- a handshake is good enough," Barry said. "Even if I didn't see him, he would be there. He was good to his word."

w Annie Fowler: 582-1574; afowler@tricityherald.com