“When you saw him coming, you knew that you were going to smile,” Jerry Long said of longtime friend and Crouse resident Michael Rhyne, who passed away this week in a vehicle wreck in Gaston County.
Long, a former Lincoln County Sheriff’s deputy, met Rhyne, an Alaska native, more than 20 years ago in downtown Lincolnton.
The pair instantly became friends after connecting at a weekend cruising event on Main Street.
“Everybody lined the streets,” Long said.
He noted various cliques often frequented certain parts of Main Street during cruising hours.
“The same friends chose the same spots every weekend,” Long said.
Over the years, the men continued to visit the town’s weekly center of activity with a large group of friends.
“We spent many hours up there,” Long said.
He also laughed at how Rhyne, who seemed to always drive some sort of “Vette” throughout his life, even went cruising the night his daughter Laura was born.
The last time the men ran in to each other, Long said he didn’t recognize Rhyne since he had recently lost a significant amount of weight.
However, time seemed to have little effect on the friendship. Long said his “comical” friend still joked and kept the conversation light-hearted as they caught up.
Rhyne is the second person from the men’s former cruising group to pass away in the last three months, Long noted.
“I know I’ll miss him,” he said. “I don’t have anything negative to say about that man at all.”
According to various news media outlets, the 57-year-old died after crashing his 1998 Chevrolet Corvette Saturday evening into a home on the corner of Hephzibah Church Road and Will Kiser Road, near the Gaston-Lincoln line.
Troopers said Rhyne was not wearing a seat belt.
A couple who lived at the Crouse home nearly missed injury in the crash since both were inside at the time.
While Rhyne was self-employed in the construction business at the time of his death, according to his obituary, he also worked nearly 10 years off and on as a service advisor at Abernethy Chevrolet in Lincolnton, co-worker and Service Manager Greg Stroup said.
Stroup noted how Rhyne, a “likeable individual” who loved restoring old cars, often befriended customers.
“People always asked for Mike,” Stroup said. “He had a good bond built with his clientele.”
Sheriff David Carpenter referred to his “easygoing, genuine” childhood friend as Mike “Big Un” Rhyne due to his tall stature.
“I have known him all my life,” Carpenter said. “He was a big guy with a big heart, willing to help anyone that he was friends with.”
Troopers are awaiting autopsy results to determine whether or not drugs and alcohol contributed to the crash since they located no signs of braking at the scene, news outlets said.
Without brake marks, officers believed the victim may have been incapacitated in some way.
A memorial service has yet to be scheduled, but Warlick Funeral Home is serving the victim’s family.
Memorials may be made in Rhyne’s name to the American Cancer Society, 1901 Brunswick Avenue, Suite 100, Charlotte, N.C. 28207.