BOULDER, Colo. –
On Wednesday afternoon, Greg Franta’s wife, Jana Simpson, stopped at the side of a bustling Colo. 93 just west of the Arvada Reservoir, where she stood among a trail of debris leading to the edge of a nearly vertical drop.
A friend said the grieving widow had to see for herself where and how her husband died.
The Colorado State Patrol said Wednesday that Franta — who was reported missing Feb. 9 — appears to have struggled to keep his 2006 Honda Civic hybrid on the road, but lost control and rolled down the embankment.
From the side of the highway, it’s easy to see how Franta’s car could go unnoticed at the base of the hill for a month. The embankment dips sharply about 100 feet, and bottoms out in a secluded patch of trees, bushes and a small creek not visible from the road.
A cyclist found the accident scene Tuesday afternoon.
While Simpson said she wasn’t ready to talk about the accident Wednesday, many of Franta’s friends and colleagues painted a picture of a man who was a celebrity among so-called green architects, a craft he helped pioneer.
Franta, 58, graduated in 1973 from the University of Colorado with a bachelor’s degree in architecture, earning his master’s degree from Arizona State University in 1976.
His ambitions almost immediately centered on the design and construction of environmentally friendly structures, according to colleagues.
In 1981, Franta founded the Ensar Group in Boulder, a sustainable design consulting firm that worked on more than 800 projects around the world — earning Franta international name recognition and the title of Colorado architect of the year in 1998.
David Johnston, a fellow green designer who was friends with Franta for 30 years, said Franta’s work caught the eye of President Bill Clinton during the 1990s.
Franta was asked to make the White House more energy-efficient, and later became personal friends with the Clinton family –working on the former president’s home, offices and presidential library.
Later, Franta led projects for the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law and Fort Collins’ Fossil Ridge High School, built with sustainable design guidelines in 2004.
Johnston said his longtime friend was “probably the most well-respected, most dearly loved of anyone in the green-building movement.”
“Losing Greg at this moment, when it’s our time in the green-building world — he was too young to go,” Johnston said.
Most recently, Franta was working as a senior vice president at Boulder’s Rocky Mountain Institute, which develops renewable and energy-efficient building strategies.
Llewellyn Wells, vice president of communications at the company, said Franta will be missed for both his amazing intellectual prowess, and his kind nature.
“Greg was a rare human being,” Wells said. “He had more life and spirit than a room full of people would normally have. He was passionate about people and he was passionate about his work. He will be dearly missed.”
Wells said Franta had a unique talent and a “transformational approach to how architecture and design can be done in an intelligent and sustainable way.”
Franta was also one of the original creators of the LEED green-building standards, according to the company.
Wells said the firm is considering how to best memorialize Franta, including the possibility of endowing a position in his name.
“A lot of people will want to contribute to continuing Greg’s legacy,” Wells said.
Cory Lowe, another co-worker of Franta’s at the Rocky Mountain Institute, said news that his friend died in an accident at least provides more closure than not knowing what happened during the time he was missing.
“It certainly is shocking,” Lowe said. “We’ve been worried about Greg and searching for him for a few weeks now.”
Last month, a digital billboard at Interstate 25 and Colorado Boulevard in south Denver began flashing a message asking for help finding Franta.
Lowe said people from Denver to Boulder have offered an “outpouring of support that has just been wonderful.”
Julie Herman, executive director of the nonprofit Boulder Green Building Guild, said Franta will forever be known as a pioneer and a trailblazer in his field.
“There’s only a few people who end up getting that designation,” Herman said.