Leaders in government, education and economic development extolled the accomplishments of James R. Moss, saying his death in an automobile accident Friday deprived the state of an accomplished leader.

Moss, 48, former legislator, Brigham Young University professor and state school superintendent, was heading the Utah Partnership for Educational and Economic Development. He died when the car he was driving left I-15 near 10200South Friday morning, passed through two fences and collided with a tree. An autopsy was ordered to determine if there was a medical cause for the accident. An official report was not expected for several days.

At the time of the accident, he was headed toward Salt Lake City where he was due at a meeting, associates said.

"Technically, Jim Moss died in the line of duty," said Robert Garff, who was closely allied with Moss in the Legislature and again in the business partnership.

Berg Mortuary in Provo will announce funeral arrangements.

In his four years as school superintendent and four in the Utah House, Moss earned a reputation for intelligence, articulate defense of issues in which he was interested and a capacity to cut to the core of complex matters.

"Tragedy hits exceedingly hard in this instance," said Donald B. Holbrook, who, with Moss, had worked to establish the Utah Partnership as an entity to move education and economic development in new directions. "The state of Utah has lost a great leader and the partnership has been deprived of the services of exactly the right man for executive director."Holbrook praised Moss' leadership in an organization "he felt strongly was part of his own destiny . . . . The partnership will continue because it is bigger than any one man, but we will surely have a most difficult time to find the likes of Jim Moss to lead us."

Gov. Norm Bangerter called Moss a true friend who was "a man of superior talent, energy and commitment," uncanny in his understanding of what needed to be done. He always had a solid program to accomplish the desired ends, the governor said.

Moss also had the respect of the higher education community, said Wm. Rolfe Kerr, Utah commissioner of higher education.

"I'm personally shattered. It's not only a personal loss, but the state has suffered a loss. Jim had much to give and he had the potential for major contribution through the Partnership that was yet to be achieved but was under way."

The Board of Regents voted Friday to commend Moss for his contributions to education in Utah in the various roles he served.

Garff, who was a close personal friend, said that by incisively cutting to the core of matters, Moss "may have offended some," but there was almost universal admiration for his intelligence, energy and accomplishments.

Rep. Nolan Karras, R-Weber, retiring House speaker, said Moss was "a bright, articulate guy. He was controversial at times, because he was doing his job. I supported him under fire." Moss was a political conservative who had the ability to convince others through well-thought-out debate, Karras said.

Moss left the State Office of Education in April 1990 after a period of extended friction with the State Board. However, board members, whose meeting Friday was interrupted by the news of Moss' death, were universally complimentary of the former superintendent's abilities and for the accomplishments of his tenure.

"Jim Moss was an intelligent, responsible individual who did fine things to move education forward in Utah," said his successor, State Superintendent Jay D. Taggart. Taggart said many of the things he now is pursuing were started by Moss.

"He was a man of unmatched ability, talent and energy," board members said in a formal statement. "Much of the direction and philosophy of education in the state, the West and nation have been influenced by or are a direct result of his vision, insight, competence and courage."

During Moss' period in the highest public education position, the State Office completed extensive strategic planning and developed the Shift in Focus, a document intended to direct educational efforts for the foreseeable future. He also reorganized the State Office and instituted more efficient accounting measures and was recognized for his outstanding representation of public education with the Legislature during a period of high growth and economic stress.

He was associate director of general education at BYU for a time, as well as associate professor of church history and doctrine. He also taught at the J. Reuben Clark Law School.

"We in the BYU community are greatly saddened by the news of Jim Moss' death," Provost Bruce Hafen said. "He combined his understanding of the scholarly world with his understanding of the practical world in a relentless desire to help solve society's problems."

Elder Hugh B. Pinnock of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, praised Moss as a dynamic young man with a "marvelous future. He was one of the most clear-thinking men that I've ever known. He would often call me, so often with the intent of helping other people and blessing their lives . . . . I would sometimes call him wanting to know about a particular item or issue. He could do better research in a shorter period of time than almost anyone I've known."

Elder Pinnock, who said he taught Moss in Sunday School classes when the younger man was a child and served as a home teacher with him, also praised the quality of the Moss family life. Moss and his wife, LaVell, are the parents of six sons and a daughter.