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Standoff was suicide by smoke inhalation

THE DALLES — Before 59-year-old William J. Rengigas died in the fire that destroyed his foreclosed home, acquaintances say, he was going downhill and letting things go.

His white beard, once neatly trimmed, grew to the middle of his chest. His yard was overgrown.

Three years ago, he worried about losing his home to foreclosure and fretted about what would become of his dogs.

On Monday, as a sheriff's deputy prepared to serve an eviction notice and gave him 15 minutes to leave, he began firing. The deputy retreated, and soon smoke was coming from the eaves of the house.

A few hours later, after the house had gone up in flames, officers went inside to find the body of Rengigas, along with those of his two dogs.

The medical examiner ruled it a suicide, saying he had set the fire and stayed inside to die of smoke inhalation.

One of the dogs had been shot. It appeared the gun jammed before he could shoot the second, authorities told The Dalles Chronicle.

"All he cared about was what was going to happen to his dogs," said Janna Hage, once director of the animal shelter where he had bought two dogs a decade ago. "I knew that that was really weighing on him."

He regularly donated supplies to the shelter, Home At Last, and sometimes walked dogs there.

Real estate agent Dee Ashley accompanied the deputy to the house. She had sold it to him when he moved in from California in 2006.

"I just want people to know he wasn't a mean, violent man," Ashley said. "He didn't kill the dogs out of violence and hate. He took them with him."

She added, "He had nowhere to go, no hope. He wasn't crazy."

Neighbor Patti Smith said he was a tall, slender man with a glass eye, He told her he'd lost it in military combat.

Rengigas had a job at a plant that makes door and window glass, Ashley said, as well as a medical marijuana card and strong views about defending Second Amendment rights.

Police said they couldn't find relatives to notify and are asking for help from the public to find family members.