‘It’s not the same with him gone’
Family and friends of a White City man who died in an RV fire Sept. 30 are raising money to cover cost of cremation and final arrangements.
Gary Dewayne Ruddick and his dog Shiloh were living in an RV near businesses in the 8300 block of 15th Avenue in White City when it caught fire in the early-morning hours.
The fire was reported at 5:11 a.m., according to Emergency Communications of Southern Oregon 911 dispatch logs, and video from a nearby porch surveillance camera showed that the fire grew rapidly. By 5:20 a.m. the trailer was engulfed in flames.
Jackson County Fire District No. 3 responded to the scene but did not immediately locate Ruddick’s body.
Ruddick's sister Corrina Johansen and her husband, Kelly Maddox, said family members were informed after the fire that no bodies were recovered from the RV.
The following day, having not heard from Ruddick and with the RV being targeted by thieves, Maddox accessed the trailer to try and collect Ruddick’s personal items.
“I went to the trailer to salvage his tools that survived the fire but, when I moved a few things, he was under the rubble. I saw the back of his head and just started pulling everything off of him and wishing it was a bad dream and that it wasn’t true,” Maddox said.
“We were friends for over 20 years. It was hard on me, but the hardest part was telling (his sister) and seeing the heartbreak on her face.”
Johanson voiced frustration with initial reports that firefighters discovered her 57-year-old brother, whose cause of death was ruled to be smoke inhalation, when in fact her husband found his remains a day after the fire.
Family friend Kristi Oreb said Ruddick cared for everyone he knew, always willing to help in whatever situation. Oreb was hopeful that District 3 would enact new procedures to prevent a similar situation from happening again.
“They had brought him a fire alarm two months prior. He was living three buildings away from the fire department. It didn’t have to happen this way,” she said.
“I can’t help but wonder if they had found him that night of the fire … would he still be alive?”
Fire District 3 Fire Marshal John Patterson said the district was reviewing the incident and evaluating protocols that could prevent such a thing from happening again. Patterson said individuals who reported the fire said nobody was inside the trailer at the time.
“This was not an outcome that anyone wanted. We work really hard for this kind of thing to not happen. A lot of the information we received was that nobody was in the RV. One of the people that was living in a vehicle adjacent to the RV said if the door was locked, he was gone. They said, ‘He only locks the door when he’s gone.’” Patterson said.
“It’s just a really tough situation all the way around. It’s tough on everyone. … When stuff like this does happen, you go backwards quite a ways and figure out how do we usually do this and did we do this the way we usually do? It ultimately raises the expectations we place on ourselves because of the trust the public puts in us, so that makes it doubly hard on us. We aren’t ever above saying there are things we need to do better.”
Maddox said Ruddick was the type of person to help anyone in need and that family and friends miss him terribly.
“He would help anyone, get anyone out of a bad situation. You hear people say someone would’ve given you the shirt off their back, but he was someone who HAD done so … many times,” Maddox said.
“We just really miss him. It’s not the same with him gone.”
Oreb said community members who would like to help Johanson with final expenses could donate to the Gary Ruddick cremation fund at People’s Bank.
Reach reporter Buffy Pollock at firstname.lastname@example.org.