Farming accidents do happen: Tragedy strikes northern Ohio

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SALEM, Ohio – Recent tragedy gave Sandusky and Erie counties a devastating reality check on the dangers of farming.

Two separate accidental farming-related deaths claimed the lives of 14-year-old Jonathon P. Ruffing and 62-year-old LeRoy Stotz.

Ruffing, son of Dana and Kim Ruffing, was killed Aug. 15 after falling into a feed mixer while working at a farm near his Sandusky County home.

Stotz died the following day in Erie County when the lift platform he was on fell, causing him to strike his head on a tree.

Peril strikes. At 9:06 a.m., Aug. 15, a call was made to the Fremont emergency number saying an employee had fallen into a mixer at a farm, according to the accident report. Police arrived at the Thorbahn farm 10 minutes later and found Ruffing dead.

Capt. James Consolo, with the Sandusky County Sheriff’s Office, said Ruffing lost his footing on a hay mound and fell 13 feet into a total mixed ration mixer below.

The machine, which can hold several tons of feed, mixes corn silage, hay silage, bales of hay, grain and minerals for animal feed. Augers inside the mixer churn the ingredients.

Another theory Consolo said they are considering is that Ruffing was using a hay hook to drag hay on the mound, and the hook came loose, causing him to lose his momentum and fall.

Memories. Although Ruffing’s parents aren’t farmers, they live in a rural area of the county, and Ruffing aspired to be a dairy farmer.

His grandmother, Carol Houlett, said that even at a young age, her grandson would sit in the yard at her house and watch the tractors go around in the field, waiting for a ride.

For the past six years, the teenager helped out on nearby farms, sometimes working for free just so he could be on the farm, Houlett said. He worked full-time in the summers and worked weekends during the school year.

After hours, Ruffing and his father would “crop watch,” Houlett said. They would drive around and look at farms, and Jon knew all the crops and machinery, she said.

“He was a John Deere lover to the core,” she said; a John Deere led his funeral possession.

This summer he started each morning at 5:30 a.m. when his alarm went off. He drove his four-wheeler across the fields to the Thorbahn farm and couldn’t have been any happier, Houlett said.

He always had a smile on his face while he was working, said Linda Thorbahn, of the farm where Jon was working at the time of his death. He had always loved farming and knew he wanted to be a farmer, she said.

He would have been a freshman at Fremont Ross High School this year.

Fair goes on. In addition to working on the Thorbahn farm, Ruffing was getting his dairy beef feeder ready for the Sandusky County Fair. His 12-year-old sister, Beth Ruffing, showed his calf, Bud, for him after a moment of silence during the Aug. 20 show, just days after the accident.

His calf placed sixth, while Beth’s took reserve champion.

After hearing about their friend’s death, members from Ruffing’s 4-H club, Townsend Blue Ribbon Boys, immediately started fund-raising efforts to build a barn at the fairgrounds in his honor.

They had a daunting task – to raise $40,000 by the last day of the fair, Aug. 25. Approximately $10,000 had already been raised for the barn’s estimated $50,000 construction.

Although donations were taken in the grandstands, from local businesses and from other events at the fair, the real chunk of money came from the livestock auction, where Ruffing’s calf sold for $2.70 a pound. After the calf sold, the auction was opened up for contributions where approximately $1,900 was raised, said his mother, Kim Ruffing.

FFA members and 4-H’ers stepped up and donated anywhere from $1 to $400 from their animals’ sale to the Ruffing fund, Kim Ruffing said.

A 12-year-old from a Margaretta school wrote a poem, Jon’s Dream, which was auctioned twice, raising $1,600. The original copy was presented to Ruffing’s mother. The young girl who wrote the poem did not know the Ruffing family, however, she contacted the 4-H club, asking what she could do to help.

“The kids of the county stepped right up,” Kim Ruffing said. “I was absolutely stunned and the poem put me on the ground.”

The money being raised is going toward rebuilding the dairy beef feeder barn, which was destroyed due to disrepair two years ago. Ruffing and his uncles helped to dismantle the dilapidated barn. Tents are now being used in its place to house the fair animals.

His grandmother said the barn being rebuilt was a goal of her grandson’s. Last year, he donated $50 from his calf’s sale to the building fund. When the money has been raised, the building will be the Jonathon Paul Ruffing Memorial.

She said the building will keep her grandson – the aspiring farmer – in everyone’s minds and in their hearts.

Although it is not yet official how much money was raised during the county fair for the building, Kim Ruffing said she knows that somehow the building in her son’s honor will be built by next year’s fair.

For donation information call the Townsend Blue Ribbon Boys 4-H club at 419-547-9115, 419-547-9614 or 419-684-7850.

More heartache. Tragedy continued the day after Ruffing’s death, Aug. 16, in neighboring Erie County when LeRoy Stotz was trimming branches in a steel mesh cage attached to a hydraulic lift. He was making room for a new barn.

Stotz, known for his safety consciousness and an advocate of farm safety, was trimming the trees when the lift fell on its side. Stotz remained in the steel cage during the fall and struck his head on a tree, according to the Erie County Sheriff’s Office incident report. He sustained severe head trauma as a result of the fall.

His son, Duane, was operating the lift, and according to the incident report, the boom on the lift was raised approximately 30 feet at the time of the fall.

According to the incident report, no signs of foul play were found at the scene, however, the matter will remain under investigation until the autopsy is complete.

Lifetime of farming. Stotz was the fifth generation on his grain farm in Erie County. Stotz Grain Farms produces soybeans, corn and wheat.

Stotz’s wife, Anita, said her husband had always been careful around the farm and extra safety conscious when it came to the farm equipment.

In addition to being a community-minded farmer, Anita said her husband was dedicated to farming and the agriculture community.

“His joy in life was being out there,” she said.

Among other organizations, Stotz was on the Ohio Soybean Association board for 18 years and the Erie Soil and Water Conservation District planning committee for 28 years.

A year ago, the USDA appointed him to the Ohio Farm Service Agency committee.

(You can contact Kristy Alger at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at kalger@farmanddairy.com.)

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