The SMART Transportation Division is mourning two union brothers who have died in recent weeks because of COVID-19.
Member Thurman Wheeler, 47, of Local 1348 (Centralia, Wash.) passed away on April 30 after being hospitalized for nearly two weeks with the virus. He was a Union Pacific conductor on the Portland east to Hinkle, Ore., pool.
“Thurman was liked and loved by all, and his loss is being felt very hard here in Portland,” said member Jeff Cubley of Local 1574. “He was an excellent person to work with, and he worked his tail off to provide for his family.”
Condolences also can be sent to Brother Wheeler’s wife:
19945 NE Clackamas Court
Portland, OR 97230
SMART Transportation Division Local 225 (Bellevue, Ohio) is mourning the passing of its president, Jason Ruffing, from COVID at age 40 on April 21.
Brother Ruffing was the local’s president for more than six years, served as LCA-687C secretary and was a past trustee of the local. He hired out with Norfolk Southern as a conductor in 2003 and was a certified remote control operator before becoming an engineer.
“Jason was well respected from his peers and the membership,” Local Chairperson Michael Bishop said. “Jason absolutely enjoyed helping anyone whether they needed it or not. He was the type of guy who would drop what he was doing to come help you out at any time. Jason will be missed dearly by his railroad brothers and sisters. Godspeed, Jason.”
President Ruffing loved to cook and grill during the local’s annual picnic, and never shared the secret ingredients of his special recipe spice mix.
A favorite pastime was camping at Tall Timbers campgrounds in Port Clinton, Ohio, and he taught CCW classes in his spare time, his obituary stated.
He served as a volunteer firefighter in Willard and Attica, was a supporter of Second Amendment rights and of the rights and freedoms we all have as Americans.
Brother Ruffing is survived by his parents, sisters, brothers and a number of other relatives.
The SMART Transportation Division offers its heartfelt condolences to the families of Brother Wheeler and Brother Ruffing, to their union brothers and sisters in Locals 1348 and 225 and to all those who knew them.
Our union is in mourning after losing two of its active members this week: one in a work-related fatality and one in a traffic accident.
Ryan Sandy, 37, a member of Local 662 (Richmond, Va.) and a former local chairperson of LCA-201C, was killed in an on-the-job accident at 2:45 a.m., Monday, Oct. 12 in the Acca Yard in Henrico County, Va.
Sandy had been a member of SMART Transportation Division since February 2009 and worked as a conductor for CSX.
“We are all shocked and saddened by his passing,” fundraiser organizer Michael Carter posted. “It’s now our turn to give back and help his wife and their children as they deal with the loss of their loving husband and father.”
A number of worker fatalities over the past two years involving union workers went without an NTSB-led investigation, a situation that SMART-TD leadership made clear needed to be changed.
Across the country, Local 556 (Tacoma, Wash.) is mourning the loss of one of its officers.
Clayton Hoffman III, general chairperson of GCA-TMB (Tacoma Municipal Beltline) and local chairperson of LCA-TMB1, died in a fatal traffic accident Oct. 9. He was 43 years old.
The circumstances of GC Hoffman’s death are being investigated. He had been a member of the union since April 2004. He became GC on Oct. 1, 2012, and immediately set to work, said current Local 556 President Bill Price.
“During his time, Clayton negotiated one of the best contacts in shortline history for his members and brought those members to a livable wage,” Price said.
Price said that Hoffman served as a fierce representative of his fellow members and will be missed.
Local 556 brother Kody Henderson, local chairperson of LCA-001a, had this to say about his fallen brother:
“He was union leadership powerhouse and a union leader I looked up to. He was there when I initially took office in 2015 and helped guide me through this local chairman position. We would speak often, and as time went on we would reconnect to share stories and discharge stresses of dealing with management to one another.”
Brother Hoffman is survived by his brother, his sister and his mother.
“Clayton will be missed by all here at Local 556,” Price said.
The SMART Transportation Division offers its condolences to the relatives, friends and the brothers and sisters of Locals 662 and 556 on the passing of Brothers Sandy and Hoffman.
Dustin R. Wyatt, most recently a member of SMART Transportation Division Local 1574 (Portland, Ore.), was injured May 18 in a roadside collision in the Bonnet Carre Spillway near New Orleans as he stopped to provide roadside assistance during an automobile crash and is now fighting for his life.
The 31-year-old husband and father of two is listed in critical condition in a Louisiana hospital after he was struck in a second collision and hurled him 50 feet down from a bridge into a marshy area, breaking multiple bones.
“It is truly a miracle that he has survived,” his wife, Samantha Wyatt, wrote in a message on a GoFundMe post. “Although in critical condition, we do believe he will push through this. We have been faced with an event that will change Dustin’s life forever, threatening the career he has worked so hard for and many other goals in the future that he had his eye on.”
Brother Wyatt has been a member of SMART-TD since November 2018 and works as a trainman/brakeman for Union Pacific. He and his family had recently moved from Washington state to Lafayette, Louisiana. He was in the process of transferring into a new home local when the accident occurred.
He has been on and off a ventilator in the days since the accident and has a number of surgeries and therapy ahead once his condition is stabilized, Samantha Wyatt wrote.
“Please help donate to the cause. All money will be used for medical bills and rehabilitation,” she wrote. “Please pray for Dustin and our family during this really difficult time.”
Britnee Griffin, daughter of Local 1963 President Mike Griffin, has been battling cancer since the spring.
Britnee Griffin, daughter of Mike Griffin (a yardmaster, alternate vice chairperson of GCA 347 and the president of Local 1963 in Louisville, Ky.), has been battling aggressive cancer since the spring. The medical bills for her family are mounting, and an online fundraiser has been established as the 26-year-old continues her treatment.
“The news has been overwhelming,” Britnee’s mother and Mike’s wife, Megan, posted on the online fundraising site GoFundMe. “We are asking for help with medical expenses. Prayers appreciated.”
What began as Stage 4 melanoma has spread to Britnee’s bones with spots on her skull, right shoulder and on both ribs. Cancer has also been found in her brain, lymph nodes, left breast and lungs. Megan Griffin said in an updated posted about two weeks ago that her daughter is in “unreal” pain. Doctors have prescribed pain medications and have decided to see if chemotherapy treatment for the next two months has any effect on the cancer.
“Any donation would be greatly appreciated,” Megan posted. “Thank you and God bless.”
Layla was rushed to the emergency room March 18 and diagnosed with Influenza A. Her condition developed into a rare condition called necrotizing encephalopathy. After more than a month in intensive care, she passed away April 23 with family at her side.
A GoFundMe online fundraising effort has been created in order to assist a Local 492 member who lost his home in the Camp wildfire that ravaged more than 153,000 acres of Butte County, Calif.
The home of Ervis R. Obregon Jr., a conductor with Union Pacific, was one of the nearly 14,000 residences destroyed by the fire, the most destructive in the state’s history. The fire killed 86 people and was only fully contained Dec. 12 after burning through almost all of November.
“Any help would be appreciated,” Local 492’s Chairperson Trevor Haddix said.
The fundraiser also is assisting Obregon’s fellow TD Local 492 member Vincent Popovich and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers member Swede Hanski. Both of their homes survived the fire, but they still faced severe financial setbacks because of the disaster.
Proceeds from the fund will be divided evenly among the men’s families as they recover from their injuries, which include fractures, spinal trauma and facial injuries.
A Local 1566 member who said he didn’t want to be named said he went to visit the accident site and couldn’t believe what he saw.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.
Online video footage from a drone posted by WHAM TV Channel 13 out of Rochester N.Y. shows a sinkhole underneath the tracks at the accident site. Local authorities said the cause of the derailment was under investigation.
Members have been pulling together to help the families of both men as they begin the road to recovery from their injuries.
“The families have been astonished by the amount of support,” said the Local 1566 member. “We’ve worked with these people — they’re family.”