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Thursday, March 1, 2012

LODD: Cottonwood Fire Protection District firefighter killed on I-5

 In honor of Ratledge, Capitol flags in Sacramento will be flown at half-staff for three days
Article from Record Searchlight:
Firefighter struck, killed on I-5
Cottonwood captain was helping others
Emergency crews investigate where a Cottonwood firefighter died early Wednesday and a California Highway Patrol officer and another person were injured after being hit by a pickup - Photo Credit: Andreas Fuhrmann
The town of Cottonwood is grieving after one of its own was killed Wednesday morning.

Capt. Mark Ratledge, 35, of the Cottonwood Fire Protection District, died, and a California Highway Patrol officer and another person were injured after being hit by a pickup that slid off a hail-covered Interstate 5.

Shasta County Supervisor Les Baugh, who represents the south county, said the tight-knit community is reeling at news of the death.

"It's a small community," Baugh said. "We're just devastated. ... The folks I've talked to say the family is simply heartbroken here. This is a small, rural volunteer fire department. These are the same folks who show up to help with fundraisers and wield the batter for the pancake breakfasts to raise money."

The Shasta County Coroner's Office confirmed Ratledge's identity about five hours after the deadly wreck.

Ratledge is the first Cottonwood firefighter to be killed in the line of duty, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman Linda Galvan said.

The wreck closed southbound I-5 for several hours. One lane of southbound traffic was reopened by 10:45 a.m., a CHP dispatcher said.

CHP spokesman Mel Hutsell said Ratledge and a CHP officer were at the site of two earlier spinouts off an embankment south of Anderson. No one was injured in those accidents.

Hutsell said Jared Shumaker, 31, of Redding, was heading south at 6:15 a.m. when his black Chevy S-10 pickup slid off the road between a parked CHP cruiser and Ratledge's truck.

Shumaker told investigators he was traveling 50 to 55 mph when a vehicle alongside him started to spin. In an attempt to avoid the vehicle, Shumaker changed lanes, but his truck started skidding.

The pickup spun down the embankment and hit the officer, Ratledge and one of those involved in the earlier wrecks, Hutsell said.

Ratledge died at about 7:30 a.m. at Mercy Medical Center in Redding, Hutsell said.

The CHP officer who was hit is Jason Dotzenrod, 41. Luis Ramon Cordova II, 32, was the third person injured. Dotzenrod and Cordova suffered minor injuries.

Shumaker wasn't cited or arrested and was allowed to go home. But the investigation continues.

"Until we determine the extent of what happened, we can't know whether this rises to the level of criminal negligence," Hutsell said.

Hutsell explained the freeway was closed and being treated as a crime scene during the investigation.

"We haven't determined the details of the accident," Hutsell said. "We don't want to spoil any evidence that could be here."

Ratledge was a nine-year veteran of the Cottonwood Fire Department who started as a volunteer in 2003 and was promoted to captain in 2008. He also served as the training officer for the department.

Ratledge lived in Cottonwood with his fiancé, Jennifer Hobbs, 38; daughter Sophia, 1; stepdaughter Hannah Jasperse, 17; and stepson Conner Hobbs, 10. He also is survived by a sister, Susana Ratledge, of Stockton; and parents Jack Ratledge and Maria Closa, both of Redding.

Before joining the Cottonwood Fire Protection District, Ratledge worked for the Redding Fire Department and U.S. Forest Service, Galvan said.

Calvin Ciapponi, chief of the Cottonwood Fire Protection District, referred questions to Cal Fire.

In a statement released late Wednesday afternoon, the department said it's "overwhelmed" and is "appreciative of the support coming in from all over the state."

Gov. Brown also issued a statement: "Anne and I were saddened to learn of the death of Capt. Mark Ratledge. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and fellow firefighters."

In honor of Ratledge, Capitol flags in Sacramento will be flown at half-staff for three days, Brown said.

News of the death quickly resonated through Shasta County.

By midmorning, flags at all fire stations in the county had been lowered to half-staff. About six Cal Fire engines gathered at the Cottonwood fire station on Brush Street just north of the intersection of Front and Brush streets.

Galvan, the Cal Fire spokeswoman, visited the station just after noon.

"It's still very, very fresh," Galvan said as she left a while later. "They're dealing with what they have to deal with right now. There's a lot of very upset people in there now."

Nanette Pate, who operates the Cottonwood Eatery next door to the station, delivered a platter of corned beef, turkey and ham sandwiches to the firefighters.

"It's just awful," Pate said. "I've lost people before, and it's just nice to do something. ... It's so sad it brings tears to my eyes just to think about it."

Anderson City Councilman John Day — a retired registered nurse, ambulance medic and volunteer firefighter — offered his condolences as well.

"These are dedicated men and women who get up in the middle of a storm like that last night for four or five dollars a call," Day said. "I'm pretty sad today. I don't know who it was. I know I lost a brother."

Debbie Earhart, the owner of Sierra Printing in Cottonwood, said she has no doubt the town, even in its grief, would respond to help the department and the firefighter's family.

"I know Cottonwood," she said. "They are going to come together."
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