RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A Richmond family is in mourning after the loss of their 18-year-old son nearly two weeks after he was involved in vehicle crash with police.
The incident happened the night of April 7, as Richmond Police Department (RPD) officers were responding to a reported burglary in progress in the 1500 block of Clarkson Road, between Southwood Parkway and Treehaven Drive. A Buick sedan and the RPD unit somehow collided at the intersection of Bells Road and Castlewood Road, ultimately claiming the lives of two teenagers.
Authorities announced on April 8 that Tracey Williams, 19, died at the hospital following the crash. Jeremiah Ruffin, 18, was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries and in critical condition.
“We had to get transported upstairs, or escorted, by police officers, just to get in to see him [in the hospital],” Candice Ruffin, Jeremiah’s mother, told 8News on Thursday. “When we did, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. His head was stapled through the top and around — all the way around the back and the sides.”
Candice said that her eldest child also had a fractured skull, and that she and her husband, Clarence, proceeded to visit him at the hospital every day.
“We had to make a decision after his last CAT scan,” she said. “His brain protruded outside of the skull, only to get worse and not better. So they told us that he wouldn’t be able to walk or even move or understand anything, and we would have to have a tracheotomy to be able to breath. So we had to make that decision for him.”
Wednesday afternoon, Candice and Clarence Ruffin said “goodbye” to the boy who made them parents. The couple has been together for roughly 20 years, and said that Jeremiah would have celebrated his 19th birthday in June.
“I just want the whole world to know how much I love my son,” Candice said. “We love him so much, and we’ll never let go.”
The Ruffins said that Jeremiah and Tracey had been living together in Henrico County. They have been in touch with Tracey’s family as well, united in their grief.
“He was like a care bear, him and Tracey both,” Candice said. “They shared their love with everyone everywhere.”
Candice told 8News that she believes the couple was on their way home when the crash happened. According to a release, the teens were not wearing seat belts, and both were ejected from the Buick.
Candice also said that RPD officers reported seeing a dog run from their vehicle after the incident.
“They only told us that they saw a dog run from the car, which I believe was Bear, their dog, Jeremiah and Tracey’s dog,” she said. “They haven’t heard anything or seen anything about him.”
The Ruffins are particularly heartbroken because this is not the first time they have had to bury one of their children. Jeremiah was the oldest of five, but they also had a young boy who passed away in 2014 from hydrocephalus and epilepsy, making this additional loss particularly difficult for the other siblings.
“They’re by themselves. They want to be to themselves,” Candice said. “They’re holding as strong as they can right now, but still hurting in their hearts.”
As the investigation into what happened the night of April 7 continues, the Ruffins are asking questions about what caused the incident that ultimately claimed their son’s life. Authorities said that RPD’s Special Operations Division Crash Team is investigating, but a spokesperson for the department told 8News that there is no timeline for when that investigation will conclude, given the scale of the incident.
Candice said she wonders whether the officers responding to the reported burglary slowed down or had their emergency lights on while en route as the collision happened.
When asked about that earlier in April, RPD Chief Gerald Smith noted that the officers had authorization to use blue lights and sirens because they were responding to a Code 1 burglary call, but it is unknown if the lights and sirens were actually on at the time of the crash.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to both families affected by this tragedy,” he said in a statement released Wednesday.
The two RPD officers who suffered non-life-threatening injuries have since been released from the hospital, according to a spokesperson with the department.
But the Ruffins are still left wondering how to move forward.
“We can’t afford the funeral right now,” Candice said. “What we could afford is, maybe, a cremation, at the least, and after seeing him suffer for the last 13 days of his life, I couldn’t bear the thought of them having to burn his body.”