A Happy Occasion Turns Sad

By Valarie Ricks-Patterson.

Originally published in 1994.

A Happy Occasion Turns Sad

Baptism is always a happy occasion at any time. For my family, Sunday, September 20, 1992, was a day of pure joy for my mother. She was to be rebaptized. We all got ready for church and went to share one of life’s most joyous occasions as a family. I had to leave church early for work as a dispatcher at Sherriff’s Department in Sussex County. I did not get to see my mom take the right hand of fellowship. More hurting, I left for work on this day not knowing that I would never see my youngest daughter Denay alive again. On this day her life ended at the hands of Ruffin Savedge, Jr. 51, of Elberon, VA.

The memory of that day lingers on in my mind. Her smiling face with braces that she so desperately wanted as I waved and mouthed to her “see you tonight” before I left out of church. Toccara, my oldest had sat beside me in church during the beginning of the service, but Denay had sat with my nieces a couple rows in front of us.

At work that day things were just normal as usual for a Sheriff’s Department, one hour left before visiting hours were over. Around 5:50 P.M. the call came in about a child being hit on a bike by a truck and the vehicle never stopped. The caller was a young boy from the neighborhood that I knew. He made the call from my sister’s house. I gathered all the information that I could, but the caller was to upset so my sister got on the phone. I asked her to call back when she knew something more about the incident.

I had the rescue squad and State Police enroute, as well as our County Officers. Suddenly it seemed like every phone in our department was ringing and each caller was reporting the same incident. Still, I didn’t know that it was my daughter. Once I was able to call out, I called my sister back to see if she knew who the child was. She stated to me that she thought it was her daughter. I felt a rush of panic right then for I wasn’t close enough to even comfort her and I couldn’t leave work without a relief person. I just told her to calm down and that maybe it wasn’t that bad. I told her I will call her right back. When I called my sister back, she was too upset to talk, and my uncle came on the line to tell me it was Denay. My whole world shattered. I knew it was bad. All I could say was I forgive Lord, for all he had to do was stop.  I didn’t know or want to believe someone could be that heartless and do something like hit a child and leave without looking back. Over and over, I kept repeating “not Denay, for she knows bicycle safety and she should be with my mom, not on that street,” It seemed like an eternity for me, no county officers were at the department, a state unit had just brought a subject in and there was a couple of ladies up front waiting to speak with the magistrate.

Denay Patterson

I just wanted to get to Denay and make sure she wasn’t hurt bad. Never did I believe she was dead because she had so much to live for, maybe a broken arm or leg, but not death. She was only nine years old. How do you prepare for something like this? I never would know! I feel it was forced on me and that no choices were given. Hearing the traffic on the radio as I sat in the front office waiting for the officers to take me home, I knew I wouldn’t have my little girl any longer. The fatality code is one of the first things you sort of learn as a dispatcher, hoping not to hear it often. Finally, I was taken home. Upon arriving there I saw the bike all twisted up still lying in the road and people were everywhere, for all eyes were wet with tears. I screamed because I knew she was gone home to be with God.

When I got to my sister’s house, my oldest daughter Toccara met me crying “Mom please tell me my sister isn’t dead.” I knew from the radio traffic, no one had told me. My uncle appeared in the doorway and said the words I didn’t want to hear. What happen is all I wanted to know. Do you have any idea who did this? How could anyone hit a child and leave her lying in a ditch? God, please tell me.

Ruffin Savedge, Jr., and his companion Robert Bell, in the truck that day drove home to Elberon drinking beer after leaving a shot house in Wakefield and saw that little girl and never bothered to turn out of the way of her. Robert Bell unfortunately, I was told advised Ruffin Savedge, Jr. that he had hit a child. Maybe it bothered him a little for after his court hearing enroute home, he suffered a stroke on the brain and was left unable to talk. Robert Bell died two weeks later October 23, 1992. I feel Ruffin Savedge, Jr. has two deaths on his hands, my daughter’s, and Robert Bell.

The statement Ruffin Savedge, Jr. gave in court during the hearing is a living nightmare for he feels he did nothing wrong. It was like hitting a damn flying bird! He sits in court just like his statement, cold and uncaring as he did that Sunday. He further tells how he stopped some 1,400 feet away from where he hit my daughter and removed the rest of her bike from underneath his truck and continued to drive on and park the truck behind his house. The truck he was driving earlier with the evidence of blood stains and beads from the braids in her hair on his bumper. I guess he never imagined the number of vehicles he ran off the road that day would stop and tell how they met a truck driving very reckless and the description matched the one given early of the hit-and-run vehicle.

Although alcohol is known to have been a factor, it was five hours later before he was arrested and charged, so the charge of drinking and driving could not be added. This whole tragedy has been a living nightmare. Even sadder he hasn’t apologized yet. I always believed if an accident occurs, something you didn’t mean to do, you can apologize for it. His excuse I have yet to hear. His driving record speaks for itself. Charges of reckless driving, driving under the influence, driving on a suspended license, you name it. Yet he was never labeled a habitual offender. Surry Commonwealth’s Attorney Gammiel Poindexter stated in a news article, that she had not taken steps to declare Savedge a Habitual Offender and was not sure why except that “most likely it was overlooked.” She further states it may not have prevented my daughter’s death because it wouldn’t have prevented him from driving. Maybe so, but that’s her opinion. I feel his background of coming from a prominent family well-to-do family in Surry County with a vast amount of land and whose brother was once a Sheriff in Surry can sort of explain things about Savedge’s history of getting off in my opinion. “The county that looks out for its own.” Even sadder, this man continued to remain out on bond until sentencing and continued to drive without anyone seeing him, “law enforcement that is.”

Alcohol is labeled as a drug, yet the penalty isn’t as stiff as a drug charge, and we do have sellers of that drug illegally as well.  I can continue this story forever, but it may be of no use. Ruffin Savedge Jr. has always been protected by the system I pray each day and night that his time will come. As for me and Toccara, this loss that we feel is forever and time will never heal it. The flowers we place upon her grave may wither and decay, but our gracious love for “Denay” will never fade away.

Valarie and Toccara Patterson

Wakefield, VA