I awoke to the sounds of waves crashing hard into the side of the ferry, with the resulting sound of metal vibrating down the length of the ship. I had found a relatively quiet place to sleep on the bow’s upper observation deck and slept there lightly. I was on a hard floor, and not sleeping well, so when I hear the crash battering the side and bow of the ferry I did what any man would do: I immediately shot up, opened a drape and waited to watch waves coming piling over the rails.
They didn’t come over the rails, but I was awake now, at 4:30 am on my last day on the ferry to Ketchikan, AK. Knowing that we were in the last miles of the trip we would also be in American waters, I turned my cell phone back on to see what I had missed for the full day and a half I was without connectivity. I watched as text messages started flashing across the screen as iPhones are apt to do. As I watched I would just catch glimpses of text rioting from one window to the next. I didn’t like what I saw. Not at all. Then my heart broke and I went outside to watch the sun rise.
My good friend, and fellow brother in law enforcement, Deputy Dean Ridings, had been killed on duty from a freak boating accident while patrolling Lake Anna.
I stared at the clouds. I was surrounded by abject beauty and scenery beyond belief, but I shed tears not of joy and admiration, but of loss. It was an overcast day and very surreal. The clouds were blocking the rising sun from view of us on the ferry, but you could tell where the cloud line ended because there was a luminescence beyond the clouds highlighting everything in gold-orange-yellowish light; everything miles away enough that you could tell there were mountains, but not much else.
There was one spot, in the clouds over the ocean of the Inner Passage, that broke free and allowed the sun to glow brightly, casting sun light in a thin strip across the ocean. A bright light in a cloudy world. I wish I had more than my iPhone camera out, because that was how I saw Dean: a bright light in a world of clouds.
I remember when Dean first started. From day one he had a smile that met the eyes and made him radiant in optimism. A firm handshake and an eagerness to help, he was motivated by a love of life and family that I have yet to see rivaled. I had already met his older son Gordon and liked him, I could see where Gordon had gotten his love of life, motivation and drive. Dean was instantly liked by anyone I knew that knew him.
I had the fortune of helping him with his field training a couple of times too, and helped find a way to get him trained. He spent more time in field training than most people do, not because he was incapable, but he kept having set backs to getting his time documented or getting time on the road. But he never complained, he just kept on coming out, working everything he could, chalking it up to experience.
He loved traffic stops and will forever be known as a 10-38 master. He never met a traffic violation he wasn’t happy to pull over. On the traffic stops I backed him up on, he always maintained a pleasant demeanor and respectful tone, typically leaving the people he stopped with a smile on their face. I haven’t met too many people who smiled while being stopped, but Dean had that way, a way that made people appreciate him and the job he was doing.
His volunteerism is unmatched: there was rarely a detail he wouldn’t jump for. With Dean in the room it became a competition to even get a detail, he would scoop them up so readily. But his favorite was boat patrol, when he wasn’t doing traffic. He loved the boat, the lake and interacting with the people there. If he had to leave us early, at least it was in a place he loved, doing a job he loved, in a way that no one, NO ONE, could be blamed. He would want it that way, such was his character, to minimize the anger, hurt or fear.
We hear so often in the news about how awful law enforcement people are. We hear about the corrupt, the callous and the cowardly. But Dean exemplifies what we all strive to be, people of compassion with a genuine love of our communities. Even yesterday I saw people tearing us down and making accusations about what a Spotsylvania Deputy might be doing to have parked in a fire lane. He was on a call, most likely, but it very well could have been that deputy was running an errand to honor our fallen comrade.
Dean will live in our hearts, I guarantee mine, for the rest of our lives. A man like that can’t make it through our lives without leaving a trace. Dean’s impact will be more than a trace, and will always be remembered as one for the good.
Deputy Dean Ridings, Unit 390, will be buried today, while the moist eyes of comrades, friends and family celebrate his life and honor his death. We love you Dean, and we will watch over your family. We know you are watching over us. God speed brother.
Deputy Dean Ridings, Unit 390: End of watch, 19-June-10, 1400.