Bouquets of yellow flowers topped the wooden crosses Sunday afternoon near Lakelands Ace on U.S. Highway 221 — the names Tommy and Chopper John written on the crosses, above the motorcycle club they dedicated their lives to.
John Wilson Ruley Jr., 45, and Thomas Edward Burdette, 57, both of Greenwood, died during a wreck Saturday night while riding their motorcycles on U.S. 221. They were wearing their Warlocks Motorcycle Club colors when they died, according to some of their friends.
“It blew me away last night when I heard about it,” said Walt Riggins, who joined other bikers in visiting the site of the wreck Sunday afternoon. “You couldn’t ask for better people. The community has lost two very good people.”
Riggins was looking for answers — looking at the pink spray paint marks in the roadway left by state Highway Patrol troopers and trying to make sense of the markings. The Highway Patrol’s investigation led to two people being charged in connection with these deaths, but the bikers’ absence was still a shock to their friends.
Robyn Jones, co-owner of the Tiki Hut bar by Harris Landing, said Ruley was a regular, and frequently had Burdette with him. She had known Ruley for years, and was in utter disbelief when she heard the news that he had died. He had been at the Tiki Bar Friday night, she said.
“He was just a stand-up guy,” she said. “He was one of those people that just was friendly to everybody and didn’t want to leave nobody out.”
She said Ruley and Burdette were more than their appearances. On the outside, the two men were burly, tattooed and frequently wore their colors — the leather vests emblazoned with the Warlocks Biker Club logo.
“They were bikers to the core,” said Alison Mundy Burns-Parham, a friend of Ruley’s. “But John never met a stranger. He had a boisterous, infectious laugh.”
She said their loss was an unbelievable tragedy to a lot of people, not just fellow bikers. The two made friends everywhere they went, and she said she wouldn’t be surprised if their funerals drew in bikers from places all across the country.
Ruley’s services will be at 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Harley Funeral Home Chapel, with honorary escort from members of the Warlock Motorcycle Club of the Lakelands. Burdette’s arrangements have not been announced.
A woman and man each face four counts each of DUI in connection with the wreck that left Ruley and Burdette dead and sent three others to the hospital.
Ronald Lee Derossett, 57, of 301 Highway 246 N., Greenwood was charged with two counts of felony DUI resulting in death, two counts of felony DUI resulting in great bodily injury, simple possession of marijuana and driving under suspension. Shaundrese Nikole Clarke, 22, of 116 Hickson St., Ridge Spring, was arrested and charged with two counts of felony driving under the influence, two counts of felony DUI resulting in great bodily injury and one count each of open container, simple possession of marijuana and possession of other controlled substance in schedule I-V.
The wreck happened at 8:53 p.m. at the intersection of Highway 72/221 and Evans Pond Road.
A 1999 Jeep, driven by Derossett, pulled out onto U.S. 221 from Evans Pond Road in front of two northbound Harley-Davidson motorcycles, which were being driven by Ruley and Burdette, said trooper Joe Hovis with the state Highway Patrol. He said the motorcycles struck the Jeep, sending one of the bikes into a ditch to the right of the road and the other into Clarke’s 2005 Nissan, which also was traveling north.
U.S. 221’s northbound lanes were shut down because of the wreck, and Greenwood County Sheriff’s Office deputies are redirecting traffic along Brickyard Road. Troopers cleared the scene and reopened the road at 4:31 a.m. Sunday.
Ruley, of 1015 Ninety Six Highway, and Burdette, of 121 Poplar Drive, died at the scene. Each had a female passenger, ages 23 and 48, who was taken to Self Regional Medical Center, then to Greenville Memorial Hospital. Derossett was taken by helicopter to Greenville Memorial.
Clarke was arrested at the scene. Derossett was charged after he was released from the hospital Sunday. Greenville Hospital System Public relations Coordinator Sarah Moore said Sunday there was no information available on the condition of the other two people hospitalized.
An autopsy for the two motorcyclists will include a toxicology report, said Greenwood County Coroner Sonny Cox.
Highway Patrol’s Multi-disciplinary Accident Investigation Team is investigating.