A Sierra Pacific Industries worker killed Monday evening in an accident at the Sonora Lumber Mill in Standard dreamed of a career in law enforcement and had plans to get married early next year, his family said.
Ron Billings II, 25, of Sonora, died of traumatic injuries after getting caught in machinery at the SPI mill, said Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Deputy Coroner Rob Lyons.
Sheriff’s deputies and emergency personnel responded to the mill shortly before 7:20 p.m. after receiving word of the accident.
SPI spokesman Mark Pawlicki said production at the mill was stopped Tuesday while SPI and California Division of Occupational Safety and Health representatives investigated the accident.
Pawlicki said work was scheduled to continue at some point today, and a chaplain would be at the mill to counsel workers shaken by Billings’ death.
“We’re saddened by the news of this accident and our thoughts are with the family of the worker,” Pawlicki said.
Billings began working at the mill five years ago, according to his mother, Michele Billings, of Sonora. He waslaid off in 2009 when the SPI plant, formerly known as the Standard Mill, was closed following the economic downturn, she said.
Billings worked at Save Mart before getting his old job back at the mill when it reopened in 2011. He worked as a relief operator, filling in for people on various machines, at the time of his death, his mother said.
“He had lots of friends at the mill who loved him and he really liked his supervisors,” Michele Billings said.
She said one of her son’s co-workers told her he “was a true man and he was the man that we all wanted to be.”
Billings was a lifelong Sonora resident. He attended Mother Lode Christian School as a boy and graduated from Sonora Christian Academy in 2005.
His dream of becoming a law enforcement officer was sparked in kindergarten by a visit from now-deceased Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Deputy Ted Mueller, who gave a talk to Billings’ class.
“That’s when he decided he wanted to be a cop. But, like I said, life has its twists and turns,” his mother said.
Billings participated in the Sonora Police Department’s law enforcement Explorer program as a cadet from the ages of 16 to 19. The program offers youths interested in a career in law enforcement the chance to go on ride-alongs and assist Sonora police officers with their duties.
Retired Sgt. Dave Bird oversaw the program while Billings participated and described him as a “spit shine type of officer” who possessed all the attributes of a good policeman.
“He was one of the guys I hoped would pursue a law enforcement career because he was good at it,” Bird said. “Even in his personal life, he was just a good clean-cut kid.”
Billings’ mother said her son was attending Columbia College and working through his general education credits with the goal of joining the police academy in the future.
He recently got engaged to Erin Kannel, 21, of Valley Springs, who he met through a family friend on Christmas Day last year. Kannel works as an instructor at a coastal camp about six hours away.
Billings in his free time enjoyed hunting, fishing and restoring his 1966 Ford Mustang and 1974 Ford pickup. He especially liked going to the ocean, which his mother said was fostered through years of family vacations in Monterey.
He also played drums and was the church drummer at Creekside Community Church in Sonora for several years in the late 1990s.
“When he did something, he gave it his best,” Michele Billings said. “He gave it his all and he was true.”
Billings is survived by his parents, Michele and Ron; his sister, Amanda Billings-White; his grandparents, the Rev. L. David and Yvonne Russell; grandmother, Donna Billings; uncles and aunts, Mikel and Robin Russell, Annette Billings, Don Billings and Michael and Jeanne Bulat; cousins Travis and Hailey Dunn, Cindy Billings and Andrea Billings; and fiancee, Erin Kannel.
Heuton Memorial Chapel in Sonora is handling arrangements. Services have not yet been set.