A Vietnam veteran from Angels Camp who went from being homeless to becoming an advocate for those without shelter and a hair salon owner from Copperopolis known for her generous spirit both died Saturday night as the result of a traffic accident on Highway 49 in Mokelumne Hill.
Susan Cloud, 64, owner Susan Cloud’s Hair For You in Angels Camp, was driving her 1999 Dodge Caravan minivan on Center Street with passenger and good friend, Ray Ladd, 63, when she turned left onto Highway 49 directly into the path of a 2013 International Workstar truck that hit into the driver’s side of her vehicle, according to California Highway Patrol.
Cloud died at the scene, CHP stated in an incident report released Monday morning.
Ladd was first transported by ambulance to Sutter Amador Hospital in Jackson and then flown by helicopter to Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center in Sacramento, where he died from major injuries.
Victor Vieira, 39, of Angels Camp, was the driver of the AT&T vehicle that was described as a 20-ton bucket truck. He suffered minor injuries and refused medical transport at the scene, according to the CHP report.
Officer John Fernandez, of the CHP office in San Andreas, said that Vieira was determined to not be at fault and there was no reason to suspect drugs or alcohol played a factor in the collision.
Fernandez said the collision remains under investigation due to the lack of witnesses. The agency is encouraging anyone who may have seen the accident to call the CHP’s San Andreas office at (209) 754-3541.
Meanwhile, those who knew Cloud and Ladd are mourning the loss of a mother, father, and well-regarded members of the community.
“They were best friends,” said Ladd’s daughter, Jodi Blades, of Manteca. “They were both social butterflies and just good people.”
The Union Democrat wrote a profile about Ladd in November 2015 for the newspaper’s annual Veterans Day special section honoring members of the community who have served in the military.
Ladd told the newspaper that he served two tours in the Vietnam War from 1972 to 1973 as a member of the U.S. Navy, during which he experienced minefield bombings each night.
“To live like that, I had to give myself up as already dead,” he said in the 2015 article. “If I didn’t die today I would die tomorrow. That is a strange way to live.”
Ladd, like many veterans of the era, didn’t receive a warm welcome upon returning home to California. He later struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder that interfered with his relationships and drove him to alcohol as a way to cope with the pain.
Blades, who turned 44 on Monday, said she and her siblings were raised on a horse farm in Salinas and described her father as a “real, true blooded cowboy.”
Ladd said in the 2015 interview that his struggles with PTSD led him to become homeless in 2007, two years after retiring from a career setting ceramic tiles. His children staged an intervention and was able to get him to seek help from the Department of Veterans Affairs two years later.
Blades said her father was celebrating 10 years of sobriety this year.
“He knew he got a second chance at life and took advantage of it everyday,” she said, adding that he would never let someone who was impaired get behind the wheel and often offered free rides to friends who had been drinking.
Shortly after getting a knee replacement and treatment from the VA, Ladd made his way to Angels Camp when another man offered him a place to stay so he could get back on his feet.
Ladd became a fixture at Calaveras County Board of Supervisors meetings advocating for the need to establish homeless shelters, according to Beetle Barbour, former housing resources director for the Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency.
Barbour said that Ladd also served on the board of directors for Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency’s Continuum of Care, which deals with the issue of homelessness.
“Everybody in the continuum just loved him,” Barbour said. “Many of us in that group came from government agencies like ATCAA and were there because it was a mandate for our funding, but Ray was there just because of his heart.”
Ray Ladd’s son, Danny Ladd, 41, of Jackson, said he looked up to his father’s ability to overcome hardships and make the necessary changes to improve his life.
Danny Ladd said his father’s passions for helping the homeless stemmed from his own time without shelter, and he tried to instill that same kind of empathy in others.
“One of his biggest passions was helping out the homeless regardless of whether they were veterans or not,” Danny Ladd said. “He would try to get them into shelters and sometimes even rent them a hotel to put them up for a couple nights, or bring them home and let them use his shower.”
Danny Ladd said his father had bought a motorhome and was planning to set off this year after the annual Murphys Irish Day parade on a road trip duplicating the one depicted in the 1962 travelogue “Travels with Charley: In Search of America,” written by his favorite author John Steinbeck.
Ray Ladd regularly walked in the annual Murphys Irish Day parade dressed as a leprechaun, with Cloud dressed in traditional celtic attire.
Susan Cloud’s son, Jeremiah James Cloud, 32, of Copperopolis, said he didn’t know how his mother and Ray Ladd met. He said they weren’t officially dating, but had a strong friendship. She helped drive him places last year after he underwent open-heart surgery in May.
The two shared a mutual fondness for music and were driving home from a friend’s concert in Mokelumne Hill when the crash occurred.
In addition to her hair salon, Jeremiah James Cloud said his mother was known in the community for deejaying events under her DJ name “Sweeeet Susie Cloud.”
“I’ve already had a little over 100 calls from various community members offering whatever help they could for me and my brothers,” Jeremiah James Cloud said on Monday.
There was also an outpouring of heartfelt messages on Facebook.
Jeremiah James Cloud said his mother was a devout Christian who did charitable work for the community throughout her life, which included working with troubled youth and styling hair for seniors at assisted-living facilities.
“Even though she didn’t have a lot of money, she was always helping people out,” he said.
Susan Cloud is also survived by her other three sons, Zechariah Cloud, 30, of Manteca, Anthony Bonavera, 42, of Sutter Creek, and Angelo Bonavera, 42, of Sutter Creek.
Ray Ladd is also survived by his youngest daughter, Sarah Ladd, 36, of Jackson, as well as nine grandchildren.
The families have yet to make plans for services, though Jeremiah James Cloud said there was talk of organizing some kind of community event in their honor.
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.