Two county pillars known for their benevolence and compassion were killed Feb. 3 in a car accident while driving home after an evening of dinner and live music in Mokelumne Hill, two things they both loved.
Susan Cloud, 64, of Copperopolis, sustained fatal injuries at approximately 10:06 p.m. Feb. 3 after the left side of a 1999 Dodge she was driving collided with the front of a bucket-style truck as she attempted to turn left onto Highway 49 from Center Street in Mokelumne Hill.
Cloud’s passenger, Ray Ladd, 63, of Angels Camp, was transported via ambulance from the scene before succumbing to his injuries.
The truck driver, Victor Vierra, 39, of Angels Camp, sustained minor injuries and refused transport.
The incident occurred shortly after the two friends left the Hotel Leger, a new spot for Ladd, according to Brian Goss, owner of the Murphys Hotel, where Ladd was a frequent visitor. Ladd’s son, Danny, said the two were in the area to enjoy an evening of dinner and live music.
The pair met through their mutual love of music nearly a decade ago. Halfway homeless at the time, Ladd came to Angels Camp while waiting to relocate to Monterey County, where he hoped to land on his feet. He met Cloud during open mic events at the Angels Camp Mercantile when it was a coffee shop where she would sing karaoke and Ladd would play music.
“It was my dad’s sanctuary. It was part of what helped him meet people in the community,” said Danny. “It was the whole family dynamic that was there. It was exactly what he needed in his life at that time.”
A decade after Cloud and Ladd met, their friendship was on full display last March during the Murphys Irish Day Parade, where Ladd, dressed like a leprechaun with bright orange hair that had been dyed by his salon-owning friend, and Cloud, in authentic Celtic garb, marched down Main Street together among the crowd.
Individually, the two were powerful supporters and advocates for the less fortunate and able.
Cloud’s son, Jeremiah, said his mother, who owned a number of hair salons in the Mother Lode during her three decades in the area, most recently Susan Cloud’s Hair for You in Angels Camp, would go to retirement homes, juvenile justice residences and even individual houses to provide services like haircuts, permanents and more.
Her goal was to do one charitable thing a month, Jeremiah said. And she usually did, despite health issues arising from a heart attack she suffered more than a decade ago, and a broken arm she sustained in 2015. When she was able, she would donate her money as well as her time.
A lover of karaoke, and owner of a DJ company named Sweeeet Susie Cloud, she sang to entertain a wide range of audiences, including the staff at the University of California Davis Medical Center, where she received medical treatment, wedding parties and for guests at various weddings and the employees of her own hair salon.
Despite limited resources, Cloud housed six dogs, mostly rescue animals, inside the Copperopolis home she shared with her son Jeremiah, a recent college graduate searching for his first job outside of school.
Jeremiah said his mother’s phone, which did not break during the crash, has been ringing nonstop with calls from people offering their support. He said people touched by Cloud’s generosity throughout the years have provided food, both animal and human, and permanent housing options for many of the animals Jeremiah will be unable to support on his own.
Ladd was a fierce advocate for the homeless in the county. A victim of alcoholism, he was homeless himself as recently as a decade ago in Menlo Park, his son Danny said. When he landed on his feet, he wanted to help others do the same in Calaveras.
Ladd was the type of person who would see a homeless person on the street, put them in his Jeep and take them where they needed to go, he said during a conversation with this reporter about homeless problems last week. In his fight for better services in the area, Ladd advocated establishing an emergency shelter in the county while he advocated for the Central Sierra Continuum of Care.
He came to Calaveras County 10 years ago, after receiving help for his alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder that went undiagnosed for decades following his naval service during the Vietnam War, where he saw combat and became disabled, Danny said.
Before Ladd came to Angels Camp, he had waited three months for an opening with the Veterans Transition Center in Monterey, he said. About halfway through the wait, while attending an alcoholism program in Menlo Park, he received a Christmas card signed by 20 people from the Angels Camp Mercantile shop he loved.
“I said, ‘To hell with Monterey. I’m going home,’” Ladd said last week in describing his reaction to the card. “Angels Camp was my home.”
At the time of the incident, Ladd had been sober for the past 10 years.
In the days after the crash, Goss said table No. 4 at the Murphys Hotel restaurant was reserved for Ladd, who would stroll in for breakfast regularly (along with lunch and dinner) to order his favorite dish: eggs Benedict.
Only Ladd could not make it. He was too busy giving back one final time, donating organs to 60 people and corneal tissue so at least one blind person can see, said Jodi Blades, his daughter.