La Paz County lost a deputy in the early morning hours Monday – the first in the line of duty since the office was founded in 1983 – but coworkers and friends say the community also lost a dedicated family man with a wife and six kids, a man of faith, a military veteran of both the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army, an avid outdoorsman, and a moonshine aficionado.
“Michael Rudd was a very dedicated individual, not only in his job but in his life and to his family,” said Sgt. Hilap Tanakeyowma with the Quartzsite Police Department, who knew Rudd both personally and professionally. “Rudd was at my house less than a week prior. We were just hanging out and catching up – it had been a minute since we had seen each other. So it is extremely heartbreaking – nothing can prepare you for it.”
Rudd, 38, was killed following a multi-agency pursuit that ended in an arrest following a foot chase near milemarker 37 on I-10. La Paz Sheriff William Ponce said Rudd was returning to his vehicle after the incident when he was struck by a passing commercial semi-truck unconnected to the chase.
Rudd was pronounced dead at the Palo Verde Hospital in Blythe, California.
“He was a very selfless individual,” Ponce said. “This is a job he loved, and unfortunately he died doing what he loved. I don’t think he would have had it any other way.”
Chief Deputy David Gray said Rudd graduated from Westwood High School in California before joining the U.S. Air Force in 2002. But four years later Rudd decided to leave the Air Force in favor of the U.S. Army where he served from 2006 to 2012. He achieved the rank of sergeant with the Army prior to his retirement.
Ponce said Rudd was living in the Phoenix area in 2013 when he applied and was hired by the La Paz County Sheriff’s Department and, after commuting to work for a while, moved to Parker fulltime and became an integral part of the community. Ponce described Rudd as proactive and hard working. He said Rudd spent some of his 8-year career with the sheriff’s office in investigations, but he always seemed to prefer traffic enforcement.
About seven months ago, in March, Rudd was promoted to sergeant and assigned a patrol unit. He also served as the department’s highway safety traffic enforcement coordinator with the Governor’s Office. Tanakeyowma said Rudd was particularly proud of his promotion to sergeant this spring.
“Rudd doesn’t show a lot of emotions, but when he and I talked he was extremely ecstatic and he was ready to take on a new challenge,” he said. “He wants to make a difference, and he felt like he could really make a difference, not only for his community but for the deputies as well.”
Tanakeyowma said the Quartzsite Police Department honored Rudd a couple years ago after the deputy and a couple officers managed to rescue a woman from an RV that was fully engulfed in flames.
“She is alive today because of it,” Tanakeyowma noted.
Ponce said that perhaps the thing he will remember most about Rudd is his dry sense of humor. He said sometimes Rudd would walk into a room and crack a joke – looking completely serious – that would cause you to stare for a while as the joke sunk in.
“It would take you a minute to understand him, but then you start laughing,” Ponce said.
Tanakeyowma said Rudd just had a way of making work more fun, and the 27-year law enforcement veteran credited Rudd with revitalizing his own career and outlook.
“Rudd kept me interested and kept my head in,” Tanakeyowma said. “I was able to mentor him and meet him when he was a rookie until now. He helped me bring back the spark in my career, make me want to proceed further and reach my goals. Rudd always actually made my job fun, day by day, and he made it worthwhile coming to work.”
Coworkers and friends all said Rudd showed the same worth ethic and dedication in all aspects of his life.
“Between his personal life and his professional life he would give you 100 percent no matter what he was doing,” Ponce said.
Sometimes the lines between his personal and professional life got a little blurry. Ponce said it wasn’t uncommon to see Rudd around the sheriff’s office during his days off – just to help out or to get something done.
“I’ve seen him here spraying weeds and trying to beautify this place outside,” Ponce said. “Recently he had redone a bench for one of our other officers who has passed away. In his last two weeks he re-did and resurfaced that bench because it had gotten kind of old and dilapidated. He sanded it down and re-finished it. That is the kind of person that he was.”
But Tanakeyowma said Rudd also saved lots of time for his family.
Ponce said Rudd married his long-time girlfriend, Amanda, just last week, and their family includes six children with each bringing three kids into the relationship.
“They have been dating and raising their family together,” Tanakeyowma said. “I know he absolutely adores his wife and I know he adores his kids – he is just all about his children. I’ve never known him to be upset – he is a very patient man with his kids.”
Ponce said Rudd was also active in his church and the community at large. He said Rudd frequently participated in myriad community events, either through the sheriff’s department, his church, or with his family.
In his spare time, Rudd loved to spend time in the outdoors – particularly going on long hiking trips.
“He loved to go hiking at places like Havasupai Falls and Fossil Creek,” Tanakeyowma said. “I think he’s also been on a couple rafting trips. He absolutely loved the outdoors and he loved taking advantage of it and seeing the sights. I’ve never gone with him – I was set to go. But I know he would make plans to go on week-long hiking trips and stuff like that.”
Gray said sometimes Rudd’s hiking plans included other La Paz County deputies, but Gray said most of the other deputies learned quickly that they couldn’t keep up.
“Being a smaller department like this, not only is your worktime spent together but often afterhours as well,” Gray said. “Mike was an avid hiker and outdoorsman and a lot of the other people here share that. So he would drag the ones along that thought they wanted to go with him. They would go hiking with him and learn real quick they weren’t on his level.”
Tanakeyowma said Rudd also had an affinity for distilling spirits, which he would gladly share with friends of a legal drinking age.
“He loved making moonshine and he was always handing someone a jar or two,” he said. “He was always putting a smile on everybody’s face.”
La Paz comes together to grieve
Rudd’s death is the first time the La Paz County Sheriff’s Office has had an officer killed in the line of duty since the department was founded nearly 40 years ago, and it has been a somber and rough week for everyone involved.
“It’s a loss to our department and a loss to the community at large here in La Paz County,” Ponce said. “It is going to be difficult for us to move on after losing one of our own. As a small department it’s hard because everybody becomes like family. You’re kids grow up together and your family’s interact, not only at work but through church and other public events. So we are going to have to lean on each other and try to move forward together. That is the only way we are ever going to be successful.”
The entire State of Arizona is mourning Rudd’s death today, as Governor Doug Ducey has ordered flags to be flown at half-staff from sun up until sundown.
Ponce said it has also been heartening to see the response from the local community, as they have stepped up to show support for both Rudd’s family and the department over the last couple days.
“We have had people come into the department and tell us how much they loved him, we have seen it on social media, we have had people donate meals to the department here to help feed these people, and the Go Fund Me account that the family has created is receiving large amount of money in support of this officer and his family,” Ponce said. “It is good to see, but it’s unfortunate that we are having to see it under these circumstances. We know that people do support law enforcement here.”
A webpage has been set up to collect donations for Rudd’s family. The Go Fund Me page has set a goal to raise $20,000 which it says will help with funeral costs, bills, and other things that may come up. As of 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday the page showed it had reached that goal, with $20,335 raised, and a new goal of $30,000 has been set. Donations to the family can be made at www.gofundme.com/f/the-family-of-sergeant-mike-rudd-eow-10112021.