Bartholomew County officials and community members are mourning the loss of a longtime county employee who died in a car accident just a day after retiring from a local environmental business.
Lenord “Ray” Sheldon Jr., 66, was killed and his wife, Beth A. Sheldon, 59, was seriously injured when they were involved in an accident on State Road 129 on U.S. 50 near Versailles on Saturday, Indiana State Police said.
They were heading to a Vevay area casino that day to celebrate his retirement, said Richard Snyder, the victim’s longtime friend and most recent employer at Snyder’s Environmental Service Inc.
Snyder said he learned details about the accident from the couple’s daughter, Jennifer Hohnstreiter of Seymour, who also works at Snyder’s business. The couple also have a son, Jonathan Sheldon, who lives in the Dallas, Texas area.
The Sheldons, who live near Elizabethtown, had just eaten at the McDonald’s restaurant on U.S. 50 in Versailles when they began to head south on State Road 129 toward Switzerland County. The 4 p.m. crash occurred near the intersection of South Benham Road, state police said.
Beth Sheldon, who was in the passenger seat, said she looked down for just a moment. But when she looked up, she saw a dark blue pickup truck approaching that was about to smash into her SUV head-on, Snyder said.
Ray Sheldon was later pronounced dead at the scene. The Ripley County Coroner’s Office cited blunt force trauma injuries as the cause of death.
Prior to the accident, Sheldon had titanium rods in the back of his neck after undergoing surgery for a degenerative vertebrae disease, Snyder said. He was always concerned that if he suffered a sharp hit to his head, it would take his life, he said.
Beth Sheldon was flown from the scene to University of Cincinnati Medical Center. On Sunday, she underwent surgery for multiple fractures to her arm as well as a fractured ankle, Snyder said. She was expecting to be transferred to Columbus Regional Health this week.
The driver of the pickup truck was identified as Rebecca Ashcraft, 68, of Vevay, who was treated for minor injuries at Margaret Mary Hospital in Batesville.
Investigators say they don’t know why Ashcraft’s pickup truck veered into oncoming traffic, but toxicology results are pending, state police said.
Ray Sheldon had the reputation of a hard and competent worker, employed steadily since the age of 13 when he began painting and putting up wallpaper for his father, Lenord R. Sheldon Sr., according to his family.
After graduating in 1974 from Columbus East High School, Ray volunteered for the U.S. Marines. Eventually, he was promoted to corporal of the Guard of the Military Police at Atsugi Naval Base in Japan.
After his discharge, Sheldon eventually took over his father’s commercial wallpaper and painting business. He married the former Beth Ann Rager on Dec. 16, 1985, and took classes at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus.
He was hired as an employee of the Bartholomew County Surveyor’s Office on July 21, 1998, according to county personnel records. His supervisor, county surveyor E.R. Gray III, described Sheldon as a diligent and loyal person who always arrived to work early and would “go to the nth degree to get things right.”
“Boy, if he made a mistake, it would tear him up,” Gray said. “I’d said, ‘Ray, it’s not that big of a deal, we’ll just redo that part of the drawing.’ But he just hated to make a mistake.”
Eventually promoted to surveys coordinator, Sheldon took an intense approach to researching that was used in the development of geographic information system mapping in Bartholomew County, Gray said.
Although he retired from the surveyor’s office on Nov. 25, 2019, Sheldon only took a few days off before he went to work for Snyder, a good friend since kindergarten. He would show the private company the same level of loyalty and dedication that he displayed at the county surveyor’s office, Snyder said.
Outside of work, Sheldon was considered a master spelunker (cave explorer). In fact, he was both state board secretary and Bartholomew County director of the Indiana Cave Survey. Established in 1986, the organization is dedicated to cataloguing all cave features in the state as well as maintaining a database that also includes springs, sinks and swallowholes.
In that capacity, Sheldon took on the ambitious task of mapping out the cave network under the Jefferson Proving Grounds, said Indiana political reporter Brian Howey.
Sheldon also was an enthusiastic supporter of the Boy Scouts of America, Snyder said.
After working for Snyder for two and a half years, Sheldon decided this summer to retire for good so he could enjoy time with his wife and family. The staff threw a retirement party for him on his last day with pizza and cake, but Sheldon didn’t want to stop working while the party was being held, Snyder said.
But when he did finally join the fun, Sheldon became uncharacteristically emotional, Snyder said. With tears in his eyes, Sheldon expressed how proud he was to begin his career 55 years ago at his father’s side and conclude his career Friday while his daughter, Jennifer, was working alongside him, Snyder said.
Although Sheldon told everyone he was leaving earlier than expected that day, he was only acting rebellious, Snyder said. Instead of immediately heading home, Shelton went to the post office in Elizabethtown to drop off all of the company’s mail, his boss said.