By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
Ron R. Meeks survived a motorcycle accident that put him a coma for two months, being struck by a car and getting hit by a train, but it was either a cigarette or a candle that ignited a fire in his Centralia apartment and ended his life earlier this month.
“The man has been through a lot,” his niece Melody Matson said. “And just to think, something like this happens, his family just can’t believe it.”
Meeks, 56, was found dead from smoke inhalation when firefighters searched his smoke-filled apartment Magnolia and Iron streets early on the morning of Nov. 1.
Riverside Fire Authority Chief Jim Walkowski said investigators have narrowed down the ignition source.
“He smoked, and it was in the area he frequented,” Walkowski said. “And he had candles burning throughout the apartment.”
The fire department is waiting for tests on fragments of metal that might have been a candle base, Walkowski said. It could be weeks or months before the results are returned, according to the chief.
Walkowski is a fan of battery-powered faux candles. He doesn”t use real candles in his home, he said.
It’s tough, because people like their ambiance, but they get knocked over, they get put too close to combustible materials and people forget about them, he said.
Firefighters didn’t find a smoke detector in the apartment, only a ring on the ceiling where it once had been, according to the chief.
Meeks moved into the apartment in February, initially with his girlfriend but she had moved out about three weeks before the fire.
Other than a brief period 20 years ago in Portland, it was the first time he’d ever lived on his own, according to his younger sister Karen Ames.
He suffered major brain damage in a motorcycle wreck when he was in his late 20s, Ames said. He had to learn to walk and talk all over again, she said. He didn’t work after that, she said.
“If you didn’t know him, he would remind you of someone who was born slow,” Ames said.
Ames, who lives near Ogden, Utah, reluctantly added that her brother was incarcerated before that.
“Reform school, he spent time in jail,” she said. “It was drugs. He had a drug problem since he was very, very young.”
Ames said she was told the autopsy and toxicology tests showed he was clean however.
“He really was a little bit of a wild child, but he had a good heart,” she said.
Matson, who lives in Olympia, helped him get the tiny Centralia apartment. He wanted his 43-year-old niece to take charge of his money, she said.
“He was all there, but like if you gave him $500, he’d spend it in an hour, Matson said.
She said she visited him the Friday before he died and he had another one of his wild ideas, she said. He thought he would sublet out the apartment and take the money to Los Vegas to have some fun, she said.
“I told him, you can’t do that,” Matson said. “And he’s like, ‘darling, it’ll work out’.”
One of his neighbors at the small single-story complex of concrete block apartments described Meeks as a “good guy” and Christian, but with a habit of bringing home things that didn’t belong to him.
Centralia police had a least three contacts with Meeks in the two weeks before he died. He was arrested for stealing a planter, for shoplifting and then for an outstanding warrant.
He always said he was a miracle because he survived so many potentially deadly accidents, Matson said.
When he was a teenager, he was in a vehicle that was hit by a train and about two years ago, he was walking in Lacey when he was hit by a car, according to his sister.
“He had a rough go of it, but he was a sweetheart,” Ames said.
Meeks had recently reconnected with a daughter. His parents are deceased and he had four siblings, but Ames is the only one still living.