Dan Huff, assistant fire chief of Clallam County Fire District No. 2, spreads liquid absorbant at the scene of a multi-vehicle collision on U.S. Highway 101 west of Port Angeles that resulted in the death of former reality television personality Gabe Rygaard. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Dan Huff, assistant fire chief of Clallam County Fire District No. 2, spreads liquid absorbant at the scene of a multi-vehicle collision on U.S. Highway 101 west of Port Angeles that resulted in the death of former reality television personality Gabe Rygaard. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Ax Men star, father of three, dies in wreck near Port Angeles

Friends, family and a community mourn his passing.

PORT ANGELES — Those who knew Gabe Rygaard — a reality TV star and former Clallam County commissioner candidate killed Friday in a three-vehicle collision — said they are reeling from the sudden loss.

Rygaard’s father, Craig, confirmed Friday afternoon that his son — a Port Angeles native and a 1989 Port Angeles High School graduate — died in the crash.

He was 45. He is also survived by his wife, Katy Sotebeer-Rygaard; three children, Tucker, Aden and Trilby; his mother, Kathy; and his brother, Jason.

Rygaard was a certified master logger and co-owner-operator of Rygaard Logging, Inc., of Port Angeles, operated with his brother, Jason, and his son Aden; owner of Ryfield Properties, Inc., of Port Angeles; and Penny Creek Rock Quarry of Quilcene.

He was featured for nine seasons on History Channel’s recently canceled reality TV series “Ax Men.”

He ran as a Republican in the primary election for the District 2 commission seat and did not advance to the Nov. 8 general election.

The family released a statement Saturday night.

“With great sadness we say goodbye to Gabe,” the family said.

“He was a faithful husband, devoted father, brother and son. He loved the Lord Jesus Christ, logging and life. He will be missed. We are thankful for your concern and prayers, but ask you to please respect the family’s privacy during this difficult time.”

A Celebration of Life service for Rygaard will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday at King’s Way Foursquare Church, 1023 Kitchen-Dick Road, Sequim.

Rygard was killed in a wreck at about 9:23 a.m. Friday on U.S. Highway 101 west of Port Angeles. No one else in the wreck was injured.

Rygaard was driving a white 1995 Ford Bronco eastbound in the second lane of Highway 101 near Milepost 243, the State Patrol said.

He was traveling behind a black Chevrolet Tahoe being driven by Michael R. Lydon, 69, of Citrus Springs, Florida, which started to slow to a stop, the State Patrol said.

The driver of the Tahoe reportedly “was slowing down to look for a place to turn around,” said Trooper Russell Winger, State Patrol public information officer, via email Saturday afternoon.

“They were confused about [the] location, according to initial investigation,” Winger said. “There is no turn or intersection at the collision location.”‎

As the Tahoe slowed, Rygaard’s Bronco veered to the left and struck the rear of the Tahoe.

“Whether [the Tahoe] had any contributory fault is still under investigation by our detectives,” Winger said.

The Bronco then rotated and struck a maroon Dodge Ram van hauling a kayak trailer, which was traveling westbound in the opposing lane. The Dodge was driven by Jarrett E. Swan, 28, of Port Angeles, according to the memo.

Rygaard was not wearing a seat belt, according to the memo. He was declared deceased at Olympic Medical Center, according to the State Patrol.

Lydon and passenger Gregory J. Andrews, 66, also of Citrus Springs, were not injured, according to the memo.

Swan also was uninjured.

Swan’s passengers — Warren P. Kiser, 27, of New York City; Donna. C Kiser, 62, of Plano, Texas; and Elaine C. Kiser, 31, also of Plano — were injured, treated at the scene and released, according to the memo.

All but Rygaard were wearing seat belts, according to the State Patrol.

Those who knew and worked with Rygaard said they were rattled by his sudden death.

“I was just sitting with him on Wednesday talking about the fishing trip he had with his family up to Alaska, and some other things,” said Randy Johnson, county commissioner candidate who had run against Rygaard for the District 2 Commissioner seat, over the phone Friday.

“Gabe Rygaard was just so full of life. Just to think the man is not here anymore is obviously a tragedy. It is difficult for me to comprehend.”

Jim McEntire, a former County Commissioner who worked with Rygaard during the latter’s run for office this summer, said on Friday the entire ordeal “was a complete shock.”

“I was just shocked and devastated. It was just terrible to think my friend Gabe is gone.”

McEntire said he last spoke with Rygaard a few days before his death.

“I just feel so bad for his family. Gabe had a close relationship with his savior, Jesus Christ, so I am not worried about Gabe, but I am very concerned about his family and the terrible trouble they are going through.”

In addition to his business ventures and pursuit of politics, Rygaard also was involved in youth sports across the North Olympic Peninsula.

His business, Ryfield Properties, has been the primary funder of the Olympic Crosscutters youth baseball program since it was formed in 2015.

Rygaard, in a May 2015 article published in Peninsula Daily News, said the team’s mission statement and guiding philosophy are what drew him to fund the team’s operations.

“Developing the kids’ skills, getting them exposure and moving them on to play at the next level — this will be good for baseball here on the Peninsula.”

The nickname “Crosscutters” was selected for the team in a nod to both the North Olympic Peninsula timber industry and a “cutter,” a baseball term for a pitch that’s usually thrown faster than a slider but with more motion than a typical fastball, according to Michael Carman, Peninsula Daily News sports reporter and columnist.

“Gabe Rygaard was an amazing man driving change and supporting so much good in our community,” said John Qualls, Olympic Crosscutters manager, on Friday via email.

“Most people don’t even realize it because he chose to do it quietly. I’ll forever respect the selfless way he supported youth sports.”

Rygaard “did not accept mediocrity from himself or those he surrounded himself with,” Qualls continued.

“He was a visionary and he pushed forward everyday. Gabe role-modeled faith, family and work — in that order. He loved his wife and his family and everything he did was for them.”

On a personal level, Qualls said Rygaard “believed in me, mentored me and taught me not to be fearful of taking risks and being bold. He started Olympic Crosscutters with me and never let a kid be excluded because of inability to pay.”

When Qualls wanted to expand and open a business that would help grow and support area athletes, he said Rygaard “supported me and told me, ‘don’t worry — just do it. I have your back if you need it.’”

Rygaard, Qualls continued, “was a man of his word and his support allowed me to take risks that I may not have taken otherwise. I loved that man, admired that man and respected that man. God took a good one from us today.”

________

Features Editor Chris McDaniel can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56650, or at cmcdaniel@peninsuladailynews.com.

Port Angeles native and former “Ax Men” star Gabe Rygaard.

Port Angeles native and former “Ax Men” star Gabe Rygaard.

The aftermath of a three-car collision that resulted in the death of former reality television personality and Clallam County commissioner candidate Gabe Rygaard blocks U.S. Highway 101 east of Laird Road on Friday. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

The aftermath of a three-car collision that resulted in the death of former reality television personality and Clallam County commissioner candidate Gabe Rygaard blocks U.S. Highway 101 east of Laird Road on Friday. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

More in News

Smoke vents from the rear car deck doors as firefighters battle a vehicle fire aboard the ferry MV Coho upon its afternoon arrival in Port Angeles on Thursday. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)
Crews evaluated after RV fire on Coho ferry

Combined training helped during incident, deputy chief says

Staff favors denial for rezone

Proposal would pave way for Dollar General Plus

Clallam Transit considering proposal for Narcan at Gateway center

Board members want time for more discussion before next meeting

Turns restricted during roundabout construction

Drivers at the intersection of state highways 104 and 19… Continue reading

Bridge closures canceled for May 17, May 18

Hood Canal bridge closures originally scheduled for this weekend have… Continue reading

Roxanne Pfiefer-Fisher, a volunteer with a team from Walmart, sorts through sections of what will become a slide during Wednesday’s opening day of a community rebuild of the Dream Playground at Erickson Playfield in Port Angeles. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)
Volunteers flock to Dream Playground to start build

Group effort reminds organizers of efforts in 2021, 2002

Lawsuit over pool ban is planned

Lawyers say they’re suing city of Port Townsend, YMCA

Peninsula Behavioral Health adds 3 programs

Services help those experiencing psychosis, provide housing

Michael Anderson of Gibsons, British Columbia tries his hand at flying a kite in the gusty winds of Point Hudson on Monday afternoon. Anderson was on the last leg of an RV vacation around the Olympic Peninsula with his wife and dog and planned on spending the next two nights at the Point Hudson Marina RV Park before they head home. (Steve Mullensky/for Peninsula Daily News)
Let’s go fly a kite

Michael Anderson of Gibsons, British Columbia tries his hand at flying a… Continue reading

Residents against store proposal

Hearing examiner meeting set Thursday

Jefferson County wants to increase curbside service for trash

Congestion at transfer station increasing costs, manager says

Port of PA to replace John Wayne Marina ramp

Boat launch will include components from Port of Friday Harbor