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Recruit Dies after Ordered to Drop Weight to Meet Requirement

Mother of dead recruit sues Marine Corps

Danny Ruff and mother Audrey Ruffby Justin Lafferty
Apr 27, 2010

The mother of a Tracy man who died last year after trying to drop weight to join the U.S. Marines filed a lawsuit last week against the Corps on grounds of negligence and wrongful death.

Daniel Ruf, a 2005 Tracy High alumnus, died at age 22 on July 21 in San Francisco’s Pacific Medical Center after working out with Marine Corps recruiters at In-Shape Gym on Tracy Boulevard to lose weight.

In a lawsuit filed April 16, Daniel’s mother, Audrey Ruf, said the temperature when Daniel was working out July 15 was about 100 degrees. The paperwork also states that the recruiters Daniel worked out with instructed him to wear a full-body “plastic suit” underneath a sweat suit and to exercise “vigorously.” The lawsuit points out that the workout took place at a private gym called In Shape, which is used by the Marines. But is not on military property.

Marines spokesman Gunnery Sgt. Jason Bortz said that this is not standard practice for recruits who need to lose weight and that “at no time” would a Marine ask a recruit or a member of the Delayed Entry Program (in which Daniel was enrolled) to wear something like a plastic suit.

Nina Fiore, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office of the city and county of San Francisco, said Daniel died of organ failure because of exercise while wearing the suffocating suit. The death was ruled an accident, Fiore said. The lawsuit paperwork states that Daniel’s body temperature was 108 degrees when paramedics got to him.

Ruf filed the lawsuit with the Eastern District Court of California in Sacramento against the Marine Corps to recover medical costs and the emotional cost of losing her son. The lawsuit specifically names Sgt. Miguel Hinojosa and Sgt. Jamal Stewart.

Bortz declined to comment on the investigation due to the lawsuit. A spokesman for the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s office said that he knew little about the case and that it’s in the hands of a district attorney, but he was unsure who.

Ruf’s attorney, Matt Davis from San Francisco-based Walkup Law Office, said the Marines have two months to respond to the lawsuit. Ruf declined to comment, referring questions to Davis.

Davis said he’s handled other cases involving hyperthermia, but never one like this. He said that once a Marine is active, officials have more leeway over what can be done in terms of working out. However, Daniel was in the Marines’ Delayed Entry Program and was not a full-fledged member.

“This was not part of his duties as a Marine,” Davis said. “He hadn’t even taken the oath yet.”

Davis said Daniel was about 12 pounds over the weight limit to start basic training. Bortz said a man of Daniel’s height, 5 feet, 9 inches, would have to weigh no more than 190 pounds to enter boot camp. His family claims that he was never given the body composition test, which he would have passed.

Above: Danny Ruf at his 2006 graduation with his mother Audrey Ruf. Courtesy photo