Man found dead after fire call on Elm Ave.
Mark Berkley’s grease-stained fingers flipped through a Rolodex, searching for his friend and former fellow drag-racing enthusiast.
The card read, “Racer Ron.”
Berkley said he last saw Ronald Kennon, who was found dead following a small fire Wednesday, about a year ago in failing health, toting portable oxygen and chain smoking.
The men were once friendly competitors during NHRA drag-racing events at the former Two Rivers Raceway.
“He’d give you the shirt off his back, and we were friends right up until we got up on that starting line,” said Berkley, smiling and reclining in an office chair at his shop, Berkley Automotive, 436 S. Fifth St.
Authorities didn’t release the identity of the victim of the small fire at 2616 Elm Ave.
The Grand Junction Fire Department limited its information to acknowledging the man in the home was pronounced dead when firefighters and emergency responders arrived shortly after 9 a.m. Fire Department spokesman Mike Page said the fire was confined to the living room, where an elderly man’s body was found. Respiratory oxygen was used in the home, but it wasn’t clear if it was in use at the time of the fire, Page said.
There was no word Wednesday about cause and manner of death from the Mesa County Coroner’s Office.
Kennon’s son-in-law, Jim Hautamaki, made the trip to Grand Junction from his home in Collbran for errands, when he was called about the fire.
Kennon had lived alone as a widower for more than a decade, confined largely to getting around with a walker after a series of health problems, and he regularly was visited at his home by a nurse, Hautamaki said. Kennon also continued smoking heavily, he said.
“They said it (flames) flashed over hot and fast in there,” Hautamaki said of authorities’ early explanation of events in the fire.
“He should have died on the (operating) table, not like this,” he added.
Berkley said Kennon stopped competitive racing — a professional circuit that took both men to tracks in Wyoming, Pueblo and beyond — in the early 2000s as his health declined.
“He ate up drag racing like people now do NASCAR,” Berkley said. “We were poor-boy racers.”