FARGO - A Monday gathering to celebrate the life of a late artist became the unexpected scene of more tragic news.
Wayne Gudmundson, a friend of Moorhead artist Timothy Ray who passed away Feb. 10 after a battle with cancer, said family members were worried when Sean Ray didn't arrived at his father's memorial service and couldn't be reached by phone.
The service went on as planned at Fargo's Peace Lutheran Church. Afterward, the pastor called the Minnesota State Patrol.
Troopers arrived to deliver bad news to the already grieving family and friends - Ray and his partner, Judith Reid, were dead, the victims of a deadly four-vehicle crash near Barnesville, Minn., that also critically injured the artist's 16-year-old grandson, Evan Ray.
"A sad day turned into a tragic day," Gudmundson said.
Sean Ray and Reid, both 49 years old, were westbound on Interstate 94 near Barnesville when the crash occurred about 11:30 a.m. Monday, the State Patrol reported.
Reid attempted to drive the Buick Park Avenue between two large vehicles, a semi in the left lane and a snowplow that was clearing the right lane. She instead struck both vehicles before being hit from behind by a Dodge pickup hauling a trailer. Officials said poor visibility and blizzard conditions at the time likely were factors.
Evan Ray was taken to Sanford Medical Center in Fargo. A hospital official said he remained in critical condition Tuesday afternoon.
Jane Gudmundson, Wayne Gudmundson's wife and a close friend of Timothy Ray since working with him for a 2010 show on the Minnesota State University Moorhead campus, said she first met Sean Ray a few weeks before his father died.
She said he came here to help his father finish a career retrospective of his work. The show opened Sunday at the North Dakota Museum of Art in Grand Forks - about a week after the 72-year-old artist died following a four-year battle with colon cancer.
"For the first week, Sean and Tim and I were working in the studio getting work prepared for the exhibit," she said. "Then the last two weeks, Tim was just too weak and diminished to work, so I was working on my own and Sean was taking care of him."
Jane Gudmundson said Sean Ray was born in Kentucky and raised in the Fargo-Moorhead area. He lived in Seattle for a couple of years, working as a waiter, but had long lived in the Twin Cities area.
Ray's Facebook profile said he graduated from Fargo South High School in 1981 and attended North Dakota State University, where he played soccer. In his last status update on Feb. 13, he shared a link to a Feb. 12 Forum article about his father's death and career retrospective exhibit, with the message, "Godspeed Dad."
Reid was from Albert Lea, Minn., and was working at Medica Health Plans in Minnetonka, according to her Facebook profile.
Jane Gudmundson said Ray had worked alongside his father for the past couple of years helping to run Barnesville Easels. She said she asked him recently if he, too, was artistic, and he told her he was more interested in athletics.
The father and son shared a passion for hockey. They both were "avid" fans, she said, and attended a Fargo Force game together earlier this winter. Still, she said Ray was planning to carry on a part of his father's legacy.
"Tim kind of gave the company to Sean, and he showed him the ropes and then was going to step down," she said.
After his father passed away, Ray flew to New York City to represent Barnesville Easels at the College Art Association Conference and returned to Minnetonka on Sunday. Timothy Ray's memorial service was set for Monday afternoon, giving his son and family enough time to drive to Fargo in the morning.
But when he didn't arrive, Gudmundson said the pastor called authorities and was told three people were in a vehicle matching the description, and two had died while the third suffered major trauma from an accident.
"We didn't know at that point who it was and which person was still alive," she said.
Troopers arrived at the church soon after and broke the bad news. Family and close friends went to the hospital to check on Evan Ray.
Gudmundson said the pediatric trauma specialist explained that trauma victims are rated on a scale of injury from 3 to 15, with 3 being the most severe. Evan Ray was estimated to have level 5 injuries, she said, but doctors said the fact that he's a physically active, healthy teen is a "real plus."
She said the full extent of his injuries may not be known for a few days. For now, the Minnetonka High School junior who works at a Wendy's restaurant is being kept in a medically induced coma.
Jane Gudmundson said the tragedy is "just unbelievable," especially because it marks the third set of losses for the family in less than a year. Ray and his sister Hilary Ray, who lives near Washington, D.C., lost their mother, Grayce Marie Ray, to cancer in August and lost their father this month.
"It's so unfair," she said. "They lost their mother in August and then the dad, and now this. Hilary is probably the most impacted by this last go-around because she lost her brother, her only sibling, and then she just has this one nephew. Yesterday was very hard."