Dead man walking.
That’s how doctors in Houston described Ronnie Patteson after he somehow survived a savage beating on a Friday night in Port Arthur in February, and then managed to cobble together an improbable series of events that led to a Houston hospital room where the 52-year-old Port Acres man was taken off life support and pronounced dead a mere 96 hours later on Valentine’s Day.
“This is just surreal to the entire family, it doesn’t feel real to this point,” said Judy Patteson, who is married to Ronnie’s eldest brother, Joe, and has known the Patteson family for almost 40 years.
The Patteson family was in a state of legal uncertainty to some degree as both the family and the Port Arthur Police Department waited for a ruling from the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office as to how Ronny Patteson’s death would be classified. But after a nearly three month wait, the death was indeed ruled a homicide this month.
It was Port Arthur’s first homicide of 2011.
Because of the bizarre nature in how Patteson’s death unfolded, police were unsure of whether or not the death would be ruled a homicide considering Patteson was alive, walking and talking for almost two full days after a beating at The Place bar in Port Acres.
According to police and family accounts, Ronny, who family members called a gregarious, generous man who didn’t mind the occasional drink, had driven to Port Acres that Friday, Feb. 11, to visit a family friend, Judy’s brother Martin. Martin was going through some personal issues, and Ronny, as he was known to do, came to take Martin to the casino and show him a good time to take his mind off things. The two went to Louisiana, gambled for a bit, and then returned to Port Acres early Friday evening.
Ronny ate when he returned to Port Acres around 7 p.m., and according to Martin, thought Ronny had left for Friendswood, near Houston, where Ronny’s girlfriend lived, shortly after arriving back in Port Acres.
However, Ronny ended up at the Place, a bar in Port Acres and it was evident that Ronny had been drinking. While accounts differ of what happened the first time, Ronny was asked to leave and eventually escorted out of the bar by an acquaintance that is believed to have punched Ronny, knocking him out. When he came to, Ronny hopped in his truck and left, but not before “throwing rocks” on some of the motorcycles that were parked outside the bar, according to Joe, Ronny’s brother.
When Ronny returned to the bar a short time later between 9:30 and 10 p.m., and no one is sure what prompted him to return, but when he did is when the beating took place, according to police and the family. Joe said he’s heard all kinds of stories about what happened, but he understands that his brother was kicked in the head several times.
Port Arthur Police Sgt. Scott Gaspard said his detectives have interviewed nearly everyone that was at the bar that night, and they do have suspects in connection to the beating.
After the beating, police were summoned, and Ronny was asked if he wanted to press charges, which he declined. It was then that a young woman picked Ronny up to take him home, but that ride never made it all the way, according to Joe, and Ronny made his way back to his friend Martin’s house. It was there that Judy and Joe were called to pick up Ronny, but Ronny got a ride back to the bar where he picked up his truck. He was supposed to go to his brother Joe’s house, where he did make it to Joe’s next door neighbor’s house, because Joe said he saw him, but then Ronny pulled out of the driveway and left for Friendswood.
Ronny eventually ran out of gas on I-10 near Anahuac, where a Chambers County Sheriff deputy and DPS Trooper saw Ronny on the side of the highway. They were preparing to arrest him for DUI according to police, but they noticed he was severely injured and took him to a hospital in Anahuac, where it was discovered Ronny had a broken jaw and was then life-flighted to Baptist Hospital in Houston, all of this occurring on Saturday.
Judy and Joe and several other family members visited with Ronny by phone Saturday afternoon in his hospital room, and even asked him if he was going to press charges over what happened the night before.
“He was talking to the family, and we asked him, are you going to file charges over what they did to you,” said Judy, “and he said, ‘nah, I’m not going to worry about it’, and I told Joe, that’s just like him to sweep it under the rug and move on with his life.”
Emergency Phone Call
At around 10 p.m. that Saturday night, Joe and Judy received a phone call urging them to get to Houston as soon as possible because Ronny was in “serious condition.”
“We dropped everything at that moment, and we just left like we were,” said Judy, adding that she and Joe and their grandbaby arrived at the hospital around 11:45 p.m., and that unfortunately, “for all practical purposes, Ronny was gone.”
Ronny was kept on life support from that Sunday to the following Monday, and on Valentine’s Day, doctors told the Patteson family that “he had no quality of life after performing a sequence of different procedures and tests on Ronny.”
“If we could’ve helped Ronny, we would have,” the doctors told the Patteson family, as they waited nervously in a gathering room on the hospital’s trauma floor. “They said he was a dead man walking from the time of the injury,” Judy said.
And just after 4 p.m. on Valentine’s Day, with the Patteson family and the hospital chaplain there, Ronny was taken off life support and died shortly after.
Joe Patteson has been very patient while waiting for the medical examiner to make their ruling, and now that homicide has been established, the next step is more waiting as the Port Arthur Police Department puts their case together and takes it to the District Attorney’s Office. Gaspard said the department is waiting on subpoenaed medical records before it can send its case to the DA’s office. The DA also has the option of sending it to a grand jury to determine potential criminal charges. So far, no one has been charged in the case.
Until then, and Judy has cautioned her husband and everyone in the family that it could take a couple years before they finally get justice for whoever is responsible for the injuries that killed Ronny. Joe said while his brother liked to have fun, and he’s had his problems in the past with drinking, that Ronny, who was briefly married and had no children, was not a violent person and did not deserve what happened to him that night at the bar.
“I wish the police would’ve been called and they’d take him to jail,” said Joe, “at least he’d still be here.”
Joe said he’s starting to feel better for the first time since Ronny’s death and prefers to remember the man Ronny had become in recent years. A long-time carpenter who was excellent with woodwork, Ronny had calmed down, his heart problems were lessening and he had become a friendlier person to be around.
“He was always giving people hugs,” said Joe, “he was kinda mushy like that; I’m not, but Ronny was.”
But with the memorials done, the funeral over and Ronny’s ashes in Joe’s possession, Joe said he’s going to continue to improve emotionally while he lets the judicial process take its course.
“This has been rough, I’ve had a couple minor heart attacks, so I’m trying to chill out.”