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Son hopes others will learn from his dad’s tragic death: ‘You don’t want it to be too late’

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- As fans of Alice Walker poured into St. Paul's Baptist Church in Henrico's East End Thursday night to see the famous author speak, Eric Ritchie mourned his father, 78-year-old Eugene Ritchie, who sang in the choir there.

"He liked singing in the choir, and he had a great voice," Eric Ritchie said.  "You never know when tragedy is going to strike."

The elder Ritchie died early Thursday morning when Virginia State Police said he was struck in a travel lane by an SUV on I-95 North.

Eugene Ritchie

"I just don't know why he was out at 2:00 in the morning, and I'm having problems with my phone, and it was off trying to charge it up, so I don't know if he had tried to call me and didn't get an answer, and I'm really sorry about that," Eric said.

Eric said police told him his father was pulled over for an expired registration when he realized he was running low on gas.

"He probably tried to start it back up, and it was so low it wouldn't start, so that's probably when he started walking," Eric said.

Eric Ritchie said he believes his dad was in the early stages of dementia, and he and his sister recently found an apartment in a senior living community for him, but his dad only stayed there a few days a week, preferring to stay at his house.

"I was getting ready to take my vacation from my job next week, and I was going to go over a lot of things with him, discuss the importance of him staying at the home and letting us help him with things," Eric said.

Eric Ritchie

Still, he said his dad was in great physical shape having worked as a postman for 26 years.

He also served in the U.S. Army in his early 20s.

But, Eric believes his dad might have been confused and unable to see when he stepped into traffic, and he hopes his tragic end will serve as a reminder to others to protect their elderly loved ones.

"If they don't want to do what you ask them to do, it's best to just tell them, this is what you have to do, it's for the best, because once an accident happens it's too late, and you don't want it to be too late. We found that out the hard way," Eric Ritchie said.

Virginia State Police are still investigating the crash.

The SUV that hit Eugene Ritchie stayed at the scene.