John Ruckh, a 24 year EMS veteran in Forsyth County, North Carolina, has been suspended after comments he made about Oprah Winfrey were picked up in the 911 call made by Maya Angelou‘s caretaker while the famed poet was dying Wednesday morning at her Winston-Salem home, reports the Winston-Salem Journal.
“These comments are unacceptable and we have opened an internal investigation to look into the circumstances surrounding this event,” Forsyth County EMS Director Dan Ozimek said in a statement.
Ruckh was not the primary dispatcher on the call but was in the same room remarking on controversial comments Winfrey made about racism.
Read more from the Journal:
The conversation is a bit garbled on the 911 recording and takes up less than a minute of the 7-minute call, but Ruckh appears to be saying that “Oprah has fallen out of grace” with a lot of people and asks someone if they have heard her recent rant. He says she is upset because people are not supportive of President Barack Obama and, apparently paraphrasing one of her statements, says that racism is alive because so many white people have been raised in the era of hating black people.
Ruckh explained Thursday that he was just having a conversation with another co-worker about an interview he had seen.
“Unfortunately, I work in a high-profile job and everything’s recorded,” Ruckh said.
Ruckh said he regrets the timing of the conversation. He described Angelou as a “wonderful human being” for whom he had “the utmost respect.”
“This is in no way a racial slur, slander, associated conversation,” said Ruckh, who is white.
In a video interview posted Nov. 13 on www.bbc.com, Winfrey speaks with the BBC’s Will Gompertz about her role in “The Butler” and the racial themes addressed in the film.
When speaking about racism, Winfrey says during the interview, “There are still generations of people, older people, who were born and bred and marinated in it, in that prejudice and racism, and they just have to die.”
Ruckh said though his comments were not racist, he is sorry that he spoke during such a sensitive time:
“In Emergency Services, we deal with a lot of pain and suffering and we make decisions in split seconds to know how to do, what to do and who to send. … However, sometimes we become calloused and insensitive. I really hate that this happened at the time that it did, because this is taking away from Maya Angelou’s passing,” Ruckh said.
Ozimek also offered his condolences to Maya Angelou’s family and shared his hope that this incident doesn’t deflect from the positive impact that she had on so many lives.
During the 911 call, Angelou’s caretaker can be heard saying that she thinks she has died and that she didn’t want to be resuscitated.
Maya Angelou 911 Call