While reality TV usually focuses on celebrities, luxuries and drama, some shows make a difference by honoring the genre’s name, and letting audiences see what’s really going with real people in real life. In the latter category, shows such as “Ax Men” brought a new perspective into logging, definitely one of the hardest and most dangerous professions in the US, if not the world.
That being said, there’s also lots of sad stories behind “Ax Men”. Ever since the show’s premiere in 2008, the audience have been baffled to find out that several of its cast members have unfortunately died in a variety of ways, one of them the long-time cast member and crew boss Gabe Rygaard.
So what really happened to Gabe, and when exactly did he die? Where’s his family and business now, and what happened to “Ax Men” after his death? Stay with us to know all!
How Did Gabe Rygaard Die?
Ever since “Ax Men”s second season premiered in 2012, the show’s audience quickly warmed to Gabe Rygaard, trucker turned owner of Rygaard Logging, the company founded by his father in the 1990s.
However, Gabe’s once promising future leading his family’s company was cut short when he was killed in a car accident on 16 September 2016, while driving his Ford Bronco on Highway 101, minutes away from his Port Angeles home in Washington State. The accident involved two other cars, one of which was rear ended by Gabe’s truck, the latter rotating and hitting a third car in the left lane. Seven people were injured in the wreck and treated at the scene, but Gabe’s injuries were serious enough for him to be transferred to the Olympic Medical Center, where he unfortunately died a couple of hours later.
According to police reports, Gabe wasn’t wearing a seat belt in the accident, and the wreck had been messy enough to close the highway for several hours
Regarding the unfortunate loss, Gabe’s widow Katy asked for prayers, and thanked her community for their generosity during those hard times: ‘I am overwhelmed with the love that this community is pouring out to our family’, she wrote in a Facebook post, in which she also described her late husband as ‘her rock’ and ‘best friend’.
— KOMO News (@komonews) September 17, 2016
Where Is His Family Now?
Gabe Rygaard’s death was devastating in so many ways; he not only left a growing business without a leader, but also a whole young family alone. He was survived by children Trilby, Aidan and Tucker as well as his widow Katy.
Many members of Gabe’s family also paid heartfelt tributes during his funeral, such as his father Craig, who affirmed to be ‘fortunate to have known him’ despite their disagreements, as reported by Peninsula Daily News.
Nowadays, Gabe’s parents Craig and Kat are apparently in good health, while his youngest son Tucker is in college and is a football player on the rise, Aidan is working in the food industry, and Trilby is the fortunate mother of a baby girl. Meanwhile, Katy re-married in 2021, but still warmly remembers her late husband Gabe: ‘You had the biggest heart and everyone you loved felt it. 6 years have passed but nothing about you will be forgotten. I thank God for the time we had’, she wrote on Facebook in 2022.
There’s no doubt that the pain of Gabe’s loss was surely immense for his family, but the good memories of him will surely last in their hearts for many years to come.
What Happened To The Business?
As many loyal “Ax Men” viewers might remember, in 2012 the Rygaard patriarch Craig stepped down from leading the family’s logging business because of a severe injury to his knee. Due to this, he was unable to take back his old spot in the company after the unfortunate death of Gabe in 2016, leaving Rygaard Logging Inc in the hands of his second son, Jason.
Given that “Ax Men” was canceled shortly before Gabe’s passing, the show’s audience was unable to witness Jason’s performance as the new business’ leader until 2019, when a short-lived show revival – “Ax Men Reborn” – featured him and his struggles to keep Rygaard Logging alive, as Washington’s land and environmental laws were turning the rules of the timber industry upside down: ‘Untimely deaths and a changing economic landscape have threatened family businesses’, as read in the show’s description.
Although “Ax Men Reborn” paid special attention to Jason and his family’s business, the current status of Rygaard Logging is unknown. Not only is the company’s official website no longer active, but their social media hasn’t been updated since late 2016, very shortly after Gabe’s unfortunate death. While this lack of online activity could hint that Rygaard Logging has come to an end, it’s admittedly highly improbable that the family simply abandoned their decades-old business.
Was Gabe A Politician?
Regardless of being a very busy and hardworking businessman, Gabe Rygaard was apparently deeply concerned about the wellbeing of his community in Washington State.
That’s why in early 2016, Gabe initiated his campaign for the commissioner seat of Clallam County in Port Angeles, as a member of the Republican Party. During the campaign, Gabe was vocally against ‘pro-establishment’ and the increment of property assessments, which in his opinion affected the entire town’s population and his own lands: ‘If that’s not a tax raise, I don’t know what is’, as reported by the Peninsula Daily News in April that year.
Not only did Gabe address an apparent ‘discord’ in the then-current government, and encourage people to ‘meet together in the middle to find a middle ground’, but he also promised to support the timber industry, proposing to meet the state’s sustainability goals in harvesting, and creating new jobs through it.
Resulting from his campaign, Gabe accumulated almost 2,000 likes on his “Rygaard For Commissioner” Facebook page, started a website and took his message to many corners of his town, but despite his efforts he wasn’t ultimately successful in that August’s elections. However, Gabe thanked his followers and considered his run a success regardless of the results, as seen on his Facebook page.
Was Gabe Friends With Todd Dewey?
If you have been a reality TV fan for long, then the name Todd Dewey surely sounds familiar to you. Todd is known for appearing in the seventh to the 11th season of “Ice Road Truckers”, one of the most popular factual shows on History channel in the last two decades.
Although Todd’s appearances in the hit trucking show are the main reason for his popularity, once his non-winter deeds led him to Washington to heavy haul for his maternal family, the Rygaards. In fact it was his cousin Gabe who contracted Dewey in the eighth season of “Ax Men”, though it was apparent that they had worked together before.
Needless to say, Todd was heartbroken as well, at hearing the unfortunate news of Gabe’s tragic death. On his Facebook page he sent his condolences to the family and described Gabe as not only his cousin, but his ‘best friend, a badass brother, and a dedicated husband, and the best father you could dream of having’. By taking a look at Todd’s words and the hundreds of comments below the post, it’s obvious that Gabe left a huge empty spot in everyone’s hearts.
Who Else Died In The Show?
Besides the unfortunate death of Gabe Rygaard, “Ax Men” has lost several cast members throughout the years. Here are all of them:
One of the most memorable “Ax Men” cast members was Jimmy Smith, who’s remembered by the audience for his refusal to cut living trees for logging, and instead decided to recover these from local rivers in South Cle Elum, in his local Washington State. Nonetheless, Jimmy’s hobbies extended to so much more than wood, as he was an avid hunter, fisher, experienced outdoorsman, family guy, Army veteran, on top of having a degree from Big Bend Community College.
Since his “Ax Men”s debut in the second season, Jimmy’s company S&S Aqua Logging passed through many changes, including facing serious legal issues and a short relocation to Florida, but no one could have ever imagined that one day S&S Aqua Logging would be left without its leader… until it happened.
Ax Men family member Jimmy Smith passed away on Nov. 1 of this year. From the first day we met Jimmy, we knew America needed to experience this truly one of a kind character. He will be deeply missed by us all. Please join us in sending your thoughts and prayers to Jimmy’s son, James, and the rest of his family.
Posted by Ax Men on History on Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Unfortunately, Jimmy died on 1 November 2012 after losing a hard battle against cancer, when just 56 years old. Although details about his health condition weren’t revealed, Jimmy was apparently treated by a cancer care center in the town of Wenatchee during the last months of his life. Jimmy was survived by his sons James and Chad, the former known by “Ax Men”s audience for his recurring appearances in the show.
Even though “Ax Men”s audience will remember Jimmy Smith for his hard working ethic and environmental views, it’s true that at some point his company was involved in a serious legal issue while in the show. It all goes back to 2009, when the state’s Natural Resources Department seized logs valued at around $10,000 which had been salvaged by Jimmy’s company S&S Aqua Logging.
The logs in question were taken from the Hoquiam River in Washington State, and according to authorities, the activity had been illegal due to lack of permits on S&S Aqua’s side, describing it as ‘theft’ on the company’s part as well as a risk to the environment: ‘They are part of the functioning ecosystem, so removing the logs would be like removing part of the bed’, as reported by Seattle Times.
Besides the seizure of the logs, it’s unknown what consequences were faced by Jimmy and his company. Afterwards, S&S Aqua stayed in business for several years until Jimmy’s death, when the public lost track of the logging company which was supposedly left in the hands of his son James.
William Bart Colantuono
Despite his brief appearances in “Ax Men”, William Bart Colantuono was known by the show’s fans for being a top pilot for R&R Conner Aviation, a logging company which debuted in the second season and was popular for recovering trees from apparently inaccessible forest areas.
Although R&R Conner left the show in the third season, the audience was inevitably saddened to know about the unfortunate death of William, who was tragically killed on 17 September 2013 at 54 years of age, while doing his job in Oregon. According to witnesses, a rotor fled away from the helicopter while this stood up in the air, causing a loud ‘snapping sound’, followed by William dropping the logs load. Seconds afterwards, the air auto ‘flipped upside down and crashed into the ground’, as written on William’s online memorial page.
Besides being a TV star and experienced pilot, William was a veteran of the US Navy, and an avid writer who published the horror-themed book “Helilogging in a Sucker Hole”. His family consisting of his four children and fiancéé survived him.
While the name Stacey Robeson might not sound too familiar to some early “Ax Men” fans, those who watched the show’s “Reborn” spin-off season surely remember him for a sad note added during the season’s finale. Being in charge of one of the hardest job positions in the company, Stacey’s performance as a yarder was of extreme importance to ensure Pihl Logging’s everyday success.
However, Stacey unfortunately died on 15 December 2018, shortly before the filming process for “Ax Men Reborn” started the following year. While the general public knew about his passing through the sad statements given by his co-workers on screen, right after his death Stacey’s family and friends had actually set up a funding campaign to cover funeral expenses and provide financial support to his three kids and widow Angela.
Sadly, the campaign hasn’t achieved its $10,000 goal, but is still open for donations nowadays. Regarding the cause of Stacey’s passing, not much was said, either in the show or by his family.
The most recent loss of an “Ax Men” cast member occurred on 6 December 2019, when the memorable timber feller Dwayne Dethlefs, once part of Pihl Logging. Dwayne is well remembered by the most loyal “Ax Men” audience for his appearances from the show’s debut to the fourth season, then briefly appearing in the show’s 2019 revival.
Memorable for his hard-working ethic and vast experience at the job, Dwayne had surprisingly retired from the job during the years Pihl Logging was away from TV, later taking a short-lived break from retirement to help Mike Pihl in “Ax Men Reborn” in 2019. However, later that year Dwayne unfortunately died of unknown causes, leaving behind two daughters and four grandchildren.
The death of Dwayne, Gabe Rygaard and everyone in this list is truly sad but surely their loved ones will surely treasure memories of them for many years to come.
On the same note, there’s still no news about the future of “Ax Men” on TV since 2019, but it’s for sure that viewers won’t forget all the good memories the show and its memorable cast left with them.