MOUNT PLEASANT — Linda Ruggles grinned as she strolled across her cluttered yard Thursday, enjoying freedom after six days in jail and rejoicing at the persistent growl of a mower and weed eater gnashing at her lawn.
The 53-year-old photographer left the Charleston County jail just after midnight and returned home uncertain about what the future held for her. The code violations that landed her behind bars still were not fixed, and she was no closer to having the money needed to remedy the problem.
Then, a little good luck came her way.
Several people who read about Ruggles’ plight in The Post and Courier called the newspaper offering their help. A contractor said he would shingle her leaking roof for free. Landscapers offered to clean up her messy yard. A realty group inquired about helping her with home repairs.
Others are mulling financial aid.
Corey Ireland, a landscaper whose wedding Ruggles will photograph this month, showed up unannounced with his wife-to-be and future mother-in-law. They set to work mowing, edging and weeding Ruggles’ lawn — all at no cost.
“It’s all about giving back,” Ireland said. “She’s having a hard time and needs some help. Hopefully, some day if I ever need help, someone will be there to help me too.”
Ruggles had trouble finding words to describe her gratitude. “I’m really overwhelmed,” she said. “I’m so thankful and appreciative people want to help.”
She was also thrilled to learn that she hadn’t been fired from her part-time job at a local supermarket, despite her jail-
induced absence. She headed back to work Thursday afternoon to get her cash flow going again.
Ruggles’ plans to repair her home stalled in 2008 when the economy soured and her photography business tanked. Piled packages of shingles have sat on her roof, unopened, for three years. And her driveway is littered with scrap metal and other items she collects to help pay her bills.
The town got involved after neighbors complained about the state of her home and the effect it was having on their property values. The town cited her for a “clean lot violation” and fined her $480 in December 2010.
Officials insisted that they bent over backward to work with Ruggles and help her avoid jail, but she rebuffed their efforts and ignored court dates and warnings. After a year of trying to resolve the situation, police arrested Ruggles on Jan. 5.
While several readers felt the town’s action was heavy-handed, several others called the newspaper to voice their support for police and other local officials.
Those folks, like Ruggles’ neighbors, felt she had been given ample time to correct the problem.
Ruggles said she had no money to pay the ticket and was pouring every last cent she earned into saving her home from foreclosure and satisfying her back taxes. She maintains that the town law is unfair and that her arrest accomplished nothing.
“It didn’t change the situation,” she said. “I just don’t think being handcuffed, photographed and fingerprinted is really a behavior-modification tool to keep me from being poor.”
Mark Sargeant, the town’s code-enforcement officer, declined to respond to Ruggles’ views on town ordinances, but he did say he was pleased that the problem appeared to be on its way to getting resolved.
“I’m glad people offered to step in, because she could really use the help.”
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or on Twitter at @glennsmith5.