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High Bid for a Hog Pays for Infant’s Burial

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A struggling family whose infant girl died suddenly last weekend will be able to bury her Saturday in New Mexico because charitable neighbors paid a whopping $7,192 for her sister’s pig at an Antelope Valley Fair livestock auction.

After learning of the family’s plight, a group of 14 bidders agreed to pay $31 a pound--more than 13 times the going price--for Nosy, a 232-pound pig raised by Misty Sproule, 14, of Antelope Acres, west of Lancaster. Her infant half-sister, Amber Ritchey, died from a type of crib death Sunday, just two days before Tuesday’s auction.

“If it hadn’t been for the 14 buyers, we don’t know if we’d be going right now,” said Renita Ritchey, the girls’ mother. Ritchey, her husband, Robert Ritchey, Misty and two siblings were preparing Thursday to drive to Ritchey’s hometown of Des Moines, N.M., for the funeral services.

Because of Amber’s death, Misty had been reluctant to attend a Sunday judging with Nosy, or the Tuesday auction. But Ritchey said she told the teen-ager that Amber would not have wanted Misty to miss the event, for which she had groomed Nosy for months.

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“I was just doing it mainly for her,” Misty said of her sister.

Nosy fetched the highest price of the 523 animals auctioned this year at the Antelope Valley Fair and Alfalfa Festival, and the highest paid for a pig there in memory.

“That’s the most paid for a hog in a hell of a long time,” said Bil Murphy, chairman of the 36th annual Kiwanis Junior Livestock Auction. The average price for a pig this year was $2.34 a pound.

The skyrocketing bids for her pig surprised Misty. “I felt like I was going to fall over,” she said.

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“It was just a spontaneous thing,” said Phil Arklin, one of the buyers and owner of an Antelope Valley trash-disposal company. Arklin said he and real estate agent Pat Hunt had the idea just moments before the auction, and enlisted others to join in, including a car dealer, a farmer, a restaurant owner and others.

“That’s kind of the way good things happen in the Antelope Valley,” said developer Gregg Anderson, one of the buyers. “We’re large enough to have some companies and people that are able to contribute significantly, and small enough that we have some community pride.”

Ritchey said she returned to her bedroom about 5:45 a.m. Sunday after feeding the family animals to find that Amber, not yet 4 months old, was cold and not breathing. Her screaming awoke Misty, Ritchey’s daughter by a prior marriage, who called 911 to summon help and tried to revive the infant using cardiopulmonary resuscitation she had learned at swimming lessons.

Sheriff’s deputies rushed Amber to Antelope Valley Hospital Medical Center about 10 miles away in Lancaster, but doctors were unable to save the infant, the youngest of Ritchey’s seven children.

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Doctors and the county coroner’s office attributed Amber’s death to sudden infant death syndrome, for which there is no known cause. “They just go to sleep and they don’t wake up,” Ritchey said Thursday.

The family had no money to bury Amber in Ritchey’s hometown, however, because Robert Ritchey, a carpenter, had been unemployed until recently, he said.

The money from the auction is helping the family pay for the burial, Amber’s headstone and the cost of flying her body to Pueblo, Colo., today. From there, it will be driven to Des Moines, a town of a few hundred residents in northern New Mexico.

As for Nosy, the 6-month-old pig has been spared the barbecue, the typical fate of auctioned animals.

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Arklin and the other buyers agreed to return Nosy to Misty and her family.

“Now that this has happened,” Ritchey said, “we’d just as soon keep him as a pet.”


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