Danny Ward called to tell me that longtime Standardbred farrier Mike Sluss and his wife were among the victims of last week's horrible tornado in Central Florida. Mike was a Hoofcare & Lameness subscriber and was a graduate of Bruce Daniels' South Jersey Horseshoeing School, which operated in the 1970s and 1980s. The Standardbred Canada web site added these details: (begin quote from site)
(Trainer James) Dean was at the (O'Brien) awards in Mississauga, Ont., on Saturday night...but his heart was in Florida, where his long-time friend and blacksmith Mike Sluss and his wife Melinda were killed by a tornado. The couple's only child, 15-year-old Aaron, survived the storm.
"I flew out [of Florida] on Friday morning, and that's when the storms hit at about 4 a.m.," Dean told Trot Insider. "I wasn't even sure if I was going to get out of Orlando. It was weird, because the storm stayed in the same area; it went west to east and never really moved further south.
"My friend Raphael called and said there were some places that got hit bad but he had no idea about Mike and I didn't either. James MacDonald [brother of horsemen Mark and Anthony] picked me up at the airport and when we got to the house I flipped CNN on to see the damage.
"I was watching the CNN broadcast and when I was sitting there I said 'damn that looks like Mike's shoeing truck'. It's a red truck and had a big white box on the back. Out of the corner of my eye I saw it said Lady Lake and he doesn't even live there so I thought it couldn't be. Two minutes later Raphael called and said 'Mike's dead'."
Dean stayed for the awards but went back to Florida the next day, and has since been trying to help out and clean up.
"There is absolutely nothing left," he said. "There was no warning at all. You can't recognize anything. About 100 yards behind Mike's place it's almost like a forest and all those trees are fine. It looks like the damn thing came over and dropped right on his property," Dean said of the tornado. "All the trees on his property are just stripped right clean, the ones that are still standing."
Dean said that Mike and Melinda's son appears to have escaped serious injuries.
"They had to do reconstructive surgery on his arm. He's lucky. I don't know anyone could have survived that because there is nothing left," he said.
Dean had been a good friend of Mike's for many years, having worked with him at Ben White Raceway as far back as the 1980s. "He used to do all Stew's [trainer Stew Firlotte] horses and Raphael and Mike worked together for eight years. Just last year Mike phased out standardbreds because he's getting older and the young ones can be a handful to shoe; there are a lot of show horses around here so he got doing that," said Dean. "Mike was just here two weeks ago. He stopped in while I was doing feeds and that. Raphael and I just bought shoes from him last week. He used to make all his own shoes and everything. He was just a good guy, too. He didn't have a mean bone in his body."
Dean said a funeral will take place this Friday (Feb. 9) and that a trust fund will be set up for the couple's son.
A story published in Monday's Orlando Sentinel tells the cryptic story of how a woman who lived 30 miles away from the Sluss home found one of Mike's cancelled cheques in her yard after the storm, and of the lives of two people who will be mourned by their community and many in the harness racing world.
(end quote from Standardbred Canada)