BY DAVE McKINNEY Sun-Times Springfield Bureau Chief
SPRINGFIELD -- A key figure in the perjury investigation of U.S. Sen. Roland Burris died in an automobile accident Monday, authorities in far west-suburban Kendall County confirmed Tuesday.
John Ruff, of Sandwich, Ill., was killed shortly before 3 p.m. when his 2001 BMW convertible crossed an oncoming lane of traffic and collided with a tree while he was driving eastbound on Rogers Road near Oak Brook Road in unincorporated Plano, said Kendall County Sheriff's Deputy Richard Pearson.
Police have ruled out alcohol as a cause of the crash, but toxicology results won't be known until a coroner's inquest in mid July.
Pearson said there were no witnesses to the crash nor was there evidence of any other vehicles involved. There were no skid marks on the road.
"We have absolutely no idea what caused Mr. Ruff's vehicle to veer off the roadway," Pearson said.
Deputy Kendall County Coroner Jacquie Marcellis told the Sun-Times that Ruff died of blunt head and chest trauma. No autopsy is planned.
Marcellis said that a friend of Ruff's indicated to her that he had been diagnosed with a brain tumor, though it was unclear whether that had any bearing on the crash.
"Obviously, one of the effects of a brain tumor is you have seizures. It could have been an issue for him," she said.
Ruff, 42, was the subject of a March 6 front-page story in the Sun-Times in which he issued an apology for being a co-plaintiff with Burris in a lawsuit seeking to force Secretary of State Jesse White to certify Burris' controversial late-December appointment by impeached ex-Gov. Blagojevich.
Ruff, a health-care and political consultant, raised the prospect of a possible quid pro quo between Blagojevich and Burris, recounting a telephone conversation with Burris' business partner Fred Lebed, who allegedly told Ruff on the date of Burris' appointment, "We'll have to do some things for the governor."
Ruff also said he recalled Lebed telling him he'd had discussions about Burris' interest in the Senate appointment with Blagojevich representatives -- lobbyist John Wyma, now-indicted chief of staff John Harris and former chief of staff Lon Monk -- as early as October.
That information contradicted Burris' claim in a Jan. 5 affidavit in which the senator said neither he nor his representatives spoke with Blagojevich or his representatives before Dec. 26. Lawyers representing Harris and Wyma denied their clients spoke with Lebed about Burris' interest in the seat.
Lebed accused Ruff at the time of being on a "witch-hunt" and fabricating that story after not being hired for Burris' senatorial communications staff in Washington, D.C.
But Ruff insisted that the only way to determine whether Burris lied about the circumstances of his appointment when appearing before an Illinois House impeachment panel was for prosecutors in Sangamon County and investigators overseeing a U.S. Senate ethics probe to zero in on Lebed.
"There is more to be discovered," Ruff told the Sun-Times. "I know the key to finding the information out is through Fred. That's the main point I wish to get across."
Both Ruff and Lebed have been interviewed by Sangamon County State's Attorney John Schmidt as part of his still-ongoing perjury investigation.
Burris' office declined comment when informed of Ruff's death.
"John was honest yet irreverent," said Eileen Wixted, a consultant and longtime friend of Ruff's. "He believed no one was above the truth, period. The combination of his boldness and his uncanny ability to distill complicated matters is rare and refreshing. John will certainly be missed for his sense of humor and strategic mind."
Funeral arrangements for Ruff, a father of four children, were incomplete this afternoon.