Investigators have a suspect in custody but say they are still searching for a motive in the “senseless slaying” of a truck driver found shot to death near his rig on Sept. 10, in Smith Valley, Nevada.
Zachary Sanchez, 36, of Silver Springs, Nevada, was pronounced dead at the scene.
The alleged shooter, Matthew Strain, 29, of Sun Valley, Nevada, is being held at the Lyon County Jail on a no-bail hold, charged with open murder, battery with a deadly weapon and attempted robbery with a deadly weapon.
“Honestly, we don’t have a motive for what made this guy do what he did that night,” Lyon County Sheriff’s Department (LCSD) Det. Lt. Jerry Pattison told FreightWaves. “His behavior is off the charts, so we believe there’s either mental issues, drugs, or a combination of both.”
On Sunday, Pattison said investigators haven’t been able to interview Strain yet.
According to Pattison, Strain was involved in a single-vehicle accident near Canal Road and Nevada State Route 338 in Smith Valley, Nevada. He then proceeded northbound on foot for nearly 400-500 yards before Strain encountered Sanchez, who hauled heavy equipment for a small trucking company, Qualcon Contractors Inc. of Minden, Nevada.
“We aren’t sure if the suspect was standing in the road or along the side of the road, waving his arms or faking an injury, but it’s clear that Sanchez stopped and likely went over to help and was shot,” Pattison said.
It appears that Strain was attempting to steal Sanchez’s rig, but his efforts failed when he was interrupted by a second trucker traveling southbound, who also stopped to help, Pattison said.
Investigators still aren’t naming the driver of the second truck, who was hauling a load of onions to Mexico, when he encountered the incident on the roadway.
Pattison claims the second trucker was either pulled out of his cab or opened his door when Strain allegedly held him at gunpoint and pistol-whipped before he was distracted by a third vehicle that arrived on the scene.
“So when (Strain) got distracted, the victim took off running, and it’s pitch black out there, and he was able to hide in the weeds of the farmland or wherever,” Pattison said. “It wasn’t long after that before law enforcement showed up and took the suspect, who was also hiding in the area, into custody.”
No motive has been established since investigators haven’t been able to interview Strain, Pattison said.
The driver of the second truck was treated at the scene and released.
Widow seeks answers after husband’s slaying
Stephanie Sanchez says she last spoke to her husband, Zachary, around 6 p.m. on Sept. 10, when he was a little over two hours from home. He had delivered a piece of heavy equipment in Bishop, California, a few hours earlier.
When he didn’t arrive home more than three hours later, Sanchez said she started texting and calling Zach. Around 10 p.m., she and her 15-year-old daughter, Samantha, decided to go looking for him. They drove the same route he would have taken that night.
“When he didn’t respond, I was like, OK, Zach, you are starting to worry me,” Sanchez told FreightWaves. “Then I saw a Facebook post that stated there was an active shooter in the area and that really concerned me.”
“I told her to look on the side of the road in case he had wrecked, but we didn’t spot him,” she said.
About 25 minutes into their drive, Sanchez said she spotted Lyon County Sheriff’s officers at a gas station and pulled over.
“I was like, I know you guys have a situation about 25 minutes down the road and it’s in the same area as my husband’s yard, but I can’t seem to find him and he’s not answering his cell phone,” she said. “After a few minutes, I was told I needed to follow them to the sheriff’s department.”
Once at the station, Sanchez said she described her husband as a big guy with gauges in his ears and covered in tattoos. She also showed investigators a photo of Zach inside his big rig.
“The officers left the room, then came back and told me that my husband was a part of the shooting tonight and he was dead,” Sanchez said. “I told them that my husband’s a big guy, that most people are afraid of him, that he was supposed to come straight home and he shouldn’t have been out of his vehicle.”
It wasn’t until the next morning when she read a Facebook post on the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office that she knew a suspect, Strain, had been arrested.
“It made me so angry that Zach wasn’t here with us,” Sanchez said.
Remembering her husband
Stephanie Sanchez describes her husband, Zach, as “a loving and caring father and big teddy bear.” He was the sole provider of their combined family of four kids, including Christian Adams, 19, Samantha Adams, 15, Hannah Stewart, 12, and son, Patrick, 6.
“He was such a hard worker,” Sanchez said. “Driving a big rig was all he ever knew.”
Sanchez said the two met when they were 12 at their church’s youth group, where her dad was the pastor.
While he always wanted to date her, the two didn’t reunite until after both were divorced several years later.
“I saw him at a grocery store and I wanted to get his number,” she said. “I called him and we reconnected. It was perfect timing because I found out he was planning to go to Oklahoma in two days to become an over-the-road truck driver.”
Although she and Zach have been together for 12 years, Sanchez said the couple was planning to celebrate their three-year wedding anniversary on Sept. 23.
“I miss my best friend and the kids miss Zach,” she said. “Our 6-year-old-son knows what happened to his dad, but P.J. has decided that his dad is just in the hospital with stomach pains.”
Investigators hope to learn more from Strain in the next few days, Pattison said.
“This was essentially a senseless crime, but for some reason, he decided to take violent action,” he said. “We are still investigating, but in a lot of these cases, we never really truly understand why this happens.”
Where were you? On 9/11 anniversary, trucker remembers hauling WTC steel
Industry bands together to grant dying trucker’s final wish (with video)
Widow of murdered trucker seeks answers six years later
Trucking, rescue groups describe hurricane relief as ‘organized chaos’