More than 22 years after Oregon truck driver Roger Kelly was fatally shot while parked for the night in a dirt lot near the Best Western Hotel in Fernley, Nevada, the slaying remains unsolved.
His family and law enforcement are still seeking answers after Kelly, 50, of Bend, Oregon, was found dead, with a single gunshot to the chest, near the hood of his Kenworth around 9 p.m. on Jan. 9, 2000. No suspect or motive has been established, and his family wants answers.
Jerry Pattison, who retired in November as the lieutenant detective of the major crimes division of the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office in Yerington, Nevada, was a patrol deputy at the time of Kelly’s death.
While he didn’t work directly on the initial investigation, he made it his mission to review “forgotten cases,” including Kelly’s homicide, when he took the reins of the department in 2013.
“I’ve always had a passion for those forgotten cases that have been neglected and withered on the vine,” Pattison told FreightWaves. “But these cases really should never have gotten to that point, because the victims and their families still need a voice and they still need their cases solved.”
While the sheriff’s office received many leads in the days, weeks and months following Kelly’s death, Pattison said some promising ones may not have been as thoroughly investigated as they should have been at the time.
He said witnesses interviewed near the Best Western state that a man was seen in the approximate area where Kelly’s body was found. He was described as white, in his late 20s or early 30s, between 5 feet 7 inches and 5 feet 11 inches tall, and weighing 135 to 155 pounds.
The male described near the scene where Kelly was found was never located. But while the drawing based on witnesses’ descriptions is 22 years old, Kelly’s stepdaughters and law enforcement are urging the public, including Fernley residents who lived in the community in January 2000, as well as the trucking community that may have known Kelly or remember him by his CB handles, to look at the sketch with fresh eyes.
“It doesn’t mean that the individual facially described in the sketch is the actual suspect, but it was a person of interest that we have not talked to yet,” Pattison said.
Anyone with information about Kelly’s death is urged to contact the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office Homicide Division at 775-577-5206 or its 24-hour dispatch center at 775-577-5023. An anonymous tip line has also been set up at 775-322-4900.
Possible scenarios but no motive
Pattison said on the day of the slaying, Kelly had left from Wells, Nevada, then stopped at a rest area on Interstate 80 that afternoon before arriving in Fernley after dark. He was scheduled to unload building materials at Burton Components in Fernley the next day.
In the investigator’s original report, the file stated that Kelly had been involved earlier that day in a dispute at a fueling station in Wells, which is approximately four hours from Fernley.
Amy Quintana said this investigator stated that her stepdad had won a couple of hundred dollars playing video poker while fueling his truck. She wonders to this day if someone followed him to the lot where he was killed in Fernley to rob him.
“I feel like that’s a long way to go for a couple hundred bucks, but I really don’t know anymore,” Quintana said. “I’ve thought about that a lot.”
Kelly rarely carried cash, but if someone was trying to rob him, Quintana said, he wouldn’t have just surrendered his wallet without a fight. “If I know my dad, it doesn’t matter if you have a gun, he was not going to just hand it over.”
In reviewing the case, Pattison said he investigated robbery as a possible motive, but Kelly’s wallet and its contents, along with the weapon used, were found at the scene.
Another possible lead was that Kelly knew someone in Fernley and there was an altercation that night since this wasn’t the trucker’s first time delivering in the area, but Pattison failed to turn up any new information.
Based on photographs taken at the scene, a car hauler was also parked in the dirt lot near the Best Western on the night Kelly was shot. However, Pattison said he couldn’t find in the file whether the driver was interviewed that night since he wasn’t assigned to the case.
Quintana, now 49, lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. She says she was at a conference in Houston when she called home and her husband told her that her stepdad, who had raised her since she was 3 years old, had been found shot to death in a dark lot in Fernley.
The sheriff’s office found her phone number in a small notebook that Kelly kept in the cab of his truck.
“I was in total disbelief,” Quintana told FreightWaves. “I spoke to my dad three days before he died and he sounded busy and really stressed.”
She and her sister are still seeking answers about what happened as they have been trying to piece together his final days.
Quintana admits something was off with her dad’s behavior in the days or weeks leading up to his death, but she chalked it up to his “running hard” and being frustrated with dispatch for not finding him backhauls.
She couldn’t remember him ever not calling her on her birthday or not sending her a dozen yellow roses. He did the same for her sister, Amber Abney-Bass, 47, of Susanville, California.
But Quintana said he failed to call or send flowers on her birthday on Jan. 3, six days before his death.
“When he did call me after my birthday — we had a very fun relationship where we could tease each other and be kind of sarcastic and jab each other and laugh about it — I remember holding back for some reason, not saying, ‘Hey, you forgot my birthday,’” Quintana said. “I’m really glad I didn’t say all that because it was the last time I talked to him.”
At the time of his death, he was working as a company driver for Scott Transportation of La Pine, Oregon.
Nine days before the slaying, Kelly wrote in all caps in the pocket-size notebook he carried, “MY TRUCKING DAYS ARE OVER!” adding that his dispatchers failed to find him a backhaul out of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“For a trucker, that means empty miles and no money,” Quintana said.
The day after his death, Kelly was supposed to unload at Burton Components, Pattison noted. He was slated to pick up a load at Rmax, a company that specializes in insulation products, also in Fernley, to deliver in Medford, Oregon.
Quintana said Kelly was first going to visit her sister, who lived in Redding, California, at the time before he continued on to Oregon.
“He would do this, call us and say he was passing through so he could have dinner, take a shower and spend the night,” Quintana told FreightWaves. “This wasn’t uncommon.”
After Kelly’s death, Quintana said her family had little contact with Scott Transportation other than to retrieve his fuel card and other items that belonged to the trucking company.
Roger Kelly, the dad and trucker
Quintana said her mother, Dyan Salado, who died in 2008, met her stepdad, a Vietnam vet, while she was waiting tables at a truck stop in Corning, California, in 1976.
She remembers the story about how Kelly won her mom over with his humor and persistence.
“He obviously thought she was attractive and started giving her a hard time,” Quintana said. “Dad would call her over, that he needed his coffee refilled, then when she got there, he would say, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, I don’t need my coffee refilled.’ He played this game with my mom three or four times until finally, she got mad, but he got her attention.”
Quintana described Kelly as “fun and a prankster, who liked to laugh a lot,” but also as “the hardest-working man I knew.”
“I remember sitting on the front porch with him and he was teaching me how to read. We had a magnetic board with letters and I remember the first words he taught me to spell were truck stop,” she said.
During summer breaks or on holiday vacations, Kelly often took the sisters on the truck with him.
“I remember he would make it a road trip, buy all of the really unhealthy snacks and fill the console full and we could crawl up there and dig out whatever we wanted at any time of the day or night,” Quintana told FreightWaves.
When he was on long trips without the family, Kelly carried a hand-held tape recorder and would mail home tapes with tales from the road, Quintana said.
“He would imitate people and do character voices on the tapes and just be silly, just like we were there with him,” she said. “I’m sure it helped him pass the time in the truck for long hours alone. But they’re really nice memories now.”
Quintana said Kelly went by the CB handle Cherry Boy in the late 1970s and early ’80s because he hauled produce, including cherries and apples, from Washington to different parts of California.
She remembers he had a customized license plate in his driver’s side window that also said Cherry Boy, but that he later went by other CB handles, Roller and Hammer Man, before his death.
She said Kelly had his demons and was addicted to speed or amphetamines at certain times during his trucking career to help keep him awake on the road. But he had gotten clean several years prior to his death.
“When I confronted him about it, he was very honest with me and that was something I respected about my dad, even as a kid,” Quintana said. “I was probably around 9 or 10 years old when I asked if he was using something and he said, ‘Yes,’ and was honest about why he did it and told me he shouldn’t do it — he was very transparent.”
Pattison confirmed that Kelly’s autopsy report revealed he was substance-free at the time he died, which was comforting to Quintana, who was concerned that potential drug use may have contributed to his killing.
“When he passed, he was going pretty hard and I questioned if he was using,” she said. “Because when you are using, you hang out with shady folks to be able to supply your habit, but Dad had told me for years that he was clean. But I was a child of two addicts, so I had all kinds of trust issues when addicts tell you something.”
Quintana said Kelly remained close to her and her sister after he and her mom divorced several years before his death. Kelly walked her down the aisle on her wedding day in 1996.
Found at the scene?
The crudely manufactured firearm used to kill Kelly was found at the scene, but Pattison said there wasn’t enough DNA on the gun to “get results.”
Over the years, Pattison said, the gun was sent to the FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia, but it failed to get any prints that might tie the shooter to Kelly’s homicide. He also sent it to the forensics crime lab at the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office in Reno, Nevada, but analysts didn’t find any DNA linking the gun’s owner to Kelly’s killing.
Pattison also hasn’t been able to trace who may have soldered the homemade gun, which is a cross between a long gun with a handgun grip, which is unusual. Gun experts haven’t been able to trace it either.
“We don’t know if there were any words exchanged or anything like that, but during that contact, the suspect fired one shot at Roger with a shotgun and it struck him, and he died on scene,” Pattison said. “The suspect then dropped the shotgun, fled the area. And this is what we are now looking into 22 years later, still trying to find who that man was who shot Roger. There was never a person of interest in this case.”
Why law enforcement didn’t push harder initially
Since her stepdad wasn’t from Fernley and was just parked for the night, Quintana says she wonders if that is why law enforcement didn’t push harder to solve Kelly’s homicide prior to Pattison’s involvement in the case.
“I’m a strong supporter of law enforcement, but [Kelly] wasn’t from Fernley, he wasn’t even from Nevada. He was just a random truck driver passing through,” she said. “So when I got a call from Lieutenant Detective Pattison, our family was thankful.”
Pattison also wonders why more wasn’t done during the initial investigation.
On the 20th anniversary of Kelly’s homicide, Pattison posted about the cold case homicide on the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office website. He said he received one anonymous tip but that it was “short on details.” The person never called back with any corroborating details.
“What I’ve learned from going through this experience is that people who do these things tend to tell someone eventually,” Quintana said. “I’m not a vengeful person and I don’t want anything bad to happen to anyone else, but one thing that’s haunted me all of this time is that this person that’s capable of murder is still out there.”
FreightWaves’ Nate Tabak contributed to this report.
If you have any information about Kelly’s homicide on Jan. 9, 2000, in Fernley, Nevada, please send me an email. Your name will not be used in a follow-up article without your permission.
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