Friend tells of finding Sonora slaying victim

kvaline@modbee.comFebruary 18, 2014 

— Kayce Holste Thompson said when she and her husband, Buddy, pulled up to Rick “Ricky” Roberts’ garage about 11 a.m. Sunday, what they saw did not add up.

She thought Roberts was at church, but how did he get there? His two pickup trucks and car were parked at his Mono Way garage, where he built demolition derby cars. The side door to the garage was open, but there was only silence.

Buddy Thompson told his wife to stay in their vehicle, then he entered the garage. He came out about 30 seconds later. “My husband was pale,” Kayce Holste Thompson said. “He said, ‘I need you to come and look at this.’ That’s all he said.” Kayce Holste Thompson said she found Roberts lying on the garage floor with blood on his chest. He was dead; she called 911.

Kayce Holste Thompson recounted Tuesday finding the body of her friend as investigators continued to work 16-hour days to solve Sonora’s first homicide in nearly 13 years. Police say Roberts was fatally shot, but they are not releasing other details.

Sonora Police Chief Mark Stinson said his department’s one detective, two patrol officers and an investigator from the Tuolumne County District Attorney’s Office are working the case. He said they will keep working 16-hour days until the case reaches a conclusion or they run out of viable leads.

Roberts was a Sonora native and a well-known demolition derby driver, competing in races in Sonora, Angels Camp, Plymouth and Pleasanton for about 30 years. Roberts also made his mark as a 14-year Sonora police volunteer and member of Christian Heights Church, which he had attended since his early teens.

“He made people feel good about themselves,” said Roberts’ mother, Donna Burkey. “He had a great rapport with people. He had a great sense of humor and he could laugh at himself.”

Stinson said that while he was running errands Tuesday, nearly a dozen people approached him regarding Roberts. “They were all shocked,” he said. “All of these people who talked to me knew Ricky. A good half of them are very angry and want this resolved as quickly as possible.”

Kayce Holste Thompson said she and her husband have faced questions about how their trailer and rock crawler – a type of off-road vehicle – ended up at the crime scene.

She said she and her husband were going to rent space at Roberts’ garage, just southeast of downtown, to store and work on their rock crawler and trailer. They had planned to meet Roberts at 1 p.m. Sunday after he got back from church. Another friend also was going to rent space and meet Roberts at 1 p.m.

Kayce Holste Thompson said she and her husband were in Sonora earlier in the day and called Roberts about 9:30 a.m. to see if they could drop off the rock crawler and trailer at his garage. She said Roberts did not answer his cellphone or return her husband’s message. She said that was unusual.

About 11 a.m., they decided to drop off the rock crawler and trailer at the garage and then meet Roberts at 1 p.m. She said that’s when they found Roberts’ body.

She said authorities interviewed her and her husband at the garage and later at the District Attorney’s Office. She said her husband took a gunshot residue test.

Stinson confirmed that the Thompsons were interviewed and that Buddy Thompson took the test. Stinson declined to confirm the other details of Kayce Holste Thompson’s account. But he said the Thompsons have been “fully cooperative and are not people of interest” in the investigation.

Stinson said police have received about 20 leads and asked people to continue to call. “Some of the information we are getting may be crucial,” he said. “We don’t want to discourage anyone.”

Stinson said the last homicide within Sonora’s city limit was Feb. 28, 2001. He said about 12,000 people live in the Sonora area but only about 4,800 reside within the city limit. The rest live within the jurisdiction of Tuolumne County. The Sheriff’s Department said the last homicide in the county was in 2011.

Sonora police ask anyone with information about this case to call (209) 532-8141.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or (209) 578-2316.

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