A man who touched countless lives as a police volunteer, demolition derby enthusiast and active member of his church was shot to death Sunday, which was the first homicide in this foothills town in nearly 13 years.
Rick “Ricky” Roberts, 49, was found bleeding from an apparent gunshot wound about 11 a.m. inside his Mono Way garage near downtown, where he built demolition derby cars. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
A Police Department news release said the cause of death appears to have been a gunshot wound and that no further information would be released because the case is under investigation.
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. He also competed in a Nevada derby that was broadcast on ESPN.
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Roberts and his wife, Teddi, were married in July 1990 at Sonora’s Mother Lode Fairgrounds before Roberts competed in a demolition derby. The two took their vows while standing atop Roberts’ derby car.
Roberts loved racing but loved crashing into other cars even more, said his mother, Donna Burkey. His last race was in July at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds, and he planned to be back this year.
Roberts also made his mark as a longtime Sonora police volunteer and member of Christian Heights Church, which he had attended since his early teens.
Police Chief Mark Stinson said Roberts volunteered for 14 years as a member of the department’s Police Associate Citizens Team, where his duties included writing parking tickets, checking on homes when residents were on vacation and towing abandoned cars.
He also volunteered with the Police Explorer program, helping train the Explorers for competitions and chaperoning them on outings. Roberts also was the department’s volunteer range master, building targets and doing cleanup and maintenance at the firing range.
Stinston said Roberts volunteered 10 to 12 hours every Thursday and an additional six to eight hours on another day each month. That was in addition to working in Stockton as an armed security guard.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve had a volunteer that dedicated,” Stinson said.
The flags at the Police Department have been at half staff since Sunday in honor of Roberts.
Stinson said Roberts had a knack for dealing with difficult people, such as those who were upset that their cars were being towed.
“He made people feel good about themselves,” Burkey said about her son. “He had a great rapport with people. He had a great sense of humor, and he could laugh at himself.”
Burkey and others described Roberts as generous with his time and abilities.
“He was an all-around good guy,” Stinson said. “That is why this is so shocking.”
Burkey and other family members said dozens of people came to the garage Sunday to pay their respects once they learned Roberts had been shot.
And Monday, Roberts’ landlord gave Burkey an envelope filled with cash for Roberts’ wife and son and asked her to tell the family that it did not have to pay next month’s rent.
Christian Heights Church business administrator Daryl Sarina met Roberts about 35 years ago when Sarina was the church’s youth pastor. Sarina said Roberts was a kid with a great heart who was always willing to help, and he kept those qualities as a man.
Sarina said Roberts was a regular on Sundays, typically missing church only because of work.
Burkey said her son was finishing up at his garage and was about to pick up his 9-year-old son for church when he was shot.
The garage is called U2, which is the number Roberts raced under in demolition derbies. The garage is at 280 Mono Way, about a third of a mile south of Stewart Street and near downtown.
Burkey and Roberts’ family live near the garage. Burkey and other family members say neighbors saw two or three men and a woman standing in front of U2 near the time Roberts was shot. They reported hearing two gunshots.
Burkey said two men had planned to meet with her son at U2 before church to discuss a business deal involving the garage. She said one of those men found her son after he had been shot. Burkey said she suspects the person who shot her son knew him, because there were no signs of a struggle.
Stinson said Sonora’s last homicide was Feb. 28, 2001, when a man fatally stabbed another at a Poplar Street home in a dispute over money. Stinson said the assailant was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Homicide is rare in Tuolumne County.
Tuolumne County sheriff’s Sgt. James Oliver said the last homicide in the county’s jurisdiction was in 2011. He said the Sheriff’s Department averages about one homicide a year in this county of about 54,000 residents.
Sonora police ask anyone with information about this case to call (209) 532-8141.