Not far from the intersection of Julian Street and Grant Avenue in Turlock stands a cross with pretty purple flowers surrounding it. Etched into the weathered wood reads the name Kelly Story.
The cross marks the spot where Story died after being hit by a car. For those in the neighborhood it is a visual reminder of one tragic night five years ago. Story’s mother, Carol Spurgin, can no longer pass by the memorial. For her it is just one more reminder that her son is gone from her arms forever and that the person responsible for his death continues to be a nameless and faceless figure haunting her nightmares and tainting her memories with an unrelenting grief.
“It really hurts,” Spurgin said. “You know there are people out there who know what happened that night. You would think someone would step forward and say something, but they haven’t. He had a lot of friends, but where are they now for him?”
Spurgin’s frustration is understandable. For five years she has sought some form of resolution to her son’s death. Every new tip or lead ignites a new flame of hope in her, only to have it extinguished when it’s revealed to be another false avenue.
Sharing Spurgin’s frustration and need for answers is Turlock Police Detective Brandon Bertram, the lead investigator assigned to Story’s homicide. Bertram has two three-ring binders full of every scrap of evidence, interview, and tip collected in the investigation and yet the details of what happened that night and who was responsible remain a mystery.
“I’ve spent countless hours interviewing people and following leads and they all have come to dead ends,” Bertram said.
Encounter turns fatal
It was Jan. 31, 2009. It was a Saturday night and across America millions of people were readying their plans to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII, set for the following day. Story was at his home on Julian Street with a few friends and the group was getting an early start on the festivities. It was the repeating sound of screeching tires that interrupted the party and led Story and his friends to venture outside and confront the reckless driver.
“There were words between them and the occupants of the car and it did get heated,” Bertram said.
The driver of the car, which has been described as a midsized, dark-colored four-door sedan, pulled into the intersection and made a U-turn. The driver headed back in the direction of where Story and his friends stood.
The circumstances of what happened next remain a central question in the mystery, but the result has been all too clear.
“Did the driver panic or was this a deliberate act? We don’t know,” Bertram said.
The car hit Story’s friend first, knocking him down. Story was hit next. The car made contact with the lower part of Story’s legs. He was knocked backwards and the force of the impact sent him back several feet. He fell hard with the back of his head striking the pavement.
The driver of the car sped away as people ran to Story’s side.
Story was taken by air ambulance to Doctors Medical Center in Modesto with severe brain trauma. The following day he had a massive coronary and died.
From the outside it looked like a case that would reach a resolution without much difficulty, given that there were witnesses to the fatal hit and run, but that has not happened. Bertram’s investigation has been mired from the onset by a culture that views anyone cooperating with the police as the lowest of low. Bertram said the witnesses have been “less than cooperative and forthcoming.” Each one has unequivocally stated they don’t know who was driving, nor could they give a description of the driver. They haven’t said how many were in the car or offered up a more specific description of the vehicle.
“They would rather let someone get away with murder than help the police,” Bertram said.
The resistance of Story’s friends to cooperate with the investigation has left Spurgin with a nagging notion that her son’s death was deliberate. Months prior, Story’s grandparents had been robbed at gunpoint and he had taken it upon himself to ferret out the culprits.
“He might of tipped someone off by his questions and they came after him,” Spurgin said.
Whatever the truth may be behind Story’s death, Spurgin just wants answers.
“No one knows how much it hurts to lose a child until it happens to you,” Spurgin said. “It haunts you every day. There can never be closure, but to have some answers would be such a blessing. It would lift this burden my whole family carries.”
Story’s family is offering a cash reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for Story’s death.
Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact Detective Brandon Bertram at 664-7323. Callers can also leave an anonymous tip at Crime Stoppers and possible be eligible for a cash reward. Crime Stoppers can be reached at 521-4636 or 1-866-602-7463, or at http://www.stancrimetips.org/.