Updated 10 am, Thursday, May 22.
There would have been no reason for Pat Gregory and his hiking companion to be wary about walking the trails of the Sacramento River Bend Natural Area last Friday morning. It is considered a safe recreational area, popular with locals and visitors. And the crime of murder is rare in Tehama County.
“This is the only reported incident that I know of ever occurring there,” Lieutenant Yvette Borden, a spokesman for the Tehama County Sheriff’s Office told The Times in a telephone conversation Monday. “We believe this is an absolute random, but opportunistic incident that happened,” Lieutenant Borden, a 23-year member of the police force, said.
Late Friday morning, Mr. Gregory, 69, and his hiking companion, a 76-year-old male friend from the small nearby town of Manton were not far from the trailhead just off heavily traveled Highway 36E, north of the county seat of Red Bluff in Tehama County when they encountered a man who robbed and then shot them. The men did not resist, police confirmed.
Mr. Gregory died. His companion was seriously wounded but was able to provide police with a description of the suspect. Police are creating a composite sketch.
Lieutenant Borden said police have not identified the man out of concern for his security and safety. “I am told that he is stable, but he is still listed in critical condition,” she said.
The Tehama County Secret Witness Program also announced Monday it is offering “up to a $1,500 reward for the arrest and subsequent prosecution and conviction for the suspect(s) involved in this incident.”
Lieutenant Borden said there has been no decision yet on whether to increase the reward. That will depend on the results of the ongoing investigation, she said. Detectives are working hard following up on leads and telephone messages.
Lt. Borden said donations to the reward fund in the name of Pat Gregory may be sent to the attention of Sgt. Rod Daugherty, Tehama County Witness Program, P.O. Box 729, Red Bluff, CA 96080.
By Wednesday evening, the Sheriff’s office had increased the reward to $5,000.
Expect to catch him
Tehama County Sheriff Dave Hencratt confirmed Tuesday that detectives are looking at tire prints in the parking lot. Sheriff Hencratt told reporter Rich Greene of the Red Bluff Daily News that a large part of the investigation right now is reaching out to those who frequent the area to determine if they saw anything unusual in the area in recent days, with a focus on vehicles.
Police have been unwilling to confirm any details of what transpired during the robbery.
Sheriff Hencratt responded to emails from some Vineyard residents asking if Tehama County is too small to handle the investigation.
Sheriff Hencratt said his department had handled these types of investigations in the past. “I would put our guys up against anybody’s,” Mr. Hencratt said. He said he would not hesitate to ask for help if he thinks it is needed.
The sheriff said he had no idea why the reward amount was set at $1,500. He said that while he is not opposed to Islanders adding to the reward, the amount set was not tied to a budgetary issue. He added that he could not reveal everything that the investigation has turned up.
“We expect to catch him,” Sheriff Hencratt said.
Tehama County has a population of over 63,000. Red Bluff is the largest city in the county, followed by the City of Corning. The rest of the county is a collection of small towns.
Asked to describe her community, Lieutenant Borden said, “We are a country, small area.” She said the area is famous for its January bull and gelding sale. “People come from all over,” she said.
The Tehama County Sheriff’s office is the primary law enforcement for the county, which includes the scene of the murder. Lieutenant Borden said the hiking area is very popular.
“There are people there often who hike or bike or do Geotracking,” she said.
The trail system includes lengthy walks, but it is not at all unusual to encounter people along the way.
“It is the type of area where a lot of people pull off and just sit in their vehicles and have lunch,” Lieutenant Borden said. “And that’s why we are really appealing to the public. A lot of people drive by there…. It is one of the main thoroughfares through Red Bluff.” The population of Red Bluff is about 14,000 people.
The robbery and shooting occurred just 100 yards off the trailhead.
“This is very unusual,” Lieutenant Borden said. “This isn’t some high crime city where it [murder] happens weekly. A lot of people here like to think of themselves as very country, very friendly, very low key and not in a big city with big city problems.”