PAHRUMP — A tattered American flag flapped at the entrance to the rural property in the low foothills of the Pahrump Valley on Wednesday.
Piles of metal, rusted chains, wood and assorted antiquated clutter covered the yucca-dotted landscape around the trailer where 56-year-old Troy Ray lived. Just outside sat the red Jeep he’d had for longer than his sister could remember.
Ray loved working on his cars, his sister, Hilary Chorak, said.
The Pahrump man had moved to the plot of land about six months ago after spending the previous eight years elsewhere in Pahrump. It was quiet. He was happy there.
“He just thought he hit the jackpot,” Chorak said Wednesday. “He loved the view, he loved where he lived.”
But the life he cherished was cut short last week when Ray is believed to have possibly become the first fatality in a pair of earthquakes that struck the Mojave Desert last week, according to the Nye County Sheriff’s Office .
Ray was found dead underneath the Jeep on Tuesday afternoon, the Sheriff’s Office said. He was working on it from below when investigators believe the 6.4 magnitude earthquake that shook the Mojave Desert on July 4 dislodged the car, crushing him, Sheriff Sharon Wehrly said.
He was last seen alive on July 3 at a local gas station, and a neighbor who went to check on him discovered the body Tuesday afternoon, Wehrly said. Deputies noted he had securely propped up his Jeep and took extra precautions to stabilize it while he worked, she said.
“There wasn’t really any reason for it to fall that we could see,” Wehrly said.
First earthquake fatality?
Craig dePolo, with the University of Nevada, Reno’s Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, said he has studied the state’s seismological history dating back to 1857 and has found no recorded instance of an earthquake-related death.
If the earthquake did cause the Jeep to fall on top of Ray, “that would be the first death in Nevada that’s been recorded,” as well as the first fatality resulting from the recent quakes, dePolo said Wednesday.
The Sheriff’s Office is waiting for more information from the coroner for a better estimate of when Ray died and possible confirmation of whether the July 4 earthquake was responsible. “The state of the body” led deputies to believe the July 4 earthquake and not the one last Friday, one day later, was the likely culprit, Wehrly said.
Ray’s death appears to have been a freak accident, she said, but no other injuries or structural damage had been reported as a result of the quakes. The Friday quake is believed to have caused the southern Pahrump Valley to lose power for several hours, Wehrly said.
Deputies surveyed the valley, as well as Beatty and Tonopah, for damage after both instances, she said.
County officials and stakeholders are developing a comprehensive earthquake plan for residents throughout Nye County that would include civil engineering building studies, ideas on how to pump gas and evacuation plans, Wehrly said. The efforts were put in motion prior to this month, but the recent quakes have prompted officials to consider more “finite planning,” she said.
On Wednesday, the door to the trailer where Ray lived was open. A pile of firewood sat in a bundle inside his modest doorway, and a pair of weathered boots sat perched upon a short stairway.
Old photographs of Ray and loved ones were affixed to a nearby wall, and a long jacket and a turquoise-adorned hat hung above a mirror.
Ray lived off the grid, and that was how he liked it, Chorak said. He never tried to impress people with his possessions. He didn’t want for anything and he kept the same friends he had since childhood, his sister said.
“My brother loved the things he had,” she said.
His red Jeep remained attached to the jack outside of his trailer. The front-passenger tire leaned up against what appeared to be a bathtub, and a black coffee mug and a tool rested on the Jeep right above where the wheel would have gone.
“He had been jacking (up) cars since he was 5 years old,” Chorak said.
She was floored that her brother died the way he did, partly because she’s a bit surprised he lived as long as he did.
Ray contracted scarlet fever as a kid, and there was a time as a child when he flew out of a car window in a crash, she said. He was then lost in the snow for more than a day, she added.
“I mean, this guy could’ve died 100 times,” Chorak said. “To be taken by an earthquake is just so sad.”
Ray felt at home in nature. It was common for him to be unreachable for days at a time, often heading out to the woods without a plan, she said.
He was an outdoorsman since the day he was born, Chorak said.
“He’s like Crocodile Dundee,” she said.
Roughly 20 years ago, Chorak recalled, she discovered a stench emanating from her garage. Inside, her husband at the time found a dead cat that fell apart as he went to touch it.
As was often the case when she didn’t know what to do, Chorak picked up the phone to dial her brother.
“Troy, there’s a dead cat in the boat,” she said. “It’s gross, get over here.”
“I’ll get my tools,” he replied. Click went the phone.
Chorak laughed as she told the story.
“He was an honest man and a good man,” she said.
His love of nature and the outdoors rubbed off on his children, daughter Megan McIntosh said. Her dad taught her how to fish, and they often went camping or fishing as a family, she said.
“That was our vacation,” said McIntosh, 24.
On one fishing trip as a child — she was probably about 13, she said — her dad poked fun at her for being so talkative. Dragonflies buzzed around them, and Ray told his daughter that they would come and shut her mouth if she didn’t stop talking.
“To this day, I’m still scared of dragonflies,” McIntosh said with a chuckle.
Ray wasn’t a loner, and he would do anything for his children and loved ones, she said. He simply relished the peace and quiet in a place where he could wake up with the sun and enjoy the outdoors, McIntosh said.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better dad,” she said.
In addition to McIntosh, Ray leaves behind two other adult children, Hope Ray, 23; and O’Ryan Ray, 26; as well as three grandchildren.