Body count on the rise in San Antonio

| 11/29/2006

A mysterious string of deaths in and near some San Antonio truck stops has the attention of local police, not to mention truck drivers whose routes take them through that part of Texas.

So far, authorities are not sure what caused five of the six deaths, and they don't know if they are somehow related.

In the past four weeks, five people have been found dead in the cabs of parked semis in the area. A sixth body was found at a motel near a truck stop.

The first bodies that were found were those of 35-year-old Harry Ackroyd and his 32-year-old common-law wife, Michelle. They were discovered in the sleeper berth of their truck on Nov. 1 at the Petro Stopping Center on Ackerman Road in San Antonio.

David Martinez, manager of the Petro, said police told him they suspected carbon monoxide poisoning may have caused those two deaths, although the medical examiner's office declined to speculate.

According to the San Antonio Express, another body was found Nov. 20 inside a semi at a truck stop in the 11390 block of I-35 South near Fischer Road. The Express reported that medical examiners later said Robert Monroe, 69, had died of heart disease.

On Thanksgiving morning, the body of Byron Gonzales, 42, was found in the cab of his truck at the Petro on Ackerman, the same truck stop where Harry and Michelle Ackroyd died three weeks earlier. Bexar County Medical Examiner's Chief Investigator Jimmy Holguin said that similar to the Ackroyds, there was no sign of trauma. Holguin said toxicology reports could take up to 12 weeks to complete.

The weekend after Thanksgiving brought the discovery of another body. According to Texas media reports, the body of a 62-year-old man that was found in a motel room adjacent to the Petro on Nov. 26 appears to be "a different kind of case" from the others. Clifton Frank Lee was a diabetic who had pneumonia and had left a hospital against doctor's orders.

The most recent was Hubert "Ray" Hardesty, a 53-year-old trucker from Laredo who drove for an Alabama company. The driver's decomposing body was discovered at the Flying J on Nov. 27.

A spokesman from Watkins Trucking Co. told Land Line Magazine that the company dispatched Hardesty from Laredo on Nov. 14. He was due to arrive in Decatur, AL, on Nov. 20. Hardesty was expected to spend Thanksgiving with family members in Birmingham, but he did not show up. When relatives contacted the trucking company, management at Watkins tried to contact Hardesty but was unable to find him.

The family filed a missing persons report on Nov. 24.

Hardesty was found in the Watkins truck on Nov. 27. Watkins doesn't track its vehicles with a geographic positioning system but uses cell phones instead. The company's spokesman said it was like "finding a needle in a haystack" and they had to rely on the work of the police.

Sgt. Gabe Trevino of the San Antonio police said the investigation was focusing primarily on the deaths of the four truckers. While they don't have toxicology reports back yet, Trevino told "Land Line Now" on XM Satellite Radio that in the meantime, a number of possibilities are being considered.

- By Sandi Soendker, managing editor

Staff writer Reed Black contributed to this report