It was a case which stumped detectives: A young stock car racer with a bright future ahead of him, a crime that all but required the victim to emerge from his coma, and an archaic law that made the killer exempt from punishment. Today we look at the 1997 murder of Chris Trickle.
‘Big Chris’ Trickle, the son of Chuck Trickle and the nephew of Midwest racing legend Dick Trickle, was born on May 30th, 1972 in Las Vegas and quickly made his way into motorsports. He made his first start in the NASCAR West Series in 1994 at the Las Vegas Bullring, finishing fourth. He also finished well at Phoenix in his first Southwest start later that year.
Unfortunately, Chris’ #70 Star Nursery Chevrolet, owned by Craig Keough, didn’t last very long, as he totaled it in a crash at Mesa Marin in 1995. Chris returned to competition in an Oldsmobile for one race, and was able to run a Chevrolet in his next race at Tucson.
Chris’ 1996 season went very well. He finished fourth in points with one win at his home track at Las Vegas Bullring and several excellent finishes. Chris also made two NASCAR Truck Series attempts late in the year, qualifying for neither.
Chris was loved by the crowd and his fellow competitors for his big smile and driving skill. Kurt Busch even said in 2013 that he probably would have made it to the Xfinity Series at the very least.
1997 started nicely for Chris and the #70 Star Nursery team. He took a pole in the Tucson opener and finished in the top five at both Tucson and race two, Phoenix. Things were going well for the young talent, however it was not meant to be.
On February 9th, 1997, Chris went out for a meal at Tivoli Gardens near the Liberace Museum with his girlfriend, Jennifer Robinson, and then returned to the Trickles’ mansion. Chris did not live in the mansion proper, but rather in an adjacent one-room apartment.
During the drive home, however, Chris had received a call from Gregory Hadges, a friend of his. Greg asked him if he wanted to go play a round of tennis, and Chris accepted. He ran into the attached apartment where he lived with Jennifer, changed his clothes, and rushed back to his car, a 1995 Chrysler LeBaron convertible. Jennifer chose not to attend, and instead stayed behind in the apartment, where she soon fell asleep.
Chris’ mother, Barbara, overheard Chris’ arrival, but was busy making some pudding. She placed it in the freezer after Chris left. Apparently, the pudding still sat in the freezer as of 2008.
Chris pulled onto Blue Diamond Road and started towards the tennis court. Around 9:00 p.m., a car pulled up alongside the LeBaron and an occupant opened fire, hitting Chris between the eyes. The LeBaron spun off the road and into a road sign. Chris was pulled from the car, just barely alive.
From the get-go, detectives were stumped. He had no known enemies, and the bullet could not be extracted due to Chris still being alive. They quickly ran out of reliable leads, and found themselves in a hole. They’d have to hope that Chris emerged from his coma. Chris survived in a semi-comatose state for 409 days, occasionally looking like he would soon awaken and occasionally relapsing. Chris Trickle passed away on March 25, 1998, aged 25.
He never fully regained consciousness during that time. It is unknown whether investigators extricated the bullet, though most detectives thought it to be a 9-milimeter round. Even still, it wouldn’t have mattered, as even if the killer had been found, he would not have been charged.
Introduced sometime in the 1200s in England, the Year And A Day Law states that a murderer whose victim who dies more than a year and a day after the attack can’t be held responsible. It was carried over into the United States when independence was gained in 1776. It was an understandable law in the days when one’s cause of death was hard to pinpoint, but now that it’s relatively easy to do so, the law is unneeded. Trickle did indeed die more than a year and a day afterwards, meaning there would be no justice. The Trickle family campaigned for the rule to be thrown out, and it was removed from the lawbooks in March of 1999 in Nevada. Several other states followed, however Nevada’s ruling was not done retroactively, so it did not affect the Chris Trickle case.
The killer of Chris Trickle has never been found, though detectives did suspect it to be a thrill kill. Jennifer, griefstricken, soon drifted away from the Trickle family, and Chuck Trickle raced for a brief period in Chris’ memory, though he’s since retired. As for the #70 Star Nursery car, Craig Keough tapped Sean Monroe to drive the car for a short time while he found a long-term replacement. Keough eventually found that long-term replacement in a 19-year-old kid named Kurt Busch. Kurt finished well on several occasions in 1997, then won the first race after Chris’ death in 1998, which ironically enough was at Las Vegas. A Southwest Tour championship in 1999 secured him a Truck Series ride in 2000, after which it was off to Cup, where he continues racing to this day.
Chris Trickle’s legacy lives on both in Kurt and ‘Little’ Chris Trickle, the nephew of ‘Big’ Chris and a successful super late model racer in his own right. He is one of only three major race car drivers to have been murdered in the past 40 years, the other two being off road legend Mickey Thompson and West Coast veteran Jim Cook. Oddly, Cook’s murder is also unsolved, and while technically Thompson’s murder is solved, the guilt of the man convicted for Thompson’s death is still questioned.
Chris Trickle was a rising talent with an incredibly bright future, and it’s a shame he never got to show what he was truly capable of.
If you have any information about the death of Chris Trickle, please call the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s Cold Case Unit at 702-828-8973. The case is not currently being looked into by anyone. The Trickles have stated that they are no longer concerned about the case’s closure, however there was a reward of $35,000 available to anyone whose information leads to the case being closed. I cannot confirm whether or not it is still being offered.
“Kurt Busch looks back on his big break”, April 11, 2013 edition of USAToday
“A Checkered Saga”, Feb. 28, 2008 edition of Las Vegas Sun