RENO, Nev. (AP) — A man awaiting trial on kidnapping, sexual assault and murder charges in the fatal shooting of a rural northern Nevada teenager last year was found dead in his jail cell where he apparently killed himself, the local sheriff said.
Troy Driver, 43, was unresponsive when a deputy found him in his cell in Yerington shortly after 6:00 p.m. Sunday and summoned others to help try to revive him, Lyon County Sheriff Brad Pope said.
State investigators will conduct a formal inquiry into his death. No other details will be released until that investigation is complete, the sheriff said in a statement Sunday night.
Driver was accused of killing Naomi Irion, 18, before dumping her body in a remote desert area after abducting her from a Walmart parking lot in Fernley about 30 miles (48 kilometers) east of Reno before dawn March 12, 2022.
Driver, who was facing the death penalty if convicted, had pleaded not guilty to all charges. His trial had tentatively been scheduled to begin next July with his next status hearing set for September.
Irion’s brother, Casey Valley, said in a Facebook post he’s had “a lot of mixed emotions” since authorities notified the family Sunday night of Driver’s death.
“I deeply regret that he took the easy way out before the trial, but I have no doubt in my mind given what I have been privy to that he is the perpetrator,” wrote Valley, who had lived with his younger sister in Fernley.
Irion’s vehicle was found three days after she went missing near a paint manufacturing facility in an industrial park along Interstate 80 not far from the Walmart store.
The FBI offered a $10,000 reward for information to locate her, and hundreds of volunteers joined in searches looking for clues in a vast desert area before a tip led authorities to Driver, of nearby Fallon, and eventually to Irion’s body nearly three weeks after the kidnapping.
Prosecutors said Driver shot her in the head near where her body was found northeast of Fernley.
In addition to first-degree murder, Driver faced six additional charges including sexual assault, robbery and destroying evidence.
His trial had been delayed after his lawyers argued he might not be competent to face the charges and that he couldn’t be tried for murder in Lyon County because the actual killing took place in a remote area in neighboring Churchill County.
A judge later found he was competent to stand trial, and his lawyers agreed to waive a preliminary hearing in Lyon County’s Canal Justice Court in February.
In June, Lyon County District Judge John Schlegelmilch tentatively scheduled a four-week trial to begin July 9, 2024. He scheduled a half-dozen status hearings between now and then in anticipation of numerous defense motions regarding such things as competency, suppression of evidence and potential change of venue due to pretrial publicity.
Driver already had a violent criminal history. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for his role in a 1997 murder case in Northern California.
Mendocino County Court records show he pleaded guilty that summer to robbery, burglary and firearms charges as well as to being an accessory to a felony after the fact. He had been released to state parole supervision in 2012 and discharged from parole supervision in 2014.
This story has been updated to correct an earlier version that indicated no trial date had been set and prosecutors had not decided whether to seek the death penalty. The trial had tentatively been scheduled to begin July 9, 2024, and prosecutors recently filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty.