Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Cold Case Archives

June 5, 2011

Police continue search in deadly 2004 Athens Road hit-and-run incident

PRINCETON — Almost seven years ago, a young man was walking along Athens Road one dark, foggy night after leaving a local lounge when a vehicle hit him and left the scene. He soon died from his injuries, and local authorities are still looking for the person or persons responsible.

The case of Ryan Leeper, 26, of Princeton is among the cold cases getting another look by the West Virginia State Police. Now First Sgt. J.R. Pauley of the Princeton detachment is asking members of the public to come forward with what they know about the tragedy.

Leeper was the victim of a hit-and-run incident at 3:30  a.m. on Aug. 1, 2004 along Route 20 near Melrose Square, but he did not die immediately. A Princeton resident, Bill Kleintop, saw him when emerging from a fog bank during those early morning hours. Traveling at 25 mph, he was unable to stop in time and hit him. Kleintop parked in a nearby driveway and went back to help Ryan, flagging down cars and calling Mercer County 911.

A suspect vehicle was later found. Some evidence was removed from it and tested, but the tests were inconclusive, Pauley said.

He consulted the thick case file on his desk.

“He was walking home on Route 20. We assume that’s where he was going. Witnesses described a blue in color minivan that struck him,” Pauley said. “Nobody actually saw the incident when the van struck him, but the van was at the scene and left before the trooper arrived.”

There is a “very good chance” that this blue minivan that left Melrose Square was the same vehicle that hit Leeper, Pauley said. Witnesses describing the van said it had damage on its right front area. The witnesses also said a male and female were in the blue and white van.

“I guess the challenge is that there’s no motive for this as far as we know. There possibly could be, but it appears to have been an accident,” he added.

When asked what sort of information could help solve the case, Pauley replied: “Anything. Any information whatsoever. Anyone who may have been in the bar and seen anything or heard anything would help.”

Finding out what happened to that first vehicle that hit Leeper would also be helpful.

“Did they have the van repaired the next day or the next few days? Did a local repair shop fix the van? Did they hide the van? Did they get rid of it? Somewhere out there are friends and relatives who were aware of a van disappearing or a van being damaged and repaired. That’s the information somebody has out there. If I were to tear up my personal vehicle, I couldn’t afford to just go burn it or hide it and then buy another one to replace it. Most people can’t. There had to have been some kind of repairs.”

And if the van’s occupants repaired the vehicle themselves, they had to get paint and parts, he said.

When found, the van’s driver could be facing a charge of negligent homicide, but it would be up to the county prosecutor to decide which charges to file, Pauley said.

Meanwhile, Pauley stays in contact with Ryan Leeper’s family.

“I keep in touch with Mr. Leeper, his father, pretty regularly. This is a case that has been worked through a couple of troopers and examined for leads over the years. This thing still haunts him today,” he said.

Richard Leeper, Ryan’s father, said he can still remember his son’s last days.

“He had just come back from North Carolina,” Richard Leeper recalled. “He was picking up odd jobs like shrub work,  gardening work and things like that.”

Ryan loved working outdoors, and he spent his free time outdoors, too.

“He was big time into hunting and fishing,” his father said. “And anything I was into, he wanted to be around. I was cutting a lot of firewood and I was clearing up my land, and he stayed there with me and helped clear the land. He was really a working fool. Mowing, weedeating, he loved that sort of thing.”

One time when he couldn’t find his son, he discovered him sleeping outside in a hammock.

“He stayed out there half the time when it was pretty,” Richard said of his son.

Now he wants closure not only for himself, but for Ryan’s mother and Ryan’s son.

“If you know anything, call in anonymous or something. I know there’s somebody out there who knows what happened, knows who it was. I know that.”

Anyone with information can call the West Virginia State Police in Princeton at 304-425-2102.

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