Jeep Found With Tires Slashed: Teens Thought Murdered

Updated on March 22, 2018
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Kym L. Pasqualini is a freelance writer and founder of Nation's Missing Children Organization and National Center for Missing Adults.

Brelynne ‘Breezy’ Otteson and Riley Powell are missing from Utah since New Year’s Eve 2018.
Brelynne ‘Breezy’ Otteson and Riley Powell are missing from Utah since New Year’s Eve 2018.

Riley Powell and Brelynne ‘Breezy’ Otteson, both 18, were reported missing by their families on January 2, 2018. They had left home at approximately 9:30 a.m. on December 30th, in their Jeep Cherokee from Tooele, near Salt Lake City, Utah, to drive approximately 55 miles south to Eureka, Nevada on I-80. They had been dating about two months and were heading to the home they shared in Eureka.

Riley’s vehicle was found abandoned on a sideroad outside of Eureka, Nevada.
Riley’s vehicle was found abandoned on a sideroad outside of Eureka, Nevada. | Source

On January 11th, the couple’s abandoned vehicle was spotted by a helicopter pilot hidden in trees on a highway sideroad approximately 59 miles from their home near Cherry Creek Reservoir in Utah. The area where the Jeep was located is about 14 miles southwest of Eureka.

The Unimaginable

A search warrant was issued on January 16th at the Lofgreen home of Mistie Carlson, the mother of Riley. Carlson lives there with her boyfriend Lee Shepherd, her mother Linda Powell and her mother’s boyfriend William ‘Clubby’ Larson. A neighbor alerted police that they had seen a vehicle that looked like the Jeep Riley drove, being towed by Lee Shepherd. A strange twist in the missing person case.

Riley’s mother Mistie Carlson, grandmother, and his step-father all voluntarily spoke to police, however, Lee Shepherd refused to cooperate.

Mistie Carlson, mother of missing teen and boyfriend Lee Shepherd.
Mistie Carlson, mother of missing teen and boyfriend Lee Shepherd.

Appearing to be a huge contradiction, Mistie Carlson told police she had been home on New Year’s Eve with the rest of the family, while Clubby said she was not present. In the search warrant, during the search of the residence, police said they suspected to find evidence the teens were murdered.

The details of the search were made public February 5th and describe items seized from the home to include drug paraphernalia and a camouflage tie strap that police describe as ‘identical’ to a tie strap located in the driver’s seat of Riley’s Jeep.

Riley Carlson’s Jeep Cherokee Sport was found abandoned in Nevada
Riley Carlson’s Jeep Cherokee Sport was found abandoned in Nevada

Police also indicated that the vehicle’s tires were punctured straight in and appeared to be made deliberately. The windows all rolled down.

The condition of the vehicle raised police suspicions. Detective Tyler Johnson of the Sanpete/Juab County Sheriff’s Office reported the vehicle had two flat tires on the passenger side and a camouflage tie down strap stuck in the driver’s side rear leaf spring, commonly used for towing a vehicle.

‘Upon further inspection, the rear passenger tire had a puncture in the sidewall that appeared to be made with a straight smaller flat shaped object. The front passenger tire also had two identical punctures. There was no tear in the side wall that would indicate that the tires were moving when punctured.

Police began suspecting the couple’s family after the neighbor reported they had witnessed a truck similar to one owned by Lee Shepherd (along with distinctive decal) towing Riley’s Jeep down the highway.

In addition, police found a receipt dated January 28, 2017, from a store in Eureka, suggesting someone had driven from Eureka to Lofgreen.

The affidavit states witnesses gave varying accounts of where the residents were on the final days of 2017.

In a press release, it states, “These factors, in addition to other investigative leads and pieces of evidence, have led investigators to believe that the Jeep was dropped off there by intention and not by the two missing individuals and foul play is strongly suggested.”

The report indicates police requested 79 days’ worth of phone records between the missing teens and Carlson. Records pertaining to search engines and social media were also requested by police. There have been no arrests in connection with the disappearance of the two teens.

Not a Peep

Every time a person sees the information about a missing person, it increases the chance of getting that one lead that can solve a case. Facebook is a social environment where families of missing persons plead for help and work hard to engage others to join in the search for their missing loved one.

Mistie Carlson made one post in January that read: ‘Has anyone seen my son Riley L. Powell? He has been missing for like two days.” After that, not a peep.

Both Riley and Breezy have not made posts since their disappearance. Time just stopped. Breezy had been very active on social media prior to her disappearance, especially Snapchat, the family said.

With the exception of Mistie’s Facebook post, Riley’s mother, her boyfriend Lee, Linda or Clubby have not made any public statements.

On January 18, Wendover Police notified detectives that Carlson had attempted suicide and had been taken to University of Utah Hospital.

“They stated that Lee had refused to give them identification,” a statement said. “They spoke to Linda, who stated that Lee had been acting weird ever since law enforcement impounded his vehicle.”

In a Daily Mail article, “Were missing Utah teen murdered? Couple’s jeep was ‘set up to look like they became stranded and had tires slashed’ – as police find strap at boyfriend’s stepfather’s home that is ‘identical’ to one found in their car,” reported a Facebook post made by Breezy’s aunt Amanda Hunt.

‘The unsealed search warrant affidavit released today in regard to the disappearance of Breezy and Riley can appear to be a shock to all.’

‘The information provided in this document can appear to be alarming and create a lot of accusations and assumptions.’

‘We want to remind everyone that the information released today is part of the process and all leads have to be investigated,’ wrote her aunt. Hunt has spearheaded the continued search for the two teens.

The Search

Cadaver dogs from Rocky Mountain Rescue helped search the residence of Riley’s mother. It was noted the dogs showed interest in Lee’s truck that was seen towing Riley’s jeep. The truck was impounded as evidence.

Volunteers have helped search and repel into mines in the area. Approximately 20 mines in the Mammoth, Silver City, and Cherry Creek area have been eliminated. At one point over 100 people helped search for Breezy and Riley in Tooele, Juab and Utah counties.

Mines in the area have been searched by volunteers and law enforcement.
Mines in the area have been searched by volunteers and law enforcement.

On March 13-14, the family of Breezy was assisted by Crime Watch Daily, along with Scent Evidence K-9 and the detective on the case continued to search the area where the vehicle was located. Members and search dogs from Scent Evidence K-9 traveled from Tennessee and Florida to help search for the missing couple.

Crime Watch Daily and member of Scent Evidence K-9 assisting with search for Breezy and Riley.
Crime Watch Daily and member of Scent Evidence K-9 assisting with search for Breezy and Riley.

The Nevada desert is a rugged and desolate place. Riley was born in Eureka and an outdoorsman. “He knows what to do for survival,” Hunt said. “We fear the worst but are still holding out hope.

A $5000.00 reward is offered for information leading to the location of Riley and Breezy and the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for their disappearance. If you have any information about the disappearance of the teens, please call Juab County Sheriff’s Office at 435-623-1344.

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