Rising star dimmed
The mood at a Truckee coffee house was somber Tuesday afternoon, as several friends gathered to remember the young man they called a local legend.
Charles Kelly, 21, known better by his middle name of Coogan, was one of three persons shot and killed at a Halloween party early Sunday in Reno.
“He was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Samantha Van Ruiten, Kelly’s girlfriend, who attended the party with him until gunfire erupted. “There is no explanation for why this happened.”
Reno police investigators say the shooting broke out on a crowded dance floor at a private party. On Tuesday inside Truckee’s Wild Cherries, Van Ruiten said shoving by the dancers turned into a fight, and she was separated from Kelly before the shooting occurred.
Kelly was a native of the Sierra Valley who loved to fish, swim and snowboard, often around Donner Lake, where he had recently lived with his mom and two sisters.
“He was full of life,” said Carolyn Keigley, a Truckee High art teacher who knew Kelly since kindergarten. “He had a strong personality, but a very gentle spirit.”
After attending Truckee High School, Kelly pursued a passion for snowboarding. He was skilled enough to attract local sponsorship by NJB clothing and Totally Board in Truckee, as well as national endorsements from Adidas and Ride snowboards.
Kelly’s exploits were featured in several snowboarding films, and he had hoped to establish himself as a professional snowboarder this winter, said NJB sponsor Nate Brouwer of Truckee.
Inside Truckee’s Wild Cherries coffee house, friends hugged, cried and shared Kelly anecdotes.
“At his house, he has a map of every rail he wanted to hit in the Tahoe Basin,” said Van Ruiten of her slain boyfriend. “There was so much he wanted to do, so many dreams, and now he can’t do any of it, that’s what hurts the most.”
Jason Hale, a 2006 Olympic contender in snowboarding, grew up with Kelly in the Sierra Valley. In a phone interview, he said he will always remember Kelly’s lasting motivation for the sport.
“We’d all be sitting around and suddenly notice Coogan was gone, so we’d call him up and he’d be half way up Donner Summit building a kicker by himself,” said Hale.
Other friends of Kelly said they felt honored to ski and snowboard with him.
“He was always pushing me to improve everything, to do back flips, to just try new things,” said long-time comrade Rich Home of Truckee. “He inspired all of his friends to be better than they were.”
Kelly often talked about attending college someday, and eventually wanted to own a house in the Sierra Valley, Van Ruiten said.
“He knew exactly where he wanted to go, and we were going together.”
Aside from his passion for snowboarding and the outdoors, Kelly remained close to his family.
“They are amazing people and they loved him a lot,” said Home.
According to Home, the family will host a memorial celebration on Sunday at the PastTime Club in Truckee. The time has not yet been determined, but the event will be open to the public.
“We didn’t get him for as long as we would have wanted to, but it would be worse not to have him in your life,” said Van Ruiten.
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The Truckee Town Council has unanimously approved of a pilot program to remove snow on privately maintained paved trails in the area.