CENTERVILLE, Calif. - Friday afternoon 72-year-old Donald Clark appeared in a Butte County Courtroom to be charged in the deaths of three people. The court appearance came just hours after he phoned a friend from jail, reportedly telling him he was "scared" the night he's accused of shooting and killing two teenagers and a woman on his property.
Clark is accused of shooting the three people, then setting a car on fire with the three bodies inside. The burned car and the bodies were found on the Skyway near Magalia just after midnight on June 13.
Friday afternoon the Butte County Sheriff's Office tentatively identified the three murder victims as Colleen Lowe, 46; her son Roland Lowe, 15; and a friend Richard Jones Jr., 17. All three are from Sacramento. The Sheriff's Office said the victims have been identified circumstantially based on information gathered by detectives. They are awaiting DNA confirmation.
The Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey confirmed Friday, the three people had been shot after an earlier dispute with Clark. One of the victims, Richard Jones Jr. had a dispute with Clark last summer. The teenager sometimes stayed with a friend who lived on Clark's property in the remote area of Butte Creek Canyon east of Chico.
According to Ramsey, Clark thought the teen was stealing equipment from him and warned him to never come back onto his property.
When he saw the 17-year-old Jones in the area last week with the Lowes, he asked them to leave. When they didn't, Ramsey said Clark used a shotgun to shoot Jones, Lowe and Lowe's mother. He then allegedly drove them to the Skyway, set the car on fire, and rode seven miles back to his home on a bicycle.
The Acura TL sedan had been reported stolen from Sacramento two days earlier. Two of the bodies were found inside the trunk, one was in the back seat.
Clark was arrested nearly a week later, early Wednesday morning.
But the criminal charges against Donald Clark are not matching up with what people who know him say about him.
KRCR News Channel 7's Jerry Olenyn went to Butte Creek Canyon to speak to those people who know him best as a community volunteer. They said he recycled items on his property.
Longtime friend John T. Clark lives near the elder Clark and said he is gentle and soft-spoken.
"He was a good friend of mine at one point."
John T. Clark is not related, and has known Donald Clark for nine years. He said Clark was like an uncle to him.
"He didn't curse, he didn't smoke, he didn't drink and he did not steal. And he did not tolerate bad behavior from other people."
Donald Clark lives about a half mile down a dirt path off of Centerville Road where deputies came to arrest him Wednesday morning around 5 a.m.
Detectives saying when he was taken into custody, saying he didn't put up a fight. They said he was peaceful.
Friends said Clark was generous with his time and talents. He volunteered for numerous projects to help civic groups like the Honey Run Covered Bridge Association and the local museum. Clark's photo is featured in the group's most recent newsletter.
Steve Runner remembers Clark parked cars at the recent pancake breakfast to raise money for the historic Honey Run Covered Bridge. The newsletter thanks Clark for his contributions. Clark also participated in a Butte Creek Canyon cleanup.
"He dug trenches, laid foundations, those kinds of things. Volunteer work," said Runner.
Another friend and fellow volunteer Fred Thorne has known Clark for three years through various civic organizations. Thorne said Clark called him Thursday night from the Butte County Jail, and described the how he felt the night of the shooting.
"He said I was afraid," said Thorne. "That's what Don reported to me. That's all I can say, because I have no other details."
Thorne did not say whether Clark admitted shooting the three victims or if he did, why he then burned the bodies in a vehicle in Magalia.
Thorne is the vice president of two local charities and vouches for Clark's kindness and integrity.
Clark will appear again in court next Tuesday.