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Body on rims

Screens hide the view of a body in the road as Billings police investigate a death on Highway 3 west of the airport. Black skid marks could be seen in the road near the body in the eastbound lane.

Police are asking witnesses to come forward as they continue to investigate the death of 22-year-old Tristan Gray, of Billings, who was struck and killed by a nighttime driver on Highway 3 in July.

Footage from a surveillance camera located on airport property near the scene of the death shows the driver who killed Gray got out of his vehicle and ran back to check on her after hitting her, then drove away, according to Billings Police Department Lt. David Cardillo.

Police have identified the suspect driver but declined to release his name while their investigation remains active.

The driver’s cellphone battery was dead, police learned through further investigation, and he left to find a landline where he could call 911, Cardillo said. The 911 call was placed at 3:09 a.m.

Police have spoken with two witnesses who were hanging out on the Rims before the fatality, but investigators know from nearby surveillance cameras there are more, Cardillo said.

Police have reviewed footage from cameras on the Montana State University Billings campus and on airport property. The fatality took place west of the airport, near the large red-and-white checked water tower. 

Two “vehicles of interest” were seen leaving the area before police arrived, according to BPD. One was a 2000s model Yukon- or Suburban-type vehicle, white in color. The other was a mid-1980s Chevy truck, dark in color and possibly towing a trailer.

Cardillo told The Gazette on Thursday the two vehicles left “within seconds” of the suspect driver leaving the scene separately in his vehicle, and that there were multiple people in both witness cars.

Cardillo said police did not have a precise count on the number of people who were in the cars and had witnessed the fatality, since the two witnesses police did speak with declined to provide the number or names of the individuals who had been hanging out on the Rims. But Cardillo said that all of the people who had been on the Rims prior to the roadway fatality left.

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In regards to the 911 call, Cardillo said he did not recall whether the driver or his mother had placed the call, but that both were present while the call was made. The lead detective on the case was not immediately available to clarify, Cardillo said.

Asked whether the 911 caller told dispatchers who hit the woman or merely reported the incident, Cardillo said he did not know.

Police were working to identify the additional witnesses who had been on the Rims early that morning and encourage them to make statements to the police, Cardillo said. He said some might fear coming forward due to their own criminal histories.

“We’re interested in a statement, not who they are or what they’ve done,” Cardillo said.

Police have asked anyone with knowledge of the incident to call BPD at 657-8473.

Cardillo said the driver suspected of killing Gray has no criminal history.

He said police believe the Rims gathering involved alcohol but do not yet know whether it was a factor in Gray’s death. Police are waiting for toxicology results.

The gravel parking lot area alongside the Rims and adjacent to Highway 3 where Gray was killed is a popular nighttime hangout, Cardillo said. And as calls for service have increased, he said, “proactive patrolling goes way down.”

“A lot of drinking, a lot of drugs,” he said. “It’s not a safe place to be. It’s not heavily patrolled.”

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