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Three charged in trucker’s death

Three charged in trucker’s death

The three men charged with killing a Schoharie County trucker Thursday in South Carolina got a total

The three men charged with killing a Schoharie County trucker Thursday in South Carolina got a total of $7 in cash for their efforts, investigators said Monday.

As the three were working their way through the South Carolina criminal justice system, funeral preparations were being made 700 miles north for Jason H. Rivenburg, a 35-year-old Fultonham resident with a toddler son and pregnant wife.

Rivenburg was resting in a tractor-trailer near a South Carolina highway when he was shot during the robbery around 10:30 p.m. Thursday, authorities said. His body wasn’t found until Saturday, the day family members were expecting him to return home.

“We keep looking out the window and hoping to see him at any time,” said Butch Savage, Rivenburg’s father-in-law. “It’s rough, believe me, it’s real rough. We’re still trying to, I guess, let it sink in.”

Calhoun (S.C.) County Sheriff Thomas Summers said police were able to tie the suspects to shell casings found at the scene.

Willie Pelzer, 22, was charged with murder. Summers said Pelzer, whose criminal record includes a grand larceny conviction, is accused of firing a .45-caliber handgun at close range through a window in the truck’s cab, hitting Rivenburg at least two times in the head.

Jimmie Haygood and Willie Reed, both 21, were charged as accessories after the fact of murder, Summers said.

Summers said Haygood and Reed provided confessions, though Pelzer did not.

He said police recovered shell casings at the scene and caught up with the suspects by searching a list of owners of recently purchased .45-caliber handguns.

Summers said he phoned Rivenburg’s relatives early Sunday, as soon as police made arrests. “I know we’re a long ways away, and I wanted to assure them somebody down here cared,” he said.

Investigators believe the $7 Rivenburg had on him was all the cash the robbery yielded, Summers said.

“It’s a cowardly act, incredibly cowardly and senseless,” he said.


Savage said Rivenburg spent most of his free time with his son Joshua, who turns 2 next month.

“His little boy was his life,” he said.

Rivenburg and his family had just moved into a new home a month ago, Savage said. He said Rivenburg was a hard worker who ran a vehicle cleaning and detailing business in Schoharie County — a skill he developed through his penchant for cleanliness.

“He was a clean freak. Every day it was sunny he was outside cleaning his pickup,” Savage said.

“The night he got killed, he was talking to his friend [on his cellphone] and he was cleaning the dash of the big truck,” Savage said.

Savage said his daughter Hope, who is pregnant with twins, was trying to cope with the loss of her husband and was not taking phone calls Monday.

Rivenburg was working part-time for Vanderveen Trucking of Delanson, hauling organic milk, company representatives said Saturday.

Rivenburg worked as a heavy equipment operator during the construction season, his father-in-law said, but was laid off for the winter.

According to Summers, Rivenburg was parked at a closed-down gas station near an exit off a major highway in St. Matthews, S.C.

The station has been closed for about a year, he said, and it is located in a rural area that’s not prone to crime.

“It’s not unusual for truckers to back into this station and rest,” Summers said.

Savage said Rivenburg had left home Wednesday, made a drop in Virginia and arrived in South Carolina early. He was only 12 miles from his destination but unable to head directly there because it was too early for the delivery.

Family members are circulating a petition to gather support for government action to ensure the safety of truckers who are required by federal law to stop their trucks and rest after a certain amount of driving time.

“The DOT tells truck drivers they can only drive for 12 or 14 hours, then they’ve got to park. We want to turn around and see legislation that they will provide safe haven for truckers to stop at,” Savage said. “[Rivenburg] is from here. He really doesn’t know that area,” Savage said.

Rivenburg’s death follows that of another Capital Region truck driver, John L. Belfance of Fonda, who was shot at a rest stop in Georgia in August 2007. Two people were charged in that killing.

According to his obituary, Rivenburg was a 1991 graduate of the Schoharie Central School. He worked for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 106 in Albany.

Visitation was scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Palmer & Shaylor Funeral Home, 134 River St., Middleburgh, where a funeral will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday.

A memorial fund for the family of Jason Rivenburg was established at the TrustCo Bank at 1900 Altamont Ave., Rotterdam, N.Y., 12303. TrustCo representative Michelle DiMauro said people can make contributions to the fund at any TrustCo branch.

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