Detectives pursue leads on lost teen
September 1, 1998
By Anne Hart
Record Searchlight staff reporter
Detectives continued to follow up leads Monday in the disappearance of Tera Smith. More than 14 people called the Shasta County Sheriff's Department during the weekend to report being at the intersection of Old Alturas Road and Old Oregon Trail on Aug. 22, the day the 16-year-old Shasta County resident disappeared. Detectives gave out fliers Saturday requesting that anyone at that intersection about 6:30 p.m. that day call the department.
Tera's martial arts instructor, Troy Zink, 29, of Redding, told detectives he dropped Tera off at the intersection at her request the evening she vanished. Zink is the last known person to have seen the Central Valley High School junior. He told detectives Tera called him earlier in the evening at his business and asked him to meet her on a road near her Tarcy Way home off Old Oregon Trail.
The 5-foot-7-inch girl with blond hair and blue eyes was wearing jogging clothes when she left her home.
September 12, 1998
Detectives again search Zink home and studio
By Anne Hart
Record Searchlight staff reporter
Hang glider pilots who frequent a hill where Troy Zink claims he went to pray say roads there are inaccessible except for one that is gated and locked. Detectives on Friday searched the Redding home, martial arts studio and pickup of Troy Zink — the last person known to have seen Tera Smith.
Tera, 16, has been missing for three weeks.
Zink, Tera's 29-year-old martial arts instructor, hasn't talked with authorities since Aug. 22, the night the Central Valley High School junior vanished. Shasta County sheriff's detectives served a search warrant at Zink's home and neighboring studio on St. Mark's Street about 3:30 p.m., said Lt. Harry Bishop. He declined to say what detectives found, and the warrant was sealed. The search of Zink's property came after a two-day ground search of the west side of Shasta Dam, near where Zink said he went to pray the night Tera disappeared.
Volunteers from the sheriff's search and rescue teams, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service scoured the area — including a place called Hang Glider Hill. Zink told deputies and friends he went to the hill, also known as Spreadeagle Mine, after dropping Tera off at a Redding intersection the evening she vanished. Zink, who owns a four-wheel-drive pickup, was gone for five hours before returning home, detectives said.
Shasta County hang gliders and contractors at Spreadeagle Mine said a locked steel gate blocks the most accessible road to the top of Hang Glider Hill. "We're fairly confident that no one came through the gate that night," said Ken Henderson, a contractor with Western States Grading. The gate is locked on weekends and a caretaker is on hand most of the time, Henderson said. By the main road, the summit is about an hour's trip from the dam. It takes several hours to reach the 3,500-foot mountaintop via two other steep, nearly inaccessible roads, said Don Mills, Shasta Lake paraglider.
Mills said he visits the hilltop often, as do many hang glider pilots who have keys to the gate. On the hilltop is a path and a plywood hang glider launching ramp. "When I first heard he had been up there, I said there is no way he could've been up there," Mills said. But Bishop said a locked gate would not stop someone who really wants to reach the summit. Searchers also this week examined places near the dam that Tera was known to frequent.
Searchers used photographs of the sole prints of the brand of running shoes that Tera was wearing when she left her Tarcy Way home north of Redding. Bishop did not know if the ground search will continue.
Troy Zink stopped teaching at his martial arts studio, Mue's Tae Kwon Do, because of the investigation, said his student and supporter, Craig Murray of Sacramento, on Friday. "Who's going to come to a place where everyone says you either helped kidnap, move or kill a person who's missing?" Murray said. "If this happened to me, there is no way I would have people come by and take potshots at me and my family. I'm sure there are threats on his family."
The warrant served Friday was the second one served at Zink's home and studio since Tera disappeared.
September 16, 1998
Zink faces gun charges
Warrant unrelated to missing teen-age girl
By Candace L. Brown
Record Searchlight staff reporter
Troy Zink is expected to surrender today on a weapons charge related to a search of his north Redding residence last month. An arrest warrant unrelated to Tera Smith's case was issued Tuesday for the last known person to have seen the missing teen-ager. Troy Zink, 29, of Redding faces a felony charge of possession of a firearm by a felon, according to Shasta County court records.
His attorney indicated that Zink — who pleaded guilty seven years ago to a charge of rape and served 300 days in jail — would surrender sometime today, officials said.
The warrant was issued as a result of weapons found during a search of his residence last month and has nothing to do with Tera's Aug. 22 disappearance, Shasta County sheriff's Lt. Harry Bishop said. Zink has not been called a suspect in the case of the 16-year-old Central Valley High School junior, but authorities have searched his home and martial arts business twice since she was reported missing. Bishop said the first search was unrelated to Tera's case. During the second search, on Friday, Zink's pickup was seized. Authorities are asking anyone who might have seen the dark blue 1976 Ford F150 pickup on Aug. 22 to call 245-6142.
Zink is the last known person to see Tera, when he said he dropped her off at the intersection of Old Oregon Trail and Old Alturas Road about 6:30 p.m. Since answering questions the night Tera disappeared, Zink has not talked to authorities — reportedly on the advice of his lawyer — and has declined to speak to the Record Searchlight. Sheriff's officials have said they must do what they can to verify his initial story. They would like to know more about what the pair talked about before Tera disappeared — if she made any mention of running away or visiting someone, for example.
Friends of Zink's spoke in his defense Tuesday and said the investigation has been difficult for his family, which includes a wife and young son. "This is very upsetting to me because I know this person to be a completely different person than who they're portraying him to be," said Debbie Chamberlain, a legal secretary who has been friends with the Zinks for several years. "He and his wife are just wonderful people and this whole thing has been terrible from the start."
July 29, 1999
Zink gets four-year term on gun charge
Spectators honor Smiths
While Troy Zink listened to his four-year prison sentence in blue jail attire Wednesday, a crowd of onlookers wearing yellow ribbons packed the seats behind him. Zink, 30, of Red Bluff was sentenced to the middle of three possible state prison sentences for his June 24 weapons conviction. A jury found Zink guilty of being a felon in possession of four rifles and three shotguns, which were in storage in the attic of his former Redding martial arts studio.
His wife, Dena Zink, covered her face with a handkerchief after Judge Bradley Boeckman handed down the sentence in Shasta County Superior Court. Others in the spectator section came wearing yellow bows, to show support for another family present — that of Terry and Marilyn Smith, the parents of missing Shasta County teen-ager Tera Smith. Zink, who was Tera's martial arts instructor, is the last known person to have seen the teen, who was 16 when she disappeared Aug. 22.
Zink has not been charged in Tera's case, but Smith family members have spoken publicly about their belief that Zink is connected with their daughter's disappearance. Not long ago, they hung a sign on a billboard at their business, the Oasis Fun Center along Interstate 5 in north Redding, that read, ''Where's Tera? Zink knows. $40,000 reward.''
Wednesday, the Smiths stood at the front of a line outside the courtroom that spanned the entire hallway. Almost 100 people came to watch the sentencing. Friends of the Smith family made the ribbons in memory of Tera and passed them out, Marilyn Smith said. ''They wanted to show that our family is supported, too,'' she said. Zink's father, Chuck, said he resents the Smiths' claims that his son is responsible for Tera's disappearance. ''Number one, my son was not convicted of this crime and was not guilty of this crime. Number two, you need to ask Mr. Smith why his daughter ran away from home,'' he said.
About 20 members of Zink's family came to watch, but only his parents, wife and those closer to the front of the line made it into the courtroom to watch. Spectators were allowed in on a first-come, first-serve basis because of their unusually large number. Inside, Judge Boeckman said the presence or absence of supporters on either side would not influence his decision. Deputy District Attorney Dave Focht and a recommendation from the Shasta County Probation Department called for the midterm sentence of four years, not the maximum term of six years in prison. Boeckman agreed with those suggestions, saying there was nothing particularly striking either way about the case.
Because of Zink's 1991 guilty plea to rape, the law makes Zink ineligible for probation. He will be on parole for three years after his prison term. Zink's attorney, Russell Swartz of Redding, argued for the least possible sentence, 16 months in prison. ''Because of the fact that I don't think he's guilty of the crime, I don't think the sentence is fair,'' Swartz said after the hearing. He called the yellow ribbons and publicity garnered by the Smiths ''game playing.''
Terry Smith said he was overwhelmed by the support shown Wednesday, but that the ribbons weren't his family's idea. ''If this was a real organized effort, we could have filled the courthouse. It's just a testament to the great community we live in,'' he said.
Zink's family did not wish to comment outside of court.
January 7, 2000
Case of missing teen continues
It's been more than 16 months since Shasta County teen Tera Smith disappeared, and Thursday marked Tera's 18th birthday. On Aug. 22, 1998, Tera, then 16, left her east Redding home dressed to go jogging, but never showed up for work at her family's business a few hours later.
Shasta County sheriff's detectives continue to investigate the case.
Tera's martial arts instructor, Troy Zink, 30, formerly of Redding, was the last known person to see the Central Valley High School homecoming princess, but he has not been named a suspect in the case. Zink is in Tehama County Jail in Red Bluff, awaiting trial on an unrelated assault charge.