When a college student dies in Tijuana

Patrick Sean Kelly

Patrick Sean Kelly

When a college student dies in Tijuana, evidence points to foul play.

The highway that separates Tijuana, Mexico, from the United States is called the Avenida Internacional.  Dozens of people die here every year, most, while trying to enter the U.S. illegally.

On the night of May 5, 1996, the scene facing local rescue crews was all too familiar. A pedestrian had allegedly been struck in a hit and run accident and was barely alive.  He carried no I.D. and was classified as “Desconocido,” or unknown.

The man died six days after the accident without regaining consciousness.  Another 15 days passed before he was identified as 22-year-old Patrick Sean Kelly, a film student at the University of Southern California.

Patrick always had a passion for writing and storytelling.  By the time he went to college, he knew that he wanted to make movies.

After months of intense effort, Patrick had just turned in his junior year-end project – a full-length motion picture script. Patrick celebrated by watching a movie on video with his close friend Michael Park:

“He was really upbeat.  He was just really anxious to get on with his senior year, and then you know, hopefully get out in Hollywood.  We watched the video for about 45 minutes.  I remember the time ‘cause I had to get up pretty early the next morning.  So I said, ‘You know I better leave and hit the sack.’ So it was about 3:45.  And that was the last I saw him.”

Patrick’s mother, Terri Kelly, was the first to notice something was wrong:

“One of the things we agreed on when he first went away to school was that we would always call each other on Sunday evening.  In three years, he’d never missed the call. He didn’t call that Sunday night and I called him and tried all evening to get hold of him. So I knew right away that we had a problem.”

Patrick fought for his life

Patrick fought for his life

Terri asked Michael Park to go to Patrick’s room.  It looked as if Patrick had just stepped out. His wallet was on the desk, his bags and clothes in the closet.  And yet, his passport was nowhere to be found.

On Patrick’s answering machine, Michael found was a message from Patrick’s bank asking for a return call.  Terri Kelly immediately phoned the bank:

“There had been several ATM transactions over that weekend in Mexico and they overdrew his account.  So that was the first clue we had as to what direction he had been headed.”

That direction was south. At 10:24 Saturday morning, Patrick had made a $60.00 withdrawal at a 7-11 in San Clemente, 63 miles south of Los Angeles.

At 6:08 P.M., another $135 was withdrawn at an ATM in the Tijuana tourist area.  The next day, three more withdrawals at an ATM in downtown Tijuana bled Patrick’s account dry.

Terri Kelly hired private detective Doug Roth to find Patrick.  Doug began at the 7-11 in San Clemente. The surveillance tape from Saturday morning showed Patrick entering the store.  He acted normally.  There was no indication of trouble.

Doug continued south to Mexico.  At the border, he decided to check the parking lots where tourists leave their cars before entering Tijuana.  Roth hit pay dirt right away.
Patrick’s mud-caked car was parked along the back fence. There was damage to the front right bumper and the rear license plate was loose.  According to Doug, it looked like someone other than Patrick had last driven the car:

“The driver’s seat was much closer to the steering wheel than would be consistent with someone who is 6’1” tall.  The radio was turned to a Spanish American radio station, which was as we understand it, inconsistent with Patrick’s listening habits.  We also had found a partially smoked cigarette in the ashtray of the car.  Patrick was not a smoker and as we understand it, did not allow smoking in his car.”

Patrick with unidentified stranger

Patrick with unidentified stranger

The leads uncovered at the parking lot led Doug to the Tijuana morgue and the body of the unidentified pedestrian.

Terri Kelly rushed to Mexico, fearing the worst:

“It was a very tough thing.  They don’t let you in the same room. I knew it was him.  You have to view them through glass and at a considerable distance for those circumstances.  But I, you know, I knew it was him.”

But how exactly did Patrick Kelly die?  Here’s what we know: At approximately 1:00 A.M. on May 5th, a motorcyclist was heading east along the Avenida Internacional.  Two pedestrians suddenly darted out in front of him. The motorcyclist lost control and hit Patrick.

Patrick never had a chance to tell anyone what had happened; he was unconscious when paramedics arrived.  Mexican authorities later attributed all of Patrick’s injuries to the accident.  Doug Roth didn’t see it that way:

“My initial reaction upon viewing the body was that he had been beaten severely.  This is based principally on my observation of wounds about the face and upper body, chest area.”

An independent autopsy, commissioned by Terri Kelly, seemed to agree.  The report concluded;  “Findings do not support an interpretation that death was due to a motor vehicle accident.”

The hours after the accident were also marked by irregularities.  While Patrick lay dying in the hospital, someone used his ATM card in downtown Tijuana. They made not one, but three, cash withdrawals.

Doug Roth finds this evidence compelling;

“The evidence clearly indicates that transactions had occurred after he was comatose in Mexico with this ATM card, that that ATM card had been used with a pin number which he would not have reasonably given up or have any need to have written down anywhere.”

The evidence of foul play was mounting.  First the autopsy, then the ATM withdrawals, and finally Patrick’s car.  According to the parking lot records, somebody paid the $60 fee and drove the car off the lot four days after Patrick died.  The next day, the car was returned to the same parking space.

Doug Roth has a theory:

“I believe Patrick went to Mexico with another individual and I believe that by 5 o’clock in the afternoon, they had met with some unsavory characters and had probably been taken, against their will, hostage, had been beaten, that their pin number had been gained.  And likely, while they were held nearby where the accident occurred, they made a break for it.  One of them was struck.  One of them was not. One of them made it away.”

Was Patrick Kelly with a friend when he was run down in Tijuana? If so, why hasn’t that friend come forward?  The death of Patrick Kelly remains a mystery.