All JoEllen Ray wanted was for things to go back to the way they were, before some guy ran a stop sign and T-boned her 2003 Ford Focus.
She just wanted her car back.
And, although Ray eventually got her wish, it came at a hefty price: The Roy woman now faces a threat of violence misdemeanor for allegedly threatening to kill employees at an Allstate insurance office in Brigham City.
The trouble began back on June 28, when Ray went to check on a friend who hadn't answered his phone in three days. Another motorist ran a four-way stop and hit Ray's vehicle on the passenger side.
"It was an old guy," Ray says. "He said, 'I was daydreaming.' "
Allstate totaled Ray's vehicle, offering her $2,500 for it. Or, she could keep the car, as is, and they'd give her $2,000.
Ray was frustrated.
"They do this to a lot of people," she said. "You pay into insurance for years, then when you need it, they never even heard of you."
On July 12, Ray called up her Allstate agent in Brigham City in an attempt to get her vehicle fixed. She says she argued with a woman named Natalie.
"I don't need a check," Ray explained. "I need my car."
Ray admits the exchange got a little heated, and that she "wanted her to know I was a little unstable."
"I remember saying, 'Natalie, I want you to hang up and call the police so they can tell you better who you're dealing with here.' "
Shortly after the altercation, Allstate fixed the car, according to Ray.
Ray assumed life had returned to normal, but in September she received a summons that she was being charged with threat of violence, a class B misdemeanor.
According to a police report, the woman who filed the complaint claims Ray told her: "Natalie, I want you to understand that I spent five years in prison for murder, and if you only give me $2,500, I will come down and kill all you (expletive)."
Lt. Mike Nelson of the Brigham City Police Department said the woman was frightened enough to call it in.
"The gal was scared and called the police," Nelson said. "It's been referred to the city attorney. What will happen, I don't know."
Representatives of the Allstate office in Brigham City have declined to comment on the incident.
Ray admits she's "got a bad mouth," but insists she didn't threaten to kill anyone.
"I made sure I didn't do anything threatening, 'cause I thought they were recording the call," she said. "But I wish I knew exactly what I said to her, because then I'd tell all my friends what to say to get their insurance companies to pay."
Ray had a pre-trial conference on Nov. 21 in Brigham City; she now faces another court date on Jan. 23.
"The prosecutor wants to speak with the victim first," said Russell Farr, Ray's lawyer. "He's heard our side, now he wants to hear the victim's side."
Brigham City prosecuting attorney Corey Sherwin declined to elaborate on the case.
"The case hasn't been resolved, and I can't comment until it's completed," he said. "There is always the possibility cases can be resolved without a trial."
The Rev. Charles Petty, of the Second Baptist Church in Ogden -- where Ray attends -- says, "I've known Tracy ever since the early '80s."
Tracy? That's Ray's nickname, short for "Dick Tracy." And please don't ask how she got that nickname. (We're still sorry we did.)
Despite her rough exterior, Ray is considered "a very kindhearted and independent person" by Petty. Another friend, local music legend Joe McQueen, testifies to her softer side.
"I do know she has been a person willing to help people," he said. "I've know her, when people are ill, she'll go and do things for them."
However, Petty allows that one really needs to get to know Ray to truly love and appreciate her.
"She's a nice person, but doesn't always act like she is," he said. "She's up-front, and doesn't use the most politically correct language. She's definitely out there -- raw and uncut. But her bark is worse than her bite."
Much of Ray's raw and uncut nature may stem from the wild life she's led -- a life that's sort of a cross between a novel by Charles Dickens and Harold Robbins.
"My disability is bipolar schizophrenia, so you'll have to judge what's real and what isn't," she warns.
She then commences to tell a series of life stories -- each wilder than that last -- that she and family members insist are true. Here's the condensed version:
JoEllen Ray was born March 18, 1947, in Minneapolis, Minn., a granddaughter to Bobby Marshall, one of the first black players in the NFL. Her mother died the day after Ray's fifth birthday.
"They said she was trying to have an abortion or something," Ray shrugs.
Ray's father, who had moved to San Francisco, came home briefly for the funeral.
"After the funeral, he left us at the mall," Ray remembers. "That made us wards of the state."
Ray and her older brother and sister were raised in an orphanage. She says the woman in charge of the orphanage would "whup" her every day at 4 o'clock -- mostly because she was a light-skinned black, but also "in case we did something she didn't see." Ray says she left the orphanage at age 10.
"I ran away and became a whore," she said. "A guy gave me $300 to sleep with him, 'cause I was a virgin."
At age 16, Ray was sent to the Shakopee Women's Correctional Facility in Shakopee, Minn., where she served 3 1/2 years for aggravated assault. While in prison, she gave birth to a daughter. (That daughter, Ray says, has since returned to her place of birth; she's serving two years at Shakopee for "getting high on pills and killing a Mexican woman and her baby in a car accident.")
After serving her time, Ray received what's called a 20-year-floater. "I had to leave Minnesota for 20 years," she says.
So in 1967, Ray and a friend decided to hitchhike to Oakland, Calif.
"I was 20 years old and had $24.97 in my pocket," she said. "I never even heard of Utah. I was on my way to East Oakland, where my sister was. I never got there."
Ray made it as far as Ogden.
"The last ride we got, the guy lived in the Terrace," she said. "This place was jumpin' back then. It was as close to Hollywood as I was ever going to get."
So Ray stayed.
She got a job cleaning houses, then later spent 23 years in construction, working as a crane operator.
Ray married at 21, but sought a divorce in 1979 because she says she didn't want to drag her husband down.
"He was too good a man," Ray said, when asked why they divorced. "He said I could do whatever I wanted to do, but I couldn't do that to him. But we always stayed friends. He died in 1991."
They remained friends despite Ray's odd way of ensuring she was granted that divorce. Ray was on her way downtown to the courthouse in Ogden, and she stopped by some apartments on 30th Street and Wall Avenue.
"I said I'd pay somebody 25 bucks to hit me with a hammer in the head," she said.
So a female friend took a hammer and smacked Ray on the bridge of her nose -- it gave her two black eyes, instantly.
"I went down to the courthouse and told the judge, 'Look what he did to me,' " Ray recalls. "(My husband) said, 'I didn't do that!' But the judge said, 'Divorce granted.' "
Ray is quick to admit she's been no angel. She spent a total of 19 months in prison out here in Utah.
"I've been to Draper twice for forgery -- one-five-eight-one-five," she says, reciting her prisoner number.
Ray is equally quick to point out that she hasn't been in trouble with the law since 1988.
Although her 66 years have been filled with all sorts of exploits, Ray says the only other time she made the newspaper was when she set herself on fire. It was July 17, 1974, just three months after the so-called Hi-Fi Shop murders in Ogden, in which three people were brutally killed -- tortured, raped and murdered.
Because the accused killers were African-American, Ray says "people in Ogden were distrustful of all blacks."
"It was terrible," she recalls. "I suffered for something I had nothing to do with. I got fired from housekeeping jobs -- and I had keys to their houses. Five people I worked for, didn't want me no more."
Ray says blacks couldn't even get a cab to stop for them at that time.
"These people tripped out," she said. "We were upset, too."
On that warm July day, Ray had just finished mowing the lawn, and was putting the mower away. The gas can was sitting there in the garage. With no job, and no prospects, Ray was despondent.
Ray and her friend had gone shopping earlier in the day, and the friend had purchased a pair of shoes. Ray was wearing those shoes, stretching them out, because her foot was wider than her friend's.
"I remember taking off the shoes and putting them by the back door, because she'd be mad if I burned them up," Ray explains.
She poured gasoline on herself, struck a match, and started to run.
" 'Cause that stuff'll make you run," she explains matter-of-factly.
Ray was burned over 80 percent of her body.
"My son, when he was 7 years old, asked me, 'Why did you burn yourself up?' I told him it was because I didn't talk about things," she said.
Ray resolved never to bottle up her thoughts after that.
"That's when I started talking," she says with a chuckle. "Now I open my mouth. My family says I open it too much now, that I talk too much."
And that talking got Ray into trouble this summer with her alleged threat of killing people.
Ray takes medication for her disorders, and Rev. Petty says he can usually tell when she's stopped taking them.
"I'm not saying she did or didn't say that," he offers, "but when she's not on her meds, it wouldn't surprise me if she said something like that."
Contact reporter Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/mark.saal.