Originally created 10/16/00

Suspect's friend feels sense of betrayal



GRANITEVILLE - Like an actor on a sitcom, Reinaldo "Ray" J. Rivera always seemed like he was playing a part.

Ronald Sharp, one of his closest friends, said it was as if he were trying too hard to be a perfect husband, a caring father and the all-American working man. In hindsight, it all seems phoney, he said.

"One thing I can say - we all have good and we all have bad. But he acted perfect, like nothing was ever wrong," Mr. Sharp said. "Everything rolled off his back. He acted like he had everything under control. ... He didn't want to show a flaw, and that's one of the reasons I feel like he wasn't being up front or forthright.

"To me, he didn't seem like he was connected with the world."

The Sharps - Ronald, wife Bonnie and three teen-age children - are confronting the reality that the man they called a friend and the person they allowed in their home is suspected of multiple slayings. That's why Mr. Sharp is wracking his brain to understand this.

Why didn't he see it before? Were there signs he missed? Was Mr. Rivera eyeing his teen-age daughter?

"I keep thinking about this, and I keep thinking about signs I should have seen. And I can't think of anything," Mr. Sharp said. "I want to know what I could have done because my family could have paid in all of this. We didn't realize how close we were until (his arrest).

"It's got us screwed up. I don't know who I could ever trust again."

The Riveras and the Sharps have been a tight bunch for the past two years. But their connection goes back further.

Mrs. Sharp used to work with Mr. Rivera's wife, Tammy, at United Defense in Aiken several years ago. At some point, Tammy met Mr. Rivera and dated him in Columbia, Mr. Sharp said. When Tammy got engaged, the Sharps went to the wedding in Columbia.

The Riveras moved about two years ago to Aiken County into a home on Bettis Academy Road, less than a mile away from the Sharp home on Whaley Pond Road in Graniteville. The friendship grew stronger.

The families spent holidays and birthdays together. Mr. Sharp's daughter had her 16th birthday in the Riveras' back yard, complete with balloons, birthday cake and music.

The Sharps occasionally cared for the Rivera children. On the Fourth of July, both families got together at the Rivera home to shoot fireworks.

The families were so tight, Mr. Sharp allowed Mr. Rivera to borrow his van - a red Chevy Astro van with dark-tinted windows. At the time, the Riveras had only one vehicle.

Now, Mr. Sharp wonders what his friend was doing with the van. Around the time of the Tiffaney Shereese Wilson killing last December, Mr. Rivera brought the borrowed vehicle back with a broken passenger-side mirror. Mrs. Wilson's decomposed body was found Dec. 28 in a wooded area off Bettis Academy Road, less than two miles from Mr. Rivera's residence at the time.

Mr. Sharp has contacted the Aiken County Sheriff's Office so they can examine it. Until then, he won't touch it.

"I'm suspicious that he could have used my van in a crime now that I know what happened," Mr. Sharp said. "It has tinted windows. You could do anything you want in there."

In September, the Rivera family decided to move from Graniteville to a newly developed subdivision on Sudlow Ridge Road in North Augusta. The Riveras had been talking about getting a home for quite some time, Mr. Sharp said. The Sharps helped the family move, and they remained in touch.

At the new home Sunday, Mrs. Rivera sat on her front porch with a friend while her daughter played in the yard with a neighborhood girl. When a stranger approached, Mrs. Rivera rushed the children inside the home.

The unidentified friend told a reporter Mrs. Rivera had nothing to say and wanted to be left alone.

The Sharps have continued their friendship with Mrs. Rivera since her husband's arrest. They visited her Friday night and talked by telephone Sunday.

According to Mr. Sharp, Mrs. Rivera has not informed her children of what happened. When they ask, she says their father is sick and in the hospital.

Mrs. Rivera has talked with her husband over the telephone and told him to cooperate with authorities, Mr. Sharp said.

"She said he is telling them everything that he has done in his whole life," he said. "Tammy asked him how long he's been doing it, and he said for years."

A source close to the investigation said Mr. Rivera seems remorseful.

"He's very polite. He's very articulate. And he's well educated," the source said. "His biggest concern is protecting his wife and children."

Mr. Sharp is harboring a great deal of resentment and anger toward his former friend.

His anger is brought on by a feeling of lost trust.

"I don't know who I could ever trust again," he said.

Staff Writer Johnny Edwards contributed to this article.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 279-6895.