BESSEMER CITY, NC (WBTV) - Roger Self, the man who crashed his SUV into a Gaston County restaurant, killing two of his family members, has been sentenced to more than 50 years in prison.
He was accused of intentionally driving his car into the Surf & Turf Restaurant in Bessemer City, killing two of his family members, and injuring several others, on May 20, 2018.
Investigators said Self was having lunch with his family when he got up, went to his car and drove it into the building. His daughter Katelyn Self and his daughter-in-law died. Self was charged with two counts of second-degree murder.
In January, Self entered an Alford Plea, meaning he maintained his innocence but admitted there may be enough evidence for a conviction.
He was back in court this week for his sentencing hearing. In the last three days, more than 20 people testified about Self’s character, his changing behavior and mental health. The days consisted of hours of witness testimonies and a review of the restaurant surveillance video.
Self’s sentencing hearing lasted for four days, ending on Friday.
Self testified on Thursday about his work at church, mental health and what he remembers from May 20, 2018. Roger Self says the days leading up to the deadly crash were like a dream.
He says he was on multiple medications trying to treat the pain he was feeling from his mental illness, but he says it only got worse. Self says he felt disconnected and while he was aware he crashed into the restaurant - he says didn’t feel anything emotionally.
“I would’ve realized. First of all that would’ve never happened if my mind had been in sync with my body,” Self said.
Self said he felt agonizing guilt after he began watching porn, going to strip clubs, massage parlors, and kissing another woman. Self confided in his wife and pastor about these instances but says “I felt like God had forgotten about me.”
Self’s daughter Taylor Potter and his wife Dianne shared their love for him Thursday and talked about how they encouraged him to get mental health treatment.
“Me and Kate were just constantly going back and forth about what we could do and how we could help, because why wouldn’t we want to help our dad,” Potter said.
Both Potter and Dianne said they still love Self even after the crash.
“He’s the best man that I know, the first man that I ever loved,” Potter said.
His wife Dianne said she talks to him on the phone every day and that Self has said “he’s so sorry” for what he’s done.
“His love for us has never faltered, he’s always been that kind of man and I know he would never hurt us,” Dianne said.
Self says he saw multiple doctors and was taking different medications but says his condition didn’t change. He says he even thought of ending his own life but says he didn’t want to put his family through that pain.
Self-fought back tears for over two hours as he testified saying he just wanted some help and that he didn’t mean to hurt anyone.
“I knew what happened, I did not intentionally do that but there were no emotions,” Self said.
The majority of Wednesday - the second day in court - was focused on Self’s mental health status and his behavior leading up to that deadly crash in May 2018.
The defense called a psychiatrist to the stand to discuss his observations of Self and his mental health status.
Psychiatrist Doctor George Corvin started interviewing Self after the incident on May 20.
Corvin said Self told him he felt so guilty from going to a strip club with his friend and Gaston County Commissioner Tracy Philbeck as well as spending time at massage parlors, and even having an extra-marital relationship.
WBTV spoke to Philbeck regarding this and he said he didn’t feel it was appropriate to comment while the hearing was in progress and that he had not been subpoenaed or interviewed by either side.
Philbeck later provided a statement once Self was sentenced. The statement is below:
Corvin said Self says he confided in his wife and Pastor about those experiences.
Self’s pastor Austin Rammell says he noticed Self struggled with forgiving himself and that Self believed he was condemned by God for his sins.
Rammell said those conversations moved from a “rational struggle with guilt to an irrational struggle with guilt.”
Rammell also said he noticed Self showing signs of Depression including not sleeping, not wanting to leave the house, and having panic attacks.
Additionally, he said Self became increasingly worried about his business.
“The conversations we had in 2017 were rational they were the normal pastoral process people go to. When we get to 2018 this is when it starts progressing to things that were irrational, by the time we got to March it was not good at all,” Rammell said.
Brian Harper also testified Wednesday. He’s known Self since 1992 and says he often confided in Self about his personal life and mental health.
“I considered him a friend,” Harper said.
Harper says he wasn’t extremely close with Self but says he was personable but over time Self became distant.
“The time started getting shorter and shorter that I would get to speak to him,” Harper said.
Corvin says while Self was taking medication for depression, he found that he had Bipolar II Disorder and Self was convinced he was evil because of his transgressions.
“This was an evil act no doubt, you don’t need me to say that, but was it driven by an evil person or driven by an illness? It was driven by an illness that was an extremely dangerous illness,” Corvin said.
It’s that same guilt Corvin says lead up to Self’s decision-making on that deadly day in May.
“That perceptual disturbance if you will, that psychosis, drove him to do something that while not good, was the lesser of the evils, almost as if he was saving them and couldn’t selfishly escape this evil [world] and not take them with him,” Corvin said.
Corvin says in his interviews with people who know Self, many of them said they noticed red flags in his behavior.
Rammell said he and other people close to Self encouraged him to get professional help even in the days leading up to the crash.
“ ‘We need to do something tomorrow afternoon’ which unfortunately we didn’t get the opportunity,” Rammell recalled.
On Tuesday, in a Gaston County courtroom, Self was emotional, often shedding tears.
Katelyn Self was a deputy with the Gaston County Sheriff’s Office and Amanda Self worked as an ER nurse at CaroMont Regional Medical Center in Gastonia.
Witnesses were called to the stand, including Roger Self’s son, Joshua Self.
Joshua Self’s wife Amanda, Roger Self’s daughter-in-law, was one of the two killed at the restaurant. Roger Self’s daughter Katelyn Self also died.
Joshua Self had many injuries including damage to multiple organs and broken bones. Roger Self’s wife, Diane, was also injured.
One of the big topics was Roger Self’s mental health.
Joshua Self said he had conversations with his father about his mental health and said his father seemed to be more depressed and less motivated after February 2018.
According to Joshua Self, his father had suicidal thoughts at times.
An EMT worker was then called to the stand. She recalled arriving at the scene to see people outside, children crying and a woman screaming for help.
She said she helped a little girl who was bleeding on the back of the head and had hip pain.
The EMT worker said she went to the white jeep inside of the restaurant and says the driver, who was still inside, said “not to f****** touch him.”
The EMT also said after Self refused medical care he said he knew what he had done.
A Gaston County paramedic took the stand and recollects a “very chaotic” scene.
She said “there was debris everywhere, spilled condiments and pieces of wood were across the restaurant.”
The paramedic said she and others had to get Joshua Self up from under the debris. She said once he told her his name “it was unreal” he was so swollen she didn’t recognize him.
“We knew that somebody had went into cardiac arrest but we didn’t know who it was that they were bringing in, and then when they brought [Amanda Self] in it was just very chaotic there was a lot of people crying and running and trying to help,” Gaston paramedic Tashia Witherspoon said.
A Crowders Mountain Fire & Rescue responder then testified.
She said she went to the back of the building where she saw Alex Burns holding his fiance’, Katelyn Self, and said Amanda Self was on the ground pinned under parts of the building.
She said Katelyn Self was unresponsive but Amanda Self was trying to get out from under the debris.
She went on to say Katelyn Self had no signs of life and they pronounced her dead shortly after. Amanda Self went into cardiac arrest as soon as they were able to remove her from under the debris. Once they got to the hospital, they moved Amanda to a trauma room, and she died a short time later.
Roger Self, listening to the moments after the crash, began crying out loud.
The fifth witness was Bessemer City Police Officer Gray Goins who told the court there were people everywhere and he saw Officer Alex Burns who was holding Katelyn Self and also saw Amanda Self trapped under debris.
Goins said he went to another part of the restaurant where he saw his supervisor with Bessemer City Police Department who was beside Roger Self who was on the ground in handcuffs.
Goins said Roger Self told officers, “I did this on purpose.”
Goins said he removed one handcuff from Self’s hand so he could sign a medical waiver. Goins said Self then reached for his handcuff and he was handcuffed immediately after.
The sixth witness was Detective David Dover with the Gastonia Police Department.
Dover said he interviewed Roger Self while investigating.
Dover said during the interview with Roger Self they established who had driven the vehicle through the building but they weren’t sure why.
Dover said Self didn’t ask how his wife Diane was, but he made mention of Katelyn being dead, and believed he had hurt Joshua, but did not mention his grandchildren.
Dover told the court that, at the time, Roger Self didn’t show any remorse.
Dover said Self was asking for Gaston County Sheriff Alan Cloninger and Gaston County Commissioner Tracy Philbeck.
“Especially at times where I asked hard questions, he seemed to deflect and bring up ‘hey have you gotten in contact with this person?’ Or ‘have you gotten in contact with that person’ or again at times where I was really trying to get him to describe things to me that would relate to the crime and he wanted water, wanted something to eat, he needed to go to the bathroom,” Dover said.
The court listened to that interview with Roger Self.
In the video, Roger Self told the investigators how he became depressed over the course of the winter but started taking medication. Self said he became “numb.”
Roger Self said he went to a gun store on May 19 to get a gun to kill himself and he “couldn’t get the depression out of [my] system.”
Roger Self said he thought of his family and couldn’t put them through the pain of losing him. He then, he went on to say they went to church Sunday morning.
In the video, he said he loves his family and always took care of them and he “wouldn’t hurt anyone, especially my own family.”
One detective asked Roger Self what brought on the depression. He told them he was worried about business.
He said again “that was not me” in reference to crashing his car into the restaurant. He said a spirit came in.
“It was just so unbelievable,” Self said in the video when describing what happened to him.
The interview continued with him talking about the spirit coming back inside of him. He said it was painful and his head was splitting.
In the video, Roger Self said he left the receipt for the gun inside of his vehicle.
Self told detectives the spirit put the car in gear.
“I would never hurt my family and my baby girl. I would not hurt that girl,” Roger Self said during the interview.
He said he sat next to his daughter Katelyn in church that morning.
At this point in the video, Self asked a favor for someone to contact Sheriff Alan Cloninger and Tracy Philbeck.
Self said he wanted them to know that he “could drink water and this was the first time he felt normal in months.”
Detectives asked Self what was going through his mind at the time from the time he stood up from the restaurant table to when he got to the patrol car.
Self said, “my actions were out of my control. It was awful, horrible.”
“People are not going to understand,” Self continued in the video.
Detectives asked Self what did he see after his car went into the restaurant.
Self said he saw his daughter, the paramedics and firefighters. He said he was still in the car for part of this time.
Roger Self said he went to a gun store to kill himself the day before he crashed into the Surf & Turf Restaurant.
He said he had his son Joshua take all of his guns about a month prior.
Roger Self said he had his son come get the guns because of his depression. He says he felt depression coming on.
Self said that on May 19, if he knew something happened to him that his family wouldn’t be able to survive -- the same day he considered ending his life.
In the video, Self said he bought the gun before May 20 with the purpose of killing himself. Then, he went home and talked to his wife.
Roger Self said he didn’t tell his wife he wanted to kill himself. He said he was afraid of having to go to the hospital.
Self said his wife asked him to explain what was going on inside of his mind.
Roger Self said she begged him to try to get some understanding.
He said he stood outside from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., and he thought “it was a selfish thing to do to take [my] own life.”
Self said “there’s no word to describe” the fight inside of his mind.
He says he was trying to fight it but told detectives it was a like a chain pulling.
Roger Self said he prayed not to hurt anybody and that the fight ended around 6:30 a.m. on May 20.
Self said after that he got ready for church. He said he sat in his normal spot at church with his whole family.
Roger Self-described it as having a chain wrapped around him and pulling him away.
He says it was out of control.
Roger Self said at one point he was being told to get up, leave and get away.
Detectives asked what changed and why didn’t he drive away instead of into the building.
Self then quoted the Ephesians 6:12, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against the spiritual wickedness in high places.”
Self told detectives he fought this feeling while inside the restaurant and he tried to fight back.
He said he was hoping he would’ve hurt himself and not anybody else.
Self said there’s nothing he could do to describe that feeling, and even if he wanted to, he couldn’t.
He said medication masked the “mental pain.” He said he would be jittery and the medication calmed him down.
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At the scene, detectives issued a search warrant for the car.
A box for the gun was found in his car. Self had told officers he bought the gun to kill himself.
The box, the receipt from the store dated May 19, 2018 and ammunition belonging to the Smith and Wesson revolver were used as evidence.
Gastonia Police Detective David Dover examined the materials and said the gun was loaded when it was found.
Dover said he and other investigators interviewed a couple outside in the parking lot - Mr. and Mrs. Poteat.
They also reviewed surveillance video from the restaurant.
While watching the interview and listening to witnesses recall that tragic day in 2018, Roger Self was seen and heard crying aloud.
He was wearing a suit while dabbing his eyes with a handkerchief
Throughout the course of the video, Roger Self was alternating between writing on a notepad and crying.
The video of the interview lasted three and a half hours.