It was almost a year ago that Bakersfield police officer Chad Ott noticed on the Stockdale Highway leading an investigation into a hit-and-run death of a 65-year-old driver.
The survey will consume countless hours of his working life over the next decade.
A gray Nissan Sentra unidentified woman allegedly caused a chain reaction crash of four vehicles on July 22, according to about 200 pages of a BPD research report obtained by Californians. Focus on the No. 1 driver. The scene after pausing.
In the wake of the crash, the victim’s family, Deborah Ann Juneau, was devastated and mourned for the loss of the family’s patriarch.
“I lost my wife. The children lost their mother and grandmother,” said Rick Juneau, husband of Deborah Juneau.
After all these months, the grief of the family remains soft and raw. But they are clearly grateful for the efforts of BPD researchers.
“There is no word to explain how tenacious they are,” Juneau said of Otto and all of the BPDs who participated in the survey.
“I have no choice but to admire them,” he said.
Otto’s investigation may have failed. In fact, it was almost complete when the reeds dried and the case was closed last winter. But little by little, for each data point, eight-year veteran traffic police spliced together what happened and eventually gathered evidence to find and arrest the No. 1 driver.
The work required attention and attention to detail.
“He is one of the smartest officers I have ever met. His brain is functioning at a completely different level,” BPDSgt said. Rex Davenport talked about a young officer.
The chain reaction crash that day changed from terrible to terrifying.
The incident began at around 1:09 pm at noon in the westbound lane of the Stokkade Highway, west of Coffee Road and east of Don Hart Drive East.
Driver No. 1 was in the lane closest to the shoulder of the road, which was alleged to have made an unsafe lane change, and tapped the passenger side fender in the center lane, causing almost no damage to Centra.
In an interview with police driver No. 2, he was identified as Alexander Acosta-Alvarenga, 19 years old. He told police he was driving at about 50 mph, but the crash data he got from the Lexus he was driving showed that he was on the left and 21-year-old Tahil Mandvi was in the first lane in gray. Hit Honda’s 4-door.
According to Otto, Mandobi was also speeding up — moving from 68 mph to 70 mph in the 55 mph zone. Looking at the data obtained from Honda, Mr. Ott said that after the driving vehicle collided with the second driver, steering analysis showed that Mandobi was “panicked and overcorrected.”
The vehicle reportedly traveled in the air as it crossed the concrete median strip into the eastern lane that Deborah Juneau was driving.
“Vehicle # 3 will land on Vehicle # 4 … open its top and release,” the report said.
Bakersfield’s wife and mother didn’t have a chance. She died on the scene. Ironically, it seems that Juneau was the only one who wasn’t speeding up.
Search for driver No.1
Soon Otto began visiting local businesses for surveillance videos.
He got several copies of different qualities, including Redflex surveillance videos from the intersection of Stockdale Highway and Coffee Road. He also found videos at El Pollo Loco, Burger King, BBVA Bank and more.
Five days after the crash, Otto went to the Golden Empire Transit, hoping to get the surveillance video from the GET bus he found in the area with the other surveillance videos he got.
The videos from the two buses turned out to be of excellent quality. An early breakthrough in the incident included footage of the Nissan Sentra.
Surveillance videos from these and other sources have been edited and published to the local press, seeking help from the general public in finding vehicle # 1 and its elusive drivers.
The video showed that the gray Nissan Sentra sedan looked like it was 2013-2019. There was a large white rectangular decal on the bottom of the windshield on the driver’s side.
It turns out that decals are very important.
Survey drags — and then doesn’t
Extensive follow-up was carried out following the leads generated by the public. But Otto said nearly 100 tips from the local population didn’t go anywhere.
“Everyone and his uncle called about the gray Centra,” he said. “All officers were called in to confirm these tips.”
Ott said the rewards provided for the information that led to the arrest of the Centra driver could actually exacerbate the problem due to the influx of useless calls.
A moment of Eureka came when Otto realized the importance of white decals. During his normal mission, he sometimes began to see similar decals. And when he asked the driver, they found that they were car-specific stickers purchased at Carmax.
After going back and forth many times, Otto got a search warrant. He asked Carmax for information about all the silver or gray Centra that Carmax had sold over the course of about two years.
That’s when he started generating search warrants for cell phone data, information that can tell exactly where a particular person was at a particular time with a particular patch in a particular area.
“Oh, ton,” he said. Knowing who in the list matches is a slow process of elimination.
“It’s very boring,” he said.
Eventually, Otto burned down seven search warrants.
By the time Otto found the car, it had been taken back and towed to the riverside for the auction.
“I called them and said,’Don’t sell the car! We’re on the road.'”
After recovering the centra, it was clear that all parts had fallen into place. A search warrant was obtained for the residence of Stephanie Heninger, 42, in Bakersfield. Record checks showed that Heninger was the registered owner and she purchased it at Carmax within a month of the fatal accident.
After obtaining a search warrant for Heninger’s residence, Otto and several other police officers knocked on her door on April 30. In a videotaped interview at her home, Otto showed her some of the evidence he edited.
According to a videotape conversation between Otto and Heninger, she admitted that she had broken down and was driving Centra on the fateful day of July after the first refusal.
“I asked Stephanie Heninger what to say to the victim’s family about why she didn’t go forward,” Ott wrote in his report.
She said, “I’m sorry, and she said,” I’m going to work and paying a fine, “and paying them back.
On May 4, Heninger was charged with gross negligence, misdemeanor, and manslaughter of a vehicle due to hit-and-run, and was injured in a felony. If convicted, she faces more than 10 years in prison.
This case was not the first time Heninger violated the law. According to court records, she was arrested on September 10 and charged with misdemeanor of her spouse or ex-spouse. The proceeding is still pending.
The investigator in that case did not connect her car to a fatal hit-and-run accident that occurred 50 days ago.
The call to the deputy public defender assigned to the Heninger hit-and-run case was not returned on Friday.
The strangest thing, according to Otto, is that if Heninger stayed at the scene of a deadly clash, and if convicted, she wouldn’t likely face time behind the bar.
“I could have given her a misdemeanor ticket,” he said. “that’s it.”
Chain lawyer Matt Clark | Korn | Stiles represents the Geneau family in civil proceedings. He said he was surprised at the efforts Otto put into the case.
“This officer Otto is the winner of the Diligence Award Blue Ribbon,” Clark said.
“He deserves a promotion. I’ve been in this business for 20 years, and I’ve never seen such a level of dedication,” Clark said.
Reporter Stephen Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @semayerTBC.
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