Tough first murder case for Truckee | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tough first murder case for Truckee

TRUCKEE – A woman found dead inside a bloody duffel bag left at a Tahoe Donner parking lot Monday night was killed at a different location and dropped at the parking lot, police believe. In their first homicide investigation as a department, Truckee police are using their entire force to turn up clues on the grisly death. A group of four golfers returning from a Reno golf game reported the body in the parking lot of the Northwoods clubhouse at 3:40 p.m. Monday, police said. “One of the gentlemen noticed a duffel bag placed next to his vehicle,” said Truckee police Lt. Dan Johnston. “He felt the duffel bag and it did not feel normal to him, so he called police.” Police opened the bag and discovered a dead woman. The woman was clothed and did not appear to be dismembered, Johnston said. No one is reported missing within Truckee town limits, police said. Police are awaiting autopsy reports from the Placer County coroner in Auburn to determine the victim’s identity, age and cause of death. Although police opened the bag, all they were able to determine was that the victim was an adult woman. “This is going to be a very slow, painstaking process to take the bag apart with the body inside, and you have to do it layer by layer,” Johnston said. “And frankly her face is not readily visible.” Clues at the scene have police convinced the victim was not killed in the parking lot, but taken there in a duffel bag with straps and left on the pavement during the day on Monday. Police believe the person who dropped the body there did it during the day in a busy parking lot, and investigators are trying to locate eyewitnesses to the act. “This person inside this bag was placed there in broad daylight undoubtedly in front of someone,” said Johnston. “It is my belief that somebody had to see somebody carrying a duffel bag and putting it down beside a truck.” Although they are pursuing this as a murder case, police said residents in the area had little to be afraid of. “We have an interstate here that travels … between two metropolitan areas,” Johnston said. “Frankly, we get thousands of cars a day that come through on the freeway. We are not immune to this. However, it appears clear that this did not happen directly in that parking lot and I see no reason for the public to be concerned in the area.” But Tahoe Donner residents are still shaken by Monday night’s events, said Darren Shaw, general manager of the Tahoe Donner Homeowners Association. “Everyone is obviously concerned and disturbed that this sort of thing happened – and happened so close to home,” Shaw said. Police are looking at surveillance tapes from around town, following up missing persons reports from out of the area, and passing out fliers that may lead them to witnesses. Working with the state Department of Justice and other local agencies, the police have gotten 15 to 20 missing person reports from the Bay Area and outside of California, said Johnston. The fliers have also turned up some tips, he said. “Is it a mystery? Absolutely at this point, but that is why we work at it to solve it,” Johnston said. Anyone with information should call the Truckee Police Department at (530) 550-2323.

Warriors make Truckee sweat

Whittell nearly slayed another 3A giant on Friday night. Three days after upsetting South Tahoe, the Warriors lost to Truckee 54-51 in a Mount Rose League boys’ basketball game in Zephyr Cove. The Warriors had several chances to tie or go ahead in the final minute of action but couldn’t put down the clutch shot. The last opportunity came as time expired as Alex Potnick’s 26-foot shot just missed the mark. “It was probably one of our better games,” said Whittell coach Tyler Rose, whose team’s two-game winning streak was snapped. “This was a game of composure, and that was our biggest key. They two or three technicals, and we didn’t get involved with that and played our game.” The win moved Truckee to 2-1 and into first place in the MRL standings. Truckee’s Colin Christian and Tony Rodriguez each scored 15 points. Potnick led Whittell with 16 points and eight boards, Alex Vogt provided 10 points and 11 boards and Blake Heldt-Werle scored 11. The Wolverines seemed to be in control, leading 40-32 after three periods. But a three-point basket by Heldt-Werle capped a 10-2 Whittell run, making the score 42-40. Truckee continued to hold off Whittell, leading 50-46 with 3 minutes to go. After Heldt-Werle made a free throw to pull Whittell within a point, James Depew twice made the front end of 1-and-1 free throws, padding Truckee’s lead to 53-50. Each time after Depew missed the second try, Whittell committed a turnover. Trent McMullen added a late free throw to close out Truckee’s scoring, and the Wolverines survived the last-ditch shot by Potnick. Truckee (11-6 overall) only turned the ball over nine times compared to Whittell’s 17. The Warriors (1-2 in MRL) play host to Incline at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. The Wolverines ran away the JV game, winning 64-22. Oliver Curial had eight points for Whittell.

Rescue crews searching for man after his canoe capsized Monday in Donner Lake

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Emergency crews are searching the Donner Lake area for a 24-year-old Truckee man who’s been missing since his canoe capsized early Monday evening, an official has confirmed. Truckee Police Department Capt. Randy Fenn said the department received a 911 call at 6:26 p.m. Monday from a 19-year-old Truckee female, who said the canoe she and the man were in had capsized. The woman reportedly was able to swim to Donner Lake’s shore, but had lost sight of the 24-year-old man. By 7:30 p.m. a Truckee Police Department rescue boat was in the water, Fenn said from the scene Tuesday morning, and a California Highway Patrol helicopter aided in the night search with a forward looking infrared device. Agencies called off the search at 9:30 p.m., with surface temperatures at Donner Lake at 39 degrees, Fenn said. The canoe and several items of clothing drifted to shore. Truckee Police and the Truckee Fire Protection District picked up the search at 6:45 a.m. Tuesday, Fenn said, with assistance from the Nevada and Placer County Sheriff’s offices, Nevada County Search and Rescue, CHP and State Parks. Presently, three rescue boats are patrolling Donner Lake, with the CHP helicopter performing an aerial search.

Friends of missing Sacramento woman found dead issue statement thanking South Lake Tahoe community

Friends of Pamela Suwinsky, a missing Sacramento woman whose body was found in the Upper Truckee River Sunday, have issued a statement thanking the South Lake Tahoe community. In the statement, friends describe Suwinsky as a person with a “huge heart” who touched “many peoples’ lives.” The statement also includes a thank you for local officials who aided in the search and the South Lake Tahoe community. Suwinsky was reported missing April 3. She was last seen at the Motel 6, where she had fallen the night before in the parking lot. A long-time friend and ex-husband, who reported her missing, told police that Suwinsky left the motel in the 2300 block of Lake Tahoe Boulevard between 1 and 3:30 p.m. Monday. Nearly a week later on Sunday, a dive team with the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office located a deceased woman in the Upper Truckee River north of the motel.┬áThe body was positively identified as Suwinsky. A cause of death is still pending and the investigation remains open. Here is the full statement from friends of Suwinsky: As you can imagine this is not the outcome we had hoped and prayed for. We are devastated. Since finding out that Pam was missing on Wednesday, we have heard from so many of her loved ones, friends and acquaintances, and it warms our hearts to know that so many peoples’ lives have been touched by this special lady. Pam had a huge heart that extended to her family, friends, her beloved pets and everybody she came in contact with. We want to extend our thanks to all of those that participated in the search efforts, particularly the authorities in the Lake Tahoe area, including the local police, sheriff, fire and search & rescue personnel. A huge thank you also to the community of South Lake Tahoe, including those that helped with the search and the many community members that were praying right along with her family and friends. Pam you will be forever in our hearts, and we will never forget your beautiful smile.

In search for missing skiers, officials find third man in Donner Summit train tunnel

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Search and rescue efforts Sunday and Monday for a pair of missing skiers turned up an unexpected find when Union Pacific crew members discovered a soot-covered man lying in a fetal position one mile inside Norden Tunnel 41. “Whenever we have a search, it’s standard procedure to call Union Pacific,” said Placer County Sheriff’s Office Lt. John Weaver. “We ask them to slow down, because we have guys and equipment criss-crossing the tracks. We don’t want our guys to get hit, and if the train slows down, it gives us an extra pair of eyes.” The eastbound train was on alert for the skiers reported missing Sunday from Sugar Bowl Resort. It traveled at a reduced speed through the tunnel with Engineer Phillip Tufi riding on the nose of the train as an outlook. According to a report from Tufi, after the man was spotted, the train stopped and the tunnel quickly began to fill with black, diesel engine smoke. “If a train had come through soon before, there would have been too much smoke to be up on the nose,” said Tufi in a phone interview. “But when the tunnel is clear, you can see into the alcoves and crevices. I asked myself, if I were a skier, where would I be?” Tufi and another crew member, Mike Weatherford, ran – ducking to avoid the smoke – back a quarter of mile. They retrieved the man and took turns carrying him to the train’s head end, where the man then climbed aboard on his own accord. Tufi described the man as a white male, emaciated, thirsty and dirty. “He was black like he had been dipped in tar,” Tufi said. “When we picked him up, we weren’t sure what we were dealing with.” Once the train was outside the tunnel and within radio communication, train personnel contacted emergency services in Truckee. Representatives from Union Pacific police and first responders with the Truckee Fire Protection District met the train at the Amtrak station in Truckee, and the man was then transported to Tahoe Forest Hospital in stable location, Truckee Fire’s Gene Welch said. The man was somewhat talkative when speaking to the train crew, Tufi said, but when questioned by medical personnel he communicated only with nods. Aaron Hunt, director of corporate relations and media with Union Pacific Railroad, said the man reportedly showed signs of being hit by a train. The incident is currently under investigation by the Union Pacific police. “I don’t know how he got there in those weather conditions,” Tufi said. “It’s a 12-mile climb.” Though Tufi and his crew are employees of Union Pacific, they were operating a train owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company. BNSF was renting the tracks from Union Pacific. Norden Tunnel 41, at more than 10,000 feet long, burrows under Mt. Judah, a mile south of Donner Pass. According to other media reports, the PCSO reported the two missing skiers were found in good health early Monday morning at Sugar Bowl. Weaver said the man found in the tunnel was not one of the missing skiers. No further information is available at this time.

One year later: Tahoe Donner homicide still unsolved

TRUCKEE, Calif. – A year ago today, Beverly Beatrice Williams was found dead in her Tahoe Donner home on Bavarian Way. In the weeks that followed, Truckee Police called Williams’ April 30, 2009, death a homicide, reporting the cause as blunt force trauma. Police conducted interviews with friends and family, and sent evidence for processing to the California Department of Justice. But now, a year later, almost no information has been released, and the case is still unsolved. “We’re still running with an open investigation – progress is slow, but we are making some progress,” said Capt. Harwood Mitchell of Truckee Police Department. He attributed the long wait to the evidence processing by the California Department of Justice, out of local control. “The situation is unfortunate, but it is what it is. We’re all experiencing budget cuts and time constraints,” Mitchell said. A California Department of Justice spokesperson confirmed it is working with Truckee Police, but declined further comment on the investigation. “I’m astonished by how long it’s taking to get results from the Department of Justice,” said Bill Cornell, the deputy district attorney for Nevada County. He said the case is still unfilled, as his office waits for the evidence to be processed. Cornell said some information has come back from the Department of Justice, prompting further analysis, but Mitchell said it’s not enough to come to any conclusions yet. “We basically need the whole package – we need 100 percent of the evidence before we proceed,” Mitchell said. When Truckee Police does get all the evidence back from the California Department of Justice, Mitchell said he is hopeful it will be able to name a suspect. “We will continue to exhaust every opportunity we have,” Mitchell said. After the homicide, Truckee Police temporarily increased patrol in the Tahoe Donner neighborhood, but stressed they had no reason to believe the Truckee population was at risk, but would not say why. According to Kirt Zimmer, director of marketing for the Tahoe Donner Association, residents of the 6,000-lot subdivision have come to feel the same way. “I’ve spoken with people and I think the consensus is that this tragedy was really an anomaly for Tahoe Donner, and it’s a very safe and wholesome place to live,” Zimmer said. “It’s a very sad situation, but we don’t feel like there is any ongoing danger.” For friends like Lydia Sparksworthy, who served with Williams on the Friends of the Truckee Library, Williams’ death at 77 is still very difficult. “She was a wonderful member of the community – we really miss her,” Sparksworthy said. “It must be so heartbreaking for her family.” Williams’ husband Don thanked the Sierra Sun for continued attention to his wife’s death, but deferred comment to his attorney, Thomas Leupp of Auburn, who did not return calls.

Truckee escapes with 22-16 win against Lowry

TRUCKEE – Win No. 8 was not pretty. On a wet and sloppy day at Surprise Stadium on Saturday, the defending state champs fumbled the ball six times while falling behind twice in a first half controlled by visiting Lowry. Faced with a rare 16-13 deficit at the half, Truckee buckled down on defense the final two quarters as its offense did just enough to escape with a 22-16 victory. “We’ve been gearing up for Truckee all year, and I think we came out in the first half and shocked them a little bit,” said Lowry head coach Tim Billinglsey, whose Buckaroos dropped to fourth place in the Northern 3A standings, at 4-3. “These guys (the Wolverines) have been beating guys soundly all year. But we thought that if we played good, we had a good shot.” Truckee will conclude its regular season on Saturday when it visits South Tahoe (3-6 overall) in Viking Bowl. The result was hardly expected from the Truckee side, as the undefeated Wolverines (8-0) had defeated opponents by a collective score of 322-14 in seven wins entering the game. “That was terrible,” said junior running back/linebacker Cole Roberts. “Way too close. The wetness made a big difference, causing all the turnovers. Our offense couldn’t stay on the field.” The weather played a major role, indeed, as an increasingly steady rain made footing difficult and the football slippery. And it showed. The Buckaroos lost all three of their fumbles in the game while the Wolverines fumbled six times – five in the second half – and lost three. Truckee quarterback Ben Bolton also threw an interception, and running back Colin Christian slipped behind the Truckee goal line for a safety. In the second half, the Wolverines fumbled on five of their seven possessions, losing two of them inside the Lowry 25-yard line, one at the 2. And yet, it was the Wolverines who should have been more accustomed to the nasty conditions, said Truckee head coach Bob Shaffer. “The weather was the same for both of us. We should be able to play in it,” Shaffer said. “These guys grew up playing in this kind of weather.” Jace Billingsley did most of the damage against the Wolverines in the first half, helping his team control possession with 42 offensive plays to Truckee’s 14. The junior running back/linebacker rushed for 99 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries while intercepting a Bolton pass. He finished with a game-high 109 yards on 31 carries after Truckee held him to just 10 yards in the second half. The game started in typical fashion for the Wolverines, as Truckee recovered a fumble by Billingsley on the first play, and Bolton promptly hooked up with tight end James DePew in the corner of the end zone one play later for a 7-yard touchdown – just 16 seconds into the contest. Things would not be so easy after that. After holding the Buckaroos out of the end zone following a Gus Duncan kick return all the way to the Truckee 6-yard line, Christian’s feet slipped out from under him at his own goal line when he tried to make a cut behind the line of scrimmage, adjusting the score to 7-2. Truckee received a break when Duncan fumbled the return after the safety, but Bolton returned the favor when he overthrew his receiver three plays later for a pick. Starting from their own 40, the Buckaroos then drove straight down the field and into the end zone on a 7-yard Billingsley run. After a missed kick, they led 8-7. The Wolverines answered two possessions later when senior fullback/linebacker Morgan Nevin caught a short pass and followed his blockers 56 yards for a touchdown. A missed conversion left Truckee in front, 13-8. Lowry again had an answer – a 13-play drive that culminated with a 5-yard play-action pass from quarterback Mitch Pollock to 6-foot-6, 235-pound tight end Sean Millikan. The score gave the Buckaroos a 16-13 lead with 11 seconds remaining in the half after Pollock and Millikan connected again for the two-point conversion. “The first half we blocked well,” coach Billingsley said. “… Our line is pretty big, and I’m not sure they (the Wolverines) have matched up with anything like that.” When the horn sounded at the end of the half and the Wolverines’ fight song came on, AC/DC’s “T.N.T.,” the Buckaroos gathered at midfield and mocked Truckee by chanting the lyrics, “Oi, Oi, Oi, Oi,” before heading to the locker room. But the celebration was premature. Truckee marched down the field on the opening possession of the third quarter, capping a 63-yard drive with a 12-yard touchdown run by Christian in which the senior dragged defenders along the way. Christian had several similarly tough runs in the game and finished with a team-high 93 yards on 11 rushes. “Colin really ran hard,” Shaffer said. “He refused to go down.” It was up to the Truckee defense to hold the Buckaroos scoreless as its offense sputtered down the stretch with turnovers. After Christian’s TD, Truckee punted on its next possession, then punted again the following possession after losing yards on a fumble. The Wolverines then lost a fumble at midfield, lost another fumble at the Lowry 24, turned the ball over on downs at the Lowry 25 after a fumble, and lost yet another fumble at the Lowry 2. “We turned the ball over too many times. But I don’t think too many people left early. They got their money’s worth today,” Shaffer said. Truckee’s defense made up for the turnovers, as it held Lowry to just 34 yards of total offense in the second half after allowing 192 in the first. On Lowry’s final possession deep in Truckee territory, Shane Fisher chased Millikan out of the back of his own end zone for a safety and a 22-16 lead. “The most important thing we did in the second half was tackle,” Shaffer said. “The first half we couldn’t get the defense off the field.”

Body of missing Sacramento woman found in Upper Truckee River in South Lake Tahoe

The body of Pamela Suwinsky, a Sacramento woman last seen in South Lake Tahoe on April 3, was found Sunday in the Upper Truckee River. A dive team with the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office located a deceased woman in the Upper Truckee River north of the Motel 6 where Suwinsky was last seen, according to a press release. The body was positively identified as Suwinsky, however, a cause of death is still pending and the investigation remains open. Suwinsky was reported missing around 10 p.m. April 3 by a long-time friend and ex-husband. The man told police that Suwinsky left the Motel 6 in the 2300 block of Lake Tahoe Boulevard between 1 and 3:30 p.m. Monday, according to an earlier press release. He did not know why she left or where she would have walked to, according to a press release. Suwinsky fell the night before in the parking lot and cut her lip and chipped her tooth. The South Lake Tahoe Police Department asks anyone with information related to this case to call the detective division at 530-542-6100.

Police locate woman reported missing

A woman who was reported missing from outside of her work Tuesday “voluntarily” went missing, according to a Wednesday statement from South Lake Tahoe police. Police located Michaela Vandenberg, 23, about 11 p.m. Tuesday night, according to the statement. “There was no foul play involved in her disappearance and she was voluntarily missing,” Lt. David Stevenson said in the statement. Vandenberg was last seen in the area of Takela Drive and Lake Tahoe Boulevard about 10:20 a.m. Tuesday. She left personal property behind and was not heard from throughout the day. Police located Vandenberg at an unknown location. Stevenson thanked the public for their help in the investigation. He did not return a request for additional information Thursday.

Bush mobilizes against gun violence

PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Promising to be a ”determined adversary” to gun violence, President Bush announced plans Monday to mobilize federal and local prosecutors who will focus exclusively on gun-related crimes. The president unveiled his proposal at a police promotion ceremony as part of National Police Week. He said the violent crime rate in the United States declined by 20 percent between 1989 and 1999 but still remains too high; 12,658 people were murdered in the United States in 1999, two-thirds of them by firearms. ”For every fatal shooting, there are roughly three nonfatal shootings. Folks, this is unacceptable in America,” Bush said. ”We’re going to do something about it.” With dozens of uniformed police officers assembled behind him on a riser, Bush said he will launch ”Project Safe Neighborhoods,” a two-year, $550 million effort that involves hiring 113 new assistant U.S. attorneys and 600 state and local prosecutors to work with police agencies and community groups on gun cases. ”It will send an unmistakable message: If you use a gun illegally, you will do hard time,” Bush said. ”We’re going to reduce gun violence in America, and those who commit crimes with guns will find a determined adversary in my administration.”