3 deaths baffle law enforcement | TahoeDailyTribune.com

3 deaths baffle law enforcement

Three suspicious deaths in less than three months have left sheriff’s investigators in Nevada and California working longer hours and waiting patiently for answers.

Edward Ortega, a mason who worked at South Lake Tahoe, was reportedly murdered before CHP found his car mangled 100 feet below an embankment on Mormon Immigrant Trail on Aug. 2.

Debbie Bariames, who recently moved to Stateline with her family, was found dead Sept. 21 at her husband’s feet while he watched television and allegedly allowed his 10-month-old son Nicholas to starve. Her husband, George Bariames, now in Douglas County Jail with $500,000 bail, is facing more than 20 years in state prison on charges of child abuse and neglect.

Carol Macken, a 62-year-old retiree, was dead for several days in her Round Hill condominium before her daughter called authorities asking for a welfare check. Douglas County sheriff’s deputies found the former El Cerrito woman on Sept. 28, one week after the discovery of Debbie Bariames.

All three cases are being treated as homicide investigations. Ortega died from a strike to the head before his staged accident. Autopsies on the two women could not answer how they died.

“It’s uncommon to get back-to-back cases that are like this,” said Lt. Mike Biaggini, head of investigators for Douglas County Sheriff’s Department, which is handling the cases of the female deaths. “Certainly it’s not the only time we’ve had suspicious death cases, but it is kind of unusual they come a week apart.”

Authorities said Bariames and Macken’s deaths are not related. Investigators are tight-lipped about the details on what made Macken’s death suspicious, only saying that there was no forced entry and nothing was believed to be stolen.

Macken lived alone with her golden retriever.

Likewise, the details of the Ortega murder investigation are arriving as fast as sap drips from the side of a tree.

Ortega was a Phoenix transplant who would often come to South Lake Tahoe for work. He was hired to do remodeling on a desolate ranch on Silver Springs Road, 11 miles from Highway 50.

El Dorado County sheriff’s investigators received a search warrant for Rodney Sency’s ranch but did not find anything to link him as a suspect, authorities said. Sency, who owned a car auto body shop at South Lake Tahoe, was the person who told deputies about the crash.

“We’ve done a tremendous amount of work on this case and made a lot of progress but unfortunately I can’t divulge (the information) at this point,” said Detective Sgt. Hal Lamb. “It’s a fairly sensitive time at this point in the investigation.”

Mike Gregor, assistant coroner for the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department, would not release specific information on how Ortega died besides “blunt force trauma to the head.”

Biaggini has two investigators each on the Bariames and Macken cases, with the rest of the investigators at the lake and valley assisting. Biaggini, as the homicide investigation commander, has sent one detective to UC Davis Medical Center to get information on baby Nicholas, who has been released from the hospital.

Once Biaggini receives the toxicology results on both women, he will take the information to a pathologist.

“When you’re sitting here as an investigator and can’t tell what the cause of death is, we treat it as a homicide,” he said. “It may not be a homicide, it may be a natural death, but because we treat it that way the wheels keep going.”

Medical, employment and lifestyle history are looked into. Every rock is turned over for clues. About 30 people have been interviewed so far in the Bariames case.

Biaggini has been working on the weekends and can’t help but mull over the cases in his off-time, which includes serving as a commissioner in a Pop Warner league in Carson Valley.

“We all have our ideas, our hypothesis if you will, on what it could be,” Biaggini said. “But we have to put it on paper, you have to document an educated answer and sometimes that’s the frustrating thing on these cases is the time it takes to do that.”

— Contact William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com

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