BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The job of a police officer might seem pretty exciting — if you base your assumptions on TV crime dramas. Scaling fences, rolling over the hoods of cars. But that’s not how it was in the investigation of the horrific wreck that killed Deborah Ann Geneau exactly one year ago today.
The police work on that hit-and-run case was short on athleticism and long on database crunching.
In fact, says Officer Chad Ott of the Bakersfield Police Department, the nine month investigation was at times downright tedious.
Ott, an eight year veteran motorcycle cop, and his partner, Officer Adam Clayton, pieced together images from at least six different stationary video cameras — enough to determine that the vehicle they sought was a late model gray Nissan Sentra.
Next stop, DMV — and the realization — not unexpected — that there are literally thousands of gray Nissan Sentras in California and hundreds in Bakersfield.
“It’s overwhelming,” Ott said. “You’ve gotta imagine there are literally hundreds of thousands of gray Nissan Sentras out on the road.”
Witnesses at the scene of the wreck weren’t especially helpful, the images not sufficiently telling. Finally, Officer Ott had to tell the victim’s daughter he’d hit a dead end.
“You exhaust all your leads,” he said. “There’s a point where sometimes you run out of information to go on and there’s nothing else you can look into and that’s the point we got to,”
But then this. Was that a decal on the driver’s side windshield?
“It was a huge rectangular, white decal in the lower driver’s side corner of the windshield,” Ott said. “It seemed odd. I didn;t know what it was from. Usually people have parking passes. Could it have been CSUB? I was looking and comparing. No. BC? I was trying all these different places. Eventually I saw another one that was similar. And I talked to the person. It was a Prop 65 sticker. I asked him, Hey, where’d you get your car? And he said he got it at Carmax.”
The decal was a required Prop 65 warning sticker advising buyers about possible cancer-causing ingredients in their cars.
Ott obtained a warrant, checked to see who’d purchased a gray Nissan Sentra from the Bakersfield Carmax lot — and got a hit.
Problem was, the car had been repossessed and was no longer in Bakersfield. But Ott located the suspect car at an auction yard in Riverside County.
So Officer Ott had the car he’d been after for so long — and on April 30, the suspect as well. 42-year-old Stephanie Heninger of Bakersfield was arrested with manslaughter and felony hit-and-run.
“It’s very satisfying to finally, especially after that long, to figure it out,” he said, “and just get it closed. Does it bring back Miss Geneau? No it doesn’t.”
These days, colleagues at BPD call Officer Ott “hound dog” for his dogged determination. It wasn’t glamorous, it wasn’t dangerous, and it wasn’t quick. Persistence solved this case.