Bakersfield Police Officer Chad Ott was praised for his dedication in finding the suspect of a deadly hit-and-run after nearly a year-long investigation.
According to the BPD’s investigative reports acquired by The Californian, Ott’s investigation would ultimately be focused on finding Driver No. 1, an unidentified woman in a gray Nissan Sentra who triggered the four-vehicle chain-reaction crash on July 22 and then left the scene after stopping only briefly.
The crash led to the death of 65-year-old wife and mother Deborah Ann Geneau and was devastating for the family.
“I lost my wife. The kids lost their mother and grandmother,” said Rick Geneau, Deborah Geneau’s husband.
The crash involved four vehicles and was initially triggered by the hit-and-run driver’s unsafe lane change. The collision led to a chain reaction that caused one car to fly over the concrete median into the Geneau’s lane. The impact caused her to die at the scene.
Ott’s investigation almost failed and would have left the family hopeless, but his dedication eventually paid off and he was able to locate the woman responsible.
“No words can describe how tenacious they were,” Geneau said of Ott and those at the BPD who took part in the investigation.
“I have nothing but praise for them,” he said.
“He’s one of the smartest officers I’ve ever met. His brain just works on a whole other level,” BPD Sgt. Rex Davenport said of Ott.
Ott, an 8-year traffic officer, immediately went to work viewing nearby business’ surveillance videos. Eventually, it was footage from Golden Empire Transit buses that helped him to identify the hit-and-run driver’s Nissan Sentra.
Ott then met with local residents but the tips proved to be of little value.
“Everybody and his uncle called about the gray Sentra,” he said. “Every officer was called out to check on these tips.”
When he seemingly had run out of leads, Ott remembered a white decal on the car that was exclusive to vehicles purchased at Carmax. Ott obtained a search warrant to obtain information on all silver or gray Sentras sold by Carmax over a two-year period, which gave him 156 possible leads.
A further round of search warrants gave him access to cell phone data to pinpoint where each person was on that day.
After long and tedious hours and seven search warrants, Ott located the car; It had been repossessed and towed to Riverside for auction.
Ott was then able to identify the owner through the vehicle’s records check as Stephanie Heninger, 42.
Ott and several other officers at last obtained a search warrant for Heninger’s home, where they confronted her and revealed to her the evidence they had compiled.
According to Bakersfield.com, Heninger broke down and admitted that she was the driver. “I asked Stephanie Heninger what she would tell the victim’s family in regards to why she never attempted to come forward,” Ott wrote in his report.
She said aid she was sorry and would repay. “I’ll go to work and pay fines,” she said.
Heninger was later arraigned on charges of vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence, a misdemeanor, and hit-and-run resulting in injury – a felony. If convicted, she faces more than 10 years in prison.
According to court records, Heninger had a criminal past. She was arrested Sept. 10 and charged with misdemeanor battery of a spouse or ex-spouse.
Ott said that if Heninger had remained at the scene of the fatal accident, she would likely not be facing time behind bars if convicted.
“I could have given her a ticket, a misdemeanor,” he said. “That’s it.”
Matt Clark, an attorney representing the Geneau family in a civil suit, was amazed by the effort Ott put into the case.
“This Officer Ott is the blue-ribbon winner of the diligence award,” Clark said. “He deserves a promotion. I’ve been in this business 20 years and I’ve never seen such a level of dedication.”