Leslie Lysy tells New Times that the Santa Cruz Sheriff's Office is refusing to return about $10,000 it impounded along with the Yukon she and her boyfriend were traveling in when he shot himself in the head with a 9-millimeter Glock.
That was on April 10, 2011 -- a traumatic incident made worse with how cops have handled it, Lysy and her attorney say.
It's been one year and three months, and Lysy (pronounced lee-see) is still waiting for Santa Cruz County officials to give her back her money.
And, she says, county officials are responsible for ruining her vehicle because they kept it in an impound lot for five months, with the windows rolled up in the scorching heat, allowing her boyfriend's bodily fluids and bits of flesh to bake into the vehicle.
The Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office tells New Times that it isn't up to it to decide when, and if, property is released. It just follows orders from the Santa Cruz County Attorney's Office.
Santa Cruz County Attorney George Silva hasn't responded to our repeated phone calls.
On September 28, 2011, five months after Fred Carter shot himself in the head, Silva authorized release of nearly all of Lysy's property: the 2007 GMC Yukon, a trailer, a laptop, Lysy's purse -- even the gun her boyfriend used to commit suicide.
But, inexplicably, authorities kept about $10K in cash that was in her vehicle.
It's unclear why Santa Cruz County officials took so long to return the vehicle and other belongings to Lysy, who lives in Utah and was just passing through Santa Cruz County with her boyfriend on their way to Mexico. Lysy never was a suspect, and medical examiners almost immediately confirmed the gunshot was self-inflicted.
Lysy, 35, says the Sheriff's Office handed over her boyfriend's laptop and his other belongings to his family, and as far as she knows, his relatives aren't trying to lay claim to the cash in the car.
Why would they? It's her money, she says.
Lysy says county officials wanted an affidavit itemizing her belongings, and she provided them that statement on August 1, 2011. Then, she says, they wanted a "paper trail" to prove the money was hers. She provided them a statement from the bank on August 12, 2011 showing that she cashed several checks and made two different withdrawals from the bank, showing that she had at least the $9,900 in cash during the time of the Mexico trip.
Still, 15 months and the threat of a lawsuit later, Santa Cruz County officials aren't letting go of the money.
Lysy was questioned twice, but police detail in their report that Lysy was not near the vehicle, but instead had run away from it and was flagging down help when they suspect that Carter took his own life. When police arrived on the scene, they found the gun in Carter's hand, his body slumped over, and his finger still on the trigger. And the medical examiner ruled the manner of death a suicide.
A sheriff's detective wrote in his report that on April 12, 2011, two days after Carter's death, he attended the autopsy.
"Dr. [David] Winston proceeded with the process and at the end advised us he did not find anything out of the ordinary or which would make him believe this was more than just a suicide," the detective wrote.
He also noted that he did not "get the impression or suspicion of any foul play which would implicate Leslie."
Lysy met Carter on an online dating site several months before. Carter was living in San Carlos, Mexico, where he worked as a property manager and also fixed up condos and flipped them for a profit. The two were traveling to his home in Mexico to pick up some of his belongings, and Carter was planning to move closer to Lysy's home in Utah.
Along the way, they were arguing over Carter's sending text messages to other women. She says she told him she couldn't marry someone she didn't trust. At the time, she has said, she was lying down in the rear of the vehicle as Carter drove.
Shortly after, Lysy told Carter it was over. He pulled off Interstate 19 and stopped near County Line Road in Amado, a small town in Santa Cruz County.
Carter pulled out a gun and "pointed it to the bottom of his chin and told her there was no point if she was going to leave him," according to a Sheriff's Office report.
She screamed, jumped barefoot from the vehicle, ran down the street, trying to get help. No one stopped, she says.
She stood near a tree outside of a diner, crying, when a man approached and offered to help. After she explained the situation, he called 911.
Sheriff's deputies responded to the scene and found Carter slumped over the steering wheel, a single gunshot to his head.
Troubling is that Santa Cruz officials aren't offering an explanation for why the Yukon was kept in the Sheriff's Office impound lot for five months in the summer heat with "her fiances' tissue decaying inside ... rotting flesh and blood permanently [damaging] the vehicle beyond restoration," Lysy's attorney wrote in a claim filed with the county on March 26.
Lysy seeks $65,000 in damages from Santa Cruz County, which includes the loss of her vehicle.
There are other oddities in the case. And in the absence of an explanation from Santa Cruz County officials, the truth remains muddled at best.
Consider that in a July 18, 2011 police report -- written three months after the incident -- Detective Ricardo Ugarte writes that he interviewed Lysy on the day of the suicide (April 10, 2011) and asked her to explain what happened. After he questioned her about the day's events, the detective notes that Lysy asked if she could get her belongings from the car "and wanted to grab some money from Fred's laptop case."
According to the police report, Lysy told Ugarte, "There were only a few dollars" in the vehicle, and she "insisted she needed to get something from the [laptop] case, but she would avoid telling me what it was exactly she needed."
He said she was demonstrating an "uncanny attitude in regards to the laptop case."
We've reached out to Ugarte, but were told he was unavailable.
Lysy says Ugarte's claims from the first interview are not true. She says she only wanted some clothes and her cell phone that first day. It wasn't until the following day that Lysy asked about her belongings, she says, including the money.
Lysy and her attorney say Lysy's recorded interviews with police -- on April 10, 2011 and April 15, 2011 -- will prove her claims. However, "due to technical issues with the recording device, both recordings of Leslie Lysy were over written and erased," Ugarte wrote in his report.
"It is disturbing that two separate recordings, recorded on two separate dates, six days apart, which would have clearly presented facts supporting Ms. Lysy's claims, suffered the same technical demise," Jones writes to the county. "It may not be coincidence that these very conversations had the potential to evidence Detective Ugarte's misbehavior and mishandling of the investigation, property and situation."
Ugarte claims, in his report, to have seen loose change in the car on April 10, 2011 but never "saw an envelope."
Even though he went out of his way to note that he believed Lysy was acting "uncanny" toward the laptop bag, he writes that it wasn't until the following day that he checked the bag, at the urging of his supervisor, and found the money.
However, a Chain of Custody report dated April 10, 2011 -- the same day of the suicide -- details the items found in the vehicle, including an "envelop containing 99 $100 dollar bills."
Jones writes that "reports and records show on their face poor record keeping at the least and possibly and even more egregious fraudulent and intentional activity on the part of the County to withhold Ms. Lysy's money without lawful justification or purpose [and] give the appearance of 'policing for profit,' i.e., the County has already spent the money or intends to do so."
Ugarte states in this report that Lysy called on a daily basis to inquire about her vehicle and the money she had left in it. Although there isn't any indication that anyone else was contesting the ownership of the cash, Ugarte writes in his report that Lysy was "never able to give me an exact amount of money or denomination of bills, which made me believe the money did not belong to her. [Lysy] made it seem she wanted the money because she knew it was inside her vehicle and it was a large amount of it."
Lysy, in her claim, says that Ugarte told her, "Until we receive the autopsy report ... we will not release anything to you, and even at that point, there is not guarantee you will get your car or your money back."
Ugarte's report states that on June 15, 2011, he "received the autopsy report indicating the results."
That date, however, doesn't match with the date the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office has in its database. Officials there tell New Times that the autopsy report was signed on June 27, 2011, and that's when it would be available to investigators.
Lysy is back in Utah, frustrated that she hasn't been able to get answers from the Santa Cruz County Attorney's Office.
"They haven't given me any explanation about why they won't release the money to me," she says. "They need to be held accountable, but no one is taking any responsibility."
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.