Longform

Suzi Dodt’s on a mission to return the nameless dead to their loved ones

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"All the cop told me was that the girl in the car was extremely nervous. I didn't think [the other] girl we saw rolling into the ditch could have lived. That's the only time I spoke to the cops. Twenty minutes and we were gone."

Buehner asks New Times, "Exactly what is this all about?"

That's a hard one to answer.

Back at milepost 173, another eyewitness had stopped and rendered aid to the young girl, who was unconscious and seriously injured.

She was airlifted to Scottsdale Memorial Hospital, suffering from massive head trauma and several broken bones.

The deputies took the two people in the Cadillac, Alonzo Fernandez and Lindsey DeJong, both in their 20s, to the Casa Grande substation for questioning.

According to a Pinal County sheriff's report, DeJong said she didn't know the girl and that she'd jumped out of the moving vehicle for no apparent reason.

She said that Fernandez had met the girl earlier that day, and that the trio planned to spend a few days in Tucson before driving to Miami.

DeJong told police that the girl had been riding in the middle of the front seat, which differs from what trucker Dale Buehner says he saw. She said the girl suddenly asked to be let out because she feared her boyfriend would beat her up if she went to Florida.

Fernandez told her to wait until the next exit, and he would let her out. The girl said she was going to vomit, so DeJong rolled down the window.

DeJong said the girl then lifted herself over DeJong toward the passenger-side window, stuck her head out, and somehow propelled herself out onto the freeway.

Fernandez's story was that he had met the nameless girl outside a liquor store on 24th and Van Buren streets. He said the girl had told him that she, too, was going to Miami and could use a lift.

He also said she had jumped out of the Caddy for no reason, which had confused and frightened him enough that he continued to drive without rendering aid.

Fernandez claimed that he had stopped near Eloy because he saw police behind him "and wanted to find out what was going on."

Not surprisingly, the cops didn't buy it.

(Neither Fernandez, DeJong, nor a Valley woman named Kim Senegal, whom Fernandez later listed in court documents as his girlfriend, could be located for this story.)

On February 4, 1999, a Pinal County grand jury indicted Alonzo Fernandez on charges of manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident, and possession of marijuana.

Lindsey DeJong wasn't charged, and police re-interviewed her the following month at a Motel 6 back on Van Buren.

Her account changed somewhat: She said Fernandez hadn't wanted to let the girl out of the car. The girl started crying when he wouldn't stop, seemed to panic, and leapt to her death.

DeJong again swore that she never knew the girl's name.

Fernandez spent almost four months in the Pinal County Jail before he was sentenced to time served after pleading guilty to leaving the scene of an accident, a felony.

He told a probation officer that "all three of us were on the freeway smoking marijuana. She started freaking, saying her boyfriend would get mad if she left, and she jumped out of the car. I saw her in the rear-view mirror, and people were stopping to help her. I was scared and kept going. I never knew her name. I'm still haunted by this 'til this day."

In September 1999, a county judge issued a bench warrant after Fernandez failed to report to his probation officer repeatedly.

Authorities still haven't found him.

The dead girl's body ended up at the Medical Examiner's Office, where it became known as 99-305.

Among possible clues to her identity was a small tattoo of a blue heart near her chest.

Another clue was a gold-colored ring with the initials DMA engraved inside of it.

Sometime after an autopsy, authorities released the body for burial.

The advent of Dodt's Unidentified Persons Bureau two years ago brought attention to the unsolved case.

99-305 has become a cause célèbre on sites devoted to unidentified and missing persons. So far, no luck.


This is how an investigator at the Medical Examiner's Office summarized what happened on the early evening of February 18, 2007:

"A resident was barbecuing in his backyard in an open rural area near Gila Bend when his dog was found chewing on an unidentified object.

"The owner of the dog pulled the object from the dog's mouth and suspected it looked like a decomposed human hand missing multiple digits."

The man contacted sheriff's deputies, who searched without success in the desert near the man's home for the rest of the body. The deputies then took the hand to the M.E's Office.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin