Unanswered questions

Published 9:59 am Friday, November 25, 2011


HOLLAND—Steven Heinrich knows that the curve that killed his daughter will one day kill again.

He knows because hers isn’t the first young life to be snuffed out in the 400 block of Glen Haven Drive. There was a young mother before that, and a motorcyclist before that.

“The location is going to do it to someone else,” he said. “I don’t think it’s right. That location should have been corrected a long time ago.”

Heinrich visited the crash site again this week, more than eight months after his 23-year-old daughter, Hollyann Heinrich, was killed in a crash on the rural road near Holland on March 6.

But that wasn’t the main reason he came to Suffolk from his home in Pennsylvania this week. He came to find out why the investigation into her death has dragged on throughout the spring, summer and fall.

The crash occurred at 1:41 a.m. that Sunday. The 2005 Chevrolet pickup left the roadway to the right, continued into the ditch, hit a culvert and traveled through a yard, where it flipped 2½ times.

Heinrich and the other occupants, Dustin Bishop and William Davis, suffered serious injuries. She and Bishop had been ejected from the truck.

Nurses at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital finally got in touch with her father about eight hours after the accident.

“They told me they wanted to pull the plug on Holly,” he said this week. “I authorized them to do that.”

She had been a full-time student and worked for Sussex County, where she lived.

According to a search warrant, police found several bottles of Bud Light strewn about the yard after the crash, along with another Bud Light bottle and a Henry McKenna bourbon bottle inside the truck. Police sought evidence that would tell them who was driving — Davis, of Carrsville, initially admitted to being the driver, but then recanted and said he didn’t know who had been driving, according to the warrant.

Heinrich says he, too, found beer bottles when he visited the crash scene the week of his daughter’s funeral. He also found her jewelry near where her body landed.

Whoever turns out to have been the driver, Heinrich wants him charged in the death of his daughter.

“It’s a homicide,” he said this week.

But any form of justice has been a long time coming. On Nov. 15, after lingering for more than eight months, the Suffolk Police Department finally concluded its investigation and sent the case to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office for review.

“It’s certainly something that should not have happened,” city spokeswoman Debbie George said of the delay.

All fatal accidents in Suffolk are forwarded to the prosecutor’s office for determination of charges after the police conclude their investigation. But this case got held up on the desk of a sergeant who was supposed to review it, she said.

Heinrich’s visit this week brought attention back on the case, and the case was hurriedly concluded and sent to prosecutors.

“[Police] have since learned that investigation got hung up in the review process,” George said. “They are addressing the personnel issue.”

Whatever happens with his daughter’s case, Heinrich said, he wants to see the curve on the road addressed so more people don’t die there.

Jerry Rippee, who lives on the curve, has seen more than his share of wrecks there, and now he has his house up for sale.

“Part of why I want to sell this place is because of the curve,” he said. “I just want to move off this road.”

Rippee said he won’t allow his sons to play in the front yard and is nervous while doing simple chores that others do without thinking.

“I’m always looking over my shoulder pushing the lawn mower,” he said.

Rippee knows how dangerous the curve can be. Since he bought the house seven years ago, there have been three fatal wrecks, including the one that killed Hollyann.

First there was the motorcyclist, whom Rippee found lying in his driveway. Then the young mother, who landed in the neighbor’s yard.

Then there was Hollyann, who landed even farther down the road in another neighbor’s yard.

The narrow, two-lane road is widely known as a cut-through for drunken drivers to avoid the intense police presence on U.S. Route 58, Rippee said.

“This is how the drinkers get back to Franklin,” he said.

Even as he talks, standing on his porch in the middle of the day, drivers coming around the curve routinely cross the stripes in the middle of the road to maintain control.

The city has taken some actions since the crash to try to make the curve safer. They cut some vegetation so it’s easier to see. They lowered the speed limit on Glen Haven Drive and other area roads. Signs were put up to discourage trucks from using the rural highways. And a police officer spent several weeks sitting in Rippee’s driveway at his invitation.

“He wrote ticket after ticket after ticket,” Rippee said.

But Heinrich said only a guardrail can save lives at that location.

“A guardrail would have kept them from going off the road,” he said.

As Heinrich walks along the roadway near Rippee’s house, his head constantly swivels, looking for oncoming traffic. He’s also looking for the skid mark from the wreck that killed Hollyann.

“This might be it,” he says, pointing out a faint gray mark across the white paint. “He hardly had a chance to hit the brakes.”

After eight months, it’s unlikely that’s the one. But maybe, after eight months of investigation, he’ll finally get some justice.