Sheriff: Man drives around with body in SUV for 30 days
LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - A body found in a vehicle at the Prien Lake Mall Monday had been in the SUV for about a month, authorities said.
Calcasieu Sheriff’s Office officials said Christopher T. Cater, 41, of Lake Charles, admitted to killing Sheila Ortega, 72, of Lake Charles, about a month ago, then opening several loans using Ortega’s information.
After Ortega’s body was found in the passenger seat of the vehicle, Cater, an acquaintance of Ortega, was located at a nearby business, according to Kayla Vincent, spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office. When detectives spoke with Cater, he told them he killed Ortega approximately a month ago.
Cater was booked into Calcasieu Correctional Center on counts of second-degree murder, unlawful disposal of human remains, and identity theft. His bond is pending.
Vincent said Ortega was reported missing around 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 20.
“We have seen some strange cases here in Calcasieu Parish, but this case is definitely an unusual one for us,” Calcasieu Sheriff Tony Mancuso said. “We have never seen someone drive around with a dead body in the SUV for 30 days. My prayers go out to the family and friends of Mrs. Sheila, this is a senseless and inhumane tragedy. The body has been sent off for further testing and to determine the cause of death. The investigation is continuing.”
Family members, who said they had not spoken to her in about a month, first requested a welfare check on Ortega on Aug. 15.
“We went to the house. No car in the driveway, no signs of foul play,” Mancuso said.
Mancuso said the family indicated that it wasn’t too unusual to not hear from Ortega or for her to leave for a period of time. He says they opted not to file an official missing persons report at that time.
On Sunday, the same day she was reported missing, a deputy stopped Cater while he was driving Ortega’s SUV.
“She’s entered into the system that evening,” Mancuso said. “About 8 p.m. a deputy does a traffic stop, meets the guy at the car, and doesn’t see anything. (The deputy) asked if he knows her whereabouts, he said ‘yes.’”
Cater told the deputy he dropped Ortega off in Arkansas to visit some friends and was set to pick her up in a few days, the sheriff said. The deputy let Cater go.
The next day, deputies spotted the vehicle in the parking lot of the Prien Lake Mall.
“Obviously (this deputy) took a little more initiative and ended up finding her body in the car,” Mancuso said, “We immediately find him nearby and when we confront him, he says ‘I know why you’re here.’ ”
Cater told investigators Ortego had taken him in and he took advantage of her, Mancuso said. He said he killed Ortega a month ago and was unsure what to do with her body.
Mancuso said an internal investigation is now underway to determine why the deputy who pulled Cater over Sunday let him go.
“We don’t suspect at this time that it was done out of any malice or derelict of duty,” the sheriff said. “Officers do have discretion. I wish he would have handled it differently, absolutely.
“Is it a training issue? Is it a lazy issue? Why did we let this happen? We could have given this family closure 12-14 hours earlier.”
He says an internal investigation will allow the department to determine not only why it happened, but how to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
“One of the fatal mistakes that we, as police officers, make is treating things like they’re routine. It’s something we go over all the time with our deputies, but sometimes they just treat things as routine and this is what can happen as a consequence.”
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