By Kendall McGee | June 4, 2020 at 8:57 PM EDT – Updated June 4 at 9:12 PM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Family members of one of the women who went missing on April 15, the night a driver called 911 to say he witnessed a car speed into the woods, said they are hurt after watching newly-released body camera video that documents the police response to the crash.
Dash and body camera video show what unfolded on April 15, when a man called 911 to report car crash along River Road and Independence Boulevard.
A judge is still considering releasing body cam video from the night officers found the car missing women Paige Escalera and Stephanie Mayorga were still inside on May 4.
Escalera’s mother and sister said their family was under the impression the nine first responders who answered the call walked the area and checked for damage with flash lights.
In the body camera video, which only shows the search from the point of view of one officer, the officer only gets out of his patrol car briefly to speak to the 911 caller, who remained on the scene. The video also shows him driving around the area, flashing a light mounted on his patrol car.
WECT and Port City Daily shared hundreds of comments from the public that were posted on the Wilmington Police Facebook page, along with the Facebook pages of the news organizations.
“The community speaking out and continuing to ask questions is very important to us because it makes us feel like we aren’t alone; we aren’t crazy in thinking they didn’t do the right thing” said Stevie Jenkins, Escalera’s sister. “We’re not just thinking ‘Oh, it’s because it’s my sister or daughter I feel this way.’ Strangers feel this way. Everyone feels this way.”
Allison Rice, Escalera’s mother, hopes police learn from what happened that night.
“They want to feel safe with the officers out there. They want to know ‘If its my child what’s gonna happen?’ We need to make sure things change,” said Rice.
The video also reveals what a hectic night it was for law enforcement. At one point when another crime is heard on the police radio, the officer can be heard saying, “And we’re looking for a phantom car crash.”
He eventually clears the call about the crash to help with an armed robbery call.
“If they wanted to, he could have gotten out of that car and really looked in the area. I understand wanting to help your fellow officers- that may seem more important at the time, but it’s not a five man job to go and look,” said Jenkins. “One person could have stayed behind. It could have just taken one person and no one stayed and followed the direction the 911 caller told them to go. Then, they would have found her.”
As a family filled with law enforcement members, they said they understand the pressures officers encounter, but they also recognize that there are other options departments have to make sure every case is handled with care.
Escalera’s sister said it was frustrating to listen to the 911 caller direct police to search the wood line and see that the area wasn’t given a thorough search.
When police first confront the witness, they ask him if he thinks the car went through the intersection into the marina gates and the caller says no, restating that he saw the vehicle crash into the woods.
“The craziest thing to me is when you have a witness telling you something and you’re basically calling them a liar. A ‘phantom car accident, car crash?’ that’s not okay, that’s disrespectful. In hindsight, it’s more disrespectful.” said Jenkins.
The family said they have more questions for the department even though the case is closed.
They’re hopeful if the video from May 4 is released, they might be able to understand how officers found the car 19 days later, even though officials on the initial call say there was no damage to trees and brush in the area.
Escalera’s family says they’re curious what the scene looked like 19 days after the collision.
Detectives told the family they found the car after noticing a disturbance in the brush and snapped trees.
“I feel like this is the only way we’re going to see the video and I feel like it is the only way we see their intentions,” said Jenkins.
Their utmost plea is that the department learn from this terrible experience and take measures to make sure each call is given the same care and no one else’s loved one is faced with this scenario ever again.
“What if it was your family?” asked Rice. “The worst thing is we just don’t know if they were alive. She could be alive, both Paige and Stephanie both could have been alive. That’s what really hurts us.”
An internal investigation was launched into the response to that 911 call, but no disciplinary action was taken against the officers. No policy changes have been announced by WPD either.
“We have our ups and downs and of course we’re always going to have our ‘what-ifs’ but we want to know what happened. We want to know the truth,” Rice says.
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