Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Thursday, June 6 @ 2:36 p.m.

[VIDEO] Mother, Siblings Demand Answers Three Years After Tamera Sanders' Death, Take Concerns to County Supervisors

This flyer was posted in the Facebook group Creeps of Crescent City shortly after Tamera Sanders' body was identified in June 2021.

Kelley Metcalf says she is considering her next move.

About three years after her daughter’s body was found among the charred remains of a barn at Howland Hill Road and Bertsch Avenue, Metcalf went before the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors.

“I’m the mother of Tamera Sanders, a 29-year-old murder victim,” she told them.

On May 28, Metcalf and her daughter’s surviving siblings, Logan and Alex, told supervisors about their concerns with an initial autopsy stating their sister had died of carbon monoxide poisoning due to smoke inhalation.

They also pointed to discrepancies between that first autopsy and a second postmortem Metcalf paid for.

Metcalf accuses the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office of covering up the true circumstances behind her daughter’s death. She said she was never given the report prepared by one of the first deputies who began investigating Tamera’s death.

Metcalf also told supervisors that the coroner’s assistant, Michelle Greene, told her Tamera died by suicide.

“When Tamera’s first autopsy was offensively inaccurate, I paid $700 so she would be exhumed and I paid $6,500 for a second autopsy,” Metcalf told supervisors. “The second autopsy found [that] my daughter’s body had an elongated cylindrical cavity with defined walls in her lower left flank. This indicates the possibility of a gunshot wound.”

Metcalf has been convinced that her daughter was murdered since law enforcement notified her of Tamera’s death on June 17, 2021 — nearly a month after her body was discovered. At that point, Tamera had been missing from the Eureka area for about a year and had made her way to Crescent City.

According to an obituary the Lost Coast Outpost ran on July 9, 2021, Tamera was well known to the Del Norte County sheriff and Crescent City residents. For weeks before the May 2, 2021 fire on the 100 block of Bertsch Avenue, residents tracked Tamera’s whereabouts via the Facebook group, Creeps of Crescent City.

Metcalf said seeing her daughter on video became too painful, so she asked friends to keep an eye on it and notify her if they saw something concerning.

“They reached out to me toward the end of May and said it was really silent, that nobody had been saying anything about [Tamera] for a whole month,” Metcalf told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Wednesday. “I contacted the sheriff’s department at that time and I had asked them if they had anybody missing or if they had anybody unidentified and they said they didn’t know. They said that somebody died in a fire, but they didn’t know if it was a man or a woman. She said she would get my information to the coroner and if that was [Tamera], then they would get back in touch with me.”

Metcalf said she called the sheriff’s office about a week later and told her they were “pretty sure” the body in the barn was Tamera’s.

Fifteen firefighters responded to the 100 block of Bertsch Avenue at about 11:06 p.m. on May 2, 2021. Ryan Wakefield, who received the initial dispatch, reported in his incident narrative five days later that as he turned onto Howland Hill Road from Elk Valley, he could see “a very large column coming from the dispatch area.”

Upon his arrival, Wakefield said, a man approached him and said he had noticed the fire and heard a woman screaming and heard three gunshots. Wakefield said he was concerned about the man’s safety due to the intense heat and the close proximity of power lines to the burning building.

“I parked my vehicle and began assigning personnel,” he wrote. “It was at this point I noticed the extremely heavy fire conditions. The roof had self vented and the fire was producing an extremely large convection column.”

The Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office began its death investigation about two days after the fire. On July 23, 2021, the DNSO posted on Facebook that while Tamera died of carbon monoxide poisoning due to smoke inhalation, the manner of death was undetermined.

“Information has already been released detailing that evidence of arson was not located but it’s important to remember that arson has not been ruled out,” the DNSO stated in a news release. “We are investigating this incident as a suspicious death. Evidence is often destroyed in fires.”

According to the county’s autopsy, performed May 6, 2021 by Dr. James Olson, deputy state medical examiner from Oregon, the victim’s body was so badly burned, it was difficult to determine its actual height due to the destruction of the lower extremities.

In addition to determining that the victim died of smoke inhalation due to the fire, Olson’s autopsy report states that the victim was in a state of “acute methamphetamine intoxication” at time of death. A toxicological screening found methamphetamine levels at 0.780 mg/L and amphetamine levels at 0.153 mg/L.

Olson’s autopsy found no evidence of traumatic injury or swelling over the surface of the brain, according to the county coroner’s report. Meanwhile, the ribcage had been destroyed due to the fire, though the sternum and clavicle were free of old or recent fractures.

The autopsy was performed at Wier’s Mortuary Chapel in Crescent City. According to Del Norte County Sheriff Garrett Scott, his office leases the autopsy room at Wier’s Mortuary. The only person who touches the body is the pathologist. A coroner’s assistant, typically Greene, though it could also be one of Scott’s deputies, photographs and documents the doctor’s findings.

The coroner’s assistant has no bearing on the pathologist’s rulings, Scott told the Outpost.

Metcalf, who is a nurse, called the county’s autopsy “the most ridiculous thing.” She hired Illume Autopsy & Pathology Services. Dr. Javi Hartenstine, a Pleasanton-based pathologist, performed the second postmortem on Aug. 27, 2021 at Goble's Fortuna Mortuary in Fortuna.

According to Hartenstine’s report, Tamera’s family had requested the autopsy to find out if she had been shot prior to the fire and if any accelerants were used on the body. In addition to the “marked damage from fire,” there were some changes to the body due to moderate decomposition, according to the second autopsy report.

While it identified “no definitive injuries,” the report notes an irregular curved to rounded defect measuring about 2 centimeters in the left frontotemporal bone of the skull.

“The left flank is notable for an elongated cylindrical cavity with defined walls and without evidence of decomposition changes opening onto the outer surface of the soft tissue,” Hartenstine’s report states.

The body came to Goble’s Fortuna Mortuary with a viscera bag. However, the report states that several organs and tissues weren’t identified at the second autopsy including the liver, esophagus, stomach, small and much of the large intestine and the reproductive organs.

The second postmortem also included a toxicological report stating that the substances isopropanol and n-butanol were detected at levels “of concern for poisoning.” According to the report, the two substances can be absorbed through skin, inhaled or ingested and have toxic and potentially lethal effects.

“… which should be considered in the context of the circumstances [in which] the decedent’s body was found; having been burned in a storage building with areas of her body more severely affected than others, namely with the lower limbs so charred that the feet were separated from the legs,” Hartenstine’s report states.

Hartenstine’s conclusion also raises the possibility that Tamera was burned intentionally. The report refers to the initial autopsy, toxicology reports and the “volatile flammable chemicals” identified in fluids from the remains.

“The proposed mechanism that could lead to findings seen from the second autopsy and findings reported from the initial autopsy is the decedent was doused in flammable liquids while standing, likely wearing shoes where the fluid would have dripped down and collected leading to more severe burns of this region,” the report states, “and the decedent was coherent enough to reflectively/instinctively duck her head and fold her arms over her anterior chest and torso protecting herself as best she could.”

Hartenstine concludes that with Tamera’s remains being found “in a location unlikely for someone trying to flee the fire” a thorough investigation into her death should be conducted.

Noting that Tamera’s death predates his tenure as sheriff — Erik Apperson led the office until his resignation in October 2021 — Scott said he plans to have an independent review of Tamera Sanders’ case by investigator Keith Doyle.

“I’m not having him take over the case,” Scott told the Outpost on Monday. “I’ll have him review it and give [us] ideas if there are areas we can follow up on.”

Scott said some of the discrepancies Tamera’s family brought up before the Board of Supervisors seem to be procedural and “would be normal.”

Scott took over a Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office that was in turmoil in May 2022, about a year after Tamera’s death. County supervisors had appointed him to the position early after Apperson’s predecessor, Randy Waltz resigned following charges of voter and election fraud.

At the time, there was a 60- to 70-percent vacancy rate in the office, according to Scott, and no investigations bureau. Scott said he was just able to have two deputies fully trained on homicide and sexual assault investigations about five months ago. It’s difficult for his deputies to focus on current cases, he said.

“Finding the time to be able to go back to these old cases that may have been lingering or haven’t been looked at properly is really difficult,” Scott told the Outpost. “Really difficult [and] almost impossible. But I will slowly get to all of them.”

Scott said his staff, including semi-retired deputy Gene McManus, has spent hours and hours talking with Metcalf about her daughter’s case. Scott said he’s willing to continue to have staff work with her, but his staff also has to keep up with their current workload.

Still, the sheriff also has questions about the initial autopsy and the subsequent postmortem Illume conducted. He said he wants to know more about the 2 centimeter defect the second autopsy uncovered as well as the substances the toxicology examination detected in the body fluids.

Calfire also conducted an arson investigation, according to Scott.

“There is a full report from that investigator,” Scott said. “His findings… it appears there was an extension cord that was run from the home to a large shop and that extension cord was plugged into some cooking utensils within this shop area. He didn’t outright say that was exactly what caused the fire. That cord, from what my understanding is in reading that, was determined to be the area of the original hot spot.”

A CalFire spokesman referred the Outpost to the Crescent City Fire Protection District for a copy of its report.

The Crescent Fire Protection District forwarded the Outpost a copy of the incident narrative from the May 2, 2021 fire, not an arson report

Metcalf said she’s approached the Del Norte County District Attorney for help as well.

District Attorney Katherine Micks said while she has been monitoring the investigation, she hasn’t received a report from the sheriff’s office requesting she file charges against a suspect.

“If somebody believes a crime has been committed and presented me with evidence that there was a crime committed, I would of course look at that,” Micks said. “It’s a very tragic situation. I feel very badly for her family.”

Noting that Olson was responsible for conducting the first autopsy, Metcalf said she’s planning to take her concerns to the Oregon State Medical Board. She said she also wants the Del Norte County Grand Jury and, if necessary, the California Attorney General to review Tamera’s case and the DNSO’s investigation.

Metcalf said she has also paid private investigators to look into her daughter’s case, but she didn’t feel like they took enough of an interest to “really investigate.”

“My hope is that they wouldn’t put me through this. That I wouldn’t have to keep reviewing the case and keep talking about the case and keep telling people about the case,” she told the Outpost. “It’s causing severe PTSD, but I’m not going to stop. I’m going to get my daughter justice because I don’t feel she’s at rest.”


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