Red sedan linked to Sierra’s disappearance

Marlene LaMar talks about the search efforts with volunteers Doug Tollis, Shane Barcus and Dave Uribe at Burnett Elementary School Saturday. 

For the first time in more than a month, investigators searching for 15-year-old Sierra LaMar reported new leads in the case, and are asking the public to report any sightings of a red four-door sedan with a black hood.

Detectives say the car in question is a 1990s model red Volkswagen Jetta, with a black hood, according to Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jose Cardoza.

Police released a picture of a similar-looking vehicle.

The vehicle was recently confirmed as having been in the area surrounding Sierra’s home about the time of her March 16 kidnapping, Cardoza said.

“Over the last couple weeks, detectives have done some re-interviews, and some additional tips and leads have helped corroborate this vehicle’s relation to the case,” Cardoza said. “It’s more than a coincidence.”

Other evidence providing the vehicle’s description and relationship to Sierra’s disappearance include surveillance videos in neighborhoods, commercial areas and bus stops, Cardoza said.

Authorities did not report that the cameras picked up a license plate, or which direction the vehicle was seen traveling, or where it was seen, or if the car’s previous sightings are dictating official search areas.

Although investigators have known about the vehicle for several weeks, they wanted to carefully confirm its link to Sierra’s disappearance before releasing it to the public, Cardoza said. Now, they are asking people to be on the lookout for the vehicle and report any sightings or other suspicious activity to the sheriff’s office.

“The worst thing you can do in a criminal case, especially one that’s high-profile like this one, is identify a vehicle that may not be associated with the case,” Cardoza said.

Authorities do not know if the car or a similar one is related to a separate incident – a recent attempted kidnapping in Walnut Creek March 22. According to fugitive.com – a website for the TV show Fugitive Watch and started by two Bay Area police officers – a man driving a faded red older sedan twice approached a 13-year-old girl and tried to lure her to his vehicle while she was walking to, around or near Walnut Creek Intermediate School.

Cardoza said Monday he did not know if sheriff’s detectives are investigating a possible connection between the two cases.

Police think Sierra was kidnapped from just outside her home near the intersection of Palm and Dougherty avenues in northwest Morgan Hill. She usually walks to a school bus stop near the intersection, and her mother Marlene LaMar last saw her about 6 a.m. the morning of March 16. Sierra usually catches the bus between 7 and 7:15 a.m., and the last known communication she had with someone she knows is a text sent from her phone to a friend about 7:11 a.m.

The only other physical evidence reportedly found so far are Sierra’s cell phone, found in a field about three-quarters of a mile northwest of her home off the side of Scheller Avenue March 17, and her purse containing some of her clothing found another two miles north off the side of Santa Teresa Boulevard March 18.

“The sheriff’s office remains completely focused on locating Sierra LaMar and determining who is responsible for her disappearance,” Cardoza said. “Investigative resources from the sheriff’s office detective division in collaboration with multiple local and federal agencies continue to follow up on leads.”

Authorities also confirmed Monday that some used condoms and an empty cardboard box marked “stainless steel handcuffs” – all found at the end of Palm Avenue March 29 – have nothing to do with Sierra’s disappearance or kidnapping, according to Cardoza.

Those items were found during a volunteer search conducted by the KlaasKids Foundation, and were sent to the county crime lab due to their close proximity to Sierra’s home and media frenzy over the potentially salacious link to the teen’s disappearance.

Cardoza added that investigators and forensics investigators at the county crime lab have examined a number of other items suspected of being related to the case. The items were not identified, but after testing by the county and state crime labs many of them have been determined to be unrelated to the missing teen’s case.

The sheriff’s dive team will be back in local waterways this week, Cardoza added. The boat-based investigators were searching Coyote Reservoir southeast of Morgan Hill Monday, and plan on searching Almaden and Guadalupe reservoirs later this week using side-scan sonar devices which can produce images of the lake bottoms from the surface of the water.

Last week the dive team searched Anderson Reservoir, but did not find anything related to the case, Cardoza said last week.

Volunteers continue to search as well, and Sierra’s fellow Morgan Hill residents continue to raise awareness of the case and money for the Sierra LaMar Fund, which contributes toward further volunteer efforts and a reward for Sierra’s safe return. The reward is currently up to $25,000.

On Thursday, local residents, Morgan Hill police and martial arts teachers held a self-defense instruction and demonstration class at Sobrato High School. The event raised about $1,700 through $10 admission prices and sales of T-shirts and jewelry, according to organizer Amy Porter-Jensen. About 140 people, including children of all ages and adults, attended the event. Instructors from West Coast Martial Arts and Train For Life gyms offered basic self-defense techniques and instruction the participants.

“It was good to do a fundraiser and give the community the tools they may need some day to protect themselves,” Porter-Jensen said.

And on Saturday, a fundraiser at Guglielmo Winery raised about $3,000 for the Sierra LaMar Fund, Porter-Jensen said. That’s a portion of all the funds raised at the event, which was a fundraiser for orphan’s services. Money for the Sierra fund was raised through raffles and silent auctions, in which a variety of sports memorabilia items and gift certificates to area businesses were offered.

Volunteers can still participate in searches Wednesday and Saturday, starting at 8 a.m., at Burnett Elementary School, 85 Tilton Ave.

Sierra LaMar is about 5-feet, 2-inches tall with a thin build and dark hair. For more information on the Sierra LaMar Search Center, call 201-6364.

Anyone with information can contact Santa Clara County Communications at 299-2311, or e-mail [email protected] Callers can call Sheriff’s Investigators at 808-4500 or the anonymous tip line at 808-4431. Tips can also be sent via sccgov.org/portal/site/sheriff or by text at 421-6760.

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