washingtonpost.com  > Print Edition > Metro > Articles Inside Metro

Death of Va. Woman Found in Pond Investigated

By Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 18, 2005; Page B03

Steve and Judy Wear still were piecing together yesterday what had happened to their daughter, Beth, early Saturday, a day that should have been joyous but ended in tragedy.

This much they know: Shortly before midnight Friday, Judy Wear called her daughter to remind her that within minutes she would no longer be a teenager and that she loved her. Her daughter did not answer -- she and her boyfriend were having a night of dinner and dancing to ring in her 20th birthday.

Police found Beth Wear's body in a pond with an SUV. (Family Photo)

At some point, the young couple argued, and Wear left her boyfriend's Gainesville home with the keys to his Chevrolet Tahoe, the Wears said. They were told that about 2 a.m., Wear called her boyfriend's home, his stepfather picked up, and she frantically screamed something about sinking, the vehicle and a swimming pool.

The meaning of that call did not become clear until 2:14 a.m. yesterday, when Prince William County police pulled Wear's body and the Tahoe from a pond in a subdivision near her boyfriend's home.

Sgt. Kim Chinn, a police spokeswoman, said investigators do not know how Wear and the sport-utility vehicle ended up in the pond on Heathcote Boulevard. They have ruled out speed as a factor, and no other cars were involved, she said. The accident is under investigation, she said.

"We may never know," Chinn said. "We're working, trying to put it together as best we can."

For now, Wear's parents said they are struggling to cope with the loss of their vivacious daughter, who was a student at Northern Virginia Community College and an assistant lacrosse coach at Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax City.

"It breaks your heart," Steve Wear said.

The Wears said they think that their daughter, who lived with them in Gainesville, might have lost control of the SUV in her distress. She had received speeding tickets in the past, her father said.

They said they worried Saturday morning when Wear did not come home. At 11:30 a.m., they worried a little more: Jason Hatzenbuehler, Wear's boyfriend, called to ask if she had gotten the flowers he had sent for her birthday.

"We said, 'She's not with you?' " Steve Wear said. "He said, 'She got mad at me last night.' "

By 5:30 p.m., the Wears said, they reported their daughter missing to Prince William police. The father said police told him two hours later that they had interviewed Hatzenbuehler's stepfather and mother, who mentioned Wear's early-morning phone call to their house.

Saturday evening, the Wears went to inspect the community pool and the pond, less than three miles from their home. About 10 p.m., they saw tire tracks leading into the pond and notified police.

Hatzenbuehler's stepfather and mother did not respond to a message left at their home yesterday. Hatzenbuehler, 22, confirmed that Wear left in his SUV after they argued and that she called his home later and spoke to his stepfather. Hatzenbuehler said he did not know about her phone call when he spoke with her parents Saturday morning.

Chinn said she could not comment on Wear's phone call or what happened before the tire tracks were reported to police.

Yesterday, those close to Wear remembered her as an optimistic young woman who had a way of drawing others to her. Hatzenbuehler said he and Wear had been dating for just one month but felt that they were a perfect match.

"She told me I was the guy of her dreams," he said. "Her and I were just so much alike, it was unreal. We just clicked so well."

Wear had a knack for languages, her mother said. Though she had not decided on a career, family trips to Italy and France had prompted her to think about diplomacy, her mother said.

The loss, Judy Wear said, left her feeling "in shock." And as hard as it was to learn about her daughter's terror as she made the 2 a.m. phone call, Judy Wear said she was thankful for it.

"If she hadn't left that message, then we wouldn't have known where she was," the mother said. "I'm going to try not to let that haunt me. I'm going to treat it as a gift from God."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company