Police have arrested a Texas woman more than two years after a 19-year-old college student was struck and killed while riding his bike with his girlfriend.
Tammy Blankenship Harlan, 50, was arrested Tuesday after police received an anonymous letter that named her as a suspect in the October 2016 hit and run crash that killed David Grotberg, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald. She's been charged with failure to stop and render aid after a crash, a second-degree felony.
Grotberg was a sophomore at Baylor University and had been riding his bike along Franklin Avenue with his girlfriend around 10 p.m. on Oct. 6, 2016 when witnesses said an SUV driving “very fast” hit the teen and didn’t stop, an affidavit obtained by the paper said.
He was taken to a Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center, but died from his injuries. His girlfriend was not hurt in the crash, local outlet KWTX reports.
Almost two years after Grotberg was killed, police received an anonymous letter from someone who identified Harlan as the driver of the vehicle and claimed she had been “speeding and had been drinking” the night of the crash, the affidavit said.
The letter also identified the name of a woman who would later tell police she had followed Harlan after the crash to a repair shop where Harlan’s 2013 Hyundai Accent was fixed. The woman described the car as having passenger side damage and a windshield “busted inward.” Harlan had claimed to her insurance company that she had gotten the damage after hitting a stop sign, the local station reports.
Investigators were also able to put Harlan near the scene of the crash using cell phone records. They also found some lingering blood evidence on the vehicle. Blood was found along the inside mirror on the vehicle’s passenger side and under the rubber molding of the front windshield. DNA tests were performed on the blood but the results were inconclusive, KWTX reports.
After being questioned by investigators, Harlan allegedly told police she had thought she hit a stop sign while driving home from a gathering where she had been drinking wine, but later wondered if maybe she had hit a homeless person, reports the Waco Herald-Tribune.
“The tenacity of our detectives is pretty incredible to witness,” Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton told the local paper. “When you get a case such as this, where a young man needlessly died, those cases never end for the detective. It is a case in point on this one, where you have to have a break come through that assists.”
Harlan was booked into the McLennan County jail but was later released after posting a $20,000 bond, says KWTX.
The arrest brings some measure of closure to those in the community, who advocated for improved safety for bikers following the fatal crash.
“I am happy the police have apprehended a suspect, but we have compassion for the suspect, and we hope justice is served and the person who was driving the car can be rehabilitated,” Dave Morrow told the paper.
Morrow, a Waco Bicycle Club member, helped install a white “ghost bike” at the scene of the crash in the college student’s memory.
He said he and the victim’s family are drawing on their religious beliefs to help them grieve.
Grotberg’s father, Clark Grotberg, told KWTX he was thankful for the efforts of both police and the community.
“We are really grateful to the Waco Police Department for their hard work and dedication in bringing this to a close,” he said.
Grotberg was described as an honors student who played trumpet and served as president of the Ballroom Dance Society. The family has established a scholarship in his honor.
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