LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Missing but not forgotten… One Little Rock family is holding on to hope that their daughter will come home alive. They’re discouraged, though, after some say mistakes were made during the most crucial hours after the now 20-year-old Ebby Steppach disappeared.
“There are only so many hours in the day,” Tommy Hudson, retired Little Rock detective, said. As each minute goes by–
“Time went on and on and on and on,” Laurie Jernigan, Ebby Steppach’s mother, said.
20-year-old Ebby Steppach is missing — and has been for nearly two years.
“Those early hours, early days, early weeks are critical,” Michael Jernigan, Ebby’s stepfather, said.
“For the first part of the investigation, no one looked for her,” Laurie said. Ebby’s mom, Laurie, and Ebby’s step-father, Michael, know all too well about time, and they say Little Rock Police know it even better.
“The whole first 30 days was just counting on Ebby showing back up,” Michael said.
Ebby fell off the grid in October 2015. Her family reported the then 18-year-old missing. Little Rock’s Violent Crime Squad picked up the case.
“The detective that was assigned to it at that time was one of our newer detectives,” Hudson said. Laurie says it didn’t take long–
“I would back track.”
–for her to lose trust in law enforcement.
“Part of the investigation that was going on didn’t match up with what they were telling me,” Laurie said.
About a week after Ebby vanished, her 2003 Volkswagen was found abandoned in Chalamount Park in West Little Rock. Ebby’s mother and step-father say a security guard reported the car, but the LRPD didn’t check on the tip for several days.
“The department itself, when the call came in on three different occasions that week, did not recognize and connect that this car belonged to a missing person,” Michael said.
“Didn’t put it together that this was a crime scene,” Laurie said. Ebby’s parents say the car had a dead battery and was out of gas, making Laurie think the worst.
“Her car was running and someone took her from it,” Laurie said.
The Central High School student’s cell phone, makeup, keys and eye contacts were left behind. Laurie says she encouraged the detective on the case to get surveillance footage from the Walmart across the street from the park.
“He said, ‘Do you know how much tape that is to look through?’ and I said ‘Yes I’ll look through it. I mean, I don’t care, I’ll look through it.’ And he said, ‘No, no, I’ll look into it.’ He never looked into it,” Laurie said.
“I think something has happened to her,” Hudson said. Ebby’s case would eventually be moved to Little Rock’s Homicide Squad — a group of the city’s most experienced detectives.
“When I got the case, there were things that weren’t done that should’ve been done on the front end,” Hudson said.
— Which included asking for the surveillance footage from Walmart. By then, the tapes had already been erased.
The retired detective says the case — which currently has the potential of being a homicide — needed to be “cleaned up.”
Hudson says some key people were never interviewed.
“I believe there’s somebody out there that’s in her circle, in her social media circle, that may know what happened to her and hasn’t come forward for whatever reason,” Hudson said. Hudson says the original detective skipped parts of the social media search.
“We always look at that. Why it wasn’t done at the time, I can’t answer that. I can tell you it’s been done now,” Hudson said.
“I don’t know if I can explain the level of powerlessness I felt,” Laurie said. From the balloons at Chalamount Park, to the interstate that connects city to city and state to state —
“The biggest fear is that we will never know,” Michael said.
–The clock will keep ticking, and Ebby’s family will keep praying for an end.
“I just want closure,” Laurie said.
–No matter the road it takes.
Ebby’s parents have both taken polygraphs. Sources say both parents passed. Hudson says the parents are not suspects.
Little Rock Police are still asking for tips regarding the case. If you know anything about what happened to Ebby Steppach, you’re asked to give them a call.
Environmental groups are crying foul over federal legislation that benefits the shipping industry but which they say would weaken protections against invasive species entering the Great Lakes through ballast water discharges. On Thursday, May 18, the U.S. Senate commerce committee passed a Coast Guard reauthorization bill with provisions that would transfer authority over ballast water from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Coast Guard. The bill passed on a bipartisan voice vote, although several Democrats on the committee, including Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, withheld support over changes to ballast water regulation, saying that the bill as written “does not protect our waters from further incursions from non-native species.”
The shipping industry has advocated the transfer for several years, arguing for uniform nationwide discharge pollution rules that would end overlapping state and federal regulations on ballast water, which ships carry in their hulls to provide stability. Because the water can transfer exotic species, bacteria and viruses around the globe, it is regulated as a form of pollution.
The shipping industry argues the Coast Guard is a more appropriate authority to regulate ballast water because the service already enforces discharge permit violations and certifies onboard ballast water systems.
“The status quo, two federal vessel discharge regulations enforced by two different agencies, plus, at latest count, 25 state regimes, is unworkable,” the Lake Carriers Association said in a 2016 report. Environmental groups counter that provisions in the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, (VIDA), weaken protections against invasive species like the quagga and zebra mussels, which entered the Great Lakes in ballast water. Versions of VIDA have died in committee or been removed from must-pass bills before. The VIDA provisions strip the authority of the Clean Water Act over ballast water discharges and prohibit states like Michigan, which requires saltwater ships calling at Michigan ports to obtain a discharge permit from the state Department of Environmental Quality, from passing their own ballast water rules.
Michigan presently has EPA-delegated authority to enforce Clean Water Act rules under a special federal program. The state requires ships disinfect ballast water before entering state waters. Michigan’s general permit expires this year. The Senate bill as written would allow the EPA and states to consult with the Coast Guard, which would issue ballast water discharge permits, conduct enforcement and review proposals from states for more stringent future standards, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The Coast Guard would have to decide by 2022 whether revising ballast water standards “will result in reducing the risk of introducing or establishing aquatic nuisance species,” according to the bill text, and any standards should be developed by “applying the best available technology that is economically achievable.”
The National Wildlife Federation says the VIDA provisions would “enshrine a regulatory scheme that places the economic burden associated with invasive species on the nation’s taxpayers rather than on the international shipping industry that is responsible for bringing those species to our nation’s waters.”
In 2015, the NWF and National Resources Defense Council won a federal appellate decision that forced the EPA to rewrite its general ballast water permit by 2018 to strengthen pollution controls. The NWF and NRDC say mid-ocean ballast water flushing and new onboard treatment systems are insufficient protections.
Oceangoing ships are currently required to exchange, or flush, ballast water at sea before entering the St. Lawrence Seaway. The practice, known as “swish and spit,” has largely been credited with stemming invasions, although in 2016 the EPA confirmed a new exotic species of zooplankton was present in Lake Erie. Committee chair Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, included the VIDA provisions in the Coast Guard bill prior to Thursday’s meeting, saying the changes would “ensure that our nation’s fishermen and vessel owners have one consistent and attainable standard for ballast water and vessel discharge.”
Thune said its time to get VIDA “across the finish line.”
“We’ve tried multiple times now.”
Peters and other Democrats objected to the VIDA provisions in the bill, asking to be recorded as “no” votes and expressing hope the language could be removed from an otherwise non-controversial must-pass bill on the full chamber floor.
“I’m disappointed (VIDA) was added to an otherwise non-controversial and bipartisan bill at the last minute and without consultation with all members of the committee,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, who called the bill a “step backwards in the fight against invasive species that could cause serious harm to state and local economies that rely on the Great Lakes.”
Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-New Hampshire, said “the Coast Guard’s mission is our nation’s maritime safety and security. I believe they should focus on that and leave water management requirements to the EPA, who have more of a scientific-based approach.”
Bill sponsor Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said ship owners have complained to him that some states have discharge standards that are “not achievable.”
“We could continue to work with EPA as a scientific advisor,” he said. Peters and Baldwin withheld support although the reauthorization bill, which funds the Coast Guard for fiscal years 2018 and 2019, included their amendment to authorize funding to begin initial design work on new a Great Lakes icebreaker, as well as a Peters amendment to create a Coast Guard Center of Expertise in the Great Lakes focused on studying the impacts of freshwater oil spills.
Peters entered a letter written by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on the record, which expresses opposition to the VIDA provisions.
“Michigan is taking action to address all potential pathways through which aquatic invasive species can enter our waters and currently has significant state resources dedicated annually to invasive species prevention, detection and management,” Snyder wrote.
“I urge you to continue to work to ensure the complementary benefits of regulatory certainty and environmental protection are met.”
Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, ranking Democrat on the committee who supported the VIDA provisions in subcommittee, said “the question is, do we have a national standard or do we allow each state to have its own standard?”
“There are pluses and minuses on both sides of the issue, and we are going to attempt to work this out.”
Three men died in Clayton County early Monday morning after their vehicle struck another motorist and crashed into a lake. A Fayette County deputy was pursuing the vehicle in relation to a burglary at the Sprint store in Fayetteville. Three of the men involved in the burglary died as a result of the vehicle crash and a fourth man who fled the scene is in custody. Fayetteville Police Department spokesman Mike Whitlow said the security guard at the Sprint store on Ga. Highway 85 North saw a Chrysler approaching the store at approximately 4:20 a.m. Monday morning.
The guard saw three slender black males exit the vehicle and smash the store s front window, said Whitlow. The guard confronted the men, who ignored him and proceeded into the store to make a quick grab of an unknown number of items, Whitlow said. The security guard called 911 as the burglary occurred, and the thieves fled heading north on Hwy. 85 North as a Fayetteville patrol unit arrived, said Whitlow, adding that the suspects vehicle was traveling at a very high rate of speed northbound. Sheriff Barry Babb said a deputy patrolling the north Fayette area heard the call and spotted the Chrysler. The deputy pursued the vehicle into Clayton County along Pointe South Parkway which turns into Flint River Road, Babb said.
The deputy in pursuit could see the Chrysler strike another vehicle at the intersection with Taylor Road, said Babb. The deputy stopped to check the condition of the struck vehicle, believing that the Chrysler had continued on along Flint River Road. The deputy soon realized that the Chrysler had left the roadway and entered a lake. Three of the four men in the Chrysler died as a result of the crash, while the fourth man fled the scene and is being sought by Clayton County law enforcement, said Whitlow.
The motorist struck by the fleeing vehicle was not seriously injured, Whitlow said.