Monday, March 24, 2008
Tragedy in Iowa City
IOWA CITY - One woman and four children were found dead this morning at a southeast Iowa City home of a former bank official accused of embezzling money from the bank.
At 6:31am, Iowa City Police received an emergency call from a cell phone. The caller said that police needed to immediately respond to 629 Barrington Rd. and then disconnected. A dispatcher was unable to make contact on call-back.
Responding officers found the house unlocked. Officers made entry out of concern for the safety of the occupants. Officers located five dead inside, the adult female resident and four children.
Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargardine said there is nothing to indicate a firearm was involved. He wouldn’t say what may have be used.
“We believe them to be the Sueppel family,” he said of the victims. Positive identification won’t come until the autopsies are performed.
Officers did not locate the adult male resident, Steven Sueppel. One of the family’s vehicles, a tan Toyota Sienna minivan, Iowa license 501BLO, was missing.
Iowa City police notified area law enforcement agencies and the University of Iowa issued a Hawk-Alert. The Iowa City school district ordered a school lockdown for a brief period of time but lifted that at 9:45 a.m.
A Toyota Sienna minivan involved in the single-vehicle crash on I-80 at the 251 mile-marker has been positively identified as Steven Sueppel’s vehicle, which was being sought by law enforcement.
The vehicle’s driver and sole occupant died in the fiery crash.
Law enforcement has not been able to positively identify the deceased driver due to the fire. An autopsy on the driver has been scheduled for Tuesday.
Additionally, autopsies have been scheduled for Tuesday the five victims from the 629 Barrington Rd.
The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are assisting Iowa City police with the investigation.
Jessica Lown, spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Public safety, said she could not give further details until DCI investigators had a chance to review the scene.
Sueppel, a former Hills Bank & Trust executive, recently was charged with stealing nearly $560,000 from his former employer. His trial is scheduled for April 21. The bank closed its offices and lobbies today but kept some drive-up windows open, bank spokesman John Benson said. "There was a security concern," he said this afternoon. "Toward the end of the day it ended up being more out of respect for the situation."
Sueppel was released at his arraignment last month in U.S. District Court on $250,000 personal bond, which he would pay only if he violated terms set for his release. The judge noted that Sueppel didn't have a criminal history and government officials didn’t consider him a flight risk.
The judge forbid Sueppel from possessing any firearms, narcotics, controlled substances or drugs without a prescription.
Sueppel told the judge he worked at Superior Concrete in Iowa City. A man who answered the phone at Superior Concrete Monday morning said company officials would have no comment.
Iowa City police Sgt. Troy Kelsay said, "Lots of family needs to be contacted.” Police have wrapped the scene with police tape. Two Johnson County ambulances were in the driveway this morning.
There were no signs of movement at the house. The front door was open at 9 a.m., Gazette reporter Jennifer Hemmingsen reported from the scene.
Kelsay declined to describe what police found at the home. A search warrant was being written. He said family members of the Sueppels came to the scene.
A woman who lives near the Sueppels said neighbors still were unsure what happened but that the family is well-liked. “They’re real sweet and caring people, and everybody thought the world of them,” said the woman, who did not want to be identified.
The accident happend between 6:30 and 7 a.m., troopers said.
Leon Spies of Iowa City, Sueppel’s attorney, declined to comment, saying he was still gathering information himself. He said he’s talked to the U.S. attorney’s office.
The embezzlement charge Sueppel faces carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in jail and a $1 million fine. Each money laundering charge is punishable by up to 20 years in jail and a $500,000 fine or twice the value of the funds allegedly stolen.
The government also is seeking the forfeiture of the $559,040 Sueppel is accused of stealing.
The first photo in this post was of the crash this morning on I80 that involved Sueppel's van. It was taken by another motorist on his cell phone after he called 911.
Death by fiery, high-speed car crash was too good for Steve Sueppel. I don't care what crime I'm out on bail for and what kind of prison sentence I'm looking at, I could never murder my child. I hope there's a cozy spot in the 9th Circle of Hell for Steve.