Parents want details on daughter's death

CARL RUSSO/Staff photoCaitlyn Schelling and her daughter Alayna Bergquist, 11, hold a photo of Schelling’s oldest daughter and Alayna’s sister, Alexis Spartz, 18, on the anniversary of the car crash that claimed her life in 2018. 

HAVERHILL — For those mourning Alexis Spartz, the last year has been marred by unanswered questions surrounding the bubbly 18-year-old’s death.

A spokeswoman for the Essex District Attorney’s Office recently called the highway rollover crash “particularly horrific.” Alexis’ parents, Caitlyn Schelling and Jim Spartz, say that’s also how they’ve felt since their daughter died on the afternoon of March 31, 2018.

The parents are desperate to know what happened on that seemingly ordinary Saturday on the cusp of spring, and why officials have remained largely silent about their investigation.

Initial reports from Massachusetts State Police indicated that Alexis was driving a 2004 Lincoln LS sedan that rolled onto its roof on the shoulder of Interstate 495 in Haverhill.

Within days, however, they issued a retraction that clarified a 19-year-old Methuen girl was driving the car. That girl was treated for serious injuries at an area hospital and released.

No charges were brought against the driver, who officials have never identified, as of press time for this story.

“We’re expecting someone to be charged,” Schelling said. “It’s been a year. They’ve told us three different times that the report from the state trooper is being revised, or that they’re adding things to it, and that there was confusion at the scene. Why? We just want to know why. We need to know what happened.”

Schelling, a Hampstead, New Hampshire, resident and per diem firefighter there, said she’s no stranger to chaotic scenes like the one where her daughter died. Still, she thinks a year without answers, or a confident timeline of when they’ll come, is too long.

Jim Spartz, who moved from Methuen to North Carolina a few months before losing his daughter, said the last year has been “extremely frustrating” and that “we’ve got no information about what transpired: If they’re filing charges, what they would be, what caused the crash.”

Spartz said he regularly called Massachusetts State Police after the tragedy, seeking information on the accident.

“When everything happened, I was calling weekly, everybody that I could,” Spartz said. “I’ve gotten to the point where I just stopped calling, more out of frustration than anything.”

Known to many as Lexi, Alexis had joined the U.S. Army National Guard just before her death. She was awaiting deployment for basic training, her father said. She was a 2017 graduate of Methuen High School, but also had friends and family nearby in New Hampshire.

She was his favorite person, Jim Spartz said. The last time he saw her was a couple of weeks before the deadly crash on an airport curb following a weeklong visit at her dad’s new home.

“The last memory I have really is taking her to the airport and holding her before she got on the plane,” he recalled. “Just telling her how much I loved her. That memory is what helps get me through.”

According to her obituary, Alexis worked for Toss & Sauce, a pizzeria, in Hampstead. She loved spending time with her grandparents and being outdoors — kayaking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing — with her sister.

“We’ve all been asking about the events of the day since it happened,” Jim Spartz said. “I went so far as to pull all of her call details for the day before, that entire day, and provided state police with those numbers she communicated with up until a few minutes before the accident. I printed out all the call logs. They never called any of those people. I don’t know how much investigative work was ever done. That’s the pain. We have no idea how to try to put together the pieces of the puzzle for that day.”

Essex District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Carrie Kimball said “these motor vehicle investigations, involving a fatality, are lengthy.”

“There’s a lot of scientific evidence that has to be evaluated: The black-box data from the vehicle, road conditions, lighting, all the variables that go into a motor vehicle crash,” Kimball said. “You’re basically trying to reconstruct exactly what happened in order to determine if there was a criminal element to it. Not only that, but you have to have the evidence to support that conclusion. It’s a time consuming process.”

Kimball anticipates the investigation will wrap up “soon,” but noted that the time elapsed without answers is “not out of the question.”

Schelling hired Londonderry, New Hampshire, attorney Rory Parnell a month after her daughter died, hoping that he would be able to find out more information, she said. But that hasn’t been the case.

“I was hired to be their advocate in any criminal matter or any potential civil manner of wrongful death,” Parnell said.

Parnell said he’s also had a hard time learning details, despite multiple formal requests for police reports and the results of any blood or breath tests given to the driver in search of substances.

“Everyone is in the dark about what police or the commonwealth is doing,” Parnell said. “Now, we are coming up on a year anniversary and there are a lot of allegations out there. State police know the answers to those questions. Why they’re not making charging decisions is what’s perplexing from my perspective.”

Parnell said any possible civil lawsuit has “taken a backseat,” pending the outcome of the police investigation.

“We want to know what happened to our girl,” Schelling said. “That’s it. That’s what we deserve.”

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