January 3, 2014

Eagle Mountain homeowners rebuilding after Jeep slams into front door

Sheriff’s investigators questioned the driver of the SUV, which was caught by surveillance videos before it disappeared into the night.

Tarrant County sheriff’s investigators located a Jeep Liberty on Friday that they believe crashed into a home along Eagle Mountain Lake and disappeared, leaving extensive damage behind.

“We have a suspect vehicle,” said Sgt. Clint Harwell, a Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department spokesman. “We have identified the driver. … All of this developed [Friday] morning.”

The driver, described as a woman in her 20s, was questioned Friday afternoon, but Harwell said no arrests have been made.

Surveillance cameras caught the light-colored Jeep Liberty running a stop sign at the T intersection of Hanger Cutoff and Wells Burnett roads at 2:32 a.m. Monday, barely avoiding a culvert and racing straight into Mary and Rick Whitbeck’s driveway and slamming into the front of their home.

The crash popped off the front door and knocked down about half the front wall.

The couple were in Austin for their son’s engagement party and learned of the crash from a neighbor at about 9 a.m. Monday.

“We packed up and got home as quick as we could,” Mary Whitbeck said.

The cameras captured the crash from several angles.

As the SUV hits the house, debris flies everywhere. Within seconds, the Jeep backs out of the driveway with what appears to be a piece of plywood stuck to the windshield.

“It took out interior walls, a column with all of our electronics,” Mary Whitbeck said. “We have hardwood floors all throughout the house, and it threw Sheetrock all over the place.”

Cameras caught the driver returning about seven minutes later.

“I think they were checking to see if anyone was outside, if anyone was hurt,” Mary Whitbeck said.

The couple installed security cameras because their home had been burglarized three times since 2005.

They have lived along the lake for eight years in the home of Rick Whitbeck’s parents, which was built in 1970, according to Tarrant Appraisal District records.

“We had downsized and completely remodeled the house ourselves,” Mary Whitbeck said. “It is really difficult to see it in the shape it is now.”

The Whitbecks had driven their neighborhood looking for the vehicle and hoping that whoever caused the accident would come forward.

“We would have liked this person to do the right thing,” Mary Whitbeck said. “Either they fell asleep or they were drunk. You can see that they drove right through that stop sign and never slowed down as they hit the house.”

The Whitbecks often entertain relatives, who sometimes sleep over.

“I can’t think how many times we’ve had someone sleeping on a blown-up air mattress,” Mary Whitbeck said. “We could have someone sleeping right there when that front door … popped open.”

The couple are awaiting a damage estimate but expect it to exceed $20,000.

“They’ve told us we’ll have to move out while repairs are made,” Mary Whitbeck said. “There is Sheetrock everywhere. There are cracks all over the place, but we do believe the house is structurally sound.”

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