Lawsuit reveals possible suspect in suspicious death
By Joe Tash
ContributorDocuments filed in a lawsuit over nearly $3 million in life insurance policies held by a North County veterinarian who died last year under suspicious circumstances reveal his widow is a potential suspect in the murder investigation by San Diego County sheriff’s detectives.
Through the court documents, the widow, Pamela Stonebreaker, denied any involvement in her husband’s death.
Dr. Robert Stonebreaker, 53, was found dead in the driveway of a Rancho Santa Fe home on Jan. 17, 2010. The night before, California Highway Patrol officers had found Stonebreaker’s Porsche Carrera a short distance away from where his body was discovered, after it has plunged off Paseo Delicias into a gully. The CHP officers found no driver present, or any sign that someone had been injured, and had the car towed.
At first, authorities believed Stonebreaker, who was well-known in North County because of his Del Mar Animal and Bird Hospital and FreeFlight exotic bird sanctuary, had died from injuries he suffered in the car crash. But an autopsy determined his death was caused by head injuries inconsistent with a traffic collision, and the case was ruled a homicide.
Pamela Stonebreaker sued three life insurance companies in March, seeking payment of $2,775,000 in proceeds from life insurance policies purchased by her husband. In court documents, Western Reserve Life Assurance Co. of Ohio cited a California law, nicknamed the “Slayer Statue,” as grounds for withholding payment to Pamela Stonebreaker.
The other two companies are the Guardian Life Insurance Co. America and Union Security Insurance Co. The case was originally filed in San Diego Superior Court and later transferred to federal court.
Under the Slayer Statute, “a named beneficiary of a life insurance policy who feloniously and intentionally kills the person upon whose life the policy is issued is not entitled to any benefit under the policy,” said the document.
The document states, “Petitioner has been informed by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department that Decedent’s surviving spouse, Pamela Stonebreaker, is a suspect in her husband’s murder.”
Sgt. Roy Frank of the sheriff’s homicide unit said the case is being actively investigated as a homicide. “We know it’s not an accident. (Stonebreaker’s) injuries were not consistent with a traffic accident.”
Frank said he is cautious about using the word “suspect,” but that Pamela Stonebreaker is “a person that we have not ruled out among others.”
“When we investigate crimes, we always look at associates and family members, someone who was in the area (at the time of the crime). We do it by a process of elimination and she has not been ruled out as of yet,” Frank said.
Pamela Stonebreaker’s attorney, Nathan Arrington, declined to comment directly on the lawsuit, but directed a reporter to court documents, in which his client denies playing any part in her husband’s death. He said he has advised his client not to grant interviews because of the ongoing federal litigation.
An affidavit filed in the case by Arrington notes that Stonebreaker purchased several life insurance policies years before his death, including Western Reserve, and named Pamela Stonebreaker as beneficiary.
“The only pretext that Western has offered for withholding policy benefits is its accusation that Pam ‘might” haven been involved in the death of her husband. Western does not have a shred of evidence to support its accusation. That’s because it’s not true. If Western had bothered to conduct even a cursory investigation — such as interviewing percipient witnesses or reviewing telephone records and other documentary evidence — it would have discovered a mountain of evidence establishing that Pam had nothing to do with her husband’s death,” said the affidavit.
“In her declaration, Pam states unequivocally that she did not kill her husband, she does not know who killed Bob or why he was killed, she had no involvement in Bob’s January 16, 2010 car accident, and she had no involvement in any of the circumstances that led to Bob’s death,” said the affidavit.
The affidavit also includes a detailed timeline of Pamela Stonebreaker’s actions on Jan. 16 and 17, the day of her husband’s car crash and the following morning. According to that chronology, Pamela Stonebreaker was at home with her husband in the afternoon, and she left to pick up one of the couple’s three children at a friend’s house. Robert Stonebreaker was gone when she returned home, and according to the affidavit, the couple’s other daughter said her father did not tell her he was leaving.
During the evening, said the court document, Pamela Stonebreaker tried unsuccessfully to reach her husband on his cell phone, drove by an Encinitas sports bar that her husband sometimes frequented, and also went to the animal hospital in Del Mar to check on a dog that was not doing well. At 9:30 p.m., the time news accounts have reported Stonebreaker crashed his car, Pamela Stonebreaker was at the animal hospital, 7.6 miles from the accident site, said the affidavit.
Pamela Stonebreaker returned home about 9:45, and called her sister, expressing concern that her husband had not returned home.
At 5 a.m. Sunday, Pamela Stonebreaker left home with her son and daughter to attend her daughter’s volleyball tournament in Norwalk. The couple’s other daughter had spent the night with a friend. During the morning, Pamela Stonebreaker called her home, a neighbor and two hospitals in an effort to find her husband. Later in the day, while still at the volleyball tournament, she received a call from the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office, informing her that her husband had died, said the affidavit.