Mother pointed finger at Huckaby early on
by Jennifer Wadsworth
Apr 22, 2009 | 1084 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Melissa Chantel Huckaby, 28. Press file photo.
Melissa Chantel Huckaby, 28. Press file photo.
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The mother of a girl who went missing in January told police to check out Melissa Huckaby immediately after she heard that 8-year-old neighbor girl Sandra Cantu disappeared late last month.

Lora Polk, 41, came back from work on Jan. 17 to find her 7-year-old daughter gone. Huckaby, 28, took her — along with her own 5-year-old daughter — without permission from the family, said Polk this morning in an interview. Polk called police to report the missing girl. Hours later, she took her to the hospital, where doctors say they found muscle relaxers coursing through her 45-pound body.

Police initially accused Polk of drugging her daughter, she said. When Tracy police Det. Nate Cogburn came to search the family’s home, Polk said at one point he told her, “I think you’re on crank now. I think you gave (the girl) those pills.”

A gag order prevents police from discussing the missing girl’s case because it’s wrapped up in the Cantu murder investigation.

In the police log entry that reports how doctors found Polk’s daughter high on drugs, police say the mother smelled like alcohol. Polk said she did have one beer that night, and Polk said she believes police passed judgment on her because of her spotty past.

Polk has a history of drug abuse, and had a daughter taken away in 1994 by Child Protective Services, which placed the child in a foster home. Polk hasn’t seen that child since. Polk said she’s getting her life together now. She also has a 22-year-old son and an 18-year-old daughter.

Polk said she believes police could have done more back in January. She said her daughter said that Huckaby took her to Wendy’s and gave her water that “tasted like medicine.”

Records show that police searched Huckaby’s house in November, when she was charged with burglary and petty theft, and in April, after Sandra went missing. There are no records that show police searched Huckaby’s home after the missing girl was shown to have been drugged.

Soon after the family reported the missing girl that day, Huckaby drove back with Polk’s daughter about four hours after first taking her, according to Polk and police records. It was early evening at that point, and the little girl seemed fine, Polk said, just emotional because police cars were at her home and her mother was frantic.

It was around dinnertime that police left, so Polk headed out with her daughter for some fast food. But in the car, the little girl started to slump over as if she were falling asleep. She slurred her words.

“She was not acting right,” said Polk. “It was really scaring me.”

Polk went straight to the emergency room at Sutter Tracy Community Hospital. Hours passed, and at about 10 p.m. that night police showed up again. They started peppering Polk with questions and told her that the doctors had found muscle relaxers in her little girl’s body.

Police asked for permission to search Polk’s house.

“Of course, I let them,” said Polk, who lives with her grandparents in Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park, where Sandra lived before she was murdered and where Huckaby lived with her grandparents before her arrest.

Child Protective Services then took Polk’s girl to the Mary Graham Children’s Shelter in French Camp, where they kept her overnight. Polk said she walked home from the hospital by herself at about 2 a.m. on Jan. 18.

Later that morning, they said Polk could have her back if the girl passed a complete physical exam. She did, and the girl was returned home that morning.

Huckaby told a Bay Area TV news station before her arrest that police showed up at her house to question her around 2 in the morning Jan. 18, about the time Polk was walking back from the hospital.

Huckaby also told KPIX that she had permission to take the girl to the park — a claim Polk says is false.

Polk said her daughter barely remembers that day. She did tell her mom that Huckaby took her to three parks and gave her the strange-tasting water, Polk said. The girl doesn’t remember the hospital visit, or her overnight stay with Child Protective Services.

Polk and her family have kept their little girl inside the house since then, fearful of her safety.

Polk said Huckaby stopped by their home days later to see how the girl was holding up, but Polk said she told Huckaby that she never wants to talk to her again.

When Polk and her family heard that Sandra went missing, she said she told police, “I think you need to check out Melissa Huckaby a little bit more than you guys are doing.”

Because of the gag order, it’s unclear how much police investigated Huckaby early on in Sandra’s disappearance.

When Sandra’s body was found 10 days later, on April 6, encased in a black suitcase that Huckaby has said was hers, Polk said she started crying. So did her daughter.

“That could have been my daughter,” Polk said.

Police on Friday took Polk’s daughter to check for signs of sexual assault — months after the incident, Polk said. They found nothing. They also interviewed the girl on Friday.

Polk said Cogburn apologized to her on Friday, and said that he did everything he could do in January.

Today, Polk plans to get a copy of her pharmacy records to show police all the prescriptions she takes — none of which are muscle relaxers, she said.

Police said told the family that they never closed the January case, just suspended it. It’s now part of an ongoing investigation into Sandra’s murder. Huckaby is being held without bail at the San Joaquin County Jail in French Camp on charges that she kidnapped, raped and killed Sandra.

But Tracy police Sgt. Tony Sheneman on Monday said police never arrested anyone in January because they had no probable cause.

It’s a felony to give a child a controlled substance, according to the California penal code.

• Contact Tracy Press reporter Jennifer Wadsworth at 830-4225 or jwadsworth@tracypress.com.

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