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Early Autopsy of Model Doesn't Back Suspect : Crime: Preliminary results are not consistent with photographer's claim that he accidentally ran over Linda Sobek, coroner's office says.

November 27, 1995|BETTINA BOXALL and K. CONNIE KANG | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The Los Angeles County coroner's office said Sunday that a preliminary autopsy of model Linda Sobek's body does not support the account of her death given by photographer Charles E. Rathbun, who says he accidentally ran over the former football cheerleader during a photo session in the desert.

"Thus far, findings are not consistent with injuries caused by an automobile," coroner's spokesman C. Scott Carrier said Sunday afternoon, after medical examiners had begun the lengthy process of determining the cause of death.

The autopsy was being conducted by deputy medical examiner Dr. James K. Ribe in the presence of Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department personnel and Hermosa Beach police.

Carrier did not elaborate on the nature of Sobek's injuries. But he said there were no gunshot or stab wounds on the body, nor were there any of the knee-level types of injuries that might have been caused by a car bumper. Sobek's body was to be released to her family today.

Drug and alcohol and brain and spinal cord tests will be performed, and tissue specimens will also be examined for hidden injuries. Carrier said some lab results might be available in two weeks.

Rathbun, an automotive photographer, was booked on suspicion of murder last week and is scheduled for arraignment this morning at South Bay Municipal Court in Torrance. He is being held on $1-million bail in the Men's Central Jail under a suicide watch.

He was arrested a week after Sobek, a 27-year-old calendar model and former Los Angeles Raiders cheerleader, vanished. She had told friends she was going on a modeling assignment Nov. 16 but never returned to her Hermosa Beach home.

Photos of her and her family were later found in a trash can in the Angeles National Forest, along with papers that Rathbun had allegedly signed to borrow a luxury sports vehicle for the photo session.

Investigators, who expressed doubts about his story even before the preliminary autopsy results, say Rathbun told them he accidentally struck Sobek when he was trying to demonstrate a driving technique to her.

Rathbun, 38, told police that he and Sobek were on a dry lake bed when he attempted to teach her how to spin the vehicle he was photographing.

After he hit her, Rathbun panicked, driving around for several hours with her body before digging a shallow grave with his bare hands, he told police. Sobek's body was buried in a remote section of the national forest about 15 miles south of Palmdale.

Rathbun led authorities to the grave Friday, after initially saying he had been too stricken by Sobek's death to remember exactly where he had buried her. Authorities removed the body Saturday, after spending the day looking for evidence.

Attorney Wayne Willette, a friend and spokesman for Sobek's family, said Sunday that the coroner's early findings did not surprise him.

Rathbun's "burial of a victim would seem to be inconsistent" with an accidental death, said Willette, who also questioned why Rathbun could not at first recall the grave's location. "His memory was in lapse for a couple days and, I mean, something as traumatic as this, you don't just forget."

Willette said Sobek's parents, who live in Lakewood, attended church Sunday with their daughter's South Bay congregation. Described as a born-again Christian by her pastor, Sobek had been baptized last summer.

Deputy Carrie Stuart said Rathbun, a free-lancer in the automotive media, would be arraigned on murder charges. She added that with the autopsy results incomplete, "Not all the answers are in yet."

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