Mendocino County sheriff’s detectives are investigating the suspicious death of a 25-year-old Willits dance instructor, found dead early Saturday in a bedroom of a Brooktrails home.
The woman was identified as Kayla Grace Chesser, sheriff’s Capt. Greg Van Patten said.
He said detectives were treating the death as a homicide, but he stopped short of calling her death a homicide, saying that designation would most likely be determined by Monday’s autopsy and subsequent toxicology tests.
Detectives have spoken to a man they believe was with the woman at the time of her death. The man currently is hospitalized after he may have intentionally crashed his vehicle while driving toward Covelo several hours after the woman died, Van Patten said.
Deputies were alerted to the suspicious death at about 6 a.m. Saturday, according to Van Patten. They were called by friends of the woman who’d apparently arrived home and found her.
An ambulance had already taken the woman to a hospital so she was gone from the home when deputies arrived. Van Patten declined to give details on the cause of the death, other than to say it was not obvious, such as a gunshot wound.
The woman and friends had been to a Halloween party in Willits that night and returned to the home, Van Patten said. Roger Patereau of Willits, who said Chesser was a cousin, said his youngest son saw Chesser earlier on Halloween, dressed up as a cat for the holiday. She’d been going to a party at the Brooktrails Lodge, he said.
The man who had the accident after leaving the house apparently had been with her during the night, Van Patten said.
“We have identified someone that was with her at the time of her death,” Van Patten said. “He was witnessed at the home just prior to her discovery.” Van Patten did not identify the man.
That man then drove away from the Brooktrails home, and the woman’s friends called 911.
Deputies had a vehicle description and the man’s name and were searching for him when they learned he’d been in a car crash on a rural highway near Covelo.
Initial reports to the Sheriff’s Office from the CHP was that the noontime crash likely was intentional, Van Patten said.
The man was flown to an out-of-county hospital with injuries he was expected to survive. He was cooperating somewhat with detectives, Van Patten said.
Chesser was a lifelong Willits resident who had attended Willits High, where she played basketball and was a cheerleader, Patereau said. Her parents could not be reached Monday. Patereau said Chesser’s mother reportedly was taken to the hospital after learning of her daughter’s death.
Chesser loved to dance and had plans to own her own dance studio, he said. She recently had been teaching belly dancing at Cloud 9 Studio, said the studio’s director Kathleen Ferri-Taylor.
“She was very talented, just a real beautiful dancer,” she said.
Ferri-Taylor also described Chesser as “just a beam of light. A loving, sweet, kind person.”
She had studied dance at Mendocino College and also was part of a performing belly-dancing troupe, Satya Bellydance.
“This past weekend we lost our troupe mate, friend and Satya sister,
Kayla Grace Chesser. It has been an honor to share the stage with
such a positive, genuine soul. Her light will shine in our hearts forever.
We love you Kayla! the troupe posted on its Facebook page.
Chesser also was working on becoming a certified Pilates instructor, Ferri-Taylor said.
Her cousin described her as “happy go lucky” and well liked. “She had lots of friends. Everybody loved her,” he said.
An estimated 200 people attended a Sunday night candlelight vigil held at a Willits park in honor of Chesser, Ferri-Taylor said.
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