Crime - Sacto 911

Questions remain as loved ones mourn two Placerville women found dead after house fire

Investigators say it could be days or weeks before they understand exactly what led to the deaths of two women in their Placerville home last week, but they indicated Tuesday that they are not searching for suspects.

“At this time, we know of no threat to the safety of the general public,” El Dorado County sheriff’s Sgt. Dan Johnson said in an email to The Sacramento Bee.

In the meantime, family and friends of the women – Carolyn Hague, 62, and Crystal Ann Ward, 58 – have been left grappling with more questions than answers.

“It’s just a terrible tragedy for all of us,” said Renee Krupp, who identified herself as a very close friend of Hague’s.

About 5:45 a.m. Friday, El Dorado County firefighters responded to the 1600 block of Rose Lane, a rural stretch in the outskirts of Placerville, to find a home fully engulfed in flames. As firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze, others rushed inside to search for occupants trapped inside. The bodies of the women were found in a back bedroom.

Sheriff’s officials later determined the women had died of gunshot wounds. How they received those injuries, and how the fire started, remain under investigation.

The news has shaken those in the local education community – of which Hague was a part – as well as Northern California equestrian circles, in which Ward was active.

“We saw her just hours before this happened,” said Stephen Nichols, spokesman for the Folsom Cordova Unified School District, where Hague had been employed for the last three years. “We were all just really shocked.”

A longtime public school district employee, Hague played an integral role in the financial department. Nichols said she was well-liked by her peers and would be missed.

“She was a hard worker, technically skilled in fiscal matters, had great sense of humor that could defuse a (tense) environment, and she was a wonderful cook,” Superintendent Deborah Bettencourt wrote in a message to district employees. “This is a significant loss for our district, both personally and professionally.”

Hague previously worked for Placerville’s Gold Oak Union School District, where she was chief financial officer from 2000 to 2011. The superintendent there, Wendy Neade, did not work with Hague but said other district employees described her as having a strong work ethic.

“She was loyal to the district and the needs of the district,” Neade said in an email. “She was a very caring and compassionate human being.”

Krupp described her friend as a “wonderful, charming, nonviolent” person and dedicated public employee.

“For somebody who worked for the public – it’s what you want to get for your dollar,” said Krupp, 67. “This is the kind of person who served her community.”

The Placerville abode shared by Hague and Ward was home to Ass-Pen Ranch, where they raised mammoth and mini donkeys for breeding, packing and driving, according to the ranch’s website. Ward is listed as the operation’s sole contact, and no one answered the phone number listed.

Ward was one of the original members of the Bay Area Equestrian Network. Several members of the network posting to an online bulletin board expressed shock and sadness about the news.

Ward was described on the site as “an incredible force in the donkey world – she was a breeder, gifted trainer and rescuer of donkeys, and an educator of people, as well as an equine judge.”

Efforts by The Bee to reach Ward’s friends and family members Tuesday were not successful.

At the women’s oak and pine tree-dotted property, a wooden sign greets visitors to Ass-Pen Ranch. With birds chirping and leaves rustling in the breeze, there was hardly a sign of distress from outside the property gate, save for a stretch of yellow police tape seen in the distance.

About noon, neighbor Michael Turning arrived on a four-wheel off-road vehicle to leave flowers at the property gate.

“I didn’t know them too well,” said Turning, who splits time between Placerville and the Bay Area. “It’s hard to believe they are gone.”

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