Local woman’s death raises questions in community
Sarah Hayner– Associate Producer
Three months after a 69-year-old, Erath county woman died in a hay baler accident, questions linger about what happened.
Sandra (Sandy) Steele was killed in an accident with a hay baler that her husband, Al Steele, was operating on July 6 at the couple’s farm. Al Steele, 72, was the only person with her at the time of the incident.
No autopsy was performed, according to Judge Bart Greenway. The case is now closed on the Sheriff’s Office end, according to Erath County Sheriff Matt Coates.
Members of the community have questions about the details of the incident.
Al Steele shared a political photo on Facebook at 3:03 a.m. on July 6, the morning he worked the hay baler that crushed his wife. He called 911 at 6:27 a.m. and told the police that his wife was crushed in the hay baler they were using, according to the call for service report. The report states “Wife caught inside hay baler, unknown if conscious/breathing.”
Hours after his wife died, Al Steele changed his Facebook to reflect that he was “widowed.” Later that day, at 2:26 p.m. he is posted another political photo on Facebook.
A day after the accident with his wife, Al Steele was commenting on another Erath County resident’s Facebook post, calling 33-year-old family friend Shaquintha Lata, who has since changed her last name on Facebook to Williams, “my milk chocolate.” Three days later, he shared Lata’s profile picture.
Lata said that she had no idea that Sandra Steele had died.
“Is this a joke? I’m about to lose it. Why would he be likeing [sic] my photo as if everything is ok? He didn’t even tell me,” Lata said.
Lata said that she received several Facebook messages from Al Steele six days after his wife’s death.
“I am now single. I lost Sandy last Saturday,” Al Steele said in a Facebook message on July 12 at 4:23 p.m.
Lata said she was shocked by the news.
“…He barely tells me this July 12, and you had already hit me up before July 12, and told me what happened,” Lata said. “He didn’t have enough guts to come tell me that my friend Mrs. Sandy died.”
Al Steele and Lata had this conversation over Facebook Messenger following his last message on July 12:
“What? What happened?” Lata said.
“She was killed on a farm accident Saturday morning,” Al Steele said. “What if in the future I need a chocolate kiss?”
“How?” Lata said.
“How what?” Al Steele said.
“How was she killed in a farm accident what was she doing,” Lata wrote.
“She was helping roll hay,” Al Steele said.
“O [sic] wow I am sorry to hear that,” Lata said.
“In a few weeks I might want some chocolate loving,” Al Steele said.
“What do you mean?” Lata said.
“Some nice hugs and maybe a kiss or two,” Al Steele said.
“Mrs. Sandy was my friend I love her, you never helped me she did. I will forever respect her,” Lata said.
Lata said that prior to Sandra Steele’s death, she was very close to the couple.
“They were like my second parents,” Lata said. “I spent holidays over there, I cooked in their kitchen, we made things, I cleaned for them. I did a lot of things with them, so I never even thought…She (Sandra Steele) always said shush him off. Everyone keeps saying the war, that it’s from the war, but now that this has happened, no.”
Lata says that she had felt and does feel uncomfortable around Al Steele.
“He just makes me too uncomfortable, I’m sorry,” Lata said. “And I know she would be like come to the house, let’s make sandwiches, and I’m like, ‘how I am supposed to break it to her that he makes me super uncomfortable?’”
Lata never responded to any of Al Steele’s comments.
“When he talks like that, I never feed it. I ignore it and just continue to talk about what I am talking about. I don’t have anything to discuss with him sexually,” Lata said.
Coates isn’t convinced that Al Steele harmed his wife based on the Facebook messages.
“Well, if that (the messages) actually happened, that is disturbing, but it doesn’t mean he killed her,” Coates said. “That just makes him a despicable person.”
Jonette Sparks, a local resident of Erath County, shared screenshots from a Facebook page titled “Justice for Sandy.” The anonymous creator of the page claimed Al Steele has a “history of soliciting women, molesting and assaulting women by groping them and making nasty perverted comments.”
The page was created for “seeking justice for our beloved Sandra Sue Bills.”
“The facts do not add up; someone had been hired to bale the hay and was to arrive at 8 a.m.,” the anonymous page creator posted. “They did arrive but by the time it was too late… He said that he did not know she was there.”
However, the page was deleted a few hours after it was created.
Coates would not comment on the details of the investigation or share where Sandra Steele’s autopsy was performed when asked back in July.
“There is probably somewhere you can find it,” Coates said.
Greenway, who presided over the inquest into Sandra Steele’s death, said “there was no autopsy performed.” He said the death was “strictly accidental.”
Dustin Paulson, the lead investigator on the case, said that the department does not have the hay baler involved in Sandra Steele’s death, an autopsy or any other physical evidence during their investigation.
A press release from July 8 said the case was under investigation. As of the morning of October 17, the investigation has been confirmed closed by Coates.
Coates says he does not know when the case will be sent to the District Attorney’s office. He says he believes his team is doing everything possible on this case.
“This is my personal opinion, even if he did it on accident, we are still going to do everything we can to make sure it was an accident,” Coates said. “I can tell you that Judge Greenway is pretty good as far as being able to determine whether there was an offense or not. But we still must do our due diligence. I can assure you that if we thought that there was a murder in this county, it wouldn’t be covered [up].”
Sandra Steele worked as Basic Needs Ministry at the Graham Street Church. Those who worked with her said they do not know who made the Justice for Sandy Facebook page.
Members of the family, including Sandra Steele’s siblings, daughter, and grandson, have been contacted by phone and/or in person. They declined to comment for this story.
Texan News attempted to contact Steele through the phone numbers listed on the 911 police report and by visiting his house. The phone numbers were out of order and he did not answer the door. Texan News left a letter at his home and is waiting for a response. This story will be updated on www.TexanNews.net as more information becomes available.
Additional reporting by Makenzie Plusnick and Diana Valdez.