BELMAR, NJ — The Route 35 bridge over the Shark River was closed for about one-half hour on Friday afternoon for what the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office called an “active police investigation.”
Their activity was at the same location that authorities claim the body of Sarah Stern, the 19-year-old who went missing from her Neptune City home on December 2, was allegedly discarded, but has not yet been recovered. It came three days after Preston Taylor, one of the suspects charged in connection with her death, was denied a request to be freed from jail while his case is pending.
During the bridge’s closure, which shut down all four lanes from about 3:50 to 4:11 p.m., a boat from New Jersey State Police Marine Bureau was seen in the waters below, as investigators watched from the bridge above — not far from where the makeshift memorial of flowers for Stern has stood for nearly five months on the southbound side.
Following the police activity, Charles Webster, spokesman for the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, said in a statement that no further information would be released and there was no need for any alarm. It was neither confirmed nor denied whether the search was connected with the Stern case.
Since Stern was reported missing on December 2 and her car found early the next morning abandoned on the Shark River bridge, it has been the site for police searches before and after the February 2 arrest of Taylor and Liam McAtasney. Both 19-year-old Neptune City residents have been charged in the death of their longtime friend.
McAtasney is accused of allegedly strangling Stern in her home and stealing $7,000. Taylor is charged with later helping McAtasney move and ultimately dispose of Stern’s body in order to avoid detection. The body was allegedly discarded off the Route 35 bridge, which connects Belmar and Neptune City and is located about one mile from Stern’s home.
On Tuesday, April 18, the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division denied Taylor’s request to overturn a Monmouth County Superior Court decision to keep him in the Monmouth County Correctional Institution, Freehold, while county prosecutors continue to prepare their case against him and McAtasney.
The case has been assigned to Assistant Prosecutor Christopher J. Decker, director of the office’s Major Crimes Bureau, and Assistant Prosecutor Meghan Doyle.
McAtasney is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree felony murder, first-degree robbery, second-degree desecration of human remains, second-degree conspiracy (to desecrate human remains) and second-degree hindering apprehension.
Taylor is charged with second-degree desecration of human remains, second-degree conspiracy (to desecrate human remains) and second-degree hindering apprehension in connection with the Stern murder, according to the Prosecutor’s Office.
Anyone who wants to remain anonymous, but has information about this crime or any crime can contact the Monmouth County Crime Stoppers confidential telephone tip-line at 1-800-671-4400. The information can also be text at “MONMOUTH” to 274637 or by email through the website: www.monmouthcountycrimestoppers.com.