Mystery still surrounds death of Atascadero woman who walked away from car crash

CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story said medical examiners didn’t declare drugs or alcohol, or any other factor, an official cause of Nicole Peck’s death. But the story failed to mention that investigators aren’t ruling out drugs or alcohol as possible factors in her death despite the medical findings.

Nearly a year after 29-year-old Atascadero resident Nicole Peck went missing and was found dead in a pool of water in a farm field near San Luis Obispo, police still are seeking answers as to what happened.

For five months after she was found dead, investigators sought to find out if Peck was killed, or if she died by accident or from natural causes.

The case is considered inactive, which means authorities have ceased investigating. Investigators will reopen the case if they receive any new leads.

“We can’t make a definitive conclusion,” Atascadero police Detective Joe Allen said. “We’re hoping somebody comes forward and tells us more.”

Police learned that Peck abandoned the Dodge Neon she was driving on Jan. 15, 2009, after crashing into a bridge near the northbound Highway 101 on-ramp on South Higuera Street about 3:40 a.m.

She was last seen walking with 28-year-old Adam Joseph Mayfield of San Luis Obispo, a felon with an extensive criminal record who was a passenger in the car. They were heading toward San Luis Obispo.

After her mother reported Peck missing, authorities conducted an extensive search and found her dead on Feb. 8, 2009, in a pool of water about 4 to 5 feet deep on private land about a mile from South Higuera.

Peck had no obvious signs of trauma to her body, and she was fully clothed, Allen said, when divers from the sheriff’s Underwater Search and Recovery Team discovered her.

In an initial interview with police, Mayfield said he lost track of Peck that night and he fell asleep in the field, Allen said.

Mayfield told police he awoke the next morning and went home without knowing what happened to her. Neither used their cell phones after the crash, Allen said.

Mayfield has denied any responsibility in Peck’s death. Police called him a “person of interest” during the investigation.

“We’re pretty sure that the two were alone at the time of the car accident and that when they left the scene it was just the two of them,” Allen said.

A medical examination and toxicology screening were conducted, but no definitive cause of death resulted, including drowning. Police say auto collision experts concluded the crash likely wasn’t serious enough to cause a death.

“There are several different ways she could have died,” Allen said. “We’re not ruling out a number of possibilities.”

The Tribune has filed a public records request seeking the results of the toxicology exam. Allen said examiners don’t believe drugs or alcohol caused Peck’s death. However, investigators aren’t ruling out drugs or alcohol as possible factors.

Mayfield declined a follow-up interview without the presence of a lawyer when police tried to question him earlier this year while he was serving a prison sentence in Wasco for illegal possession of a deadly weapon. He is now being held at the state prison in Soledad.

Court records show Mayfield has a criminal record that includes no-contest pleas to illegal drug use in 2002, 2004 and 2005; grand theft in 2004; firearm possession and cruelty to animals in 2007; a fighting, noise or offensive words offense in 2000; and drunken driving in 2004.

No-contest pleas result in a conviction without the admission of guilt in regards to misdemeanor crimes.

Allen said police continue to search for a dump truck driver who saw the pair that night and is believed to have spoken with them briefly.