Deputies investigating what witnesses described as an intentional hit-and-run at a campground near Hoquiam early Saturday that left one Quinault tribal member dead and another injured said Tuesday they’ve found no evidence so far indicating race was a factor, despite a strongly worded statement issued by the tribe.
“We haven’t found one person, including the surviving victim, who has been able to tell us that there were any racial slurs thrown out there during this incident,” Grays Harbor County Undersheriff Daves Pimentel said Tuesday.
But the tribe is standing by its statement.
“The account in our press release is a firsthand account from a tribal youth,” Fawn Sharp, the Quinault Indian Nation president, said Tuesday. “She was there and related to us her eyewitness observation.”
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“To say there’s no evidence — well, from our perspective, this is the sort of thing our young people just don’t make up,” she added.
Later Tuesday, Pimentel announced in a news release that investigators had arrested a 31-year-old Hoquiam man, who was to be booked on investigation of second-degree murder in connection with the death of Jimmy Smith-Kramer, 20. A white, 4 x 4 pickup truck was seized as evidence, the release said.
As police searched for the suspect, they initially described a white male in his 30s with dark hair and a trimmed beard or goatee and driving a white late-1990s Chevrolet pickup. Authorities said he drove the pickup into a campground on the Humptulips River off Donkey Creek Road about 1:30 a.m. Saturday, where Smith-Kramer was camping with a group of friends to celebrate his birthday.
After the truck’s driver started spinning doughnuts around the site, police said campers yelled at him to stop. Someone apparently threw a rock at the truck, possibly breaking its window, police said.
The truck’s driver then targeted campers — backing over Smith-Kramer and his friend, Harvey Anderson, 19, of Aberdeen, on a gravel bar — before speeding off, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
After Smith-Kramer died from his injuries late Saturday, the Quinault Indian Nation issued a statement Sunday condemning the hit-and-run. The statement also disputed that campers threw a rock at the truck before it ran down the two men, and also raised questions about whether the attack was racially motivated.
“The driver was screaming racial slurs and war whoops when he ran over the two tribal members,” the tribe contended. “A woman passenger in the truck, also described as a Caucasian in her 30s was screaming at the driver trying to make him stop.”
Sharp also was quoted raising concerns about the broader implications of the potential racial aspects to the hit-and-run.
“If it is, in fact, determined that this was a hate crime it will add even more distress and sadness to our loss of this outstanding young man and the injury of the other,” Sharp is quoted in the statement.
Sharp, an attorney, added in the press statement that potential racial motivations to the crime would trigger more serious charges and sentencing considerations.
Since the tribe issued the statement, Pimentel said Tuesday afternoon — before the arrest — that the Sheriff’s Office has received “a lot of calls” of concern about the crime’s purported racial motivation.
But no evidence exists that race was a factor, he added.
“We’ve talked to all the witnesses — I don’t have the exact number, but nine or 10 witnesses,” the undersheriff added. “Nobody has brought that to our attention. The only time we heard of that is when the tribe sent out the press release.”
Sharp noted that investigators’ initial interviews of some witnesses — including the youth who described hearing “war whoops” and derogatory shouts — occurred at the hospital and didn’t probe deeply.
“It’s our impression that the first contact didn’t go too far into questioning,” Sharp We’ve encouraged them to do a second round of interviewing to specifically ask these kinds of questions.”
Larry Ralston, a tribal council member and former Quinault police chief, added non-Native people may not recognize the bigotry they face.
“Having grown up in the (Grays) Harbor and dealing with racism, we do recognize that there’s different ways of viewing it,” said Ralston, whose daughter raised Smith-Kramer after his mother died. “But our press release about what happened is accurate.”
Sharp and Ralston separately said the racial aspects of the incident will be further developed as the investigation advances.
Smith-Kramer was the father of twin toddlers, a boy and a girl who are almost 2.
A graduate of Tahola HighSchool, Smith-Kramer worked as a commercial fisherman.