Phoenix, Denise: Pyramid Lake Tribe mourns officer’s death

Reno, Nevada (AP) 2-08

Hundreds of people paid respects to a Bureau of Indian Affairs criminal investigator who died after coming into contact with a substance on a table during an investigation in Montana.

More than 600 people attended a memorial service for Denise Phoenix, who passed away Feb. 14 while awaiting a double lung transplant.

A procession of about 40 law enforcement vehicles escorted Phoenix’s body from Reno to Nixon, about 30 miles northeast of Reno.

Phoenix, 43, was a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, which is based at Nixon.

She was investigating a child abuse case at a home on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana last fall when she came into contact with a substance involved in methamphetamine production, said her stepmother, Phyllis Phoenix.

The investigator didn’t realize she had been exposed to hazardous materials until the next day, when she could speak only in a whisper and skin peeled off her fingers, her stepmother said.

She was later diagnosed with vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the blood vessels by mistake.

“The chemical seems to be the catalyst that led to these health issues,” Matthew Pryor, special agent in charge of BIA law enforcement in Montana, told the Billings (Mont.) Gazette.

BIA agents and officers from across the nation attended her memorial service.

“It just shows us how much Denise has touched all of our lives,” Arlan Melendez, chairman of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Phoenix was buried next to her children, Shasta and Justin, and her brother, Ronald Phoenix, all victims of a February 2000 traffic accident near Reno.

Phoenix was eulogized by Pryor as a “strong Indian woman” who presented herself with confidence and a smile.

As an agent, she could be intimidating when she wanted but carried pink handcuffs that “changed the attitudes of a lot of tough guys out there,” Pryor said.

The Sparks High School graduate’s long law enforcement career also included stints with Elko County, the Reno-Sparks Tribal colony and Carson City’s BIA office.

Survivors include Phoenix’s husband, Thomas Smart, who is a sergeant with the Crow Police Department in Montana.