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Case of fatal Elwha River crash headed to grand jury 4-8-07

TACOMA, Washington (AP) - A federal judge has ruled there is enough evidence to proceed to a grand jury in the case of a 19yearold Queets woman accused of driving into a river in a crash that killed two teenagers.

The U.S. attorney's office is pursuing charges of involuntary manslaughter against Sela Anne Kalama, a member of the Quinault Indian tribe.

Authorities allege she was driving when a car carrying seven young people drove into the Elwha River on March 18 west of Port Angeles.

Vanna K. Francis, a 17yearold member of the Lower Elwha tribe, and Ronnie L. Scroggins, a 15yearold Makah tribal member, died.

U.S. District Court Magistrate Karen Strombom ruled at a preliminary hearing Friday that there was enough evidence for the case to proceed to a grand jury.

If the jury indicts her, Kalama could go to trial.

The accident occurred on the Lower Elwha reservation. The federal government investigates crimes on tribal land.

Investigators had said that Kalama told them she drank 14 to 16 beers before the accident.

FBI agent Stephanie Gleason, who conducted the investigation into the deaths, said at Friday's hearing that a preliminary lab report showed signs of marijuana but no signs of alcohol in Kalama's blood.

The blood sample was taken about eight hours after the crash.

At the body's typical rate for processing alcohol, a person could burn off a .16 bloodalcohol concentration in that time, Gleason said.

Strombom said the lab measurement did not ``defeat'' Kalama's reported admission that she drank.

Miriam Schwartz, Kalama's attorney, questioned whether the road design was resonsible for the accident.

The unpaved portion of Lower Elwha Road runs straight onto a ramp at the river's edge, which was not marked at the time of the accident, she said.

But it was unclear at Friday's hearing who has responsibility for that section of road - the tribe, or Clallam County.

Ross Tyler, Clallam County engineer, said the county only has right of way to within about 1,300 feet of the river, although the county used to maintain a berm at the end of the road up until a couple of years ago.

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