Tribe grieves deaths after Oregon police chase

Warm Springs, Oregon (AP) October 2010

Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs members say their entire reservation is grieving the deaths of a child and three young adults in a crash following a police chase.

The three adults have been identified as April Scott-Kalama, 26, Valerie Suppah, 25, and Sean Starr, 22, all of Warm Springs, according to KTVZ-TV in Bend. The name of a 5-year-old girl killed in the crash last week was not available.

All four died when their car struck an oncoming police car during a short chase on U.S. Highway 26 that also seriously injured a police officer.

A 2-year-old boy survived the crash and was in critical but stable condition at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, Jefferson County Sheriff Jim Adkins said in a release.

A Jefferson County deputy had stopped the car after witnesses reported seeing it fleeing the scene of a Madras burglary where gunshots were fired, Adkins said.

“When the deputy walked up to the suspect vehicle during the traffic stop, the driver sped away from the deputy at a high rate of speed,” Adkins said.

The deputy began a pursuit but the suspect vehicle was out of sight. He arrived at the crash scene only about a mile and a half away, just east of the Deschutes River and Warm Springs Indian Reservation boundary, the sheriff said.

“I mean, you’re talking seconds,” Jefferson County Sheriff’s Sgt. Bryan Skidgel said last week. “The whole crash was really in seconds.”

The burglary took place at Soundz Unlimited on Highway 97, where store owner Jim Willhite said shots were fired into his business just after 10 p.m. last week.

The suspects made off with less than $500 worth of stereo equipment, according to Willhite.

His security company alerted police of the break-in, and a witness description of the car led to the traffic stop.

Adkins said a preliminary investigation revealed the suspect vehicle was traveling at a high rate of speed when the driver lost control and the car slid sideways into the oncoming lane, colliding with the police car. The Warm Springs Police officer sustained several broken bones, and was in stable condition at a Madras hospital, Adkins said.

Oregon Department of Transportation records show it was the worst single fatal crash on a 20-mile stretch of Highway 26 in more than 20 years.

Several tribal members gathered recently on the side of the road to mourn the loss with bells, chanting and praying.

“We were called on to pray for the spirits that are still here, because the families of these children who have left us are hurting, just like we are,” said tribal elder Geraldine Jim.

“There are so many people involved in this, it’s going to be very hard,” added fellow elder Roma David.

“It affects everybody, the whole reservation is feeling this shock - needless deaths,” David said.