The Quinault Indian Nation is standing by its contention that the driver of a pickup was screaming racial slurs and war whoops when he ran over the two tribal members Saturday, killing one.
A Hoquiam man has been arrested in connection with the death of a 20-year-old in what witnesses told authorities was an intentional hit-and-run early Saturday at a Grays Harbor County campground.
The Sheriff’s Office reported the arrest of the 30-year-old in a news release Tuesday night, adding that a white 4 x 4 pickup had been seized. The man was to be booked into the county jail.
The arrest came as deputies continued to investigate the incident that left one Quinault tribal member, Jimmy Smith-Kramer, dead, and another injured. Earlier Tuesday, the Sheriff’s Office reported that no evidence had been found to indicate race was a factor in what occurred at the campground, 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 was 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.”
“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.
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As police searched for a suspect, they said they were looking for a man described as a white male in his 30s with dark hair and driving a white late-1990s Chevrolet pickup. Authorities said he drove the pickup into the 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 that the Sheriff’s Office had 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, in comments made before the arrest was reported.
“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 said. “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 graduate of Tahola HighSchool, he worked as a commercial fisherman.