Forest-death probe urged
by Suzanne Zalev
The Times Standard
EUREKA - Several Southern Humboldt County residents and
environmentalists want an independent investigation into the death of an
Earth First activist last week.
"We do not believe that the company and [Sheriff Dennis Lewis] can be
trusted to honestly investigate this tragedy and in fact feel that they
may be suppressing and neglecting key evidence in this case,"
Environmental Protection Information Center spokesman Kevin Bundy told
the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
Activist David "Gypsy" Chain, 24, of Coldspring, Texas, was killed last
Thursday when a tree fell on him at a Pacific Lumber Co. logging site
near Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park. The Sheriff's Department is in
the midst of an investigation and PL is conducting its own
Preliminary reports say the death is accidental, but Earth First
activists have said loggers were deliberately falling trees in the
direction of Chain and other protesters, who were trespassing on PL
Sheriff's Detective Juan Freeman said officials flew over the Grizzly
Creek area Tuesday and took photos and video footage. he couldn't draw
any conclusions until the photos and videos are analyzed, he said.
"We wanted to find the scene of the death and we found that and
photographed," he said, adding he's not sure how much evidence it will
Freeman wanted to see the pattern of timber falling and said he'll
consult with experts. The ground investigation is finished, he said.
Freeman has interviewed about 15 people and has about eight more to
Results of the investigation will not be released until it's finished,
Freeman said, and this could take several weeks. He'll turn the results
over to the District Attorneys Office, which will decide whether to
press charges against anyone.
Activist Mark "Rainbow Bridge" Knipper, 43, of Blue Lake. came close to
being escorted out of the Supervisor's Chambers during the public
comment period of Tuesday's meeting. Knipper was not signed up to give
comment but wanted to speak when someone on the list declined.
Knipper gave names of several activists he said were hurt by loggers in
past protests and accused officials of being complacent with the
investigation into Chain's death.
"This is blood money that you have accepted (for the agreement to
purchase a portion of the Headwaters forest)," Knipper said.
Board Chairman Paul Kirk adjourned the meeting and called authorities.
He said later that Knipper was disrupting the meeting and knew he was
not on the list of speakers. He was taking time away from other
residents who were signed up to speak, he added.
Sheriff's deputies showed up shortly after the brief adjournment,
presumably to escort Knipper from the chambers, but he had already left.
Eureka resident Kay Brown, 62, a member of People Against Crime and
Corruption Today, asked Coroner Frank Jager to conduct a public
coroner's inquest. It would be a good healing process, she said, and
there was distrust of law enforcement voiced at the supervisor's
"If we do not do the right thing, the faller and his family will be
haunted by this tragedy through innuendo and gossip. the dead man's
family will be haunted by the uncertainty," Brown said in her request.
"The public support for either side will fan the flames of discontent
and the citizens of Humboldt County will end up more impoverished by a
lack of leadership."
Jager said he's not "real keen on the idea" of a coroner's inquest. Its
an old system of investigating an accidental death and costs money far a
jury, a court reporter and to bring in expert witnesses.
"Nobody has formally requested it and it's certainly something we'll
consider," Jager said Tuesday.
PL spokesliar Mary Bullwinkle said Tuesday that the company's
investigation is still underway. A video, which Earth Firsters say was
taken the morning Chain died, captures a man swearing at protesters and
saying he wished he'd brought his pistol. Earth Firsters claim this was
a logger, but Bullwinkle said as far as she knows, that wasn't the voice
of the logger who fell the tree that killed Chain.
"We still don't know if that is actually one of our loggers," she said.
It is difficult to identify anyone from the video, and Bullwinkle said
she doesn't know if the video was authentic and filmed when Earth First
said it was.
"I think that we need to wait and see what the investigation results
are," she said.
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