Police, Family Question Rangers' Investigation of Fatal Injury
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Kentucky State Police say rangers at Barren River Lake State Resort Park mishandled evidence surrounding the death of a 28-year-old man last month.
Jeremy Scott Martin, 28, was found unconscious in a loading dock area behind a lodge on May 30. He had been attending a Glasgow high school reunion.
Martin was transported to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, where he died 10 days later. Authorities said Martin died as a result of a fractured skull.
Park rangers handled the investigation for the first day after Martin was found, then asked state police for help.
A Parks Department official defended the rangers' actions and initially said the department would review whether rangers were responding appropriately to suspicious deaths and whether a written policy was needed.
Last week, the department's lawyer said no such policy is needed.
Family members wished state police had been involved in the investigation from the beginning.
"When there's all this controversy surrounding it, and there are questions of well, did Scotty accidentally fall or did somebody bring it upon him? Those are hard things to deal with, and you really don't have any peace about it," said Michelle Huffman, Martin's cousin.
State police Sgt. Shannon West, of the Bowling Green post, said state police initially refused to assist in the investigation for fear of "stepping into a mess" created by rangers.
"I think they realized, `Hey, this is above our heads,"' West said of the Parks Department. "But our position is sometimes we get in a no-win position where if we adopt it we inherit a case that is tainted from the beginning. It's really no win for us."
West said rangers returned some of Martin's personal items to the family, rather than keeping them as possible evidence. He also said state police lost the chance to interview reunion attendees immediately.
"I'd be remiss in saying we could do just as good of an investigation now as if we'd got it in the beginning," West said. "That's so far from true."
The Parks Department has no written policies for investigating suspicious deaths or when to ask local or state police to help, said spokesman Jim Carroll.
Parks Commissioner George Ward said the first ranger at the scene, Veachell Adwell, "handled the situation appropriately" by making sure Martin received medical attention, securing the area and asking state police for help -- albeit a day after Martin was found.
Initially, Carroll said the incident would spark a review of policies on ranger responses to suspicious deaths. But later, Teresa Hill, the Parks Department's legal counsel, said it is not rewriting its policies and will continue to let rangers make judgments about whether to call in state police.
The state's 70 park rangers undergo a 16-week training program at Eastern Kentucky University and have full police authority, including the power to conduct criminal investigations.
Carroll said two people have been slain on park property since January 1994, and both cases were investigated by state police.
There have been 58 other deaths on park property since January 1994 -- 29 because of heart attack or stroke, 16 drownings, 11 suicides and two in traffic accidents, he said.
Rangers investigated a suicide and a drowning and state police, the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and local sheriffs investigated the other suicides and drownings, according to Carroll.