It’s called accountability, sheriff
You probably heard about the double homicide at Lake Tahoe. It was in all the papers, including the Tribune, and the story was broadcast far and wide.
Trouble is, it didn’t happen.
What happened was a boating accident that cost two young men their lives. Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini knew that as early as Thursday evening, but he kept the media – and thus the public – in the dark.
As a result, South Shore residents and visitors believed a violent criminal was on the loose, that an unspeakable crime had occurred within sight of a camp full of disabled children. To leave people hanging in fear based on erroneous information was unprofessional and irresponsible.
The facts as they unfolded Thursday:
— A man collapsed and died on the beach at the Nevada 4-H Camp about noon. A second man’s body was found floating offshore. Both men had severe facial injuries, raising the possibility of foul play.
— Shortly after noon a car chase began after a theft and assault were reported at the Staples store. The driver reached speeds of up to 110 mph as he twisted and turned through four counties and two states.
— Law enforcement agencies believed the two events might be related and acted accordingly. Initial reports from Douglas County said the deaths were being treated as a possible double homicide.
Those are the facts, and the only facts, that were crystal clear Thursday afternoon. Confusion was inevitable given the timing of the two events. We can’t fault anyone for the scanty information initially released.
By Thursday evening, however, investigators had a much clearer picture. South Lake Tahoe police informed Douglas County about a personal watercraft reported stolen that morning and found unattended in Marla Bay. Investigators examined the watercraft before nightfall. A camp director was told it was “99 percent certain” the deaths were accidental.
That same courtesy should have been extended to the public at large, especially since authorities earlier released a description of a man wanted for questioning. The Sheriff’s Department should have recanted that information the second it was known no violent criminal was on the loose.
Again, we can’t fault law enforcement for their initial response to an apparent crime scene and the bizarre car chase that ensued. Their actions were prudent, professional and admirable.
But we can fault someone – in this case, Pierini – for keeping silent as hard facts and logic made a double murder highly improbable.
He did more than cost a few people some sleep, worried that some gunman was roaming the South Shore. He did more than stonewall the press, which is unfortunate but hardly unprecedented.
More importantly, he undermined his own credibility. He didn’t lie, but he wasn’t truthful.
Pierini doesn’t owe squat to the media, but he owes everything to his constituents. They deserved a lot better than they got last week.
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