The Southern Ute Indian Police Department has not released names of four people who were killed in a car crash Friday near Bondad, about four miles north of the New Mexico line near U.S. Highway 550.
The crash is being investigated by the tribal police because it occurred on tribal land and the driver at fault was Native American, according to the Colorado State Patrol, which began an investigation before passing it off to the tribe.
Tribal police did not return phone calls this week seeking to identify those killed.
As a sovereign nation, the tribe does not have to follow state and federal open-record laws.
The crash occurred about 3:45 p.m. Friday on County Road 318 about a half-mile east of Highway 550. A white Ford Focus headed west crossed the center line and crashed head-on into a Chevy Suburban driven by Billie Jo Lyda, 33, of Pagosa Springs.
Lyda and two small boys survived the crash. The four occupants of the Ford Focus did not.
The State Patrol identified Lyda before handing over control of the accident scene to tribal police. The State Patrol said two men and two women who appeared to be in their late teens or early 20s died in the Ford Focus. The State Patrol did not release names of victims pending notification of next of kin. The driver of the Focus was a Native American, but he was not a member of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, the State Patrol said.
Withholding crash-related information is an “extraordinarily bad policy choice,” said Tom Kelley, a media lawyer in Denver who represents The Durango Herald.
“It’s good policy for law-enforcement agencies, generally, to be accountable and let us know what they’re doing and what they’re investigating so we might have some confidence in them,” Kelley said.