Further details emerging on fatal collision

01/30/2018 03:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH (AP) – An investigation is continuing into the Jan. 26 collision that killed a Park Hill woman and left the other driver, an accused shoplifter, in critical condition.

Malinda Phillips, 36, was killed when her 2017 Buick Encore reportedly was struck by a 2001 Ford F350 driven by Cherokee Nation citizen Aram Barak Catron, 35, of Colcord. Phillips was eastbound on West Choctaw Street when Catron allegedly ran a stop sign while traveling northbound on West Avenue. Catron was suspected of shoplifting at Walmart.

Stressing that the investigation is still underway, Tahlequah Police Chief Nate King said indications are that the Cherokee Nation Marshal tailing Catron was not traveling at great speed. King added the marshal has not yet been formally interviewed for the probe.

“We’re not sure of the exact distance yet, but the marshal was not behind the suspect with lights and sirens for more than a mile,” King said. “And what we are getting now is that Catron was so far ahead that the marshal could not see the collision.”

The marshal reportedly was assisting when, after receiving a bulletin about the shoplifting incident, he saw a truck matching the description of Catron’s. King said authorities believe they know the general sequence of events, though the investigation could result in changes.

“Catron had been fleeing since he left Walmart,” King said. “The marshal happens on him during routine patrol. When trying to ascertain whether this was the truck, there is a near-collision. The marshal tries to make a traffic stop. The truck doesn’t stop. Again, it was no more than a mile to where (the collision) occurred.”

King thought some of the media reports in the immediate aftermath of the collision were not flattering for law enforcement, and because the word “pursuit” was used in initial reports, readers or viewers were drawing conclusions that the chase was at excessive speeds.

Stories by area media sources called the law enforcement action a “pursuit” or “chase,” but none characterized it as occurring at a high rate of speed.

However, the debris field around the vehicles suggested Catron himself was driving at extremely hazardous speed when he crashed. The collision was with such force that the engine block from Phillips’ vehicle was lying in a front yard across the street from the point of impact, and the cab of Catron’s truck was peeled off the chassis. A nearby telephone pole was snapped at its base.

Roughly 15 minutes after the collision, King sent a text to notify a reporter at the Tahlequah Daily Press, as well as a contact with a Tulsa media outlet, of the incident.

“Fatality pursuit crash in Tahlequah. Don’t have a lot of details: Cherokee Nation Marshals pursuing a shoplifting suspect,” King wrote.

King never mentioned high speeds. He did pinpoint the location of the crash on Choctaw, saying a “citizen” was dead at the scene and the suspect was in critical condition.

King said Jan. 29 he sent the texts in an attempt to alert the media, and thus the public, of the crash. He described the scene as “horrendous.”

The investigation of the collision is being handled by the Tahlequah Police Department, led by Lt. Steven Arnall.

King said if Catron is the driver who struck Phillips’ vehicle, it is Catron who bears ultimate responsibility – and investigators believe the collision occurred in conjunction with the suspect’s failure to stop for a stop sign, and attempting to elude a law enforcement officer.

“It depends on how the investigation turns out, but there is the possibility that this could lead to a murder charge,” King said. “We will see where the investigation goes and request what charges we think are necessary, and the (district attorney) will have the final say in that.”

According to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Catron has a criminal history. He has felony convictions in Delaware County, dating to December 2010. He has convictions for aggravated DUI, possession of marijuana, DUI resulting in personal injury, carrying a firearm while under the influence, felony leaving the scene of an accident involving injury, felony eluding or attempting to elude a police officer, and speeding.

Catron also has on his record two misdemeanor public intoxication offenses in 2003 and 2004 in Delaware County. In November, he faced a complaint of theft of utilities in Delaware County and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. Records indicate he was held for one day in December to process the warrant, and he was due to return on Feb. 9 to continue community sentencing.


Assistant Editor – @cp_tsnell
05/18/2018 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee Nation citizens living outside the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction are eligible for free one-year subscriptions of the Cherokee Phoenix thanks to a $10,000 disbursement from the principal chief’s office on behalf of At-Large Tribal Councilors Mary Baker Shaw and Wanda Hatfield. The Cherokee Phoenix recently received the funds and is taking names on a first-come, first-served basis until the money is depleted. “These funds that have been provided to the Cherokee Phoenix by the joint efforts of our tribal administration and our At-Large (Tribal) Councilors Mary Baker Shaw and Wanda Hatfield will go a long way in providing subscriptions to at-large citizens,” Executive Editor Brandon Scott said. “It has always been our goal here at the Phoenix to make sure that every citizen that wants a copy of the Cherokee Phoenix is able to get one. That is the sole reason we exist. Our success depends on our subscribers. Our ability to remain independent relies solely on the funds we receive from subscriptions, so these funds are not only assisting at-large citizens they are also assisting us in remaining independent. I’d personally like to thank Councilors Baker and Shaw as well as the administration for making this donation possible.” Scott added that there are no restrictions on receiving a free subscription other than living outside the CN jurisdiction and being a CN citizen. Using the fund, at-large CN citizens can apply to receive a free one-year subscription by visiting, calling or writing the Cherokee Phoenix office and requesting a subscription. The Cherokee Phoenix office is located in the Annex Building on the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex. The postal address is Cherokee Phoenix, P.O. Box 948, Tahlequah, OK 74465. To call about the fund, call 918-207-4975 or 918-453-5269 or email <a href="mailto: justin-smith@cherokee.org">justin-smith@cherokee.org</a> or <a href="mailto: joy-rollice@cherokee.org">joy-rollice@cherokee.org</a>. The Cherokee Phoenix also has a free website, <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org" target="_blank">www.cherokeephoenix.org</a>, that posts news seven days a week about the Cherokee government, people, history and events of interest. The monthly newspaper is also posted in PDF format to the website at the beginning of each month. Cherokee Nation Businesses in November donated $10,000 to the Cherokee Phoenix’s Elder/Veteran Fund, which provides free subscriptions of its monthly newspaper to elders and/or military veterans who are CN citizens. No income guidelines have been specified for the Cherokee Phoenix Elder/Veteran Fund, and free subscriptions will be given as long as funds last. Tax-deductible donations for the fund can also be sent to the Cherokee Phoenix by check or money order specifying the donation for the Cherokee Phoenix Elder/Veteran Fund. Cash is also accepted at the Cherokee Phoenix offices and local events where Cherokee Phoenix staff members are accepting Elder/Veteran Fund donations. Those who donate can also have entries submitted for them into the Cherokee Phoenix’s quarterly artist giveaway. For every $10 donated or spent on Cherokee Phoenix merchandise, a person gets one entry into the quarterly drawing. The next drawing is July 2 when it gives away a two-piece, 12-foot fishing rod donated by Larry Fulton of Larry’s Bait and Tackle in Fort Gibson.
05/16/2018 04:00 PM
VINITA – Eleven Cherokee families received keys to their new homes on May 11 after participating in the Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation’s New Home Construction Program. The 1,350-square-foot brick homes on Miller Street each feature a garage, three bedrooms and two bathrooms. According to Cherokee Nation Communications, $1.1 million was invested into the homes and infrastructure and will provide an estimated $28,000 in impact aid to local schools. CN citizen Candle Melton and her family received one of the new homes. The family of three had lived with her mother, and she said the home is a blessing. “We are so excited to have a brand new house to call our own. This would not have been possible without Cherokee Nation and the New Home Construction Program,” Melton said. “I am definitely proud to be Cherokee and cannot thank Cherokee Nation enough for their investments in our communities and for this wonderful opportunity to become the homeowners of a brand new home.” Principal Chief Bill John Baker implemented the program in 2012. The Vinita home recipients were selected from the HACN’s waiting list of applicants who do not own land. “Helping Cherokees improve their lives by establishing homeownership is creating stronger communities and healthier families in northeast Oklahoma,” Baker said. “We took these acres in Vinita and converted them into a desirable neighborhood of almost a dozen houses. Building safe and secure homes that are affordable for our citizens has established Cherokee Nation’s New Home Construction Program as the unparalleled model of excellence for Indian Country.” Chief of Staff and Vinita native Chuck Hoskin said the homes were the latest in decades of improvements to the area by CN. “In more than 25 years of serving the Cherokee people, I’ve witnessed much progress for this community. These new homes will have a lasting, positive impact,” Hoskin said. The HACN recently received a grant from Bank2 for the home program, which allows the HACN to keep the home recipients’ monthly payment at $350. Schools in the area also benefit from the homes because they receive $2,800 in federal impact aid for each enrolled student who resides in the homes. “The new Miller Street Housing Addition is a major boon for the town of Vinita,” Tribal Councilor Victoria Vazquez said. “Not only does it help citizens achieve homeownership, it’s also going to bring much-needed revenue to the school system through impact aid dollars.” Along with the homes, the CN also invested more than $100,000 in infrastructure development on Miller Street and within the housing addition. In addition to the 660 homes built through the program, the HACN has nearly 100 more homes under construction in the tribe’s jurisdiction. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.hacn.org" target="_blank">www.hacn.org</a>.
05/16/2018 02:45 PM
TAHLEQUAH – During the May 14 Tribal Council meeting, legislators unanimously amended titles 21 and 22 of the Cherokee Code Annotated, regarding the Violence Against Women Act. The amendment “authorizes special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit domestic violence, dating violence, or a violation of a protection order.” The amended Title 22, Section 70 gives the Cherokee Nation special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction over a non-Indian defendant under certain circumstances, including if the offender resides or is employed within the CN jurisdiction or is a spouse, intimate partner or dating partner of a CN citizen or Indian who lives within the CN. Tribal Councilor Victoria Vazquez said the act’s impact on women is the knowledge that women will be valued, treated with respect and empowered going forward. “I voted for the VAWA to be enforced because it’s the right thing to do. Cherokee Nation leads all tribes in profitable businesses, education and health care in Native Country, and we should be the leader when it comes to the safety of our women and children,” she said. In conjunction, the Tribal Council also amended Title 12 of the Cherokee Code Annotated regarding the Civil Protective Order Act. The amendment gives the CN District Court full civil jurisdiction to issue and enforce protection orders if an act of domestic violence occurred within the CN boundaries. However, the amendment states that jurisdiction is not authorized over parties who are both non-Indian. The amendment also states the District Court has the authority to enforce any orders by civil contempt proceedings, excluding violators from Indian land and other appropriate procedures in matters that arise within the CN jurisdiction or within CN authority according to CN law. In other business, Councilors authorized the “execution of certain contracts that preserve sovereign immunity,” which allows CN to enter into certain contracts more efficiently. Legislators also passed a resolution accepting land from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, which will allow permanent access and tribal upkeep of the road entering Sequoyah’s Cabin and Museum in Sequoyah County. The Tribal Council also amended the CN comprehensive operating budget for fiscal year 2018, increasing it by $5.9 million for a total budget of $693.1 million. Steven E. Barrick was also reappointed to the CN Gaming Commission.
05/14/2018 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation’s Office of Veteran Affairs will host a Memorial Day ceremony at 10 a.m. on May 25 at the Warrior Memorial east of the Tribal Complex. According to a CN email, the ceremony will honor the men and women who died while serving our country’s armed forces. The ceremony will include a laying of wreaths, a rifle volley and the playing of “Taps.” A breakfast will follow the ceremony.
05/14/2018 12:00 PM
PARK HILL, Okla. — The Cherokee Heritage Center will host gospel performances in Cherokee and English at the 19th annual Gospel Sing on May 19. Performances will begin at 1 p.m. The free event is open to the public, and guests are encouraged to bring chairs. The event concludes at 6 p.m. with a hog fry dinner. For more information, call Becky Adair at 918-456-6007, ext. 6160. The CHC is located at 21192 S. Keeler Drive.
05/13/2018 04:00 PM
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — A Texas school district is trying to recruit teachers with a billboard campaign in Oklahoma, where teacher protests about salary and other education issues recently closed schools across the state. The Fort Worth Independent School District funded the billboards in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Norman and Stillwater. The Norman Transcript reports the billboards were revealed Monday with the message: "Your future is in a Fort Worth classroom — teacher starting salary $52,000." According to the latest statistics from the National Education Association, the average salary for a teacher starting out in Oklahoma is $31,919. Only Missouri and Montana are lower. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed legislation last month granting teacher pay hikes of about $6,100 and providing tens of millions of new dollars for public schools. But teachers demand more. Fort Worth Independent School District spokesman Clint Bond said the district is "impressed with the passion and commitment" of Oklahoma's teachers. He said the campaign is a means to tap into a pool of quality teachers and show that Fort Worth has something to offer. "I don't think there's any doubt in anybody's mind that those teachers are passionate about their students," he said. "If they were thinking about moving to somewhere like Fort Worth, I know they would think long and hard about that. Norman Public Schools Superintendent Nick Migliorino said he's familiar with neighboring states' attempts to draw Oklahoma teachers away. "We've been dealing with this for many years now," said Migliorino. "When we go to job fairs, the bordering states, not just Texas, have booths there, and they're giving out large signing bonuses and starting salaries that we can't even touch with decades of experience." He said Oklahoma has a ways to go before it can compete in the market for teachers. "We have made incredible strides as a state over this last legislative session, but there's much more to do," Migliorino said.