Our View: New technology, public could help solve mysteries

Our View
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Residents are rightfully concerned about five bodies that were found over the last 16 months in the Auburn stretch of Wise Canal. Common sense says this is strange, and deserves scrutiny. The Auburn Journal has asked the Placer County Sheriff-Coroners Office for autopsy and toxicology results on each victim, along with their pictures. So far, even though the request has been made in writing, no autopsy or toxicology results have been released. That must change quickly. Taxpayers foot the bill for all law enforcement and certainly deserve to know what is going on with the canal deaths. PG&E, which has its own public relations department, quickly surmised that it must respond. PG&E is responsible for Wise Canal. Spokesman Brian Swanson told Journal reporter Gus Thomson that an informational patrol would be contacting homeless people to let them know of the dangers of the canal. That’s all well and good and sounds logical on paper, but will it work? Again, common sense dictates that that might not be enough. After all, five are already dead. The Auburn Police Department told the Journal it does not suspect foul play. They might be 100 percent right. But when the body of Susan Waters was found in Downtown Auburn on Sept. 6, 2003, that was the immediate reaction then, too. Waters was known to live a transitory lifestyle, similar to some of the men who have died in the canal. When the coroner finally got around to conducting an autopsy on Waters it was revealed she was murdered. But precious time had been lost, potential witnesses had left town and possible evidence could have been contaminated. The Auburn Journal often calls for transparency from local government agencies whose employees work for taxpayers. Especially during these tough times of budgetary restraint, law enforcement cannot solve every crime it is charged with solving without help — from the public. John Walsh, creator of “America’s Most Wanted,” said on “Good Morning America” Thursday that a record number of violent criminals — seven — were caught this week, thanks to viewers of his TV show. That’s on a national and global scale. Here in Auburn, thankfully, we do not even have seven violent wanted criminals on the loose. But, we do have our share of unsolved crimes and there is no doubt the public could help. The Auburn Police, Placer County Sheriff’s Department and local fire agencies need to use every means possible, including the Auburn Journal and other media, to seek the public’s help in crime-solving. Cal Fire has not been forthcoming with information regarding potential suspects or evidence that might help identify the arsonists in the 49 Fire. The Journal, in this space, urged investigators to release any and all information to help the public help them find the arsonist(s). Today on page A1, the Journal reveals that frustrated residents have hired their own private investigator to help find those responsible. Here it is, nearly nine months later, and the $40 million arson crime that stole 63 homes and businesses and devastated many lives remains unsolved. Truth be told, the Auburn Police Department, under Chief Valerie Harris and Capt. John Ruffcorn, have been more forthcoming, pro-active and cooperative with the Auburn Journal and local media than ever before. We are lucky to have them. In addition, this week sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Ausnow and public information officer Dena Erwin released information on toxicology reports of two intoxicated drivers involved in fatal crashes. A year ago, they might not have. Under Placer County Sheriff Ed Bonner and Undersheriff Devin Bell the department has been extremely cooperative with local media. The Journal gets mug shots, press releases, a weekly most wanted list and more. Thanks to cell phone cameras, instant messaging, chat rooms and online comment sections at, tips from residents come fast and furious. We are in a new information age. It’s time for law enforcement and fire agencies to take full advantage of this new information age. The Sheriff’s Department should release mug shots of all local canal victims. Release the autopsy and toxicology reports. Let the public help figure out whether these tragic deaths were truly accidental and an awful coincidence, or if someone more sinister is out there who needs to be apprehended and jailed. Law enforcement, the local media and the public must work together to keep our communities safe from violent crime.