LAWRENCE, Kan. - Police in Lawrence are investigating an early morning hit and run accident which resulted in the death of John Lowe, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.
Police report that on Friday, April 28, at approximately 2:30 a.m., Lowe was struck by a vehicle and dragged for 200 feet down an alley near a local grocery store. His body was found in the gutter. Lawrence Police spokesman Sgt. George Wheeler said Lowe was pronounced dead at the scene.
"When we arrived, there was no one there ... no vehicle ... ." He added that apparently a passerby asked someone call in the report of the incident.
Friends said Lowe was homeless and had problems with alcohol.
Dave Cade of the Pelathe Community Resource Center remembers Lowe as having lived in the Lawrence community for years. Cade said the center had helped him keep in touch with his birth family on the reservation in South Dakota. He remembered Lowe as the kind of person who wouldn't "hurt a fly" and described him as a lost soul.
The Native American population in the Lawrence area is especially concerned about Lowe's death because of the number of other Native American men killed over the past 12 years.
"With John Lowe, we don't want to see that happening yet again," Cade said, referring to community unrest following news coverage of those other deaths. "It was supposedly hit and run."
Cade couldn't "believe that someone would drag a body half a block and not tend to them or at least try to get some help. It certainly sounds like they need to put a lot more effort in investigating that. I really want to see the police find out who did this.
"What disturbs me most is that someone would intentionally hurt him ... that someone would just leave him there like that."
Cade said a lot of parties went on in the area, but that doesn't excuse the driver. "How could you run over someone and not stop, even if you were drunk and partying with your friends? ... unless you didn't place a value on that person's life" It might be they thought he was Indian, homeless and an alcoholic and nobody would care, he said.
Relations between the American Indian and non-Indian communities have deteriorated since defeat of the South Lawrence Trafficway, programmed to cut through Haskell Indian Nations University property, Cade said. He attributed a part of that to resulting unfavorable comments in local papers toward American Indians.
Lawrence has an estimated 6,000 Native Americans who call the community home.
Cade said that if a homeless shelter had been open, John Lowe might still be alive. "He had nowhere to go." A shelter, run by the Salvation Army, closes throughout summer months and homeless people are forced out on to the streets.
Preliminary investigation indicates Lowe may have fallen asleep or fallen in the alley, which may make finding the vehicle which hit him difficult. "There may be no damage to the front of the car," he said, adding, "We have evidence."
Initial investigation was hampered because Lowe had no identification so officers had to go door to door in the neighborhood, asking for information.
Wheeler said the department is aware the other Native American deaths are an issue. However, he said, at this point he doesn't see a connection to Lowe's death. "We are pursuing this. We have put this incident out through Crime Stoppers and they are offering a reward.
"Frankly we don't know what the motivation was. We know that he was hit in the alley and drug a couple of hundred feet and then left. We don't know why. We don't know if it was an intentional act or if it was unintentional, but we don't have anybody to ask."
It will be up to the district attorney to determine what charges may be brought against the driver of the vehicle which struck Lowe, Wheeler said. If the incident occurred because someone had argued with Lowe, they could be charged with murder, but that won't be known until the investigation is complete.
Could the driver have been unaware that Lowe's body was being dragged by the vehicle?
"I can't hardly drag a stick for a half a block under my car without knowing it's there," Wheeler said.
Police have not ruled out the possibility this could be a hate or race related crime.
"Just because a person is homeless doesn't make him a bad person or expendable," Cade said. "John Lowe was a good man who had a lot of problems in life, but he was a member of our community. The homeless population need to have a roof over their heads overnight. Communities have to remember that."