Sheriff: Homicides a ‘rage thing’LAKE ANDES, S.D. –- Alcohol and drugs are to blame for much of the violent crime in Charles Mix County, according to Sheriff Ray Westendorf, but he doesn’t believe substance abuse is driving up the county’s homicide rate.
By: Austin Kaus The Daily Republic, Worthington Daily Globe
LAKE ANDES, S.D. –- Alcohol and drugs are to blame for much of the violent crime in Charles Mix County, according to Sheriff Ray Westendorf, but he doesn’t believe substance abuse is driving up the county’s homicide rate.
The death of 43-year-old Louis Fast Horse is the latest suspected homicide to hit the community of about 800 people. Jennifer Ladd, 36, allegedly stabbed Fast Horse, who was her boyfriend, and caused his death at approximately 12:30 a.m. Feb. 15. Both Ladd and Fast Horse were Lake Andes residents.
The South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation won’t release its 2008 list of offenses by county until the spring, but 2007 numbers show that Charles Mix County had the fourth-highest number of both aggravated and simple assault offenses in the state, and the highest in the Mitchell region.
There were 41 reported cases of simple assault and seven aggravated assault cases in Charles Mix County in 2007.
In addition, numbers from the South Dakota Department of Health show Charles Mix County, which includes Lake Andes, had the second-highest homicide rate in the Mitchell region behind Buffalo County, with 6.4 per 100,000 people from 2003 to 2007, although DOH management analyst Mark Gildemaster emphasized that the Charles Mix rate is based on only three events.
Since 2007 in Charles Mix County, there have been two violent deaths attributed to or suspected to be homicide, including the death of Fast Horse and the killing of Michael Costello in Wagner in February 2008.
Steve Cournoyer III, 35, of Marty, pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter after killing Costello and severely injuring 42-year-old Wagner resident Tamara Bruguier.
Westendorf said he doesn’t believe the county’s homicide rate is alarmingly high.
Still, he says the violent crimes — not including homicides — committed in Charles Mix County can almost completely be attributed to the use and abuse of drugs and alcohol.
“I don’t know if alcohol is involved in (the) percentage of homicides, but I do know that alcohol is involved in about 90 percent of criminal activity,” Westendorf said. “Drugs and alcohol are the problem.”
Participation in Attorney General Larry Long’s 24/7 Program has helped, Westendorf said, but it’s still a frustrating situation.
When it comes to homicides, Westendorf said the issues are usually domestic situations that become a “rage type thing,” as may have been the case in the Feb. 15 incident.
Increasing the size of the sheriff’s department staff is no guarantee to preventing this type of incident, Westendorf said.
“It was probably a domestic in the house, and you’re not going to stop those by having 100 officers out,” Westendorf said.
Ladd is charged with first-degree murder, a Class A felony punishable by a maximum penalty of death or life imprisonment and a $50,000 fine. She is being held on a $500,000 cash bond. The South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation is handling the case.