WELEETKA — Okmulgee County Sheriff Eddy Rice hasn't watched much news lately, but he knows his Okfuskee County counterpart, Sheriff Jack Choate, is in a tough spot. He also knows all that separated him from being in that tough spot is a distance of about 20 feet. If 13-year-old Taylor Paschal-Placker and her best friend, Skyla Jade Whitaker, 11, had been walking on the other side of County Line Road when they were shot to death two weeks ago, the case might very well have ended up in Rice's lap. The primetime spotlight and mounting pressure to unravel the mystery of who gunned the girls down, and why, would be all his.
Both sides ‘help out when we can'The stretch of County Line Road just south of Bad Creek, where the girls were shot multiple times by two different guns is a rutted dirt road that splits two dense, verdant walls — Okmulgee County on the east and Okfuskee County on the west. On June 8, Taylor and Skyla were found lying face down in a ditch on the west side of the road. It became Choate's crime scene, but because the nearest cell phone tower was to the east, it was Rice's office that got the emergency call that sent his deputies scrambling. "Our guys were the first on the scene, and we maintained that crime scene until OSBI arrived,” Rice said. When something this horrific happens, Rice said, everybody helps, no matter which side of the road it's on. "County lines doesn't matter. Each side knows each other and help out when we can,” he said. "The only people that care about the boundary lines are the people who have to fix the road or take reports.”
Media interferenceSince the night of the shooting, Rice said his guys have been right in the thick of things, working just as hard as everyone else, but he said the difference is he can do his job without interruption, as the media seemed to have converged miles away at the court-house in Okemah. "The media can be a useful tool for us,” Rice said. "It's an excellent way to get out information about what we are looking for. "But in this sense, I think it hinders the investigation. So many stories are misinterpreted and hearsay is told, and then it's blown way out of proportion and we have to deal with the aftermath of that.” One of the best examples Rice can think of was the recent attempt by news outlets to help locate a suspicious American Indian man with a long ponytail who may have been one of the last people to see the girls alive. "That sketch was in the paper and plastered all over the news,” Rice said. "Do you have any idea how many Indians we have in this county who have long hair and wear a baseball cap?” Approximately two-thirds of the county has some sort of relation to the Creek tribe, Rice said, and that meant fielding and checking out dozens and dozens of calls saying that the sketch looked like someone. "And we have to check them all out,” he said. "We were overwhelmed, but everyone just wants to help, and we understand that.”
‘On the right track'After spending nearly two weeks, going door-to-door and checking the validity on some "lower-level” leads, Rice said his office was trying to transition back into taking care of some of the county's everyday business that had been put on hold during the murder investigation. His office has been used for interviews and for lie detector tests, but Rice said most of the loose ends have been tied up and investigators may be close to a big break in the case. "I believe they are on the right track, and that it's not too far away,” he said. "This is definitely not a dead end as some people think. I know that with something of this magnitude you want someone in jail this second, but there's so much to look at, and so many leads. They have a responsibility to do this right all the way. "This is not a case that we want kicked out in court.”
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Officials are searching for a man with a black ponytail and driving a white Ford or Chevy pickup who may have information about the case. Anyone with information is asked to call (800) 522-8017. Provided by osbi