Forks police rule woman’s death a suicide, but sister not convinced

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

FORKS — A three-month police investigation has concluded that a Raymond woman whose body was found in an empty storage unit Feb. 15 committed suicide.

But authorities still don’t know who latched the Forks Mini Storage unit’s door from the outside, Forks Police Chief Doug Price said last week.

“The only conclusion I can come to is that one of the many people who wander the streets had possibly gone through there, opened [the unit] up, went ‘Whoops!’, closed it and latched it,” Price said.

“There’s no way to tell.”

Unit latched with bar

The unit was not locked, as units are once a renter adds a padlock. Instead, it was latched with a sliding bar. The storage area is not secured.

Price said the latching from the outside was merely circumstantial and didn’t indicate a crime had occurred.

Police had initially determined Debra Dawn Grajales, 45, took her own life after what her mother, America Gonzalez of Grass Valley, Calif., said was a “physical fight” with her domestic partner, Marianne Smeltzer, 44, on Feb. 12.

The couple and their 15-year-old foster daughter were visiting Grajales’ daughter, Sarah Joplin, family members and police said.

Threatening to kill herself, Grajales left the apartment on foot with pain pills, said family members who added she had threatened to kill herself numerous times before.

Price said Grajales’ body was found in the storage unit three days later on Feb. 15 by Chris Cameron of Forks, who was planning to rent the unit and who found it latched before discovering Grajales’ body inside.

Grajales’ family had requested the FBI investigate Grajales death.

As a result, the agency offered assistance to the Forks Police Department that Price declined, he said.

No active FBI role

The FBI does not take an active role investigating criminal activity unless requested to do so by a law enforcement agency or unless the crime occurs across state borders or on federal land, FBI spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich said Friday.

“Our initial offer was, ‘Hey, just let us know if you need our help later on,’” Dietrich said.

Forks Police Detective Lev Teal, who conducted the investigation, told the Peninsula Daily News on April 20 that the state Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Grajales’ death a suicide.

She had “toxic levels” of medication in her system and was afflicted with what appeared to be hardening of the arteries, Teal said.

Grajales’ sister, Glory Smyly of Prescott Valley, Ariz., said an autopsy showed Grajales had toxic levels of Prozac in her system.

She and Gonzalez said Grajales had threatened to kill herself numerous times.

Smeltzer and her and Grajales’ 15-year-old foster daughter told police they left Joplin’s residence soon after Grajales left and drove back to Raymond, Price said.

Price said Joplin did not respond to police requests to be interviewed.

“We don’t find anything to indicate this is anything other than suicide,” Price said.

Sister doubts suicide

But Smyly is convinced Grajales’ death could have been the result of foul play.

Smyly said last week she is upset the department ruled her sister’s death a suicide from the outset rather than investigating it immediately as a potential murder, pointing to the door being latched from the outside.

Also, she said it was odd no water was found at the scene for her sister to wash down the pills, there were uninvestigated hand prints on the wall of the storage unit, and cigarette butts were found outside the unit.

She said she believes someone helped Grajales take the pills outside the unit, put her inside the unit, “locked the door and walked away,” Smyly said.

“The police are at fault, period,” Smyly said.

“They did not do their job.”

Fully investigated

Price said Grajales’ death was fully investigated, adding it would have been difficult to lift prints from the unit’s walls.

“It was investigated as any other death was investigated,” he said.

“She died of arteriosclerosis and a combination of pills she took, unless someone put those pills down her throat.”

When police first arrived at a death scene, “they look for any signs of foul play; that’s what they look for,” added Price, who succeeded former Police Chief Mike Powell and was on the job two weeks when Grajales died.

________

Senior staff writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: May 22. 2011 2:29PM
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