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Hypothermia ruled cause of Sioux reservation death in ND

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news Mitchell, 57301
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

By Black Nicholson

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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — An autopsy has concluded that a woman found dead in an unheated home during a propane shortage on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in the Dakotas froze to death.

The body of Debbie Dogskin, 61, was found Feb. 4 in a Fort Yates mobile home with an empty propane fuel tank. Authorities had speculated that she died from the cold — the overnight temperature had dropped to 1 degree below zero — and the official cause of death has now been listed as "systemic hypothermia due to exposure to cold temperature," according to Sioux County Sheriff Frank Landeis.

Authorities are still awaiting results of toxicology tests that will show if Dogskin had drugs or alcohol in her system, the sheriff said.

Landeis referred other questions about the investigation to Bureau of Indian Affairs law enforcement officers in Fort Yates, who referred the questions to the BIA's regional office in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jeremiah Lonewolf on Tuesday said he was not authorized to speak about the matter and referred questions to Nedra Darling, a BIA spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Dogskin died while the 3,600-square-mile reservation that straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border was dealing with propane costs that had soared well above the $3.50-per-gallon mark at which Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II said the fuel starts becoming unaffordable for residents of the reservation. Many people there are on fixed incomes and unemployment runs as high as 20 percent.

The cost increase was due to a nationwide shortage caused by supply disruptions, a late harvest last fall and a winter cold snap. With about 5,000 homes on the reservation relying on propane for heat, the Standing Rock tribe declared a state of emergency, which it lifted in early March when the shortage began easing.

Authorities have not speculated on why Dogskin was in the home, which she did not own. Her family members told The Associated Press in February that she was house-sitting for a friend and likely felt a responsibility to stay in the home despite the cold.

Tribal officials in February said they would be investigating why the home Dogskin was in had no propane. Archambault did not immediately respond to telephone and email requests for comment on Tuesday.

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