Police are investigating the cause of a car crash that killed two Unalaska high school students — but answers may still be months away.
Passengers Karly McDonald, 16, and Kiara Renteria Haist, 18, died Thursday when a pickup truck tumbled 900 feet down a ravine on Mount Ballyhoo and broke into pieces.
Interim Police Chief John Lucking said his department has secured the area surrounding the crash site, as well as the nearby gun range that allows access to the area. Now, he's looking for an expert who can scale up and down the mountain collecting evidence.
"We can't allow free access and take anything anybody picks up and treat it as an item of evidence," he said. "There needs to be chain of custody to have the value that we need for using it in the future if we had to."
With mountaineering required for the steep cliff, it's still unclear how the truck's driver, Dustin Ruckman, 18, was able to "climb back to the road" after surviving the accident.
A police press release said Ruckman "claimed to have been thrown from the vehicle as it descended down a steep ravine with the two girls still inside."
Lucking declined to comment further on Ruckman's account.
He said initial evidence suggests the truck went off the mountain to the west of a bunker on Ulakta Head.
"There's a ravine just at the crest of the hill. It's obviously just about cliff face," he said. "It drops for about 10 feet, and then there's a flat portion that's maybe six feet wide. Then it just careens straight down into the canyon over — only rock, no tundra, no loose rock or dirt. It's just a complete rock face fall, so to speak, to the bottom of the ravine."
The Department of Public Safety is trying to piece together what happened by conducting interviews, executing search warrants, and analyzing autopsy and toxicology reports.
While the autopsies were completed Monday, Lucking said the full reports may not be available for at least a month. He expects to have the results of Ruckman's toxicology tests within "days or weeks."
Because the local police don't often conduct these types of investigations, he said they're approaching the work slowly and methodically. He also said they're consulting with prosecutors to ensure they're following correct procedures — though they won't consider charges until the investigation is finished.
"We're not investigating in an interest of charging someone," said Lucking. "We're simply investigating in an effort of trying to find the exact facts as they happened. If that includes accountability to somebody for those actions compared to what the law said, then that will come about."
As of Monday afternoon, no charges had been filed and no one had been arrested.
For now, Lucking said he wants community members to refrain from speculating or spreading incorrect information about the accident.
"You can't take it back when you say something or imply something," he said. "If it's not factual, it could really — in instances like this — create conflict in people's lives and affect them. So [the police] have been trying to be as transparent as we can. We've been trying to get correct information out there so we're not seeing wrongful information being forwarded from person to person."
KUCB will continue to report on the incident as more information becomes available.