Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Inquiry into Montana soldier's death continues

Independent Record

The investigation into the death of Pvt. Daren Smith remains ongoing, military officials said last week, adding that such cases take time to resolve because of wartime challenges.

Smith, a Montana soldier who served with a light-infantry unit based out of Fort Polk, La., died in Baghdad on Dec. 13, two months after arriving.

At the time, the Department of Defense attributed Smith's death to a non-combat-related incident, but it hasn't said what the incident was.Noncombat causes could mean anything from accidental death to suicide or homicide.

Samantha Evans, media relations officer at Fort Polk, said Thursday that the case was being handled by the Criminal Investigation Division.

She had no new information on the case and referred all questions to military investigators.

"We don't have anything to do with that," she said. "We don't have any investigative resources here that would help us conclude what happened over there in Iraq."

Chris Grey, chief of public affairs for the U.S. Army's Criminal Investigation Com-mand, based outside Washington, D.C., said Friday that the investigation continues and may take time to resolve."

It's an open investigation," Grey said. "You can't compare these types of investigations to a typical American city. Depending on the circumstances, you have various factors you don't see in a lot of investigations."

Grey said logistics, time and distance often add to the challenges of completing an investigation in a case that occurred in a war zone. Soldiers are a mobile unit, he said, and are rarely in one place for very long.

Grey added that simply because the case had been turned over the Criminal Investigation Division doesn't necessarily mean a crime had occurred.

However, Grey couldn't say what factors may have played a hand in Smith's death."

We won't quit until we have all the answers," Grey said. "But it takes time. Every case is different."

Smith was born in Butte and lived there until he reached middle school, when he moved to Helena. He graduated from Helena High School in 2006 and completed a semester at the University of Montana-Helena.

Smith joined the Army in March 2007 and arrived at Fort Polk in August before deploying to Iraq.

Published on Sunday, February 17, 2008.

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