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BLOOD-ALCOHOL LEVELS WERE HIGH FOR 2 OF 3 KILLED ON RESERVATION OFFICIALS REMAIN 'TIGHT-LIPPED'

Two of the three men shot to death last Saturday on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation had high blood-alcohol levels.

The Buffalo News has learned that the blood-alcohol levels for two of the victims were .28 and .19 percent. The minimum level for driving while intoxicated is .10 percent.

Officials have said the men had been drinking heavily before storming a building, held by their political opponents, early last Saturday when they were shot.

The Erie County district attorney's office said Friday that no information would be released until the investigation is complete.

"Under normal circumstances, we would not be as tight-lipped as we are," said Frank J. Clark III, first assistant district attorney. "But we are sitting on a tinder box."

He added that when the information is released, it might not include the results of the toxicology tests, which would include the victims' blood-alcohol levels.

"I don't understand the Indians well enough to know how they will accept one thing or another," Clark said, "and we certainly don't want to reinforce the stereotype that the tragedy that happened out there was because a bunch of drunken Indians brought it on themselves."

Following the shooting, Erie County Sheriff Thomas Higgins said the incident "was driven by alcohol."

The victims -- Myron Kettle, 62; Patrick Thompson, 29; and Samuel Powless, 25 -- reportedly had been at an all-night drinking party celebrating Kettle's birthday.

The News also learned that two of the weapons taken by the victims into the William Seneca Administration building were a 9mm assault rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun.

Five other weapons, belonging to the people occupying the building, also were found in the building. No arrests have been made.

The shooting deaths are intertwined with a political power struggle between two factions, each claiming its leader is president of the Seneca Nation. The struggle has torn the nation apart and paralyzed its government.

The victims were armed when they entered the Seneca Administration Building that was occupied by their political enemies -- sup porters of Dennis J. Bowen Sr. They were killed during the exchange of gunfire.

The victims were supporters of Bowen's rival for the Seneca Nation presidency, Karen Bucktooth.

Clark said the investigation is proceeding cautiously.

"We have been on this case literally non-stop," he said, "but we are treading on egg shells.

"We don't want to offend either side, so we have to be very careful of what we say until every detail has been checked.

"Early on, there was some indication that perhaps one of the men entering the building had shot another, but now it does not appear that was the case."

Clark said the investigation has been hampered by fear on the reservation.

"There are people we would like to speak with who are very frightened," he said. "So until we can get them over the fear factor and convince them that we need to talk to them because we are trying to do our best to get to the bottom, we have to maintain our present position."

Clark also noted the investigation has been hampered in some ways because investigators "did not arrive on the scene until some period of time after the event happened so it is possible some of the evidence was disturbed."

Bowen issued a statement Friday to reservation residents, urging no possession of weapons, no alcohol or substance abuse, cooperation with a 10 p.m. curfew and participation in the "peace solution process."

Meanwhile, federal mediators, who have spent the past several weeks trying to bring both sides to the table, are becoming discouraged.

"I am not sure we are going to be able to bring these two sides together," said Miguel J. Hernandez.

Hernandez said two more mediators arrived on the reservation Thursday to assist him and Fletcher Graves. The men are with the staff of the Community Relations Service of the U.S. Justice Department.

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