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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sisters remember brother slain along with four others in violent area of Yakama reservation

A stop sign in White Swan, a remote unincorporated area at the center of the Yakama Indian Reservation, is seen pocked with bullet holes on Tuesday, June 11, 2019. (Chad Sokol / The Spokesman-Review)

WHITE SWAN, Washington – In the days since their brother was killed, Karen Overacker and Sharon Keeth said they heard a lot of conflicting stories about how it happened.

“Senseless” is how they described the shooting spree that killed Dennis Overacker and four others early Saturday in White Swan, a remote unincorporated area at the center of the Yakama Indian Reservation that has a reputation for property crime and drug-related violence.

Dennis Overacker would have turned 62 in August. He was a graduate of Wapato High School, a doting grandfather, a race car fanatic and the owner of a towing company who would lend a helping hand to anyone, his sisters said.

“He didn’t eliminate you as a friend just because you didn’t have the lifestyle that he had,” Karen Overacker said. “He would help you no matter who you were.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Yakima County Coroner Jim Curtice disclosed the names of three other victims of Saturday’s shootings. They are Thomas Hernandez, 36; Michelle Starnes, 51; and Catherine Eneas-Squeochs, 49. Curtice said the name of the fifth victim, a 59-year-old man, was withheld Tuesday because authorities were still trying to contact his relatives.

Two men suspected in the deaths have been arrested. James Dean Cloud and Donovan Quinn Carter Cloud, both members of the Confederated Bands and Tribes of the Yakama Nation, were charged in federal court Monday with assault with a dangerous weapon. In addition to the shootings, they are accused of stealing a vehicle and holding a gun to a child’s head. According to a court affidavit, the crimes occurred between 4 and 5 a.m.

The FBI is leading the investigation but has released little information about the shootings. The Yakima County Sheriff’s Office has said four people were killed at a property on Medicine Valley Road, and a fifth was found dead in a vehicle that broke down along Evans Road after James Cloud, Donovan Cloud and two others stole it.

Dennis Overacker’s sisters said he drove his pickup truck to the property on Medicine Valley Road with their cousin, Lindell Lafollette, and two other people.

Karen Overacker and Sharon Keeth said they didn’t know what kind of relationship, if any, existed between their brother and the people who lived at the house. They said Lafollette told them men began shooting at the truck after one of the passengers went inside the house and saw that others had been killed.

That’s when Dennis Overacker was struck. Another bullet grazed the back of Lafollette’s head, but he managed to get his foot on the gas pedal and drive away, the sisters said. Attempts to reach Lafollette for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.

The shooting scene on Medicine Valley Road is more than 20 miles from the two cities on the reservation, Wapato and Toppenish. The property is in a sparse, desertlike area just west of lush fruit orchards.

“There’s a lot of crime out here,” said Denise Bobb, who lives about a mile from the shooting scene. She pointed in the direction of another property where someone was killed in recent years. She said she’s had power tools and other items stolen from her property.

“I even had a guy try to steal my horse once,” she said.

Bobb, who has lived in the Yakima Valley for more than 40 years, said criminal activity in White Swan has increased in recent years. Asked what she thought was behind the problem, she answered quickly: “Meth.”

In February 2018, tribal leaders declared a public safety crisis and called for increased cooperation among law enforcement agencies that operate on the reservation, citing “rampant crime” in White Swan. The tribe also reopened a police substation in the area and imposed an 8 p.m. curfew for minors.

James Cloud, 35, has a criminal record dating back to 1997, including convictions for burglary, theft, vehicle theft and possession of stolen property. He and Donovan Cloud are not the only ones in their family to be accused of violent crime.

Six weeks ago, 22-year-old George Skylar Cloud was sentenced to life without parole for killing 33-year-old Felina Metsker and dumping her body in White Swan in March 2016. Prosecutors said his brother, 20-year-old Neil Cloud, took part in the murder before he, too, was killed in White Swan in September 2017.

Donovan Culps, 37, admitted to a KHQ reporter that he had killed Neil Cloud as revenge for murdering Metsker, the mother of his child. The admission followed Culps’ arrest for kidnapping and murdering Cameron Smith, an employee at a marijuana store in Cheney. For Smith’s murder, Culps was sentenced in February to 35 years in prison.