Human remains halt Chukchansi project as possible murder probed
Donald A. Promnitz/The Madera Tribune
Picayune Tribal Councilman Harold Hammond Sr. gives a blessing to Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler at the Chuckchansi Crossing groundbreaking in January. The discovery of a bone fragment Wednesday halted construction of the gas station project.
The discovery of a bone fragment Wednesday halted construction of a Coarsegold gas station near Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino. Confirmed to be human Thursday, the remains are part of a potential murder investigation.
The Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians ceremonially broke ground Jan. 30 at the site, which will also include a retail service center.
A Fresno State University forensic anthropologist’s preliminary findings were that the bone seems to be 18-30 years old, human, and possibly male, according to Madera County Sheriff Cmdr. Bill Ward on Friday. Because of the bone’s age, it is being handled by the county coroner as a possible murder case.
Ward said the sheriff’s office would have someone at the site non-stop until parts of the area could be released.
“We were searching today but nothing additional has been found yet,” he said Friday. “We actually did bring in a cadaver dog today and we’re going to bring in more this weekend. It’s a large area we’re searching.”
It is too early to say how further digging will be handled, whether by hand or with heavy machinery, Ward said. “It really depends on what we find as we move forward.”
“Today the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians are continuing to work with all relevant authorities including law enforcement,” said Chukchansi Tribal Chairwoman Claudia Gonzales on Thursday evening, "on the investigation into the remains that were found at the fuel station construction site yesterday."
A tribal cultural technician uncovered the fragment early Wednesday morning at the construction site, she said. In response, the tribe secured the area and notified “experts at Fresno State University, the Tribal Historical Preservation Officer of the Natural Cultural Resource Department, Madera County Sheriff’s and Coroner’s office.”
“Our heritage on Tribal lands is sacred and we take responsibility to our lands very seriously,” Gonzales said.
Held up temporarily is work on the planned fueling station and service center on tribal land that will be exempt from state or federal taxes. Without fuel taxes, the tribal gas station could potentially undercut the price charged by area competitors by as much as 48 cents per gallon of gasoline, according to the California Board of Equalization. A lack of state and Madera County sales taxes (about 8 percent) could widen the price gap further.