OSBI investigating if death was suicide

Sunday, July 6th 2008, 10:03 pm
By: News 9

Associated Press

LAWTON, Okla. -- The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is taking a second look at the death of a Lawton woman that was originally ruled a suicide.

The investigation into the July 2006 death of 30-year-old Priscilla McBrayer was brought on by persistent inquiries from family members and a series of charges being filed against the former sheriff who was in charge at the time of her death.

Custer County District Attorney Dennis Smith said he has not seen any evidence to indicate there was foul play involved in McBrayer's death, and that former Sheriff Mike Burgess -- who resigned in April after he was charged with running a sex slave operation -- was not involved in the investigation.

However, Smith said he wanted the OSBI to check into McBrayer's death after he started hearing rumors that Burgess might have stopped the investigation too early.

"My intent is to give the family some assurance," Smith said. "I believe victims and their families have a right to know. ... I thought we should have the best investigating agency available to us at the state level look into it."

The Custer County Sheriff's Office originally ruled that McBrayer was trying to commit suicide and closed its investigation 15 hours after she was found with a bungee cord wrapped around her neck in her still-running car under an Interstate 40 overpass off U.S. Highway 66 in Clinton.

McBrayer was hospitalized and remained in a coma until her death in September 2007.

Smith admits the circumstances surrounding McBrayer's death were "a little odd" and he doesn't want to pass anything off lightly, but he said he's spoken with OSBI agents and expects them to conclude that the original investigation into McBrayer's death was valid.

OSBI spokeswoman Jessica Brown said the investigation is still ongoing, and agents are waiting for the results of several examinations before a final report is released.

Verna Riles, McBrayer's sister, said there are several discrepancies between the story witnesses provided and what the sheriff concluded.

Lead investigator Kenneth Tidwell, now sheriff of Custer County, indicated in an incident report that McBrayer called just after 3 a.m. stating that she needed help and could not breathe. The report states that an ambulance was sent to assist Clinton police with a homicide, but no law enforcement officers were sent.

Riles believes sheriff's investigators could have done more to find out the truth and may be lying about what they know.

"It's such a mystery," Riles said. "Night after night I ask myself, `Cilla, what happened to you?' In my mind, I tell myself to just let it go and move on, but I can't. I have to keep going. I can't move on until I get some answers."