The Republic / azcentral.com, 6/5/2012
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu was quick to blame Mexican cartels for the grisly deaths of five people in a case that Tempe law-enforcement authorities are convinced is a murder-suicide unrelated to the bloody drug war south of the border.
For more than three days after the torched Ford SUV was discovered in Pinal County’s remote Vekol Valley, a well-known drug- and immigrant-smuggling corridor, the sheriff repeatedly linked the apparent killings to Mexican drug violence. Babeu, a Republican who rose to prominence as a border-security hawk, even took a politically charged swipe at Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Eric Olson, an expert on drug-cartel violence in Mexico, said he can understand why Babeu saw a connection to drug smuggling, given the area where the vehicle was found and the similarity with some of the killings carried out by cartels in Mexico. But he said Babeu was too quick to publicly blame the deaths on the drug cartels.
“It’s not unreasonable to look into it, given the area that it took place, but it’s really important to get to the facts before drawing conclusions,” said Olson, associate director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.