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March 12, 2002

Pueblo family forced to bury twice

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The family of a deaf Laguna Pueblo woman was forced to hold two burial ceremonies for her because of a state oversight.

Alicia Waseta, 21, was dragged to death last September as she was crossing a street near the New Mexico School for the Deaf in Santa Fe, from where she had recently graduated.

Her body was returned for burial later in the month but the state Office of the Medical Investigator (OMI) didn’t inform the family that her heart had been taken out.

The family found out two months later when an OMI employee called to ask if the agency could keep Waseta’s heart for medical research. 

The heart was removed during an autopsy, which goes against Pueblo beliefs, but which was conducted nonetheless as part of what the OMI said was a criminal investigation. 

Medical examiners were also trying to determine if a heart condition Waseta had contributed to her death, a letter to the family later stated. The heart was returned and buried alongside Waseta’s body. 

The car which struck Waseta was driven by Marcelino Toersbijns, a Bureau of Indian Affairs criminal investigator. No charges are being brought against him.
 
He received a $46 traffic citation over the incident in which his police vehicle dragged the deaf student to death. Santa Fe District Attorney Henry Valdez said there was not enough evidence to charge Marcelino Toersbijns with vehicular homicide for the November death of Alicia Waseta.

Waseta, 21 and just 4 foot 9 inches, had apparently been crossing the street near the Santa Fe Indian School (SFIS) when she was somehow struck by Toersbijns’ sports utility vehicle and dragged 500 feet. Toersbijns didn’t notice she was under the car until he was flagged down by another driver.

He was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the local investigation, and later fined $46.00. 

Waseta was a recent graduate of the New Mexico School for the Deaf, which is located next to the SFIS campus and the Indian Health Service (IHS) hospital on Cerrillos Road, where the accident occurred.

The Waseta family is suing the OMI and is planning to sue the Department of Interior as well. 
 

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