Federal authorities are still trying to determine how Olivia Lone Bear died, more than a year after her body was found in a submerged truck on the Fort Berthold Reservation.
Authorities released new details about the case Wednesday after briefing family members of the mother of five who went missing in 2017. Unsealed search warrants indicate they have not ruled out murder or manslaughter.
Lone Bear, 32, was last seen Oct. 25, 2017, driving a truck in New Town. In late July 2018, a boat equipped with sonar found the truck submerged in 21 feet of water, 400 feet from shore in Sanish Bay on Lake Sakakawea, about 1½ miles from her home near New Town. Lone Bear's body was recovered from within the truck after it was pulled from the lake.
Lone Bear's cause of death was ruled undetermined after an autopsy, according to information released Wednesday by the office of Drew Wrigley, U.S. attorney for North Dakota.
Medical personnel did not find "definitive traumatic, natural or toxicological causes for her death," according to the statement.
A medical examiner also could not determine whether she had drowned, according to federal search warrants unsealed Wednesday.
Lone Bear's body was found in the truck's front passenger seat, buckled around the waist by a seat belt, according to search warrants. Family identified her body from tattoos.
Wrigley told the Tribune that the death investigation is "ongoing, vigorous" and "has covered a lot of ground" in two years.
The FBI has doubled its reward to $10,000 for "actionable information that leads to the identification of those responsible for Ms. Lone Bear's disappearance."
"We're at a potentially critical point in the investigation," Wrigley told the Tribune, "and anyone with information out there, maybe they thought that it wasn't important before or maybe they had been reluctant to come forward until now, and I would say to them that now is the time."
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The search warrants released Wednesday indicate federal investigators are treating the case as a potential "murder and manslaughter" offense.
"It's a death investigation, and so I think the most obvious charges that you're thinking of along those lines are homicide and manslaughter, both voluntary and involuntary charges," Wrigley said. "But as in any investigation, we're open to wherever the facts lead us."
More than 20 law enforcement and first responder entities have been involved in the investigation, he added.
Wrigley and FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Robert Perry met with family of Lone Bear on Wednesday in New Town to brief them on the status of the investigation. The federal officials also briefed Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation tribal officials.
“Olivia's family and members of her community want to know what happened to her and so do we," Minneapolis FBI Special Agent in Charge Jill Sanborn said in a statement. "We share the desire to bring closure to this case and peace to Olivia's family and fully understand the frustration a lengthy investigation can cause. Our primary goal is to uncover the facts surrounding her death in order to get a clear picture of what actually occurred."
Lone Bear's brother, Matt Lone Bear, commended the federal team for visiting New Town in person. He called their meeting "very professional and sincere."
"Considering we went from not knowing anything to this, I think it’s definitely a big step in the right direction," he told the Tribune. He has previously expressed frustration with not knowing the status of the investigation.
His family is working to establish an anonymous tip line to aid the investigation.
When asked if the investigation has yielded suspects or persons of interest, Wrigley said, "There are and have been subjects of this investigation, and there have been no subjects ruled out ... definitively." He did not elaborate.
Search warrants indicate investigators have sought Facebook and OnStar data in the case, along with evidence from the truck. Wrigley declined to discuss "the fruits" of the search warrants.
Anyone with information is asked to call 1-800-225-5324 or submit tips at tips.fbi.gov.
Also on Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs voted the proposed Savanna's Act out of committee to the Senate floor. The reintroduced legislation seeks to mitigate violence against Native American women. It's named after Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a 22-year-old pregnant Fargo woman from the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in northeastern North Dakota. She was murdered in 2017, and her baby was cut from her womb before her body was dumped in the Red River.
Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or email@example.com.