The month of May has been a hard time for Tammy and Eric Slater.
On May 11, 2006, their son, Jarret Clark graduated from Broken Arrow High School.
On May 14, 2006, he died. On May 18, 2006, his body was found floating off the shores of Wahoo Bay in Fort Gibson Lake at Sequoyah Bay Park.
On May 22, 2006, the Slaters buried their only child.
Even worse for Tammy Slater, Clark died on Mother’s Day.
“Birthdays and holidays are very difficult,” she said. “We are all still grieving the loss of Jarret and the many other losses that will never happen such as no daughter-in-law, no grandchildren. It’s not in our future. As we think about our future, we start to wonder who will drive us to the doctor when we’re too old to drive. Who will visit us in the nursing home?”
Clark would have celebrated his 23th birthday on April 5. He had plans of joining the military.
The Slaters think if their son was alive today, he would have re-enlisted for a second tour and be serving his country overseas. They think he would have been married and raising a family.
But that is just in the mind of Clark’s friends and family, because none of them will ever happen.
Several of his friends did serve in the military and the Slaters say they let their families know “Jarret’s Got Their 6.” Tammy Slater explained that is a military expression that basically means “I’ve got your back,” because many of his friends believe Jarret is in heaven watching over them as they serve their country.
Camping Trip Leads to Parent’s Worst Nightmare
All of Clark’s life plans ended when he went on a camping trip with some people from the high school at Wahoo Bay. He left on a Saturday and was supposed to return home on Sunday for Mother’s Day, but that never happened.
Family members went to Wahoo Bay to search for their son after hearing Clark might have been involved in a fight. They contacted law enforcement, but Clark wasn’t immediately found. Instead, they found one of his shoes.
The Slaters are upset that rumors and accusations flew that they themselves planted the shoe to get law enforcement more involved.
When questioned by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations, the Slaters were offended and replied it meant they would have found the body, taken one shoe off and thrown his body into Fort Gibson Lake.
A search of the campsite began with law enforcement from all over the Wagoner area participating.
On May 18, Clark’s body was found floating in about 26 feet of water about 300 yards off of Wahoo Bay.
The cause of death, according to the Medical Examiner’s Office, was drowning, but manner unknown. His blood alcohol content was 0.04 with some of that due to decomposition.
Clark’s death was investigated by the Wagoner County Sheriff’s Office and the OSBI. The Slaters have never been satisfied with how the investigation was handled.
They say stories were being said around Broken Arrow that Clark had gotten “jumped and beat” by people he was camping with. But there were no immediate arrests made.
“I still have my suspicions, but you can’t take suspicions to court,” said former Wagoner County Sheriff Johnny Cannon. “I’ve always though there was foul play.”
The Slaters also believe Clark’s death was a homicide and they blame Cannon and his deputies for failing to hold, question and get sworn statements from the people who were with their son at Wahoo Bay.
Cannon, who served as sheriff when Clark died, said there needed to be good solid evidence to make an arrest, which there wasn’t.
He said now, five years later, he doesn’t believe anything could have been done differently with the investigation.
In law enforcement, for almost 40 years, Cannon said he has seen a lot of cases in which people known to be guilty walked away because there wasn’t enough evidence to convict them.
Cannon said he feels for the Slaters because he lost his own son, Scott, in January of 2004.
“They just didn’t get any justice,” Cannon said. “I wish there was something I could do or say to the family.”
Cannon was attending a seminar in Oklahoma City at the time Clark’s body was found.
To this day, the Slaters say they have never met Cannon.
Justice for Jarret
In the spring of 2008, the Slaters went on a petition drive for a grand jury, gathering over 8,600 signatures from Wagoner County residents. In December of 2008, a grand jury convened.
Unfortunately for the Slaters, no indictments were filed as the grand jury ruled there wasn’t much evidence.
“The process for grand jury petition worked as it was supposed to,” Eric Slater stated. “Our efforts were focused and calculated plus the people of Wagoner County wanted it to happen.”
A total of 24 people were interviewed but the Slaters feel those suspected of Clark’s death lied.
One witness was absent from the whole proceedings.
On July 18, 2008 Brandon Hargrove, one of the witnesses to be called before the grand jury, died from injuries sustained in a single-car accident on South 353rd E. Ave. north of Coweta. Hargrove was listed as being present at Wahoo Bay on May 14, 2006.
Hargrove, along with two other people, Brandon Scott Looper and Matthew Ennes, both of Coweta, were killed when the vehicle in which they were traveling overturned into a creek bed in about 18 inches of water.
A report by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol indicated Looper was driving when the vehicle entered a curve at a high rate of speed, and ran off the left side of the roadway. Then, it over-corrected to the right and rolled over.
A fourth passenger, Sarah Morrow of Mannford, was the only crash survivor. The OHP report listed her as being the only passenger wearing a seat belt.
Hargrove and Clark were reportedly in the same weight lifting class at Broken Arrow which is where they met.
In June of 2007, a search warrant was issued for Hargrove for failure to appear before a Multicounty Grand Jury regarding Clark’s death even though the Attorney General’s office neither confirmed nor denied an investigation into the death.
Anthony S. Wallen, another witness for the Wagoner County Grand Jury was arrested for failure to appear before the Multicounty Grand Jury.
Wallen was also reportedly camping with Hargrove and Clark at Wahoo Bay.
However, the Multicounty Grand Jury didn’t produce any indictments and Hargrove and Wallen were later released.
On April 30, 2008 Hargrove was convicted in Tulsa County on charges of two counts second-degree burglary, knowingly concealing stolen property, unlawful possession of a controlled drug and malicious injury/mischief after pleading guilty to all counts, but never served any time as all the sentences were suspended.
In 2006, Hargrove pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia in Tulsa County. He received a one year suspended sentence on each charge to run concurrently, and ordered to pay court costs and fines.
Earlier this month, District Attorney Brian Kuester hired Michael Nance as a cold case investigator to look over the unsolved homicides in District 27 which includes Adair, Cherokee, Sequoyah and Wagoner Counties.
Nance said he hasn’t had a chance to review the case yet, but assured he will look into any case in District 27 that is currently unresolved.
The Slaters think their son’s death will continue to be investigated by the DA’s Office.
“I think they’ll review every case and prioritize them for the office to be the most productive. I’m sure Jarret’s case will be mentioned,” Eric Slater said.
Sheriff Bob Colbert, who took office in January of 2009, said Clark’s death is one of the many files on his desk.
“I feel personally that there are people who have never been brought to justice over this and they will always be looking over their shoulder,” he said.
Colbert said the case is still considered an open investigation.
Jessica Brown, a spokesperson with the OSBI, said there have been no new leads into the case, but every time they get a lead on any case, agents follow up on it.
If anyone has any information on this case, they need to contact the Sheriff’s Office at 485-3124 or the OSBI at 1-4050848-6724.
As for Tammy and Eric Slater, they have done much over the past five years to keep their son’s memory alive such as conducting candle lighting ceremonies with Compassionate Friends, a self-help bereavement organization and attended Victims of Violence Crime ceremonies in Tulsa and Muskogee Counties.
A memorial website, www.jarretaustinclark.com, has photographs of Clark throughout his life and a message board as well as links to media stories about his death.
Trees and flowers have been planted in Clark’s memory, as well.
“But the hurt is always there even though Jarret is always in our hearts,” Tammy Slater said.