Since shortly after 4 a.m. on Sept. 25, people have had questions about a fatal accident that involved a Williston police officer.

We now know that within about 100 days, prosecutors at the Ward County State's Attorney's Office had the answers to most of those questions. Unfortunately, it took another five months and a public records request before any of those answers were shared with the public.

In that time, the family of Wendy Newsome, the woman who died in the crash, was left wondering what happened, as was the public at large. The silence allowed a cloud of public uncertainty to gather, and to continue for far too long.

During the time between the Ward County State's Attorney deciding not to bring charges and that decision finally being released, Sgt. Dustin Bertsch, the officer involved in the crash, resigned from the Williston Police Department. He no doubt knew the prosecutor's decision, but the public at large did not.

It was unfair to allow an air of apparent uncertainty about whether charges would be filed against him to continue, especially because there was no such uncertainty. All it would have taken was a single announcement.

Multiple parties are to blame here. First and foremost, the Ward County State's Attorney's Office failed to respond to routine inquiries, and only responded after a formal public records request was filed.

There is no law saying prosecutors must respond to such queries, but in high-profile cases such as this, there is a moral obligation to inform the public.

The North Dakota Highway Patrol, too, was notified of the decision not to file charges. A five-page memo date Jan. 8 is addressed to Lt. Jamie Huschka, the commander of the Highway Patrol's Northwest Region.

The NDHP could have put out an announcement that the case was finalized with no charges being filed once the outcome was clear.

Finally, the Williston Police Department could have announced the findings. We can understand they might be reluctant to get involved, as one of their officers was part of the crash, but that also argues for putting the information out. The Williston police did not handle the investigation, nor did anyone in Williams County make a final decision about whether it was appropriate to bring charges. 

They did, however, know the result and could have put speculation on the part of the public to rest months ago.

The reluctance of public officials to make any information about a high-profile incident available to the public until their hands were forced by a public records request is troubling.

Bertsch, Newsome, their families and the public at large all deserved better.

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