Law enforcement officers are investigating after an Olympia man reportedly stole a vehicle at gunpoint, drove the vehicle to Centralia and fired at least three shots in the 200 block of North Washington Avenue shortly before midnight Wednesday.
Three shell casings were found in the 200 block of North Washington Avenue. No injuries were reported, though one bullet did hit the porch window of a residence in the 100 block of North Washington Avenue.
The suspect, whose name has not yet been released by law enforcement, was initially in a vehicle with a woman he knew in Olympia when he reportedly became “very delusional” and “paranoid” about people following him and stole the vehicle from the woman at gunpoint, according to Centralia Police Chief Stacy Denham.
The vehicle theft occurred approximately two hours before the shooting in Centralia, according to a news release from the Centralia Police Department.
Thurston County law enforcement have identified the vehicle as a white 2014 Subaru Impreza.
The suspect drove the vehicle to Centralia and was driving on West Maple Street when another driver who was traveling to work reportedly pulled up behind his vehicle, according to Denham.
At that point, the suspect allegedly fired three shots into the air to “scare” the other driver.
While the incident was initially reported as a drive-by shooting, the investigation has revealed that likely wasn’t the case, according to Denham.
“There’s no reason for it to be a drive-by shooting,” said Denham, adding that by definition, drive-by shootings require the suspect to fire on a targeted person.
“The person identified was well outside where he’d normally be,” Denham said, later adding, “There’s no indication that he knew anybody in the area.”
Investigators do not believe the suspect was firing at the other driver or at any of the houses in the area, according to Denham, though law enforcement later determined a bullet hit the front patio window of a home in the area.
William Kale and his wife were asleep inside their home in the 100 block of North Washington Avenue when the sound of gunfire woke their cats, Kale recalled to The Chronicle on Friday.
“All of a sudden we heard what sounded like four, five, six shots and the cats got real scared and jumped off the bed. I looked outside and didn't see anything. And then I started thinking, ‘well, was it backfires? Was it firecrackers?”
Shortly after the shooting, at approximately 11:52 p.m. on June 8, an officer with the Centralia Police Department observed the suspect’s vehicle speed past him at approximately 65 mph in a 25 mph zone, running multiple stop signs and red lights, according to the news release.
At the time, officers did not know about the vehicle’s involvement with the shooting and because reckless driving was the only probable cause the officers had for an arrest — which is not a permissible cause for a vehicle pursuit under state law — the officers did not pursue. They lost track of the vehicle when it got onto northbound Interstate 5.
At approximately 11:54 p.m., dispatch advised Centralia police of a shooting complaint in the 600 block of West Maple Street, close to the area where officers encountered the vehicle that fled from them, according to the news release.
Law enforcement then began investigating and learned a shooting had occurred on North Washington Avenue, according to the news release.
Law enforcement officers with the Olympia Police Department and the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office then contacted the vehicle’s registered owner and learned the vehicle had been stolen, according to the news release.
Deputies with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office later found the vehicle abandoned in the 3500 block of state Route 702 near McKenna, according to the news release.
Thursday morning, Kale and his wife awoke to find a hole in their porch window.
“Then we started thinking about, ‘Wow, we heard those shots last night — that must have been that. And that's when we called the police,” he said.
Detectives thoroughly searched Kale’s residence on Thursday but did not find the bullet that broke the window, according to Kale. Nothing inside the house was damaged.
“The police came over real quick,” Kale told The Chronicle. “They were all around the neighborhood for quite a while, talking to people and checking things out, so I’m very impressed with them.”
The shooting occurred right outside the home of Peter Abbarno, a Republican state lawmaker and Centralia-based attorney. He first heard the sound of a speeding vehicle before it stopped in front of his house.
“I heard three shots, just ‘boom, boom, boom’ and then it just tore off,” he recalled.
Abbarno said the shooting was jarring for his family, especially since it’s just the latest in a string of crimes in the area. He noted that in recent weeks his vehicle has been prowled, several vehicles were damaged near his office in downtown Centralia and an attempted catalytic converter theft a few blocks away resulted in an abandoned police pursuit due to changes in state law.
He worries Centralia is losing its small town feel due to a broader spike in crime he attributes to decisions being made in the Legislature. He said he’s had “a front row seat” to decisions aimed at police reform that are actually making communities more dangerous.
“What’s scary is that I spent the last two years as a legislator looking at this and arguing with them and now I am experiencing it firsthand and that is devastating,” he said.
The suspect had not been located as of Friday morning.
The Centralia Police Department is continuing its investigation in cooperation with the Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team (JNET), the Olympia Police Department and the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office.
Anyone with possible information about this incident is encouraged to call the Centralia Police Department 360-330-7680 or Lewis County Communications at 360-740-1105.