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Gunman Came Ready To Kill More Ridpath Hotel Guard Probably Saved Many Lives

Thu., Feb. 8, 1996

Orville Sassen had five loaded revolvers and was looking to kill more people in the Ridpath Hotel lobby, police and witnesses said Wednesday.

The 78-year-old Spokane man shot two restaurant employees Tuesday, killing one, before he was confronted by a security guard.

It was only after Sassen had shot himself in the head that police found the guns tucked in his pockets and a duffel bag.

“He moved like a predator, looking for more people,” said Ridpath Manager Carl Naccarato, who hid under a table in the Silver Grill restaurant after the shooting started.

Sassen was a regular at the restaurant and sometimes made a nuisance of himself, but he never before had been a threat. The shootings surprised both hotel employees and mental health professionals.

While many elderly people suffer from mental illness, including dementia and depression, rarely are they violent or aggressive, said Ray Raschko, director of Spokane Elder Services.

Sasson, however, was so heavily armed during the shooting spree that many people were calling security guard Chad Eastep a hero Wednesday.

“I think Chad saved my life. I really do feel that way,” Naccarato said.

Eastep, who also is a reserve Spokane police officer, was 30 minutes early for work and talking with employees behind the front desk when Sassen opened fire in the restaurant 20 feet away.

Naccarato had been talking to guests seated in the restaurant when he heard the shots at 11:30 a.m. The manager said he froze as restaurant patrons and employees scrambled.

He dove for cover only after making eye contact with the gunman. As Sassen walked slowly toward the table under which the manager was hiding, Eastep charged into the restaurant with his gun drawn.

Twice, the guard ordered Sassen to drop his weapon.

“He just gave me this blank stare, as if I wasn’t there,” Eastep said. Sassen slowly turned around and walked to the rear of the restaurant, where he shot himself in the forehead.

Eastep didn’t know that in addition to the five-shot .357-caliber Magnum revolver in Sassen’s hands, there was a six-shot .357 in his pocket. Sassen had two .38-caliber revolvers and a .44-caliber revolver in the duffel bag.

All the guns were fully loaded, except for the three bullets already fired, said Spokane police Detective Greg Harshman. Before shooting himself, Sassen killed waitress Marie Van Slate, 49, and injured restaurant Manager Ronald MacDonald, 58.

MacDonald was in stable condition with a bullet wound in his right arm Wednesday at Sacred Heart Medical Center.

Speculation continued Wednesday about the elderly gunman’s motives. Eastep said he had asked Sassen to leave the hotel on several previous occasions because he was talking loudly to himself or disturbing other guests.

“He was always very polite,” Eastep said. “He said, ‘Yes sir’ and ‘I wouldn’t want your job.”’

Police briefly searched Sassen’s downtown apartment Tuesday, but found no note or other evidence of a motive, Harshman said.

“It’s hard to know what was going on with this poor man,” said Raschko of Elder Services. “One of the biggest dangers when we age is we become disconnected.”

Sassen, who was low-income, was not connected with any elderly services, although he was probably eligible, Raschko said.

The people most in need of services are usually the least likely to seek help, he said. Because of that, Elder Services trains apartment managers, mail carriers, utility company workers and others who come in contact with the elderly to spot people in need and make referrals.

A team of nurses, psychiatrists, case workers and even a pharmacist visit as many as 850 new clients every year, Raschko said.

“Gee, I wish we had known about this guy,” he said. “Not that we could have prevented this, but we would have tried.”

According to 1990 Census data, there were 500 people over age 60 living in poverty in the downtown and lower South Hill area.

While depression strikes elderly people of all income levels, the poor are more likely to be isolated from family and friends, Raschko said. Disconnectedness is more likely to lead to depression, he said.

“We often think of depression as people who can’t get out of bed, but there’s a form of depression among older people that is more agitated and hostile,” he said. “Older men have a very difficult time experiencing it and admitting it. These are not people who grew up in the lets-get-in-touch-with-our-feelings age.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 Photos (1 Color)


 

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