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Stick shift in car foils suspect’s getaway attempt

A carjacking was thwarted Thursday when a man discovered he didn’t know how to drive the car he just stole.

It had a stick shift.

Spokane police then chased down 18-year-old Dennis L. Smith on foot after they responded to a robbery at a North Division pawn shop.

The chase, which included a shot fired at the suspect and another attempted carjacking, ended at Calispel Street and Cataldo Avenue when Smith ran over a basalt cliff and fell about 10 feet onto a rock ledge, police said.

Officers charged Smith with first-degree burglary, first-degree robbery, attempted robbery and two counts of theft of a firearm, Sgt. Joe Walker said.

“When you start talking about guns and people not afraid to display these weapons, you never know what is going to happen,” Walker said. “Normally when we get a robbery and a carjacking, it gets pretty serious.”

It was around 11 a.m. when Smith walked into the National Loan & Jewelry Exchange, 1101 N. Division, and approached one of the owners, according to police.

Standing in front of the glass gun case, Smith asked the owner the price of the pry bar he was holding. As she tried to answer, he smashed the glass case and grabbed two unloaded guns, Walker said.

“One of the store employees did fire a shot” at Smith as he ran, Walker said. “The round went into the floor and nobody was injured.”

Melony Powers, 18, was waiting on a drive-up customer at the nearby Coffee Creations when she saw Smith run out of the pawn shop. “He was holding something. (The owner) was chasing him, screaming something at him.”

As Smith ran away, Spokane police began to arrive and were told that the suspect was running toward Cataldo Avenue, Walker said.

“Officers were setting up a perimeter. As we were doing this, a call of a carjacking came in,” he said.

A witness later told police that Smith ran up to his car and pointed one of the stolen guns at him. The driver gave the suspect the keys and ran.

Smith “was going to flee the area. He later said he didn’t want to drive a stick shift because he didn’t know how,” Walker said. “He got out and started running.”

By this time, a Washington State Patrol trooper and Spokane Police Officer Nate Spiering had spotted Smith and began to chase him on foot, Walker said.

Smith ran around the back side of the Spokane Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic, at 217 W. Cataldo, where he dropped one of the stolen guns, police said.

Dave Higbee, 26, was working on landscaping across the street when he saw the trooper and Spiering chasing Smith behind the building.

“Then he popped up over the hill and the cops were chasing him,” Higbee said. “They were very aggressive, very alert. He was armed.”

As Smith emerged from behind the building, he stopped another driver, pointed his gun at the driver and attempted another carjacking, Walker said. “He tried to get those keys. But he gave up on that pretty quickly and ran over the cliff.”

Smith fell about 10 feet onto a rock ledge. He dropped the remaining stolen gun over the side and it fell below a nearby Dumpster, Walker said.

“He did display the weapons to get the vehicles. Obviously, this person was very desperate,” Walker said. “But he never aimed at the officers.”

Once Smith was cornered on the ledge, two officers climbed down and handcuffed him, Walker said.

“We tied a rope around his chest. We tied off some straps and pulled him back over the cliff,” Walker said. Spokane firefighters responded to make sure the officers were safe.

Once in custody, Smith talked with officers and told him where they could find the gun he ditched behind the building.

“He said he wanted to die,” Walker said. “But that might have been because he got caught.”

They put a lighted cigarette in his mouth and had him stand up outside the squad car so the witnesses could identify him.

“He told us he was having some problems. He was looking for some guns,” Walker said of Smith, who has no previous convictions. “It’s nice to catch a guy like this who is that blatant about it.”


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