September 21, 2004 in City

Two held in UI homicide

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Christopher Anderson/ photo

Jared Eaton stands at his apartment door looking at the blood stains from the shooting of Eric McMillan Sunday. McMillan was shot at his own apartment and made his way downstairs to Eaton’s apartment looking for help.
(Full-size photo)

MOSCOW, Idaho – A University of Idaho football player was shot at his Moscow apartment Sunday and died at the hospital early Monday morning.

Two brothers from Seattle are in the Whitman County Jail, held on charges of first-degree murder and attempting to elude police.

A trail of blood was the first evidence for police investigating reports that Eric R. McMillan, a sophomore from Murrieta, Calif., had been shot at his apartment south of campus shortly after 5 p.m. Sunday.

The blood led from McMillan’s upstairs apartment to a neighbor’s door one floor below. Though the neighbor rushed the 19-year-old McMillan just a few blocks to Gritman Medical Center’s emergency room, surgeons couldn’t save him from the single gunshot wound to his chest. McMillan died at 4 a.m., while his coaches, teammates and friends waited nearby.

While doctors tried to save McMillan, law enforcement officers in Washington were in the midst of a 150-mile high-speed chase with the two suspects. The pursuit reached speeds of up to 110 mph on two-lane Highway 26 that runs west across Eastern Washington. The troopers tried several times to stop brothers Matthew R. Wells, 26, and James J. Wells, 25, of Seattle, before finally catching them before 9 p.m. on the I-90 bridge that crosses the Columbia River at Vantage.

The Seattle men are now in custody in Whitman County facing local charges as well as first-degree murder charges in Latah County, Idaho. They’re being held on bail of $75,000 for eluding police and could face extradition to Idaho as early as this week.

McMillan was a starting redshirt freshman cornerback at the University of Idaho, where he was also studying business management and human resources. His roommate, another member of the team, was away from home when the shooting occurred. UI coaches and staff have asked the media to leave McMillan’s friends and teammates alone to let them cope with the tragedy.

According to witness reports, seconds after he was shot, McMillan struggled down a flight of stairs to Jared Eaton’s apartment. Eaton, a Moscow native who knew McMillan, put him in his car and sped him to the hospital.

At the same time, other neighbors called the police and described the suspects as two black men in a white BMW. The witnesses were able to provide a license plate number for a car, which police determined was registered to Matthew Wells.

Just a few minutes after the shooting, officers in Washington started looking for the car. A Whitman County sheriff’s deputy spotted the BMW and noted that the driver and passenger matched the witnesses’ descriptions. He tried to stop them on State Route 195 just south of Colfax, but after slowing for a second, the BMW sped away, according to police reports.

They raced through Colfax at 45-50 mph, avoiding two sets of spike strips placed in the road to deflate their tires. They headed west out of town, the route to Seattle. They avoided at least one other set of spikes at Washtucna, about 50 miles out of Colfax. By this time, the Washington State Patrol had troopers heading to the chase from two directions and a plane in the air.

During the chase, the passenger in the BMW threw items out of the vehicle at least four times; once he appeared to be throwing a large bag and on another occasion, very small baggies, according to police reports. A final set of spike strips was placed on I-90 on the bridge that crosses the Columbia River. The BMW hit the spikes and rolled to a stop on the bridge, allowing state troopers to move in and arrest the men.

Police aren’t saying how the victim and suspects were connected. “Eric’s not a brawler. He’s not a fighter,” said Wally Clark, McMillan’s high school football coach. “He’s the kind that would try to be a peacemaker.”

Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson said he had enough information to charge the two men with murder, but not many details. “It’s probably premature to say what the shooting was about,” he said.

The Wells brothers share an address on South Henderson Street in South Seattle, and records checks in King County and Pierce County failed to reveal any prior criminal records. The address they gave police is of a small, seven-unit apartment building on a busy, four-lane street well south of downtown Seattle. The neighborhood is filled with scrap yards, machine shops and 1970s and ‘80s-era apartments.

Family members interviewed there Monday night said the Wells brothers both graduated from Rainier Beach High School, where they competed in football, track and basketball.

“We just can’t even imagine that they’re in trouble,” said Ruby Becton, who is married to a brother of one of the suspects. “Especially something like this. I mean – murder. I just can’t believe that they would kill anybody. I just can’t believe it. It just doesn’t make sense.”

Becton and brother Ray Wells said they didn’t know how Matthew or James Wells might have known the victim.

“We just don’t know anything right now,” Ray Wells said.Whitman County Sheriff Brett Myers said his officers have spent several hours combing the sides of the state highway where objects might have been thrown from the BMW. “It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack,” he said. “There’s 160 miles of road to cover.”

As far as he knows, the gun hasn’t been found, Myers said. The Moscow Police Department would not comment.

Moscow police are releasing very few details about the cause of the incident. “We are in an investigative mode right now,” said Captain Cam Hershaw. “We may have more to say tomorrow.”


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email