September 3, 2010 in City

Deputy says he saw pastor approaching with gun

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Spokane County Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Hirzel told investigators Friday that he saw Pastor Wayne Scott Creach approaching his unmarked patrol car from a distance of about 30 feet with a gun in his hand before they had a verbal confrontation.

Hirzel said in a videotaped interview that he fired one shot that killed Creach on Aug. 25, according to a news release sent Friday by Spokane Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer DeRuwe.

“According to Officer Hirzel’s statement and evidence collected at the scene, ultimately there was a close encounter between the officer and Mr. Creach near the officer’s car,” the release said. “Officer Hirzel stated there was a verbal exchange between himself and Mr. Creach prior to the single gunshot being fired. Officer Hirzel’s statement and the evidence confirms only one shot was fired.”

The news release offered no explanation of what was said or by whom, or why Hirzel felt the need to pull the trigger, killing the 74-year-old pastor in the parking lot of his nursery business at 14208 E. 4th Ave. in Spokane Valley.

Creach’s daughter, Serena Creach Leonard, said she read the statement released Friday and it left the family with many unanswered questions.

“We have no more answers from that press release really than we had the day after,” Leonard said. “We still feel badly for Deputy Hirzel, but we need the sheriff’s department to communicate to us as a family to let us know what happened that night. Whatever it is, we want the truth.”

The interview Friday came after law enforcement officials allowed Hirzel to travel to Montana and Las Vegas for a vacation prior to giving the voluntary statement. Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said Thursday that he didn’t cancel that time off for fear it could taint the investigation by making it appear that he forced Hirzel to give the statement.

DeRuwe said Hirzel, who works for the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office but was assigned to work for the Spokane Valley Police Department, told investigators that he drove to the Plant Farm based on a request made earlier in the day by a neighbor who wanted a prowl check.

“Hirzel stated he chose the large parking lot of the Plant Farm because it allowed him to conduct the prowl check safely, and also for its proximity to the address where the prowl check was first requested,” the release said. “Hirzel also stated that he saw Mr. Creach approaching his vehicle from a distance of approximately 30 (feet) and that Mr. Creach had a firearm in his hand.”

But Leonard said the family questions what DeRuwe described as a “verbal exchange” between Scott Creach and Hirzel.

“Based on the information we have been given, which is virtually none, my mother heard one voice. It was surprise and fear and it was my Dad,” Leonard said. “It wasn’t an interaction.”

DeRuwe, in the news release, said the investigation will continue. The Spokane Police department and the Washington State Patrol are investigating the incident under previously agreed-to protocols covering officer-involved shootings. She said investigators, supervisors and prosecutors will meet on Tuesday to decide whether more information can be released that “will not jeopardize the investigation. Prior to release of information to the public, the family of Mr. Creach will be briefed by investigators.”

Leonard said the family would welcome more information but they have concerns about the “credibility” of information coming from the sheriff’s office.

“We have a great concern about a misdirection of facts regarding Deputy Hirzel,” she said.

Investigators initially told the family, for example, that Hirzel would be interviewed after 48 hours, she said. They were then told the interview would take place after 72 hours. Eventually, the family learned that Hirzel had been allowed to go on vacation. By next Tuesday, it will have been 13 days since her father was shot on his own property, Leonard said.

“The credibility of anything the sheriff’s department has to say to us at this point is in question,” Leonard said. “We are not only grief-stricken but distraught over the treatment we have received at the hands of the sheriff’s department.”


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