A homicide investigation turned into a hazardous materials scene in Nine Mile Falls on Tuesday morning as a woman’s body was found in a tub of toxic liquid.
Spokane County sheriff’s deputies arrested 27-year-old Jason Hart at his home where the body, believed to be that of his girlfriend, was found.
In the process of taking Hart into custody, five SWAT team members inhaled some sort of toxic fumes and had difficulty breathing. Deputy Craig Chamberlin said the five team members required medical treatment at the scene.
Through Tuesday evening, hazmat crews were working to stabilize the scene so investigators could determine when and how the woman died and identify the liquid surrounding her body.
Chamberlin said Hart’s roommate called 911 around 2:40 a.m. to report he had found Hart’s girlfriend’s body inside a detached garage at the house at 14809 W. Autumn Lane.
Chamberlin said deputies responded and confirmed there was a body at the residence. They set up a perimeter and worked to get two other people out of the residence while Hart was asleep.
The two people, one of whom has trouble walking, came out of the residence later in the morning. Chamberlin said there was never a hostage or barricade situation.
“Our main goal this morning was to make sure that we had those two elderly people out of the residence prior to making contact with Mr. Hart,” Chamberlin said. “We didn’t want to put them in any harm’s way whatsoever.”
Before noon, SWAT members made contact with Hart inside the house and he turned himself over to deputies peacefully.
The medical examiner’s office will release the woman’s name and cause of death after an autopsy.
Chamberlin said the medical examiner had to wait for the hazmat situation to be clear before the body could be removed and transported safely.
“They need to be OK’d with transporting the body, with whatever substance was on her, to Holy Family (Hospital),” he said.
He said only that the liquid is “something other than water.”
Initially, Chamberlin said, deputies thought the vapors that overwhelmed the SWAT team members might have been from a methamphetamine lab. The exact cause is still part of the investigation.
Part of the challenge of the investigation, Chamberlin said, is to make sure the crime scene stays intact yet safe.
“We have to have our investigators make sure hazmat doesn’t disturb any evidence from the murder,” he said.
Investigators do not yet have a motive for the killing and are not sure when the woman died. The roommate who reported finding her body has been cooperating with investigators, Chamberlin said.
The deputy added that the SWAT involvement went as well as they could have planned.
“As far as the ending, it’s perfect with our suspect coming out on his own power and us taking him into custody versus this turning into a long, drawn-out standoff to where the probability of somebody being injured rises substantially the longer this event goes on,” Chamberlin said.
Chamberlin said Hart had no local criminal history. He had been the complainant on domestic violence calls a few times this year.
Neighbors said they have seen deputies respond to the house, a large wooden structure with several broken windows and debris in the yard along a gravel and dirt road in the woods.
Neighbor Shawn Eneas said Hart mostly “kept to himself.” His brother Joseph Eneas said “he’d just wave when he’d drive by.”
They said they had never met Hart’s girlfriend or the other man and woman deputies said were living at the house.
Joseph Eneas said when he saw the deputies around the house his first thought was that it was domestic violence.
“I didn’t think he’d kill her,” Eneas said.