After a six-hour manhunt, which included a home-by-home search, Spokane police caught a suspect they believe fatally stabbed a man earlier in the day at the crowded Spokane Transit Authority Plaza downtown.
They arrested Donald T. Phillips, 40, after a homeowner saw him emerge from bushes in Peaceful Valley and called police. Soon after, a home nearby was reported to be on fire. Police couldn’t say for sure late Saturday if the fire was connected. It was quickly doused by Spokane firefighters.
Earlier, Phillips was spotted by Spokane City Councilman Jon Snyder, who lives in Peaceful Valley who tailed him with 911 on the phone.
The manhunt was sparked by the stabbing inside the downtown bus station about 3:20 p.m.
The victim, who has not been identified by police, was looking at bus schedule information on a screen when the assailant came up from behind and stabbed him with little or no warning, said STA CEO Susan Meyer, who viewed security footage that clearly shows the incident.
“It was horrific,” Meyer said. “It appeared to be one stab, and it was over very quickly.”Spokane Police Capt. Dan Torok said in a news briefing late Saturday that the victim and Phillips knew each other.
“It was not a random attack,” he said.
Meyer said an STA security officer was riding down the escalator when she saw the assailant walking out of the plaza with a knife still in his hand headed toward the Sprague Avenue exit. The officer, however, quickly saw the victim and rushed to his side, said Meyer, who praised the work of the STA security team. Four STA officers were on scene at the time.
Witnesses said the man was knifed in the chest and that the assailant walked away, escaping in a crowd that was largely unaware of what had happened. A police officer, who arrived on scene within two minutes, and paramedics spent several minutes giving the victim chest compressions before he was taken to a hospital where he died.
Soon after their arrival, police evacuated the STA Plaza, though bus riders still were able to catch buses outside. The building will remain closed to the public until this morning, Meyer said.
Meyer said STA examined security video from the plaza and buses that were outside at the time and has turned over an extremely clear picture of the man.
Many people inside the busy plaza at the time didn’t know about the stabbing until they were being evacuated by police. Some witnesses said they heard no screams, though one witness interviewed by police who declined to give his name to a reporter said he heard the assailant say – as he walked away with a knife in his hand – that he had told the victim not to mess with him.
Michael Iverson, who was at the Plaza waiting for a bus, said he didn’t see any fighting or commotion prior to the stabbing.
“I didn’t realize anyhing was going on until the dude hit the floor,” he said.
The victim was in the southeast corner of the first floor when he was stabbed. Iverson said the victim appeared to have been stabbed in the chest near his heart.
A couple hours later, Snyder was in his front yard when he saw a man matching the description of the suspect walk up public steps leading from Water Avenue to Main Avenue in Peaceful Valley. When the man began speaking to neighbors, Snyder dialed 911. The man saw Snyder on the phone and asked him if he was talking to police, Snyder said. Snyder told him no, but asked him if he needed to call police.
“He said, ‘I don’t need the police.’” He left and Snyder followed. The man told Snyder: “I’m going this way, you go the other way.”
On the advice of the 911 operator, Snyder let the man get farther ahead and he eventually lost him. Later, Snyder learned that the man had entered into a home on Main Street through a backdoor, but that the resident got him to leave. Snyder saw him once more about 5:40 p.m. at Main Avenue and Cedar Street, heading toward the river.
Torok said police received a call from a resident at the home the suspect entered about 5:30 p.m.
“The homeowner was OK,” Torok said. “There was no struggle.”
Officers shut down the Peaceful Valley Neighborhood, closing off streets and warning residents to stay inside. Snyder said police showed him security footage of the man taken from the crime scene and he’s confident that the man is the assailant.
Although police statistics show crime has fallen so far this year compared to the same period last year, officials have dealt recently with many high-profile incidents that have hurt the reputation of downtown. In response, Police Chief Frank Straub put more officers on patrol downtown and instituted other measures to target crime in central Spokane.
City wide, violent crime was down 24 percent in the first five months of 2014, compared to the same period in 2013, police statistics show. Violent crime was down 13 percent the downtown district.
Meyer arrived on scene soon after the attack. There has been a long debate within the downtown business community of the STA Plaza hurts business. Some businesses have said some bus riders have caused them problems.
But Meyer the STA and police have worked hard to make it safe and notes that there are about 13,000 boardings onto buses each weekday.
“There isn’t a link between a building and an attack,” Meyer said. “Downtown urban areas have crime and this was a tragedy.”
She said STA security officers did not recognize the victim or the assailant from footage they’ve seen.
“The building functions very, very well as a transit center,” she said.
Snyder, an avid fan of STA, said he won’t hesitate to continue leaving from the plaza to take his daughter to school.
“The plaza is one of the safest places to be downtown,” he said.
Snyder, who chairs the City Council’s public safety committee, said he supports efforts Police Chief Frank Straub has made to target crime downtown.
“When something like this happens we have to look at everything that’s going on and look at how we can do more,” Snyder said. “The danger is sometimes a high-profile incident can mask the greater trend.”
Police are asking anyone with information to call Crime Check at (509) 456-2233.