After a six-hour manhunt, which included a home-by-home search, Spokane police caught a suspect they believe fatally stabbed a man Saturday afternoon at the crowded Spokane Transit Authority Plaza downtown.
Officers arrested Donald T. Phillips, 40, just after 9 p.m. Saturday after a homeowner saw him emerge from bushes in Peaceful Valley just west of downtown and called police.
Soon after, officers discovered a nearby home on fire. Police believe Phillips may have set the fire, which was quickly doused by a SWAT team and Spokane firefighters.
Hours earlier, a man fitting the assailant’s description had been spotted by Spokane City Councilman Jon Snyder, who lives in Peaceful Valley. Snyder tailed him briefly with 911 on the phone.
The manhunt was sparked by the stabbing inside the bus station at 701 W. Riverside Ave. 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.
Police said that Phillips has an extensive criminal history.
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.
Meyer said security video from the plaza and buses that were outside at the time of the attack captured a clear picture of the suspected assailant.
Many people inside the plaza didn’t know about the stabbing until 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 anything 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 the front yard of his Peaceful Valley home when he saw a man matching the description of the assailant walk up public steps leading from Water Avenue to Main Avenue.
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. Torok said police were contacted by a Peaceful Valley resident at about 5:30 p.m., saying the suspect entered his home and tried to hold him at knifepoint.
“The homeowner was OK,” Torok said. “There was no struggle.”
Snyder said he saw the suspected assailant one last time about 5:40 p.m. at Main Avenue and Cedar Street, heading toward the river.
Officers shut down the Peaceful Valley neighborhood, closing off streets and warning residents to stay inside. The suspect was eventually apprehended after 9 p.m.
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.
Citywide, 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 in the downtown district. There has been a long debate within the downtown business community about whether the plaza hurts business.
But Meyer, who arrived at the plaza soon after the attack, said the STA and police have worked hard to make it safe and noted 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.”