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Two men differ in accounts of how man pulled from river died

UPDATED: Fri., March 7, 2014, 12:07 p.m.

Donald Jeffrey Kuest
Donald Jeffrey Kuest

The two men who last saw Donald Kuest alive following what they said was a November night of drinking and drug use differ in their accounts of how the 47-year-old dialysis patient died.

James C. Bonham, 35, and Michael R. Bullock, 41, were booked into Spokane County Jail late Thursday, according to jail records. Both face counts of armed robbery and first-degree murder in the death of Donald Jeffrey Kuest.

Kuest’s body was found by hikers near John C. Shields Park on Nov. 22, according to court documents. After an autopsy, medical examiners ruled Kuest’s death was due to drowning and hypothermia, though there were cuts and swelling around his eyes.

Investigators spoke with Kuest’s brother shortly after the body was found. He said Don Kuest had been living with him, but that he kicked his brother out several weeks before his death. The brother said Kuest had been diagnosed with kidney problems and was on dialysis, which made him weak and thin, but that Kuest knew how to swim.

Phone records and interviews led detectives to Bullock, a fellow resident of a homeless camp in north Spokane. Witnesses told police Bullock had threatened to kill Kuest because he owed him money for drugs, according to court records.

An Oldsmobile that belonged to Kuest was recovered being driven by three individuals with outstanding felony warrants on Nov. 29, according to court records. The three occupants denied knowledge of Kuest’s death and neither Bonham nor Bullock were among them, according to a search warrant served on the car.

One of the occupants identified Bullock to police as one of the men who traded him the Oldsmobile for a Honda shortly after Kuest’s death, according to court records.

Bullock’s wife told police her husband began acting strangely in late November. He texted her a message that said “I threw somebody’s body in the river,” she told police.

When interviewed, Bullock said he, Kuest and Bonham had been driving around Spokane drinking and using methamphetamine Nov. 11. Bullock said Bonham punched Kuest for “being disrespectful.” Kuest had passed out in the backseat of the Oldsmobile when Bonham dropped Bullock off at Sullivan Park to relieve himself.

Kuest was no longer in the backseat when Bonham returned, Bullock said.

Detectives questioned Bonham at his apartment last month, according to court records. Bonham at first denied knowing Kuest, but then said he punched the man once in the face while driving in a blue sedan around Nov. 11.

Bonham said Bullock was driving and dropped him off at a gas station. He said that was the last time he saw Kuest alive.

Bullock pleaded guilty to third-degree assault and intimidation with a dangerous weapon for an incident at a homeless camp in May 2010. A man claimed Bullock came up behind him and stabbed him in the neck with a knife. He was sentenced to three months in prison.

Bonham’s record shows arrests for criminal trespass and leaving the scene of an accident, dating to 2000.

Kuest’s obituary, published in December, says he was an avid outdoorsman and former reserve deputy with the Asotin County Sheriff’s Office. He graduated from North Central High School in 1985, according to the family. He served in search-and-rescue operations with the Sheriff’s Office, according to the obituary.

Both Bullock and Bonham are scheduled to appear in court on the charges this afternoon.

This story is developing and more information will be added as it is available.