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Suspects trade accusations in death of man found in Spokane River

Sat., March 8, 2014

Each of the two men arrested this week on suspicion of killing a 47-year-old dialysis patient in November, then dumping his body in the Spokane River, accused the other of being the last to see him alive.

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, a former Asotin County Sheriff’s Office reserve deputy and avid outdoorsman whose body was recovered near John C. Shields Park on Nov. 22.

Neither man spoke during court appearances Friday afternoon, where a judge set bond for each at $500,000. To detectives, however, they detailed an early November night of drinking and drug use that ended with one man throwing Kuest, weakened by medical treatment, into the river.

Kuest’s body was found by hikers. 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 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. When detectives contacted Bullock’s wife, she said her husband was angry because Kuest owed him $300 for drugs. Bullock had threatened to kill Kuest because of the debt, the wife said.

An Oldsmobile that belonged to Kuest was found on Nov. 29 being driven by three people who all had outstanding felony warrants, according to court records. Bonham and Bullock weren’t among them, but one of the car’s occupants told police that Bullock had traded him the Oldsmobile for another car, according to court records. .

Bullock’s wife told police her husband began acting strangely in late November and that he’d texted her, “I threw somebody’s body in the river.”

When interviewed, Bullock and Bonham told partly similar stories.

The men agree that Bonham punched Kuest in the face while driving around Spokane on Nov. 11. Bullock said they had been drinking and using methamphetamine, and that Kuest passed out after Bonham hit him. Bullock said Bonham dropped him off to relieve himself at Sullivan Park, and when he got back into the car, Kuest was gone.

Bonham, when interviewed by detectives, first claimed he didn’t know Kuest, then admitted to punching him in the face. He claimed Bullock dropped him at a gas station and that was the last time he saw Kuest alive. Later, Bonham’s story changed. He told a friend he’d beaten Kuest more severely than he’d revealed to police, and that when Bullock drove away Kuest was screaming in pain. In yet another interview with detectives this week, Bonham said he’d dragged Kuest toward the river at a turnoff near Flora Pit Road, but that he stopped and Bullock threw Kuest into the water.

Bullock was sentenced to three months in prison after pleading guilty in 2010 to third-degree assault and intimidation with a dangerous weapon for an incident at a homeless camp in May 2010.

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

Kuest’s obituary, published in December, said he graduated from North Central High School in 1985. During his time with the Asotin County Sheriff’s Office, he served in search-and-rescue operations, according to the obituary.

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