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Remembering Jason: The struggles and death of a Spokane Valley Eagle Scout

Jason Pederson liked to go snipe hunting.

He’d lead his fellow Eagle Scouts into the woods in the cool of night, flashlights in hand and uniforms on. You can only catch a snipe when it’s dark out.

They would give the group’s newcomer a paper bag and tell him they’d chase the imaginary bird toward him. Suppressing giggles, they’d run away and leave their victim in the dark to discover they’d been duped.

Jason loved it. He loved any prank, really, and he was at home in the woods.

He and his troop would have campouts, hikes and 50-mile canoe trips. As an adult, Jason would go out into the forest for a few days with nothing but a sleeping bag and the bare essentials, just to be alone.

He went outside to grow closer to himself and his family. After Scouts, he did it to cope with trauma. Throughout his life, it was his sense of humor and survivalist instincts combined that helped him get by. Until one day, that wasn’t enough.

Jason was shot and killed in a downtown Spokane alley on May 30. He was 37.

Troop 419 member

Jason’s old letterman jacket hangs on the back of a chair next to the kitchen table, where his mother, Jackie Pederson, carefully arranged sympathy cards from family and friends. She propped up his senior photo front and center. Eighteen-year-old Jason appears strong and attractive, with a square jaw and dark hair.

He was an all-American kid. He grew up going to church, playing the coronet in marching band and working on carpentry projects with his dad, Larry Pederson. He even worked his way up through Boy Scouts to become an Eagle Scout.

He was in Troop 419 in Spokane Valley, and his dad was the assistant scoutmaster. This created a strong bond between the two, as Jason worked his way through different positions in Scouts: patrol leader, quartermaster, assistant senior patrol leader and bugler. For his final project, Jason supervised a group of Scouts making nesting boxes for ducks on Liberty Lake. He was also a top popcorn salesman.

Taking care of people was important to Jason. When his mother was out due to back surgery, Jason helped out around the house, cooking, vacuuming and doing laundry. She admitted he wasn’t a very good cook, though, unless it was on a camp stove.

Jason liked to build and learn things. A couple of years ago he took up the harmonica. He was also working on converting an old school bus into a camper. He’d meticulously plan out every single step of a project to the last detail. And then he’d talk about it endlessly.

“He could almost be annoying,” Jackie said.

The unfinished school bus still sits behind Jackie’s house. The only personal objects left in the bus were a Bible and a Grateful Dead CD.

A knock on the door

The morning after Jason died, Jackie heard a knock on her door and got up to go answer it. She saw a tall man but couldn’t make out who he was at first, or why he was there. When she put on her glasses, she saw the police badge printed on his white T-shirt. That’s when she knew.

“You don’t expect your son to die before you,” she said. “That’s not supposed to happen.”

The police chaplain came inside and had her sit down. He explained what happened to Jason in a calm, steady voice: A witness told police he saw Jason holding another man in a headlock and punching him in a dark downtown alley. The witness heard the “pop” of a gun and then saw the man come out of the headlock and shoot Jason several more times. No arrests have been made, and the case is still under investigation. Police noted that the shooter attempted CPR on Jason before they arrived.

As the chaplain prayed with Jackie, he laid out what steps she should take next, writing down the number of the police officer she could call for information on the case. Jackie was grateful for his kindness and patience amid her grief and shock. He wouldn’t leave until she had called a good friend to come over and be with her.

It was like she was in a fog, she said. But it wasn’t the first time she’d felt that way.

In 2003, Jackie’s husband, Larry, saddled up his horse and mounted it. The cinch wasn’t tied, though, and he fell off. Part of Jackie thought that maybe he was trying to be funny, “like, ‘Oh, look at me – I’m falling.’ ” But he shattered his collarbone and seriously damaged his shoulder and chest.

A few days later, he complained of chest pain. The doctor said it was normal, considering his injuries. After a while, though, he knew he had to go to the hospital. He decided to wait until Jason got back from work.

When Jason got home, though, all was quiet. He went up to his dad’s room and found him lying still. Jason and Jackie tried to perform CPR until medics arrived. He died that day.

“I think it was really hard for Jason that he couldn’t save his dad,” Jackie said.

Addictive personality

Much of Jason’s adult life was spent trying to work through pain. On the senior quotes page of his high school yearbook, his read: “If you’re not falling on your face, you’re moving in the wrong direction in life.”

He was engaged at one point, but his fiancee cheated on him about a year before his dad’s death. He received a DUI that was amended to reckless driving that same year. More than a decade later in 2015, he was charged with a felony for vehicular homicide under the influence of alcohol and marijuana. He had attempted to make a left turn and a man riding a motorcycle coming toward him hit his car from the side. The motorcyclist died a month later from complications from his injuries. Jason’s blood was tested right after the accident and came up positive for presence of marijuana, and his blood alcohol content was 0.11 percent – above the legal limit of 0.08. He was later acquitted, though.

Jason struggled, messed up and always found a way out.

He worked mostly in construction, regularly making his way up to a management position with whatever company he was with. Before he died, he was working in construction through Labor Ready. He and his co-workers would go out for lunch almost every day.

They described him as hardworking, with a dry sense of humor. He was also “head over heels in love” with his on-again, off-again girlfriend, said his co-worker Samuel Vrbeta. She was all he talked about.

In love and in life, Jason experienced a lot of ups and downs. Vrbeta remembers Jason confiding in him about his problems a few weeks before he died.

“Sam, I have a really addictive personality,” he said. “No matter what, I lose control.”

Jackie also knew that Jason had been struggling before he died. The two hadn’t seen each other in a few months. Jackie had tried to get him help time and time again, even bringing counselors over the house to try to talk to him.

It was a cycle, she said. She’d get a counselor to come over and try to get Jason to agree to some kind of treatment program for his alcoholism, depression and anger issues, and then he’d get mad that she called the counselor. Though Jason tried counseling a few times in his life and went to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings off and on, he mostly liked to work through things on his own. Jackie said she did hear from one of his friends that he was getting counseling a couple of months before he died.

He never really got over his father’s death or being cheated on, Jackie said. She didn’t think he knew what to do with his feelings and tried to self-medicate with alcohol and marijuana.

Sharing her son’s story was hard, but Jackie said she wanted to do it to encourage other people to get help for alcoholism and mental health issues. And she wants parents to know that as parents, there’s only so much they can do to help their children with addictions. It’s the addicts who need to get help for themselves.

And beyond being an addict, or a man shot downtown, at heart he was always an Eagle Scout who liked to play his harmonica and go camping with his dad.

“I just want people to know he’s a good person,” Jackie said.


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