Renton police say the 16-year-old driver of a red pickup hit speeds of up to 95 mph while fleeing Kent police early Sunday in a pursuit that turned deadly when an officer was struck and killed by a fellow officer while trying to disable the speeding vehicle.
Officer Diego Moreno, 35, was struck by a patrol vehicle driven by an 18-year Kent Police veteran early Sunday who was in pursuit of the truck, police said Monday. Moreno had deployed a tire-flattening spike strip across the eastbound lanes of Highway 516 in hopes of disabling the vehicle.
The pickup driver, a junior at Kentwood High School in Covington, was arrested Sunday afternoon at a condominium complex where he lives with his parents, about seven miles east of where he crashed and rolled his father’s pickup, according to the statement of probable cause outlining the police case against him. Two other teens, both 17, were also arrested.
The department has not identified the officer who was driving. He suffered broken bones when he crashed into an SUV after he struck Moreno, and he was taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he was listed in stable condition.
On Monday, a King County Juvenile Court judge found probable cause to hold all three suspects in juvenile detention. The driver was held on investigation of second-degree murder, while his passengers were each ordered held on investigation of unlawful discharge of a firearm, according to prosecutors. One of the passengers is also being held on investigation of a felony drug charge, a prosecutors’ spokeswoman said.
The Washington State Patrol is investigating the two accident scenes, while the Valley Investigation Team, a multi-agency unit that investigates police shootings and other incidents involving officers in South King County, is responsible for the criminal investigation involving the three juvenile suspects. The Renton Police Department is the lead agency, and a Renton officer authored the statement of probable cause outlining the case against the 16-year-old driver.
Probable-cause statements for the two passengers were not immediately available.
Together, information provided by the state patrol, Kent police and the probable-cause statement give a more-detailed picture of how the deadly incident unfolded:
The incident began when police received reports of gunshots near Shari’s Cafe and Pies on Russell Road at 1:50 a.m. Sunday. Police said multiple shots were fired by multiple shooters, but apparently no one was hit. Kent police officers heard the shots, and witnesses directed them to a fleeing red Dodge Dakota pickup, which headed west on West Meeker Street and continued west on Highway 516, also known as Kent-Des Moines Road.
After hitting a concrete barrier, the driver of the pickup made a U-turn near Military Road and reversed course on Highway 516, driving 75 to 95 mph on a roadway with a 50 mph posted speed limit. Just west of the intersection with West Meeker Street, Moreno put spike strips across the highway’s eastbound lanes and successfully flattened at least one of the pickup’s tires.
Moreno was in the roadway when he was struck by a pursuing patrol vehicle driven by the other officer. That officer then crashed into an SUV, which hit another car and pushed that car into a third car, in the left turn lane from east Highway 516 to West Meeker Street.
The pickup continued east about a mile, then began fishtailing before hitting the jersey barrier, spinning once and flipping, coming to rest on its top on the right shoulder of the highway. The driver and one passenger ran, while a second passenger was arrested nearby by a K-9 team.
The arrested passenger gave police the driver’s name and said the 16-year-old “was driving crazy,” according to the probable-cause statement. The 16-year-old made his way home and told his father he’d been involved in an accident, it says. Just after 3 a.m. Sunday, that boy’s father called police and reported that his crashed pickup had been stolen 1 1/2 hours earlier, the statement says.
Right around the time the three juveniles were appearing in court Monday, Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla stood before reporters and struggled to keep his voice steady as he described the death of Moreno, an eight-year department veteran.
In police work, “split-second decisions are made, life and death is in the balance and we don’t get it the way we always want it,” Padilla said at a news conference in the courtyard outside police headquarters.
Behind Padilla, bouquets of roses, hydrangeas, daisies, lilies and orchids lined the walkway leading into the police department, while across the courtyard, in the nearby council chambers at Kent City Hall, a group of officers were planning Moreno’s funeral.
Moreno, 35, is survived by his wife, Shelly, and their two young children, a boy and a girl, Padilla said.
“Officers had the difficult task of providing emergency aid to Officer Moreno, but unfortunately he did not survive his injuries,” the chief said.
He also expressed love and support for the veteran officer who struck Moreno with his patrol vehicle and suffered severe injuries to his leg in the subsequent crash with three vehicles. People inside those cars were not seriously injured.
“He is absolutely one of our finest … He’s a hero, and he needs our support,” Padilla said of the officer.
Padilla declined to answer questions about his department’s pursuit policy, but he said his officers regularly “self-police” themselves.
“We weren’t chasing people because they had a taillight out,” Padilla said. “ … They (officers) were doing their best to bring violent criminals to justice.”
Kent Mayor Dana Ralph said Moreno was the recipient of several awards during his career, including one for saving a drowning child in 2011. Moreno, she said, participated every Christmas in the department’s Shop with a Cop event, which pairs low-income children with police officers to shop for gifts for their families.
This past Christmas, the child Moreno was paired with got to the check stand but didn’t have enough money on a gift card to cover all the items — so Moreno pulled out his wallet and paid the difference, Ralph said.
“There’s a huge hole in our hearts,” said Ralph, who thanked the community for all the food, flowers and cards that have been brought to the Kent Police Department, and to surrounding police agencies that have offered their support.
A public vigil for Moreno will be held Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Town Square Plaza, 115 Second Ave. N., in Kent.
Moreno’s memorial service, which is also open to the public, is scheduled for July 31 at 1 p.m. It will be held at the ShoWare Center, 625 W. James St., also in Kent.
A GoFundMe campaign has been started to help Moreno’s family, and, starting Tuesday, donations can also be made at any US Bank branch.
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