After a night of drinking at a quinceañera to celebrate a girl’s 15th birthday, 16-year-old Emiliano Garcia and a group of friends met up at El Habanero, a Kent bar and restaurant on West Meeker Street, and continued drinking beer despite being underage.
As the bar was closing early Sunday, Garcia’s friends and a group of older men got into an argument outside. Guns were drawn and dozens of shots were fired into the air. Police would later collect 39 shell casings in three different calibers from four different weapons off the pavement. As far as police can tell, no one was hit.
Garcia, who doesn’t have a driver’s license, then reportedly climbed behind the wheel of his father’s red pickup with two passengers, both 17, on board, say police and prosecutors. Without turning on his headlights, Garcia peeled out of the parking lot with a Kent police officer in pursuit. Over the next few minutes, speeds would reach 95 miles an hour and a police officer would die.
On Wednesday, Garcia was charged as an adult with second-degree felony murder, accused of causing the death of Kent police Officer Diego Moreno, 35, by leading police on a dangerous, high-speed chase that ended after at least one of Garcia’s tires was punctured and he lost control, flipping the pickup on Highway 516. Moreno died when he was struck by a pursuing Kent police SUV after laying out a strip of spikes to slow the fleeing pickup.
King County prosecutors explained in a news release that felony murder occurs when a defendant commits a felony and as a result of that crime — or fleeing from that crime — causes the death of another person. As a direct result of Garcia’s actions, Moreno was killed, it says.
Wednesday evening, as the sun began to set, several hundred people gathered at Kent Town Square Plaza at a vigil to celebrate Moreno’s life and mourn his untimely death.
Uniformed officers from several jurisdictions attended as a choir sang “Hold On” and “Amazing Grace.” Sniffles were heard, only to be drowned out by the sound of a passing train. As the sun set, people in the crowd assisted one another lighting candles to commemorate the officer’s life. Kent police chaplain Pat Ellis, one of several speakers, promised the mourners that “death is not a period, it’s simply a comma.”
Moreno, 35, was married and had two children. From Venezuela originally, he was a decorated Kent officer who had served the city for eight years.
Chief Rafael Padilla of Kent police thanked the community for attending the memorial and offered his condolences to Moreno’s wife Shelly and family. And he challenge city residents to think about how to engage with law enforcement.
“This is absolutely beautiful,” the chief said. “On behalf of the Kent Police Department and Moreno’s family, thank you.”
According to the charges, Kent police Officer Mark Williams was 1/3 of a mile from El Habanero, heard the volley of gunshots around 1:50 a.m. Sunday and responded to 911 calls from patrons of another restaurant nearby. People in the parking lot pointed to the fleeing pickup as it roared out of the parking lot, and Williams initiated a pursuit, activating his lights and siren, the charges say.
With speeds hitting 95 mph, police say Garcia first drove west on Highway 516, then made a U-turn near Military Road and headed back east on the highway, also known as Kent-Des Moines Road.
Moreno, one of several officers to respond to the incident, parked his patrol car and deployed spike strips, which are meant to slow a vehicle by puncturing its tires, across the eastbound lanes. He radioed “good spikes” to alert other officers that the pickup had driven over the spikes, “indicating that at least one tire should be in the process of deflating,” the charges say.
Williams, who was still in pursuit of the red pickup, inadvertently struck and killed Moreno, then collided with vehicles stopped in the left-turn lane from Highway 516 onto West Meeker Street. The 18-year veteran “suffered a severely broken leg that required lengthy surgery,” charging papers say.
Another officer picked up the pursuit and witnessed the pickup driver lose control, hit the center barrier, spin around and flip over, coming to rest on its top on the right shoulder.
That officer saw two people — later identified as Garcia and one of his passengers — climb out the driver’s side, run through a shallow ravine and hop a fence. Police would later learn they were picked up by friends and driven home.
The second passenger was arrested at the scene. That teen was charged Wednesday with second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm and possession of cocaine and is alleged to have fired his father’s .45 caliber handgun six times, the charges say.
The other 17-year-old, arrested later Sunday at his house, was charged with second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm. He is accused of firing a .40-caliber handgun, which he apparently purchased on the streets “to look cool,” 10 times, the charges say.
Both 17-year-olds are being prosecuted in juvenile court and are scheduled to be arraigned on Thursday. Garcia is to be arraigned at the King County Courthouse in Seattle on Aug. 2.
The charges don’t indicate if police recovered the teens’ weapons, nor do they say if police have identified the other shooters, who were both armed with 9 mm handguns.
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