“Hey man, I saw you’re dead. I read it in the newspaper.”
So began the first of many frustrating phone calls that Kerry Arnold received on Tuesday.
At least four news organizations, including The Spokesman-Review, had reported that the 41-year-old man was dead, and now his friends and neighbors were calling and sending messages to make sure that he was not.
The source of the error was the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office, which said in a news release Monday that Arnold had succumbed to gunshot wounds he received in a carjacking on Oct. 2. It was the first time authorities had publicly named the carjacking victim.
Prosecutor Larry Haskell took blame for the error, saying he had misread a detective’s report.
“I made a mistake, and I apologize,” Haskell said. “I really feel bad about it, but the best I can do is make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”
Two days after the carjacking, when Spokane police shot and killed the suspect in the parking lot of the Shadle Center, Chief Craig Meidl said the victim remained in the hospital with at least two gunshot wounds.
Arnold actually received five gunshot wounds.
And he would like everyone to know they didn’t kill him.
“I’m ready to put it behind me and get on with my life,” he said in an interview Tuesday evening at his mother’s house in Spokane Valley.
It’s been a stressful four months for Arnold, who underwent several surgeries after the shooting and now gets around on crutches or in a wheelchair. One bullet shattered bone in his right arm, the one he used to draw tattoos with, and another struck his spine where it meets the pelvis.
Another round pierced his right thigh, and he’s not sure he’ll ever walk right again. A long scar snakes up the center of his abdomen.
“They said it’s going to be up to five years before he’s fully healed,” said his mother, Phyllis Arnold.
She said at least one local TV station reported her son was dead a few days after the carjacking, so they were angry, but not terribly surprised, when the myth surfaced again Tuesday.
It’s the second time in as many weeks that a local government agency has erroneously reported a death. On Jan. 20, Spokane park officials prematurely announced the death of a 63-year-old woman who fell and struck her head on the new ice-skating ribbon in Riverfront Park. She died, however, on Jan. 21.
Kerry Arnold, who has felony convictions for assault and drug possession, said he did not know the man who shot him. He said he was driving his white 1994 Ford Explorer on the morning of Oct. 2 when the man asked him for a ride near a convenience store in north Spokane.
As they passed a demolition yard at 8201 N. Crestline St., just inside city limits, the man pulled out a gun while sitting in the passenger seat and demanded Arnold’s valuables, Arnold said.
He said he took his keys and jumped out of the car, and then the shooting began, and the man left him for dead on the side of the road. Sheriff’s deputies were called around 11:30 a.m. and police later took over the scene. Police did not initially say what led to the shooting, or whether they were looking for suspects.
Shortly before 5 p.m. on Oct. 4, an officer spotted the Explorer in the Shadle Center parking lot and called in other officers, who boxed in the vehicle before approaching it on foot, guns drawn. A woman got out of the front passenger seat during the confrontation, and the man in the driver’s seat, 34-year-old Chad K. Cochell, rammed the SUV into a police vehicle. According to the prosecutor’s office, Cochell also held a gun to his chin and ignored commands to drop it.
Officers Ryan Smith and Darrell Quarles fired a total of three shots at Cochell, and he was pronounced dead in the parking lot. The medical examiner said he died of rifle and shotgun wounds to his chest and upper extremities.
Haskell, the county prosecutor, explained Tuesday why he’d mistakenly believed that Arnold was dead. He said he had been told shortly after the carjacking that the victim was in extremely bad shape, and that impression led him to misread a report written by Detective Jeff Barrington.
“I read a lot of reports,” Haskell said. “I think I had read what I expected to see.”
Haskell said he relied on Barrington’s report and other documents from a hefty file on the investigation when drafting a two-page news release explaining his decision not to charge the officers who shot and killed Cochell.
Haskell said he sent his draft to the county’s communications manager, Jared Webley, who cleaned up the formatting and distributed the news release to reporters on Monday.
They issued a correction after The Spokesman-Review passed along questions from a reader who was shocked to learn of Arnold’s death.
Arnold, to be clear, is not actually dead.
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