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Sunday, April 5, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Washington

Man deliberately struck, killed state trooper on I-5, swerved toward second trooper, investigators say

By Sara Jean Green The Seattle Times

The 39-year-old Olympia man accused of deliberately striking State Patrol Trooper Justin Schaffer during a high-speed police chase on Interstate 5 in Chehalis on Tuesday afternoon was awaiting a competency review in a separate case in which he is accused of assaulting two jail officers, according to court records.

Schaffer, a seven-year veteran of the Washington State Patrol and a K-9 officer, died from his injuries at Providence Centralia Hospital about 4 p.m. Tuesday, according to the Patrol. He had been placing spike strips across southbound lanes of I-5 in an attempt to deflate the tires of a pickup truck involved in a pursuit that began in Thurston County.

William David Thompson was booked into the Lewis County Jail just before 5 p.m. Tuesday on investigation of vehicular homicide and attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle, jail records show. On Wednesday, a judge found probable cause to hold Thompson in jail and set bail at $5 million. The judge also ordered Thompson to undergo a competency evaluation with doctors from Western State Hospital, according to prosecutors. Charges are expected to be filed Friday.

A probable cause statement outlining the Lewis County Sheriff’s case against Thompson says he intentionally veered and hit Schaffer and then deliberately veered into a second patrol car about a half-mile south, shearing off part of the vehicle that struck a trooper in the chest.

In January, Thompson underwent a competency evaluation with a Western State Hospital forensic psychologist, who found Thompson was paranoid and suspicious and diagnosed him with an unspecified psychotic disorder, according to records filed in Thurston County Superior Court. The psychologist determined Thompson was able to understand the charges against him, but his mental illness impaired his capacity to assist his attorney in his defense, said the psychologist’s report that is part of the court record.

In the Thurston County case, Thompson was charged with third-degree assault, accused of attacking two jail officers in August while he was incarcerated at the Olympia City Jail. The charges don’t indicate why he was in jail but say Thompson hit one officer in the face, crushed his eyeglasses and tore his uniform, and snatched the glasses off the face of the second officer. An officer had to twice use her Taser on Thompson in order to get him under control and into restraints, the charges say.

He was arrested three times on bench warrants in the assault case and was last released from custody after posting bail on Feb. 5, court records show. Thompson was to appear for a competency review hearing Monday, but the hearing was postponed until June due to the coronavirus outbreak that’s forced courts across the state to suspend jury trials and limit operations.

The chain of events that led to Schaffer’s death began Monday afternoon, when a man allegedly stole a bottle of lighter fluid from Pacific Mini Mart in Lacey, then pointed a stun gun at a clerk and customer, Lt. Ray Brady, a spokesman for the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, said Tuesday.

When the clerk attempted to get the shoplifting suspect’s license plate number, the man drove his pickup directly at her, but she was able to jump out of the way, Brady said.

At 2:40 p.m. Tuesday, deputies in Thurston County spotted the Ford F-150 truck registered to Thompson with Washington license plates that read HITECH, said the probable cause statement written by a Lewis County Sheriff’s detective.

According to the statement:

Deputies attempted to stop the pickup, but the driver sped south on I-5, driving across all lanes of travel and on the right shoulder at speeds above 100 mph. As deputies pursued the pickup into Lewis County, they asked the State Patrol to attempt to place spike strips across the freeway in an attempt to flatten the pickup’s tires.

Schaffer, 28, set up near the freeway onramp from Northwest Chamber of Commerce Way in Chehalis. He had parked his Chevy Tahoe on the right shoulder and activated his emergency lights.

Traffic slowed due to the police presence, but the pickup driver continued driving on the shoulder at 90 mph. Pursuing deputies saw the driver intentionally veer into Schaffer, who was thrown 120 feet and had his duty belt ripped from his waist from the force of the impact. A half-mile to the south, another trooper was also deploying spike strips when the pickup driver veered into his patrol vehicle, shearing off a 3-foot-long metal bar that struck the trooper in the chest. Had that trooper not been wearing his ballistic vest, he would have likely been seriously injured or killed, the statement said.

After hitting the second patrol vehicle, the tires on the pickup started to deflate from the spike strips. Still driving at 80 to 90 mph, the driver went another 2 miles, then exited the freeway onto Rice Road. The driver lost control and skidded across the intersection, crashing into a guard rail and light post. The driver refused to get out of the pickup, and deputies eventually threw smoke canisters into the cab. After a nearly 1 1/2-hour standoff, the driver got out and was arrested.

At the jail, Thompson was evaluated by an officer trained as a drug-recognition expert. He determined Thompson was likely under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the statement says. A warrant was obtained, and Thompson’s blood was drawn for testing.

News researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story, which also includes information from Seattle Times archives.

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