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Yakima County, city homicides higher so far this year, but detective says no apparent patterns

Aug. 26, 2022 Updated Fri., Aug. 26, 2022 at 4:22 p.m.

By Donald W. Meyers Yakima Herald-Republic, Wash.

At this time last year, 17 people had been killed in homicides in Yakima County.

This year, that number stands at 23, the highest it’s been for the end of August in the past five years.

In Yakima, this year’s 10 homicides make it the second-highest number of killings for the end of August in the past five years.

A Yakima police detective said that, while the numbers are disturbing, they don’t necessarily indicate this will be a record year for homicides.

“We could go the rest of the year without a single one,” YPD Capt. Jay Seely said. “(Homicides) are so cyclic and unpredictable.”

And that’s also why he said it’s not an accurate barometer for crime in the city, noting that the city saw a decrease in aggravated assaults in 2021.

Countywide, as of Thursday there were 23 homicides, with 10 of them in Yakima. A year ago, the number for this same time period stood at 17 in the county and eight in the city, with 2021’s final tally being 25 countywide and 11 for the city.

In the past five years, the highest Yakima County’s homicide numbers were at the end of August was 2018, when there were 22 killings. It was also the highest for the city in the same time period, with 12.

That year also set a record for 35 total homicides by the end of the year. It also marked a city record for with 19 killings as part of the county total.

Last year was the lowest number of homicides by the end of August countywide in the past five years, while the city’s lowest was 2019, with five.

This year, after Yakima, the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office has the second largest number of cases under investigation, with six homicides. Union Gap has three this year, including a double homicide on July 4, while Moxee, Sunnyside and Toppenish police are investigating one each.

The FBI has one homicide it is investigating this year, that of 15-year-old Anita Lucei, who was shot in the 700 block of Nation Street in Toppenish in April. Federal agents are investigating that case because she is a tribal citizen and was killed on the Yakama Nation reservation.

Seely, with Yakima police, said he’s not seeing any particularly defined patterns in the city’s homicides this year.

“It would be easier if we could say that these are all gang homicides and that one gang was behind it,” Seely said.

Of the 10, four were gang related, one was related to a robbery, another was domestic violence. In the domestic violence homicide case, Antionette Illona Miller was charged with second-degree murder after police alleged that she strangled her 4-year-old stepson, Nathaniel Denton.

The city’s most recent homicide was Robert Allan Patrick Hamre, a 36-year-old transient, who died after being attacked Aug. 6 in the 500 block of East Chestnut Avenue. Hamre died at Harborview Medical Center from a blow to the head when he fell after being hit, police said.

Countywide, the most recent homicide was an unknown man whose partially burned body was found next to a burned car in the 100 block of Progressive Road near Wapato. An autopsy determined he died from “homicidal violence,” and authorities are still trying to identify him.

Overall, guns were used in 15 homicides so far this year, with three people dying from being beaten, with one each for stabbing, strangulation, being run over and “homicidal violence.”

The cause of death for Jennifer Caridad, a Sunnyside woman whose remains were found in May on Satus Longhouse Road near Granger, remains unknown. She was reported missing last year.

Countywide, seven cases, five in Yakima and one each in Union Gap and the sheriff’s office’s jurisdiction, are considered officially cleared in that a suspect has been identified and either placed in custody or, in the case of the killing of Jordan A. Bessel in a shooting at the East Chestnut Avenue Walmart parking lot, prosecutors declined to file charges citing a need for additional information.

While Seely said the trend in homicides in the city is disturbing, he said that is not the true measure of violent crime in Yakima County. Instead, he said the more revealing number is aggravated assaults, a category that includes attempted murder and first-degree assault, which decreased 17.4% in 2021.

YPD Chief Matt Murray earlier pointed to the assault numbers as a crime indicator because the difference between assaults and homicide comes down to factors such as how badly was the victim injured and how close were they to medical aid.

“It shows we are arresting the right people,” Seely said of the numbers.

Yakima has been using data to identify those who are committing the most crimes, as well as young people at higher risk of being imprisoned or killed by gun violence with behavioral health resources and mentors, including former gang members, to keep them out of trouble.

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