Investigators see signs of gang ties in Lake Sammamish State Park shootings
July 18, 2010
By Warren Kagarise
UPDATED — 5:40 p.m. July 18, 2010
Though investigators continue to comb Lake Sammamish State Park for evidence from the deadly shootings at a picnic area Saturday night, early indicators point to bad blood between rival gangs as a possible cause.
The shooting inside the park at dusk left two men dead and another four men injured. The shootout erupted after a dispute between two men from rival groups picnicking at the park. The cause of the argument remained unknown Sunday, although alcohol could have been a factor in the incident.
“It could be as simple as a gang rivalry, but we don’t know that for a fact,” Sgt. John Urquhart, King County Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said Sunday afternoon.
The groups — including the shooting victims, friends, family members and children — arrived at the park Saturday and set up separate picnic sites about 200 feet apart, Urquhart said.
Both groups also included members with gang affiliations. Members of the groups came to the park heavily armed.
The rival groups included many members of Asian descent, though Urquhart said the fatalities included a white man. Police believe he could have been a shooter.
Urquhart described the deceased men as a 30-year-old Seattle man and a 33-year-old Kent man. The names of the men had not been released King County Medical Examiner’s Office by Sunday afternoon.
In the chaotic moments during the gun battle, a park goer barricaded him- or herself in a park bathroom and a Washington State Patrol dispatcher heard a gunshot in the background as a park ranger called for assistance.
Police took six people into custody Saturday night, including a man booked in to the King County Jail on unrelated warrants. Urquhart said no arrests had been made in the case by Sunday afternoon.
Officers from four law enforcement agencies — the state patrol, sheriff’s office and police departments from Issaquah and Bellevue — locked down the park and detained park goers for questioning. The last visitors left the park at about midnight.
UW Medicine spokesman Brian Donohue said three shooting victims remained at Harborview on Sunday, including a man and a juvenile male in satisfactory condition, and another man in serious condition.
Medics transported the fourth man to Overlake Hospital Medical Center in Bellevue. He was treated and released Saturday night, hospital spokeswoman Karen Johnson said.
Investigators believed suspects had stashed guns in the park in the frantic moments after the shooting. Officers recovered four guns and at least 20 spent cartridges in the park Sunday afternoon.
Yellow police tape and orange traffic cones blocked the entrance to the popular park from Northwest Sammamish Road on Sunday. Investigators expected the park to remain closed for most of the day as the sheriff’s office pieced together the events leading up to the sunset shootings.
Urquhart said the sheriff’s office had about 40 people scouring the park for evidence in the picnic area and nearby overgrowth. The team included sheriff’s office and Seattle Police Department bomb-sniffing dogs brought in to detect the cartridges.
Sandy Mealing, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, said the shootings marked the first such incident to occur in a state park in recent memory. Mealing said state parks rarely close as a result of criminal activity.
Lake Sammamish State Park employees had met with a ranger trained in counseling. Mealing said a psychologist contracted by the agency to aid park employees after tragedies plans to meet the group as well.
Employees — including the rangers on duty Saturday — reported for work Sunday to assist investigators and to conduct routine maintenance.
The state parks agency defers to local law enforcement in criminal cases.
“Because it is a day-use park, and because of where it happened, that’s where people would go to recreate,” so the sheriff’s office felt the park should be closed during the investigation, Mealing said.
Regulations allow firearms in Lake Sammamish and other state parks, as long as the owner has a concealed-weapons permit and obeys park rules. Discharging a firearm is prohibited in state parks. Alcohol is also allowed in designated areas of some state parks, including the picnic area at Lake Sammamish State Park.
More than 1 million people visit the 512-acre lakefront park during the summer months for hiking, picnicking and swimming.
The daylong park closure forced at least one group to change plans. 5th District Democrats had planned a summer picnic at the park, but hastily relocated the event to state Rep. Marcie Maxwell’s waterfront Renton home. Congressman Jay Inslee had been scheduled to address the group.