Police probe link between Seattle, state park shootings

September 21, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Police said the July shootout at Lake Sammamish State Park could be connected to a deadly Seattle shooting.

Though no firm evidence links the incidents, a Seattle Police Department spokesman said both shootings had possible gang ties.

Seattle police responded to a report of shots fired at 2:53 a.m. Sept. 17 at a South Seattle apartment building. Officers located a teenager with a gunshot wound to the face.

Seattle Fire Department medics transported the man to Harborview Medical Center with life-threatening injuries. The man, identified by the King County Medical Examiner’s Office as 18-year-old Johnathan Chhonn, later died from the wounds.

The shootings at the state park July 17 left Kent resident Yang Keovongphet, 33, and Seattle resident Justin Cunningham, 30, dead and four other men injured.

Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, a Seattle Police Department spokesman, said no “concrete evidence” links the cases, but investigators continue to probe possible links.

Police discovered Chhonn inside his ground-floor apartment after someone outside had apparently shot him through a window.

“There is some information that we have about this case,” Whitcomb said. “Clearly, there is more we need in order to solve it.”

Police described the two suspects as Asian men in their late teens to early 20s. The suspects fled the scene in a white sedan with a low back end.

Whitcomb said the Seattle Police Department had been in contact with the King County Sheriff’s Office — the lead investigator on the park shootings — about the South Seattle incident.

The only person charged in connection to the park shootings is David Keowongphet, a cousin of the slain Keovongphet.

Keowongphet faces a first-degree unlawful weapons possession charge. He has pleaded not guilty to the charge and remains in custody in lieu of $500,000 bail at the King County Jail.

The shootings occurred after a dispute between rival groups at the park escalated into a fistfight and gunshots. Investigators recovered several handguns and at least 20 spent cartridges near the shooting scene — a picnic area not far from the lakefront.

Members from the rival groups exchanged insults and then engaged in fisticuffs before someone fired shots.

The shootout injured three people — a 20-year-old North Bend man, a 22-year-old Seattle man and a 16-year-old Renton boy. None of them suffered life-threatening injuries. Police said a fourth man had facial injuries as a result of the fistfight.

Police arrested Keowongphet outside his residence in Renton the following night. Investigators uncovered body armor, ammunition and guns tucked in a linen closet and beneath a mattress inside the home.

Keowongphet cannot possess weapons due to prior felony convictions. Prosecutors also said he had ties to the Asian Boyz gang.

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