Police determine shooters’ identities in state park gun battle

April 12, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Investigators recommend firearms charge as case closes on lethal shootout

Investigators said a gunman died during the shootout at Lake Sammamish State Park last July, after another parkgoer shot the gunman in self-defense, the King County Sheriff’s Office said as the monthslong investigation came to a close.

Investigators used statements from witnesses and forensic examination of firearms and bullets from the July 17 shootings to determine Seattle resident Justin Cunningham, 30, shot and killed Kent resident Yang Keovongphet, 33, before a 21-year-old Renton man shot and killed Cunningham.

The sheriff’s office recommended for King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg to charge the Renton man for unlawful firearm possession. The man cannot possess firearms due to a prior felony conviction.

County prosecutors must determine if the man indeed killed Cunningham in self-defense. Dan Donohoe, a spokesman for Satterberg, said the case is still under review.

The Issaquah Press typically does not name a suspect until he or she has been charged.

“You don’t usually end up with the shooter and the victim both dead,” sheriff’s office spokesman Sgt. John Urquhart said. “That’s pretty unusual.”

David Keowongphet, a cousin of the slain Keovongphet, is in prison for a firearm possession conviction related to the shootings. Prosecutors said the cousin could not possess firearms due to prior felony convictions.

Investigators concluded the investigation in late March and sent the case to prosecutors in early April.

Keowongphet is due to be released in late December from medium-security custody at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton after serving a sentence for firearm possession.

Gunshots echoed across Lake Sammamish State Park at about 9 p.m. on a summer Saturday, just after sunset.

In addition to the shooting deaths, gunshots injured a 20 year-old North Bend man, a 22-year-old Seattle man and a 16-year-old Renton boy. Police said another man suffered facial injuries amid the fracas.

Officers cordoned off the 514-acre park in the moments after the shootings to search for evidence and suspects. The park reopened the following Monday.

Investigators recovered four guns from a vehicle and in the brush near the shooting scene — including a handgun discovered near Cunningham’s head — and at least 20 spent cartridges from .40-caliber, .45-caliber and 9 mm handguns.

The team also discovered a magazine containing ammunition inside Cunningham’s left front jeans pocket.

Police said the trouble started after Keovongphet arrived the park for a picnic at about 6 p.m.

The cousin, Keowongphet, happened to be part of another gathering about 200 feet from the lakeshore picnic. Investigators said members in both groups had gang ties and guns.

Sann Keovongphet, the slain man’s widow, said the fight started after about 10 or 15 men approached the gathering from the other group. Then, insults escalated to punches and, moments later, from punches to gunshots. Sann Keovongphet said the cousin, Keowongphet, fired into the air during the incident.

Cunningham and Keovongphet lay dead in the grass after the shooting stopped. King County Medical Examiner’s Office investigators later said the men died at the scene from multiple gunshot wounds.

The investigation into the shootout stretched for months as detectives awaited answers from the state crime laboratory.

In September, the Seattle Police Department probed a possible link between the Issaquah incident and a lethal Seattle shooting, but the investigation did not lead to any arrests in the park shootout.

Meanwhile, rangers at Lake Sammamish State Park prepared for a busy season — perhaps for a rebound after attendance dipped last year following the shootings.

“There were will be some people who may be a little hesitant to come back on out,” longtime Park Manager Rich Benson said. “I think that’s pretty much a minority. I think most people realize that these kind of things will happen occasionally.”

The lakefront park attracts more than 1 million people for outdoor recreation during a typical year.

“I was surprised the following weekend after the incident that there were as many people who came to the park as they did,” Benson said. “I would have thought it would have been almost empty. It was a little quieter than normal, but not by all that much.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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