Man is unlikely to be charged for death in Lake Sammamish State Park shootings
July 19, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
In year since firefight, officials determine Renton man acted in self-defense
The man responsible for a death in a Lake Sammamish State Park shootout last July acted in self-defense and is shielded from prosecution under state law.
King County prosecutors and investigators said a then-21-year-old Renton man gunned down Justin Cunningham, 30, amid the July 17, 2010, shootout. Investigators also determined that Cunningham shot and killed Yang Keovongphet, 33, before the Renton man killed Cunningham.
Ian Goodhew, deputy chief of staff for King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, said investigators relied on forensic evidence from firearms used in the gun battle and bystanders’ interviews to re-create the chaotic moments in the park at about 9 p.m. on a Saturday, just after sunset.
Investigators determined Cunningham pulled a gun as a disagreement between groups picnicking in the park escalated into a fistfight. Then, gunshots ruined the calm night.
“When you’re getting shot at, or your friends or your group people are getting shot at, then you shoot back, it’s in self defense,” Goodhew said.
Though the Renton man does not face a charge related to the state park death, sheriff’s office investigators recommended a possible charge for unlawful firearm possession. The sheriff’s office said the man cannot possess firearms due to a prior felony conviction.
Prosecutors used the same charge last year to convict another man involved in the shootout.
“Washington law is pretty aggressive and pretty clear in that when you’re threatened in terms of serious injury or death, you can respond with force up to causing death, and that’s what was determined,” Goodhew said. “Now, independent of that is whether or not you’re allowed to possess a firearm in the first place.”
The prosecutor’s office has not charged the Renton man for unlawful firearm possession. The Issaquah Press typically does not name a suspect until he or she is charged.
In the days after the firefight, investigators arrested Keovongphet’s cousin, David Keowongphet, for unlawful firearm possession. Now, a year after the shootout, Keowongphet is incarcerated at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, a minimum- and medium-security prison in Connell, a small town in Eastern Washington.
Summer celebration turns to shootout
In the hours before the shootout, the popular state park attracted hundreds of parkgoers for a peaceful Saturday at the lake.
Like numerous other parkgoers, Keovongphet arrived for a picnic at about 6 p.m. Nearby, people from a rival group gathered for a separate celebration in a popular picnic area near Tibbetts Beach.
Police later said parkgoers in Keovongphet’s group and the other group carried guns and links to gangs.
The celebration soured fight between 10 and 15 men approached Keovongphet’s group from the other group. Soon, insults escalated to fisticuffs and, moments later, gunshots.
Cunningham and Keovongphet died at the scene from multiple gunshot wounds.
The initial officers on the scene encountered men from the groups screaming at each other about the deaths. Officers pulled the groups apart and held people on the ground at gunpoint.
Besides 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.
Investigators recovered 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 pocket.
The team at the scene included homicide unit investigators from the prosecutor’s office and sheriff’s office detectives. The park closed for 24 hours after the shootings as searchers scoured for bullets, guns and other evidence in the grass near the picnic area.
Detectives cordoned off the 514-acre park immediately after the shootings and interviewed bystanders, in addition to people from the rival groups, to piece together a detailed account of the melee.
Sgt. John Urquhart, sheriff’s office spokesman, said the status of the case remains unchanged since detectives concluded the investigation in late March and sent the case to prosecutors in early April.
“The sheriff’s office continued to investigate whether there was any conflicting evidence about the sequence of events that led us to conclude that he was acting in self defense, and they’ve yet to uncover anything,” Goodhew said.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.