Man is unlikely to be charged for death in Lake Sammamish State Park shootings

July 19, 2011

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.

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King County Sheriff’s Office ends burglar’s chase near Issaquah

April 27, 2011

NEW — 1:45 p.m. April 27, 2011

King County Sheriff’s deputies arrested a suspected burglar late Wednesday morning after a pursuit near Issaquah.

Police arrested the suspect in the 15600 block of Issaquah-Hobart Road Southeast near the Mirrormont neighborhood, about five miles south of downtown Issaquah. The suspect’s vehicle exceeded posted speed limits during the chase.

Sgt. John Urquhart said the pursuit originated in the 19700 block of 244th Avenue Southeast in rural Maple Valley, about four miles from the 15600 block of Issaquah-Hobart Road Southeast.

Urquhart said the investigation is ongoing.

Police determine shooters’ identities in state park gun battle

April 12, 2011

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.

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Police seize pot from sophisticated grow operation near Klahanie

February 8, 2011

King County Sheriff’s Office investigators haul tanks and other equipment from a marijuana grow house near Klahanie on Jan. 18. Contributed

King County investigators busted a sophisticated marijuana grow operation in a Sammamish Plateau neighborhood in mid-January.

Police hauled off numerous marijuana plants, plus lights and other materials used to grow pot, from the vacant house. King County Sheriff’s Office deputies and detectives descended on the four-bedroom house in the 23400 block of Southeast 46th Way on Jan. 18.

Sgt. John Urquhart, sheriff’s office spokesman, said the agency also arrested two people in connection with the bust, but charges had not yet been filed last week because the investigation is ongoing.

The house is in the Brookshire neighborhood in unincorporated King County near Klahanie.

Neighbors said the property owners attempted to make the house appear occupied, and even set up a Christmas tree in the front window during the holiday season. The setup also included a system to water the plants and propane tanks so as not to alert Puget Sound Energy to the amount of electricity used to power the operation.

Urquhart said the sheriff’s office does not classify drugs by estimated street value, because the amount is often misleading. Instead, he classified the bust as significant due to the sophistication of the grow operation and the number of plants recovered.

Urquhart said detectives discovered the grow house in course of some investigative work, but he declined to elaborate.

District dips into funds to keep resource officer

January 25, 2011

Rural storefronts remain open, but deputies assigned elsewhere

Issaquah School District leaders dipped into a budget reserve to keep the resource officer at Liberty High School, after cuts to the King County Sheriff’s Office eliminated the program.

King County Council members eliminated the resource officers assigned to Liberty and other schools in unincorporated areas in order to patch a $60 million budget hole late last year. The district kicked in $40,000 from a budget reserve in order to keep Deputy Dave Montalvo at the school through the end of the school year.

The austere county budget for 2011 also called for the police storefront in a rural area near Issaquah to close, but the facility remains open.

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Questions linger in months after lethal shootings

January 18, 2011

By Dona Mokin

Gunshots interrupted the summer hubbub at Lake Sammamish State Park just after sunset last July 17. The picnics and twilight dips in the lake clamored to a halt as a fistfight escalated into a firefight.

In the six months since gunfire pierced the summer night, the lethal shootout at the packed Issaquah park has defied easy answers. The investigation remains open, but tips to the King County Sheriff’s Office dried up not long after the incident.

Now, King County Medical Examiner’s Office reports, court documents, and accounts from law enforcement officers and park rangers offer a glimpse at the chaos inside the park amid the firefight and the ensuing investigation.

Yang Keovongphet, 33, a Laotian immigrant and a Kent resident employed in manufacturing, and Justin Cunningham, 30, a native Seattleite and a mechanic, died in the shootout.

Investigators hope ballistics tests help determine the shooter or shooters. Sgt. John Urquhart, sheriff’s office spokesman, urged observers to hold off on speculation until the investigation concludes — despite reports identifying either dead man as a shooter.

The investigation timeline remains uncertain, because the process has slowed as the state crime laboratory toils to process evidence in the case. The results could remain unavailable until almost a year after the incident.

The long backlog at the understaffed and underfunded Washington State Patrol crime laboratories means evidence needed for upcoming trials or to charge jailed suspects receives more immediate attention.

“It’s not like ‘CSI’ by any stretch of the imagination,” Urquhart said. “It just doesn’t work that way.”

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Issaquah tragedies, triumphs define a tumultuous year

December 28, 2010

Traffic lines up on state Route 900 at Northwest Talus Drive in February. State Department of Transportation crews completed the long-running project in 2010. By Greg Farrar

The economy lurched from the recession, population growth all but stalled and Issaquah — after cutbacks and setbacks in 2009 — defied the odds to reach major milestones throughout 2010.

Momentum returned in 2010 after a year spent in a holding pattern. Set against the backdrop of a fragile recovery, leaders cut the ribbon on businesses and roads, laid the foundation for preservation and construction, and marked tragedies and successes. Read more

Budget cuts nix police storefront, resource officer

November 16, 2010

The austere county budget for the upcoming year closes a police storefront near Issaquah and reassigns a popular resource officer from Liberty High School.

The spending plan also eliminates 28 deputy positions from the King County Sheriff’s Office, reduces police service in rural areas and curtails investigations into burglaries and other property crimes. The budget includes, all told, about 300 staff reductions.

King County Council members approved the lean budget Nov. 15, after a monthslong debate about how to fund police and other criminal justice services. Read more

Questions arise about booze, guns at parks

August 17, 2010

Alcohol might be factor in Lake Sammamish State Park shootings

The morning after a lethal shootout at Lake Sammamish State Park last month, King County Sheriff Sue Rahr surveyed the scene: paper plates, paper towels, red Dixie cups and beer cans spread across wooden tables, spent cartridges littering the ground.

Empty beer boxes in a recycling container at Lake Sammamish State Park show evidence of alcohol consumption a week after two men were killed at the park. By Greg Farrar

The picnic provisions had been left untouched since gunshots ripped through the summer night. The shootings left a Kent man and a Seattle man dead, and injured three other people.

The sheriff met with state parks officials four days after the July 17 shootings, and raised concerns about the amount of alcohol allowed in the family-friendly setting.

Though a motive has remained elusive in the month since the gun battle, investigators believe alcohol might have been a factor in the shootout. In the meantime, the incident has raised questions about booze and firearms in parks — a cocktail that has the potential for dangerous side effects.

“That’s not a good mix, whether you’re in a park or at home or out hunting or out camping somewhere,” Lake Sammamish Park Manager Rich Benson said.

The shootings also stoked a debate about firearms laws and the presence of guns in parks.

Washington allows firearms in state parks, as long as the owner obeys gun regulations and park rules. Discharging a firearm is prohibited in state parks.

The only person charged in connection to the gun battle, Renton resident David Keowongphet, faces a first-degree unlawful weapons possession charge. Keowongphet — in custody at the King County Jail on $500,000 bail — is due in court Aug. 18 for a case-setting hearing.

“The bottom line is, controls don’t work,” Joe Waldron, chief lobbyist for the Washington State Rifle & Pistol Association and Washington Arms Collectors, said last week. “The bad guys, like the ones at Lake Sammamish State Park, would still have guns.”

Washington CeaseFire Executive Director Michael Wolfe disputes the assessment offered by the gun-rights lobbyist. The organization advocates for stronger gun-control measures.

“As much as the other side says guns don’t kill people and that people kill people, well, guns kill people,” he said. “In this situation at Lake Sammamish, if nobody had had a gun, it would have been a fistfight.”

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Renton man charged in state park shootings

August 3, 2010

Widow of slain man said suspect has gang connections

The cousin of a man shot dead at Lake Sammamish State Park faces a weapons-possession charge in connection with the case.

David Keowongphet — cousin of the slain Yang Keovongphet — faces a first-degree unlawful firearm possession charge after police found guns and ammunition at his Renton home. King County prosecutors said he also has gang ties.

The slain man’s widow told the King County Sheriff’s Office she saw the cousin fire a gun into the air during the July 17 shootout.

“David denied any knowledge of the murder and stated that he was at the park, but left prior to the shooting,” Detective Sue Peters wrote in court documents.

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