With the law in pursuit, suspect speeds through South Kitsap, Port Orchard

PORT ORCHARD — A fleeing suspect in a Nissan Maxima, law enforcement vehicles in pursuit and rainy lunch-hour road conditions in Kitsap County combined to create a perfect storm for a high-speed chase April 5 that began in Belfair, onto SR 16 and within Port Orchard city limits.

But before the pursuit caused an accident endangering the lives of road travelers and pedestrians, law-enforcement personnel from the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office and Port Orchard Police Department called off their chase at 12:42 p.m. as the suspect’s Nissan, dodging traffic at a speed of about 70 mph, was about to enter the congested Lund and Jackson avenue intersection.

The chase began after a report of a man in a black Nissan Maxima brandishing a handgun, then squeezing off at least one shot at a Belfair gas station near SR 3. Mason County Sheriff’s Office deputies were called to the scene and witnessed the driver suspect heading west on SR 3. A truck driver that followed the Nissan was able to feed a dispatch operator updated reports as he followed closely behind.

Kitsap County sheriff’s deputies posted throughout South Kitsap picked up the chase as the suspect sped to the Mullenix-SR 16 interchange, according to Scott Wilson, the sheriff’s office spokesman.

Wilson said one of the Kitsap County deputies in position at the area came across the speeding Nissan as it got off the highway, then began heading northbound on SR 16.

“The deputy was trying to gain on the Maxima — which was hauling — with his Ford Crown Vic (patrol car),” Wilson said. “He had traffic between him and the suspect’s vehicle, and traffic wasn’t immediately pulling over.”

Minutes later, the deputy in pursuit watched as the suspect exited toward Sedgwick Road. At 12:39 p.m., the Nissan and its lone occupant turned east onto Sedgwick against a red light. A Kitsap County sheriff’s office shift supervisor, who was waiting at the overpass in his unmarked Ford Police Interceptor, activated his lights and siren, then joined the chase. He was able to identify the suspect vehicle’s license plate and report it over the radio, Wilson said.

The suspect weaved back and forth over a double yellow line before turning onto Geiger Road. On that “tight little road up there,” Wilson said the suspect nonetheless accelerated past 40 mph, failing to obey the four-way stop sign at Blueberry and Ramsay roads, and then pushed his vehicle’s speed past 50. Braking heavily for a moment before heading north on Bethel Avenue, the suspect picked up additional velocity along the busy lunchtime traffic corridor. As he passed the Bethel Saloon, the suspect began passing vehicles as he attempted to elude pursuing deputies.

By that time, Wilson said, Port Orchard police officers joined the effort. Seconds later, the suspect reached the congested Bethel-Lund intersection “at a high rate of speed” and turned east onto Lund without stopping for the red traffic signal.

That’s when the law enforcement officers decided to call off the pursuit. “We tried to take position and engage in efforts to stop the vehicle by using techniques we have, but we were unable to continue. By that time, the Nissan was traveling up to 70 miles per hour and we didn’t want to engage him at that speed, in rainy weather and with traffic stacked up.”

Wilson said the Nissan’s high rate of speed and the suspect’s reckless driving made continuing the pursuit near South Kitsap Regional Park and the Jackson-Lund intersection especially perilous for nearby motorists and pedestrians.

When the pursuit ended at 12:42 p.m., the suspect and his Nissan were last seen traveling eastbound on Lund toward Jackson. All told, the pursuit lasted 2 minutes, 23 seconds over a distance of 2.1 miles.

Ninety minutes later, investigating officers from Kitsap County got a phone call from a resident in the 3900 block of Tennis Court that a Nissan Maxima was left unoccupied in his driveway.

“So whoever was driving the car dumped it there,” Wilson said.

Calls to the Mason County Sheriff’s Office — the primary investigative law-enforcement agency — were not immediately answered April 6. To date, Mason County’s detectives are still investigating circumstances surrounding the handgun brandishment and firing, as well as whether the Nissan had been stolen.

Wilson said he had information that the suspect’s vehicle had been sold on March 4. The individual who allegedly purchased it “gave an alibi story,” he added.

“We don’t know who was driving it at the time. But it’s Mason County’s investigation.”

But fortunately for innocent motorists and bystanders, there were no accidents as a result of the pursuit — and no one was injured.

Wilson said that police officers in pursuit are increasingly calling off their chase if the safety of the public is at risk. “You’re seeing that type of policy revision in many law-enforcement agencies throughout the nation,” he said.

“It’s not worth putting somebody’s life in jeopardy for something like this where nobody was actually hurt (by the suspect). There was a threat and a brandishing (of a handgun), but nobody was struck by the gunfire.”