More Details Emerge On Crab Creek Incident

(UPDATED JULY 21, 2010, 9 A.M. WITH PICTURES FROM WDFW; ALSO, THE COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD TODAY HAS A STORY ON THE INCIDENT BASED ON COURT RECORDS WHICH WE ARE TRYING TO OBTAIN THIS MORNING.)

Officer Chad McGary was in a very bad spot.

A young man was allegedly pointing a .45-caliber handgun at the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife enforcement agent and demanding he give up his sidearm.

The gun had come from the man’s back pocket just a moment before.

McGary, described as in his early 30s and only on the force for one year since coming over from the nearby Royal City police department, had heard clanking and thought the noise was a marijuana pipe, but when he asked to see the source, the man had shoved him and pulled the gun out.

Thinking quickly, McGary reminded the man there was another officer nearby.

“I think this is what saved his life,” says WDFW Deputy Chief Mike Cenci.

The other officer was Capt. Chris Anderson, who’s been with the agency for 25 years and in law enforcement for 30, but can still be found on patrol.

Indeed, it’s not often that you’ll find two Washington wardens together, but the duo had been on their way to check on after-hours sturgeon anglers elsewhere last Saturday evening when they saw cars gathered at the mouth of Crab Creek along Highway 243 and decided to run routine license checks on anglers fishing there. For years, fishermen have complained about poaching in this area of western Grant County.

The man had told Anderson that he’d left his fishing license in his wallet at home, and as the captain went to check other anglers, McGary escorted him to his Ford F-150 patrol truck to run his name through WDFW’s database, and that’s when the gun was allegedly drawn.

Cenci says that the man, who has been identified by the Spokane Spokesman-Review as Jose J. Garcia-Meraze, then called his father, named as Nicholas Garcia-Godinez by the paper, age 60, who allegedly came running up with a knife.

“‘Are you going to kill me?'” McGary asked the young man, Cenci says.

He instead demanded his .40-caliber Glock, twice, which McGary refused to give up.

Then the man held the firearm to the officer’s head, Cenci alleges.

“So (McGary) removed his service gun and threw it in the bush,” Cenci says. “At that point the kid runs up the hill.”

McGary then called Anderson on the radio, and the captain thought he heard McGary use the word “gun,” Cenci says.

The man jumped into a Honda Civic, got it started, but as Anderson arrived at the vehicle, he got a hand on him and tried to pull him out but couldn’t.

Meanwhile, McGary, weaponless, backed away from the father, who allegedly was holding the knife in the “thrusting position,” says Cenci, and retrieved his Glock from the brush. He then took the father down and placed him under arrest.

McGary called Anderson, now in pursuit of the son, and told him the suspect was armed.

Cenci alleges that at some point the man stopped, got out of the Honda and with an unsteady hand, aimed the gun at Anderson who took cover.

ALONG THE BEVERLY-BURKE ROAD, WHERE SUSPECT JOSE J. GARCIA-MERAZE ALLEGEDLY FIRED ON WDFW CAPTAIN CHRIS ANDERSON. (WDFW)

The man got back in the car, drove toward the captain’s truck and allegedly “fires several rounds. Anderson dives across the seat and feels one round hit his vehicle.”

It struck the truck’s lower frame on the driver’s side, Cenci says.

WDFW OFFICER CHAD McGARY LOOKS AT A BULLET HOLE IN THE SIDE OF CAPTAIN CHRIS ANDERSON'S PATROL TRUCK. (WDFW)

Anderson radioed that shots had been fired, and then pursued the man, who repeatedly slowed down which Anderson felt was a trick to pull him in close.

On a big, sweeping curve on the Beverly Burke Road north of Beverly, the suspect turned his car around again.

“Based on what occurred before,” says Cenci, “Anderson thinks he’ll be fired on again.”

The captain readied his AR-15, a .223-caliber rifle, and as the man drove toward him, fired three times, striking the Honda once, Cenci says.

NEAR THE INTERSECTION OF HIGHWAYS 243 AND 26, WHERE CAPTAIN CHRIS ANDERSON FIRED ON THE SUSPECT'S HONDA CIVIC. (WDFW)

The pursuit went north then west on I-90 over the Columbia at Vantage. The car pulled a U-turn into the median and headed back east over the river, past George then towards Ephrata on Highway 28, where the Honda stalled and the man was taken into custody without incident.

According to the Spokesman-Review, the man, Garcia-Meraze, faces attempted first-degree murder charges and is being held on $1 million bail.

Formal charges are expected next week. The defendant will have a chance to enter a plea on Monday, according to Angus Lee, a Grant County prosecuting attorney.

Garcia-Godinez, his father, faces second-degree assault and is being held on $100,000 bail.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has also placed holds on the men. According to reports from other law enforcement officials, both have been determined to be in the United States illegally.

In a piece published by the Wenatchee World, Cenci notes that “Being an alien in possession of a firearm is a Class C felony,” and speculates that “Perhaps that was (Garcia-Meraz’s) concern.”

The use of deadly force by Anderson is being investigated by the Columbia Basin Investigative Team, a regional law-enforcement consortium. Investigations are routinely conducted following police use of force involving firearms. Anderson and McGary remain on patrol.

WDFW’s own investigation is expected to be wrapped up by the end of the week.

But for Cenci, the incident illustrates the very difficult world that his officers have to operate in.

They’re often alone and working in remote areas contacting people already armed with guns or knives because of hunting, fishing or other gathering activities they’re otherwise legally engaged in.

But it’s not just law-abiding sportsmen who are afield. The Oregon State Police’s Fish & Wildlife Division monthly newsletter often highlights incidents where their officers run into people wanted on warrants.

And in recent years, the illegal cultivation of marijuana on Washington’s public lands by Mexican drug cartels has exploded. Pot plantations have been discovered both east and south of this past weekend’s incident.

Cenci says gang affiliates have fired shots over fishing spots during walleye season at Potholes Reservoir too.

The incident gave him a flashback to the death of Kris Fairbanks, an Olympic National Forest law enforcement officer killed on duty in September 2008 while checking out a suspicious car at a Forest Service campground near Sequim. Fairbanks is believed to have been shot by Shawn Mathew Roe, later gunned down by Clallam County deputies following the death of another area resident.

“Here’s a situation where a bad guy comes to the conclusion that only a single officer is between him and freedom,” Cenci says of the incident at Crab Creek. “Our program has many close calls, but this close? It’s been awhile.”

He commends McGary and Anderson’s actions.

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