A 28-year-old Washington State Patrol trooper died during a 100-mph chase Tuesday after a Thurston County robbery suspect struck him as he tried to deploy spike strips in the Chehalis area, the State Patrol reported Tuesday.
The incident closed Interstate 5 southbound for about four hours in the Chehalis area.
Justin Schaffer, a seven-year veteran of the State Patrol, died at Centralia Providence hospital, where he was taken after he was struck, according to the WSP.
Earlier news reports said Schaffer died at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. WSP spokesman Sergeant Darren Wright said Wednesday that there were plans to airlift Schaffer from Centralia Providence to Harborview, but he died before that could happen.
The trooper’s death in the line of duty marks the 30th in the Washington State Patrol’s history.
“This is a time of enormous grief for our agency family and the community he served,” WSP spokesman Will Finn said in a prepared statement.
Schaffer was born in Glenwood Springs, Colo., and graduated from Adna High School. He received his degree in criminal justice from Centralia College. He was assigned to the WSP detachment in Chehalis in 2018, and he lived in the Chehalis area, Wright said.
Authorities believe William David Thompson struck Schaffer and drove at another deputy while trying to elude officers Tuesday, according to a probable cause statement.
Thompson is suspected of shoplifting an item from a Thurston County convenience store Monday and brandishing a stun gun. When a clerk tried to get the license plate of Thompson’s Ford pickup as he left, Thompson drove toward the clerk, who had to dodge out of the way to avoid being struck, according to the statement.
Thurston County sheriff’s deputies saw the pickup the following day at about 2:40 p.m. and attempted a traffic stop, but Thompson sped away. They pursued him south on I-5 into Lewis County, during which time Thompson reached speeds of 100 mph and dodged across all lanes and the shoulder of the freeway.
Deputies requested WSP assistance in setting up spike strips, which were staged near the Chambers Way exit. Schaffer, Michael Farkas and two other troopers were standing near the on-ramp when Thompson approached at speeds of 90 mph, according to the statement.
Schaffer was outside of his patrol car and attempting to deploy spike strips when Thompson veered directly toward him. The impact threw Schaffer nearly 120 feet forward, according to the probable cause statement.
Thompson continued southbound at high speed. Farkas, pulled to the right shoulder about a half mile away, was also attempting to deploy spike strips. Thompson drove directly toward Farkas, striking the trooper’s patrol car. The force of the collision sheared part of the patrol vehicle’s bumper, which flung toward Farkas and struck him in the chest.
Had Farkas not been wearing a ballistic vest, the impact of the vehicle debris “would have caused serious bodily injury” and possibly death, according to the PC statement.
Farkas is “doing fine” and did not need to be hospitalized, Wright said Wednesday.
Thompson continued at high speed, but one of his tires was flattening from the spike strips, according to the PC statement. He continued another two miles at speeds faster than 80 mph before he lost control while trying to take the Rice Road exit. Thompson locked his brakes and skied through the intersection at the top of the off-ramp, striking a guard rail and traffic light post before finally coming to a stop.
Thompon refused to exit the vehicle when contacted by officers, who eventually resorted to firing smoke canisters inside his vehicle to compel him out. After a nearly 90-minute standoff, Thompson got out and was arrested. He declined to talk to officers on scene.
Thompson was booked into the Lewis County Jail on suspicion of first- and second-degree assault, hit and run resulting in death, and eluding, all felonies. A Clark County deputy noted Thompson may have been under the influence of narcotic or intoxicating substances.
Deputies obtained a search warrant to draw blood from Thompson, which is under analysis at the WSP crime lab.
Thompson is being held in Lewis County Jail. On Wednesday, a judge set his bail at $5 million and ordered him to undergo a competency evaluation with doctors at Western State Hospital. Charges are expected to be filed Friday.