A 19-year-old man pleaded not guilty Friday to charges he caused a wreck that killed his two friends as they all fled from a Tacoma convenience store after allegedly stealing beer.
Pierce County prosecutors charged Raymond Joseph Lewis III with two counts of vehicular homicide and one count each of leaving the scene of a fatal wreck, attempting to elude police and second-degree robbery.
Superior Court Commissioner Meagan Foley set bail at $250,000, which was a $100,000 reduction from the amount she set Thursday during Lewis’ first appearance. Prosecutor John Macejunas had requested $500,000 bail, but defense attorney Nicholas Andrews successfully argued for $250,000, saying Lewis has no criminal convictions and is not a flight risk.
Lewis wept throughout the hearing.
Police say he was at the wheel of a BMW that went out of control and crashed on Tacoma’s East Side early Wednesday. His passengers, James Paggeot, 22, and Walter Corey, 21, were thrown out of the car and died at the scene.
Lewis ran away from the wreck but called 911 a few hours later to surrender, court records show. He hurt his left arm in the crash.
Police believe Paggeot and Corey each grabbed a case of beer from a Chevron station near 72nd Street and McKinley Avenue minutes before the crash and walked out without paying. A clerk at the store said one of the men shoved him when he confronted them in the parking lot, court records state.
A police officer driving by as the men fled began a pursuit after stopping to talk to the clerk. The officer lost the fleeing car but radioed ahead to a police sergeant, who picked up the chase near 64th and McKinley.
The sergeant reported seeing the car, which he estimated was going 84 to 94 miles per hour, “bottom out” at 64th and East J streets and then go out of sight, court records state. He found the car wrecked not long after.
The BMW’s back end “was crumpled on the left side and the front hood was buckled,” the sergeant reported. Paggeot was nearby, bleeding badly. Firefighters found Corey about 80 feet away, court records show.
Lewis later told a 911 operator he ran from the scene because he was scared, the records show.
Paggeot’s grandfather, Jim Johnson, told The News Tribune on Friday that Lewis, Paggeot and Corey were friends and had worked together at a Puyallup restaurant before Paggeot quit to take a job as a chef at a Tacoma restaurant.
Paggeot’s father died earlier this summer, Johnson said. Paggeot was his daughter’s only child, Johnson added.
“She’s lost her husband and now her only son in a matter of weeks,” he said.
Johnson described the three young men as hardworking and honest, who did not need to steal beer.
“This isn’t something where these were street thugs,” he said. “It must have been on the spur of the moment that they did this. I’m trying to control my anger at the stupidity of it.”
Johnson said he feels bad for Lewis, who faces prison and the everlasting knowledge that he killed two of his friends.
“This gentleman here is going to have to live with this for the rest of his life,” Johnson said.