King County prosecutors have charged a 34-year-old felon with second-degree murder, accusing him of fatally striking a pedestrian outside the Muckleshoot Casino in Auburn last month while he was trying to elude a police vehicle.
Russell Ward was wanted on a Department of Corrections warrant for violating conditions of his community supervision for a manslaughter conviction when he mistakenly thought an Auburn police officer was attempting to pull him over March 2, charging papers say.
He ended up wrecking his SUV, killing Reachella Partman, 44, according to prosecutors.
Dan Donohoe, a spokesman for Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, said Ward was charged with second-degree murder instead of vehicular homicide because he is accused of eluding police, a felony, at the time of the fatal crash.
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An Auburn police officer had been dispatched to a burglary call around 11:30 p.m. that night; he activated his lights and siren as he exited an apartment complex and pulled into traffic behind Ward’s SUV in the 3700 block of Auburn Way South, according to the charges.
Instead of moving to the right to let the officer pass, Ward took off at high speed, driving an estimated 98 mph in a 45-mph zone, the charges say.
“The defendant straddled lanes and speeded past slower traffic continuing to elude the officer,” Senior Deputy Prosecutor Amy Freedheim wrote in charging papers. “The officer believed this was extremely suspicious. He also noted it was very dangerous and alerted other units.”
Two other patrol cars pulled in behind the first officer as Ward continued driving west, say the charges. As Ward approached the casino in the 2400 block of Auburn Way South, he attempted to pass another car but lost control of the SUV, “flying off the road to the right, hitting the curb” and flipping the vehicle across the sidewalk and a planting strip before it came to rest next to another car in the casino parking lot, the charges say.
Partman, who was walking on the sidewalk and carrying a red umbrella, was struck by the SUV and thrown several yards into the parking lot, say the charges. She suffered catastrophic injuries and died at the scene. Her sister, who had been walking toward Partman, witnessed the fatal wreck, according to the charges.
Other Auburn police officers, who had just finished responding to another incident in the area, also witnessed the crash and immediately responded, say the charges.
Police say Ward — who was ejected from the SUV and flung into a utility pole — claimed he was a pedestrian who had been struck by the vehicle, charging papers say. But there was no one else inside the SUV, and given the officers’ quick response, there wasn’t time for anyone to leave the crash scene unnoticed, say the charges.
The wreck was captured by the casino’s video-surveillance cameras as well as the camera inside the first officer’s patrol car, according to charging documents.
Ward is also accused of taking his friend’s SUV without permission, stranding the man earlier that day at the Muckleshoot Bingo Hall, say the charges.
Ward, who is deemed a violent offender and has a prior conviction for trying to elude police, was wanted on the DOC warrant as well as on a warrant for failing to appear for sentencing in a domestic-violence assault case, say the charges.
He was treated after the crash at Harborview Medical Center, then booked into jail the following day on the DOC’s no-bail warrant, according to charges and jail records. His bail on the murder charge was set at $1 million.