YELM, Wash. - A Yelm man who crashed his pickup near White Pass on the day he was supposed to be sentenced for felony extortion was found dead on Wednesday.
The Thurston County Coroner's Office said Chris LaRue, 42, died by suicide in Yelm. He was initially scheduled to be sentenced in Pierce County Superior Court about two weeks earlier on Jan. 11.
Hours before his sentencing, he went off the road while driving eastbound on Highway 12. He rolled hundreds of feet down an embankment in a Ford F-250 pulling a trailer, but escaped the wreck with no major injuries, according to the Washington State Patrol.
A state transportation worker notified police about the crash around 3 a.m. after seeing a gap in a snow bank where LaRue went off the road. A WSP sergeant rescued him by rappelling down the embankment and leading him to safety.
In a GoFundMe page created by LaRue, he posted photos from the crash and told his story of survival, which quickly went viral on social media.
He said an oncoming car crossed into his lane, forcing him off the road. WSP said the cause of the crash was not determined.
A bench warrant was issued for LaRue’s arrest when he failed to appear at his initial sentencing. Last week, a Pierce County judge quashed the warrant and rescheduled LaRue’s sentencing for Friday Jan. 25.
A jury found him guilty of first-degree extortion, a class B felony, after he took his ex-girlfriend’s cell phone when they broke up in 2017 and refused to return it unless she paid a “substantial amounts of money,” according to a probable cause affidavit.
The phone contained photos of his ex-girlfriend’s father who had recently passed away. LaRue offered to return one photo for each time the victim would have sex with him, the affidavit said.
Once news broke about LaRue’s case, he updated his GoFundMe page to deny the crime, saying there is “no evidence” the messages sent to his ex-girlfriend came from him.
“I swear before the Bible and the Constitution that I did not commit this act of extortion. Such a disgusting vulgar act is not within my soul. I am a family man with morals and ethics. I went through the pains of watching my own father dying and I would never steal those precious memories away from someone else,” LaRue wrote.
On Thursday, the day before LaRue's new sentencing date, his wife Jen updated the Facebook post about her husband's crash to announce that he was found dead.
She urged people to "think twice" before posting and commenting on social media.
"Words can do damage. Now my husband my kids Dad is gone," Jen wrote. "If you knew Chris there would be no question in your mind. He did not do what he is accused of."
LaRue was facing anywhere from six months in jail to a year in prison, according to Pierce County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Bradford Hoshimoto.