Yakima Co. investigators struggle with violent weekend that left 4 dead, 5 injured

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. —  Investigators are struggling to keep up with the caseload after a series of violent crimes across Yakima County over the weekend left four people dead and at least five people injured.

“We lose a lot of sleep over this because we’re trying to solve this and solve this as quickly as possible and hold those accountable for their behavior and so it’s very frustrating,” Yakima Police Capt. Jay Seely said.

Seely said out of more than a half-dozen violent crimes over the weekend, only a pair of drive-by shootings appear to be related. With no connection suspected between the other incidents, he said it’s unclear why they all happened at once.

“I don’t know exactly why we’re seeing a big spike in crime, but we see this during the summer and then usually it recedes for a bit,” Seely said. “Then it kind of spikes back up again during the school year when school starts.”

Here’s what law enforcement officers believe may be contributing to violent crime in Yakima County, how a local nonprofit organization is helping to get kids out of gangs and a breakdown of all the violence over the weekend.

Juvenile gang violence continues to rise in Yakima County

Yakima County Sheriff’s spokesperson Casey Schilperoort said deputies are also seeing a spike in violent crime. He said some of it could be due to the continued rise in juvenile gang violence and the difficulties surrounding investigating minors.

Schilperoort said new legislative reforms designed to protect juveniles have put limits on deputies’ abilities to interview them in connection with a crime. He said that makes investigators’ jobs harder.

“Even if they want to tell us all the gruesome things that they did in this particular scene, the state says that they can’t,” Schilperoort said.

Combined with juveniles receiving much lighter sentences compared to adults, Schilperoort said it’s more incentive for gangs to recruit younger and younger members to commit violent crimes.

Schilperoort said while deputies would ideally like to come up with ways to prevent those kinds of crimes, they’re already struggling to respond to calls with the limited resources they have.

“We are completely reactive,” Schilperoort said. “We don’t have the staff, nor do we have the budget or the funds or the people to even consider thinking about having a prevention program.”

Walk About Yakima program has helped 36 high-risk kids reduce their contacts with police by 65%

Seely said the Yakima Police Department has seen success in reducing youth gang violence through the Walk About Yakima program in partnership with the Dispute Resolution Center of Yakima and Kittitas Counties.

“We’re very appreciative of their efforts and what they do with these kids to try to get them off the path that they’re currently on,” Seely said. “Again, that’s invaluable to us in this community.”

WAY program manager Ariana Rich said the program starts with YPD officers identifying the young people they’ve come into contact with who are most at risk for being involved in gang violence.

Rich said then, a WAY mentor and YPD officer will approach the juveniles on the list and let them know their current pattern of behavior and lifestyle is likely to end in one of two ways: incarceration or death.

The juveniles are offered a spot in the WAY program, which usually takes six months to a year to complete and involved developing behavioral and coping skills to help them navigate their world.

Rich said many of the young people are experiencing poverty, so they make sure to connect them with community resources like food banks, housing and any other assistance they may need with school or finding a job — giving them the stability they need to move forward.

However, Rich said one of the biggest supports the program provides is a mentor, who is on-call to support the young person 24/7 and has experienced firsthand what these kids are going through.

“It’s a requirement for them to be ex-gang members, so that we can really work with the youth, really understand where they’re coming from,” Rich said.

Rich said since the program launched in October 2020, it’s helped 36 kids — along with their siblings, parents, friends, loved ones and countless unknown others who spend time with those kids.

In the first year, Rich said they saw a 65% decrease in the number of times the kids involved in the program were being contacted by police — either as a suspect, a victim or a witness of a crime. She said it’s now up to 67%.

Rich said with just a little over a half-dozen people working for the program, they’re only able to help those kids YPD designated as the very highest risk at becoming involved in gang violence. She said there’s many more kids that need their help.

“Ultimately, our goal would be able to be bigger, so that we can cater to more people,” Rich said. “But right now, the demand is very high, but the supply Walk About Yakima has is low in comparison.”

Rich said as a nonprofit organization, they’re funded by state and federal grants that help them do the potentially life-saving work of getting kids out of and away from gangs and supporting them as they reach for their dreams.

Additionally, Rich said they rely on community partnerships to help them support those kids, including organizations providing assistance to low-income families in the Yakima area, such as food banks.

Anyone interested in learning about how to become a community partner for the Walk About Yakima program or how to make a donation to the program can contact the Dispute Resolution Center of Yakima & Kittitas Counties by calling 509-453-8949.

Four dead, five injured in more than a half-dozen violent crimes over the weekend

Man assaulted in Yakima, later dies from injuries — Aug. 5, 2022: Robert Hamre, 36, died over the weekend at Harborview Medical Center from injuries he suffered during an assault on Friday in the 500 block of East Chestnut Avenue. Hambre was taken to Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital for treatment before being transferred to Seattle, but his condition was initially believed to be from injuries suffered during a fall, which is why YPD had no record of an assault that day. However, Seely said the King County Medical Examiner’s office contacted YPD on Sunday evening to let them know Hamre was assaulted and his death was being investigated as a homicide.

Seely said Hambre’s last known address was in Zillah, but they believe he was living without a home in Yakima. When officers went to investigate the scene days later, they reportedly found a family member near a makeshift memorial who said they were told by other people experiencing homelessness in the area that there had been an assault. Officers reportedly found a camera nearby that captured the assault taking place. No arrests have been made.

Three shot at party in Sunnyside — Aug. 6, 2022: Three people were injured in a shooting early Saturday morning at a gathering at the Fraternal Order of Eagles at 100 E. South Hill Road in Sunnyside. Seely said witnesses told police they recognized the shooter as 26-year-old Ezequiel Ayala and believed he was headed to his mother’s house in Zillah.

Shooting suspect shot, killed by deputies in Zillah — Aug. 6, 2022: Ezequiel Ayala, 26, was shot to death by Yakima County Sheriff’s Deputies in a shootout early Saturday morning in a vineyard in the 5900 block of Gilbert Road in Zillah. Deputies were reportedly chasing Ayala, who was suspected of shooting three people in Sunnyside, and when Ayala allegedly shot at them, two deputies shot back and killed him. Seely, speaking on behalf of the Yakima Valley Special Investigations Unit, said the deputies have been placed on administrative leave per YVSIU police. Seely said their names should be released Tuesday.

Man shot, killed inside Moxee apartment — Aug. 6. 2022: Jose Rosario Arellano, 36, was shot to death Saturday morning inside an apartment at 8505 E. Beauchene Rd. in Moxee. The Moxee Police Department is searching for 35-year-old Jose Manuel Magana and 36-year-old Trinidad Magana-Chavez in connection with the killing. Police said they were last seen about 8:30 a.m. on Saturday in East Selah, driving a red 1998 Honda Accord with the WA license plate No. ATV7411.

Man fatally shot, woman injured in Yakima home — Aug. 7, 2022: Investigators remain unsure about the circumstances surrounding a 49-year-old man’s death and the shooting of a 45-year-old woman over the weekend in the 1100 block of South 44th Avenue. Seely said police officers were called to the house for reports of a man with a “self-inflicted gunshot wound” and found the man dead, and the woman with a gunshot wound to the abdomen. Seely said investigators initially believed the crime could be domestic violence-related, but are working to gather additional evidence to determine exactly what happened.

Teen girl shot in suspected gang-related drive-by shooting in Yakima — Aug. 8, 2022: A 14-year-old girl was shot in a drive-by shooting early Monday morning in the 100 block of South 7th Street in Yakima. Seely said witnesses described the suspect vehicle to officers and told them the people inside the car yelled out gang calls before the shooting. Seely said the girl’s wounds were non-life-threatening.

Yakima drive-by shooting suspects strike again, lead Union Gap officers on high-speed chase — Aug. 8, 2022: Less than an hour after the drive-by shooting in Yakima, Union Gap police responded to a drive-by shooting in the 1900 block of South Third Avenue where witnesses described a vehicle similar to the one in the previous shooting. Officers spotted a vehicle matching the suspect vehicle description and attempted to pull the car over, but it reportedly sped away.

Seely said officers had probable cause to believe the occupants had engaged in first-degree assault and drive-by shooting, so they sped after the car. Seely said the driver failed to negotiate the turn onto I-82 eastbound from East Nob Hill Boulevard and crashed. Police arrested a 19-year-old man, two 17-year-old boys and a 16-year-old boy on suspicion of first-degree assault and drive-by shooting. Seely said the driver faces an additional charge of eluding and being in possession of a stolen vehicle. Investigators reportedly found evidence to link the vehicle to both the Yakima and Union Gap shootings.

*** Note: After this story was aired, we received new information from police that another person was injured in a shooting over the weekend — a 14-year-old girl in Yakima — which brought the total up to five people injured instead of four.

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