Officers with the Centralia Police Department first identified a stolen vehicle driving in the 1200 block of Alder Street just after 11:15 a.m. on Thursday.
Unable to get in the right position to stop it and without probable cause to pursue, the driver of the vehicle got away.
But then the vehicle came back and fled again. Several more times.
“This vehicle is driving around our city, taunting us, which is extremely frustrating,” said Centralia Police Chief Stacy Denham.
Before the state Legislature passed a law in 2021 that restricted the conditions in which an officer can engage in a vehicular pursuit, Centralia officers may have chosen to pursue that stolen vehicle.
When the law went into effect, Denham began looking into alternative tactics to pursuits and came across what he called a pursuit eliminator spike strip: a relatively small and compact spike strip that can flatten the tire of a vehicle driving up to 50 mph in five seconds, as opposed to the standard spike strip, which can deflate the tire of a vehicle going up to 100 mph in 30 to 40 seconds. He went into the department’s budget and found approximately $3,000 that he could use to purchase about 40 of those strips, one for each patrol car. The strips arrived and were implemented in each patrol car about two weeks ago, said Denham.
After seeing the vehicle return to the area following the initial attempted stop, Denham had a discussion with his officers that ended with the governing words, “If you see the vehicle, hit it. Don’t just activate lights, PIT the … car and be done with it,” Denham relayed to The Chronicle on Friday, adding that striking or disabling the car was his “worst case scenario.”
Centralia officers attempted to pull over the vehicle a second time when they spotted it in the 700 block of North Pearl Street just after 1:05 p.m., but the vehicle eluded again.
By Thursday night, community members knew officers were looking for that specific stolen vehicle, said Denham.
Just after 1:10 a.m. Friday morning, officers got a call from a community member that the vehicle was stopped in the 1200 block of Alder Street.
The responding officer found the vehicle, noted there didn’t appear to be anyone in it, and put the pursuit eliminator spike strip under the rear tire on the driver’s side
“As he’s doing this, he didn’t see the person that was laying inside of the vehicle,” said Denham. “The brake lights come on, the ignition goes off and the car takes off on him because they spot the officer.”
But the rear driver’s side tire was flat.
“Now the person can’t elude as fast, so instead of 100 miles per hour, it’s going to go 50 miles an hour,” said Denham.
The vehicle still blew through stop signs at Mellen and Harrison streets and fled into the Rochester area.
An officer loosely followed the vehicle, figuring it would need to stop at some point to address the flat tire.
Officers with the Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team (JNET) who happened to be in the area responded to the officer’s report on the radio, and with the additional help of a K9, officers took the driver of the vehicle into custody at approximately 1:35 a.m. on Friday.
The driver, a 48-year-old Bremerton man, was arrested and booked into the Lewis County Jail.
“In my opinion, it was just really good police work, trying to follow the laws,” said Denham. “But this is the extent of the things that we’re trying to do. This one just happened to work out beautifully. And it just also happened to work out that the preparations that we’ve been trying to do actually paid off in this case, and it may pay off again in the future.”
Addressing legal restrictions on police pursuits is one of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs’ main priorities for the ongoing legislative session.