The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office referred first-degree manslaughter and animal cruelty charges against a 20-year-old Tenino man and a 17-year-old from Rochester who are accused of killing Aron Christensen and his dog on a trail near Walupt Lake the night of Aug. 19.
The decision on whether or not to file the referred charges now lies with the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office.
The suspects, Ethan Michael Asbach and an unnamed 17-year-old female from Rochester, reportedly left the Walupt Lake Trailhead at approximately 9 p.m. on Aug. 19 in order to hike to Sheep Lake Campground to meet with one of Asbach’s family members, according to a news release from the sheriff’s office.
“While hiking on the trail, both individuals stated they heard growling noises and saw the eyes of what they believed to be a wild animal. Mr. Asbach stated out of fear he fired a single projectile from a firearm towards the animal. A short time later, the two advised they checked the area and located a deceased male and a dog. The two stated they continued to hike, but took the wrong path. They then exited the woods the next day,” stated the sheriff’s office.
The sheriff’s office responded to a report of a deceased male — who was later identified as Aron Christensen, 49, of Portland — and his dog, Buzzo, on the 101 trail 3 to 4 miles away from Walupt Lake just after 3:55 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 20.
The next day, on Aug. 21, a family member of Asbach contacted the sheriff’s office “advising they had possible information on an incident at Walupt Lake,” according to the sheriff’s office. During subsequent investigation and interviews, the sheriff’s office learned Asbach and the 17-year-old’s account of the shooting.
In addition to the autopsy conducted on Aug. 26 and the necropsy conducted on Aug. 31, there is still ongoing investigation and forensic testing being conducted, according to the sheriff’s office, which stated, “Additional details are currently being withheld during this time to maintain the integrity of the investigation.”
Christensen’s family and friends have been critical of the investigation by the Lewis County Sheriff's Office and coroner, citing a lack of information over the two months between the initial incident and the coroner’s news release Thursday morning.
“I know there are a lot of friends and family of Mr. Christensen who are eager for answers involving his death,” said Sheriff Rob Snaza. “There still continues to be unanswered questions in this case our investigators are diligently trying to address, but yesterday’s notice of cause and manner of death has brought us forward to this point of initially referring the charges.”
The coroner’s office publicly announced Christensen’s cause and manner of death in a news release Thursday morning. A spokesperson for the sheriff's office informed The Chronicle it received a document from the coroner’s office after business hours on Wednesday that provided the forensic pathologists’ finding on cause and manner of death.
“This was obviously the key component we were waiting for,” the spokesperson told The Chronicle.
Anyone with any information pertaining to this incident is asked to contact the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office at 360-748-9286 or Lewis County Communications at 360-740-1105.