WEST RICHLAND — A Tri-Cities gunman who died in a shootout with police in West Richland is believed to have killed his parents and a neighbor and shot another man during a fiery rampage Wednesday.
The discovery of the Kennewick couple believed to be his parents came a few hours after the 43-year-old man died in his burning pickup during a shootout with four officers on Van Giesen Street.
Investigators suspect he set fire to at least three houses, including his own, and two union halls, as well as sparking several smaller grass fires in his wake.
One of his victims, believed to be Emil “Bobby” Zlatich Jr., the former owner of a Zip’s restaurant in the Tri-Cities, was found in a burning house in Finley. His son also was shot and wounded, family members said.
From police and witness accounts, the deadly day appeared to start during a reported break-in at Zlatich’s home in Finley.
A man called police just before 4 a.m. Wednesday to report his father had been shot, said Lt. Aaron Clem, with the Regional Special Investigations Unit, at a news briefing.
The caller said both his and his neighbor’s houses on the 21000 block of East Finley Road were on fire. When he went outside, he saw someone running away, Clem said.
Kennewick police arrived to find the man’s father in the backyard of the home with a gunshot wound. He was taken to Trios Southridge Hospital. After surgery there, he was flown to another hospital. His condition was not immediately available.
Clem said a body was later found inside the burning Finley home. Family members said the person who died was Zlatich, whose son was wounded in the yard.
The men were neighbors and their property shared a driveway, according to Benton County property records.
Police confirmed that the suspect may be a neighbor who lived behind the house where the shooting was reported.
The neighbor’s house was also on fire and his truck was missing, Clem said. Online records show the man previously owned a small construction firm in the Tri-Cities.
Benton County sheriff’s deputies and other law enforcement officers were told to watch for an orange Dodge pickup with a canopy driven by a man wearing a ballistic helmet and tactical gear and armed with an assault rifle.
About the same time, a series of eight grass fires also were reported along Highway 397 around 4:10 a.m.
Around 4:47 a.m., the Kennewick Fire Department was called to a fire at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers IBEW Local 112 building at 114 N. Edison St.
Later, about 7:20 a.m., a fire was reported at the IBEW Local 112 training building at 8340 W. Gage Blvd.
Someone had broken into both buildings and the fires appeared to be intentionally set, Clem said.
Both were put out with minimal damage.
“Sprinklers inside of the building quickly contained the fire after it started,” Kennewick Fire Chief Chad Michael wrote in a tweet about the Edison Street building fire.
Before 6:30 a.m., the alleged shooter’s orange pickup was seen by Washington State Patrol troopers and officers heading toward West Richland.
Officers were told to back off and “give him some space,” and eventually the driver started to slow down on Van Giesen — the main street leading from Richland into West Richland.
He reportedly was swerving and then flames erupted and the truck came to a stop near a carwash in the 4000 block of West Van Giesen Street. The driver was the only person inside.
Clem said the driver shot several rounds from the truck about 6:30 a.m.
Four officers returned fire, shooting into the pickup. They included one officer from West Richland, one from Pasco and two Benton County sheriff’s deputies.
The truck continued to burn with the suspect inside.
Firefighters were kept back for safety reasons and the pickup burned for at least 30 minutes before an armored SWAT vehicle could pull up close and douse some of the flames.
Clem said the person found dead inside the truck had yet to be identified by late Wednesday.
It wasn’t until noon when someone called police to report a problem at a home on the 4300 block of South Gum Street in east Kennewick.
The couple was found inside and part of the house was burned.
Kennewick police locked down the house and were awaiting more help late Wednesday to process the crime scene. Washington State Patrol Crime Lab investigators were called in to help with the investigation.
No official information had been released by police on the identities or causes of death by Wednesday evening.
Online public records show the couple at the Gum Street home had the same last name as the man living at the Finley Road address who was being sought by police earlier in the day.
A neighbor said that they were his parents.
Kennewick police are investigating the two deaths on Gum Street and the arson fires at the union halls.
The Special Investigations Unit is investigating the officer-involved shooting in West Richland.
And the sheriff’s office is investigating the shootings and fires in Finley.