A Washington State Patrol trooper was struck and killed by a fleeing driver Tuesday afternoon while he was placing spike strips on Interstate 5 in Chehalis during a police pursuit, according to the State Patrol.
The trooper, Justin R. Schaffer, was struck just before 4 p.m. and taken to Providence Centralia Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Trooper Will Finn said on Twitter. All southbound lanes of I-5 south in Centralia were temporarily closed after the crash.
Lt. Ray Brady, a spokesman for the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, said officers began pursuing the suspect, a 39-year-old man from Thurston County, on Monday afternoon after he allegedly stole a bottle of lighter fluid from Pacific Mini Mart in Lacey.
The convenience-store clerk followed the man into the parking lot intending to take a photograph of his license plate when the man pulled out a stun gun and pointed it at the clerk and a customer, Brady said.
“They were able to back away from him,” Brady said. “He got into his truck, and as he was leaving, he accelerated toward the store clerk, but she got out of the way.”
The sheriff’s office identified the suspect based on surveillance video and the personalized license plate on his truck, Brady said. Officials alerted other local law-enforcement agencies later Monday.
On Tuesday afternoon, a Thurston County sheriff’s deputy spotted the suspect near exit 95 on I-5.
“That led to a high-speed pursuit southbound on I-5 that continued into Lewis County and led to the unfortunate incident with the State Patrol trooper,” Brady said.
Brady said he didn’t know which law-enforcement agency ultimately took the suspect into custody, but he confirmed he was booked into Lewis County Jail on Tuesday.
Schaffer, 28, is survived by his wife, mother, father, brother and K9 partner. He had been a trooper for seven years, according to a statement from the State Patrol.
“Our hearts go out to this grieving family and we recognize the unique sacrifice they have offered to our state as Justin’s father, Glenn is currently the Chief of Police in the City of Chehalis,” the statement said.
Schaffer began working for the State Patrol in November 2013 as a trooper cadet assigned to the property management division, the statement said. He started his training with the 27th Arming Class in January 2014, and was commissioned and assigned to Morton, Lewis County, in September of that year. Four years later, he transferred to Chehalis.
He’s the 30th State Patrol member to die in the line of duty, the statement said.
“In his last moments on the earth, he was wearing the uniform of the Washington State Patrol,” State Patrol Chief John R. Batiste said in the statement. “We must pause and reflect on the character of each of the men and women we have lost over the years. Like Justin, they each served as one of the state’s guardians and each day of their work, they walked into unknown dangers with well-known courage.”
A memorial service is pending, but because of coronavirus-related restrictions on public gatherings, the State Patrol said it would “work with the family and consider how to best move forward in honoring our lost Trooper appropriately.” The department will release more information about the service in the next several days.
“For now, we ask the public to join us as we bow our heads in sadness and feel the beating of so many proud hearts for this fallen hero,” the statement said.