Standing over 6 feet tall, Cherno “Che” Ceesay was a gentle giant and a gifted athlete who immigrated to the Eastside more than a decade ago but who in recent years had returned to his native Gambia to try out for the national soccer team, according to a family member.
Injuries kept him from realizing his dream of playing professional soccer, but he loved the sport, both on the pitch and in video games, said his cousin, Modou Nyang.
“He is the sweetest soul you’d ever want to meet. He’s got that laugh — if he laughs, everybody laughs,” said Nyang, who lived with Ceesay in Bellevue before Nyang married and moved to Tacoma.
Most recently, Ceesay, 28, was living with roommates in Kirkland and working as an Uber driver, his cousin said. He was saving up money for another trip to western Gambia, where his mother is currently vacationing and where his father and one of his sisters still live.
He never got the chance to book a plane ticket.
Just after 9 p.m. Dec. 13, Ceesay accepted a ride request and arrived in the 8300 block of Renton Issaquah Road Southeast, where he picked up his fare for what was supposed to be a 2-mile drive, according to King County prosecutors.
Ceesay had only driven about 100 feet when he was repeatedly stabbed from behind in the head and neck, and crashed his Kia Sportage into a tree, prosecutors say. He died at the scene.
A Nevada couple was arrested in Bellevue two days later and on Monday, prosecutors charged Olivia Bebic and Devin Wade, both 21, with first-degree murder, accusing them of killing Ceesay in a failed attempt to steal his car, jail and court records show. Both remain jailed in lieu of $2 million bail.
The couple apparently arrived in the Bellevue area from Las Vegas in February and were living in Bebic’s car with their two dogs near the Factoria Mall, charging papers say. Phone records obtained by Issaquah police show Bebic’s phone was used to research vehicle thefts in Washington and to call a tow truck company within hours of Ceesay’s killing, presumably because the brakes on the couple’s car had stopped working, the charges say.
“In a dark section of Renton Issaquah Road, they created an Uber account with a fake name and an email address they both disavow for the purpose of hailing a stranger, Cherno Ceesay, to their location,” Senior Deputy Prosecutor Adrienne McCoy wrote in charging papers. “When he arrived, they stabbed him to death in the course of trying to steal his car. When his car crashed, they left him dying in his car and stole his phone, presumably to cover up their involvement in this crime.”
Court records do not yet indicate which attorneys are representing Bebic and Wade. They are to be arraigned Jan. 4.
According to the charges:
An Issaquah man heard a loud noise outside his house around 9:20 p.m. Dec. 13 and when he looked outside, he saw a car crashed into a tree with its headlights on and the engine running. He called 911 and also reported seeing what he believed was a cellphone flashlight moving around the vehicle.
The man got dressed and went outside, where he found Ceesay hanging out of the driver’s seat, held by his seat belt with his door open. The witness and arriving medics attempted to save him, but Ceesay didn’t have a pulse and died at the scene.
Police noted Ceesay’s cellphone was missing from its dash holder, though the charging cable was found hanging out of the car. Ceesay’s wallet was found in the vehicle’s center console.
An autopsy found Ceesay suffered multiple stab wounds to the right side of his head and neck consistent with being stabbed from behind and the medical examiner determined he would have lost consciousness within seconds of being stabbed in the neck.
Police obtained records from Uber for Ceesay’s phone and the phone that had requested the ride. The records showed both phones traveled a few hundred feet north of the crash scene together before the requester’s phone disconnected from the Uber app. Ceesay’s phone, however, remained connected to the Uber app for more than 2 1/2 hours, traveling to Southeast 41st Place in Bellevue, east of the mall.
Bellevue police obtained footage from traffic cameras and located a white car with a black bag attached to the roof, and the vehicle’s route corresponded perfectly with the GPS locations from Ceesay’s stolen phone. The video showed the car had a Nevada license plate and police located the car on Dec. 15 near the mall, where Ceesay’s phone had been following his killing.
Later that night, Bellevue police arrested Bebic and Wade for shoplifting and Bebic’s car, a Nissan Altima, was impounded. A search warrant was served on the vehicle and police found Ceesay’s phone in the center console, a bloody knife in the pocket on the driver’s door and a second bloody knife in the pocket on the passenger’s door. Two other cellphones, including the phone used to request the Uber ride, were also found in the car, the charges say.
In an interview with police detectives, Bebic confirmed she and Wade are always together and claimed they had spent the day delivering food from different restaurants, according to the charges. She was shown a photo of Ceesay and police say she told detectives he didn’t look familiar. Confronted with the cellphone records, showing the locations of Wade’s phone and Ceesay’s phone after the homicide, police say Bebic invoked her right to an attorney.
As officers escorted Bebic out of an interview room, she yelled to Wade not to tell detectives anything and to ask for a lawyer, say the charges.
Police say Wade claimed not to own a working phone and that he remembered getting food and taking a nap on Dec. 13, but not much else. He too requested an attorney.
In addition to the cellphone records, police found internet searches on Bebic’s phone that suggest she searched for information about Ceesay’s killing and ways to erase her digital footprint, according to charging papers.
“It also appears the two [Bebic and Wade] were searching for information about SeaTac airport, which would indicate that they were looking for opportunities to flee the area,” a detective wrote in the charges.
Ceesay, the second youngest of five siblings, was part of a large extended family in the Puget Sound region, said Nyang, his cousin. Family and friends gathered Thursday at a Lynnwood mosque to say prayers for Ceesay before his burial at the Muslim cemetery in Snohomish, he said.
Ceesay’s mother couldn’t get a flight back from Gambia in time for her son’s funeral.
“She’s devastated,” Nyang said of his aunt.
Ceesay, known in the family as “Che,” was the youngest of his male cousins.
“He died making a living, in a way every immigrant does,” said Nyang.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Ceesay was living in Issaquah at the time of his death. He was living in Kirkland.