Seattle police detectives are investigating two deaths Wednesday night in Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill: A woman in her 30s who was found dead in a “fort” in an apparent domestic-violence homicide, as well as a man believed to be her partner, who died after barricading himself inside a small pump house building.
Police said officers were called to the park around 8 p.m. Wednesday to help Seattle Fire Department medics tend to the woman after she was found unresponsive. Their CPR efforts did not revive her, police said.
While homicide detectives were being called, police learned of a man who had broken into the pump house on the west side of the park.
“After speaking with witnesses, officers determined that the man and the woman had a domestic relationship and had been staying in a makeshift shelter in the park earlier in the night,” police wrote on their blotter.
Police said officers and negotiators tried to coax the man out, but he had barricaded himself inside the building. Eventually, a SWAT team was called to the park. About four hours into the standoff, police entered the building and found the man dead “inside at the bottom of a 10-foot tank, which contained approximately 50 gallons of 12 percent bleach solution,” according to the blotter.
The woman who was killed was identified by the King County Medical Examiner’s Office as 38-year-old Lisa Vach. Her death was ruled a homicide and she died from blunt force injuries and probable asphyxiation, according to the medical examiner.
Seattle police said she had been beaten and described the man as a person of interest in her death. His identity had not yet been released by the medical examiner Thursday, but police had notified family members that the man killed was Travis Berge, according to a sibling of Berge reached by phone Thursday.
Berge’s long arrest record, which included several felony convictions, had garnered attention from local television news in recent years. Berge spoke openly about his use of meth and was included prominently in KOMO 4’s “Seattle Is Dying.” He moved to Seattle from Reno, Nevada, around 2016, KOMO reported.
Court documents filed in April 2019 stated that Berge had been booked into King County Jail 47 times since 2013. He had been staying on Capitol Hill in recent weeks and was seen during the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP).
People at the park Thursday described Vach as spirited and outspoken, frequently seen picking up garbage in the park. “She was a warrior,” said Alexis McCulloch. “She always did what she could to help people.”
“She was an agent of joy,” said a friend, Sunny. Vach found community at the park, some said. “Like most of us, she was not a fan of authority. She just liked to have fun,” Sunny said.
She also drawn to the protest movement starting during the CHOP, Sunny said. “She was absolutely here for Black Lives Matter,” she said.
The environment at the camp “soured” after city crews barricaded park bathrooms and a building campers had broken into and used to hand out food and supplies, and around the same time Berge’s behavior became more erratic, Sunny said. “I think we failed both of them. They were hurt. They were sick. They needed help,” she said.
Cal Anderson Park has been part of an evolving area of protest since the CHOP. Though the park has technically been closed since June 30 for repairs, people have regularly exercised in the park, and a camp of protesters and homeless people has remained despite city efforts to clear the area.
A protester who said he had been in the park Wednesday evening said the man had broken into the pump house with a metal pipe and was breaking things inside as others warned him to stop.
When the man didn’t stop, the protester said he went to a “fort” where the man stayed near a playground in the park and, inside, saw the man’s girlfriend lying motionless. The man had a tenuous relationship with protesters, sometimes keeping to himself and other times having “violent tendencies,” the protester said.
About 20 to 30 people had been staying in the park Wednesday, the protester said.
The locked pump house building contains water pumps and treatment equipment, and the bleach solution is used to treat drinking water, said Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) spokesperson Sabrina Register.
The damage Wednesday did not affect the city’s drinking water operations, Register said. The reservoir below Cal Anderson Park has been out of service for much of the last several weeks, according to SPU.