Chehalis, WA – Washington State Patrol (WSP) Trooper Justin Schaffer was killed in the line of duty on Tuesday, after a fleeing suspect struck him with a vehicle as he was deploying spike strips on the interstate.
The events leading up to the 28-year-old trooper’s death began on Monday afternoon, when a 39-year-old male suspect walked into the Pacific Mini Mark in Lacey and stole a bottle of lighter fluid, according to The Seattle Times.
When a store employee followed the suspect outside to take a picture of his license plate, the thief pulled out a stun gun and threatened the employee and a customer, Thurston County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) Lieutenant Ray Brady said.
The customer and store employee were able to back away from the suspect, who immediately jumped into his truck.
“As [the suspect] was leaving, he accelerated toward the store clerk, but she got out of the way,” Lt. Brady explained, according to The Seattle Times.
Security footage from the convenience store captured images of the suspect and his personalized license plate, and deputies were quickly able to identify him.
They issued an alert to surrounding areas, but the suspect wasn’t spotted until the following day when a TCSO deputy saw him driving on Interstate 5 near exit 95, The Seattle Times reported.
The suspect refused to pull over, and led officers on a high-speed chase into Lewis County.
Trooper Schaffer was placing spike strips on the roadway at approximately 4 p.m. when the driver crashed into him.
The gravely-injured trooper was rushed to Providence Centralia Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, The Seattle Times reported.
The suspect sped away from the scene after fatally striking Trooper Schaffer, and eventually crashed into a light pole approximately three miles away, according to KIRO.
He barricaded himself inside the vehicle, but was apprehended after SWAT officers fired tear gas into his truck.
The suspect has been identified as 39-year-old William Thompson, KIRO reported.
Thompson has been arrested on charges of attempting to elude police and vehicular homicide, according to KEPR.
“It is with great sadness that we report the passing of Trooper Justin R. Schaffer #646, who died in the line of duty this afternoon,” the WSP said in a Facebook post on Tuesday. “Not only is this a time of enormous grief for our agency, but for his family and the community whom he served.”
Trooper Schaffer graduated with a degree in criminal justice before he joined the WSP as a trooper cadet in November of 2013.
He was commissioned on September 16, 2014, and was initially assigned to Morton.
Trooper Schaffer was both a certified drug recognition expert and a K9 handler.
He and his partner, K9 Frankie, had been assigned to Chehalis since December of 2018.
Trooper Schaffer leaves behind his wife, Sandra, as well as his brother, Brandon, his mother, Sheila, and his father, Chehalis Police Chief Glenn Schaffer.
“We’re a family, this is a family,” WSP Chief John Bastise said, according to KIRO. “And a family lost a brave family member, so we’re going to hug and support each other as family members.”
“We are crying with them. Today. Tomorrow. And in the future,” Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza told the news outlet. “My heart is broken for the family and our prayers go out to them.”
Washington Governor Jay Inslee offered his condolences to the fallen trooper’s loved ones on Tuesday night.
“Trudi and I send our deepest condolences to the friends, family and colleagues of Justin Schaffer who died in the line of duty today,” Inslee said in the statement. “The Schaffer family, including Justin’s father Glenn who is the police chief in Chehalis, has made tremendous sacrifices for our state.”
“I am grateful for the difficult and crucial work that law enforcement does every day to protect us and keep our communities safe,” the governor added. “Justin was a young man who served and protected our state with honor for the past seven years. I know all Washingtonians join us in mourning this tragic loss.”
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Washington State Patrol Trooper Justin Schaffer, both blood and blue. Thank you for your service.
Trooper Justin Schaffer, your life mattered.