K.P.'s last run

I've been thinking a lot about the shooting death of Kevin Peterson, Jr. at the hands of police on Thursday night. It's what America has been burning over for the last six months, and it happened right up the road from us.

In today's world, it's easy to see the place where it happened. You just fire up Google, and there it is.

It's part of the City of Vancouver, Washington, but that part of town is called Hazel Dell. The scene of the killing is not an old, established residential neighborhood. It's a commercial strip with a five-lane highway, Highway 99, roaring through it. On either side of the road are low-rise businesses.

This is how Vancouver, Washington always strikes me: a car-centric collection of unappealing, gray strip malls. I don't know if I've ever been on a side street in the 'Couve, and so probably unfairly, it all seems like Highway 99 to me.

The action in the Peterson case went down on the east side of the busy highway. Heading north from 68th Street, there are a few businesses. but it's pretty forlorn. On the corner is a large empty lot, surrounded by a chain link fence. 

Next to that is a branch of the U.S. Bank, which I understand is closed for the pandemic and slated to be closed permanently. It has a functioning ATM, but I don't know whether its drive-through teller system is abandoned. 

North of the bank branch is an active used car dealership.

The next address is a motel, but it's not actually on the highway. To get to the motel, you pull through a driveway north of the car dealership. You make a right just before the green sign.

The motel, a Quality Inn, sits behind the dealership, to the north and east of it. There are two motel buildings, with a little pool in the center of one of them.

North of the motel driveway, and west of one of the motel parking lots, is a bar, currently called the 99 Saloon. It's had other names. When the vigil on Friday night turned into a protest, there was a lot of confrontation between the left and the right in front of that bar.

North of the bar is a nondescript office complex with a parking lot out front. Then you're at 72nd Street. That's it. That's the whole block.

According to the police, the episode that led to Peterson's death began in a parking lot of the Quality Inn. There are two parking areas for that motel, one in the northwest corner of the property, next to the bar, and the other on the east side of the larger motel building. The reception area of the place is across from the north parking lot, in the building next to the car dealership. The north lot is just at the end of the reception area ramp. Both of these photos are from the same spot:

It's unclear to me which parking lot was involved. It might have been the other one, which I can't find on Google.

The authorities say narcotics cops confronted Peterson in one of the parking lots. Apparently that's where they maintain he "produced" a handgun. In any event, he ran away from them on foot, leaving his car behind.

We know that he died in the parking lot of the U.S. Bank, and so I'm trying to trace how he got there. There's a wooded area to the south of the eastern Quality Inn parking lot, but I don't think he ran through there. There is temporary chain link fencing around the abandoned bank branch on that side, for one thing.

Most likely, he ran out the driveway that connects the motel with the highway, took a left turn, and ran south along the highway. Here's the view from the reception ramp, looking down the driveway at Highway 99:

The highway is not a pedestrian-friendly place, but it's on a bus line, and there is a little bit of a sidewalk.

Did Peterson cut through the used car lot? It seems possible. But if the dealership was open at that hour (5:30 on a Thursday afternoon) and car salespeople were looking out the window or outside on the lot, they definitely would have seen him, regardless of whether he stayed on the sidewalk or not.

It would have been quick. Peterson was a high school athlete, and he was probably still in running shape at age 21. The car salespeople might have blinked and missed him passing by.

Was he being chased by the narcs on foot, or did the narcs stay back by the motel? That much is not clear to me.

Anyway, at some point he reached the parking lot of the bank branch. One witness said he was hopping up and down, with his hands in his pockets, looking scared. It's hard to tell, from what's been published, how long it was until the sheriff's deputies came speeding in and shot him to death. Peterson may have been planning to stay running along the street, but may have had to duck into the bank lot when he saw or heard the deputies coming. Nobody mentioned lights or sirens, and so I don't know how much of that there was.

One of the witnesses quoted in the news was a young employee of the Jiffy Lube. Now notice, the Jiffy Lube is on the southeast corner of Highway 99 and 68th Street, which means this person was more than 100 feet away. But he said the deputies came roaring in, with tires screeching, causing people to stop and watch. Anther person, who was in a car, said he pulled over and saw the shooting.

Peterson, one of them said, was standing by the fence. It's not clear to me which fence they are talking about. It may have been on the south side of the bank lot, or the east side. But for the young man in the Jiffy Lube to have seen Peterson clearly from ground level, I would bet it was on the south side of the lot, along the driveway that leads you into the bank.

The one witness said the shots rang out only about five seconds after the deputies' arrival.

That's all I've got. The rest is questions. Were the three deputies who killed Peterson justified in doing so? Did he point a gun at them? Did he fire a gun at them, or at the narcs back at the motel? Those, I think, are the most important of the questions.

There are other questions, too, of course, but they're not important. One such unknown is what Peterson was doing over there in the first place. Maybe the narcs were on to something. If you prowl around on the internet long enough, you might find some material that would give drug police cause to keep an eye on him.

But were the deputies justified in taking his life?

UPDATE, Nov. 11: He ran through the woods. More here.


  1. Much too common a story, but one that usually takes place in Portland.


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