CATHLAMET — A Wahkiakum County man was arrested last week on suspicion of shooting at three law enforcement officers, including the head of the Naselle State Patrol detachment. No one was injured.
The suspect has been charged with three counts of first-degree attempted murder.
Lee R. Wages, 48, allegedly became upset on March 21, when his father, Don Wages Sr., and brother, Don Wages Jr., said they were planning to move their cows to a pasture near his mobile home on Birnie Slough Road near Cathlamet, according to a probable cause statement from the Wahkiakum County Prosecutor’s Office. When Wages Jr. attempted to speak to him through the door of his home, Wages allegedly ordered him to get off of his property and threatened to shoot him. County records show the property belongs to Don and Doloris Wages.
The father and brother reported the incident to the Wahkiakum County Sheriff’s Office. Authorities decided to coordinate a visit between Wages and county mental health professionals.
At about 1:40 p.m., Washington State Patrol Sgt. Bradford Moon, Undersheriff Gary Howell and deputy Brian Hornback arrived at the home, in hopes of setting up the appointment with the mental health experts. Howell knocked on the door and asked Wages to come outside. Wages allegedly refused, cursed at the officers and ordered them to get off of his property.
Hornback heard what sounded “like a long gun being racked” as he stood about 10 feet from the trailer, trying to persuade Wages to come out. Hornback told Howell, who was standing closest to the trailer, that he thought he heard a gun. They moved to the corners of the house.
As they continued asking Wages to come out, he allegedly started firing shots inside of his trailer with a shotgun. Moon, Howell and Hornback took cover behind their vehicles, which were an estimated 50 to 100 feet from the home.
“Within a few moments of our moving, I heard several more shots being fired from what sounded to me like a smaller caliber weapon than before,” Hornback wrote.
Moon said he could see shots coming from a window in the trailer and hitting the ground near their vehicles.
The first round of shooting began about four minutes into their visit and the second round started about three minutes after that. The moments in between the two volleys of shots were “chaos,” Howell said on March 26.
“It was just us backing away, making sure everybody was OK, looking for cover, planning our next move,” he added.
When the shooting stopped, the officers moved their cars off of the property and called the Cowlitz County SWAT Team. It took about 90 minutes for them to arrive, Howell said, because the team was training in Camas, nearly 80 miles away. The alternative — calling Lewis County’s SWAT team — would not have gotten officers on the scene any sooner, Howell said.
While they waited, the local officers got a warrant to search Wages and his home.
The SWAT officers used a “flashbang” to get Wages out of his trailer. The devices are designed to put on a very bright, loud pyrotechnics show that will distract the target long enough for officers to gain an advantage. Wages was arrested and taken to the Wahkiakum County Jail..
Hornback said after the arrest, Wages told him he was trying to protect himself. When Horback pointed out that they had announced they were from the sheriff’s office, Wages allegedly replied, “I know, but I didn’t trust you either.”
Inside the home, the officers allegedly found four bullet holes in a window and four shotgun holes near the front door, close to where Horback and Howell were standing when they first heard shots.
The mental health experts were not present during the shooting, but did eventually report to the scene once it was safe, Howell said.
Wages is being held on $500,000 bail. He does not appear to have a felony history in Washington.
Howell, who has been in law enforcement for more than 20 years, said he has been shot at before. It was stressful, he said, but he was most concerned for Hornback, who has been a deputy for about three years.
“He is young and has a family,” Howell said. “I was worried about how he was going to handle it. He has done great.”
The emergency responders and mental health workers talked about how the incident affected them afterwards. Responders also analyzed their response during a later meeting. These increasingly common practices are designed to improve safety and help responders cope with traumatic events.
“There’s always things to be learned,” Howell said. “The biggest one that we’ve gotten out of this is that we need to be sure that there’s better information sharing.” Like cops with many other small agencies, Wahkiakum’s few deputies don’t have much overlap in their schedules. Howell said that can make it hard for them to alert one another to developing situations that merit extra attention.
“We all had bits and pieces, but we were not all in a position where we could share that information,” he said.