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A deadly year: Yakima County recorded highest homicide total in 38 years

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Yakima police officers and detectives converse outside a home on the 1200 block of Cherry Avenue in Yakima, Wash. where the body of an adult man with a gunshot wound was found on Thursday, March 15, 2018. The death is being investigated as a homicide. 

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Last year was one of Yakima’s bloodiest in recent years.

Nineteen people were reported killed in the city of Yakima in 2018, with all but three of them considered homicides by Yakima police. And while police either closed or made arrests in nearly 70 percent of the cases, officials are still trying to figure out why the numbers spiked as they examine the crime statistics.

“They all have their own unique characteristics,” said interim Police Chief Gary Jones. “Now, we go back and look at preventative measures. We need to look for patterns.”

It was the worst year for homicides in the city and county in the past 38 years, according to statistics from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. Yakima County had 32 homicides, including the 19 violent deaths in Yakima.

By comparison, there were zero homicides in the city in 1983, and the county’s lowest number was eight in 1982, according to WASPC’s statistics.

Jones said the city does not count the deaths of Chase Roberts, 24, and Brian Perez, 31, in its homicide tallies as Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Joe Brusic deemed the April 22 killings self-defense. Authorities say the pair were stabbed to death during an attempted home invasion robbery by the occupants of a West Valley home.

Nor does Jones count the Nov. 5 shooting death of Tiffany LeAnne Roberts at a North Third Street apartment she shared with her grandmother. Police initially arrested Wanda Lee Roberts, 87, on suspicion of murder, but Brusic declined to press charges, saying he would not be able to disprove claims the grandmother was defending herself.

POLICE INCIDENT MAP

Every day Yakima Police officers respond to hundreds of calls, and here you can see details of the last 30 days of incidents.

Two homicides occurred in the same place months apart. On July 19, Eduardo Rodriguez-Castaneda, 19, of Tieton was fatally shot in the parking lot near West Valley Middle School, the same place where Davontae Mesa, 16, was also shot to death on Nov. 23. Police arrested David Paul Ortega, 18, in connection with the Rodriguez-Castaneda killing, while Cameron Helland, 18, was arrested in Davontae’s death.

In nine cases, suspects were arrested by police. In one homicide, a suspect was arrested, but not charged because he had dementia.

During 2018, Yakima County sheriff’s detectives investigated four homicides, including one in the Yakima County jail. On Dec. 9, Jacob Ozuna, 36, was bludgeoned to death in a Norteño gang unit at the jail while awaiting trial on a murder charge. Three other inmates have been charged with aggravated first-degree murder in his death.

Arrests were made in two of the sheriff’s office cases.

Sunnyside police also investigated four homicides, with an arrest made in one of them, the Nov. 26 stabbing of Jason Michael Espinoza, 36.

There also were homicides in Toppenish and Union Gap.

The FBI is investigating three homicides within the boundaries of the Yakama Nation reservation. William Gardipee, who was identified as a citizen of the Yakama Nation, was fatally shot outside the Les Schwab tire center in Wapato on Feb. 2.

Joshua Cristian Owens, 15, another Yakama citizen, was shot in the 100 block of North A Street in Toppenish on 
Aug. 12, while authorities found the body of Jedidah Moreno, 30, of Yakima in a closed area of the Yakama Nation on Nov. 28.

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