Vivid memories of last week’s brutal slaying of five people in the White Swan area continue to haunt Lindell LaFollette.
He was sitting next to his cousin, Dennis Overacker, when a gunman shot Overacker in the face.
LaFollette was shot, too, but he managed to escape.
“I keep seeing it over and over,” LaFollette, 60, said recently from a hospital bed.
His left ear was bandaged and his head and shoulder speckled with scabbed-over buckshot.
“I’ve got a massive headache,” he said. “It comes and it goes.”
LaFollette has cancer. He returned to a local hospital for cancer-related complications he was experiencing.
There, he agreed to tell a Yakima Herald-Republic reporter what happened the day his cousin and friends were slaughtered deep within the Yakama reservation.
John Cagle, 59, Michelle Starnes, 51, Catherine Eneas, 49, and Thomas Hernandez, 36, were all shot to death along with 61-year-old Overacker in the 5100 block of Medicine Valley Road near the foothills of the Cascade Mountains.
Four suspects have been arrested in the carnage: James Dean Cloud, 35, Donovan Quinn Carter Cloud, 23, Morris Bruce Jackson and Natasha Mae Jackson.
A terrifying tale
LaFollette — emotional at times — recounted the terror he and his friends unknowingly stepped into when they arrived at Cagle’s trailer at the end of a long, dusty driveway.
Here’s what he recalls:
Overacker stopped by LaFollette’s home in Harrah, saying he was headed to Cagle’s to look at a motorcycle. A friend, Esmerelda Zaragoza, and her baby were also in Overacker’s pickup.
Zaragoza wanted to show her baby to Cagle and Starnes — they were a couple.
But when they arrived, people at the gate of Cagle’s property said he didn’t want to see anyone. Overacker found it odd — he had just talked to Cagle about seeing the motorcycle.
They drove to Hernandez’s home a few miles away. Hernandez hopped in the pickup and they returned to Cagle’s.
This time no one was at the gate. Hernandez hopped out of the truck and went inside Cagle’s trailer. Hernandez returned, followed by a gunman.
Then, another gunman came outside and pointed a firearm at Overacker’s face. “Don’t. Don’t do it,” Overacker said.
The gunman lowered his weapon, but quickly raised it again and shot Overacker in the face.
“With no hesitation, like he’d done it before,” LaFollette said.
Overacker’s body slumped. LaFollette quickly leaned over, threw the pickup in gear and pressed on the gas.
Another shot was fired and struck LaFollette.
“I saw stars,” he said. “I hit the floor.”
Head down, LaFollette pressed the gas pedal with his hand. The truck rumbled across the property. LaFollette called to Hernandez, but the second gunman shot him.
As the truck left the property, a third shot was fired, grazing Zaragoza in the shoulder — her baby was unharmed.
By this time, LaFollette was practically sitting on Overacker’s body. Zaragoza called 911 as she applied pressure to Overacker’s blood-drenched face.
They were met by Yakima County sheriff’s deputies and medics about six miles away on Evans Road, where Overacker was pronounced dead.
LaFollette’s hands jittered and tears welled in his eyes as he told the story. He paused, looked out the hospital window, and wondered why.
“Five lives — like that,” he said.
“I’ve got so much going on in my life right now that I don’t have much time left,” LaFollette said. “It should have been me — not Dennis.”
Seeking a motive
This is the worst homicide case in recent Yakima County history, authorities say. Because it occurred on tribal land, the FBI has taken the lead on the investigation with the sheriff’s office and Yakama tribal police assisting.
Authorities believe drugs were a factor in the slayings but say most of the victims weren’t involved.
Sheriff Bob Udell described most of the victims as “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
LaFollette said Cagle did dabble in drug sales, but that wasn’t why he and Overacker were there.
LaFollette doesn’t deny once using drugs but said he hadn’t in years.
It’s about 30 miles between Yakima — where Cheri Root works as a paralegal for a local law firm — and White Swan, the unincorporated community…
White Swan is an unincorporated community of nearly 800 people, remotely situated on the most westerly portion of the Lower Valley floor.
“We weren’t there for dope or nothing like that,” he said. “We were there to look at the bike he had for sale. But we never did get to see the bike.”
LaFollette said Cagle told him weeks ago that a group in the area was pressuring him into paying them for protection. A group that knew he sold drugs.
“They wanted their cut,” LaFollette said.