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SPD Sgt.: RV fire shows Seattle police are not hands off with homeless

An RV was set on fire during a stand off with Seattle police Aug. 7, 2018. (Tracy Taylor, KIRO Radio)

A SWAT vehicle was rammed by an RV, shortly before it was set on fire during a stand off with Seattle police Tuesday morning.

“SWAT and Seattle PD were very, very patient with this guy,” said KIRO Radio Traffic Reporter Tracy Taylor, who witnessed the entire incident. “SWAT yelled out to him, saying ‘Let’s make this easy. We don’t want you hurt.’”

RELATED: Does Seattle have a double standard for people living in their vehicles?

The incident occurred in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood near Dakota Street and Airport Way. Sgt. Sean Whitcomb with SPD says that the call began with a woman living in the RV and an unwelcome guest.

“Essentially, her ex-boyfriend, a 43-year-old guy, shows up,” Whitcomb said. “There’s a domestic violence no-contact order; he’s not supposed to be there. She calls us. She’s pretty frantic. We get there pretty quick, but the problem is this guy has a bunch of gasoline inside the RV. He won’t come out.”

The woman was able to make it to police where she was safe. But the man remained in the RV.

“He did not want to move,” Taylor said. “So he rammed one of the SWAT vehicles. He backed it up into the SWAT vehicle. That’s when we saw tear gas deployed.”

The tear gas did not get the man to come out.

“He sets (the RV) on fire at about 6:15; lots of smoke … and he’s still not coming out,” Whitcomb said. “We start with a plan to rescue him, then he crashes out of a window around 7:45.”

A total of 12 SPD personnel and a dog were hospitalized for smoke inhalation trying to rescue the man from the burning RV.

“The good news is that the bravery and courage of the men and women on the scene weren’t going to let their own welfare get in the way of making sure this guy doesn’t die in an RV fire,” Whitcomb said.

 

Whitcomb said that the incident is an extension of the homelessness crisis in Seattle.

“We recognize, because we see it often in our job, that there are folks who don’t have an apartment, they don’t have a condo, they don’t have a house,” Whitcomb said. “So they are living in the street, unsheltered in a tent, in an RV. This lady was minding her own business living in an RV. I would presume she was obeying the laws of the city and the state. This man, however, was not. So we show up to a crisis call involving, presumably, two homeless people. And we are put in a position where we are intervening.”

“There has been a lot of criticism of our organization that we are taking too much of a hands-off approach when it comes to crime and homeless people,” he said. “The issue here that I think needs to be illustrated is that the men and women on scene put themselves at risk to make sure we had a peaceful resolution. Even though that required inhaling God knows what and being hospitalized … if there is a crime that is happening, whether it’s trafficking of people, sex trafficking, drug dealing, if it’s happening in a tent, an RV, a house, we are going to take care of it.”

“Often times I feel like our work goes uncredited,” he added. “….Knowing the work that gets done on a daily basis that does not get talked about, because that is our job; responding to 911 calls … we make mistakes. We are a big agency. We don’t always get it right. Today we did. People put themselves on the line. They got hurt doing their job. And fundamentally, this idea that we are going to turn a blind eye to crime and homeless people, I think this incident from this morning clearly illustrates that is not the case.”

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