Father of Cafe Racer shooter reflects on the tragedy
Ian Stawicki killed five people on May 30, 2012 before taking his own life after he walked into Seattle’s Café Racer espresso bar and opened fire.
Ever since, Stawicki’s father, Walt, has been thinking about what more he could have done to get treatment for his son and he’s been working towards state and federal mental health reforms. In the years that have passed, Walt Stawicki can identify some concrete changes.
His Kenmore office consists of two places — a Tully’s coffee shop and the county library. The staff at both locaitons know him well. When he was there earlier this week, he leaned in to speak quietly to a staff member. “Three years ago this week…” he begins.
He doesn’t have a computer or Internet access at home, so it’s at the library that he researches, emails lawmakers, prints documents and makes notes. He has editorials from the New York Times in his stack of papers on mental health along with the complete language of various state bills, many of them covered with his notes, in pencil.
Walt’s son Ian was not diagnosed with a mental illness. His parents couldn’t convince their son to see a dentist, much less get a therapist. Though they had tried.
Now Walt sees his son’s story as a cautionary tale.
“If you think you have a tragedy coming, you’re probably already on the road. You’re probably already over the slippery edge,” he said. “Things precipitate faster than you might think.”
Over the past three years, several state bills have passed that help people in situations similar to Walt’s. One of the most significant was signed into law two weeks ago. It helps family members petition the court to commit a patient.
Jim Vollendroff, Director of King County’s mental health division, says it’s one of several ways things that are a bit better now.
“Say a family member refers their family to a designated mental health professional and that designated mental health professional goes out and determines that the individual does not meet criteria,” Vollendroff said. “The family now has the ability to go to the court and say we disagree with that and here’s why and see if the court will overturn the designated mental health professional’s opinion.”
Another, says Vollendroff, is a state bill that passed last year, which meshes mental health and substance abuse services. Vollendroff says the system is too fragmented.
“Individuals have a really tough time understanding where to go when they need help, or who to call,” he said. “And oftentimes, once they get in the door, they find out, ‘oh, you’ve got a mental health problem? Well, we only do substance abuse.’ Or, ‘you’ve got a substance abuse problem? Well, we only do mental health.'”
Vollendroff says this bill will help bring that all together.
Vollendroff and many others working in the mental health scene say another big one is the state Supreme Court ruling on boarding patients. The court says that an individual who needs mental health services can’t be boarded in a hospital waiting for a bed without getting treatment — it’s unconstitutional.
The legislature followed up the court ruling with a bill this session and it’s one that comes with funding. The new law goes into effect in July.
Walt is satisfied with some of these improvements but they’re just one tiny little piece for him.
“It’s a drop in an Olympic swimming pool,” he said. “And the cracks in the system? I refer to them as the Grand Canyon of cracks in the system because the cracks are bigger than the system.”
For Walt, it seems he’ll be swimming in papers, ideas, new angles to try…for a long time. For now, he takes it all day-by-day.
“I cope with it like everything else,” he said. “Tomorrow I’ll still be here. I’ll still need to breathe and the bills will still be due and don’t let it take you any farther than that…I endure.”