Driver charged with murder in wreck that killed nurse

EVERETT — A convicted felon who was trying to outrun cops when he plowed into an Everett nurse is now charged with her murder.

Rachael Kamin, 40, the mother of two teenage boys, likely couldn’t see Joseph Strange barreling down Rucker Avenue in a stolen pickup. She was driving east on Pacific Avenue on May 12, shortly after her shift ended at the south campus of Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.

Strange, 33, ran a red light and slammed into Kamin’s vehicle, court papers said. She suffered fatal head injuries.

The Seattle man had led police on a seven-minute, 10-mile chase from Lynnwood to north Everett, police reports said. He was driving on average more than 88 mph. Prosecutors allege that before Strange crashed into Kamin, he hit another car in a parking lot, rammed a police cruiser and nearly mowed down a pedestrian crossing Evergreen Way.

Under state law, someone can be charged with murder if he causes a death “under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to human life.”

Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Tobin Darrow said the facts in the May 12 pursuit and crash support the first-degree murder charge.

Strange is scheduled to answer to the charge Monday in Snohomish County Superior Court. He was being held in the county jail on $2 million bail.

Prosecutors point to the chain of events leading up to the crash to illustrate Strange’s mindset that night. They allege that before Strange killed Kamin, he not only endangered a Bothell police officer’s life, but he also endangered the man he crashed into at a gas station and the pedestrian he nearly hit.

Prosecutors will have to prove that Strange knew he was endangering lives but continued racing away from police, creating a grave risk of death.

Strange faces up to 45 years in prison if convicted as charged.

The incident started around 11:20 p.m. on Mother’s Day in the parking lot of a hotel in Bothell. An officer patrolling a high-crime area reported that a Ford pickup idling in the lot was outfitted with stolen license plates. He reported that the truck drove toward a nearby park-and-ride lot. He planned to stop the truck and asked for additional officers to assist.

The officer radioed in that the driver wasn’t stopping. The pickup drove over a curb and sped northbound on I-405.

The officer’s supervisor called off the pursuit as the suspect approached the exit to I-5. In his report the sergeant explained his decision, writing that the driver clearly wasn’t going to stop for police and the only information officers had at the time was that the license plates on the pickup were stolen. The officers didn’t know the truck was stolen or that Strange was wanted for failing to report to the state Department of Corrections.

The first leg of the chase lasted about two minutes before the sergeant called it off.

Bothell police officers didn’t give up trying to catch the suspect, however. They switched off their emergency lights and slowed down, but continued to follow Strange as he exited the freeway at 164th Street SW in the Lynnwood-area.

The officers indicated that they were going to see which direction the truck was headed. The primary officer later reported that the pickup turned in front of oncoming cars and pulled into a gas station. The officer asked his sergeant for permission to contact the driver. A few moments later he reported the pickup hitting a car. Then he announced that the suspect had backed the truck into his patrol car.

The officer “held his foot on his brake to prevent the patrol car from moving backwards,” Darrow wrote in court papers.

The officer asked whether he should stay at the gas station or chase after the suspect, now headed back onto the freeway, police reports said. The sergeant gave the officer permission to pursue the pickup “in response to the felony assault” on the officer.

The State Patrol and Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies were alerted to the pursuit, which by then was racing along northbound I-5. Strange exited at the Boeing Freeway and then headed north on Evergreen Way. The Bothell officer reported that the suspect was driving up to 90 mph along the heavily-traveled five-lane road dotted with numerous signaled intersections.

The sergeant asked a dispatcher to notify Everett police that the pursuit was in the city. He wrote that he was unable to hear a response.

The pursuing officer reported that the suspect was running red lights.

A pedestrian was crossing Evergreen Way at 75th Street SE when Strange reportedly ran a red light. The pedestrian had to sprint out of the way to avoid being hit.

Kamin wasn’t able to avoid the speeding pickup.

Strange reportedly was driving about 90 mph along Rucker Avenue as he approached the intersection with Pacific Avenue. Kamin was broadsided by the full-size pickup as it ran a red light. The impact catapulted her Honda CRV into the air. The vehicle came down on the driver’s side and slid to a stop on a sidewalk. The pickup flipped on its top.

The Bothell officer called out to Kamin but she never answered, Darrow wrote. She had obvious head injuries. Kamin died two days later. Her organs were donated to others in need.

Friends and family described Kamin as a dedicated wife and mother and compassionate nurse.

A first-degree murder charge is unusual in car crashes but there is precedent.

The state Court of Appeals upheld the first-degree murder conviction of a man who caused a fatal crash in Spokane. In 1996, two young women were killed when a drunken driver sped through a red light at an intersection. Evidence in the case showed that the man was driving erratically, putting numerous people at risk, before the fatal crash.

Several years ago, Snohomish County prosecutors used the extreme indifference theory to secure a first-degree murder conviction against a Seattle man who fired a gun into a crowd of young people outside a Brier home.

Jay Clements, 21, was trying to break up a fight in 2006 when he was shot. A jury found that Noel Caldellis acted with “extreme indifference to human life.” He was sentenced to 34 years in prison.

A couple years earlier, a police chase that ended in a fatal crash led to a second-degree murder conviction for a Marysville man.

Michael Waterman, 29, was on his way home from work at the Everett Sears when the fleeing driver smashed into his car. Waterman died at the scene. Prosecutors alleged that in the course of trying to elude police the suspect caused Waterman’s death. The man pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Strange has more than a dozen prior felony convictions. He has a history of stealing cars and trying to outrun police. At the time of the crash, he was under community supervision.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.

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