By Eric Stevick and Christian Zerbel Herald Writers
EVERETT — A former Everett Community College regional cross-country champion was arrested Thursday for investigation of kidnapping a college student last week and forcing her to act as a getaway driver in a bank holdup.
Detectives with the Everett Police Department’s Major Crimes Unit investigated the incident and were able to identify Bereket M. Piatt, 20, as the suspect and developed probable cause to arrest him, officials said.
Piatt graduated from Port Townsend High School before enrolling at Everett Community College, the college’s vice president of advancement John Olson said. He was arrested Thursday in Tacoma.
In November 2011, Piatt won a Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges cross-country championship and helped EvCC claim the team title. He attended EvCC for one more quarter, but didn’t enroll this fall.
Several people, including a former teammate and coaches, identified Piatt from video images gleaned from bank surveillance cameras, according to a search warrant. The images appeared in The Herald and in broadcast media reports.
The kidnapping victim, whose identity and age were not released, is under 18 and attends college courses. She told police that she was approached by the suspect as she was leaving the college on Jan. 23. He pointed a handgun at her and told her to get into her car, court papers said.
He directed her into an alley in north Everett and ordered her to stop. He briefly left the car, but not before threatening to kill her if she left him there, court papers said.
She “was in fear for her life” and did as she was told, according to court papers.
The man made her drive to another location and returned with a white envelope before telling her to drive away.
The suspect eventually asked the teen her age. She told him and he apologized for getting her involved and told her to stop the car near Providence Regional Medical Center Everett on Colby Avenue. That’s when he got out and left.
The student was not hurt, Everett police officer Aaron Snell said.
The next day, she drove to the police station to report what had happened, the search warrant said.
The bank robber wore a dark-blue beanie-style cap, a dark denim jacket, blue jeans and brown shoes. He spoke with an accent described as possibly French or African.
Detectives interviewed Piatt’s roommate after the robbery. He said Piatt had packed some belongings and told him “I got into a little bit of trouble” and “I might not be back.”
Piatt is from Ethiopia, and was adopted by a Port Townsend family, according to a 2010 story in the Kitsap Sun that recounted his running prowess. There is a 2009 videotaped interview on the Web and on it, Piatt does not speak with an accent.
Piatt is accused of robbing the Wells Fargo Bank at 1801 Broadway as well as kidnapping
At the bank, he allegedly passed a clerk a note demanding $9,000 and making threats. The clerk handed more than $8,000 in $100 bills, court papers said.
Tacoma police caught up with the robbery suspect around 11:30 a.m. Thursday.
Acting on an Everett police bulletin, they located a 2002 gold Volvo that matched a description of a vehicle they believed the suspect would be driving, Tacoma police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said.
The car was parked and its engine was running, but no one was inside.
Eventually, two people got into the car, including the suspect, who was in the driver’s seat.
“He was ordered out of the vehicle at gunpoint,” Cool said.
Members of the EvCC cross country and track programs were dismayed at news of the arrest Thursday afternoon.
“If it was him, I am highly surprised,” EvCC track captain Gary Davis said.
“Cool guy,” he added. “A good kid.”
Davis said he believed Piatt was trying to get back into school.
“He seemed like a pretty good guy,” track teammate Luke Helm said.
It was 14 months ago when EvCC coach Matt Koenigs got to watch Piatt win the regional cross-country championship.
On Thursday, the news of his arrest was hard to take.
“I’m really grateful that nobody was hurt,” Koenigs said.
Rich Myhre contributed to this story.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, firstname.lastname@example.org.