Police respond to a wrong way crash Thursday night on Highway 525 in Lynnwood after a police chase. (Photo provided by Washington State Department of Transportation)

Police respond to a wrong way crash Thursday night on Highway 525 in Lynnwood after a police chase. (Photo provided by Washington State Department of Transportation)

Charges: Man ‘snapped,’ kidnapped woman before fatal crash on Highway 525

Robert Rowland, 37, became violent when he learned his partner was going into treatment for substance abuse, according to new charges.

LYNNWOOD — Police were chasing a Kenmore man who kidnapped his girlfriend and threatened to “skin her” alive before he struck and killed an elderly woman on Highway 525 last month, according to new charges filed in Snohomish County Superior Court.

Prosecutors charged Robert Rowland, 37, with first-degree murder, vehicular homicide reckless manner and vehicular assault on Friday, in the death of Lynnwood woman Trudy Slanger, 83.

“The facts of this case show the defendant has a history of assaulting individuals when he doesn’t get what he wants,” deputy prosecutor Elise Deschenes wrote in the charges.

In the two weeks before the crash, Rowland smashed his girlfriend’s last two cell phones out of anger, she told investigators.

On April 10, the girlfriend, 35, went to a friend’s house in Everett to say goodbye, before she checked into rehab for substance abuse, according to the charges. She told police that Rowland “snapped” at the news and threw a metal object at her arm.

Rowland then reportedly stole her phone and texted multiple people.

“I broke her arm, I’m going to skin her and I’m coming for you next,” one text to her friend reportedly read.

One friend reported the message to police, who used cell phone tower pings to locate her at the other friend’s home in the 8800 block of 9th Avenue SE in south Everett, according to the charges. Officers arrived with a domestic violence search warrant. Rowland jumped out a window and escaped in a car with her phone and money, according to the charges.

The next day, the woman and the friend were at Tulalip Resort Casino, the charges say. She and the defendant agreed to meet there so he could return her things. Rowland, wearing a mask, reportedly arrived in a GMC Sierra pickup with the license plates removed. The pickup had been reported stolen out of Bothell.

Security footage showed Rowland running up to the friend, who had her back turned, and punching her in the face, charging papers say. By the time she realized what was going on, Rowland’s girlfriend was gone.

Around 6 p.m., the Pacific Northwest Violent Offender Task Force located Rowland driving the stolen pickup about 20 miles south near Merrill Creek Parkway and 23rd Drive W, the charges say. He eventually stopped at a 7-Eleven less than a mile away, where authorities were waiting.

Officers did not try to arrest him because too many people were in the parking lot, making an attempt to detain Rowland “dangerous,” the charging papers say. He threw what appeared to be a cell phone out the window.

The pickup eventually left the parking lot and officers followed, but initially didn’t try to stop the driver.

Officers turned on their lights when the pickup hit Glenwood Avenue, over a mile northeast from the 7-Eleven, police said. While in the car, the defendant had many mood swings, the girlfriend told investigators, shifting from wanting to kill himself, then saying he wanted to go into treatment.

The defendant briefly lost police near 112th Street SW, where he tried to steal another car, the charges say. The girlfriend reportedly pleaded with him to pull over because he kept putting pedestrians in danger, including a child crossing the street.

Authorities found the suspect again, but he sped away, according to police.

Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies pursued Rowland south on Beverly Park Road. He turned onto southbound Highway 525 until he reached Highway 99, where he made a U-turn and got back on Highway 525, according to police. He side-swiped another vehicle.

Rowland crossed a grass median to drive south on northbound Highway 525, authorities said. Police reported terminating the pursuit.

For a moment, Rowland thought he had faked out the cops, according to the woman in the passenger seat.

He “was like, ‘Hell yeah’ and looked back and looks forward and I swear to God I was like … ‘Hey, hey,’ and he was looking right at (the oncoming SUV),” she later reported.

He drove the wrong way for less than a minute before crashing into Slanger’s GMC Yukon, according to the charges. Slanger died at the scene.

Rowland’s injuries were treated at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, according to police. He remained there for about two weeks before he was transferred to the Snohomish County Jail. The Monroe woman was taken to Providence Regional Medical Center Everett with a broken ankle.

The Kenmore man had at least seven prior felony convictions, including theft and possession of a stolen vehicle, as well as a dozen more misdemeanors in King, Cowlitz and Snohomish counties, according to court records.

Last year, prosecutors charged Rowland with first-degree assault for allegedly shooting at a stranger in an apartment complex parking lot on Highway 99. In March, Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Jon Scott issued a bench warrant when Rowland failed to appear for a scheduled court hearing in the case.

In the April case, the defendant also faces two counts of fourth-degree assault, hit and run of an attended vehicle, attempting to elude a police vehicle and taking a vehicle without permission.

His defense attorney, Karen Halverson, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. Rowland remained behind bars with bail set at $2 million.

Slanger was a mother of three children and a grandmother to at least five kids. She was married to her husband Gary for 61 years until he died in 2019, according to her obituary. While her husband was in dental school, she worked as an orthodontic assistant in Seattle.

“Known for her generous spirit and love for gatherings, Trudy was the life of every party,” her obituary read. “… She thrived in the company of others, finding joy in giving and creating cherished memories.”

Maya Tizon: 425-339-3434; maya.tizon@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @mayatizon.

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