Drugs brought on family man’s fast demise

EVERETT — She lost her husband twice.

First to drug addiction. Then to a gunman’s bullet.

Forrest Starrett, 48, was a good man who loved his family and his job, his wife Victoria Starrett said Thursday. But it took only months for the former Boeing mechanic’s life to spiral into a world of illegal drugs and dangerous people. He was shot to death in a south Everett parking lot just before daybreak on Aug. 21.

“It’s strange how somebody can be so awesome, so responsible and with it — a man — and to go through that change so quickly. It took him less than a year to get to the point where he lost his life,” she said.

Snohomish County prosecutors have charged two men, one with a street name of “Kilo,” in Starrett’s death. One of the suspects, Steven Lavelle Lee, was arrested Wednesday night in SeaTac.

The second suspect, Tse­gazeab A. “Kilo” Zerahaimanot, remains at large.

“I hope they get him so our family gets on with our healing,” Victoria Starrett said.

The Marysville mother, a kidney dialysis technician, wept and trembled Thursday as she remembered her husband. He died a day before the couple’s ninth wedding anniversary.

“I pray every day for the people I see in the news, for those families who have lost loved ones,” she said. “It’s a very painful thing to go through.”

In addition to his wife, Forrest Starrett left behind many good friends, his parents, an ex-wife, a brother, two grown children, two teenage stepsons, and Amya, his 4-year-old granddaughter.

“She misses her Poppa so much,” Victoria Starrett said. “It was just a senseless loss of life.”

Forrest Starrett had worked as a plumber and mechanic at Boeing, surviving several rounds of layoffs. There were plenty of good times. Concerts on the pier enjoyed from the couple’s 32-foot Bayliner. Backyard barbecues. Fireworks on July Fourth. Trips into the mountains to ride dirt bikes or snowboards. And playing guitar with Jesse, his youngest stepson.

Then something changed, Victoria Starrett said.

About a year ago, he stopped coming home at night. He started hanging out with a different crowd, people with access to methamphetamine and cocaine, according to court papers.

“I don’t understand where it came from and how he could turn, at the age of 48, and forget about the things that were most important to him,” she said. “I’m shocked. I could never imagine him doing this.”

In February, she filed for divorce. He had stopped paying bills and was starting to lie about things, court documents said.

Then, one morning in August, his son turned on the TV news and saw the truck his dad drove surrounded by police tape. The pictures showed a body covered with a blanket.

Police believe early the morning of Aug. 21, Forrest Starrett was visiting a friend at an apartment. A number of people there had been drinking and using drugs, according to court documents. Many people were high.

Zerahaimanot, 23, of Mountlake Terrace and Lee, 25, of Everett were at the apartment. The person who rented the place wanted them to leave, according to charging documents.

They didn’t.

For some reason, the two men became suspicious of Starrett. They said he seemed out of place and they wondered if he was a cop, the documents said.

“For me to hear they thought he was a police officer shocked me,” Victoria Starrett said.

Forrest Starrett didn’t have time to turn the situation around.

The men “confronted (Starrett) in the kitchen, yelling at him and holding him there with guns to his head, the contents of his pockets emptied onto the table,” witnesses told detectives.

Prosecutors say Starrett was hustled outside and ordered into the passenger side of his truck, guns still pointed at his head, documents said.

A witness told police that Starrett grabbed at Zerahaimanot’s gun. They heard a shot. Starrett was wounded.

Zerahaimanot ran to a car in the parking lot while Lee stayed behind and delivered a fatal shot at close range, prosecutors alleged.

Detectives found suspected methamphetamine in the truck, court documents said.

On Oct. 11, Snohomish County prosecutors filed first-degree murder charges against Zerahaimanot and Lee. Arrest warrants were issued. Police distributed photos of the suspects to the media.

A tip Wednesday led to Lee’s arrest in SeaTac, police said.

Lee pleaded not guilty Thursday in Snohomish County Super­ior Court. He remains held on a $1 million bail.

Detectives still are looking for Zerahaimanot, Everett police Sgt. Robert Goetz said.

“We’re going where we need to go and publicizing this as best we can, as far and wide as we need,” Goetz said. “Hopefully we’ll get Mr. Zerahaimanot in custody soon.”

Victoria Starrett said she’s proud of Everett police detectives for focusing on her husband’s case.

“It’s been a little over two months and they’ve got someone in jail,” she said.

Her family is thankful to the people who have called in tips to help police with the investigation, she said.

Now, she’s taking things a day at a time, she said. With her husband gone, there are bills to pay, a home to run and children and grandchildren to look after. She had to give up Baby, the family dog. One of her favorite photos of Forrest Starrett shows him holding the miniature dachshund when she was still a puppy.

Victoria Starrett is haunted by her husband’s last moments.

“One of the things that gets to me is knowing how scared he was in that truck and he was alone,” she said. “He’s going to be very missed.”

Herald writers Diana Hefley and Jim Haley contributed to this report.

Reporter Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3437 or jholtz@heraldnet.com.

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