Justin Bell was convicted earlier this month of first-degree assault for a December 2017 shooting outside a Value Village in Everett. (Caleb Hutton / Herald file)

Justin Bell was convicted earlier this month of first-degree assault for a December 2017 shooting outside a Value Village in Everett. (Caleb Hutton / Herald file)

Shooting over $5 for carpool gas leads to 14 years in prison

There was a scuffle over the money on Evergreen Way in Everett. Then Justin Bell opened fire.

EVERETT — A driver shot a member of his carpool in Everett over $5 in gas money in 2017.

He was sentenced Friday to over 14 years in prison.

Earlier this month, a Snohomish County jury found Justin Bell, 31, guilty of first-degree assault and drive-by shooting.

When the defendant was 17, his cousin was shot in another drive-by shooting, a family member wrote to the judge. Bell drove the cousin to the hospital. A few years later, Bell himself was shot.

Bell’s family said he “displayed signs of diminished mental health,” defense attorney Robert O’Neal wrote in his memo.

Bell was the driver of a carpool to Stanwood that required each passenger to pay $5 for gas each day. One of them was annoyed he was the only one who consistently paid, according to court documents.

It led to a confrontation with shoving and yelling. The man told him it wasn’t worth the fight and walked away. He walked across the street with his girlfriend.

Bell then got into his black Hyundai Elantra alone, according to security footage reviewed by prosecutors. The video reportedly shows Bell driving onto Evergreen Way in Everett with his window down. His car was moving much slower than the rest of traffic.

The man and his girlfriend were walking in the parking lot of a Value Village on Evergreen when Bell drove past. The Elantra stopped. The man ducked “in an obvious reaction to gunfire,” deputy prosecutor Wallace Langbehn wrote in the charges in 2019.

The car then sped off, the surveillance footage reportedly shows. The victim tried to run away but collapsed. He was shot three times — in his left arm, left ankle and buttocks. A doctor told investigators the man had “significant potential for immediate deterioration,” prosecutors wrote.

Bell called police twice in the months after the shooting, in February and March 2018. In the first call, he said he was in California and was worried one of his guns was used in a crime, according to the charges. In the second, he reportedly denied knowing about a fight.

He was arrested in California in early May — 3½ years after the shooting. Bell is from the Bay Area.

“This crime was avoidable,” deputy prosecutor Tyler Scott said in court Friday. “This was a situation where Mr. Bell let his ego get the best of him after a fistfight was clearly over.”

Under state guidelines, Bell faced a standard sentence of 9¼ to 12¼ years. Add five years onto that for committing the crime while armed with a firearm.

Superior Court Judge Richard Okrent sentenced Bell to 14¼ years, at the low end of the sentencing range.

Bell’s public defender pushed for that amount of time. In a memorandum filed in court this week, O’Neal included letters from Bell’s family members outlining trauma in Bell’s background.

The wounded man didn’t write to the judge before Friday’s sentencing, but “he wishes Mr. Bell well,” Scott said.

Bell declined to speak Friday in court.

“I’m fine,” he said. “I’d rather not.”

Bell had no prior felony convictions.

“I hope things get better for you, sir,” Okrent said to the defendant.

O’Neal said Bell will likely appeal.

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; jake.goldstein-street@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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