Simeon Berkley before the start of his trial at the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett on Friday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Simeon Berkley before the start of his trial at the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett on Friday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Purchase Photo

‘Tempers have consequences’: Everett road-rage trial begins

Simeon Berkley, 75, is accused of shooting to death Steven Whitemarsh, 49, a Safeway manager in Everett.

EVERETT — In 1991, a jury acquitted Simeon Berkley in a shooting that paralyzed a man following a near-crash on a California freeway.

Thirty years later, he’s on trial again, this time for second-degree murder. A Snohomish County jury will decide if Berkley, 75, acted out of road rage or self-defense in a shooting July 6, 2019, that left an Everett man dead.

Berkley was driving a Honda Accord around 7 p.m. that night when a Lincoln Navigator rear-ended him on Glenwood Avenue, according to charging papers. Berkley got out of his car and walked over to the Navigator while the other driver, Steven Whitemarsh, 49, remained in the front seat, according to witness testimony last week in Snohomish County Superior Court.

The two men appeared to have brief conversation through the open window, witnesses testified. Berkley then shot Whitemarsh in the face. One witness testified that a few seconds passed before Berkley fired a second bullet.

First-responders found Whitemarsh still strapped in his seatbelt. He was pronounced dead soon afterward.

Whitemarsh, a father of three, worked as a manager at a local Safeway. His family described the man they lost as “a great friend, co-worker, dad, son and brother” in a statement in 2019.

Berkley’s attorney argued last week that the case is about self-defense.

“It’s about fear,” defense attorney Laura Shaver told the jury. “It’s about danger, and it’s about making life or death situations in a very, very short amount of time.”

After the shooting, witness Beau Reeder repeatedly questioned the defendant about what happened and where the gun was. Reeder testified that Berkley told him, “Don’t worry about him. I shot him twice in the head.”

“The guy seemed calm,” Reeder said on the witness stand. “Super calm.”

An internal diagnostic report recorded by Berkley’s car showed that, three seconds before the crash, he was going 60 mph, Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Matt Hunter told the jury in his opening statement Wednesday.

The speed limit on that stretch of Glenwood is 35 mph.

Another witness, Yuriy Gogun, testified there was no way Whitemarsh could have avoided crashing into the Honda.

“It slowed down quite abruptly and there was no room for the other car to bypass — that’s why the other car hit him,” Gogun told the court through a Russian interpreter.

Prosecutors argued Berkley slammed on the brakes intentionally, and that the shooting was caused by his road rage.

Police tape off the scene of the shooting on Glenwood Avenue near 51st Place SW in Everett on July 6, 2019. (Janice Podsada / The Herald)

Police tape off the scene of the shooting on Glenwood Avenue near 51st Place SW in Everett on July 6, 2019. (Janice Podsada / The Herald)

“Tempers have consequences, and when two tempers literally collided … the outcome was deadly serious,” Hunter said in his statement.

Berkley’s attorney said her client feared for his life that night and was protecting himself.

“A lot of the evidence that Mr. Hunter outlined is not in dispute,” Shaver said in her opening statement.

However, the defense claimed Berkley tried to slow down and stop on the side of the road to let Whitemarsh pass before the crash. Shaver noted the tires of the defendant’s car were pointed toward the road’s right shoulder, suggesting his intent to pull over.

“At this point, (Berkley) is feeling like, ‘This guy is chasing me, he’s after me, he wants to hurt me,’” Shaver said.

Attorneys agreed to refrain from mentioning certain information about Whitemarsh and Berkley in front of the jury.

For example, an autopsy showed Whitemarsh had a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.195, more than two times the legal limit. And in 2017, Whitemarsh was involved in a fatal crash involving a pedestrian, according to a report in a defense memorandum filed by Shaver.

Whitemarsh was never charged with killing the pedestrian, however, in part because Everett police could not retrieve collision data from his Lincoln Navigator, the memorandum states.

Jurors also won’t hear about how, a little more than 30 years ago, Berkley shot and paralyzed a man after a near-collision on I-8 in San Diego County, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times. Berkley claimed self-defense in that case, too. A jury acquitted him of attempted murder, but in a surprise public statement, some jurors offered advice to the defendant after a trial.

“You keep that gun out of your car,” an unidentified juror told him, according to the Los Angeles Times story. “We didn’t feel that what you did was right at all, but we had to follow the law.”

Now, another jury will decide whether or not Berkley will walk free again.

Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; edennis@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @reporterellen

Talk to us

More in Local News

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112
Things are heating up in Olympia — and not just the weather

Here’s what’s happening on Day 94 of the 2021 session of the Washington Legislature.

Jesse L. Hartman (Everett Police Department)
Suspect in fatal Everett shooting captured at U.S. border

Jesse Hartman was arrested in California as he tried to re-enter the country from Mexico.

Eric Adler, the mystery man who is on Twitter as @EdmondsScanner (E. Wong)
Revealed: The mystery man behind the @EdmondsScanner tweets

He’s a 50-year-old mail carrier who dusted off his English degree to curate 6,000 tales on Twitter.

The state House transportation budget proposes $15,000,000 to widen state improving Highway 524 between 24th Avenue West in Lynnwood and 9th Avenue SE.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Who wants a wider Highway 524 between Bothell and Lynnwood?

The project list includes expanding the three-mile, two-lane road between Bothell and Lynnwood.

People on jet skis and boats drive past the Hannah Marie, formerly called the Midas, that was run aground along the banks of the Snohomish River on Tuesday, July 3, 2018 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett couple writes check to clean up the Snohomish River

Phil and Kelly Johnson have donated $50,000 to the county project that removes derelict vessels.

FILE - This Monday, June 17, 2019, file photo shows 5-mg pills of Oxycodone. While the nation's attorneys general debate a legal settlement with Purdue Pharma, the opioid epidemic associated with the company's blockbuster painkiller OxyContin rages on. The drugs still kill tens of thousands of people each year with no end in sight. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)
High court ruling spurs effort to retool state’s drug laws

Meanwhile, the Blake decision has gotten people out jail, charges dismissed and possibly clemency for some.

Gabriel van Winkle, center, struggles with lifting a bag of rice weighing nearly half his weight as he and volunteers help move the Granite Falls Food Bank from their old location to a new one on Tuesday, April 6, 2021 in Granite Falls, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
New digs will give Granite Falls nonprofit room to grow

The small town’s community coalition and food bank have found a home on school district grounds.

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112
5 wrinkles for lawmakers to iron out in session’s last days

Here’s what’s happening on Day 92 of the 2021 session of the Washington Legislature.

Most Read