A Kennewick man was shot and killed by police early Friday after fleeing in a reportedly stolen vehicle and twice pointing what later turned out to be a pellet gun at officers.
Police were trying to pull over the four-door Ford Focus when Aaron Thomas Wright, 32, fled, ending up at an apartment complex in central Kennewick.
Wright allegedly pointed the pellet gun at officers first when he ditched the car and ran into an apartment near the intersection of Klamath Avenue and Volland Street. That’s when Kennewick patrol Officer Joshua Kuhn fired the initial shots at Wright.
Kuhn and Kennewick Officer Jose Santoy and Richland Police Sgt. Wayne DuBois fired at Wright again when he came out of the apartment and pointed the pellet gun at them.
“As you can see from the photograph of the pellet pistol, it looks like a real gun,” Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg said during a news conference later Friday.
It’s not known how many shots were fired or how many times Wright was hit, police said.
Residents said they heard six to seven gunshots. Wright was declared dead after he was taken to Trios Health.
Five other people from the apartment complex were detained by police for questioning and one man, Daniel Gabriel Bucci, 29, was arrested on warrants, Hohenberg said.
It’s not yet clear if Wright knew anyone in the apartment he entered or whether he forced his way in.
The three officers involved in the shooting are on paid administrative leave pending a review, officials said.
A special investigative unit made up of regional law enforcement officials, excluding Kennewick and Richland, is conducting that investigation.
“They did exactly what they were trained to do,” Hohenberg said. “They did exactly what I’d expect them to do.”
Police are investigating whether the incident was related to another robbery and attempted burglary just before 5 a.m. Friday morning near downtown Kennewick and near where the Focus was stolen.
In one case, a man was robbed at gunpoint of his wallet, cellphone and car keys.
Another person was awoken by someone constantly ringing a doorbell and when he answered the door, a man pointed a gun at him and demanded car keys, but the resident slammed the door in his face.
The Ford Focus was reported stolen just after 6 a.m. from an apartment on the 400 block of Olympia Street. The apartment was not locked and someone stole the keys to three vehicles and used one to take the Focus.
The vehicle was seen about an hour and a half later, when a resident on the 600 block of Sheppard Street saw someone duck into the vehicle before turning onto Hood Avenue and driving east toward Morain Street. The resident also reported one of his license plates was stolen.
Police caught up to the car minutes later just a block away on Reed Street and began a 30-minute pursuit in an area bordered by Canal Drive to the north, Hood Avenue to the south, Fisher Street to the east and Volland Street to the west.
Eric Walton, who lives in the Wendover Apartments on Volland Street, said the noise of the chase woke him and his 18-year-old son in their apartment.
“When you hear that many (sirens), you know,” he said, noting he knew it was a car chase. “That high-pitched wail, you can’t miss it.”
Walton and his son went out on their balcony and saw the Focus go through the parking lot of the neighboring Winco grocery store before circling back and driving north on Volland while being pursued by at least five police cars.
“His tires were already flat,” Walton said.
Four times during the chase Wright leaned out the driver’s side window and put the pellet gun to his head, police said. One time, he also appeared to be screaming at the same time.
Wright ditched the car near the intersection of Volland and Klamath, pointing the pellet gun at the pursuing officers and causing Kuhn to shoot at Wright as he went into an apartment at 4503 W. Klamath Ave.
Police surrounded the apartment for 10 minutes before Wright stepped outside and again pointed the pellet gun at officers. Kuhn, Santoy and DuBois shot at Wright and he fell to the ground, police said.
Biridiana Baldovines was washing dishes in her duplex apartment at the western end of Klamath when she heard the sirens.
She then heard two gunshots and headed into her 2-year-old son’s bedroom, which has a window looking toward Volland.
“I saw a bunch of cop cars and someone running,” Baldovines said.
She grabbed her son and rushed into her bedroom, which is at the back of the apartment. She stayed in there for a few minutes before going back into the living room.
A few minutes later she heard five more gunshots. “It all happened so fast,” she said.
Officers discovered Wright was using a pellet gun only after the shooting, Hohenberg said. There’s no indication that he ever fired at the officers.
Wright’s last known address on Reed Street was just blocks from the shooting. He was arrested numerous times since 1995 and had convictions for felony harassment, auto theft, possession of a dangerous weapon, theft and possession of marijuana.
Wright was in a four-hour standoff with Franklin County sheriff’s deputies and Pasco police in July 2010.
The incident on Road 100 ended peacefully when Wright surrendered after reportedly threatening suicide and cutting his wrist and neck.
The Benton County Coroner’s Office planned an autopsy late Friday but lab and toxicology reports won’t be available for several weeks, officials said.
Anyone with information about the other robbery and attempted burglary or others in that area is asked to call Kennewick police at 509-628-0333.