SEATTLE — Washington state troopers on Tuesday afternoon arrested another person who they believe was throwing rocks and debris at cars on the freeway — a recent trend officials say has become a growing problem in the Seattle area.
Authorities arrested the 41-year-old man from Seattle for allegedly throwing rocks and debris at seven vehicles going west on Interstate 90 near Rainier Avenue around 4 p.m., Trooper Chase Van Cleave said Tuesday. One of the three drivers who remained on scene reportedly started chasing the suspect after their vehicle was hit, Van Cleave said.
The man stopped fleeing after a state trooper, who was responding to an unrelated incident in the area, arrived on scene, Van Cleave said. The man was taken into custody without incident.
No one was injured, although Van Cleave said several of the vehicles suffered “pretty good damage.”
Earlier Tuesday, a Mercer Island Fire Department truck transporting a medical patient was nearly hit by “intentionally thrown” concrete debris on I-90 in Seattle, the city’s police department said in a statement. The driver swerved, and the vehicle wasn’t seriously damaged, the statement said.
Troopers arrested a suspect later Tuesday, Mercer Island police said. It wasn’t clear Tuesday whether that was the same man suspected of hitting the seven vehicles in the afternoon.
The State Patrol has been responding to a large number of similar rock-throwing incidents in the past month. As of last week, troopers had responded to 161 rock-throwing reports in King County in 2021. Of those, 44 involved someone throwing debris from an overpass, while 117 involved debris thrown from the side of the freeway, a State Patrol statement said.
One incident in June left a driver on I-90 with a serious cut on his face.
Trooper Rick Johnson said last week that in 2020, the county saw 133 rock-throwing reports total.
The State Patrol has made a handful of arrests in connection with the rock-throwing, but Van Cleave said Tuesday these types of crimes are sometimes difficult to address.
“One huge issue is that it’s multiple people,” he said. “We can do our best to try and prevent it and stop it, but when people are intent on doing something it’s extremely hard to stop them. ... It’s impossible to patrol an entire shoulder of the freeway.”
Even though the State Patrol has been sending more troopers to patrol “hot spot” areas, like I-90 around Rainier Avenue, “if you walk up and see a police officer, you walk away until they’re not there,” Van Cleave said.
After surveying the area, state Department of Transportation officials said Tuesday, they’ve found a connection between some of the incidents and their proximity to encampments near the highways.
As a result, officials are planning to start clearing away certain encampments, including one at the Benvenuto Viewpoint and another adjacent to the westbound I-90 ramp to Rainier Avenue.
Workers will start clearing the encampments on Thursday, even though in previous efforts a notice of removal was posted 72 hours in advance. Because of the public-safety threat in this case, however, transportation officials said they “must act quickly.”
“The city will assist with debris removal, provide outreach to the people living in the right of way to advise them of what options and resources are available, and will offer storage of personal possessions if needed,” the Department of Transportation statement said.
Once the encampments are removed, the statement said, officials will “work to modify the site to discourage anyone from occupying the site.”
Van Cleave said Tuesday the clearing of the encampments is the newest part of state and local officials’ strategy to prevent future incidents. The State Patrol has also recently started using aircraft to track down suspects.
“We just have to see what works and what doesn’t,” he said.