The train trestle over the Sammamish Slough, from which Michael Schuerhoff was pushed to his death. A yellow ribbon hangs from the trestle.
Candles, ribbons, messages, and a photo adorn Schuerhoff's memorial at the Bothell trestle.
Photos by Jeff Switzer/Woodinville Weekly.
by Jeff Switzer
Five Mountlake Terrace youths pleaded not-guilty last week to charges of second degree murder in the Jan. 2 drowning death of Michael Schuerhoff, who was allegedly pushed to his death off the train trestle crossing the Sammamish River in Bothell.
Benjamin Drake, 16, Steven Garza, 16, and Lawrence Edinger, 16, remain in custody at the King County Juvenile Detention Center.
Brian Schrader, 17, who allegedly pushed Schuerhoff, and Tyler Wheaton, 17, are in custody at the King County Jail due to their ages and criminal histories. Bail for each of the five has been set at $250,000.
Prosecutors are charging the five as adults under a 1994 law allowing prosecutors to charge 16- and 17-year-olds as adults when serious, violent offenses are involved.
"These young men hatched a plot to push Michael Schuerhoff into the frigid water below the trestle," said King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng. "Brian Schrader carried out the plot so he could win a bet. Michael Schuerhoff paid for that bet with his life," Maleng said.
Attorneys for some of the defendants are considering challenging the law which allows their clients to be charged as adults.
Schuerhoff's body was found Jan. 5 by King County Police and Renton Fire department divers 200 feet downstream in about eight feet of water. The cause of Schuerhoff's death was determined to be drowning.
According to court documents, Schuerhoff was traveling with three friends, two women and one man. One of the women had met one of the defendants, Garza, during the holidays.
The five met in the parking lot of the Northern Lights apartment complex in Mountlake Terrace, and the plan was to smoke marijuana and drink at Garza's apartment with Drake and Wheaton. That plan was abandoned when Garza's mother came home from work.
Edinger and Schrader then arrived, and the nine decided to go to "the trestle" in Bothell because there usually weren't many police in that area. Edinger and the four defendants left in his car, Schuerhoff with his three friends in another vehicle.
While en route to the trestle, court papers continued, the five defendants discussed the possibility of having sex with Schuerhoff's two female friends later that night. To carry out this plan, they had to "ditch the guys," meaning Schuerhoff and his friend.
According to the charges, some of the defendants suggested pushing the two off of the trestle into the water so they could leave with the two women. Prosecutors say that it was at this point Schrader volunteered to carry out this plan.
According to the charges, the other defendants goaded Schrader by betting him that he would not do it. Specifically, Edinger bet $20, Drake bet Schrader a "10 sack," referring to $10 worth of marijuana, and Garza was in for $5 to $10.
According to prosecutors, as they arrived at the trestle, the four other defendants were "excited and pumped Schrader up to carry out the plan."
The push over the edge
The defendants arrived at the trestle shortly before 10 p.m. on Jan. 2. Schuerhoff and one of the women and the five defendants walked towards the trestle, while Schuerhoff's two other friends remained in the car.
Prosecutors say Schrader intended to push Schuerhoff off of the trestle as they all crossed towards Blyth Park; however, he "chickened out." Drake then allegedly pulled out some marijuana and everyone "shared a few bowls."
Wheaton and Schrader followed Schuerhoff as he began walking back across the trestle. Prosecutors say when Schuerhoff got to the mid-span, Schrader, who was on Schuerhoff's right, grabbed him and shoved him over the edge. Schuerhoff fell backwards and dropped 36 feet into the 39-degree water of the Sammamish Slough.
According to prosecutors, Wheaton, Edinger, and Garza heard the splash and heard Schuerhoff cry for help, sounding as if he had water in his mouth. The defendants heard Schuerhoff thrash around in the water for approximately five seconds, followed by silence. None of the defendants attempted to help Schuerhoff. Instead, they all ran back to Edinger's car and fled.
They all agreed, prosecutors say, that they would tell no one about what happened on the trestle. "Afterwards, defendant Schrader boasted, 'I killed a guy for 30 bucks,'" prosecutors said.
Schuerhoff's friends who had remained in their car saw the five defendants leave and got out of the car to investigate. They found the other woman looking for Schuerhoff at the trestle, and after a short search, called Bothell police.
Police arrived at 10:30 p.m. and were unable to locate Schuerhoff, whose friends then went back to the Northern Lights apartment complex where they contacted Drake, who told them he didn't know what happened.
Bothell police began looking for Schuerhoff as a "missing person" and contacted Edinger, Drake, and Garza, though all claimed to not know what had happened.
On Jan. 4, detectives contacted Schrader, who gave a statement denying he had any knowledge of Schuerhoff's disappearance or whereabouts.
Schrader agreed to take a polygraph test and was advised of his rights. During the test, he said someone else had pushed Schuerhoff off the trestle. Prosecutors say Schrader then admitted that he had pushed Schuerhoff himself. Schrader was re-advised of his rights, though he waived them, giving detectives both a tape-recorded and written statement in which he "confessed to the group's plan that evening," prosecutors said.
Police arrested Edinger, Drake, and Garza on the evening of Jan. 4 and Wheaton on Jan. 5. Each waived his constitutional rights and gave tape-recorded statements admitting to the bet they had with Schrader to push Schuerhoff off the trestle, prosecutors said.
The defendants have histories of juvenile adjudications in Snohomish County for first-degree burglary, second-degree assault, possession of stolen property, and theft. Mountlake Terrace Police have documented gang association for one of the defendants.