Northwest NEWS

November 2, 1998

Front Page

Arson suspect captured by Duvall police officer

   by Lisa Allen
   Valley View Editor

   DUVALL--A suspect who police allege is responsible for a recent string of arsons in the Fall City area was captured by Duvall police last week, thanks in part to an alert Seafirst bank teller.
   The suspect was identified as Jason Lee Johnson, 25, of Duvall. Johnson has been charged with three counts of arson in King County Superior Court.
   Johnson had eluded police after the arson and burglary spree two weeks ago, but last Tuesday he unsuccessfully attempted to pass a forged check at the Seafirst branch in Carnation, according to Duvall police Sgt. Bob Akey.
   The King County Sheriff's Office was immediately informed of the forgery attempt, said Akey.
   "The Sheriff's Office then notified the Duvall branch, so when the suspect came in, the teller was able to keep him there until police arrived," Akey said.
   First to arrive at the bank was Officer Mark Leitl, a three-year veteran of the Duvall Police Department. Upon entering the bank, he recognized Johnson as a known felon with an active misdemeanor warrant and being "fleet of foot" as well, said Akey.
   Leitl drew his gun and ordered Johnson on the floor. Johnson complied and stayed on the floor until Leitl attempted to handcuff him.
   He then bolted for the door with Leitl in hot pursuit. Once outside, the pair grappled with one another until the officer was able to subdue him with the aid of pepper spray.
   "Mark did an awesome job," said Akey, who with Chief Glenn Merryman had arrived on the scene just as Leitl had stunned Johnson with the pepper spray.
   Johnson was then turned over to King County Sheriff's detectives.
   "In his possession was a credit card from one of the cars that was stolen in Fall City the week before," Akey said.
   Sheriff's Office spokesman John Urquhart said there was "no question" that they had the right man.
   "Our detectives have been working hard with investigators from the King County Fire/Arson Investigative Unit to solve this case," Urquhart said.
   Urquhart said Johnson has several felony and midemeanor convictions including two counts of resisting arrest and two counts of obstructing justice.
   "He is also a registered sex offender," Urquhart said.
   According to court documents filed Friday, Johnson's latest crime spree began early in the morning of Oct. 22 when he set fire first to a truck he had previously stolen, then to a shed and a house that was occupied by a sleeping family of four on Fish Hatchery Road. All family members were able to escape the burning house with no injuries.
   Following the fires, Sheriff and fire officials found a Mercedes Benz in Preston that had been stolen.
   In the back of the vehicle was a leaf blower and pressure washer that had been stolen from the shed before it was set on fire, court papers said.
   Fingerprints matching those of Johnson were found on the Mercedes, documents said.
   The Sheriff's Office said two burglaries followed and another car, a Chevrolet Blazer, was stolen. Later that afternoon the Blazer was spotted in Issaquah by someone who recognized the vanity plate and called police.
   Issaquah police chased the car until it crashed into a house on Newport Way. The driver jumped out of the car and fled.
   Police searched the area unsuccessfully for three hours.
   Then, the following Friday, another car was found burned on the Redmond-Fall City Road. That car had been stolen from an apartment complex a few miles from where the suspect had disappeared, police said.
   Court documents said Johnson admitted to setting the three fires and to taking the truck, the Mercedes Benz and the Chevrolet Blazer.
   He also told police he broke into a house in Issaquah, poured paint remover on the floor of the home and pawned stolen items from the house, documents said.
   Johnson is being held in the King County Jail on $350,000 bail.
   Meanwhile, the Michael Stevens family, victims of the fire that comsumed the house on Fish Hatchery road, were left homeless.
   Fire officials estimate the loss to the Stevens' house to be $175,000 to $200,000. The fire apparently was started in the garage and spread to the house, officials said.
   In response to the family's plight, the Fall City Days Committee is donating all the proceeds of their post Fall City Days sales of T-shirts, etc., to the family through November, according to Brenda Carrigan of Fall City Cuts. Those items can by purchased at Fall City Cuts.
   The Fall City Community Association has set up a fund to help the family at Sno Falls Credit Union, as well. Donations may be made at any branch or mailed to P.O. Box 1978, Snoqualmie, 98065.