SEATTLE – A Washington State Patrol trooper was gunned down at a traffic stop early Thursday, and the suspect -- an ex-con with a history of antagonizing police -- killed himself as a tactical team closed in on the home where he was hiding, authorities said.
The 28-year-old suspect, Joshua Jearl Blake, had served time for drugs, assaulting his pregnant girlfriend, and kicking out the window of a police car, among other things, court records show. He was the registered owner of a pickup truck that Trooper Tony Radulescu pulled over just before he was shot to death early Thursday.
Investigators tracked Blake to a home on a dirt road near Port Orchard, about 20 miles west of Seattle across Puget Sound. As SWAT team officers approached, they heard a single gunshot. Blake was taken to Tacoma General Hospital, where he died later in the day.
Radulescu, 44, was a 16-year patrol veteran who served his entire career in the area. An immigrant from Romania, he spoke five languages -- a huge asset in investigating car theft rings with Eastern European ties, said Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer, who knew him well.
"He was cautious. He practiced good officer safety," the sheriff said, his eyes misting. "Sometimes the odds are just against you."
Radulescu stopped the truck around 1 a.m. on Highway 16. He radioed the location and license plate number, said Trooper Russ Winger.
When Radulescu didn't respond to dispatcher status checks, a Kitsap County sheriff's deputy went to the scene and found the fatally wounded trooper outside his patrol car. He was taken to St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma where he was declared dead.
Three hours later, officers found the truck abandoned on a county road near Port Orchard, about two miles from the shooting scene.
Investigators received a tip on where to find the registered owner and went to the home.
Radulescu was a military veteran with a son in the area who is a soldier, Patrol Chief John Batiste said at an early morning news conference at St. Joseph Medical Center. He was well-known and popular in the community where he often spoke in schools, Batiste said.
"It's a terrible thing to receive a phone call that one of your people is injured in line of duty. To have that compounded with a loss, it's a bad day," Patrol Chief John R. Batiste.
The chief has been consoling family and members of agency.
"They're all hurting. I'm hurting," Batiste said.
An aid car carrying Radulescu's body was escorted by dozens of patrol cars with lights flashing from the hospital to the Pierce County medical examiner's office where the autopsy would be conducted.
According to Kitsap County court records, Blake was convicted for assaulting his then-pregnant girlfriend in 2004 as he drove down a street under the influence of alcohol. After being arrested, he kicked out the window of a patrol car.
Later that year, after the baby was born, he choked the woman and punched her in the face repeatedly because she asked him to watch the child while she took a nap.
In 2008, a Port Orchard officer tried to pull him over for a minor traffic infraction. He sped off at 60 mph, crashed into another police car and then ran off. As officers pursued him, he returned to his car and sped away again -- only to later be caught when a sheriff's office dog team chased him up a tree.
Department of Corrections spokesman Chad Lewis said Blake was a handful both for prison officials and for community corrections officers who tried to supervise him. He completed a 2 1/2-year prison term in early 2010, and last spring he served two months for failing to check in with his community corrections officer. His term of supervision ended last August, Lewis said.
"He was a very difficult person," he said.
Radulescu's death was the first of a trooper on duty in 13 years, although Washington state has seen several law enforcement officers killed in recent years, including four officers from Lakewood who were shot to death by a gunman at a coffee shop in 2009.
The last trooper killed was James Saunders, 31, who was shot in 1999 during a traffic stop in Pasco. Nicolas S. Vasquez pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and was sentenced to life in prison.
Boyer said Radulescu would be remembered for his warmth.
"He could write somebody a ticket and they'd say `thank you,' " Boyer said.