ST. HELENS, OR (KPTV) - A St. Helens police officer intentionally drove his patrol car into a suspect who was firing shots at drivers on Highway 30, according to new information released by the Columbia County District Attorney’s Office.
District Attorney Jeffrey Auxier ruled that Officer Elijah Merkwan was “overwhelmingly” justified in the use of deadly force against 32-year-old Michael Thomas Veatch.
The district attorney’s report provided new details about the string of crimes and police response that ended with Veatch’s death Oct. 9.
It began at 5:26 a.m. Oct. 9 when officers said Veatch told an employee at a gas station on the 100 block of North Columbia River Highway that he was looking for his cat, before pointing his gun at the employee and firing six to eight shots at the business. Veatch drove away on Highway 30.
Emergency dispatchers then began receiving 911 calls about shots fired near McBride Elementary School. One witness said he followed Veatch’s pickup, but Veatch stopped and began shooting at him with a rifle.
Officers caught up to Veatch’s pickup on Highway 30 and said the suspect was often driving in the wrong lane. Veatch eventually stopped in the middle of the road, got out of the truck and ran along with west side of the highway.
Multiple gunshots were then heard. Investigators said Veatch attempted to carjack two people on their morning commutes, and subsequently fired shots at both drivers. Bullet holes and bullets were found in both vehicles, but neither driver was hit by the gunfire.
Officer Merkwan told investigators he believed Veatch was “going down the line of stopped traffic and he was shooting people,” according to the district attorney’s report. Merkwan then responded over the radio that he intentionally drove into the suspect and an ambulance was needed at the scene “ASAP.”
The district attorney’s report states Merkwan put Veatch in handcuffs after he was hit and performed CPR on the suspect until medics arrived.
Merkwan told investigators he didn’t believe there was time to stop his car, get out and shoot at the suspect, while doing so would also possibly put innocent people in the line of fire. Merkwan said there was only “a brief opportunity to intervene,” according to the district attorney’s report.
Investigators said a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol was found near Veatch’s body, with an unfired cartridge in the chamber and a single bullet in his pocket. An empty pistol magazine and a box of 9 mm ammunition with 35 unfired cartridges were also found near his body.
In addition, investigators said a rifle, rifle accessories, two shotguns and numerous containers of ammunition were found in Veatch’s pickup.
Investigators said Veatch was also a suspect in a drive-by shooting that injured one person and killed a dog in Beaverton on Sept. 6.
Medical examiners noted Veatch had multiple “white power” and Nazi tattoos on his body.
People who knew Veatch told investigators that he would rather die than return to prison.
Merkwan told investigators he did not intend to kill Veatch when he struck him with his car, which the district attorney's office said was "corroborated by the evidence."
“Independent witnesses and physical evidence from the scene prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the defendant was intent on killing someone that morning and Merkwan's actions very likely saved innocent lives,” according to the district attorney.
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