Bainbridge Island police arrested a man who allegedly sexually assaulted two young girls, one of them who was inside Bainbridge High School at the time, after a manic manhunt near the BHS campus Wednesday afternoon.
The chase ended five blocks away from the high school, on Wyatt Way at about 4 p.m., after officers rammed his vehicle and wrestled him from his Honda.
The man, a 32-year-old who was not immediately identified by police, is also being accused of felony voyeurism, having allegedly followed at least one Bainbridge teenager into a restroom at Bainbridge High, and also felony assault of a police officer.
The frantic search for the man, who was not a Bainbridge resident, involved not only the Bainbridge Island Police Department but off-island agencies, including at least one FBI agent.
The incident began sometime around 2:30 p.m., when a female student told BHS staff that a strange man followed her into a restroom and began peeking under stall doors. The incident prompted a lockdown at Bainbridge High and other schools across the island.
Police Chief Matthew Hamner said the man allegedly entered the school and assaulted at least one female student there, then promptly fled as officers responded, beginning the chase that would last more than a hour, but ultimately end close by — but not before one more young girl was assaulted off-campus.
Hamner said as the first police officer arrived at the school, BHS staff were able to point out the man, who was attempting to leave in his car.
He refused to stop when ordered and actually struck the officer with his car while fleeing, Hamner said.
The officer, though not seriously hurt, was unfortunately not the man’s final victim of the day. A third young woman, walking on Grove Avenue south of the high school campus, would also be allegedly assaulted before he was caught.
“He entered the Bainbridge High School campus and committed felony voyeurism, burglary, felony sexual assault, felony assault of a police officer, and then we had a fourth victim, off-campus, that was assaulted, a female,” Hamner said.
Hamner said two girls were physically attacked by the man.
“Two juvenile victims were assaulted; the other is a felony voyeurism charge,” the chief said.
In his relatively short time on campus, Hamner said the man is suspected of committing a number of felony crimes, including felony sexual assault, felony voyeurism, felony battery of a police officer and burglary.
“And that may not end the list,” Hamner added. “Right now, we’re looking at other charges; we’re seeing everything that he did and trying to compile what are the charges.”
Police first contacted the man at the high school but he escaped.
“The officer went to confront him [at the school],” Hamner explained. “He refused to obey his commands. He struck the officer with his vehicle. The officer was not injured, seriously. At that point he fled and was able to get away. We continued to look for him. We got his plate number, description of the vehicle. We had many other units helping.”
Bainbridge police and other off-island officers set up a perimeter to try to corral the man.
At one point, Hamner said, it was incorrectly announced via police radio channels that the man was guilty of actually abducting a girl, which garnered the attention and assistance of federal personnel who aided in the manhunt.
The chase, Hamner said, took place at the worst possible time. The lockdown at BHS had been lifted as police assumed the man had fled the area. Traffic was thick in the downtown area — and children and teens were plentiful on the streets — as school had just been dismissed.
“The chase was all over [the place],” he said. “After we could not find him, we had to release the schools, so we released the schools and the buses and I would say about an hour later … we picked him up, found his car. We thought he was on foot. He got in his car and then we continued to give chase until we apprehended him.”
Hamner praised the work of responders and high school staff for their handling of a hectic, fluid situation.
“I want to complement the Bainbridge High School staff,” he said. “And thank you to the young people who heard the commotion. Staff was notified and the staff immediately went into the mode of notifying all district staff and they actually followed him until the police arrived and then pointed him out, from a safe distance.”
“I want to call out the courage of the high school staff in maintaining a visual of him and getting us on scene and then the vigilance of my officers — and all the assisting departments coming here — to find this character,” Hamner added. “We did not want another young person assaulted.”
Hamner said the man was not immediately familiar to Bainbridge police, and his motivation, or what exactly set off or triggered his seemingly random spree of assaults, remains unknown at this time.