Highway of crime looms on Kent’s West Hill

An arson fire last November destroyed a Dollar Tree store and strip mall on Kents West Hill along Pacific Highway South. Courtesy Photo/Puget Sound Fire

It’s been a highway of crime along a short stretch of Pacific Highway South on Kent’s West Hill over the past year with five major incidents.

A shootout between an ATF agent and alleged gun thieves on Oct. 20 in the Lowe’s store parking lot is just the latest in a series of major crimes along a half-mile stretch between Kent Des Moines Road and South 240th Street.

Here are the other cases:

• A 65-year-old Des Moines man died Aug. 23 after his motorcycle collided with a vehicle in the 24000 block of Pacific Highway South. Jefferson Peter Grogan died from multiple blunt force injuries, according to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office.

At about 6:48 a.m., a 61-year-old Auburn man driving northbound along Pacific Highway South attempted to merge into the next northbound lane to the right just before the intersection with South 240th Street, according to Kent Police. The Auburn man’s vehicle then collided with a motorcycle traveling in that lane. The crash threw Grogan from his motorcycle and he sustained injuries that caused his death.

Police arrested the Auburn man for investigation of vehicular homicide. A preliminary investigation by officers indicated intoxication may have been a factor in the crash.

“We are waiting for lab results on evidentiary items and so our investigation is still open,” Kent Police spokesman Jarod Kasner said in an Oct. 24 email.

• Police are still trying to determine who shot and killed a 52-year-old Kent man who died on the night of March 3 in a bar parking lot. Officers responded to a CPR in progress call at about 7:34 p.m. at JJ’s Bar and Grill, 23826 Pacific Hwy S. Officers discovered the man had suffered a gunshot wound, and he died from his injuries.

“We have not made any arrests at this time as we continue to look at evidence and follow up on possible leads,” Kasner said last week.

• An arson fire destroyed a Dollar Tree store and strip mall last November in the 23400 block of Pacific Highway South. King County prosecutors dismissed a first-degree arson case in August against a Des Moines woman accused of starting the large fire. No other arrests have been made.

Crews recently started to knock down the remaining structure as the property owner plans to rebuild the strip mall. Nobody was hurt in the fire but the smoke on a Sunday afternoon could be seen for miles.

• Go another mile south down the highway near the Fred Meyer store, and that’s where Leimoi Clark, 44, of Kent, died from injuries suffered in a car crash Feb. 11.

Eric Hernandez-Navarro, 23, of Seattle, reportedly drove southbound on Pacific Highway South at about 8 p.m. at a speed of more than 60 mph in a 45 mph zone when he ran a red light and struck a vehicle making a left turn on a green light at South 252nd Street, just west of the Fred Meyer store.

He admitted to Kent Police he drove while high on heroin and that he fled the scene after the collision. King County prosecutors charged Hernandez-Navarro in April with vehicular homicide.

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