PeaceArch shootout creates long border delays

Published on Thu, Jan 26, 2006 by ack Kintner

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Peace Arch shootout creates long border delays

By Jack Kintner

Officers from the Washington State Patrol, Whatcom County Sheriff’s office, the Blaine police department and several federal agencies chased two murder suspects to the foot of the Peace Arch Tuesday afternoon about 3 p.m., engaging in a gun battle before capturing the men and putting them in custody. One of the suspects was injured by the shot.

Officers had been warned that the pair was northbound and spotted them at the rest area on the northbound side of Interstate 5, just south of exit 270 driving a small, red sedan. They chased it at speeds up to 100 m.p.h. until exit 276, where they apparently crashed through a road block after exchanging shots with officers.

Peace Arch County Park volunteer Paul Atchison said that he heard the commotion and “knew that something was coming into the park, then I heard several rapid shots fired.”

At the Peace Arch, the pair veered off to the left into the infield between the north and southbound lanes, hit the monument’s base, then careened toward the railroad tracks and Semiahmoo Bay, stopped at the last minute by a sheriff’s department SUV that was driven into its path.

Clem Lottimer, 45, of Birch Point was driving south through the park toward U.S. Customs and got a front row seat. As he was passing the Peace Arch a helicopter was hovering very close, when suddenly “a sheriff’s SUV, like a Ford Explorer or something, came shooting across the road between me and the bad guys in a red four-door Toyota or Nissan, and all these cop cars were chasing them, and they just stopped right in front of me so close I had to slam on my brakes.”

Two men, Ishtiag Hussain, 38, and Jose Barajaf, 22, were apprehended, but not before one of them tried to escape into Canada along the railroad tracks. Lottimer said he saw the man in the front passenger’s seat get handcuffed and carried away, and then the driver who ran was caught and returned.

Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo said one of the men was shot. Television news film showed one suspect being transported by a fire department aid car.

The Peace Arch crossing was closed until past midnight, backing up traffic on the truck route well down the freeway. Tire tracks and ruts now cover the field by the Peace Arch itself.

“The sheriff’s deputy driving the SUV protected me from getting hit by that red car,” said Lottimer, who added “I sure appreciated the county sheriff’s deputies performance. They handled the whole thing very well.”

The two men were reportedly fleeing the country, suspected of involvement in the murder of Ashok Malholta, 43, in Richmond, California on Saturday night.