Washington Campers Dodge Bullets
Campers on the north shore of Yale Reservoir in southwest Washington hid behind cars to avoid incoming bullets and frantically called 911 last weekend after a Vancouver man — standing on the Clark County side of the lake – allegedly fired three guns toward them.
“We were just getting ready to go to bed when we heard the first shots,” said Brad Burnett, a Vancouver man who was at popular Beaver Bay Campground with friends and family members including children, according to The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.
The shots began about 12:30 a.m. Saturday, Burnett said, and continued on and off through the night into the campground along Lewis River Road east of Cougar, Wash. He said the campground was nearly full; he estimated that at least 100 people were there.
“It was about 9:30 a.m. when it started getting really ugly,” Burnett said. “We started hearing bullets whizzing over the trees over our heads and hitting the trees.”
That’s when campers started calling 911, according to a Clark County Sheriff’s Office report.
Deputy James Payne said he rushed to the scene and was flagged down by campers.
“As I drove in, I was contacted by about 20 people who were frantic and told me someone had been shooting from across the lake and the rounds were hitting in the trees above their tents and on the ground in front of the campsites,” Payne said in the report.
He added: “Some people stated that they climbed behind vehicles and under things to stay out of the line of fire.”
Standing on the shore and looking toward where campers said the bullets were coming from, Payne said he heard more shots. He said he looked across the lake and saw someone standing on the Clark County shore near a blue-and-yellow tent.
Payne said he knew there was only one forest road to where the person was. He radioed for backup, waited until Deputy Dave Tendler arrived and they cautiously approached the person’s area.
Ricocheting off water
When the deputies arrived, they asked who’d been shooting and 25-year-old Jacob Michael Johnson stepped forward and said he had, the report said.
The report said Johnson said he’d been firing three guns: an AK-47 assault-style rifle, a .357 Magnum revolver and a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol.
Johnson told the officers he’d been shooting at the water and at a small island directly between his campsite and the campground, the report said.
Told that his bullets were ricocheting off the water into the campground, Johnson said he didn’t know bullets could do that, the report said.
Johnson, who had a bottle of beer in his hand, said he’d had three that morning. He submitted to a portable breath test that measured his alcohol level at 0.03, below the 0.08 DUI threshold, the report said.
Johnson was arrested and booked into the Clark County Jail on suspicion of five counts of misdemeanor reckless endangerment, the report said.
Reached by telephone Thursday evening, Johnson said, "The whole shooting into the campground is just speculation.”
He added, “It didn’t happen. I wasn’t shooting into the campground.”
He declined to speak further.
Deputies seized the three guns and some ammunition as evidence.
Deputy Payne, a U.S. Army veteran and now a firearms instructor, said rifle bullets can travel well over a mile. He said they can ricochet off water and continue for great distances.
Using a laser device, Payne said he measured the distance between Johnson and the campground at 1,530 feet, less than the maximum range of the rifle and even the handguns.
Back at Beaver Bay, Payne spoke to campers who said they’d looked through binoculars during the fusillade and saw a man holding a gun.
“They could see the splashes in the water” as the bullets zipped over their heads, Payne said.
“They yelled across the water for them to stop shooting, to no avail,” Payne said.
During the night as the bullets flew, camper Burnett said there was a light breeze and the moon was out at times.
“We go camping to relax and spend some time with family and friends,” Burnett said. “But when you’re dodging bullets, the tranquillity is ruined. I’m hoping it’ll be a one-time occurrence, because Beaver Bay is a real nice campground."