The star witness for the prosecution in an Oak Harbor murder trial earlier this year is accused of shooting up a Clinton house Aug. 5 as revenge for being ripped off in a drug deal, court documents indicate.
In March, Oak Harbor resident Bryce Hill, 19, testified in Island County Superior Court against his former friend, Christopher Malaga, who was ultimately convicted of the first-degree murder of Oak Harbor resident Adam Garcia. The motive for the Oct. 18, 2014 shooting wasn’t related to drugs, but occurred when Hill was selling cocaine to a fourth man at the scene.
Detectives believe that Hill didn’t get out of the drug-dealing business after the tragedy, according to court records.
Prosecutors charged Hill Aug. 31 with one count of drive-by shooting and one count of unlawful possession of a firearm. A judge ordered him held on $200,000 bail.
Hill could face well over two years in prison if convicted of the charges.
Prosecutors also charged Greenbank resident Nina L. Pallaske, 22, earlier as an accomplice in the drive-by shooting. She initially refused to finger Hill but then talked to investigators after some time in jail.
The police were alerted to the shooting at about 8 p.m. when a witness reported hearing 15 to 20 gunshots and seeing an armed man running in the area of Springwater Lane. Nobody was home at the time of the shooting.
A deputy with the Island County Sheriff’s office arrived and found 15 spent 9mm casings outside the house and three bullet holes in the walls of the home. Three more holes were later found.
The witness said the suspected shooter got into a car driven by a young woman; he gave police the license plate number.
Investigators tracked the vehicle to a home in Greenbank and arrested Pallaske, who is accused of being the driver.
In an interview with police, Pallaske said that Hill contacted her before the shooting and told her he had been ripped off the night before during a pot deal with a man and a woman. He asked her to drive him to their Clinton home “so he would take care of things,” according to the report by Detective Ed Wallace with the Island County Sheriff’s Office.
Pallaske said Hill approached the residence “crouched down.” She heard gunshots and soon afterward Hill jumped into the car, yelling “go, go,” Wallace wrote.
Hill threw his hat, sweatshirt and gun out of the window while they were driving away, the report indicates. The police, including a state trooper with a gunpowder-sniffing dog, searched the area for the weapon but were unable to find it, Wallace said.
Police arrested Hill at his parents’ home in Oak Harbor Aug. 26.
In his report, Wallace notes Hill’s “lengthy juvenile criminal history” and the seriousness of the crime. He said the evidence suggests that Hill didn’t know whether anyone was home at the time he allegedly fired the shots.
“Hill was willing to blindly fire into a residence that could have been occupied over an altercation that had occurred the night prior,” he wrote. “This was not a heat of the moment decision.”
In an interview, Wallace said he’s noticed that a core “crew” of young people on the island seem to be connected to several violent incidents in recent years. That includes the shooting death of 17-year-old John “Jay” Johnson on North Whidbey last November; the motive was revenge over a $400 towing fee. Two young men, a young woman and a teenage boy are currently serving prison sentences for their involvement.
“The same names keep coming up,” Wallace said.
Detective Sgt. Mike Bailey with the Oak Harbor Police Department said that’s not surprising since he’s noticed dealers and users involved in a certain drug — whether it’s methamphetamine or heroin — all seem to know each other’s names. He said street drugs do seem to be a common denominator in much of the violence of recent years, which is nothing new.
“What is new is the willingness to pull the trigger,” he said.