Oak Harbor fugitive dies of self-inflicted gunshot wound as police close in

James Kiesel Jr., 37, was wanted on multiple warrants out of Island and Skagit counties.

A suspected arsonist who dramatically escaped from law enforcement in Oak Harbor earlier this month shot and killed himself when officers caught up with him in Anacortes Wednesday.

“It’s unfortunate,” Capt. Tony Slowik with the Oak Harbor police said. “Nobody would have suspected this would be the outcome. It’s not what anybody wanted.”

James Kiesel Jr., a 37-year-old Oak Harbor resident, was wanted on multiple warrants out of Island and Skagit counties. Police unsuccessfully tried to arrest him at an Oak Harbor apartment complex parking lot on Nov. 3. He was allegedly holding a gun in one hand when he maneuvered his car in reverse and struck both police and civilian cars, then crashed through a fence and escaped by driving over a grassy berm, according to Oak Harbor police.

Police alerted the community that an armed and dangerous fugitive was on the loose.

On Wednesday, the Anacortes Police Department received information that Kiesel was in an apartment in that city and police obtained a search warrant. Because of his history of violence and escape, six different agencies were involved in the attempted arrest of Kiesel. Slowik explained that SWAT teams from Oak Harbor, the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office and the Mount Vernon Police Department were on scene along with command staff and investigators from the Anacortes Police Department, the Burlington Police Department and the Sedro-Woolley Police Department.

Slowik said police have many considerations when such an operation is planned, especially when dealing with an apartment building where many people live and a suspect who has a history of running from police. Community safety is the first priority, he said.

The SWAT teams were still in the process of finalizing a plan to apprehend Kiesel when he fled the apartment on foot to avoid apprehension. Officers who were surveilling the area quickly moved to set up containment, but Kiesel shot himself a few minutes later without any physical contact with police, Slowik said. EMTs who were nearby immediately provided medical treatment, but Kiesel was pronounced dead at the scene.

The Anacortes Police Department is investigating the incident.

In 2020, Kiesel was accused of setting a van on fire in Oak Harbor over a dispute involving a dog. The fire destroyed the van and spread to a nearby car and scorched an apartment building. A judge in Island County Superior Court issued a $100,000 search warrant for him in October after he was arrested in Skagit County on suspicious of committing additional crimes in violation of his release conditions.