A high-speed chase on Interstate 5 early Saturday morning ended with 12 police officers opening fire on a homicide suspect near Tillicum, a Lakewood police spokesman said.
Marcos Perea, the homicide suspect, allegedly fired shots at police several times on the highway after killing his estranged girlfriend, Jessica Ortega, at her workplace in University Place.
Ortega on Friday had submitted a petition for a restraining order against Perea in Pierce County Superior Court. She wrote that she was leaving him and that he recently had threatened her by placing a gun to her head.
“He had a gun pointed at my head telling me it was my time to die,” she wrote.
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The tragedy began about 6:15 a.m., when Perea, 41, allegedly shot and killed Ortega, 27, at the University Place Care Center, 5520 Bridgeport Way West, Pierce County Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said.
Officials from the long-term rehabilitation center where Ortega worked called the shooting “an act of domestic violence” directed at one of their nurses during a shift change. No one else was hurt there.
By late Saturday, tributes to her began being posted to social media websites, noting the love she showed to her two children.
“Our hearts go out to the nurse’s family and loved ones,” University Place Care Center officials wrote in their statement before the Pierce County Medical Examiner disclosed Ortega’s identity.
The police chase developed when Lakewood officers spotted the suspect on I-5 in a Honda moments after the shooting.
Perea reportedly opened fire on officers but didn’t strike any police vehicles, said Lt. Chris Lawler of the Lakewood Police Department. When Perea reached Thurston County, he left the freeway at Exit 109 in Lacey, then started north on I-5, Lawler said.
He reportedly continued to shoot at police.
Washington State Patrol, Pierce County sheriff deputies and a Steilacoom officer joined in the chase. An officer maneuvered his vehicle to force the suspect to spin out near the Thorne Lane exit.
Perea got out of the car and fired again at the officers, Troyer said.
Twelve officers — six from Lakewood, five sheriff’s deputies and a Steilacoom officer — returned fire. Perea was struck multiple times and killed about 6:45 a.m., Lawler said.
Troyer said Perea left officers with no choice but to shoot him when he came out of the car firing his gun.
“Our guys do what they’re trained to do and you’re not going to survive that,” he said.
The medical examiner’s office listed the cause of death for both Ortega and Perea as multiple gunshot wounds.
There have been no reports of any shots striking passersby or nearby businesses, Lawler said.
“We’re very lucky that no other citizens were hurt” on the freeeway or at the clinic, Troyer said.
Officials at University Place Care Center have contacted a private security company to ensure the facility is safe. They are enlisting counseling services for residents and staff, according to their statement.
“We are working through our deep shock and grief through the situation and are assisting the authorities in any way possible,” the care center’s statement said.
The incident snarled traffic for most of the day while officers collected evidence from the shooting scene. At one point the backup stretched 10 miles while officers closed two of the freeway’s three northbound lanes. Washington state Department of Transportation tweeted at 3:15 p.m. that the freeway was cleared.
Other roads clogged in East Pierce and Thurston counties for much of the day as people sought to avoid the backups on I-5.