PORT ORCHARD, Wash. -- A Washington State Patrol trooper was gunned down at a traffic stop early Thursday, and the suspect -- an ex-con with a history of antagonizing police -- killed himself as a tactical team closed in on the home where he was hiding, authorities said.
The 28-year-old suspect, Joshua Jearl Blake, had served time for drugs, assaulting his pregnant girlfriend, and kicking out the window of a police car, among other things, court records show. He was the registered owner of a pickup truck that Trooper Tony Radulescu pulled over just before he was shot to death early Thursday.
Investigators tracked Blake to a home on a dirt road near Port Orchard, about 20 miles west of Seattle across Puget Sound. As SWAT team officers approached, they heard a single gunshot. Blake was taken to Tacoma General Hospital, where he died later in the day.
Radulescu, 44, was a 16-year patrol veteran who served his entire career in the area. An immigrant from Romania, he spoke five languages -- a huge asset in investigating car theft rings with Eastern European ties, said Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer, who knew him well.
"He was cautious. He practiced good officer safety," the sheriff said, his eyes misting. "Sometimes the odds are just against you."
“It’s a bad day," said WSP Chief John Batiste during an early morning news conference. "It’s a terrible thing to receive a phone call that lets you know that one of your people have been injured in the line of duty. To have that compounded by the loss of that trooper, it’s a bad day.”
Radulescu stopped the truck around 1 a.m. on Highway 16. He radioed the location and license plate number, said Trooper Russ Winger.
When Radulescu didn't respond to dispatcher status checks, a Kitsap County sheriff's deputy went to the scene and found the fatally wounded trooper outside his patrol car.
"He got here at 1:14 a.m. -- four minutes later- - to find the injured trooper next to his vehicle," said Kitsap County Sheriff's spokesman Ken Dickinson. "He immediately called for medical help."
Radulescu was taken to St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma where he was declared dead.
Three hours later, officers found the truck abandoned on a county road near Port Orchard, about two miles from the shooting scene.
Investigators received a tip on where to find the registered owner and went to the home.
"At 9:11 a.m., the Kitsap County Sheriff's SWAT team approached a house on Scofield Road in south Kitsap County, acting on a tip as to the possible location for the registered owner of the truck that we're looking for," said Kitsap County Sheriff's spokesman Ken Dickinson. "As they approached the house, they heard a single gunshot come from the area of the house. They approached and found a male subject with a self-inflicted gunshot wound injury."
Radulescu well-known and loved in community
Radulescu was a military veteran with a son in the area who is a soldier, Batiste said at an early morning news conference at St. Joseph Medical Center. He was well-known and popular in the community where he often spoke in schools, Batiste said.
Winger said many of the troopers engaged in the investigation knew the Radulescu well.
"It's difficult. He was a personal friend of mine, a personal co-worker, he worked closely with me...I've know this person for 14-15 years," Winger said. "I've been too busy to really think about the tragedy of it right now. It's going to sink in later."
In a sign of how his death is impacting the law enforcement community, a motorcade of vehicles from agencies around the region escorted the trooper's body as it was transported from St. Joseph's Hospital to the medical examiner's office Thursday morning.
"He was a very popular person within the agency, a great personality. I loved being around him, a real sense of humor. A person who was highly thought of in the community. One that was in high demand, particularly in dealing with school children. So he did a lot of talking at local schools in the Kitsap County area," said Batiste. “He was a father and a peer to many of us who was dearly loved."
Persons wanting to pay tribute to Radulescu are urged not to bring flowers to the Hwy 16 spot where the early morning shooting occurred. Instead, flowers should be brought to WSP's Bremerton office at 4811 Werner Rd.
Department of Corrections: Blake threatened to kill police officer
According to the Department of Corrections, Josh Blake was a "difficult case" and had threatened to kill a law enforcement officer. At one point during his prison sentence, he was held in the highest security unit at the state penitentiary in Walla Walla.
“He did threaten to kill a law enforcement officer, which is one reason we closely supervised Blake,” said Department of Corrections spokesman Chad Lewis.
Sean Jeu, who said he is a long time friend of Blake's, said he had a history of drug abuse and always behaved erratically. He said Blake's recent turn of bad luck may have caused him to snap.
According to Jeu, Blake couldn't kick a long-running addiction to meth and often carried a handgun. Blake was on probabation for drug charges and recently fell on tough times after being laid off his construction job.
"That's his lifeline. That is all he knew," said Jeu. "I just think he was probably in a situation. He had had a couple of priors probably. He probably thought this was it and he had no other way out."
According to Kitsap County court records, Blake was convicted for assaulting his then-pregnant girlfriend in 2004 as he drove down a street under the influence of alcohol. After being arrested, he kicked out the window of a patrol car.
Later that year, after the baby was born, he choked the woman and punched her in the face repeatedly because she asked him to watch the child while she took a nap.
In 2008, a Port Orchard officer tried to pull him over for a minor traffic infraction. He sped off at 60 mph, crashed into another police car and then ran off. As officers pursued him, he returned to his car and sped away again -- only to later be caught when a sheriff's office dog team chased him up a tree.
Lewis said Blake was a handful both for prison officials and for community corrections officers who tried to supervise him. He completed a two-and-one-half year prison term in early 2010, and last spring he served two months for failing to check in with his community corrections officer. His term of supervision ended last August, Lewis said.
Violence against law enforcement officers
Radulescu's death was the first of a trooper on duty in 13 years, although Washington state has seen several law enforcement officers killed in recent years, including four officers from Lakewood who were shot to death by a gunman at a coffee shop in 2009.
The last trooper killed was James Saunders, 31, who was shot in 1999 during a traffic stop in Pasco. Nicolas S. Vasquez pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and was sentenced to life in prison.
Batiste said Radulescu is the 27th WSP trooper killed in the line of duty since 1929. [List of state troopers killed in duty.]
Additional reporting by the Associated Press.