Robbery suspects paint car after high-speed chase near Sumas, but forget to swap out plates

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDAugust 27, 2013 

NOOKSACK - A trio of robbery suspects from Everett headed north toward the Canadian border this past weekend, but ended their ride after leading Whatcom County Sheriff's deputies on a wild car chase near Sumas.

The alleged driver, Westley C. French, 22, outran the law for five more hours. French and his alleged accomplices used those fleeting moments of freedom to give his green Nissan 240 SX a new coat of black spray paint. But they neglected to swap out the car's South Dakota plates when border agents found the car and the suspects outside of Nooksack Valley High School.

Their journey began in the early morning of hours of Saturday, Aug. 24, when French and two other men showed up at a home in the 3500 block of Lombard Street in Everett to steal back a recently sold pickup, said the city's police spokesman Aaron Snell.

They confronted the truck's new owner, and at least one robber armed himself with a two-by-four, possibly a "weapon of opportunity" he found at the scene, Snell said. The resident and his friend were beaten so badly they were hospitalized. Their injuries were not life-threatening, but police didn't have an update on their recovery.

After the robbery, Snell said, the men headed toward Canada and evidently ditched the pickup. Everett detectives still haven't found it, but they have some leads, Snell added.

Exactly 24 hours later, French was driving the green Nissan with South Dakota plates on the outskirts of Nooksack. There, he saw a Whatcom County sheriff's patrol car and apparently believed the law had caught up with him, Snell said.

"He figured the gig was up," the Everett police spokesman said.

So the Nissan sped off, leading the deputy on a high-speed pursuit through the darkness on the rural back roads of northern Whatcom County. French barreled through intersection after intersection without stopping, then found himself at a dead end, said Whatcom County Undersheriff Jeff Parks. The driver whipped a 180-degree turn and tried to ram the deputy's car head-on. The Nissan swerved out of the way at the last moment.

Thirteen minutes into the chase, the deputy lost sight of the car near Sumas.

Security footage showed French had made a stop at the Nooksack Market shortly before the chase. At daybreak, when border agents found the car parked at Nooksack Valley High, French still had the same clothes on. And the Nissan still had the same out-of-state plates.

The car had been painted black, however, and two of the men were caught with black spray paint on their hands, according to the sheriff's office.

Investigators aren't sure if they planned to cross the border, or if they just "flirted with the idea," Parks said.

Deputies arrested French - who allegedly gave a fake name of James R. Scholl and a fake date of birth - on suspicion of felony eluding, and on warrants for robbery and a prior burglary. He admitted to driving the Nissan the night before, Parks said.

At the time, sheriff's deputies didn't arrest the passengers, Richard Andrew Genn, 22, and Gregory Raymond Carson, 24. But Everett police developed probable cause for a first-degree robbery charge and took them into custody late Sunday. Genn and Carson, who both have a lengthy court history, are being held at Snohomish County Jail in lieu of $100,000 bail.

For the eluding charge, French's bail was set at $70,000 by Whatcom County Superior Court Commissioner Leon F. Henley Jr. His arraignment is scheduled for Sept. 6. He's awaiting formal charges in the robbery case.

Reach Caleb Hutton at 360-715-2276 or caleb.hutton@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Dispatcher Blog at bellinghamherald.com/dispatcher-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamcrime.

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