Possible sighting of 2011 Lynden slaying suspect sets off manhunt

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 23, 2013 

A felon wanted for shooting a 22-year-old Ferndale man to death may have been sighted on Slater Road Monday, Sept. 23.

A sheriff's deputy pulled over a woman for a routine traffic stop Monday morning, near Slater and Red River roads, surrounded by farmland. Just as the vehicle came to a halt, a passenger dressed in all black swung open the door and sprinted off, said Whatcom County Undersheriff Jeff Parks.

The woman claimed the fleeing man was Salvador Rodriguez - a name local law officers haven't forgotten since the 2011 shooting of Jesse Winchester, 22, at a drug house in Lynden. A man named Salvador Rodriguez, also known as Chuco, has been charged with second-degree murder but never caught.

Deputies strongly suspect the man on Slater Road was wanted for some crime - most people don't just run from police for no reason - but they're not positive it's the same person, Parks said. Regardless, it elicited a huge law enforcement response around 9:30 a.m. Monday.

A border helicopter, police dogs and officers from neighboring agencies combed through muddy cornfields and set up a perimeter in search of a Hispanic man dressed all in black, with a black baseball cap and a black backpack.

In the meantime the woman's story changed.

"I wouldn't even say we're 90 percent sure this is Salvador," Parks said. "The story's been it was him, or a boyfriend, or someone else."

Someone spotted a man covered in mud, matching the original description, around 2 p.m. west of the bridge at Marine Drive and Ferndale Road. So the police perimeter migrated to the south as the search continued.

Two years ago, a drug ripoff concocted by Jesse Winchester's father, Jeremiah, led to the 22-year-old Ferndale High School graduate's death, according to charging papers. The father and son had gone to a Lynden home to rob drugs and cash from the Rodriguez brothers, Salvador and Oscar. It turned into a gunfight, and Jesse took a fatal bullet to his lung. (Jeremiah, who has 16 felonies on his record, has since been sentenced to 20 years in prison.)

Police believe the Rodriguez brothers bolted for the Mexican border. Oscar Rodriguez, who was 15 years old at the time of the killing, later turned himself in at a border crossing in Arizona. He took a plea deal for second-degree murder in April. Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Deborra Garrett sentenced Oscar, aka Scrappy, to 14 years behind bars.

But Salvador remained at large. At the time of the killing, Salvador Rodriguez weighed 150 pounds, with brown hair, brown eyes and a prominent neck tattoo. He's about 5-foot-7.

The name of the woman driving hasn't been released. She's homeless, Parks said, and claimed she'd been dropping off two kids at a bus stop Monday morning. It's not clear how long she'd known her passenger.

Prior to the manhunt, law enforcement had no tips suggesting Rodriguez might return to Whatcom County.

Lynden Police Chief Jack Foster suggested another local person might share the name with the suspected killer.

"But I would very much like it if it was (him)," the police chief said. "Keep your fingers crossed."

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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