Man charged with manslaughter for stray-bullet shooting near Ferndale

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 11, 2014 

FERNDALE - The stray bullet that killed a Ferndale woman at a Father's Day barbecue came from an AK-47 fired from across the Nooksack River, according to charges filed Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 12.

Nick Adam Zylstra faces one count of first-degree manslaughter for the death of Alyssa Christine Smith, 23, a graduate of Ferndale High School and a medical receptionist.

Smith's father called 911 around 4:30 p.m. June 16, to report bullets whizzing over the family home on Gadwa Road, on the west bank of the Nooksack. Alyssa and her father, Jeffrey Smith, searched for but couldn't find the source of the gunfire.

As they headed back to the house, a bullet struck Alyssa Smith in the chest. She died hours later at St. Joseph hospital.

Sheriff's deputies found a shooting party had been firing high-powered rifles and handguns for about 30 minutes at a target across the river, off Lattimore Road, about a half-mile to the northeast of the Smith home. The target had been set up in front of the 15- to 20-foot-tall riverbank that they used as a backstop.

They stopped shooting when they heard sirens. On the way back home, Zylstra "recklessly" fired off more shots from a pistol, according to the charges.

In separate interviews, three other shooters - Douglas Quiding, Robert Lee and Kyle Buck - said Zylstra used a "bump fire" technique to make the AK-47 fire like a machine gun. Zylstra held the gun at the hip and put his thumb on the trigger, according to the charges. The recoil makes the semi-automatic rifle fire in bursts, but the bullets can spray out of control.

Zylstra was the only one to shoot like that, wrote Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Eric Richey. The Smiths told detectives they heard "bursts" of "rapid" fire coming through the thin tree line.

All of the guns - a 9 mm pistol, a .38-caliber revolver, a .17-caliber rifle and the AK-47 - belonged to Zylstra. He turned them over to be examined at a crime lab. Recently completed ballistics tests confirmed the round in Smith's body came from Zylstra's AK-47, according to the charges.

Zylstra agreed to turn himself over to authorities by Thursday, Richey said. Formal charges were signed at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Two of the others in the shooting party, Quiding and Lee, have felonies on their records. They've been charged with two counts each of unlawful possession of a firearm. On Wednesday, their tentative trial dates were delayed until July.

Quiding and Lee are out of jail on $5,000 bond.

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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