Guilty verdict for man who once led Whatcom County deputy on deadly pursuit

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMarch 11, 2014 

BELLINGHAM - A jury found a Bellingham man guilty this week of leading police on a high-speed chase that ended in an armed standoff near the Whatcom County line.

Adrian Sassen Van Elsloo, 32, has already served a four-year sentence for another pursuit, more than a decade ago, that ended in the death of Whatcom County Sheriff's Deputy Matt Herzog. A sheriff's deputy-in-training crashed into a tree by Samish Way and Elwood Avenue while chasing Sassen Van Elsloo's Ford Mustang at speeds up to 100 mph on Sept. 12, 2001.

That crash killed Herzog, a training officer in the passenger seat of the squad car.

Over the past two years, Sassen Van Elsloo has been charged in three more felony cases, each stemming from serious driving offenses.

Charges from August 2012 got dropped because Superior Court Judge Deborra Garrett found a state trooper didn't get proper consent to seize Sassen Van Elsloo's property at a crash off Interstate 5, near Ferndale. (Troopers took several bags of prescription pills from the scene, according to charging papers.)

Prosecutors charged him with eluding police in September 2012 near Cornwall Park - at speeds up to 70 mph in a 25 mph zone - but that case was dismissed last week because a key witness, Sassen Van Elsloo's ex-girlfriend Athena S. Aardema, couldn't be tracked down for the trial. The charges can be filed again if she's found.

"We have people all over the country looking for her," said Eric Richey, Whatcom County chief criminal deputy prosecutor.

Charges stuck in the third case.

An officer spotted Sassen Van Elsloo driving a Lincoln Continental north on Chuckanut Drive on Dec. 11, 2012, according to charging papers. Police tried to pull him over but Sassen Van Elsloo sped off, topping out at 40 mph above the speed limit. The Lincoln forced five cars off the road as it looped through the outskirts of Fairhaven, then south along Lake Samish. Spike strips took out the car's tires, and deputies purposely crashed into the back end of the Lincoln so it spun into a ditch.

Sassen Van Elsloo waved a loaded six-shot Smith & Wesson revolver. Deputies tried to negotiate with him while he held the gun to his head. Eventually deputies fired bean bag rounds at him. He surrendered.

After a weeklong trial, it took a jury three hours and 20 minutes Monday, March 10, to find Sassen Van Elsloo guilty as charged: attempting to elude police vehicles, driving with a license suspended in the second degree and two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm, along with two sentencing enhancements for endangering the officers and committing the crimes while armed with a gun.

Under state guidelines, Sassen Van Elsloo faces 10 years in prison, Richey said. He's expected to have his next court hearing in mid-April.

Public Defender Angela Anderson said Sassen Van Elsloo will appeal, in part because a "last-minute" request to hire a private attorney was denied.

Sassen Van Elsloo remains in Whatcom County Jail.

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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