BELLINGHAM - A backpack loaded with cash got delivered into the hands of a violent criminal because of a mix-up at a Bellingham hospital. That set off a chain of events that led to a botched drug deal, an armed robbery at a Samish Way motel and felony charges for four people, according to charges filed in Whatcom County Superior Court.
Staff at St. Joseph hospital gave a black North Face backpack, containing a silver Macbook Pro and $1,700 stashed in an envelope, to Timothy Blair Drafs, 48, of Bellingham, when he was released from emergency care in late December, according to charging papers.
Drafs had come in to the hospital with a black backpack. But the one he left with belonged to another man in the ER, said Bev Mayhew, the hospital's director of Communications and Marketing.
"Clearly," Mayhew said, "we made a mistake."
Never miss a local story.
Over the past three decades, Drafs has racked up seven felonies, for assault, harassment, burglary, theft and kidnapping.
On Dec. 28, he didn't ask questions: He took the cash and splurged on a room for a month at the Aloha Motel, according to the charges.
He spent much of Dec. 28 with Madison Patricia Crabtree, 21. Prosecutors allege he told her he wanted to buy some drugs, so she placed a phone call.
Two men rolled up in a silver Oldsmobile Alero. Police believe they went to Drafs' room, where he offered $20 for drugs.
"Didn't drive over here," one of the men said, "to sell only $20 worth of dope," according to the charges.
One of the men whipped out a knife and blocked the door, while the other reached into the back of his pants for a black handgun. According to the charges, Crabtree, who apparently was working with the men, grabbed Drafs' wallet, stuffed full with $1,000, but tripped and dropped it as the three robbers made for the Oldsmobile.
By tracing the car's plates, officers tracked down the suspected gunman, Dustin Wilson, 27, that evening hiding in his girlfriend's closet at a home on St. Clair Street. A green hat and a green, black and white sweatshirt - worn during the robbery - were still in the Oldsmobile, according to the charges. Wilson has 11 past felony convictions.
Detectives watched security footage and recognized the man with a knife: Christopher Allen Watson, 39, according to the charges. Watson had been convicted of possessing heroin in summer 2011. He came to the attention of police that day when, according to charging documents, he threw his girlfriend to the ground at the Home Depot store in Bellingham. Officers noted he wore a clip-on knife.
Crabtree was arrested Sunday evening a few blocks from the Aloha, and officers found Watson on Tuesday, Jan. 7, at a Chevron station on Lakeway Drive.
Watson, Wilson and Crabtree were charged with first-degree robbery.
Meanwhile, Drafs turned over the backpack and cash he hadn't spent to police - "reluctantly," wrote Deputy Prosecutor James Hulbert. He wasn't arrested at the time. But Hulbert later filed a charge of second-degree theft against Drafs. He remained at large Friday.
Police returned the backpack and leftover cash to its rightful owner. He will be compensated by the hospital for his losses, Mayhew said.
Because of this mix-up, St. Joseph hospital has changed procedure on how it handles patients' valuables, Mayhew said. If it's not possible to give purses or backpacks to a close relative, the hospital now attaches unique patient wristbands to patient property. Before, they used name tags and kept the belongings in an unlocked cabinet.
Officials are also looking into more long-term fixes, like lockers to better secure items entrusted to the hospital.