He reportedly assaulted 2 men with a shovel, then his home burned while he was in jail

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Witnessing a crime and reporting it can be just as frightening as being the victim of a crime. Here’s what you should do if you witness illegal activity.

A Whatcom County man is suspected of assaulting two others with a shovel early Sunday only two hours before the shed that he was living in near the North Lake Samish exit along Interstate 5 was destroyed by fire.

The cause of the fire is still undetermined, Whatcom County Fire Inspector Mitch Nolze told The Bellingham Herald, and he is working with the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office to determine if the two incidents are related.

“It is possible that the fire may be in retaliation for the assault, which is what we will be investigating,” Chief Deputy Kevin Hester told The Herald.

Bruce Campbell Sandelin, 63, was arrested and booked into Whatcom County Jail at 3:53 a.m. on suspicion of second-degree assault. According to jail records, he was released Monday on personal recognizance.

According to information provided by Hester, deputies responded to property in the 1600 block of Old Samish Road at approximately 2:04 a.m. for a reported assault with a shovel and knife.

When they got to the property, they contacted two male victims, one of whom said he had gone to retrieve his dog after it wandered near Sandelin’s small shed.

The victim told deputies that Sandelin came out and yelled at him to leave before picking up a flat metal shovel and swinging it at the victim’s head. The victim tried to block the shovel with his hands, but was still struck, leaving light redness on his head and face, according to the deputy’s report.

The second victim reported that he went to see what the yelling was about, and he, too, was struck in the face and cheek by Sandelin’s shovel, leaving redness and swelling, reported deputies, who took Sandelin into custody.

Hester said there were also reports that Sandelin was “squatting” on the property and that the assault victims had asked about having him legally evicted.

At 4:10 a.m., South Whatcom Fire Authority crews were called to the property after some neighbors saw flames coming from Sandelin’s shed.

“The call was for a tree house on fire,” South Whatcom Chief Dave Ralston told The Herald, “but that’s just what people who live on the property call it. It was a small, 12-by-16 shed that someone was living in, built among the trees.”

Because of the size of the structure, there was little fire fighters could do to save it, even though Station 28 is located just across the freeway.

“We knocked the flames down fairly quickly, but it was so small it only took a half hour to 45 minutes to pretty much burn completely through,” Ralston said.

The incident was referred to Nolze, but because the fire had been so thorough, he told The Herald he had little to work with.

“We’re still investigating, but the damage was pretty extensive,” Nolze said. “It was a makeshift residential building, but we basically don’t know what caused it. We can’t rule out electrical. We can’t rule out it starting with a heat source. We can’t rule out that it was an intentionally set fire, either. ... We may not know for sure because of the extent of the damage, but we’ll keep working it.”

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.