Crime

Police arrest suspect in Bellingham kidnapping, sexual assaults

Sumas man accused of rape, kidnapping, makes first appearance in court

Edmund R. Olivas, also known as Michael A. Coles, makes his first appearance in Whatcom County Superior Court alongside Public Defender Jon Komorowski on Thursday, June 16, in Bellingham. Whatcom County Prosecutor Dave McEachran presented probable
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Edmund R. Olivas, also known as Michael A. Coles, makes his first appearance in Whatcom County Superior Court alongside Public Defender Jon Komorowski on Thursday, June 16, in Bellingham. Whatcom County Prosecutor Dave McEachran presented probable

Bellingham police arrested a man late Wednesday, June 15 who is suspected of kidnapping and raping two teenagers in a case that went unsolved for weeks.

Two other sexual assaults — one from California in 2003, one from Bellingham in 2015 — have been linked to the case through DNA evidence.

Over the past month, police struggled to identify a man who lured two young women, both 18, into his van at the Cordata bus station around dusk on a Friday night, May 27. As they waited for the bus, he asked for help finding his way around town and they agreed to go with him to a 7-Eleven.

He let one teen drive to assure them nothing was wrong. Once they came to a stop he took out a knife, held it to the driver’s throat and told her he would kill her, according to a statement read in court Thursday by Prosecutor Dave McEachran.

The man bound the young women with a cord and shoelaces, and forced them to stay on the floor. He drove around for hours, to Lynden and Sumas. He continued to threaten the young women with the knife and, one at a time, forced them to perform oral sex on him, McEachran alleges.

Eventually he dropped them off on a rural road near Lynden. He took their shoes and phone. The teens asked for directions at a house, but out of fear they did not mention what happened, McEachran said. They walked back to Bellingham. One teen showed police her blisters from the walk.

Weeks ago police released still images from bus station security footage of the man — white, around 200 pounds and 5-foot-6, dressed in black with a black New York Yankees hat — in hopes of getting tips from the public. Police asked the public’s help again this week as they posted a video of the security footage from the Cordata bus station.

A blurry photo of his greenish minivan was released, too.

Meanwhile a crime analyst compiled a list of vans registered in Whatcom County that could be a match. One was an Oldsmobile Silhouette that belonged to Edmund Richard Olivas Jr., 36.

County sheriff’s deputies went to his home Wednesday at 4383 Rock Road in Sumas and saw Olivas standing outside. He saw them, too. They asked if he knew anything about an unrelated crime, to keep from tipping him off about the investigation, Lt. Mike Johnston said. His shoes, police said, matched the black-and-white skate shoes in the video.

The teens had given police a description of the inside of the van: no console, captain’s chairs in the middle row, and a bench with booster seats in the back, McEachran said. The deputies peeked inside Olivas’ van and saw it had the same layout. They called for backup. Olivas was arrested around 8:50 p.m. He was booked into jail early Thursday on two counts of first-degree rape and two counts of first-degree kidnapping. He declined to speak with police.

A judge granted a warrant to search his van and his house, and to collect a DNA sample from him. Police found a New York Yankees hat, in the same style as the hat in the security footage, and a folding knife in the breezeway of the house.

Police have linked the sexual assault in the van to two others from the past 13 years. DNA evidence came up as a match to a kidnapping from Feb. 1, 2015, the date of the Super Bowl, according to police. A woman reported she’d been walking home in Bellingham after the game when a man threatened her and told her to get into his vehicle. He put a belt around her neck, held her at knifepoint and sexually assaulted her, she reported. She escaped when the passenger side tires of his vehicle got stuck in a muddy ditch off Sorensen Road, a four-mile drive from Sumas, according to police.

She looked “severely beaten” when officers spoke with her. A nurse swabbed her skin for DNA. Her phone was taken by the attacker, McEachran said, and cellphone tower pings showed it was somewhere in the Sumas area.

The description she gave police: a white man in his 40s with dark blondish hair.

After hearing that, Superior Court Commissioner Leon Henley found probable cause to detain Olivas on a third count of rape and a third count of kidnapping.

The oldest case is an unsolved sexual assault of a girl, age 11, from 2003 in Los Angeles. Olivas has ties to the area. Years ago, in 1998, he was convicted of robbery, carjacking and kidnapping in California. At the time his name was Michael Anthony Coles. McEachran said Olivas was out of prison by the time of the 2003 sexual assault.

Court records show Coles changed his name to Olivas in April 2015.

DNA test results from Olivas, to see if they match the sexual assaults, are pending.

On Thursday the county’s top public defender, Jon Komorowski, declined to discuss the allegations or to address bail in court.

Henley set bail at $1 million, as requested by the prosecutor.

Police are still taking tips and investigating. You can reach Detective Darla Wagner at 360-778-8767, or Detective Dan Kelsh at 360-778-8690. Or visit cob.org/tips.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb

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