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Police: Hit and run driver crashes twice, leading to manhunt near St. Joseph hospital

BELLINGHAM — A police dog sniffed out a felon suspected of causing a T-bone hit-and-run crash that injured two people Tuesday morning, April 8, near St. Joseph hospital, police said.

A grayish Nissan Altima plowed into the driver's side of a Chevy Tahoe at 10:03 a.m., when the Altima took a curve too fast where Birchwood Avenue turns into Squalicum Parkway, said Bellingham Police Lt. Bob Vander Yacht. The driver of the Tahoe told officers a man with a cast on his arm — identified as Robert Allen Lee, 23 — had been driving. Lee said he needed to hurry and get to the hospital to have his cast cut off, but the Tahoe driver told him they needed to wait for police to show up, according to police.

That's when Lee got back into his damaged car and drove off, likely pushing the air bags out of the way so he could drive, Vander Yacht said. The driver of the battered Tahoe chased the Altima until the poor condition of his vehicle forced him to give up. That man, 29, and a 32-year-old woman in the passenger's seat of the Tahoe needed to go to the hospital with neck and back pain. Their injuries weren't considered life-threatening.

Meanwhile, the Altima crashed again, this time into a ditch by Parkview Elementary. Both Lee and a 30-year-old woman in the car fled the scene, according to police.

K-9 Officer Danek, a police dog, sniffed out Lee and the woman hunkered down by some trees at 11:15 a.m. on the Meridian Street side of Cornwall Park, about a half-mile from the second crash. Lee claimed he'd been the passenger. Police, however, put more stock in the Tahoe driver's story.

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Officers arrested Lee, who lives north of Bellingham, on suspicion of nine criminal counts, Vander Yacht said. Lee faces charges, for example, of hit and run in an injury collision, driving without insurance, failing to transfer a vehicle title, driving with a license suspended in the third degree and making false statements to law enforcement (for saying he hadn't been driving).

The passenger in the Altima wasn't arrested.

Lee, who has several felonies on his record, was charged with illegal possession of a firearm after a stray bullet from a group of target shooters struck and killed a 23-year-old woman last year near Ferndale. ( See story here.) Another man, Nickolas Adam Zylstra, 31, has been accused of firing the fatal bullet from an AK-47, but prosecutors believe Lee had been target shooting with the group, too. Lee has his next court hearing for that case in July.