‘The most violence we have ever seen’: Guns, drugs and gangs contribute to Hwy 99 crime wave

This parking lot off the Interurban Trail, bordering Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace, was the scene of a shooting on Thanksgiving Day 2021 .

It is three minutes past 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving afternoon. Just off Highway 99, an Edmonds family has gathered to celebrate – four kids, nine adults. Some are in the kitchen, overseeing the cooking. Everybody’s talking, laughing.

Suddenly, there is a popping sound. “We heard a noise, looked up to see the window shattered,” a witness told police. The bullet lodged in the frame right next to where the homeowner was standing.

“The window broke, we assumed it was a BB gun,” another witness said. “We ran to the back fence, heard footsteps and three or more shots.”

Half a block away, another witness heard, “pop, pop, pop. And I knew it was a gun.” I talked to that witness. To protect them, we are not naming the person. “So I stepped out to see more,” the witness said, “and saw an old black pickup truck with two guys in it; one holding what looked like a rifle shooting back toward the parking lot entrance.”

How many shots? “Oh, I heard like 27-30,” the witness replied. “Police picked up a lot of shell casings.” That parking lot is less than 10 feet from the Interurban Trail. Several days later, two nearby condo residents reported they had found bullet holes in their walls as well.

No one was hurt in that shooting. Everyone involved escaped before police arrived. No one has been arrested.

The Thanksgiving Day shooting is the latest — and most alarming moment — in a four-month crime wave that has swept through the neighborhood around 222nd and Highway 99. In that time, police have responded to 110 calls.

That’s 110.

Edmonds police response in the 22200 block of Highway 99.  (Edmonds police photo)

“It is the number-one public safety issue in Edmonds,” Acting Assistant Chief Josh McClure told us. “This is the most violence we have ever seen (in the city).”  In four months, Edmonds police alone have made 20 arrests for drugs, gun crimes, stolen cars, violations of court orders and outstanding warrants.

In a chase and shootout on Oct. 5 that started after a confrontation at a Highway 99 motel, two suspects wounded each other. Both survived; one suspect made it because of the emergency first aid by Edmonds officers after he’d been shot twice in the legs.

Edmonds Police Sgt. David Machado applies a tourniquet and begins combat first aid to a suspect involved in a gun battle along Highway 99 Oct. 5, 2021. The subject was booked on charges from the incident but was also wanted on warrants for another robbery. (Photo courtesy Edmonds police)

At least one suspect in the months’ long violence is still in custody, in another city. Others made bail. Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood police, along with the City of Everett Gang Task Force, have joined with Edmonds to try to crack the crime wave.

There is one link that police say connects all 110 callouts in the neighborhood in the last four months -– the Emerald Best Motel in the 22200 block of Highway 99.

Police response at Emerald Best Motel – on Dec. 16, 2021. (Photo courtesy Edmonds police)

McClure said that site had become a “safe haven” for some gang members who moved in from Everett in mid-September. That, he said, is when the trouble started. Shots have been fired in the motel parking lot and around the area. At least five gun-involved reports are “associated with this motel… and we know there’s more than that,” he added. Edmonds also reports seven drug arrests (for meth, heroin and fentanyl), 10 felony arrests, five stolen vehicle stops – all connected to people visiting or staying in the motel.

Longtime motel manager Peter Kim said that police have the story all wrong.

“A lot of people came in from Everett… someone else, really nice people, rented the room for them,” Kim said. That was mid-September. “And, then Everett Gang Unit called us to tell us what those people were, so we cleaned up about 15 rooms… all related people,” Kim added. “We had to take the action right away.”

Kim said that “we don’t associate with these people; we tell them to leave.” He added that “the local managers call police; if the manager doesn’t call, then the manager is involved.” He insisted that the motel wants to share information with police; but that “every time we try to cooperate, they (the police) look at us as a negative; we try to help them.”

Acting Assistant Chief McClure said that police know that some “hard-working, law-abiding” people live at or stay at the motel — and police are concerned for their safety. But, McClure said, “we’ve made them (the manager and owner) explicitly aware of what’s going on, and I get pushback on that.” Added McClure, “If we can ID people in certain rooms and know who they are, why can’t the motel know who it is?”

Emerald Best Manager Kim says the motel has 32 security cameras throughout the complex, and that they have shared photos and video with police. McClure agreed that the motel has shared video, but that, he said, has been the extent of the cooperation.

Plum Tree Plaza fire on Sept. 11, 2021 (Photo courtesy South County Fire)

The motel sits adjacent to the Plum Tree Plaza strip mall, which was the target of arson in September. Fourteen businesses were burned or smoked out. There have been no arrests. Police will not say if they believe there is a link between the two.

From mid-September through mid-December, Edmonds and neighboring police know of at least six gun incidents at or near the motel.

Oct. 5

  • Police report a “running gun fight” between two suspects from the motel along Highway 99. Both men were wounded, one seriously.


  • A suspect pointed a gun at two people in a room at Emerald Best.
  • Everett Gang Unit chased a suspect in that area who had a stolen gun.

Nov. 23

  • “A male, high on drugs, fires a gun in the motel parking lot,” according to a police statement.

Nov. 25

  • The Thanksgiving day shootout in the nearby Interurban Trail parking lot.
    • A bullet nearly hit a homeowner inside the house.
    • Two nearby condos reported bullets in their units.
    • Police say they believe two of the shooters had been staying at the motel.

Dec. 16

  • Drive-by shooting in the motel parking lot. No one was hurt.

Edmonds Acting Assistant Chief Shane Hawley, who supervises Edmonds patrol units, told us “we have to approach this (the motel) thinking that everybody there is going to be armed.” He said that in one shooting, there were at least 20 officers on scene from different cities. “Nobody there (the motel) cares that we are there; there’s no concern that officers and flashing lights are there.” A typical response now, he added, is to send multiple units to that scene on any call.

Police told us that what’s happening in that neighborhood is more than small-time drug dealing or minor beefs. In one bust, they confiscated 1,000 fentanyl tablets. In another case, someone that officers believe was part of the group using the motel, dumped a pound of crystal meth. This is, Hawley told us, “not your typical drug operation.”

Both McClure and Hawley agree that Edmonds Police “can’t arrest our way out of this problem”. Officers in the Everett Gang Unit have told Edmonds that some of the people they’ve been dealing with since September are “known gang members.” Hawley put it this way: “It’s a regional issue, which is spider-webbing its way through Snohomish County.” Edmonds has joined with Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood and the Everett Gang Unit to try to put an end to the crime wave.

Some cities have turned to abatement or chronic nuisance laws to shut down, condemn, even demolish property that has become a serious and chronic community problem. In Seattle, nuisance activities include “assaults, fighting, drug dealing, prostitution, gang and weapons-related violations.”  Edmonds City Code allows abatement procedures; it follows state law in this situation.

Edmonds will not say if that is something it will pursue, adding only that they are looking at a number of options in cooperation with neighboring police and cities. “We are working with multiple partners to address this issue,” said Edmonds Police Chief Michelle Bennett. “Arrests of violent criminals are effective but not if they know they can return to locations that support their dangerous activities and we are fortunate that no innocent people have been injured. Your officers will continue proactive efforts in these locations, but we will also use additional resources and approaches to earn more cooperation from certain businesses.”

Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson also weighed in: “The gun violence that has impacted our Highway 99 community will not be tolerated,” the mayor said. “Our police officers have responded to multiple shootings that are putting them and our community as a whole at risk. We will not allow businesses to be a safe haven for dangerous criminals. We will provide the support and resources needed to address this critical public safety issue.”

Edmonds City Councilmember Will Chen’s business is in the Highway 99 corridor and he fears for the neighborhood. “This is one of the highest issues for our city and neighborhood,” he said, adding that “(what happens there) will impact not only 99 but the entire city and the region.” He wants the city to “get it under control so that our businesses and residents can feel safe in and live in this area.”

Emerald Best Motel Manager Kim insisted that “If we see anything illegal, we kick them out… drugs… we see it and want to kick them out… we want to keep this area safe; we try very hard.”

Acting Assistant Chief McClure said police calls to the area have dropped slightly since the middle of December, but he believes that the motel owners must take more ownership of their property. He warns that innocent people have been put at risk and that the problems sparked by some who turned the motel into what he called their “safe house” still are “the biggest public threat to Edmonds.”

— By Bob Throndsen

  1. This morning a nurse walking from her car into the hospital was nearly attacked. Fortunately hospital security spotted the perp coming at her just feet away spotlighted him and he ran away. Guess it’s time to start packing this soft on crime business is getting out of hand.

    1. Mr. Fairchild,
      In this incident, a suspect was fleeing on foot from a vehicle collision and entered an employee’s vehicle. They told him to get out, he did and continued to flee. While still alarming and cause for concern, that was the extent of the contact.

      1. Josh McClure Edmonds PD
        We may be talking about the same incident I am unsure. The nurse I was talking about was walking in the parking lot and someone was approaching her and she didn’t see him until he was close and changed direction once spotlighted. The word I got is it was a escaped patient from the 9th floor. Anyway she is safe and I would like to thank EPD for all the hard work.

  2. The precipitous increase in crime on the west and east coast (primarily) can be directly attributed to the defund the police movement. Regardless of if a municipality actually moved forward with it doesn’t matter, because on top of that in Washington we have actively made it challenging for our remaining police officers to uphold the law and do their jobs through legislative action that was likewise poorly thought out and marketed as “police reform.” This has created a culture of “anything goes” for those that are taking advantage of it and leaving those who really need the police helpless in some situations (look at the recent story of the mentally ill man who passed away in his car in Marysville in the parking lot of a Rite Aid as a tragic example). It will be looked back as one of the worst policy decisions in a decade. I won’t disclose my own political affiliations, but I will say the Democratic Party – the primary author and supporter of most of this – has completely lost touch with what most Americans want to see in their day to day lives. You better believe that will be playing out in 2022 and 2024.

  3. I don’t understand exactly what police want the motel staff to do. It seems improbable that motel staff would have completed the swat, hand-to-hand combat or negotiation training, sharpshooter practice, surveillance education that police have. I know. Ridiculous. So I have questions. How would staff legally identify that a paying customer is a gang member intent on committing crimes, safely deny them a room and successfully remove them from the neighborhood?

  4. The comment: “We can’t arrest our way out…” What? What else do you suggest? Isn’t that what law enforcement is supposed to be able to do? We need to give law enforcement the power they used to have. I case anyone hasn’t noticed, we are a country under siege by the unfettered distribution of lethal, cheap drugs. This is the predictable consequence. This is absolutely the wrong time to defund/refund Police. Drug dealers have the blood of many people on their hands. Treat them as such. Users should be remanded-not simply offered-treatment. Users of meth, heroin, fentanyl, and other opioids have lost the ability to make choices that are in their own best interest, and that’s assuming they know what they’re taking. So many of us have lost family and friends. The “Drug War” is just starting.

  5. First I don’t buy that these are Everett gang members, they stay pretty much in Everett and have their territories. Everett police keep the gang violence pretty much down. This area on Hwy 99 has been a HOT SPOT for years drugs, prostitution, the homeless population is growing in that area and of course the Safeway shopping area which is a hub for shoplifters. And of course nothing is done about the shoplifting, or all the vagrants that are in that parking lot that are very aggressive towards the shoppers. You watch you back if you are shopping in Safeway, TJ Max, Dollar Store, etc. Acting Assistant Chief Josh McClure told us. “This is the most violence we have ever seen (in the city).” In four months, so five months a go there were problems and then they disappeared? Just to hep the police out you may want to keep an eye at the Shell station on 220th & Hwy 99 it seems like every time I am there you see a drug deal go down on the S side of the building. Last time I was there a prostitution deal went down, it looked like they were going to have sex right on the side of the building. Police may want to keep an eye on Winco parking lot. For who ever is running our Police Dept. 196th to 205th has become a hotbed of crime. Stop all this politically correct garbage and let the police do their job.

  6. Not only do drug dealers have blood on their hands, so do drug users. Yet we are accepting the use of drugs. Oh, yes, I forgot that “it’s only marijuana”. Where is the pushback against using any mind altering substance? Everyone who accepts this state of affairs is complicit, even at the fringes. Respect for the law begins with our own behavior.

  7. The defund police movement is ruining our cities but it is the state legislature that is handcuffing the police. For example: HB 1054 limits the use of tear gas, and restricts vehicle pursuits to only when police officers have probable cause.

    Both Strom Peterson and Lillian Ortiz-Self were sponsors of this legislation. Hopefully the legislature in the current session will throw 1054 onto the trash heap, or at least rewrite it. How about it Strom? Lillian?

    The pursuit and probably cause section must go.

    1. Couldn’t agree more. The defund the police movement has set the stage for lawlessness, and the state legislature has enabled/emboldened criminals to act however they want in this new environment. Interestingly, they attempted to address equity through these legislative pieces and instead have created an environment far more inequitable than ever before.

  8. I have spoken out about the crime and an inequitable treatment of the citizens and businesses along Highway 99. We have Council members that only see Highway 99 as the cash cow for the city. We must hold the council responsible for lack of attention to the needs of this area.
    The newest response from the council post budget is to improve in neighborhood lighting. While this is a feel good project and may be needed in some of our streets. We need to see an immediate priority of funding to continue the development of the corridor. We need our community office up and running and we need to have staff in it to answer questions for the citizens.
    Our police department is working as hard as they can but they need support from the people we elect to the council. I thank Mayor Nelson for being the first mayor in Edmonds to pay attention and push forward solutions to this area. Please contact your city council members and demand that funding be paid to this area not continued lip service. After all council, we pay taxes too and deserve a safe place to live, work and play as you have!

    1. Didn’t Council approve the Satellite Office? Are we now just waiting in the Administration’s leadership to get things moving along? Just wondering if Council failed to take care of their duty to approve it or if the Administration is moving too slowly to get it done.

      It would be insightful to get an update on Highway 99 funding and progress for that project. Granted, it was developed, approved, designed, etc during previous Mayoral tenure and previous Council make-up, but now that we have an administration that’s focused in this corridor, let’s make sure that focus stays laser sharp on getting it done versus saying how great it will be to get it done

      1. Unfortunately George take a look at Tuesday’s agenda. These threats were made prior to the end of the year so there was absolutely no point in starting this program when the council may be cutting it.
        Again call those council members and let them know you want this community/ policing office. And obviously it needs to be staffed. The officer assigned to this program shouldn’t be spending all of her shifts inside the office waiting for somebody to come in, her goal is to get out and get to know the businesses and the neighborhoods, if she spending all shift in those offices that would be a fail

  9. Is it the amount of police resources dedicated or is it the outdated techniques that are used to fight the crimes? The proliferation of opioids have made crimes of recent history a total different beast than having to police 50 years ago when dealing mostly with drunks. What would more police funding get us? Do we want cops riding around in SUV’s with AK-47’s hanging out of the window as the “show of force”? Do we need something that looks like a “police state” on the Highway 99 corridor? Seems we need to be smarter around tactics used to combat the drug supply. We can’t even control the problem of physicians over prescribing opioids. Until then, police will only be reacting to problems around drug addiction and will never be ahead of the curve.

  10. We’re the only country that has this problem because so many carry guns and justify their use in the city. Hunting use can be restricted to areas in the wild, not neighborhoods. Let’s work to regulating where guns are appropriate and the type of gun that are appropriate. Military guns used by the military only. I feel unsafe with people “carrying” and I have rights too.

    Gun sales have gone sky high during the pandemic to those angry, macho, and with feelings of entitlement. Violence is encouraged on social media and what people watch.

    Yes, gangs are a part of this, but not all of it. And it’s not all drugs. It’s people feeling that they are above the law, and we have MANY “role models” for that. These are things we need to work on certainly, but it would be better for the rest of us if guns were not in our cities and neighborhoods.

  11. Raise the rates on what they charge at the Lynnwood Embassy.

    The hotel owners have a huge amount of control over what happens at their establishment.

    Abatement is a fantastic option, and if there were 110 calls, sounds like a police station would be an excellent next best use for this land.

    1. Sorry, meant to say raise the rates to what they charge for a room at the Lynnwood Embassy.

      There is a huge amount of truth to if you build it, they will come. The users are not victims, the dealers are not victims, and the hotel owners are not victims. They have a symbiotic relationship that keeps all of them where they want to be.

      The victims are the immediate community residents, other businesses, and anyone who frequently visits Highway 99. Inaction by the City in stiff Enforcement to businesses that support illegal activities is a signal that its all okay.

      A couple of suggestions, start abatement and condemnation processes on the hotel, create a business improvement district that essentially forces funding into the corridor from businesses who could frankly give two flips about Edmonds, and then continually have Zoning, Code Enforcement, and Law Enforcement begin reviewing every single action that these business owners take. Eventually, they will follow the law and participate in good community membership, or leave.

      It’s got nothing to do with gun laws either. Handguns were illegal in Chicago, and that really worked great for them. Criminals, by nature of their jobs, typically are not known to be law abiding citizens.

      Finally, it really does look like an awesome spot for a brand spanking new police station. The community could really turn the drug den into a facility that will provide community support and not allow apathetic businesses to drive the community further down.

      1. George, The big problem with that when we looked at it a few years ago it would cost $30-$40 million to build a new building. And that was about four years ago maybe more.
        I agree with you I think condemnation is a good solution but unfortunately it’s only been the last two year that we have been carefully tracking Crimes.
        It all takes time.
        The best thing to do is to start out with the community/policing office. We need to show the criminals that we are going to be watching them as they are watching us.

        A good start would be letting the council know you’re not interested in cutting police budgets or social service budgets. At least 30 cuts to be discussed on this next Tuesday. Of course the ones that are interested in cutting budgets live in the bowl!

        1. I have limited interest in increasing social services – Seattle is one of the most generous urban areas when it comes to social services (ranks in the top 5 depending on what spending metrics you review) – at a huge cost per capita for those who need those services, not inclusive of other private organizations. It is a lack of coordination and lack of clear visioning that means the generosity of the citizenry goes to the public service non-profit industrial complex. Seattle and surrounding areas could have the nicest rehabilitation, long term housing, family housing, and social programs if there was coordination. Instead, each group fights for their piece of the pie, and we end up with studies, each small city having a budget and personnel, and really, limited, at best, results. A leg up is not a bad thing and should exist, particularly when it is easy to get left behind in an urban area like ours.

          The cost of a new building pales in comparison to the social costs that exist for a lack of focus or investment in blighted areas. One only need to look at major metro areas that neglect and get ahead of issues – the money has always been there. $40 million, albeit a huge cost, is nothing compared to businesses leaving town (reduced tax base), jails filling up (increased costs), reduced property value (decreased taxes), and increased need for costs and policing. There is no panacea to this problem – we agree on that – but there is a way to invest in the corridor and leverage the most desirable property in downtown for its highest and best use – that’s not a City Hall, Courthouse, Fire Station or Police Station, in my opinion.

          Highway 99 brings in the cash, has limited land for public use (and is expensive), but large brave investments are what it is going to take – not signage, not district names, not any feel good labeling. I still argue the public works land near 99 presents a unique opportunity for a new city facility…

      2. George you are spot on. I hope the city gets the police office up and running very soon. Safeway is a haven for the shoplifters and nothing is done. Agree with you on handguns, I don’t see the legal gun owning citizens of Edmonds out shooting up their neighborhood, robbing stores, killing a mini market clerk. It is the thugs that are a danger to the citizens of Edmonds. These thugs are not buying their guns legal or have a permit to carry.

  12. This is not just a Hwy 99 problem. It’s propagating throughout the city. In December, I was attacked from behind by a knife wheeling individual while walking down Olympic View Dr. next to Southwest County Park. Hey, Police Chief Bennet, I’m an innocent person! So, don’t say innocent people aren’t being affected.

    We need leadership from both the Mayor and Police Chief. I’ve reached out to both for a discussion about what I learned from my experience, and they refuse to talk. Both are MIA. They have put our police force in a completely reactionary position. We need a proactive approach. So rather than spend money putting a fence around the police complex, let’s spend it on protecting the citizens.

    Just so it doesn’t go unsaid, a big THANK YOU to the Edmonds police officers who responded to my 911 call. Truly professional in the manner they handled the situation and arrested my assailant.

  13. A recent editorial in the Seattle Times stated, “An effective approach to compassionate crime reduction will require deep coordination between police, prosecutors, city leaders, human sevice providers and other stakeholders.” (Jan 16) I believe one could remove the word compassionate and the statement would still ring true. From reading some of the 17 replies to this article, I get the impression that two stakeholders who need to coordinate more effectively are the Edmonds residernts in the bowl and those who live along the 99 corridor.
    I bellieve it would also be helpful for people to stop complaining about defunding the police. Neither political party is advocating it. Yes, a small number of members in each party express drastic views, but defunding police is not part of any platform.
    I believe it is also worthwhile to point out that our courts and jails have been hampered by Covid-19 for the last 18 to 24 months. To avoid overcerowding of jails, judges have had to release on bail some of those who they would have preferred to remain in jail. As a result of pandemic protocols court procedings are very slow. Is it so unreasonable to ask police not to engage in a high-speed persuit unless there is probable cause? I think not.
    I willingly admit that I believe police departments need to reform their training for officers. Too many have died due to the reckless actions of some police. Yes, I know criminals can kill. Both statements are true. HB 1054 set new parameters for police behavior. I understand the reluctance of police departments to enforce laws when they do not know what they can expect from prosecutors. Consequently, this is an area where coordination is very important. It may mean the reriew of aspects of the law.
    Finally, the issue of guns! What is wrong with universal background checks and red flag laws? Nothing as far as I can see for the law-abiding gun owner, the spouse suffering from domestic violence, or those taking care of family members affected by mental illness or drug abuse.

  14. Seems like a good time to review last year’s budget amendments and to redirect resources to help stabilize the Highway 99 corridor. Such items as solar panels, rain gardens, bicycle lanes, scuba teams, message boards, perimeter fencing, and $60,000 cars, etc. do not seem congruent with the consistent criminal activity on Highway 99 and this City’s obligation to improve the area.

    1. Totally agree…we want parks, safety, sidewalks, sewers, etc – and freeing up a bit of funding for perhaps some land acquisition might be a good way to go…

  15. George, I think it’s important that we get sidewalks.
    I live close to the only park we have up here that has two parking spaces and families with children have to walk into the streets to get there. Land acquisition is fabulous because we need some other place for the families to go
    Again I’m very concerned about our community office and ensuring that the new council funds it. I know two on the council had recommended that we use volunteers to staff the office including counsel splitting up time to sit in the office. Not quite sure that’s sufficient.

    And perhaps look at the money they’re adding to the fourth Avenue arts Corridor. I would prefer that they build sidewalks for safety reasons

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