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WSP Trooper James Saunders Assassinated 18 Years Ago Today

A routine traffic stop on October 7, 1999.

Trooper James Saunders, of the Washington State Patrol, had been following a suspected DUI driver across the Blue Bridge from Kennewick into Pasco. The driver finally pulled off at 28th and Lewis right in front of the Bruce Lee Memorial Chapel. Saunders, a 31 year-old, 8 and-a-half veteran of the force, got out of his cruiser and approached the car. When he got to the driver’s window he was instantly shot and killed, probably having less than a second to realize what was happening.

Courtesy of WSP Foundation
Courtesy of WSP Foundation

It turns out the driver was a Mexican national, a convicted drug dealer and a three-time deportee out of the United States only to return again to America before the trooper was slain. He avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty to aggravated first-degree murder which also spared the family a long and painful trial. The killer is serving his sentence at the Walla Walla Penitentiary.

This is a photograph from the 10th anniversary in 2009.

Courtesy Pasco Police Department WSP Trooper Saunders 10th Remembrance 2009
Courtesy Pasco Police Department WSP Trooper Saunders 10th Remembrance 2009

There is a memorial marker and bench where Trooper Saunders was assassinated. I pass by the spot where he was killed on my way to work every day. There is not a day that goes by, that when I drive by, I silently give a nod to him and his memorial and say a brief word of thanks for his service and ultimate sacrifice. The J&S Dreamland Express, the small train that gives children rides throughout Columbia Park, is named in his honor.

Trooper James Saunders’ widow, Billie, lives in Renton with their two children, Megan and Jim, Jr.  When Saunders was killed Megan was two and Billie was in her second trimester with Jim Jr., whose gender at the time his father’s death was unknown.

In September Megan started her junior year of college at the University of Washington. Jim Jr. is a senior in high school and is President of the Film Club. Trooper Saunders’ parents, John and Jan Saunders, reside in Wenatchee. His sister, Jennifer, lives in Spokane.

May Trooper James Saunders continue to rest in peace.

Washington State Patrol Memorial Foundation with more here.

Pasco Police with their recognition here.

Tri-City Herald with more backstory here.

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