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Originally published Saturday, December 29, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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I-5 trooper's final shot questioned

A Silverdale nurse who witnessed a State Patrol trooper shoot a man on Interstate 5 in Federal Way on Tuesday questions why the trooper...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Funeral information

Services for Aaron Larson will be held at 1 p.m. Jan. 5 at Flintofts Funeral Home, 540 East Sunset Way, Issaquah.

Source: Larson family

A Silverdale nurse who witnessed a State Patrol trooper shoot a man on Interstate 5 in Federal Way on Tuesday questions why the trooper fired a final shot at a suspect who was lying on the ground and already appeared incapacitated.

After witnessing the shooting, Andrea Wolber and her daughter ran toward the injured man, later identified as 27-year-old Aaron Larson.

She said they identified themselves as nurses, but said Trooper Mike Cheek told them that Larson was dead. Wolber said they saw the wounded man move and they felt a pulse. With the help of another passer-by, an off-duty paramedic, they performed CPR until on-duty medics arrived, Wolber said.

Larson was pronounced dead at the scene.

Wolber said she counted at least three bullet holes in the man's chest. The King County Medical Examiner's Office ruled that Larson died of multiple gunshot wounds.

"I don't know why he fired that last bullet," said Wolber. "I can tell you the last shot that was fired was not necessary; he was already disabled."

Federal Way police, who have been called in to investigate, said they have to talk to more than 150 people who called 911 to report the incident. Police spokeswoman Stacy Flores said it could take weeks to sort out what happened.

Jerry Larson, 50, of Ethel, Lewis County, said Friday that Aaron, his eldest son, had always been sensitive, but signs of mental illness began to show after his mother's death in May.

Phyllis Buchert, 47, was found in the bathtub of a Lake City apartment on May 18. The man who lives at the apartment told Seattle police that he had picked her up at a nearby bus stop to have sex. He said that when he left to buy beer, Buchert took a bath. She was dead when he returned, and he didn't report her death to police until May 22.

An autopsy showed that Buchert died of a heart attack.

On Tuesday afternoon, Cheek, an 11-year State Patrol veteran, shot Larson after the Olympia man attacked him, according to police. After being punched and choked, the trooper used a Taser on Larson, but it was "ineffective," Flores said.

Larson, his girlfriend, Janet Decolongon, her 12-year-old son and Larson's 11-year-old brother were driving to a Christmas celebration in Federal Way when Larson started acting erratic. Larson started pounding on the dashboard; he screamed, then hopped out of his seat when his girlfriend slowed down to get off the freeway at South 320th Street.

Decolongon said Larson has had spates of mental illness over the past 2 ½ years, often ranting about demons and the devil. She said he talked about similar things Tuesday.

She said Larson pounded on the car behind them, then walked back the offramp toward I-5.

"I was shaking to death. I was screaming for him," Decolongon said.

Several witnesses reported that he dropped his pants around his ankles and was exposing himself, Flores said. By the time troopers arrived, the man had his pants back on, but he had his belt in his hand and was using it to strike passing cars, Flores said.

Decolongon parked the car and ran down the offramp, but Larson was bleeding on the ground with troopers surrounding him by the time she got there. It isn't clear whether Cheek was the only trooper on the scene when Larson was shot. Decolongon said Larson had been unarmed.

The night before, Larson told relatives that he had visualized his own death, his father said.

Jerry Larson regrets not getting his son into treatment but thought he would get better on his own. He believes that his son wasn't trying to provoke Cheek into shooting him, but just "snapped."

"Aaron didn't want to die. He wasn't suicidal at all," Jerry Larson said.

Aaron Larson, who had been driving for M&M Transport out of Chehalis, tested negative for drugs three months ago, said Stephanie Axelson, secretarial payroll director.

"He was a very loving man. He's not on drugs; he hasn't drank for months," Decolongon said, crying. "I don't know what was going on in his mind. I should have taken it [the mental illness] seriously."

State Patrol spokesman Jeff Merrill declined to talk about the case specifically, but said "that sometimes it's difficult to distinguish between different types of illnesses when you are finding yourself in the middle of a physical altercation."

"You aren't afforded the luxury of discussing it. These things happen in a split second," Merrill said.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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