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Originally published March 15, 2010 at 8:21 AM | Page modified March 16, 2010 at 10:49 AM

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2 shot in Kirkland home invasion

A medical-marijuana activist survived a shootout with robbers who broke into his Kirkland-area home early Monday, apparently to steal the pot he grows there.

Seattle Times staff reporter

A medical-marijuana activist survived a shootout with two men who broke into his Kirkland-area home early Monday, apparently to steal the pot he grows there.

Steve Sarich, 59, shot and critically wounded one of the suspects; another was arrested by King County sheriff's deputies, who still were searching for two other suspects Monday.

Sarich, who is licensed to grow medical marijuana and runs an advocacy group called CannaCare out of his house in the 11400 block of Juanita Drive Northeast, said his barking dogs woke him and his girlfriend about 3:30 a.m.

He said he grabbed a .22-caliber pistol from near his bed and went to search the house.

"When I walked out in the living room a guy raised a shotgun like he was going to shoot me, and I shot at him instead," Sarich said.

He said the man returned fire, grazing his cheek and arm. "The shotgun blast missed taking off my head by about three or four inches," he said.

Sarich said his gun jammed so he ran back to his bedroom and grabbed another handgun.

He said "another guy came to [a glass] bedroom door after that, and I shot through the window and door and hit him." The suspects then ran out of the house.

The suspect Sarich shot, a 19-year-old from Renton, was taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with life-threatening injuries, said sheriff's spokesman John Urquhart. The suspect underwent surgery Monday and was listed in critical condition in the intensive-care unit.

Sarich said he thinks he knows who the man is — a one-time houseguest and medical-marijuana patient — but Urquhart wouldn't comment on his identity. A second suspect, 19, was found hitchhiking, Urquhart said.

Sarich's injuries were not as serious. He was treated at Evergreen Hospital Medical Center in Kirkland and released, hospital spokeswoman Sherry Grindeland said. Sarich said he had shotgun pellets in his face and arm after he was discharged Monday afternoon.

Lawmakers alerted

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The shootout came two days after Sarich had sent an e-mail to state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles — who sponsored a medical-marijuana bill that passed in the Legislature last week — expressing concern about home invasions of growers and about police responses to them.

He cited a January incident in which two men broke into his home, and a beating last week that led to the death of a medical-marijuana grower and patient in Orting, Pierce County. In that case, Mike Howard, 38, a CannaCare patient and volunteer, was attacked with a crowbar last Tuesday at his home, Sarich said. Howard died of his injuries Saturday.

Urquhart would not say whether there was a connection with Howard's slaying and Monday's shootout. "If there is a connection," he said, "we are not discussing it."

Sarich was outraged at what he called law enforcement's weak efforts investigating the home invasions while instead raiding the homes of growers.

"I just thought you should know that this is what we face and why patients constantly live in fear. We not only have to fear being robbed, but we have to fear what will happen when law enforcement shows up to 'investigate,' " he wrote.

Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, on Wednesday issued a statement calling the attacks "shocking and very disturbing."

"This all points to the need to enact laws providing for adequate, safe, consistent, and secure access to medical marijuana," she wrote. She said she would join Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, to introduce such legislation next year.

Sarich, meanwhile, was angry Monday at the reaction to the shootout by the Sheriff's Office, saying he was victimized twice.

He said deputies arrived 15 to 20 minutes after his 911 call "and proceeded to handcuff us and frisk us."

Sarich complained that police were focusing on searching his house and causing damage in the process. "I need to know why the sheriff's department would rob me. I've been a victim twice."

"A very hot scene"

Urquhart said that reaction doesn't surprise him. Responding deputies did not know "Sarich from Adam," Urquhart said. They "walked into a very hot scene."

"We had a suspect walking through saying he'd been shot by the homeowner. We had two 911 calls saying people had been shot and, in fact, Sarich was one of the shooters. What else does he expect? Ask him how long he was in handcuffs? If they didn't take the handcuffs off, or if he's still in handcuffs, then he can complain.

"If we broke down the door, it was to look for other suspects or victims. And if we go into his house with a search warrant signed by a judge, that is hardly a robbery and hardly stealing."

CannaCare has about 7,000 members in the state. Sarich said he provides dispensary services to about 50 patients a week. It mainly provides free legal advice, and dispensing medical marijuana isn't its primary focus, he said.

So, while Sarich said his house doesn't have grow lights to finish the pot plants, he provides clones — cuttings from plants — to give patients to grow their own.

Sarich estimated 4 pounds of marijuana were in the house for his and his girlfriend's personal use, and that they're authorized for up to 3 pounds each. He said there are fewer than 100 plants and that they're each authorized to have 50.

Update, 10:48 a.m., Mar. 16: However, Urquhart said Tuesday morning that deputies found 385 marijuana plants in the home. He said the Sheriff's Office has no plans to arrest activist Sarich, but will forward their findings to the King County Prosecutor's Office.

Seattle Times staff reporters Christine Clarridge, Sara Jean Green and Susan Gilmore and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or mrahner@seattletimes.com

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