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Originally published August 12, 2010 at 9:09 PM | Page modified August 13, 2010 at 7:45 AM

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Witness disputes trooper's version of crash with bikers

An eyewitness to the crash that left a state trooper in a ditch on Tuesday night is disputing the trooper's claim that the accident was caused by two motorcycles that cut him off.

Seattle Times staff reporter

An eyewitness to the crash that left a State Patrol trooper injured on Tuesday night is disputing the trooper's contention that the accident was caused by two motorcyclists who cut him off.

Francisco Sanchez, 32, of Seattle, said he was driving his car on the ramp that links Interstate 5 to northbound Highway 599 in Tukwila when he saw a motorcycle racing up behind him. The rider slowed, turned around and waved his arm, Sanchez said. Two other riders then joined him and the three raced off together, he said.

Seconds later, said Sanchez, he saw a State Patrol car behind him heading into the curve.

"It was completely out of control," he said of the patrol car. "The car was just dancing. It hit the dirt and then cartwheeled like a cheerleader at nationals."

It did not appear that the motorcyclists in front of the patrol car cut him off, said Sanchez, who was interviewed Thursday by the State Patrol.

However, Sanchez said he did witness some riders taunt the injured trooper — identified by the State Patrol as 22-year veteran Brian Salyer — after he was pinned in his wrecked patrol car. He said several riders pulled up to the accident scene and some cheered and applauded. "They were excited. There was clapping and cheering, and a couple people got off their bikes to take pictures of the spectacle," Sanchez said. "There were also some good, normal citizens asking if he was all right."

Sanchez pulled up and got out of his car to see if he could assist the officer.

According to the State Patrol, Salyer was pursuing a a large group of motorcyclists speeding at more than 100 mph when he was "intentionally" cut off by two riders, causing him to lose control of the vehicle. The State Patrol said that at least two motorcyclists taunted the trooper while he was injured and pinned inside his vehicle and did not call for help.

Salyer was treated at Harborview Medical Center and released.

State Patrol spokesman Cliff Pratt said detectives are aware of the many different versions of the accident that are circulating. There were 70 to 100 motorcyclists in the group, according to State Patrol estimates.

"We've got several witnesses that have confirmed the officer's account and several people who have denied it," he said. "What we are trying to do is sort out fact from fiction."

According to another man, who claims he was among the motorcycle riders who encountered Salyer that night, all immediately slowed down when they saw the trooper.

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The trooper then pulled his patrol car in front of the group of riders and attempted to act as a speed barrier by preventing them from passing him, said the man, who refused to give his name. He said the trooper had activated his yellow lights.

When motorcyclists tried to pass the officer, the officer changed lanes to block them, the rider said.

"He was trying to play Superman and take out a hundred bikes by making his one car take up all the lanes," the rider claims. "To us, it looked like he was swerving and trying to hit us."

He said three motorcyclists eventually "gunned it" and pulled around Salyer. The trooper then began to pursue them at a high rate of speed. Salyer crashed a short time later.

The rider who spoke with The Seattle Times said he did not witness the crash or what happened afterward. He said the riders were among a group who gather every Tuesday for "Two-Wheel Tuesday," a mass ride around the Seattle area.

State Patrol spokesman Pratt said the idea that the trooper would deliberately try to hit a motorcyclist is "outlandish."

But, he said, it's not inconceivable Salyer might have tried to use an approved technique called a "rolling slowdown" to deter speeding.

"It's an acceptable practice to slow down a large group of people," Pratt said Thursday.

Riders who stopped and taunted the officer without calling for help could possibly be charged with failing to summon assistance, a misdemeanor that could net up to three months in jail.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

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