Western News

Five Long Years – The Silent Suffering of Sheriff Snaza’s Victim

There but for fortune, go you and I.  Phil Ochs


Sheriff Snaza’s victim suffers in silence, for nearly five years –


In August 2016, Thurston County Washington Sheriff John Snaza was riding his motorcycle on a remote Montana highway – without a helmet – while vacationing with friends.

The Montana Highway Patrol said that Snaza may have been passing other motorcycles when he lost control of his bike on a curve, and went down an embankment.

Sheriff John Snaza. From the Thurston County website.

John Snaza suffered life-threatening injuries, including head injuries.  It was a miracle that he survived.

Thurston County citizens rallied around their Sheriff with outpourings of prayers and support.  It was considered unseemly to even whisper that Snaza was solely responsible for his motorcycle crash.  It was assumed that he would learn from his stupid mistake of riding recklessly without a helmet.

Five months later, my husband Steve and I attended the swearing-in ceremony for Thurston County’s newly elected officials, at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts.

John Snaza was given the seat of honor on center stage.  He was asked to lead the flag salute. Congressman Denny Heck delivered an emotional speech about how happy we all were to see our sheriff alive and back with us.

Fast forward one year from that ceremony.  Just one year.

On the morning of February 16, 2018, Louis Gillespie was sitting in his Toyota at a red light, behind a garbage truck, at a busy Lacey intersection.  The beginning of an ordinary day.

A Thurston County government vehicle was barreling down on him, from behind.

Gillespie was a sitting duck.  He had nowhere to go.  Nothing he could do.

This time, Sheriff Snaza wasn’t going to be his own victim.  This time, his victim was going to be a helpless stranger.

Sheriff Snaza didn’t even hit the brakes before crashing into Gillespie’s Toyota.  Snaza’s speed was estimated to have been between 35 and 40 mph when he hit Gillespie’s stopped vehicle.

John Snaza wasn’t chasing a bad guy.  And the stoplight at the big Pacific and Sleater-Kinney intersection was hardly an unexpected surprise.

At that location, Snaza’s estimated mph was over the speed limit.

Gillespie’s Toyota was shoved into the garbage truck that was stopped in front of him.  The Toyota broke into pieces.  Gillespie was badly injured – but by the grace of God, he survived.

John Snaza walked away without a scratch.  His county vehicle was totaled.

It hasn’t been an easy road for John Snaza’s victim.  Louis Gillespie needed surgeries and long treatments. Nearly five years later, he is still suffering.

And Louis Gillespie has since learned that was just the beginning of his nightmare.  His nightmare is only getting worse.

Louis Gillispie is learning that the Thurston County Courthouse takes care of its own.  No judge, and no Prosecuting Attorney was going to let Sheriff Snaza pay for what he did to Louis Gillespie – in any way.

And the Courthouse sure wasn’t going to let the voters know what happened.  After all, 2018 was an election year for John Snaza.  Just like 2022 is.

The Courthouse only needed to do two things.  First, they needed to keep the outcome of Snaza’s latest crash a secret. The Sheriff’s Office told the press that Snaza’s victim was uninjured.  End of story.

And up until this past week, they have been very, very successful at keeping Sheriff Snaza’s nearly five-year-old secret.

But just in case the story got out, they had a Plan B.


Thurston County Courthouse’s Plan B –


Not surprisingly, the Courthouse’s Plan B was to smear John Snaza’s victim.  Like he hadn’t already been through enough.

They knew they couldn’t blame the wreck on anyone but John Snaza.  He was approaching a red light at a busy intersection.  There were no skid marks.  He never even tried to stop.  Facts are facts.  Velocity is velocity. Especially at Snaza’s speed.

So the Courthouse decided to accuse Gillespie of faking his injuries.  Prosecuting Attorney Jon Tunheim – who is also a political supporter and longtime friend of Sheriff Snaza – has led the charge against Snaza’s victim.  For nearly five years.

Prosecuting Attorney Jon Tunheim. From Thurston County’s website.

Just for safety’s sake, Jon Tunheim brought in outside lawyers for Sheriff Snaza, at taxpayer expense.

Anyone who has been hit from behind at Snaza’s rate of speed, like Gillespie was, knows how long and hard the recovery is.

And the last thing that a victim like Gillespie needs, is for sleazy lawyers to call him a liar about the injuries he sustained in a horrific crash.

Tragically for Louis Gillespie – John Snaza has had no shortage of such lawyers, who will do anything to protect Snaza’s job.  Especially in election years.

The Courthouse protected Sheriff Snaza’s job in the 2018 election.  They are moving heaven and earth to protect Snaza’s job again in the 2022 election.  Which is just three weeks away.

Since 2016, John Snaza has basked in the deluge of support and adoration lavished on him – for a crash that was his own fault.

But when Snaza’s same recklessness soon caused suffering for a helpless stranger, his expectations didn’t change.  Snaza had to keep center stage and the spotlight, no matter what.

John Snaza still expects the same adoration and support to shine on him, no matter how many innocent victims he has hurt.  And he has hurt many over the years.

John Snaza has always believed that keeping his job is more important than any of his victims’ lives.

And to this day, he hurls hate and abuse on anyone who dares to disagree.

And so do Snaza’s important friends at the Courthouse.


Washington State’s vehicular assault law –


Washington has two separate criminal laws to help victims of these kinds of crashes – Vehicular Assault and Reckless Driving.  A driver can be charged with both.

Reckless driving requires intent.  The prosecutor needs to prove that the driver “willfully or wantonly” intended for the crash to happen.

Vehicular assault, though, doesn’t require intent.  Vehicular assault just requires that the driver caused substantial bodily harm to a victim, by either driving in a reckless manner, disregarding the safety of others, or being under the influence.  The law and the State Supreme Court’s jury instructions make that very clear.

For a detailed discussion of the State Supreme Court’s interpretation of both Reckless Driving and Vehicular Assault, click here to read their 2005 decision in State v Roggenkamp.

“Substantial bodily harm” is defined in RCW 9A.04.110(b).  It’s hard to argue that Louis Gillespie’s injuries wouldn’t meet that definition.

Sheriff Snaza’s February 16, 2018 actions, that caused Louis Gillespie’s injuries, certainly meet the Supreme Court’s definitions of driving in a reckless manner, and disregarding the safety of others.  As the Supreme Court says – the law is plainly written, and it means what it says.

Based on the law and the State Supreme Court, it sure looks like John Snaza committed Vehicular Assault against Louis Gillispie.

Vehicular Assault is a Class B felony.  Class B felonies can get you ten years in state prison.

Except that John Snaza’s civil legal team is arguing that Louis Gillespie is faking his injuries.  They have hired “expert witnesses” – at taxpayer expense, of course – to claim that Gillispie’s surgeries and long treatments were just for fun.  No harm, no foul.  No injuries, no Vehicular Assault.  And no liability.

Naturally, Sheriff Snaza was never arrested or charged with Vehicular Assault.  Who was going to arrest him?  Who was going to prosecute him?  His loyal campaign supporter and longtime friend, Prosecuting Attorney Jon Tunheim?  When pigs fly.


The role of the Prosecuting Attorney –


Under state law, the county Prosecuting Attorney has two main jobs.  First, he’s supposed to prosecute the bad guys.  Like people who commit Vehicular Assault.

Second, the prosecutor is supposed to act as the civil defense attorney when county officials do something bad to hurt someone.  Like when the Sheriff does things that are really, really bad that hurt people.  And there are no shortage of injury claims against John Snaza in the hopper.  Louis Gillespie is just one of them.

Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim can hire a special prosecutor, where there is a conflict of interest.  But that would hardly be an act of loyalty to his buddy John Snaza.  No matter how much a train wreck like Snaza costs the county over the years, the Courthouse elites always stand by him.

After all, they aren’t the ones picking up the tab for him.  The taxpayers are.  And they have no say in the matter.

The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office routinely says that crime victims with serious injuries are just liars.  When victims try to give the Sheriff’s Office medical records proving their injuries, and physical evidence proving the crime, the Sheriff’s Office says that they decide what goes in their files – not the crime victims.

That includes victims of violent crime, with life-threatening injuries.

The Sheriff’s Office says that they conceal evidence of serious crimes at the request of the Prosecutor’s Office.  The two offices see themselves as one big Courthouse family who works together.

Concealing evidence is a crime, and the Courthouse folks are not exempt.

Except that they’re not going to arrest and prosecute themselves.

They say that it’s all so complicated and the rest of us just can’t understand.

I’m a Certified Public Accountant and a Certified Internal Auditor.

And if someone in my profession pulls that kind of crap, they lose their license and can go to prison for a long time.


Case # 19-2-05859-34


Louis Gillespie filed a claim against Thurston County, for his injuries caused by John Snaza on February 18, 2018.  Naturally, the county denied the claim.

So Gillespie filed a lawsuit against the county – Case # 19-2-05859-34.  The presiding judge is Carol Murphy.

Judge Carol Murphy. From Thurston County’s website.

To see the titles of the case documents, go to this page and click on “Smart Search” with the green spy glass.  At the next page, put in the case number and do the little captcha thing at the bottom.  That will take you to the case page.

The first thing you will notice is that the defendant is just “Thurston County.”  You don’t see John Snaza’s name anywhere.

The Odyssey Portal doesn’t let you see the actual documents.  You have to order those from the court, and pay for them.

So it was really easy for John Snaza, Jon Tunheim and the other Courthouse elites to hide the whole thing.

For all these years.

Prosecutor Jon Tunheim hired extra lawyers and expert witnesses to say that Gillespie was faking his injuries.

Typical strip-mall lawyer stuff.  We’ve all seen it.  No big whup.

Except that this defendant was different.  This defendant was Sheriff John Snaza, who believes that being a Sheriff means never having to say you are sorry.  Or even having to admit you did anything wrong.

The judge allowed Sheriff Snaza to get away with not being deposed by Gillespie’s lawyers – or even having to testify at a trial.

If a trial ever happens.

Would a judge do that for you?

When pigs fly.


The trial that never was –


The trial for Gillespie v Thurston County was delayed, and delayed, and delayed.

Finally, a date was set – Monday, October 17th.  Yesterday.

Nearly five years after Sheriff John Snaza crashed his county car into Louis Gillespie’s Toyota.

But more importantly, if you’re John Snaza, just three weeks before the Sheriff election.

Sheriff Snaza lost the August primary by five percentage points, to a 28 year old Deputy from within his own office – Derek Sanders.  At the time, Sanders was a relative unknown among the county who’s whos.

But some grateful people knew about Deputy Sanders.

The below photo is Sheriff Snaza presenting Deputy Sanders the Medal of Valor and two lifesaving awards in October of 2020.  At the time, Snaza stated “Deputy Sanders exemplifies each of the seven core values of our department when he ran into a burning building to rescue a wheelchair bound woman.”


Photo from Deputy Derek Sanders’ campaign facebook page.


In politics, as in life, you never know what karma has in store for you.

And Sheriff Snaza lost the primary without voters even knowing what Snaza had done to Louis Gillespie.  What Snaza and Prosecutor Jon Tunheim had kept secret for nearly five years.

Even with everything he knew – and had successfully kept from the rest of us – Prosecutor Tunheim still endorsed John Snaza to be re-elected in November.

But the funny thing is about the truth – it has a way of coming out.

On October 12th – which was last Wednesday, and was just three business days before scheduled trial of Gillespie v Thurston County – an anonymous source told a friend of mine about the case.  And about the upcoming trial.

So before you Courthouse cronies start digging around to find out who told what to whom – after all these years, you know that I know some people who know some people who know some things.  And they know to call me.

And you also know that I don’t reveal my sources.  Ever.

So back to Wednesday October 12th, when I learned about the upcoming trial.  That the Courthouse had kept secret, for so long.

Less than three days wasn’t much time for me to prepare to cover John Snaza’s trial.  Especially since Steve and I were in a campground in the Rockies with sketchy internet and cell phone coverage.

The first thing I did was request permission from presiding Judge Carol Murphy’s office, to have someone photograph and videotape the trial, as shown below.

I also let Louis Gillespie’s attorneys know, as well.




I didn’t hear back that day, or for most of the next day.

So I called Judge Murphy’s office the next afternoon, and left an urgent message, asking again for a response.

It was now Thursday October 13th, and the trial was scheduled for Monday October 17th.  I needed permission, sooner than later.

Here is the email chain that followed.




My last communications with Judge Murphy’s assistant, Desirae Jones, was on the morning of Friday, October 14th.  The last business day before the trial, which was to have begun yesterday morning.

My last email was at 8:58 am, PDT, in response to the Desirae Jones’ email from 8:02 am.

I received no more emails.

Late that afternoon, I found out why.

I received a call from Louis Gillespie’s attorney.

At 9:00 that morning – within minutes of my last email exchange with Judge Murphy’s office – Sheriff Snaza’s defense attorney made a surprise oral motion to Judge Murphy, asking that the trial again be delayed.

No significant reason was given for the request to again delay the trial of Sheriff Snaza.

Of course, no significant reason was required.  The Thurston County Courthouse, after all, is one big happy family.  Snaza’s attorney had been picked by his friend and political supporter, Prosecutor Jon Tunheim.

That trial date had been fine with Snaza’s defense team – until I started nosing around and asking about videotaping it.

Since the trial had been a well kept secret, it was a good guess that they would be playing to an empty room.  Until now.

Louis Gillespie’s attorneys hadn’t been given any time to prepare an argument, saying the trial should proceed as planned.

Like the rights of John Snaza’s victim would have ever mattered.

Judge Carol Murphy granted Sheriff Snaza’s request to ditch the trial.  Naturally.

No future trial date was set.  Of course.

So Louis Gillespie’s five year ordeal will continue, with no end in sight.


Five long years –


Louis Gillespie isn’t just the victim of painful, debilitating injuries caused by Sheriff Snaza’s recklessness.

Based on the evidence and the law, he is also the victim of a crime by Sheriff Snaza.  A Class B felony.

At this point, Louis Gillespie has no reason to think that he will ever get justice in Thurston County – in either a criminal or civil courtroom.

The Courthouse elites keep insisting that nothing could be more important than the re-election of Sheriff John Snaza, three weeks from today.

But what happened to Louis Gillespie is far more important than friendships between corrupt cronies, always scratching each other’s back.  Louis Gillespie’s long, agonizing wait, courtesy of the courthouse elites, is so much more important.

It doesn’t matter whether Thurston County’s courthouse elites wear a uniform, a suit, or a robe.  They are all just politicians.  And they can all be replaced.

And they need to keep being replaced until all victims like Louis Gillespie get the justice they deserve.



Feature photo by Yogendra Singh

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