By Annette Cary
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KENNEWICK, Wash. — Money is pouring in to help the Washington State Patrol trooper who drove himself to a hospital after being shot in the face Thursday evening in Walla Walla.
As of Saturday morning, more than $11,000 had been raised in a GoFundMe account for Trooper Dean Atkinson Jr. of Walla Walla.
He plans to be married next summer after becoming engaged in December.
“Let’s help alleviate any financial burden they have from this tragic act of violence,” posted fundraiser organizer Jenny Mayberry.
Hot Mama’s Espresso in Walla Walla posted on Facebook, “He literally just took a bullet to the face for our beloved community and we should raise enough money to pay for his wedding and honeymoon.”
At the Walla Walla High School football game Friday night, players carried both the U.S. flag and also a thin blue line flag onto the field to honor Atkinson.
Atkinson was in the intensive care unit of Harborview Medical Center in Seattle on Friday, where he was listed in serious condition.
In Walla Walla, a suspect in the case made his first appearance in court on Friday.
Brandon Dennis O’Neel, 37, of Walla Walla, is being held in the Walla Walla County Jail on suspicion of premeditated first-degree murder, first-degree assault with a deadly weapon and attempting to elude police, according to court documents.
Trooper’s car rammed before shooting
Atkinson, a five-year veteran of the state patrol, was rammed by a vehicle about 5:10 p.m. Thursday at Myra Road and Poplar Street near Sportsman’s Warehouse.
The trooper then was shot.
WSP Trooper Sarah Clasen said the WSP had contact with the suspected shooter earlier in the day.
Court documents show O’Neel was served Thursday with an eviction notice at his Walla Walla apartment and inside officers found a sign that said, “Bomb.”
The WSP’s bomb squad found no explosives but he had left a note that said, “Evict me and I will execute any cop or manager you send period,” according to the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.
O’Neel returned to his apartment about 4:50 p.m. and could not get in and drove off in a silver car, said the documents.
Less than 20 minutes later, witnesses reported seeing a man get out of a silver car and shoot at Atkinson’s marked white patrol car, said the documents.
O’Neel allegedly fired a gun three or four times at Atkinson.
Atkinson remained conscious and alert and drove himself a little more than a mile and a half down West Poplar Street to Providence St. Mary Medical Center at 401 W. Poplar St.
It’s unclear if O’Neel also rammed the trooper’s car as officials previously reported.
Atkinson was treated there and then flown to Harborview, escorted to the airport by numerous emergency vehicles.
Walla Walla area law enforcement officers responded to the scene of the shooting, said a Tri-Cities-based Regional Special Investigations Unit news release. The independent unit is called in to investigate officer-involved shootings.
Several minutes later police officers from Milton Freewater, Ore., tried to stop a gray or silver car matching the description from the incident.
A short pursuit toward the Oregon state line ended on Highway 125 north of Stateline Road and O’Neel was taken into custody.
Trooper’s strength called out
“This evening we were once again reminded of how dangerous the profession of law enforcement can be when one of our troopers was involved in a critical incident while on duty in Walla Walla,” WSP Chief John R. Batiste said Thursday night.
“We were also reminded of how strong and resolute our people can be when Trooper Dean Atkinson, though seriously injured, found the strength to drive himself to the hospital.”
Gov. Jay Inslee posted on Twitter Friday, saying “What an incredible feat of strength.” He said he was sending “thoughts of comfort” to Atkinson.
Batiste thanked the public for an outpouring of support.
“Though there is certainly danger and cruelty in our world, there is also courage and grace, and for that we are thankful just as we are thankful for this fine young trooper’s service and survival,” Batiste said.
The Oregon Department of Transportation reported Highway 11 was closed at the Washington and Oregon border for several hours Thursday evening for law enforcement activities. Washington Highway 125 becomes Highway 11 at the state line.
Walla Walla Police Chief Chris Buttice requested the assistance of the Regional Special Investigations Unit to conduct the investigation of the incident.
The unit, which covers Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties, does independent investigations of officer-involved shootings.
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