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Threats to Coulee City schools force lockdowns, end after high-speed chase


The lockdown of schools across Grant County was prompted Wednesday morning after a 39-year-old Flagstaff, Arizona, man made threats to shoot up Coulee City schools, according to the sheriff’s office.

Benjamin VanTassell is in the Grant County Jail facing multiple charges. VanTassell called Spokane television station KHQ around 7:00 that morning, expressing the threats. KHQ staffers notified the Grant County Sheriff’s Office, which sent deputies to Coulee City. The Coulee City schools were closed for the day.

VanTassell has a child in the school, and he and his wife are in a custody dispute, news reports say.

Deputies were able to track the movements of a cell phone associated with VanTassel. That tracking showed the phone was moving through Moses Lake, prompting officials to lock down Moses Lake-area schools. Ephrata, Soap Lake and Wilson Creek schools were also notified of the possible risk.

But when deputies ultimately caught up with the vehicle with that cell phone south of Soap Lake, they discovered it was not the suspect, but rather a woman who had a cell phone number that previously had belonged to the suspect. The woman had nothing to do with VanTassell, but the number was logged in a police record tied to VanTassell. The woman was not involved with making the threats.

Around the same time, another deputy out looking for the suspect was driving on State Route 28 east of Soap Lake when an approaching black Nissan quickly crossed the center line toward the deputy’s car. That prompted a pursuit, which at times reached speeds of over 100 miles per hour. That chase, involving many law enforcement vehicles, lasted about 30 minutes and traveled east to Wilson Creek and then back west toward Soap Lake, where Ephrata Police set up spike strips and disabled the car, which finally stopped near State Route 28 and Division Road in Lakeview. VanTassell was ultimately taken into custody without incident.

No shots were fired and nobody was injured during the incident, and all affected schools ultimately lifted their lockdown orders.

“There was great teamwork by many agencies from across Grant County which teamed up to bring this incident to a close,” said Sheriff Tom Jones. “In addition to the sheriff’s office, the Multi-Agency Communications Center, Moses Lake Police, Ephrata Police, Soap Lake Police, Grand Coulee Police, Washington State Patrol, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Washington State Park Rangers all helped protect the public and bring VanTassell into custody.”

Grant County Superior Court Judge John Antosz set bail Thursday at $125,000. VanTassell was still in jail Tuesday night.

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