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Clinton kidnapping survivor tells story of terror

Clinton resident Peter Brandt motions to the van in which a kidnapper held him and drove him to California. - Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times
Clinton resident Peter Brandt motions to the van in which a kidnapper held him and drove him to California.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times

Beaten and bloody, Peter Brandt lay in the darkness in the back of his own van. His hands and feet were bound with zip ties. He didn’t know where his captor was taking him and he didn’t know if was going to be killed.

Brandt didn’t panic, but entered into a dazed state.

“The curious thing about it is I felt so relaxed on the ride,” he said. “There was something in me that just went with the flow. I decided that I wasn’t going to be confrontational. I wasn’t going to try to escape.”

It’s a strategy that worked. Brandt, a South Whidbey resident, is alive to tell his astonishing story of violence and abduction, while his kidnapper is facing many years in federal prison. The sentencing hearing is scheduled for Aug. 8 in federal court.

Yet Brandt isn’t unscathed by his experience. He’s suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and has abandoned his real estate career because he can’t handle the strain.

“He has a ton of symptoms of the disorder. It’s really changed his life,” said Jessica Drain, a victim advocate for the nonprofit Families and Friends of Violence Crime Victims.

Brandt’s life has been in a state of stasis, but now he’s trying to turn things around. He’s taking part in a state-sponsored vocational training program and has applied for disability benefits. He’s also turning to the community for help. He’s hoping someone might have a job for him or might be willing to help him financially. He’s trying to sell the van that his kidnapper held him in.

“Between counseling and dealing with the criminal case, it’s taken some time to get back to employment,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s been particularly difficult because of the economy.”

Until now, Brandt has only told family members and a couple of close friends about his ordeal, but he wants the community to know that “a heinous crime occurred in the middle of this calm island.”

As Drain noted, Brandt’s story seems like the stuff of a Hollywood movie.

About five years ago, Brandt hired a builder named Brent Decker to work on his incomplete home in the Clinton neighborhood of Scatchet Head. Decker had just moved to Washington from California and was living in Monroe. Brant was very pleased with Decker’s work.

“He could design anything in his head and build it,” he said. “He’s just an extremely gifted person.”

Eventually, Decker moved into Brandt’s home. Brandt admitted that it may seem odd to live with his builder, but it made a lot of sense at the time. Decker had lost his apartment in Monroe and living at Brandt’s home saved him a daily commute. And Decker seemed like the perfect roommate until one day in June of 2008.

Decker got into a fight with a girlfriend at the house; Brandt tried to calm things and ended up driving the woman to the Clinton ferry. Decker then accused the woman of stealing Brandt’s video camera. Brandt said he didn’t know what to think, but told Decker he would have to call the police to sort the matter out.

Decker snapped. He attacked Brandt and beat him unconscious with a piece of wood. When Brandt came to, he tried to escape but Decker tackled him on the stairs. They wrestled and ended up downstairs in the kitchen. Decker grabbed a two-prong meat fork and was about to plunge it into Brandt’s chest.

“Somehow I had the presence of mind to tell him that nobody had to die. I told him that I forgave him and he just stopped,” Brandt said. “Later he told me that nobody had ever forgiven him before. He had a particularly hard life. ... He told me forgiving him saved my life because he definitely planned to take me out.”

In a panic, Decker tied Brandt up with zip ties and left him in a bathroom for about three hours. Decker packed all his things into Brandt’s van, a Dodge Sprinter, and threw Brandt in the back, surrounded by boxes to keep him from moving. Then they drove south to California.

Brandt said Decker stopped a number of numbers of times on the way, using Brandt’s credit cards to buy gas and get cash. At one stop, Decker bought a vitamin pack and a drink for his prisoner.

“It was really weird,” Brandt said. “He attempted at one point to kill me, but then he was nursing my wounds.”

Decker stopped in southern Oregon and talked to a nurse friend about Brandt’s head wounds. The woman refused to see Brandt or become involved, but told Decker that his captive needed to be taken to an emergency room.

Finally, they arrived in Sacramento. Decker untied Brandt and left him with the van near the UC-Davis emergency room; he warned Brandt that he would kill him if he reported the crime to police.

Brandt was free. He was safe, but the frustration was only beginning. He spent most the day being treated at the hospital, but found that the police weren’t interested in his story. After repeated requests to speak with an officer, a social worker finally told him that he should report the crime in the jurisdiction in which it occurred.

With no help from the police, Brandt left the hospital in bloody clothes, a bandaged head and a small amount of money. He ate some food, slept over night in his van and then drove all the way back home.

Brandt went to the Island County Sheriff’s Office a couple of days later, but was told he needed to call 911. He spoke with a sergeant at the sheriff’s South Whidbey precinct, but the man didn’t believe his wild story. Finally, Brandt persuaded the officer to go to his house to see the evidence. The sergeant changed his mind after seeing the blood spatter all over the walls. Brandt said the sergeant apologized profusely, but didn’t really investigate.

Instead, a detective showed up a couple of days later. After hearing the story, the detective determined that it was a federal kidnapping case. He called the FBI.

Brandt said he was finally taken seriously. The agents arrived within hours of getting the report and investigated his case methodically. The U.S. Attorney’s Office brought the case to a grand jury and won an indictment. Decker was arrested in California for a different crime, but now is in federal custody at SeaTac.

Decker pleaded guilty to the single count of kidnapping and is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 8. He’s facing a sentence of approximately 12 to 15 years in prison.

Brandt said he won’t be at the sentencing hearing, but he’ll inevitably be thinking about the baffling and horrendous events of those two days while his former friend is facing the judge. One good thing to come out of the violence, Brandt said, is a reaffirmation of his belief in the Golden Rule.

“I always treated him really well. I paid him on time and I was always fair,” he said. “I think that really helped save my bacon. If I hadn’t treated him right, I don’t think I would be here today.”

Anyone interested in helping Brandt can reach him at 360-579-1632 or by email at pb@dreamstar1.com.

 

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