A teenager is facing felony charges and a potentially lengthy prison term in the Aug. 30 shooting death of 15-year-old Ericolis “Eric” Kelley in Oak Harbor.
Eric K. Keo Jr., an 18-year-old Oak Harbor resident, is accused of shooting Kelley while recklessly playing with a gun and pointing it at his friends. Keo asked Kelley if he believed in God and pulled the trigger as the high school student answered “sometimes,” according to a detective’s report.
Prosecutors charged Keo in Island County Superior Court Monday with manslaughter in the first degree, assault in the second degree, intimidating a witness and tampering with physical evidence.
Both manslaughter and the assault charges include special allegations that Keo committed the crimes while armed with a firearm, which together could potentially add eight years to his sentence. In all, Keo could face as much as 19 years and four months in prison if convicted of the charges against him.
Prosecutors obtained an arrest warrant for Keo, with bail set at $500,000, even though he’s currently being held in jail on an unrelated charge of possession of a stolen firearm.
“The illegal and reckless handling of a handgun has led to the tragic loss of a promising young man’s life,” Prosecutor Greg Banks said in a press release. “We are appreciative of the continuing dedication of the OHPD after referring the case to us, to help us get the case in court where we can seek justice for Ericolis and his family.”
Police Chief Kevin Dresker said the charges represent the culmination of eight months of difficult and tenacious work by officers, detectives and prosecutors.
“This was a tragic incident, and we hope this arrest brings some relief to the family of the young man who died so needlessly,” he said.
Kelley was a popular student Oak Harbor High School known for his giving nature.
“Eric, as he was affectionately called, was well-known in the community both for his skills as a talented year-round athlete and for his compassion for others,” his obituary states. “At Oak Harbor High School, Eric competed for the Wildcats in football, basketball and track.”
The Oak Harbor police reported earlier this year that the investigation was hampered by uncooperative witnesses. A breakthrough came after police arrested a key witness, 22-year-old Kevin Deese, in an unrelated felony threat case and the prosecutor obtained his cooperation with a plea agreement.
Deese had tried to save Kelley by driving him to get help and flagging down an ambulance. He told investigators that he felt he needed to disclose what happened because he had trouble sleeping and kept replaying the incident in his mind.
According to a report by Detective Sgt. Jenn Gravel, Deese explained to investigators that he, Keo and two other young men were hanging out at a home on Crosby Avenue when the shooting occurred. He told investigations Keo was playing with a .45 caliber handgun, repeatedly inserting and ejecting the magazine. Keo often played with guns in this way, the report states, and had a habit of waving guns around and pointing them at people.
Keo first pointed the gun at Deese, who swore at him, and another friend told him to stop, the report states. Keo then shot Kelley accidentally after asking him if he believed in God.
All four of the friends jumped up and stared at each other before realizing Kelley had been shot. Keo started shouting “no, no, no” and repeatedly racked his gun, ejecting rounds onto the floor. Kelley cried out for help and screamed “hospital.”
Deese ran outside and got into a Mustang he borrowed from a friend. He noticed a shotgun in the back and ran out to throw it into the woods. He forgot to put the car in “drive” and it rolled backward into a house. After Kelley was placed in the back seat, Deese sped off, purposely driving wildly, honking his horn and screaming out the window in hopes of being pulled over by the police, the detective wrote.
Deese stopped the car and flagged down an ambulance at the intersection of Swantown and Highway 20. The ambulance crew transported Kelley to the hospital, where he succumbed to the injury.
Keo allegedly took Kelley’s cell phone, left the county for several days and threatened Deese in an attempt to prevent him from talking to police, the report indicates.
Investigators also obtained a warrant to search the home, which was processed by the state crime lab’s Crime Scene Response Team. The team found three unspent .45 bullets and collected swabs of presumptive blood stains in the bathroom and on the inside of the back door, the affidavits state.
In February, Keo was arrested and charged with possession of a stolen firearm. Police responded to the report of a disturbance, searched Keo and found a 9mm handgun, according to court documents.