Suspect rams cars, escapes police

James S. Kiesel Jr., a 37-year-old Oak Harbor resident, is wanted on a $100,000 warrant

Police are looking for an accused arsonist who evaded arrest by SWAT teams and caused extensive damage to several cars and a fence before driving over a grassy berm while wielding a pistol in one hand on Nov. 3, according to Oak Harbor Police Chief Kevin Dresker.

James S. Kiesel Jr., a 37-year-old Oak Harbor resident, is wanted on a $100,000 warrant out of Island County Superior Court in a 2020 arson case in which he was accused of setting a van on fire with an incendiary device in Oak Harbor over a disagreement involving a German shepherd, according to court documents.

He was accused of violating conditions of release in the arson case by allegedly committing crimes in Skagit County — including felony and gross misdemeanor gun and domestic violence charges — and failing to appear for court hearings. He is also wanted on felony warrants out of Skagit County.

On Nov. 3, members of Skagit County and Oak Harbor SWAT teams received information that Kiesel was at an apartment complex near the intersection of Whidbey Avenue and Highway 20 in Oak Harbor. Dresker explained that the teams planned to catch him when he got into his car to leave by blocking him in with police cars.

Things, however, didn’t go as planned.

At about 12:30 p.m., Kiesel walked to his car and got in. Police officers quickly moved to block him in, but a couple of parked cars prevented a police vehicle behind Kiesel from completely blocking him. According to Dresker, Kiesel maneuvered his car backwards, ramming the law enforcement vehicle and pushing it. He accelerated backwards and collided with another vehicle parked in the lot.

Kiesel’s vehicle continued backwards, going over a curb and driving through a wood fence into another parking lot, where he struck another police vehicle, according to Dresker. Kiesel then drove through the grass between buildings and onto Whidbey Avenue, where he sped westward.

Police officers saw that Kiesel had a pistol in one hand while he was driving backward and smashing into the vehicles, Dresker said.

According to the police chief, several factors prevented police from chasing the fleeing car, including a state law that prohibits police pursuits except in certain situations.

Dresker said a video of the incident posted online appears to show a police vehicle pushing Kiesel’s car backwards, but in reality the vehicle was just trying to stay in contact with Kiesel’s car as he drove backwards. It’s clear from the video that Kiesel had his reverse lights on.

“He was committed to getting away,” Dresker said. “He just didn’t want to get caught.”

Two Skagit County police vehicles, two parked cars and the fence were damaged in the escape. Dresker said Kiesel will face additional charges related to the incident. Police are working with the owners of the cars and a property management company to determine the cost of the damage.

A Whidbey resident alerted police on Saturday that Kiesel’s car was parked in a driveway.

“Although there’s no immediate threat to the community, law enforcement considers James Kiesel armed and dangerous,” Dresker wrote in a press release. “While we’d prefer Kiesel turn himself in to authorities, his actions indicate he doesn’t intend to do so.”