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LUCID kidnapping ends in tragedy

The+LUCID+storefront%2C+the+location+where+Cameron+Smith+was+abducted+from.
The LUCID storefront, the location where Cameron Smith was abducted from.

The LUCID storefront, the location where Cameron Smith was abducted from.

Andrew Watson for The Easterner

Andrew Watson for The Easterner

The LUCID storefront, the location where Cameron Smith was abducted from.

By Logan Stanley, Managing Editor

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CHENEY, WA. — After four days of searching led by a multi-agency effort, Donovan Culps, 36, was arrested in Goldendale, Washington on Sept. 14 for the abduction and robbery of Cameron Smith, 46. The incident that is purported to have occurred took place on Sept. 10 at LUCID, the recreational marijuana outlet in Cheney.

Those charges are likely to change as well because the body of Smith was found on Sept. 15 in the Four Lakes area off of State Route 904.

Initial incident

The following account is based on the Cheney Police Department affidavit of facts obtained via a public records request made at Cheney City Hall.

Smith, an employee at LUCID, had just returned to his work a little after noon on Sept. 10 and was eating lunch in his car when Donovan Culps and two other females arrived at the store parking lot. Donovan Culps entered LUCID and attempted to purchase some product, but was refused service because of he did not have identification.

One of the two females Donovan Culps was with then also tried to complete a purchase, but was rejected because she was only 18 years old. The clerk working at the time, Leon Brooks, went out to speak with Smith at his vehicle, a gray Acura SUV, after these interactions to ask if everything was all right. Smith told Brooks things were fine, and as Brooks re-entered LUCID, two gunshots fired off.

Brooks ran back outside and saw that Donovan Culps was driving away with Smith’s vehicle. The vehicle that Donovan Culps had arrived in, a white pickup truck, was gone as well. On the ground where Smith had parked his vehicle were shards of shattered glass and a Chicago Bulls hat with Native American bead work around the brim — the hat was identified as belonging to Donovan Culps.

One witness, Spencer McMartin, was stopped in traffic southbound on First Street when he heard the first two gunshots. McMartin then saw a gray Acura SUV exit the parking lot at a high rate of speed.  When the SUV passed McMartin, he looked into the vehicle and recognized Donovan Culps as the occupant. As the vehicle sped past him, McMartin heard another gunshot come from within the vehicle.

A second witness, Kieona L. Williams, also heard the initial two shots, and the third one as well.

As this was all happening, LUCID employees immediately took action. Stacia Shirley, the general manager of LUCID, called law enforcement as soon as she realized Smith was gone. The moment of that realization hit Shirley hard.

“I was in shock,” said Shirley. “I literally went to the area where his car was and just stared at it, screamed. I was on the phone with 911, but I was screaming.”

Once officers responded to the scene of the crime, at approximately 12:44 p.m., it was determined that the suspect had mentioned he was from Yakima. Two of the responding officers, Detective Rocky Hanni and Captain Richard Beghtol of the Cheney Police Department, relayed this information alongside the suspects’ photographs to agencies in Yakima.

The agencies were able to positively identify Donovan Culps. Violetta Culps, 18, Donovan Culps’ niece, was identified as the female who entered the store; and Alishia Jackson, 18, was identified as the third individual who was in the pickup truck.

On scene, the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab Crime Scene Response Team recovered two 9mm casings as well as the previously mentioned Bulls hat. Upon inspection of the casings, the crime scene investigator suggested the weapon that used was most likely a Glock pistol.

An alert was sent out to surrounding agencies on Sept. 10 to look for the Acura and the white pickup truck. Later that night, a Yakama Tribal police officer in the White Swan area spotted a vehicle that matched the description of the Acura. When the officer attempted to stop the vehicle, the driver failed to pull over which triggered a pursuit.

The pursuit traveled through Yakima Valley into White Swan when the pursued vehicle’s driver turned off its lights and proceeded to head down a dirt road. This forced the police officer to end the pursuit, and while the officer was not able to 100 percent confirm the license plate number, he felt ‘very certain’ the vehicle in question was Smith’s stolen Acura.

Vehicle discovery

It was not until two days later on Sept. 12 when Smith’s vehicle was located in Airway Heights off of Craig Road at W 12th Avenue. Beghtol and Hanni responded to the call and oversaw the recovery of Smith’s vehicle.

At 9 p.m. on Sept. 12, Hanni received information from members of the Violent Crime Task Force, one of the agencies assisting with efforts, and was told that Alishia Jackson was in custody for auto theft. It was when task force members were attempting to gather information about the whereabouts of Donovan Culps that they discovered what exactly happened after Smith was abducted.

Jackson said she remained in the car while Donovan Culps and his niece attempted to purchase product from LUCID. Donovan Culps returned to the vehicle to retrieve his firearm, and after doing so, Jackson got into the driver’s seat of the pickup truck with Violetta Culps in the passenger seat. When she heard the shots, Jackson left the area, with Donovan Culps behind her.

After about 45 minutes of driving, Jackson saw Donovan Culps toss Smith’s wallet out the window. Jackson continued to drive, following Donovan Culps and his niece. Donovan Culps then dumped Smith’s body, and met with Jackson and his niece.

Donovan Culps told the two that he shot Smith twice in the face and seven times in the back, for a total of nine times.

The three of them headed back to Spokane to Northern Quest Casino, where they made the decision to get rid of Smith’s car. Violetta Culps and Jackson drove to the area at Craig Road and W 12th Avenue and left the car there.

Jackson is facing a charge of failing to report a felony while Violetta Culps has not yet been found.

Donovan Culps was booked into Spokane County Jail on Sept. 15 on charges of first-degree kidnapping and first-degree robbery. Donovan Culps has run into trouble with the law before. He had outstanding warrants for his arrest and was convicted of two felonies and other misdemeanors. The U.S. Marshal’s Service recognized Donovan Culps as a violent offender.

Emotions run high

The loss of Smith is something that will not go unnoticed; memorials have been set up in and around the LUCID store and a fund has been started to cover the expenses for Smith’s family. For the people who knew Smith, the news of what happened to him triggered passionate responses. 

Andrew Watson for The Easterner
One of the memorials set up outside of LUCID for late employee Cameron Smith.

“He was a genuine person, unparalleled to anybody,” said Shirley. “I was asked recently if  I knew anybody like him, and I answered quickly no. He was kind, he was a friend I could talk to. I could tell him anything. He had this way about him — any kind of bad or negative situation that he was faced with, he always took the high road and made it positive again.”

It was not just Smith’s colleagues that grew fond of him. Shirley said Smith regularly would become acquaintances with those who frequented the store. For Smith, making friends was an easy task. 

One of those friends, EWU senior Ashley O’Neill, became close with Smith over the past year. O’Neill got to know Smith well, and the two socialized regularly.

“He’s one of those spirits you can’t ignore,” said O’Neill. “That smile makes you smile. He stood for honesty, loyalty and respect. He was a great man. He had children, he was a grandpa. He was an all-around awesome person.”

For those who would like to donate, there is a benefit this Friday, Sept. 22 at 5 p.m., at the Unforgiven Lounge, 108 N. Washington St., Spokane. Fifty percent of all sales will go to Smith’s family. There is also a GoFundMe account set up, which has raised over $7,000 since beginning on Sept. 17. All funds will benefit Smith’s family.

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LUCID kidnapping ends in tragedy