Car chase, drugs net 26-year sentence

Prosecutor highlights impact of fentanyl

PORT ANGELES — A Federal Way man who led law enforcement on a two-county, high-speed chase in November after a passenger in his car shot at another driver has been sentenced to 26 years in prison.

Nathan Peterson, who was 35 at the time of the incident, has been sentenced to 312 months in prison for four counts of possessing controlled substances with intent to deliver while armed with a firearm, one count of attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle, one count of unlawful imprisonment and one count of unlawful possession of a firearm in the second degree, according to a press release from the Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

His sentence, which followed a jury verdict in May after a four-day trial, included a base sentence of 72 months consecutive to four 60-month firearm enhancements for being armed with a firearm while possessing four different controlled substances — cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and fentanyl — with the intent to deliver them.

Clallam County Superior Court Judge Simon Barnhart followed the county prosecuting attorney’s office recommendation in the sentence.

“Peterson demonstrated through his actions on November 6, 2022, that he is a significant danger to the community,” said Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Steven P. Johnson, Jr., in recommending the 312-month sentence.

In his recommendation, Johnson highlighted the dramatic impact synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, have had on overdose deaths in Clallam County and nationwide.

He cited statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing a tripling of opioid overdose deaths per year from 2013 to 2021, as well as local figures showing a sharp rise in drug overdose deaths in Clallam County.

Between 2015 and 2020, Clallam County averaged fewer than 16 overdose deaths per year with a high of 18 in 2016 and 2020, Johnson said. In 2021, the county experienced 35 overdose deaths and at least 26 such deaths in 2022, he added.

“These statistics highlight the devastation that the narcotics trade, particularly the synthetic opioid trade, has wrought both at home and around the country,” Johnson said.

“Peterson contributed to that devastation when he brought what he admitted was several thousand dollars’ worth of narcotics, primarily fentanyl, into Clallam County,” Johnson continued.

Peterson will be on 12 months of community custody following his release.

His co-defendant, Christopher Tavita, who was 29 at the time of the incident, previously pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree assault with a deadly weapon and received a four-year prison sentence.

On Nov. 6, Peterson got into a high-speed chase with law enforcement after one of his passengers, Tavita, fired multiple shots from the moving car, scaring two men in a nearby car, according to law enforcement.

Deputies had reported that Peterson and Tavita attempted to engage another driver in a street race at the intersection of U.S. Highway 101 and Del Guzzi Drive in Port Angeles.

When the driver would not participate, Tavita shot at him, prompting the driver to call the police at about 7:40 p.m. and begin pursuing the Hyundai Elantra at a distance until sheriff’s deputies and Sequim police officers joined the pursuit.

Peterson sped way, driving erratically, changing directions on the highway, reaching speeds of roughly 100 mph and at one point traveling in the wrong direction on U.S. Highway 101 near Carlsborg, according to the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office.

“One of the backseat passengers repeatedly asked Peterson to let her out of the car, but he refused,” Johnson said.

Peterson led police several miles into Jefferson County. After law enforcement deployed spike strips and conducted two Pursuit Intervention Technique (PIT) maneuvers, the driver lost control of the vehicle and drove into a ditch at milepost 7 on state Highway 104.

The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office seized Peterson’s car and later searched it pursuant to a search warrant.

Deputies Nicholas Canady and Steffen Estep located cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and roughly 1,000 fentanyl pills inside a backpack in the trunk of the car, Johnson said, adding that Peterson admitted at trial that the backpack and the drugs inside were his.

The deputies also found a large number of small baggies, multiple digital scales, several dozen 9mm rounds and almost $10,000 in cash in the backpack, he said. Additionally, the deputies located a loaded .22 rifle near the backpack.

Peterson, Tavita and another passenger were taken to regional hospitals for minor injuries from the rollover. A fourth passenger was released at the scene.

The two unidentified backseat passengers did not face charges, Brian King, the chief criminal deputy for the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, said.

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