John Lavacca

John Lavacca

$150,000 bail set for Port Angeles man suspected of pointing gun at couple

Charges expected Tuesday for Toka John Lavacca

PORT ANGELES — Bail of $150,000 has been set for a Port Angeles man caught at a homeless encampment after being sought for allegedly pointing a handgun at a couple.

Toka John Lavacca, 40, who remained in the Clallam County jail Saturday for investigation of first-degree assault, has a 1 p.m. hearing Tuesday in Superior Court for the filing of a formal charge.

“There will be charges coming on Tuesday,” Jesse Espinoza, a county deputy prosecuting attorney, told Judge Brent Basden.

Lavacca, 40, was arrested Thursday evening without incident and missing the handgun he allegedly used, Clallam County Sheriff’s Sgt. John Keegan said Friday.

Lavacca told authorities he had a lighter in his hand that was mistaken for a weapon during an argument with the couple.

Lavacca, who authorities say is a transient, allegedly pointed a semiautomatic weapon at a husband-wife couple at about 5 p.m. Tuesday in the 2800 block of East Myrtle Street east of Port Angeles.

Authorities said Lavacca was staying at residences in the area.

Lavacca told Basden Friday that he would be staying at a North Lilac Avenue residence east of Port Angeles if he makes bail.

The husband, who was walking his dog, asked Lavacca what he was doing at his house, Keegan said.

Lavacca, allegedly pointing the gun at the man, told him to mind his own business, Keegan said.

The man’s wife drove up and saw what was happening, and Lavacca pointed the gun at her before he fled on foot, prompting authorities to notify the public to be on the lookout for him and that he might be dangerous.

“This could have been potentially deadly,” Espinoza told Basden in arguing for the bail that Basden set.

Suspect found

Authorities apprehended Lavacca at 7:45 p.m. Thursday in a wooded area off the U.S. Highway 101-Morse Creek curve, east of the Port Angeles and between Deer Park Road and Cottonwood Lane, Keegan said Friday.

“Basically, it was a kind of homeless encampment that he had been staying at out there,” he said.

Authorities had received tips that Lavacca frequented the area.

Deputies and members of the Port Angeles Police Department and the Olympic Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Task Force conducted the search for Lavacca.

When they came upon him at one of the campsites, Lavacca was wearing a balaclava head covering, Keegan said.

Officers report that they chased him fewer than 100 yards before he gave up.

Lavacca had a backpack full of personal belongings.

He told deputies that he had a butane lighter in his hand during his confrontation with the couple that may have looked like a gun while he was gesturing at them, Keegan said.

“That’s his side of the story,” he said. “We asked where that item was, and he couldn’t find it. He gave us permission to search his belongings, and it was not there.

“What the homeowners told us was there was a gun in his hand. They were very adamant that in fact it was a gun in his hand.”

Keegan said deputies came across a half-dozen people who were camping in the wooded area about a tenth of a mile south of the Morse Creek curve on what Keegan said might be state land.

The land is mostly owned by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the state Department of General Administration, according to county Assessor’s Office records.

“There were a bunch of tents there,” Keegan said. “When we were there, in that area, we contacted five people at various camps, two at one, three at another, five to seven people.

“People were moving from campsite to campsite while we were there.

“He happened to be at one of them.”

Chief Criminal Deputy Brian King said it was among the largest homeless encampments known to authorities in the county and that the Sheriff’s Office was researching the degree to which the public could legally camp on the land.


Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected]

John Lavacca is apprehended by Clallam County deputies after a search that included the Port Angeles Police Department and the Olympic Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Task Force. (Clallam County Sheriff’s Office)

John Lavacca is apprehended by Clallam County deputies after a search that included the Port Angeles Police Department and the Olympic Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Task Force. (Clallam County Sheriff’s Office)

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