Suspect named in fatal Port Angeles hit-and-run

Nineteen-year-old driver tells police he thought he hit debris.

PORT ANGELES — A Port Angeles man told police he was the driver in a fatal hit-and-run June 6 in the 2000 block of West 18th Street but thought he was hitting debris and not a person, according to a police report filed last week with the Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

The driver, JohnPeter “JP” Smithson, 19, of Port Angeles, said he was behind the wheel of his family’s newly registered white 1995 Geo Prizm when he thought he hit debris on West 18th Street in the area where authorities found the body of Port Angeles resident Robert E. Simmons, 50, at 10:50 p.m. June 6, according to the report.

Pieces of a car found at the scene matched a missing fragment and a wheel well liner from Smithson’s vehicle, the report said.

Simmons, wearing dark clothing, was found west of the Clallam County Public Utility District building at 1932 W. 18th St. with a wound on his left hip-buttock and plastic debris near his head in the eastbound lane about 4 feet from the southern fog line.

Simmons was barely conscious when authorities arrived, his pulse vanishing as police checked it, according to the report.

Fire department medics pronounced him dead at 11:10 p.m.

He would have turned 51 Monday.

Simmons’ death record abstract listed him as a Wilmington, Ill., native whose usual occupation was a shipyard pipe fitter. He had lived in Port Angeles for 14 years.

He died about a half-mile from where he lived.

Simmons’ address was listed as 2321 W. 18th St., where Serenity House of Clallam County provides shelter and services for homeless people and people at risk of becoming homeless.

Officers investigated Simmons’ death as a potential vehicular homicide and a felony hit-and-run, according to their case report.

Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols said he will consider filing a charge of vehicular homicide as an option.

“That’s certainly one of the areas we will be looking at to see if a prosecution is supported by the evidence,” he said.

Criminal Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Michele Devlin will review the case beginning Tuesday, when she returns from vacation, Nichols said.

“There’s a possibility we could decline to charge, there’s a possibility we could send it back for more information, there’s a possibility we could file one or more charges,” he said.

On June 8, Smithson and his attorney, Karen Unger of Port Angeles, came to the police department and met with Officer David Dombrowski, according to Dombrowski’s report.

“Unger told me she was here concerning the hit-and-run that occurred the other day,” Dombrowski said.

Unger told him Smithson’s car was parked at his parents’ home, where he lives.

“When I asked him if this was the car involved in the West 18th collision, Smithson said yes,” Dombrowski said.

“Smithson shook his head ‘yes’ when I told him he was doing the right thing by letting us know where the car was located.”

Unger did not return calls for comment on the case Thursday.

Included in the report was the examination of a vehicle-dashboard-mounted video taken by a PUD employee who was driving home on Emery Lane, about 14 miles east of the PUD building. The PUD offered the video to police after hearing of the incident.

The employee said he saw a pickup truck pulling a white GEO Prizm behind it with front-end damage that was being steered by a teenage boy.

“I could not say for certain it was a Geo Prizm,” Detective Shane Martin said, adding he could not see from the video who was inside the vehicle.

Simmons may have already been lying down in the street when Smithson apparently hit him, according to the report.

Mike Fellows was driving in the West 18th Street area at about 10:25 p.m. June 6 when he said he saw a man moving in a “fast walk, almost to the point of running,” on the south side of West 18th through the PUD parking lot at 1936 W. 18th.

Fellows said he saw the man fall “straight back, like he had hit a wall,” according to Officer Tyler Peninger’s case report.

“Fellows slowed as he approached the spot where the man had fallen,” Peninger wrote.

“He said the man then sat ‘bolt upright.’

“He then assumed the man was OK and just drunk.”

Fellows assumed the man was drunk because “it was just the way the man fell, it wasn’t natural,” Fellows told police.

Fellows described the man as older than his 30s.

Police Chief Brian Smith said Thursday that police have not received a toxicology report ordered on Simmons.

Smithson’s parents, Paul and Melinda Smithson, said they had bought the Prizm from a neighbor the same day of the hit-and-run and that their son had wanted to take it for a drive that evening, according to Peninger’s report.

The next morning, he left a note for them saying, “I got my first ding in the car,” they said.

“It was dark, late at night, and all of a sudden, there was something in the road,” Smithson told his mother, according to the report.

“He thought it was debris of some kind.

“He said he swerved really hard.

“He said he just caught it with the bumper and he kept going.

“JP said that whatever it was just barely ‘caught it’ and that he did not feel it.

“He then drove home.”

Police arrived where Simmons lay at 10:54 p.m., according to a PUD camera that did not record the hit-and-run.

“Initially, I did feel a pulse in the male’s left arm, but after a short time, the pulse faded,” Office Ted Rife said.

Officer Kyle Cooper began chest compressions, Rife said.

Police found vehicular debris including a passenger-side wheel-well liner and plastic car-body fascia with white paint near Simmons’ body.

One piece of fascia “had a noticeable amount of what appeared to be dried blood on it,” according to Officer Erik Smith’s report.

The debris appeared to “perfectly” match missing portions of a cracked right front bumper on the Prizm, the report said.

________

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

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