A rural Kalama man was arrested Thursday afternoon after blocking trees marked for removal and firing a gun near the road.
Kalama police arrested Stephen Merrill, 70, on suspicion of unlawful use of a loaded firearm, aiming or discharging firearms-dangerous weapons and shooting along a public roadway. Merrill’s bail was set at $1,500.00.
Merrill parked a vehicle up against a tree along Kalama River Road to prevent a county crew from removing it, Police Chief Ralph Herrera said.
Kalama officers originally responded to the area to check on a dispute between Merrill and the county crew in the 5800 block of Kalama River Road, Herrera said. Police had been told Merrill had got out of the car with a gun and began walking up the road.
But when officers arrived, they found Merrill’s truck as well as the county crews’ trucks empty.
The officers drove up the road and found a man standing in the road. Herrera said the officers heard gunshots as they stopped. As officers retreated, they heard eight to 10 more shots, but didn’t return fire, Herrera said.
Kalama police and other agencies blocked traffic off at Greenwood Road. When they waited for additional resources, Merrill returned in an unrelated vehicle. He didn’t initially stop, prompting officers to address him at gunpoint, Herrera said.
Merrill got out of the car and was arrested after being identified as the same man who fired the gun earlier. He denied shooting in the direction of the officers and told police he was shooting at a can across the river.
Sheriff Brad Thurman said the county road crew is familiar with Merrill and it’s not uncommon for him to walk around with a firearm and shoot on occasion.
Merrill told The Daily News Thursday morning he was upset about the county cutting down what he described as old growth trees along the road. He said the department “circumvented public channels” because the trees were in the right of way.
“It doesn’t make sense what they’re doing,” he said. “As long as the roads have been here, the trees haven’t been a problem.”
County Public Works Director Mike Moss said over the last couple of weeks crews removed eight trees that posed a danger to drivers. He said the trees were possibly older, second growth trees and that some of the trees were dead and one had a large hole that appeared to be from someone shooting at it.
According to Moss, the Public Works Department is allowed to remove trees in the county right of way when they pose a danger. The department won’t remove all the trees along the road, Moss added.
“We understand the aesthetics and beauty (of the area) especially along the Kalama River,” Moss said. “But we have to look at the safety side.”