Scott Creach part 1

Posted: July 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

I cannot think of a newsworthy incident that has occurred in the Valley so shocking and puzzling as the deadly gunplay between Southern Baptist preacher, Scott Creach, and Sheriff deputy Brian Hirzel, on a hot summer night nearly three years ago.
I first heard the news the next day, Thursday August 26th, on the radio as I drove up to a light on Appleway. I was not paying close attention to the news as I turned north onto University and so I distrusted what I thought I had heard.
How could it be true that Scott Creach, an elderly Valley man, had died at the hand of an officer of the law? I had known the man since 1965 when he brought his wife and three small kids up from Oklahoma, he was a young man of 29 and I was 7-year-old boy.
Even though I had seen him only occasionally since he left my family’s church at 8th and Pines to go preach at Greenacres Baptist Church six years later, Scott had ways of maintaining a presence in a lot of local lives. You might say he wove an interesting and colorful thread through the fabric of Spokane Valley life.
I remember he was running the building project when I worked on my dad’s crew putting in the foundation for the greenhouse he would be shot in front of forty years later. He would go on to build his fledgling plant growing operation into a thriving family enterprise, The Plant Farm, on his property at 4th and Rees .
He preached the last Southern Baptist service I ever sat through 15 years ago. It also happened to be the first one had I sat through in 15 years and I was there because he was baptizing my nephew, Trevor Clark, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost just as he had done for hundreds of others during his 45 years as a preacher.
Far more often I heard his mini-sermons about growing plants that aired weekly for 30 years over the same station that was now broadcasting his bizarre demise. As soon as I got home and went online, I learned that I had heard right.
I waited four weeks before I wrote about what I thought of the affair. I wrote that I found it unbelievable that the officer involved went on a pre-planned vacation the day after the shooting. It would take nearly two weeks before we learned his version of what took place the night Scott died.
He died at 11:07 to be precise, a few hours after he and his wife, Imogene, got home from Wednesday night prayer meeting. A couple of minutes before 11:07 he heard a car pull onto his property. Through the years, The Plant Farm had endured its share of trespassing and thievery and Scott had always policed his own property.
So once again he got up out of bed to investigate. He put on his pants, grabbed his .45 handgun and a flashlight and then went outside, not bothering to put on a shirt. Imogene did not awaken until she heard him go out the door. She immediately glanced at the glowing clock by her bed and it read 11:06.
She got up and looked out the partially opened bedroom window but could see nothing and she heard nothing until she heard her husband shout something out. His voice was silenced by a gunshot. Other ear witnesses that night also heard the gunshot. Less than two minutes had transpired between when she awoke and the shot.
Eventually, Hirzel officially reported that while he was minding his own business filling out paper work on his unmarked cruiser’s computer, Scott approached him with his gun drawn. He said that he told Scott 20 times to put his gun down but Scott told him that he did not have to and instead put the gun in the waist of his pants behind his back and continued to approach.
He said he ordered Scott to drop down and when Scott refused he struck him on the side of the knee with his baton. Rather than comply, Scott went for the gun behind his back, even though it was later determined the chamber was empty.
Hirzel said he feared for his life when he saw Scott reach behind and begin to pull out his gun. He said he believed he had to shoot Scott before Scott shot him. That was it. That was the whole story. Everyone in power stood behind him, from the prosecutor to his boss, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, to the Spokane police department that conducted the investigation.
While I found parts of the story hard to swallow, I finally wrote my blog after it seemed we had been given the whole story, or as much as we were going to get for the time being. In addition to being maddened by the officer’s ill-timed vacation, I wrote that I felt the bottom line was that Scott put himself in harm’s way that night. His untimely death was ultimately his own fault for approaching an officer with a gun anywhere on his half-clad body.
I posted that blog at 5 in the afternoon and by 10 that night, Alan Creach, Scott’s vocal son and my old friend, posted a well written and thought-out comment. After I commented on his comment, he asked to meet him for coffee the next morning. We met instead met at Donna’s Diner in Veradale for lunch where he filled me in on his family’s side of the story.
He told me how his mother had hurriedly dialed 911 after she heard the shot. She then rushed out but was intercepted by one of the police officers that had begun arriving less than a minute after Hirzel’s call went out over the radio. She could see her husband lying in the cruiser’s spotlight on the ground as he looked toward her and feebly raised his hand.
The officer guided her behind one of the cars and out of view. She asked him if it was serious and the officer said it was very serious. When she asked if she should call their kids who lived nearby, he told her that she should. But when she asked to go to her husband’s side, he said she could not, even though at that moment Scott was still alive. He would take approximately 4 minutes to bleed to death from the gunshot wound in his chest.
Imogene later said that was the hardest part of the whole thing, to be held back as her life’s mate of 51 years died without her at his side.
Alan told me during our lunch how difficult the rest of the night was for him and his family as they stood nearby in utter shock and disbelief and despair as investigators went about their task of gathering evidence and recording the scene, the center of which was their father’s lifeless body, stiffening on the ground as his blood congealed beneath him.
Only Alan could share moments like when the fire department came by later and attempted to cleanse away the blood of the slain preacher with a fire hose. Alan said he had to get his tractor and re-grade the lot, working in the blood-stained gravel that had been blasted in every direction by the over-rambunctious stream of water.
Alan talked to me for more than an hour about his family’s ordeal and how he had learned about the way things really work. He was mad and he was frustrated. He felt that he and the community had been lied to repeatedly by the sheriff’s department and that he did not believe, as I had said in my blog, that his father was responsible for his own death.
He felt the official story was full of holes. While I found his side things very interesting and I sympathized with all of my heart, I chose to give the story more time to develop.
That was almost three years ago and I had not seen Alan again until we met recently for another marathon mid-day meal at Max at The Mirabeau. I wanted to hear his take on the family’s $2 million settlement. After the news went out on Friday, June 20th, I emailed Alan. He agreed to meet for lunch Monday.
I felt that Alan and his family and their investigator’s must have had a strong case. Their high-priced, successful lawyer surely was the kind that works only for a percentage of the settlement and so he had to believe they held a winning hand.
It also seemed to me that the insurance company, guided by their own high priced-council, must have concurred, considering how hard they fought in the recent Zehm vs. police lawsuit. It seemed obvious from the beginning of that trial that the family had a good case.
I did not agree with Knezovich’s assertion that the insurance company acted irresponsibly, sending the wrong message. He said people would perceive that Spokane County was easy to sue and ready to settle out of court. I think we already live in a sue-happy world in which everyone would sue the county if they could.
Not everyone, however, has a case that would convince nine out of twelve jurors to reasonably conclude that someone had done wrong and that there needed to be a multi-million dollar reckoning. The Creach family believed they had such a case, their lawyer felt they did and the insurance company did as well. After listening to Alan, it all seemed fairly reasonable to me as well.

Click here for part 2

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