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Felon was school-trip chaperone


This news story was published on December 18, 2011.
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By Craig Welch, The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — An elementary-school field trip turned into a police manhunt Wednesday afternoon when a parent chaperone recognized another chaperone as a wanted felon who had been featured on a television show, according to Seattle police.

Police received a 911 call around 3:30 p.m. from a teacher at Lowell Elementary School, soon after 20 children in a fourth-grade class returned from a trip to Cal Anderson Park, where they had been ice skating.

A parent had reported that one of the chaperones resembled Donald Vasser, who had been featured on “Washington’s Most Wanted,” and whose daughter is in the class.

The students were escorted into the building and the principal placed the school on lockdown. The suspect never entered the building, and fled as soon as police arrived, according to school officials.

A search by patrol officers, SWAT and a K-9 unit failed to track down the man. Students were only allowed to leave the school after being escorted onto buses or if they were picked up by their parents. After about 90 minutes, police determined the man was no longer in the area, and the lockdown was lifted.

A field supervisor for the state Department of Corrections community-response unit eventually reached Vasser by phone and persuaded him to give up.

Vasser turned himself in to the King County Jail about 6 p.m., according to Department of Corrections spokesman Chad Lewis.

Police say Vasser goes by numerous aliases and has an extensive criminal record and sometimes carries a gun. There were no reports of injuries to any students or staff member at the school, police said.

The school’s principal sent a note to parents telling them that the school conducts criminal background checks on all parent volunteers and that Vasser had not been cleared to chaperone.

“It appears that there was a miscommunication in the building today,” Principal Gregory King wrote.

School district officials said they are investigating how Vasser was allowed to participate in the field trip.

Vasser was featured on the the Washington’s Most Wanted show on Dec. 2 and 3.

According to KCPQ-TV, which airs the show, Vasser is a 39-year-old high-violent offender and dangerous gang member who was wanted in King County on a warrant for escape.

He has more than 20 arrests and convictions, including obstructing law enforcement, assaulting an officer, burglary and harassment. He’s known to carry a gun, according to the KCPQ report.

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©2011 The Seattle Times

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