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Starbucks cup leads Wash. police to identify rape suspect

A discarded paper coffee cup from a Starbucks drive-thru was the crucial clue that helped police arrest a man in connection with the sexual assaults of two women

By Jeremy Pawloski
The Olympian

OLYMPIA, Wash. — A discarded paper coffee cup from a Starbucks drive-thru was the crucial clue that helped Olympia police arrest a man Tuesday in connection with the sexual assaults of two women who were abducted at Olympia bus stops.

Married father of four Bryon E. Johnston, 35, was being held at the Thurston County Jail Wednesday on suspicion of once count of first-degree rape, one count of attempted first-degree rape and two counts of first-degree kidnapping.

A judge found probable cause to support the accusations against Johnston during a court hearing Wednesday and ordered him held with bail set at $250,000. Johnston's defense attorney, Paul Strophy, declined comment Wednesday.

Johnston is suspected in the abduction and rape of a woman from an Olympia bus stop on Fourth Avenue in downtown Olympia on Nov. 28. He also is accused in an attempted rape of a woman who was abducted and sexually assaulted in February.

In both cases, the assailant drove the women he abducted to the abandoned Bailey's Motor Inn on Martin Way in Olympia.

Olympia police began investigating the case on Feb. 19, after a woman in her 20s had reported that a man abducted her from a bus stop, then drove her to the Bailey's Motor Inn parking lot.

According to court papers:
The woman reported that the assailant asked her "if she wanted to make some money," after she had accepted a ride, and then groped her breasts. She said the man threatened to cut her, and then he pulled her hair as she fought him off and exited the moving vehicle in the Bailey's parking lot.

The woman said that as she ran from her attacker's sport-utility vehicle, she observed several items fall from the SUV's open passenger door as he drove off.

The woman later pointed out these items to detectives as they investigated at the scene. They included a ceramic re-usable coffee cup and a paper coffee cup from a Starbucks drive-thru.

Olympia Police Department spokeswoman Laura Wohl said Wednesday that the Starbucks coffee cup found at the scene of the crime was identified as a cup that was recently purchased at a Starbucks drive-thru.

Wohl said information gathered from the sticker of the discarded coffee cup gave detectives information about where it had been purchased  a Starbucks drive-thru in DuPont on Feb. 19.

A Starbucks drive-thru coffee sticker typically includes information about what type of drink has been purchased, and at what time — down to the exact second.

Starbucks later contacted Olympia detectives and gave them store surveillance footage from the DuPont Starbucks drive-thru at the time the suspect ordered his drink, court papers state. Reached by telephone Wednesday, a Starbucks spokesman at corporate headquarters in Seattle said all questions should be referred to Olympia police, citing the ongoing criminal investigation.

From the surveillance footage of the DuPont Starbucks, an Olympia police detective was able to identify a license plate number for the SUV that entered the drive-thru when the suspect purchased the drink that was later found discarded at the crime scene.

The detective then obtained a Washington Department of Licensing photo for Johnston after learning he was the husband of the registered owner of the vehicle, a white 2005 Cadillac Escalade.

The DOL photo of Johnston closely resembled a police artist's sketch of the suspect after the victim of the Feb. 19 attack had described him. The Olympia detective also learned that Johnston had a prior conviction for soliciting a prostitute in Pierce County in 2011.

The Cadillac Escalade registered to Johnston's wife also matched the description of the vehicle used during the Feb. 19 assault. The victim in the Feb. 19 assault had also told police that her assailant had a shirt with a name patch on it that read "Ryan" or Bryan."

During the investigation, detectives learned that a second, very similar, sex assault had occurred in Olympia on Nov. 28. During this case, a woman in her 20s was raped at the Bailey's Motor Inn parking lot after she was offered ride while waiting for a bus on Fourth Avenue.

Olympia detectives contacted both victims and showed them a photo-montage of suspects, including a photo of Johnston. Both women positively identified Johnston as their assailant.

About 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, Olympia police arrested Johnston at his DuPont home. He was taken into custody without incident and invoked his right to an attorney.

Copyright 2014 The Olympian 


McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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