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Again, a driver found passed out in stolen car, tries to flee Bellingham Police, goes to jail

Bodycam image of Bellingham Police Department officers making contact with a person who appeared passed out in a stolen car (March 25, 2022). Source: Bellingham Police Department

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — About 16 hours after a nearly identical incident, Bellingham Police Department (BPD) officers again responded to a report of an unresponsive person in the driver’s seat of a stolen vehicle in a retail center parking lot.

BPD Spokesperson Lieutenant Claudia Murphy provided Whatcom News with the following details regarding an incident that began about 1:15pm on May 25th when BPD officers responded to a report of a man passed out in a Honda Accord in a retail center parking lot in the 1600 block of Birchwood Avenue.

A check of the license plate revealed the Honda had been reported stolen.

Officers arrived to find the Honda in the open lot with a woman passenger passed out in the passenger seat and the driver slumped over the center console, also passed out. 

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Fearing the driver would wake and attempt to flee in the stolen vehicle, officers positioned their vehicles such that the stolen car was pinned in by their patrol SUVs. Officers then approached the car which had the key in the ignition and the engine was running. Officers were unable to reach in to remove the key from the driver’s side so an officer attempted to do so from the passenger side. In doing so, the passenger side door was opened, at which time the driver woke up.

The awakened driver, known to officers from previous contacts and considered armed and dangerous, was told to put his hands on the steering wheel. The driver did not comply and was told he was under arrest and again to put his hands on the steering wheel. Instead, he reached down to start the car, only to realize it was already running. He then put the car in gear and tried to drive away, causing the Honda’s tires to spin at a high rate of speed while pinned between the patrol SUVs.

An officer deployed a taser, striking the driver, which resulted in him taking his foot off the accelerator and putting his hands out the window. Officers then took him into custody.

The woman passenger, who appeared uninjured during the incident, left the scene unwilling to speak with the officers.

The driver, identified as Joshua Manuel Abitia, age 23, had already been suspected in the theft of another Honda that had been reported stolen on April 20th. In that case, a BPD officer attempted to pull over the stolen Honda on April 25th, but it fled, and the officer did not pursue it. The Honda was later located unoccupied. Several items inside were processed and a fingerprint match with Abitia was made.

Abitia was booked into Whatcom County Jail charged with 2 counts of possession of a stolen vehicle.

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As of May 26th, Abitia remained in custody without the option for bail while awaiting a preliminary appearance in Whatcom County Superior Court when bail may be set.

Abitia has prior felony convictions that include unlawful possession of a controlled substance by a prisoner (heroin) and multiple felony escape, assault and theft crimes.

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