Five teens charged in death of 18-year-old


Youth pushed off trestle on a bet, prosecutors say

Five teen-age boys yesterday were charged with second-degree murder in the death of 18-year-old Michael Schuerhoff, who prosecutors said was pushed from a 36-foot-high railroad trestle - on a bet.

To win a wager of about $30 and some marijuana, Brian M. Schrader, 17, pushed the Everett youth from the trestle, causing his death, King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng said.

Maleng called the crime bizarre, tragic and senseless and said Schrader and four other youths were charged with second-degree murder because they all participated in the bet.

Those charged yesterday in King County Superior Court were Schrader; Lawrence R. Edinger, 16, Benjamin A. Drake, 16, and Steven M. Garza, 16, all of Mountlake Terrace; and Tyler G. Wheaton, 17, of Edmonds.

All are in custody on $250,000 bail. Under a 1994 law, because the five are charged with murder, they automatically will be tried as adults even though they are under the age of 18.

``There's obviously no evidence that these five intended to kill either in a specific or in a general way," Maleng said. However, they intended to commit assault in the second degree and during the course of that a death occurred, he said. That calls for a felony murder charge, Maleng said.

Maleng also said he believes the youths knew Schuerhoff would die because after he was pushed from the trestle, they heard a gurgling sound and cries for help and made no attempt to assist him.

The incident occurred about 10 p.m. Jan. 2 on an abandoned railroad trestle over the Sammamish Slough near the Burke-Gilman trail in Bothell.

Maleng called Schuerhoff, a senior at Cascade High School in Everett, ``a good young boy."

Schrader has previously been found guilty in Snohomish County of first-degree burglary and second-degree assault, court papers said. Prosecutors said the other four also had juvenile criminal records.

Maleng said the five are probably not equally guilty in Schuerhoff's death, and it is likely prosecutors will recommend different sentences for them. The standard sentencing range for felony murder is 10 to 14 years, he said.

In court papers, Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Lisa Marchese said Schuerhoff had just met the five youths that night. Schuerhoff was friends with a girl who had met Garza at the Alderwood Mall a few days earlier.

On Jan. 2, Garza invited the girl to his Mountlake Terrace apartment, and she brought along Schuerhoff and two other friends of hers, one male and one female, Marchese said. Garza and his four friends got into one car, and the girl and her three friends got into another car; the two groups planned to drive to the trestle to drink beer and smoke marijuana, according to court papers.

The five defendants decided they wanted to have sex with the two girls in the other car but needed to get rid of the two other youths, one of whom was Schuerhoff, Marchese said. That is when they hatched the plot to push the two boys off the trestle, she said.

Schrader volunteered to carry out the plot, court papers said. The others began to egg him on, with Edinger betting $20 and Drake betting $10 worth of marijuana. Garza bet $5 or $10, court papers said. Wheaton also was in on the bet.

When the two cars got to the area near the trestle, the five defendants, Schuerhoff and one of the girls went to the trestle, while the other girl and boy stayed in the car because they were cold, court papers said.

After the seven shared marijuana, Schrader pushed Schuerhoff off the trestle, Marchese said. Wheaton was next to Schuerhoff at the time, while the others were nearby, she said.

The five defendants ran to their car and left. Prosecutors said Schrader boasted, ``I killed a guy for 30 bucks."

The girl searched unsuccessfully for Schuerhoff and was joined in her search shortly by the other two, court papers said. They eventually called police, who also searched unsuccessfully for Schuerhoff near the trestle.

Schuerhoff fell the equivalent of 3 1/2 stories into water, which was about 40 degrees and 13 feet deep, prosecutors said. His body was discovered three days later about 200 feet downstream in water about 8 feet deep.

Prosecutors did not discuss how police initially learned who was responsible for Schuerhoff's death. However, in court papers they said all five defendants had admitted their involvement in statements to police.

Maleng, a Republican candidate for governor, praised the 1994 law that allowed him to charge the five as adults and took the opportunity to endorse proposed state legislation that would make it even easier to charge 16- and 17-year-old defendants as adults, as well as 14- and 15-year olds.

He said there needs to be tougher consequences for juveniles the first or second time they commit a crime so they don't escalate to more outrageous crimes.

The five will be arraigned in King County Superior Court tomorrow morning.