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Vancouver man pleads guilty in fatal drug deal gone wrong case

Raul Flores, 46, pleaded guilty in Clark County Superior Court on Friday to second-degree conspiracy to commit murder for a fatal Brush Prairie shooting that investigators say resulted from a drug deal gone wrong.

Flores, of Vancouver, Justin Schell, 45, and Jonathan “Jon Jon” Oson, 37, were all charged with first-degree murder in 2018 in connection with the death Ariel Romano, 29.

Prosecutors are recommending a 10-year sentence in Flores’ case. Sentencing was scheduled for Feb. 11. The trials for Schell and Oson are set to start on the weeks of Nov. 18 and Dec. 16, respectively, court records say.

During Friday’s brief change of plea hearing, Judge John Fairgrieve asked Flores to provide a statement about why he was guilty of the amended charge. Defense attorney Steven Rucker said, on Flores’ behalf, that it is unlikely a jury would accept his argument that Flores was acting under duress.

In addition to the prison term, Flores was barred from owning firearms. He will have to submit his DNA and undergo a chemical dependency screening. He said little else beyond “yes” and “no” to routine procedural questions asked by Fairgrieve.

Washington State Patrol troopers responded about 1:40 a.m. June 9, 2018, to what was believed to be a fatal hit-and-run crash on state Highway 503 near Northeast 119th Street. They found Romano dead inside his car, which had struck a large tree near Prairie High School.

Investigators initially thought Romano died in the crash while street racing, but the Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office found that Romano died of a shotgun wound to the left side of his head and ruled his death a homicide.

According to court documents, Romano was known to sell drugs and, based on phone records, had made plans to meet with Schell to sell to him. The men arranged to meet about 1:30 a.m. at a WinCo Foods on Northeast 119th Street.

However, Schell set Romano up to be robbed by Flores and Oson instead, court records say.

Surveillance footage from WinCo showed a fight in the parking lot between Romano, Flores and Oson. Romano fled in his Toyota Corolla and was pursued by a Lincoln LS sedan, driven by Flores, with Oson as the passenger, according to an affidavit of probable cause.

The vehicles were southbound on Highway 503 when the Lincoln pulled up along the driver’s side of Romano’s car, and Oson shot him, the affidavit says.

Romano lost control of his vehicle, left the road and crashed. The Lincoln sped away, the affidavit said.

A woman told troopers that Flores appeared upset in the days after the shooting, and he planned to leave the area and stay with a relative in Pasco. She said Flores told her “he observed Romano get shot … as he was driving,” court records state.

On June 28, investigators spotted Flores at a Portland gas station he was known to frequent; he was driving a Lincoln LS. Portland police pulled over the sedan at the troopers’ request and detained Flores, according to a probable cause affidavit.


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