A Vancouver man was sentenced Tuesday in Clark County Superior Court to 10 years in prison for his involvement in a fatal Brush Prairie shooting in June 2018.
Raul Flores, 46, pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree conspiracy to commit murder in October. He and co-defendants Justin Schell, 45, and Jonathan “Jon Jon” Oson, 38, were all charged with first-degree murder in connection with the death of Ariel Romano, 29.
Several posters covered with photos and mementos of Romano sat propped up in chairs inside the jury box during Tuesday’s hearing. Each represented about five years of his life. The poster labeled 1984 to 1999 featured pictures of a rosy-cheeked, smiling toddler. Down the row, another featured a certificate for Junior Varsity Wrestling; “Most Wins, Most Pins,” it read.
His mother, Toni Romano, told Judge John Fairgrieve that she started processing her son’s death by making the posters. She said her son was a risk taker from a young age. Experimentation with drugs and a high school football injury led to an Oxycontin prescription, then addiction, jail time and eventually a three-year period of recovery.
She said her son had successfully rejoined the family, but in the months leading up to his death, it was unclear whether Ariel Romano had relapsed. Given that he was selling drugs, the years ahead may have been difficult, Toni Romano said, but the family will never know.
“What’s incredibly sad is how far reaching this crime is. The defendants’ families have been affected, too. … I hope you find the strength in prison to turn your life around,” the mother told Flores.
Flores is the first to be sentenced in connection with the death.
Fairgrieve convicted Oson earlier this month of first-degree murder and second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm, following a bench trial that lasted a week and a half. Schell is set to go to trial April 20.
Washington State Patrol troopers responded about 1:40 a.m. June 9 to what was believed to be a fatal hit-and-run crash on state Highway 503 near Northeast 119th Street. They found Ariel Romano dead inside his car, which had struck a large tree near Prairie High School.
Investigators initially thought Romano died while street racing. However, the Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office found that he died of a shotgun wound to the left side of his head, and ruled his death a homicide.
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. in the parking lot of WinCo Foods on Northeast 119th Street, according to court records. Instead, Schell set up Romano to be robbed by Oson and Flores, the prosecution said.
Early in Oson’s trial, Deputy Prosecutor Kristine Foerster said he was the driving force behind the robbery-turned-homicide. On Tuesday, Foerster said the prosecution believes that Flores was the driver during the shooting, although it had been suggested that he pulled the trigger. Fairgrieve said he did not think Flores was the shooter.
It’s unknown what exactly happened in the WinCo parking lot. 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.
Fairgrieve said the 120-month prison sentence was appropriate, given that Flores was less at fault for the death, and appeared remorseful after the shooting and throughout the court process.
Flores chose not to speak during sentencing but leaned over to defense attorney Bob Vukanovich, who relayed that his client wanted to apologize to the family for his actions.