Authorities await tests to determine if assault caused death

Newly released court records state witnesses saw a 23-year-old Aberdeen man beating a longtime Moclips resident along a North Beach road last week several hours before the resident was found dead in a nearby ditch with severe head injuries.

Charles B. Russell made a preliminary appearance last week in Grays Harbor District Court on second-degree assault allegations. Investigators believe Russell attacked 51-year-old Richard Luce over a drunken insult on Feb. 15, beating Luce and leaving him to die overnight along Otis Avenue in Moclips.

Court records stated one witness heard Russell and Luce arguing near the Moclips Grocery at about 9 p.m. First spotting them near the intersection of Otis Avenue and Highway 109, the witness said he could tell they were arguing by the tone of voices.

“(The witness) heard a male voice say, ‘What are you going to do about it?,’ ” court records stated. “He then saw one of the persons pick up the other and slam him on the concrete.”

Court records stated the witness went into the grocery store to tell the owner while continuing to watch the fight through the windows. He said he watched as they fought on the ground. He then passed the fight when he left on his bicycle.

“(The witness) left the store … peddling down Otis Avenue,” court records stated. “As he approached, he saw a large Native American man stand up. … He stated that this person was on top of the second individual who was on the ground.”

As he passed the scene, the witness recognized Luce as the man on the ground, court records stated. Luce had lived in the area for many years and was known around town.

Court records stated the Grays Harbor Sheriff’s Office received a call shortly after 9 p.m. from a different witness. The caller reported hearing two men fighting and mentioned someone had yelled, “What are you going to do about it?”

A Grays Harbor deputy started toward the scene, but was dispatched to a domestic assault while en route, court records stated. Another deputy continued to the scene about an hour later.

“(The deputy) checked the area and was unable to locate anyone,” court records stated.

Luce’s body was discovered about 12 hours later on Thursday morning in a ditch just down the road from the grocery store, court records stated. Fire crews that responded recognized Luce and confirmed he was deceased.

Investigators reported they found significant trauma to Luce’s head, including bloody wounds and other injuries consistent with an assault, court records stated. He appeared to have died several hours earlier.

“(A firefighter) noted that he observed a clump of hair in Mr. Luce’s right hand,” court records stated. “That hair was later collected as evidence.”

Investigators quickly identified and located Russell at a home in Taholah with the help of witness descriptions and tips. Quinault Indian Nation police helped take him into custody.

Court records stated Russell acknowledged getting into an altercation with Luce outside the grocery store the previous evening. He told investigators he left Luce at the scene.

“(Russell) stated that Luce had made remarks about a family member of his,” court records stated. “He stated this made him angry.”

Russell remains in custody on $100,000 bail for the assault charges as investigators wait for forensic testing to determine whether Luce died from his injuries or another unknown factor.

Grays Harbor Coroner Dan Burns said an autopsy conducted Friday could not immediately determine a cause and manner of death. The final determination must await toxicology testing, which usually takes four to six weeks to complete.