The Fourth of July brings to Tacoma one of the best fireworks displays in the country. From the right lawn on the North End, you can see not only Tacoma’s exceptional waterfront fireworks display, but in the distance you can see Seattle’s as well. It’s a time that brings thousands of people to my neighborhood and for the most part, it’s a fun experience.
While most of Tacoma was watching the fireworks display, thirty-one year old Jason Outler was doing that other great summer pastime in the Northwest; having drinks with friends at a bar. Outler had a job at the Harmon Brewing Company, a downtown bar in a building that once housed Harmon Mattress Factory. People say he was very friendly and a dedicated father to his young daughter. He had plans two move in with his fiancé soon. By all account Jason Outler was one of those guys that make Tacoma a good place.
Right around last call, Outler asked a stranger for a ride. The stranger agreed but asked to be paid. Outler got in the Crown Victoria. When they arrived at Outler’s home in the 3100 block of North 8th Street, the driver asked for more money than he originally did. What happened next isn’t entirely clear, but the situation escalated very quickly. Soon the two were fighting in the street. Neighbors called the police. The police were already on their way when the driver pulled out a pistol. It appears that Outler attempted to the leave the scene and was shot four times in the back and once in the head. The driver of the vehicle then drove off.
A day and a half later, Tacoma detectives contacted a family and said they needed to talk to a twenty-year-old who lived there. A few hours later the man turned himself in. Further investigation showed that Jason Outler was murdered for nothing more than money for a ride.
The murder of Jason Outler is the very definition of a senseless killing. I think what makes this more striking to me is the fact that I personally have a lot in common with Jason Outler. A thirty-one-year-old single father living in the North End of Tacoma with a good circle of friends who loves nothing more than to play with his child or have a drink with his friends. Up until July 4th, this described both Jason Outler and me. In a very real sense Jason Outler’s death could very easily have been my own and this is probably why it’s taken me a few days to write anything about it.
I have a lot of friends who hear about things like this and can’t understand why I think Tacoma is one of the best places in the world to live. Most of these people don’t live here and so I understand. What it comes down to is this. There isn’t a major city in the country that hasn’t had its share of murders like that of Jason Outler. Anyone paying attention knows that these things happen everywhere. And leaving doesn’t change that. More importantly, the only way to make things better in a city like this is to try to change things. You can’t really do that by leaving.
I realize that I’ve been focusing on the bad aspects of Tacoma for quite a while. There’s a number of reasons for this. The main one being that it’s easy. Following the newspaper and websites on the hunt for homicides is simple. This is what newspapers report. What’s much more difficult is what I have planned next.
What I’ve tried to do is put a human face on these homicides. I want the tragic deaths of these people to be more than a blurb on page B-2. I’m going to attempt to continue to do this, but in addition to that, I’m going to begin telling you a few of the things that make Tacoma great.
In coming weeks, I’ll tell you about Pete Lira, a national champion barber working in downtown Tacoma, the remodeling of the Parkway Tavern, one of the oldest Taverns in Tacoma, and Comic Book Ink, one of the best comic book shops in the state. These are a few of the articles I have planned with a hell of a lot more on the way. These articles will appear once a week. And as always, I’ll keep you up to date on the darker sides of things in Tacoma as well.