FRIENDLY GESTURE TURNS EVENTFUL

March 19, 2003 12:00 am
Left: Dan Arnold  Right: Howard Stine ().
Left: Dan Arnold Right: Howard Stine ().

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

The Observer's sports editor was just trying to be a nice guy Tuesday morning.

"I didn't want to be a jerk," Pierre LaBossiere said, recalling the reason he'd given two men — who turned out to be suspects in a Umatilla County murder — a ride from Catherine Creek State Park to La Grande.

The gesture ended with LaBossiere sitting in his pickup truck along Highway 203 just outside La Grande, hands in the air, while Oregon State Police, Union County sheriff deputies and La Grande police arrested at gunpoint Dan Arnold, also known as Daniel Ray, 41, and Howard William Stine, 32.

While Umatilla District Attorney Chris Brauer has released little information, it is known the two men, both of Umatilla County, were being sought in connection with the death of Gary Virgil Sickles, 39, whose body was found Sunday at his home along Highway 204, about a mile from Hodgson Canyon west of Tollgate.

Brauer said in a press release Tuesday that an autopsy was planned for today in Portland.

In a story from the Pendleton East-Oregonian Tuesday, Brauer said the death was being investigated as an apparent homicide, but released few details. He did not identify the cause of death.

He did say the people being sought as "persons of interest" were acquaintances of Sickles.

Lt. Ray Duman of the Oregon State Police, contacted Tuesday afternoon at the La Grande patrol office, said the OSP had been helping the Umatilla Major Crime Team search for Arnold and Stine since Sunday.

LaBossiere didn't know that the two men he encountered at the park were being sought.

He had simply gone out to the popular park south of Union to do some hiking on his day off. He noted his pickup was the only one in the parking lot of the camping area as he headed out along the trail to the picnic area.

Along the way, one of the men spoke from a concealed campsite, asking LaBossiere if he had cigarettes.

"I didn't see them until they said something," LaBossiere recalled.

He didn't have cigarettes, but offered them candy bars he had with him, and

then began moving away.

"The vibe I got from these guys, I couldn't explain it," he said. "They didn't want the candy bars."

When LaBossire returned to his pickup, the men were there with something like a bedroll.

They asked for a ride toward La Grande.

"They never acted threatening," LaBossire said, "except when they sort of followed me along the trail for a bit. They kept calling me ‘sir.' "

The Observer's sports editor since September told the men they could ride in the back of the pickup. He didn't want them in the cab. He headed back to

La Grande and remembers passing police vehicles at an accident at the junction of Highway 203 and Interstate 84.

A short while later, he found himself being pulled over south of La Grande near the Forest Service ranger station by an Oregon State Police trooper. He remembers thinking he wasn't speeding, so perhaps it was because of the men riding in the back of the pickup.

"He came out (of his patrol car) with his gun drawn," LaBossire said of the trooper. "He was yelling at the guys. He was not looking at me. Three or four cops all showed up then."

With no idea of what was happening, LaBossire said he wasn't going to move and just took his hands off the steering wheel, lifted them into sight, and stayed put.

Later in the day, an officer told him it was good he had not tried to leave the pickup.

Arnold and Stine were taken away by the officers, who also removed their gear from LaBossire's pickup.

After being booked in Union County, Arnold and Stine were transported to the Umatilla County Jail in Pendleton, the La Grande OSP office said this morning.

LaBossire said the suspects' gear was almost forgotten, but when officers reached in and grabbed it, "the knife was the last thing they pulled out — that I couldn't believe."

LaBossire was told that the men were sought in the homicide, and that plainclothes officers had searched Catherine Creek State Park with no success.

And the coat that had hidden the knife? LaBossire remembers that one of the men almost left it at the park, before saying, "Wait, my wife would kill me if I left this."

"The knife was under that coat," LaBossire said.