A 34-year-old man who Tacoma police suspect intentionally drove his pickup truck into a woman protesting outside of the LeMay - America’s Car Museum earlier this year was charged Monday.
Stephen Tadla faces charges of first-degree assault and failure to remain at an injury accident. According to charging documents filed in Pierce County Superior Court, Tadla sold the truck he allegedly used in the attack, relinquished his Washington driver’s license and no longer lives in the state. The documents say he obtained an Oregon driver’s license. A bench warrant was issued for his arrest.
He is accused of driving his pickup toward a crowd of protesters gathered on a sidewalk outside the LeMay the evening of Jan. 26 and striking 49-year-old Theresa Evans. The woman was on her way to a math tutoring appointment when she joined protesters rallying outside the car museum in support of the rights of people experiencing homelessness.
Slammed to the ground, Evans underwent three surgeries at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for her injuries. Her pelvis was shattered, she sustained a concussion and had head lacerations. She was released from the hospital March 16 after a 50-day stay.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Evans said she is continuing to recover at her Eastside Tacoma home. Her injuries meant she couldn’t walk for months, but now she can get around with the help of a cane.
“I can’t walk very much,” Evans said. “Basically I can walk about a block, maybe two at most. And I started riding my little bicycle. I can get on it. And again, just a couple blocks because it totally wipes me out.”
Charging documents don’t lay out why Tadla would have driven his truck toward the crowd of protesters. The demonstrators were outside the car museum while city and county government leaders met with business owners and residents to discuss crime and safety in Tacoma.
Tadla does not have any prior convictions in Pierce County, court records show. According to the declaration for determination of probable cause, Tacoma Police Department officers identified the vehicle used in the attack with the help of a citizen who followed behind the truck after Evans was hit. That person reported the truck’s license plate and location before losing it in traffic.
Police found that the license plate was for a light blue, older Chevrolet pickup truck, and it was registered to Tadla. That vehicle description matches a bulletin issued by police several days after the hit-and-run seeking tips from the public.
“The officers checked the defendant’s listed address, but the truck was not there,” prosecutors wrote in the court document. “Witness information, coupled with forensic analysis of records indicate the defendant was the driver and sole occupant of the truck.”
Detectives requested search warrants for Tadla’s phone and web activities and found that at the time of the assault, the defendant’s phone followed a route that took him directly by the LeMay. He also made several Internet searches that night and the following day, according to the probable cause document. Those searches included “O’Reilly Auto Parts,” “windshield replacement Bend Oregon,” “mobile windshield replacement” and “hotels in Olympia WA.”
Since the attack, Evans has said she wanted to speak out about safety at protests in Tacoma. While she was still recovering in the hospital, she called in to several Tacoma City Council meetings to talk about what happened to her. And on April 12, the council recognized Evans with a Compassionate Tacoma award for showing great compassion and embodying Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings of courageous nonviolence.
Evans attended the recognition ceremony in-person, making her way to the podium with the help of a walker. She thanked the people who had given her support through her recovery and told council members she didn’t want anyone to have to risk being injured just for attending a peaceful demonstration.
She was nominated for the award by council member Keith Blocker. During the recognition, he thanked Evans for having the courage to go out and protest for something she believes in.
“Any time someone makes a sacrifice for vulnerable people, to me that’s something that’s really important, and I want to thank you for stepping up and showing your compassion for the people of Tacoma,” Blocker said.
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