Jacket Color May Have Led To Slaying

AUBURN - Vanh Phompanya's last words to her son were succinct: Be good.

Manith Phompanya, the second of five children, had stumbled into trouble before. But of late he was steering clear of trouble-making friends, working two jobs, applying for college and making plans to study computers.

After finishing his Saturday night shift at a Kent warehouse, the 19-year-old was in a festive mood. He pointed to stained work clothes as evidence that he had toiled hard and deserved a night out.

Twelve hours later, he was dead - shot, friends believe, because of the green jacket he wore that night.

No suspects have been arrested.

Phompanya had met up with buddies at a friend's apartment in Renton, and then left the apartment about midnight with a friend, Sothani Sok, to play pool.

As Sok, 18, drove along the 9100 block of Rainier Avenue South, his pickup was trailed by a light-blue BMW, he said.

Moments later as they stepped into Billiard Hoang, a pool hall at Martin Luther King Junior Way South and South Hudson Street, the BMW rolled by, said Sok, 18. A few minutes later a friend walked into the pool hall and spoke to Sok.

The youth left the pool hall after getting a can of pop.

Sok said he and the youth had been members of the same gang about two years ago. Sok said he got out of the gang; the young man joined a rival group.

Ten minutes later, the youth returned with about 15 others. Sok recognized three of them as gang members. No words were exchanged.

Sok and Phompanya played pool for nearly an hour before leaving. The BMW that had followed them earlier drove behind them. Sok said he took South Hudson Street to avoid problems. As he turned left, two other cars came around the pool hall and trailed him.

Sok said he thought something was going to happen. "I said, `Manith, watch yourself.' "

Closely followed by the two cars, the closest a light-blue Celica, Sok sped. Then shots rang from the Celica, he said, clipping the pickup's gas tank, striking a window, flattening a tire - and striking Phompanya in the neck.

"I thought he was ducking down, but he was hit. He fell over on the side of me. That's when I saw he was bleeding. He was out," Sok said.

Sok said Phompanya didn't know any of the youths involved, but he might have inadvertently offended them by wearing the colors of their gang rivals.

"Manith was totally innocent. I think it might have been that he had a green jacket on," he said.

Detectives told Sok they found 20 shell casings in a one-block stretch following the 1:46 a.m. incident.

Phompanya died at 4:42 a.m. yesterday during surgery at Harborview Medical Center. It was hours before his parents would know. Difficulties with English hobbled their attempts to find their son.

Carol Slack, a member of the Tacoma church that sponsored the family from Laos, recalled Manith Phompanya being so bright that at age 5 he had learned enough English to be the family's interpreter.

The 1992 Auburn High School graduate had applied to attend Highline Community College.

His mother, his younger brother, his brother-in-law, his girlfriend, his church sponsors all used the same five words to describe him: He was a good boy.