'That's the fellow,' shipyard customer says of defendant in murder trial

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When an armed man in a camouflage jacket walked into the office of the Northlake Shipyard and began firing, Jaromir Mach thought at first it was a joke and that the weapon was a starter's pistol firing blanks.

Then Mach saw shell casings flying from the gun and found himself staring down the barrel, Mach testified yesterday in the King County Superior Court murder trial of Kevin Cruz, who's charged with killing two shipyard employees and attempting to kill a third employee, and Mach, a shipyard customer.

Mach said he then felt what he described as a "pinch" in his chest. The pinch turned out to be a bullet wound, which began to hemorrhage.

At one point during his testimony yesterday, Mach unexpectedly fell silent, ignoring Senior Deputy Prosecutor Tim Bradshaw's questions and staring at defendant Cruz.

"Are you all right, Mr. Mach?" Bradshaw asked. Moments passed before Mach answered.

"That's the fellow I saw who was shooting," he replied, indicating Cruz.

Cruz is charged with two counts of aggravated murder in the Nov. 3, 1999, deaths of shipyard managers Peter Giles and Russell Brisendine and two counts of attempted premeditated murder in the attacks on employee Patrick Ming, and Mach.

Prosecutors contend that Cruz, a former shipyard employee, was angry because payments being made to him for an on-the-job injury had been canceled.

Testifying earlier in the trial, Ming gave somewhat conflicting accounts of the incident. But Mach, who testified most of the day yesterday, remained strong in his conviction that the man who shot him and the others was Cruz.

Mach, an affable, 60-year-old Czechoslovakian-born fishing-boat owner, who had just arrived at the shipyard from Alaska, said he was looking out the window at the boat when he heard a shot and spun around.

"I looked from face to gun to face," he said. Cruz, he said, had no expression. "It was like you stand somewhere and target shoot. No emotion, no anger, just bang, bang, bang."

Mach testified that Giles was hit first, then Brisendine, then Cruz turned to him.

"He very slowly stopped at me. At the time, I was still trying to tell myself it wasn't real. Nobody screamed." Then, Mach thought, the gun looked big for a starting pistol.

When Mach was shot, he fell to the floor and pretended to be dead.

After the gunman left, he said he tried to dial the phone. "But I couldn't make it work," he said. Overcome with pain from the wound, he collapsed and was taken to Harborview Medical Center.

When detectives later interviewed him, he failed to identify a photo of Cruz. Mach did not know Cruz, but several months later, after seeing a newspaper photo of him, Mach told police Cruz was the shooter.

Defense attorney Eric Lindell challenged Mach's recollection of the gunman, saying Mach had previously reported the shooter to be stocky, weighing between 160 and 180 pounds. Cruz is lighter.

Prosecutors expect to conclude their portion of the case Monday. Then the defense will present its case — which will include challenging the accuracy of DNA evidence the state claims links Cruz to items found in a backpack discarded near the shipyard, found a couple of months after the shootings.

If convicted, Cruz faces life in prison or the death penalty.

Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522.