The family of a hiker found dead next to his dog has filed a $20 million lawsuit against a Washington state county in a desperate attempt to determine the cause of his mysterious death.
Aaron Christensen, 49, and his four-month-old Australian Shepherd puppy, Buzo, were found dead on Walupt Lake Trail in Lewis County in August 2022.
Sheriff’s deputies initially told her loved ones that she likely died of a heart attack and a stick, but a medical examiner later found a bullet in Christensen’s body and a veterinarian suggested her dog had been stabbed.
A bear hunter also came forward to say his 19-year-old son had shot an animal and found Christensen and Buzo dead when he went to investigate — believing the bullet may have gone through the dog and into the hiker.
A second vet found a bullet exit wound in the dog and supported the bear hunter theory but the primary vet, who re-examined the animal, strongly disagreed and suggested it had been tampered with after it died.
The family of Aaron Christensen, who was found dead next to his dog last August, is suing Washington State County for $20 million.
Aaron Christensen, 49, and Australian Shepherd puppy Buzo died on a trail in Washington in August 2022, months before
This photo of Buzo was one of the last photos Christensen took before his death in August. The dog was then four months old
Prosecutors this spring said they would not charge the 19-year-old, who deputies described as ‘a good kid from a good family,’ leaving the Christensen family without answers.
They are now suing Lewis County for $20 million claiming that county officials ‘sabotaged’ the investigation.
Christensen’s body was found about 4 a.m. on August 20, 2022, on a trail near Randall, Washington, three to four miles from Wallupt Lake.
Walupt Lake is located in the Cascade Mountains of Washington. Lewis County is a rural county with a population of approximately 80,000.
Christensen, of Portland, was camping with a group of friends but took a break on the morning of Aug. 19 to go on a 13-mile solo hike with his dog. The pair left around 9.30am with plans to return for dinner the next day.
The only account of what happened next came from the man, Ethan Asbach, who later admitted to firing a gun while out bear hunting with his unnamed 17-year-old girlfriend.
Asbach told sheriff’s deputies they were walking along the trail just after 9 p.m. when they heard a growl and fired a shot at the four-month-old puppy.
He told deputies he yelled at the animal but it kept charging at them. In a statement, a sheriff’s deputy said the gun was fired ‘out of fear.’
Both Asbach and his girlfriend said when they approached the animal they noticed it was a dog and discovered a dead man next to the dog. In his statement to police, Asbach said he saw the dead dog and a bullet hole in the man’s chest.
The pair moved into the night and exited the forest the next day, August 20. They told deputies they got lost in the dark.
A passerby found the bodies of Christensen and Buzo that afternoon and notified the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office. The first officer to arrive on the scene was Deputy Andrew Scrivner.
After examining Christensen’s body, he wrote in a Wall Street Journal report, ‘It is difficult to tell whether it was from a bullet or a tree limb or a stick that entered his body.’
According to that report, he spent 25 minutes looking for shell casings and did not find the dog’s bullet wound.
Scrivner decided there was no suspicious cause of death, so told dispatchers to tell detectives they weren’t needed. Christensen’s body was removed from the trail with the help of the Forest Service.
The pair were found the next day after a man told deputies his son had once shot a growling animal with a 9mm pistol and then discovered a dead man next to it.
The first officer to arrive on the scene was Deputy Andrew Scrivner, whose body cam footage shows another deputy, Detective Jamie McGinty.
A final image on Christensen’s phone. A coroner has determined she died of a gunshot wound while walking her dog on the Walupt Lake Trail in Washington state.
Christensen’s brother Corey said a deputy suggested his sibling’s heart attack was caused by ‘laced marijuana’. Police found marijuana, which is legal in Washington, among Christensen’s belongings.
The next day, August 21st, deputies were notified of the shooting by Asbach’s father, Michael.
Scrivner eventually contacted Ethan and, according to her writing, said the teenager was acting nervous and seemed upset, the report reads.
The sheriff’s office has not yet said if it was treated as a gunshot wound before Asbach’s father was contacted.
On Aug. 29, Corey got a call from a coroner, who told him a bullet had been recovered from his older brother’s body, he told OregonLive earlier this year.
He was not told about the Asbach account and said a deputy reiterated the theory on Aug. 30 that he likely died of a heart attack before the shooting.
Two weeks after his brother’s death, Corey was told of an alternate account involving Asbach and the 9mm pistol.
Michael Asbach told the Journal: ‘It’s a huge burden for the Christensen family, but no one sympathizes with Ethan and what he’s had to go through. That kid never had any bad intentions.’
Between multiple autopsies on both Christensen and Buzo, little clarity emerged.
Forensic pathologist Megan Quinn, who conducted Christensen’s autopsy, later told prosecutors that she felt the detective wanted to confirm her autopsy report preferred description.
He said, however, that his heart tissue showed evidence that he had a heart attack at or around the time of his death.
The Journal reviewed a transcript of Quinn’s conversation with prosecutors and noted that as he told the detective about the possibility of a heart attack, he asked her: ‘Can I call my sheriff and tell him that’s the cause of death?’
‘Well, he still has a bullet in him,’ he replied.
His autopsy report was finally issued in October and listed the cause of death as ‘gunshot wound’ and classified it as ‘homicide’.
Although he maintained that there was evidence of a heart attack within 12 hours of Christensen’s death, he noted that he would have lived had the bullet struck.
Buzo’s body was also examined, and those examinations only added to the general confusion and uncertainty.
Dr. Brandi Fey explained the discrepancy between two autopsies performed on the dog’s bum. He suggested that the gunshot wound was not initially present when the dog was examined a second time.
Aaron Christensen (pictured) was no stranger to the outdoors and went camping with his friends every August. He often took solo hikes and split up from groups
Aaron Christensen of Portland, pictured in an undated photo
Local veterinarian Brandi Fay first saw the dog and concluded that it had died from the stab wounds. He told the Journal he was surprised when he learned of Asbach’s account because he saw no evidence of gunshot wounds.
After examining Fay’s dog, prosecutors and sheriff’s officers sought a second opinion from another Portland-area veterinarian, Chris Otteman.
While examining the dog’s body, he said he found a wound hidden in the dog’s fur on Buzo’s right side.
Another key difference in their findings was a broken rib in Buzo’s torso.
Fay, in disbelief that he had completely missed the exit wound, wanted to examine the dog’s body a second time and gained access to it a few months later with the permission of the Christensen family.
He noticed that there was no blood around the exit wound, and therefore suggested that it had been made after the dog’s death.
‘Dead dogs don’t bleed,’ he told the Journal.
Fay has worked as a veterinarian in Lewis County since 2007 and began working with the local law enforcement office’s K9 unit in 2010.
‘I work six days a week. I see a lot of cases, and I deal with a lot of gunshot wounds,’ Fay told local newspaper The Chronicle in April.
‘I went to the vet for advice. I just have a ton of experience in law enforcement, many of whom I consider friends.’
He also conducted a three-hour external examination of the dog and discussed it with the press.
‘I then got on the phone with the coroner and a detective, who I believe to be McGinty,’ Fay said, referring to a detective who worked on the case.
‘They said, “Well, here’s the story. Apparently this guy was found, shot, and the puppy was found next to (him)… The puppy was shot first and then the bullet went into the gentleman and he died.” And, I remember laughing. Because the dog was not shot. That dog was not shot, the dog was stabbed,’ he added.
Jamie McGinty has denied that anyone made the wound after the dog died.
Earlier this year local prosecutors said they would not pursue charges against Asbach, although the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office recommended manslaughter and animal cruelty charges.
The county’s top prosecutor, Jonathan Meyer, wrote a letter to the sheriff’s department explaining that decision in April, which the Journal saw.
The family of Aaron Christensen (pictured) is now suing Lewis County, Washington state for $20 million, claiming the investigation into Aaron’s death was botched.
Buzzo is depicted as a young puppy. He was four months old when he was killed on the trail along with his owner, Aaron Christensen
Meyer wrote, ‘The responding deputy made clear error when pointing out that detectives were not required to respond to a report of a gunshot victim.’
“The old adage is not followed here, ‘investigate it like a murder,'” he said.
‘We can only guess what might happen,’ he wrote. ‘This office has to make a decision based on the evidence we have.’
Shortly thereafter, in May, Christensen’s family sued the county for $20 million, claiming they botched the investigation into Aaron’s death and tampered with Buzzo.
The family claims the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office ‘maliciously damaged estate property, a dead puppy, to sabotage a criminal investigation’.
The family is represented in that case by attorney Lorenzo Leoni, a former prosecutor who now specializes in family law.
Lorenzo Leoni told Oregon Live, ‘When the only witnesses there aren’t talking because of their constitutional right to remain silent, it’s hard to make a case against them.’
‘But one man is dead, we have had someone admit that at least one shot was fired, and we have a coroner’s report indicating that there was a gunshot wound to the chest and that was the cause of death. You’d think that would be enough.’
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