By Jonathan Kaminsky
OLYMPIA, Washington (Reuters) - Three U.S. Army soldiers have been arrested over the stabbing death of a fellow serviceman in Washington state that police initially described as a possible hate crime, but which authorities later concluded stemmed from "trash talk" that got out of hand.
The victim, 20-year-old Tevin Geike, had been walking with two other soldiers on Saturday in a Tacoma suburb. A car drove by and the African-American occupants yelled "something about being white" to the three men who are all Caucasian, according to witness statements given to police.
More words were exchanged, and even as the situation appeared to defuse, Geike was stabbed to death in violence police initially said may have been racially motivated. But by Monday, authorities said it appeared that verbal sparring of a more general nature had preceded the stabbing.
"My understanding from detectives was that there may have been some trash talk, but when they looked into it race turned out not to be a factor," Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said.
He said prosecutors were weighing first-degree murder charges against Jeremiah Hill, 23, who witnesses say put Geike in a bear hug and pushed him to the ground before returning to the car covered in blood.
"The main suspect, Jeremiah Hill, did not make a statement; so it's unknown exactly why he did this," Lakewood Police Department spokesman Lieutenant Chris Lawler.
Lesser charges have been filed against the other two soldiers, who are accused of helping to dispose of the knife used in the killing.
The three men charged in the case are scheduled to make a first court appearance on Tuesday.
A base spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
A break in the case came Sunday afternoon, Lawler said, when a military sergeant came to police with incriminating information about Hill.
Hill had sought medical attention at a military hospital for a cut to his hand but gave conflicting stories about how he had hurt himself.
Geike was from Summerville, South Carolina, and held the rank of specialist, a base spokesman said. He entered the Army in 2010 and arrived at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in 2011 after training to be an aviation operations specialist.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Richard Chang and Lisa Shumaker)