Archive for the ‘Top story of the day’ Category

Centralia police: Dealer of ecstasy busted again

Monday, April 21st, 2014
2014.0422.ford_.excusion.6319.jpg

A Ford Excursion stretch limousine awaiting auction is one of four vehicles confiscated now by Centralia’s special Anti-Crime Team from suspected drug dealer Jai J. Bhagwandin.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A 29-year-old man arrested last month by Centralia drug officers for allegedly selling  ecstasy was arrested again after two informants working with police reportedly bought $200 worth of  ecstasy from him in the parking lot at Spiffy’s restaurant south of Chehalis.

Jai J. Bhagwandin, 29, was taken into custody on Friday, apprehended by law enforcement officers after he drove away following the encounter. He appeared in Lewis County Superior Court this afternoon, charged with one count of delivery of a controlled substance.

His bail was set at $100,000.

The judge was told he retained a lawyer in his previous case, but ran out of money so qualified for a public defender.

Bhagwandin has 11 pending drug offense counts in Thurston County, the judge was told.

It was March 6 when Centralia’s special Anti-Crime team seized three vehicles, cash and drugs from a Lacey home following an investigation into suspected suppliers to numerous local drug dealers.

A search of that residence turned up about two pounds of hallucinogenic mushrooms, six ounces of suspected hash, five pounds of packaged marijuana, some prescription pills and less than a pound of MDMA, also known as ecstasy or Molly, according to police, as well as a large amount of U.S. currency stored in seal-a-meal packaging.

Bhagwandin now resides in Onalaska where his mother works as an alternative health care provider; his father was present in court today, defense attorney Bob Schroeter said as he appealed for lower bail.

Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead said further charges were expected as roughly a pound of marijuana was located in Bhagwandin’s Subaru Legacy following his recent arrest.

His arraignment  is scheduled for this coming Thursday.

Teen accuses school bus driver of rape

Monday, April 21st, 2014
2014.0421.richard.crumbliss6284

Richard L. Crumbliss is directed to the defendant’s table during a bail hearing in Lewis County Superior Court.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – An Onalaska school bus driver is jailed following his arrest for allegedly raping a teenage relative in her bed during spring break.

Bail was set over the weekend for 43-year-old Richard L. Crumbliss at $750,000. A different judge today reduced the amount to $100,000.

Crumbliss appeared in Lewis County Superior Court this afternoon, shackled at his hands and waist, for the bail hearing.

Temporary defense attorney Bob Schroeter in asking for a lower bond noted his client is a volunteer firefighter and also a part time substitute bus driver.

“But, he’s no longer doing that,” Schroeter said as he described how the Onalaska resident’s financial situation qualified him for a court-appointed lawyer.

Charging documents describe a deputy responding on Thursday to speak to the teenage girl, at the behest of a victim’s advocate.

Deputy Susan Shannon was told the girl came home drunk on April 9 and three times during the night, Crumbliss came into her bedroom, while her mother was home and still up and awake during the first two alleged encounters.

Shannon was still investigating when Crumbliss phoned 911 to report the girl had run away, according to charging documents.

According to the court documents, without solicitation, he told the deputy the girl had accused him of rape and he hadn’t seen her since the night before.

He called the girl a huge fibber and worried about his reputation as an officer of the fire department, according to the documents.

The girl told authorities she’d overheard both he and her mother calling her a liar about it.

Deputies subsequently searched the home, and Crumbliss and his wife offered that they had collected the girls underclothes from that night and saved them, the documents state.

He also told the deputy he is never alone with the girl, his wife is always present because about two and half months earlier he was accused of a different sexual assault, according to the documents. He was arrested and booked into the Lewis County Jail on Friday morning.

Judge Richard Brosey this afternoon was told the girl has been taken into protective custody.

Brosey ordered Crumbliss, if he makes bail, to have no unsupervised contact with minor females; and further ordered his spouse may not be the one to supervise any contacts.

Centralia lawyer David Arcuri was appointed to represent him.

Crumbliss is charged with two counts of third-degree rape of a child and one count of first-degree incest. His arraignment is scheduled for Thursday.

The girl also told authorities, according to charging documents, that when she was 12, he gave her vodka mixed with strawberry drink while she traveled with him in his semi truck and he sexually abused her in the sleeper. He denied the accusation, but admitted giving her strawberry vodka, charging documents state.

Morton mother recovering from stabbing, teen son remains locked up

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The 15-year-old Morton boy locked up for allegedly stabbing his mother told police he was upset, that she’d laughed about him twice to other people that afternoon and he’d had enough.

She told him to get a towel to wrap around her arm, and he did, according to court documents. But after 35-year-old Rhiannon Foister went downstairs to the living room, fell beneath a table and told him to get her something to put on her wounds, he told her no, that he wanted her to hurt like he had for the past 15 years, the documents state.

And the teen walked out the door to stand in the driveway to wait for police.

Morton Police Department Police Chief Dan Mortensen said he was called around 3:35 p.m. Monday to the home at the 800 block of Overlook Drive in the East Lewis County town. The boy told the chief he stabbed his mother and so he was handcuffed and put in the back of a patrol car, according to the documents.

His brother and sister were home when it happened. Foister was transported to Morton General Hospital and then flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for additional treatment.

A hospital spokesperson said yesterday morning Foister was listed in satisfactory condition.

The teen was booked into the Lewis County Juvenile Detention Center, and charged on Tuesday with second-degree assault.

A juvenile court judge at a detention hearing the same day ordered him held at least until his arraignment next Tuesday, according to Lewis County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Brad Meagher.

That’s also when a trial date and pre-trial hearing will be scheduled, Meagher said.

Court documents, based on the police reports, indicate the police chief recovered a knife about 14 inches long which the boy said he’d gotten out of the kitchen.

Mortensen told Meagher the mother had five to seven stab wounds, including  one to her chest, but he had yet to get a full statement from her.

The documents give the following account, mostly from the 15-year-old’s conversation with police:

The boy said he’d called his mother from school, to ask if he could walk his girlfriend home from school and then walk the rest of the way home, but she said no, she’d pick him up and did so.

That upset him, and then his mother was talking with another mother, and laughing about him not being able to walk his girlfriend home, he told police.

“She said he was going to be turned in to his juvenile probation officer for violating his conditions of release,” the boy related.

Once they got home, the two continued their disagreement, and after he went upstairs to his room, he could hear his mother talking on the phone to someone else, laughing and saying she was going to call his probation officer, he said.

The boy told police he’d had enough.

He went into the living room and told his siblings to leave, because he and his mother were going to have serious conversation.

He asked his mother to walk to her bedroom, where she sat down on the bed and they faced off.

“(He) stated he pulled out the knife and wanted to scare her and show her how serious he was,” court documents state. “He stated he hadn’t intended to stab her with it, only to scare her.”

His mother said go ahead and stab her, if that’s what he was going to do, the boy related to police.

The teen paused and began crying, but after encouraged by the officer to continue, said he lunged at his mom and stabbed her in the arm. She moved away, and he stabbed her in the leg. They continued yelling at each other.

“He added he knew what was happening but was also kind of blacked out,” the documents state.

The siblings came to see what the yelling and screaming was about, and they all ended up back down stairs.

Mortensen describes he and a deputy responding, and arriving to find one juvenile throwing items around the porch saying he was going to kill the boy for stabbing his mother, seeing a pool of blood around Foister’s feet, and then a girl who helped the chief put direct pressure on a towel on Foister’s leg while he spoke with a 911 dispatcher to get aid.

The teen told the chief his probation was for smoking pot and truancy.

The boy told police he went outside to wait for police, and also said he didn’t want to remain inside and watch his mother bleed out.

Chief Mortensen on Tuesday morning described the reason for the assault only as “family issues, apparently”.

The boy is represented by Centralia attorney David Brown.

He’s 15, so he will not automatically sent to adult court, according to Meagher.

Centralia’s new fire chief will be old chief

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014
2014.0416.kytta.chief.6277

Assistant Fire Chiefs Rick Mack, left, and Mike Kytta, watch the board vote to promote Kytta to the top post at Riverside Fire Authority.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CENTRALIA – Assistant Chief Mike Kytta will replace outgoing Chief Jim Walkowski at Riverside Fire Authority, the department that protects Centralia and it surrounding area.

The move came this evening when the agency’s board of commissioners accepted Walkowski’s resignation and voted to appoint the Fords Prairie resident to the top spot.

“Thank you for the opportunity, it’s an honor to assume that position,” Kytta responded. “I’m looking forward to working with the board, the labor unit, the volunteers and most importantly the community.

“I’m optimistic we will find a way to preserve services for the community.”

Kytta, 54, was chief for a decade of the former Lewis County Fire District 12 which completed a merger with the Centralia Fire Department under Walkowski’s leadership.

Kytta voluntarily stepped down to minimize potential conflicts as that process moved along with the hiring of Walkowski from outside the area.

He was honored by his peers statewide in 2006 with a “Chief Award” in part because of that move, which the Washington State Association of Fire Chief’s called his uncommon commitment to doing the right thing for the public.

Now however, facing a steeply declining budget, the organization has cut firefighter positions this year. It was poised to trim the trio of top officers down to two, when Walkowski accepted a position earlier this month in the Spokane area. He will remain at Riverside through the end of this month.

Kytta, a Centralia native, was a 16-year-old Explorer Scout when he began as a volunteer firefighter. He has 38 years of experience, the past 17 as a full time firefighter.

He has his work cut out for him.

Because of a changing landscape regarding the collection of property taxes, Riverside is operating with an annual budget of about $3.9 million, compared with $4.6 million last year.

It is on track to lose six paid personnel this year, to meet that budget.

The board is planning to ask voters in August for what’s called an excess levy, to prevent next year’s revenue from dropping to $3.1 million, a scenario the department’s leaders say would mean a much different service level for fires and medical calls.

Kytta has grave concerns about explaining the need to the public, without coming across as threatening.

On the promotion, he says:

“It’s exciting, in that I am optimistic,” he said. “I have very deep concerns if we’re not able to earn the public’s support on the levy.”

Pe Ell’s town marshal quits following DUI arrest

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014
2014.0415.peell.town.council6273

Pe Ell Mayor Spencer Nichols, head of table, advises the town council not to speak about any personnel matters

Updated

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

PE ELL – The tiny west Lewis County town of Pe Ell is without a police force once again, days after its sole law enforcement officer was arrested for driving under the influence, less than two months into the job.

Town Marshal Anthony K. Corder resigned yesterday, and the situation has one community leader calling upon Pe Ell to dissolve its status as a town, saying it’s a sign it can’t afford to operate.

“Look at the history of the officers we’ve had,” Town Councilmember John Penberth said.

The previous marshal Steve Dawes was on the job about a year, before leaving a few months ago, according to Penberth.

Penberth suggested to the town council last night it could consider bankruptcy or it could think about becoming unincorporated

“We’re advertising for certified police officers, but because of our budget, we’re not getting certified people,” Penberth said. “That in itself shows we don’t have adequate funding to be a municipality.”

He indicated the alternative of paying $65,000 a year to the sheriff’s office for the services of one deputy is unaffordable.

Corder, 27, was hired in mid-February with no previous law enforcement experience. He was the only applicant.

The former Marine was commissioned as town marshal on Valentines Day and had yet to attend the state training academy. His pay for the part time job was $1,500 a month.

He turned in his resignation yesterday, according to Mayor Spencer Nichols.

Penberth’s remarks went largely unanswered, coming during a council meeting dominated by agenda of an upcoming spring cleanup and talk by volunteers on how to coordinate the annual parade.

The mayor, and the town’s legal counsel, cautioned council members not to speak of personnel matters.

One among the audience of 21 individuals suggested cutting the wages of the town clerk-treasurer, because she earns more than anyone who lives in Pe Ell. Town Councilmember Kristi Milanowski asked about utilizing volunteer reserve officers.

Mayor Nichols indicated such a program can only be set up by a paid town marshal.

Following the less than hour-long meeting, Nichols said he has put together a notice for the local newspaper that Pe Ell is accepting applications for the job.

Their preferred applicants will be already commissioned and state certified, or at least willing to become certified. Starting salary will be based on experience.

The deadline to apply is May 12.

Nichols declined to answer further questions about Corder’s short tenure, with the town attorney apologizing.

“We can’t comment on personnel matters while an investigation is going on,” Allen C. Unzelman said.

Because Corder not yet attended training to become a state-certified law enforcement officer, his police powers were limited to inside the city limits in the town with a population of 630.
•••

For background, read “Pe Ell’s town marshal pleads not guilty to driving under the influence” from Saturday April 12, 2014, here

Lawyer seeks second opinion on brain trauma in Morton child assault case

Monday, April 14th, 2014
2014.0410.kyle.davison.6250 copy

Kyle Davison goes before a judge when his attorney asks for more time to investigate baby’s medical records.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The 22-year-old Mineral resident accused of severely injuring a 4-month-old infant by shaking it last fall remains jailed and will have to wait a little longer for his trial, as a doctor reviews the case for a second look to find how the little one ended up with bleeding on the brain.

Kyle Davison was arrested in early October, after the baby girl was airlifted out of Morton to Marybridge Children’s Hospital and placed on life support. He and the baby’s mother told authorities the child began to choke and he took it next door to get help from a neighbor where they called 911.

A doctor at the hospital told police that tests indicated inter-cranial hemorrhage, consistent with shaken baby syndrome and not an accident, according to charging documents.

Davison is charged with first-degree assault of a child, an offense with a maximum penalty of life in prison. He being held on $100,000 bail in the Lewis County Jail.

The little girl was hospitalized for weeks, but was moved to Pope’s Kids Place in Centralia where she gets round-the-clock care, and has improved, according to Davison’s lawyer.

“The last time I talked with the mother, about a month ago, the baby was doing a lot better,” Sam Groberg said. “She’s hearing, seeing and eating through a feeding tube.”

The baby, identified only with the initials A.F.J.L. is 10 months old now. Her mother, Llacye Faye Link, is Davison’s ex-girlfriend.

Groberg last week sought a postponement of his client’s trial so another physician could examine the patient’s medical records, he said.

“Did the baby end up in the emergency room because of trauma or did the child have some issues already,” Groberg said. “Is it possible there are other things that caused it.”

Those are some of the questions the doctor will seek to answer, he said.

Groberg said doctors through research are learning of other things that can cause symptoms similar to shaken baby syndrome. In the past, physicians finding the combination of retinal hemorrhaging and bruising on the brain were quick to point to the diagnosis and child abuse, he said.

“Now there’s kind of this growing movement that says we have maybe jumped the gun on this, sometimes,” Groberg said.

Groberg has said Davison is factually innocent.

Details of what happened that night, Oct. 2 in Morton, come from charging documents with information primarily from Davison.

When Morton Police Chief Dan Mortensen interviewed him, he said his girlfriend and her baby had been visiting him at his house in Mineral, and the three of them went to Morton to go out to dinner, and then to Link’s apartment in town.

When they arrived, he changed the baby’s diaper and put it on the couch with a pillow next to her, he told the police chief. He thought they watched a little television.

It was around 11 p.m. when Link gave Davison the baby’s pajamas and asked him to put them on her while she stepped out to buy them a bag of pot, charging documents state.

Davison told the chief he sat down on the couch and took the baby’s bottle from her, then laid her on top of the night clothes; and as he was putting her arms into the pajamas, she began to choke, according to charging documents.

He told of laying her across his lap and patting her back, of holding her in front of him and seeing her not breathing, putting her over his shoulder and patting her, of her still being “white”, according to the documents.

When pressed by Mortensen, he said he was scared and didn’t know what to do and began to shake her, then seeing she was still white, carrying the baby to the apartment next door to ask for help, according to the documents.

He cried, according to the chief, putting his head in his hands.

“I knew better, I knew better. I shouldn’t have done that, I knew better,” Davison said.

His client said he didn’t shake the baby hard, nor did he intend to hurt her, Groberg said.

“There’s a huge difference between an ‘I’m angry’ shake and a resuscitative shake,” he said.

The Lewis County Prosecutors Office however alleges in its charge that Davison intentionally hurt the child, inflicting great bodily harm.

Lewis County Superior Court Judge Nelson Hunt last Thursday, when the request to postpone the trial was made, asked how the victim feels about the delay before granting the request.

“The mom is on Kyle’s side, she wants him exonerated,” Groberg said. “She doesn’t think my client did anything wrong.”

A review hearing is set for June 5. The trial was scheduled for next month, but is now on the court calendar for the week of July 14.

Lawyers at the same time postponed another trial for Davison, related to charges of second-degree theft and second-degree identity theft, until the week of July 21.

Pe Ell’s town marshal pleads not guilty to driving under the influence

Saturday, April 12th, 2014
2014.0411.anthony.corder.marshal6265

Anthony Corder’s continued employment as Pe Ell’s town marshal is uncertain, so he qualifies for a public defender, according to lawyer.

Updated

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Handcuffed and clad in green striped jail garb, Pe Ell’s town Marshal Anthony K. Corder was told by a judge he may not drink alcohol or go into bars or taverns.

And that he is subject to random breath tests while his case is pending.

The 27-year-old who was newly hired by the mayor of the tiny West Lewis County town, with no previous experience in law enforcement, took a seat at the defendant’s table in Lewis County District Court yesterday, less than 12 hours after he was arrested for driving drunk.

In his patrol car.

A plea of not guilty was entered for him and Judge Michael Roewe said he would be released on his own recognizance.

Temporary defense attorney Bob Schroeter told Roewe the marshal has never had a charge of any kind before.

“He left the U.S. Marine Corps, serving our country, in 2013,” Schroeter said. “Also doing a tour in Afghanistan.”

Corder’s part time pay of $1,500 a month qualifies him for a court appointed lawyer, according to Schroeter. And, his continued employment is uncertain, Schroeter told the judge.

Corder is the sole officer in the town with 630 inhabitants.

His position is so new, he’s been commissioned by the mayor as top law officer in town, but he’s not yet attended the training academy.

Corder was not on duty when he was reportedly observed by a sheriff’s deputy driving his Crown Victoria through town, with its headlights off.

Exactly where he’d been or where he was going wasn’t revealed by the police report, but when he spoke with three deputies – smelling strongly of alcohol and slurring his words – he readily admitted the situation, according to the report.

“Yes, I did do that, I made a mistake there,” Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Jeffrey Humphrey documented in his report.

Deputy M. Mohr, who took over the investigation at that point, noted the marshal’s .45 caliber pistol was taken out of the police car, and the car was turned over to Mayor Spencer Nichols.

Corder underwent field sobriety tests in the parking lot of the Texaco on Pe Ell’s Main Street, where he performed poorly and blew a .235 on the portable breath test around 2 a.m.

He was cooperative, but was taken to the Lewis County Jail, where he was processed and booked, according to Mohr.

The legal limit of an alcohol concentration is .08 when driving.

Corder’s contact with sheriff’s deputies in Pe Ell came about because 911 got a phone call from his ex-girlfriend who said he’d been calling her, saying he was going to shoot himself as well as burn her house down, Mohr wrote in his report.

Ebonnie Meyer told Mohr over the phone her ex was highly intoxicated and gets that way when drinking, according to Mohr.

It may not have been the first time the marshal mixed alcohol and his new job.

Meyer said she didn’t know where Corder was, but the last time he called her while he was drunk, he was in his city office where he subsequently passed out, according to the report.

It was about 1 a.m. on Friday when sheriff’s deputies headed to Pe Ell to find him.

Deputy Humphrey described seeing the town’s patrol vehicle driving with its lights off on Second Street, on Pe Ell Avenue and down an alley behind the Texaco station.

He saw it park in front of a residence in the trailer park there where a male got out and went inside, Humphrey wrote.

Humphrey contacted Corder via cell phone and Corder stumbled over the to the gas station to speak with them, according to the police reports.

According to Humphrey, when asked what was going on with his girlfriend, Corder said he was upset because she’d given his extra car key to a repo company and it got taken away.

He denied repeatedly planning to kill himself, saying if he’d wanted to do that, he’d have done it in Afghanistan, according to Humphrey.

The police reports don’t make any mention the deputies pursued any further the ex-girlfriend’s contention the marshal was suicidal.

Once back at the jail, after Corder spoke on the phone with a lawyer, and then just after 4 a.m., consented to be tested on the breath alcohol machine but declined to answer further questions, according to Mohr.

The readings came back as .184 and .186, according to the report.

Mayor Nichols didn’t return phone calls seeking information about Corder’s job status on Friday.

It was just about seven months ago when Deputy Humphrey was arrested by a trooper for driving under the influence. The 11-year veteran of the sheriff’s office was demoted and his continued employment was tied to the conditions imposed by the court.

And in January, another sheriff’s deputy, with six years on the job, was arrested in Centralia for DUI. Chris Fulton quit two weeks later.

Both of them were driving their personal vehicles.

Driving under the influence is a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in jail and up to $10,250 in monetary penalties, according to attorney Schroeter.

Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Luke Stanton said Corder’s next court date, a pre-trial hearing, is not yet scheduled but likely would take place in four to six weeks.

Sheriff: Pe Ell’s marshal jailed for driving police car under the influence

Friday, April 11th, 2014

Updated at 10:45 a.m.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The new town marshal for Pe Ell was arrested overnight for driving drunk, in Pe Ell, in his patrol vehicle.

Marshal Anthony K. Corder’s blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit when he was processed at the Lewis County Jail, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

He was booked into the facility this morning, Sheriff Steve Mansfield said.

“He was very polite, very cooperative, upset that he put us in the position to have to do this,” Sheriff Mansfield said. “He didn’t give us any problems.”

Corder was hired recently by the mayor of the small West Lewis County town.

The 27-year-old just out of the military had no prior law enforcement experience and has not yet attended the training academy but did have police powers already, according to the sheriff’s office.

It happened about 2 o’clock this morning.

He apparently was not on duty, as he was wearing civilian clothes, according to the sheriff’s office.

But he was driving a fully marked police car, equipped with all his various police gear, including his duty weapon which the sheriff’s office confiscated, Mansfield said.

It came about because deputies were dispatched about 1:08 a.m., advised there was a possibly suicidal subject and it could be the marshal who might be intoxicated, according to the sheriff’s office.

When he was contacted however, there were no indications of him being suicidal, only that he’d been drinking, according to Mansfield.

The sheriff had no further details about that aspect, suggesting its possible the caller said something that was not true.

Mansfield gave the following account: A responding deputy spotted a car driving around town with its headlights off and when it pulled in front of a house, its driver got out and went inside. The deputy asked dispatch to have the marshal call him and then come outside which he did, Mansfield said.

Corder’s blood alcohol level was measured at .186 and .184, according to Mansfield.

“It’s very concerning,” Mansfield said. “Number one, I hope this young man gets some help, but until he gets his life straightened out or something, he doesn’t need to be working law enforcement in Lewis County or anywhere else.”

Chief Criminal Deputy Gene Seiber said the arrest occurred at the 500 block of North Main Street and that Corder is a Pe Ell resident, but it’s not clear whose home he was at.

He is the town’s only law enforcement officer.

The sheriff’s office will respond to emergency calls in Pe Ell, as they do in all the small towns when no one else is available, and then send the town a bill, according to Mansfield.

New fire chief may be old fire chief, Mike Kytta

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CENTRALIA – Assistant Fire Chief Rick Mack made it plain he doesn’t have his sights set on a promotion with the departure of the chief of Riverside Fire Authority.

Mack, one of two assistant chiefs serving under Jim Walkowski, last night offered a lengthy discourse about the leadership his co-worker, Assistant Chief Mike Kytta, has shown over more than a decade.

His praise came during a gathering with the decision makers, the Centralia area fire department’s board of commissioners. The special meeting was held to talk about what’s next, following Walkowski’s resignation last week. Walkowski was absent, out of town at a conference.

“I believe, based on his demonstrated selflessness, Chief Kytta is the right person for the job,” Mack said told the board. “I’ll continue to serve alongside him as long as you’ll have me.”

Facing a steeply declining budget, the organization has cut firefighter positions and was poised to trim the trio of top officers down to two, when the chief took a position last week in the Spokane area. He will remain at Riverside through the end of this month.

Mack pointed out that 11 years ago, they were two separate agencies; the Centralia Fire Department and its neighbor that protected areas surrounding the city, Lewis County Fire District 12.

It was an idea presented by Kytta, then chief of District 12, to begin working together in ways so, for example, a fire truck the city wouldn’t have to drive all the way west to answer a call across the street from District 12′s station, a truck from District 12 would go instead, Mack described.

It was around the same time, an agreement was put into place with the private ambulance service AMR that allowed the scheduling of two paramedic-staffed ambulances on duty at all times, Mack said, an arrangement he said has worked well.

When Centralia’s fire chief retired, an interim chief was hired who recruited Walkowski to head up the combined organization, Mack went on.

Kytta could have, but didn’t didn’t, seek the top job, Mack indicated.

Kytta didn’t respond directly to the public recommendation, but later indicated he wouldn’t turn it down.

“If they want to talk with me about that, I’d be honored to talk with them,” he said.

The hour long session at the fire station on Harrison Avenue included an appeal from union president Riverside Firefighter Rick LeBoeuf to make clear as quickly as possible who would be chief, and what size next year’s budget would be.

The board heard Kytta lay out some of the issues and challenges he sees. The group spoke of the importance of making sure citizens understand the specifics – sooner rather than later – of why they will ask for a new kind of levy in August.

Board member Mike Tomasheck indicated the board could choose its chief at its next meeting, saying he’s asked for its agenda to include an executive session.

Riverside Fire Authority, which protects a population of 28,000 spanning more than 180 square miles in and around Centralia, last year operated with a budget of $4.6 million. This year it’s $3.9 million.

The primary reason for the reduction is related to the fairly sudden change in taxes contributed by TransAlta’s power plant, as it winds down coal burning operations; changes that will affect all the junior taxing districts in its geographical area.

•••

For background, read “Centralia area fire department facing lean times” from Sunday April 6, 2014, here

Breaking news: 911 phone lines down statewide

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

Updated at 6:28 a.m.: Service has been restored to Lewis County; citizens are advised they may call directly to 911 now if they have an emergency.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A 911 service outage is affecting Lewis County and all of Washington.

For emergencies, the public is advised to call the business phone number of the dispatch center for the area in which they live. In Lewis County, that number is 1-360-740-1105.

It’s not clear what caused it or when it might be restored but it’s widespread, according to Lewis County Director of Central Services Mike Strozyk.

“Well, they’re down in the entire state, maybe also in eastern Idaho and northern Oregon,” Strozyk said. “It may be a switching problem in Oregon, according to Century Link.”

The problem began here a little before 1 o’clock this morning, he said.

Locally, they’ve asked all the fire departments around the county to be staffed, in case anyone walks in needing help, according to Strozyk.

They’ve notified other agencies such as law enforcement, he said.

Strozyk said the communications center has implemented its procedures for such a situation and has been processing calls through the night via its business number.

“We’re just waiting to hear more on a timeline for repairs, or when it’s reactivated,” Strozyk said about 4 o’clock this morning.

The Lewis County 911 Center in Chehalis answers emergency calls and dispatches emergency services to all cities, towns and areas throughout the county.

The business line for Thurston County is 360-704-2740. For Cowlitz County, the number is 360-577-3098.

Jennifer Ducummon, public education coordinator for Lewis County 911, provided a link to a website for a public safety communications organization showing business phone numbers for all around the state.

•••

For more, read “CenturyLink service glitch blocks 911 calls” from The Seattle Times on Thursday April 10, 2014 at 6:59 .m., here

Breaking news: Pot, money, stolen in Oakville hold up

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Updated at 2:58 p.m.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

An Oakville co-op for medical marijuana was robbed this morning by two men in ski masks prompting a multi-agency response and a lockdown of the school.

Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Department Chief Criminal Deputy Steve Shumate said a search of the area has been completed and the pair were not found.

Investigators are still on scene attempting to develop additional suspect information, according to Shumate.

It happened at the Green Harbour Medical Marijuana Co-Op on the 100 block of East Pine Street; its owner called 911 just before 9:15 a.m.

“The owner advised that he had just opened for business when the two men came up behind him and stuck something in his back,” the sheriff’s office stated in a news release. ”The owner believed the object was possibly a gun however never did see a firearm.”

The subjects ordered the 47-year-old man to retrieve money and marijuana from a safe and then they fled northbound on foot, according to the sheriff’s office. The victim was not injured.

The amount of cash and marijuana products stolen was not revealed by authorities.

Numerous law enforcement agencies assisted in the attempt to find the men, including officers with Chehalis Tribal Police, Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, Washington State Patrol and the SP, and Elma Police Department. A police dog with Thurston County police dog was unable to develop a track, according to Shumate.

Shumate indicated they are hoping to get images from security cameras but it appears the room in which the robbery occurred had no surveillance.

The sheriff’s office believes the robbers specifically targeted the marijuana business.

Shumate asks anyone with information to please call Grays Harbor Communications Center at 360-533-8765 or the Sheriff’s Department at 360-249-3711.

Centralia area fire department facing lean times

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Fire Chief Jim Walkowski’s resignation wasn’t really a big surprise.

Unprecedented decreases in revenue to the largest fire department in Lewis County have had them struggling for months with where and how to make cuts while hoping to maintain some semblance of the emergency response services they provide.

Riverside Fire Authority, which protects a population of 28,000 spanning more than 180 square miles in and around Centralia, last year operated with a budget of $4.6 million. This year it’s $3.9 million. Next year pencils out to be as low as $3.1 million.

And the following year, they are forecast to lose a little bit more before the situation might level off.

“We are going to struggle for the next three to five years,” Riverside Firefighter Rick LeBoeuf said. “We’re going to be a very bare bones department.”

The primary reason is the change in taxes contributed by TransAlta’s power plant, as it winds down operations in anticipation of future closure. The details of just how quickly those amounts would drop hit the fire agency unexpectedly last fall.

But there’s more.

There’s the hit caused by the recession and the general decline in property values, according to Walkowski who has led the organization for eight years.

“Also, starting next year, the fire authority will be subject to tax pro-rating,” Walkowski said.

He described that as a potential loss of up to 15 cents of the current $1.50 per thousand dollars of assessed property value it collects for its fire levy, related to how property taxes are allocated to the various taxing districts such as themselves, schools and libraries.

“The bottom line is, we have to do some pretty drastic things to maintain service,” Walkowski said.

And the bleakness doesn’t end there.

Because Riverside’s labor contract with its firefighters calls for layoffs first to those hired last, it turns out it’s the firefighter-paramedics they are losing.

Letting go of paramedics threatens their ability to meet their obligation to a response-sharing agreement with AMR, the local private ambulance service, according to Walkowski. The loss of that arrangement would affect not only Riverside, but the Chehalis Fire Department and four fire districts west of the Twin Cities who participate, he said.

“If we continue to lose people at the bottom, we are going to have very significant issues in our community,” Walkowski said.

The now 45-year-old former fire chief from Bainbridge Island arrived in 2006 as the Centralia Fire Department and its neighbor Lewis County Fire District 12 were undergoing a merging process. District 12′s then Chief Mike Kytta stepped down and was made an assistant chief.

From the city side, Rick Mack was made assistant chief and fire marshal.

In 2008, its consolidation into Riverside Fire Authority was the first of its kind – between a city department and fire district – in the state.

Last year, the organization was operating with 27 firefighters and more than 40 active volunteers.

It is on track to lose six paid personnel this year, and more after that.

The paid firefighters have made concessions and didn’t take the pay raise this year they were due under their contract, according to LeBoeuf, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 451.

The three chiefs took voluntary pay cuts of seven percent.

Tom Davidson, president of Riverside’s six-member board of commissioners, said he wasn’t entirely surprised last week when Walkowski asked the board to lay him off.

The board had previously decided one of the top three administrators would lose their job, but they wanted Walkowski to stay, according to Davidson. Walkowski had told the board it should be him to be let go, the one with least seniority, and that he would seek other job opportunities.

“At our last meeting, the last week in March, we hadn’t made any decision,” Davidson said. “I guess he decided to make the decision for us.”

Walkowski resigned on Wednesday.

“It’s a tough decision, it wasn’t in anyone’s plan to do this,” Walkowski said. “You have to do everything you can to lean out the organization.”

Walkowski says his annual salary of roughly $105,500 will save one and half paramedics. LeBoeuf and Davidson said with his resume, he was the one out of the three chiefs who could secure a new position easily, and almost anywhere.

Walkowski’s contract with Riverside doesn’t expire until 2015. The specific details of the consequences of breaking it early haven’t been worked out.

LeBoeuf said when he learned Thursday morning the chief had a new job in the Spokane area, he congratulated him.

“Chief Walkowski is not jumping ship, he’s leaving to help our organization sustain itself, we need our management cut,” LeBoeuf said. “And being the good person he is, he didn’t want Rick Mack or Mike Kytta to lose their job.”

The outgoing chief’s legacy will probably be his excellent communication skills, his care for the community and wanting the best for the citizens, LeBoeuf said. But most of all, for the kind of relationship he created between top management and the workers, he said.

“There’s an old saying, a good leader can get people to move mountains,” he said. “That’s what Chief Walkowski did, he could get people to come to work and give 110 percent to their job.”

He’s scheduled to begin work May 1 at Spokane County Fire District 9 based in Mead, a department with two assistant chiefs, almost 70 firefighters and 100 volunteers. He will be assistant chief in charge of operations and training.

“Jim was the unanimous first choice for all of us,” District 9′s Administrative Services Director Chris Hamp said. “We think we have a pretty good organization here, so we’re anxious to get him on board.”

Davidson said he predicts the board will appoint Kytta as chief next month, since he was chief before.

The organization will be asking citizens to support a new levy on Aug. 9.

•••

For background, read “Chief Walkowski hired by Spokane area fire department” from Thursday April 3, 2014, here

Chief Walkowski hired by Spokane area fire department

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

 By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

The chief of the largest fire department in Lewis County has taken a job near Spokane, just four months after the adoption of a shrinking budget necessitating layoffs of firefighters here.

Riverside Fire Authority Chief Jim Walkowski arrived to Centralia eight years ago as the city department was expanding and merging with its neighboring district and will take a post next month as an assistant chief with another growing fire agency.

2011.0911.jim.walkoski.IMG_2366

Chief Jim Walkowski

Spokane County Fire District 9 based in Mead is a mid-sized suburban district with more than twice as many personnel, according to its chief.

SCFD9 Chief Jack Cates announced the new hire yesterday on their Facebook page, saying Walkowski will join them on May 1.

He was one of four finalists for the position, when Cates conducted interviews early last week.

In December, Walkowski announced an abrupt and large drop in revenue coming from a massive decrease in the assessed value of TransAlta’s power plant – and the taxes they contribute locally –  in anticipation of its 2020 closure. He said the change would likely lead to cutting up to five personnel. Some have already been let go.

The organization which protects about 180 square miles was operating with 27 firefighters, several of whom are paramedics as well, along with its volunteers.

SCFD9 employs 65 firefighters and just hired four more. It has about 100 volunteers, according to Cates. It protects about 120 square miles and a population of about 40,000, he said.

The move leaves the Chehalis Fire Department without a chief as well; Walkowski a year ago took on the halftime position after its Chief Kelvin Johnson retired.

Riverside has a budget this year of about $3.9 million compared with last year’s roughly $4.6 million.

Walkowski said in December the department previously understood the Washington State Department of Revenue would be depreciating the value of TransAlta more gradually, over an eight or nine year period, but learned of the faster rate. The expected loss in revenue to Riverside is $800,000 to $1,200,000, according to the chief.

A Bainbridge Island native, Walkowski began his firefighting career there in 1991, and eventually moved up to become chief. He took a $12,000 a year pay cut to make the move to Centralia in May 2006.

Pets perish, one injured in Morton house fire

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014
2014.0403.mortonhousefire.jpg

Mattress next to wood stove is blamed for blaze near Morton. / Courtesy photo by Jay Birley

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A Morton area resident was hospitalized with burns to his hands after he tried to haul a burning mattress out the front door yesterday and rescue pets.

The ensuing fire in the one and half story house left as many as five young people who lived there together without a home, according to Fire Investigator Jay Birley.

“They’re all probably in their 20s,” Birley said, describing the roommates who shared the two-bedroom residence.

Birley was called about 6:30 p.m. yesterday to explore the cause of the blaze on state Route 508 near Morton said the “kids” who lived there had mattresses on the floors and one was in the living room near the wood stove.

“He was starting a fire in the wood stove and left the door cracked open so the fire would draft,” Birley said.

The young man was the only one home at the time and left to go do something and when he returned to the room, found the mattress on fire, Birley said.

Birley said he dragged it to the door but it wouldn’t fit through.

“He had to let the mattress go, right there at the door,” he said.

Birley said he understood the young man, whose name he didn’t share, then set about trying round up four dogs, at least three of which didn’t survive.

The worst of the damage was in the front room and at the door, he said, estimating perhaps $40,000 damage.

Rochester woman jailed after husband shot in the back

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Updated

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A 50-year-old man is recovering at Providence St. Peter Hospital after he was shot in the back, allegedly by his wife, at their Rochester home last night.

Deputies called about 11:15 p.m. to the 19000 block of Melon Street arrested the 57-year-old woman, according to the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office.

They had been arguing and fighting since before they left the Lucky Eagle Casino to go home, according to detective Sgt. Ray Brady.

“Just a bad incident,” Brady said. “Unfortunately, domestic violence incidents are all too common.”

Brady said their investigation found after the couple returned home, he removed himself by going out to the garage. Deputies learned she went to the house grabbed a .38 caliber pistol and returned to the garage, where her husband had just left.

“She fired a shot through the closed side door and struck him in the lower back,” he said.

Cynthia L. Fetterly was arrested and booked into the Thurston County Jail for first-degree assault.

The husband as of last night was serious but stable and undergoing surgery, Brady said.

She told deputies she didn’t recall why they were arguing; he said it had to do with becoming separated while at the casino and not being able to find each other, Brady said.

The wife indicated she didn’t intend to shoot her husband, he said.

“She just wanted to scare him, didn’t want him to come back in the house,” Brady said.

The sheriff’s office said the wife appeared to be under the influence of alcohol.

Salkum logging incident claims life of John B. Leonard

Friday, March 28th, 2014
2014.0328.john.linda.leonard

John B. Leonard and his wife Linda Leonard at their Chehalis home. / Courtesy photo

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The logger injured by a large maple limb in Salkum yesterday has died.

John B. Leonard was well known in Lewis County, a logger all his life, according to a family friend.

He used to have J.B. Leonard Logging in Chehalis, Marlene Maki said.

He and her husband have known each for six decades, she said.

“John was 69, he acted like he was 39 years old,” Maki said. “He’d pack hay, he was full of life, that’s for sure.”

Lewis County Fire District 8 Chief Duran McDaniel said an investigator from the state Labor and Industries came out to the site yesterday and was to return today.

Firefighters were called just after 9 a.m. yesterday to acreage just north of the 2200 block of U.S. Highway 12 in between Kennedy Road and Sierra Drive, according to McDaniel.

Leonard was loaded into an ambulance and transported to the Salkum Fire station where they were met by a helicopter that flew him to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

It was just two men working, according to McDaniel. At first it appeared vibrations from a logging shovel shook the limb loose, McDaniel said, but he has since come to understand it happened somewhat differently.

“It appears a falling tree caught a limb, and came back and got the poor gentleman,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel described the piece of wood as perhaps 6 inches in diameter, and 20 feet long, before the operator jumped down and  sawed the limb to get it removed from the man.

“The operator and the cutter were the best of friends,” he said.

A spokesperson for Labor and Industries said they are investigating a logging fatality in Lewis County, but had no further information this afternoon.

The death is the third from logging in Lewis County since the beginning of the year.

In mid-January, 63-year-old Alex Oberg, of Toledo, was killed while cutting timber alone in the Toledo area. The sheriff’s office said a tree fell onto Oberg as he was employing a “domino” tree falling technique.

Last month, 21-year-old Tyler Bryan, also from Toledo, was working north of Morton when – according to the initial information from the sheriff’s office – a log being pulled up a slope by a cable began spinning and struck him.

Prosecutors: Arsonist planned to continue lighting fires after leaving his burning bedroom

Monday, March 24th, 2014
2014.0324.jonathan.brown.arson.two6233 copy

Jonathan P. Brown listens to defense lawyer Bob Schroeter after he is charged with arson, for the second time in less than five years.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Charging documents allege 26-year-old Jonathan P. Brown doused his bed and pillows with lamp oil before setting a fire while his mother and 87-year-old grandfather slept and then walked down the street with a lighter, intending to to start as many structure fires as he could before police found him.

Brown, 26, appeared in Lewis County Superior Court this afternoon, charged with one count of first-degree arson in connection with the early yesterday morning events on the 3400 block of Prill Road in Centralia.

He’s been there before.

In 2009, the then-21-year-old pleaded guilty to a string of six fires and attempted fires in the Centralia area that caused or could have caused damage to buildings including a residence and a garage. He was sentenced to four and half years in prison.

Centralia police impounded his truck this weekend looking for evidence from an early morning fire on Saturday about a mile from his home that burned the front door area to an unoccupied house, according to court documents.

“I think he presents a distinct threat to public safety, a very grave one,” Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Eric Eisenberg told a judge this afternoon as he recommended a high amount for bail.

Brown, handcuffed and shackled at his waist and ankles, was represented by defense attorney Bob Schroeter.

Judge Richard Brosey set bail at $250,000 and signed no-contact orders regarding Brown’s mother and grandfather.

His mother was in the courtroom, but declined to comment.

Sunday’s fire was contained to the bedroom, but charging documents and the fire department give an account of what could have been deadly.

Brown’s mother, Deborah Brown, said she woke up to a fire alarm, went into her son’s room and found burning pillows atop a large chair.

She yelled for her son, she yelled for her father to wake up and tried to get a bowl of water from the kitchen tap, but found there was no water pressure, according to charging documents. She ran back to the bedroom, grabbed the pillows and managed to smother the flames, charging documents state.

She then woke up her father John Germeau who is hard of hearing and called 911. It was 5:40 a.m.

Deborah Brown suffered minor burns to her hand or hands.

The fires in May and early June almost five years ago included a detached garage on Ham Hill Road, and others such as the tarp covering a recreational vehicle and someone’s portable shed, Riverside Fire Authority Chief Jim Walkowski recalled this morning. Court documents indicate Centralia police investigated two fires on Prill Road and Brown admitted to an incident at the historic Borst Home.

Brown was arrested on June 2, and his lawyer Don Blair noted in court documents his defense at trial would include general denial, diminished capacity and potentially mental health issues. But by the end of July the former assistant manager at the Midway Cinema pleaded guilty. Judge Nelson Hunt gave him 54 months – the top of the standard sentencing range – plus some months of community custody.

He was ordered to pay restitution of almost $20,000 to an insurance company and $1,000 to an individual.

It’s not clear when Brown was released from prison. Centralia Police Department detective Sgt. Pat Fitzgerald said it was “recently”. A letter in his court file from the state Department of Corrections states he was terminated from community custody on May 7, 2012, as he was screened for it and found not eligible for supervision.

Charging documents in the current case say when Brown was interviewed at the jail by Lewis County Sheriff’s Office detective Dan Riordan, Brown admitted starting the fire in his room.

“He then opened the window in the bedroom to let the fire breathe and to allow the smoke to exit the house to prevent the smoke alarm from being activated,” prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors allege he said he meant to burn the house to the ground, and knew it was a possibility his mother and grandfather could have been overcome by smoke and died.

When asked why, his answer was vague, but did relay he was upset with his mother over some personal issues, prosecutors wrote.

After starting the fire, he left the house, and walked down the street with his lighter, planning to start more fires until he was caught, he reportedly told the detective.

But his lighter broke, and he threw it into the brush.

He was detained yesterday morning on Mayberry Road  by a Centralia officer and K-9 partner, according to the sheriff’s office.

Brown’s arraignment is scheduled for Thursday morning. Judge Brosey appointed Blair to represent him again.

Centralian arrested for arson has previous arson convictions

Monday, March 24th, 2014

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

The 26-year-old Centralia man arrested for allegedly setting a fire in his bedroom while others in the home were sleeping early yesterday morning was arrested and convicted for arsons in the spring of 2009 in Centralia.

Jonathan P. Brown was released from prison and then subsequently from post-release community custody requirements in May 2012, according to authorities.

Centralia police confirmed they interviewed Brown in connection with a Saturday morning fire at an unoccupied house on Bengal Court, about a mile from his home.

Firefighters and deputies responding to the 5:40 a.m. incident yesterday at the 3400 block of Prill Road learned Brown’s 58-year-old mother awakened to a smoke alarm and discovered two pillows and a large chair burning in his room, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office. She and an 87-year-old man residing there were able to escape, but the mother sustained minor burns to her hand putting the fire out, according to authorities.

Riverside Fire Authority Chief Jim Walkowski described the damage as confined to the bedroom. Brown was located yesterday not far from his home, on Mayberry Road by a Centralia officer and K-9 partner, according to the sheriff’s office.

Centralia Police Department detective Sgt. Pat Fitzgerald said he recalled the 2009 fires as similar in nature to the Bengal Court fire. Investigators found the area around the front door burning around 5:30 a.m. Saturday and also various scorch marks on the side of the house.

Brown was arrested yesterday for first-degree arson, domestic violence and booked into the Lewis County Jail, Chief Civil Deputy Stacy Brown said.

He is tentatively scheduled to go before a judge in Lewis County Superior Court at 4 p.m. today.

•••

For background, read “Fire, law enforcement investigating two arsons in Centralia” from Sunday March 23, 2014, here