Archive for the ‘Top story of the day’ Category

Second suspicious Centralia fire consumes garage

Saturday, October 18th, 2014

Fire erupts in the backyard of a West Walnut Street house. / Courtesy photo by Crystal Bowman

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Flames ravaged a detached garage behind a home last night, the second such incident in Centralia in less than a week.

Both fires are being investigated as arsons.

Centralia police arrived first after the approximately 8 p.m. call to the 1000 block of West Walnut Street, offering helpful early information, according to Riverside Fire Authority.

“We showed up, it was a fairly good-sized garage,” Firefighter-paramedic Jade Gross said. “We attacked it from the alleyway.”

Gross said the owner was alerted by older neighborhood children who spotted the fire and pounded on her door so she could call 911.

The crew was joined by firefighters from Chehalis and were on the scene until about midnight, Gross said.

Inside the structure and ruined were a small pickup truck, a motorcycle and a large amount of other personal property, he said.

“It was a complete loss,” Gross said.

Also burned was a travel trailer, some of a neighbor’s fence and outdoor children’s toys, he said.

A fire investigator was expecting to examine the scene today. Centralia police indicate there was no good explanation for the fire, and it is currently classified as an arson.

The garage’s doorless entry opened to the alley, according to Gross.

Early last Sunday morning, a large shed was destroyed by fire on the 1100 block of South Tower Avenue in Centralia; it was in a backyard adjacent to the railroad tracks. The rear of the house in that 2:30 a.m. blaze sustained minor damage.

Nobody was hurt in either incident.

2014.1018.cent.garagefire.neighbor.Aaron Cogburn

Looking toward what remains inside the destroyed garage from next door neighbor’s backyard. / Courtesy photo by Aaron Cogburn

Investigation: Barbecuing ignited garage, house in Adna fire

Friday, October 17th, 2014

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

It was an unfortunate series of events that led to the loss of a two-story farmhouse near Adna, according to fire officials.

Fire Investigator Ted McCarty said the cause of the blaze was accidental, originating with a barbecue.

Firefighters called about 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday to the 300 block of Spooner Road found the garage in the back fully involved in flames. Lewis County Fire District 6 Chief Tim Kinder said when he arrived, he saw flames coming out the front of the first story.


Three hundred block Spooner Road

“Unfortunately, with the 100-plus-year-old house, once fire got inside the walls, it raced up into the attic area and through the roof,” Kinder said.

Kinder said he had to pull personnel out, and fight the fire defensively at that point, for safety reasons.

The couple who live there had relocated the home from another part of the valley and put it back together, Kinder said. “It was his grandfather’s place.”

Members of seven other fire departments joined them, working until about midnight, according to Kinder.

“Distance to water was the hard part,” he said.

Nine tenders shuttled water from a hydrant at Adna High School, he said.

“We used so many, because turnaround time was 20 minutes,” he said.

Kinder yesterday said he was grateful to Dave Martin at Tyler Rentals, who he was able to call that night and responded to a request for an excavator; and to Ron Sandrini operated it.

They used the machine to pull parts of the building down, so crews could attempt to finish putting out the fire, he said.

“There’s nothing left, it’s gone,” he said of the house.

Nobody was injured, but the house and its contents were destroyed.

Kinder said the owner had pulled his barbecue into the door-well of the garage, because it had started to rain.

He said he went in the house to get food for the barbecue and when he came back out, he noticed a patch on the floor on fire, he said.

He went to get a hose, and returned to find a wall on fire, Kinder said.

By the time he was spraying the wall, a second wall had caught fire, he said.

“It was very unfortunate,” Kinder said.

McCarty said they don’t know exactly what caused the barbecue to catch the floor on fire.

The chief said they started to get Red Cross to assist the couple, but neighbors responded.

“Half the families in Adna were out there already giving their help,” he said. “They were very well cared for.”

Feds are waiting for Centralia meth trafficking suspect

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A judge set bail at $500,000 yesterday for the Centralia man suspected of trafficking a large amount of methamphetamine.

About five pounds of meth, a scale, a ledger, 10 cell phones and cutting agent to be co-mingled with the drug were found when officers searched the home of Miguel Perez-Espinoza and during their followup investigation on Tuesday, according to court documents. More than $12,000 cash turned up as well.


Miguel Perez-Espinoza

Perez-Espinoza was a primary suspect from a case four years ago when local and federal law enforcement officers discovered more than 12 pounds of meth during a search warrant execution on 100 block of Elma Drive in Centralia, but he disappeared, according to the Centralia Police Department.

The U.S. Marshals Service has a no-bail hold on Perez-Espinoza because that case is pending in U.S. District Court, Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Paul Masiello said.

Masiello said even though Lewis County Superior Court Judge Richard Brosey set the bail high, he wasn’t certain if federal agents might not take custody of the defendant and consider folding the local case into their federal case.

Perez-Espinoza has no felony criminal history.

In court yesterday afternoon, he told the judge he spoke only a little English, so a Spanish language translator was used.

Defense attorney Joely O’Rourke said her client was working before, but not currently, so he qualified for a court-appointed attorney.

Perez-Espinoza was charged with one count of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, an offense with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, but a standard sentencing range of 12 to 24 months under state law, according to O’Rourke.

Prosecutors added so-called enhancements to the charges that the alleged crime took place within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop, involved a substantial amount of drugs and with a firearm being present. However Masiello said after the brief hearing there was no gun in the current case.

He’d mistakenly added that language, he said, but the information was about a firearm involved in the 2010 case.

According to charging documents, police found approximately a half pound of meth and the other items at the home where Perez-Espinoza lives on 200 block of West Second Street.

Officers learned he was storing more meth at another Centralia residence, and after contacting the occupant there, discovered the other four and half pounds, charging documents state.

Police seized three passenger vehicles as well.

For background, read “Centralia’s drug team scores big; mass meth, cash” from Tuesday October 14, 2014, here

Chehalis police car hits man in crosswalk

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Updated at 11:38 a.m.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A pedestrian in a crosswalk was struck by a Chehalis police car last night, sending the 56-year-old Chehalis man to the hospital.

It happened about 7 p.m. on Northwest West Street near Front Street, near the Lewis County Historical Museum, according to the Washington State Patrol.

Kenneth L. Jacaway, 56, of Chehalis, was walking north crossing West Street and the patrol vehicle was traveling westbound, according to the state patrol.

Jacaway sustained a broken leg and an arm injury, according to a patrol spokesperson. He was transported to Providence Centralia Hospital.

His condition is described by a hospital spokesperson as fair.

Police Officer Rick Silva, 60, was driving a 2012 Dodge Charger and uninjured, according to the investigating trooper.

Chehalis Police Chief Glenn Schaffer said they asked the state patrol to conduct the investigation.

Silva was on routine patrol, not on his way to a call with lights or sirens, according to Schaffer.

Trooper Will Finn said it was his understanding that a vehicle coming the opposite direction stopped and motioned for the pedestrian to go.

“The pedestrian did not see the patrol car coming and I’m assuming neither did the other driver,” Finn said.

Jacaway was struck by the front driver’s side quarter panel, he said.

Chief Schaffer said he will wait until the investigation is finished, to then look to see if there are any internal matters to be looked into, regarding policy and procedure.

There was no reason to place Officer Silva on leave during the investigation, Schaffer said.

Centralia’s drug team scores big; mass meth, cash

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

More than $12,000 in currency is taken into evidence from Second Street drug case. / Courtesy photo by Centralia Police Department

Updated at 3:47 p.m.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A 28-year-old man who was a primary suspect in a case four years ago in which local police and the Drug Enforcement Administration recovered more than 12 pounds of methamphetamine was arrested today at his Centralia home, where officers seized about five pounds of meth, three passenger vehicles and more than $12,000 cash.

A half dozen members of the Centralia Police Department served a search warrant this morning at the 200 block of West Second Street.

Miguel Perez-Espinoza was arrested without incident and booked into the Lewis County Jail for possession of methamphetamine with the intent to deliver, according to police.

Sgt. Jim Shannon said this morning’s events were very low key. They waited until the children went to school, and then just knocked on the door and asked to talk with their suspect, he said.

The original investigation into Perez-Espinoza’s activities began in September 2010, when officers of the Centralia Anti-Crime unit working in cooperation with the DEA turned up in excess of 12 pounds of methamphetamine from a location in the 100 block of Elma Drive, according to Shannon. Police believed after that seizure, Perez-Espinoza fled the United States, presumably to Mexico to avoid prosecution, according to Shannon.

Toward the end of last year, the Anti-Crime team got information he had come back to town and resumed his drug trafficking, Shannon stated in a news release.

“Through surveillance, interviews and data mining we identified several members of his organization,” Shannon stated.

In August, officers served a search warrant in the 3100 block of Ives Road and ended up arresting three suspects, thought to be co-conspirators with Perez-Espinoza: They are Christian Ayon Felix, 30; Diego A. Vazquez, 22; and Erik M Nava, 35; all of Centralia, according to police. Shannon said slightly less than one pound of methamphetamine and $2,300 in cash were found at that location.

“I think the takeaway, is when we conduct a drug investigation in this city, it doesn’t matter how long it takes or how far you go, we will eventually catch up to you,” Shannon said.

He said they plan on making more arrests in the case.

Perez-Espinoza’s wife was present when police arrived, but has not been arrested, according to Shannon.

The vehicles they impounded include 2007 Chrysler Sebring, a 2010 VW Jetta, and a 2004 Ford Expedition.

Shannon said whatever becomes of the case from Elma Drive in 2010 in under the purview of the DEA.

The estimated current price of meth, by the pound, is $8,000 to $10,000, he said.

2014.1014.bigmethbust copy

Roughly five pounds of methamphetamine found today following search of Centralia home. / Courtesy photo by Centralia Police Department

Teen’s logging death results in fine to Chehalis employer

Monday, October 13th, 2014


By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A Chehalis logging company has been cited for two serious violations in connection with the death of an 18-year-old employee who was crushed by a piece of equipment south of Boistfort last May.

Cole Bostwick of Winlock was setting chokers for a logging operation when a carriage was accidentally lowered onto him, killing him instantly.


Cole Bostwick

The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office identified the employer as ENB Logging and Trucking, but the state Department of Labor and Industries reports it was ENB Logging and Construction Inc.

An investigation conducted by L&I found the employer did not ensure the chokerman was in the clear as the Danebo drift carriage was being lowered for slack and also that the business’s accident prevention program was not tailored to the needs of the operation, specifically that it didn’t explain or address the differences in the hazards of using a drift carriage and a motorized  carriage.

An assistant fire chief who responded to the scene on May 21 described the carriage in question as a metal piece roughly six feet long and not very wide that traveled along a cable to assist in retrieving logs. He estimated it weighed two tons.

The penalty assessed is $7,800, according to the inspector’s report dated Oct. 1.

ENB has appealed the citations, according to a spokesperson from L&I.

The accident occurred about 14 miles off Pe Ell McDonald Road, on property owned by Green Diamond Resource Co. The teen’s father was on the job with him.


Tyler Bryan

A Mossyrock logging company was cited for a serious violation earlier this year, after the death of a 21-year-old employee, who was struck by a log being pulled up a slope with a cable. Tyler Bryan, of Toledo, died on Feb. 10 at the site north of Morton.

Brintech Technical Logging Inc. did not appeal and paid the $2,600 fine, according to L&I spokesperson Elaine Fischer.

In that case, the same inspector found the employer did not ensure the three-man rigging crew was in the clear when a “turn” of logs was moving to the landing, according to the inspector’s report. The crew was within 40 feet of the skyline when the tail hold failed, causing the logs to fall towards them, according to the report.


John B. Leonard

And a March death from a logging injury in the Salkum area brought a citation for an Winlock logging business, according to Fischer.

A fine of $1,800 was assessed against TJB Enterprises Inc. for a serious violation.

John B. Leonard, 69, airlifted to a Seattle hospital on March 27 after he was struck by a large limb while working on acreage just north of the 2200 block of U.S. Highway 12.

The L&I report contends the employer did not ensure before falling that various conditions did not create a hazard.

TJB has appealed.

Judge gives six-plus years to Ricky Riffe, already serving more than 100 years

Monday, October 13th, 2014

Ricky Riffe, in red, addresses his lawyer as his hearing winds down in Lewis County Superior Court this morning.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Convicted murderer Ricky Riffe will be headed back to prison now after he was sentenced today in a 30-year-old child sex crime case involving a young relative.

Riffe, now 56, was convicted almost a year ago in the 1985 kidnapping, robbery and shotgun deaths of Ed and Minnie Maurin, of Ethel. While awaiting trial, prosecutors filed charges that during the same time period, he had sexually abused his young stepdaughter.

The former Mossyrock man made an Alford plea last month, pleading guilty to indecent liberties, but admitting no guilt after a deal was struck between the two sides.

Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer and Riffe’s lawyer John Crowley both recommended this morning that he should serve six years and three months, the top of the standard sentencing range for the offense.

Lewis County Superior Court Judge Nelson Hunt agreed.

Riffe is already serving nearly 103 years in the Maurin case, but has appealed.

Clad in red jail garb, Riffe never turned his heavily whiskered face toward the victim as she spoke. He declined an opportunity offered by the judge to speak on his own behalf.

Riffe denies any guilt in both cases.

“It is disturbing to the state that he cannot accept responsibility for anything he has done in his life,” Prosecutor Meyer told the judge. “But that’s on him.”

The now-grown woman, the daughter of Riffe’s long ago wife Robin, who is since deceased, took a chair next to Meyer when she told the judge what she hoped for.

“If there’s any chance of asking of him never, ever getting out,” I will,” she said, reading from notecards. “And please do not allow the monster of my past to be housed anywhere in Western Washington.”

With intermittent sniffles, and glances to her right where Riffe sat facing straight ahead, she said she knows and he knows what happened that November night in 1984. She was nine years old.

“You, my mother and your brother will rot in hell,” she said.

The judge also signed a lifetime no contact order between Riffe and the victim.

From among the handful of individuals in the audience, came a parting shot as Riffe was led away by jail guards.

Robin Riffe’s sister Tammi Graham raised her voice loudly: “Rick, I hope this label goes with you for the rest of your life.”

He was initially charged also with statutory rape, but that charge was dropped in the deal, part of which included Riffe agreeing not to appeal. The crime of indecent liberties, as it existed in the mid-1980s, involves sexual contact with a child younger than 14 years old.

For background, read “Ricky Riffe makes Alford plea in 1980s child sex abuse case” from Saturday Sept. 6, 2014, here

Sheriff’s Office: First “attempted luring” was misunderstanding

Friday, October 10th, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

The mother of a student who saw news reports of attempted lurings in Rochester called the sheriff’s office last night to say she was the woman in the black sport utility vehicle from the incident on Monday morning at the school bus stop.

She was speaking to her son.

“There was another juvenile standing nearby and her son was a short distance away,” The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office stated in a news release. “She asked her son if he missed the bus and she was told by both boys that they had not missed the bus.

“When asked if they wanted a ride to school, both declined.”

Two more times this week, deputies took reports from different teenage boys who said a motorist stopped and offered them a ride to school, prompting alerts from the school district.

The first incident, involving the black SUV, was reported by a 13-year-old boy to his mother later that night, and to the sheriff’s office the following day.

Each happened between 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m.

Extra patrols were out and will continue to roam the areas, as the second and third instances remain under investigation, according to sheriff’s Lt. Cliff Ziesemer.

Another 13-year-old on Wednesday morning described how he was walking along the 7500 block of 198th Avenue Southwest when a black four-door car driven by a scruffy-faced man wearing a baseball cap pulled alongside him and asked if he wanted a ride to school.

“Student told him no and the driver asked a few more times until the student cut through the woods,” the sheriff’s office states.

And then yesterday, a 14-year-old was waiting for his bus at the 8500 block of 183rd Avenue Southwest when a black car pulled up and the driver, who sounded like a woman, asked if he’d missed the bus and offered a ride. He told her no and he walked away.

That car was described as having a loud muffler and annoyingly blue headlights.

The dark and fog prevented the boys from getting good descriptions, according to the sheriff’s office.

Ziesemer said that in his 30 years of experience, the vast majority of what are reported as attempted lurings turn out to be something innocent, involving a misunderstanding or miscommunication. And it’s often another parent just offering a ride, he said.

However, the sheriff’s office reminds students:

• If possible, stay in groups while at school bus stops.

• Do not approach any vehicle or person that you are unfamiliar with.

• If a vehicle stops near you and someone talks to you who you are not familiar with, walk in the opposite direction.

• Then, as soon as possible, tell an adult, such as a parent, school bus driver or teacher.

Attempted lurings reported in Rochester

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Three times this week, a different teenage boy waiting at a different school bus stop in Rochester has had a motorist stop and tell him he’s missed his bus and offer him a ride to school.

It happened most recently early this morning on 183rd Avenue Southwest by the bus barn, according to the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office.

The sheriff’s office is asking the public to be vigilant.

All have occurred between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., but the vehicles  described are different; and the drivers have been said to be both male and female, sheriff’s Lt. Cliff Ziesemer said this morning.

The sheriff’s office has deputies in the areas in the mornings and expect to continue through at least Monday, trying to intercept another such incident, according to Ziesemer.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Brady said this morning a teen was waiting for a bus when a smaller black vehicle came down his driveway, and he was contacted.

Students and parents need to be alert and aware, and if possible wait in groups for the school busses, Brady said. And please call right way if something similar happens again, Brady urged.

“The faster these reports get to us, the faster we can get in the area,” he said.

The first one was reported to authorities on Tuesday, in which a 13-year-old boy told his mother that a woman in a black sport utility vehicle approached him while he waited for his bus about 6:30 a.m. on Monday at the 9700 block of 180th Way Southwest.

The Rochester School District has been passing along information on its Facebook page, as it has gotten reports from law enforcement.

Authorities still mum on toddler’s death

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – It could be as long as 10 weeks before the cause of death is figured out in the case of the 3-year-old boy who died under suspicious circumstances over the weekend.

The child was taken by ambulance from a Vader home to Providence Centralia Hospital on Sunday evening.

Very little information has been released.

Cowlitz-Lewis Fire District 20 was called to the 400 block of Main Street where CPR was already underway. The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office said only that they were investigating the death of a 3-year-old boy with suspicious circumstances.

An autopsy was conducted today, but final determinations can’t be made until the Lewis County Coroner’s Office gets back the results of toxicology tests, as well as the findings of various studies conducted by the pathologist, Coroner Warren McLeod said this afternoon.

Toxicology tests can take eight to 10 weeks, he said.

McLeod did not release the toddler’s name, or any other information.

He said he was still waiting for final confirmation of the child’s identity, and would not release it until after the legal next-of-kin have had enough time to notify other relatives.

McLeod said he was taking the extra time to make sure all the family beyond just the next-of-kin is made aware, because of the more sensitive nature of the case; it’s a child and the sheriff’s office is conducting an investigation.

Lewis County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Chief Civil Deputy Stacy Brown said late this afternoon she had no further information to release. The sheriff’s office has a briefing in the morning and if they choose to share anything more, it would be after that’s done, Brown said.

None of the officials authorized to speak have even stated where the child died, in Vader or at the Centralia hospital, nor have they said where the child lived.

Law investigating death of toddler from Vader residence

Monday, October 6th, 2014

Updated at 12:32 p.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The sheriff’s office is investigating a death after an aid call late yesterday afternoon to a Vader home where CPR was underway on a child.

Paramedics, firefighters and EMTs from five departments, plus deputies responded to the approximately 5:15 p.m. call at the 400 block of Main Street, according to Cowlitz-Lewis Fire District 20 Chief Richard Underdahl.

“I don’t have much I can say,” Underdahl said this morning. “Anything I can say, is the sheriff’s office is conducting an investigation on it.”

Crews were told by a 911 operator that it was a 3-year-old with breathing difficulty and someone there was performing CPR, according to Underdahl.

After responders arrived to the house, they continued CPR and conducted other life-saving medical interventions, he said. The child was transported to the hospital, he said.

Underdahl referred questions about the child’s sex and if the situation involved an injury as well as who was present at the house when they arrived, to the sheriff’s office.

Lewis County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Chief Civil Deputy Stacy Brown said only that detectives are investigating the death of a 3-year-old boy with suspicious circumstances.

Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod said an autopsy is scheduled for tomorrow morning.

“It was a bad day” Underdahl said.

“When something like this happens, everybody comes out of the woodwork,” he said, explaining why responders from as far away as Chehalis joined them, indicating it was the type of situation that calls for a lot people power.

Pedestrian survives getting hit by train in Centralia

Sunday, October 5th, 2014


By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Centralia police and aid were called just after midnight to the railroad tracks near East Summa Street after a woman was struck by a passing freight train.

Forty-four-year-old Brenda V. Jones-Gonzales survived with what the Centralia Police Department called non-life-threatening injuries. Jones-Gonzales was bending down when she was hit in the shoulder and head, according to police.

Riverside Fire Authority Capt. Terry Ternan said the woman was just next to the tracks about 200 feet south of the crossing when firefighters arrived, and able to talk.

“When we found her, she was sitting next to a pool of blood,” Ternan said. “She said she didn’t get hit, she thought she fell down.”

The patient had a serious laceration on her head, but her biggest complaint was her shoulder, he said.

Ternan said his understanding was the conductor on the northbound train had seen her bending over by the track and then stumble; they tried to slow down, they stopped and called 911.

They knew they hit her, he said.

Some hair found on the end of what’s sometimes referred as a cow catcher at the front of trains was believed to be hers, he said.

Jones-Gonzales was cited for criminal trespass for being on the tracks, according to police, and then released.

She was taken to Providence Centralia Hospital where she was treated and then was transferred to an undisclosed hospital.

It’s a good reminder of why it’s trespassing to walk along or cross train tracks in undesignated areas, Ternan said.

Three in Randle family treated for burns following explosion

Sunday, October 5th, 2014


By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A father and his 12-year-old son were seriously injured when something exploded on their small family farm in Randle yesterday afternoon.

Firefighters called about 4:10 p.m. to the 100 block of Peters Road found the two burn patients and the mother at the house.

The two males were flown by a LifeFlight helicopter to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland, which has a burn center, according to Lewis County Fire District 14.

Fire Chief Jeff Jaques said the mother, who is a member of the volunteer fire department, was taken to Morton General Hospital with burns on both her hands from trying to help them.

“I don’t know for sure what happened,” Jaques said last night about 9 p.m. after returning from notifying other relatives.

It appeared to have occurred outside near a shop building, as when they arrived, they also found a car burning, Jaques said. Jaques said he suspected they were working on or with some equipment or tools.

Eight Randle firefighters handled the patient care and they let a crew from Glenoma deal with the burning car, he said.

Jaques was informed by the hospital last night the males’ conditions were critical, he said. Someone was going to be taking the mother down to be with them, he said.

The chief said he planned to return to the scene once it was light again to continue his investigation.

The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office responded as well and said they believe the incident involved a plasma cutter, a power tool used to cut metal.

Prosecutors: Bookkeeper, girlfriend of small business owner took thousands of dollars with secret debit card

Saturday, October 4th, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A lawyer representing the Chehalis woman accused of stealing more than $50,000 from a concrete business where she was the bookkeeper told a judge the alleged victim and the defendant were in a relationship and the allegations came up after they broke up.


Angela D. Sawyer

Angela D. Sawyer, 39, was arrested and jailed on Wednesday after the Chehalis Police Department finished an investigation that began this summer, following a report from Jerry Nixon, the owner of Apex Mobile Mix.

Sawyer was charged in Lewis County Superior Court on Thursday with first-degree theft and first-degree identity theft.

Lewis County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Brad Meagher requested high bail, telling the judge Sawyer was suspected of wrongdoing involving a number of debit cards from other individuals.

Defense attorney for the day Joely O’Rourke countered that the allegation involved just one card belonging to one man and requested unsecured bail in the amount of $10,000. Meagher apologized and said he must have misread the filing, drafted by another prosecutor.

Judge Richard Brosey agreed with the unsecured amount.

Sawyer, who now works with the Area Agency on Aging, resides in Chehalis with her teenage son, according to O’Rourke.

According to charging documents, Nixon contacted police on July 27 after recently signing up to receive Internet bank statements and saw several transactions he did not make or authorize, including some for cash. He told the officer he learned from his bank they were made on a debit card he did not know existed.

Detective Sgt. Gary Wilson said the owner of the business with locations in Napavine and Chehalis was asked to gather up financial records.

Charging documents go on to give the following account:

Nixon told police he found out the debit card had been mailed out and he learned Sawyer had the card. He said she admitted to having the card and returned it to him.

Late last month, Nixon brought the various documents to the police department and showed receipts he said had nothing to do with company purchases totaling $51,772.89.

“Also in the papers Nixon brought were questionable checks written by Sawyer,” prosecutors wrote. “These checks appeared to be paying for Sawyer’s personal bills and needs.”

The total comes to more than $72,800, missing from between July 2012 and the end of this past July.

Nixon told a police detective that Sawyer and he were in a relationship, but she was never a co-signer on the account.

He said Sawyer told him she got into drugs and was using the money to support her habit.

Sawyer has no criminal history, according to prosecutors.

Because she earns only $1,300 per month, she qualified for a court appointed attorney. Her arraignment is scheduled for Thursday.

Deputy and suspect fought through tangle of Taser wires

Friday, September 26th, 2014

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The homeless man whose campfire is believed to have ignited a small brush fire in Onalaska earlier this month remains held in the Lewis County Jail as his lawyer seeks out a psychologist to evaluate him.

Luke U. Hall, 32, was the subject of a manhunt for several hours after the morning-time incident on Sept. 5 near Middle Fork Road and Centralia-Alpha Road.

He allegedly stepped out from behind his camping area and pointed a pretend handgun at the land owner who arrived after learning his property was on fire.

And when a sheriff’s detective caught up with shaggy-haired suspect walking along Leonard Road and deployed his Taser, Hall reportedly pulled the detective to the ground and began punching him in the face.

As Hall and detective Dan Riordan fought and wrestled on the ground, both were getting shocked by the stun gun because the wires had wrapped around their heads, according to prosecutors.

“Once they both were standing, the defendant ripped detective Riordan’s exterior bullet resistant vest off and continued to strike him,” Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer wrote in charging documents.

Riordan was able to pull Hall’s jacket up over Hall’s head and gain some distance from him until help arrived, according to Meyer.

This isn’t a typical third-degree assault, with someone spitting on an officer, Meyer said.

“But for other deputies showing up, Mr. Hall may not be with us any longer,” Meyer said.

Hall has an extensive assaultive history, including three prior convictions for third-degree assault, according to the prosecutor’s office. He was only released from custody in June.

Two years ago, he was arrested after neighbors called for help, saying the he was trying to crash his Jeep into their house after yelling at them for hours. His mother at the time told authorities he shouldn’t be released without treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues, according to court documents.

Defense attorney Bob Schroeter told a judge Hall has significant physical and mental health issues.

Hall’s court-appointed attorney Jacob Clark yesterday said he needs to have an expert evaluate his client, to determine if he was delusional at the time of the events earlier this month.

Clark and Hall appeared before a judge yesterday in Lewis County Superior Court for a review hearing, and will return next Thursday for another.

Hall was arrested the afternoon of Sept. 5 for reckless burning, felony harassment, third-degree assault, resisting arrest and trespassing. Prosecutors then filed charges instead for second-degree arson, felony harassment and third-degree assault.

The fire burned an area of about 40 feet by 40 feet on property previously logged and then replanted with young trees.

Prosecutor Meyer said the information in the affidavit of probable cause that supported the arson charge was that Hall was seen in the area of where the fire started. The remains of a tent were found at the scene.

Hall has pleaded not guilty. His bail is set at $50,000. His trial is currently scheduled for the week of Oct. 27.

Human remains found on TransAlta property belong to Spanaway teen

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

Updated at 2:15 p.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The skeletal remains found earlier this year off Little Hanaford Road outside Centralia have been identified as an 18-year-old Spanaway man reported missing more than two years ago.

A DNA match was confirmed yesterday, using family reference samples of Christopher D. Virdell, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office. Virdell was reported missing by family members in February 2012 to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, according to the sheriff’s office.


Christopher D. Virdell

Pierce County has had an ongoing investigation into the young man’s disappearance and is now working closely with Lewis County detectives to determine what led to his death, Chief Civil Deputy Stacy Brown said in a news release.

Brown declined to speak about Virdell’s cause of death, saying Pierce County is the lead in the investigation.

The partial remains were found the evening of Feb. 28 by a resident in the area out walking his dog. The sheriff’s office said at the time they believed they had been dumped there.

The (Tacoma) News Tribune reports Pierce County detectives believe Virdell was killed and have interviewed more than 100 people in the case but have not released a motive.

According to Crime Stoppers of Tacoma and Pierce County, Virdell was last seen at 10 a.m. on February 9th, 2012, as he left a friend’s residence on 223rd Street East in Spanaway to catch a bus to work. He was reported missing later that night after he failed to show up to work or home.

The property near the 2800 block of Little Hanaford Road is wooded, close to the roadway, and owned by Trans Alta, according to the sheriff’s office.

The remains were sent to King County to be examined by a forensic pathologist who has expertise with skeletal human remains. The identification through DNA was made by the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification and reported to detectives yesterday.

Further dental testing will be conducted, but it is strongly believed the remains are those of Virdell, Brown indicated.

The news prompted a conversation at the sheriff’s office about another unsolved case, the still unidentified remains of a female found near Morton in the spring of 2011.

A motorist who pulled off U.S. Highway 12 to take a break spotted the remains off the side of a logging road on April 7. The sheriff’s office has said they suspect foul play, but they still don’t know who the victim is.

Dental records and DNA have been entered into databases with no matches found. An examination by the specialist at the King County Medical Examiner’s Office could not determine the cause of death.

The woman is believed to have been between 20 and 35 years old when she died, small in stature and possibly of mixed ethnicity.

“We’ve done everything we can,” Brown said. “We’re still hoping someone will step forward to report their loved one missing.”


For background, read “Breaking news: Human remains found on TransAlta property” from Saturday March 1, 2014, here

Police: Morton woman punches neighbor, steals toys

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A 48-year-old Morton woman was arrested for robbery after a confrontation when she was caught allegedly stealing toys from a neighbor’s front yard, but not before a low-speed pursuit involving three law enforcement agencies that ended with her car in a ditch.

Deputies called about 9:50 a.m. to the 700 block of Davis Lake Road were told Julie A. Erickson pulled into her neighbor’s driveway and began loading the items into her vehicle, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

When the woman who lives there and her friend asked Erickson what she was doing and pulled a tricycle from the trunk, Erickson allegedly shoved one of them and punched the other in the face, according to the sheriff’s office.

Chief Civil Deputy Stacy Brown said Erickson tried slapping her several times before the woman could get away

Brown said Erickson then got into her car and drove off with a wagon and unspecified other children’s toys.

Law enforcement spotted her vehicle fairly quickly but Erickson wouldn’t pull over, continuing for several miles along state Route 508, Brown states in a news release.

A spike strip set up at Cinebar Road punctured one of her tires, but Erickson continued to drive on its rim until finally stopping in a ditch near Centralia-Alpha Road, according to Brown.

Brown states Erickson spoke nonsensically and had no explanation for her behavior or the theft.  They don’t believe alcohol was a factor, according to Brown.

Erickson was arrested and booked into the Lewis County Jail for second-degree robbery and attempting to elude.

Centralia man questioned about dead man’s vehicle, home, belongings

Friday, September 19th, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Police are investigating a man who allegedly falsely claimed he was a relative of a Chehalis resident who died in January, and left all of his property to him.

Chehalis police were contacted by Walter Pettit’s family last week, who went to Pettit’s house near Chehalis Middle School and found it had been cleaned out and someone was remodeling it, Chehalis Deputy Police Chief Randy Kaut said.

A detective interviewed 46-year-old Michael J. Dobbs yesterday and subsequently arrested him on suspicion of theft and forgery. He was booked into the Lewis County Jail.

Court papers state Dobbs transferred the decedent’s car into his own name, by claiming to be the decedent’s son, and the detective learned from the funeral home they released the cremated remains to Dobbs’ on Dobbs’ representation he was the nephew.

Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Eric Eisenberg however, charged Dobbs today only with possession of methamphetamine.

The detective found a baggie of suspected meth in Dobbs’ pocket when he was searched following his arrest, according to Eisenberg. He said it wasn’t his, court papers state.

Eisenberg said Dobbs produced a will from 2011 which made Dobbs personal representative and sole heir of the estate.

“The presence of the will makes it unclear if Dobbs’ behavior regarding the decedent’s estate was lawful,” Eisenberg wrote in court documents, explaining why he filed only the drug charge at this time.

Kaut said this afternoon detectives are continuing to investigate. He didn’t yet know how the two men were acquainted or what Pettit died from, only that the 55-year-old was transferred to a hospital in Thurston County where he passed away.

Dobbs appeared before a judge this afternoon in Lewis County Superior Court and was released on a $10,000 signature bond.

Defense attorney Bob Schroeter said Dobbs is not employed, but is a full time parent of three children in Centralia.

Kaut said police don’t yet know what happened to Pettit’s belongings. Eisenberg stated in court documents Dobbs offered several improbable stories about how they’d been stolen, returned and then stolen again.

The will, ostensibly signed by Pettit and witnessed by two individuals, looks valid, Eisenberg said this afternoon. But detectives are looking into that issue further, he said.

Court papers state Dobbs has prior convictions in California, including receiving stolen property in 1999 and 2001.

Sharyn’s Sirens: Daily police and fire roundup

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

Updated at 9:13 p.m.


• An investigation by Centralia Police Department’s special Anti-Crime Team led to a search warrant yesterday at the 1200 block of North Fork Road south of Chehalis and the arrest of two individuals. Officer Patty Finch said police found three grams of suspected heroin at a residence there and arrested Brandon M. Cruzan, 24, of Chehalis, for possession of heroin with intent to deliver. Arrested at the same time was Riley R. Jones, 27, of Chehalis, for delivery of methamphetamine, possession of meth with intent to deliver and possession of heroin, Finch said. They were both booked into the Lewis County Jail.


• Chehalis police were called just before 8 o’clock yesterday morning by a resident of the 1400 block of Southwest Kelly Avenue who said his neighbor just called because him to say someone was in his house. The neighbor knocked on the door and noticed someone leaving out the back and hop into a car, according to the Chehalis Police Department. “Nothing ended up being taken,” department spokesperson Linda Bailey said. The investigation is ongoing, Bailey said.


• A 33-year-old Centralia man was arrested for driving under the influence last night after his vehicle allegedly struck the rear tail light of a car parked on the 1300 block of Central Boulevard in Centralia. Officers responding about 8:20 p.m. reportedly caught up with Nicholas A. Rickart on Roswell Road and then booked him into the Lewis County Jail for DUI as well as hit and run, according to the Centralia Police Department.

• A 25-year-old Vader man ended up with a possibly broken collarbone when the vehicle in which he was a passenger swerved for a deer, went into a slide and rolled several times yesterday morning near Winlock. He was cited for not wearing a seatbelt, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office. A deputy responding to the approximately 5:30 a.m. wreck on the 1500 block of Winlock-Vader Road learned the 34-year-old driver, also from Vader, was headed northbound when the deer ran into the road, according to the sheriff’s office. Responders extricated the patients from the 1990 Ford Bronco and they were taken to the emergency room at Providence Centralia Hospital, Chief Civil Deputy Stacy Brown said. The driver was cited for not having insurance. He had a cut on the top of his head, Brown said.


• And as usual, other incidents such as arrests for warrants, shoplifting, misdemeanor assault, driving with suspended license; responses for alarm, disputes, disorderly person, suspicious person collision on city street … and more.