Archive for the ‘Top story of the day’ Category

Professional pilot watched small plane struggle to climb before deadly Chehalis crash

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

Other than a wheel assembly, only small pieces of debris could be seen spread over a small area in the parking lot of Chehalis Collision Center. / Courtesy photo by Bill Klumbs


By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The small plane that crashed and burned last night near the airport in Chehalis was a three-quarter-sized replica of a popular WWII fighter plane, just put back together after being purchased and trailered in from out of the area.

The P5151 Mustang was piloted by a Centralia-Chehalis area resident who rented a hangar less than two weeks ago, Chehalis-Centralia Airport Manager Allyn Roe said.

“They spent the past week and a half getting the airplane reassembled,” Roe said. “I had not seen this plane fly, so I do not not know if it was its first flight or not.”

The pilot, a man whose identity has not been released, was killed when shortly after take off, the aircraft slammed into a fenced parking lot across Interstate 5 from the airport.

The crash into or just in front of two parked trucks included at least two explosions and a fire that burned very, very hot, according to neighbors and the fire chief.

It basically disintegrated, Chehalis Police Department Chief Glenn Schaffer said. “There was nothing left on the ground to indicate what type it was.”

Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod confirmed the pilot was a Lewis County resident and said an autopsy will be conducted tomorrow. He’s been in contact with the family, McLeod said.

Police said the pilot’s family was at the airport before take off and also briefly at the crash scene.

The victim’s name will be released after he makes final positive identification through dental records or DNA, McLeod said.

The last fatal aircraft accident in the Chehalis-Centralia area was in 1991, according to Roe.

Roe said the short flight was witnessed by an out-of-the-area corporate jet pilot, who described the small plane as taking off to the north and really not going any higher than about 100 feet.

“Essentially it appeared that it was struggling to climb and gave an indication the motor was stalling,” Roe related.

It headed east instead of the normal traffic pattern of going west, Roe said, always in a right-hand turn.

“And then it rolled into what we describe as a knife edge,” he said. “One wing up, and one wing down.”

It was just before 7 p.m. when firefighters and police were dispatched to the fire just east of the freeway, along Maryland Avenue.

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating.

Allen Kenitzer, an FAA spokesperson, said the aircraft is classified an experimental plane, meaning it was built by an individual and not a factory. The NTSB is the lead agency, he said.

No one on the ground was injured as it landed inside the fenced area of Chehalis Collision Center, a repair business.

“So nobody else was hurt,” Chief Schaffer said. “Whether that was a conscious decision by the pilot, I don’t know.

“But we’re fortunate and thankful that was the case.”

Schaffer said the business had a security camera pointed toward the area where the plane landed. It’s not information that will help police with their part of the investigation though, he said.

“We let the NTSB know, and pointed them in that direction,” Schaffer said.

Peter Knudson, a spokesperson for the NTSB, said an investigator was at the scene gathering information.

The pilot was not in communication with air traffic control, but the investigator spoke to at least one witness who said after takeoff, the plane appeared to be unstable, sort of pitching and rolling, Knudson said.

A preliminary report describing the facts and circumstances ought to be available within about 10 business days, he said, but the average length of an investigation is 12 months.

Former Yard Bird manager pleads guilty as charged in theft from business

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The now-former manager at Yard Birds who admitted to police he pocketed thousands of dollars on the job saying he’d gone bankrupt and was behind in his medical bills pleaded guilty today and is working to pay the money back.


David E. Briscoe

David E. Briscoe, 58, was charged in April with first-degree theft. He appeared out-of-custody this morning in Lewis County Superior Court.

His lawyer David Brown said he is trying to sell some property, to make restitution.

The Centralia man was responsible for managing the business’s swap meet area, vendors, storage units and recreational vehicle spaces on the property at the 2100 block of North National Avenue in Chehalis, according to police.

In his written statement read aloud by Judge James Lawler, Briscoe said he collected rent payments and kept them, and that it went on for three years, resulting in significant financial harm to the victim.

The crime, with the major economic offense enhancement, carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine, or as little as zero to 90 days in jail given his lack of a criminal history, the judge said.

Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Mark McClain said he plans to ask for one year and a day, while defense attorney David Brown will be requesting something less.

He was not sentenced today, but a date was set for Sept. 25, when they would meet again and schedule the hearing.

They are giving it some time, to see if over the next couple of months Briscoe can get prosecutors to change their mind about their recommendation, McClain said.

McClain said he’s not sure how much money was stolen, but thinks it could be more than $40,000, and said Briscoe has indicated it was at least $20,000.


For background, read “Police: Yardbirds employee stole thousands of dollars from business” from Tuesday April 29, 2014, here

One dead in fiery plane crash in Chehalis

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

A small plane and parked vehicles burn in the parking lot of Chehalis Collision Center. / Courtesy photo by Martha Harjo

Updated at 9:34 p.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A small plane crashed this evening into a parking lot across Interstate 5 from the Chehalis Airport, killing its pilot.

It struck two pickup trucks which caught fire, sending a column of black smoke into the sky at the scene just southeast of the Chamber of Commerce Way freeway interchange.

“All I have now is witnesses saw it took off at the airport and saw it go up and come down,” Chehalis Police Department Sgt. Gwen Carrell said. “It was a kit plane.”

The pilot’s family was at the airport when it took off, she said.

Firefighters called about 6:48 p.m. to the 900 block of Maryland Avenue were still spraying water and foam onto the vehicles more than a half hour later.

“I was just getting ready to water my flowers and I heard a big crash, kaboom,” nearby neighbor Judy Martin said. “I saw all this huge black smoke and then heard another explosion.”

Chehalis Fire Department Chief Rob Gebhart said it was only the one victim involved.

The two trucks were fully engulfed in flames, he said.

“I started putting out the fire on the pickups and kept thinking I was going to come around the corner and see a plane, but I didn’t, because there wasn’t much left,” Gebhart said.

Chehalis police were taking initial photographs and interviewing witnesses from the scene, as well as some who had been driving on the freeway. A representative with the Federal Aviation Administration is expected in the morning.

Numerous individuals from the neighborhood gathered on the sidewalk and street trying to get a glimpse of the goings on behind the chain-link fenced lot where it happened, belonging to the relatively new auto body business Chehalis Collision Center.

Wendy Cline who has lived on the corner for most of her life with a view of the small airport said she could only recall one time when a plane crashed.

“It ran off the end of the runway, I think,” Cline said. “It’s sad, it’s so sad.”

Gebhart said it was perhaps 10 years ago, when a Navy plane that came to give rides to the public crashed as it landed, because its landing gear wouldn’t come down. But nobody died, he said.

He couldn’t recall a fatal crash at the small but busy airport during his 27 years with the fire department, he said.


Firefighters and aid arrive to the scene of small plane crash in Chehalis. / Courtesy photo by Amanda Moore


Firefighters continue to put water and foam on two trucks and what’s left of a small airplane in the parking lot of Chehalis Collision Center. 

Police pursuit of Tumwater robbery suspect ends on freeway in Centralia

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Updated at 3:25 p.m.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A high speed chase that ended on Interstate 5 in Centralia this morning began near Tumwater when a stranger at a woman’s doorstep demanded her car keys and money.

She had just opened her door to go to work and turned to get her purse when a man holding a small board over his head robbed her, according to the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff’s Lt. Cliff Ziesemer said deputies called around 8:30 a.m. to the residence on the 4500 block of Black Lake Belmore Road Southwest learned that he grabbed the money and the 51-year-old woman threw the keys to her 2013 Subaru Forester out the door.

A neighbor hearing her calls for help briefly held the man at gunpoint but he fled, running down a fence and nearly hitting three people, Ziesemer said.

When the stranger got into the woman’s car, her dog jumped in as well, according to Ziesemer.

A nearby deputy gave chase and speeds reached as much as 125 mph down Interstate 5, according to the sheriff’s office.

An attempt to tap the fleeing car to spin it out of control failed to stop him, as did spike strips that flattened the two front tires near Grand Mound, according to Ziesemer.

“He continued about 100 mph on two flat tires,” Ziesemer said.

The Subaru rear-ended a sport utility vehicle just north of Centralia and finally the deputy used his patrol vehicle to pin the Subaru against the concrete barrier, according to authorities.

The driver, a 33-year-old Portland area man, was taken into custody, he said.

Ziesemer said he didn’t know exactly why the man did what he did.

Shawn B. Ollision was arrested and booked into the Thurston County Jail for eluding, robbery and other offenses including three counts of first-degree assault.

The 55-year-old Olympia woman whose Honda Pilot was struck on the freeway was transported to Providence Centralia Hospital as a precautionary measure, the Washington State Patrol reports. Both vehicles sustained what was described as reportable damage.

The Tumwater woman and her dog are doing okay, according to the sheriff’s office.

Centralia pair accused of helping fugitive flee

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Two Centralia residents were arrested for allegedly helping a wanted man – who uses the identity of his dead 11-year-old brother – get out of jail and get out of town before authorities realized who he really was.

John Lewis, 53, has an arrest warrant from California and was arrested in Doty while deputies were investigating a large-scale fuel theft operation on July 31. He was believed to be 47-year-old Jason A. Lewis.

Lewis County Sheriff’s Office deputies using information obtained from phone calls made from the jail were led on Thursday to a home on the 2700 block Graf Road where they found almost a half pound of methamphetamine and arrested 51-year-old Shauna Teagle, according to authorities.

A second resident of the home, Eric D. Waller, 43, was already in the jail, but was arrested on the same information, Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Eric Eisenberg said yesterday.

Waller and Teagle went before a judge in Lewis County Superior Court yesterday afternoon where they were charged with possession of meth with intent to deliver, as well as accomplices in Lewis’s bail jumping and identity theft.

Prosecutors contend Teagle admitted to dealing drugs with Lewis and Waller for years.

Lewis came to the attention of law enforcement officers late last month when surveillance video at a Texaco station in Silver Creek showed three vehicles arrive and somehow pump about $6,000 worth of fuel without paying. A subsequent search at the 100 block of Elk Creek Road in Doty turned up his canopied pickup truck with darkened windows and contained two large fuel tanks, a portable pump and a nozzle.

Lewis’s motorhome was parked inside a barn on the property.

More than a month earlier, an un-named source had told detectives the property owner, Harold Lusk, and a man from California were cooking methamphetamine for sale at the property and stealing large quantities of gasoline from local stations. The cook was supposedly hiding in the barn in a travel trailer. No mention was made in Lewis’s charging documents of meth-making materials located during the search.

Local authorities found a warrant for John A. Lewis out of Sacramento, and a criminal history involving drugs and theft that stretches back to 1986, according to charging documents.

Detectives uncovered records that John Lewis adopted the identity of his younger brother Jason Lewis, who died in 1977 at age 11, according to charging documents.

He was believed to have left town in his 1994 Mountain Air motorhome but charging documents indicate he gave that to Teagle and Waller in exchange for their help; and that Teagle provided him a car.

According to Teagle and Waller’s charging documents, the couple put up $2,000 for his bail and gave him $3,000 travel money. Another individual was paid $250 to arrange Lewis’s bail at Jail Sucks Bail Bonds.

Teagle allegedly arranged to have Lewis’s wife Debra Bean picked up from the Portland airport when she flew up to retrieve her husband.

Lewis bailed out two days after his arrest and failed to return to court for his arraignment.

Lewis is charged in Lewis County Superior Court with first-degree theft, first-degree trafficking in stolen property and possession of methamphetamine, and is also wanted now for bail jumping and identity theft.

Previously charged with Lewis in connection with the alleged fuel trafficking are Lusk, 28; Alyssa J. Hanson, 20, of Doty; and Raymond T. Hankins, 48, of Yelm.

Judge Richard Brosey set bail for Waller yesterday, at $100,000. Although he was about to start a new job driving a log truck, Waller is unemployed so qualified for a court appointed attorney, temporary defense attorney Bob Schroeter said.

The judge was told Teagle earns $1,600 a month managing a spa in Olympia, but also qualified for appointed counsel. Her bail was set at $50,000. Teagle is a 2012 graduate of drug court.

Their arraignments are set for this coming Thursday.

For background, read “Sheriff’s Office: Large scale gasoline stealing operation uncovered” from Friday August 1, 2014, here

News brief: Body recovered near Randle deemed a suicide death

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The Lewis County coroner has concluded a man found dead in the woods south of Randle on Wednesday died from suicide.

The body with a pickup truck was discovered by brush or berry pickers at the end of the 161 Road and is believed to be an individual reported missing from Bonney Lake at the end of May, according to authorities.

Coroner Warren McLeod said he has tentatively confirmed that and expects to make final  identification early next week.

Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Cmdr. Steve Aust said it appeared the body had been there awhile.

McLeod said an autopsy conducted yesterday found no signs of trauma and the cause of death is probable carbon monoxide poisoning, based on items found at the scene.

Ricky Riffe: Former Mossyrock man returns from prison to argue over coming trial

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Convicted murderer Ricky A. Riffe is back in town, transported from prison where he’s serving a virtual life sentence back to the Lewis County Jail as his lawyer is asking a judge to move his upcoming child sex abuse trial to another locale, citing his inability to receive a fair trial in Lewis County.

Defense attorney John Crowley blames the news media, and prejudicial publicity.


Ricky Riffe

“Ricky Riffe was a defendant in one of Lewis County’s most notorious unsolved murder cases,” Crowley wrote. “Drawing both local and national media purporting the crime was solved as soon as he was apprehended.”

Riffe, now 55, was arrested in mid-2012 and extradited from his longtime home in King Salmon, Alaska to Lewis County where he was charged in the 1985 kidnapping, robbery and shotgun deaths of Ed and Minnie Maurin, an elderly Ethel couple. The former Mossyrock resident was found guilty after a six-week trial late last year.

Not long after he arrived, prosecutors filed separate charges that he raped and molested his 9-year-old step-daughter in the mid-1980s, saying new information came to light during the Maurin investigation.

A court hearing is scheduled for Thursday afternoon, on Crowley’s motion for a change of venue.

The lawyer claims inflammatory headlines and also comments from the public on online stories illustrate how his client would not face an impartial jury in Lewis County, in the filing made earlier this month.

Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer responded in a one-page filing that he disagrees with Crowley’s contentions and stated the request is premature.

The trial was initially set for February, but has been postponed until the week of Sept. 8.

Riffe was booked into the local jail this morning.

Riffe was given nearly 103 years last December, after prosecutors persuaded a jury that he at the very least was an accomplice to their other longtime suspect who was deceased, his younger brother John Gregory Riffe.

With no DNA evidence or fingerprints, but nearly 100 individuals testifying, he was convicted as charged in the case in which the Maurin’s were apparently forced to drive to their Chehalis bank and withdraw a sizable amount of cash before being shot in their backs and dumped on a logging road outside of Adna.

Riffe maintains he’s innocent in both cases. He has appealed his convictions.

For background, read “Riffe maintains innocence in face of sentence of more than a century for Maurin murders” from Tuesday December 3, 2013, here

Defendants in large-scale fuel theft out on bail

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Three of the individuals implicated in trafficking stolen fuel from a residence in Doty have pleaded not guilty and are out of custody awaiting trials, but law enforcement is still looking for the man they say owned a canopied pickup truck with darkened windows which held two large fuel tanks, a portable pump and a nozzle.


John Lewis, aka Jason A. Lewis

The man identified as Jason A. Lewis, 47, was arrested when deputies searched the property on Elk Creek Road late last month, but after he made bail, the sheriff’s office concluded he really was John Lewis. They haven’t seen him since.

Detectives were led to their suspects from nighttime surveillance video at a Texaco station on U.S. Highway 12 in Silver Creek from July 28 that showed three vehicles arrive and somehow pump about $6,000 worth of fuel without paying.

They subsequently found numerous containers of gasoline including a 55-gallon drum of it and other items such as a half dozen plug-in access keypads for gas pumps at the Doty property.

Charges were filed Aug. 1 against Lewis, 28-year-old Harold E. Lusk who resides on the Elk Creek property, and Raymond T. Hankins, 48, from Yelm. Prosecutors subsequently charged Lusk’s girlfriend, 20-year-old Alyssa J. Hanson with trafficking in stolen property and possession of methamphetamine.

Lusk and Hanson both appeared in Lewis County Superior Court early last week and again yesterday, when they got dates set for their trials.

Taken from the Silver Creek business was about 1,600 gallons of regular unleaded gasoline, highway diesel and off-road diesel, according to charging documents.

The trials are all on the court calendar for this autumn.

For background, read “On the run: Lewis County deputies seeking three in connection with large-scale fuel theft” from Sunday August 10, 2014, here

One man dead from Centralia knife fight

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

Updated at 5:12 p.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office confirmed this morning the 38-year-old man involved in a fight at a Centralia home on Monday night has died.

He and the 35-year-old resident from the home at the 2700 block of Harrison Avenue were both taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with stab wounds.

No names have yet been released.

The sheriff’s office related on Tuesday morning they learned the 38-year-old and a 33-year-old woman went to the residence shortly before midnight, and a fight ensued between the two men.

Initial information from the resident indicated the dispute was over the woman they both had dated. But she left before law enforcement arrived.

The 38-year-old was said to have stabbed the 35-year-old with an unknown object. The 35-year-old told deputies he grabbed a kitchen knife and used it.

The 35-year-old has been released from the hospital, according to Cmdr. Steve Aust.

Detectives are still investigating the circumstances surrounding the incident.


For background, read “Two Centralia men injured in knife fight, one on life support” from Tuesday Aug. 19, 2014 at 10:23 a.m., here

Two Centralia men injured in knife fight, one on life support

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Two men are hospitalized with stab wounds after a fight at a Centralia home last night about a woman they both have dated.

Aid called to the 2700 block of Harrison Avenue about 11:30 p.m. found two injured males and transported them to Providence Centralia Hospital. Both were subsequently taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Deputies are looking for the woman they believe can provide a witness statement, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

“We really need to find her so we can put some of the puzzle pieces together,” Chief Civil Deputy Stacy Brown said this morning.

Brown said it happened at the residence of one of the victims, a 35-year-old man. The other victim was unable to give any information to deputies, she said.

The investigation has revealed thus far that a 38-year-old Centralia man and the woman arrived to the home shortly before midnight and an argument ensued, according to the sheriff’s office.

The 35-year-old told deputies they began fighting, he was stabbed in the neck with an unknown object and the other man yelled he was going to kill him, according to the sheriff’s office.

Brown relates the 35-year-old said he grabbed a kitchen knife nearby to defend himself and stabbed the 38-year-old.

The 38-year-old is on life support in critical condition with knife injuries to his face and head, according to responders.

No names have been released.

Brown said the woman, 33, who the two were arguing over, called 911 but left the scene in a white VW Passat prior to the arrival of law enforcement. She has an unrelated outstanding felony warrant for her arrest, Brown said, perhaps being the reason for her departure.

Detectives believe she may be in Grays Harbor County.

Brown didn’t have details about the nature and number of injuries each man sustained, but firefighters report one victim was stabbed in the lower neck/shoulder area and was in serious condition. Brown described the injuries to the 35-year-old resident as severe and to his neck and face.

Brown said both men are in critical condition.

The object with which the resident was stabbed has not been found, according to Brown, and detectives are continuing their investigation.

Former Onalaskan John Booth loses appeal

Friday, August 15th, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Convicted triple-murderer John A. Booth Jr. has lost one appeal, but at least one other is still pending.

The former Onalaskan was sentenced to life in prison for the August 2010 shootings at the home of 52-year-old David West Sr., from whom prosecutors contended Booth was seeking payment of a debt for Robbie Russell, a local drug dealer.


John A. Booth Jr.

Seattle lawyer Stephanie Cunningham argued numerous reasons his convictions in 2011 by a jury should be overturned, but a three-member panel of the Washington State Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions.

The 23-page opinion issued earlier this week was authored by Justice Thomas R. Bjorgen, with justices Bradley A. Maxa and Linda Cj Lee concurring.

According to testimony and evidence in the eight-day trial in Lewis County Superior Court, Booth was visiting the Salkum-Onalaska area residence when West brought out a shotgun to get him to leave and Booth shot him with a 9 mm handgun. Prosecutors said the shootings that followed were executions to eliminate witnesses.

Losing their lives that day, along with West Sr., were 16-year-old David “D.J.” West Jr. and 50-year-old Tony Williams of Randle. West Sr.’s girlfriend, Denise Salts, survived. Booth denied shooting them.

Booth’s appeal lawyer claimed that 1) the to-convict jury instruction violated his right to trial by jury and 2) the state presented insufficient evidence to allow a conviction on the attempted extortion charge. In a statement of additional grounds, Booth also alleged that (3) the state obtained evidence against him in violation of the Privacy Act, chapter 9.73RCW; 4) the prosecutor committed misconduct when cross -examining him; 5) the trial court infringed his right to counsel; and 6) the trial court erroneously imposed legal financial obligations that his indigence prevented him from paying.

The appeals court disagreed with most of Cunningham’s contentions.

Booth was sentenced under the state’s so-called three strikes law.

A post-trial motion Booth filed from Walla Walla State Penitentiary asking a judge to to vacate his judgement and sentence however, still has not been argued.

Booth contends eavesdropping on inmates in the jail was governmental misconduct and jeopardized his rights to confidential communications with his lawyers. He called it “ear hustling”.

For that motion, he is represented by Aberdeen-based defense attorney Erik Kupka and his partner.

Booth was convicted in Lewis County Superior Court of one count of second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, attempted extortion and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

For background, read:

• “Convict loses argument about burial expenses related to 2010 triple-homicide” from Monday December 16, 2013, here

• “One of John Booth’s appeals to murder conviction grinding slowly through local court” from Wednesday September 4, 2013, here

• “Ear hustling”: Convicted murderer John Booth tells judge about problems at Lewis County Jail” from Friday July 5, 2013, here

• State of Washington, Respondent V John Allen Booth Jr., Appellant – No. 42919-5-II, Unpublished Opinion, here

Fire destroys Centralia home, man and pet unhurt

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A rural Centralia home burned overnight but the resident and his dog escaped without injury, according to Riverside Fire Authority.

Firefighters called about 3:30 a.m. to the 400 block of Jones Road at the far east end of their jurisdiction found the two-story house fully engulfed in flames, according to Assistant Chief Rick Mack.

The man who lives there was already outside and using a garden hose on it, Mack said.

Chief Mike Kytta reports the fire was too far along to enter the building and was fought only from the exterior.

They were joined by firefighters from Chehalis.

Crews were able to keep the fire from spreading to a storage building, a boat and a pickup truck, according to Kytta.

The house and an adjacent wood shed containing several cords of wood were described as total losses.

Mack said the cause is under investigation, but may be hard to pinpoint given the amount of destruction.

The occupant had been sleeping and was awakened by a smoke alarm, Mack said. When he got up, he saw fire in the area of his enclosed back porch, but couldn’t tell exactly what it was, he said.

The working smoke alarm was key in this situation, Mack said.

“It really is a critical life saving tool,” he said. “As evidenced by this incident here.”

The Red Cross is assisting the resident, according to the fire department.

Forest fire west of Centralia well under control

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

By early Monday evening from a little bit beyond Teague Road, the wildfire had calmed. / Courtesy photo by Juan Martinez


By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

The fire fight west of Centralia is winding down but crews will continue work a few more days to make sure smoldering wood is all the way extinguished and complete what they call mop up.

A spokesperson for the state Department of Natural Resources said the charred area was mapped at just under 60 acres.

“They were hoping at the end of today’s shift to have it 100 percent contained,” Rex Hapala said this evening.

Hapala said approximately 85 firefighters worked today, at the forest fire site about three miles past the end of Teague Road.

“The fire wasn’t very active at all last night,” Hapala said.

The blaze began on Sunday afternoon with Riverside Fire Authority responding, and personnel from DNR joining them as flames swept through some 25 acres that included 40-year-old timber.

The initial call was about a slash pile observed burning in a clear cut area off a logging road.

DNR set up a base at Centralia High School yesterday morning as numerous firefighters were summoned from  Lewis, Pacific and Cowlitz counties.

The property is DNR Trust Land, managed by the state agency with timber profits benefitting schools.

By yesterday afternoon, DNR Incident Commander Aaron Schmidt estimated the size at 40 acres and called it 25 percent contained. A helicopter dropped water on areas describe as hot spots as firefighters worked in 100 degree weather.

Inmate crews from Larch Creek and Naselle Youth Camp assisted as well.

It was the biggest fire DNR’s Pacific Cascade Region had battled in about two weeks, according to Schmidt.

The closest homes were probably a mile and a half away, at the end of Deep Creek Road out of Adna, Schmidt said.

The National Weather Service yesterday issued a red flag warning for dangerous fire weather, with expected lightning and some was seen in the area this morning, and some moisture came with it, according to Hapala.

Hapala said tomorrow they plan to bring in two new inmate crews to do line work around the perimeter, and create a better buffer zone.

He expects the work will continue through the end of the week.

“We’ll be out there a few more days, continuing to do mop up,” he said. “Some of the bigger fuels are still smoking and burning.”


Looking south, flames rise from the hillside beyond Teague Road around 8 p.m. on Sunday. / Courtesy photo by Tracie Trice

Teague Road Fire: 08/11/2014 / Department of Natural Resources

One hundred individuals fighting wildfire in northwest Lewis County

Monday, August 11th, 2014

Updated at 1:28 p.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

The forest fire west of Centralia is 10 percent contained this morning, but covers an area of 40 acres that began about three miles past the end of Teague Road yesterday.

Riverside Fire Authority’s public information officer reports this morning 100 people from Lewis, Pacific and Cowlitz counties are on the scene.

There is no threat to any structures currently, according to Capt. Scott Weinert.

Crews from the Centralia area fire department were called about 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon when a slash pile was discovered burning in a clear cut area off a logging road.

The speed at which the flames spread and in that type of landscape is something not often seen by Centralia firefighters, according to Chief Mike Kytta.

“It’s uncharacteristic for our area,” he said. “In my experience over the last 30 years, this is the third one.”

Personnel from the the state Department of Natural Resources were called in at the beginning, and arrived within about about a half hour, Kytta said.

The fire department described the terrain as rough, with 40-year-old timber on property owned by the state Department of Natural Resources. The area is a mix, with land owned also by three private timber companies in the vicinity, Kytta said.

The initial response included Kytta, Assistant Chief Mack, 12 firefighters and seven pieces of equipment.

“(Chief Mack) was seeing fire devils come through, where wind gets everything spinning like a tornado,” Kytta said. “Flames would shoot 60 feet up a tree in a matter of moments.”

The fire is some distance away from any homes, he said, indicating perhaps a half mile would have been the closest.

Kytta said the fire last night spread in a 360-degree pattern out from the point of origin, with flames pushing to the west.

The scene was turned over to DNR last night and Riverside crews assisted until dark.

Three loads of retardant were dropped from the air last night and helicopters will be used today, according to Weinert.

The National Weather Service this morning issued a red flag warning for dangerous fire weather, for nearly all of Western Washington. Thunder and lightening are predicted for tonight. Temperatures today in Centralia are forecast to be in the mid 90s.

The fire prompted a type three state mobilization.

DNR brought in additional resources this morning and set up a base of operations at Centralia High School. They are expecting to be on the fire through Saturday, according to Weinert.

Members of Riverside Fire Authority today are on standby, and ready to protect any structures or be available for any emergency medical services, according to Kytta.

The concerns today are two-fold, the chief said.

The “fuel package” is very dry, because of the stretch of hot weather and the area could get lightening tonight and the conditions that would bring, he said.

“You’ll have the wind pick up and that can cause spotting and spreading of the fire,” he said.

DNR today banned all outdoor burning on DNR protected lands, including campfires and offered a message to those who ignore them: Those who start or spread fires are subject to civil and criminal penalties.

Crane Street fire outside Tenino under control

Monday, August 11th, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A wild fire that started about two miles southeast of Tenino yesterday afternoon was contained last night but personnel from the  state Department of Natural Resources are at the fire station this morning and likely will be utilizing one of the school buildings as a base to support further work on that parcel and also on another fire that flared up yesterday evening.

Thurston County Fire District 12 was called about 3:11 p.m. to unimproved property at the 17200 block of Crane Street Southeast, on Bluemauer Hill for a brush fire reported to be about five feet by five feet, according to District 12 Battalion Chief Jim Fowler .

“Within just a few minutes, it was a 10-acre fire,” Fowler said this morning.

Members of nine other fire departments joined them, to work on extinguishing grass, brush, trees and other vegetation, he said.

By about 7:30 p.m., an eight-foot wide path was bulldozed around it, he said.

A shack and two vehicles on the 40-acre parcel burned, according to Fowler.

Crews arrived from as far away as Napavine to protect homes as close as 300 feet away, he said.

Fowler said the property previously belonged to a timber company, and he believes it now belongs to a man who uses it for outdoor parties, one of which began Friday night and went into Saturday night, he said.

The scene was turned over to DNR about 8 p.m.

Fowler said it grew to about 13 acres. A spokesperson from DNR last night described at around 20 acres.

Members of Tenino’s District 12 are assisting DNR with mopup there this morning, he said.

“Then of course there’s the threat of lightning over the next couple of days, so I think they’re going to stay,” Fowler said of DNR.

DNR is working a second fire that began last night about a mile to the east of the Crane Street fire, off Johnson Creek Road Southeast, at a gravel pit on timberland owner by Weyerhaeuser, according to Fowler.

A 10-person DNR hand crew is out there this morning “limbing” trees, he said. Fowler this morning said he understood that fire covered about six acres. It’s an area where there are no homes and can’t be accessed by trucks, he said.

Fowler has a DNR level three incident management team with him this morning at the fire station, and noted he understood the wildfire in Shelton that also began yesterday afternoon is pretty much out.

Timber ignites near clear-cut area west of Centralia

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

Smoke from Teague Road fire viewed from Albany Street in Rochester. / Courtesy photo by Deb Meyers

Updated at 7:44 p.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Three large wildfires ignited this afternoon in Southwest Washington, all about the same time including west of Centralia and near Tenino, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

A fire off Teague Road in north Lewis County was reported to Riverside Fire Department about 3:10 p.m.

A spokesperson for DNR said it is burning in 40-year-old timber and threatening structures. Janet Pearce said she didn’t know if that meant homes or outbuildings.

The state agency has air resources on that fire, Pearce said.

Near Crane Road in Tenino, a brush fire has covered about 20 acres and also is threatening structures, according to Pearce. One structure and two vehicles had been lost before 7:30 p.m., according to a tweet from DNR

A third fire in Shelton is threatening the Simpson Lumber Mill, Pearce said about 7 o’clock this evening.

Riverside Fire Authority which protects Centralia and its surrounding area tweeted the brush fire began about three miles past the end of Teague Road in a clear-cut area and as of 6 p.m. had grown to 25 acres.

Ryan Weaver of Napavine said he and a friend went to visit a buddy on Deep Creek Road in Adna and as they were leaving, smelled smoke.

They took the logging road that goes to Teague Road and about halfway there, found a slash pile burning, Weaver said. Roughly two acres around it were on fire and spreading fast, so they called 911, he said.

Weaver said a plane was circling overhead and they warned a man who was out shooting a gun there was fire.

Riverside Fire Authority Firefighter-paramedic Chris Layton said there was no way to know this early how or why a slash pile was burning during the burn ban.

RFA’s public information officer notes fire managers are asking the public to stay clear of the area, as traffic is creating problems in the area on logging roads.

DNR tweeted at about 7:18 p.m. that 10 acres in grass and brush were burning in the Johnson Creek are of south Thurston County.

More information to come.

Meanwhile, follow comments, photos and updates from readers on Lewis County Sirens Facebook page.


A burning slash pile is discovered off a logging road beyond Teague Road about 3 p.m. today. / Courtesy photo by Ryan Weaver


On the run: Lewis County deputies seeking three in connection with large-scale fuel theft

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The man arrested when deputies found a variety of items at a property in Doty linking him to the theft of about $6,000 in fuel from a Silver Creek gas station has disappeared, and it seems he’s not who he said he was.


John Lewis, aka Jason A. Lewis

The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office was investigating a nighttime incident captured on surveillance cameras at the Texaco when they searched property at the 100 block of Elk Creek Road in Doty late last month. They turned up a half dozen plug-in access keypads used to override gasoline pumps, plus a canopied pickup truck with darkened windows which held two large fuel tanks, a portable pump and a nozzle.

A man identified as Jason A. Lewis, 47, was found near a recreational vehicle parked inside a barn and tried to run, but was detained and subsequently charged with  first-degree theft, first-degree trafficking in stolen property and possession of methamphetamine, according to court documents.

His bail was set at $20,000 when he went before a judge, in part because prosecutors believed he had an extensive criminal history in California, under a different name.

Last week, detectives concluded he was actually John Lewis, that he was using his brother’s name, and that he had fraudulent identification for it.


Harold E. Lusk

On Wednesday, detective Dan Riordan said Lewis bailed out of jail, and they were looking for him for identity theft. Riordan believed Lewis and his girlfriend would be traveling in the motorhome he had previously parked in the Doty barn. It’s a 1994 Mountain Air, registered to his brother, according to the detective.

Lewis didn’t show up for his scheduled court hearing on Thursday, where he and his court-appointed attorney were expected to appear for his arraignment on the original charge.

The sheriff’s office says Lewis may accompanied by his girlfriend, Jodi Hamer.

They are asking for help in locating him.

Lewis is one of three people charged on Aug. 1 in connection with the July 28 theft of about 1,600 gallons of fuel, including regular unleaded gasoline, highway diesel and off-road diesel.

Also charged were 28-year-old Harold E. Lusk who resides on the Elk Creek property, and Raymond T. Hankins, 48, from Yelm.


Alyssa J. Hanson

This past Wednesday, authorities charged Lusk’s girlfriend, 20-year-old Alyssa J. Hanson with trafficking in stolen property and possession of methamphetamine.

Charging documents state Hanson spoke with detectives when the property was searched and she acknowledged she and Lusk split their time between living in a travel trailer there and the house, both places in which suspected meth was found. She allegedly said Lusk acquired fuel and that she and him distributed it to others from the Elk Creek Road property, according to court documents.

The case began to come together when deputies recognized two faces and a license plate on the surveillance video, put together with an earlier tip from an unnamed person who told law enforcement Lusk and his associates had been stealing large amounts of gasoline from local gas stations.

The unnamed individual also said Lusk and a man from California who was hiding in Lusk’s barn in a trailer were cooking methamphetamine for sale. No mention was made in Lewis’s charging documents of of meth-making materials located during the search.

However, according to court documents, numerous containers of gasoline, including a 55-gallon drum of it were discovered.

Lusk’s warrant includes four counts of unlawful possession of firearms, in connection with guns found that day.

Detectives thought Hanson and Lusk may still be in Lewis County, or may have been planning to leave the state.

Meanwhile, Hankins was picked up on his warrant in Thurston County, and bailed out, but appeared out-of-custody in Lewis County Superior Court on Thursday. Judge James Lawler allowed Hankins to remain free on the $25,000 bail he posted.

His arraignment is set for this coming Thursday.

The sheriff’s office asks anyone with information on the whereabouts of Lusk, Hanson or Lewis to phone them at 360-748-9286 or call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-748-6422 if they wish to remain anonymous or earn a reward.


For background, read “Sheriff’s Office: Large scale gasoline stealing operation uncovered” from Friday August 1, 2014, here


Raymond T. Hankins, 48, is represented by defense attorney Bob Schroeter when he appears before a judge on Thursday in Lewis County Superior Court  to hear the charges against him.


Lewis County sheriff’s detectives share this photo of a 1994 Mountain Air – with a fox emblem – similar to the one John Lewis may be driving.

Primary election: Centralia area fire department gains support for increased taxes

Friday, August 8th, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Three days after the primary election and after the counting today of further ballots that arrived in the mail, Riverside Fire Authority Chief Mike Kytta said he thinks now he can say the levy has passed.

The fire department that protects Centralia and its surrounding area asked citizens to consider a new maintenance and operations levy, to supplement a steeply declining budget.

Just over 65 percent of voters said yes, according to a second tally conducted today by election officials.

The estimated levy rate is 49 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value and will be used for fire protection and rescue services, facilities, maintenance, staffing and operations.

“Our entire organization of course is very, very thankful to the voters,” Kytta said this afternoon.

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.

The department has already seen a nearly 30 percent loss in response forces this year, according to the chief. Passing the levy won’t bring those employees back, he said.

“It won’t return things to pre-2014 level, but hopefully we’re stabilized,” Kytta said.

Mainly, they were trying to get ahead of predicted losses of revenue next year, where uncertainty still remains, Kytta said.

Tuesday’s primary election has seen a turnout of just shy of 34 percent. It won’t be certified until Aug. 19.

Most of the ballots that will count have been counted, according to Lewis County Election Supervisor Mariann Zumbuhl.

Riverside needed a 60 percent super majority for its measure.

Voters south of Ashford in the region around what is known as the Big Creek area or Paradise Estates appear to have passed a fire department levy as well.

In Lewis County Fire District 17 Big Creek-Mineral, 41 of the 52 individuals who cast ballots said yes to replace an expiring EMS levy.

That’s nearly 79 percent and they only needed 50 percent plus one vote, according to Zumbuhl.

Many other items were on the ballot, but won’t be decided until the November general election, such as the contested race for Lewis County sheriff.

Sheriff Steve Mansfield announced in February he would retire at the end of this year.

Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Rob Snaza secured nearly 78 percent of the votes.

Brian Green, a former member of the U.S. Navy who performs in and manages a local band of musicians, took almost 22 percent of the votes.

Snaza is listed on the ballot as preferring the Republican Party, Green prefers the Independent Party.

Also among those on the ballot, but running without challengers were Jonathan Meyer looking or a second term as county prosecutor, Warren McLeod aiming for a second term as county coroner, and Kathy Brack heading for a fourth term as county clerk.

Click here to see the rest of the races.

Former Centralia auto business owners avoid jail cells

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Keith A. Birdwell watches as the judge decides how much time to give his wife after his own sentencing this afternoon in Lewis County Superior Court.


By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – He clearly didn’t like it, but a judge agreed today to give Keith A. Birdwell one year of house arrest so he could work and pay back $1 million to a local bank.

Lewis County Superior Court Judge James Lawler was told by attorneys on the case that Security State Bank was on board with their deal that in exchange for a $100,000 downpayment on his restitution, the former used car dealer could avoid a lengthy prison term for his conviction on first-degree theft and three counts of felony unlawful issuance of a bank check.

Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Eric Eisenberg suggested the alternative of Birdwell sitting in prison and being ordered to pay back what he owes at $25 a month meant the bank would not likely get back much of its money.

Lawler called it a dilemma and said he didn’t want to victimize the Centralia-based financial institution again.

“The bank is making a business decision, they’re the ones that are the victims in this,” Lawler said. “It’s because of their participation, I’m going to follow the agreed recommendation, but I’m not happy about it.”

Birdwell, 48, and his wife were charged early last year with theft, for using various deceptions to dodge repaying what they borrowed for the vehicles at Birdwell Auto Sales in Centralia and their lot in Lacey. Both businesses are now closed.

He pleaded guilty this past spring. The deals were tied together. Lorinne D. Birdwell made a so-called Alford plea – not admitting guilt – last month, to attempted second-degree theft, a gross misdemeanor.

Tacoma-based defense attorney Keith McFie had told the judge he just today got a check for half of the $100,000 and didn’t say from who, but said the lender conditioned the money on Keith Birdwell being able to work.

The benches behind the defense table were crowded with apparent supporters of the Toledo couple.

Keith Birdwell stood when he addressed the court and apologized.

He said he’d never experienced the economy change so quickly and the that the value of the vehicles he offered for sale dropped rapidly. Rather than humble himself and admit troubles, he took advantage of his bank’s trust, he said.

“I used money to pay off vehicles already sold, I wrote checks before I had money in the bank,” he said. “I take full responsibility.”

Keith Birdwell noted he also lost $400,000 of his own money he’d put into the business over the years.

His lawyer told the judge he thought his client believed in himself too much, and now knows he ought to have shut down operations sooner.

“He ended up with inventory he couldn’t sell at the value of the flooring loans,” McFie said. “That’s when the desperation set in.”

Court documents described the flooring loans from the bank as like a line of credit, allowing the Birdwells to stock their dealership while maintaining capital to acquire new vehicles; they promised in their contract to notify the bank and pay off each loan within 10 days of selling the vehicle.

The troubles came to a head in July 2012 when a bank employee discovered 21 vehicles were unaccounted for, according to court documents.

Keith Birdwell is currently working three jobs and the details of how he will pay off the rest of the $1,005,779.65, McFie said he didn’t know; except he had anticipated the court might put his client under some sort of supervision.

His specific sentence is 364 days on electronic home monitoring, which must begin by Aug. 26.

Because Keith Birdwell also pleaded to the aggravating factors that the actions were major economic offenses with a high degree of sophistication, Judge Lawler was free to impose a penalty of up to 10 years in prison if he chose.

Lawler warned Birdwell if he missed his deadline, he would sit in jail the entire 364 days.

Before the hour-long hearing was over, Lorinne Birdwell took her turn at the defense table.

Eisenberg told the judge he recommended the same 364 days, as it was his and the bank’s position she was equally culpable, although as far as restitution, she would be jointly liable for only about $840,000 of the total.

“My understanding of the evidence was Mrs. Birdwell was the person in charge to contact the bank and let them know when a vehicle was sold,” he said. “There are indications of occasions when she didn’t do that.”

Seattle defense attorney Allen M. Ressler argued that would be a mistake, as the state allowed her to plead to a far lesser charge and the notion she was an equal participant was without any support in the evidence. He asked for 30 days of house arrest.

Lawler said he agreed with some of his logic, and imposed 90 days on electronic home monitoring. But the rest of her 364 sentence was suspended, essentially hanging over her head for two years, he said.

“You heard everything I said to your husband,” Lawler told her. “The same things apply to you.”

The judge set a review date of Nov. 7, to make sure the attempt to pay restitution have not been blown off, and addressed Lorinne Birdwell once again.

“You’re the one who could be sitting back in jail,” he said.

For background, read “Centralia used car business theft defendants get a break” from Thursday July 3, 2014, here