Archive for the ‘Top story of the day’ Category

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.

Dry vegetation keeps fire crews hopping

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

Firefighters with DNR could see a smoke column from a Toledo fire on Herriford Road all the way in Castle Rock and responded to assist. / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Fire District 2.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Firefighters were called about 4:30 a.m. today when flames were seen on a long residential driveway in Adna.

They were into the trees and crawling up some stumps, burning an area of about 100 feet by 50 feet, according to Lewis County Fire District 6.

The fire on the 600 block of Brockway Road is under investigation by the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, Firefighter Mike Goodwillie said.

Personnel from Lewis County Fire District 5 assisted, he said.

Goodwillie said there were a couple of minor injuries from falls, from working to extinguish the fire on the steep bank in the dark.

Meanwhile, a fire yesterday afternoon that burned as many as four acres of a field of grain south of Toledo appeared to have ignited from farm equipment working on the property at the time.

Crews from Toledo, Winlock, and Vader as well as two brush units with the state Department of Natural Resources which saw the smoke column from Castle Rock encountered a wind-driven fire but brought it under control within a half hour after their arrival, according to Lewis County Fire District 2.

It was reported about 4:30 p.m. at the 100 block of Herriford Road, according to Chief Grant Wiltbank.

And DNR reported this morning the large forest fire five miles southwest of Pe Ell is covering 117 acres but is 30 percent contained.

The blaze is burning in recently harvested timber, slash and mature timber on property owned by Rayonier. More than 200 individuals have been battling it.

The plan for today was to build and complete containment lines, according to DNR spokesperson Nick Cronquist.

The Fork Peak fire reported on Thursday evening is in Pacific County, at the Lewis County line. Its cause remains under investigation, according to Cronquist.

“The 2014 fire season is not over,” Cronquist stated in a morning memo. “With temperatures remaining high and no significant weather in the forecast, be mindful of areas around your home with potential of fire risk.”

In the Salkum area, the fire chief has this message for the public today: “The burn ban is still on,” Lewis County Fire District 8 Chief Duran McDaniel said.

McDaniel said he and other fire chiefs continue to get late night calls for bon fires not in approved receptacles.


For background, see ” ‘Really big’ wildfire spreading southwest of Pe Ell” from Friday Sept. 12, 2014 at 9:15 p.m., here


The Fork Peak fire in eastern Pacific County is 30 percent contained this morning. / Courtesy photo by Mary Huels, DNR


A helicopter drops water on the Fork Peak Fire southwest of Pe Ell. / Courtesy photo by Mary Huels, DNR

Five hurt, one dead after multiple motorcycle wreck near Pe Ell

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A motorcycle accident on state Route 6 near Pe Ell yesterday killed one and injured five other motorcyclists, shutting the roadway for hours.

Troopers called just after 2 p.m. to the scene four miles west of town found a group of about 20 motorcyclists had begun their ride in Cowlitz County, ridden a loop on Highway 101 and were heading back toward Chehalis when it happened.

Members of two fire departments and medics with AMR responded to treat the patients, one of which was airlifted from the school, according to Lewis County Fire District 11 Chief Michael Krafczyk.

According to the Washington State Patrol, it began when Shawn M. Jessee, 41, of Longview, failed to negotiate a left-hand curve, lost control of his Honda VTX180 on the gravel shoulder and hit the guardrail. He and his passenger Teresa F. Jessee, 47, of Longview, were both ejected but his bike headed back into the eastbound lane where it was struck by another motorcyclist.

That rider, Ronald L. Carr, 56, of Castle Rock, was ejected.

A third motorcyclist, Cheryl F. Palm, 50, also of Castle Rock, lost control, landed on the roadway and was hit by a fourth bike, according to the state patrol.

Krafczyk said firefighters started CPR on Teresa F. Jessee, but arriving medics pronounced her dead at the scene.

Responders from Lewis County Fire District 16 set up a landing zone at the Pe Ell school, and Palm was flown to Oregon Health and Sciences University Hospital, according to responders.

All were wearing helmets, Trooper Terry Brunstad said.

The state Department of Transportation shut down the highway, for about five hours while troopers conducted their investigation, Brunstad said. There was nowhere to create a detour, he said.

“The road was just littered with bikes and parts,” Brunstad said.

A spokesperson for Providence Centralia Hospital said this morning that Shawn M. Jessee was treated and has been released. Carr was treated and transferred to an unspecified hospital, spokesperson Chris Thomas said.

The man and woman from Clatskanie traveling on the fourth motorcycle were injured but not hospitalized, and their Harley Davidson was able to be driven from the scene, according to the state patrol.

“Really big” wildfire spreading southwest of Pe Ell

Friday, September 12th, 2014

A fixed-wing plane flies over the wildfire at the Pacific-Lewis county line. / Courtesy photo by Mary Huels, DNR

Updated at 9:33 p.m.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A forest fire burning southwest of Pe Ell has drawn some 200 individuals who have set up camp for the night at the Falls Creek Retreat Center about 10 miles west of town in Pacific County.

The fire was reported at 5:15 p.m. yesterday and is on private timberland owned by Rayonier.

“Right now it’s all industrial timberland, not a large threat to any homes or personal property,” Nick Cronquist, a spokesperson for the state Department of Natural Resources said this evening.

Late this afternoon, flames had run over some 93 acres, according to Cronquist. It doubled in size overnight.

“It’s really big for this neck of the woods,” he said. “It boils down to the weather we’re having.”

Seven fire engines, eight water tenders and 13 hand crews battled the blaze today, along with three helicopters, plus a fixed wing plane which is supervising all the aircraft, he said. It’s zero percent contained.

The firefighters come from local area fire districts, DNR and even some from the National Forest Service, he said.

A tanker which would fill its belly with water from Willapa Bay was ordered, but Cronquist said he didn’t know if it got any runs in before the sun went down.

The smoke and glow are within eye site of the town of Pe Ell, at the far west end of Lewis County, he said.

A crew from the Larch Correctional Facility brought a kitchen in, he said.

The National Weather Service began warning earlier this week that an expected combination of low humidity and east winds would cause vegetation to dry out, making conditions ripe for wild fires.

Lewis County Fire District 11 Chief Michael Krafczyk was among those who gathered this morning at the VFW Hall in Pe Ell to strategize for the day. District 11 provided water support today.

The fire is under the command of DNR’s Pacific Cascade Region.

Nobody has been injured, Cronquist said, but winds yesterday evening caused them to pull crews off the fire.

No night operations were planned, but two engines will monitor the fire, he said.

A morning briefing is planned for 6 a.m., and they’ll get back at it, he said.


CORRECTION: This news story has been updated to correctly reflect the number of hand crews working the fire today.


Local fire departments join crews from DNR battling wildfire at the Pacific-Lewis county line. / Courtesy photo by Mary Huels, DNR


Courtesy image Department of Natural Resources

Large forest fire burning beyond Pe Ell

Friday, September 12th, 2014

Facing west from north of Pe Ell on the 1500 Line last night. / Courtesy photo by Nate Holmes

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Fire personnel are gathered at the VFW Hall in Pe Ell making plans to attack a wildfire on private timberland.

“We’re working on setting up facilities and things for about 200 people coming this way,”  Lewis County Fire District 11 Chief Michael Krafczyk said this morning.

Krafczyk and other local firefighters are assisting the state Department of Natural Resources, which is in charge of the fire.

Krafczyk said he learned at a 7 a.m. briefing the fire doubled in size from last night, and is burning an estimated 50 to 60 acres.

Exactly where it is, he couldn’t say this morning, but the access road is between Pe Ell and the Swiss Park in Francis to the west, he said. And then about an hour’s drive beyond paved roads, he said.

A DNR spokesperson said the fire is burning on a logging site, and two helicopters have been summoned.

“It’s not threatening (Pe Ell) or anything like that,” Krafczyk said. “Just forest land, right now.”

NTSB Report: Small plane bounced on ground, rocked in the air before fiery Chehalis crash

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The short flight of the single-engine plane that crashed and burned in Chehalis was rocky from the start, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

For an unexplained reason, the pilot began his take off on the grass, well back from the approach end of the runway and bounced on the uneven terrain as its speed increased, according to the recently released preliminary report  from the NTSB.


Courtesy photo by Bill Klumbs

“The witness further reported that the airplane subsequently made it onto the runway’s surface and became airborne, but the initial climb was not stabilized; the airplane’s wings were rocking from side to side, and it’s nose was pitching up and down,” the report states.

Within moments, the three-quarter-scale replica of a popular WWII fighter plane, was wrecked and burning in a fenced lot across Interstate 5 from the Chehalis-Centralia Airport; it’s only occupant dead. Firefighters responding the evening of Aug. 26 to the location along Maryland Avenue found the nearly all-wood aircraft virtually consumed.

The pilot Gregory G. Graham, 66, of Centralia, had recently purchased the so-called kit plane, trailered it in and reassembled it, according to authorities.

Peter Knudson, a spokesperson for the NTSB, said he didn’t know if that was its first flight after being put back together.

The NTSB’s report simply describes the facts and circumstances of the incident, it doesn’t contain any analysis or point to a cause, Knudson said today. The average length of an investigation is 12 months.

“There’s a lot of work yet to be done,” Knudson said.

Chehalis-Centralia Airport Manager Allyn Roe described the plane as a P5151 Mustang. The NTSB labels it a Thomas C. Sikes Loehle 5151 Mustang.

The aircraft is classified by the NTSB an experimental plane, meaning it was built by an individual and not a factory.

The day after the incident, Roe told of an out-of-the-area corporate jet pilot, who watched the small plane take off to the north and never really going any higher than about 100 feet.

The investigator with the NTSB cites a professional pilot who observed the take off from the airport’s south perimeter road, from behind the plane. The un-named witness stated the plane made a right turn of about 180 degrees as it continued its wobbling climb.

“The airplane the(n) went into a right bank and steep nose down attitude from an altitude of about 500 feet above ground level prior to impacting terrain to the east of his location,” the report states.

Its landing spot, at the Chehalis Collision Center next to the freeway and near a residential neighborhood, was a little more than two football field lengths from where its take off run began, according to the report.

Nobody on the ground was injured, but at least two parked trucks in the lot were damaged.

For background, read “Professional pilot watched small plane struggle to climb before deadly Chehalis crash” from Wednesday Aug. 27, 2014, here

Suspicious: Barn burns to the ground in Mossyrock

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Mossyrock firefighters were called last night to a structure fire just west of town, the third fire in the area in three weeks.

They found a large 1920s-era barn fully engulfed in flames, its roof already collapsed, Lewis County Fire District 3 Chief Doug Fosburg said. Investigators are looking into the cause, he said.

The department was toned out at 10:20 p.m. to the hayfield just south of the intersection at Mossyrock Road West and Aldrich Road, he said.

“We had two tenders from District 8 that supported us,” he said. “We were there until about 2:30 this morning.”

Nobody was injured. The metal-roofed barn contained old hay and various pieces of haying equipment. There also was an old John Deere combine inside, he said.

“The hay is still burning, we’re working on getting that out now,” Fosburg said just before noon.

The owner of the property lives elsewhere, he said.

The Department of Natural Resources responded today, because of two recent small fires that occurred in the tree-line on the north side of the property, he said.

It’s suspicious and the county fire investigator is in touch with the sheriff’s office, he said.

Salkum ambulance hits elk on Interstate 5

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

The ambulance belonging to Lewis County Fire District 8 is damaged from an elk on the freeway. / Courtesy photo by Spring Hughes-Witham

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Two members of the Salkum fire department and the patient in the back of their ambulance were hospitalized after colliding with an elk on Interstate 5 south of Chehalis overnight.

It happened as they were northbound approaching the milepost 72 interchange for Napavine, according to Lewis County Fire District 8.

“They were transporting a patient to Providence, had an elk walk out in front of them, it was about five points,” Fire Chief Duran McDaniel said.

McDaniel said the patient was uninjured from the incident and was transferred to an ambulance with Lewis County District 5 and taken on to the hospital.

Neither the driver nor the firefighter-EMT who was in the back had life threatening injuries, according to McDaniel. They were transported to Providence Centralia Hospital as well, he said.

He said he wasn’t yet sure if the ambulance was repairable or would be totaled.

“The passenger compartment was intact but the front end was pushed in,” he said.

McDaniel said he was just preparing to head home after responding to assist with the call in Ethel for the fall victim and saw a message on his cell phone from his crew, about 2:20 a.m.: “We hit an elk, everybody appears to be okay,” was the message, he said,

The ambulance was taken to nearby Braun Northwest, the place where it was built in 2008, he said. District 8 has two other ambulances, he said.

Portland resident hurt while base jumping south of Randle

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Rescuers tend to injured base jumper below Tower Rock outside of Randle. / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Fire District 14

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A 38-year-old Portland man was seriously injured when his parachute didn’t fully deploy as he base jumped from a 3,300 foot tall rock in the forest miles south of Randle yesterday.

A witness saw the man hit the rock wall several times on the way down before disappearing into the timber, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

The Randle Fire Department was called about 11:45 a.m., hiked the steep terrain and reached the patent by 2 p.m., according to Fire Chief Jeff Jaques.

His two friends had hiked to the base of the mountain where they found him bleeding, with multiple fractures to his lower legs, the sheriff’s office reports. One had hiked out to call 911.

Jaques reports the patient was conscious.

A U.S. Navy helicopter from Whidbey Island responded to hoist the jumper, according to the sheriff’s office.

He was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Jaques reports his injuries were serious. Sheriff’s Office Chief Civil Deputy Stacy Brown reports he was critical.

Tower Rock is located in the Cispus Valley near the Cispus Environmental Center.

The rescue effort included members of Lewis County Fire District 14, Lewis County Search and Rescue, Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, Airlift Northwest personnel and two volunteers from the CIspus Learning Center.

2014.0908.tower rock.lcsojpeg

Tower Rock south of Randle. / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

Witness against local pain pill dealer sentenced to time served

Sunday, September 7th, 2014


By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The Napavine woman accused of being now-convicted drug dealer Forrest Amos’s “right hand woman” has settled her case with prosecutors and been ordered to get an evaluation and treatment for substance abuse.

Jennifer Lantau, now, 30, was charged in May of last year with dealing in Oxycodone, and became an informant for police, according to court documents. She’s the individual prosecutors contended assisted Amos to continue his drug trafficking while he was behind bars.

“She was, at his request and on her own behalf to fund her prescription pill addiction,” Lewis County prosecutors wrote in charging documents.

Lantau was charged with three counts of delivery of Oxycodone occurring in the spring of 2013, one count of attempted possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, as well as possession of marijuana with intent to deliver and straight possession of marijuana and originally held on $100,000 bail.

However, by last October, Lantau agreed to become a “cooperating witness” against her boyfriend.

Amos was sentenced last month to 12 years behind bars for a multitude of offenses based on a lengthy investigation by Centralia police. Law enforcement estimated that in 2011 when he was aggressively dealing Oxycodone, that he was the main supplier of the synthetic opiate within Lewis County, possessing and dealing thousands of pills a month.

Lantau didn’t have to testify against Amos, as instead of a trial, he entered into a plea agreement. He was sentenced on Aug. 20.

Lantau appeared in Lewis County Superior Court last week to be sentenced for for lesser charges, just two counts of possession of Oxycodone, and one count of felony possession of marijuana. She was given 36 days in jail for each and given credit for the time already served, according to court documents.

She was free to leave after Wednesday’s hearing, but will remain under the supervision of the state Department of Corrections for 12 months, according to Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer.

“The fact that we had her as a cooperating witness is part of what helped us settle with Forrest Amos,” Meyer said.

For background, read “News brief: Local oxycodone dealer goes back to prison” from Thursday Aug. 21, 2014, here

Ricky Riffe makes Alford plea in 1980s child sex abuse case

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

Ricky A. Riffe, in red, waits as his lawyer John Crowley and Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer finish up paperwork during hearing in Lewis County Superior Court.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The former Mossyrock man who is imprisoned for more than a century in a long unsolved Lewis County double murder struck a plea deal in a second old case that was revived while he awaited trial last year.

Ricky A. Riffe was convicted last autumn in the 1985 kidnapping, robbery and shotgun deaths of an elderly Ethel couple, Ed and Minnie Maurin. Just months after he was brought from his home in Alaska, prosecutors filed charges Riffe had sexually abused his 9-year-old step-daughter in the mid-1980s.

Had he lost in the trial that was to begin next week in Lewis County Superior Court, he would have faced a mandatory minimum of 20 years for the alleged statutory rape and indecent liberties, according to his lawyer.

Last week, defense attorney John Crowley said, he put together a proposal to help both sides get what they wanted in the case, and then called Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer .

Prosecutors dropped the rape charge and the now-55-year-old made an Alford plea yesterday, not admitting any guilt. The court hearing was very short.

“He feels very strongly he would not get a fair trial,” Crowley said yesterday outside the courtroom. “He had no hope of a fair trial, period.”

His client believes he will win his appeal in the Maurin case, and then will have the opportunity to return to court for a re-sentencing in the sex case, where he would face a standard sentencing range of just 12 to 14 months, because he would have fewer criminal history “points”, his lawyer said.

Meyer was pleased with the arrangement as well, noting it wouldn’t have been an easy case to take to trial, relying on witness memories from events of 30 years ago.

“We look at this as a win, win,” Meyer said. “Because it gives finality to the case.”

The victim was in agreement with the deal, he said.

A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled, as the parties have to wait for a pre-sentence review from the state Department of Corrections who will give their recommendation of how much time he should serve.

As part of the deal, Riffe gave up his right to appeal yesterday’s conviction. He also gave up his rights to seek any further reviews or appeals of his convictions in the Maurin case, beyond the appeal that is already underway, Meyer said.

He was convicted by a jury last Nov. 18, as charged, of two counts each of first-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery as well as one count of burglary. All were first-degree. The jury also found the crimes involved particularly vulnerable victims, deliberate cruelty and that the defendant showed an egregious lack of remorse. The judge gave him the longest sentence allowable under the law, 1,234 months.

Prosecutors persuaded the jury that he at the very least was an accomplice to their other longtime suspect who was deceased, his younger brother John Gregory Riffe.

Riffe is serving his sentence at Walla Walla State Penitentiary.

He maintains he’s innocent in both cases.

“He specifically said he didn’t do it,” Crowley said yesterday afternoon of the child sex crime.

Crowley said not only was it investigated back when the allegations were first made and the county prosecutor declined to file charges, but that Riffe willingly took a lie detector test and passed.

The Seattle-based defense attorney contended the sexual abuse charges were a ploy to smear his client, in a small community that was closely following the news of the coming double murder trial.

When Riffe is sentenced, he faces a standard sentencing range of 57 months to 75 months.


For background, read:

• “Attorneys dispute statute of limitations rules on surprise child sex charge for Maurin double murder defendant” from Saturday February 23, 2013, here

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