Archive for the ‘Top story of the day’ Category

Monument to fallen officers takes its place in Chehalis

Friday, January 31st, 2014
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The Guardian now sits outside the Lewis County Law and Justice Center on Main Street in Chehalis.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Some 200 individuals gathered despite a light rain at the courthouse entrance yesterday to witness the unveiling of a memorial to local law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty.

“I’m honored and feel very privileged to dedicate this to the seven officers who lost their lives,” Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield said. “Also to the families who’ve sacrificed and to the police officers who now and the future work to protect us.”

Its creator, local artist Jim Stafford, named it The Guardian. He removed a black drape to reveal the bronze statue depicting an officer, a little girl and a K-9.

Centralia Police Department Chief Bob Berg made note of the efforts made by those shepherding the project, the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Association and others.

Berg and Mansfield read the names which each are engraved on the granite base, and laid a red rose for each one.

The widow of the most recent officer to die carried a rose to Deputy Brady Taylor who placed it in memory of Deputy Stephen Mike Gallagher Jr. Gallagher was killed after his patrol car struck an elk on his way to a call to assist Brady in east Lewis County four and half years ago.

Those memorialized are:

• Marshal James C. A. Parsons, Centralia Police Department, end of watch: June 30, 1903

• Officer William H. Smith, Centralia Police Department, end of watch: Dec. 23, 1910

• Deputized Civilian John A. Haney, Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, end of watch: Nov. 15, 1919

• Deputy Seth “Riv” Jackson, Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, end of watch: April 7, 1937

• Deputy Ernest Runke, Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, end of watch: Sept. 19, 1957

• K-9 “Ward”, Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, end of watch: Oct. 15, 1985

• Deputy Richard A. Snider, Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, end of watch: Feb. 8, 1986

• Deputy Stephen “Mike” Gallagher Jr., Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, end of watch: Aug. 18, 2009

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The monument sits atop brick work which includes messages, names and dedications from individual donors.

Winlock woman owns up to stealing thousands of dollars from her employer

Thursday, January 30th, 2014
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Katrina Bowen consults with her lawyer after the judge asks her to describe specifically what she did to commit first-degree theft.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The employee accused of helping herself to as many as $2,500 worth of lottery tickets a day from the Flying K store and gas station in Toledo admitted to a judge yesterday what she did; she pleaded guilty.

It was only eight days ago when Katrina M. Bowen went before a judge to hear the charges filed against her.

Bowen was fired in September after the owners discovered the source of their increasingly severe cash flow woes, analyzed their books and confronted her. The loss is estimated at more than $175,000.

She said she was keeping track of her ticket purchases in her head.

Gordon and Tonya Lovell said they’ve struggled for almost 20 years to grow their business, working six and seven days a week and this summer had to borrow money to keep afloat.

The Flying K at the 100 block of Cowlitz Street includes a Napa Auto Parts store and is the base for their Toledo Towing.

“At the end of August, we just came up against a brick wall,” Gordon “Rick” Lovell said.

Bowen, 37, of Winlock, had worked for them eight or nine years and became not only a trusted employee, but like family to them, the couple said.

When Police Chief John Brockmueller interviewed Bowen, she reportedly admitted to pocketing money from beer sales and to playing as many as 500 $5 tickets each day during the previous six months.

She cried, told the chief she had a gambling problem, had never been given a pay raise and needed money to live, according to charging documents.

Bowen was charged with first-degree theft on Jan. 3, and summonsed to appear in court on Wednesday of last week. That afternoon, a judge appointed her a public defender and allowed her to remain free pending her trial. By Friday, her lawyer indicated she would plead guilty.

On Monday, the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office upgraded the charge, to include a so-called aggravating factor that it was a major economic offense, meaning a judge would be free to lock her up for as long as 10 years if convicted.

Bowen came to court alone yesterday for arraignment, and answered the judge’s questions in a nearly imperceptible voice.

There was no plea deal. There was no promise of recommending leniency. Bowen is represented by Centralia lawyer Don Blair.

Judge Richard Brosey advised her of the rights she was giving up and asked if she understood he could, if he chose, sentence her to a decade in prison.

She responded affirmatively.

Brosey asked for her plea. She said guilty.

He asked what she did that made her think she was guilty.

Bowen told him what she’d told the police chief: She was taking scratch tickets at work and thought she was keeping track of them, but wasn’t. She admitted 500 per shift.

“I assume you were looking for winners?” Brosey asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

According to Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Eric Eisenberg, Bowen has no felonies in her past. The standard sentencing range for a person with no criminal history and without the aggravator for first-degree theft would be zero to 90 days in jail.

Blair, Eisenberg and the judge agreed Bowen could return to court on Feb. 20 when they will schedule a sentencing date.

Eisenberg said he doesn’t yet know how much time he will ask for when she is sentenced.

How much restitution she will be ordered to pay remains unknown. And how quickly or how much money the Lovells could expect to be reimbursed will depend upon the extent to which she can pay it back, Eisenberg said.

It was less than four years ago when another Winlock resident was caught stealing lottery tickets at a local grocery store where he was a longtime trusted employee and store manager. Benjamin C. Macy was given 14 months in prison. The losses to Cedar Village IGA were said to be close to $1 million.

The state lottery commission has agreed to supply the Flying K with an automatic lottery dispenser. They didn’t have one before because their level of ticket sales didn’t qualify them, the Lovell’s said.

“We’re getting a machine within two weeks,” Tonya Lovell said. “So no employee will ever touch a ticket again.”

Flames destroying Centralia home go unreported for as long as an hour

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014
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Centralia home is consumed by fire. / Courtesy photo by Kendra Lynch

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Investigators this morning are sifting through what’s left of a single-story house in Centralia to learn what caused a fire last night.

Firefighters responding just after 7 p.m. yesterday to the 700 block of South Silver Street found the structure fully involved in fire, according to Riverside Fire Authority.

As they were headed to the scene, they were told by dispatch of calls from individuals who had seen and smelled smoke in the area for as long as an hour, Firefighter-Paramedic Jennifer Ternan said.

When they arrived, its roof had already burned off, according to Ternan.

“So probably the reports it had been burning for an hour were accurate,” Ternan said.

Ternan couldn’t say for sure why it went undetected for so long. It is in a neighborhood with other homes, but did sit back on its property behind another house, she said.

The man and woman who lived there were out for the evening, but arrived while crews were still on the scene, according to Assistant Chief Mike Kytta.

They are insured and the Red Cross was summoned to assist them, he said.

Kytta said it appeared the worst-burned area was a family room built onto the rear of the home. The home and its contents are likely a total loss, according to Kytta.

Overnight fire chases four from Winlock home

Saturday, January 25th, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A Winlock household is without a home after an overnight fire but working smoke detectors awoke the two adults and two small children who escaped without injury, according to Lewis County Fire District 15.

Four fire departments responded just after 1:30 a.m. to the double-wide mobile home on the 100 block of Evergreen Lane just north of town, according to Assistant Chief Kevin Anderson.

Crews found heavy fire inside the attached garage which had spread into the home itself, according to Anderson.

The blaze was under control just before 3 a.m. but had already caused extensive damage to the structure and its contents, Anderson said in a news release.

Firefighters rescued an adult dog, which is in good condition, he stated.

The cause is under investigation and the Red Cross is assisting to provide the family with temporary shelter.

The little ones are both under two years old, according to Anderson.

Ricky Riffe heads to prison

Friday, January 24th, 2014
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Ricky A. Riffe listens to his lawyer during a court hearing yesterday.

Updated

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Ricky A. Riffe is finally off to prison today, nearly two months after he was sentenced to 103 years for the 1985 kidnapping, robbery and murders of Ed and Minnie Maurin.

Riffe, 55, has remained in the Lewis County Jail as he still faces charges that he raped and molested his then-9-year-old step-daughter in the mid-1980s.

The trial was set for next month, but yesterday a judge approved postponing it because of defense attorney John Crowley’s conflict with another trial.

A new date in April was chosen, but Riffe waived his right to a speedy trial all the way into September, so that if any further delays are requested and granted, he would not have to be transported back to Lewis County for a hearing.

The former Mossyrock man who was extradited from his longtime home in King Salmon, Alaska in mid-2012 denies any sexual contact with the alleged victim and is appealing his November conviction in the Maurin case.

He appeared before Lewis County Superior Court Judge Nelson Hunt yesterday for a status review of the child molestation case.

Lewis County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Brad Meagher said he opposed the continuance, because of how long the matter has been pending. Prosecutors filed the new charges in the old case while Riffe was preparing for the murder trial which subsequently lasted more than six weeks this past fall.

An order was entered yesterday in which lawyers estimate the molestation trial will last four days.
•••

For background, read “Battle continues between Ricky Riffe, Lewis County prosecutors” from Friday January 3, 2014, here

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

Employee charged in Toledo lottery ticket thefts

Friday, January 24th, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A Toledo convenience store employee blamed for a large drop in revenue at her workplace reportedly admitted to police she may have scratched as many as 500 lottery tickets during each shift without paying for them all.

Katrina M. Bowen was fired at the end of September. This week, she was summonsed to Lewis County Superior Court where she faces a charge of first-degree theft.

The loss is estimated at more than $175,000.

An investigation began on Oct. 1 when the owner of the Flying K store and gas station on the 100 block of Cowlitz Street contacted Police Chief John Brockmueller. Gordon Lovell said over the previous few months he and his wife had noticed a loss in sales and upon further analysis, he found a large number of lottery tickets had been played but not paid for, according to charging documents.

When he confronted Bowen, she told him she was keeping track of her ticket purchases in her head, charging documents state.

When confronted by the police chief, the 37-year-old Winlock woman cried, said she had a gambling problem, had worked there for nine years without a pay raise and needed money to live, according to the allegations.

Bowen estimated that during the previous six months she went through about 500 $5 tickets each day, the documents state. And, she allegedly admitted to pocketing money from beer sales.

Bowen went before a judge on Wednesday afternoon where she was allowed to remain free pending trial with a $10,000 unsecured bond.

It was less than four years ago when another Winlock resident was caught stealing lottery tickets at a local grocery store where he was a longtime trusted employee and store manager. Benjamin C. Macy was given 14 months in prison. The losses to Cedar Village IGA were said to be close to $1 million.

Bowen’s arraignment is scheduled for next Thursday.

Prosecutor: Mom allowed abusive punishment of 4-year-old

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The mother of the 4-year-old Winlock boy whose bruises and wounds led to child assault charges for her live-in boyfriend in December was arrested yesterday, just hours after the boyfriend pleaded guilty to reduced charges.

Heather L. McNurlin, 23, was charged in Lewis County Superior Court today with third-degree assault of a child, as an accomplice.

Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Joely O’Rourke said McNurlin was present when the abuse was inflicted, and some of it was even her idea. She wasn’t charged earlier, because she was a witness for her boyfriend’s case, O’Rourke said.

The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office investigation began when the child was brought by his grandmother to the hospital emergency room to be looked at on Nov. 30. Among the boy’s various injuries were bruises on the outsides of his legs he said he got from “knife hand” spankings because he broke house rules by stealing food.

The mother said she and 31-year-old  Ryon T. Connery had been in a dating relationship about four months. The little boy was taken out of the home McNurlin and Connery shared and placed with his grandmother.

Charging documents in McNurlin’s case allege Connery had her permission to punish her child by ordering him, for example, to do “wall sits” for approximately five minutes, sometimes with a weighted bag over his head. In one instance when the boy took bread without permission and also wet his pants, he was taken outside and hosed off with cold water, at night, according to the allegations.

McNurlin explained to a detective her son was on a very strict diet of only fruits and vegetables, the documents state.

The couple attend marital arts classes in Longview, and when queried by a detective, the instructor – a 20-year practitioner of martial arts – said he could not hold a wall sit for more than one minute.

When the boy was brought to the hospital, he had a broken finger he said occurred when he dropped a weight on it, a scraped nose he said was from falling on his face trying to get away from a spanking and he spoke of being dunked in a dirty outdoor pool, according to charging documents.

A doctor who reviewed the case opined the child was malnourished and was the victim of starvation as well as abuse, both mentally and physically, according to the documents.

Connery was initially charged with two charges of second-degree child assault, but O’Rourke told a judge yesterday the evidence didn’t include intention on Connery’s part, so she and defense attorney David Arcuri agreed to one count of third-degree child assault.

Judge Richard Brosey accepted Connery’s guilty plea during the short hearing yesterday morning.

The lawyers said they both will recommend 16 months of incarceration when Connery is sentenced next month.

This afternoon, when McNurlin was brought before Judge Brosey, O’Rourke and defense attorney Bob Schroeter both said McNurlin is working very hard at her parenting classes as required in the dependency action which is underway.

McNurlin’s bail was set at a $5,000 unsecured bond and the judge said she may only have contact with her son as allowed by the court in the separate civil action.

Her arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 1 with a court-appointed attorney.
•••

For background, read “Child assault charged in case of 4-year-old Winlock boy” from Thursday December 5, 2013, here

Lewis County deputy resigns, internal DUI investigation ends

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The Lewis County sheriff’s deputy arrested for drunken driving two weeks ago quit today, rather than continue through the internal process that likely would have ended with him getting fired.

Sheriff Steve Mansfield said he was notified this morning Chris Fulton was resigning, effective today.

Fulton 31, was pulled over by a trooper on Jan. 4 just before 1 a.m. for speeding southbound on Interstate 5 through Centralia. He said he’d had a few drinks at the casino and thought he was okay to drive, but found himself in the back of a patrol car even before blowing a blood alcohol content reading of .172.

He was placed on paid administrative leave from his job. He has pleaded not guilty in Lewis County District Court.

Mansfield said the nearly six-year veteran of his office was a top performer and a valued employee, but drinking and driving among his employees is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated.

It was just four months earlier when another deputy was arrested for driving under the influence. Deputy Jeffrey S. Humphrey received some serious sanctions, but didn’t lose his job.

Mansfield said the internal review for Fulton was not yet finished, but in looking at the entire situation, the most likely outcome was going to be termination. And Fulton probably realized that, he said.

A significant difference in the two cases was how Fulton appeared to attempt to use his position as a deputy to influence the trooper who stopped him, according to Mansfield.

“If you look at the report, one of the things that stood out was his conversation with the trooper about who he was, there was an indication he was a police officer,” Mansfield said. “That’s substantially different from Humphrey’s case. Humphrey did not do that.”

Mansfield in a news release today attempted to share the philosophy behind the balance he tries to strike regarding his responsibilities to the public and to his employees.

“Your sheriff’s office is committed to serving the public and achieving our mission in a way that promotes trust, is responsible, respectful, fair and caring,” he wrote. “Employees who are unable or unwilling to uphold this commitment cannot work for the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.”

In an interview, he spoke of the high priority society has placed – and for good reasons – on keeping impaired drivers off the roads and the procedures he has in place for getting assistance for substance abuse issues to employees who might need it.

Mansfield has admitted from the beginning what an embarrassing position he finds himself in.

“It is what it is,” he said. “It’s sad and tragic for a number of reasons. We’re going to work real hard to make sure the public doesn’t lose trust with us in doing our job.”

There is very high bar for a deputy to be able to continue working for him should they get arrested for something like this, according to Mansfield.

In Humphrey’s case, the sheriff imposed a two-week unpaid suspension, demoted the deputy and tied his continued employment to the conditions imposed by the court.

“A DUI is huge,” Mansfield said. “But if someone is hurt, or you try to use your influence, that’s basically a nail in the coffin.”
•••

For background, read “Report: Off-duty deputy seemed to want favorable treatment during DUI  stop” from Wednesday January 8, 2014, here

News brief: Toledo teen suffers head injury in ATV wreck

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014
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Medics prepare to transport ATV accident victim on Grimes Road / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Fire District 2

Updated

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A 17-year-old Toledo boy whose ATV lost a tire and flipped several times earlier today has been airlifted to a Seattle trauma center.

Deputies are investigating the incident that occurred about 1:20 p.m. today at the 300 block of Grimes Road near Toledo, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

Chief Civil Deputy Stacy Brown said in a news release the teen was traveling on the roadway when a rear tire came off its rim, possibly due to low air pressure.

The young man’s head hit the pavement, according to Brown. He wasn’t wearing a helmet.

Lewis County Fire District 2 Chief Grant Wiltbank said he was knocked out, but conscious when the fire department arrived.

He was flown from the Toledo Airport to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Driver dies, dog lives in high-speed Vader wreck

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Updated at 5:48 p.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A 70-year-old Cottage Grove, Ore. man was killed upon impact when his car traveling at a high rate of speed slammed into a concrete wall in Vader this morning.

Deputies and troopers responding about 11:30 a.m. found the vehicle was southbound on Winlock-Vader Road and failed to stop at the stop sign, crossing state Route 506 and hitting the wall in front of a former gas station, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

Chief Civil Deputy Stacy Brown said the driver was ejected.

A dog that was with him survived with a possible broken back, and is being treated, according to Brown.

Brown said it’s not yet clear why the collision occurred. Law enforcement officers remain on the scene investigating, she said.

Trooper Will Finn, a spokesperson from the Washington State Patrol, said there were no signs of braking.

The Lewis County Coroner’s Office will be attempting to locate next-of-kin, before which the man’s name would not be released.

Toledo man killed in logging incident

Friday, January 17th, 2014

Updated at 12:09 p.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A 63-year-old Toledo man is dead after a logging accident yesterday afternoon about four miles east of Toledo.

It appeared he was working alone when a tree fell on him, according to Lewis County Fire District 2.

“My understanding is the deceased was overdue and a relative or relatives went to the job site and found him,” Fire Chief Grant Wiltbank said.

The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office said it occurred between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. yesterday in a wooded area at the 200 block of Maw Road. Firefighters, medics and deputies responded to the call at 5 p.m.

The Lewis County Coroner’s Office identifies him as Alex Oberg.

Sheriff’s spokesperson Sgt. Rob Snaza said it appeared the victim was employing a “domino” tree falling technique in which saw cuts were made to multiple trees in order to create a cascade of falling trees.

Wind gusts may have caused some to fall while he was cutting others, Snaza said.

The state Department of Labor and Industries and the coroner’s office are conducting investigations, according to Snaza.

Coroner Warren McLeod said an autopsy is scheduled for tomorrow, but there is no reason to think it was anything other than an accident.

Sheriff’s Office Association joins Onalaska woman to help feed children

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – There are hungry kids in Onalaska.

Tawyna White, one of the four “lunch ladies” at the rural school district who has helped cook and serve meals since 2005 sees it and has been contemplating for the past couple of years what to do.

“When kids eat lunch or breakfast, sometimes they come up and tell me they’re still hungry,” White said. “So I wonder, if they’re getting hungry when they’re getting food here, are they hungry on the weekend?”

The school district southwest of Chehalis teaches somewhere around 750 children, and two-thirds of them reside in households whose financial situations qualify them for free or reduced price lunches, according to White.

Part of White’s job involves processing those applications and the need seems to be growing, she said.

Onalaska has its share of “homeless” families, a descriptor that includes those who reside with relatives, non relatives or maybe even in just a travel trailer, but it’s not only them, White said.

“A lot of families are just struggling to make ends meet,” she said. “It seems to be especially since the recession; it hasn’t gotten any better for out here yet.”

Even with food stamps and a local food bank some children don’t get enough to eat, she said.

The idea White has been considering, is something already done at an elementary school in Centralia and also in Longview, she said.

It’s a way to help make sure needy students don’t go hungry on weekends.

It’s called the backpack snack program and the way it works is each qualifying child will receive a backpack filled with snacks and food to take home each Friday and  then on Monday, they would return it to the school again to be replenished at the end of the week.

The program is starting now, with whatever donations of new or used-but-in-very-good-condition backpacks and non-perishable food items the community can give.

“I just decided before Christmas break, I’m going to get it going now,” White said.

They’re not yet set up to accept cash donations. And they can’t take fresh fruits or vegetables or anything that is perishable because there is no place to store it, she said.

Her ultimate goal is to send food home with everybody that needs it, she said. She estimates that’s between 200 and 300 youngsters. “But that’s just a dream right now.”

The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Association learned of White’s plan last week. Yesterday, they put up a collection box at the sheriff’s office in Chehalis.

Items can be brought there, or to the Pizza Girl on state Route 508, or to the Onalaska Elementary-Middle school office between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.

The following is a list of what they could use. They don’t need to actually be name brand goods:

• Back packs, new or in very good condition
• Chicken Top Ramen
• Beef Top Ramen
• Quaker Instant Oatmeal
• Carnation Instant Breakfast drink mix
• Nutri-grain Breakfast bars
• Instant Mac ‘n Cheese
• Quaker Chewy granola bars
• Stretch Island Fruit Co. fruit leather strip
• Tree Top fruit chews
• Del Monte fruit cup
• Annie’s Homegrown cracker / cookie
• Austin’s Cracker (peanut butter / cheese)
• Capri Sun Juice
• Canned soup
• Any other non-perishable nutritious items that a child would enjoy

•••

CORRECTION: This news item has been updated to reflect the correct name of the Pizza Girl.