Archive for the ‘Top story of the day’ Category

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.

DWLS 3rd: Lewis County man loses at state Supreme Court

Sunday, January 12th, 2014
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The Washington State Supreme Court listens to oral arguments in March in the case of Stephen C. Johnson. / Courtesy image from TVW

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A Lewis County case which could have eliminated an enormous part of the state’s system of driver’s license suspension has ended without that result.

In a five to four decision, the Washington State Supreme Court upheld a Lewis County man’s conviction for driving while license suspended in the third degree.

The court declined to address Stephen C. Johnson’s attorneys’ claim of “driving while poor” concluding Johnson wasn’t poor enough in the right way to have standing to make the challenge.

However, the nine justices did decide Johnson was poor enough he should have been entitled to appointed counsel for his appeal. The case was remanded to Lewis County District Court to address that issue.

The case was argued to the Supreme Court last March by Olympia attorney Kevin Hochhalter and Lewis County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Shane O’Rourke. It’s opinion was issued on Thursday.

Johnson appealed the conviction on two grounds, first, his attorneys argued the DWLS 3rd statute did not actually forbid his continued driving, in his particular case, after he contested and lost his 2007 civil infraction for driving with an expired license.

He was fined $260, he did not pay and the court notified the state Department of Licensing he failed to pay, so they suspended his license. His arrest for DWLS 3rd – a criminal misdemeanor – came in September 2008 when a Lewis County sheriff’s deputy spotted his truck driving without a rear bumper or mud flaps and pulled him over.

Johnson contended that because the notice of infraction did not expressly require him to pay a fine, he had not violated its terms. The majority of the court disagreed with him.

In a nine-page dissent authored by Justice Charles K. Wiggins, he and the remaining members of the court however, sided with Johnson’s lawyers on that point.

On the second aspect of Johnson’s appeal, his lawyers argued that because he is indigent, the suspension was invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment to to the United States Constitution’s due process and equal protection clauses.

But that argument, that the state or the court should have but didn’t inquire about his ability to pay the $260 infraction –  before sending off notice to DOL  – simply did not get examined by the Supreme Court.

The Lewis County man may be poor, but he had assets, according to the court.

In the record was his testimony he had no income and had not worked for 30 years, but owned a $300,000 home free and clear.

The court said Johnson could have borrowed money to pay the original traffic fine.

Since he didn’t meet the necessary definition for indigence, the full court agreed, he didn’t have standing to challenge the suspension on that basis.

Finally, however, for the purposes of qualifying for a court-appointed lawyer for his appeal, Johnson should have been found indigent, the court said.

Under Washington state statute he met its requirements in that he received state aid in the form of food stamps and energy assistance, the court wrote.

The Supreme Court ordered Lewis County District Court to enter an order designating Johnson indigent, or indigent and able to contribute, and if the latter, then determine the costs he should bear for his appeal.
•••

For background, read the decision here.

Watch and listen to appeals attorney Kevin Hochhalter and Lewis County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Shane O’Rourke address the court in March, here

Report: Off-duty deputy seemed to want favorable treatment during DUI stop

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The Lewis County sheriff’s deputy charged with driving under the influence asked the trooper who stopped him if she could “work with him” on this, appealing to their shared profession, according to the investigation report.

Deputy Christopher P. Fulton, 31, of Napavine, was arrested early on Saturday morning on Interstate 5 following a traffic stop for speeding and then a conversation at the window of his truck about the alcohol on his breath.

Washington State Patrol Trooper Melody Krenelka said in her report it appeared the deputy was trying to persuade her to treat him preferentially. He was off duty.

“He repeatedly reminded me of his employment,” she wrote. “He expressed offense at the fact that I was calling him sir, reminded me that we ‘work together’ and that he knew me.”

Fulton, a patrol deputy who has worked for the sheriff’s office since April 2008, has been placed on paid administrative leave from his job while the incident is being investigated internally.

He pleaded not guilty on Monday and is free on his personal recognizance awaiting his next court date.

According to Trooper Krenelka, Fulton told her he had a few drinks at the casino but thought he was okay to drive. It was just before 1 a.m. when he passed by where she was parked with a radar gun at end of Centralia’s southbound Mellen Street onramp. She measured his speed at 73 mph in a 60 mph zone, according to the report.

She pulled his truck over about a mile down the freeway and he greeted her by asking if she knew him, telling her he was a Lewis County sheriff’s deputy, according to her report.

Krenelka wrote that his eyes were red and watery and when he declined to step outside for field sobriety tests or provide a breath sample, she called her sergeant at the detachment office to ask if she ought to wait until he arrived to arrest Fulton.

Sgt. Doug Pardue told her to proceed as usual, and Krenelka placed him under arrest for DUI, she wrote.

It was after Fulton was cuffed, read his rights and put in the back of her patrol car that he asked if she would still allow him to do the field tests, according to the report.

His performance was especially poor, given that he is trained in administering the tests, she wrote.

Fulton told her he had drank the last of two beers about an hour earlier before she conducted the preliminary breath test. The PBT reading was .187.

At the jail, his blood alcohol content results were .174 and .172.

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

Fulton said he didn’t care to call a lawyer and didn’t want to answer the interview questions in the DUI packet, according to the report.

Trooper Krenelka  issued him the citation with a court date, gave him the Department of Licensing paperwork and took him home.

Her report ended with the statement that Fulton was cooperative throughout her contact with him.

Driving under the influence is gross misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in jail and or a $5,000 fine.
•••

For background, read “Lewis County deputy pleads not guilty to intoxicated driving” from Tuesday January 7, 2014, here

Lewis County deputy pleads not guilty to intoxicated driving

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The Lewis County sheriff’s deputy arrested for drunk driving over the weekend had a blood alcohol reading of just over double the legal limit.

Deputy Christopher P. Fulton, 31, of Napavine, was off duty and in his own truck when he was pulled over for speeding early Saturday morning on Interstate 5 in Centralia, according to authorities.

The trooper who stopped him noticed the obvious odor of intoxicants on his breath, along with red watery eyes, according to the Washington State Patrol.

“She asked, and he admitted he had a few drinks that night,” Washington State Patrol Sgt. Doug Pardue said.

Fulton, a patrol deputy who has worked for the sheriff’s office since April 2008, has been placed on administrative leave from his job while the incident is being investigated.

It’s the second time in just four months a local sheriff’s deputy has been arrested for driving under the influence.

In early September, drug detective Jeffrey S. Humphrey was arrested by a trooper in Chehalis after he drove through an area closed for a serious collision investigation.

Like Humphrey, Fulton’s vehicle was impounded and after he was processed for DUI, he was taken home instead of spending the night in jail.

Pardue said on a first time DUI, it’s an officer’s discretion as to whether the individual gets booked or not, considering factors such as if they think the person is likely to show up for court.

Most are arrested and then released, he said, referring to cases involving the state patrol in Lewis County.

“Probably less than half get booked,” Pardue said,

Sheriff Steve Mansfield issued a statement yesterday morning, saying he was extremely embarrassed and disappointed, vowing to provide a full accounting to the public once his internal investigation is completed.

“This community depends on our deputies to protect them, keep them from harm, and uphold the law,” Mansfield stated. “Impaired drivers are one of the biggest threats to people in our community.”

Fulton appeared before a judge yesterday in Lewis County District Court in Chehalis, where a plea of not guilty was entered for him.

He was accompanied by Centralia defense attorney Don Blair.

Judge Michael Roewe agreed with the deputy prosecutor’s recommendation he be released on his personal recognizance, without bond or bail payment.

The judge also ordered Fulton not to possess or consume any alcohol or non-prescribed controlled substances, or go into any  taverns or bars.

Few details of what occurred just before 1 a.m. Saturday near Centralia’s Mellen Street interchange are available, as no probable cause statement from the trooper was filed yesterday.

Blair told the judge he would agree with whatever it contained, and Deputy Prosecutor Luke Stanton said after the court hearing he hadn’t received the report.

Pardue, the supervising sergeant that night who came to the scene, said the incident was not out of the ordinary.

According to Pardue and the citation, Fulton was southbound on Interstate 5 when the trooper contacted him for speeding near milepost 81.

He was traveling alone in his 2012 Toyota Tacoma and Trooper Melody Krenelka became aware of the possibility he was impaired.

Fulton agreed to the field sobriety tests and portable breath test, Pardue said, and based on those he was taken to the Lewis County Jail where one of two BAC machines are available in the west end of the county.

His blood alcohol content result is listed as .172. The legal limit of an alcohol concentration is .08.

And then he was transported to his residence, Pardue said.

Deputy Prosecutor Stanton indicated a special deputy prosecutor from Thurston County would be handling the case. Next, a date for a pre-trial hearing will be scheduled, according to Stanton.

Driving under the influence is gross misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in jail and or a $5,000 fine in the criminal justice system.

Any sanctions or restrictions which could arise with the state Department of Licensing are separate. And for law enforcement officers, any disciplinary actions related to their job are the domain of their superiors and sometimes labor contracts.

In Humphrey’s case, Sheriff Mansfield within two months of the arrest announced he had imposed a two-week unpaid suspension and removed Humphrey from his position as a detective.

Humphrey was also subject to a last chance agreement that tied his continued employment directly to the conditions imposed by the court.
•••

For background, read “News brief: Lewis County deputy arrested for DUI” from Monday January 6, 2014, here

Battle continues between Ricky Riffe, Lewis County prosecutors

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Notice was forwarded today to the state Court of Appeals that Ricky A. Riffe is contesting everything about his conviction for the 1985 slaying of Ed and Minnie Maurin, the elderly couple found dead on a logging road outside Adna days after vanishing from their Ethel farmhouse.

Riffe, 55, was condemned to nearly 103 years in prison following his autumn trial in Lewis County Superior Court.

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Ricky A. Riffe

The former Mossyrock man who was extradited from his longtime home in King Salmon, Alaska finding himself accused in the nearly 30-year-old case remains in the Lewis County Jail, but has otherwise virtually “checked out” since a jury in November found him guilty as charged of kidnapping, robbery and murder.

At his sentencing last month, the man who had been escorted to court each day previously in slacks and sweaters appeared unshaven and directed his attorney not to make any recommendation on his behalf. Riffe maintains he has nothing to apologize for regarding the case.

He declined to attend a proceeding yesterday in which a judge was asked to determine how much restitution he owed the victims’ families.

Lewis County Superior Court Judge Richard Brosey signed an order presented by prosecutors that Riffe should repay the $8,500 he was convicted of taking from the Maurins, plus their funeral expenses of roughly $5,450. His lawyer’s signature was noted on the document as approved telephonically.

That amount is on top of the more than $13,000 in legal financial obligations the judge attached to Riffe’s judgement and sentence back in December, fees and other amounts such as $100 to collect his DNA, $1,000 for his jail stay and more than $8,600 prosecutors spent to bring in their numerous witnesses.

He was even assessed $192 for food and his oxygen along with the airfare for returning him to Lewis County in July 2012. He apparently suffers from COPD.

The grand total, according to court documents, is $27,355, plus 4 cents.

Riffe is expected to begin paying off the debt in February, at a rate of $25 per month.

Also yesterday, a date was set of Jan. 16 for a review of his pending trial for another new old case. Early last year, while he was in the jail waiting for his murder trial, prosecutors filed charges for child rape and molestation, related to incidents which were alleged and investigated in the mid-1980s regarding his then step-daughter.

That trial is currently scheduled for next month.

Riffe has denied any sexual contact, according to charging documents. Prosecutors and his defense attorney disagree as to whether the statute of limitations has passed.

It’s because of the pending trial, Riffe remains held in the Lewis County Jail, and has not yet been transferred to prison, according to Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer.

The 1985 deaths of the Maurins, who were in their early 80s, was described by Meyer as the most heinous crime he had seen in his career.

During a six-week trial, he and Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead presented information that indicated someone forced the couple from their home, made them drive to their bank in Chehalis to empty out an account and then out to Stearns Hill Road, where they were shot in the backs, each with one shotgun blast.

An eyewitness who didn’t come forward until 2003 testified that he briefly saw Ricky and John Gregory Riffe inside the Maurin’s Chrysler Newport with the couple on U.S. Highway 12 and that his life was subsequently threatened by the now-deceased younger brother. A former drug dealer who took the stand told of a time almost 28 years earlier when the Riffe brothers seemingly bragged they’d gotten away with it.

Riffe was convicted as the principal or an accomplice, in the case in which prosecutors at the end revealed they believed may have involved more perpetrators than just the two brothers.

Seattle-based defense attorney John Crowley argued there was no real evidence against his client, and it was fear and rumor that led to the accusations.

Crowley insisted that at least 10 individuals who were called to testify made wholesale changes from their original statements to police and that the jury heard knowingly perjured testimony in one instance.

On Monday, as the 30-day deadline approached, Crowley filed a notice of appeal, stating that his client appeals his conviction, his sentence, his trial, the judgement and all pre-trial matters relating to the case.
•••

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

Chehalis Industrial Park may not become marijuana central after all

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Who knew Lewis County was home to so many hoping to launch marijuana operations in a building they don’t own or lease?

Numerous entities have applied for licenses to grow and process cannabis, all at a soon-to-be vacant warehouse in the Chehalis Industrial Park.

It’s the old Circuit CIty building, a nearly 173,000-square-foot facility at 208 Maurin Road.

“I don’t believe the board’s aware of it,” Port of Chehalis interim commissioner Dave Muller said last week.

The Port’s board of commissioners probably wouldn’t take a position on such such an endeavor, but they focus mainly on dealing with those who want to purchase property – not rent –  in the area anyhow, Muller said.

The warehouse in question is owned by CC Properties LLC, doing business as Chehalis LLC based in Des Moines, Iowa.

It’s a big investment group, according to the real estate agent who for years has been trying to sell it, and has managed its leasing in the meantime.

Vanessa Herzog, of Kidder-Mathews, said it’s news to her that there are more than 16 applicants who have told the Washington State Liquor Control Board they are based at 208 Maurin Road.

“It makes me really angry, whoever it is that submitted that,” Herzog said.

Herzog said she wasn’t entirely surprised however, it’s happened to her at least once already elsewhere, when she learned someone claimed they were opening a marijuana business in a location she managed in Lacey.

Locally, applicants with names such as Emerald Joy and Evergreen Trees are among the thousands attempting to get approved to cultivate, process and sell recreational marijuana in Washington following the passage of last year’s Initiative 502.

A 30-day window for applying closed last month and the WSLCB says it’s expects to begin issuing licenses in the next month or so.

WSLCB spokesperson Mikhail Carpenter says they are aware of the practice, that some folks have submitted addresses for buildings they don’t actually have control over.

“The licensing process is going to sort a lot of that out,” he said yesterday.

Investigators will conduct site visits and contact landlords for verifications before any are approved, according to Carpenter.

Carpenter said he suspects some are people who are scrambling, afraid they would be left out of the process.

The former Circuit CIty warehouse remains for sale, now listed at $6.25 million, according to Herzog. Cardinal Glass’s lease is expiring soon, she said.

Nobody has approached her to buy or lease it for a marijuana operation, she said last week.

“I was happy nobody had called me, because I didn’t want to deal with it,” Herzog said.

She said she’s put together leases already for marijuana businesses elsewhere, but she’s not that enthusiastic about doing it again, as it’s complicated.

Herzog couldn’t say with certainty that no one has been talking directly with the actual owners.

But it’s unlikely an owner such as a large investment group would be eager to get involved, she said, citing issues with banking and investment rules given that marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

Dick Larman, executive director of the Lewis County Economic Development Council, said they have been besieged by people wanting to know about buying, renting or leasing buildings in the county for marijuana businesses.

But they too are not anxious to help promote the coming new industry.

Their stance is in line with the county government’s position, if someone can get the federal authorities to approve, then they would, he said.

He wasn’t aware of anyone moving in to the former Circuit City warehouse or anywhere in the industrial park, he said.

“I don’t know that anyone closed a deal,” Larman said. “It’s a fairly high bar.”

The list of those seeking licenses from the state published by the WSLCB contains business names, and locations but no phone numbers or contact information for the applicants.

The Chehalis Industrial Park, south of Chehalis and just east of Interstate 5, is situated in an urban growth area.

The city and the county have an agreement about which of the two are responsible for issuing building permits – that would be Chehalis, according to Dennis Osborn, the city’s community development director

As for business licenses, Osborn said he believes that would be up to the county.

“It’s a great question,” Osborn said yesterday.

It’s an issue the city will be taking up with legal counsel, he said.

Both have moratoriums currently in place regarding the marijuana industry.
•••

For background, read “Marijuana central could be Chehalis Industrial Park” from Tuesday December 24, 2013, here

Former Tenino teacher, tutor convicted of collecting child porn

Friday, December 27th, 2013

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A former Tenino Elementary School teacher who was also a Boy Scout volunteer pleaded guilty today to possession of child pornography following a plea agreement with federal authorities in connection with his arrest earlier this year.

James D. Mobley was arrested when his home was searched last January by law enforcement who turned up 650 images and 45 videos he purchased from a Toronto-based web site billing itself as a provider of naturist films, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Mobley was described by federal authorities as a teacher who was also a private tutor and active as a volunteer with Boy Scouts.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, the 47-year-old will undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation and sexual deviancy treatment, register as a sex offender and be recommended for a four-year prison term, according to spokesperson Emily Langlie.

When he is sentenced on March 21 in U.S. District Court, the judge is free to impose up to the maximum of 20 years, however, according to Langlie.

Mobley is one of 348 people arrested worldwide, so far, as part of what was dubbed Project Spade, an investigation led by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service of the international business Azovfilms.com, according to a news release.

The investigation has resulted in 386 children rescued from direct abuse and exploitation, according to the news release.

When a search of Azovfilms was conducted in March 2011, hundreds of child pornography DVDs and business records were seized. Mobley’s multiple purchases were made between February 2009 and January 2011, according to Langlie.

Marijuana central could be Chehalis Industrial Park

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Who knew Lewis County harbored so many entrepreneurial spirits ready to take a chance on the newly legalized cash crop of cannabis.

The list of those seeking licenses from the state to grow recreational marijuana locally ballooned to more than 40 on Friday, the end of a month-long period for applications.

The state-regulated industry based on the passage of last year’s Initiative 502 contains three types of licenses. One for producers who will cultivate the plants. Another for processors who will prepare it for resale with packaging and may create marijuana-infused products like so-called “edibles”. And a third for retailers.

In Lewis County, just four entities have made requests for a retail license to sell to the public.

But the list of applicants to become processors or producers is long.

Having all three licenses is not permitted under I-502, but a licensee may hold both a producer and a processor license simultaneously. A number of individuals appear to be attempting to go that direction, according to the cumulative list released today by the Washington State Liquor Control Board.

The WSLCB is the agency responsible for issuing the approvals.

While there is a cap on the number of retail licenses that will be given out – seven in Lewis County – the agency says there is no limit on the number of producer and processor licenses it will hand out. To those who are approved.

Information for applicants from the WSLCB says if one’s application is approved, they will receive an electronic billing statement requesting payment of the $1,000 fee.

Reasons for denial are many, for example, among them, failure to meet basic requirements, objection from the local authority, indicators of hidden ownership or based on a persons’s criminal history.

Last week, a spokesperson for the board said they expect it could take them 60 to 90 days to begin issuing the licenses, similar to the wait for liquor licenses.

Some locations on the list have applied for multiple licenses to produce or process. Leading them is 208 Maurin Road, in the Chehalis Industrial Park.

Sixteen entities including those with names such as Emerald Joy and Evergreen Trees are seeking to grow and process marijuana at that location. Some have identified “suites” in their addresses, other have not.

Who are they? Who is their landlord in the large warehouse? And what does the Port of Chehalis think of such neighbors? And, is that property subject to local business licensing from the city, or the county, is it part of an urban growth area with mixed rules?

None of those are questions that could be answered after noon time on Christmas Eve Day. More to come later.

Either way, business is not expected to get underway anytime soon.

Moratoriums are in place regarding such activity in the cities of Chehalis and in unincorporated areas of the county.

Even once they are lifted, Lewis County leaders have already decided to require applicants to provide approval from the U.S. Attorney General or the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

WSLCB spokesperson Mikhail Carpenter has said the agency is aware of the county’s rule, which “for all intents and purposes, is a ban.” And I-502 did not include a provision for cities and counties to opt out, he said.

The agency has asked the state attorney general to offer guidance on the issue, which will more than likely have to be settled in court, amongst interested parties, according to Carpenter.

Meanwhile, below are the applicants who show their address as 208 Maurin Road, Chehalis:

• Alfhild Venutures
• Emerald Joy
• Evergreen Trees LLC
• Gen 3 Growers LLC
• Gig Gardens
• Ground Up Cultivation,
• Holland’s Hope
• MNO
• NXTLVL
• Carrina’s Herbs of Grace, STE A
• Grandma’s Garden, LLC, STE B
• Thomas Tew Tolling, STE B
• Stortebeker Ventures, STE C
• Knivet Enterprises, STE D
• Granuaile Industries, STE E
• Sturdivant Ventures, STE F

To view the entire list of applicants statewide, click Washington State Liquor Control Board’s Frequently Requested Lists, scroll down and find “Marijuana License Applicants, updated Dec. 24, 2013″
•••

For further information, check Washington State Liquor Control Board’s Marijuana License Approval or Denial, here

Fire claims Salkum area barn

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Firefighters spent the early morning hours extinguishing a fire that swept through a pair of barns in the Salkum-Onalaska area.

Crews were called about 3:20 a.m. to the 800 block of Gore Road where the two side-by-side buildings were found fully engulfed in flames, according to Lewis County Fire District 8.

Chief Duran McDaniel said it was the glow that woke the owners, which was also visible from his own residence down the road.

By the time he arrived, the roof of one of the structures was gone and only its posts left standing, McDaniel said.

An unspecified number of cattle apparently left the barn on their own, although the owner was still searching for one calf this morning, according to McDaniel.

Lost in the fire were two tractors, a fifth-wheel trailer and lots of hay, McDaniel said.

“They did manage to get several other vehicles away from the buildings,” he said.

District 8 was assisted by firefighters from Onalaska, Mossyrock and Napavine, he said.

A fire investigator is looking into the cause.

Vader driver rescued from burning vehicle

Monday, December 23rd, 2013
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A 1994 Pontiac Grand Am was extinguished after its unconscious driver was dragged to safety near Vader. / Courtesy photo by Washington State Patrol

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A motorist traveling alone on a dark, desolate highway in south Lewis County overnight was pulled unconscious from his wrecked and burning car by passersby who happened upon the scene.

The 56-year-old man from Vader was rushed by helicopter to a Seattle hospital with serious injuries.

Aid and troopers were called about 12:20 a.m. to the site, on state Route 506 about three miles west of Vader.

Cowlitz-Lewis Fire District 20 Chief Richard Underdahl said when crews arrived, the Pontiac Grand Am had slammed into a tree and was fully engulfed in flames.

“Bystanders had removed the driver from the vehicle and dragged him to safety,” Underdahl said.

Earl L. Crawford is listed in critical condition in the intensive care unit at Harborview Medical Center this morning.

According to responders, Crawford was westbound and traveling fast through a sweeping left curve before the collision. The Washington State Patrol reports speed was a factor.

The fire chief said he believed the patient didn’t sustain any burns but he had serious facial injuries.

The area is roughly a mile west of Brim Creek Road on the way to Ryderwood, according to Underdahl.

Underdahl said if not for the civilian rescuers, Crawford certainly would have perished.

“One trooper said, he is so lucky someone was on this road; during the time we were there, not one car drove up,” he said. “That road is not well traveled.”

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The scene on state Route 506 west of Vader this morning. / Courtesy photo by Tiffany Pannkuk

Imprisoned Onalaska man resists bill for costs of lost appeal

Saturday, December 21st, 2013
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Ronald Brady is directed to a seat in front of Judge James Lawler yesterday afternoon.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Ronald A. Brady was back in Lewis County briefly, in the midst of his prison term for shooting an unarmed suspected burglar outside his Onalaska house three years ago.

Brady lost his appeal of his second-degree manslaughter conviction and prosecutors had him transported to Chehalis yesterday in connection with collecting $96, the state’s cost of responding to his appeal.

Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Sara Beigh said Brady didn’t sign the paperwork or respond to any correspondence about it sent to him so she had him brought before a judge.

Lewis County Superior Court Judge James Lawler asked Brady about his objection, when he indicated he didn’t want to sign anything without consulting an attorney.

“I’m not a lawyer and I have no idea if I’ve given up any rights unless I check,” Brady said.

The brief interaction took place at 4 p.m., when a handful of newly arrested individuals were making their first appearance before a judge. Defense attorney Brian Gerhart who was there to represent them, consulted briefly with Brady inside the courtroom ahead of time.

Brady indicated he has contacted another attorney about another issue on the appeal.

Judge Lawler said he noted the objection, and signed the order to amend the judgement and sentence.

The amount was added to his $1,000 fine and $1,147 in other fees already imposed.

The 60-year-old was convicted by a jury in the summer of 2011 in the death of 56-year-old Thomas McKenzie of Morton. He was given a sentence of five year and three months.

The case generated strong opinions on both sides. Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield didn’t arrest Brady, saying he thought the shooting was justified. When prosecutors subsequently filed charges, they argued the act was intentional and premeditated.

Brady appealed on several grounds, including contending the trial court erred when it refused to allow testimony to prove McKenzie and his wife were at his property to steal and didn’t allow the jury to consider a right to resist the commission of a felony.

The appeals court said the only crime being committed at the time he opened fire with a .22 rifle was criminal trespass.

The panel of three judges this past April upheld the conviction and this fall, the Washington Supreme Court denied his petition for review.

The Onalaska man is housed at Cedar Creek Corrections Center, a minimum security facility near Littlerock.

•••

For background, read “Breaking news: Onalaska man gets five years for shooting suspected burglar” from Wednesday July 6 2011, here

Suspected mental issues continue to impede Glenoma kidnapping case

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The Packwood man awaiting trial for allegedly forcing his young woman friend up a logging road and then dragging her out of the Glenoma grocery while armed with a machete this summer will be seeing the psychiatrists again before his case can proceed.

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Zachery H. Bynum

Zachery H. Bynum, 41, was arrested and charged in July but his lawyer said his mental stability was in question so he was evaluated by doctors at Western State Hospital before he could be arraigned.

He was found to be competent enough to understand his court proceedings, his lawyer David Arcuri said today.

However, Arcuri told a judge a today, he has concerns once more and asked for Bynum’s competency to be evaluated again.

It’s based upon what occurred when he visited his client in the jail yesterday, Arcuri said, but didn’t offer any detail.

Bynum was arrested at gunpoint at the end of a police pursuit on July 16 after he allegedly forced a 22-year-old Morton woman to flee a deputy in her truck. Court documents state the events of that day came after she met with Bynum to tell him she could not see him any more.

He is charged with first-degree kidnapping and second-degree assault and other offenses.

This summer, when Bynum was first to go before a judge, he refused. His first lawyer told a judge Bynum had significant mental issues.

The next time he was in court, when Arcuri requested his client meet with experts at the state mental hospital, he vigorously disagreed with the plan and tried to fire Arcuri.

A judge signed an order today to have Bynum evaluated again and cancelled the scheduled trial.
•••

For background, read “Packwood kidnapping suspect heads to mental hospital” from Sunday July 28, 2013, here