Archive for the ‘Top story of the day’ Category

Fire department leaders in Napavine want full-time chief again

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Lewis County Fire District 5’s experiment with employing a part-time chief didn’t work out.

A year and a half after stepping into the role at the fire department that protects the greater Napavine area, Chief Gregg Peterson has stepped down.


Chief Gregg Peterson

The change took place last month and district’s board of commissioners is planning now to hire someone full-time to lead the department.

Commissioner Lyle Hojem said part time just isn’t enough time, because the district has so many calls to respond to.

“It was amiable, he knew,” Hojem said yesterday. “It wasn’t something he objected to in any way; we had the highest regard for him.”

Peterson was sworn in last spring, with a contract that  called for him to work up to 32 hours, with an annual salary of $40,000.

The previous chief and his second-in-command had resigned two months earlier. Jamie Guenther, chair of the board of commissioners when Peterson was hired, said at the time that a lot of people didn’t like the high wages paid to former Chief Eric Linn.

Linn was paid $82,000 a year and benefits that totaled more than $19,000.

Lewis County Fire District 5, re-named Newaukum Valley Fire and Rescue, serves a population of about 12,000 over a 66-square-mile area south of Chehalis.

Hojem said  Peterson was actually the one who brought the issue to the attention of the commissioners, recognizing it “some time ago”, and the commissioners agreed.

“We found a part-time chief just didn’t work for Lewis County Fire District 5,” he said.

Peterson, who served the previous six years as the volunteer chief in the Boistfort Valley where he resides, retired in 2011 from a professional firefighter career in South King County.

His retirement plan doesn’t allow him to continue receiving payments if he works more than part-time as a chief, Hojem said, and the board wasn’t going to ask him to give up his retirement money to stay on with them.

Hojem said the board is beginning to get its “ducks in order”, preparing a job description and then advertising for the position.

They hope to bring on a new chief by April, he said.

Centralia resident arrested after roughly 100-mile police chase

Friday, January 1st, 2016

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A traffic stop in Centralia shortly after the bars closed last night led to a police pursuit that ended in Oregon.

Centralia police report an officer attempted to pull over a suspected drunk driver at North Pearl and First streets about 2:20 a.m. but the vehicle sped away.

Troopers took over at Interstate 5 and the suspect led law enforcement officers on a high speed chase that came to a stop in Portland, only after the vehicle hit spike strips, according to the Centralia Police Department.

Henry Herrera-Montealegre, 29, from Centralia, faces potential charges of eluding, first-degree driving with a suspended license and driving without a required interlock device, according to police.

Booking information for the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office shows a 29-year-old Henry Herreramontealegre booked at 3:33 a.m. today for attempting to elude by vehicle and released on his own recognizance.

The Washington State Patrol and other law enforcement agencies have officers working overtime for the New Year’s weekend, with an emphasis on taking impaired drivers off the roads.

KATU news got photos. See them here

Lewis County Jail to stop charging fee for visiting with inmates

Thursday, December 31st, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – For the past two years, going to the Lewis County Jail to visit an inmate has cost money, but that’s about to change.

The facility installed an Internet-based system for visitation that allowed for family or friends to avoid the drive to Chehalis to see their loved ones, by logging in and paying a fee.

The same technology is used however, with inmates chatting from their cell areas to a video screen while their guests are viewing another screen in the lobby area of the same building. The cost is 50 cents per minute.

Jail Chief Kevin Hanson said he hopes free visits in the jail lobby can begin again in mid-January. It will take some programming changes by the vendor, he said.

Part of the reasoning for the switch, Hanson said, is he got advice during a course on incarceration legalities he attended that suggested charging money to people who come in to the jail to see inmates was a practice on somewhat shaky legal ground.

When he and other administrators of the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office shared the news with the county board of commissioners earlier this month, Sheriff Rob Snaza said it was something they’d been talking about doing for awhile. The sheriff’s office runs the jail.

“It only makes sense,” Snaza said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Defendants can be sentenced to up to 364 days in the jail. For those awaiting trial, their stay in some cases has been even longer.

Hanson is aiming for the change to take place around the second full week in January.


For background, read Northwest Public Radio’s Jan. 13, 2015 piece about the Homewav video visitation system as used in Lewis County, here

November accidental shooting ends with Alford plea from Centralia man

Thursday, December 31st, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The Centralia teenager who accidentally shot his girlfriend when his pistol in his pocket discharged while she was sitting on his lap is off to prison after pleading guilty as charged.

Austin C. Courtright was facing a standard sentencing range of nine to 12 months but made a deal with prosecutors in which they agreed to recommend he serve one year plus one day.

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Austin C. Courtright

The difference meant spending his time in state prison instead of at the Lewis County Jail, something he preferred, according to his lawyer.

His 21-year-old girlfriend was struck in her inner right thigh, and was treated at a hospital and then released the same day, Nov. 30. It happened in the basement of a home on First Street in Centralia.

Centralia police investigated and concluded it was accidental, but Courtright was charged with third-degree assault. He was also charged with second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm.

The then-18-year-old with previous convictions that prohibited him from having a gun told police he knew he wasn’t supposed to, but was afraid of being victimized by gang members who used to be his friends, according to prosecutors.

Courtright pleaded guilty last Thursday in Lewis County Superior Court and the judge agreed to the sentence. He made a so-called Alford plea to the charge of third-degree assault, not admitting guilt.

Defense attorney Chris Baum said he had a real issue with the assault charge, calling it a “stretch”.

It was a criminal negligence issue, his client didn’t know the gun was loaded, Baum said.

“I wasn’t suggesting he plead to that, but he did,” Baum said.

Judge Richard Brosey also ordered 12 months of community custody upon Courtright’s release and $1,400 in fines and legal financial obligations.

For background, read “Accidentally shooting girlfriend brings criminal charge for Centralia teen” from Wednesday December 2, 2015, here

Car shot at, chased down Interstate 5 in Lewis County

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

Updated at 6:53 p.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Troopers continue to look for the driver of black Jeep said to have fired upon another motorist on Interstate 5 north of Centralia this morning.

One shot shattered the rear window of the victim’s car, hit the rearview mirror and exited the windshield, according to authorities.

The 25-year-old man from Spanaway exited the freeway in Chehalis, after traveling away from his assailant at speeds of 85 to 90 mph, according to the Washington State Patrol. He was uninjured.

Initial information suggested the incident occurred near the Lewis-Thurston county line, when the Jeep did a brake check, meaning he tapped on his brakes for the driver behind him, Chehalis Police Department spokesperson Linda Bailey said.

The victim driver decided to go around the Jeep and that’s when the subject in the Jeep pulled out what appeared to be a semi-automatic handgun, Bailey said.

The incident was reported by the un-named victim driver at 11:04 a.m.

It actually began farther north, around the Scatter Creek Rest Area, and included some aggression from both participants, according to a spokesperson for the state patrol.

“(The 25-year-old) is running late for something in Centralia or Chehalis, is driving in the fast lane and comes up on a black Jeep Cherokee and got brake checked,” Trooper Will Finn said. “He gets angry, he gets around this Jeep and brake checks him.

Then he looked in his mirror and saw the barrel of a gun come out the driver’s side window, Finn said.

“He says two rounds were fired off,” he said.

A chase ensued continuing southbound, with the silver 2012 Mazda hatchback darting in and out of traffic and the Jeep pursuing him, Finn said.

The last time the victim saw the Jeep was around milepost 80, and the victim got off the freeway at exit 77, according to the state patrol.

Finn said troopers and deputies were stationed south of the incident waiting for the Jeep, but they never saw it, leading them to believe the Jeep exited the freeway in that area.

“Right now we’re asking anyone who witnessed this or saw this to call us,” Finn said.

Chehalis police reported it was a Jeep Wrangler, but Finn said it was a black Jeep Cherokee, perhaps a 2005 model or as new as a 2010. It was described as a “stock” vehicle, with nothing extra that stood out on it, and it had Washington plates, he said.

The victim said the shooter was an elderly white man with a white beard and somewhere between 60 and 70 years old.

He said there was a female passenger who looked as old as 80, wearing an oxygen mask, Finn said.

Finn said it’s possible someone knows a couple like that, or has had a similar experience with the driver of the Jeep.

He urged anyone with any information to call the state patrol’s non-emergency number of 360-449-7999.

Top cop job in Morton changing hands

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

The passing of the baton at the Morton Police Department will take place on Thursday, as 2015 comes to a close.

Longtime Chief Dan Mortensen is retiring, although when he wakes up on New Year’s Day he will be mayor of the small East Lewis County town.

He ran unopposed in the November election. Mayor James Gerwig didn’t run for another term.

Mortensen describes his feelings as “anticipatory.”

“I’ve done this job a long time and I certainly will miss it,” he said. “The mayor position presents some new challenges for me.”

The mayor manages the city and runs the council meetings, but does not have a vote on the council.

Mayor Gerwig hired a new police chief, Roger Morningstar, who begins work on Jan. 1.

Mortensen and Morningstar were sworn in to their new positions by Mayor Gerwig at last night’s city council meeting.

The outgoing and incoming police chiefs have been working for a couple of days together, for a smoother transition at the department, according to Mortensen.

The police department employs a chief and two full time officers. Mortensen has been with the department since 1985.

Morningstar has law enforcement experience in Washington and a criminal justice certification, Mortensen said. He comes from the state Department of Corrections in Aberdeen, though he hails from Nevada.

“He comes with a pretty good repertoire of experience, I think he’s a good fit for the community,” Mortensen said.

Toledo man accused of touching two girls in “bad places”

Monday, December 28th, 2015

Clavin P. Brockman waits in the courtroom to be escorted back down to the Lewis County Jail this afternoon.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A 38-year-old Toledo man brought before a judge today to face two charges of first-degree child molestation, is facing – if convicted – a mandatory sentence of life without parole.

Clavin P. Brockman was arrested at his home on Christmas Eve day by a detective with the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

He was charged today in Lewis County Superior Court, where prosecutors asked that he be held on $500,000 bail.

Judge James Lawler agreed, and also ordered that Brockman could have no contact with any minors.

Brockman was convicted at age 21 of first-degree child molestation, according to authorities.

Another conviction for a serious sex offense would count under the state’s two strikes law for serious sex crimes.

According to charging documents, the mother of two 9-year-old girls called police in August stating the girls told her they didn’t like Brockman because he touched them in “bad places.”

Sheriff’s detective Tom Callas interviewed the alleged victims in September, in November and he was present for a medical interview on Dec. 2.

The incidents are alleged to have occurred between May 1 and Sept. 1.

When Callas contacted Brockman at his home on Thursday, he asked him if he knew why he was there, and Brockman said he did, according to the allegations.

Before Brockman was placed in the patrol vehicle, he asked if he could place something in his barn, and Callas agreed; as they walked toward the barn, Brockman stated, ‘I’m going to prison for life’, the documents allege.

According to Lewis County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Brad Meagher, Brockman was also convicted in 2008 of failing to register as a sex offender.

He is currently unemployed and qualified for a court-appointed lawyer. Brockman’s arraignment is scheduled for Thursday morning.

Saving lives left and right

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015

Riverside Fire Authority’s Facebook post featuring George Leal on Saturday after he rushed to perform CPR to a stranger on a Centralia sidewalk got more than 2,000 “likes.”

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A Centralia man who received CPR training at his workplace put his knowledge into action this weekend when he helped revive a stranger he came across who had stopped breathing.

Twenty-eight-year-old George Leal was walking along the 800 block of Alder Street in Centralia when he heard a woman screaming for help on Saturday evening. The woman had just placed her father in a vehicle to take him to an appointment at a clinic when he collapsed, according to Riverside Fire Authority.

Leal rushed over, found the man’s skin was turning blue and helped pull him out of the vehicle and onto the sidewalk, where he began cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, according to the fire department.

When a paramedic unit arrived, Leal was still performing CPR. The victim began breathing and was able to verbally communicate with paramedics, the fire department reported.

The patient was transported to the emergency room and was in serious but stable condition, when RFA posted praise that night for Leal on their Facebook page.

“Thank you, George for your willingness to respond and make a difference,” they wrote.

Leal works at National Frozen Food, where he had been trained in CPR.

The willing and ableness of a citizen to save a life in Centralia followed by less than two weeks a recognition ceremony at the fire department of a 12-year-old girl who saved her baby sister from choking.


Alma Navarette holds her little sister and stands with the Medic 20-1 crew who responded, at a ceremony honoring the 12-year-old’s actions.

It was the evening of Nov. 17 when firefighter-paramedics were called to the 1200 block of West Main Street, on a report a 6-month-old infant was choking on a piece of paper.

Alma Navarette performed back blows on her sister which freed the obstruction, according to Riverside Fire Authority.

“The infant vomited, began to recover and her skin color resumed to normal,” Riverside wrote on the commendation they presented to Alma on Dec. 7 at the fire station.

The department noted how critical the intervention by bystanders can be.

“According to the American Heart Association, choking is the No. 1 cause of unintentional death in infants,” the commendation further read. “When oxygen levels are significantly low for four minutes or longer, brain cells begin to die and after five minutes permanent brain injury can occur to a victim.”

Even with an immediate 911 call and an expedient response from emergency medical responders, the risk is great, they wrote.

The department praised Alma for her quick thinking and proper intervention.

“We further recognize that through her actions, she most certainly saved her sister from serious medical complications and quite possibly, saved her life,” the fire department wrote.

December has been a busy month for recognition of those who help others in emergency situations.

On Dec. 2, the Onalaska American Legion held a dinner and ceremony where they presented a certificate of appreciation to all of Lewis County’s first responders for their dedication and hard work during this summer’s drought and wildland fire season.

The certificate was accepted by Andrew Martin, chief of Lewis County Fire District 1 on behalf of all of the fire districts.

Hundreds of firefighters spent countless hours, particularly in August, battling brush fires around the county, three of which rolled through more than 100 acres.


Onalaska Fire Chief Andrew Martin accepts a certificate of appreciation on behalf all of Lewis County’s first responders from the Onalaska American Legion.

Suspected cocaine supplier arrested by Lewis County detectives

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015

Updated at 6:24 p.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Local drug detectives last night made their 10th arrest in an ongoing investigation into a cocaine distribution ring that stretched from Centralia to Seattle.

Over the past “couple of” months, law enforcement officers infiltrated the organization, making numerous controlled purchases of the drug and established probable cause to search several dwellings and vehicles, according to Sgt. Brian Warren who leads the Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team.

Warren said JNET was led to the larger sources in Olympia and Seattle.

Overall, they seized approximately one half pound of cocaine, one ounce of ecstasy, one half pound of psilocybin mushrooms and one loaded firearm, according to Warren. The street value of the drugs is approximately $50,000.

The three believed to be the primary individuals supplying the Lewis County area are two men from Olympia; Jacob L Gomez, 24, and Cole Johnson Kelly, 27, and then Cesar Alfonso Leiva-Licona, 30, a Honduran national residing in Seattle, according to Warren.

Leiva-Licona was arrested yesterday.

“Last night’s arrest was the head of the snake, as we say,” Warren said of Leiva-Licona. “We got him to bring a quarter pound to the Olympia area last night.”

Leiva-Licona was living here on an expired work visa, Warren said.

The three arrests occurred in Thurston and Pierce counties.

Warren said the quarter pound of cocaine confiscated would be worth $2,500 to $3,000.

The drug is not uncommon among the college crowd, he said.

The investigation was dubbed Operation Snow Patrol.

JNET is made up of a group of detectives from the Centralia Police Department, the Chehalis Police Department and the Lewis County Sheriff’ Office.

Report: Note about killing at CHS homecoming assembly was found outside portable door, then set on desk

Saturday, December 19th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The sheriff’s office still doesn’t know who wrote the note that initiated an all-day lockdown and investigation at Centralia High School, but they know who left it on the teacher’s desk, and it turns out the folded up piece of paper was found outside on the ground by a student on his way to an adjacent classroom.

When he picked it up from under Jon Rooklidge’s door, he saw “Help us” written on the outside and thought it was someone needing help with their homework, so the student went into the classroom and placed it on Rooklidge’s desk, according to the detective investigating the case.

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Centralia High School, on Oct. 2, 2015

Rooklidge teaches in one of two classrooms that share a portable building, which has a ramp that leads up to the two side-by-side doors.

The Oct. 2 incident began with the discovery after second period of the message that stated a student was planning on killing people during the school assembly later that day. Rooklidge took it to the principal and the school resource officer was informed.

Law enforcement swarmed to the campus on Eshom Road and distraught parents waited at a church across the street. Some students were interviewed, and the student body of some 1,000 youngsters were searched with a metal-detector wand before being released in small groups over the course of the next several hours. No weapons were found.

It happened the day after a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The high school’s homecoming football game and dance that weekend were cancelled.

Lewis County Sheriff’s Office detective Tom Callas in the following weeks spoke with teachers and students, viewed security footage and handwriting on homework and concluded the boy who put the note on the desk did so innocently.

In a recorded interview at the sheriff’s office, the 16-year-old said he didn’t read the inside of the note and didn’t know what it said.

The specific contents of the note are not included in Callas’s written report, and in an interview, he declined to reveal what it said.

He left copies of it with some school staff, asking them to keep an eye out for any handwriting, from a student or adult, that matches it, he said.

It was handwritten on school notebook paper, torn at the top. It had been folded up, Callas said.

The message on the inside was described that morning by a school district spokesperson as a “specific type of threat of violence at the high school.”

In a news release crafted at mid-morning that day by public information officers at the Centralia Police Department, the sheriff’s office and Public Relations Coordinator Ed Petersen for the Centralia School District, it was described as a note that stated a student was planning on killing people during a school assembly, scheduled for the afternoon.

Callas wrote in his report the note warned of a potential shooting incident to happen later that day at an assembly.

The page was taken into evidence, and partial prints have been lifted from it, for further examination by a fingerprint classification detective.

Centralia High School sits outside the city limits and is in the sheriff’s office jurisdiction, but the district has a school resource officer from the Centralia Police Department.

A somewhat similar incident occurred about five weeks later, with the discovery of writing on a student’s desk that said, “Ima shoot up the school 11/10.” The response involved officers from several agencies searching all students prior to their entry into the school the following morning.

Centralia police investigated and a 16-year-old student who said she was just doodling and forgot to erase it, was arrested for felony harassment.

Detective Callas suspended his investigation last month, unable to find a suspect for the Oct. 2 incident.

Whether someone had a genuine intention to harm others, or someone was just looking for attention, Callas said he couldn’t say or speculate what was going through their mind.

“I just know we took this very seriously, that somebody was threatening to shoot,” he said.

For background, read “Writer of threat to “kill people” at Centralia High School still unknown” from Friday October 2, 2015, here

Builders Surplus tells law enforcement former employee remodeled own kitchen without paying for it

Friday, December 18th, 2015

John H. Kuhn II appears before a judge in Lewis County Superior Court.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A former manager of a Chehalis business has been accused by the owner of stealing more than $10,000 worth of kitchen cabinets and countertops.

The current manager of Builders Surplus Northwest contacted the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office in May to report the discovery of what he said occurred back around January 2013.

John H. Kuhn II, was summonsed into Lewis County Superior Court, where this afternoon he learned more about the charge of first-degree theft that has been filed against him.

Kuhn, 35, said the kitchen remodel was a gift or bonus from the owner, for working so hard for him after a previous manager left.

“Two and a half years later, and now this,” Kuhn said outside the courtroom.

According to charging documents, current manager Dana Shave with assistance from company accountant Jon Christensen, gathered up invoices for the materials and labor to install the products at Kuhn’s home on Padrick Road in Centralia.

Photos of the kitchen were posted on the company’s website as a representation of the work they do, according to the documents.

Owner of the Hamilton Road business Michel Rey told an investigating deputy he knew of the remodel but was unaware his manager didn’t pay for it with his own money, the documents state.

Rey said he never provided bonuses for his employees in the form of materials or labor, as if he did, he would make them pay the tax on the materials, the documents relate.

Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Ann Harrie wrote in the charging documents that Kuhn denied the theft allegations to the deputy and provided names of five people who could verify they were a work bonus, but each of those five provided statements that they’d never heard of the kitchen or cabinets being a gift or bonus from Rey.

Kuhn does not have any email or correspondence from Rey showing it was a gift, Harrie wrote.

The charge of first-degree theft was filed on Dec. 3. It has a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

When Kuhn appeared before Judge Richard Brosey this afternoon, temporary defense attorney Joely O’Rourke said Kuhn was in the process of retaining Centralia attorney Don Blair to represent him.

Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Kevin Nelson asked for bail to be set as a $10,000 unsecured bond. Brosey agreed.

Kuhn’s arraignment is scheduled for January 7.

Vader toddler death: Sentence paperwork finalized; convict notes coming appeal

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

Danny A. Wing talks with his defense attorney Todd Pascoe before going in front of the judge in Lewis County Superior Court.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Danny A. Wing was brought back from prison to Lewis County Superior Court, so he could sign a portion of his sentencing documents that were compiled after his Sept. 25 sentencing for the death of 3-year-old Jasper Henderling-Warner.

Wing, 27, is serving a 416 month sentence following his guilty plea to first-degree manslaughter and third-degree assault.

Jasper died in October 2014 from chronic battered child syndrome, after Wing and his wife had taken the toddler into their household. The family had recently moved to Vader.

The documents, called finding of facts and conclusions of law, related to the enhancements that allowed the court to give him more time than the standard sentencing range; that the victim was a member of his household, and that Wing abused a position of trust on a particularly vulnerable victim.

Wing didn’t sign them during the approximately five-minute hearing in front of Judge Nelson Hunt this afternoon. His attorney Todd Pascoe signed them for him.

Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead told the judge Wing had filed several motions, on his own behalf, from prison – Halstead said out of the courtroom they related to his exceptional sentence.

But Wing, who spent several minutes with Pascoe before going before the judge, asked to withdraw the filings. He said he might want to refile them at a later date, with assistance from an appeal attorney.

Judge Hunt allowed them to be withdrawn. Wing noted that he is indigent and would have an appointed appeal attorney representing him.

Wing then had a hearing in family court, in the matter of the couple’s three children.

His wife Brenda A. Wing remains in the Lewis County Jail, awaiting her sentencing for her role in Jasper’s death.


For background, read “Vader man gets 34 years for toddler death” from Friday September 25, 2015, here

Lewis County judge won’t seek election to fourth term, local lawyer to try for the bench

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Lewis County Superior Court Judge Nelson Hunt publicly acknowledged he plans to retire, saying he was making the official announcement early so anyone who may wish to run for his seat next November can make their plans.

“I will be 67 next year and it is just time to retire,” Hunt said in a news release yesterday. “I very much enjoy the work I am doing and those with whom I work but I want to retire before too many people start wishing that I would.”


Judge Nelson Hunt

He said his post-retirement plans are still in the making, but notes the possibility of traveling extensively and also said he’s been approached about teaching college-level criminal law and procedural courses.

Adna resident Andrew Toynbee, a former chief criminal deputy prosecutor in Lewis County, announced today he will seek election to Hunt’s position.

Hunt was first elected as judge in 2004, replacing the retiring Judge David Draper. He was unopposed in that election as well as in 2008 and 2012.

In his news release, he says the experience he is most proud of is “our continuing success” with drug court, something he was more than a little skeptical about when called upon to lead it following Judge John Hall’s retirement.

Hunt said in the past he’d seen many well-intentioned programs aimed at dealing with the drug problem fail over the long run.

” … I was soon convinced that it is the most effective way to proceed and our results corroborate that,” Hunt stated. “It will be difficult to end my active association with drug court but I am sure my successor will be up to the challenge.”

Hunt’s law career began as a deputy prosecuting attorney for Lewis County in 1979 and then he became the Lewis County prosecutor in 1990.

He held that elected position until 1995 when he resigned to take a position with the local law firm of Mano and McKerricher, where his practice emphasized criminal defense.

“Being a judge is a great job,” Hunt said. “It is challenging and full of variety, every day brings something new.

“That was the main reason I decided to become a judge and the past 11 years have certainly lived up to that.”

Toynbee today said the support and encouragement he has gotten to run for judge has been overwhelming.

“I am looking forward to getting out and letting the community know who I am and what I have to offer the people of Lewis County as a superior court judge,” Toynbee stated.

Lewis County has three superior court judges who preside over felony and high-money civil cases. The job pays $162,618 a year.

Toynbee served for 13 years in the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office, in a variety of positions. He spent his last five years there the chief criminal deputy, before taking a similar position in 2006 at the Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office.

He said he oversees he oversees a staff of over 30 attorneys and support personnel.

“I have learned much in the last nine years, and I am eager to bring that experience home to Lewis County,” Toynbee said.

The married father of three has continued to reside in Lewis County and lists his community involvement as a board member for Pope’s Kids Place since 2006, several terms on the St. Joseph School Commission, a former board member of Valley View Community Health Center and has coached for Chehalis Youth Soccer.

Toynbee will formally kick off his campaign in January.

I-5 overpass lifted to remove too-tall truck load wedged beneath it

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

Freeway traffic backed up for miles, for hours, while crews made numerous attempts to move stuck semi truck. / Courtesy photo by Department of Transportation

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – An over-height semi truck that got stuck at an overpass on Interstate 5 near Toledo leaving one southbound lane blocked yesterday was finally dislodged about 3 o’clock this morning.

The bridge at the Toledo-Vader road offramp near milepost 61 is signed for allowing 14-feet 9-inches of clearance, according to the state Department of Transportation.

The driver indicated his rig was 16-feet tall, DOT spokesperson Bart Treece said.

“He did slow down to about 25 mph to try to sneak by, but that didn’t work,” Treece said.

The truck was hauling a generator base from Centralia to Idaho, he said.

It happened about 2:30 p.m. and by 4:30 p.m., the backup on the freeway was four miles and growing.

Traffic was detoured for bridge inspectors to examine the structure and during attempts to pull the truck out, Treece said.

They let the air out of the tires, but the truck was still lodged there, he said.

They tried pulling it out with two class C tow trucks, but that didn’t work either.

“So we used hydraulic jacks to lift the bridge, had three tow trucks pulling and one loader pushing,” he said.

Treece said that for whatever reason, the pilot car didn’t communicate with the driver.

“If they would have taken that offramp, (and got back on), they would have been just fine,” he said.

The bridge was scraped up, but inspectors aren’t concerned about anything structural, he said.

They’ll return tomorrow to double-check all their information so they can send the operator a bill, he said.

It was the same type of load being hauled last Tuesday by a different truck that hit the Koontz Road overpass on  southbound Interstate 5 in Napavine.

That truck was traveling freeway speed however, and the damage to the overpass more serious, according to Treece.

Koontz Road above the freeway remains closed and its opening date still unknown.

“We had to develop a pretty significant repair plan, because the girders were badly damaged,” he said.

Surveying losses from the Cowlitz, Cispus rivers

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015


By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Authorities are taking stock of the damage from last week’s flooding, which primarily impacted the east end of the county.

Randle Fire Chief Jeff Jaques hoped to finish up today checking on places.

“There wasn’t a whole lot that we had to evacuate in our area,” Jaques said. “We had three rescues, maybe four, with assistance from the sheriff’s office.”

As of last night, the chief knew of a vacation home affected, a house that got two feet of water inside and a household in Cascade Peaks Campground that was displaced, but he still had several more residences to look at.

The Cowlitz River at Randle didn’t rise quite as high as the record event in November 2006, he said, but Cispus got hit pretty hard this time. It reached just over 24 feet at about 2:45 p.m. on Wednesday.

“Every flood is different,” he said.

With the water over the roadway at U.S. Highway 12 and on state Route 131, responders had to drive all the way east to Packwood, onto Cline Road and take a forest service road, cutting through downed tress, to get to the people who needed help in Cispus, according to Jaques.

The sheriff’s office brought out its 5-ton truck and the only boat rescue in Randle involved bringing someone out from Cline Road by canoe, he said.

Lewis County Emergency Management is urging people impacted from the flooding to phone them and make a report.

“As of Monday, 19 homes were confirmed damaged,” Steve Mansfield, manager of the department, said today. “I know there’s more than that.”

There are two reasons to call in, he said.

First, the department is working to connect people who need help with others who can help them, he said.

“Today, for example, we had a guy evacuated from the Randle area who went home and found lots of sewage in his house,” Mansfield said. “We matched him up with the Red Cross, who are giving him vouchers for a motel for three or four nights.”

The second reason is, Emergency Management needs to tally up a dollar loss that will be forwarded to FEMA, and if the total reaches a certain threshold, then FEMA funding may be available to assist citizens, according to Mansfield.

The need for rescues began about 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, in the High Valley community of Packwood.

A log jam formed in the Cowlitz River, causing the river to reroute and suddenly water began to flow into a residence on Mountain View Drive, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

Deputies and firefighters continued responding to calls for help through the night. By 2:15 a.m., the river at Packwood was cresting at almost 11.4 feet. It’s record high is 14.59 feet in November 2006.

Packwood Fire Department Chief Lonnie Goble said most of their issues were in the High Valley.

One or two were washed out, he said. One unoccupied vacation cabin tipped over.

“The last high water this fall was even higher than this was,” he said. “For some reason, some log jams diverted the water.”

Goble estimated 20 to 25 people had to leave their homes but thought by Saturday, everyone was back home.

The area in town right along U.S. Highway 12 didn’t flood, but given the changing river, it’s only a matter of time, he said.

“If the river doesn’t get fixed this year, Packwood will flood,” he said.

He continues to be concerned about the area above Franklin Bridge and is unsatisfied with the methods and proposals for protecting the town, by the numerous government agencies that have involvement in the waterway.

“They used to put DC Cats right down the center of the river to keep it clear, but they don’t want to do that anymore,” he said.

Emergency Management Manager Mansfield hopes to compile damage reports by the end of this week.

Impacted residents are asked to call one of the following phone numbers and leave their name and a good contact telephone number. Someone will return the call to gather specifics of their losses.

Those in Lewis County and all other cities may call 360-740-1152. Damages in the city limits of Centralia should be reported to 360-623- 8283 or 360-330-7659.

Information needed for the call back includes:

For citizens:
• Dollar value of the loss
 • Value of the property loss (tax assessment value if property) • Any insurance coverage

For businesses:

• Dollar value loss of inventory/building damage
 • Insurance
 • Was business closed during event (if so, dollar value of losses)

Emergency Management has already received inquiries about making donations to flood victims.

Mansfield asks that anyone who wants to make a monetary- or goods- and services-type donation to please call 360-740-1152 and leave their phone number along with the donation pledge they would like to make.

They will have someone contact donors as the need is identified, he said.

Chehalis burglary suspects’ stolen car contained numerous stolen items and identifications, and meth

Monday, December 14th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A search of the Honda Accord that wrecked in Chehalis trying to flee a traffic stop last week turned up belongings from a just-burglarized house as expected, but also stolen property and identifications from victims in Salkum, Toledo, Olympia, Tacoma and other communities as far north as Anacortes, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

A man and woman were arrested, the man as he was coming out of a  basement from a nearby residence where he tried to hide on Thursday.

Russell L. Cobb, 44, of Kent, was facing  numerous possible charges including burglary, eluding and unlawful possession of a firearm. His companion who gave her name as Theresa L. St. Clair, 30, of Renton, is now facing further charges of forgery and identity theft, the sheriff’s office said this morning.

“It turns out, Theresa L. St. Clair is actually not her real name,” Chief Deputy Stacy Brown said.

The suspect’s real name is Tara J. Hino, she said. She’s 32 and lives in Federal Way.

St. Clair is the victim of identity theft whose debit cards were found in the couple’s car, according to Brown.

Items recovered from the Honda included methamphetamine, meth pipes and needles and also indicated victims in Federal Way, Fife and Renton, Brown said.

It’s going to be an ongoing investigation Brown said, noting merchandise stolen from Wal-Mart and Sears was also found inside the car. The Honda Accord was stolen in Fife.

Brown said the investigation also revealed Hino forged a stolen check at Staples to purchase a laminating machine, suspected for use in creating more identifications.

The Honda was pulled over around 11 a.m. on Thursday, after a neighbor on Linda Vista Drive south of Chehalis reported seeing suspicious individuals in and around a house.

The driver then took off, but spun out and wrecked on South Market Boulevard near Second Street.


For background, read “Burglary suspect found hiding in Chehalis resident’s basement” from Thursday December 10, 2015, here

Centralia rape case comes up short on evidence

Saturday, December 12th, 2015

Wellington M. Waggener looks toward his lawyer and his father at the conclusion of his hearing in Lewis County Superior Court.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Lewis County prosecutors told a judge they dropped a felony charge against a man who was arrested for rape this summer, because of a lack of evidence.

The 6-foot 9-inch tall former Centralia College basketball player was arrested by Centralia police in July, after a 28-year-old local woman told officers a black man entered her motel room and forced sex on her.

Wellington M. Waggener, 26, was detained at the Travelodge and has held been in the Lewis County Jail ever since.

Waggener went before a judge this week, after a plea deal was reached regarding unrelated incidents that occurred while he was locked up.

Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead recommended Waggener be given a 9-month sentence, the bottom of the standard range for the offenses.

Defense attorney Don Blair asked for five months with credit for time served, given his client’s mental issues.

He’s been evaluated and treated at Western State Hospital and was just released from a Portland hospital shortly before the July incident, according to the two lawyers.

“He’s medicated now, but having him sit in custody – I know he doesn’t like to be in custody,” Blair said. “But I don’t think that’s going to have an effect on anything with his mental health.”

While being housed in the medical observation portion of the jail in July, Waggener allegedly spit in a corrections officer’s face as he was being served dinner.

Then two days later, he allegedly threatened to kill two other of the officers, telling one of them that he would kill her if he saw her outside the jail and telling the other he wanted to slit his throat.

He’s the same person Lewis County paid $300,000 not to sue, because he was left to suffer for more than five hours without any kind water or decontamination after a jail guard discharged a can of pepper spray into his cell 18 months earlier, trying to get him to give a set of keys back.

In court on Wednesday morning this week, Waggener made Alford pleas to custodial assault and felony harassment. He contends he doesn’t recall the events.

He admitted no guilt, but agreed with Lewis County Superior Court Judge Nelson Hunt that he would be reasonably likely to be convicted if a jury heard the facts prosecutors would present.

Hunt ordered a sentence of nine months, with credit for time served, saying he didn’t see a compelling reason to go lower.

He also ordered a year of what’s called community custody after release, in which Waggener would be supervised or monitored by the state Department of Corrections.

About $4,000 of fines and fees were imposed, including repayment for a court-appointed lawyer.

Judge Hunt queried Blair about how much of the $300,000 settlement with the county the defendant received and was told it was being held in trust for him.

The judge also ordered Waggener to undergo evaluations for both his mental health and for alcohol and marijuana use, and to follow through any treatment recommended.

While one of the two harassment charged was dropped as part of the plea deal, the sex crime charge was dismissed by prosecutors.

When police booked Waggener in July, it was for second-degree rape.

Prosecutors subsequently filed a different felony charge – residential burglary with sexual motivation – alleging in court documents only that the woman told an officer she woke up in bed and her clothes had been removed, and a strange male in her bed was touching her body with his hands.

Halstead said then it was investigated a little more, and the case lacked evidence.

For background, read “Court cases stalled for Centralia man while mental evaluation sought” from Saturday July 18, 2015, here

Burglary suspect found hiding in Chehalis resident’s basement

Thursday, December 10th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A pair of suspected burglars fleeing a patrol deputy, hit water on South Market Boulevard in Chehalis, spun out and wrecked earlier today, with one detained and the second one subsequently found hiding in the basement of a home.

The resident was at home 200 block of Washington Avenue,  but not aware a stranger was in his house, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

The incident began around 11 a.m. when an individual reported seeing a suspicious man and woman in and around her neighbor’s house on Linda Vista Drive south of Chehalis, according to the sheriff’s office.

The couple left when they realized they’d been spotted but a responding deputy stopped the car on the 2100 block of Jackson Highway, Chief Deputy Stacy Brown indicated.

As a Chehalis police officer arrived for back up, the Honda Accord took off, according to Brown.

Brown said the fleeing Honda nearly struck a Chehalis police vehicle before losing control and striking a concrete pillar in a business parking lot near Second Street.

The two jumped out and began running, she said, with the driver finally being found as law enforcement officers along with Chehalis K-9 Reign conducted a track.

Russell L. Cobb, 44, of Kent, was arrested and faces numerous possible charges including burglary, eluding and unlawful possession of a firearm, according to Brown. Theresa L. St. Clair, 30, of Renton, was arrested for burglary. Both were booked into the Lewis County Jail.

Cobb had two outstanding felony warrants for his arrest, she said.

Brown said numerous items, including credit cards, seen in the car appeared to be stolen.

At the home on  Linda Vista Drive, someone had had stacked up firearms inside the residence in apparent preparation to take them, before getting spooked, according to Brown.

The Honda Accord was stolen in Fife.


CORRECTION: This news story has been updated to correctly reflect which police dog was tracking the suspect.

Court grapples with release of senior citizen inmate with nowhere to go

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

A corrections officer prepares to take Nelson R. Berquist back down to the Lewis County Jail, even though the prosecutor recommended release.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A 77-year-old resident of a Centralia retirement home questioned by police about a small baggie of methamphetamine he told them he had in his room, said he puts it in his coffee in the morning.

Nelson R. Berquist was arrested after the confession he gave at Cooks Hill Manor and then booked into the Lewis County Jail.

The Centralia man who lives on social security was brought to court in a wheelchair yesterday, charged with two felonies.

Lewis County Prosecutor Paul Masiello was prepared to allow Berquist to be released pending trial on a $10,000 signature bond, saying he had no real criminal history. Masiello called it sort of an unusual case.

Temporary defense attorney Joely O’Rourke told the judge she’d never before recommended her client stay in custody, but the assisted living facility had informed her that due to state regulations, they would not allow him back.

“I certainly don’t want to turn him out on the street,” O’Rourke said. “But he’s diabetic, he can barely walk and he needs his medications.”

According to charging documents filed yesterday in Lewis County Superior Court, Centralia police were called to the 2000 block of Cooks Hill Road on Monday for a report a resident was delivering meth to other residents.

Detectives spoke to a woman, not identified as to whether she was a resident or an employee, who told them Berquist met her in a common area, gave her the drug and told her to give it to her son.

They interviewed Berquist, told them why they were there and advised him of his Miranda warnings.

“Berquist admitted to giving Fletcher methamphetamine and he had more in his room,” the documents relate.

Police obtained a search warrant and found a small baggie in a wicker basket.

He said he gave half to her and that was the other half, according to the court documents.

Berquist told the detective he puts meth in his morning coffee, a detective who noted the arrestee seemed to be under the influence of the drug.

The senior citizen is charged with one count of delivery, an offense with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and one count of possession, which could bring as much as five years of incarceration if he were convicted.

Lewis County Superior Court Judge Nelson Hunt queried the two lawyers yesterday afternoon.

“If he leaves the jail, where does he go?” Hunt asked.

O’Rourke advised the judge she’d also spoken to her client’s son, and her client couldn’t stay there either.

“What about adult protective services? Cascade Mental Health?” Hunt said. “There’s got to be some resource.”

The seeming predicament ended with Hunt reluctantly signing a no-bail hold – meaning a possible second night in lockup – and the lawyers agreeing to make some phone calls together.

Judge Hunt advised them as soon as they found someone to take the defendant, they could come back before him so he could set bail.

O’Rourke said later last night, she’d found there was a social worker – whether from the nursing home or the Department of Social and Health Services, she didn’t know – who planned to hold a debriefing about Berquist today.

Berquist was found to qualify for a court-appointed lawyer and his arraignment was scheduled for a week from tomorrow.

He was released today from the Lewis County Jail, according to its online roster.

Rain slows, flood warnings continue

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

Watch for the latest information from the National Weather Service, here

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – While the rain is coming to an end this morning, flooding has affected many Lewis County residents and could affect more people over the next day or so.

Lewis County Sheriff’s Office deputies rescued several people in the east end of the county overnight because of water in or around their homes and while the Cowlitz River at Packwood is receding, it continues to rise downstream at Randle.

The predicted record flooding on the Newaukum River in the west end did not materialize.

Still, many roads are closed, including a 45-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 12 beginning east of Packwood and into Yakima County due to mud and debris across the road in multiple locations.

In Centralia, several city streets are closed this morning, including where there is approximately 6 inches of water over Kresky Avenue at Scott Johnson Road.

The Chehalis River at Doty appears to have crested lower than expected, so the flooding forecast for Chehalis and Centralia beginning later today is expected to be minor.

The Skookumchuck and Chehalis Rivers at Centralia are still being monitored for possible flood warnings.

The National Weather Service reports that rain, heavy at times, is coming to an end early this morning in the central and southern Cascades. Rivers in the region will crest today with the exception of the lower reaches of the Chehalis.

In the Randle area, the Cowlitz River river will continue to rise and crest just below 24 feet around 10 o’clock this morning. The river should fall below flood stage Thursday night.

The public is urged to continue to monitor the weather and river levels.

For photos and ongoing reports from members of the community, if you are on Facebook, check Lewis County Sirens on Facebook, here

For background, and useful links, read “Officials watching waterways, preparing for flooding” from  Tuesday, December 8, 2015 at 3:12 p.m., here

Chehalis hotel cited for exposing staff to infectious diseases and other dangers

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The state has fined a Chehalis hotel more than $97,000 for worker safety and health violations, including exposing employees to infectious diseases, an issue they have been warned of previously.

The Department of Labor and Industries cited the Chehalis Inn & Suites for a total of 31 violations,  according to the state agency. The citations are the result of two inspections that began in August.

A clerk who answered the phone this evening said the business on Southwest Interstate Avenue is currently an Econo Lodge. The manager was not available for comment.

Three of the issues are considered “repeat serious” violations, regarding potential exposure to blood-borne pathogens from hypodermic needles or other infectious material, according to L&I.

A fourth “repeat serious” violation involves the lack of an emergency eyewash and training for employees who work with corrosive cleaning products and pool chemicals.

Agency spokesperson Elaine Fischer indicates those are the exact same violations that were found during a July 2013 inspection

The workplace regulators also cited the facility for 11 serious violations related to asbestos exposure during renovation work at the hotel.

Serious violations are cited for hazards where there’s a possibility of serious injury or death.

The inspections also uncovered an unstable second-floor walkway with damaged railing and rotted areas that exposed workers to the possibility of a fall of over eight feet as well as exposed wires, improperly grounded electrical equipment and other electrical hazards, according to Fischer.

The employer has 15 working days to appeal the citation.