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Deadly Winlock fire: Investigation, grieving, continue

Friday, February 27th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Firefighters and investigators continued their work today, trying to uncover what ignited the blaze that claimed three lives and nearly consumed a two-story home in Winlock.

“We’re out going through the scene today,” Lewis County Fire District 15 Assistant Chief Kevin Anderson said. “Going through the remains of the house.”


807 N.E. First Street

The Lewis County coroner yesterday recovered the partial remains of three individuals and has yet to verify their identities or release their names.

Winlock Police Department Chief Terry Williams said he hasn’t confirmed the ages of all the family members involved in Thursday’s early morning morning fire.

The father, whose name has not been released, and his two boys escaped the fire physically uninjured. The mother and two little girls who were right behind him did not.

“I think they’re 3 and 4,” Williams said today.

She had them on her hips or under her arms, carrying them out, Williams said. They were found right where he would have expected them to be, some 10 to 15 feet from the front door.

The family had been asleep, and the father had no ideas what caused the fire, Williams said.


807 N.E. First Street / Google

The survivors were in their nighttime apparel, and a life-long Winlock resident has headed up efforts to collect clothing for them, as well as household items.

Brandon Patching said the boys, ages 7 and 9, are average to slim. The father could likely wear large or extra large, he said.

Patching also spearheaded a candlelight vigil last night, held at the site of the world’s largest egg, which the south Lewis County town is known for.

“Being a small town, that’s what we do,” Patching said. “That family needs to know that we’re all there for them.”

Connie Sneed, who became acquainted with the couple at first through the Winlock community Facebook group, early yesterday coordinated with Umpqua Bank in town to set up a donation account.

She’s anxious to get it out of her name, but hasn’t talked directly to the father yet, she said today.

His brother phoned her earlier today – she assumed because the police chief thought they should connect – on the father’s behalf.

“He said he’s very, very appreciative, he’s just barely hanging in there, his brother said; he’s just trying to hang in there, he’s not doing real well,” Sneed said.

Sneed said the father is up north with his family. She said the couple had come to Winlock a year or so ago from Coupeville.

He asked her if she could help get the donated items stored, because he’s going to need them soon, she said.

The brother told her what’s really needed is money, for services and relocating, she said.

“I want him to be able to put her and those babies to rest, and not have to skimp on anything,” Sneed said.

Umpqua Bank continues to accept monetary donations; Mayor Lonnie Dowell said donors can just tell them it is for the fire victims.

Any donations of clothing, or household goods can be taken to the Christian Fellowship in Winlock on Cemetery Road. Also, Patching is happy to continue accept them at his workplace at Aaron’s in the Twin City Town Center in Chehalis, as long as it’s arranged ahead of time with a phone call. He can be reached at 360-740-6060.

Patching and Sneed can also be reached for details via posts on Lewis County Sirens Facebook page.

The fire investigation is being conducted by Sam Patrick, under the direction of Chief Williams.

The chief expected they would continue working into this evening.

Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod indicated this morning his office is working with the family, keeping them informed of their progress of confirming the identities, so the three can be released and laid to rest.


For background, read “Deadly Winlock fire: Sifting though charred rubble” at 3:39 p.m., here

Deadly Winlock fire: Sifting though charred rubble

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

The search for bodies at the fire scene on Northeast First Street is a slow process.

Updated at 5:04 p.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

WINLOCK – The scene was somber as an investigator examined the area inside the blackened shell of what was a two-story house, hovering in the basket of a manlift while firefighters assisted below.

“We believe we have a location of one of the victims,” Winlock Police Department Chief Terry Williams announced shortly after 12:15 p.m.

A woman and two little girls didn’t make it out when fire broke out overnight. A father and two boys are said to be in the care of the Red Cross.


Winlock Police Chief Terry Williams

“It’s just heart wrenching,” Winlock Mayor Lonnie Dowell said.

“My heart goes out to them,” Dowell said. “I can’t imagine losing half my family.”

The north end of the main street through the little town that sits three miles west of Interstate 5 is blocked off today, with barricades and yellow tape.

Chief Williams said the blended family had lived there perhaps a year; they were renting. He didn’t release any names.

“I knew of them,” Williams said.

Former Mayor Glen Cook who operated the machine to help Fire Investigator Samuel Patrick take photos from above, lives just down the street. Cook said when he phoned 911, he could see a little glow at the back of the house. Before he could finish explaining the location to the call taker, flames were coming out everywhere on the first floor, he said.

Another neighbor spoke of an explosion that rocked his house and woke his family up.

Chief Williams was dispatched at 2:45 a.m., just 10 minutes after the fire department was called out. He had only initial information from the man who lived there.

“The father indicated he grabbed the two boys and headed out the door,” Williams said. “She was right behind him, and he told her to get down, get down low.”

She didn’t come out, Williams said.

“He’s not even certain what happened,” Williams said of the father.

The residence, at 807 N.E. First Street, was built in 1904, according to county records. The Lewis County Assessor’s most recent information notes the one bathroomed home as in fair to average condition and heated with space heaters.

A representative of Puget Sound Energy said it was served by natural gas.

The front door of the main floor faced First Street. The house had a sort of basement on the backside, so it could be considered three stories, Williams said. Today, the top floor was gone.

Assisting Williams and his department were detectives from the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, Napavine Police Chief Chris Salyers, and members of the fire departments.

They were taking up debris layer by layer, searching for victims. Specialists from the Washington State Patrol came to create a map of the premises, once a suspected victim was found.

A fire investigator for Puget Sound Energy arrived at about noon.

Williams said the oldest of the children is a 9-year-old boy. The school district sent out a message this morning stating they will be providing support as needed to students and staff.

Mayor Dowell said a vigil is going to be held tonight, at the park in the center of town where the giant egg is. Umpqua Bank is accepting donations in an account already set up, he said.

Williams, who has been a police officer in Winlock since 1979, said its the third fire with child victims he can recall.

“They’re never easy, especially when there’s children,” he said.

Update: Just after 4 p.m. today, Chief Williams indicated investigators have recovered the remains of three victims, by way of the department’s Facebook page. The investigation into the cause of the fire will continue, according to Williams.

For background, read “Possibly fatal house fire erupts in Winlock” from Thursday February 26, 2015 at 6:14 a.m., here


Citizens should expect travel delays on Northeast First Street thorough the day.

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Examining the interior of what was a two-story house.

Possibly fatal house fire erupts in Winlock

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

House burns on Northeast First near Jabez Street in Winlock. / Courtesy photo by Bethany Weaver Spalding

Updated at 8:30 a.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Firefighters are on the scene in Winlock where a house fire may have claimed three lives.

Lewis County Fire District 15 and three neighboring fire departments responded to multiple reports at 2:36 a.m. of a residential fire on the 800 block of Northeast First Street, near Jabez Street.

They found a large fire within a two-story home and attacked it from the exterior because of the large amount of fire present, according to District 15 Assistant Chief Kevin Anderson.

A man and two school-aged boys escaped, but initial information is a female and two female children were not able to get out, according to authorities.

Crews were still engaging in fire suppression efforts just before 6 a.m., according to Anderson.

Approximately 20 firefighters from Lewis County Fire Districts 15, 20, 2 and 5 battled the blaze.

Anderson states the Winlock Police Department is investigating to confirm that three individuals are inside, as well as the cause and origin of the fire.

Winlock Police Chief Terry Williams said just before 7 a.m., that he’s not yet able to get inside. The home is pretty much burned to the ground, he said.

Firefighters are still putting water on the structure, he said.

“Trying to get the heat down, pulling it apart,” he said.

Citizens should expect travel delays on Northeast First Street thorough the day.

Next door neighbor Mark Spalding said he awoke to an explosion that shook his house and got his family members out of bed.

“I didn’t know if it was our house, or whose house,” Spalding said.

He, his wife and his 14-year-old son ran toward the neighbor’s home, where they saw flames so high they were starting to touch the trees, he said.

Spalding said the man who lives there came running up to him on the road.

“The guy came up and put his hands on my shoulders just crying and screaming to help save his wife, his kids,” Spalding said.

It was too hot to get close to the house, Spalding said.

The Winlock School District issued a statement this morning, saying the students who attend their district are safe with the father in the care of the Red Cross, but three family members are unaccounted for.

“We will be providing support as needed to students and staff,” the statement said.


Morton resident to pay for hoax that evacuated lumber mill

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

Marcus T. Dantinne, left, accompanied by attorney Shane O’Rourke, told the judge he was sorry for what he did.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The 24-year-old who called in an anonymous bomb threat to a Morton lumber mill and admitted to police he just wanted to get a friend out of work so they could hang out was sentenced today to house arrest.

Marcus T. Dantinne pleaded guilty to threat to bomb property, a felony. He apologized this morning in Lewis County Superior Court.

“I truly am greatly sorry for all the badness I’ve caused throughout this,” Dantinne told the judge. “I’m seeking attention from Cascade Mental Health right now.”

Dantinne, who lives with his mother in Morton, was arrested on Nov. 17, after the scare that shut down Alta Forest Products just north of town of some 60 employees. The company’s mill in Shelton was also evacuated because they didn’t know if the threat was site specific.

Police traced the call to Dantinne who reportedly took the phone apart so he wouldn’t be discovered.

Dantinne spent two days jail before being allowed to wait out his case by posting an unsecured, but co-signed  $10,000 bond. His mother was with him in the courtroom today.

He faced a standard sentencing range of three to nine months of lockup, but the lawyers agreed to recommend he be sentenced as a first-time offender, meaning zero to 90 days in jail.

Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead and defense attorney Shane O’Rourke agreed he should serve one month, and suggested to the judge he be allowed to do so under electronic home monitoring.

This morning in court, O’Rourke read a letter from Dantinne’s social worker regarding his eligibility for the alternative; she expressed he suffered from severe social anxiety, and that confinement at the county jail would be detrimental.

The young man has several issues, one of which is autism spectrum disorder, but has been very focused on his outpatient treatment, according to the letter.

Judge Nelson Hunt went along with the sentence.

“Kind of a stupid reason for a bomb threat,” Hunt said. “Usually there’s more to it, than I want a day off with my friend.”

Hunt advised him he has lost his right to possess firearms, and ordered him to begin his electronic home monitoring stint by the evening of March 17.

Dantinne will be under supervision for a year, during which he will have to comply with all his treatment requirements, according to Halstead.

Not yet determined, is the amount he will owe in restitution.

Halstead told the judge the mill indicates the hoax cost them a tad bit over $42,000.

For background, read “Authorities: ‘Dumb’ bomb threat brings class B felony charge” from Wednesday November 19, 2014, here

Changes underway in Lewis County Sheriff’s Office’s dealings with mentally ill

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – They called it mental health first aid.

Providers from Cascade Mental Health have been teaching local law enforcement officers about the many disorders people are affected by and how to best deal with them in the field, as well as how to obtain resources for them.


Sheriff Rob Snaza

Over the past two weeks or so, 52 officers from the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies each got five hours of training at the clinic’s Centralia location, according to the sheriff’s office.

It’s part of partnership between the sheriff’s office and Cascade Mental Health, that is already in place at the jail and is expanding.

Deputies and corrections officers are often the first to see and deal with people suffering from mental health disorders, and they continue to see many of them, according to Sheriff Rob Snaza.

Snaza says the jail is not always the best place for them.

“Law enforcement has a tough job of needing to enforce laws, yet apply basic understanding of mental health disorders to specific situations so they can try to seek appropriate resources to help people,” Snaza stated in a news release announcing the training earlier this week.

Corrections Bureau Chief Kevin Hanson notes in the news release his people and Cascade Mental Health have been working together, well, for many years.

They are in the process of strengthening programs already in place to ensure the best possible outcomes for those affected by mental health issues, according to Hanson.

Hanson recently shared with the Lewis County Board of Commissioners that he and Deputy Chief Bruce Kimsey were accepted as board members at Cascade Mental Health.

Hanson also said regular meetings are now underway for what they are calling Mental Health Alternative Programs, something that is akin to an informal mental health court.

The prosecutors and courts are on board with it, he said.

The sheriff’s office is also developing something called a Crisis Intervention Team / Critical Incident Response Team to work both at the jail and out in the field, according to Chief Deputy Stacy Brown.

Sheriff Snaza is allowing those who are interested to undergo further training in regard to that, according to Brown.

Undersheriff Wes Rethwill told county commissioners at a recent meeting the sheriff’s office is ahead of the curve on what is a huge issue across the state, across the country.

“In the past, they get into the criminal justice system” Rethwill said. “That’s not working, how it’s been handled in the past.”

Human remains recovered off Kresky Avenue hillside

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

Detectives and the coroner’s office had to hike into the trees to recover the remains of a female.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Human remains found by a survey crew on a wooded Chehalis hillside yesterday are those of a female, but authorities don’t know who she is.

Chehalis Police Department detective Sgt. Gary Wilson said, after finishing up the recovery today, there were no indications of foul play.

Police were called about 12:45 p.m. yesterday to the 2200 block of Northeast Kresky Avenue after the discovery, about a quarter mile east of the roadway, according to police. Officers hiked into the scene and confirmed the remains were human.

Chehalis detectives, members of the Lewis County Coroner’s Office and a forensic anthropologist spent the morning today collecting evidence and making the removal.

Wilson said the mostly skeletal remains were laying out in the open. There were no signs of a transient camp or something similar, he said.

A little more than four years ago, a homeless man was found dead in his tent in the same general area. He was 67 years old and died of a complication related to cancer.

The area, east of the Yard Birds Mall, is above a swath of property where some earthmoving and cleanup is underway.

Wilson said the police department doesn’t have any missing people. He said he can estimate the individual has been dead around a year, based partly on items they found.

Personal belongings were found near the victim, police said.

The place where she was found was remote, Coroner Warren McLeod said.

“The climb was such a steep angle, the fire department put up ropes for us to hang on to so we wouldn’t fall,” he said.

Both Wilson and McLeod said they found some clues to a possible identity.

“We’re working on a lead on who this person might be,” McLeod said. “We’re going to see if we can find any local dental work or X-Rays.”

The condition of the body is such that no autopsy can be done. McLeod is arranging for the remains to be sent to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office where Dr. Kathleen Taylor, the forensic anthropologist, will examine them.

She will help to try to find out who the female is and do an examination that may help her establish a cause of death, he said.


Police tape blocks off a trail taken to recover human remains today.

Rural Chehalis man charged with shooting up woman’s car

Monday, February 23rd, 2015
2015.0219.taylor.rushton.drivebyIMG_7110 copy

Taylor R. Rushton goes before a judge for a bail hearing in Lewis County Superior Court.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A 36-year-old Lewis County man accused of going to a female friend’s workplace and shooting up her unoccupied vehicle will get his chance to make a plea in Lewis County Superior Court on Thursday.

Taylor R. Rushton was arrested last week and ordered held on $50,000 bail.

The arrest came after an investigation of an incident that took place at the beginning of the month at the Chevron station on Mellen Street in Centralia.

Police called about 2 a.m. on Feb. 7 found several small holes in the front quarter panel of Nichole Perry’s small four-door car, according to charging documents.

Charging documents state Perry told police Rushton had shown up about 11 p.m. and accused her of taking his car key and then returned three hours later and fired upon her vehicle.

The clerk said she was inside when she saw the green truck pull up near her car, Rushton get out, pull out a handgun and shoot it four or five times, the documents state.

Charging documents say the green Ford Ranger was last seen approaching the freeway entrance; and another witness described its driver as 5-feet 8-inches tall wearing a baseball cap.

Officers recreating the scene concluded the shots were fired from a close distance and also fired towards the north, so persons walking or driving on Mellen Street could have been harmed, the documents allege.

Police believe the two are or were dating, and but when Rushton appeared in court last week, defense attorney Don Blair said both of them deny ever having any kind of relationship.

Rushton was arrested on Wednesday and on Thursday prosecutors charged him with one count of drive-by shooting, alleging it was a domestic violence incident. The maximum penalty is 10 years in prison.

Prosecutors asked for him to be held on $100,000 bail, citing the dangerousness of the incident. Blair argued against that, noting the rural Chehalis resident has lived here his whole life, has a job and owns his own home.

“He made no efforts to flee, he has no criminal history,” Blair told the judge.

Judge Nelson Hunt said the fact the two denied a dating relationship meant any motive is unknown, necessitating higher bail.

The firearm used had not been located by police, according to the court documents.

Blair said he expected Rushton was going to retain him. His arraignment is Thursday morning.

Lewis County online for sale site leads to robbery at Capitol Mall

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A group of Centralia-area residents are in trouble after they allegedly robbed two individuals who thought they were meeting at the Capitol Mall in Olympia to purchase a car advertised on a Lewis County online for-sale site.

The victims were going to buy a Honda Accord for $1,500 but were approached in the parking lot by two males armed with handguns, according to the Olympia Police Department.

They relinquished the cash they’d brought and then followed a red VW Jetta the men got into and called 911, according to police.

It happened just before 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Arriving officers caught up to one of two backseat passengers who ran away on foot and other officers stopped the Jetta as it entered the onramp to Highway 101, according to police.

The female driver and a juvenile passenger were detained.

Arrested and booked into the Thurston County Jail for first-degree robbery were the driver, Kirstan A. Flat, 19, of Chehalis, and Joshua L. Meza, 18, from Winlock, according to police. Lt. Jim Costa initially described the group as from the Centralia area.

The juvenile in the front passenger seat was later released to a parent, and Costa said he’s not sure what the juvenile’s involvement was.

Police this morning were actively searching for the fourth suspect who had fled the car on foot, according to Costa.

No injuries were reported and it’s not clear if the suspects actually had an Accord to sell.

Mystery of Onalaska coffin revealed, again

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

The coroner and his deputies take a look at a casket stuck in a creek off the Newaukum River just east of Onalaska.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

ONALASKA – The caravan left the coroner’s office at 8:30 a.m., sharp, today.

Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod and nine members of his team set out on a mission to retrieve a casket discovered partially submerged in a creek last weekend, get it opened up and deal with whatever they found inside.

If it contained somebody’s loved one, the work would begin to figure out who it was and how to get them and their coffin back into their original burial plot.

If it was empty but suspected of once containing a body, McLeod would still have to find out who the previous occupant was, where they had previously been laid to rest and then tell their family that the remains had likely slipped out and been carried downstream.

When he visited the site earlier this week, he could see the lid was damaged, and knew it was possible any remains had been swept away.

The area, a little more than three miles east on state Route 508, beyond Onalaska’s center, has seen flooding several times in recent years.

The hope was, McLeod would find clues that the steel container was the one that once belonged to a pirate.

A SeaFair pirate, who until a few years ago lived near the South Fork of the Newaukum River, with the help of his wife, transformed a never-yet-used casket into fancy outdoor storage for bottles of liquor, ice and whatever bounty such men would need when they sat around a campfire and smoked cigars.

Susan and Pat Patterson lost their casket-turned-bar after a flood several years ago.

The property where they once lived is, as it turns out, one or two addresses upstream from the caravan’s destination.

Robert and Robin Bryan relocated last summer to a home on seven acres on the south side of state Route 508.

He said today, a neighbor notified him the other day he’d found a casket in the creek behind their home. His wife said they needed to report it to authorities.

“I told him, if there was somebody still in it, they needed respect, needed dignity,” Robin Bryan said.

The caravan arrived just before 9 a.m. to the Bryan’s property, and with shovels in hand, the coroner’s team set out.

Robert Bryan and his 8-year-old granddaughter Crystina Rollins, accompanied them down a brushy, muddy path to the creek.

“You can see it just beyond that sink,” he said.

Previous flood events have left a variety of odd objects in the shallow creek.


The bottom side of the river-colored steel casket shows an orange-ish tint. Deputy Coroner Sarah Hockett says she can’t see inside, even though it appears one half of a “split-top” may be missing.


Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod sees the arriving half dozen members of Lewis County Search and Rescue just before 9 a.m. and points to their target.


Deputy Gabe Frase, red plaid, brings a cable out to attach to the coffin. Chains are wrapped around it. A couple of neighbors have joined those on the creek’s bank to watch.


Deputy Sgt. Alan Stull pilots the Polaris four-wheeler, a piece of equipment obtained from the military, which has been outfitted with “tracks” to replace its wheels. He revs up the motor as he begins to pull, and the casket starts to rise from its resting place.


The news media is there. copy

Stull pauses, as deputy coroners decide they must dig around the casket first to loosen it further from the grip of the creek bottom. Stull then resumes pulling it toward him.


The casket has been flipped right side up. “I’ve always wondered what’s in that,” Onalaska Elementary School third-grader Crystina Rollins says. “I’m hoping nothing.” Deputy Curt Spahn pries up the top of the casket.

They see a mound of mud and gravel inside.

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The see what they think is an ice bucket inside. / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Coroner’s Office


Bingo. They pull out pieces of particle board, with holes bored out, just the size a bottle of rum could sit in. Mystery solved. “This is good,” McLeod says. “We didn’t want it to be somebody.” The time is 10 a.m.


Deputy coroners examine the interior further. I don’t know why. Maybe hoping to find some pirate loot.

They decide to leave the casket where it lay.

“It’s not occupied, so I don’t have a problem with it,” Robert Bryan said.

The members of the search and rescue team return to their day of winter training elsewhere in the county.

Long time coordinator of the group, Sheriff’s Deputy Gene Seiber said, before departing, he does not recall the Patterson’s pirate casket turning up after the big 2007 flood.

If several years from now, the container is swept away again and found again, it won’t be a closed casket that causes another mystery, since it doesn’t have a lid, Seiber suggested.

Robin Bryan brings out cinnamon rolls for the coroner’s group.

Mission accomplished.

Postscript: Robin Bryan calls a news reporter to say she informed her landlord of what transpired. The landlord handles the estate of the man who previously resided there, and has died, she said.

“She got quite a laugh out of it,” Robin Bryan said. “She said, ‘It’s still there? He knew all about it.’ ”

The former owner had discovered the casket on his property at one time in the past, and reported it, Robin Bryan said. And then it was just left there, she said.

“She got a big laugh out of it, and said I’m so glad you handled that,” she said.


For background, read:

• “Coffin discovered in Lewis County creek” from Tuesday February 17, 2015, here

• “Search and rescue to attempt recovery of partially submerged coffin” from Friday February 20, 2015, here

Search and rescue to attempt recovery of partially submerged coffin

Friday, February 20th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Susan Patterson’s son called her the other day, laughing so hard he could hardly talk.

“He said, ‘It’s back’,” Patterson said.

“I said, ‘What? What’s back?” she said.

“The casket,’ he said.

And she laughed too. She’s still laughing.

“That thing is just going to haunt me forever,” Patterson said.

It’s a long story.

The Patterson family at one time owned a steel, never-before-used casket. The slightly damaged container meant for the dead had been languishing in the Fife warehouse of a shipping company where her son worked.

The Onalaska woman jumped at the chance to take possession of it.

It was the perfect enhancement to a spot on their property they called Pirate Cove. A place with a fire pit where her husband Pat and his SeaFair pirate friends would hang out and smoke cigars, she said.

The now-retired couple moved from West Seattle, home of the infamous group, to Onalaska years ago. Pat Patterson, now 72, has been a pirate for 38 years.

She replaced its lining with a skull and cross bones print fabric and they transformed the casket into a bar. It sat on a couple of logs. Beneath one end of the “split top” was storage for liquor bottles and the other half held a cooler, she said.

They only had it a year, maybe two, she said.

It disappeared during one of the floods, she couldn’t remember for sure which one, she said.

But it’s reappeared twice, and she feels almost certain the one that turned up over the weekend in a creek off the Newaukum River belongs to her family.

“That thing just keeps coming back, every time I think it’s gone, it comes back,” she said.

Patterson said she spoke to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office and the coroner earlier this week.

Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod learned of the find on Sunday. He and members of Lewis County Search and Rescue plan to attempt to recover it on Saturday morning. It’s on private property, a hike through fairly rough terrain, he said.

McLeod described the found coffin as steel gray, partially submerged, the foot end driven into the creek bottom, almost as if deposited there by raging floodwaters.

He said he couldn’t tell if it was occupied or not.

Patterson recalled theirs as maybe bluish-gray.

The first time the Patterson’s casket-turned bar disappeared might have been around 2006 during a flood. She recalled telling her husband over a cup of coffee that if anyone found it, it could be disturbing, so they placed a note on a community bulletin board in town: If anyone finds a casket, contact the Pattersons.”

“The boys searched and searched for months,” Patterson said. “Nick, my grandson found it out in the woods, standing straight up, but buried in the mud.”

They couldn’t dislodge it, so they left it where it stood.

The following year, they were flooded again and while they were cleaning up, they got a knock and their door. It was a sheriff’s deputy, she said. Asking about a casket.

“He said, ‘Yeah, I guess that last one knocked it loose, it’s now lodged downstream at the neighbor’s’,” she said.

Her recollection was it was stuck and never recovered.

Another flood hit in January 2009, and this time they lost everything. Their home was condemned. The couple moved to the other end of Onalaska.

“I never really thought about that casket after that,” she said.

She told her husband earlier this week the casket has risen again. She almost 100 percent sure it’s theirs, she said.

She told the coroner they don’t want it back.

For background, read “Coffin discovered in Lewis County creek” from Tuesday February 17, 2015, here

Dog killed in Centralia home invasion

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Dustin Palermo’s security video captured images of three individuals heading for his front door.

Updated at 8:56 p.m.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CENTRALIA – Police are looking for three males who barged into a Centralia home last night, demanded money and shot a dog.

Centralia police say one of the subjects fired a number of times at the pet, killing it but none of the residents were injured.

The suspects then fled and are still at large, according to the Centralia Police Department.

It happened about 10:35 p.m. on the 1200 block of Marion Street, at the north end of town, according to police.


Misty, the golden colored dog on the right, in a snapshot with Bruno.

Dustin Palermo said he and his girlfriend had just settled into bed to watch a movie, when he heard a thump on the door.

“My door’s flying open, these black men rush in, shooting guns, screaming,” he said. “They shot up my room and killed my dog.”

The 35-year-old Centralia native said they were shouting about money and weed and rummaging through things. He shoved his girlfriend into a corner and told her not to move, then pushed a jar of cannabis on the floor toward the intruders, he said.

They were in and out in about 30 seconds, but it seemed much longer, he said.

The firearm was described as a handgun.

Palermo said his two pit bulls were inside with him and his 25-year-old girlfriend. Misty was just protecting her family he said.

“The male, Bruno, he’s taking it pretty hard,” he said.

Detectives are working on the case.

Detective Patty Finch said they have no idea of the motive at this point.

“The victims don’t claim to know the suspects, there’s not a clear picture as to why they were targeted,” Finch said this afternoon.

They processed the scene, interviewed witnesses and recovered some shell casings. They’re not sure yet how many shots were fired, she said.

Palermo’s mother lives in the main house on the property, with his four children and three other of her grandchildren.

Pam Vasquez said she was out with a girlfriend, but the youngsters, ages 10 to 18, were upstairs in bed when it happened. She rushed home after getting a phone call and found several police cars there, their dog dead on the front porch.

“It was just crazy,” she said. “I never would have expected this, in Centralia.”

Palermo said he thinks one of the males was probably in his mid-20s, but has no idea who they were or why they came to his house.

The large extended family has lived on the property where Marion Street turns to Little Hanaford Road for about four years. His “house” is actually a roughly 300-square-foot shack Vasquez says was the original homestead. Palermo created a bedroom on one side.

On the other side, he has a small amount of medical marijuana growing, for himself and another patient, he said. The former Navy corpsman said he uses it for anxiety and chronic back pain. He came home from Iraq in 2003, he said.

But he didn’t feel like that’s why they were there, he said.

“I don’t know if it’s because we went to the casino the night before and won some money, I don’t know if it was random,” he said.

The family showed police their security video. Palermo looked at it again this morning.

It shows the men drive off in a small two-door car, almost like a Honda Accord or a Saturn, with a spoiler on the back, he said. Finch said the car was said to have a loud muffler.

CORRECTION: This has been updated to reflect the correct time police were called.



Five friends work at installing a new front door late this afternoon.

The car seen leaving is described as a dark-colored passenger car with a loud exhaust.

Toddler’s body lingers at morgue more than four months

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – While a judge last month authorized the release of the body of a 3-year-old boy whose October death has been ruled a homicide, it remains at the Lewis County Coroner’s Office because the parents don’t agree on which funeral home to use.

Coroner Warren McLeod is asking a judge to intervene.


Jasper Henderling-Warner

“This is something we’ve never come across,” McLeod said. “All I want is for Jasper to be released so he can be at rest.”

Jasper Henderling-Warner died from what the coroner called chronic battered child syndrome. The Vader couple who were caring for him, Danny and Brenda Wing, remain jailed pending a trial.

McLeod said his office has been in contact with the child’s mother, Nikki Warner who lives in the Vancouver area and his father, Casey Henderling who resides in Kelso. They are not married. The two agree Jasper should be cremated and his ashes split between them, McLeod said.

She wants to use a mortuary in Battle Ground, he’s picked out one in Longview, he said.

McLeod said state law allows him to release a decedent to the surviving parents, but doesn’t specify anything further such as the parent who has custody. He’s holding on to the body until he knows which funeral home to turn it over to, he said.

Last week, McLeod filed a civil action in Lewis County Superior Court. McLeod on Tuesday said he understands the papers would be served upon each parent this week. Then they have 20 days to respond.

The mother told detectives she and the Wings agreed they would be his guardians for a year beginning at the end of July, that she was homeless and traveling out of state to look for work.

Jasper died Oct. 5; the Wings were arrested Nov. 7 and charged with homicide by abuse; or, in the alternative, first-degree manslaughter.

The coroner said his office kept the boy’s body following the autopsy, in case defense attorneys wanted to conduct a second examination, which sometimes happens. On Jan. 28, McLeod was notified he no longer had to hold Jasper for the criminal case.

He said his office has been in contact with Jasper’s parents by phone, by email and even tried to get them in a room together to settle their disagreement.

“We’ve gone as far as we can go, we’re at an impasse,” he said.

Police chief hopefuls undergo two days of questioning in Centralia

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

Centralia City Manager Rob Hill, wearing cap, huddles with the five finalists for police chief after a public gathering at the train depot.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CENTRALIA – In suits, ties and shiny shoes, they chatted, shook hands and answered questions from a small number of people who came out to meet them last night; the five men hoping to become Centralia’s next chief of police.

The short meet and greet in a conference room at the Centralia train depot followed a day of interviews from one panel of department heads and another comprised of select members of the community.

Newly elected Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza said he was kind of excited to see who would end up getting the job.

“We’re fortunate to have this caliber of candidates,” Snaza said. “We’re all about us working together.”

Snaza was one of five who had spoken to the finalists earlier in the day. Joining him in the interviews were Jenny Collins, executive director of the Visiting Nurses Foundation; Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer; Lacey Police Department Chief Dusty Pierpont; and Centralia College Athletic Director Bob Peters.

Centralia City Manager Rob Hill likewise seemed enthusiastic about the quality of the individuals he has to choose from.

“I’m pretty confident our next chief will come out of this group,” Hill said.

Centralia Police Department Chief Bob Berg is retiring in May, after 11 years in the job. With assistance from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, the city began a nationwide search in December, and screened applications from 20 individuals.

The pay for the head of the department with 31 commissioned officers in Lewis County’s most populated city was advertised as between about $100,000 and $122,000.

Two of the group come from the banks of Lake Michigan.

James Held has been chief of the Lake Forest (Illinois) Police Department for almost three years, an organization with 40 sworn officers.

Thirty miles to the south, Lt. Maury Richards has been with the Chicago Police Department for 23 years.

Carl Nielsen is a captain, and second in command at the Turlock Police Department in California’s central valley.

Closer to home, Rod Baker comes from the Pierce Transit Police Department, which he created. Baker is on a yearlong sabbatical to get his degree in criminal justice administration

And from inside the Centralia Police Department, Cmdr. James Rich is hoping to become its next chief.

Rich, with 33 years of law enforcement experience, said the agency has made huge strides in the past 10 to 15 years. He wants to help see it continue down that path, he said.

Hill planned to conduct his interviews today, and expects to do his background checking in person, on one or more of his final choices, he said.

He has no set date for when he will make his decision, he said.

Coffin discovered in Lewis County creek

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A casket was found wedged in a Lewis County creek over the weekend and authorities don’t yet know whether it contains a body.

Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod said he was notified of the discovery on Sunday night and waded out to take a look at it yesterday.

“We can’t tell if it’s occupied or not,” McLeod said.

The steel gray casket is partially submerged, the foot end driven into the creek bottom, almost as if deposited there by raging floodwaters, he said.

He’s meeting, probably tomorrow, with the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office search and rescue coordinator to make a plan to pull it out, he said.

He has no idea how long it’s been there.

McLeod said it is a creek off the Newaukum River, on private property, but wouldn’t disclose the location.

“I don’t want people going there,” he said.

It could be that it washed out of a burial spot on private property upstream or it could be something that someone owned and was never used, he said.

McLeod said he’s been making inquiries and is unaware of any public cemetery in the area, but he is checking with the county health department which would have registered any burials on private property.

The lid is damaged, he said, and it’s even a possibility any remains it contained have escaped. He won’t know until they retrieve it, he said.

McLeod said he has learned that steel caskets sometimes have a tube attached to the exterior, inside which a funeral director would have placed identifying documents if it had been used for a burial.

It was found by somebody who likes to fish on the Newaukum, and was out walking on a neighbor’s property checking out damage from the last flood, he said.

Onalaska arrests: Big medical marijuana enterprise funded African safaris, say police

Friday, February 13th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Police seized cars, trucks, firearms and a den full of mounted animal heads from an Onalaska couple who allegedly admitted using proceeds from an overgrown personal medicinal marijuana operation to generate approximately $136,000 per year.

When James L. Arnold and Laveta L. Arnold were contacted last week at their home on the 200 block of Griel Road, they told officers they’d been growing it for more than 15 years, but during the past five have been selling it for profit, according to the Centralia Police Department.

A search warrant was served last Thursday morning, with Centralia police, Lewis County Sheriff’s Office deputies and the SWAT Team.

They turned up more than 40 pounds of marijuana processed and packaged  for sale with a street value of at least $2,000 per pound, according to police. In a shop building, they located what police described as an elaborate indoor garden with 614 plants, according to police detective Patty Finch.

The state medical marijuana law allows for up to 15 plants or 24 ounces for a qualifying patient.

According to court documents, the couple initially agreed to cooperate with law enforcement, but a detective learned James Arnold was warning people he had said he’d help apprehend, and they were arrested on Tuesday.

The Arnolds were charged in Lewis County Superior Court with manufacture of marijuana, possession with intent to to deliver and with money laundering on Wednesday. Prosecutors contend it occurred within 1000 feet of school grounds and while armed with deadly weapons.

Detective Finch says the case will also be referred to the Internal Revenue Service for investigation of possible tax fraud and to state authorities for business tax evasion.

Bail was set at $25,000 for James and at $10,000 for Laveta. Their arraignments are scheduled for next Thursday at 3 p.m.

According to police and court documents, James, 55, owns Alpha Marine Installations based at the home, is a vice president of a medical marijuana dispensary in the Olympia area called Urban Medicinals as well as another location in the Tacoma area.

Among the five vehicles seized were a 1948 Ford hot rod pickup and a 1969 Chevy Corvette, according to Finch. The 33 guns included hunting rifles, assault rifles and handguns, Finch states.

Finch says Arnold admitted to purchasing all or part of the vehicles with proceeds from his marijuana growing operation, as well as financing numerous hunting safari trips to Africa to hunt large trophy animals.

Approximately 30 mounted animal heads were also taken from the home.

Law enforcement officers collected computers, personal and banking records and growing equipment along with some personal property and cell phones that all appear to be proceeds from the growing operation, according to Finch.

Court documents state Centralia Police Department’s Anti-Crime Team and the sheriff’s office opened a money laundering operation regarding the couple in between December and January, related to the sale of marijuana. Finch said in a news release last week’s search warrant followed several months of investigation.

The couple has no previous criminal history, according to their court files.

Pinotti goes to prison, for drugs

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS –  The 22-year-old Adna man who dodged a real bullet less than two months ago got a deal from prosecutors in his drug cases that subsequently arose, but will be going away for awhile.

Phillip A. Pinotti was initially charged with first-degree assault for allegedly trying to run down a security officer who chased him out of a Centralia courtroom and down to the next block where he was parked. The officer, who had been trying to take him into custody for a misdemeanor warrant, said he fired his gun once because he thought the escapee was trying to hit him.


Phillip A. Pinotti, file photo

Investigations and evaluations by the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, the county prosecutor, an internal review board and the Centralia police chief since the events of Dec. 16 led to a very different understanding of what occurred.

Prosecutors concluded Pinotti wasn’t attempting to harm Centralia Municipal Court Security Officer Stephen Howard, so instead of an offense with a maximum penalty of life in prison, Pinotti was allowed to plead guilty to three misdemeanors and was sentenced to time served.

Howard resigned after the police chief released a report criticizing him for his actions and decision making.

But in the midst of the various reviews, and while Pinotti was out on bail, he was arrested and charged with drug crimes, one new and one from last summer.

Pinotti pleaded guilty to two felonies, both involving heroin, and he appeared before a judge yesterday to be sentenced in Lewis County Superior Court.

He faced a standard sentencing range for delivery of heroin of 12 to 20 months in prison.

Lewis County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Brad Meagher and defense attorney Don Blair both agreed to recommend to the judge that Pinotti serve 12 months and one day.

Blair told Judge Nelson Hunt his client didn’t dispute he delivered heroin, that he was a drug addict and hopefully will remain drug free.

“When he gets out, he can start getting cleaned up,” Blair said.

When asked by the judge if he wanted to make a statement on his own behalf beyond what his lawyer had shared: “No thank you, your honor,” Pinotti said. “I have nothing to add.”

Meager asked that he be given four months to be served concurrently for possession of heroin from last August.

Judge Hunt agreed with all of it, including numerous fees and court costs as well as one year of supervision after he is released.

Also yesterday morning, Zachary J. Maurer pleaded guilty in connection with the August incident.

Police had the two of them under surveillance as they went to Longview to allegedly purchase heroin and subsequently impounded their vehicle finding drugs, according to court documents.

Like Pinotti, Maurer’s charge of  possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver was lowered to a charge of possession of heroin.

Meagher said the plea deal came about in part because they couldn’t get either one to testify against the other and also because police preferred they didn’t pursue it to protect the identity of an informant.

Maurer, 25, was given a middle of the range of sentence of 18 months. Meagher said it was longer than Pinotti’s for the same offense, because Maurer had some previous convictions on his record.

For background, read “Centralia court security officer who fired upon escapee quits job” from Tuesday February 10, 2015, here