Archive for the ‘Top story of the day’ Category

Judge says no to attempt to take back molestation plea from Winlock man

Sunday, February 16th, 2014
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Reginald L. Juntunen, right, consults with his new lawyer about waiving the attorney, client privilege regarding his former lawyer who took the witness stand.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The Winlock man imprisoned for 25 years to life following a plea deal regarding the sexual assault of a child at a Mossyrock campground was denied his motion to withdraw his guilty plea.

Reginald L. Juntunen was 19 years old when the 8-year-old girl was attacked in a restroom, but wasn’t arrested until five years later in July 2012 after he was identified as a suspect through DNA.

Three and a half months later, without a fair opportunity to make an informed decision because of ineffective counsel, his lawyer says, he pleaded guilty to a 25 year minimum sentence. He was convicted of first-degree child molestation.

Juntunen, now 25, was back in Lewis County Superior Court on Friday, as was his new attorney Mitch Harrison and the court-appointed defense attorney who first represented him in the case, Chris Baum.

Joely O’Rourke, who prosecuted him, argued on Friday against the request.

Harrison told the judge a key issue was his client’s agreement to stipulate to the aggravating factor the offense was predatory, which added at least 15 years of incarceration. Harrison argued O’Rourke and Baum believed the factor was mandatory, without the benefit of a Supreme Court decision which said it was not.

Baum neglected to do any of the typical investigation for a case involving such a lengthy punishment, and he didn’t challenge the aggravator, Harrison said.

“The process in getting to the plea is more important than the plea itself,” Harrison said.

Among other failures the Seattle-based lawyer contended in his written motion, Baum presented no mitigating evidence to persuade O’Rourke to make a better offer.

When it was O’Rourke’s turn to make her arguments to Judge Richard Brosey, she told him she used her discretion in charging the aggravator because she felt the case called for it. And then she called Baum as her witness.

Baum explained he spoke to O’Rourke repeatedly trying to get her to drop the aggravator.

He testified he found the victim to be a compelling witness he was concerned a jury would easily believe.

His choices were limited in the way he proceeded, because his client in the very beginning told him he’d done it, he said.

“I thought there was a high likelihood he would be convicted, and I couldn’t find a decent defense,” Baum said.

After the hour and three quarters hearing, Judge Brosey denied the motion.

Juntunen’s lawyer plans to appeal the denial.
•••

For background, read “Winlock High School grad gets 25 plus years for molestation” from Wednesday December 12, 2012, here

 

Police shooting: Former Oakville man died from multiple gunshots

Friday, February 14th, 2014
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Joseph R. Wharton, last weekend at Plummers Lake, Centralia.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CENTRALIA – The man shot and killed by a Centralia police officer yesterday relocated last fall from Arizona to Westport to live near his mother but in recent weeks had reunited with a former longterm girlfriend who resides in Centralia.

Joseph R. Wharton, 48, died from multiple gunshot wounds after a short foot pursuit when a patrol officer attempted to contact him outside a closed coffee shop on Mellen Street about 2:20 a.m. yesterday.

Police say Wharton was trying to scale a fence in a residential neighborhood when Officer Phil Weismiller caught up to him, that he confronted Weismiller and refused to drop a knife he had in his hand.

Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod said an autopsy today concluded Wharton died from multiple penetrating wounds – meaning the projectiles didn’t leave his body – to his chest and abdomen.

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Elm Street, Centralia

McLeod would not reveal how many gunshot wounds he found.

Weismiller, a city police officer for about five and half years, was put on administrative leave while the matter is investigated.

The manner of death is listed as a homicide, the killing of one human being by another, according to McLeod. Whether it was justified is up to others to determine, he said.

Thirty-nine-year-old Sandra Ziady said she doesn’t know what her fiancee was up to to, or why he would have displayed a knife to a police officer.

“I have no idea, I wish I could find out,” Ziady said today. “It makes me really sad because everything we wanted is finally coming true; now its not.”

Ziady said the two met when they lived in Oakville some 20 years ago and have been together off and on ever since.

Wharton finished an approximately six-year stint in prison in New Mexico about two years ago, and then lived in Arizona to be near his three children who are in their early 20s, she said.

“He’s an amazing person,” she said. “He got in trouble and did his time, but was an amazing father and grandfather.”

She said his incarceration was related to a drug-induced psychosis.

He resides with his sister in Westport, but in recent weeks, he began staying with her in Centralia, Ziady said. She’s been living at the Lakeview Inn for the past two months, near her job at a convenience store on Mellen Street, she said.

Ziady’s shift ended at 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday, and he had texted her earlier and told her not to eat dinner, she said.

When she got home, the door was propped open and he’d lit candles and ordered Chinese food, she said. And he proposed to her, asking her to be his “forever”, she said.

However, he left about 1 a.m., she said.

“He said he had stuff to take care of, I asked what, he wouldn’t tell me,” Ziady said.

The location where he died on Elm Street less than two hours later is less than three blocks from there.

Ziady has talked with police and learned his car was found parked at an apartment complex a few blocks north of the motel. She wonders if he decided to walk home instead of drive, as he’d drank a couple of beers and little whiskey, she said.

She said she watched a video with police that showed Wharton behind the Fiddlers coffee shop, that he wasn’t doing anything, just walking around.

It surprised her, she said, that police claimed her fiance told the officer who first encountered him that he had a gun. He doesn’t own a firearm, she said.

Why he would, as police say, display a knife she could only speculate.

“I have no idea, he has had bad run ins with cops,” she said. “He might have been scared; he only has one eye.”

A team of detectives from surrounding police agencies are expected to complete their investigation into the incident within the next three weeks.
••••

For background, read “Police involved shooting leaves one man dead in Centralia” from Thursday February 13, 2014, here

Police involved shooting leaves one man dead in Centralia

Thursday, February 13th, 2014
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Centralia police say Officer Phil Weismiller caught up to the subject who was attempting to scale a fence on Elm Street.

Updated at 9:22 p.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CENTRALIA – A Centralia police officer shot and killed a man last night in a residential neighborhood after a confrontation that began when another officer attempted to contact the individual spotted behind a closed business.

It happened around 2:20 a.m. in an area just east of the Interstate 5 interchange at Mellen Street.

Police say the subject had displayed a knife and said he had a gun during the first encounter and had a knife in his hand during a subsequent encounter about a block away.

The deceased is 48 years old carrying an identification card, from Arizona, according to the Centralia Police Department. His name was not released.

Officers remained on the scene this morning conducting an investigation, along with the Washington State Patrol, at the 1200 block of Elm Street where it ended, according to a police spokesperson.

Police spokesperson Officer Patricia Finch said as she understood, an officer was on routine patrol and observed a suspicious person behind Fiddler’s Coffee on Mellen Street. Officers keep an eye out for potential burglars, she said. Officer Tracy Murphy tried to contact the male, who ignored Murphy and walked away, according to Finch.

Murphy in his patrol car followed him across the street to near the shuttered former King Solomon’s Restaurant building, according to police. Police say that’s where the male showed Murphy the knife, said he had a firearm, and then refused to drop the knife.

According to Finch, the male ran and was pursued on foot by the arriving second officer.

Officer Phil Weismiller met up with the male 100 to 200 yards away.

“(T)he male stopped and confronted the officer, holding a knife in his hand,” police stated in a morning news release. “At one point during the confrontation, the male was shot by the officer.”

The whole event happened within a matter of moments, Finch said.

Medics responded but the man was dead at the scene.

The commotion was frightening for residents of the short dead-end street.

Twenty-year-old Kassie Kohler said she and her mother were asleep on couches in their living room when her teenage brother alerted them he heard gunshots outside his window, she said.

“He Army-crawled from his room to the living room yelling, get down, get down,” she said.

When they finally got the nerve to look out a window, Kohler said she saw a patrol car parked on the lawn between their house and the neighbor to the west, headlights pointed toward the back corner of where the house met with a back fence.

It wasn’t 10 minutes, she said, before there were a dozen police and aid vehicles lining the street.

Police Chief Bob Berg offered more details as the day wore on.

Weismiller arrived in his patrol vehicle to assist Murphy and exited at the northeast corner of the restaurant property where access to Elm Street is barricaded. Murphy drove around to the intersection of Elm and Marsh Avenue to block that route, according to Berg.

Weismiller chased the subject and caught up with him in between two houses where he was unsuccessfully attempting to scale a fence, Berg wrote.

“At that point the subject, still armed with a knife, confronted Officer Weismiller and after refusing commands to drop the knife, the subject was shot,” Berg wrote.

The chief didn’t note how many rounds were fired. No details describing the knife were released.

Kohler said she counted 13 yellow numbered markers on the ground as law enforcement officers examined the scene.

Finch said she didn’t know if the deceased was just passing through town or had relocated here. Police would not reveal his identity until after his family is notified, she said.

Weismiller has been placed on administrative leave as is standard procedure, according to police. Weismiller, 34, has been with the department for a year and a half, coming from the Kelso Police Department where he worked about four years.

He is a former captain in the U.S. Army who has served tours in the Middle East, police said.

Murphy is a 17-year veteran of the department.

The Centralia Police Department requested assistance from what is known as the Region Three Critical Incident Investigation Team, a group of officers from surrounding agencies who look into such incidents.

A records check shows the deceased has arrest and conviction data in Washington, Oregon, Arizona and New Mexico, according to police.

Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod said the man’s next-of-kin have been notified, but he won’t release the name until his identity is confirmed tomorrow through finger prints.

The team of detectives from the Thurston, Lewis, Pacific, Grays Harbor, and Mason County sheriffs’ offices are expected to complete their work within the next three weeks, according to Berg.

Their findings will go to the Lewis County prosecutor to review the actions of Weismiller for a decision regarding any criminal charges. Once that side of the matter is resolved, an internal use of force review board will convene in accordance with Centralia Police Department policy, according to the chief.

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A team consisting of detectives from the Thurston, Lewis, Pacific, Grays Harbor, and Mason County Sheriffs’ Offices conducting the investigation into the officer-involved shooting on Elm Street is expected to complete its work within the next three weeks.

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The other side of the fence at the house on Elm Street.

Logging incident claims life of Toledo man

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Updated at 6:14 p.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A 21-year-old man was killed in a logging accident yesterday north of Morton.

The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office reports it occurred about noon at a logging site about a mile and a half east of the 1100 block of state Route 7.

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Tyler Bryan, 1992 – 2014

Aid responded and CPR was conducted for up to 45 minutes but the young man from Toledo died at the scene, Sgt. Rob Snaza said.

Snaza said the victim was working at the lower end of a slope about 1,500 feet from a landing zone when one of three logs being pulled up by a cable began to spin and struck him either in the head or chest.

The Lewis County Coroner’s Office identifies him as Tyler Bryan, of Winlock, as he recently moved there.

Bryan and his fiancee Sadie Firth just got their first home together last week, and are expecting a baby boy in April, according to a friend.

David Brosius who has known the Toledo native – who left high school to become a logger – for the past 10 years, compared his friend’s standing in the small town to that of the Duke brothers in Hazzard County.

“Everybody knew him, everybody loved him,” Brosius said. “He was a sweetheart.”

Brosius said two of Bryan’s co-workers who are close friends were at his side immediately after the accident yesterday.

Snaza from the sheriff’s office said he didn’t know who Bryan was working for.

An inspector from the Department of Labor and Industries went out there and is investigating today, according to a spokesperson for the state agency. The logging business is Brintech, based in Mossyrock, Elaine Fischer said.

It was just last month when another Toledo resident was killed while cutting timber. Sixty-three-year-old Alex Oberg was working alone at a site in the Toledo area on Jan. 16.

Oberg was not an employee, but the father of the owner of Dawn Til Dusk, based in Toledo, according to L&I. The sheriff’s office said a tree fell on Oberg as he was employing a “domino” tree falling technique.

Brosius upon getting word of Bryan’s death, set up an online donation account, knowing Firth will now be a single mother and thinking of the family’s funeral expenses, and, he said, because he felt like he wanted to do something to help.

Subject of search from Centralia motel fire turns up alive

Monday, February 10th, 2014
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After hours of digging through the remains of a structure fire for a possible victim, excavator operator Mike Mitchell was happily surprised to see the subject of the search at a freeway exit in Centralia on Saturday. / Courtesy photo by Mike Mitchell

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

The homeless man said to be squatting at the shuttered Riverside Motel in Centralia who had firefighters worried as they sifted through the burned rubble on Saturday morning turned up by that afternoon upright and alive.

Fire broke out about 2 a.m. on Saturday at the 600 block of Harrison Avenue and responders soon learned someone had delivered dinner the night before to a transient staying there. He was unaccounted for as the blaze was brought under control and then after daylight as an excavator assisted firefighters in moving debris around to extinguish hot spots.

Heavy equipment operator Mike Mitchell said he went about the task carefully, not knowing what they might find. It was disturbing to see a pair of boots at the scene, which looked as though he had taken them off and left them outside an entryway before going in, Mitchell said.

The man, who was described to Mitchell as a longtime resident who walks with a limp and carries a five-gallon bucket, was someone familiar to the south Thurston County resident. He’s seen him around town for he didn’t know long, Mitchell said.

Riverside Fire Authority wrapped up its work about 12 hours after it began, concluding there were no bodies among the rubble and nothing more could be done that day to explore the possible cause.

Police said they had gotten reports of varying numbers of individuals who may have been living in the motel. Temperatures were in the low 30s that night.

The single-story motel complex has long been out of business, and fenced in since a smaller fire in its northeast section three or four years ago. This weekend, it was two of three mobile structures on the northwest corner which burned.

It sits next to the bridge over the Skookumchuck River; its backside is adjacent to Rotary Riverside Park.

The building was on track to be demolished for development.

Mitchell, who had started his day at a job site in Chehalis, said he was heading back to get his truck around 4 p.m. on Saturday, when he spotted a familiar form holding a cardboard sign at the offramp from Interstate 5 at Harrison Avenue. The subject of his earlier search was standing on the corner in the snow begging, he said.

“Honestly, it was a relief for me to see him there,” Mitchell said. “I thought, ‘Oh good, there he is’.”

Centralia police confirmed today they located the man, whose name they did not release, but he hasn’t been interviewed yet. Fire Marshal and Assistant Chief Rick Mack wants to talk with him, as he attempts to consider possible human causes as to what ignited the fire.

Breaking News: Fire burning vacant Centralia motel

Saturday, February 8th, 2014

 

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Courtesy photo by Gharrett Lamping

Updated at 11:15 a.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Firefighters are on the scene this morning at the vacant Riverside Motel on Harrison Avenue near Bridge Street in Centralia across from the Goodwill.

Crews called just before 2 a.m. found heavy fire in the northwest portion of the single story buildings.

Riverside Fire Authority was joined by the Chehalis Fire Department and members of West Thurston Regional Fire Authority out of Rochester.

Assistant Chief Rick Mack said at about 10:45 a.m., they are continuing to put out hot spots and conducting overhaul with the help of an excavator.

“We are doing that rather carefully because we had reports transients were living here and they are unaccounted for,” Mack said.

A homeless person told authorities they brought dinner to one inhabitant there last night and he and police are currently trying to locate him, Mack said. They are also trying to find a second male believed to have been staying there, he said.

The property has long been vacant and was on track to be demolished for development, Mack said. It had a fire three or four years ago, one in which a cause was never determined, he said

It’s owned by a Centralia woman, who is in the process of selling it, he said.

Harrison Avenue was closed but has been reopened.

One firefighter was injured with a laceration to their hand, and was taken to Providence Centralia Hospital where they were treated and have been released.

More than 20 firefighters operated together until getting control of the blaze about 6:45 a.m., according to the fire department. Mack said two of three mobile structures separate from the original building were destroyed. Each held eight motel rooms, he said.

Crews will remain there today sifting through the debris as they look for the cause, according to Mack.

Update at 2:15 p.m.: The fire department is done for the day there. They did not find any body amongst the rubble. And it’s not safe enough to continue at the site in their effort to determine the cause, according to Mack.

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Courtesy photo by Gharrett Lamping

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Courtesy photo by Gharrett Lamping

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Remains of two of the sections from the northwest corner of the single-story complex are strewn about after they burned and were sifted through with an excavator.

Sheriff Mansfield won’t seek a third term

Friday, February 7th, 2014
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Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield will retire from law enforcement at the end of this year.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield announced to his employees yesterday he will retire at the end of the year, telling them the last time he ran for office, he knew it would probably be his final four years.

Mansfield, 56, said part of it was for his family.

“It’s not good, it’s not bad, it is what it is,” he said. “I’ll miss all of you.”

The rural Winlock resident was first elected in 2005, after being appointed almost a year earlier to fill out the term of former Sheriff John McCroskey.

His words came yesterday afternoon at the sheriff’s office annual gathering to recognize and reward exemplary performance. The meeting was held at Bethel Church of the Assemblies of God in Napavine.

The final honor he bestowed was one of his engraved coins he handed to his wife, Jill Mansfield who joined him on the stage in the large chapel.

“You don’t sit in this chair and deal with what you deal with and come out alright without someone like this,” he said.

With sometimes unconcealed emotion, Mansfield shared his shifted view of their law enforcement role as warriors to that of guardians of the community.

Mansfield recounted to the group the four days in December some of them spent in a standoff with a suicidal and mentally ill young man in Winlock. He commended Deputy Chris Ruben for the compassion he showed the parents, who sent a card saying they knew all did their best, even though their son shot himself.

Mansfield said while their organization has faced challenges, he feels that together they have made a positive difference in each others lives and in the community.

“You are the protectors, you are the ones that people call when there’s no one else to call,” he said. “Thank you all for an interesting, sometimes painful, and all in all very rewarding ride.”

Mansfield, whose law enforcement career began at the sheriff’s office in the early 1980s, rose to the top among four members of the office who sought the appointment after McCroskey stepped down in mid-term.

A Republican, he won the office again in 2006, but in 2010, one of his sergeant’s, Ken Cheeseman, made a strong showing, following a controversy over Mansfield’s handling of a runaway case involving the teenage girlfriend of his son.

He said he’s unaware of anyone other than Rob Snaza, another one of his sergeants, planning to run for sheriff in November.

Among the honors Mansfield presented before making his announcement was a meritorious service medal to detective Bruce Kimsey for working the decades old Maurin murder case like a puzzle and helping gain a conviction last fall.

He gave four individuals a Guardian Award, which replaced his previous Warrior of the Year Award. They are Deputy Sue Shannon, Sgt. Snaza, Jail Chief Kevin Hanson and Lisa Arthur who works with the sex offender registration.

Also named employees of the year for 2013, were the following:

• Operations Bureau: Deputy Tim English
• Support staff: Kari Lupo
• Corrections Bureau: Daniel Spanski-Dreffin

Lethal force case against sheriff’s deputy ready for trial

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – An attempt was made to settle their differences through mediation but instead, Lewis County and the family of the unarmed man fatally shot by a deputy in Napavine two and half years ago will meet up in federal court.

The trial is on track to begin the end of this month in Tacoma in the case involving Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Matthew McKnight and the death of 33-year-old Steven V. Petersen.

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Steven V. Petersen

An attorney representing Petersen’s family claims that despite the fact backup was mere seconds away, the deputy made a reckless decision to engage in an unnecessary confrontation.

The attorney representing the county and McKnight called the claims baseless when the lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in October 2012. Michael A. Patterson stated McKnight made the split-second decision to shoot out of fear for the safety of himself and neighboring residents during a rapidly unfolding situation.

It happened on June 20, 2011 in Napavine, when police and deputies responded to an approximately 2 a.m. call that Petersen left stab holes in the door of his ex-girlfriend’s mobile home while trying to get inside and then left on foot.

Deputy McKnight found Petersen a few blocks away, got out of his patrol car and after Petersen refused to take his hand out of his pocket and began to charge McKnight, the deputy fired four shots, according to the account given by local authorities. Petersen had no knife.

The Napavine resident left behind a 10-year-old son.

The complaint seeks an unspecified amount of damages, but the claim that preceded it asked for as much as $10 million.

Lewis County RIsk Manager Paulette Young said the two sides met with a mediator in early January in an attempt to avoid a trial. The effort was mandated by the court, according to Young.

Still to be decided by a judge is a motion for a summary judgement which, if the county prevails, would mean dismissal of the case.

“We’re moving forward as if there is going to be a trial, because we have to prepare for it,” Young said yesterday.

It’s scheduled to begin Feb. 24 and run for seven to 10 days.

McKnight, who had been with the sheriff’s office a little more than four years, was cleared by an internal review and the county prosecutor concluded his use of deadly force was justified, based on an investigation conducted by outside law enforcement officers.

Last year, McKnight took a job with the Chehalis Police Department.

Yesterday, Young approached the Lewis County Board of Commissioners to request the county pay his wages while he attends the trial because he has no time built up with the city.

The amount would go toward the county’s deductible for its liability insurance with Washington Counties Risk Pool, she said.

The suit names Lewis County and former Deputy McKnight. It was filed by the father of the deceased, Steven O. Peterson as representative of the estate and on behalf of the younger Petersen’s son.

The plaintiffs are represented by John R. Connelly Jr. of the firm, Connelly Law Offices in Tacoma.

The Seattle law firm of Patterson, Buchanan, Fobes, Leitch and Kalzer represents the defendants.

Patterson said in a news release previously that McKnight properly complied with sheriff’s office policies and procedures, which provided adequate guidance.

Attorneys for the Petersens said when the suit was filed their investigation would focus on the sheriff’s office training, supervision and decision-making in the field when using deadly force.

They called it a ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ approach to law enforcement.

The jury trial will be presided over by U.S. District Court Judge Ronald B. Leighton.
•••

For background, read “Multi-million dollar lawsuit coming in deputy-involved shooting in Napavine” from Wednesday June 6, 2012, here

Monument to fallen officers takes its place in Chehalis

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

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those memorialized are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She responded affirmatively.

Brosey asked for her plea. She said guilty.

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

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

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

“Yes,” she replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overnight fire chases four from Winlock home

Saturday, January 25th, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ricky Riffe heads to prison

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

Updated

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An order was entered yesterday in which lawyers estimate the molestation trial will last four days.
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For background, read “Battle continues between Ricky Riffe, Lewis County prosecutors” from Friday January 3, 2014, here

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