Archive for the ‘Top story of the day’ Category

Law enforcement reveals they think Kayla Croft-Payne died from overdose

Friday, November 20th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – As expected, authorities have gone public with further information about the missing Kayla Croft-Payne.

Earlier this week, law enforcement revealed they believed she died in northern Cowlitz County about the time she went missing. They said they had recently been looking for her body in Oregon.


Kayla Croft-Payne

Yesterday, the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office revealed they believe she died from an overdose and that it happened in an RV park in their county.

The then-18-year-old Lewis County resident was reported missing in early May of 2010.

The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office has investigated the case over the course of the past five years and conducted numerous interviews of people that have knowledge of the case.

In a news release issued yesterday, Cowlitz County indicated the new information that got them to this point was obtained by Lewis County investigators. The suspected location of the death prompted the transfer of the case to Cowlitz detectives.

The new and credible information passed along to them included that Croft-Payne’s body was transported to a remote and heavily wooded area in Oregon and concealed, according to the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office.

The (Longview) Daily News reports detectives believe she was buried in northwestern Oregon, and it was because people were scared of notifying authorities and didn’t know what to do.

In yesterday’s news release, Cowlitz authorities stated that detectives from the two counties have conducted multiple extensive searches over the past six weeks in Oregon.

No human remains were found.

“Out of respect to the current property owners, we are not describing the area where Kayla is believed to be located,” the sheriff’s office wrote in its news release.

Early in the investigation, the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office said the last place they could verify her spending time was a trailer park in the Toutle area. Among their theories early on, was that she died of a drug overdose.

The Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office is still looking for further information from anyone who knows something.

They offered up numerous ways to contact them.

Detective Cory Robinson and Sgt. Brad Thurman can be reached at 360-577-3092.

Callers who wish to remain anonymous may call Crime Stoppers of Cowlitz County at 360-577-1206. People can also give tips by texting 847411 and downloading “CCSOTip”.

For background, read “Law enforcement: ‘Credible report’ the missing Kayla Croft-Payne died in Cowlitz County” from Tuesday November 17, 2015, here

Prosecutors: Littlerock prison employee recommends early release for inmate, meets him at motel

Friday, November 20th, 2015

Kristina M. Auckland sits at the defense table during her bail hearing.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A counselor at Cedar Creek Corrections Center has been arrested for allegedly spending nights at a Centralia motel with a former inmate, including the day he was released from prison.

Kristina M. Auckland, 31, was charged today in Lewis County Superior Court with first-degree custodial sexual misconduct. Centralia police arrested her yesterday.

Prosecutors say the inmate was supervised by Auckland during his stay at the Littlerock facility and that even after his release, she would have influence over his treatment during his period of community custody.

The 33-year-old man was released from confinement on Oct. 18, 10 days early upon her recommendation, prosecutors allege.

The case came under investigation after another employee of the state Department of Corrections saw the two together on Saturday at the Motel 6, according to charging documents.

The former inmate when interviewed yesterday told detectives the relationship was completely consensual, the documents state. He showed investigators text messages in which they both said loving things to each other.

It’s unlawful for an employee of a correctional agency to have sexual intercourse with someone who is an inmate or is under correctional supervision, if the defendant has or the victim believes they have, the ability to influence terms of their incarceration or supervision. First-degree custodial sexual misconduct has a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

A Centralia police detective confiscated both of their phones.

When Auckland was brought before a judge today in Lewis County Superior Court, a defense attorney shared information for the purposes of influencing the amount of bail, and to show the defendant appeared to qualify for a court-appointed lawyer.

The Castle Rock woman brings home about $2,400 each month and her husband works at Home Depot, wages that support them and their three children, according to attorney Joely O’Rourke.

She has a letter indicating she has been put on paid leave from her job, O’Rourke said.

Prosecutors noted Auckland has no felony convictions in her past.

Judge Nelson Hunt allowed her to be released pending trial on a $25,000 unsecured bond.

He declined a request from the state for a sexual assault protection order, saying he would only order it if the victim wanted it. Auckland is prohibited from contacting witnesses through the standard conditions of release.

Attorney Shane O’Rourke was appointed to represent her. Her arraignment is scheduled for Dec. 3.

Deer hunters accidentally shoot into two Lewis County homes

Friday, November 20th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A man deer hunting just outside the Centralia city limits was arrested yesterday after one of several rounds he fired burst through the window of a house, traveling through a bookcase, a wall and across a hallway, lodging inside a closet where it shattered a six-pack of prune juice.

A couple in their mid-70s who were home at the time were unhurt.

Deputies were called about 7:40 a.m. by the residents who indicated a bullet had just been fired into their house, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

They contacted 62-year-old Royce R. Larson who said he was hunting, had killed a deer but did not realize there was a home there, according to the sheriff’s office.

The incident happened at the 100 block of Summerside Drive, near the northwest edge of town.

“Yeah, scary stuff,” Lewis County sheriff’s Cmdr. Dusty Breen said. “That’s why one of the foremost safety rules is be aware of what your target is and what’s beyond.”

Larson was issued a citation for reckless endangerment, his rifle was seized and and then he was released, according to Breen.

It’s something that’s happened a handful of times in his time with the sheriff’s office, Breen said.

Later in the day, it happened again in central Lewis County.

A 52-year-old woman inadvertently shot through a bathroom window striking a refrigerator in a Mossyrock area kitchen.

Deputies were called at about 4:30 p.m. to the 100 block of Bear Ridge Road near the western edge of Riffe Lake after a 55-year-old found the damage, according to the sheriff’s office. It was inside an apartment he’d built in a shop building, according to Breen.

Karen L. McDougall was contacted and said she’d been trying to shoot a deer. In speaking with her, it became clear she was the one who fired rounds in the direction of the victim’s property, but did not realize she was putting persons or property at risk, Breen said.

The Mossyrock woman too was arrested for reckless endangerment, issued her citation and a date for court and then released, according to Breen. Her firearm was also confiscated.

There wasn’t anything else illegal about what the two had done, according to Breen.

It’s Lewis County, you’ve got rural areas, he said.

“Both seemed like normal good citizens, who just exercised bad judgement,” he said. “That’s why they weren’t booked.”

Prosecutor: Centralia fight involving knife was over $20 worth of meth

Thursday, November 19th, 2015
2015.1118.sasha.morgan.8038 copy

Sasha A. Morgan, in red, consults with a lawyer, while her co-defendant Jesse R. Bartley, far left, waits his turn to go before the judge for their bail hearings.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – While she was arrested for first-degree assault, 29-year-old Sasha A. Morgan was charged the following day with second-degree assault, in connection with a stabbing incident in Centralia.

Morgan was brought before a judge in Lewis County Superior Court yesterday afternoon, where her bail was set at $20,000.

Court documents indicate the victim, a 34-year-old Tacoma man, was stabbed two times in the leg.

Morgan told police it was self defense.

Centralia police yesterday described the incident as related to a failed drug transaction.

According to charging documents and police, officers were called at mid-morning on Tuesday to  a disturbance at the 600 block of South Silver Street where they spoke with Morgan, her companion Jesse R. Bartley and the victim.

The victim, Jamie Zurinskas, was taken to Providence Centralia Hospital for treatment of his wounds.

According to the victim, he gave $20 to Bartley who said he and Morgan could get him some methamphetamine but they never came back so he went looking for them.

Charging documents go on the give the following general account:

Zurinskas found Bartley and Morgan in their car, pounded on the window and Bartley got out and said he would make it right.

One version of the story includes yelling, arguing, and an aggressive movement which caused Bartley and Morgan to fall to the ground.

At one point, Morgan told an officer, she ended up on the bottom of the pile of a fight, so she pulled out a knife and stabbed Zurinskas  twice.

Morgan and Bartley allegedly had consumed the meth meant for Zurinskas.

Police collected a knife with a bloody four-inch blade and also recovered from the car a scraper baggie with white crystal residue, plus two glass pipes.

Bartley, 25, and Morgan were both charged with conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance. Morgan was charged also with second-degree assault, with a deadly weapon enhancement.

Both offenses hold maximum penalties of 10 years in prison.

Bartley, said by police to be transient but by a defense attorney yesterday to be from Winlock, has no felony criminal history, only convictions for driving with a suspended license. His bail was set at $10,000.

Morgan, who lives in Tacoma is formerly of Centralia.

Lewis County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Brad Meager told the jude she has prior convictions for residential burglary, forgery and theft of rental property, and because of the knife allegation, presented a community safety risk regarding release.

Defense attorney Joely O’Rourke pointed out the judge Morgan’s crimes are at least five years in the past. Morgan’s mother and father attended the hearing.

O’Rourke asked the Judge Nelson Hunt to allow Morgan to be released from jail pending trial on a $10,000 unsecured bond, which her father would co-sign.

Hunt declined.

“She is a drug court former participant, I know quite a bit about her,” he said. “She is a risk to community safety.”

Both qualified for a court-appointed lawyer, and their arraignments were on the court calendar for today.

For background, read “News brief: Fight over meth sale leads to assault with knife” from Wednesday November 18, 2015, here

Law enforcement: ‘Credible report’ the missing Kayla Croft-Payne died in Cowlitz County

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Detectives recently traveled to Oregon, in search of the body of Kayla Croft-Payne, the Lewis County teen who vanished five and half years ago.


Kayla Croft-Payne

The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office has been investigating since the beginning, but several weeks ago, after getting new information, the case was turned over to the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office.

Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office Chief Criminal Deputy Charlie Rosenzweig said he feels like the case has progressed from where it stood six months ago.

“We have had some good leads,” Rosenzweig said yesterday.

Detectives feel like they know now where it was Kayla Croft-Payne died, and they think it was in Cowlitz County, Rosenzweig said.

That’s the reason his detectives have taken it over, he said.

“We believe the information she died in our jurisdiction is a credible report,” he said.

Croft-Payne was 18 year old in May 2010 when she was reported missing by a friend. She was described as jobless and transient, but lived in rural Chehalis.

Her roommate at the time has said they were together the night she went missing, and another friend came to pick Croft-Payne up from their friend’s in Onalaska.

Early in the investigation, the sheriff’s office said the last place they could verify her spending time was a trailer park in the Toutle area. They had a cadaver dog search around a river in the Toutle area that summer, without success.

Rosenzweig said that in the next couple of weeks, he and his people plan to share more information about what they’ve been doing.

He wasn’t prepared to say specifically where in Oregon they hunted for her body, or specifically where they think Croft-Payne died, although he said it was in the northern portion of the county.

“Honestly, we’re hoping to spur some interest,” he said.

He did ask that anyone who has not yet talked to police, but has any information, to please phone detective Brad Thurman at 360-577-3092.

For background, read “Kayla Croft-Payne: Missing Lewis County teen’s parents still seeking answers” from Friday March 25, 2011, here

Tacoma murder suspect arrested in Centralia

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Acting on an anonymous tip, Centralia police yesterday arrested a 22-year-old man wanted on a first-degree murder warrant related to the death of an 18-year-old in Tacoma earlier this month.

Several officers at about 1:30 p.m. conducted a building search at a business on the 500 block of North Tower Avenue and found Alberto Cole Sarmiento hiding under some stairs, according to the Centralia Police Department.


Alberto Colt-Sarmiento

He was taken into custody at gunpoint, but without incident, Officer Angie Humphrey said.

The suspect, identified as Alberto “Taxer” Colt-Sarmiento by Tacoma police, is believed to have set up an ambush the night of Nov. 2, near 44th Street and East R Street in the Salishan neighborhood of east Tacoma.

According to Tacoma-Pierce County Crime Stoppers, as the victim and his two friends exited their vehicle, an unidentified shooter jumped out of the bushes and fired multiple shots toward them. Victim Elijah Crawford was struck once and died from his wounds; the second victim was struck in the shoulder and face and survived; the third friend ran away without being hit.

Crime Stoppers reported one of the surviving victims had an ongoing dispute with Colt-Sarmiento, and that detectives believe Colt-Sarmiento set up the ambush but was not the shooter.

Centralia police yesterday further assisted the Tacoma Police Department yesterday by recovering evidence related to the homicide.

Humphrey said she didn’t know what that evidence was but did say no gun was found on the suspect yesterday.

She said she understood Colt-Sarmiento has a relative at the bakery where he was hiding.

Colt-Sarmiento was turned over to Tacoma police after his arrest.

Feds: Winlock mill owner admits illegal buying and selling of specialty maple “music wood”

Monday, November 16th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A Winlock lumber mill owner pleaded guilty today to federal violations for trafficking in specialty wood cut on national forest land.

In his plea agreement, Harold Clause Kupers, admitted he suspected the big leaf maple had been illegally taken from the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, but purchased it and made sales out-of-state of nearly $500,000, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.


Courtesy photo by U.S. Attorney’s Office

The so-called figured maple is particularly valuable for making  musical instruments and, for example, just one shipment to PRS Guitars in Maryland from Kupers’ J & L Tonewoods sold for $21,395, according to authorities.

Kupers, 48, made his pleas for violations of the Lacey Act,  in U.S. District Court in Tacoma today, according to the  announcement from U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes.

According to the plea agreement, in April 2012, law enforcement officers with the U.S. Forest Service met with him and specifically informed him that he was required by Washington law to review specialized forest products permits for all persons from whom he purchased maple, Hayes stated in a news release.

Despite that, he admitted, he continued to buy the wood without requiring the harvesters to show the permit until March 2014.

Kupers faces up to five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and at least $159,000 in restitution when sentenced by U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle on February 8.

Three men suspected of harvesting the wood were charged with theft of government property and damaging government property.

Ryan Justice, 28, of Randle, has pleaded guilty to theft of government property and is scheduled for sentencing on December 7.

James Miller, 36, of Morton, and Kevin Mullins, 56, of Packwood, are scheduled for trial on January 12.

For background, read “Feds: Tree thieves and mill owner indicted for trafficking specialty maple from Gifford Pinchot” from Friday August 7, 2015, here

Arson at Chehalis school under investigation

Saturday, November 14th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A fire alarm at W.F. West High School in Chehalis yesterday sent students outside and drew firefighters, and subsequently police who are investigating an arson.

Smoke filled the boys’ bathroom and drifted into the adjacent commons area, according to the Chehalis Fire Department.

Fire Investigator Derrick Paul said a janitor used a fire extinguisher to put the fire out, before leaving the building.

The fire department called at 1:05 p.m. summoned police and, along with the school resource officer, they spent about two hours investigating at the scene, he said.

It appeared someone ignited the plastic bag that contained the soap in a dispenser, he said. The damage was limited to maybe about $700 for cleanup, but the potential for something much worse was there, Paul said.

The walls are masonry, but the ceiling is not.

“It could have been bad, there’s a reason we’re investigating for a criminal act,” Paul said. “This didn’t just affect one person; it disrupted school for an hour and put the kids outside in the cold and rain.”

Because the school has cameras, investigators have two suspects, Paul said this morning.

Nobody was arrested, yet, he said.

Rain brings minor flooding to Lewis County

Saturday, November 14th, 2015
Monitor your area by clicking the link here, then clicking your location on the map and reading about weather watches and warnings. / Image from National Weather Service

Monitor your area by clicking the link here, then clicking your location on the map and reading about weather watches and warnings. / Image from National Weather Service

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A flood watch remains in effect through tomorrow morning for much of Western Washington, while forecasters this morning upgraded that to a flood warning for two Lewis County Rivers.

Expect minor flooding on the Cowlitz River from Randle through Riffe Lake as well as along the Newaukum River around Chehalis, the National Weather Service says.

A flood warning means flooding is imminent or actually occurring. A watch just means conditions are favorable for flooding and the public should monitor the weather.

Just after 10 a.m. today, the weather service said heavy rain over the southwest interior would drive the Newaukum River above flood stage at about 1 p.m. today, inundating many roads and residential as well as commercial areas along the Newaukum River and its forks.

Flooding in some areas could be deep and hazardous especially near rivers, according to the weather service service, prompting them to remind motorists of the dangers of driving through flooded areas.

Roads and surrounding areas that would be impacted include: Jackson Highway, Tune, Rush, Sommerville, Griel, Hamilton, Tauscher, Guerrier, Kirkland, Macomber, Rice, Senn, Lucas Creek, Middle Fork and North Fork roads.

The two rivers should fall back below flood stage this evening and tonight, according to the NWS.

The flood watch for other areas remains in effect through tomorrow morning, and includes the Skookumchuck River as well as others in Lewis, Thurston, Pierce and Grays Harbor counties.

While the rainfall rates eased up overnight, the threat of landslides continues through today.

Follow the forecasts and watch for weather advisories and warnings:

The link for the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Seattle can be found here and also always on the right hand column of this page, labeled “Weather Alerts, forecasts”

The link for the National Weather Service’s river level observation and forecast for Western Washington can be found here and also  always on the right hand column of this page, labeled “River levels”

Monitor your river levels by clicking the link here, then clicking your chosen river gauge on the map and see diagram of previous, present and forecasted river levels.. / Image from National Weather Service

Monitor your river levels by clicking the link here, then clicking your chosen river gauge on the map and see diagram of previous, present and forecasted river levels. / Image from National Weather Service

Ricky Riffe loses appeal in Maurin murder case

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

Ricky A. Riffe listens to his lawyer during a court hearing a few weeks after his 2013 trial.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS –  After his conviction two years ago, Ricky A. Riffe’s lawyer said his client contested everything about his conviction for the 1985 slayings of Ed and Minnie Maurin and in a 30-page opinion, the Washington State Court of Appeals has rejected all of Riffe’s claims.

At the end of a six-week trial in Lewis County Superior Court, the former Mossyrock man who was extradited from his his home in Alaska was condemned to nearly 103 years in prison, still maintaining he had nothing to apologize for regarding the case.

The elderly couple were found fatally shot in their backs on a logging road outside Adna, days after vanishing from from their Ethel farmhouse, in what prosecutors described as an abduction and a trip to their Chehalis bank at gunpoint to withdraw all their money.

Riffe, now 57, appealed his convictions for first-degree murder, first-degree robbery and first-degree burglary citing numerous reasons they should not stand.

In it’s decision filed on Tuesday, the three-member panel of judges unanimously affirmed the convictions.

“We hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it (1) excluded Dr. Reinitz’s testimony, (2) admitted two composite sketches of Riffe, (3) admitted Riffe’s brother’s statement about killing before as an adoptive admission, (4) admitted Riffe’s former wife’s question to police, and (5) did not allow Riffe to improperly impeach a witness with her prior inconsistent statements,” Justice Lisa Sutton wrote.

“Next, we hold that Riffe’s right to due process was not violated and the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Riffe’s motion for mistrial for the state’s alleged failure to disclose information about a witness’s plea agreement,” Sutton wrote. “Finally, we reject Riffe’s prosecutorial misconduct and cumulative constitutional error arguments, and his statement of additional grounds claims.”

Judge Richard Brosey presided over the autumn 2013 trial. His attorney was John Crowley.

Riffe was represented in his appeal by Seattle lawyer Suzanne Elliott. Handling the appeal for the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office was Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Sara Beigh.

Riffe and his younger brother were both implicated in the murders, but John Gregory Riffe died just before detectives traveled to Alaska to make the arrests in the summer of 2012. Ricky Riffe was convicted as the principal or an accomplice, in the case in which prosecutors at the end revealed they believed may have involved more perpetrators than just the two brothers.

Ed Maurin was 81, his wife Minnie was 83 years old when their lives were taken from them in December 1985.

Read the appeal here, which begins with nine pages outlining the facts of the case.

For background, read “Riffe continuing battle against finding of guilt in 1985 double-murder” from Friday January 3, 2014, here

Role reversal: Lewis County prosecutor reflects on becoming a burglary victim

Friday, November 6th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Less than a week after an arrest was made for a burglary of former Centralia Police Chief Bob Berg’s house, an arrest was made in a break-in at Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer’s home that took place earlier this year.

Both occurred in Centralia and both were solved through confessions allegedly obtained by an inmate at the Thurston County Jail. The 38-year-old man has not been charged.


Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer

According to authorities, the inmate has named so far at least four individuals as his partners in crimes in more than a dozen burglaries in Lewis County since last year.

Berg’s home on Winterwood Drive was broken into in February of 2014, and Meyer’s in February of this year.

Meyer, 44, said although in his job he works with victims on a daily basis, being a victim himself is “kind of surreal.”

“It’s a weird feeling, to know your stuff’s out there somewhere,” he said.

His youngest daughter discovered it, when she got home from school and found the front door had been kicked in, he said. Their house is just outside the Centralia city limits on Mount Vista Road near Centralia High School.

She called him, he sent her somewhere safe and he called the police, he said.

Someone rummaged through the master bedroom and took jewelry and other personal items.

“They took my wife’s jewelry box, full of pieces I’d given her, including from her great grandmother, and a ring I’d given her of my grandmother’s” he said. ”

Meyer kept his small valuables in what he called a watch box. Among the items it contained before it was all stolen were his wedding rings, his Aberdeen High School class ring, his prosecutor’s badge and his Tenino Police Department reserve officer badge, he said.

He damaged his wedding ring when he was in college and got a new one, he said, that he’d happened to have left at home that day.

They also took a wicker laundry basket, he said.

The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office initially estimated the loss at about $3,300, but Meyer said it was much more.

One of the two suspects was arrested last week, found hiding in a garage on North Pearl Street in Centralia. Janet L. Gleason, 42, of Centralia, was charged the following day in Lewis County Superior Court with residential burglary, first-degree trafficking in stolen property and second-degree malicious mischief.

Meyer said he was told by detectives he was targeted by Gleason in retaliation for prosecuting her son.

Eighteen-year-old Dillan G. Gleason was sent to prison for five years after pleading guilty to stealing from relatives in the summer of 2014.

His grandmother at his sentencing hearing said she believed there was close to $300,000 cash from her lottery winnings in a safe that went missing. As part of the plea agreement, the younger Gleason signed back over $57,000 from a trust, according to his lawyer.

Meyer said in his line of work, he’s gotten threats from people, but involving his home and his family took it to a whole different level.

“I understand people are upset at me for doing my job, or the job that I do,” he said. “I get that; but that crosses the line.”

Meyer was elected prosecutor in 2010, and won a second term last November. Before that, he was in private practice in Centralia and did criminal defense work.

Gleason’s arraignment was yesterday. The case is being handled by an outside prosecutor, because of the conflict.

According to court documents, Gleason admitted only to being present in a car outside the residence when it happened. She contended Robert Collins, the Thurston County Jail inmate, gave her two jewelry boxes which she in turn gave to two friends.

Collins however, when interviewed with his lawyer present in September by Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Bruce Kimsey, said it was Gleason’s idea and that she asked for his help, according to her charging documents.

Collins allegedly admitted only that he forced the front door open and then Gleason ran into the house and headed upstairs, the documents state.

He said he yelled at her for getting him involved when he saw the badges, and that’s when she told him she was getting back at the prosecutor, according to the allegations.

Meyer said they recently got back the two jewelry boxes – his wife’s jewelry box and his watch box. He got back a necklace of his that had been cut apart and melted down, he said.

Late this summer, someone found his class ring in a gas station parking lot in Olympia, and tracked him down through his high school, to return it, he said.

Meyer said he didn’t know how many burglaries Collins has said he was involved in. He’s taken himself out of the loop on prosecuting the cases that relate to his burglary, he said.

He said he’s taken steps, “to do everything I can,” to make his family home safe. He reflected on how the experience has changed him, when he spoke about it earlier this week.

He has prosecuted people, he has defended people, and even sat as a judge, he said.

“To me, it makes me a more well-rounded prosecutor,” Meyer said. “Really, the part of that circle is, I hadn’t been a victim.”

Pacific County Prosecutor Mark McClain is handling Gleason’s case, according to Meyer’s Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Brad Meagher.

He just got the case or cases yesterday, Meagher said.

Her bail was set at $25,000. Her trial was put on the court calendar for Dec. 28.

Collins, who remains in the Thurston County Jail, is being held there on two cases from last year and at least one from this year, according to the jail’s online roster.

The only case he has in Lewis County Superior Court currently is one charge of possession of methamphetamine, from February of this year. His bail is set at $25,000.

Gleason has a current case in Lewis County Superior Court involving two counts of possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver and one count of possession of methamphetamine, according to court papers. She has previous felony convictions for second-degree burglary in 2006 as well as violations of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act in 2005, 2001 and 1999.

Election: Bulk of ballots counted, but not all fire service issues certain

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The fire chief in Mossyrock says he’s on pins and needles watching the numbers coming from yesterday’s election.

It’s the second time Lewis County Fire District 3 has asked voters to approve a bond to build a new station. It failed narrowly in April, and now, the tally is still a bit shy of the 60 percent yes votes needed, according to Chief Doug Fosburg.

When the preliminary results were released last night in the all vote-by-mail election, 244 people had said yes, coming to 58.65 percent. Rejecting the measure were 172 people, or 41.35 percent.

The district ran the proposal again, thinking there would be a better turnout during a general election, Fosburg said.

Local voter turnout overall so far is just over 30 percent, according to the Lewis County Auditor’s Office elections department.

Officials indicate there are an estimated 3,000 ballots left to count from throughout Lewis County, and they will release the results of a second count this afternoon.

The Chehalis Fire Department won’t need to wait for today’s updated numbers as among the nearly 1,000 votes cast for their emergency medical services levy renewal, almost 82 percent of the people voted yes.

It, like other levies on the ballot need only a simple majority to pass.

Another measure with such a wide spread that it looks like a done deal, is the Napavine area fire department’s request for an increase in their fire services levy. Voting no on Newaukum Valley Fire and Rescue’s proposal are 65.58 percent.

Lewis County Fire District 11’s fire services levy is passing, with 65.57 of their Pe Ell area voters giving their approval.

A closer vote is Cowlitz-Lewis Fire District 20’s emergency medical services levy. Voters in the Vader area are supporting it so far with 54.72 percent yes votes.

Three fire districts in Lewis County have contested commissioner positions.

For Lewis County Fire District 15 in Winlock, candidate Jerry Craft got the vote from 64.96 percent of the people, compared with 30.04 percent casting their ballots for Stan Hankins.

For Lewis County Fire District 2 in Toledo, 64.38 percent voted for Mike Thomas, while 35.62 percent want Dale Nielsen.

The race in Lewis County Fire District 8, Salkum is somewhat closer. Candidate Rick Wood took 54.51 percent of the vote while Don Taylor has 45.49 percent.

The election won’t be final and certified until November 24.

Unrelated to the fire service, longtime Morton Police Chief Dan Mortensen who will retire at the end of this year, is running for mayor. The race is uncontested, and 132 votes have been cast for Mortensen.

Updated preliminary results can be found this afternoon at the Lewis County Auditor’s Office, Elections Department, here.

For background, read “Election Day: Numerous fire departments and candidates seeking support” from Sunday November 1, 2015, here

Prosecutor: Daughter of dying Packwood man used debit card to steal thousands

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015


By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A 56-year-old woman has turned herself in to authorities, after allegedly admitting she stole nearly $3,000 from her dying father when she went on a four-day shopping spree with his debit card.

It began with a call to a dispute at a Packwood residence in the summer of 2003 and after a warrant was issued for her arrest, Nancy K. Copelin disappeared.

Lewis County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Brad Meagher said yesterday he finally recently found Copelin, living in Alaska.

Meager got a governor’s warrant for her extradition but Copelin contacted him before it was served.

“I told her if she got right down here, I’d put a hold on it,” Meagher said.

The former Packwood woman flew down last week, and appeared before a judge in Lewis County Superior Court on Tuesday to hear her charge of first-degree theft. Meagher allowed her to be released on an unsecured bond pending trial, as her plane ticket to return home the next day was already paid for, he said.

According to the nearly 12-year-old charging documents, two deputies were called to the 100 block of Holiday Lane in Packwood on June 5, 2003, regarding a assault.

The documents offer the following account: There had been a dispute over the ownership of a van belonging to Thomas Barnes who lived there.

“Mr. Barnes was in the process of dying, and the issue of who would receive his van had come up,” then-Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Michael Maltby wrote.

One of the parties was asked by his grandmother to move the vehicle, to take it out of the possession of Barnes’ daughter, Copelin.

In the process, her purse was retrieved, it fell to the ground and among the items that tumbled out were wads of cash and receipts.

There was $1,020 in $20 bills. There were also five receipts from Sears, Wal-Mart and an un-named business for the purchase of numerous items, totaling $1,787.44.

Copelin, then 43, was asked about the receipts and stated they were because her father had provided her with his ATM card and pin number, and told her she could go out and get whatever she needed.

When deputies spoke with Copelin a second time, she reflected her dad did not intend for her to make withdrawals from his savings account, and did not intend for her to buy most of the items that she had.

Meagher said the Alaska woman has been cooperative.

Her arraignment is scheduled for Dec. 3.

Election Day: Numerous fire departments and candidates seeking support

Sunday, November 1st, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Election day is near, with initiatives, local measures and races for municipal councils, school boards and, commissioners who govern local fire districts.



Five fire departments in Lewis County are asking voters to support them in various ways. Three districts have contested commissioner positions.

Ballots must be postmarked on or by Tuesday or hand delivered before 8 p.m. on Tuesday.

Check with the Lewis County Auditor’s Office, Elections Department for information, at 351 NW North Street in Chehalis or 360-740-1164 and 360-740-1278.


Lewis County Fire District 3, Mossyrock:
Commissioners are asking the public to approve up to $1.2 million in general obligation bonds to finance the construction and equipping of a new fire station on property already acquired at 238 Mossyrock Road East.


Lewis County Fire District 5, Napavine:
Commissioners are asking citizens to permanently increase property tax levy from .83 per $1,000 of assessed value up to $1.25 to pay for maintenance, operations and capital facilities, and set the limit factor at 103 percent for each of the following five years.


Lewis County Fire District 11, Pe Ell:
Commissioners are asking citizens to permanently increase property tax levy to an amount of $1 per $1,000 of assessed value for maintenance, operations and capital facilities, and set the limit factor at 106 percent for each of the following five years.


Cowlitz-Lewis Fire District 20, Vader:
Commissioners asking the public to permanently increase property tax levy for emergency medical services up to.50 per $1,000 of assessed value, and set the limit factor at 106 percent for each of the following five years.


Chehalis Fire Department
The city is asking voters to renew an expiring levy for emergency medical services, of up to .50 per $1,000 of assessed property value for the next six years.


Lewis County Fire District 2, Toledo:
Commissioner position No. 1
• Mike Thomas
• Dale Nielsen

Lewis County Fire District 8, Salkum:
Commissioner position No. 1
• Don Taylor
• Rick Wood

Lewis County Fire District 15, Winlock
Commissioner position No. 1
• Stan Hankins
• Jerry Craft

• See a sample ballot for details

• Read more details in the online Voters’ Guide

• On Tuesday shortly after 8 p.m, see the preliminary results from the Lewis County Auditor’s Office, Elections Department.

Wet and windy weekend accompanies end to daylight saving time

Sunday, November 1st, 2015

Residents along the Interstate 5 corridor experience wind and those in the Cascade Mountains get snow. / Image from National Weather Service

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – More wind is coming our way, on the heels of a rainstorm that inundated some city streets and drove the Cowlitz River over its banks in East Lewis County.

The National Weather Service this morning issued a wind advisory that’s in effect until dinner time.

The Southwest Interior could see southerly winds from 15 to 30 mph, with gusts up to 45 mph, according to the weather service.

Forecasters expect winds to increase late this morning and peak in strength during the early and mid afternoon hours. They should diminish quickly this evening.

Today’s weather could cause downed tree limbs and even local power outages, according to the National Weather Service.

Minor flooding occurred overnight along the Cowlitz River around Randle. The river crested at 1 o’clock this morning at 18.69 feet.

The city of Centralia declared a local emergency for a few hours yesterday afternoon because of the results of the heavy rainfall, offering sandbags to citizens.

The weather service warns that the rain has increased the risk of landslides.

“Property owners in steep slope areas should keep an eye out for changes such as ground cracks or downslope movement of plants and soil,” NWS stated. “If you see signs of a landslide leave the area immediately if it is safe to do so.”

The overnight change off of daylight saving time is also ushering in the first significant snowfall of the season for higher passes and mountain highways.

Four to eight inches of snow is expected to accumulate at White Pass today through tonight.

A winter storm warning for the west slopes of the Cascade Mountains remains in effect until 11 a.m. tomorrow.

The link for the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Seattle can be found here and also always on the right hand column of this page, labeled “Weather Alerts, forecasts”

The link for the National Weather Service’s river level observation and forecast for Western Washington can be found here and also  always on the right hand column of this page, labeled “River levels”

Rainfall prompts emergency declaration in Centralia, concerns elsewhere

Saturday, October 31st, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A flood watch issued on Thursday for most of Western Washington warning of small stream flooding and possibly worse remains in place for counties including Lewis, Thurston, Pierce, Grays Harbor, Mason and King.

The city of Centralia this afternoon declared a local emergency in reference to the continued rainfall.

Moderate to heavy rain is expected to continue for the next 12 hours, causing localized flooding,” Police Chief Carl Nielsen stated in a news release. “At this time the city is monitoring China Creek.

“The city is also watching the river level and at this time the rivers are not expected to reach flood stage.”

A single sand bag station will be operational by 2 p.m. in the 100 block of Center Street. That’s at Pearl Street near the downtown fire station.

Early this morning the National Weather Service indicated the heaviest rain is expected over the Mount Rainier area with another two and half to three inches predicted to fall over the next 12 hours.

The current model from the weather service shows minor to moderate flooding on the Cowlitz River in East Lewis County, peaking between tonight and Sunday morning.

The U.S. Forest Service yesterday warned recreationists the event known as a Pineapple Express would result in substantial runoff from small streams draining Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams and could trigger dangerous landslides and debris flows.

Mount Rainier National Park said visitor access will be impacted and evacuations could become necessary.

“Travel in the park is discouraged until the storm passes,” Park Superintendent Randy King stated.

A winter storm watch remains in effect at higher locations including White Pass until Monday morning. The first significant snowfall of the season is expected later in the weekend and travelers should prepare for slippery roadways and poor visibility, according to the weather service.

“The heavy rain will come to an end from north to south this afternoon into the early evening hours as the front moves south of the area,” forecasters state.

The weather services recommends the public monitor their latest forecast and be ready to act quickly if a flood warning is issued, or if flooding is observed.

The link for the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Seattle can be found here and also always on the right hand column of this page, labeled “Weather Alerts, forecasts”

The link for the National Weather Service’s river level observation and forecast for Western Washington can be found here and also  always on the right hand column of this page, labeled “River levels”

No felony charges forthcoming from triple-fatality Onalaska wreck

Friday, October 30th, 2015

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Investigators concluded the allegedly drunken driver in a two-vehicle crash this summer in Onalaska that killed three teenagers in the oncoming vehicle is not to blame for the accident.

Initial reports indicated the suspected point of impact was exactly in the middle of state Route 508, but the final report showed 17-year-old Arnold W. Mullinax crossed the centerline, according to the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office.

The 2002 Land Rover Discovery.

The Onalaska teen was carrying seven other young people in his Land Rover Discovery, most of whom were not wearing seat belts.

Mullinax and 13-year-old Taylor N. Thompson, also from Onalaska, died at the scene. Dakota L. Dunivin, 18, from Chehalis, passed away the following day at the hospital.

Joseph W. Rogerson, 36, from Chehalis, was arrested that night for driving under the influence and his case in Lewis County District Court has been in a holding pattern as prosecutors waited for the final report from investigators with the Washington State Patrol.

The July 13 nighttime crash left a community in mourning.

The 2004 Ford Freestyle minivan

Responders from five area fire departments arrived to the scene near Hyak Road to find Mullinax’s Land Rover upside down, Rogerson’s Ford minivan on the roadway and 10 potential patients. All the survivors except for Rogerson’s wife were transported to hospitals.

Rogerson’s case has been dragged out, because if the investigation revealed the wreck was his fault, prosecutors were prepared to charge him with felonies such as vehicular assault and vehicular manslaughter.

Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer today met with the families of the victims to apprise them of the findings, before speaking about his decision that no further charges would be filed against the Chehalis resident.

He explained to them that there’s simply not a law to hold someone criminally liable who did not cause an accident, he said.

Meyer said he has had the final report for about a month.

“After the measurements were taken, the scene recreated and the vehicles inspected, it was found Mr. Rogerson was in his own lane of travel,” Meyer said.

Meyer said they know Mullinax’s crossed the centerline, although they don’t know for sure why that happened.

“A moment of inattention is all it would take,” Meyer said.

He acknowledged there was information in the state patrol’s report that offered clues, but out of respect for the families of the victims declined to elaborate.

The final reports showed Mullinax had no alcohol or any drug in his system, Lewis County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Brad Meagher said.

Rogerson’s blood alcohol level that night was .15, according to Meyer.

Meyer said investigators concluded with the way the accident occurred, even a sober driver in the van would not have been able to avoid it.

“This is obviously a huge tragedy, three young children lost their lives,” Meyer said. “That’s the key we take away.

“We always have to be cognizant of what happens (on the road) and let our loved ones know they are loved ones.”

Rogerson’s next court hearing is Wednesday. He has been free on a $5,000 appearance bond

Among his court-ordered conditions are that he may not consume any alcohol, he may not drive without an ignition interlock device installed in his vehicle and has to wear an alcohol monitor bracelet which will detect if he drinks.

For background, read “Charging decision expected soon in Onalaska triple fatality wreck” from Wednesday September 23, 2015, here

Centralia police dog accused of biting innocent bystander during pursuit

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015


By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A Centralia woman is recovering after an unexpected encounter with a police dog last night at her back door.

Janice Arias said she was sitting at her kitchen table visiting with two friends when she heard a commotion outside.

“I had my little six-pound Chihuahua in my arms, I opened the back door, I had my flashlight,” Arias said. “I seen an officer moving around, and the next thing I see, is a big black dog head coming at me.”



Arias said the K-9 bit her twice on her left breast and left a seven-inch scratch on her inner thigh.

She was wearing pajama pants.

“I was in shock, and screaming, I dropped my Chihuahua,” she said. “My pit bull Tigger heard me and came running, and got between me and K-9 Lobo.”

She said the two dogs began fighting and the officer came over and gave his dog commands like, “release” and “out”.

“The officer left, and all I heard was ‘get your ass back in the house’,” she said.

Centralia Police Officer Ruben Ramirez had been attempting to pull over a stolen Honda Accord along North Pearl Street, north of Reynolds Avenue.

After its driver jumped out of the still-moving vehicle and fled on foot, the officer activated his door release and called Lobo to apprehend the felony suspect, according to police.

“As Lobo was moving toward Officer Ramirez, a resident came outside of her house carrying a small dog in her arms,” Centralia police stated in a news release today. “Officer Ramirez recognized Lobo was going towards the resident and immediately called the dog off and commanded Lobo to lay down.”

Centralia police say as the K-9 laid down, he was almost simultaneously attacked by the pit bull.

Ramirez broke up the dog fight and instructed the woman to go back inside because a suspect was still outstanding, according to police.

The suspect got away.

Lobo, a German Shepherd, came to the Centralia Police Department at age 1 in mid-2010.

Earlier this year, he was given the Centralia Police Department Lifesaving Award, for grabbing the arm of a suspect who produced a gun while engaged with Ramirez.

Police Chief Carl Nielsen in the formal statement said they are sorry the resident was injured, but at this point, it’s not clear which of the three dogs is to blame.

“This was a dynamic incident with a lot of different things occurring at the same time,” Nielsen stated.

The incident is being reviewed by department staff, according to Nielsen. Arias said police Sgt. Carl Buster took her statement.

Nielsen noted how thankful the department is Ramirez has “outstanding control” over his dog. Detective Patty Finch said Lobo is not being put on leave.

Arias disputes that she stepped outside, at least not until an ambulance arrived to take her to Providence Centralia Hospital.

The 48-year-old Centralia native said neither of her dogs were injured, but she is very sore.

Lobo didn’t leave puncture wounds, but broke the skin, she said.

The emergency room doctor put her on antibiotics and pain medication and told her she was lucky she had been wearing a hooded sweatshirt over her T-shirt, she said.

It was a frightening experience, she said, one she expects the police department should take responsibility for.

Arias said her two friends can vouch for what happened, as they were right behind her. And she’s wrapped up the sweatshirt in a plastic bag, certain it has Lobo’s DNA on it.

“I understand he was doing his job, but he should have a little more control over his dog,” she said. “People should be able to open up their doors and not have a K-9 come up and attack you.”

DNA on discarded cigarettes lead to burglary suspects

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

One of two cigarette butts picked up by a deputy near the Padrick Road burglary scene. / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A stolen credit card used at a 7-11 store with surveillance video, a pair of cigarette butts with DNA and nearly three months of interviews and investigating led to the recovery of four vehicles and more than $10,000 worth of stolen property, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

Two men from Burien have been implicated in burglaries in Lewis County, one of whom is being held in the Lewis County Jail and the other in the King County Jail, according to the sheriff’s office.

The sheriff’s office said one of them has relatives in Centralia and they targeted random homes.

On July 27, a house on the 2000 block of Padrick Road near Centralia was ransacked and the residents discovered more than $20,000 worth of valuables had been taken, including a handgun and bank cards, according to authorities. Less than a week later, a motor home and a Ford Mustang were stolen from a shop building where they were stored on Middle Fork Road.

According to court documents, in mid-August, sheriff’s detective Gene Seiber took the case over and began tracking the numerous purchases made with the victim’s credit card.

After some of the Padrick Road couple’s stolen property turned up in the vehicle of a man arrested in King County, Seiber put together a photo montage and showed it to the clerk at 7-11, according to the document.

Jared M. Bruce, 26, from Burien, denied involvement, and blamed his friend, 37-year-old Jack E. Grier, according to Chief Deputy Stacy Brown.

Detectives visited Grier’s apartment, found some of the missing property and arrested him on Wednesday, Brown indicated.

Two fairly fresh cigarette butts picked up by a deputy from near a gate at Padrick Road sent to the crime lab for testing show matches made with Bruce and Grier, according to Brown.

Grier was brought before a judge yesterday in Lewis County Superior Court

He has not been charged but was ordered held on $100,000 bail.

Deputy Prosecutor Sheila Weirth told the judge Grier has a criminal history that includes several burglaries, theft and drug possession; and that he was just released from prison last October. Defense attorney Joely O’Rourke said Grier has a stable address with his wife and two children.

According to the affidavit of probable cause, when Grier spoke with detective Seiber, he said he was sorry and that he had a drug problem.

He is scheduled to go before a judge again the afternoon. Criminal charges are pending against his friend Bruce, according to the sheriff’s office.

The documents offer information on only the two burglaries, but Brown stated in a news release this morning that six burglaries in the case have been solved.

The Winnebago and the Mustang were recovered in King County, according to court documents.

Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza said in a printed statement he is very proud of the deputies and detectives and their tenacity.

“This investigation took a lot of time to complete, but it is worth every minute when we are able to return property back to rightful owners, and hold criminals accountable for their behavior,” Snaza said.

Local drug team catches firearms trafficking case in Pierce County

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

Tacoma resident Rebecca J. Coleman consults with a defense attorney in Lewis County Superior Court.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A 53-year-old mother and grandmother was brought before a judge today in Chehalis in a case that began with a local detective’s undercover operation purchase of a stolen handgun and led to the seizure of 38 firearms, thousands of rounds of assorted ammunition and drugs in Tacoma.

Four improvised explosive devices also located at the residence drew ordinance disposal technicians consisting of members of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and the Washington State Patrol, according to authorities.

Rebecca J. Coleman, 53, of Tacoma, was charged today in Lewis County Superior Court with numerous offenses related to the case.

Coleman was arrested on Tuesday, the day the search warrant was served at her home, and a judge yesterday allowed local prosecutors to hold her uncharged while the investigation continued.

According to charging documents, Lewis County sheriff’s detective Duke Adkisson learned last month from an unnamed individual that he or she could purchase guns and methamphetamine from Coleman, and he began investigating Coleman for trafficking in stolen firearms.

The relatively new local Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team issued a news release today describing how its members followed up on a tip from a Lewis County resident, and how some of the firearms Coleman allegedly sold were being transported back to Lewis County.

Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Stacy Brown distributed the press release on behalf of JNET’s leaders.

Sheriff Rob Snaza in a printed statement explained why local detectives made an arrest in another jurisdiction.

“Criminals don’t have physical boundaries, they travel in and out of our county,” Snaza stated. “Even though the arrest and seizure occurred in Pierce County, we stopped the flow of criminal activity from coming into our county.”

Snaza shares overseeing JNET with Centralia Police Chief Carl Nielsen and Chehalis Police Chief Glenn Schaffer as each agency has law enforcement officers on the team. Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer’s name is also on JNET”s letterhead.

Charging documents state that sometime between Sept. 30 and this past Monday, detective Adkisson gave money to an informant to go buy one of Coleman’s guns and to tell Coleman that he or she was a convicted felon and not allowed to possess a firearm.

During the transaction, Coleman allegedly implied some of her firearms could be stolen firearms, the documents state.

The gun brought back to Adkisson did turn out to have been stolen last December.

According to JNET and the court documents, also seized from Coleman’s residence was $1,258 cash, two baggies of suspected methamphetamine, drug paraphernalia, mortars, tank simulators and other items consistent with explosives.

The home is located in the south end of Tacoma at the 2400 block of 155th Street Court East.

The explosives were taken off site by the technicians to be detonated, according to Chief Brown’s summary.

Coleman’s bail was set yesterday at $150,000.

Defense attorney Joely O’Rourke told the judge Coleman has only one felony conviction – possession of a controlled substance from last year – and it was a deferred prosecution with a plan for her to withdraw her plea shortly.

Coleman was charged today with four felonies in Lewis County Superior Court.

They are: first-degree trafficking in stolen property, delivery of a firearm to an ineligible person, possession of a stolen firearm, unlawful possession of a firearm in the second-degree and possession of methamphetamine.

She qualified for a court-appointed attorney as she is currently unemployed and receives social security disability payments, according to O’Rourke.

Her arraignment is scheduled for next Thursday.


Property seized from Tacoma residence is displayed. / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Sheriff’s Office

Lewis County detective meets with Green River killer, probes for links to local cases

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

Gary Leon Ridgway’s mugshot is among the materials inside three unsolved case files at the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Finally, more than a decade after his convictions for the murders of dozens of women in King County, serial killer Gary Ridgway was interviewed about three homicide victims whose bodies turned up along the Interstate 5 corridor in Lewis County.

Longtime Lewis County Sheriff’s Office detective Bruce Kimsey isn’t writing him off as a viable suspect, but Ridgway didn’t confess.

“When I asked him an hour’s worth of questions on the victims, he denied it and said, why would I take someone to Lewis County,” Kimsey said. “I’m not saying I believe him; I’m just saying what he said.”

Kimsey traveled to the U.S. Penitentiary in Florence, Colorado at the end of September. He was joined by Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer and Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead for the two-day visit.


Chief Criminal Deputy Bruce Kimsey

They were only allowed to bring a pen and paper into the room. The serial killer had handcuffs chained to his waist. On the first day he wore leg irons as well, Meyer said.

“We spent several hours both days, four to six hours each day,” Meyer said. “There wasn’t a clock in the room, I didn’t have my watch.”

Meyer said they’ve been trying for several years to meet with Ridgway, and the answer before from his attorney had alway been no. When he got a yes answer, they jumped at the opportunity right away, he said.

The victimology in the three local cases is such that Ridgway has been a suspect, alluding to patterns in who Ridgway targeted.

Both Kimsey and Meyer took note of how short the infamous killer was.

“I expected him to be more physically imposing,” Meyer said. “He’s kind of meek, mild-mannered. He doesn’t have, ‘this guy’s gonna attack me’ vibe.”

It’s easy to see how someone would get into a truck with him, Meyer said.

The Auburn resident was convicted of murdering 49 women, but has admitted to killing 80, Meyer said. He was arrested in December 2001, at age 52.

There’s no physical evidence tying him to the Lewis County cases, and Ridgway didn’t have any particular facts about the three, the prosecutor said.

And at one point, he suggested he wouldn’t mind taking credit to “get his numbers up.”

“He understands what he’s done, and I think he likes the notoriety,” Meyer said. “He told us, there’s more written about me than Jack the Ripper.”

Much of their time was spent building rapport, talking about his work, marriage and hobbies and then after that, learning details about the crimes he committed in King County.

Ridgway worked at Kenworth for 30 years. He was married three times.

He became known as the Green River Killer, because that’s where some of the first bodies were discovered, Kimsey said.

That’s one of the similarities between the women he’s admitted to killing, and the women whose bodies were discovered locally starting in 1984, according to the detective.

Two of the bodies in Lewis County were found near waterways, he said. Two of the three had ties to prostitution, like Ridgway’s victims, according to Kimsey. And some of the known Green River victims went missing from the same area as did the women found in Lewis County.

What they do know for sure, is the three women were murdered and their bodies were discovered in Lewis County, Meyer said.

On August 12, 1984, Monica Anderson, 32, of Tacoma, was found by a fisherman in the Chehalis River west of Centralia below the Galvin Road bridge. She was last seen June 25 in Tacoma, getting into a brown van on Commerce Way. She died of asphyxiation, Kimsey said.

On May 5 1985, Susan L. Krueger, 42, was found along Lacamas Creek at Drews Prairie Road near Interstate 5 west of Toledo. She was last seen March 11 after she was released from the Pierce County Jail. She died of  blows to the head.

On August 5, 1991, Mignon S. Hensley, 21, was found in a brushy area about a mile east of Interstate 5 along U.S. Highway 12. She was last seen June 19 leaving a Deja Vu strip club in Federal Way. She was about eight months pregnant at the time. She died from homicidal violence.

Kimsey, who was promoted to chief criminal deputy when newly elected Sheriff Rob Snaza took office in January has studied the three case files.

“I would say a reasonable person would say there was sexual assault, or sexual motivation on these crimes,” Kimsey said of the evidence.

Ridgeway indicated to his interviewers he had nothing to do with the three deaths and that it wouldn’t make sense for him dump a body in Lewis County.

Part of Ridgway’s crimes involved returning to the dump sites to visit the bodies, and engage them sexually again, according to Kimsey.

He knew King County like the back of his hand, and said, he wouldn’t go to Lewis County and screw it up, Meyer said.

But, Ridgway did take some of his victims from King County all the way to Oregon, Kimsey said. He told his three interviewers he took bones down there after digging them up, to get the FBI involved and throw off the Green River Task Force.

They three men spent some of their time orienting Ridgway to the boundaries of Lewis County, and learned he’d been to Yard Birds and the the Centralia Outlets.

When the conversation turned to Ridgway’s time in the Navy, overseas, Ridgway’s comment was, “that would open up a can of worms,” Meyer said. A person could speculate about what that means, he said.

“Ridgway will say every one of his victims, he strangled,” Kimsey said.

The takeaway for Kimsey, is what he learned about what Ridgway did to his victims, for example, details of how he left the bodies, Kimsey said.

“I’m going to go back and look again at our cases to see if they match up, if there’s some matchup,” he said.

Meyer said he left feeling like Ridgway would readily admit if he’d killed the women, but then wonders, if he says there’s 80 victims, does he remember every one?

Kimsey has the same question.

“The problem, is he doesn’t remember names and faces,” Kimsey said. “He said he lost count after like two dozen.”

The detective asked one of the most infamous serial killers ever why he did what he did.

“He told us he felt a sense of power over women, and why he didn’t like these women,” Kimsey said. “He saw prostitutes as basically trash.”

He knew the women he victimized weren’t likely to be reported missing, at least not right away, and, he didn’t have to pay them, Kimsey said.

It was almost like a game, where he could take out his negative energy, Kimsey said.

“The things that he’s saying, no normal person could understand,” Kimsey said. “It’s pure evil and horrific, the things he’s done to women.”

Kimsey, Meyer and Halstead also spoke with Ridgway about the unsolved homicides of two other women during the same time period. Kimsey said he doesn’t think he was involved in their deaths.

Roberta D. Strasbaugh, 18, was found October 18, 1985 on the north side of Lincoln Creek Road at its junction with Manner’s Road, about three weeks after her truck ran out of gas along Old Highway 99.

Diana Robertson’s body was found in 1986, about three miles south of Elbe.

It’s obvious there’s been more than one serial killer operating in the region, Kimsey said.

One of them, Robert L. Yates is also on Kimsey’s list to talk with, although he’s a serial killer with limited activity in Western Washington, and Kimsey said he believes his victims were shot with a firearm.

The goal is to get answers, for families who don’t know what happened to their loved ones, according to Meyer.

For Kimsey, continuing to work the cases is a duty owed to their families. He’ll keep going through the files, trying to match some evidence to a suspect, he said.

Ridgway is not eliminated as a suspect, and certainly not based on his denials, according to the detective.

“I’m not convinced he has nothing to do with these, I’m not convinced he does,” Kimsey said. “I’m going to take the information and keep working these cases.” “Maybe the technology one day will be there.”

Dallas man gets 66 months for virtual relationship with teen

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

Lavon S. Sellers and his lawyer Jacob Clark face the judge for Sellers’ sentencing hearing in Lewis County Superior Court.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A Texas man who engaged in an online sexual relationship with a Lewis County boy who initially said he was 16 will be off to prison to serve a five and a half year sentence.

Lavon S. Sellers and the teen met on a website called “Hot or Not” in the summer of 2014 and eventually the boy confessed he was only 14 years old, according to lawyers handling the case.

There’s no indication the two met, but they made a plan where Sellers would come to Washington and they would spend time in Seattle together, according to court documents and the boy’s mother.

“When Mr. Sellers found out he was 14, that’s when things should have stopped, and it didn’t,” defense attorney Jacob Clark said. “Mr. Sellers and this teen believed they loved each other.”

The boy attempted suicide after the relationship came to light and then he was caught Skyping with Sellers after being ordered by his father not to.

Sellers, now 32, was brought to the Lewis County at the beginning of last month and held on $100,000 bail.

He pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor and two counts of luring four weeks ago and yesterday was back in Lewis County Superior Court.

Under the plea deal, both sides agreed to recommend to the judge he get 66 months in prison.

“I know Mr. Sellers never meant to hurt anyone by these actions,” Clark told the judge. “He’s been a law abiding citizen all his life.”

The boy’s mother told the judge her son is about two years behind his peers, and has always been vulnerable and trusting. And now, the mother said, he’s a young boy with no spirit, no excitement for life, no self-esteem and remains confused by what Sellers taught him.

Lewis County is not naming the mother, to avoid identifying the victim.

Judge Nelson Hunt agreed with the sentence recommended by Clark and Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead.

“Well, it wasn’t the intention, but it did, it did hurt a whole lot of people,” Hunt said.

Sellers was ordered to have no contact with the boy, and to pay about $3,200 in fines and fees including the extradition costs.

Outside the courtroom, Clark said the people and businesses who make the sort of online applications where the two communicated are immune to prosecution, even though they are made accessible to both adults and children.

“That is the travesty,” Clark said.

For background, read “Lewis County Sheriff’s Office arrests man in Dallas for long-distance sexploitation of local teen” from Sunday September 6, 2015, here

Astonishing humans: Twin sheriffs catch the attention of Believe It or Not! publisher

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015

Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza, left, and his brother Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza. / Courtesy photo by Jennie Snaza

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza and his twin sheriff brother have the shocking, incredible, but true honor of being featured among the “eye-popping oddities” of a new book.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not! is more than an iconic Sunday newspaper comic feature, it’s museums, traveling shows, videos and books.

Each year, Ripleys puts out puts out a new edition of strange stories, fun facts, oddities, curiosities, and this year, the Snazas are among them.

Sheriff Snaza, who learned of his inclusion from a newspaper reporter, said he thinks it’s pretty cool.


The new edition

“I just think it’s an honor, I’m excited about it,” he said yesterday. “It’s something to show your kids, your grandkids.”

The entry can be found on page 20, of the 256-page volume overflowing with “mind-blowing stories” of animals, feats, art, pop culture, the human body, and more, according to the publisher.

“In November 2014, twin brothers Rob and John Snaza were elected sheriffs in neighboring southwest Washington counties,” the publicist writes.”Voters elected Rob to become sheriff of Lewis County while John was re-elected sheriff of Thurston County.”

Their recognition is tucked into the edition that includes among its collection of thousands of all-new stories, the lowdown on a goldfish that underwent brain surgery to remove a tumor and a 40-inch-long piece of (alleged) fossilized dinosaur poop, found in Washington State, that sold for $8,500 in 2014.

The book, titled “Eye-Popping Oddities” came out on Sept. 8 and is available through all major book sellers, according to its publicist.

Robert L. Ripley’s first Believe It or Not! books, collections of his newspaper cartoon drawings, appeared in 1929 and 1931.

Sheriff Rob Snaza, of Napavine, who turned 50 earlier this year, ran as a Republican last fall and took 77 percent of the vote.

He said he hadn’t yet had a chance to talk with his brother, to find out if he knew how they caught they attention of the book’s authors.

He said he’s pretty sure it’s probably a first. He’s heard of fathers and sons, such as former Lewis County Sheriff Bill Wiester Sr. whose son became Grant County sheriff, he said, but not twin brothers.

Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza, ran as an Independent in 2010, and last November won another four-year term. He also turned 50 this year.