Archive for the ‘Top story of the day’ Category

Jewelry store break-in defendant’s companions testify against him

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Justin D. McPherson, right, stands with his attorney Ken Johnson as jurors exit the courtroom during his trial for burglary.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Two women who drove away from downtown Centralia with the two suspected thieves following the botched burglary at Salewsky’s Jewelry shop say they didn’t really know what was going on.

They were waiting in their cars in the parking lot at the railroad station after a long night at a casino, 30-year-old Jennifer Nordyke testified.

“Ryan and Rachael were talking about getting a hotel,” Nordyke said. “The guys say, hold on, we’ll be right back.”

The men were gone 15 to 30 minutes, she said.

Prosecutors initially said Nordyke and Rachael Hunter were the getaway drivers after Justin D. McPherson and his friend broke through a wall into the Tower Avenue business early one morning in mid-March, and fled after McPherson was shot when he was confronted by the owner’s son.

The two women have made plea deals in exchange for their testimony. Ryan W. Cox, also charged in the case, remains held in the Lewis County Jail.

The trial for McPherson opened yesterday in Lewis County Superior Court. It’s expected to run in to tomorrow.

Centralia police called about 7 a.m. on March 20 found a trail of dropped jewelry leading from a person-sized hole cut into the wall of the store from a vacant adjacent business space. Officers recovered a crowbar. The lock on the back door at the alley was discovered broken.

A Seattle area man who was staying at the Olympic Club hotel and smoking a cigarette near his work van early that morning testified he saw two men in black running toward him.

“All I heard was go, go, go,” Joshua Morris said.

The two cars he’d noticed with women in them parked near his van then squealed out of the lot, Morris said.

He thought a bank had been robbed, he said.

“At first I didn’t believe what I saw,” he said. “But I’ve seen a lot of movies.”

Fred Salewsky testified he thinks all of the missing jewelry has been recovered, about $3,800 worth.

Salewsky told the court yesterday he got a call from his son Jeremy Salewsky early that morning.

Jeremy Salewsky lives in an apartment above the shop the senior Salewsky bought from his father in 1985.

“My son tells me, ‘I think I might have shot someone’,” Fred Salewsky said. “I said, I will be right there.”

Centralia police got a break in the case a few days later when an off-duty detective learned a male with a gunshot wound was dropped off at a Tacoma hospital by a female in a red Mercedes the morning of the burglary, according to charging documents.

Officers arrested Nordyke on March 22 when she showed up to visit McPherson; they arrested McPherson as he was released from the hospital a few days later. Cox was charged on April 30; Hunter on May 10.

Police described McPherson as someone with an extensive criminal background, well known to police in the Renton, Kent, Auburn area.

The 29-year-old has a 2006 conviction for possession of stolen property, as well as three three eluding convictions, according to prosecutors. He is represented by Chehalis attorney Ken Johnson.

McPherson is charged with one count of second-degree burglary as well as one count of residential burglary.

He’s sat quietly in the courtroom as Johnson and Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead questioned witnesses.

Jeremy Salewsky testified yesterday it was too dark too see more than a male figure with a blue hooded sweatshirt when he came downstairs to investigate an odd noise that morning.

He didn’t expect to see someone standing there, and fired from his Colt 45 handgun, he said.

He couldn’t even tell which way the person was facing, he said. Police have said McPherson was shot in the lower back.

“The individual jumped back though a wall that was cut,” Jeremy Salewsky testified.

The younger Salewsky said then he just stood there stunned a minute or two after it happened.

Nordyke, who said she and McPherson live in Federal Way, told jurors she expects prosecutors will drop two felony charges against her. Her hearing is set for tomorrow.

She admitted she didn’t want to be on the witness stand.

“If I testify, I get a misdemeanor charge, rendering criminal assistance,” she said, her voice breaking. “And I get to stay in drug court so I can raise our children.”

McPherson and she have known each other about 10 years. He and Cox have been good friends since childhood, she said.

She described leaving Centralia, a town she said she wasn’t familiar with, and traveling north on the freeway looking for blue hospital signs, trying to keep McPherson awake, holding hands and praying.

Nordyke explained he used the name of a friend’s ex-husband who had health insurance at the hospital, because they didn’t have insurance.

Reluctantly, she read aloud a passage from a police report in which she told officers she heard McPherson say to a friend that morning, “Dude, Mike, I tried to rob a jewelry store.”

On the stand today, Hunter said she’d been offered the same plea deal.

Halstead questioned her about what she thought McPherson and Cox were doing when they left the women in the parking lot that morning.

“Maybe something that wasn’t on the up and up,” Hunter said.  “So I didn’t really ask.”

Cox is scheduled for a change of plea and sentencing next week.

For background, read “Jewelry store burglary suspect, alleged getaway driver awaiting May trial” from Thursday April 4, 2013, here

Centralia Outlet pepper spray melee defendant disputes police accounts

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

Tamala J. Summerhill, right, waits while defense attorney Bob Schroeter confers with a deputy prosecutor during her court appearance.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The Tacoma woman accused of letting loose with her pepper spray at the Centralia Outlets over the weekend says news reporters got the story all wrong.

Tamala J. Summerhill, 53, bailed out of jail but returned to go before a Lewis County Superior Court judge yesterday afternoon.

Police said they were called to the shopping center on Saturday because a female used pepper spray to break up a brawl between her grown son and another man outside the Nike Factory Outlet then chased the subject, spraying him and two boys who were with him.

Summerhill is charged with two counts of third-degree child assault and one count of fourth-degree assault.

“I want to tell it, and I will let my lawyer do that,” Summerhill said after her court hearing.

Centralia police said after a disagreement inside the store between 22-year-old Jesse Summerhill and a 38-year-old Tumwater man, the pair ended up in a fight once they got outside.

The 38-year-old Tumwater man had the younger Summerhill on the ground when the mother sprayed him, according to the police version.

Police arrested Jesse Summerhill, also of Tacoma, for misdemeanor assault

How and why the scuffle started and what happened after are not very clear.

Both men told police the other one initiated the rudeness inside the store – over a cashier being ready to take the next customer in line – and once outside challenged the other one to fight, according to charging documents.

The documents allege the following information:

Corey Leneker said he had begun to walk to his car with his two 8-year-old boys but the mother and son followed him calling him names.

“He ordered the two boys to get in the front seat of their vehicle, which they did,” charging documents state.

The two men fought. After Leneker was sprayed he ran and they chased him, Leneker told police. She was spraying as they were running, he said.

Leneker reached his vehicle when the woman sprayed him again and the two boys, charging documents state.

It was streaming spray and not the fog type, according to police.

An independent witness told police Leneker was trying to shield the kids when she sprayed all three of them.

Officers checked the children who both had red and inflamed faces and trouble seeing because of the irritant in their eyes; symptoms of having been pepper sprayed.

Tamala Summerhill told police she sprayed Leneker to get him off her son. When confronted with the information from the witness, she made no comment.

“The boys, I don’t know why they’re an issue,” defense attorney Bob Schroeter said outside the courtroom. “The father said he put them inside the vehicle.”

During the brief court appearance yesterday afternoon, Lewis County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Brad Meagher said he had no problem with setting bail with a $10,000 signature bond.

Judge Richard Brosey pointed out it was already set at $20,000 and she posted bail, so he wouldn’t change it.

Schroeter, who represented Tamala Summerhill just for that appearance, said her income qualified her for a court appointed attorney.

Tamala Summerhill works at Joint Base Lewis McChord in child care and family services, Schroeter said.

Her arraignment was scheduled for June 6.

Making a difference when kids go missing, and beforehand

Monday, May 27th, 2013

Barbara Glenn, a 911 supervisor in Lewis County, sends up a balloon in recognition of missing children. / Courtesy photo by Jennifer Ducummon

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Michelle Croft and Melissa Baum are living every parent’s nightmare, but still took time out to help Lewis County 911 dispatchers shine a spotlight on the resources available to both prevent and find missing children.

Both have daughters who vanished; Kayla Croft-Payne three years ago and Lindsey Baum from McCleary in Grays Harbor County almost a year before that.

“It’s a club none of us wants to be in,” Baum said last week when the two mothers took part in a gathering at Stan Hedwall Park in Chehalis.


Lindsey Baum

Lindsey Baum was 10 years old, when she was last seen June 26, 2009. She left a friend’s house to walk home and never arrived. Kayla Croft-Payne was 18 and living southwest of Chehalis on April 28, 2010 when she last logged onto her MySpace internet account. She was reported missing on May 5 by a friend who hadn’t seen or heard from her for several days.

Though Kayla was already technically an adult, Lewis County sheriff’s detectives have made sure her information got added to various databases on missing kids.

Kayla’s younger sister Shelbie regularly sends messages to Kayla, via floating helium balloons up in to the sky.

“Three or four times a month, plus events like this,” Croft said.

On Wednesday, beneath gray and drizzling skies, they did it again. Theirs was among scores of red and white balloons released in recognition of youngsters who have disappeared.


Kayla Croft-Payne

“Each balloon represents hopes and prayers for the eventual return of each missing child,” said Craig Larsen, Lewis County 911 manager.

Larsen’s staff began a big push last year to do more about the issue, taking part in training to provide swift and decisive responses in the early stages of incidents.

The first few moments when a child goes missing are the most critical, Larsen told a crowd of more than 40 individuals.

“You never get to go back to that,” he said.

The county department recently got its certification from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

His people have been working to spread the word about what others can do.

What they’ve learned from NCMEC, is families can help by making sure their little ones know their own phone number, their address, he said.

“Their parents names, not just ‘mom’ and ‘dad’,” he said. “Together, we really can make a difference.”

There are approximately 800,000 missing kids in the country today, according to Larsen. Eleven of them are from Lewis County.

The following list was read on Wednesday of 11 children who are listed as missing from Lewis County, compiled from local law enforcement agencies by the Washington State Patrol’s Missing and Unidentified Persons Unit.

• Kayla Croft-Payne: Since April 2010, then age 18, believed endangered

• Xavier Burroughs: Since February 2011, then age 1, circumstances unknown

• Lillie Burroughs: Since February 2011, then age 2, circumstances unknown

• Angelica Mejiamoctezuma: Since May 2012, then age 15, believed runaway

• Ashley Fern: Since September 2012, then age 16, believed runaway

• Ashley Tanner: Since January 2013, age 17, believed runaway

• John Williford: Since January 2013, age 17, believed runaway

• Antonio Aguilar: Since January 2013, age 17, believed runaway

• Ruben Valles-Nortin: Since February 2013, age 15, believed runaway

• Cody Moorman: Since May 10, 2013, age 13, believed runaway

• Lilli Morellia: Since May 18, 2013, age 17, believed runaway

See missing children of Washington state, here

Lewis County 911 is distributing resource materials to local libraries and through the sheriff’s office. The “Take 25” campaign – with info also available online – encourages parents and other adults to take 25 minutes to talk to children about safety.


Stan Hedwall Park, Chehalis. May 22, 2013 / Courtesy photo by Jennifer Ducummon

Police: Centralia shopping dispute culminates with man, children attacked with pepper spray

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A Tacoma woman is jailed after she reportedly used pepper spray to break up a brawl between her grown son and another man outside the Centralia Outlets yesterday afternoon then chased the subject, spraying him and two children who were with him.

Police and aid were called about 3:15 p.m. to the shopping center on the 100 block of West High Street. Tamala J. Summerhill, 53, was arrested, according to the Centralia Police Department.

“Spraying the guys to break up a fight is one thing,” Sgt. Kurt Reichert said. “But chasing him across the parking lot is a whole different ball of wax.”

As to why she used the streaming pepper spray on two boys, ages 8 and 9, she had no explanation, according to Reichert. She was arrested for two counts of third-degree child assault, he said.

It began with an exchange of words between the two males as they stood in line inside one of the stores and the 22-year-old son picking a fight when they got outside, according to police.

“The victim gets the suspect down, the female whips out the pepper spray,” Reichert said.

The 38-year-old Tumwater man got up and ran to his vehicle; she follows, he said. He and the boys were standing outside the vehicle when she let go with more pepper spray, according to Reichert.

Medics treated the patients, none were hospitalized.

Jesse E. Summerhill, 22, also of Tacoma, was arrested for misdemeanor assault, his mother was booked for the felony assaults, according to Reichert.

White Pass School District prevails in wrongful death lawsuit involving student

Friday, May 24th, 2013

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The lawsuit against White Pass School District – sued by the family of a sophomore who committed suicide – is over, with a Lewis County Superior Court judge ruling this morning school officials had no duty to notify Brian Stephens’ family of a suicide note they learned of or a possible suicide pact between two students

Brian Stephens, 16, was found dead with a gunshot wound to his head, inside a Tacoma man’s vacation mobile home in Packwood in May 2009.


Brian Stephens

His grandmother Debbie Reisert, with whom he lived, never heard about the note until months afterward. She wasn’t called when the high school counselor brought her grandson into his office to ask him if he was suicidal.

Days before Brian’s death, one of his friends had taken 30 Ibuprofen pills one morning and then went to school. When the counselor learned of it,  the boy was taken away in an ambulance to Morton General Hospital where he was treated and subsequently released.

A female classmate told counselors Brian had passed her a  note in English class, writing that if his friend killed himself, he would too.

The wrongful death lawsuit filed last year by Brian’s family never went to trial.

Lewis County Superior Court Judge Richard Brosey today granted a summary judgement requested by the school district.

“Is there a duty in the first place?” Brosey asked lawyers this morning. “That’s the issue we’re dealing with today.”

Brosey said the answer was no, based on case law.

“If the court of appeals or the Supreme Court want to declare there is, that’s up to them,” he said.

Tukwila attorney Philip Talmadge who represented the White Pass School District said the district feels horrible about the tragic circumstances, but they are not legally culpable.

The school counselor talked to the young man and he denied he was suicidal, Talmadge said.

He said the grandmother claimed she had previously had a long conversation with the counselor, asking him to inform her if he noticed anything amiss. But the counselor Justin Neilson didn’t recall the conversation exactly the same way, he said.

“Before you can have liability, you have to have a duty, as a matter of law,” Talmadge said.

He said it’s a question for the legislature, should it want to make such laws. There are many variables that would need to be addressed, he said.

“The Idaho legislature did that,” he said.

The family attorney Kevin Coluccio said he doesn’t yet know if they will appeal.

“I think what’s disappointing to us, is the school district won’t be held accountable for withholding information about kids,” Coluccio said. “Because mom and grandmother didn’t have the information, they couldn’t take action.”

Coluccio said some changes have been made, in part due to efforts by his clients.

The governor recently signed legislation that requires suicide education training for educators and some notification requirements, he said.

He called Brian’s death, or any child to suicide, a great tragedy.

“My hope is that this caused them to re-evaluate, to take more seriously the threat of teen suicide,” Coluccio said.

For the in-depth story surrounding Brian Stephen’s death, read “Packwood teen’s suicide to be revisited, in court” from Sunday July 1, 2012, here

Jail time for bong-smoking baby’s mother

Friday, May 24th, 2013

Rachelle L. Braaten pleads guilty to “delivery” of marijuana in Lewis County Superior Court.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The Centralia mother who was captured on cell phone video offering up a marijuana bong to her toddler’s mouth was sentenced today to six months in jail.

Rachelle L. Braaten, 24, admitted what she did as part of a plea agreement, and the judge went along with it.

Lewis County Superior Court Judge James Lawler called the recommendations appropriate, given the particular facts of the case.

Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Shane O’Rourke and defense attorney Sam Groberg told the judge what Braaten did involved a foolish lapse of judgement by a young mother while in the company of pot smokers in her home.

“It was at least those things,” Lawler told Braaten. “You’ve got to take care of your child.

“Being a parent means you have to protect your child; hopefully you’ve learned your lesson.”

Braaten and the boy’s father were arrested in early March.

Centralia police initially said they went to the home on the 1400 block of Delaware Avenue to confiscate marijuana plants, but court documents described the anonymous video they received as the primary reason for law enforcement’s visit to the home.

No charges have been filed in connection to the marijuana plants; the deputy prosecutor said it turned out there was evidence 25-year-old Tyler J. Lee was  validly prescribed medical marijuana and validly providing it for a second person.

According to the documents, Braaten told police she knew she shouldn’t be giving her son a hit off the bong, but felt “peer-pressured.”

She has no criminal background.

The video, which caught the attention of a worldwide audience on news sites, includes the sound of laughter from a number of people as the child approaches the marijuana smoking device which the mother is holding, and when his mouth gets close to its top, the little one rears back and coughs.

Braaten pleaded guilty today to delivery of marijuana, which carried a sentence of zero to six months, as well as a violation of a no contact order.

The charge which was dropped –  delivery of a controlled substance by a person over 18 to a person under 18, domestic violence –  has a standard sentencing range of 51 to 68 months.

“Our big thing is once she takes responsibility for what happened, I don’t think she needs to be subjected to the high sentencing range,” O’Rourke told the judge.

Both of her sons were taken by Child Protective Services initially. It wasn’t discussed in court where they are now.

Under the terms set forth by CPS, Braaten began attending parenting classes at Centralia College, which stopped when she was put in jail for violating the no contact order last month, O’Rourke told the judge.

Lawler said she could have contact with her son under the conditions allowed by CPS, but he made it part of the court order she continue parenting classes.

He implored her to embrace the course as an opportunity to become the very best mother possible.

“You’re young, you don’t have a lot of experience,” the judge said. “There’s a lot to be learned.”

For background, read “Police: Marijuana smoking toddler taken from Centralia parents” from Friday March 8, 2013, here

Kennewick man rescued after falling into Ohanapecosh River

Friday, May 24th, 2013

The victim is pulled back over to safety as the diver, left, looks on. / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Fire District 10

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A 24-year-old camper northeast of Packwood was rescued after he slipped into a glacial river while on a morning walk.

The Kennewick man was staying with friends and family in an unimproved area about a quarter mile south of Mount Rainier National Park off state Route 123, according to authorities.

He got too close to the edge of the Ohanapecosh River and slid about 25 feet into the swift water, the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office said. Packwood Fire Chief Lonnie Goble said the current swept him to the opposite bank, where he yelled for help.

His companions drove to Packwood to make a 911 call, which came about 7 a.m., responders said.

Responders set up a pulley system, with help from the man.

A sheriff’s deputy who is trained in swift water rescue entered the 40 degree water and was pulled to the other side, where he put a harness on the victim who was pulled back to awaiting rescue teams, according to the sheriff’s office.

The river is about 25 to 30 feet across at that point. The man was definitely hypothermic, but otherwise okay, Goble said.

He was checked by EMTs and transported to the Packwood Fire Department where he was able to get a hot bath, according to Goble.

Responding with sheriff’s office, the fire department and swift water specialists was Packwood Search and Rescue. They were at the scene about two and half hours.

While some were setting up the rope system, others tossed the man bags of warm, dry clothing, hot liquids to drink and shoes, according to Goble.

The fire chief said the area, known as the Cedar Brook camping area, has seen two drownings in the last decade and four to five water rescues.

“The rocks, they’re very slick,” he said. “They’re always wet.”


Starting to set up for rescue at Ohanapecosh River. / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Fire District 10



Boat that couldn’t be used because of the rapids. / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Fire District 10


Chehalis parent pleads not guilty to stealing from high school senior fund

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The Chehalis father accused of writing himself some $8,000 in checks from the W.F. West High School’s senior class fund went before a judge today and pleaded not guilty.

Robert N. Downs Jr. remains free on his personal recognizance but was ordered to visit the jail to get his finger prints and picture taken.

Downs, 43, hired Centralia attorney David Arcuri to represent him. He was charged last month with first-degree theft and 14 counts of forgery.

The Chehalis Police Department began investigating in January following a complaint from students’ parents the account had less money in it than they thought there ought to be.

The fund comes from a a tradition of adults collectively fundraising during their children’s high school years to pay for graduation-related activities.

When Chehalis police announced their findings in March, they indicated only that $8,200 was taken out and that Downs’ wife, who was in charge of the account, replaced the missing money after she learned of the losses.

Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer wrote in charging documents an analysis is being conducted on the bank records to determine how much, if any, additional money is missing.  His office is still looking into that, Meyer said today.

Downs was charged on April 30, the same day he was served his summons at his workplace, Green Hill School, the state juvenile corrections facility for boys in Chehalis.

It’s not clear what his job is there or if he is still employed.

Charging documents allege Downs wrote checks between June and August of last year in amounts ranging from $275 to $850. The total is $8,075, according to the court documents. Prosecutors state he forged his wife’s name.

Charging documents don’t offer any indication of what he may have spent the money on.

Downs sat to the right of his attorney this morning in the Chehalis courtroom, sporting slacks, a dress shirt and tie.

Arcuri told the judge he didn’t think it was necessary in the conditions of release order to restrict his client’s travel. His family has a sports tournament in Idaho in June, Arcuri said.

Meyer said the pre-trial limitation to Western Washington is typical.

Lewis County Superior Court Judge Richard Brosey ordered Downs not to go outside Washington, Oregon or Idaho.

Meyer said outside the courtroom it doesn’t change the fact of a theft – under Washington state law – even if all the money was put back in the account.

“So, can I take $10,000 from your account, and put it back when I get caught?” he asked by way of an illustration.

Meyer contended the funds were not returned to the account until after questions were being asked.

A trial date was set for the week of August 5.


For background read “High school senior class fund in Chehalis under scrutiny” from Tuesday March 19, 2013 at 9:45 p.m., here

Kelso man held on $100,000 bail for Chehalis bank robbery

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

Jerrell S. Redmill, right, listens as defense attorney Bob Schroeter speaks on his behalf in Lewis County Superior Court.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The 54-year-old Kelso husband who until recently was employed was driving a gold Chrysler PT Cruiser like the one which pulled out of the front parking lot at Chase Bank in Chehalis after it was robbed.

When law enforcement officers stopped Jerrell S. Redmill’s car on Interstate 5 near Kelso about 30 minutes later, and patted him down, money was falling out of his shorts pockets, dropping onto the ground.

“He didn’t run or fight,” Chehalis Police Department detective Sgt. Gary Wilson said.

He asked to speak with an attorney.

Redmill was in Lewis County Superior Court today, charged with first-degree robbery for yesterday afternoon’s events at the bank on South Market Boulevard.

He doesn’t have any criminal history, Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead told the judge.

In the benches behind him were his wife, grown daughter and another family member. The longtime Cowlitz County resident owns a home worth about $100,000, defense attorney Bob Schroeter said. He collects about $1,000 a month from unemployment, according to Schroeter.

Lewis County Superior Court Judge Richard Brosey set his bail at $100,000.

It was a casual and quiet holdup, according to Wilson.

Court documents say the teller told police she watched an older man enter the bank, pace back and forth for a short period of time in the lobby, and then approach her counter and hand her a note.

He was wearing a baseball cap and dark glasses.

She handed over about $1,000 in $20s, $10s and $1 bills, according to charging documents. He took the cash and the note then walked out.

Wilson said it was a good description given by employees and the manager running over to look out the window to see the car, along with a sheriff’s detective being in the right place at the right time that brought it all together so quickly.

“We relayed that (information) to all the officers in the area,” Wilson said.

Wilson said the PT Cruiser was first spotted by the sheriff’s detective who was driving an unmarked car near milepost 68, the U.S. Highway 12 interchange. But it took time for enough officers to catch up to make a safe traffic stop, he said.

Redmill was pulled over and arrested near milepost 42.

According to charging documents, the cash that fell onto the ground totaled $775. When the car was searched, $270 was found on the driver’s side floor.

In the driver’s pocket door was a note which read, “Give me all your money now!” according to the documents.

Police also collected a baseball cap from the car – blue with a white logo – that appeared to match what the robber was wearing in bank photos.

Charging documents state Redmill has charges from 1982 of criminal mischief and disorderliness.

He will return to court on another day to make his plea.

The same Chase Bank branch was robbed a little more than a year ago by two men who were captured less than 30 minutes later after a brief pursuit by a Centralia police officer and his police dog.

Kelso man detained after Chehalis bank robbed

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A 54-year-old man was picked up on Interstate 5 just north of Kelso following a bank robbery in Chehalis this afternoon.

Police were called just before 3:30 p.m. to Chase Bank on the 600 block of South Market Boulevard. An employee told officers a man in his 50s handed a teller a note demanding money and left in a gold colored PT Cruiser, according to the Chehalis Police Department.

No weapon was displayed and nobody was injured, according to police.

Shortly after the 911 call, a Lewis County sheriff’s detective spotted a vehicle and driver matching the given description traveling southbound on the freeway, police stated in a news release. The car was stopped near milepost 42 and police concluded he was their suspect.

The suspect is identified by police as Jerrell S. Redmill, 54, of Kelso, according to police. He was booked into the Lewis County Jail for first-degree robbery.

How much money was stolen or if it was recovered was not reported by police.

The same bank was robbed in March of last year, by a pair of local men who got away briefly with less than $2,500 from Chase, moments after a failed attempt at the nearby Twin Star Credit Union – which keeps no cash in its drawers.

Early May north Centralia church fire could also be arson, officials now say

Monday, May 20th, 2013

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Investigators are re-thinking the string of fires that struck Centralia churches and other buildings two weeks ago, classifying all of them now as either arson or undetermined.


Centerville Western Store on May 3

In a three-hour span during the early morning hours of May 3, crews were called to four structure fires and then after daylight, learned of a failed attempt at a fifth location.

They still have no suspects or motive.

Initially, a 4 a.m. fire that damaged a wall at Calvary Chapel on Seward Avenue in north Centralia was believed to be caused by an electrical issue, but authorities are reexamining that conclusion in part because of the timing, according to Riverside Fire Authority Assistant Chief Rick Mack.

“It strains credulity to think that it isn’t somehow involved,” Mack said today.

The other undetermined fire is one that struck a coffee stand in north Chehalis at 1 o’clock that morning. Flames were quickly knocked down and while an investigator was considering the possibility of a cigarette butt in a trash can, Mack said they just don’t have enough information to say if it was one thing or another.

Clearly arson and attempted arson were Centralia fires that did minor to moderate damage at the rectory-turned teen center of the Centralia Church of the Nazarene, Cooks Hill Community Church  and Centerville, the western store at the north end of the Centralia Outlets, according to Mack.

Authorities are once again seeking the public’s assistance to find who is responsible.

None of the targets have suggested a person they think police should talk to, Mack said.

Mack spoke of chatter on social media that might reveal clues.

“We just encourage people, if they hear anything even if it seems unlikely or remote, we’d like to hear about it,” Mack said today.

No suspicious fires have been reported in the area since that night, but Mack pointed out the burned siding on Cooks Hill Community Church that wasn’t spotted until 10 a.m. that day.

“There may be fires that were set but not discovered,” he said.

He suggested some folks might want to take a look around the exterior of their buildings.

Mack said he, Fire Chief Jim Walkowski and the Centralia Police Department would each be happy to hear from anyone with information.

Crime Stoppers of Lewis County is also calling upon anyone with information to consider making an anonymous phone call to them, at 1-800-748-6422 or leaving a tip online at


For background, read “Arson: String of Centralia fires under investigation” from Friday May 3, 2013, here

Family pet thought dead after Grand Mound fire brought back to life

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Scooter the dog is revived by Firefighter Kylie Kavanaugh after mobile home fire. / Courtesy photo by West Thurston Regional Fire Authority

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Firefighters called this morning to a Grand Mound residential fire managed to contain the blaze to one room and resuscitated a small dog discovered unconscious under a bed.

When they started breaking down the room and pulled out a mattress, they found the little dog, West Thurston Regional Fire Authority Lt. Lanette Dyer said.

It was presumed dead, Dyer said, but was administered oxygen with a child bag-valve mask.

The cause of the 6 a.m. fire in a mobile home at the 6400 block of Southwest 201st Avenue is under investigation.

Dyer said the man and woman who live there were treated for scrapes and minor burns. The female was subsequently transported to Providence St. Peter Hospital, she said.

Dyer said she did not know how the occupants got their injuries, but the woman was hysterical because the pet, Scooter, had not come out of the trailer.

Fire Capt. Brian Christenson had crews treating both the people and the dog, after the dog was located, she said.

Dyer called it a bright spot what is otherwise a devastating event.

Firefighter Kylie Kavanaugh used the mask to help the dog breath.

“Within a couple of moments, it started taking a couple of breaths, and then the dog’s eyes came open,” Dyer said. “Then dog then began to lick at the mask; they were all pretty excited.”

Scooter was taken to Ford Prairie veterinary Clinic to be checked out for smoke inhalation.

Centralia: Wanted man accidentally delivers himself to police custody

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A 21-year-old man who showed up at the Centralia police station wearing handcuffs, asking for help getting them removed found himself instead getting a ride to jail after officers discovered he had an outstanding warrant.

Aaron M. Perez came knocking at the back door about 4 p.m. yesterday, his hands linked together in front of him with genuine Smith and Wesson police handcuffs, according to Sgt. Kurt Reichert.

He said his friends were playing around and then pitched the key out onto the lawn so he walked to the police department, Reichert said.

Officers at first wondered where he might have escaped from and a check showed he had a warrant from Lewis County Superior Court for failing to show up for a court date, according to police.

Perez didn’t know he was wanted, Reichert said.

Reichert said he’s heard of this happening elsewhere, but it was a first for him.

“It was pretty cut and dried, other than we were laughing all our a*ses off about it,” he said.

The young man was transported to the Lewis County Jail, and booked, still wearing the cuffs he provided, according to Reichert.


Rochester High School student charged with rape

Friday, May 17th, 2013

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Prosecutors filed charges yesterday against the now-former lifeguard from the Great Wolf Lodge accused of raping a young teenage girl whose family was staying at the hotel and indoor water park.

Nineteen-year-old Alex Eduardo Salazar is a senior at Rochester High School. The alleged victim is 14 years old.


Alex Eduardo Salazar

Salazar was arrested Tuesday afternoon at school and after his court appearance the next day was bailed out by his father.

Jaime Salazar Sr. said they were hiring an attorney today.

Salazar Sr. said he knows what the allegations are and his son has been very open with him.

It’s a totally different story, he said.

“I think it’s going to be a really tough case, but I think it’s going to be okay for him,” Salazar Sr. said. “There’s stuff she’s saying that’s not true.

“Hopefully that will come out in court.”

The younger Salazar is charged with second-degree rape as well as rape of a child in the third degree.

The second charge is based upon a victim who is age 14 or 15  – too young to give consent – with the perpetrator being at least 48 months older.

The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office has said the girl left willingly with Alex Salazar after his shift ended, the assault occurred in his car on a nearby roadside and that he dropped her back to hotel where she told her family. She had minor injuries, Lt. Greg Elwin said.

The Great Wolf Lodge is a family oriented destination resort in Grand Mound with an indoor water park for guests. Alex Salazar had been working there a little more than six months, according to his father.

Charging documents describe how the girl and her older sister befriended the lifeguard on Monday while in the water park and the sister gave him her phone number.

He texted her later and they arranged to meet; the sisters, another friend and he met in the parking lot and had a conversation in his car, charging documents go on to say.

They all went into the arcade and after some time passed, he and the girl went to his car. Surveillance video shows they left the hotel at 12:05 a.m.

The girl told a deputy she didn’t know he intended to drive away, and became uncomfortable; he parked on the side of a gravel road and they began to kiss, then they decided to get in the backseat, charging documents state.

Click below to read the rest of the story.


Mother of slain Centralia child heads to prison

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

Becky Heupel accepts hugs and farewells from her family and friends while waiting for a jail guard to arrive to take her away after sentencing.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – While the man convicted of a torturous death of a Centralia toddler sits in prison for possibly life, the little girl’s mother who failed to protect her daughter will continue her grieving behind bars for a year and a day, starting now.

Becky M. Heupel, 31, was handcuffed and taken into custody this morning, after a 30-minute hearing in Lewis County Superior Court.

Heupel pleaded guilty last month to second-degree criminal mistreatment, not for any abuse she inflicted but for her inaction.

Her short-term live-in boyfriend James Reeder was sentenced in March after pleading guilty to two counts of first-degree rape of a child, second-degree assault and homicide by abuse. And possession of methamphetamine. Two-year-old Koralynn Fister died from drowning and head trauma while in the care of Reeder on May 24 of last year at the home off East Oakview Avenue.

Today it was Heupel’s turn to be sentenced.

The deputy prosecutor stated that Heupel’s inaction was a gross failure of her parental responsibility but he spent more time explaining to the judge why he was not asking for a much harsher punishment.

“I think there’s a lot of people who think she should be charged right along with Mr. Reeder,” Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Shane O’Rourke said. “There’s simply wasn’t any evidence she knew about the activity of Mr. Reeder or participated in any way.”

O’Rourke noted extensive deliberations with the prosecutor’s office and police on what her level of accountability was.

He spoke of Heupel’s past, her level of intelligence, of naivety and even stupidity. He spoke of her lifetime punishment of losing her child.

“There’s some degree of selfishness on her part perhaps, blindly putting her faith in Mr. Reeder,” he said.

She has no previous felonies, he added.

Defense attorney Paul Strophy went down the same path, only farther.

“She’s already suffered a horrendous loss from someone she let into her life,” Strophy said. “Some would argue that is punishment enough.”

Strophy noted his client’s long mental health history, OCD, PTSD, agoraphobia, major depression, lack of self confidence and a history of abandonment issues.

“With her learning disabilities, and hearing loss, all these things played a role in how she was used,” he said.

Hindsight is 20-20, Strophy said, about the couple of short months in question.

He told the judge that while Heupel was informed Reeder had a history of domestic violence, she never saw it coming against her children.

“None of the injuries gave her any indication what he ultimately did would occur,” he said. “Her biggest mistake obviously was giving his explanations too much credence and that’s why it’s reckless.”

And she was cooperative, he added.

Prosecutors have indicated a lengthy list of injuries found on the child’s body, some old and some new, such as a missing toenail, a missing patch of hair, palm-sized pieces of skin missing from her buttocks, signs of penetration, bruising and more.

Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer said outside the courtroom Heupel knew her child was being injured when she was with Reeder, and Heupel did nothing except to continue to leave her daughter with him.

“When you open your home to someone like Mr. Reeder, in this case, you’re going to be held accountable,” Meyer said.

The plea deal worked out was that both attorneys recommended Heupel go to prison for one year and one day.

While the maximum penalty is five years, the standard sentencing range for someone with no criminal history, such as Hepuel, is six to 12 months. They asked for the extra time so she  could serve her time in state prison instead of in the Lewis County Jail.

Judge James Lawler said it gave him no pleasure to impose the sentence, but that it was appropriate in the case.

“It’s clear to me you were taken advantage of by Mr. Reeder,” Lawler said. “(But) your conduct constitutes a gross failure as a parent. You did what you did because it was easier to step back and do nothing instead of confronting Mr. Reeder.”

Heupel chose not to make a statement on her own behalf, after a long pause of seemingly considering it.

A crowded courtroom of mostly supporters formed a line to hug her before she was led away. Among them was Koralynn’s father, David Fister.

Fister said he’s forgiven the mother of his only child.

He said he agrees but mostly disagrees Heupel should be locked up.

“I don’t think that’s what should have happened to her, but I understand,” he said.

For background, read:

• “Mother of dead Centralia 2-year-old admits some responsibility in case” from Friday April 19, 2013, here

• “Centralia man gets maximum prison term for sexual abuse, death of toddler” from Wednesday March 6, 2013, here

Centralia marijuana store case goes to trial

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The long saga of the short-lived Hub City Natural Medicine – medical marijuana dispensary – is winding down, with three of the participant’s cases settled and the fourth who is taking hers to trial.

The storefront opened in downtown Centralia in early 2011 with a city-granted business license, but was shut down after police realized what “education and sales of natural medicine” on the application really meant.

Lauri Spangler, 47, is charged with maintaining a premises for using controlled substances.

Jurors in Lewis County Superior Court were reminded by a judge today not to jump to conclusions as there are two sides to every case, and then they heard 10 minutes of opening statements from attorneys.

It’s simple, Lewis County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Brad Meagher told them.

“But there are different parts of it that kind of lock this all together,” Meagher said.

Pay attention to the dates, and then to the law as it applied back then, he said.

At the time, some cities in Washington such as Tacoma allowed so-called dispensaries of medical marijuana to operate, where, in theory, patients with authorizations make donations to obtain cannabis. But the issue hadn’t come up in Lewis County.

Meagher told jurors that Hub City Natural Medicine’s application for a business license slid past city officials and was mailed out on Feb. 2, 2011. But then police found out they were selling marijuana.

Meagher said Police Chief Bob Berg sent them a letter advising them they could not do what they were doing.

The following month, police got a tip it was still going on and sent an informant into the store, Meagher said.

“And sure enough, the informant was able to buy it,” he said.

Twice more, undercover purchases were made and finally police went in and found marijuana, infused edible products and such, Meagher said.

The people involved were Daniel Mack, David Low and Colby Cave, who was Spangler’s live-in boyfriend, Meagher told the jury.

“And she helped by getting him him the business license,” he said.

Defense attorney Michael Underwood was brief when he addressed the courtroom.

His client had nothing to do with the operation of the business, she didn’t work there or go there, Underwood said.

“What the evidence is going to show is my client got the business license and set up the checking account and that’s pretty much it,” Underwood said.

They didn’t use the word “selling”, Underwood said. They gave the product in exchange for a donation, he said.

Underwood contended it was Cave, Low and Mack who handled the day to day operations.

Mack will be testifying against Spangler, he said.

“It’s gonna come out he got a heck of a deal,” he said. “In exchange for avoiding a long prison term.”

Cave and Low pleaded guilty earlier this year. Mack has pleaded guilty but has not yet been sentenced.

Maintaining a premises for using controlled substances is a class C felony.

The trial will continue tomorrow morning.

For background, read “Centralia medical marijuana dispensary case winding down” from Saturday February 2, 2013, here

Duo gets one year for Centralia indoor marijuana farm

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A pair of brothers jailed earlier this year for growing lots of marijuana in a home they rented on Seminary Hill Road in Centralia pleaded guilty today.

Zeshawn H. Hasnani, 27, and Sohail Hasnani, 24, went before a judge in Lewis County Superior Court where their lawyers and the prosecutor recommended they be sentenced to one year and one day.

When they were charged, police said they had seized 90 plants in various stages of growth and prosecutors suggested the men were supplying product to medical marijuana dispensaries around the state, alleging also that one of their businesses was nothing more than a post office box in Florida.

A money laundering charge was dropped as part of a plea agreement.

Seattle attorney David Arganian said they both had medical marijuana authorizations, and had taken steps to get legal counsel but some advice they got was not the best.

“They weren’t running a cartel or anything like that,” Arganian said. “They were growing marijuana; they did a couple things, like I say, they shouldn’t have.”

While Initiative 502 passed by Washington voters in November has somewhat decriminalized recreational use of marijuana, no licenses have yet been issued to growers, distributors or retailers.

And local governments have kept at bay any legitimate cultivation of medical cannabis in the county via collective gardens through moratoriums and other means.

Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Shane O’Rourke asked a judge to accept the plea agreement, noting it was because of the facts of the case and the risks of going to trial.

The Hasnanis pleaded guilty to manufacture of a controlled substance, marijuana and also to possession of a controlled substance, marijuana, with intent to deliver.

The standard sentencing range for their offenses is zero to six months, but both sides agreed to ask for a higher sentence so they could serve their time with the state Department of Corrections instead of in the local jail.

Judge Richard Brosey agreed.

Other charges which were dismissed included possession of marijuana and maintaining a premises for using controlled substances, as well as the special allegations of doing it near a school bus stop and committing the crimes while armed with a firearm.

Arganian said the college educated pair from Florida were shocked to have found themselves locked up on $250,000 bail, as was their family.

“They learned a lot,” he said. “Unfortunately, the hard way.”

For background, read “Police: Centralia home a hub for marijuana for regional dispensaries” from  Friday January 11, 2013, here

Sheriff’s office digs around Winlock property in connection with missing girl case

Friday, May 10th, 2013

Detectives comb through debris at a property on Ferrier Road. / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Sheriff’s Office


By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Sheriff’s detectives yesterday finished up two days of searching two wells and digging through mounds of garbage at a property south of Winlock after getting tips the body of the missing Kayla Croft-Payne had been dumped there.

Nothing of interest was located except for a dog carcass, the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office said today.

The Lewis County girl vanished three years ago. She was 18 years old when a missing person report was made, days after her last posting on social network sites.

Chief Civil Deputy Stacy Brown said the office had received several tips Croft-Payne had been killed and either buried or tossed down a well at property on the 1500 block of Ferrier Road.

She said the young woman used to hang out with the people who lived there.

The owners gave detectives permission to conduct the search, according to the sheriff’s office. Brown said she didn’t know if the property has changed hands.

The sheriff’s office says the place is known as “the farm” by those who frequent it.

Brown said detectives excavated a 20-foot deep well which had recently been filled with trash and debris. They used a pump to drain a 35-foot deep well.

A neighbor assisted with his backhoe and the detectives worked sixteen hours on Wednesday and Thursday, but turned up nothing, according to Brown.

According to Brown, deputies had received information in the past about the location which was vague, but two new tips in the past three weeks offered more detail.

Sheriff Steve Mansfield said in a prepared statement his people worked diligently and conducted a thorough search.

“This case has been troubling for our office and we still hope to find Kayla and bring closure to her family and friends,” Mansfield stated.

At a gathering the weekend before last at Penny Playground in Chehalis, family and some friends marked the three year anniversary since Croft-Payne disappeared.

Her aunt has connected with a Vancouver, Wash.-based organization that is investigating women and girls exploited by online modeling sites.

Croft-Payne wanted to be a model, and spoke of getting photographs taken for a portfolio.

Earlier this week, the sheriff’s office outlined the lengths it has gone to pursue that lead, noting they now know it was a different modeling site that Croft-Payne used than the one they checked.

Brown says the case has never been dormant, and detectives continue to follow all leads.

The sheriff’s office asks anyone who knows anything about the case to please call them at 360-748-9286 or contact Crime Stoppers of Lewis County, at 1-800-748-6422.


For background, read “News brief: Model Mayhem website not involved in missing Lewis County girl’s case” from Tuesday May 7, 2013, here


Detectives search a well at a property on Ferrier Road. / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Sheriff’s Office

Centralia murder trial: Miller found guilty in B Street shooting death

Friday, May 10th, 2013

Weston G. Miller hangs his head after hearing a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS –  Murder defendant Weston G. Miller blinked once and finally lowered his head after he was found guilty as charged today in Lewis County Superior Court.

A jury took a little more than three hours today to convict the 30-year-old Centralia resident of first-degree murder in the shooting death last year of a house guest, 43-year-old David Wayne Carson.

He’ll be back in court next Thursday morning when attorneys will set a sentencing date.

In the trial that began on Monday, jurors and spectators heard that Carson died from two gunshots to his chest, that it occurred at a fairly close range and that Miller claimed self defense.

It happened March 13, 2012 inside Miller’s house on B Street.

What they didn’t hear from witnesses or prosecutors was any explanation for why it happened.

Carson’s girlfriend Sara DeSalvo – has described how she and Carson were inside a bedroom that day and Miller kept coming to the door to tell them to stop arguing.

DeSalvo told jurors Miller knocked on the door and asked her boyfriend to come out for a minute, and as soon as the door closed she heard three shots. Miller told police during an interview he opened the door and Carson charged at him with a rusty kitchen knife so he shot him.

DeSalvo and Carson who were off and on homeless were staying with Miller for a few days in exchange for her doing some house cleaning.

The case has dragged on over a year in part because of questions about Miller’s competency and sanity.

One friend of Miller’s was sitting in the benches behind him when the verdict was read this afternoon.

Carson’s brother, two grown children and other family members have attended most of the trial.

DeSalvo, who said Carson proposed to her the night before he was killed, sat behind his family and cried when the verdict was read.

She said she still doesn’t know why Miller shot her boyfriend.

“I have no idea,” she said.


For background, read “Centralia murder trial: In the defendant’s own words” from Friday May 10, 2013 at 10:13 a.m., here