Archive for the ‘Top story of the day’ Category

News brief: Centralia standoff target’s cause of death concluded to be suicide

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

The suicidal man who was found dead after an hours-long standoff with police in Centralia last month did indeed take his own life, according to the Lewis County Coroner’s Office.

Coroner Warren McLeod said today the results of the toxicology report show 58-year-old William L. Thomas died of an overdose of two prescription medications.

Back on Feb. 9, police went to a house on North Tower Avenue for a suicidal subject who reportedly threatened his wife and sister with a knife. Thomas emerged with a butcher knife and then retreated inside.

For the rest of the afternoon, officers used a loudspeaker and various other means to coax him out. Police launched 11 rounds of a type of pepper spray powder into the home.

Thomas was discovered dead by SWAT team members who finally stormed his house about 5:30 p.m. The main route through town was barricaded off until early that evening.

McLeod said he concluded the death was suicide, because of how much Hydrocodone and Trazadone Thomas ingested.

“These were lethal amounts, way above a therapeutic dose,” McLeod said.

Hydrocodone is a heavy-duty pain narcotic and Trazadone is used as an antidepressant or for anxiety and helps people sleep, according to McLeod.

•••

For background, read “Centralia man dead after allegedly displaying a knife” from Saturday February 9, 2013 at 7:22 p.m., here

 

Montesano courthouse shooting victim tells of looking up at her own gun

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013
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Deputy Polly Davin testifies about the moments on March 9 of last year when she wrestled with a man and was shot.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Deputy Polly Davin told jurors of the moments before and after a man she approached inside the Grays Harbor County Courthouse twisted her duty weapon out of her hand and pointed it at her; she was laying on the floor and he was standing within kicking distance.

“The muzzle of the gun never stopped moving,” Davin said. “From my chest, up to my face.”

“I heard two shots,” she said.

One bullet went through her forearm, the other missed, according to attorneys who addressed a jury of four men and eight women today.

Davin said her assailant then looked around for a few seconds, and walked out the courthouse door.

The case of Steven Daniel Kravetz comes from the day a little more than a year ago that Davin was shot and a judge was stabbed inside the courthouse in Montesano in Grays Harbor County.

Lewis County Superior Court Judge Richard Brosey is presiding, since judges in Grays Harbor recused themselves. A Lewis County jury is hearing the case in Chehalis.

Kravetz, 35, is charged with attempted second-degree murder and first-degree assault.

This afternoon in Lewis County Superior Court, Grays Harbor County Prosecutor H. Steward Menefee in opening statements described how Kravetz had been frustrated, for a long time. He was frustrated with sheriff’s office employees, district court officials, and hospital staff about how he’d been treated.

“Finally he decided he’d had enough,” Menefee said.

Menefee said Kravetz had begun to believe there was a conspiracy, conducted research to identify those involved and finally on March 9 of last year, took a bus from Olympia to the courthouse.

“He decided there must be some documents in the prosecutor’s office to prove the conspiracy,” Menefee said.

Jury selection began this morning; the prosecution began putting on its case late this afternoon.

Centralia defense attorney David Arcuri took only about seven minutes to open, conceding the basic facts about the struggle, the gun and the knife.

Arcuri suggested jurors listen closely to what is presented about what Kravetz was thinking at the time of the incident.

“What the state is not going to be able to prove to you is intent,” Arcuri told jurors.

Jurors heard this afternoon about a court employee spotting a man who seemed to be loitering, seemed to have no official business and appeared as though he didn’t want his face to be seen.

Deputy Davin responded from the sheriff’s office to look for the subject she said was described as dressed professionally in slacks and a blue shirt, and carrying a brief case.

Davin said she entered at the lower level, went upstairs and then had returned to the top of the stairway when she finally saw the subject ahead of her.

She asked what he was up to, asked him for identification, and when she started to put her hand on his elbow, he suddenly turned and attacked her, she said.

The man put his arm around her neck and pulled her close to him, and as she struggled to reach her radio, she put her right arm against her gun, Davin testified.

“I felt him get a sudden surge of energy, is what it felt like to me,” Davin said. “Then he took me to the ground, he threw me to the ground.”

He was on top of her, she was flailing, she said.

Then Grays Harbor Superior Court Judge David L. Edwards appeared, grabbed the man and shoved him away, Menefee had already told jurors.

Davin said as the judge was trying to fight the man off, she saw stabbing motions.

“I was still on he ground, I drew my gun, pointed it in their direction and I said stop,” Davin testified.

The man stopped stabbing the judge, Davin said, but he turned toward her, wrenched the gun from her grip and pointed it.

Her survival instincts took over, and she was kicking at his legs, she said.

“I couldn’t get a good kick in,” Davin said.

Menefee asked her what she was thinking.

“When the shot hit me, I remember it was pretty painful,” she said. “I was immobilized.”

After the gunshots, according to Menefee, the judge believed the deputy was dead and retreated upstairs to hide. Davin said she lay on the floor for awhile, with her Taser, in case the assailant came back.

Davin’s .45 caliber Glock was found when a search was conducted at Kravetz mother’s home in Olympia, according to Menefee. Kravetz had called his mother to come and get him from the courthouse, Menefee said.

Judge Edwards is expected to take the witness stand in the morning.

The trial could last into Tuesday.

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Steven Daniel Kravetz listens to his attorney David Arcuri as the first day of trial comes to a close.

Koralynn Fister: Dead toddler’s mother pleads innocent to putting little one in harm’s way

Friday, March 22nd, 2013
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Becky M. Heupel prepares to leave the courtroom after bail was settled with a $10,000 signature bond today.

Updated at 8:18 p.m.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Almost a year after losing her 2-year-old daughter to torturous sexual abuse of a new live-in boyfriend, Becky M. Heupel today faced a judge, charged with failing to protect the little girl.

Heupel, 31, admitted to police, according to prosecutors, that if she had witnessed injuries on someone else’s child that she saw on her own daughter, she would have called the police.

The Centralia woman pleaded not guilty this afternoon to second-degree criminal mistreatment in Lewis County Superior Court. It’s a class C felony.

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Koralynn Fister

Koralynn Fister died last May 24 of head injuries and drowning; the boyfriend James Reeder said he found her face down in the bathtub when he stepped out to get a towel.

Flanked by two women in the Chehalis courtroom described by Koralynn’s father as Heupel’s advocates, the mother did her best to avoid news cameras, and said very little during the brief hearing.

Heupel, who is partially deaf, used a hearing device provided by courtroom staff.

“I think it’s bogus,” her father Terry Heupel said of the criminal charge. “She ended up with a bad fellow she trusted. She was like a mother hen to those kids.”

Becky Heupel has a 4-year-old daughter who was put into foster care by the state when Koralynn died.

Heupel’s step-mother, sister, grandmother and other apparent supporters were among those who attended the proceedings. David Fister, father of Koralynn, was present as well.

Fister said he preferred not to comment, wishing to stay out of the spotlight.

Koralynn would have turned 3 years old two weeks ago, the toddler’s grandfather said.

“For her birthday, instead of gearing up up for a celebration, we went to the cemetery,” Terry Heupel said. “That was hard.”

Charges were filed two weeks ago, and Heupel was summonsed by mail to appear for today’s hearing.

Prosecutors allege the mother recklessly created an imminent and substantial risk of death or great bodily harm through her inaction.

When interviewed by Centralia police this past January, Heupel confirmed she wanted a relationship with Reeder and ignored warnings from others about the relationship, as well as signs she saw herself, such as controlling behavior and signs of abuse to the child, according to prosecutors.

Her attorney, Paul Strophy, said he was only hired this week and didn’t have enough information yet to make any statements outside the courtroom.

“It’s premature to make any comments on the case,” Strophy said.

Charging documents for Heupel repeat in a fair amount of detail the injuries, new and old, that medical personnel discovered on the little girl’s body. When he charged Reeder last May, Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer called it the the worst case of child abuse and neglect he’d seen in his career.

The charging documents do not specify what signs of abuse prosecutors allege Heupel saw on her daughter.

Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead earlier this month told a judge nobody else really knew what was happening to Koralynn other than Reeder as he had isolated the child; he’d change her diapers and give her baths.

Among the injuries noted were palm-sized pieces of skin missing from her buttocks, consistent with rubbing over time, according to Halstead.

Prosecutors allege that the day before Koralynn died, her aunt noticed an injury on the toddler’s behind and told Heupel she needed to have it looked at.

Charging documents state that Heupel told police she met Reeder online and he moved into the home off  West Oakview Avenue about 10 weeks before Koralynn’s death.

She admitted to police she had issues setting boundaries in relationships, according to charging documents.

About one month before the death, Reeder suggested parenting duties should be divided up, and as a result he spent a significant amount of time alone with the toddler, documents state. When Heupel would leave, he’d insist she take the older daughter, Meyer wrote.

Heupel and her 4-year-old left the house about 12:30 p.m. the day Koralynn died, less than three hours before Reeder carried the naked and unbreathing child to neighbors across the street asking them to call 911.

Meyer contends the mother chose to ignore the risks so her relationship with Reeder could continue.

Meyer requested, and Judge James Lawler agreed, today that Heupel remain out of jail pending trial on a $10,000 signature bond.

The judge also ordered she have no contact with children, except for the two hour once a visit allowed by Child Protective Services with her remaining daughter.

A trial was set for the week of June 10
•••

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

Bookkeeper accused of theft of thousands of dollars from Morton business

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Updated

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A bookkeeper from Raintree Nursery in the Morton area is charged with stealing more than $12,000 from her employer.

Debora S. Barnett, 55, was fired after suspicious transactions on the business credit account were reported to the owners and subsequently to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

Barnett made a first appearance before a judge yesterday in Lewis County Superior Court. She is not in custody. Criminal charges were filed earlier this month.

She is charged with one count of first-degree theft.

The owners of the nursery, Maida Richman and Samuel Benowitz, told a deputy in June 2011 they were contacted by a representative of Merchant Card Services, who said the company was alarmed by unusual activity they found, according to charging documents.

Merchant Card Services is the credit card company Raintree used to make refunds to customers.

Raintree is well-known for its mail order business of fruit trees and other edible vines, bushes and plants. It is located on the 300 block of Butts Road west of Morton.

According to charging documents, the owners were told that 18 times between October 2010 and May 2011, refunds went from Raintree, via Merchant Card Services, to a TwinStar Credit Union account which had never made purchases from the nursery. The TwinStar account belonged to Barnett, according to the documents.

The allegations go on to give the following account: The Merchant Card Services representative said she called the nursery several times about it and spoke with Barnett.

When confronted by her bosses, Barnett said there must be some mistake and vowed to investigate. Prosecutor Eric Eisenberg writes that Barnett was hostile, combative and showed no remorse about the situation.

Benowitz fired her and said if she discovered a mistake, she could come back to work and he would apologize.

When contacted by a deputy, Barnett said she was aware of unusually high amounts of money coming into her account, but did not ask any questions about it; and spent it.

“Barnett had no explanation for why the deposits were made to her account, why she spent it or what she spent it on,” Eisenberg wrote.

The sheriff’s office was notified of the discrepancies in June 2011, the day after Raintree was contacted by its credit card service. Barnett was fired and then interviewed by the sheriff’s office that same month but the results of an examination of a computer didn’t come back to local authorities until this past October, according to Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer.

The Washington State Patrol’s crime lab took 11 months to analyze the computer, Meyer said. Charges were filed on March 5 of this year.

Defense attorney Bob Schroeter told a judge yesterday afternoon that Barnett lives in Morton, where she collects about $1,400 a month of unemployment checks, as well as food stamps.

The charges against her include so-called aggravating circumstances of using a position of trust, involving a high degree of sophistication and displaying an egregious lack of remorse.

Barnett’s arraignment is scheduled for March 28.

Chehalis police point to forged checks in high school senior class fund

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Updated at 11:25 a.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Police have asked prosecutors to charge a 43-year-old Chehalis man with multiple counts of forgery and theft in connection with W.F. West High School’s senior class fund.

Detectives have been investigating a complaint from students’ parents the account had less money in it than they thought there ought to be, according to the Chehalis Police Department.

The fund comes from a tradition of parents collectively starting fundraising during their children’s freshman year to pay for graduation-related activities. The school is not involved in the account.

Detective Sgt. Gary Wilson this morning issued a news release stating police discovered the husband of a woman in charge of the money signed 14 checks from the account totaling $8,200. The wife replaced the money back into the account after she learned of the losses, according to Wilson.

An independent audit will be conducted, according to Wilson.

Wilson states that Robert N. Downs Jr., a Chehalis resident, wrote checks from the account between last June and September in amounts ranging from $275 to $950. He wrote them out to himself and signed his wife’s name, WIlson said.

Police are asking the Lewis County Prosecutors Office to consider 14 counts of forgery and 14 counts of theft, according to Wilson.

Tonya Burk, a Chehalis woman whose son is a senior, said parents were surprised a few months ago to learn there was less than $8,000 saved up, when they thought it would be closer to $16,000.

Burk said she conducted an audit which she turned over to police. She said the account wasn’t set up with a requirement of having two signers for withdrawals, which she called a mistake.

Parents began more aggressively fundraising in January, and now have more than $14,000, according to Burk.

Police said their investigation began Jan. 22. The account was closed and a new account opened, according to Wilson.

•••

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

Breaking news: Centralia jewelry shop burglary interrupted with gunshot

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013
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Courtesy photo by Centralia Police Department

Updated at 3:31 p.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

One shot was fired when a masked man was discovered inside Salewsky’s Jewelry shop in downtown Centralia this morning.

Police are looking for two cars that fled the scene heading north.

Officers called about 7 a.m. don’t know if the intruder was injured, according to the Centralia Police Department.

Police say a relative of the owner was asleep upstairs and confronted a subject who was attempting to steal jewelry from a showcase, ordering the intruder to stop and firing one round.

The intruder escaped by crawling through an opening cut into the wall from an empty neighboring business, according to police.

Two males were seen running from the area, both wearing ski-type masks, according to police.

Salewsky’s is on the 200 block of North Tower Avenue.

It’s not known yet if anything was actually taken from the business, according to Sgt. Stacy Denham. Detectives are at the scene this morning, he said. Inventory is being taken, but it seems as though the burglars had just begun, and dropped some or much of the loot, according to police.

It occurred about 6:30 a.m. The man who lives upstairs and awoke to noises called the owner first, who responded to the shop and then police were notified, according to Denham.

The two males ran to a parking lot east of the store about a block away and got into two cars, each of which had a female driver waiting, according to police.

A passerby smoking a cigarette as he waited for a ride thought it was odd because both were wearing ski masks, according to police.

The cars are described as: possibly a red newer model Mercedes CLK with no front license plate but a rear plate in which some of the figures were something like AK77, according to police.

The other vehicle was possibly a silver newer Toyota Scion FRS, two-door coupe – or a Subaru BRZ – with no license plates visible. Both cars had tinted windows, according to the witness.

Police are asking anyone who sees the vehicles to call 911 and report their location.

Denham said the burglars got into Salewsky’s by somehow entering a vacant adjacent business to the north and breaking through the wall that separates the two businesses. A hole cut in the sheetrock  with unknown tools was just large enough for a small person to crawl through, he said.

The intruder who was confronted was wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt and a dark stocking mask, police said. Police don’t know if the bullet hit him.

The relative who fired the gun was not injured, according to police.

One of the subjects whose face was exposed to the passerby was described by police as a white male who appeared to be 20 to 30 years old.

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Centralia police say the getaway cars looked like these.

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High school senior class fund in Chehalis under scrutiny

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Chehalis police are investigating the possible theft of money from an account meant to cover expenses for the W.F. West High School class of 2013′s all-night party after commencement.

Tonya Burk, a Chehalis woman whose son is a senior, said some of the other parents recently asked her to audit the group’s records.

Burk said parents were surprised a few months ago to learn there was less than $8,000 saved up, when they thought it would be closer to $16,000.

A big red flag was raised when Security State Bank closed the account and contacted one of the parents in January, she said. Police were contacted shortly after that, she said.

Chehalis Police Department detective Sgt. Gary Wilson declined to offer much detail: “It’s an ongoing investigation,” Wilson said this morning.

Chehalis School District Superintendent Ed Rothlin said the school is not involved in the finances; it’s a privately held account that comes from a tradition of parents who collectively begin fundraising during their children’s freshman year to pay for graduation-related activities.

Burk said the efforts for her son’s class began when he was in eighth grade. Some parents paid “dues” each year, and they also held car washes and spaghetti feeds, conducted flower sales, put on haunted houses and did fireworks sales, she said.

She admitted it was somewhat of a loose-knit group, until recently. Since January, parents have pulled together and raised $7,000, she said.

“We don’t have enough totally, but we’re coming close, which is phenomenal,” Burk said.

The money this year is expected to pay for a mother-father barbecue, the baccalaureate gathering and the senior trip.

There are almost 270 seniors this year, according to Burk.

After graduation on June 8, the plan is to put them on charter busses and take them to a place called Bullwinkle’s near Portland, a venue with indoor laser tag, bowling, music and an arcade, she said.

Then they’ll travel to a trampoline park and return in the morning to a breakfast at the school, according to Burk.

“This is supposed to be a fun, safe trip where they can act like kids one last time,” she said.

Burk said the account wasn’t set up with a requirement of having two signers for withdrawals, which she called a mistake.

A one-time local volunteer of the year will be trying to work with school officials to find ways to pass along guidelines to the parents of future graduating classes, in hopes of preventing reoccurrences, she said.

Driver plows into busy Outlet Mall store, three times

Sunday, March 17th, 2013
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“Witnesses said they heard ‘bang, revving, bang, revving, then a crash’.” – Officer Buster. / Courtesy photo by Andy Jacaway

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

An elderly driver accidentally rammed a building three times yesterday before the front end of his Cadillac broke through an exterior wall scattering shoppers at the VF Factory Outlet in Centralia.

Nobody was injured, even though it was a fairly busy day, according to Centralia Police Department Sgt. Carl Buster.

The Longview man, 90, and his wife were still sitting in the vehicle when police arrived, with the nose of the sedan inside the store, according to police.

“It was fortunate, not a single person got hurt,” Buster said.

Police were called about 2:15 p.m. to the 100 block of High Street, just east of Interstate 5.

The couple had finished shopping and were exiting a parking spot in front of the store, Buster said.

Witnesses outside told police the car backed up, struck a vehicle behind it, shoving it into a second vehicle and then the man put his car in drive and went forward, jumping over the curb and hitting the building, according to Buster.

Witnesses said the engine was revved up really high, Buster said.

“One witness said the guy backed up four or five feet and then hits the building a second time,” Buster said. “He backs up for a third time, and this time he goes through the wall like two feet into the store.”

People inside the store were crying, saying they had no idea what was happening, Buster said.

Sarah Cain said it seemed as though an angry customer had decided to ram the building on purpose, and she watched as items tumbled off a nearby shelf.

It sounded like a bomb going off, Cain said. She estimated there were about 50 customers inside.

“By the third time, people were running out of the building screaming,” she said.

The damage to the Cadillac was surprisingly minimal, but it left a hole in the stucco wall about the size of the hood of a car, Buster said.

The car was towed though, because it lost some fluids, he said.

Officers decided not to ticket the man because it was on private property and there was no criminality involved.

“He said, ‘That car is so quiet and sound proof; I couldn’t hear the engine revving’,” Buster said. “He thought he was pushing the brake.”

 

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Damage to the car was minimal. “It would have been a great Cadillac commercial.” – Officer Buster. / Courtesy photo by Megan Wilber

Knapp confesses she stole money from Chehalis museum as its director

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013
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Deborah Knapp leaves the courtroom without comment after pleading guilty to four counts of first-degree theft.

Updated

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Deborah Sue Knapp said very little today when she admitted stealing thousands of dollars from the Lewis County Historical Museum while she worked as its executive director.

Today’s hearing in a Chehalis courtroom was brief.

Knapp, 53, pleaded guilty pursuant to a deal in which she will pay restitution in exchange for a recommendation to the judge she serve 12 months in jail, which she could do on work release if she’s able to find a job.

What her actual sentence will be, will be up to a judge when Knapp returns to Lewis County Superior Court on the afternoon of May 3.

How much she stole and the amount she could be ordered to repay has not yet been agreed upon by attorneys on the two sides.

Knapp was arrested at the end of 2011 after revelations the non-profit’s endowment fund of more than $460,000 was gone and its other accounts were in the red by about $14,000

The four officers on the 13-member museum board were replaced and the new board president said at the time the books hadn’t been in balance since 2008. Knapp was hired as the director in July 2006.

Knapp’s lawyer said it’s hard to assess exactly how much his client is responsible for, but that it is much less than originally alleged.

“She did not steal all of it, or even most of it,” Chehalis attorney Ken Johnson said.

Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead said he believes he could prove it was at least $137,000.

Part of the plea agreement required that Knapp pay $20,000 of the restitution by today, and that was done. The money was a loan from extended family of Knapp’s and was deposited with the county clerk’s office, Johnson said.

Johnson said his client moved to Clark County shortly after the case was filed. She and her husband are living in a mobile home and scraping by, he said.

The hope is she can find employment before her sentencing date, so she can serve her time with the Clark County Jail on work release, according to Johnson.

“She’s doing the best she can, she’s also had health problems,” he said.

Halstead said this is one of those cases in which the defendant needs to go to jail, but his office also wants to help the museum.

“If she goes to prison for a year or two, she’s not going to be making restitution payments,” Halstead said. “And after she got out, she would be paying back $25 a month.”

Prosecutors allege Knapp basically doubled her salary for a period of time, obtaining “draws” that weren’t subsequently accounted for, writing her own payroll draw checks without anyone else’s knowledge and many times listing them in the check register as voided.

Her salary was $43,000 per year. Her responsibilities included overseeing the day-to-day operations of the museum in downtown Chehalis and supervising three part time employees and the volunteers.

She used the museum’s debit card to pay personal expenses, including her power bill on Fineview Road for at least two years, according to prosecutors.

Among the odd debit card purchases were items for her daughter’s wedding and flowers for former prosecutor Michael Golden’s campaign, according to Halstead.

“It’s heart breaking, the breach of trust,” said Julie Zander, a museum board member for one year after the scandal came to light.

Zander, former museum board member Edna Fund and its new board president Peter Lahmann were among almost a dozen spectators who sat behind the prosecutor in the Chehalis courtroom this afternoon.

In the benches on the defense side, were just a small handful of women.

The modified charges state that Knapp wrongfully obtained more than $5,000 in each of four years, ending with 2011.

Judge Nelson Hunt read aloud Knapp’s brief statement admitting to four counts of first-degree theft and asked for her plea on each count.

Four times, Knapp simply answered “guilty”.

Although authorities had said they would continue delving into financial records going back to when Knapp was hired, that wasn’t done, leaving any misappropriations during 2006 and 2007 unknown, according to Halstead.

Lahmann, the apprenticeship coordinator for the Laborers Union, took time off work to be in court. He started in the position of museum board president in January.

“What can I say, it is what it is,” Lahmann said. “There’s no joy here, it’s just the legal system in action.

“Hopefully we can get the museum back on track. We have a good board, good volunteers, a good director. It’s a small organization.”

The museum, which resides in a former rail station on Northwest Front Way, remains open, although it did close its doors for a period in late 2011.

Lahmann said he thinks there are 10 or 12 individuals on the board now, but they are in the midst of rewriting the bylaws.

Marie Panesko, whose husband John Panesko sat as board president during the year following Knapp’s arrest, pointed out the current museum board has both new and old members.

“So there’s continuity, but a lot of new blood,” she said. “That’s important for the community to know.”

While prosecutors initially charged Knapp with 10 counts of first-degree theft and amended down the charges to four counts, the dollar loss they attribute to the former museum chief hasn’t changed.

Halstead still indicates roughly $45,000 in theft through her paychecks and $92,000 from personal use of the organization’s debit card.

His approximations of where the endowment fund went are $137,000 from Knapp’s theft, $150,000 spent to benefit the museum and $100,000 in losses to the account from a downturn in the market and penalties assessed for early withdrawals. The rest is unaccounted for, he said.

The endowment was a fund meant to be left untouched, so it could generate interest which could be spent. In January 2008, it contained $460,516. By Oct. 15, 2010, it had a zero balance.

Defense attorney Johnson said he pored through the records and could only find one withdrawal from the endowment that was properly board-authorized; it was a paving project, he said.

Johnson noted that sometimes with large thefts of money, one sees spending on big trips, new cars and such.

“That’s not what we have here,” he said, indicating Knapp wasn’t all that good with her own finances.

The two attorneys hope to come to a consensus about the amount Knapp should repay the museum by her sentencing date. If they don’t, and it goes to a hearing, the judge has the option of tripling whatever amount is determined, according to Halstead.

What’s problematic, is figuring out the debit card expenditures, according to Johnson, since there were multiple people with access to the museum debit cards.

“It’s hard to believe an organization like this would use debit cards,” he said. “How do you keep track of how much you’re spending?”

Johnson called the museum obviously poorly run and negligent in not following its own rules.

The bylaws said a committee should be organized to manage the endowment, he said. They had no committee, he said. It was supposed to take the authorization of two board members to withdraw funds from it, he said.

Johnson said his client took a certain amount of money that didn’t belong to her, and that’s what the criminal case is about, but the broader lesson is they were all operating with someone else’s money.

“They have a fiduciary responsibility to manage that money,” he said.

They didn’t have a budget, according to Johnson.

“Here’s an organization that had a paid bookkeeper and a paid (board) treasurer,” he said. “And they couldn’t seem to keep track of it.”

Johnson’s assessment is much of the endowment was used to make ends meet for the museum, which was living beyond its means.

Newly elected Lewis County Commissioner Fund is one person who was a museum board member from shortly after Knapp was hired and until this past December.

How the board was in the dark about museum finances is easier to see now, according to Fund.

The board treasurer did give reports to the board, Fund said.

“This is one of the curiosities, and I hate to dredge this up,” she said. “But the treasurer is like 80 or 78 years old.

“She would say, ‘what’s the balance Debbie? And (Debbie) would give it to her.”

Board approval was required for withdrawals from the endowment, but the requests were not made, according to Fund.

“Debbie controlled the information that went to the (board) treasurer, who was also the (museum) bookkeeper,” Fund said. “In hindsight, it was probably not a good idea to have that be the same person.”

Board meetings were held quarterly, and sometimes cancelled by the board officers, she said.

“When this all started, I thought, lessons learned,” Fund said.

Among those lessons, according to Fund, is she should have resigned from the board when she wasn’t able to be an active participant.

Fund said she and board member Dennis Dawes, began to get suspicious, and tried to get the board to agree to obtain the bank records, an idea the majority of the board rejected in October 2011.

Another lesson, according to Fund.

“Do not allow your friendships to affect checks and balances,” she said. “This is probably one of the biggest travesties to many of us; Debbie was our friend.”

Nobody but Knapp has been implicated in the losses, criminally, according to Halstead.

“I haven’t been presented with anything that would indicate anyone else was involved with the missing money, or the taking of funds,” Halstead said.
•••

For background, read:

• “Prosecutor: Former museum director gave herself thousands of dollars in fraudulent payroll draws” from Friday December 30, 2011, here

• “Police asked to investigate finances of Lewis County Historical Museum” from Wednesday November 16  2011, here

2013.0313.lchmuseum

Prosecutors: Centralia father released, mother faces possible charge for alleged bong-smoking baby

Monday, March 11th, 2013
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Rachelle L. Braaten reportedly told police she knew she shouldn’t give her young son a hit of marijuana, but was peer-pressured by a group passing around a bong.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – It was an anonymous cell phone video of a baby supposedly taking a bong hit that drew police to a Centralia home where they arrested the parents on Friday.

Authorities say a number of people can be heard in the background laughing as the toddler 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.

“At this point, the other people in the room begin laughing louder and the child looks at the camera taken aback, and the video ends,” prosecutors write in court documents.

The mother Rachelle L. Braaten, 24, went before a Lewis County Superior Court judge in Chehalis today where prosecutors asked for her to be held for up to 72 hours while they make a charging decision.

Her fiance has been released from the jail and isn’t expected to be charged anytime soon.

Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Shane O’Rourke told the judge there is probable cause for the offense of delivery of a controlled substance by a person over 18 to a person under 18

Braaten, handcuffed and shackled at the waist, was represented by defense attorney Bob Schroeter this afternoon.

He pointed out how interesting it is that the home owner who was accused of a 40-plant marijuana grow is released yet his client is sitting in court.

One hand-held video, Schroeter said.

“Just because someone says it, doesn’t make it so,” Schroeter said.

Braaten is being held in lieu of $20,000 bail. She has no criminal history.

O’Rourke said he expects to decide about charges tomorrow and bring her back into court.

Centralia police on Friday evening announced they’d served a search warrant  and confiscated 40 marijuana plants and firearms from the house on the 1400 block of Delaware Avenue in north Centralia.

Braaten and her boy’s father Tyler J. Lee, 25, were arrested and booked into the Lewis County Jail for manufacture of marijuana. Braaten was additionally booked for delivery of a controlled substance to a minor. Lee was additionally booked for three counts of unlawful possession of a firearm.

On Friday night, a police spokesperson said while there, officers were informed Braaten had been allowing the little one to literally inhale marijuana out of a bong.

However, O’Rourke’s court documents describe the anonymous video received earlier this month by a Centralia police officer as the primary reason for law enforcement’s visit to the home.

According to the documents, the call by officers upon the couple was cordial. Police obtained written consent to look around and were invited in, O’Rourke writes.

The two brothers, one 5 years old and the other, who turned 2 in early January, were taken into the custody of Child Protective Services.

In subsequent interviews, Braaten allegedly admitted it was her in the video and that she and a number of other people were passing around a bong.

She said it happened four or five months ago.

Braaten said she knew she shouldn’t be giving her son a hit off the bong, but the others “peer pressured” her into doing it, according to the documents.

There may very well be no charges of growing marijuana for either of the parents, according to O’Rourke.

It turns out there is evidence Lee is validly prescribed medical marijuana and there is a second person he is validly providing it for, O’Rourke said this afternoon.

The declaration of probable cause describes “approximately” 40 plants. O’Rourke said it’s a close call and he needs to see pictures, as it seems 30 plants for two individuals would be acceptable.

He noted he didn’t see charging Lee with manufacture of marijuana in the foreseeable future.

“It’s just not something I’m comfortable charging today,”O’Rourke said.

Lee won’t be charged with unlawful possession of a firearm either, according to O’Rourke. There were three or four guns in the house, he said.

He does not have a felony background preventing him from owning guns, although he does have a pending municipal court case for fourth-degree assault domestic violence in which a judge ordered him not to possess them, O’Rourke said.

O’Rourke told Judge James Lawler he expects to bring Braaten back to court at 4 p.m. tomorrow.
•••

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

Kirotv.com posted raw video from the Centralia Police Department, here

Dead toddler’s mother to be criminally charged

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The mother of Koralynn Fister was informed yesterday she would be charged with a crime, following the court hearing for her former live-in boyfriend that led to his lengthy prison term in the death of the toddler.

James M. Reeder, 26, went before a Lewis County Superior Court judge yesterday morning where he was given a sentence of at least 37 and a half years and up to life for the rape, assault  and death of 2-year-old Koralynn last May at her Centralia home.

Becky Heupel was warned Reeder was an abuser and chose to put her relationship with him first, Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer said.

Meyer said Heupel wasn’t arrested, but informed she would be summonsed by mail to court to face a charge of second-degree criminal mistreatment. It’s a class C felony.

He, two of his deputy prosecutors and a law enforcement officer met with her after the 10:30 a.m. hearing, he said.

Meyer said the decision to charge Huepel wasn’t made until after Reeder pleaded guilty to the crimes in January.

Prosecutors wanted to make sure she was available as a witness in Reeder’s case, he said. Had she been charged and then called to testify against him, she could have invoked her fifth amendment right not to make statements that might incriminate her, according to Meyer.

The prosecutor said he also understands she is a grieving mother, and wanted to wait until she had a chance to make any statements yesterday at Reeder’s sentencing.

Prosecutors said yesterday Reeder moved into the household about 10 weeks before the child’s death, that the couple had not been together very long.

Meyer said she wasn’t warned Reeder was specifically a child abuser, but that they came to their conclusions after looking at all the evidence and talking with people.

“We believe she knew of the risk and chose to ignore it,” Meyer said this morning. “And obviously her inaction had tragic consequences.”

At the time of Koralynn’s highly publicized death, the state Department of Social and Health Services Children’s Administration issued a statement saying they had no record of history involving the child, nor any previous allegations of abuse or neglect against the mother, Heupel or her boyfriend.

However, Heupel’s 4-year-old daughter was taken out of the home as a protective measure, police said at the time.

Meyer said he doesn’t believe the Heupel has gotten the child back.

Koralynn’s father, David Fister, has described Heupel as always a loving mom, who would jump through hoops to do anything for her girls and never laid a finger on them.

•••
For background, read “Centralia man gets maximum prison term for sexual abuse, death of toddler” from Wednesday March 6, 2013 at 12:10 p.m., here

•••
Kirotv.com posted raw video of a jail interview with James Reeder. Watch it here

Centralia man gets maximum prison term for sexual abuse, death of toddler

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013
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James Maurice Reeder enters a packed Chehalis courtroom to be sentenced for the death of 2-year-old Koralynn Fister.

Updated at 1:56 p.m. and 4:22 p.m.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – James M. Reeder was given 37 and a half years to life in prison this morning for the rape and death of his girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter last year at her Centralia home.

The 26-year-old Centralia resident made no statements to the judge before the sentence was handed down.

Lewis County Superior Court Judge James Lawler gave Reeder the maximum allowed, given the the charges Reeder was convicted of pursuant to a plea agreement. While Reeder had pleaded guilty, he did so without admitting any wrongdoing.

The judge said he would have given more time if he could.

“I didn’t hear, but I can imagine, her screams and her cries as she was tortured by you,” Lawler said. “I wish I wasn’t limited by the statute, I wish I wasn’t limited by these charges.”

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Koralynn Fister

Reeder kept his head turned downward and his slightly hunched back to the benches filled with family members, police detectives and others.

Koralynn Fister died last May in Centralia. Reeder claimed he stepped away to get a towel while giving her a bath and returned to find her face down in the tub.

The little girl died from drowning and four severe blows to her head, prosecutors said today. Authorities arrested Reeder that night after evidence of sexual assault was discovered.

Defense attorney David Arcuri noted that advocacy was of very little value at this stage, but asked for “tempered justice” and a sentence with a minimum of 28 years.

He noted the plea deal included trade offs, with a benefit to the state in that it avoided a protracted trial and the secondary impacts upon responders who dealt with the little girl.

Koralynn’s mother Becky Heupel sat next to her daughter’s father in the front row behind prosecutors.

In a statement read to the court for her, Heupel spoke of how she felt betrayed by her then live-in boyfriend pretending to help her with her child.

“You made me doubt my own sanity by your evil act,” Heupel wrote. “I pray that God gives you whatever he feels you deserve.”

Another victim’s advocate read a statement from Koralynn’s father, David Fister.

Fister said nothing short of life in prison would suffice, calling Reeder a coward who preyed upon the weak.

“Koralynn meant everything to me and my family,” the advocate read.

The case began on the afternoon of May 24 when Reeder carried the naked and unbreathing child to neighbors across the street from her house off of West Oakview Avenue asking them to call 911 while he attempted CPR.

The mother and her 4-year-old daughter had left the home about three hours earlier.

Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead told the court today the toddler’s body temperature was roughly 85 degrees, that she was dead. Information from the investigation would lead a reasonable person to believe an extended period of time had passed, Halstead said.

Evidence indicated she was penetrated by some object both in front and behind that day and another time previously, according to Halstead.

Her rectum was ruptured and her body had injuries such as bruises including on her hands, missing toenails and her bottom was basically raw down to the muscle, consistent with rubbing over time, he said.

Reeder had explanations such as the dog jumping on her toes, the child running around barefoot and also said that she would slide down the gate to her bedroom, Halstead said.

The defendant had moved into the household about 10 weeks earlier and soon began isolating the toddler; suggesting he would take care of the 2-year-old and the mother could take care of her older daughter, Halstead told the judge.

“He’d change her diapers and give her baths, so nobody else really knew what was happening to Koralynn during this time frame,” he said.

Reeder pleaded guilty in January, after a deal was struck, to homicide by abuse, second-degree assault, two counts of first-degree rape of a child and possession of methamphetamine. He made a so-called Alford plea in which he acknowledged a jury hearing the evidence would likely convict him, but admitted no guilt.

The unemployed former floor installer subsequently attempted to withdraw his plea, but the judge denied his request.

Prosecutors today recommended the high end of the standard sentencing range for each of the offenses, to run concurrently.

Halstead asked for, and the judge agreed to, 450 months which is 37 and a half years, for the homicide by abuse.

The sentence for the rape conviction is for an indeterminate length of time with a maximum of life. A board, like the former parole board, will be responsible for deciding when and if he gets released after he’s served the minimum number of years.

Homicide by abuse is described by prosecutors as repeated assaults or torture that ends in the death of a child. It has the same maximum penalty, life in prison, and the same standard sentencing range as first-degree murder, according to Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer.

Halstead noted Reeder didn’t cooperate with the pre-sentencing review conducted by the state Department of Corrections.

Reeder has no felony criminal history.

Judge Lawler noted, but didn’t read aloud, letters from Reeder’s sister, mother and grandmother, saying he accepts the person sitting before him is not the person they know.

Lawler told Reeder, after reciting graphic excerpts from charging documents, he should be thankful for the deal his attorney managed to get him, with the dismissal of so-called aggravators such as the victim being especially vulnerable.

Lawler said he agreed a jury would have likely found him guilty.

“Had those aggravating factors been found, I would have imposed a sentence that would have been probably 100 years,” he said.

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Family and others listen as James Reeder is sentenced for child rape, homicide by abuse, assault and possession of methamphetamine.

•••

For background, see selected previous news stories:

• “Update: Centralia police investigating death of toddler, arrest one” from Thursday May 24, 2012, here

• “Centralia toddler death: Sibling taken into protective custody” from Friday May 25, 2012, here

• “Breaking news: Mother’s boyfriend held for investigation of rape, murder of Centralia child” from Friday May 25, 2012, here

• “Mother’s boyfriend now faces drug, rape and homicide charges in death of toddler” from Tuesday May 29, 2012, here

• “Father of Centralia toddler who died speaks out” from Saturday June 2, 2012, here

• “Mental evaluation: Suspect in death, rape of Centralia toddler found competent for trial” from Tuesday July 10, 2012, here

• “Koralynn Fister: Attorneys to argue over evidence prior to homicide by abuse trial” from Thursday December 13, 2012, here

• “Defendant in Koralynn Fister death pleads guilty” from Wednesday January 9, 2013, here

 

Breaking news: Gunshot injury in south Lewis County

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Updated at 1:19 p.m.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A 53-year-old man is being airlifted after a gunshot accident during target practice with his 12-year-old son near Vader.

Deputies were called shortly after 12:30 p.m. to the 200 block of Telegraph Road.

“They had some sort of problem with the gun and were trying to fix it when the man was shot in the hand,” Cmdr. Steve Aust said. “It was a ‘through and through’.”

The boy was standing nearby when it happened and got some scrapes, possibly from getting hit with bone fragments from his father, Aust said.

Aust said the hand injury itself is not life threatening, but there were concerns about the amount of blood loss.

Just two days ago, a 40-year-old man accidentally fired a 9 mm bullet through his hand and into his wife’s thigh outside a shopping center in Chehalis.

Police said the Rochester resident had just purchased a new holster and was putting his gun inside it in the parking lot at Sunbird Shopping Center.

No trial for Chehalis bar fight that included knife, brass knuckles, two women

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013
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Lena A. Castillo pleads guilty to a lesser charge today in connection with stabbing another woman outside a Chehalis bar.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The 24-year-old Centralia woman who pulled out a knife after she was assaulted by another bar patron last month accepted a plea deal in which she will spend six months in jail.

Lena A. Castillo was charged with first-degree assault after the January 12 fight outside Garbe’s in Chehalis; the 22-year-old victim was treated for six stab wounds.

But today in Lewis County Superior Court, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead said second-degree assault was the more appropriate charge.

“Had this gone to trial, she would have had a self defense claim,” Halstead told the judge.

Halstead said surveillance video shows Ashley Stewart was the primary aggressor, that she approached Castillo, she struck Castillo twice and then they “basically grabbed each other by the hair.” The fight didn’t last very long, Halstead said.

Stewart admitted she picked up a pair of brass knuckles she found sitting on a table and then used them in the short brawl, according to Halstead.

The end of the video showed the victim on the ground, on her back with Castillo on top of her continuing to stab her, he said.

“We all know you can’t bring a gun or a knife to a fist fight,” Halstead said.

Defense attorney Michael Underwood called it a “sucker punch” and said it galled him Stewart could claim to be the victim.

His client just reacted, Underwood said. Her head was pulled down and she was hit from behind, he said.

However, had she gone to trial and lost, she faced as long as 10 years in prison, he said.

“I think, from her perspective, she’d say I’d like to go to trial, but you’ve got a 2-year-old child and a 4-year-old child who would teenagers when she got out,” Underwood said.

Castillo pleaded guilty this afternoon to second-degree assault. She chose not to address the court when the judge inquired.

She didn’t know brass knuckles were used, according to her lawyer. Halstead said she suffered a scratch to the back of her neck, although police previously said she suffered some bruising on her head.

Brass knuckles are illegal to possess. The knife was described as a small lighter-knife combination with a double-edged blade.

Stewart was treated for four stab wounds to her stomach and one to each leg and was expected to make a full recovery.

Stewart told police she’d been jumped previously by Castillo and other women; the disagreement was related to a male they both previously had a relationship with, according to Halstead.

Because Castillo has no prior felonies, the standard sentence under state law has to be between three and nine months.

Both attorneys asked Judge James Lawler to give her six months.

“It’s one thing to react to getting punched,” Lawler said. “It’s another to pull a knife out and start sticking somebody.”

And then he agreed to sentence Castillo to six months in jail, with credit for 46 days already served.

Lawler ordered her to pay about $2,400 in fees, get one year of so-called community custody upon her release and have no contact with Stewart for 10 years.
•••

For background, read:

• “Centralia woman charged in bar fight stabbing” from Monday January 14, 2013 at 9:47 p.m., here