Archive for the ‘Top story of the day’ Category

Stray fireworks mortar lands inside Onalaska woman’s clothing

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Amanda Allen is covered in gauze at Harborview Medical Center’s burn unit on Saturday.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Amanda Allen woke up in her own bed yesterday having a panic attack from a nightmare, slapping at her chest, trying to put the flames out.

The 24-year-old Onalaska woman was scared, but not as frightened as she was on Friday night at the fireworks show near Oakville when an errant mortar struck her in the mouth and shot down inside her zipped up jacket.

It felt like she’d been hit with a baseball, she said.

“Out of nowhere, I get hit in the face,” Allen said. “I see bright lights, I felt like I was on fire; I was on fire.”

Allen recalls trying to rip off her burning coat, and three tribal police appearing, attempting to help remove her flaming clothing.

Much of what followed is a blur, she said.

“I was in shock, I couldn’t believe it happened, she said.


Amanda Allen, undated photo

The Onalaska resident said she was at a friend’s place in Rochester on Friday, and they decided to go watch the Fourth of July show at the Chehalis reservation, something she’d never done before.

They spent time enjoying the concessions with hot dogs and ice cream and watching the numerous fireworks before settling down in the grass near the tribal center for the big event that began after dark.

“There were people all around us, little children, old people,” she said. “There were fountains and ground hogs, and then the people to the right of us were doing bigger ones in the road.”

Her friend Skylar Christoffer said he saw a cake-type device fall over, and it was pointed toward the four of them and the 5-year-old boy sitting next to him, she said.

“He grabbed Ryan and threw him into Travis’s arms,” he said. “Then he was helping me.”

Firefighters were called about 10:45 p.m. to the incident on Neiderman Road, they called for LifeFlight out of Longview and set up a helicopter landing zone, according to Grays Harbor County Fire District 1 Chief Kevin Witt.

It was one of two fireworks-related injuries they responded to there that night, Witt said.

Allen spent the next two days in the burn unit at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, being treated for burns from her neck down almost to her belly button, she said. Her lip was split open.

She’s feeling fortunate she still has her teeth and was so relieved to discover her nipple was not burned off, she said.

“They said they don’t think my lip will scar too badly,” she said. “They’re not sure about my chest, neck, chin and fingers, because scarring can up to a year to heal,” he said.

It hurts pretty bad, she said yesterday.

She’s home and won’t be able to work; she’s a caregiver for her 20-year-old bedridden brother, she said. She expects to spend time resting, watching movies, and trying to heal.

“One thing I’m worried about, I don’t want to look like Freddy Krueger, I don’t want people to stare at me,” Allen said. “I don’t want to be a sideshow.”

She’s grateful to the first responders, who tried to be gentle, but not very happy with whoever was setting off big fireworks so close to a crowd.

“My mom called the tribal police, they said they got so many stories, they don’t know,” Allen said. “I don’t want to sue them, I don’t want to press charges. I just want them to know I’m pretty messed up, physically and mentally.”


The mortar burns extend from Amanda Allen’s lip and neck to almost her belly button.

Two teens drown over the weekend

Monday, July 7th, 2014
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Searchers look in the river where the 17-year-old boy from Port Orchard was last seen. / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Sheriff’s Office

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office says a 17-year-old boy taking photos with friends slipped and fell into the Ohanapecosh River and was swept away.

It happened about 9:30 a.m. on Friday, near the Cedar Grove Campground off state Route 123 just south of the entrance to Mount Rainier National Park, according to the sheriff’s office.

“He was swept down river while his friends chased him along the river bank,” Chief Civil Deputy Stacy Brown stated in a news release. “The friends tried to reach out to him with a stick while he was caught in an eddy but he was unable to reach it and was swept further downstream into a whirlpool near a fast moving chute.”

Searchers with the sheriff’s swift water rescue team and rangers from the national park searched for the boy with no success until about 3 p.m. on Friday and then again on Saturday and yesterday, according to Brown.

He is from Port Orchard.

Cascade Dogs Search and Rescue scoured the banks as well, she said.

The sherif’s office indicates the river levels will be monitored and the area checked in hopes of locating him.

The Ohanapecosh is s cold and fast moving river.

Brown said later in the day, deputies were notified of a presumed drowning of an 18 year old Tacoma man at Alder Lake near the end of Pleasant Valley Road in Mineral.

She said that part of Alder Lake is in Pierce County and the incident was handled by the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office. His body was located yesterday, according to the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office which assisted.

Teen disappears in lake north of Mineral

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Divers were expected back at Alder Lake today to search for  17-year-old boy who slipped below the surface while swimming with friends.

Mineral Fire Chief Kevin Mounce said his department was dispatched on Friday afternoon for a possible drowning at the end of Pleasant Valley Road and when they arrived deputies from Pierce County already had a boat in the water.

Mounce said there were a lot of people in the area as there seemed to be a wedding or two taking place. Deputies from Lewis County and firefighters from Bald Hills responded as well, he said.

It was at an old campground, he said.

“Alder Lake is cold, murky, muddy and not a very good place to swim,” he said.

A deputy told Mounce his crew wasn’t needed, so they left, and he didn’t have further information, Mounce said.

The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office tweeted last night that divers from its office and Pierce County would be returning to the lake today.

Centralia used car business theft defendants get a break

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

Lorrine D. Birdwell prepares to enter a plea to a far lesser crime than originally charged as her husband Keith Birdwell awaits a judge’s decision on holding off on his sentencing for theft.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The deadline for former used car dealer Keith Birdwell came and went yesterday, to pay back a portion of what he allegedly owes a local bank so he could take advantage of a plea deal to avoid a potential lengthy prison term.

But prosecutors allowed a reprieve.

Birdwell, 48, and his wife were charged early last year in Lewis County Superior Court with theft, for allegedly using various deceptions to dodge repaying what they borrowed for the vehicles at Birdwell Auto Sales in Centralia and their lot in Lacey. Both businesses are now closed.

A court hearing was set for 1 p.m. but it wasn’t until 20 minutes later when the proceedings convened.

Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Eric Eisenberg indicated they’d like to postpone sentencing.

Tacoma-based defense attorney Keith McFie told the judge his client was scrambling.

“One of the major sources of funds dropped out,” McFie said.

Eisenberg said he learned that day that getting the money wasn’t working out.

“There was a potential avenue by which he was going to acquire those funds,” Eisenberg said. “That’s changed to a different avenue.”

The criminal case came out of a lengthy investigation by the Centralia Police Department, with losses claimed by Security State Bank of more than $1 million. The amount of restitution is in dispute. The portion which Birdwell must pay before getting sentenced has not been disclosed.

The couple was accompanied by more than a dozen apparent supporters in the Chehalis courtroom.

Toledo resident Renee Buswell called it heartbreaking to watch those she loves lose their business and the home they raised their children in. Keith Birdwell is her husband’s cousin, she said.

“And be forced to plead to a crime they didn’t commit simply because they’ve run out of resources, and they have nothing left to fight the case,” Buswell said.

Keith Birdwell pleaded guilty in May to one count of first-degree theft and three counts of felony unlawful issuance of a bank check.

His wife Lorrine D. Birdwell was originally charged the same as her husband, but as part of his deal, she was offered a chance to plead guilty to attempted second-degree theft, a gross misdemeanor.

“That was our agreement,” Eisenberg told the judge.

Eisenberg said that both Birdwells maintained he was the major player while she was less culpable, mostly signing documents.

Her lawyer Allen M. Ressler said a jury might find she participated, or at least ignored the obvious, so she would be making a so-called Alford plea, not admitting any wrong doing.

“I don’t think we concurred she knowingly committed this,” Ressler said.

Judge James Lawler asked her if she agreed with what her lawyer said.

“Looking at the probable cause statement, do you agree that if that evidence were presented to a jury or a judge, and believed, it is highly likely you would be found guilty?” Lawler asked.

“Yes,” Lorrine D. Birdwell replied.

“And, you’re pleading guilty to take advantage of a plea offer?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.

The offense to which she pleaded guilty has a maximum penalty of 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.

The couple is now scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 6.
For background, read “Birdwell theft case deal includes incarceration plus deadline to pay back funds” from Tuesday May 13, 2014, here

Green Hill School student-inmate flees captivity while in Seattle

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A Green Hill School inmate escaped yesterday while on a field trip for his graduation ceremony in Seattle.

The 18-year-old was one of three students who traveled to the West Seattle campus of South Seattle Community College following the successful completion of a 14-week vocational program, according to a spokesperson from the state Department of Social and Health Services.

Mindy Chambers said it was about 10 a.m., before the event began, and he was on the phone purportedly with his mother, trying to give her directions to get there.

“They were standing outside and a gray Volvo pulled up,” Chambers said. “He got in the backseat, laid down and it sped off.”

Staff called 911 immediately to report the escape, she said.

Green Hill School in Chehalis is a medium and maximum secure facility for older juvenile boys incarcerated for felonies and operated by the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration, under the state Department of Social and Health Services.

Chambers wouldn’t disclose his name, hometown or the crime he was locked up for citing policies for the juvenile institution.

A warrant for his arrest for escape has been issued, she said.

The young man had already received his certificate of completion from the program – called the Job Readiness to Employment Project – and was set to be released from Green Hill sometime between August and November, according to Chambers. The length of time he’d been incarcerated wasn’t immediately available.

The trio were accompanied by two security officers and a program manager.

He was so close to becoming employed, and now things have changed, she said.

“Our next step would have been to place him with an employer,” Chambers said. “Instead he made the decision he did, and now he will be charged as an adult.”

Coroner releases name of police shooting victim

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014
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Detectives from outside police agencies examine items at the scene in the Anchor Bank parking lot on Sunday.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

The 43-year-old Centralia man shot to death by a police officer following a shoplifting incident has been identified as Paul M. Edmundson, an individual who lived at the Pepper Tree Motel and RV Park.

Edmundson died at the scene on Sunday morning, in a bank parking lot just south of the Chevron service station on the corner of South Tower Avenue and East Cherry Street.

Police say he was combative as Officer Ruben Ramirez and his K-9 partner tried to detain him, and he pulled a handgun from his pocket.

Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod reports Edmundson died of massive internal bleeding from a bullet wound to his chest.

It’s the second time this year a Centralia officer has shot and killed someone. In February, an officer fired eight shots at a 48-year-old Westport man staying at the Lakeview Inn after a night time encounter in a nearby residential neighborhood when the man refused to drop a knife.

That use of deadly force was found by the prosecutor to be justified.

The Centralia Police Department this morning revealed Edmundson was wanted in connection with an assault in which he allegedly shoved some type of sharp object though the eyelid of a neighbor during a disagreement on Friday at the Pepper Tree Motel. Responding officers to the 1200 block of Alder Street didn’t know what the object was and still don’t, according to Officer John Panco.

Panco said Edmundson thought his 50-year-old neighbor owed him a favor because he’d bought him some beer a few days earlier, and he wanted him to drive him around town instead of leaving that day.

The victim’s eye was not permanently damaged, according to Panco.

Panco said he didn’t know if Officer Ramirez knew that’s the man he’d come across when responding to the 10 a.m. call on Sunday about a stolen burrito, but just wanted to get the information out there.

“He was the one who took the report of the assault, so whether he recognized him or not, I do not know,” Panco said. “That will come out in the investigation.”

The details of what preceded the Sunday morning shooting in Anchor Bank’s parking lot are limited, as Centralia police arrived as backup after a struggle ensued between Ramirez and Edmundson but officers instead worked to preserve the scene of the shooting and turned the entire case over to a group of detectives from outside police agencies.

Panco said this morning a 44-year-old woman, Michele Milligan, who was present – and said to be screaming at Ramirez as the two men fought – was taken into custody for a warrant.

A gas station clerk from across the street who called 911 said she watched for what seemed like 10 minutes of the officer trying to handcuff the man.

Nicole Escalante described seeing the man on the ground, and repeatedly trying to get up, and Ramirez telling him to stay down and at one point punching him.

Escalante said she stood on the sidewalk in front of her convenience store talking with 911 and saw the man reach for something, and saw Ramirez draw his weapon and fire one shot.

Ramirez, a 15-year veteran of the police department and a member of its SWAT team, was placed on paid leave. Police Chief Bob Berg says the Region Three Critical Incident Investigation Team is expected to complete its work within the next three weeks.

An internal use-of-force review board will convene after that, according to Berg.

For background, read “Stolen burrito leads to fatal shooting in Centralia” from Sunday June 29, 2014, here

Marijuana trade: All eyes will be on Centralia with legal fight in federal court

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

The nearly three dozen page lawsuit filed against the city of Centralia regarding its stance on marijuana businesses talks about many issues, but boils down to one thing: making the city make a decision.

“What we really want is to light a fire under their butts, essentially,” the petitioner’s attorney Elizabeth Hallock said.

Her client, Perry Nelson, would-be proprietor of a retail store RIU420, has been selected by the Washington State Liquor Control Board to receive a license, but he can’t move forward because the city won’t take any applications, Hallock said.

She called Nelson a law abiding citizen caught in the middle of a political game.

A hearing date was set for next month in Lewis County Superior Court, but the city this past week gave notice it would like the case to be heard in federal court.

Nelson’s lawyer’s reaction:

“The federal question has to be decided for the country one way or another,” Hallock said. “What happens in Centralia not only affects the state, now the entire country is watching.”

The lawsuit filed on June 10 is the second in the state regarding local governments and their positions on recreational marijuana businesses. The Wenatchee lawsuit focuses on the federal law issue, Hallock said, and Centralia’s is more about state law.

Centralia’s City Attorney Shannon Murphy-Olson said like every other jurisdiction, Centralia has been studying the issue.

The city put a moratorium in place in November and renewed it in April. The hold on marijuana businesses runs into October, she said.

City planners created a zoning ordinance that was tentatively approved by the city council, which then turned around and re-enacted the moratorium, she said.

“If you look at the votes, the council is split.” Murphy-Olson said. “It’s a very difficult issue.”

Nelson filed the complaint asking a judge for for declaratory, injunctive and mandamus relief regarding what it calls the city’s prohibition.

The court documents say he is a resident of Lewis County, but also give a “Tulalup” address for him. Hallock said she doesn’t know much about her client, but noted he had also put in an application in Everett, so he may have been jurisdiction shopping.

He turned to Hallock, who practices in Clark and Klickitat counties, because he knew she was very dedicated to the issue, she said. She currently running for District Court judge in Klickitat.

She’s already been involved in one marijuana battle in Cowlitz County Superior Court, she said.

Voters passed Initiative 502 in 2012, legalizing possession of small amounts for those 21 and over, and the Washington State Liquor Control Board has been issuing licenses to grow, process and sell.

But her client can’t move forward.

“He has also spent countless hours preparing his operating plans, business plans, employee handbook, filling out applications, and paying licensing fees,” Hallock wrote in the complaint. “Without permission to operate or even do construction on his site from the city, all of his time, money, and efforts will have been and will continue to be wasted.”

The suit claims the city has mis-used moratorium law – a land use decision-making tool –  saying the city’s rolling moratorium is essentially a permanent ban and a pretext for assuaging community opposition.

Nelson argues doing so based on the criminal illegality of marijuana at the federal level is wrong.

“The fear of federal enforcement of federal criminal law against a tightly-controlled, state-regulated recreational marijuana system is unfounded,” Hallock writes.

The lawyer goes into a great amount of detail about how the city’s ban encourages a black market, in contradiction to the Department of Justice directives which prefer a tightly regulated state controlled system.

Finally, she speaks of I-502 as exclusively a matter of state concern.

The state attorney general issued an opinion that local jurisdictions have implied power to zone out marijuana businesses, since that wasn’t addressed in I-502, Hallock said.

But they don’t, she claims.

It’s clear based what’s called a “pregnant silence,” according to Hallock.

“The law did not address the role of cities because it did not intend for cities to be able to ban it,” she said.

Murphy-Olson has filed a notice of appearance on behalf of the city. Olympia attorney Jeffrey Myers has filed a notice of association with the city.

Hallock and attorney Jerrie Paine have filed notices of appearance on behalf of Nelson.

Hallock said she’s charging non-profit rates, because the issue is that important to her.

“They can spend all the tax dollars they want,” Hallock said. “We think the best thing is the city should just adopt the ordinance that allows the state law to proceed.”

The city has not yet filed an answer to the lawsuit, something it had 20 days to do. Instead, on Thursday, it filed the notice the case is removed to U.S. District Court.

Read the initial filing in the lawsuit here

Stolen burrito leads to fatal shooting in Centralia

Sunday, June 29th, 2014
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A 43-year-old Centralia man lays dead in the Anchor Bank parking lot this morning.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A Centralia police officer shot and killed a man suspected of shoplifting a burrito from a gas station this morning as the subject reportedly reached for a handgun as he was being detained.

Police say an officer and his K-9 partner caught up with the suspect in the parking lot across the street and a fight ensued, during which the police dog grabbed the suspect’s arm preventing him from pulling his hand out of his pocket, but then briefly released his hold and the officer saw a firearm.

“The officer then drew his duty weapon and fired at least one round striking the suspect,” Centralia Police Department spokesperson Officer John Panco said.

A clerk at the Chevron service station on the corner of South Tower Avenue and East Cherry Street said she heard one gunshot and peeked outside to see someone laying on the ground outside Anchor Bank.

“The dog was still on him,” Rosie Lopez said.

The call to to the shoplifting incident at the Chevron mini mart came at 9:58 a.m. Firefighters arriving at 10:14 a.m. concluded the patient was deceased; he had a gunshot wound in the center of his chest, according to Riverside Fire Authority.

Across Tower Avenue, a clerk at the Shell station said she had gone out the door when she was told by a customer someone was getting arrested. Nicole Escalante said she watched as the officer struggled to handcuff a man.

“I called 911 cause I thought oh my God, he can’t get this guy under control,” Escalante said. “The guy kept getting back up, the guy was all over the place.”

It seemed like a long 10 minutes, Escalante said.

“He was telling the guy to stop, he kept screaming stop,” she said. “(The officer) reached and pulled his gun and ‘boom’, that was it.”

The dead man is a 43-year-old with a Centralia address, according to police. Escalante said she recognized him as someone who sometimes panhandles outside her store.

The officer, whose name has not been released, has been with the department 15 years.

A group of detectives from outside police agencies arrived to investigate the shooting. Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer and his chief criminal deputy prosecutor joined Police Chief Bob Berg at the scene.

The perimeter of the bank was blocked off with yellow police tape. Yellow markers were set next to items of interest, including on two patrol cars.

A blue tarp portable tent was in place before noon, to conceal the body from passersby.

Panco said the subject was belligerent from the start, when the officer exited his patrol car and that the officer called for backup as they fought.

He described the final moments as the police dog biting onto the man’s arm after the man pulled the handgun from his pocket. Panco said he was told the firearm was multi-colored, as in perhaps black and silver or “blue” and silver.


A team of detectives begins its investigation into an officer involved shooting in Centralia.

Stranger with knife walks into rural Centralia home

Friday, June 27th, 2014

Updated at 7:23 p.m.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A rural Centralia man grabbed his shotgun and pushed an intruder out the door this morning and held him at gunpoint until deputies arrived.

The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office was called about 7:30 a.m. to a home near the far end of Little Hanaford Road, roughly 10 miles east of town. They learned the residents, a man and woman, were sitting in their house when a stranger walked in with a serrated steak knife in his hand, according to Cmdr. Steve Aust.

The 62-year-old man grabbed his gun and shoved the stranger outside, and then pushed him a little farther out, Aust said.

“He held him at gunpoint until our guys arrived; he didn’t offer any resistance at that point,” Aust said.

The only injury was the intruder had to get a couple of stitches in his head because the resident hit him at some point with the butt end of the gun, Aust said.

The man, Sean M. Ferrel, 43, from Bremerton, was taken to Providence Centralia Hospital and then was to be booked into the Lewis County Jail for first-degree burglary, Aust said.

Aust said it’s not clear what he would have been doing in the area, or why he entered someone else’s house.

“The guy’s not local either,” he said. “It sounds like one of these high on drugs (things).”

Aust said that at some point there also may have been a machete involved, but further details weren’t yet available.

Judge: No crime for founder of House of The Rising Son

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Judy Chafin hears a judge proclaim her not guilty in Lewis County Superior Court.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The Chehalis woman accused of wrongly collecting more than $90,000 in benefits – supposedly working while receiving payments for a 2006 on-the-job injury was found not guilty today.

Judy Chafin, 62, wiped tears from her face as the judge announced his decision.

Prosecutors said the operator of controversial halfway houses performed landlord-like services for the newly released prisoners who lived in the various residences, part of her House of the Rising Son organization. Her attorney said the activities didn’t meet the definition of work from the state Department of Labor and Industries which paid out the funds.

Lewis County Superior Court Judge James Lawler said the case came down to whether it was work and if she intended to commit theft.

“The witnesses were all over the board as to what work meant in this case,” Lawler said. “I simply cannot find that has been proven here.”

The trial that began on Monday was decided by the judge; there was no jury.

Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Eric Eisenberg had suggested that a 2010 investigation into her activities that went nowhere and her subsequent expansion of the number of homes indicated she must have known what she was doing was work.

Judge Lawler said defense attorney Sam Groberg’s argument was more reasonable, that Chafin continued what she was doing after L&I had knowledge of the House of the Rising Son.

Chafin’s benefits were stopped and then reinstated, he said.

“To put criminal liability on that once that question has already come up, does not make sense to me,” Lawler said.

Chafin was acquitted of 30 counts of forgery and two counts of first-degree theft; one count of theft was related to Social Security disability payments.

She was visibly relived and thanked the judge.

“I’m not guilty, and I never was,” she said outside the courtroom. “So I’m very happy about the decision that shows God is standing there.”

The Chehalis woman suffered an on-the-job injury in September 2006, while working as a certified nursing assistant at  Tiffin House in Centralia. She founded the organization  between 2006 and 2007.

At its height, there were as many as 10 similar homes.

Chafin began to get a lot of attention from law enforcement and then city and county officials beginning about two years ago when residents on a rural Chehalis road complained they didn’t want multiple felons, especially registered sex offenders, living together under one roof in their neighborhood. Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield vowed to do everything he could to shut her down.

Earlier this year, she said she chose not to fight the various zoning actions and found places for her various tenants to live.

Attorney Groberg said it was a different kind of case, that no one alleged his client didn’t have a real injury, his client didn’t hide what she was doing, and she didn’t earn any money doing it. She lost money, he said.

“Judy’s a good person, trying to do good things,” he said.

He said the case was political in some aspects.

“Not on Eric’s (the deputy prosecuting attorney) part,” he said. “But with Brad Reynolds, the neighbor and another neighbor was Chehalis’ code enforcement officer.”

And he noted the politics in Olympia with a push for L&I to privatize, that the agency is looking harder to find fraud to justify such a change.

“And one example of trying to find fraud, Judy’s an example of that,” he said.

The L&I investigator who handled the case said he couldn’t say who made the initial complaint. It was anonymous, he said.


For background, read:

• “Discord on Nix Road: Newest arrivals unwelcome” from Saturday March 3, 2012, here

• “The backstory: Intelligence gathering, possible fines and code enforcement tools “not normally used” from Sunday March 4, 2012, here

• “The sun sets on House of the Rising Son” from Thursday March 20, 2014, here

Accidental free night out for jail inmate

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Updated at 1:13 p.m.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – An inmate was accidentally released from the Lewis County Jail last night, a 25-year-old man charged just yesterday with harassment, threat to kill.

Joshua E. Blankenship was arrested on Monday afternoon after allegedly pointing an imaginary gun at grocery store employees who detained him for stealing pre-packaged biscuits and gravy in Centralia.

Police said he mimicked shooting sounds at the same time, saying “Pow, pow, pow,” while staff held him down.

Jail Chief Kevin Hanson said he learned of the error this morning.

“We had law enforcement all over searching for him,” Hanson said.

Centralia police located Blankenship and returned him to the Chehalis facility at about noon today.

Blankenship has been described by local police as both a Chehalis resident and a transient.

He was arrested a week ago in Chehalis for allegedly stealing a backpack and attempting to steal a bicycle chained up on a porch. A caller to 911 said he seemed to be speaking in tongues.

On Monday, Centralia officers were called to Fuller’s Shop ‘n Kart on the the 500 block of South Tower Avenue where they were told he was seen walking into the restroom with a food item in his hand, but when he came out he didn’t have it.

He allegedly shoved an employee who tried to block his path and then during an ensuing tussle, the biscuits and gravy fell from his pocket.

Threatening the workers with his pretend gun brought him a charge yesterday in Lewis County Superior Court of harassment. The shove elevated what would have been a shoplifting charge to second-degree robbery.

A judge yesterday afternoon ordered Blankenship held on $10,000 bail.

Hanson said he was let go from the jail yesterday evening because his paperwork wasn’t properly processed.

“My staff read the paperwork wrong and released him,” Hanson said.

Jail staff thought Blankenship could get out on a signature bond, a promise to appear in court, according to Hanson.

Hanson said he didn’t know how dangerous Blankenship is or isn’t, as he hasn’t met him.

Mistakes are bound to happen, with a hugely convoluted paperwork system, Hanson said.

“What I can tell you is nobody’s perfect,” he said. “We process thousands of releases and bookings each year, and it’s not always easy to decipher.”

A Centralia Police Department spokesperson said he didn’t yet know the details, but believed Blankenship was found standing on a street in town and an officer spotted him.

His arraignment is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, when a judge may be asked to consider a lower bail amount, according to defense attorney Bob Schroeter who represented him temporarily at yesterday’s hearing.

Attorney: House of The Rising Son founder innocent of fraud

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Judy Chafin, right, and her lawyer Sam Groberg listen as L&I investigator Russell Gow testifies in Lewis County Superior Court.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The Chehalis woman who operated what became controversial halfway houses in Lewis County for newly released prisoners and homeless persons contends she’s innocent of the latest charges against her, allegedly working at the same time she was collecting payments for an on-the-job injury.

A judge will decide.

Judy Chafin, 62, was in Lewis County Superior Court this morning when a bench trial began that is scheduled for three days.

Chafin is charged with 30 counts of forgery and two counts of first-degree theft, based on benefits received from the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries and Social Security disability.

Defense attorney Sam Groberg said the state agency had already investigated and decided not to pursue charges against his client before a second investigation was conducted, leading to the current case which was filed in September.

“She doesn’t dispute she applied for and received benefits from L&I and Social Security,” Groberg told the judge. “The dispute we have today revolves around whether or not this is work.”

Groberg said Chafin’s activities didn’t amount to work, as defined by the state agency.

His client’s position is that she wasn’t working, never worked and didn’t receive any money, he said.

“Also the fact that she didn’t disclose 100 percent fully, doesn’t rise to theft first,” Groberg said.

Chafin founded she called the House of the Rising Son in Chehalis between 2006 and 2007 and in subsequent years, managed other similar homes around the county, according to authorities. She suffered an on-the-job injury in September 2006, while working as a certified nursing assistant at  Tiffin House in Centralia.

Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Eric Eisenberg said the L&I disability payments she received were called time loss benefits, based on the idea she could not perform any work.

“Ms. Chafin was supposed to report if she worked at all, no matter how little,” Eisenberg told the judge.

Eisenberg said she started as treasurer of the House of The Rising Son but eventually took over the entire organization.

She performed landlord-like services, such as collecting rent, paying utilities and was responsible for evictions, he said.

Charging documents alleged that since 2006, Chafin wrongly received in excess of $90,000 in benefits.

Eisenberg told the judge she also negotiated a contract with two individuals to perform activities similar to those she provided when working at Tiffin House.

Eisenberg said the organization expanded during 2010, 2011 and 2012 to as many as 10 other similar homes.

Lewis County Superior Court Judge James Lawler is hearing the case.

Chafin began to get a lot of attention from law enforcement and then city and county officials beginning about two years ago when residents on a rural Chehalis road complained they didn’t want multiple felons, especially registered sex offenders, living together under one roof in their neighborhood. Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield vowed to do everything he could to shut her down.

Earlier this year, she was sentenced  to 30 days of house arrest, for a prescription drug offense, she said was simply an oversight on her part. Prosecutors had initially charged her also with delivery of drugs and with a forgery, but dropped all but the possession of seven and half pills of morphine charge before her trial began.

At the time, she said she was entirely done with what she called her mission, having chosen not to fight the various zoning actions and finding places for the various tenants to live.

She has described the home owners of the various House of The Rising Son properties as individuals who got tired of renting to drug addicts, and said her number one house rule was no drugs or alcohol.


For background, read:

• “Discord on Nix Road: Newest arrivals unwelcome” from Saturday March 3, 2012, here

• “The backstory: Intelligence gathering, possible fines and code enforcement tools “not normally used” from Sunday March 4, 2012, here

• “The sun sets on House of the Rising Son” from Thursday March 20, 2014, here

Police: Organized crime defendant created “hit list” of key witnesses

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Forrest E. Amos, facing a trial on a third strike offense, appears in court as he is charged with witness intimidation from inside the Lewis County Jail.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – An alleged local drug trafficker who police believe continued his activities from inside prison walls last year now stands accused of a plan to hurt or intimidate witnesses in his upcoming trial, including having someone cut the brakes or plant a bomb in the car of Ryan “No Legs” Shewell.

Shewell, a former Chehalis resident, feared Forrest E. Amos, and moved out of town after agreeing to testify, according to local prosecutors. He lost his lower legs and fingers to a disease he contracted as a child.

Amos, 31, was charged late last year in Lewis County Superior Court with leading organized crime, in connection with sales of Oxycodone before he was sent to prison and while he was there, allegedly, using fabricated telephone numbers and other means to direct and set up deals on the outside. A conviction would be a third strike for the former Chehalis area man.

Lewis County prosecutors yesterday charged Amos with four counts of intimidating a witness.

They claim he managed to smuggle a “hit list” out of the Lewis County Jail where he has been held since December.

His sister Sylvia Pittman, 27, was arrested Tuesday and charged yesterday with the same offenses, as police allege she delivered the list to another so-called supporter-conspirator in the Azteca parking lot in Centralia earlier this year. She told police she was trying to help Amos beat his charges, according to court documents.

The page had four names and addresses on it, according to prosecutors.

Amos is being held on $1 million bail, requested by prosecutors previously because, they said, even behind bars, he wasn’t really controllable.

Yesterday, Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Eric Eisenberg asked a judge to place him in solitary confinement pending his trial.

Judge Nelson Hunt said he couldn’t do that but did order that Amos be prohibited from using a telephone or the jail’s internet-based video visitation. He also ordered that all of Amos’s mail would be searched, except any that specifically has his lawyer’s name and address on it.

According to charging documents, Amos has been using some of the same methods in jail he was using in prison to gather supporters who would in turn help him tamper with witnesses in an attempt to get out of his pending charges.

Law enforcement has been monitoring him, and learned Amos was also using “legal mail” to continue his criminal intentions without detection, according to prosecutors.

Centralia’s Officer Adam Haggerty contacted Lt. James Pea at the jail who assured him it was not possible to use legal mail in that fashion, charging documents state.

“However, it was later discovered that it was in fact happening,” prosecutors write.

The court documents don’t go into any detail about how legal mail is supposed to work at the Lewis County Jail or how its process was corrupted.

Charging documents allege Amos has used supporters in attempts to pressure his former girlfriend, a key witness, Jennifer Lantau not to testify.

The documents describe how a confidential source of Officer Haggerty’s revealed to Haggerty in mid-April information about Amos’s plans.

Haggerty was told, according to charging documents, Amos wanted supporters to drive to Port Orchard to physically harm Shewell, as well as hurt another witness Kari Arndt-McBride.

He allegedly wanted another key witness Katherine Levy Miles verbally intimidated.

Finally on the list, was Heather Caulkins. Amos wanted someone to plant heroin and a gun in her vehicle and then call Crime Stoppers, charging documents allege.

Also charged in the intimidation are “John Does”, as the state believes there are several co-conspirators involved who are as-yet unidentified.

Amos’s alleged drug trafficking organization from inside prison walls came to light a year ago when Centralia police revealed an investigation that spanned four counties and caught up to some 20 individuals including a nurse practitioner; an investigation during which items seized included  approximately 1,650 illegal prescription pills, 156 marijuana plants, five vehicles, $19,000 cash and a house in south Chehalis.

For background, read:

• “Centralia police track illegal Oxycodone trade to prison inmate” from Tuesday June 18, 2013, here

• “Alleged Lewis County Oxycodone dealer charged with organized crime” from Wednesday December 4, 2013, here

Feds, state investigating fatal explosion at Maytown fireworks facility

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

The employee who died after an explosion yesterday at a Maytown fireworks company is identified as 75-year-old Bill Hill, a Thurston County resident.

In a statement issued yesterday, Entertainment Fireworks Inc.’s vice president of operations Ken Julian extended the business’s heartfelt sympathy to family and friends.

He called it a tragic accident affecting a small company that’s like a family.

“When something like this happens, it is devastating,” Julian stated. “We have been in business more than 16 years and nothing like this has ever happened as safety is our number one priority and we pride ourselves on our highly qualified staff.”

Two others, including an owner, were injured. A 25-year-old male employee was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle and a 52-year-old man with a burned hand went to an Olympia hospital.

Early information from the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office was that Hill died enroute to Harborview, but Thurston County Coroner Gary Warnock said today Hill died at the scene – from inhalation of combustible materials –  as he was being prepared for transport.

It happened just before 10 a.m. at the front of an outbuilding on the 13000 block of Reeder Road. A witness said he heard and saw what he estimated were about 15 commercial fireworks explode at about roof level of the buildings.

Julien indicated shells were being prepared for shipping. A fire department spokesperson said she understood workers were inserting what she called electronic matches.

The company produces fireworks shows, and according to its website has 21 explosives storage buildings at the site.

A spokesperson for the state Department of Labor and Industries said the business has not had any safety complaints, incidents or inspections for a number of years and its storage facilities are properly licensed by L&I.

It is the only work-related fatality involving fireworks in the state in decades, L&I spokesperson Elaine Fischer said.

They have begun investigating the incident, but may not be able to finish until after a report is completed by the the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. ATF is the lead investigating agency, Fischer said.

Breaking news: Explosion at Maytown fireworks business injures three

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

Airlift Northwest takes off with a patient headed to Harborview Medical Center. / Courtesy photo by West Thurston Regional Fire Authority

Updated at 1:39 p.m.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Three employees at a fireworks manufacturing company were injured this morning, one fatally, by an explosion and fire in Maytown, according to the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office.

Deputies and firefighters were dispatched just before 10 o’clock to the incident at the 13000 block of Reeder Road; it happened at the front of an outbuilding belonging to the business, sheriff’s Lt. Greg Elwin said.

A witness who was doing work with a friend outside a house across the street said he heard about 15 commercial mortars. It went on for perhaps 20 seconds, 33-year-old Eathon Wesen of Napavine said.

“All the sudden there was like, boom, boom, boom,” Wesen said. “We looked over there, you could see fireworks going off like at ground level; well, about 10 to 12 feet in the air.”

A 74-year-old man was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, but  died enroute, according to the sheriff’s office. Two males were taken to Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia.

One of them, age 25, subsequently was flown to Harborview, according to Elwin. The third victim is a 52-year-old man with a burned hand, he said.

A spokesperson for West Thurston Regional Fire Authority said workers were inserting detonators into firework displays, to be used at a future event.

The fire chief was at a meeting at the station at the intersection of Maytown and Reeder roads, heard explosions and called 911 then responded, Lt. Lanette Dyer said.

Deputies have secured the scene and conducted an initial investigation, and are now waiting for investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm as well as the state Department of Labor and Industries according to Elwin.

Numerous employees are on the scene, he said. The company is Entertainment Fireworks, he said.

Elwin described the injuries as burns and concussion injuries.

Tacoma teen’s body pulled from Chehalis River at state park

Monday, June 16th, 2014

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A Tacoma teen originally from Nigeria experiencing camping for the first time drowned in the Chehalis River over the weekend.

Linsey Mike was 17 years old.

The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office said the young man had only been in Washington for eight months.

Rescuers were called about 3:20 p.m. on Saturday to an area near the falls, by the entrance to Rainbow Falls State Park, approximately12 miles west of Chehalis but didn’t recover his body until yesterday morning.

Mike was camping with a group of friends at the park when they all decided to go swimming in the river, according to responders.

The sheriff’s office said Mike told his friends he was not a good swimmer and one of them told him not to jump in the water, but he did.

“One witness said when he surfaced from the jump, he looked panic stricken and began flailing his arms,” the sheriff’s office stated in a news release. “The witness, a 19 year old female, jumped in to save him but he was flailing his arms so much that she was unable to make contact before he quickly went under water and did not resurface.”

The falls are not tall, but the water is cold and the current is swift.

Members of fire districts in Pe Ell and Dryad-Doty, along with the sheriff’s office swift water rescue team and a diver from Thurston County responded on Saturday afternoon and returned yesterday morning.

His body was found in the same area where he went under, the sheriff’s office said.

It’s the second river drowning in the county in recent weeks and the third drowning locally this spring.

Sheriff Steve Mansfield took the opportunity to issue a statement noting that 90 percent of water-related fatalities could be prevented by wearing life jackets or some type of flotation device, something especially important for those who aren’t good swimmers.

Breaking news: Teen lost in Chehalis River

Saturday, June 14th, 2014


By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Responders are looking for a 17-year-old Tacoma boy in the Chehalis River at Rainbow Falls State Park.

He and his friends had been camping and decided to swim near the falls when he went under, came up flailing and was pulled under again, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

Fire Chief Tim Kinder said he responded with a thermal imaging camera to assist but the current was too swift.

The initial call came about 3:20 p.m.

“My understanding is another teen grabbed a hold of him, but was not able to hold on,” Kinder said.

A diver was on the way to the scene about 6 p.m.

The swift water rescue team from the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office has been searching and are still out there this evening, sheriff’s office Chief Civil Deputy Stacy Brown said at about 8 p.m.

More to come as information becomes available.

Update Sunday June 15, 2014: The young man’s body was recovered this morning in the same area where he went under, a teen originally from Nigeria, only in Washington for eight months on his first-ever camping trip, according to the sheriff’s office.

Lewis County Fire Districts 16 and 11 along with the sheriff’s office swift water rescue team and a diver from Thurston County reconvened this morning after a search last night that went until dark, according to Brown.


CORRECTION: This has been updated to correct an error made in relating a statement made by Chief Kinder.

Centralia heroin death leads to criminal charge for person who allegedly supplied the drug

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Tyson Anderson holds his then-3-year-old daughter Kaylee at an Easter egg hunt a week before he died.


By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The 36-year-old Chehalis man who police believe sold some heroin to last year to a Centralia man who died of a drug overdose that night, was ordered held yesterday on $200,000 bail.

Robert T. Lusk was already in the Lewis County Jail when he was arrested on Monday for controlled substance homicide.

He is blamed for the death on April 22, 2013 of 23-year-old Tyson J. Anderson in Centralia.

Anderson had been staying with his girlfriend at an apartment on the 500 block of Iron Street. Before that, he lived for a short time at a place called the Funny Farm – a sober living home – in south Lewis County, according to Ashlee Harris, the mother of his now 4-year-old daughter.

He was an awesome person, Harris said of the young man she was with from the time they were 16 years old until about a year before he died.

“There’s more to him than just that,” she said of the drug overdose. “That’s not him.

Anderson was the designated barbecuer at family get togethers, he enjoyed bow hunting with his many relatives, and worked as a mechanic, she said.

“People don’t understand that it’s a disease,” Harris said. “I want the fact that he was an amazing father, an amazing son, an amazing friend to define who he was; not the mistakes he made.”

Harris had little to say about his drug use, saying it’s a sensitive topic for Anderson’s family and she didn’t want to add to their grief or upset.

But he had apparently been trying to quit using and he managed to get into Lewis County Drug Court, an alternative for some people arrested for drug crimes.

He was in phase one of the program, so relatively new, according to the program’s manager, Jennifer Soper-Baker.

“Tragic situation,” Soper-Baker said.

When police were called just before 2 o’clock that morning about a possible drug overdose, they found an unconscious male later identified as Anderson. Arriving medics worked on him, but he was pronounced dead a short time later, according to authorities.

Centralia police came to learn that Anderson and his girlfriend Sarah McCutcheon had gone to dinner at Country Cousin, where Anderson had made a brief phone call or sent a text to arrange to buy them some heroin, according to charging documents.

McCutcheon told police after they got home, they each injected some and then went to Wal-Mart, eventually returning home where they injected more, charging documents state.

“McCutcheon stated after she was injected the second time, she passed out,” the documents relate. “And when she awoke, she was laying on top of Anderson who was unresponsive.”

She was confused and nervous, so she called 911 and then cleaned up the apartment by hiding the drugs, she told police.

Anderson’s cause of death is listed as acute opiate (heroin) intoxication, following injection.

Exactly why he died or why it killed him isn’t known, according to the Centralia Police Department.

There’s a variety of reasons it happens, more often than not because an individual is exposed to a more potent dose than they’re accustomed to, detective Sgt. Pat Fitzgerald said.

Perhaps they’ve gotten it from a new supplier who has cut it, diluted it, differently, or less than expected, Fitzgerald said.

“There’s a myriad of reasons,” he said. “In this case, we don’t know.”

Fitzgerald said this is the third or fourth case of controlled substance homicide for the department, indicating it’s a charge some other agencies may or may not pursue as aggressively. For example, he said, the Bellevue Police Department only last year had their first case, even though it’s unlikely that city has never before had a fatal drug overdose.

Controlled substance homicide doesn’t have anything to do with forcibly making another person ingest drug, according to Lewis County Senior Prosecutor Will Halstead.

Prosecutors need only prove the person delivered it, the other person used it and then the other person died from it, Halstead said.

The offense has a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, except for defendants who have certain previous drug convictions, the maximum time is 20 years.

Centralia police measured the distance between the apartment parking lot and a school bus stop as 517 feet, suggesting a possible more lengthy sentence if Lusk is convicted. Lusk was also charged with delivery of a controlled substance.

Centralia police investigated the for many months following Anderson’s death, questioning his girlfriend numerous times.

According to charging documents, they learned a person named Robert had shown up in the apartment’s parking lot in a greenish Ford Explorer after Anderson got a text from the drug dealer that night.

McCutcheon said she saw it from the apartment window and that Robert was known as a white supremacist who her boyfriend had had issues with in the past.

DNA testing on the wrapping from the heroin was matched to Anderson.

Two phone numbers on Anderson’s Blackberry cell phone were found as being used during the timeframe McCutcheon had outlined to police. One of them belonged to one of his longtime friends and the friend was ruled out.

The other remained a mystery until February when police were speaking with a person who knew Lusk on an unrelated matter. Police discovered that back around the time of Anderson’s death, Lusk had been using a phone that matched the mystery number.

Police also found that Lusk owned a blue Ford Explorer and has a tattoo on his inner bicep that reads “WP”, which officers understand to be an abbreviation for “White Power.”

Harris said she knew a detective was working hard on the case, but was surprised to learn an arrest was made. She attended the hearing yesterday afternoon in Lewis County Superior Court with Anderson’s sister.

“We’re thankful, we’re happy, but it’s also opening up a bunch of wounds,” she said.

Lusk has been in the Lewis County Jail for some time, in connection with driving with a suspended license, according to his temporary defense attorney Bob Schroeter. He is wanted in Thurston County, in connection with another instance of the same offense, Schroeter said.

He hasn’t worked and has no income so he qualified for a court-appointed lawyer.

His arraignment is scheduled for tomorrow morning.

Centralia arsonist admits attempted murder of mother, grandfather

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

Jonathan P. Brown heads back down to the jail after pleading guilty to attempted murder.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A 26-year-old Centralia man pleaded guilty this morning to two counts of attempted murder, in connection with setting a fire in his home while his mother and grandfather were sleeping earlier this year.

Jonathan P. Brown admitted to a detective to starting a fire in his bedroom, opening a window to help it “breathe” and then heading down the street planning to ignite more fires until he was caught, according to charging documents. But his lighter broke and police found and detained him that morning.

Today’s action came out of a plea agreement finalized late last week, Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead said. Halstead said the details would come at sentencing, which hasn’t yet been scheduled.

The standard sentencing range for Brown, given his criminal history, is roughly 20 to 32 years.

Brown has spent time in prison before for arson.

In 2009, the then-21-year-old pleaded guilty to a string of six fires and attempted fires in the Centralia area that caused or could have caused damage to buildings including a residence and a garage. He was sentenced to four and half years.

He is represented by defense attorney Don Blair.

The damage on March 23 to the family home on the 3400 block of Prill Road was limited to the bedroom.

Charging documents alleged that he doused his bed and pillows with lamp oil. His 87-year-old grandfather John Germeau and his mother were able to get out, but his mother Deborah Brown suffered burns on her hand or hands smothering burning pillows.

Brown has been held in the Lewis County Jail on $250,000 bail since his arrest. His initial charge was first-degree arson.

Lewis County Superior Court Judge James Lawler this morning accepted Brown’s pleas and modified the conditions of release to a no-bail hold.

No family or friends were present in the courtroom.

Brown is expected back in court on Thursday to set a date for sentencing.

For background, read “Prosecutors: Arsonist planned to continue lighting fires after leaving his burning bedroom” from Monday March 24, 2014, here

Chehalis pair survive wreck with passenger train

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Police and aid respond about 3:45 p.m. to the accident on Summa Street in Centralia. / Courtesy photo by Mary Orlik

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CENTRALIA – Two people escaped with only minor injuries when their small pickup truck collided with an Amtrak train in Centralia this afternoon.

Firefighters and police responding about 3:45 p.m. to the crossing on Summa Street near South Tower Avenue found the vehicle on its driver’s side, having struck the signal pole on the west side of the tracks.

“I’ve heard a lot of wrecks here, but nothing like this,” Centralia resident Ken Peck said.

Peck said he was outside his home a block away talking with a buddy and the sound of the impact was thunderous. He looked over and saw a pickup flipping through the air, he said.

“The train literally lifted it up and it did a twist like that,” Peck said as he described the path of the older Datsun pickup moving his hands over his head in an arc.

Centralia Police Department Officer Patricia Finch said the female driver failed to stop for the crossing arms.

The driver, a 40-year-old Chehalis woman, was headed east across Summa and hit by the southbound train, according to Finch.

“A BNSF train had just passed in the other direction, to my understanding,” Finch said.

The male passenger got himself out, and he along with bystanders helped the woman out of the truck, according to Finch.

“I thought she was dead, her arms were hanging out the window,” Peck said. But she wasn’t.

Peck said they tried to sit the couple down away from the tracks, but the man left.

Police located him a few blocks to the north, and learned he was wanted on two outstanding warrants. The 54-year-old Chehalis man was taken to the hospital by a police officer to be checked out, before he could be booked into jail, according to Finch.

The driver was transported by ambulance to Providence Centralia Hospital as well.

Finch said the 1984 Datsun pickup was totaled, with most of its damage to the front on the driver’s side.

Rail traffic was stopped for at least 45 minutes. BNSF is conducting its own investigation, Finch said.

Peck said it’s a crossing that needs more safety features to prevent drivers who seem to often try to beat the trains.

He got the impression the woman waited for the freight train to pass northbound, but was impatient for the crossing arms to rise, and drove around them.

“Even when she got out of the truck, she was saying, ‘I didn’t see the Amtrak’,” he said.

Datsun pickup is hauled away after it met up with a train in Centralia. / Courtesy photo by Janet Stacy

Prosecutor: Centralia hash oil-making case jeopardized by burglary to impound lot

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Dale R. Brotherton waits to be returned to the jail following his appearance in Lewis County Superior Court this afternoon.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Dale R. Brotherton was free on $10,000 bail as his case related to allegedly producing hash oil in the basement of a Centralia home unfolds, but he was arrested yesterday for allegedly tampering with evidence and prosecutors say the case is compromised.

Centralia police seized the 52-year-old Centralia man’s fifth-wheel trailer in which they thought he may live in as well as a car belonging to Brotherton when they arrested him last week.

It was May 28, the same day the department’s special anti-crime team dismantled what they said was an a potential explosive hash oil making operation in the basement of a rental home 800 block of West Pear Street.

Yesterday, not long after he failed to show up for a meeting at the Centralia Police Department’s impound facility in which Sgt. Jim Shannon was going to assist him in retrieving some belongings, Brotherton allegedly cut a hole in the chain link fence and broke into his recreational vehicle.

“Now we will not be able to establish what may or may not have been in the car, because Mr. Brotherton altered that,” Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Eric Eisenberg said.

Eisenberg asked a judge this afternoon when Brotherton appeared in court to revoke the bail in the original case and set a new, much higher bail amount.

Eisenberg indicated police had a search warrant but had not yet conducted their search.

He spoke of the car, at the bail hearing, but charging documents filed by another deputy prosecutor describe the vehicle entered as the fifth-wheel trailer.

Temporary defense attorney Bob Schroeter told the judge it was quite possible there was confusion about the meeting time and a potential alternative version of events, when he suggested to the judge bail need not be so high.

The impound lot on the  2600 block of Reynolds Avenue is surrounded by an 8-foot high fence with barbed wire.

According to charging documents, just before the 3:30 expected meeting, Sgt. Shannon checked the recreational vehicle which was secured, and then locked the gate behind himself when Brotherton didn’t show up.

Charging documents give the following account: A short time later Shannon got word Brotherton was there, and another officer arriving first observed Brotherton standing inside the doorway to the RV. The other officer also spoke with Zachary Brotherton who was standing next to a truck parked outside the fenced area, who stated, “I can’t believe he did that.”

Shannon found the RV’s lock had been forced open and a wooden panel which covered a void space beneath the refrigerator torn off.

He suspected Brotherton went inside to either find and hide or destroy items stored in the RV.

Brotherton initially denied being inside the facility, but subsequently admitted he entered the fifth-wheel trailer to get some of his property.

Police found a hole cut in the fence which was large enough for someone of Brotherton’s size to get through.

Brotherton’s new charges in Lewis County Superior Court, filed today, are second-degree burglary, third-degree malicious mischief and tampering with evidence.

The first offense has a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. The other offenses are gross misdemeanors, with maximum penalties of up to 364 days in jail, according to Schroeter.

In his other case, he is charged with manufacturing marijuana.

Centralia police said when they searched the house last week which a friend allowed him to use, they found  more than 140 pounds of marijuana trimmings and various items such as glass tubes and large glass surfaces used in the hash oil process. They also found a jar of the suspected substance in the kitchen freezer.

Lewis County Superior Court Judge Nelson Hunt today wasn’t buying Schroeter’s alternative possibilities regarding the visit to the impound facility.

“It looks pretty bad to me,” Hunt said.

Hunt set bail in the first case at $50,000 and in the new case at $20,000.

Brotherton qualifies for a court-appointed lawyer, but is attempting to hire his own. Hunt appointed David Arcuri.

He is scheduled to return to court next Thursday.

For background, read “Centralia police uncover hash oil processing lab in residence near college” from Friday May 30, 2014, here

Centralia man pleads not guilty to dog breeding violation

Saturday, May 31st, 2014

Jimmie R. Jemison, left, is represented temporarily on Friday by defense attorney Bob Schroeter in his dog breeding case.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A plea of not guilty was entered yesterday in the case of the Centralia man who was arrested when authorities came to his property and seized 17 puppies and 21 other dogs they found living in filthy conditions in a motorhome.

Jimmie R. Jemison, 49, was in court yesterday afternoon, charged not with animal cruelty as the sheriff’s office expected back on May 1, but with a violation of state law related to dog breeding. And also with obstructing a law enforcement officer.

Both are gross misdemeanors, with maximum penalties of up to a year in jail.

Jemison also asked the court in writing to make the county return his animals. They are being held at the Lewis County Animal Shelter.

Lewis County District Court Judge Michael Roewe denied the petition, based on numerous issued raised by prosecutors indicating the filing was flawed.

The Centralia man leaned on his walker and asked the judge: “What does that mean, do I lose my dogs?”

Judge Roewe told him he needed to ask his attorney that question.

“Can I ask a question? What happens to my dogs,” Jemison said.

“I don’t have the answer,” Roewe replied.

Jemsion told the judge he plans to hire a lawyer.

Lewis County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Brad Meagher told the judge he’d instructed the shelter to hold onto the animals, because they are evidence.

Jemison clearly distressed, put his face in his hands as he sat on a bench outside the courtroom following the hearing.

“My dogs mean everything,” he said, stifling sobs. “I spent seven years coming up with those colors.”

“I’ve lost my family, all I have are my dogs.”

Jemison lives on a $700 a month disability check, he said, on rural property he shares with his brother on the 1600 block of Little Hanaford Road.

Photographs shared by the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office after the May 1 visit by deputies, code enforcement and humane officers show a 30-foot motorhome and various outbuildings.

Inside the roughly 30-foot long recreational vehicle, the pictures showed numerous portable kennels, some stacked on top of each other; the sheriff’s office said the animals were were sleeping and eating in their own waste.

Thirty-eight dogs were removed from the motorhome. Jemison says he has a new motorhome, but hadn’t yet gotten it set up.

Other animals on the property – such as chickens, a goat and seven dogs – which were living in clean cages and spaces were left behind.

The allegation was he was breeding puppies in unsanitary conditions.

The animal offense he is charged with is not part of the state criminal code, but part of the state code related to dog breeding, and the requirements that if the animals are kept in an enclosure the majority of the day, certain minimum standards of cleanliness, care and protection must be provided. RCW 16.52.310(2)(c)

Jemison said he spends $170 each month for dog food and doesn’t smoke or drink and suffers from social phobia.

His days are spent, he said, sitting outside in his chair watching his dogs play with the goat.

Every six or seven months when he gets a new litter to sell, he can buy a used car, that will hopefully keep running until the next litter, he said.

“I take care of my dogs, and then they take care of me,” he said.

His friend Ken Smith who drove him to the courthouse in Chehalis agreed Jemison is devoted to his animals, and said he lives in a way that maybe not others would live.

“He takes care of his dogs before himself,” Smith said. “It just happens that four or five dogs all had puppies at the same time.”

Jemison said the reason the deputies found the motorhome’s interior in the condition it was in was because he spent nine days holed up inside, fearing they were coming to take his animals.

The sheriff’s office described Jemison as uncooperative on numerous occasions as attempts were made to investigate the situation, which led to the search warrant.

Jemison said when they arrived that afternoon, he opened his door and was zapped with a Taser and while he was laying on the ground in the mud, his boxer dog got wound up with all the commotion and bit him on the leg.

“They treated me like I killed somebody,” he said.

He wasn’t booked into jail, he was taken to the hospital, where he spent almost 25 days being treated for two wounds he fears may cause him to lose his leg.

Jemison said he was released from Harborview Medical Center on Sunday, and has to visit a wound care doctor daily. It’s painful, he said.

“Because I wouldn’t show them my dogs in the barn,” he said. “That’s why they did the search warrant.”


Jemison’s property on Little Hanaford Road, on May 1, 2014 / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Sheriff’s Office


Inside Jemison’s motorhome on Little Hanaford Road, on May 1, 2014 / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Sheriff’s Office


For background, read “RV serving as home, doghouse for nearly 40 canines found near Centralia” from Friday May 2, 2014, here

Breaking news: Tacoma 5-year-old’s body recovered from Cispus River

Friday, May 30th, 2014

Updated at 11:18 p.m.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

The body of the 5-year-old Tacoma boy was retrieved from the Cispus River tonight, four days after he went into the water on his motorcycle.

The child was camping with his family over the weekend about 10 and a half miles south of Randle, along Forest Service Road 120, off Forest Service Road 23.

The sheriff’s office said little Drake J. Ostenson was wearing full riding gear and a helmet, and it appeared he got too close to the river bank and went in while his parents backs were turned on Monday.

The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office said his body was recovered about 8 p.m. by deputies with the swift water rescue team.

The water had dropped enough his body was visible, lodged in the same log jam in the middle of the river where they suspected he was, according to the sheriff’s office.

It was his parents that were out walking the banks of the river who spotted him, Chief Civil Deputy Stacy Brown said.

“They came back before dark to check once again, saw the red and called us,” she said.

The recovery effort took about two hours, according to Brown.

Search and rescue teams looked for Drake all day Tuesday and much of Wednesday before concluding his body may very well have been tangled in a log jam and they would need to wait until the river level dropped to make the recovery.

On Thursday, the sheriff’s office announced they’d formulated a plan to try to get a helicopter to help them take another look from above next week and until then, would check the area frequently and monitor the water gauges.

Today, Sheriff Steve Mansfield said he was concerned when he heard numerous people were planning to search on their own this weekend, and said he’d secured some assistance from outside the county to conduct another search tomorrow.

Members of Lewis County Fire District 14, Packwood Search and Rescue and the Department of Fish and Wildlife all assisted in the recovery, according to Brown.

Centralia police uncover hash oil processing lab in residence near college

Friday, May 30th, 2014

The Centralia Police Department’s special anti-crime team found four plastic bins plus some garbage bags filled with marijuana they say was to be made into hash oil. / Courtesy photo by Centralia Police Department

Updated at 11:03 a.m.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Centralia police dismantled a potentially explosive hash oil making operation in the basement of a rental home across the street from Centralia College.

The setup they found was using butane and situated next to a hot water heater, according to the Centralia Police Department.

Hash oil is a highly concentrated form of marijuana resin.

“During the production process, a highly flammable and explosive vapor is emitted which can explode on contact with an ignition source,” Sgt. Jim Shannon said in a news release.

A 52-year-old Centralia man was charged yesterday in Lewis County Superior Court with manufacturing marijuana. Dale R. Brotherton is being held in the Lewis County Jail on $10,000 bail.

The find came on Wednesday night at a home on the 800 block of West Pear Street.

Shannon said police had been investigating the situation for about a week.

Officers arrested Brotherton earlier in the day in the area, for a traffic violation. He was driving a pickup truck pulling a fifth-wheel trailer near the bus garage and police stopped him for driving without a required ignition interlock device, according to Shannon.

The sergeant said he believes Brotherton lives in the RV.

The resident of the home they searched that night is a friend of Brotherton’s who allowed him to use the space, Shannon said. She was cooperative, he said.

Shannon’s special anti-crime team confiscated more than 140 pounds of marijuana trimmings and various items used in the hash oil process, he said. They also found a jar of the substance in the kitchen freezer, he said.

He estimates the total street value in hash oil from the marijuana recovered by police would be about $156,000. Shannon used a street price of $40 per gram for the product referred to as Honey Oil, Shatter, BHO, Wax and Earwax.

The resulting product is something users would smoke with a vaporizer or e-cigarette or also could be used for so-called edibles, or marijuana-infused food products, according to Shannon.

Marijuana processing is something newly legalized under Initiative 502, with a state-issued license, but not presently allowed within Centralia city limits, Shannon said.

The sergeant said he didn’t know where Brotherton obtained the marijuana and he didn’t know if Brotherton is someone attempting to get involved in the legal market.

The police department seized the 2003 Ford F-350 pickup truck, the 35-foot RV and also a 1998 Toyota Camry belonging to Brotherton.

The investigation is ongoing, he said. Brotherton is scheduled to be back in court on June 5 for his arraignment, or to review if he’s been able to hire a lawyer, according to Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead.

Shannon said the house they searched is the same address where last Friday, a 17-year-old boy was injured when he was pinned briefly between a pickup and a fifth-wheel travel trailer during an attempt with someone else to hitch the two together. He  said he didn’t know if it was Brotherton or Brotherton’s vehicles involved.

He described the hash oil making process they found as several hanging glass tubes filled with compacted marijuana, through which butane would be passed via a small hole in the bottom – sort of like a drip coffee maker.

The resulting substance would lay on a glass surface, in this case a glass door and a very large glass window, he said. The remaining liquid solvent – sometimes paint thinner like Naptha or alcohol, is evaporated off, according to Shannon.

The end product is the remaining resin, a highly concentrated form of THC.

Shannon said some people use waxed paper to keep it in, and some keep it refrigerated to retain its solidity.

And it looks like ear wax, he said.

Sometimes further processing can turn it into even harder, which is then broken up which is why it sometimes is called Shatter.

He noted the final product retains a certain amount of residue from the solvent, and that indoor growers notoriously use fungicides because of humidity and some use pesticides since aphids are a problem.