Archive for the ‘Top story of the day’ Category

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

Friday, May 10th, 2013

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


By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

Friday, May 10th, 2013

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

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have no idea,” she said.


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

Centralia murder trial: In the defendant’s own words

Friday, May 10th, 2013

Weston G. Miller consults with his lawyer, J.P. Enbody during a recess in Lewis County Superior Court.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS –  Jurors yesterday heard Weston G. Miller describe the events inside his Centralia home that led him to pull a 9 mm handgun out of his sweatpants pocket and fire multiple shots at a houseguest.

Miller, 30, is charged with first-degree murder for the March 13, 2012 death of 43-year-old David Wayne Carson.

The trial in Lewis County Superior Court which began on Monday is expected to wrap up today.

The only other person who was in the house on B Street – Carson’s girlfriend Sara DeSalvo – has described how she and Carson were inside a bedroom that day and Miller kept coming to the door to tell them to stop arguing.

The former welder did not take the witness stand, but portions of a two-hour taped interview with police were presented to the jury yesterday.

The fragmented interview suggested Miller was rescuing DeSalvo from getting beaten.

Miller indicated he invited DeSalvo to stay in his home and didn’t know she was bringing a boyfriend with her.

Under questioning by two Centralia police officers, Miller spoke of DeSalvo telling him of the things Carson had done to her and that Carson was the kind of guy who would cut someone’s throat.

He said he heard yelling like DeSalvo was getting “choked out”, went to the bedroom and found Carson with his hands all over her.

“I said wait a minute, this is my house, my kid’s room, this is not happening here,” Miller said.

Lewis County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Brad Meagher has described for jurors that three times Miller came to the bedroom door to confront the couple.

Miller, in his interview with police, said he would then stand outside the door listening to the couple.

At one point, he went to the back of the house to get his gun, he said.

In a portion of the sometimes fuzzy audio, it sounds like Miller told police he heard DeSalvo saying why don’t you just go kill him now and Carson saying shut up, shut up.

Miller described Carson whispering in a deep voice.

The final time was when he fired his gun.

“I opened the door and he was like right there, he came right at me,” Miller said.

With what? he was asked.

“Like a “freaking rusty kitchen knife,” was his reply.

Closing statements will be heard this morning in the Chehalis courtroom.

For background, read “Centralia murder trial: Self defense or premeditated?” from Thursday May 9, 2013, here

Centralia murder trial: Self defense or premeditated?

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

Weston G. Miller stands next to his attorney in Lewis County Superior Court.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The murder trial of Weston G. Miller continues this morning in a Chehalis courtroom, with a videotape of Miller’s interview with police expected.

Miller, 30, is charged in the March 2012 shooting death of 43-year-old David Wayne Carson who had been staying at his house on B Street in Centralia.

Centralia defense attorney J.P. Enbody has told jurors there’s no doubt his client shot Carson, but contends it was because Carson came at Miller with a knife.

Only one other person was present, Carson’s 46-year-old girlfriend Sara DeSalvo who spent more than two hours on the witness stand, and was repeatedly asked by the judge to focus.

“Again, listen to the question and answer the question that’s asked,” Lewis County Superior Court Judge Richard Brosey said numerous times.

DeSalvo, at times distraught and at times seemingly irritated by questioning, apologized, saying she knows she talks fast.

Yesterday, jurors heard the pathologist who conducted the autopsy describe a grazing bullet wound on Carson’s left forearm as a probable defensive wound.

Miller was charged last year with first-degree murder in the death. Prosecutors have not offered a motive, but the case got off to a slow start because of questions whether Miller was competent to stand trial.

Police called the afternoon of March 13 to Miller’s house on B Street found Carson dead inside with two bullet wounds in his chest and chased down Miller who had left in a pickup truck. Officers were told Carson and DeSalvo had been arguing and Miller told them to stop.

Jurors have heard that Carson and DeSalvo were off and on homeless after Carson lost his job. After they were kicked out of one Centralia home, DeSalvo asked Miller if they could stay a short time, in exchange for her doing some much needed major house cleaning.

DeSalvo, on Tuesday afternoon and yesterday morning told the court about the week prior and the day of the shooting.

She described Carson, the love of her life, as amiable.

“He never had any disagreements with anybody, he was very soft-spoken and quiet,” DeSalvo said.

She spoke of Miller wanting to be friends with Carson and hanging out smoking pot together.

Under questioning, it became apparent Miller grew weary of his house guest’s arguing.

On the last day, Carson and DeSalvo were in the bedroom and Miller repeatedly knocked on the door and told them to stop fighting.

Weston was being a jerk for no reason, she said.

He knocked on the door one last time, according to DeSalvo.

“He said, ‘hey man, can I talk to you for a minute’,” DeSalvo testified.

Carson kissed her, handed her his pot pipe and opened the bedroom door, she testified.

“As soon as it closed, as soon as I heard it click, I heard pop, pop, pop,” DeSalvo said.

Lewis County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Brad Meagher has told jurors no knife was found in Carson’s hand. Enbody has pointed out three knives found in the guest bedroom where Carson stumbled onto his back and lay dead.

Today, jurors are expected to hear testimony from neighbors who rushed in to the house to see if they could help Carson.


For background, read “B Street homicide: Defendant says self defense” from Wednesday March 14, 2012, here


Sara DeSalvo sobs on the witness stand.

Second area wildfire breaks out overnight

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

Courtesy photo by West Thurston Regional Fire Authority

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Air support is on the scene for a 40-acre fire that ignited overnight in the Capitol Forest overnight.

Firefighters from the Rochester and Littlerock area responded about 12:30 a.m. after a 911 caller reported a large fire at Capitol Peak, according to West Thurston Regional Fire Authority.

The blaze is described as approximately eight miles northwest of Littlerock and three miles south of the C Line. The fire chief is asking the public to stay out of the area.

Steep terrain and steady wind with gusts has made it difficult to fight, according to Lt. Lanette Dyer.

Crews from the McLane-Black Lake fire district are on the scene as well as the state department of Natural Resources.

DNR spokesperson  Karen Ripley said smoke is already visible from Olympia.

“There’s an off-road and ATV festival going on this weekend in the forest and there will be unexpected trail closures,” Ripley said.

Ripley said the cause is under investigation. Lt. Dyer called if suspicious, in part because it’s not yet very dry out, she said.

It’s burning on DNR trust land in logging slash and a 20-year-old old plantation, Ripley said.

In Lewis County at the Dog Mountain Fire near Glenoma, Ripley said there is little change this morning from last night.

As many as 50 firefighters were there last evening on property owned by Port Blakely. It too is burning in steep terrain and was described as spotty fires inside a 100-acre perimeter.

Engines patrolled the area overnight and a strong effort will be made today to extinguish the fire, according to Ripley.

For background, read “Breaking news: Large brush fire burning south of Glenoma” from Saturday May 4, 2013, here

Breaking news: Large brush fire burning south of Glenoma

Saturday, May 4th, 2013

Looking toward Dog Mountain from Falls Road. / Courtesy photo by Miriam DeShasier

Updated at 7:09 p.m. and 8:33 p.m.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A large wind-fueled wildfire that started east of Morton this afternoon has spread and is still growing.

Seven fire departments plus firefighters from the state department of Natural Resources are on the scene on Dog Mountain, at the east end of Riffe Lake.

Various reports have suggested the blaze is as large as 200 to 700 acres, but a spokesperson from DNR said the fire was within a 100-acre perimeter but very patchy and spotty.

Only about 10 acres is actually fire, Karen Ripley of DNR said after speaking with the incident commander about 7 p.m.

“There’s a lot of fuel in the area, but not a lot of it has dried out” Ripley said.

Ripley said the Dog Mountain Fire on land owned by Port Blakely is in an area both recently logged and with 8-year-old trees.

Lt. Laura Hanson from Lewis County Fire District 5 said the initial call came in at 1:22 p.m. More than 50 firefighters are working the fire, according to Hanson.

The Taidnapam Park area has been evacuated, but no structures are threatened, according to Hanson.

The incident commander told Ripley the wind is beginning to die down. She said crews would likely be out there for a couple of days.

Dog Mountain, just south of Glenoma,  is known as a favorite spot for hang gliders.

Miriam DeShasier, who lives in Glenoma, took a drive down Falls Road this afternoon and said it appears the east side of Dog Mountain was burning.

“A lot of the smoke is gone from the area now,” DeShasier said this evening.


Judge sends former Lewis County museum director to prison, criticizes disengaged board

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

Deborah Sue Knapp sits with her defense attorney Ken Johnson as she is sentenced for theft.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Judge Richard Brosey blasted board members of the Lewis County Historical Museum today when he sentenced its now-former executive director for stealing possibly more than $200,000 during her time at the helm.

The theft was brought to light after revelations the non-profit’s endowment fund of more than $460,000 was gone.

Both the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney in the case deny Deborah Sue Knapp took all of it, Brosey said. Both say the museum simply lived beyond its means.

“The endowment apparently was used as a piggy bank,” Brosey said.

Being on a board is not just a ceremonial job where members can attend meetings once in awhile and nod in agreement, it comes with responsibilities, Brosey told a nearly packed courtroom this afternoon.

“I’m going to impose punishment to Mrs. Knapp for what she did,” Brosey said. “But the board of directors has to take an active role. You can’t just sit there and do nothing.”

The Lewis County Superior Court judge said he was personally offended that the heritage of Lewis County was abused, noting how difficult it is to build endowment funds, and how this scandal will make it even harder.

The endowment was in an account meant to be left untouched, so it could generate interest which could be used for operating costs.

“It’s egregious its depleted,” Brosey said.

Knapp was arrested at the end of 2011, five and a half years after she was hired to run the institution that inhabits a former rail station on Northwest Front Way in Chehalis.

After months of trial preparations and negotiations, the now-53-year-old agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a sentencing recommendation. The hope was she could do about 12 months of jail time on work release, if she could find a job.

That didn’t work out.

Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead and defense attorney Ken Johnson’s back up plan was to ask the judge to give her one year plus one day, so she could serve her time in state prison instead of in a county jail.

State prison was at Knapp’s request, in part because it’s better equipped to deal with her ill health, according to her attorney.

The top of the legislatively mandated standard range for the crimes to which she pleaded guilty is 14 months.

Judge Brosey today imposed 14 months and ordered her immediately into custody.

Knapp was taken away in handcuffs, although she had hoped not to check into the jail until the evening before transport to prison, because of issues regarding bringing her heart medication into the jail.

Prosecutors alleged Knapp basically doubled her salary for a period of time, by 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. She used the museum’s debit card to pay personal expenses, in an amount the two sides don’t agree upon.

Halstead had told the court he believed he could prove she took in excess of $124,000 and said it appeared she took more than $200,000, but that wasn’t provable.

“Reports that over $400,000 was taken by Mrs. Knapp, that’s just not true” Halstead told the court.

He said he knew the deal would make outsiders on both sides unhappy, but he wanted both for her to do time and be able to pay restitution.

Knapp’s attorney told the court his client has already paid $20,000 in restitution, money she borrowed from a relative.

“Mrs. Knapp is ashamed and embarrassed to be in this position,” Johnson said. “She would like to apologize to the entire community.”

He took a moment as well to share his view of the museum’s books, noting it operated without a budget or accountability.

“The endowment was used routinely to balance things out, they were living beyond their means,” Johnson said. “Anyone who’s attempted to blame Mrs. Knapp for that in total is simply mistaken.”

The final deal saw Knapp pleading guilty to five counts of first-degree theft.

Knapp herself addressed the judge only briefly. She said she appreciated the judge’s consideration and she was sorry.

Edward Fund spoke to the court as a member of the museum who has been involved in fundraising over the years.

“I just want people to actually learn from this,” he said.

His wife, former museum board member and newly elected Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund, focused on the betrayal, sharing examples of how she felt Knapp manipulated her and others.

“I didn’t know she would go from a very good friend to someone who would exhaust the museum fund,” Fund said.

The museum’s current board of directors is said to contain both old and new members.

For background, read:

• “Knapp confesses she stole money from Chehalis museum as its director” from Wednesday March 13, 2013, here

Arson: String of Centralia fires under investigation

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

Response at Centerville Western Store on Lum Road / Courtesy photo by Riverside Fire Authority

Updated at 6:12 p.m.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Three fires broke out within less than an hour overnight in Centralia, causing damage at two church buildings and a third at the Outlet Mall.

They are under investigation.

It began about 3:20 a.m. when a female showed up at the front door of the downtown fire station and said she thought there was a fire next to the Centralia Church of the Nazarene on the 1200 block of West First Street, according to Riverside Fire Authority Capt. Tim Adolphsen.

At 3:35 a.m. crews were called to the Centerville store off Lum Road, he said.

And just after 4 a.m., they were notified of another at a church on the 2500 block of Seward Avenue, he said.

Nobody was injured, he said.

Investigators have concluded already the last fire, at Calvary Chapel in north Centralia, was from an electrical issue, but the other two are arson, Chief Jim Walkowski said.

Fire investigators and police going to have a busy day, he said.

“We’re trying to find people who may have wanted to do harm to these buildings,” Walkowski said.

The most seriously damaged was the house just west of the Nazarene Church, which is used for youth activities, according to firefighters. The bulk of the fire was in its garage area however, Walkowski said.

He estimated the loss to as much as $50,000.

“That has been deemed a set fire, that’s an arson,” Walkowski said. “From where it started and the burn patterns, it was definitely a set fire, not an accident.”

The chief said he was just arriving at the scene when they were informed of an alarm activation at Centerville, the western store at the north end of the Centralia Outlets, so he headed that way instead.

Flames there originated in a hot water tank enclosure attached to the east end of the structure, he said.

“We were able to get inside quick enough so they will be open for business today,” Walkowski said.

The chief is asking residents who may have surveillance cameras to take a look at their footage to see if they show any vehicles or even people walking down the streets. And to please call him at 736-3975 or the police department if they find anything.

“We’ve solved lots of fires with these,” Walkowski said.

Four other fire departments, from Rochester to Napavine, assisted, he said.

The fire damage at the church on Seward Avenue was minimal, although it sustained some smoke and water damage, according to Walkowski.

By 10:30 a.m., crews learned of an attempt to burn yet another building, Cooks Hill Community Church on the 2400 block of Cooks Hill Road. They don’t know when it occurred, because it failed.

“One of the workers walked outside and found the side of the church had scorch marks,” Walkowski said.

The chief said they are asking folks to be hyper vigilant, and be sure to move any combustible materials away from the exterior of their homes or buildings.

A fire earlier in the night at the north end of Chehalis remains under investigation as well, he said.

Crews were called about 1 a.m. to the Firehouse Espresso stand on the 2300 block of Kresky Avenue. Flames were found on the backside, which were quickly knocked down, according to Chehalis Fire Department Firefighter-Investigator Jay Birley.

Birley said they had a garbage can behind the structure, and he’s suspicious about cigarette butts.

“It’s looking toward accidental, but I won’t know more till later today,” Birley said.

He’s described the damage to the coffee stand as moderate.


Purse recovered after Centralia robbery, along with drugs and other stolen property

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Centralia police found stolen guns, signs of gang activity and more than a “personal use” amount of suspected methamphetamine when they searched a Logan district house yesterday as they investigated the stick up of a motorist who said she got lost on Centralia streets the night before.

Two people have been arrested for the robbery that occurred about 12:15 a.m. Tuesday at the 100 block of Harrison Avenue.

Centralia Police Department detective Sgt. Pat Fitzgerald said the Olympia area woman told officers she came to town to help someone move, got lost and pulled into a church parking lot to use her cell phone.

A male appeared of out nowhere and stole her purse and phone at gunpoint, Fitzgerald said. She was reportedly unhurt.

The thief was described as a white male with a distinctive tattoo on his neck wearing jeans and a dark hoodie, according to police. Police were told he fled to a red or maroon sedan which was driven away by a blond female, according to police.

Officers searched the area and eventually located a similar car parked outside a residence on the 1500 block of Delaware, according to Fitzgerald.

Two of the individuals who live or were staying there were arrested. Anthony F. Johnson, 28, from Morton, for first-degree robbery and  Kaylie J. Longmire, 18, of Centralia, for being an accessory to robbery, according to the Centralia Police Department.

A patrol sergeant separately indicated that a 25-year-old Centralia man, David J. Eslick, was arrested just after midnight today, in connection with the robbery as well as for allegedly breaking into the concession stand at the high school football stadium earlier in the night.

Fitzgerald said today detectives were investigating a possible link and believed the participants in the purse theft drove Eslick to the stadium.

Yesterday, a police sergeant said the Olympia woman knew the robbers and was meeting them, but Fitzgerald said that’s not information he was given.

“There may be all kinds of stuff that comes out of this, cause we’re not finished yet,” Fitzgerald said.

During the search of the house, detectives found three stolen firearms, one of which its owner didn’t yet know was missing, according to Fitzgerald.

They also discovered photographs and graffiti in the house that was evidence of gang activity; mostly the so-called Tiny Dukes and some that could be Crips or Surenos connected, he said.

Also found were unspecified items police believe have been stolen in local burglaries as well as the Olympia woman’s purse, according to police.

Manslaughter conviction upheld for Onalaska man who opened fire upon suspected burglars

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Updated at 1:25 p.m.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

The Onalaska man imprisoned after he fatally shot a suspected burglar outside his house three years ago has lost his appeal.

A panel of three judges upheld the manslaughter conviction of Ronald A. Brady in their opinion filed yesterday.

Brady, 60, was sentenced to just over five years for the death of 56-year-old Thomas McKenzie of Morton.

Through his attorney, Brady appealed on several grounds, including his contention the court erred when it refused to give his proposed jury instruction on the right to resist a felony.

Brady’s attorney argued self defense in the summer 2011 trial in Lewis County Superior Court and Brady avoided a first-degree murder conviction, but the jury found him guilty of second-degree manslaughter. He was acquitted of an assault charge upon McKenzie’s wife, Joanna McKenzie.

Brady admitted shooting at the pair outside his house he was renovating on the 2100 block of state Route 508, describing to deputies opening his garage door and finding flashlights shined in his face. He also testified he was firing at the truck to keep it from leaving.

He told sheriff’s detectives he was staying overnight at the unoccupied house in case burglars from earlier in the day returned. Brady resided in a nearby rental home.

The Washington State Court of Appeals stated the facts of the case did not support such an instruction, as any felony that may have been committed did not pose an immediate threat of death or great bodily harm to Brady.

The only crime being committed at the time he opened fire with a .22 rifle was criminal trespass, the judge’s stated.

Among the judges’ references was a 1955 case and decision saying that a homicide committed while resisting the commission of a felony is not justified “unless the attack on the defendant’s person threatens life or great bodily harm.”

The decision was authored by Judge Christine Quinn-Brintnall, with Judge Thomas R. Borgen and Judge Jill M. Morgan concurring.


For background, read “Breaking news: Onalaska murder trial: Guilty of second-degree manslaughter” from Friday June 24, 2011, here

Read the decision

Dryad dog breeder, judge, oppose permanent prohibition on animal ownership after neglect case

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The case of the Dryad woman whose numerous foxhounds were seized from a living area overrun with feces last fall has been settled with a plea agreement and a sentence handed down by a judge, but dissatisfied  prosecutors are now asking another judge for a stiffer penalty.

Nancy Punches, now 80 years old, made a so-called Alford plea in which she admitted no wrongdoing but pleaded guilty to 10 counts of second-degree animal cruelty.


Punches’ dog kennel Oct. 19, 2012

Lewis County District Court Judge Michael Roewe gave Punches a 364 day jail sentence but then suspended it for two years, providing she abides by certain conditions.

According to court documents, Roewe said that during the 24 months while her sentence is suspended she may own up to two animals, which must be spayed or neutered, and she may not engage in any animal selling, dealing, breeding or related commercial activity.

Punches was also ordered to pay more than $19,000 in fines, fees and restitution; not suspended.

Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Kevin Nelson hoped the restrictions would last longer.

When county employees and volunteers descended upon Punches’ River Road property last Oct. 19, a deputy said he could not see the floor of some kennels because the water, mud and feces was so deep. One puppy was found dead and others were sick.

Her 65 dogs were confiscated, including three which survived the December 2007 flood with her.

Punches, who works in a hospital lab in Morton, started showing dogs in 1960 and has been breeding them for decades.

At the time, and at her sentencing on Jan. 25, Punches said she didn’t intend for the animals to multiply, but her fencing had deteriorated; she was in the process of cleaning up and finding homes for some and then the rains came “everything broke loose.”

The judge’s decision was largely in keeping with the agreement made between Nelson and Punches’ attorney, Bart Ricks, according to court documents.

However, according to the documents, the recommendation to the judge was the animal prohibitions be kept in place for 20 years. Roewe told them he had no authority beyond two years, the documents state.

On the same day as sentencing, Nelson filed a motion asking Roewe to reconsider, suggesting the law indicates Punches should be permanently banned from having similar animals because she has multiple convictions for animal cruelty.

Roewe said he understood the law to mean she would be banned after getting convictions on multiple occasions.

“The whole purpose of that statute is to impose greater sanctions on people who don’t learn from their first conviction,” Roewe said. “There’s only one conviction in the court’s mind, and that conviction includes 10 counts.”

Now Nelson has filed an appeal to Lewis County Superior Court, asking it to find that Punches should be prevented permanently from owning similar – unaltered – animals.

Ricks indicated he is contesting the prosecutor’s request, and expects to file a motion within the next week.

The Chehalis attorney declined to talk further about the case.

He did say his client has no animals now, not even the two the judge allowed for.

Ricks said he expects he and Nelson will argue the issue before a Lewis County Superior Court judge when a hearing is scheduled at a future date.


For background, read “Aged flood survivor loses her stock of prize-winning canines for the second time” from Sunday October 21, 2012, here

Kayla Croft-Payne: Family of missing girl questions link to modeling website

Monday, April 29th, 2013

Shelbie Croft watches her helium balloons snag in a tree at the edge of Penny Playground.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Her mother, father, two little sisters, two aunts, two cousins, three girlfriends and three people who didn’t know her came together on Sunday, all for Kayla Croft-Payne, the Lewis County girl who vanished three years earlier.

Still, they have more questions than answers about what happened to the then-18-year-old.

“I talk to detective Callas two times a month, he promises she won’t become a cold case,” her father Thomas Payne told the small group.

Payne, formerly of Longview traveled from his new home north of Seattle to a vigil held at Penny Playground in Chehalis yesterday. The day marked three years since his daughter last logged on to her MySpace internet account. She was reported missing a few days later by a girlfriend who lived with her south of Chehalis.

“We won’t let her become a cold case,” her aunt, Karen Hinton said. “We need people to tell us what they know.”

Hinton has found a spark of hope for answers as she’s begun to question who was the photographer her niece met online who arranged to take pictures of her so she could create a modeling portfolio.

She found the potential clues simply by looking at Croft-Payne’s Facebook page, she said.

“Her last entries are, I’m going to a photo shoot, I can’t wait to get my portfolio done,” Hinton said.


Kayla Croft-Payne

Hinton has connected with a Vancouver, Wash.-based group called National Women’s Coalition Against Violence & Exploitation (NWCAVE). It’s president and co-founder has taken up the cause to bring media attention to the case.

Early last month, NWCAVE’s Michelle Bart contacted numerous members of the press to describe how Croft-Payne is one of three young women around the country who posted photos and information about themselves on the same modeling website and left for modeling only to never return home.

Bart is concerned certain photographers may be using the ModelMayhem website to prey upon women.

Bart says she learned Croft-Payne went missing after she went to meet with a photographer she met there. Hinton said she’s passed the information to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office and a detective has promised to follow those leads.

She’s encouraged, but at the same time discouraged it wasn’t investigated previously.

“I don’t know how this was overlooked by the police for so long,” Hinton told the gathering yesterday. “It’s beyond me.”

The vigil was, as promised, informal. Bart shared with the group the need to keep Croft-Payne’s face and name in the public eye.

A moment of silence was shared when  6-year-old Shelbie Croft set free a small cluster of helium balloons for her sister into clear, but cool skies. They were caught by the branches of the first tree along the expected route.

Ashley Smith traveled from her home in Spanaway to remember her friend with others yesterday. She’s 20 years old now, but three years ago she was a 17-year-old Lewis County girl who was with Croft-Payne 24 – 7, she said.

They lived together in a trailer off Newaukum Valley Road, between Chehalis and Napavine.

“I don’t know what to think anymore,” Smith said. “I don’t want to think the worst.”

She’s heard the various rumors and  doesn’t seem to give any more weight than the others. Maybe her friend was made to pay off someone’s drug debt, as in sex trafficking, she said. Maybe her friend overdosed on drugs, and someone got scared and hid her body, she said.

But Smith said the website ModelMayhem didn’t ring a bell to her, and she thought it would if her friend was using it.

“She was really into, wanted to be a model really bad,” Smith said.

Croft-Payne wasn’t headed to meet a photographer when she disappeared, Smith said.

The photo shoot was in Bellevue and it was about two weeks earlier, Smith said. The two of them were headed up there together, she said, but various circumstances, including their lack of a ride, caused it to fall through.

“The night she went missing, we were together,” Smith said.

Smith said she and Croft-Payne were at a friend’s house in Onalaska. Another friend came to pick her up, to give her a ride to her boyfriend’s, she said.

“She told me she was going to Manny’s house,” Smith said.

All of the possibilities that come to mind are unpleasant, Smith said.

“It’s hard to think of pleasant ones, given the crowd we were hanging with,” she said.


Read background on Kayla Croft-Payne, here

Three years later: Gathering set in Chehalis for missing Kayla Croft-Payne

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

Kayla Croft-Payne hasn’t been heard from since April 28, 2010

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A vigil will be held tomorrow afternoon in Chehalis to mark the three year anniversary of the disappearance of Lewis County teen Kayla Croft-Payne.

Family and friends will gather at 2 p.m. at Recreation Park in Chehalis. Members of the general public and families of other missing persons are welcome, according to Michelle Bart

“We just want to get the word out not to forget Kayla,” Bart said.

Croft-Payne was 18 years old and living in a trailer between Chehalis and Napavine on April 28, 2010 when she last logged onto her MySpace internet account. She was reported missing on May 5 by a friend who hadn’t seen or heard from her for several days.

When the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office investigated, detectives followed tips up into Pierce County, and down into Cowlitz County, saying the last place they could verify she was seen was a trailer park in the Toutle area.

Croft-Payne’s aunt, Karen Hinton, who lives in the Portland area, connected a few months ago with a Vancouver, Wash.-based group called National Women’s Coalition Against Violence & Exploitation (NWCAVE), and together they have pursued information about Croft-Payne meeting a photographer online as she created a modeling portfolio.

Her last postings on her Facebook account talk about how she couldn’t wait to get her portfolio done and that she was going to a photo shoot, Hinton said.

It’s a path the sheriff’s office is now beginning to examine, Hinton said.

Croft-Payne had posted a profile on a website called Model Mayhem, as did at least two other missing girls, according to Bart of NWCAVE.

Bart said the Sunday afternoon vigil will be informal, and include an update on the case.

Read background on Kayla Croft-Payne, here

What: Vigil for Kayla Croft-Payne
Where: Recreation Park, Penny Playground in Chehalis, 221 SW 13th St.
When: 2 p.m. – 3 p.m. Sunday April 28, 2013

Lewis County jury convicts Centralia gang member of assault on teen

Friday, April 26th, 2013

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A jury took less than an hour today to convict accused gang member Joshua Rhoades as charged, for a roughly 30 to 40 second fight earlier this year on a Centralia street in which a 17-year-old boy was knocked unconscious.

Rhoades, 32, told police he was the one who got jumped, after three young men rushed his car at South Tower Avenue and Cherry Street the night of Jan. 31.

The trial in Lewis County Superior Court began Wednesday. A panel of six men and six women began deliberations about 2:15 p.m. today.

Prosecutors said Rhoades jumped out of a car, flashing gang signs and asking the teen and his friends if they knew who he was and if they were  rival “Nortenos”. The teenager Dustin McLean testified on Wednesday that Rhoades held a closed knife in his fist as he struck him.

The brief brawl included two of Rhoades’ companions as well as at least two of the three boys. McLean said he was hit well over 20 times.

Rhoades was convicted of second-degree assault, with a deadly weapon enhancement and a so-called aggravator that the incident was intended to enhance Rhoades’ affiliation in a street gang. The finding means he faces the possibility of getting sentenced to the maximum of 10 years in prison.

Police say the Centralia resident belongs to the LVL and goes by the street name Spooker.

Defense attorney Chris Baum argued that at worst the conduct was misdemeanor assault, as he described in closing statements the mark or abrasion on the teen’s face didn’t amount to substantial bodily injury.

One of the other participants, Michael J. Daily, 25, was also charged with second-degree assault but has made a deal with prosecutors, according to Baum.

Judge James Lawler handled the case.

Rhoades will be back before a judge next Thursday to set a date for sentencing.

Trial in Centralia gang beating opens with testimony from teen victim

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A 17-year-old Rochester boy testified today he was fighting for his life when he was jumped by purported gang member Joshua Rhoades and two others in Centralia in late January.

Dustin McLean said he saw a 4-inch closed knife in Rhoades’ fist, was pulled to the ground by a female, punched by a taller white guy and then beaten and kicked.

“I was hit well over 20 times,” McLean said.

The Centralia College student was the first witness in the trial that began today in Lewis County Superior Court in Chehalis. Rhoades, 32, is charged with second-degree assault.

Deputy Prosecutor Joely O’Rourke contended in opening statements the teen was minding his own business walking to the store at night with friends when a car carrying a trio of strangers stopped near them at Fuller’s Market on South Tower Avenue looking for trouble.

O’Rourke told jurors the reason for the attack was to further Rhoades’ (aka Spooker) affiliation in the street gang, LVL.

Prosecutors have alleged in charging documents that Rhoades jumped out of a green Ford Taurus flashing gang signs, asking the teen and his friends if they were  rival “Nortenos” as he held a knife; and that he initiated a fight in which the 17-year-old was knocked unconscious.

Defense attorney Chris Baum cross examined McLean, questioning how he could possibly positively identify a knife in the dark that was held in a closed hand, why he told police he didn’t want aid and why he told a doctor he wasn’t knocked out.

Twelve jurors plus one alternate, comprised of six men and seven women, are hearing the case that is set to continue into the end of the week. Judge James Lawler is presiding.


For background, read “Sharyn’s Sirens: Daily police and fire roundup – ALLEGED GANG MEMBER DENIES BEATING TEEN” from Thursday February 7, 2013, here

Frosty’s burglary suspect denies entering through boarded up window, taking $15,000 from safe

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The 37-year-old homeless man accused of pedaling a bicycle to Frosty’s Saloon and Grill in Napavine for an overnight burglary in which some $15,000 was stolen from a safe the week before last has pleaded not guilty.

Lonzo W. Lawson remains in the Lewis County Jail pending trial, held on $100,000 bail.

Prosecutors allege Lawson recently learned from a cell mate at the jail – a Frosty’s employee – there would be a large amount of cash inside and was told the layout of the tavern. A board covering a broken window was pushed out and a knife was apparently used to pry open the office door.

When Lawson was arrested April 12 at a motel in Chehalis, police found he had a new computer, cash and other new merchandise, according to charging documents. He was high on heroin and with two women who were using drugs with him, prosecutors allege.

According to charging documents, he told two acquaintances of his plan and shared some of the money with them. One man told police the money was spent on drugs, clothing and at the Lucky Eagle Casino. At least $800 was recovered.

Lawson, who was described by police as a transient with no known connections to the West Front Street establishment, denied any involvement.

A stocking cap found on the floor when an employee arrived for work the morning of April 9 was taken for DNA testing.

Lawson was charged on Monday with first-degree burglary, first-degree theft, two counts of trafficking in stolen property and possession of heroin; he pleaded not guilty on Thursday.

His trial was scheduled for the week of May 27.

Mother of dead Centralia 2-year-old admits some responsibility in case

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Becky Heupel watches while her lawyer confers with the deputy prosecutor during her court hearing today.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Koralynn Fister’s mother pleaded guilty today to her role in the circumstances that led to the Centralia toddler’s death.

Becky M. Heupel’s short term live-in boyfriend James Reeder has been convicted of the abuse, sexual and otherwise, that led to the child dying last May, but Heupel today agreed to pay with prison time for not acting on clues something was amiss.

“Guilty,” she answered when asked by the judge.

And when Judge James Lawler concluded all his questioning and pronounced the 31-year-old guilty of criminal mistreatment in the second degree, she began to dab at her eyes with a tissue.

Heupel was free to leave after the 30 minute hearing in Lewis County Superior Court. Her sentencing won’t take place until next month.

Prosecutors haven’t suggested the mother of two participated in any way or witnessed the 25-year-old unemployed boyfriend harming the 2-year-old girl in the weeks before she died. In fact, Deputy Prosecutor Shane O’Rourke confirmed today there was no evidence she did.

If there was, she would have been facing the same kind of sentence as Reeder, O’Rourke said.

But when Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer charged the mother last month, Meyer said spoke of Heupel’s inaction.

Meyer said he believed Heupel put her relationship with her new boyfriend ahead of the well-being of her child, ignoring warnings from others he was abusive and ignoring injuries on Koralynn she said would have prompted her to call police if they were on someone else’s child.

Koralynn died on May 24 of head injuries and drowning; Reeder told police he found her face down in the bathtub when he stepped out to get a towel. Heupel and her 4-year-old daughter had left the house about two and half hours earlier.

Reeder had moved into the household only about 10 weeks earlier. Prosecutors have said he suggested parenting duties be divided up and as a result, he spent a significant time alone with the little one, changing her diapers and giving her baths.

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

Last May, after Reeder’s arrest, Prosecutor Meyer called it the worst case of child abuse and neglect he’d seen in his career.

Heupel’s attorney, Paul Strophy, said today his client did see some injuries, but not any that suggested to her sexual abuse was occurring. In the final weeks, Heupel didn’t see Koralynn’s private areas, he said, adding that he believed her.

He suggested Reeder was a predator.

“On the surface, in her presence, he appeared very attentive, a good father figure,” Strophy said.

He offered to take a more hands on approach, and she appreciated it, he said.

“Obviously she now feels like she didn’t do enough and didn’t see the signs” Strophy said. “Had she known or realized what was going on, she would have put a stop to it, or got help from law enforcement.”

O’Rourke today said Heupel saw the injuries, or should have. Anybody who’s a regular parent would have, he said.

“There has to be some recognition, the fact that when you’re a parent, you watch out for this,” O’Rourke said.

Attorneys on the two sides have agreed to recommend a so-called exceptionally high sentence, but only by one day. They will suggest to the judge she go to prison for a year and one day.

Today, when Judge Lawler queried Heupel, and asked if she realized he would still be free to impose the maximum penalty of five years, she faltered.

“No,” Heupel said.

Her response prompted a 10 minute recess, during which she and Strophy left the room to talk alone.

It was after their return, and Heupel agreeing with the judge she understood that he pronounced her guilty.

She admitted to second-degree criminal mistreatment – recklessly creating an imminent and substantial risk of death or great bodily harm by leaving her child in Reeder’s care.

She will be sentenced on May 16.

For background, read “Koralynn Fister: Dead toddler’s mother pleads innocent to putting little one in harm’s way” from Friday March 22, 2013, here

Sawed off shotgun found near Adna gas station, one arrested

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Gilbert Borquez waits for a judge in a Chehalis courtroom this afternoon.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – If what Gilbert Borquez says is true, two vehicles full of people from Raymond were trying to help a female get back her rental car – containing $500 and all her belongings – from her ex-boyfriend who stole it, when a sawed-off shotgun accidentally discharged outside an Adna gas station on Tuesday.

Amalia Copp concocted a plan to get the ex, Paul Martin, to meet someone at the 76 station on state Route 6 for a drug deal and they would rush up and take back her rental car, Borquez told detectives.

But Martin in his Nissan drove off erratically; and then Borquez gave chase in his silver Hyundai but got stuck in the ditch, the story goes.

One of the group ran for the nearby fields and two males along with Copp left in a silver Jeep Cherokee, according to the interview as described in court documents. The Jeep was stopped by a trooper farther west on state Route 6, but the occupants denied any involvement, and were released.

Borquez, 36, was booked into the Lewis County Jail last night, and appeared in court this afternoon.

Prosecutors asked he be held with no bail, as the details get sorted out.

He was arrested by the sheriff’s office for drive-by shooting and first-degree assault, but Lewis County Superior Court Judge Richard Brosey today said he could see probable cause to hold him for second-degree assault, as well as a weapons violation because of the pistol-grip sawed off shotgun.

“I’ll give you till 4 o’clock tomorrow (to charge him), Brosey said this afternoon.

The Lewis County segment of the saga began about 10:15 a.m. on Tuesday with a 911 call about someone firing a shotgun outside the gas station at the intersection with Highway 603. Then two, or three, vehicles fled the area, with one subject on foot who was finally tracked that afternoon along the Chehalis River.

Borquez told detectives that when they arrived at the gas station and he saw Martin had a handgun, he retrieved his shotgun from his vehicle, according to court documents.

He said he fired one round into the ground, which was accidental, the documents state.

Today, Borquez was taken back out the area to assist in recovering the shotgun. He’d said he had thrown it into the brush across the street from where his car was stuck, according to court documents.

Defense attorney Bob Schroeter argued unsuccessfully for only $10,000 bail, noting it seemed like an inadvertent release of a shotgun into the ground.

There is no allegation anyone was shot.

According to court documents, detectives tracked down Borquez by asking law officers in Pacific County about a short, stocky Hispanic male with tattoos on the left side of his neck and face who was known for involvement with the three stopped in the Jeep. That was the description given by witnesses at the scene.

A witness from the gas station picked his photo out of a montage, according to the documents.

According to Borquez, the plan was hatched on Tuesday morning, when Copp and three males arrived at his home in Raymond asking for help.

She said she’d rented a 2012 Nissan Altima because she’d been kicked out of her father’s house the night before, and everything she had was in the car when her ex-boyfriend took it, Borquez told detectives.

Borquez is scheduled to return to court tomorrow afternoon when, if charges are filed, his bail will be set.

Robert R. Ogilve, 42, who was booked Tuesday afternoon  remains in the jail on a  warrant from the state Department of Corrections.

The Pacific County resident told detectives he just wanted a ride into town from a friend, and the next thing he knew he found himself at a gas station near Chehalis where there was a dispute and someone firing a shotgun, court documents state.


For background, read “Dispute, gunshot draws law enforcement to state Route 6 intersection” from Tuesday April 16, 2013, here

Adna shotgun dispute details remain a mystery

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – It’s still unclear exactly what happened yesterday morning outside an Adna gas station where law enforcement officers were summoned with a report of someone firing a shotgun.

Nobody’s talking.

Two or possibly three vehicles were involved but fled the scene, at the 76 gas station at state Route 6 and Highway 603, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

A gray Jeep Cherokee was stopped on state Route 6 at milepost 38, and three people were questioned, but they just said they heard a gunshot as they pulled into the store and left because they were scared, Chief Civil Deputy Stacy Brown said.

“There were some issues with their story,” Brown said.

A subject who was spotted hiding from deputies on the other side of the Chehalis River east of the store was finally detained around 3 p.m., but he said he was avoiding law enforcement because he was wanted on a warrant, according to Brown.

No shotgun was found.

Robert R. Ogilve, 42, from Pacific County, was booked into the Lewis County Jail, on the warrant from the state Department of Corrections, according to the sheriff’s office. For unknown reasons, he had shed his pants, according to Brown.

“Basically, he said there was a dispute, there was a gunshot, he didn’t know what it was about,” Brown said.

The sheriff’s office believes everyone involved is from Pacific County. None of the people contacted were very forthcoming with information, Brown said.

The sheriff’s office will continue to investigate because, “We obviously are not going to ignore someone firing a shot or pulling a shotgun out in a dispute,” Browns said.


For background, read “Dispute, gunshot draws law enforcement to state Route 6 intersection” from Tuesday April 16, 2013, here

Dispute, gunshot draws law enforcement to state Route 6 intersection

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Detectives, deputies and Chehalis police patrol vehicles gather at the north end of Highway 603 near Chehalis this morning.

Updated at 2:31 p.m.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Deputies are congregating around Highway 603 at state Route 6 west of Chehalis after an incident outside the 76 gas station there.

“I heard a ‘bang’,” clerk Chelsea Hamilton said.

Her co-worker said he walked outside when someone hollered for him to call 911 around 10:15 a.m.

Pete Holmstedt saw a small gray car like a Kia trying to get out of the ditch, and heard a lot of yelling before a gray Jeep sped south down Highway 603, he said.

Holmstedt said he didn’t see which way the small car went.

Lewis County Sheriff’s Office detective Bruce Kimsey said he was still trying to piece together what occurred. The call was for a dispute, Kimsey said.

Deputies were initially called about shots fired, but have no victim, according to a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office.

Witnesses have said they saw someone throw a gun, and also saw someone flee on foot, Chief Civil Deputy Stacy Brown said.

A K-9 was brought out to conduct a track.

A guy who appeared to be hiding has been spotted by the river, Brown said about 2:15 p.m.

“There’s somebody running from us, we don’t know if it’s a suspect or a victim,” she said. Or possibly even a witness who is scared, she added.

Initial reports are that three vehicles were involved. Brown said a trooper and deputies stopped a gray Jeep Cherokee on state Route 6 at milepost 38, but the two men and one woman said they were not involved.

They said a shot was fired and they left to go home to South Bend, Brown said. The three were briefly detained and then let go, she said


Driver inattention, not brakes, blamed for school bus wreck near Toledo

Friday, April 12th, 2013

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

The Washington State Patrol has found that inattention on the part of the driver caused the accident on Tuesday night that sent a school bus loaded with teenagers across a two-lane highway and 50 to 75 feet down an embankment into a swamp near Toledo.

Driver Ronnie H. Withrow, 53, will be ticketed for running the stop sign at the top of the Interstate 5 freeway off ramp, state patrol spokesperson Trooper Will Finn said this morning.

Withrow initially stated the brakes on the bus failed, but an inspection found no problems with the brakes, the state patrol reported yesterday.

None of the passengers were seriously injured, and Withrow has been praised by responders for guiding the bus through a narrow space between a sign and a guard rail as it traveled downhill.

Finn said this morning he had no information on what Withrow was distracted by.

“I just know the investigation has come to a conclusion and that’s what the trooper has decided,” Finn said.

Finn said hoped to learn more from the investigating trooper when the trooper comes back on duty this afternoon.

Withrow had been placed on administrative leave from the Winlock School District. He has not returned a phone call seeking comment.

Finn did say no skid marks were found at the scene, and it appeared Withrow shouted for everyone to hold on after he’d already gone through the stop sign. He added it was concluded the driver did not fall asleep, as he took the exit.

After a commercial vehicle inspector found no mechanical failures or defects with its braking system, the investigating trooper had to go back and ask more questions, Finn said.

Withrow began driving a school bus for Winlock in September, and drove for other schools before that, according to District Superintendent Shannon Criss.

Criss was unavailable this morning, but issued a prepared statement in which she said she is reviewing with legal counsel on the matter. And, she noted: “Student safety is always our primary concern.”

For background, read “School bus wrecks off I-5 into swamp near Toledo” from Wednesday April 10, 2013 at 7:28 a.m., here

Vader man’s body recovered from creek after canoe overturns

Friday, April 12th, 2013

Updated at 1:11 p.m.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A 57-year-old man is dead after a canoe capsized in a creek near Vader last night.

Rescuers were called around 8:30 p.m. by the man’s wife who said they had been canoeing in Stillwater Creek when the two-person craft tipped over near the 1400 block of state Route 506, west of town, according to authorities.

“She was able to get to shore and he was missing,” Vader area Fire Chief Richard Underdahl said.

Underdahl described the creek as very full, very swift, about 25 feet across in places with steep brush-covered banks.

The 38-year-old woman said she last saw her husband hanging onto the canoe near the bank and then he disappeared, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

Vader area volunteer firefighters – Cowlitz-Lewis Fire District 20, formerly known as Lewis County Fire District 7 – were assisted by responders, including swift water rescue technicians, from Lewis County Fire Districts 2 and 15, the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office and Cowlitz County Fire District 6 out of Castle Rock.

They found the partially submerged canoe and then about 10 minutes later, discovered the victim submerged, face down against a log about 100 yards upstream, according to the sheriff’s office.

The water temperature was measured at 43 degrees.

The victim is identified as John Handel. An autopsy is scheduled for this afternoon.

The wife was taken care of by homeowners near the creek and checked by paramedics, according to Underdahl.

Chief Brown said the couple started out near their home on the 100 block of Brim Road and planned to travel to the Brim Creek Bridge.

Neither Brown nor Underdahl had an answer as to why the couple was in the water so late in the evening. Neither were wearing life jackets.

“We’re just sorry the outcome was what it was,” Underdahl said. “We volunteer to help our neighbors, it’s tough to deal with things like this.”

Koralynn Fister: Dead toddler’s mother will plead guilty to putting little one in harm’s way

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – There will be no trial to shed light on what signs of abuse she saw or didn’t see in the weeks before her 2-year-old daughter died while in the care of her new live-in boyfriend.

Becky M. Heupel plans to plead guilty.

The 31-year-old Centralia woman was in Lewis County Superior Court this afternoon where attorneys told a judge they’d reached a “resolution” in the case.


Becky M. Heupel

The boyfriend James M. Reeder was sent to prison last month after pleading guilty to homicide by abuse, second-degree assault, two counts of first-degree rape of a child and possession of methamphetamine.

The toddler, Koralynn Fister, died from drowning and head trauma about 10 weeks after Reeder moved into the north Centralia household.

Lewis County prosecutors charged Heupel criminally, alleging she was warned Reeder was an abuser and chose to put her relationship with him before the well-being of her child.

Heupel is charged specifically with second-degree criminal mistreatment, allegedly recklessly creating an imminent and substantial risk of death or great bodily harm through her inaction.

Koralynn died on May 24 of last year.

The deal offered by prosecutors is that Heupel pleads guilty as charged and they will recommend she go to prison for a year and one day.

While the maximum penalty is five years, the standard sentencing range for someone with no criminal history is six to 12 months.

Her defense attorney, Paul Strophy, said part of the motivation is there are risks in going to trial. Prosecutors were threatening to upgrade the charges if they did, he said.

Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Shane O’Rourke said part of the agreement is Heupel must make a straight guilty plea, not a so-called Alford plea in which the defendant pleads guilty without admitting wrongdoing.

“This is one where we want her to take responsibility,” O’Rourke said.

Reeder’s plea was an Alford plea.

Attorneys on both sides have agreed to recommend a sentence one day higher than the top of the standard sentence range, so Heupel can serve her time in state prison instead of in the Lewis County Jail.

Strophy didn’t go into detail about why that was preferable, but mentioned the opportunity for his client to earn more “good time” to possibly get out early. O’Rourke said prosecutors don’t mind if Heupel does her time with the state Department of Corrections, as that benefits the county budget by avoiding jail costs.

The hearing at which Heupel is scheduled to plead guilty will be held a week from tomorrow in front of Judge James Lawler.

For background, read “Koralynn Fister: Dead toddler’s mother pleads innocent to putting little one in harm’s way” from Friday March 22, 2013, here