Archive for the ‘Top story of the day’ Category

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.