Archive for November, 2010

Fatal fire victim had candles burning throughout tiny apartment

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Ron R. Meeks survived a motorcycle accident that put him a coma for two months, being struck by a car and getting hit by a train, but it was either a cigarette or a candle that ignited a fire in his Centralia apartment and ended his life earlier this month.

“The man has been through a lot,” his niece Melody Matson said. “And just to think, something like this happens, his family just can’t believe it.”


Ron R. Meeks / Courtesy photo

Meeks, 56, was found dead from smoke inhalation when firefighters searched his smoke-filled apartment Magnolia and Iron streets early on the morning of Nov. 1.

Riverside Fire Authority Chief Jim Walkowski said investigators have narrowed down the ignition source.

“He smoked, and it was in the area he frequented,” Walkowski said. “And he had candles burning throughout the apartment.”

The fire department is waiting for tests on fragments of metal that might have been a candle base, Walkowski said. It could be weeks or months before the results are returned, according to the chief.

Walkowski is a fan of battery-powered faux candles. He doesn”t use real candles in his home, he said.

It’s tough, because people like their ambiance, but they get knocked over, they get put too close to combustible materials and people forget about them, he said.

Firefighters didn’t find a smoke detector in the apartment, only a ring on the ceiling where it once had been, according to the chief.

Meeks moved into the apartment in February, initially with his girlfriend but she had moved out about three weeks before the fire.

Other than a brief period 20 years ago in Portland, it was the first time he’d ever lived on his own, according to his younger sister Karen Ames.

He suffered major brain damage in a motorcycle wreck when he was in his late 20s, Ames said. He had to learn to walk and talk all over again, she said. He didn’t work after that, she said.

“If you didn’t know him, he would remind you of someone who was born slow,” Ames said.

Ames, who lives near Ogden, Utah, reluctantly added that her brother was incarcerated before that.

“Reform school, he spent time in jail,” she said. “It was drugs. He had a drug problem since he was very, very young.”

Ames said she was told the autopsy and toxicology tests showed he was clean however.

“He really was a little bit of a wild child, but he had a good heart,” she said.

Matson, who lives in Olympia, helped him get the tiny Centralia apartment. He wanted his 43-year-old niece to take charge of his money, she said.

“He was all there, but like if you gave him $500, he’d spend it in an hour, Matson said.

She said she visited him the Friday before he died and he had another one of his wild ideas, she said. He thought he would sublet out the apartment and take the money to Los Vegas to have some fun, she said.

“I told him, you can’t do that,” Matson said. “And he’s like, ‘darling, it’ll work out’.”

One of his neighbors at the small single-story complex of concrete block apartments described Meeks as a “good guy” and Christian, but with a habit of bringing home things that didn’t belong to him.

Centralia police had a least three contacts with Meeks in the two weeks before he died. He was arrested for stealing a planter, for shoplifting and then for an outstanding warrant.

He always said he was a miracle because he survived so many potentially deadly accidents, Matson said.

When he was a teenager, he was in a vehicle that was hit by a train and about two years ago, he was walking in Lacey when he was hit by a car, according to his sister.

“He had a rough go of it, but he was a sweetheart,” Ames said.

Meeks had recently reconnected with a daughter. His parents are deceased and he had four siblings, but Ames is the only one still living.

News brief: Sheriff-elect Snaza announces top personnel

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Thurston County Sheriff-elect John Snaza has announced his leadership team.

Undersheriff Tim Braniff will serve as Snaza’s second in command, according to a news release today.

Bureau Chief Brad Watkins will be assigned to lead a new support services bureau, combining the current services bureau with the detectives division.

Bureau Chief Dave Pearsall will be assigned to the new field operations bureau and Bureau Chief Todd Thoma will be assigned to the corrections bureau.

“These outstanding leaders round out a strong management team and will help provide the leadership, vision, management, depth and discipline we need to provide quality service to the people of Thurston County,” Snaza said in the news release.

The changes will take effect Jan. 3.

Greenhill escapee picked up near Yelm

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – A a Greenhill School escapee is back at the Chehalis facility after being found near Yelm yesterday.

The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office began scouring an area after an anonymous 911 caller said the 16-year-old boy was seen near Horizon-Pioneer Road about 2:30 p.m.

The teenager was incarcerated in the state juvenile institution for crimes such as motor vehicle theft, theft and burglary. Three weeks ago, staff discovered he was missing about 6:30 in the morning.

A pair of sheers were located inside the fence near where a  hole found cut.

Thurston County detective Sgt. Cheryl Stines said deputies yesterday didn’t find the youth at first but as they were driving around, spotted a vehicle with one occupant which is registered to the boy’s sister.

As the deputy followed, the vehicle sped up then the deputy saw there were two people in the car, Stines said.

The driver slammed on the brakes and the passenger jumped out, she said.

“The vehicle never stopped, it just kept going,” Stines said.

The deputy happened to be accompanied by his K-9 partner and when the 16-year-old didn’t stop running, the dog captured him, she said. He sustained only scratches, she said.

Stines said she didn’t know if the driver would be in any trouble for transporting the youth.

Greenhill School is a medium/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

The inmate, whose name was not released, has previous addresses from places such as Tenino, Rainier, Olympia and Roy.

The Chehalis Police Department is conducting the investigation into the escape.

News brief: Hear police and fire leaders discuss how to get through winter weather emergencies

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Centralia College is hosting a panel discussion for the public on emergency preparedness tomorrow at 7 p.m.

The free presentation comes as some forecasters say this winter is going to get a lot worse, according to the college’s Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society which is coordinating the event.

The presentation will outline winter weather predictions, the possible consequences and what individuals need to do to protect themselves, according to a news release.

Centralia Police Department Chief Bob Berg will lead the panel that includes Fire Chief Jim Walkowsi speaking on local government response to disasters, Centralia police Cmdr. Jim Rich talking about personal preparedness and weatherman Dean Dahlin.

It will be held in Corbet Theater in Washington Hall, with a short question and answer period to follow.

Breaking news: Cause of Mayfield cabin fire not accidental, investigator says

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

This news story was updated at 10:26 a.m.

A blaze that gutted a small vacation cabin at Mayfield Lake earlier this month is “very suspicious”, according to the fire investigator.

Fire broke out the evening of Nov. 12, destroying the 600-square-foot unoccupied  structure on the 100 block of Tanglewood Drive.

The owner, who resides nearby, was out of town when it happened; no injuries were reported.

Fire investigator Ted McCarty said he is working with the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office and the homeowner’s insurance company and they are still interviewing people so he couldn’t say too much.

However, among the reasons for suspicion, he said, were no other other sources of ignition in the room of origin, nothing electrical was plugged in, nothing was left turned on and nobody had been there.

“There’s just no reason why a fire would start in the bedroom on the floor,” McCarty said this morning.

He estimated the loss at about $75,000. The owner had remodeled after a a big freeze broke water pipes and flooded the cabin about two years earlier, he said.

It was originally a hunting cabin and used mainly for friends and family, according to McCarty.

The cabin had been for sale for some time, according to McCarty.

Read about state won’t agree to share jail fingerprints with immigration enforcement agency …

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

The Seattle Times reports Washington state has declined to sign an agreement that would allow the fingerprints of people booked into local jails to be checked against a national immigration database.

Read news reporter Lornet Turnbull’s story here

Onalaska dairy fire: No cows lost, tons of hay replaced

Monday, November 29th, 2010

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

The largest dairy farm in Lewis County lost 80 tons of hay and a $100,000 tractor in a Thanksgiving night fire but owner Leo Zylstra was calmly practical when he spoke of the damage today.

“It’s very inconvenient but we’ll pull through it,” Zylstra said. “It’s part of life I guess.”

The Misty Morning Dairy in Onalaska was able to get organized quickly and by 10 o’clock the next morning had replaced the hay, Zylstra said.

They milk 1,300 animals, so it was about four days of feed that were destroyed, he said.

He has insurance, he said.

Fifteen to 20 firefighters from Salkum, Onalaska and Mossyrock responded to the approximately 6:30 p.m. call on Thursday.

The original information was a tractor was on fire but when the first unit arrived, flames were rolling across the top of the commodities shed, a large three-sided building where the feed is stored, according to Lewis County Fire District 8 Assistant Chief Don Taylor.

They had to fight to keep it contained to the portion of the barn that was farthest away from the adjacent cows’ quarters, according to Taylor.

Zylstra said he didn’t lose any animals.

Crews were on the scene until 5:30 a.m. the next day pulling out and extinguishing the smoldering feed, most of it expensive alfalfa, according to Taylor.

Zylstra, who was in Arizona for the holiday but has returned home, was so appreciative for the all-night effort by the fire departments.

“That would have been really bad if it got into the loafing shed, that would have been a disaster,” he said.

Zylstra said the hay costs $200 per ton.

He said the large field tractor that burned was a 290 HP machine, probably valued at about $100,000. Somehow the grain grinder attached to it was undamaged, Zylstra said. Workers were grinding grain when the fire broke out, he said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Misty Morning Dairy sits on 700 acres on the 800 block of Jorgensen Road.

It’s an operation that milks 24 hours a day with 20 employees. The Zylstras bought the dairy in 1980.

Note from news reporter Sharyn Decker: Zylstra purchased the dairy in 1980 from Floyd and Vi Decker. Floyd Decker was a cousin of my father’s.

Read about Oregon crash kills woman, injures Chehalis resident …

Monday, November 29th, 2010

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

The East Oregonian reports a 39-year-old Chehalis man was hospitalized after a single-vehicle crash early yesterday morning in northeast Oregon in which a 36-year-old Pendleton woman was killed.

Read the East Oregonian’s story here


The 2008 Ford 350 that wrecked on Highway 395 near Pilot Rock, Ore. / Courtesy photo from Oregon State Police

Sharyn’s Sirens: Daily police and fire roundup

Monday, November 29th, 2010


• Centralia police responded to an incident about 10 p.m. last night on the 1700 block of Harrison Avenue in which a male was reportedly struck in the head with a pipe by a family member. Further details were not noted in a summary from the Centralia Police Department.


• Responders were called to a hit and run collision just after 9 p.m. last night in which a bumper from the offending vehicle was left behind, according to authorities. A woman was taken to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries after the incident at North Tower and East Main Street, according to Riverside Fire Authority. Officers subsequently arrested and booked for felony hit and run Yaney Rodriguez Serrano, 37, of Mexico, according to the Centralia Police Department.


• Police responding about 12:30 a.m. on Sunday to a location on the 1700 block of Cooks Hill Road arrested a homeless man from Longview for first-degree criminal trespass, third-degree malicious mischief and possession of methamphetamine. Micheal S. Cabe, 28, was booked into the Lewis County Jail, according to Centralia police.

• A 30-year-old Chehalis man, Mark A. Silva, was arrested for possession of methamphetamine following a traffic stop about 12:10 a.m. on Saturday on the 100 block of East Sixth Street in Centralia. The 58-year-old female driver from Centralia and a 37-yea-old Rochester man were booked for felony warrants, according to the Centralia Police Department.


•The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office reported this morning a loaded 9 mm Smith and Wesson pistol was reportedly stolen from under the seat of an unlocked vehicle when it was parked on Forest Service Road 23 outside Randle. The victim, a 40-year-old man from Tacoma, reported the theft on Wednesday but said it occurred sometime on Nov. 10 and 11 when he was hunting. Its serial number is 206304, according to the sheriff’s office.


• The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office reported this morning a digital camera was stolen in a residential burglary on the 4900 block of state Route 6 outside Chehalis. A deputy called on Friday was told it happened sometime between 9 a.m. and noon, according to Chief Civil Deputy Stacy Brown.

• Four Black Hills gold rings were discovered missing from a home on the 200 block of Falls Road in Randle, according to a report made on Thursday morning to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office. The victim told a deputy she realized they were gone that day but suspected they might have been taken around the same time a neighbor’s residence was burglarized a few weeks earlier, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office. The loss was estimated at $2,600.


• A stereo was stolen from a vehicle on the 1400 block of Johnson Road, according to a report made to Centralia police about noon yesterday.

• Chehalis police early Saturday took a report of a car prowl on the 100 block of Northeast Washington Avenue. A distributor was missing from the glove box of an unlocked vehicle, according to the Chehalis Police Department.

• Somebody stole a stereo and tools from a vehicle on the 1000 block of Southeast Washington Avenue, according to a report made to Chehalis police early Saturday.


• Police were called about 1:30 a.m. on Saturday after the rear window was found smashed in a vehicle outside the movie theater at the Lewis County Mall on Northeast Hampe Way.

• Centralia police took a report early Saturday of a vehicle’s tire being slashed sometime overnight on the 1000 block of L Street.

• On Friday morning, an officer took a report of a tire being slashed on the 1000 block of Scammon Creek Road in Centralia.


• Centralia police reported gang-style graffiti was found at a business on the 1400 block of Lum Road.


• A green house was destroyed in a fire that appeared to have been started from a space heater on Centralia-Alpha Road on Wednesday morning, according to Riverside Fire Authority.

Read about little change in police responses since officers died in line of duty last year …

Monday, November 29th, 2010

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

The (Tacoma) News Tribune conducted an analysis of police use of force in the year that has passed since four Lakewood officers were gunned down and concluded local agency procedures and behavior have changed little in response.

Read news reporter Stacey Mulick’s story here

Former chief deputy coroner dozed off during DUI arrest, court documents allege

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Lewis County’s now-former chief deputy coroner fell asleep repeatedly during her contact with a state trooper this summer when she was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence of depressants, according to charging documents.

Carmen Brunton’s arraignment is set for Tuesday in Lewis County District Court. She was charged Nov. 12 after the results of blood tests came back.

Brunton was let go from her job after the July traffic stop on Interstate 5 south of Chehalis; it was just before 8 a.m. on her way to work.

The Winlock resident told a sheriff’s deputy she was on numerous prescription medications and had taken Oxycodone about an hour earlier, according to charging documents. Oxycodone is a synthetic narcotic prescribed for pain.

Brunton, 56, was the coroner’s office only full time employee and was responsible for its day to day operations. She had been a county employee since 1993.

Driving while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs is a gross misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Charging documents give a similar account to a Lewis County Sheriff’s Office incident report, which was available soon after Brunton’s arrest.

Deputy Jason Mauermann wrote that he responded to a citizen report in Napavine that a Black Expedition was “all over the road” and had pulled into the Chevron station on Rush Road. He followed it onto Interstate 5 where he described the vehicle as repeatedly drifting between lanes.

When he contacted Brunton near the Labree Road interchange, the deputy wrote, she had very slow speech and heavy, sleepy eyes but he didn’t detect any odor of liquor. When asked, she said she was on numerous prescription medications, including muscle relaxers, heart pills and pain medication, according to Mauermann.

Upon further questioning, she told him she had taken Oxycodone for pain that morning, but not a muscle relaxer, according to Mauermann’s report.

Deputies requested a trooper take over the investigation to avoid a conflict because they worked closely with her.

Charging documents say Trooper Weaver responded and conducted an evaluation, noting Brunton also had slurred speech and was unsteady when she walked.

“Weaver observed that Brunton was lethargic and drowsy and fell asleep multiple times during his contact with her,” charging documents state.

Weaver, a drug recognition expert, concluded she was under the influence of a central nervous system depressant.

Brunton was put on administrative leave that day, July 15. Her boss, elected Coroner Terry Wilson, said her leave ended and she wouldn’t be returning on Aug. 3, the same day a front page news story was published about the arrest.

Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Sara Beigh said the drugs found with the blood test are Oxycodone, a pain pill; lorazepam which is often used for anxiety; as well as citalopram, amitriptyline and nortiptyline

Beigh said the last three can be used as antidepressants and one of them was a component of one of the others.

There’s no allegation Brunton was taking any medication not legally prescribed to her.

Beigh said she didn’t know if they were all prescribed, but it doesn’t matter.

“What matters is if a drug of some sort has impaired your driving,” Beigh said.

Brunton’s duties for about the previous 12 years included managing the office, assisting in death investigations, arranging autopsies and notifying the next of kin when deaths occur that are under the jurisdiction of the coroner’s office.

Coroner Wilson said in early August he had not seen anything breaking the protocol for safe storage and eventual destruction of the wide variety of medications his office confiscates, something it is required to do by state law.

Last month, however, in a meeting with Lewis County commissioners, the newly appointed chief deputy coroner Dawn Harris described a new policy she said was established last May.

The coroner’s office still collects any medications they find belonging to the deceased individuals they are responsible for, but all narcotics are counted and put into an evidence bag at the scene, which is witnessed by a law enforcement officer, according to Harris.

The coroners office also has put into writing a policy that deputy coroners don’t take possession of weapons at death scenes, Harris said at the same meeting.

Come January, Wilson will end 28 years of his job as elected coroner.

Community college forensics instructor Warren McLeod of Chehalis won the office in this month’s election with 54.5 percent of the vote running against retired DEA agent Micheal Hurley of Mossyrock.

Read “Coroner’s top employee out after arrest for driving under the influence of pain pills” from Wednesday Aug. 4, 2010 here

News brief: New options for safe disposal of old medications announced

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – There are now four drop off sites locally where the public can safely get rid of old, unused or unwanted prescription medications, something authorities hope will reduce the potential for them to fall into the hands of children, teenagers or adults who might misuse them.


Prescription drug disposal bin

The majority of teenagers abusing prescription drugs get them from family and friends, with the home medicine cabinet a primary source, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Their misuse now ranks second only to marijuana as the most common form of drug abuse in the country, according to the D.E.A. In 2008, more than 500 individuals in the state lost their lives to accidental overdoses.

The program, announced last week, is a partnership with the three law enforcement agencies and the Lewis County Public Health and Social Services Department. Funding came from the the Northwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a program of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Bins for safe and anonymous disposal are located at:
• Lewis County Law and Justice Center, (inside) 345 W. Main St., Chehalis
• Centralia Police Department, (outside) 316 N. Pearl Street, Centralia
• Morton Police Department, (outside) 260 Main St., Morton
• Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Packwood substation, (inside) 12990 U.S. Highway 12, Packwood

In a joint news release, the four local agencies stated they hope citizens will take full advantage of the opportunity to safely dispose of these drugs.

Additionally, the bins will help protect the environment and drinking water supply, something that is harmed when unused medications are flushed down toilets or put in the trash, according to the news release.

Lewis County is one of only seven counties in Washington with an unused medicine return program, according to the news release.

For further information, contact Lewis County Public Health and Social Services at 360-740-1223.