Archive for December, 2015

Lewis County Jail to stop charging fee for visiting with inmates

Thursday, December 31st, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – For the past two years, going to the Lewis County Jail to visit an inmate has cost money, but that’s about to change.

The facility installed an Internet-based system for visitation that allowed for family or friends to avoid the drive to Chehalis to see their loved ones, by logging in and paying a fee.

The same technology is used however, with inmates chatting from their cell areas to a video screen while their guests are viewing another screen in the lobby area of the same building. The cost is 50 cents per minute.

Jail Chief Kevin Hanson said he hopes free visits in the jail lobby can begin again in mid-January. It will take some programming changes by the vendor, he said.

Part of the reasoning for the switch, Hanson said, is he got advice during a course on incarceration legalities he attended that suggested charging money to people who come in to the jail to see inmates was a practice on somewhat shaky legal ground.

When he and other administrators of the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office shared the news with the county board of commissioners earlier this month, Sheriff Rob Snaza said it was something they’d been talking about doing for awhile. The sheriff’s office runs the jail.

“It only makes sense,” Snaza said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Defendants can be sentenced to up to 364 days in the jail. For those awaiting trial, their stay in some cases has been even longer.

Hanson is aiming for the change to take place around the second full week in January.


For background, read Northwest Public Radio’s Jan. 13, 2015 piece about the Homewav video visitation system as used in Lewis County, here

November accidental shooting ends with Alford plea from Centralia man

Thursday, December 31st, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The Centralia teenager who accidentally shot his girlfriend when his pistol in his pocket discharged while she was sitting on his lap is off to prison after pleading guilty as charged.

Austin C. Courtright was facing a standard sentencing range of nine to 12 months but made a deal with prosecutors in which they agreed to recommend he serve one year plus one day.

2015.1201.austin.courtright.small8143 copy

Austin C. Courtright

The difference meant spending his time in state prison instead of at the Lewis County Jail, something he preferred, according to his lawyer.

His 21-year-old girlfriend was struck in her inner right thigh, and was treated at a hospital and then released the same day, Nov. 30. It happened in the basement of a home on First Street in Centralia.

Centralia police investigated and concluded it was accidental, but Courtright was charged with third-degree assault. He was also charged with second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm.

The then-18-year-old with previous convictions that prohibited him from having a gun told police he knew he wasn’t supposed to, but was afraid of being victimized by gang members who used to be his friends, according to prosecutors.

Courtright pleaded guilty last Thursday in Lewis County Superior Court and the judge agreed to the sentence. He made a so-called Alford plea to the charge of third-degree assault, not admitting guilt.

Defense attorney Chris Baum said he had a real issue with the assault charge, calling it a “stretch”.

It was a criminal negligence issue, his client didn’t know the gun was loaded, Baum said.

“I wasn’t suggesting he plead to that, but he did,” Baum said.

Judge Richard Brosey also ordered 12 months of community custody upon Courtright’s release and $1,400 in fines and legal financial obligations.

For background, read “Accidentally shooting girlfriend brings criminal charge for Centralia teen” from Wednesday December 2, 2015, here

Sirens: Daily police and fire roundup

Thursday, December 31st, 2015



• A woman who left her car yesterday evening in the parking area of a complex on the 200 block of Southwest 13th Street in Chehalis found it gone when she went outside to warm it up around 3 o’clock this morning. Missing is a yellow 2004 Toyota Celica, according to the Chehalis Police Department. The car had black rims, according to police.


• Chehalis police were called about 9:40 a.m. yesterday about individuals removing items from a business on North Market Boulevard after they were supposed to have been moved out. The case is under investigation, according to the Chehalis Police Department.


• An unknown suspect damaged a lock on a door, at the 300 block of North Diamond Street in Centralia, according to a report made to police at about 12:30 p.m. yesterday.

• Chehalis police were called just before 10 p.m. yesterday to the 300 block of Southwest Fifth Street about someone rummaging through a carport. No arrest was made, according to the Chehalis Police Department.


• Police were called about 4:20 p.m. yesterday to the 900 block of Allen Street in Centralia regarding the theft of pain medication.


• Chehalis police were called about 4:15 p.m. yesterday to the 800 block of Southwest 21st Street where sometime during the previous week someone had broken out the passenger side window from a van.


• Officers called to a tavern dispute about 1:20 a.m. today at the 100 block of South Tower Avenue arrested one person for warrants and another for obstructing and resisting arrest. Booked into the Lewis County Jail were James R. Beesley, 26, of Centralia, for two outstanding warrants and Reyana K. Israel, 30, of Centralia, for the other offenses, according to the Centralia Police Department.


• And as usual, other incidents such as arrests for drugs, warrants, misdemeanor theft, disorderly conduct, driving with suspended license; responses for alarm, dispute, suspicious circumstances, protection order violation, collision on city street … and more.

Sirens: Daily police and fire roundup

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015



• A 26-year-old was picked up last night at a local motel after relatives called police to say various valuables have been disappearing from their home on the 1300 block of South Scheuber Road and when they viewed surveillance video they recognized the suspect. It appeared to have been ongoing for a couple of months and the initial reports shows about $800 worth of items taken, including collectible coins, according to the Centralia Police Department. Kameron D.H. Wolden, from Centralia, was arrested for residential burglary and trafficking in stolen property and booked into the Lewis County Jail, according to police.


• A 23-year-old Pe Ell resident was booked into the Lewis County Jail yesterday for allegedly driving his Ford Bronco onto someone’s private tree farm, getting it stuck and causing an estimated $3,600 damage. Deputies were called on Saturday and told that sometime during the previous three days, someone damaged a locked gate, roads, fencing, some small trees and some mature trees at the 100 block of Cole Road outside Pe Ell, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff’s office reports Joseph A. Schwartz was contacted and admitted to driving on the property. The investigation showed Schwartz had an 18-year-old passenger from Chehalis with him and also the next day, a 19-year-old Onalaska resident drove on to the property to help retrieve the Bronco, according to Cmdr. Dusty Breen. That vehicle also became stuck, Breen said. Schwartz was arrested for second-degree trespassing and second-degree malicious mischief. Cases for trespassing for the other two are being referred to prosecutors, according to Breen.


• Centralia police were called just after 5 o’clock this morning by an individual who heard their car start up and drive away from the 2000 block of North Pearl Street. The missing vehicle is a 1996 Subaru Legacy with a cargo container on top, according to the Centralia Police Department.


• Someone stole a dog house from the front yard of a home on the 600 block of South Gold Street in Centralia during the night, according to a report made to police yesterday morning. It was a plastic igloo-type, according to the Centralia Police Department. Also missing at the same time was a bicycle, according to police. Another bicycle was reported stolen later in the day from the 600 block of Jefferson Street and a third bike – with a trailer – disappeared from the 1700 block of Military Road, according to police.


• An officer was called about 4:40 p.m. yesterday to the 1700 block of North Tower Avenue in Centralia to take a report that items were stolen overnight from a parked and unlocked vehicle.

• Police were called about 3:40 p.m. yesterday regarding an overnight vehicle prowl at the 800 block of Elm Street in Centralia.


• Police were called about 7:40 a.m. yesterday regarding an unknown person cutting the soft top of a vehicle during the night at the 700 block of Yew Street in Centralia.


• Centralia police said at least two rail cars “jumped the tracks” on a service line yesterday evening near the 400 block of Railroad Avenue in Centralia. None of them tipped over and officers assisted personnel from BNSF who had to uncouple some cars to unblock streets, according to the Centralia Police Department. Sgt. Kurt Reichert said it appeared it may have been caused by a loose rail.


• And as usual, other incidents such as arrests for warrant, shoplifting, trespassing, malicious mischief, open container in public; responses for alarm, dispute, disorderly person, barking dog, suspicious circumstances, misdemeanor assault, misdemeanor theft, violation of no contact order, someone “camping” in a doorway, report of a male destroying a television in the middle of a road … and more.

Car shot at, chased down Interstate 5 in Lewis County

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

Updated at 6:53 p.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Troopers continue to look for the driver of black Jeep said to have fired upon another motorist on Interstate 5 north of Centralia this morning.

One shot shattered the rear window of the victim’s car, hit the rearview mirror and exited the windshield, according to authorities.

The 25-year-old man from Spanaway exited the freeway in Chehalis, after traveling away from his assailant at speeds of 85 to 90 mph, according to the Washington State Patrol. He was uninjured.

Initial information suggested the incident occurred near the Lewis-Thurston county line, when the Jeep did a brake check, meaning he tapped on his brakes for the driver behind him, Chehalis Police Department spokesperson Linda Bailey said.

The victim driver decided to go around the Jeep and that’s when the subject in the Jeep pulled out what appeared to be a semi-automatic handgun, Bailey said.

The incident was reported by the un-named victim driver at 11:04 a.m.

It actually began farther north, around the Scatter Creek Rest Area, and included some aggression from both participants, according to a spokesperson for the state patrol.

“(The 25-year-old) is running late for something in Centralia or Chehalis, is driving in the fast lane and comes up on a black Jeep Cherokee and got brake checked,” Trooper Will Finn said. “He gets angry, he gets around this Jeep and brake checks him.

Then he looked in his mirror and saw the barrel of a gun come out the driver’s side window, Finn said.

“He says two rounds were fired off,” he said.

A chase ensued continuing southbound, with the silver 2012 Mazda hatchback darting in and out of traffic and the Jeep pursuing him, Finn said.

The last time the victim saw the Jeep was around milepost 80, and the victim got off the freeway at exit 77, according to the state patrol.

Finn said troopers and deputies were stationed south of the incident waiting for the Jeep, but they never saw it, leading them to believe the Jeep exited the freeway in that area.

“Right now we’re asking anyone who witnessed this or saw this to call us,” Finn said.

Chehalis police reported it was a Jeep Wrangler, but Finn said it was a black Jeep Cherokee, perhaps a 2005 model or as new as a 2010. It was described as a “stock” vehicle, with nothing extra that stood out on it, and it had Washington plates, he said.

The victim said the shooter was an elderly white man with a white beard and somewhere between 60 and 70 years old.

He said there was a female passenger who looked as old as 80, wearing an oxygen mask, Finn said.

Finn said it’s possible someone knows a couple like that, or has had a similar experience with the driver of the Jeep.

He urged anyone with any information to call the state patrol’s non-emergency number of 360-449-7999.

News brief: One opening on Chehalis Civil Service Commission

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The city of Chehalis is looking to fill a vacancy on its Civil Service Commission.

The commission holds regular meetings once each month and its members are unpaid.

The Civil Service Commission basically oversee the examination process, appointments, promotions, transfers, reinstatements, demotions, suspensions and discharge of police and fire department employees, according to City Clerk Judy Schave.

Appointments to the commission are made by the city manager, subject to the approval of the city council, and are generally six-year terms.

Applicants must be a citizen of the United States and a resident of the city of Chehalis for at least three years.

Application forms are available on the city’s website, or can be picked up at City Hall located at 350 N. Market Blvd. Rm 101.

The city will accept applications until the position is filled.

Top cop job in Morton changing hands

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

The passing of the baton at the Morton Police Department will take place on Thursday, as 2015 comes to a close.

Longtime Chief Dan Mortensen is retiring, although when he wakes up on New Year’s Day he will be mayor of the small East Lewis County town.

He ran unopposed in the November election. Mayor James Gerwig didn’t run for another term.

Mortensen describes his feelings as “anticipatory.”

“I’ve done this job a long time and I certainly will miss it,” he said. “The mayor position presents some new challenges for me.”

The mayor manages the city and runs the council meetings, but does not have a vote on the council.

Mayor Gerwig hired a new police chief, Roger Morningstar, who begins work on Jan. 1.

Mortensen and Morningstar were sworn in to their new positions by Mayor Gerwig at last night’s city council meeting.

The outgoing and incoming police chiefs have been working for a couple of days together, for a smoother transition at the department, according to Mortensen.

The police department employs a chief and two full time officers. Mortensen has been with the department since 1985.

Morningstar has law enforcement experience in Washington and a criminal justice certification, Mortensen said. He comes from the state Department of Corrections in Aberdeen, though he hails from Nevada.

“He comes with a pretty good repertoire of experience, I think he’s a good fit for the community,” Mortensen said.

News brief: Llama attacked and killed in Glenoma

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Wildlife officers are trying to catch a cougar suspected of killing a llama in the Meade Hill area of Glenoma.

Authorities were contacted yesterday after the discovery of the dead animal, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“We do suspect it could be a cougar, we did put out a live trap,” department spokesperson Craig Bartlett said.

Bartlett said the big cats’ chief prey are deer and elk, but they don’t hibernate and they’re out and about, and hungry this time of year.

He said it appeared whatever attacked the llama had gone back to eat on it a couple of times.

If it’s captured, and could be tied to the llama, it will probably be euthanized, he said.