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Fiery night in south Thurston County

Wednesday, October 26, 2011 at 12:22 pm

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Two women were hospitalized for smoke inhalation after a fire broke out  in their home north of Littlerock early this morning.

Members of West Thurston Regional Fire Authority were joined by two other fire departments at the home on the 2800 block of 76th Avenue Southwest just after 4 a.m., according to Fire Chief Robert Scott.

The fire was contained to the furnace area and determined to be electrical, Scott said. The women’s condition’s were not life-threatening, he said.

Less than two hours later, firefighters were called to a home in Rochester in which a couple woke up to smoke detectors; crews found fire coming out of a wall behind a chimney, Scott said.

The wood stove had not been used in a day or two, but apparently a build-up of creosote has been smoldering and ignited two walls, he said.

Crews opened up the wall to extinguish the flames and evacuated the smoke from the single-story residence, according to Scott. It happened on the 9100 block of 173rd Avenue Southwest.

The two house fires followed a barn-shop fire west of Tenino last night on the 16800 block of Tilley Road South.

Thurston County Fire District 12 was joined by Rochester-area firefighters after the 9:23 p.m. call.

Scott said there was significant damage to the building.

“On arrival, it was about 50 percent involved, the knock-down was real fast,” District 12 Battalion Chief Jim Fowler said this morning. “They did overhaul for about two hours.”

No injuries were reported.

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Woman robbed at knifepoint in Centralia

Wednesday, October 26, 2011 at 10:59 am

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A Centralia woman fought off a knife-wielding purse snatcher who confronted her when she pulled into the driveway of her home last night, according to police.

Officers were called just before 10 p.m. to the 1000 block of Alder Street and conducted a search with a police dog but didn’t find the male subject, Officer John Panco said this morning.

There was no indication in the police report either the 45-year-old woman or her attacker were hurt, he said.

Panco said he confronted her as she exited her vehicle, put a knife to her chest or neck and demanded her purse.

“At first, she thought it was a joke,” Panco said.

The woman grabbed the knife or his hand, they fought a little bit, going to the ground and he got up and took off, with the purse, according to Panco.

The male was described as wearing a gray or brown “hoodie” and she thought he was about 5-feet 7-inches tall, Panco said.

The search did lead to possible suspects, but no arrest has been made, according to police.

Panco said he didn’t know if the woman chose to fight to try to keep her purse or to defend herself from the knife.

“We never ever recommend putting yourself in a position where you’re going to get hurt, but people react differently in different situations,” he said.

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Breaking news: Arrest warrants re-issued for Ron Reynolds and son

Tuesday, October 25, 2011 at 8:20 pm

Updated at 9:03 p.m.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod has reissued the arrest warrants for Ron and Jonathan Reynolds after investigating the possibility of juror misconduct.

McLeod, in a news release this evening, said the allegation of misconduct was unfounded.

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Ron Reynolds

The warrants were issued last Wednesday evening,  following the conclusion by an inquest jury the pair were responsible for the homicide of the former state trooper Ronda Reynolds in 1998.

McLeod quashed them on Thursday to investigate what he called a legal issue that was brought to his attention.

McLeod tonight said he investigated the matter: A witness had reported seeing a woman in the lobby of the Lewis County Law and Justice Center putting a book about the Ronda Reynolds case in her purse between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on either last Tuesday or Wednesday, McLeod wrote in a news release.

The inquest jury had been instructed not to read up on the case.

McLeod stated the “witness” was unable to pick out a juror as being the person they had seen – from a photo montage. Also, the “witness” could not say if the woman had been wearing a jurors badge.

Also, McLeod wrote, he concluded the alleged misconduct could not have occurred on either of those days during those times because the jurors were in the jury room.

The warrants were signed this evening and will be delivered to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office in the morning so they can be served, according to McLeod.

The coroner said he had planned to ask each juror – and the two alternates – about the matter under oath on Friday morning in open court.

He will still reconvene the inquest at 9 a.m. on Friday, and read his final orders on the coroner’s inquest into the record. The jurors won’t have to come back in, he said.

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Sharyn’s Sirens: Daily police and fire roundup

Tuesday, October 25, 2011 at 1:55 pm

COUGAR SIGHTING AT WHITE PASS SCHOOL

• It was business as usual today at White Pass schools after a cougar came onto the campus yesterday morning. School District Superintendent Rebecca Miner said the transportation director arriving about 6:10 a.m. yesterday spotted the animal heading down over the bus lane and then cross Silverbrook Road and go into the woods. Elementary students were not allowed outside yesterday morning, she said. Staff members “swept” the campus throughout the day, and again this morning, she said. It’s not something Miner has experienced there before, as she only took the post last July, she said. But she’s told cougars are seen in the Randle community periodically, she said.

THEFT

• Centralia police were called yesterday morning to the 1900 block of Johnson Road to take a report that someone had used an individual’s debit card and spent about $900. The investigation is ongoing, according to the Centralia Police Department.

• Chehalis police were called yesterday afternoon to the 500 block of Ohio Avenue about the theft of power tools, including a Craftsman router, from a garage. It happened sometime since Oct. 17, according to Chehalis police.

• A deputy took a report yesterday of someone entering a barn on the 600 block of Centralia-Alpha Road and stealing a Stihl pole saw. The saw and its various pieces are inscribed with the name “Norm Brown” according to the Lewis County Sheriff’ Office. The loss is estimated at $800.

• Chehalis police took a report yesterday morning of two vehicles prowled at the 1000 block of Southeast Adams Avenue. A purse was taken from an unlocked car and another vehicle had been gone through but nothing was missing, according to the Chehalis Police Department.

WOMAN NOTIFIES POLICE OF NAUGHTY PICTURE

• Police were called yesterday by a Chehalis woman who got a new cell phone and then was receiving text messages from a man, including a picture of his private parts. Chehalis Deputy Chief Randy Kaut said officers believe the caller is in Arkansas, but Kaut wasn’t quite sure yet what their next step would be.

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News brief: Attempted child lurings reported in Mossyrock, Morton

Tuesday, October 25, 2011 at 12:51 pm

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Three grade school children in Morton and Mossyrock have reported a man driving a white pickup truck offering them money over the past several days, according to police and school officials.

It came to the attention of police on Friday afternoon when an 11-year-old boy said the man stopped near Morton Elementary School and offered him $20 if he would get into the vehicle, according to Morton Police Department.

The boy took off running into the school and reported it, according to police. While officers spoke to the boy, a 12-year-old boy told them the same man offered him $20 the day before for the same reason, police reported.

Morton police describe the truck as a white Ford pickup with a wide black stripe running down its side. The boys said there were large “mud tires” in the bed of the truck.

The male is described only as unshaven with dark hair.

In Mossyrock, the elementary school principal was notified this morning by police of an incident early yesterday evening in which a fifth-grade girl  said she was approached by a male while she was at Smith and Son Grocery.

He initiated a conversation with her and gave her $3 and was driving a white truck with a thick black stripe as well, according to Principal Randy Torrey.

Torrey is sending a letter with details home with students today.

Teachers in both districts have been speaking to students about never getting into a vehicle with a stranger.

“We’re reminding them if someone tries to lure you, or talk to you, run away, yell, maybe even ‘stranger danger’ and get to an adult,” Torrey said.

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News brief: Overnight house fire in Onalaska

Tuesday, October 25, 2011 at 10:53 am

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A family of four escaped a house fire in Onalaska overnight and the cause is under investigation.

Lewis County Fire Districts 1 and 8 called about 2:15 a.m. to the home on 1800 block of state Route 508 spotted flames coming out a window and roof vents in the front corner of the upper level, according to District 1 Chief Mark Conner.

A teenage girl awakened to the smell of smoke and saw fire in her closet, Fire Investigator Ted McCarty said.

“She told her sister sleeping in the next bedroom and they ran downstairs and woke up mom and the younger brother,” he said.

The fire was contained to the bedroom and closet, but it left lots of heat and smoke damage upstairs, according to McCarty.

Both the chief and the investigator said there was a wall heater in there, but it didn’t seem to be the problem.

McCarty planned to return in the daylight to try to pinpoint the cause.

The family is staying with relatives and the Red Cross was called to assist, the chief said.

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Sharyn’s Sirens: Daily police and fire roundup

Monday, October 24, 2011 at 12:42 pm

ASSAULT IN EMERGENCY ROOM

• Police were called to the emergency room at Providence Centralia Hospital just before midnight on Saturday after a patient allegedly struck a staff member with her fist. Robin L. Wright, 46, of Centralia, was arrested for misdemeanor assault after the incident on the 900 block of South Schueber Road, according to the Centralia Police Department.

LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS, POLICE DOG, SEARCH FOR MAN IN CHEHALIS

• A 23-year-old man arrested about 4 o’clock this morning in Centralia was the subject of a search with a K-9 in Chehalis on Friday afternoon. An officer saw Brandon Stray standing in a doorway on the 500 block of Southwest William Avenue just after 12:00 o’clock on Friday and found he had outstanding warrants, according to police. After the officer knocked on the door, Stray had vanished. Police searched the area for about 45 minutes on Friday without success, according to detective Sgt. Rick McNamara. When officers went inside the home to look, they did find a 47-year-old Centralia man with a warrant for failing to appear in court. He was arrested. Stray was picked up by Centralia police this morning at Mellen Street and Airpot Road. Stray had four warrants for failing to appear in court and a felony warrant out of Thurston County, according to McNamara.

THEFT

• Police arrested a 38-year-old Centralia man for second-degree burglary after he was found in a garage at home on the 1200 block of Mellen Street in Centralia about 10:15 a.m. on Saturday. David H. Beck is accused of stripping electrical wiring and was booked into the Lewis County Jail, according to the Centralia Police Department.

• Centralia police took a report from the 1300 block of View Avenue on Friday of someone using someone else’s debit card to make $3,500 in purchases on the Internet. Police are investigating.

• The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office reported this morning a resident on the 300 block of Blanchard Road outside Centralia discovered last Wednesday that his Remington 700, bolt-action rifle was missing from where he had placed it on a bench in his garage. The gun, valued at $1,200, had a Leopold mounted scope, according to the sheriff’s office.

DRUGS AND ALCOHOL

• A 24-year-old Lakewood woman was arrested for drugs when police went to remove her from a motel room in Centralia late Friday afternoon. Management at the Peppertree Motel on Alder Street had asked that Terry Couch be removed and when an officer contacted her, there was a baggie containing suspected methamphetamine next to her, according to Officer John Panco. Couch was booked into the Lewis County Jail, according to police.

• A 44-year-old Centralia man was arrested for possession of methamphetamine  after an officer contacted him in a “suspicious” vehicle parked on the 1100 block of Borthwick Street about 6:25 p.m. on Saturday. The officer smelled marijuana  and subsequently Darren G. Waller admitted he had meth; a small clear baggie of suspected meth was seized, according to police. Waller was booked into the Lewis County Jail, according to the Centralia Police Department. The case is also being referred for a possible charge of misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

• A 28-year-old Centralia man who ran away from a passing patrol car  ran into another about a block away and was arrested for an outstanding warrant and possession of methamphetamine, according to police. It happened about 12:25 p.m. on Saturday in the area of the 1300 block of Windsor Avenue. Esteban E. Perkins allegedly tried to drop a plastic baggie of suspected meth, according to police. He was  booked into the Lewis County Jail. The Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office has declined to charge Perkins with possession.

• An individual was arrested early Sunday morning following a traffic stop in Chehalis for a drug violation; he had a prescription pill in his pocket not in its prescription container, according to police. The man was connected at Northwest Boistfort Street for driving with a suspended license, according to police. He had a prescription for the drug, so he was arrested and then released, police said.

• A teenager was arrested at a football game at W.F. West High School on Friday night for allegedly being intoxicated. The 18-year-old was arrested and then released.

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Read about 13-year-old arrested after fatal shooting in Littlerock …

Monday, October 24, 2011 at 10:38 am

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

The (Tacoma) News Tribune reports a 13-year-old Littlerock boy was taken into custody after he allegedly shot and killed his sleeping father overnight at their home.

Read more, here

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Breaking news: Fear of lawsuit halted service of arrest warrants after Ron Reynolds, son, named in 1998 death

Monday, October 24, 2011 at 9:15 am

Updated 6:43 p.m.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod quashed his own arrest warrants following the coroner’s inquest into Ronda Reynolds death out of concern of getting sued, he indicated in a news release yesterday.

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Warren McLeod, Lewis County Coroner

McLeod said he issued arrest warrants for her husband, Ron Reynolds, and his son, Jonathan Reynolds, last Wednesday evening, following the conclusion by the inquest jury the pair were responsible for the homicide of the former state trooper in 1998.

He delivered the warrants to the sheriff’s office that night so they could be served, he said.

McLeod said he was notified first thing Thursday morning by the prosecutor’s office a legal issue had been brought to their attention.

“I was also advised that if the warrants were served prior to the legal issue being investigated and resolved the county could be liable for lawsuits,” McLeod wrote. “Based on this information I quashed the warrants and began an investigation into the legal issue.”

The coroner won’t reveal what the issue is.

He does say he will disclose it on Friday morning, speak about his investigation into it and it will be resolved that day.

Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer has given himself until Thursday morning to decide if any criminal charges will be filed against the Reynolds’ men. He’s said he’s spent numerous hours going through the sheriff’s office case file and the evidence heard by the inquest jury.

Meyer plans to announce his decision on Thursday morning at the Lewis County Law and Justice Center.

Under state law regarding coroner’s inquests, if a jury panel returns with a conclusion of homicide and also names the person or person responsible, the coroner is required to issue an arrest warrant, unless they are already in custody.

McLeod didn’t say who might sue Lewis County. He said today he’s not even sure who raised the issue with the prosecutor’s office.

It wasn’t attorneys for Ron or Jonathan Reynolds, he said.

McLeod, elected last November, conducted the inquest – a rarity in Washington state – in hopes of finding a resolution in the controversial case.

Reynolds, 33, was preparing to leave her husband of less than a year when she was found fatally shot in the head, on the floor of their walk-in closet, with a turned-on electric blanket covering her in their Toledo home.

Ron Reynolds, principal at Toledo Elementary School, told authorities he was asleep and did not hear the gunshot.

The Dec. 16, 1998 death was closed as suicide despite protests from Lewis County Sheriff’s Office lead detective Jerry Berry, and within a week after Ron Reynolds’ attorney had threatened to file a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office if they didn’t cease the investigation.

McLeod today called it a “major” legal issue, perhaps better described as a constitutional issue.

“It there is a multi-million dollar lawsuit and we lose, it could bankrupt the county,” McLeod said. “Just defending those can bankrupt the county.”

The coroner indicated he’s not comfortable having set aside his statutory obligation.

“Let’s just say had the arrest warrants been served, and the folks gone before a judicial officer, a judge, and the legal issue brought up, more likely than not the judge would have put everything on hold,” he said.

The coroner said his suspension of the warrant process and his decision to sort through it publicly on Friday is entirely independent of the Prosecutor Meyer’s timing and decision about any potential criminal charges.

“Even if he announces on Thursday he will not prosecute, that does not relive me of my statutory obligation to issue the warrants,” McLeod said.

McLeod plans to reconvene the inquest at 9 a.m. on Friday.

He’s not asking the jury to deliberate further.

He plans to disclose the details of the legal issue, and put any offering of information about it on the record and have it given under oath.

He said he could have done it sooner, but chose Friday in part to lessen the hardship on the inquest jurors “employment-wise.”

“If it turns out it’s not an issue at all, the warrants will go forward,” he said.
•••

Read background on the inquest, here

Read state statutes regarding county coroner, here

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Coroner’s inquest: Prosecutor, coroner, to reveal answers next week

Friday, October 21, 2011 at 8:55 pm

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer issued a statement today assuring the public he is working diligently to make a charging decision in Ronda Reynolds’ death, and he will announce it the day before the coroner’s announcement explaining why the arrest warrants were suspended.

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Jonathan Meyer, Lewis County Prosecutor

After telling a packed courtroom on Wednesday afternoon he would issue arrest warrants within 24 hours for the two men just named as responsible for Reynolds’ 1998 homicide, Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod suddenly this morning announced he put the warrants on hold.

McLeod said only a legal issue “came to light”.

The seven-day coroner’s inquest in Chehalis ended this week with a panel of five concluding the death almost 13 years ago was homicide; and Ron Reynolds and his son Jonathan Reynolds were responsible.

McLeod acknowledged this morning he is required under state law to issue the warrants.

The attorney representing Jonathan Reynolds, indicated today he didn’t file any legal documents to stop the process. Ron Reynolds’ attorney hasn’t returned calls for comment.

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Warren McLeod, Lewis County Coroner

The attorney representing Ronda Reynolds’ mother, Barbara Thompson, said he had no idea what was going on.

Royce Ferguson, designated by the coroner as “an especially interested party” to the inquest, sent an electronic letter to McLeod’s legal counsel today inquiring about the delay.

In it, Ferguson noted, state statute provides that following a finding of homicide by an inquest jury, “the coroner shall issue a warrant for the arrest of the person charged, returnable forthwith to the nearest magistrate.”

“Forthwith commonly means ‘without delay’,” Ferguson wrote.

Ferguson’s inquiry didn’t get him any answers.

Coroner McLeod has said he would provide the answers a week from today in a courtroom when his inquest is “reconvened.”

That is scheduled for 9 a.m. next Friday morning in a Lewis County District Courtroom.

Prosecutor Meyer in his news release today said he has not made a charging decision in the case.

He’s spent numerous hours reviewing the case file and inquest materials and will continue to use the “methodical and diligent process” his office strives for in every case, he wrote.

But Meyer will know his answer by next Thursday, he wrote.

He will announce it at a press conference on the ground floor of the same building at 10 a.m. that day.
•••

Read background on the inquest, here

Read state statutes regarding county coroner, here

Read “Ex-trooper’s husband put on leave from school principal post” from KOMOnews.com today at 2:41 p.m., here

Read “Ruling on trooper’s death: more suspense in unprecedented case” from Crosscut.com today, here

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News brief: Trial in Randle beating death postponed

Friday, October 21, 2011 at 8:39 pm

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The trial expected next week for the Randle taxidermist accused in the beating death of his father-in-law has been postponed.

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Erik R. Massa

Erik R. Massa, 43, was charged in February with second-degree murder in the death of Guy W. LaFontaine, a 58-year-old welder, from Federal Way.

The trial, expected to last five days, is now scheduled for the week of January 17.

LaFontaine ended up at Morton General Hospital on March 13, 2010 with two broken eye sockets and other injuries, but was released, because they couldn’t keep him in his bed, according to charging documents. LaFontaine’s wife took him to St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way where he was pronounced dead.

Massa has pleaded not guilty and remains free on $25,000 bail.
•••

Read background on the case:

“Randle taxidermist to face murder charge” from Tuesday Feb. 8, 2011, here

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Sharyn’s Sirens: Daily police and fire roundup

Friday, October 21, 2011 at 4:28 pm

ALLEGED FONDLING AND GROPING BY SCHOOL BUS DRIVER LEADS TO ARREST

• A school bus driver was arrested yesterday for allegedly groping four teenage girls after their volleyball game in Onalaska. The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office said the 51-year-old man drives for the Rainier School District and was off-duty but had gone to the game Tuesday in Onalaska to support the Rainier team. Kenneth W. Sands reportedly grabbed a 15-year-old volleyball players buttocks as she waiting to board the bus to go home with the team, slapped a 16-year-old on the buttocks and after he got on the bus, touched the breasts of a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old, according to the sheriff’s office. The bus driver kicked him off the bus, the sheriff’s office reported. He also allegedly had repeatedly fondled an adult female spectator during the game, according to the sheriff’s office. Chief Civil Deputy Stacy Brown said Sands drives both school routes and for the volleyball team. Sands was booked into the Lewis County Jail for third-degree child molestation and referred for possible charges of sexual misconduct and fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation, according to Brown.

MAN BIT, HIT BY SPOUSE

• Centralia police were called yesterday morning to the 1200 block of Alder Street where an individual told them their estranged spouse came into the home, hit him with a phone and bit him in the arm. An investigation was underway; further details were not readily available.

THEFT

• A 26-year-old woman was arrested for possession of a stolen vehicle overnight at Northeast Cascade and Fifth avenues in Chehalis. Mary J. Quinn was booked into the Lewis County Jail, according to the Chehalis Police Department. The vehicle was stolen out of Lakewood.

• Centralia police took a report yesterday afternoon of vehicle prowl from the 200 block of East Maple Street in which a purse was stolen and the bank cards used.

DRUGS

• Chehalis police called about 10:30 a.m. yesterday to W.F. West High School on Southwest 16th Street arrested a 15-year-old boy for possession of marijuana.

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Breaking news: Arrests put on hold in coroner’s inquest

Friday, October 21, 2011 at 8:33 am

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The Lewis County coroner has temporarily suspended the process regarding the arrest warrants following the coroner’s inquest into Ronda Reynolds 1998 death.

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Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod

Coroner Warren McLeod acknowledges he is required under state law to issue the warrants after his inquest jury determined Ron Reynolds and his son Jonathan Reynolds were responsible for the homicide, but indicates a legal issue has arisen.

In a news release this morning, McLeod writes a “complete public disclosure” will be made a week from today when his inquest is reconvened in Lewis County District Court.

McLeod calls it a temporary suspension to allow for resolution of the issue.

He stated no further details will be provided at this time.

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Coroner’s inquest update: More waiting

Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 6:20 pm

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer is still reviewing the evidence heard by the inquest jury regarding former trooper Ronda Reynolds’ 1998 death.

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Ron Reynolds

When the coroner’s inquest adjourned yesterday afternoon, its presiding officer Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod said he would issue an arrest warrant for Reynolds’ husband and step-son – as state law requires – within 24 hours.

The jury determined her death was homicide and not suicide as McLeod’s predecessor long claimed. The jurors then named Toledo Elementary School Principal Ron Reynolds and his son Jonathan Reynolds as responsible for her death.

Meyer said neither Ron or Jonathan Reynolds had been booked into the jail when he left for the day.

He referred questions about their arrest warrant to McLeod.

McLeod said today he won’t make any public statements until his inquest is officially closed, something he will consider done when he issues his “final order”.

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Ronda Reynolds

Yesterday afternoon from the bench, McLeod told the courtroom he would do that within the “next few days”.

As for who will serve the arrest warrant, Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield’s only public statement came on the day the inquest began: His office “will assist in the same professional, non-biased way that we always have.”

While the coroner is responsible for the inquest and its outcome – changing the manner of death on the death certificate – whether and if any criminal charges are filed is up to the prosecutor.

The inquest jurors only had to find it was more likely than not the two men were responsible, a different standard than would be applied in a criminal case.

Prosecutor Meyer said he’s still looking at the evidence to make his decision.

The Toledo School District’s superintendent issued a formal statement today saying only they are “doing everything possible to maintain the integrity of the educational process.”

•••

Read about the inquest jurors decision and what it means, or doesn’t mean, here

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Sharyn’s Sirens: Daily police and fire roundup

Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 1:17 pm

ALLEGED MISCONDUCT BY PE ELL SCHOOL COACH LEADS TO ARREST

• A now-former softball coach at Pe Ell High School has been arrested for alleged sexual contact with a 16-year-old player on the girl’s team. Todd D. Phelps, 52, was arrested on Tuesday and charged in Lewis County District Court with second-degree sexual misconduct with a minor, according to authorities. He pleaded not guilty yesterday. The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office said Phelps befriended the teenager and a relationship began outside of softball practices and games. Detectives investigated two incidents – one in April and another in July occurring in separate homes in Pe Ell – that were only recently reported, according to the sheriff’s office. Phelps had been employed as an assistant coach for two years when he resigned at the end of April, school district superintendent Kyle MacDonald said today. The resignation came because of a violation of district staff and student “boundary” policies prohibiting certain social contact with students, according to MacDonald. The sheriff’s office indicated in a news release the second incident was more serious than the other.

THEFT

• Centralia police were called yesterday morning to an apparent burglary to a business on the 3100 block of Galvin Road. Someone broke a window on a door inside American Home and Heating, according to police. Nothing appeared to be missing.

• The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office reported this morning someone broke through a back door at a home on the 100 block of Big Hanaford Road outside Centralia and stole numerous items including a video camera, medication, a checkbook and $200 cash. It was reported on Tuesday.

• The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office reported this morning they are investigating the theft of a generator and a Shop Vac from a back porch on the 300 block of Logan Hill Road in Chehalis. It was reported to them on Tuesday.

• Someone burglarized a construction trailer on the 300 block of South Military Road in Winlock and stole more than $4,000 worth of tools and equipment including five 100-foot heavy-gauge extension cords, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office. The break-in occurred between October 12 and Monday, according to the sheriff’s office.

• Centralia police took a report of an overnight car prowl on the 1200 block of G Street in which a television and a Playstation were stolen, according to a report made to police on Tuesday.

DEER HUNTER FOUND AFTER NIGHT IN THE WOODS

• The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office reported on Monday a 90-year-old Onalaska man was hungry but otherwise well after being stuck overnight alone while deer hunting outside Randle. The hunter had left Saturday morning and had not returned the following day, according to sheriff’s office. His vehicle got stuck off Forest Road 22 and he ended up sleeping in his truck, but was helped out by individuals he had radio contact with, according to Chief Civil Deputy Stacy Brown.

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Breaking news: Inquest jurors: Ronda Reynolds was murdered

Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 7:01 pm
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Barb Thompson is held by a friend in the courthouse after the inquest jurors' decision about her daughter's death was announced. / Courtesy photo by Bradd Reynolds

This was updated at 8 p.m., 9:30 p.m. and 11:59 p.m.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – An arrest warrant will be issued within the next 24 hours for Toledo Elementary School Principal Ronald A. Reynolds and his son, Jonathan A. Reynolds, the coroner said late this afternoon.

The pair were named today as responsible for the homicide of former trooper Ronda Elizabeth Reynolds in the family’s Toledo home almost 13 years ago.

The announcement came at the end of a coroner’s inquest that began a week ago Monday in the courthouse in Chehalis.

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Ronda Reynolds

Barb Thompson, who has been working since the end of 1998 to uncover the truth about her daughter’s death, was overwhelmed with the decision.

“What more could I ask for?” Thompson said. “It’s beyond any hope I had.”

The inquest jury of four women and one man were unanimous in their conclusions.

Thompson’s attorney shared a similar sentiment.

“Way back when, Barb said it’s a homicide, Marty (Hayes) said it’s homicide and it sounded convincing, but there were always these kinds of obstacles,” Royce Ferguson said. “I think the bungling of the sheriff’s office and their efforts to save face muddied the waters.”

Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer is at his office tonight, reviewing not only the sheriff’s office case file, but the evidence the inquest jurors saw and heard.

Meyer said he will be making a decision as soon as possible as to what action his office takes, meaning what, if any, criminal charges might be filed.

He has to be ready whenever the two are brought before a judge, he said.

“(I’ve talked with) all necessary parties and discussed all possible steps that could be taken from here,” he said.

What Meyer does know for sure, he said, is Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod must issue an arrest warrant and the accused must be brought before a magistrate, or judge, in Lewis County.

Calls for comment to Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield and his public information officer have not been returned tonight.

But Mansfield wrote on the sheriff’s office website the day the inquest began that the inquest’s outcome would not cause him to reopen their case or change its disposition in his office – suicide – unless clear and compelling new information arose.

Lewis County sheriff’s detective Sgt. Dusty Breen testified yesterday he felt the best determination the inquest jurors could make was an “undetermined” manner of death.

Breen also said although he leaned toward suicide, he was taking notes on items to follow up on.

Ronda Reynolds, 33, died with a bullet in her head in the home she shared with husband of less than a year, Ron Reynolds. She was found dead on the floor of a small walk-in closet, covered up by a turned-on electric blanket.

Ron Reynolds called 911 about 6:20 a.m. on Dec. 16, 1998 to say his wife committed suicide. His three young sons – including teenager Jonathan Reynolds – were allowed to leave as deputies arrived without being interviewed.

The sheriff’s office admitted to some mistakes, including the .32 caliber Rossi handgun being moved at the scene before photos were taken, although some testimony suggested they were lost. Jurors heard about evidence being destroyed or returned too soon.

Over the years, Ronda Reynolds manner of death was changed repeatedly by then-Lewis County Coroner Terry Wilson back and forth between suicide and undetermined as it was reinvestigated and then more recently underwent a judicial review.

Lewis County Coroner McLeod, elected last November, wanted to settle the matter on the controversial death by holding an inquest, something he doesn’t think has happened in Lewis County in the last 50 years.

Prosecutor Meyer, sat through the six and a half days of testimony, as did representatives from the sheriff’s office.

They were joined by even more of their co-workers when the verdict was read just after 4 p.m. by McLeod.

The inquest jurors findings noted Ronda Reynolds died of a contact gunshot wound to her right temple in the home at 114 Twin Peaks Drive on Dec. 16, 1998 between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., of homicide.

Less than a half hour later, the jurors returned with the conclusion she died at the hands of Ron Reynolds and his teenage son.

The outcome was exactly as it should be, said Sharon Mitchell of Morton who sat in on the proceedings.

“It should have happened years ago,” Mitchell said.

It wasn’t long before Thompson was surrounded by news cameras and reporters outside the courthouse doors.

The Spokane woman alternately teared up and smiled.

She said she was satisfied enough with the death certificate getting changed to homicide. She hopes the sheriff’s office follows through, although she has continued to be disappointed by them, except for Breen, she said.

“I don’t think that’s my job, and I have to move on with my life,” Thompson said. “That’s what you do.”

Asked about a motive, Thompson asked: “How much time do you have?”

She testified last week she believed Jonathan had a deep hatred for his step-mother, after an incident in which she was told he peeked at Ronda Reynolds in the shower, and she jumped out and tackled him.

Thompson said her faith in the system has been restored.

“It’s our peers, that’s why we have the jury system,” she said.

Ron Reynolds did not return a phone call made to his home for comment. Neither his or his son’s attorneys could be reached this evening.

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Members of the news media swarm around Barb Thompson as she exits the courthouse. / Courtesy photo by Bradd Reynolds

•••

For background, read the following:

Intro to Ronda Reynolds coroners inquest

“Coroners inquest into Ronda Reynolds death: Selection of jurors starts Monday”, here

Day one, Monday Oct. 10, 2011

“Coroners inquest into Ronda Reynolds death: Responders ponder, suicide or homicide”, here

Day two, Tuesday Oct. 11, 2011

“Coroners inquest: Detective reveals staged “suicide” statement from Ronda Reynolds”, here

Day three, Wednesday Oct. 12, 2011

“Coroners inquest: New investigation points to murder”, here

Day four, Thursday Oct. 13, 2011

“Coroners inquest: What the forensic experts say”, here

“Coroners inquest: Homicide experts disagree about Ronda Reynolds’ death”, here

Day five, Friday Oct. 14, 2011

Coroners inquest: Lie detector examiners testify”, here

“Coroners inquest: Mother of former trooper says it was murder”, here

“Coroners inquest: Crime scene reconstruction expert saw “earmarks” of suicide”, here

Day six, Monday Oct. 17, 2011

“Coroners inquest: What the sheriff’s office believes today”, here

Day seven, Tuesday Oct. 18, 2011

“Coroner’s inquest: Images inside the courtroom”, here

“Coroner’s inquest: Clues still coming in”, here

Day eight, Wednesday Oct. 19, 2011

“Breaking news: Decision reached in coroners inquest”, here

Background, Appeals Court on the judicial review

“Coroner’s appeal in Ronda Reynolds’ case heard by three-judge panel” from  Friday June 17, 2011 at 7:53 a.m., here

“Breaking news: Coroner’s inquest for Ronda Reynolds’ death to move forward” posted Thursday July 7 2011 at 8:22 a.m., here

Background, the 2009 judicial review

“Jury finds coroner erred in ruling former trooper’s death a suicide”, here

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Notes from behind the news: Coroner’s inquest; homicide and Facebook

Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 6:28 pm

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Greetings readers.

If you have gone to Lewis County Sirens Facebook group page this afternoon, you’ve gotten bits and pieces from me, from the courthouse via Brittany Voie, about the outcome of the coroner’s inquest.

There is still conversation going on there, so you might want to check that out while I write some news here.

Photos will be coming as well, here.

(Also, if you have not seen them, there is a whole series of photos from inside the courtroom posted here on Lewis County Sirens yesterday. Scroll down)

Your news reporter, Sharyn L. Decker
•••

More to come

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Coroner’s inquest: Clues still coming in

Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 3:35 pm
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Current Lewis County Sheriff's Office detective Sgt. Dusty Breen

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Even as the coroner’s inquest in Ronda Reynolds’ death has unfolded, the current detective’s supervisor at the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office has been taking notes on “things to follow up on.”

Detective Sgt. Dusty Breen said learning the name of the first arriving emergency medical technician to the Toledo home almost 13 years ago was new to him and just last week he talked with her.

When Breen testified yesterday, he spoke of he and his people looking at possible new leads and the frustration of learning all the physical evidence was gone.

It’s like a puzzle with a lot of pieces missing, he said.

“A lot of it came down to the initial investigation,” Breen said.

Belle Williams, the longtime director of evidence at the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, said yesterday evidence was destroyed or returned in the year following the death, after the request of the then-detective sergeant. More evidence was cleaned out again in 2002, she said.

She was in the midst of implementing a new procedure requiring written authorization.

“At that point, all we could do was stop it,” Williams said.

The seven-day inquest in Chehalis into the former trooper’s December 1998 death is concluding, with jurors scheduled to return to the courtroom with their decision at 4 p.m. today.

The four women and one man who deliberated yesterday afternoon and again this morning were asked to determine if the death was suicide, homicide or something else.

They are using the standard of a preponderance of evidence or “basically 51 percent, according to Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod.

McLeod told jurors he’d like it to be unanimous, but a majority agreeing would be sufficient.

If they return with a conclusion of homicide, he has said he would send them back to decide who they believe killed Reynolds. Under state law, if the jury names someone, the coroner is required to issue an arrest warrant.

What Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer would do in the situation, he has said he doesn’t know.

The inquest jurors have heard testimony from those who believe Reynolds’ death was suicide and those who think murder.

The 33-year-old was found dead on the floor of a small walk-in closet, with a bullet in her head and covered up by a turned-on electric blanket.

A new story inquest jurors heard yesterday was from a man Reynolds’ mother, Barb Thompson, had learned might have been at the Reynolds’ house the night before the death.

He lived with Joshua Williams, an individual who claimed one of the teenage friends of the Reynolds boys shot Reynolds, but later recanted his story.

Richard Melton told Breen of a time Williams borrowed his truck and then returned it spotlessly clean, Breen recounted. Melton denied ever being inside the Toledo house, according to Breen.

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Breaking news: Decision reached in coroners inquest

Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 12:41 pm

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Jurors for the coroner’s inquest into the  death of former state trooper Ronda Reynolds have reached a decision.

They will reconvene at 4 p.m. in the courtroom.

•••

FYI: You may learn what the verdict is first on Lewis County Sirens’ Facebook group page, before you read it here.

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News brief: Sketch released in case of Morton skeletal remains

Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 10:21 am

This was updated at 11:30 a.m.

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office confirmed today they believe foul play was involved in the case of the woman whose skeletal remains were found near Morton this past spring.

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Artists rendering

A motorist who pulled off U.S. Highway 12 to take a break spotted the remains off the side of a logging road about 5:30 p.m. on April 7.

The sheriff’s office has revealed very little about the case, but today released an artist’s sketch they hope will help them identify the woman.

“Obviously we’re at a standstill in the case until we find out who she is,” Chief Civil Deputy Stacy Brown said.

An image was made by studying the facial bones of the female they say is believed to have been between 20 and 35 years old when she died.

She is described as small in stature and possibly of mixed ethnicity.

An examination by a specialist at the King County Medical Examiner’s Office could not determine the cause of death, according to Brown.

The discovery was made 100 yards up a logging road just outside Morton, according to the sheriff’ office. They still won’t specify where, even if that was east or west of town.

“We’re not giving the exact location because whoever killed her knows those details,” Brown said.

The sheriff’s office is not commenting on whether they believe the woman died there or elsewhere but have previously said it was doubtful the remains had been there very long, because it was a well-used logging road.

The sheriff’s office isn’t yet saying what they were told by the expert for an estimate of how long ago the woman had died, in part because they have not yet received the report, according to Brown.

Dental records and DNA from the deceased have been entered into databases with no matches found.

Anyone with any information about this female or the case is asked to call the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office at 360-748-9286 or Lewis County Crime Stoppers – if the person wishes to remain anonymous -  at 1-800-748-6422.

•••

Read previous story: “New lead in possible identity of Morton skeletal remains” from Thursday Sept. 22, 2011, here

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Coroner’s inquest: Images inside the courtroom

Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 9:08 pm

Photos by Bradd Reynolds
For Lewis County Sirens

By Sharyn  L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Jurors for the coroner’s inquest into the 1998 death of former trooper Ronda Reynolds adjourned for the night after beginning deliberations about 11 o’clock today.

They are scheduled to return to the courtroom in Chehalis at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning.

The five jurors are tasked with determining if Reynolds death in her Toledo home was due to suicide, homicide or something else.

Some 40 witnesses have testified in the inquest which began last week.

Chehalis-area resident Bradd Reynolds (no relation) has been following the proceedings with his camera.

•••

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Retired Lewis County Sheriff's Office detective Dave Neiser testifies.

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Barb Thompson, mother of Ronda Reynolds, with sheriff's Chief Civil Deputy Stacy Brown to the right.

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Retired sheriff's Chief Criminal Deputy Joe Doench testifies.

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True crime author Ann Rule

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Juanita Vaughn, who worked with Reynolds at Wal-Mart in Aberdeen, testifies.

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Royce Ferguson, Everett attorney working with Thompson.

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Isabelle Williams, director of evidence for the Lewis County Sheriff's Office, testifies.

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Lewis County Coroner's Office Chief Deputy Dawn Harris, with Thurston County Coroner Gary Warnock.

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Nason Weller, Reynolds' supervisor at The Bon in Olympia, testifies.

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Current sheriff's detective Sgt. Dusty Breen, left, speaks with Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer.

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Retired sheriff's Deputy Gary Holt testifies.

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Sheriff's detective Jamey McGinty leaves the courtroom

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Sherri Murphy, who worked as a debt collector and then a state trooper, testifies.