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News brief: Logs spill at Grand Mound intersection

Wednesday, August 19, 2015 at 8:36 am
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Looking south from U.S. Highway 12 in Grand Mound. / Courtesy photo by Thurston County Sheriff’s Office

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

Southbound Old Highway 99 in Grand Mound is blocked this morning after a log truck lost its load in front of the AM/PM.

The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office tweeted at about about 7:50 a.m. there were no injuries in the rollover accident, just south of U.S. Highway 12.

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Winlock fire reduces grocery product warehouse to charred frame

Tuesday, August 18, 2015 at 7:41 pm
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Fire breaks out at Winlock warehouse. / Courtesy photo by Desiree Bowers

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

WINLOCK – Twelve hours after fire tore through a warehouse just up the street from the world’s largest egg in Winlock, smoke still rose from the sprawling pile of the building’s remains.

“We still have pockets of active flames,” Lewis County Fire District 15 Assistant Chief Kevin Anderson said.

An excavator was working through the debris so firefighters could continue to extinguish it.

The wood-framed, metal-sided structure stood on the west side of Northwest Kerron Street, just south of Laurel Street.

A similarly large warehouse to its south and two-story house to its north appeared untouched.

Anderson said firefighters arriving after the approximately 2:30 a.m. call found heavy smoke outside and flames visible from the north side of the building, coming out of a rollup door he believed had “failed”.

They were joined by crews from Vader, Toledo, Napavine and rural Chehalis, as well as the ladder truck from the Chehalis Fire Department.

It was an exterior attack, nobody was hurt, he said. The initial knockdown took well over an hour.

“I believe the business was, they were kind of like the middle man, selling materials to some of the liquidator stores,” Anderson said. “Mostly food items.”

It was filled with everything from ketchup and mustard to laundry detergent; pallets and pallets full of grocery products, plus plastic wrapping and packing materials, fire investigator Sam Patrick said.

“So your fire load was huge,” Patrick said.

Anderson said he didn’t know when people were last in the building, as the owners are away on vacation.

Patricia and Michael Parish, who reside in the Winlock area are out of the country, but had been contacted, according to Patrick.

Information from the Lewis County Assessors Office shows the 14,640-square-foot warehouse was built in 1968. It was labeled in fair condition. The assessed value is $220,000.

The building and the property – just shy of one acre – are listed as owned by Alternative Logistics LLC.

Among the rubble was a for-sale sign. Toledo Police Chief John Brockmueller said the property had been on the market off and on for three years or so.

Some of the run off from fire hoses reached a storm drain, and cooking oil seeped into Olequa Creek behind the building, according to personnel on the scene from the state Department of Ecology.

Spill Responder Ben Cornell said they had various ways of cleaning up what they could, including vacuuming oils from the water’s surface.

Brockmueller was there, as the city of Winlock recently contracted with Toledo for police services. Patrick is Sgt. Patrick with the Toledo Police Department. He also sits on the Winlock City Council.

Patrick said he expected it could be a couple of days before he could get in and start searching for the cause.

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Firefighters continue putting out hot spots today at Northwest Kerron Street.

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Smoke rises from the remains of pallets of grocery items after warehouse burns in Winlock.

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Sirens: Daily police and fire roundup

Monday, August 17, 2015 at 7:58 pm
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Children were removed through the back of a wrecked mini van still in their car seats this afternoon on Interstate 5. / Courtesy photo by Grant Wiltbank

PINNED ON INTERSTATE 5

• Firefighters and medics from four area departments responded to an approximately 1:40 p.m. collision today on northbound Interstate 5 northeast of Winlock. A mini van carrying a man, a woman and three children was pinned against the concrete center barrier by a semi truck’s trailer, according to an off-duty firefighter who stopped to help. Crews quickly stabilized the incident and removed all occupants safely through the rear hatch, with the girls still in their car seats, Toledo resident Grant Wiltbank said. The former fire chief of Toledo’s fire department said they were transported for what were described as non-life threatening injuries. It happened near the U.S. Highway 12 interchange. Another van was also involved but sustained relatively minor damage, he said.  The Washington State Patrol was on the scene investigating, according to Wiltbank.

REAR-ENDED ON INTERSTATE 5

• Two drivers were hospitalized with neck pain after a rear-end-type collision on northbound Interstate 5 near the Mellen Street interchange in Centralia yesterday evening, according to the Chehalis Fire Department.

HARASSMENT

• Centralia police were called to the 200 block of North Ash Street about 6:45 a.m. today where an individual reported that during a dispute, a male threatened to kill him. The investigation is underway, according to the Centralia Police Department.

BURGLARY AND THEFT CENTRALIA

• A 24-year-old Centralia man was arrested for residential burglary yesterday in connection with an approximately 9 p.m. call to the 500 block of West Pine Street, according to the Centralia Police Department. James J. Ayres Brewer was booked into the Lewis County Jail, according to police.

• A 23-year-old Centralia resident seen coming out the back door of a house on the 2300 block of Salzer Valley Road in Centralia at about noon on Friday was arrested for a warrant and for residential burglary. Mykl C.P. Teeter and the female he was with said they were picking up belongings for a past renter and feeding the dogs, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office. The owner when contacted said they did not recognize the two and had never heard of them, detective Sgt. Steve Aust said. Teeter was booked into the Lewis County Jail for his Centralia warrant and also for burglary, Aust said. He was released today without charges filed pending further investigation.

• Centralia police were called around noon yesterday to the 100 block of West Magnolia Street where an individual reported the theft of tires off their vehicle.

CAR PROWL

• Chehalis police were called on Saturday to the 400 block of Southwest 15th Street where sometime during the night someone broke into a vehicle and stole fishing gear.

LOST AND FOUND

• Chehalis police were called about 3:30 p.m. on Saturday about a wedding ring lost in a parking lot on South Market Boulevard.

AND MORE

• And as usual, other incidents such as arrests for warrants, shoplifting, urinating in public, driving with suspended license; responses for alarm, dispute, runaway child, shoplifting and other misdemeanor theft,  issue civil in nature and not criminal, to tell transients to put out their campfire, dogs alone inside presumably too-hot parked vehicle, baby sleeping alone inside inside a parked car in front of a retail store, collision on city street … and more.

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A wreck involving three vehicles was cleared from Interstate 5 just after 3 p.m. / Courtesy photo by Grant Wiltbank

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News brief: Washougal resident burned in vehicle fire on freeway

Monday, August 17, 2015 at 1:16 pm
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A crew sprays down the remains of a motorhome on the side of Interstate 5 this morning. / Courtesy photo by Riverside Fire Authority.

Updated at 4:52 p.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

An elderly Washougal man was hospitalized for injuries after a motorhome caught fire on Interstate 5 in Centralia this morning.

Firefighters called at 10:10 a.m. to the southbound lanes near milepost 83 found the vehicle on the shoulder and well-involved in flames, according to Riverside Fire Authority.

It was quickly extinguished but it and all of its contents were destroyed, according to the fire department.

The occupant of the motor home stated there was a mechanical problem, that the fire originated in the engine compartment and then spread through the dash to the interior of the motor home, Fire Capt. Scott Weinert stated in a news release.

The 88-year-old had first and second-degree burns to his arm, the back of his head and his neck, according to Weinert. They think it happened when he opened the hood, Weinert said. The patient was transported to Providence Centralia Hospital for evaluation.

The state Department of Transportation reported a seven-mile backup into Thurston County.

 

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Man struck by locomotive in Rochester, gets up and walks away

Monday, August 17, 2015 at 9:38 am

Updated at 11:40 a.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A 24-year-old walking on the railroad tracks in Rochester last night, was hit by a train and taken to Providence St. Peter Hospital with head and neck injuries.

“The crew said he was walking down the tracks, the train approached,” West Thurston Regional Fire Authority Chief Robert Scott said. “He stepped off to the side but not far enough.”

Firefighters called about 9:35 p.m. to the area near 183rd Avenue Southwest and Pendleton Street searched around the train, Scott said. They were joined by the crew of the Puget Sound and Pacific Railroad train which had stopped, but didn’t find the man.

A sheriff’s deputy located the victim two blocks away on Daryl Lane, Scott said.

Ambulatory and conscious are not findings usually associated with such a call, Scott said.

“He was clipped by the corner of the engine, knocked clear and fell down in the gravel,” Scott said.

The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office described the injury as minor. Scott said visually it was obviously serious, but, he was still walking and talking.

Medics transported the patient to the Olympia hospital. He was treated and has been released, a hospital spokesperson said this morning.

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Sirens: Daily police and fire roundup

Sunday, August 16, 2015 at 1:57 pm
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•••

TIMBER FIRE BURNS NEAR ALDER LAKE

• An approximately 25-acre fire burning just south of Alder Lake yesterday afternoon is unsafe and inaccessible to firefighters because of the steep terrain, according to a public affairs officer with the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Helicopters dropping buckets of water have been helpful with the lightning-strike caused timber fire which was reported on Tuesday, according to authorities. The fire is near Elbe and being managed by the Gifford Pinchot and the state Department of Natural Resources. A Type 3 wildland fire management team with approximately 40 firefighters and personnel are assigned, operating at the Cowlitz Valley Ranger District. There is no estimate of containment or control. Officials remind the public of restrictions that began on July 1 all through the Gifford Pinchot that prohibit any kind of motorized vehicles on trails, any smoking outside of buildings or enclosed vehicles and any campfires unless they are built inside the provided metal campfire rings or grills in developed recreational sites.

POLICE: DAYTIME OFFICE BURGLAR APPREHENDED

• Centralia police arrested a 37-year-old Morton man on Saturday after they found him inside a closed business on the 1100 block of Kresky Avenue. Officers were called at 1:20 p.m. by a citizen who saw a male throw a rock through the glass door and enter, according to the Centralia Police Department. When police arrived, the subject was rummaging through the office and “squared off” against an officer, according to police.   Joseph C. Tjelde had allegedly stuffed his pockets with various items of no particular street vale, Sgt. Carl Buster said. Tjelde  was booked into the Lewis County Jail for first-degree burglary.

BREAK-IN

• Police were called to the 500 block of North Rock Street about 10:15 a.m. on Saturday regarding the theft of tools from a residence.

FRAUD

• Centralia police were called about 8 o’clock on Sunday morning to the 1800 block of Shamrock Drive where an individual reported two credit card accounts were fraudulently opened in their name.

AND MORE

• And as usual, other incidents such as arrests for warrants, trespassing, misdemeanor assault, driving with suspended license, violation of an anti-harassment order, unlawful possession of fireworks; responses for hit and run, misdemeanor theft, collision on city street … and more.

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Armed Centralia resident wounded with own firearm after contacting trespasser

Sunday, August 16, 2015 at 12:15 pm

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A 39-year-old man with a gun who confronted a prowler in his yard in Centralia last night ended up shot in his foot with his own weapon, according to what he told police.

The man told police who arrived after the 9:24 p.m. call to the 500 block of Hamilton Avenue that he’d gone outside to feed his cat, saw someone on his property and confronted him, Sgt. Carl Buster said.

Police were told the prowler “rushed” him and struck him in the head with a pipe, Buster said.

The 39-year-old said he began to draw his pistol, but the other guy shoved the gun down, causing the victim to shoot himself, according to police. The victim fired a second round at the suspect while he was running away, police said.

The prowler then disappeared into the night, Buster said.

Police summoned aid for the man, set up “containment” around the area and attempted to find the subject they were told was a white or Hispanic male, Buster said.

A police dog was summoned to assist.

The K-9 sniffed around the yard but could not pick up a scent to track, Buster said.

The victim had a bump on his head as well as the gunshot wound, but has already been released from the hospital, he said.

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Sirens: Daily police and fire roundup

Saturday, August 15, 2015 at 1:11 pm
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•••

MOTHER NATURE DANGER

• Firefighters were called at 1 p.m. yesterday when lightning strikes to trees caused two brush fires along Lincoln Creek Road west of Centralia. Firefighters with the state Department of Natural Resources were already on the scene at the 2100 block and both fires were small and contained quickly, according to Riverside Fire Authority. It was fortunate it was continuously raining at the time, preventing anything larger from developing, Capt. Erik Olson indicated. Conditions are still very dry and the fire danger remains high, despite the small amount of rain that fell, according to Olson.

CAR PROWL

• Police were called about 10:25 a.m. yesterday to the 2500 block of Kristine Court in Centralia about a flashlight getting stolen from a vehicle.

FAKE BILL COLLECTOR THREATS

• Police and the Centralia Utilities Center are warning customers of a scam involving bogus collection calls. Authorities have gotten several complaints from customers who reported receiving a phone call from a male who said if they didn’t pay their bill immediately, their utilities would be shut off,  according to the Centralia Police Department. Anyone who gets such a call is urged to hang up and then phone 360-330-7657. Police detective Patty Finch said that is the only valid number for the utilities customer service department. Finch indicates it’s a rare occasion the utility will call a customer, and that would be after both a statement and a past due letter have been sent out.

CRIME STOPPERS

• Crime Stoppers of Lewis County and the Chehalis Police Department are seeking help with a burglary investigation involving some $3,000 worth of Ray-Ban and other brands of sunglasses stolen from an optometry business at the 100 block of Boistfort Street in Chehalis. The break-in occurred between 6 p.m. on July 30 and 4 o’clock the following morning, according to authorities. More than 30 pairs were taken. Crime Stoppers pays up to $1,000 for information leading to the clearance of crimes. Anonymous calls can be made to 1-800-748-6422 or information may be shared online at www.lewiscountycrimestoppers.org

AND MORE

• And as usual, other incidents such as arrests for warrants, misdemeanor assault; responses for collision on city street, collision on Interstate 5 … and more.

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Victim of freight train was locally renowned recycler

Friday, August 14, 2015 at 2:59 pm
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The Locust Street crossing in Centralia sees more than 50 trains pass through it daily

Updated

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CENTRALIA – Victor J. Bonagofski, a nearly lifelong resident of Centralia, lost his life when he fell off his bicycle on the railroad tracks and was hit by a freight train on Wednesday night.

Police say Bonagofski was at the Locust Street crossing, headed east and the crossing arms had come down. Witnesses told police he was was unable to move off the tracks prior to being struck.

The 72-year-old who made his living recycling and selling car parts had been behind the Hub Tavern on South Tower Avenue not long before it happened.

He was near the dumpsters, “doing what he normally does,” Centralia resident Jennifer Holt said.

She’d noticed him while she and her boyfriend were out in the bar’s beer garden.

Holt said she was taken aback when she learned later what had happened, and who was killed.

“I don’t know him, I know who he is,” she said this morning. “I’d see him a lot, doing the cardboard thing.”

The Lewis County coroner today released his name and said he concluded the death was accidental.

Born in North Dakota, Bonagofski was 10th of 14 children. His family moved to Centralia in 1950, according to one of his more than 60 nieces and nephews.

He lived on Reynolds Avenue, on a parcel of roughly two acres that over the years has drawn the attention of city and county officials, concerned about his thick collection of recyclables and vehicles.

He owned the land there, according to nephew Kevin Bonagofski.

Back in January of 2008, more than a dozen government employees, including law enforcement with their guns drawn, visited his property, accusing Bonagofski of operating an illegal wrecking yard. When they knocked on the door of his soon-to-be condemned mobile home tucked amongst scores of cars and trucks, Bonagofski had been burning sticks and blackberry vines in his wood stove and listening to a local radio talk show.

Twice before, the then-64-year-old said, they’d filed nuisance abatements on his property.

The man who earned a degree in business administration from Seattle University years earlier said it was time consuming, getting the property cleaned up – which is what he suspected officials really wanted – especially with interruptions of lawsuits and civil actions.

Lewis County code enforcement had been talking with him again in recent months.

Nephew Kevin Bonagofski said his uncle never married and had no children.

“I heard one time, he had a mail order bride, but it didn’t work out,” said Dave Dix who works at the commercial properties adjacent to Bonagofski’s compound.

Dix said Bonagofski would stop over once or twice a week, often buying cars when there was an auction.

“It was definitely a shock, he’s gonna be missed, that’s for sure,” Dix said.

Dix said he was told Bonagofski just laid there after he fell down; he wondered if maybe he had a heart attack or hit his head and was knocked out.

BNSF spokesperson Gus Melonas said it was an empty grain train headed from Kalama to Montana that was involved. Crew on the northbound train saw someone and tried to stop, Melonas said.

“They went into an emergency brake application, but impact was made, unfortunately,” Melonas said.

It didn’t entirely surprise Dix that the neighbor would have tried to pedal across even after the crossing arms came down. He wasn’t exactly known for abiding by the rules.

“If it wasn’t in the Constitution, then it wasn’t the law,” Dix said. “He was hard on that, he pushed that issue.”

However, he was a good person, in good shape for a man of his age and was busy from daylight to dark, according to Dix. His driver’s license had been suspended, many times, so he usually rode a bicycle pulling a small trailer, he said.

“He was a worker, man he was a worker,” Dix said. “We used to watch him go up the road and come back with that trailer full.”

Lavonne Riggen, Bonagofski’s younger sister, came to the property this afternoon to help look for important documents.

“A lot people looked at Vic and thought he was just a bum,” Riggen said. “But they didn’t know how smart he was; he graduated from Seattle University with degrees in political science and business.”

He was just stubborn about his rights, she said.

The Centralia woman said her brother also was gifted when it came to auto mechanics.

“We used to say he was born with crank case oil in his blood,” she said.

 

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Sirens: Daily police and fire roundup

Friday, August 14, 2015 at 11:50 am
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•••

SCREAMING WOMAN

• Centralia police were called last night when a resident at Main and North Buckner streets heard a woman screaming outside and then saw a flatbed truck driving away. The female was saying no, no and her voice seemed to be coming from inside the vehcile, according to the the Centralia Police Department. Arriving officers after the 11:38 p.m. call searched the area and found two items of clothing that seemed out of place, according to police. They broadcast the information and truck’s description to other area law enforcement. Officers were told the truck had a white front cab with a black flat bed and a loud muffler. As of his morning, there are no reports of any missing person, according to police.

GROPING REPORT

• A 14-year-old girl’s parent’s called police yesterday evening after she told of a man near the river near Borst Park who reportedly touched her inappropriately as he helped her up an incline while she and her friend were leaving. According to police, two girls were relaxing by the river when approached by a stranger who made them uncomfortable so they decided to depart the area. “The victim was having trouble climbing back out of where they were so the male suddenly grabbed the female around the waist in an effort to help her up the incline and ended up touching her crotch area on the outside of her clothes,” Centralia police reported in a summary of the incident. She pushed his hand away and told her parents, according to the Centralia Police Department. The man was described as Hispanic- or Indian-looking with very short hair, in his late 20’s to early 30’s and speaking with an unknown accent, according to police. He was wearing blue jeans and a shirt that was striped with red and gray or black, according to the report. An officer checked the area but the man was not located, according to police.

YARD THEFT

• A 1997 Bulldog tilt car trailer was stolen off property at the 800 block of Nevil Road outside Winlock sometime between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. yesterday morning, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office. The loss is estimated at $2,500, according to the sheriff’s office.

• Someone stole tires and rims from a backyard at the 1400 block of Oxford Avenue in Centralia, according to a report made to police late yesterday afternoon.

VANDALISM

• Centralia police were called about 9:40 a.m. yesterday regarding a car window broken at the 2800 block of Russell Road.

AND MORE

• And as usual, other incidents such as arrests for warrants, driving under the influence; responses for alarm, dispute, harassment, vandalism, misdemeanor theft, suspicious circumstances, rollover accident on Interstate 5 with no injury, dog left alone in presumably too hot parked vehicle, unfounded report of two babies left alone in a vehicle in a parking lot … and more.

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Sirens: Daily police and fire roundup

Thursday, August 13, 2015 at 2:31 pm
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•••

ASSAULT

• Chehalis police were called about 8 a.m. yesterday to the 500 block of Southeast Washington Avenue about two males fighting, but neither wanted police to pursue charges. An officer was called about 9:20 a.m. on Tuesday to the 500 block of Southeast Washington Avenue where a client wanted to report being assaulted a by another client. The case is under investigation, according to the Chehalis Police Department.

BREAK-INS CENTRALIA

• Police responded to an approximately 5 p.m. call on Tuesday for a burglary at a home on the 600 block of Yew Street in Centralia. Several electronic devices were taken, according to the Centralia Police Department.

• Centralia police were called about 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday for a burglary discovered at a residence on the 600 block of Lakeshore Drive. Money and a purse were missing, according to the Centralia Police Department.

• Centralia police were called at about 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday to the 1000 block of Alder Street about a burglary to a residence. Among the missing property were jewelry, camera, a backpack and food, according to the Centralia Police Department.

MISSING TRUCK FOUND IN MINERAL

• A search around the town of Mineral last night for approximately three hours for a woman with misdemeanor warrants turned up both the woman and a truck stolen out of Tacoma, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office. Deputies were notified Sabrina M. Colwell, 43, had been seen driving the 1990 Chevrolet S10 pickup round the area and eventually located her just before 9 p.m. at the 100 block of Lincoln Avenue, according to the sheriff’s office. Colwell was booked into the Lewis County Jail for possession of a stolen vehicle and for her warrants, Cmdr. Dusty Breen said.

LOST AND FOUND

• Chehalis police were called on Tuesday by a female who said she lost her wallet, she thought around 11 p.m. the night before near Rite Aid on the 500 block of South Market Boulevard. She said the pink wallet contained about $1,000 cash as well as identification, according to the Chehalis Police Department.

CAR PROWL

• Police were called about 11:30 a.m. yesterday regarding a vehicle prowl at the 200 block of East Summa Street in Centralia which a battery was stolen.

• A backpack and some medication were reported stolen from a vehicle parked at the 700 block of Harrison Avenue on Tuesday at about 2:30 p.m.

AND MORE

• And as usual, other incidents such as arrests for warrants, shoplifting, probation violation, driving with suspended license; responses for alarm, dispute, harassment, hit and run, misdemeanor theft, fireworks complaint, collision on city street, dog left alone in presumably too hot parked vehicle … and more.

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Gish Road Fire: Minimal burning, but work continues with scores of personnel

Thursday, August 13, 2015 at 12:17 pm

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS –  The fire that consumed and scorched 102 acres of private property in Onalaska is considered 70 percent contained this morning.

Since Monday it has been mostly smoldering and smoking, having burned young Douglas fir and alder as well as thick underbrush and leftovers from previous logging.

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Tuesday August 11, 2015

No one has been injured and no structures lost, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

One hundred seventy people are assigned to work the fire today, along with 14 fire engines, three dozers and five water tenders, according to a spokesperson for its incident command team.

A fact sheet issued this morning from Public Information Officer Connie Birkland lists the fire as “human caused, under investigation”. But Birkland said they still don’t know what sparked the blaze on Sunday.

“We’re just making that statement,” Birkland said. “We just know there was no lightning at the time, no obvious evidence (like something from a power line); so we’re assuming it’s human caused.”

Birkland said they have no specific information about what did cause the fire. DNR investigators are responsible for finding that out, she said.

The fire scene is on a relatively flat ridge top south of Gish Road.

Birkland said they initially reported it was 103 acres, but revised that down after the individual who measured it said it was really closer to 102 acres.

Crews continue to mop up hot spots within the fire perimeter. Fire is minimal and continues to smolder in stumps and root system.

No new fire growth is expected, a relatively thin fire line was established early on.

They’re expecting slightly cooler weather with a chance of minimal rain and possibly lightning, Birkland said.

“We’re also being told it would take quite a bit of rain to make any difference for the fire,” she said.
•••

For background, read “Gish Road Fire: Smoldering and smoking could continue for weeks” from Tuesday August 11, 2015, here

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News brief: Death on the railroad tracks in Centralia

Thursday, August 13, 2015 at 9:26 am

Updated at 1:53 p.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

A bicyclist who tried to cross the tracks as a freight train was approaching in downtown Centralia last night fell off his bike and was killed by the train.

Officers dispatched at about 11:22 p.m. found him deceased and laying on the tracks, according to the Centralia Police Department.

It happened near the intersection of Locust and Railroad avenues.

Police learned the man had been pedaling east and continued even though the crossing arms were down.

“Witnesses say the subject fell off his bike and was unable to move off the tracks prior to being hit by the train,” detective Patty Finch said in a news release this morning.

Finch said she believes he is local,  and 72 years old, but detectives are not releasing his name.

Detectives, law enforcement with BNSF and the coroner’s office were on the scene until about 2:30 a.m.

Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod said he may be able to reach out to the likely next-of-kin today, but won’t have a confirmed identity of the individual until after the autopsy tomorrow.

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Chehalis police: Stranger tells teen to get in his car

Wednesday, August 12, 2015 at 8:20 pm

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS –  Chehalis police are looking for a blond-haired young man with a silver Ford passenger car after an odd incident at the Twin City Town Center last night.

An individual called 911 about 10:50 p.m. to say he and his 13-year-old grandson were cleaning up the parking lot and the driver pulled up near the young teen.

“He asked the boy where the nearest gas station was, the boy pointed across the parking lot and he told the boy, ‘get in my car’,” Chehalis Police Department spokesperson Linda Bailey said. “The boy replied no and the car drove off.”

A female in the passenger seat reportedly said nothing.

Officers checked the area around the 1400 block of Northwest Louisiana Avenue and didn’t locate the car, Bailey said. They broadcast the information to other police departments, she said.

The driver was described as about 20 years old, with a handlebar type mustache, that curled up on its ends, Bailey said.

“We’re looking into the availability of surveillance video and researching possible partial (license) plates,” Bailey said.

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News brief: Two hurt in separate motorcycle incidents

Wednesday, August 12, 2015 at 6:45 pm

Updated

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS –  A motorcyclist was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle today after a wreck along the 100 block of Hewett Road southeast of Chehalis.

Members of Lewis County Fire District 6 responded to the approximately noontime crash to find the motorcycle had left the roadway into the vegetation and the patient had chest injuries, according to a district spokesperson.

The patient was transported by ambulance to a nearby privately owned landing strip where he was transferred to the care of the AirLift Northwest crew, spokesperson Firefighter DJ Hammer indicated.

It happened near Steveson Road. The 64-year-old Chehalis man initially was said to not have been wearing a helmet, but it turned out he was, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

Meanwhile a motorcyclist speeding down Interstate 5 last night who laid down his motorcycle before colliding with the underside of a semi truck was listed in satisfactory condition this morning.

Troopers notified about 9:40 p.m. had been chasing the 1998 Honda VTR1000 southbound for an unknown reason, according to the Washington State Patrol.

State Patrol spokesperson Trooper Dave Bourland said the pursuit had been terminated prior to the accident.

It ended near milepost 59 outside of Vader. The southbound lanes were partially closed until 2 o’clock this morning.

Michael B. Hills, 38, of Kelso, was transported to  PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver for treatment, the investigating trooper reports. At midmorning, Hills remained in the intensive care unit, but was in satisfactory condition, a hospital spokesperson said.

Hills is to be arrested for driving under the influence as well as eluding, according to the state patrol.

He was wearing a helmet and did have a motorcycle endorsement, the state patrol reports.

Bourland had no further details such as where the pursuit began or why.
•••

CORRECTION: This news story has been updated to correctly reflect the motorcyclist in the Hewett Road  wreck was wearing a helmet. Incorrect information had been provided by the sheriff’s office.

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News brief: Chehalis garage catches fire

Wednesday, August 12, 2015 at 2:49 pm

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS –  A motorist spotted smoke and flames just east of Interstate 5 when passing through Chehalis yesterday afternoon, drawing a response from three departments for a structure fire.

Chehalis Fire Department Capt. Casey Beck said they found a detached garage burning next to a vacant home near the 500 block of Maryland Avenue at about 2 p.m.

“We got there, the garage was fully involved,” Beck said. “We pulled a line and got it put out.”

The response involved about a dozen firefighters, he said.

Since the residence was unoccupied, the garage was empty, and now it’s gutted, according to Beck.

“I’m not sure why it caught fire, it’s still under investigation,” he said.

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Sirens: Daily police and fire roundup

Tuesday, August 11, 2015 at 7:04 pm
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•••

Updated at 8:20 p.m.

UNHAPPY GIRLFRIEND TAKES AXE IN HAND

• A 35-year-old woman angry because her boyfriend wouldn’t let her into his house, allegedly broke through his door with an axe and after being escorted out, threw a mole trap through his laundry room window yesterday west of Chehalis. A deputy called to the 400 block of Leudinghaus Road was told by the 62-year-old victim that Amy E. Eitel was there the day before, but got upset, broke the bathroom door and left for the evening, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office. When she returned yesterday morning and wasn’t invited in, she reportedly used the remote from his pickup truck to open his garage door and went in and used the axe to mutilate the interior door until it opened, the sheriff’s office reports. He took her outside, according to Chief Deputy Stacy Brown. That’s when she allegedly shattered the window, Brown said. Eitel had run off down the river bank behind the residence and was not located, according to Brown. The sheriff’s office is referring the case to prosecutors for charges including violating a domestic violence order, malicious mischief and burglary, Brown said.

RANDLE DAD BOOKED FOR ASSAULT

• The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office reported yesterday a 26-year-old Randle man was taken into custody after allegedly choking his 8-year-old son, leaving bruising on his neck and jaw. A deputy was called about 9:40 p.m. on Friday to the 700 block of Silverbrook Road where the child had reportedly fled to a neighbor’s after the assault and were told Justin L. Bays was intoxicated and trying to gain entry, according to the sheriff’s office. He was gone when law enforcement arrived but subsequently located, Chief Deputy Stacy Brown said. Bays was booked into the Lewis County Jail for outstanding warrants and the case was referred to prosecutors for a possible charge of fourth-degree domestic violence assault, according to Brown. A charge of indecent exposure was also suggested as Bays had allegedly urinated in the neighbor’s yard in front of the neighbor and neighbor’s children just prior to the alleged assault, Brown said.

BREAK-IN MOSSYROCK

• Sometime between Sunday and yesterday, someone cut a lock on a storage container in a fenced yard at the 100 block of Mossyrock Road West and stole an estimated $4,500 worth of property including a hunting bow, four remote controlled helicopters and a 42-inch flat screen television, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

SERIAL SHOPLIFTING ALLEGED

• A Pe Ell couple with a baby were detained at Home Depot yesterday afternoon for allegedly stealing about $400 worth of merchandise. Randy C. Marrs, 28, and Brittney A. Marrs, 23, were subsequently arrested for organized retail theft in connection with that along with incidents last week at Sears and last month at Wal-Mart, according to the Chehalis Police Department. They were booked into the Lewis County Jail, according to police.

DOG-NAPPED

• Police were called about 8:10 p.m. on Saturday regarding a 6-month-old pit bull puppy stolen from a yard on the 300 block of N Street in Centralia.

DRUGS

• A 27-year-old Chehalis resident was arrested for possession of heroin after he was contacted by officers at the 600 block of South Tower Avenue in Centralia at about 10:30 p.m. yesterday. Jose Garnica was booked into the Lewis County Jail, according to the Centralia Police Department.

FOUL PROWL

• Centralia police took a report of a diaper bag stolen out of a vehicle at the 500 block of North Ash Street on Saturday.

VANDALISM

• Centralia police were called just before 11 a.m. on Sunday by an individual who reported windows were broken out of their vehicle while parked at the 500 block of Hillkress Street during the night.

IN-TOWN HUNTING?

• Chehalis police were called about 11:10 a.m. yesterday regarding deer with arrows in them seen near the Elks lodge at the 2500 block of Northeast Kresky Avenue. Further information was not readily available.

LOST AND FOUND

• A wallet full of credit cards was found amongst clothing donated to a thrift shop on the 1700 block of North National Avenue in Chehalis yesterday, according to police. The Chehalis Police Department asks the owner to please phone them.

AND FROM MORTON

• A reporting party called police on Wednesday afternoon to say she was receiving threatening text messages over her telephone. After investigation it was determined the reporting party, while using a flip phone was only getting half of the message and was interpreting them incorrectly, according to the Morton Police Department. No offense occurred, police said.

• Morton police were called about 8:50 p.m. on Friday regarding a cooler stolen from the 700 block of Main Avenue, with the suspects described as individuals wearing head lamps. The case is under investigation, according to the Morton Police Department.

COLLISION

• Two individuals were hospitalized after an ATV accident early yesterday morning on the 1500 block of Middle Fork Road in Onalaska. The driver, who turned out to be a 36-year-old man from Cinebar, allegedly gave a friend’s name as his own to a deputy and also to the hospital upon admission, according to police. Police said when Richard R. Perry’s identification was found in his passenger’s wallet at the hospital, they learned he was wanted on a felony warrant out of Kelso. Perry was subsequently booked into the Lewis County Jail for identity theft, making a false statement and driving with a suspended license, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office and Centralia police. His passenger, a 35-year-old Onalaska woman, was admitted to the hospital and although she had a municipal court warrant, was not jailed, according to the sheriff’s office.

AND MORE

• And as usual, other incidents such as arrests for warrants, trespassing, shoplifting, misdemeanor assault, misdemeanor theft, no contact order violation, malicious mischief, driving under the influence, driving with suspended license; responses for alarm, dispute, hit and run, misdemeanor theft, receipt of counterfeit bills, collision on city street, skate boarders whipping in and out of pedestrian sidewalk traffic, cussing outside a Chehalis resident’s window keeping him awake, possibly intoxicated male stumbling onto street and almost getting run over … and more.

 

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Gish Road Fire: Smoldering and smoking could continue for weeks

Tuesday, August 11, 2015 at 3:26 pm
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Personnel continue work to extinguish hot spots south of Gish Road. / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Fire District 1

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS –  The Onalaska wildfire that broke out on Sunday and spread rapidly to more than 100 acres is smoldering, something that could continue for quite some time, according to officials.

Still approximately 100 firefighters with the state Department of Natural Resources are working at the scene, Public Information Officer Connie Birkland said last night.

The blaze burned what authorities initially described as a young plantation of Douglas fir and alder on private property south of the 300 block of GIsh Road, roughly five miles east of Interstate 5.

An early evacuation advisory was issued for residents in the vicinity on Sunday afternoon, but rescinded that evening. Aerial drops of retardant from jet planes were used to protect homes along the northern perimeter and also to slow the flames from spreading to the east.

“At this point, there are no structures we’re worried about,” Birkland said.

As of last night, the fire was considered 20 percent contained, meaning a sufficiently wide and extinguished strip of ground that circles the fire is only 20 percent finished.  They’ve got engines with hoses laid around the perimeter.

Crews are continuing the hard work of what they call mop up, according to Birkland.

“There’s a lot of hot, underground roots and stumps still burning,” she said, “You’re not seeing a lot of flames, you see smoke.”

No injuries have been reported or any structures burned. The cause remains under investigation.

Chief Gregg Peterson, of Newaukum Valley Fire and Rescue in Napavine, who along with Lewis County Fire District 8 Chief Duran McDaniel of Salkum assisted the local fire departments’ response on Sunday said his “first-in” person pointed out yesterday morning to the investigator the spot where the fire originated .

But there weren’t other obvious clues to share about what may have started the fire, according to Peterson.

“Our people didn’t see anyone or make contact with anyone, as far as I know,” he said of the initial response.

DNR has not yet said who owns the parcels involved.

Birkland said she may have miscommunicated somewhat about the nature of the properties involved. The land holds not so much tree farms as what they call regeneration – young growth of new trees – following previous logging, she said.

Peterson said acreage-wise, it was as big of a fire as he’s ever seen in Lewis County. Chief Mike Kytta, a nearly 40-year veteran of firefighting from Centralia, said the same, according to Peterson.

McDaniel, who started firefighting as a 16-year-old said the largest he knew of was in the summer of 1983 when a fire off Winston Creek Road at Longbell Road burned 247 acres. He recalled a good-sized fire on Dodge Road out of Morton in the 1990s, but said he didn’t know its size.

The Gish Road Fire has been measured at 103 acres.

“In the last 30 years, (this) was the biggest one we’ve had, as far as I know, that was anywhere near homes,” McDaniel said.

Watching a low-flying jet drop fire retardant across the area was a rare sight, and a first for McDaniel.

“When I went to fire school, they said you’ll never see this in Western Washington,” he said.

It was just about exactly a year ago that a roughly 60-acre forest fire burned beyond Teague Road, west of Centralia. Chuck Turley, assistant manager of the Pacific Cascade Region of the state Department of Natural Resources said DNR used a plane to drop fire retardant there.

How long until the Gish Road fire is out, or how long crews will be working on it isn’t something Birkland  could easily answer.

“Even though it’s confined inside the fire perimeter right now, it can go on for weeks,” she said.
•••

For background, read “Tree farm property burning in Onalaska” from Monday August 10, 2015, here

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Property south of Gish Road smokes and smolders today. / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Fire District 1

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The first air drop of fire retardant onto parcels near Gish Road on Sunday. / Courtesy photo by Lewis County Fire District 1

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Tree farm property burning in Onalaska

Monday, August 10, 2015 at 12:48 pm
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Looking south from Gish Road at Davis Drive at an air tanker dropping fire retardant yesterday. / Courtesy photo by Cassie Frazier

Updated at 3:29 p.m.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS –  A fire that ignited west of Onalaska yesterday afternoon grew into a wildfire spreading over roughly 100 acres.

No injuries have been reported or any structures burned, but several area residents were asked to leave.

“There were about 20 homes evacuated by the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office yesterday afternoon,”  Chuck Turley, assistant manager of the Pacific Cascade Region of the state Department of Natural Resources said. “By the end of the day they were allowed to return home.”

Lewis County Fire District 1 was called at 2:06 p.m. for smoke showing in the area of the 300 block of Gish Road.

“By the time our unit got to Leonard and Gish roads, she started requesting District 5,” District 1 Assistant Chief Rhonda Volk said.

The initial site was approximately a quarter mile south of 382 Gish Road, according to one fire official.

A crew from District 5 was right behind her as they reached the turnoff, Volk said.

“They made access, found the fire and dumped one load of water on it,” she said. “It was obvious this was way more than we were going to be able to handle.” They backed out, she said.

They were joined by fire trucks and tenders from their own departments as well as from Salkum and rural Chehalis, and a chief from Winlock, Volk said. Help from DNR was requested right away.

“We were basically assigned for structural protection,” District 6 Firefighter Matt McCoy said. “The fire was heading in that direction when the wind shifted; the homeowner was out there with a dozer, trying to put in some fire lines.”

The chief of Onalaska’s DIstrict 1 – an all-volunteer department – was on vacation. Assistant Chief Volk was out of town and arrived later.

Volk said District 5, also known as Newaukum Valley Fire and Rescue out of Napavine, took over incident command, and by the time she arrived, DNR was taking over.

She said she understood from District 5’s chief, there was a grand total of about 100 personnel working the fire by last night. DNR sent fire engines with crews as well as two helicopters to drop water, according to Turley.

“We did bring about six loads of fire retardant from air tankers, from Moses Lake,” Turley said.

Most local firefighters were released last night.

“Last night, the heat goes out of the day, the humidity comes up, and the fire starts to lay down,” Turley said this morning. “Today we expect that to reverse itself.”

By 8 p.m. yesterday, the size of the fire was estimated at 80 acres. DNR used GPS mapping during the night to measure it at 103 acres, Turley said. An investigator is trying to determine the cause.

Burning are 10 to 20-year-old trees – Douglas fir and alder – on private parcel tree farms, according to the Type Three Incident Command Team public information officers. It’s near several homes and structures.

Turley said approximately 100 personnel are fighting the fire today, and it’s not considered controlled or contained. DNR crews have been digging a fire break by hand and by bulldozer, he said.

“There’s a line around the entire fire, but its sketchy and narrow, and needs to be widened,” he said.

A Type Three Incident Command Team from northern Arizona – which was already in Washington on stand by – is taking charge of the fire today. They are currently set up at Lewis and Clark State Park.

Within the fire service, a Type Five Command Team is used for the least complicated wild fires, while a Type One Command Team is used for the most complex, according to Turley.

Gish Road is closed to non-resident traffic.

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A large plume of smoke was suddenly visible from several miles east in Silver Creek yesterday afternoon. / Courtesy photo by Jenifer Poe-Couch

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Local fire danger prompts more restrictions, warnings

Saturday, August 8, 2015 at 6:43 pm
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Not even small backyard campfires are allowed until further notice in the cities of Centralia, Chehalis and unincorporated Lewis County, as of yesterday and today. / Courtesy photo by Rhonda Volk

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Just put the marshmallow roasting sticks away for the summer.

Outdoor recreational and cooking fires are prohibited within the city limits of both Centralia and Chehalis until further notice.

Both cities made announcements yesterday afternoon, one day after a similar ban was issued for unincorporated areas of Lewis County.

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Ken Cardinale

Officials are citing a high fire hazard due to the extremely parched environment.

Chehalis Fire Department Chief Ken Cardinale put it this way:

“As the Chehalis fire chief, I cannot stress enough the seriousness of the fire danger that presently exists,” Cardinale stated. “The continued dry conditions, very low fuel moistures and dry weather pattern we have been experiencing are contributing to the high fire danger.”

Brush fires have broken out, but area firefighters have been quick to keep them from burning down buildings. The dry season began earlier than usual this year, meaning vegetation is more susceptible to ignition.

The restrictions apply on both private property and public property, such as city parks.

Centralia’s went into effect at 12:01 a.m. today. Residents there are still allowed to use above ground barbecues with contained flame.

Chehalis’s is in effect now. Citizens there are permitted the use of propane or charcoal barbecues that are self contained with lids. Also, outdoor fireplaces equipped with an approved spark arrestor installed on the flue are okay, according to the city.

All three entities strongly urge residents and property owners to be attentive to the dangers and take proactive fire prevention measures.

Cardinale refers folks to the Chehalis Fire Department’s website, where information can be found on what those in the fire service refer to as creating “defensible space” around your home.

It’s a good time for some yard work, pruning, trimming and cleaning up if it hasn’t already been done.

The new fire chief also suggests anyone with questions ought to give them a call, or stop by the station.

A brush fire that broke out on Tuesday off Centralia-Alpha Road southeast of Chehalis grew to 18 acres and as of yesterday, still had more than 70 firefighters and support personnel from the state Department of Natural Resources working to extinguish hot spots.

Steve Mansfield, who oversees the Lewis County Department of Emergency Management, visited the scene yesterday morning and indicated DNR planned to remain there through the weekend to ensure it didn’t reignite or spread.

“Until this drought is over and the threat of fire is significantly diminished, be physically aware of safety around any open flames or activity that could cause an ignition of materials,” Mansfield stated.

Recent fires in Lewis and south Thurston counties have had suspected causes from such ordinary activities as lawn mowing with the blade catching a rock, haying with a tractor driving over a “wind row”, and a worn extension cord to a parked motorhome starting a grass fire.

The former sheriff noted none of us can control the weather conditions, but there are a number of steps individuals can take to reduce the risks. Basic precautions:

• Don’t throw lit materials and cigarettes out of your vehicle.
• Find alternatives to outdoor campfires and cooking.
• Refrain from driving in areas of tall grass and fields
• When operating equipment, watch for anything that can cause a spark.
• Have a fire extinguisher handy when working outdoors near sources of ignition.
• Listen to local media regarding local fire conditions and hazards
• Be proactive, the property and lives you save may be your own.

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Sirens: Daily police and fire roundup

Saturday, August 8, 2015 at 10:23 am
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•••

GRASS, BRUSH IGNITE SOUTH OF CHEHALIS

• Firefighters from two departments were dispatched just after 4 p.m. yesterday to a fire in a grass field that was moving toward a wooded area south of Chehalis. Crews arriving to the 100 block of Sanderson Road just east of Jackson Highway found a working brush fire threatening one structure, according to Lewis County Fire District 6. It was contained within about 15 minutes, according to District 6 spokesperson DJ Hammer. “They had a pretty good knockdown, so DNR just basically helped with the mop up,” Hammer said. Less than one acre was burned, according to Hammer.

LEWIS COUNTY CRIME STOPPERS

• The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office is looking for information about a burglary in Winlock from last week in which NASCAR collector beer steins, a digital camera and jewelry were stolen. Sometime between July 28 and July 30, someone crawled through a bedroom window at the residence on the 1400 block of Northwest Kerron Avenue and left with approximately $2,200 worth of valuables, according to Lewis County Crime Stoppers. A diamond ring and a watch are among the items missing, Crime Stoppers reports.  Crime Stoppers pays up to $1,000 for information leading to the clearance of crimes. Anonymous calls can be made to 1-800-748-6422 or information may be shared online at www.lewiscountycrimestoppers.org

AND MORE

• And as usual, other incidents such as arrests for warrants, assault, misdemeanor theft, driving under the influence; responses for collision on city street, collision on freeway overpass, collision on Interstate 5 … and more.

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Sirens: Daily police and fire roundup

Friday, August 7, 2015 at 9:02 pm
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•••

PUP PUT IN THE TRASH

• A box with a dog inside of it was discovered in a Chehalis dumpster yesterday morning. The animal control officer responded to the approximately 9 a.m. call to Southwest Sylvenus Avenue and retrieved what was described only as a small dog, according to the Chehalis Police Department. It was alive and taken to the Lewis County Animal Shelter, department spokesperson Linda Bailey said. “It didn’t appear to have been injured in any way,” Bailey said. “We don’t know how long it was in there.”

THEFT, THEFT, THEFT

• Centralia police were called about 11:15 a.m. yesterday regarding a utility trailer and household items stolen from the 1200 block of Long Road.

• An officer responded yesterday to a report of two tool boxes taken in a residential burglary at the 200 block of North Rock Street in Centralia.

• DVD movies were among the property missing after a burglary at a home on the 600 block of South Ash Street in Centralia, according to a report made to police about 2:50 p.m. yesterday.

• A hanging basket of flowers was stolen from a porch at the 100 block of East Fourth Street in Centralia, according to a report made to police at 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon.

ASSAULT REPORT

• Chehalis police were called yesterday to Green Hill School to take a report of an alleged assault that occurred earlier in the week. Further details were not available.

VANDALISM

• Graffiti was spray painted onto a garage door at the 800 block of E Street in Centralia, according to a report made to police about 8 o’clock yesterday morning.

AND MORE

• And as usual, other incidents such as arrests for warrants, trespass, misdemeanor assault, driving under the influence, driving with suspended license; responses for dispute, hit and run, suspicious circumstances, collision on city street … and more.

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News brief: Infant victim of deadly Chehalis crash discharged from hospital

Friday, August 7, 2015 at 6:03 pm

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – The 1-year-old girl who survived the high-speed wreck that killed her mother south of Chehalis over the weekend was released from the hospital yesterday and seems to be doing fine, the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office said today.

The car struck at least one tree after hitting a ditch and going airborne, ejecting the baby onto the roadway itself, according to sheriff’s Cmdr. Dusty Breen.

Kelsie Gonzalez, 31, of Chehalis, died at the scene on the 3100 block of Jackson Highway Sunday night. The child was flown by helicopter to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Breen said the little girl, who just recently had her first birthday, was treated for multiple lacerations and kept at the hospital for observation. She was discharged to her father, he said.

“It’s amazing, when you think about the (damage) and the vehicle going airborne,” Breen said. “That baby is extremely lucky.”

Gonzalez was not wearing a seat belt and died of internal injuries from the impact, according to authorities.

The child’s car seat was found secured into the 1990 Acura, but the straps which would have been holding the baby to its car seat were not fastened. Where or how the little one was situated in the vehicle before the wreck isn’t clear, Breen said.

“It’s probably one of those things we’ll never know,” he said.

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News brief: Name of victim of fatal motorcycle accident released

Friday, August 7, 2015 at 4:20 pm

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

The motorcyclist who was killed when she traveled off the road and through a barbed wire fence in Mineral was Sandra L. Scott, according to the Lewis County Coroner’s Office.

The 52-year-old resident of the northeastern Lewis County community wasn’t wearing a helmet and died at the scene, according to authorities.

The accident on Wednesday evening on the 700 block of Mineral Creek Road occurred at a sweeping curve, the sheriff’s office said.

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Feds: Tree thieves and mill owner indicted for trafficking specialty maple from Gifford Pinchot

Friday, August 7, 2015 at 7:35 am
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Courtesy photo by U.S. Attorney’s Office, Western District of Washington

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Three Lewis County timber cutters and a Winlock mill owner have been indicted on theft and other federal crimes in a case involving illegal harvest and selling of Big Leaf Maple, the wood from which is particularly valuable for musical instruments.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced yesterday Harold Clause Kupers, 48, owner of  J & L Tonewoods, allegedly purchased the maple knowing it was stolen and then sold it to out of state companies for more than $800,000.

The tree cutters allegedly took the specialty wood from the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

“The trees in our national forests belong to all Americans and should not be chopped up to enrich a few,” U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes stated. “In this case a beautiful and valued resource that is home to endangered species, was felled with some parts just discarded on the forest floor.”

Charged with theft of and damaging of government property are Ryan Justice, 28, of Randle, James Miller, 36, of Morton, and Kevin Mullins, 56, of Packwood, according to authorities.

Kupers is accused of giving training and assistance to the trio on how to retrieve the wood from various sites in the forest. The men would seek out “figured maple” which is especially valuable for musical instruments, according to Hayes.

According to the indictment, between October 2011 and March 2012 the tree cutters made approximately fifty sales of illegally-harvested maple wood to Kupers for his Winlock lumber mill. They allegedly would deliver pieces of the trees to J& L Tonewoods, where it was cut into salable blocks called “billets.”

Kupers is charged with receipt of stolen property and seven violations of the Lacey Act, which prohibits trafficking in illegal wildlife, fish, and plants.

Justice and Miller are in custody pending detention hearings. Mullins has not yet made his initial appearance on the indictment.

Violations of the Lacey Act are punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The other charges in the indictment are punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The case is being investigated by the U.S. Forest Service.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Seth Wilkinson.