As we reach the final days of 2019 — and the decade — The Chronicle’s newsroom staff took a look at the past year’s coverage to handpick our top stories for the past 12 months. Our list includes triumphant highs — including the opening of several new schools — as well as government shakeups, crimes, tragedies and more. This list includes portions of stories originally printed in the paper, the full versions of which are all available on Chronline.com

January

Jan. 3, 2019

Suspect in Thurston County Slaying Charged with Murder, Placed on $1 Million Bond

By Cody Neuenschwander / The Chronicle

A suspect charged in the shooting death of a man on Old Highway 99 in southern Thurston County told police he was ‘set up’ after being arrested last week.  

Shane D. Brewer, 32, is charged with second-degree murder, first-degree burglary and first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm and is in custody on $1 million bail.

According to a probable cause affidavit, on Dec. 22, 45-year-old Loren VerValen was found dead in a residence in the 9000 block of Old Highway 99. The person who found VerValen deceased also said a 2005 Honda Accord had been parked at the victim’s residence. Missing from the residence was the victim’s 2007 Ford Mustang 

Jan. 5, 2019

County Government Avoids Shutdown Struggles, but Rainier Communities Hurt by Partial Park Closure

By Alex Brown / The Chronicle

Amid the ongoing federal government shutdown, operations are continuing for Lewis County — but communities around Mount Rainier are taking a hit from the partial closure of the national park.

“At this point, we’re operating as usual,” said county commissioner Edna Fund. “It’s wait and see at this point.”

County employees have been instructed to tell the human resources and budget departments if they become aware of a pending loss of federal funding to Lewis County, whether from grants, reimbursement programs, partnerships or other government support the county depends on. So far, no one has been notified of any changes. 

Jan. 26, 2019

Shanghai Cafe Owners Celebrate Final Week in Business 

By Katie Hayes / The Chronicle

As Shanghai Cafe owners Song and Young Ok prepare for their final week in business, customers have flooded the more than 90-year-old Chinese restaurant to say goodbye.

“We have been here about 30 years and it’s time to retire,” said Young Ok Friday morning. “I want to spend time with my mom and my grandkids.”

The Oks, a Korean immigrant family, purchased the restaurant in 1990, according to previous Chronicle reporting by Brian Mittge. It was founded by Chinese immigrant Kan Chinn and is believed to be one of the oldest Chinese restaurants in Washington state.

Jan. 29, 2019 

RFA Investigates Cause of Fatal Friday House Fire

By Cody Neuenschwander / The Chronicle

Fire officials say they have hypotheses on what may have started a fatal house fire in the 1300 block of West Main Street in Centralia Friday evening, and are starting the often lengthy process of fire investigation to whittle their theories down to the actual cause.

The first crew that responded to the scene — from Riverside Fire Authority’s Pearl Street station — arrived at about 8:13 p.m., after the 69-year-old Centralia woman, who would later be pronounced dead, called it in.

Rick Mack, assistant fire chief with Riverside Fire Authority, said the woman was found in a small hallway near a front bedroom — the room where the fire appeared to have started.

February

Feb. 7, 2019

Developer Reveals Centralia Grocery Distribution Center Tenant: United Natural Foods, Incorporated

By Katie Hayes / The Chronicle

The previously anonymous tenant for Centralia’s incoming grocery distribution center has finally revealed itself — United Natural Foods, Incorporated.

Developer Tom O’Keefe, CEO of O’Keefe Development, announced Wednesday that UNFI is the tenant for the company’s $100 million grocery distribution center, located in the Port of Centralia Park I.

“It’s a neat company and a neat story in terms of what they do in the community,” O’Keefe said. “... Their whole idea of delivering organic, sustainable food types is a big part of their corporate culture.”

Twin Transit GM Has Felony Theft Conviction

By Will Rubin / The Chronicle

Twin Transit General Manager Derrick Wojcik-Damers pleaded guilty to a felony theft charge in Chehalis in 1996 — in which he was accused of stealing from his employer —  but failed to disclose the conviction when seeking employment here in 2017, according to Twin Transit Advisory Board member Chad Taylor.

Wojcik-Damers, then known as Derrick Perona, was initially charged with first-degree theft after being accused of stealing at least $1,500 from the Sears department store where he worked from November 1995 to January 1996. He later pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of second-degree theft. 

Twin Transit GM Resigns Thursday, Board Says ‘Real or Perceived Misconduct’ Not a Factor

By Will Rubin / The Chronicle

The Twin Transit Advisory Board accepted the resignation of General Manager Derrick Wojcik-Damers on Thursday night following nearly three hours of closed-door deliberation by the board earlier that morning.

Board members voted unanimously to accept his letter of resignation and to approve a separation agreement negotiated earlier Thursday. Wojcik-Damers, who was not at either meeting Thursday, is set to receive six months of severance pay, six months of health insurance coverage and $5,000 in moving expenses should he leave the state.

Feb. 19, 2019

East County Back to Normal After Snowstorm That Knocked Out Power, Roads

By Alex Brown / The Chronicle

Life in East Lewis County is returning to normal after last week’s devastating snowstorm that knocked out power and phone lines, made roads impassable and led the county to declare a state of emergency as responders deployed from throughout the region.

“Everyone’s happy to see the pavement again,” said county commissioner Gary Stamper. We’re ready for spring.”

By Thursday night, power had been restored to most of the area, said Bryan Watt, operations manager with the Lewis County Public Utility District. At the apex of the outage, power had been out everywhere from Mossyrock east — 9,000 households and half of the county’s area. 

Watt said the exhausted crews from his agency and others — many of whom worked 30-hour shifts amidst the outages — took pride in getting service back up and running.

At one point, 60 line and tree workers were deployed in East County, 24 of whom were crews from Cowlitz, Grays Harbor and Pacific counties who came in to help local PUD workers. 

Feb. 23

Marquez Pleads Guilty to Randle Slaying

By Cody Neuenschwander / The Chronicle

The courtroom was full and 17-year-old Benito Marquez was loosely surrounded by a semi-circle of four corrections deputies as he pleaded guilty Friday afternoon to the June beating death of Randle teen Benjamin Eastman III.

Marquez was accused, along with his brother Jonathon Adamson, 21, who, just that morning decided against withdrawing his own not guilty plea in the slaying.

Feb. 26

Fiancé of Randle Murder Suspect Pleads Guilty

By Cody Neuenschwander / The Chronicle

Emma Brown, the Glenoma woman accused of misleading authorities when they were investigating the disappearance of slain Randle teen Benjamin Eastman III, pleaded guilty Monday morning to two counts of first-degree rendering criminal assistance.

Feb. 28

Toledo School District Will No Longer Use Indian Mascot And ‘Tomahawk Chop’ Cheer

By Katie Hayes / The Chronicle

The Toledo School District will no longer use its mascot costume, nor the “Tomahawk Chop” cheer, after the Cowlitz Indian Tribe recently weighed in to call both “offensive” examples of “cultural misappropriation.”

The opinion came after the district asked the tribe for an official stance on the mascot.

“We respectfully request that the Toledo School District discontinues use of the Mascot immediately and dispose of it properly as it is offensive and stereotypical,” reads a letter from the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, signed by Cowlitz Indian Tribal Chairwoman Patty Kinswa-Gaiser and Cowlitz Indian Tribe Chairman William Iyall, dated Feb. 5. 

March

March 12, 2019

Centralia Man Arrested in Grand Mound Homicide

By Cody Neuenschwander / The Chronicle

Thurston County deputies arrested a Centralia man Monday on suspicion of, on March 7, shooting and killing a man during a verbal argument in southwestern Thurston County.

Adan Sanchez, 37, of Centralia is accused of second-degree murder for allegedly shooting and killing 27-year-old Pedro Beltran Palomares, also of Centralia.

On Saturday, deputies arrested Romulo Yanez Jr., 38, on suspicion of first-degree rendering criminal assistance Friday in connection to the investigation.

According to a press release from the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, Sanchez and Beltran were drinking and partying at a residence on Shamon Court Southwest in Grand Mound when they started a verbal argument. The argument intensified to the point that Sanchez allegedly shot Beltran.

March 28, 2019

Prosecutor Says Deputy-Involved Shooting was Justified

By Cody Neuenschwander / The Chronicle

Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer announced Tuesday that no criminal charges will be filed against two Lewis County deputies who shot and killed a man in the early morning hours of March 3.

A report released by the prosecuting attorney’s office, and obtained by The Chronicle Wednesday, indicated the deceased — Robert D. Richardson, 40, of Graham, brandished what deputies thought was a semi-automatic handgun. It wasn’t until after it was recovered that investigators learned it was a pellet gun.

Meyer, in his report, wrote that the deputies were reasonable to believe that the gun Richardson wielded was an actual firearm. After Richardson had been hit with an unspecified number of rounds, deputies attempted to render aid and asked him to put his hands outside the window. Instead, the deputies said, he again took up the gun and was shot multiple times.

April 

April 9, 2019

Twin Transit Hires ‘Joe Bus’ as Director of Transit Services

By Will Rubin / The Chronicle

Joe Clark is back behind the wheel.

Clark, a long-time Chehalis resident and school board member, accepted an offer Monday to take over as Director of Transit Services for Twin Transit beginning May 1. He will assume the role previously called “general manager” nearly three months after the resignation of former general manager Derrick Wojcik-Damers.

A well-known figure in Chehalis and Centralia, Clark has lived in the area for nearly three decades and served on the Chehalis School Board for the past 20 years. 

He beat out more than 60 fellow applicants for the position and said he plans to take a hands-on approach to shaping the role of Twin Transit as Lewis County continues to grow and evolve.

“I felt like if I was going to make a career change, I wanted to do something that was going to impact the community,” Clark said. 

April 10, 2019

Two Charged in Ryderwood Homicide

By Cody Neuenschwander / The Chronicle

Two Centralia residents accused of being involved in a string of burglaries in Centralia were transported to the Cowlitz County Jail on suspicion of first-degree murder in the March 18 shooting of a Ryderwood man.

Anthony S. Depuisaye-Greene, 26, has been charged on suspicion of first-degree murder, first-degree robbery and first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm and Elizabeth A. Rogan, 43, has been charged on suspicion of first-degree murder and first-degree robbery.

By the time of a preliminary hearing in Lewis County Superior Court Tuesday afternoon, the two had yet to be charged in the string of burglaries. 

April 18

Dollar General Exploring Expansion Into Southwest Washington

By Will Rubin / The Chronicle

Retail giant Dollar General has an eye on Southwest Washington as it looks to expand into the last mainland state lacking the yellow and black logo taking rural America by storm.

A spokesperson for the company, based in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, told The Chronicle they anticipates making final decisions on each site later this year.

The Chronicle specifically asked Dollar General about locations in Centralia, Winlock and Oakville. The company responded via email that, “at this time, we are in a due diligence process for each of these proposed locations, which means we’re interested in adding these new locations, but we have not committed to doing so quite yet.”

April 27, 2019

Inslee Signs Cemetery Bill, Clearing Way for Centralia to Access Abandoned Greenwood Property

By Will Rubin / The Chronicle

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed House Bill 1801 into law Thursday afternoon, clearing the way for Centralia staff to apply for a permit to access abandoned cemeteries such as Greenwood Memorial Park for the purposes of maintenance, restoration and visitation.

State Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, co-sponsored the legislation with state Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis following years of consternation from Centralia residents unhappy at the state of disrepair the historic graveyard fell into under the ownership of John C. Baker.

The two state legislators are now focused on working with Centralia City Manager Rob Hill to secure short and long-term state funding to finance repairs to concrete gravesites, dilapidated roads and a litany of other issues on the property. 

May

May 2, 2019

Orin Smith Elementary Holds First Day of School

By Cody Neuenschwander / The Chronicle

Chehalis School District’s third, fourth and fifth grade students attended their first full day of school at the newly opened Orin Smith Elementary School Wednesday — and administrators partway into the day reported a smooth transition.

With roughly a month and a half left in the school year, Superintendent Ed Rothlin said the time will serve as a good testing period to identify things that can be improved in the new school’s operation.

While it remains to be seen what improvements may become obvious, Rothlin said the contractor, FORMA Construction based out of Olympia, will maintain a presence through the summer, so they can make any necessary adjustments.

“If you were to walk down those hallways today at … 8:45, you would think that we’d been in that building for months,” he said. 

May 4

Officials Celebrate First Phase of China Creek Flood Project

By Will Rubin / The Chronicle

More than three years after beginning efforts to mitigate flooding out of China Creek into downtown Centralia, a ceremony Thursday afternoon marked the completion of the first of two parts to the project that has transformed about 25 acres of property off little Hanaford Road.

Representatives from state offices, the Lewis County Board of County Commissioners and the city of Centralia gathered a few steps from the edge of the new waterway carved in a winding fashion to slow down the flow rate during times of high water. More than half a dozen people spoke during the short event, during which a common theme was carried throughout their remarks.

“This project is emblematic of the good that can be done through government partnerships,” said Scott Boettcher, staff member for the Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority.  

May 14, 2019

Onalaska Man Sentenced to Over 23 Years for Wife’s Murder

By Cody Neuenschwander / The Chronicle

Bruce Reed, an Onalaska man who pleaded guilty to shooting and killing his wife in January, was sentenced Monday morning to more than 23 years in prison.

A majority of the hearing consisted of emotional statements from the victim’s family, who remembered her has an excellent nurse, mother, cousin and sister.

The sentence imposed by Judge Andrew Toynbee — 280 months for one count of first-degree murder with 112 days of credit for time already served — was an agreed recommendation between Deputy Prosecutor Paul Masiello and Reed’s attorney Kevin Nelson.

 

May 21, 2019

Pe Ell School Board Votes to Seek State Waiver for Four-Day School Week

By Will Rubin / The Chronicle

The Pe Ell School Board voted Tuesday to authorize the school district to seek an Economy and Efficiency Waiver from the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction allowing the district to shift to a four-day school week beginning next fall.

Application materials received by the OSPI on or before May 31 will be reviewed and processed by June 14, according to Pe Ell Superintendent Kyle MacDonald. The state legislature recently approved a bill opening five more potential waivers for school districts to make their case as to why   they should be allowed to hold fewer than the mandated 180 school days per year, as well as how such a move would benefit the district administration, teachers and students.

May 30, 2019

TransAlta to Purchase 49 Percent Interest in Skookumchuck Wind Project

By Alex Brown / The Chronicle

TransAlta has agreed to purchase a 49 percent interest in the Skookumchuck wind energy project located near its Centralia coal plant, the company announced Tuesday, part of efforts to burnish its clean energy portfolio.

The 38-turbine project being constructed in Lewis and Thurston counties is scheduled to begin producing power by December, the brainchild of renewable energy company RES-Americas. Now, TransAlta — whose soon-to-be defunct coal plant operates nearby — is coming onboard. The company’s purchase agreement will take effect “upon commercial operation.” 

June 

June 1, 2019

Toledo School District Aiming to Begin Construction of New High School This Year

By Will Rubin / The Chronicle

Plans for a mostly-new Toledo High School have continued to take shape in the months since voters approved a $7 million bond measure last November to go with $18 million in funding from the state School Construction Assistance Program and a state grant for distressed schools.

A design committee made up of community members began working in January to create schematic drawings to present for approval by the Toledo School Board, which accepted a design earlier this month. The existing gymnasium, shop facilities and outline of the commons area will be remodeled with approximately 30,000 square feet of new construction surrounding the holdovers.  

June 15, 2019

Crystal Geyser Bottling Proposal Draws Fierce Opposition in Randle

By Alex Brown / The Chronicle

The Cowlitz River’s path downstream of Randle is the sort of idyllic scene you’d expect to see on the label of a water bottle. As the river traces a route through the Big Bottom Valley, it’s bordered by grassy meadows, with Huffaker Mountain’s forested slopes rising above the terrain. 

Locals here say they love the unspoiled terrain, the peace and quiet that comes with living far off the beaten path. And they’re terrified that Crystal Geyser’s plan to build a water-bottling plant right along the river could have far-reaching consequences for their way of life in the valley — and for everyone who depends on the river, a tributary of the mighty Columbia. 

“It’s a sleepy town here in Randle,” said nearby resident Tina Jorgensen. “We have people who retired in this area because that’s the kind of thing they value. … This isn’t an industrial area, and (Crystal Geyser) wants to turn it into one.”

June 22, 2019

Borst Avenue Project to Add Sidewalks, Widen Street Set to Begin Monday

By Will Rubin / The Chronicle

Anyone with lingering nostalgia for the potholes and pedestrian issues that have plagued Borst Avenue for decades had better get their final fix this weekend.

The long-anticipated overhaul of the street that runs between Centralia Middle School and Centralia High School will begin in earnest on Monday. Work crews have been staging equipment and materials along the road this week in preparation for a project that will move the two traffic lanes to the south to make room for a pedestrian pathway and an improved drainage system.

Thursday, about two dozen stakeholders from Centralia and Lewis County gathered at the corner of Borst Avenue and Scheuber Road, where Borst Avenue crosses over the city boundary line into the county, for a ceremonial groundbreaking.

June 29, 2019

Randle Town Hall Draws Strong Turnout to Oppose Water Bottling Plant

By Alex Brown / The Chronicle

Scores of cars lined either side of U.S. Highway 12 Wednesday evening, spilling over from the full parking lot at the Randle Fire Hall. Inside the building, close to 250 people packed into the meeting room, with dozens more listening to an audio speaker stationed outside. 

The attendees came from all over the Pacific Northwest, but most were local to Randle or East Lewis County. Nearly all were there to register their opposition to the proposed water bottling facility that Crystal Geyser hopes to build on its newly purchased property along the Cowlitz River.

“This could turn out to be a very, very long dilemma,” said Wes Randle McMahan. “We have to stay involved, and we can’t just rely on a few people to do it. It’s got to be all of us.”

July

July 3, 2019

Second Suspect Pleads Guilty in Killing of Randle Teen

Cody Neuenschwander / The Chronicle

Jonathon Adamson, one of two suspects charged with first-degree rape and murder in the June 2018 homicide of 16-year-old Benjamin Eastman III, entered guilty pleas to five charges Wednesday afternoon in Lewis County Superior Court. 

Adamson, 21, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, first-degree rape and second-degree kidnapping in Eastman’s death, and pleaded guilty to an additional two counts of witness tampering dating to Feb. 2019.

July 6, 2019

Overturned Tanker Spills Oil on I-5 Near Centralia, Backs up Traffic for Miles

By Cody Neuenschwander

The Chronicle

A tanker truck overturned early Wednesday morning on Interstate 5 near the Lewis and Thurston county line spilling around 3,000 gallons of motor oil and causing traffic to be backed up for miles down the interstate and connecting thoroughfares.

The truck’s driver, Jeffery T. Anderson, 53, of Yelm, was uninjured and was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, according to the Washington State Patrol.

The crash occurred at 4:22 a.m. Wednesday at milepost 85.5. The truck left the roadway to the right, striking a guardrail then crossing all three lanes of traffic before overturning.

July 9, 2019

Carolyn Long Launches Second Campaign With Centralia Rally

By Alex Brown

The Chronicle

Carolyn Long is ready for round two less than a year after falling short in her bid to unseat Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground. 

She announced her campaign Monday during a rally at the Centralia Timberland Library, one of three announcement events in the district. 

“We had a 23-point deficit when we started (the 2018 campaign) and we came within a couple of points,” Long said in an embargoed interview last week. 

July 12, 2019

Crystal Geyser Mistakenly Emails Chronicle: Randle Bottling Project Likely ‘Dead’

By Alex Brown

The Chronicle

In an email accidentally sent to The Chronicle but apparently meant for the company’s president, Crystal Geyser Chief Operating Officer Page Beykpour said the company’s planned water bottling operation in Randle is likely “dead because the opposition has successfully convinced officials and the media against us.”

“I can tell you 100 percent in its current proposed nature, it will get rejected,” Beykpour wrote. “The County may even change the zoning to disallow our operations on the property. We are fortunate not to have been sued yet.”

The email sent to The Chronicle was addressed to “Ronan,” likely CG Roxane President Ronan Papillaud. Beykpour claimed, apparently intending to address his boss, that The Chronicle was “in bed with the opposition.” The message also outlines the company’s possible strategy for “long shot” options to try to salvage the project.

‘I Don’t Think Anyone Will Be Able to Find Her’: Man Calls 911, Confesses to Killing Nancy Moyer in 2009

By Natalie Johnson

At 3 p.m. Tuesday, after 10 years of tracking down leads, interviewing suspects and scouring rural south Thurston County for evidence, law enforcement got a major and unexpected break in the Nancy Moyer case. 

Eric Lee Roberts, 53, of Rochester, called 911 saying he wanted to confess to a murder — Nancy Moyer’s murder. 

“Roberts stated that he killed Nancy Moyer 10 years ago and he felt tired of holding it inside,” according to a declaration of probable cause filed in Thurston County Superior Court. “Eric said, ‘I don’t think anyone will be able to find her.’”

Roberts was arrested Wednesday and on Thursday afternoon made his first appearance in Thurston County Superior Court on a charge of second-degree murder. Superior Court Commissioner Nathan Kortokrax found prosecutors had probable cause to charge Roberts and ordered him held on $1.5 million bail, just less than the $2 million requested by prosecutors. 

 

July 18, 2019

Destination Packwood Closes Suddenly Amid Investigation of ‘Accounting Irregularities’

By Alex Brown / The Chronicle

The Destination Packwood Association, the nonprofit that has been Lewis County’s lead recipient of tax-funded tourism promotion dollars, closed suddenly last week, and the county prosecutor’s office is investigating “accounting irregularities” at the organization. 

“It has been referred to our office, and it’s under review by a deputy right now,” said Lewis County prosecutor Jonathan Meyer. “It’s some accounting irregularities, trying to figure out what they are. … It just has to do with money.”

The initial investigation was conducted by the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, and the case was referred to Meyer’s office on May 7. 

July 23, 2019

Third Murder Charge Filed in Eastman Slaying

By Cody Neuenschwander

The Chronicle

Two Kennewick residents were arrested and charged with rending criminal assistance to Jonathon Adamson and Benito Marquez — the two suspects charged, and who have since pleaded guilty to, the beating death of Randle teen Benjamin Eastman III last summer.

Among the accusations leveled against Michael D. Salazar, 17, and Amanda L. Hagerty, 42, are that Salazar, after learning of Adamson and Marquez’s plan to kill Eastman, physically restrained a person who attempted to report the plan to a third party.

“Our position is he facilitated the crime by preventing someone from reporting it — actively. It’s one thing if he talked them out of it, but if you hold someone down and prevent them from telling, that’s something else,” said Meyer.

July 30, 2019

Danny Wing Re-Sentenced to 35 Years in Vader Toddler’s 2014 Death

By Cody Neuenschwander / The Chronicle

Danny Wing, the man who pleaded guilty in the 2014 death of 3-year-old Jasper Henderling-Warner, was sentenced to 35 years in prison on convictions of manslaughter and third-degree assault during a hearing Friday afternoon.

It was the second time he’d been sentenced to more than three decades in prison for the crime.

Wing, 31, noted his intent to appeal the sentence, which went above the standard sentencing range of 159 to 211 months due to aggravating factors within the case — including the vulnerability of the victim and that Wing held a position of trust.

August

Aug. 1, 2019

County Poised to Issue Moratorium to Block Crystal Geyser Plant, Similar Proposals

By Alex Brown / The Chronicle

County commissioners will vote Aug. 5 on a moratorium to halt certain permits in the county’s rural areas — a measure designed to pause Crystal Geyser’s controversial proposal to build a water bottling plant in Randle and give officials more time to consider a possible change to zoning regulations.

“The zoning code is going to apply to every rural land in Lewis County, not just one location,” said civil deputy prosecutor Eric Eisenberg in a meeting with commissioners Monday afternoon. “The moratorium actually makes sense, because it gives you time to study the problem in a real way, in a way that’s not just about Crystal Geyser.” 

Aug. 31, 2019

Settlements in Centralia Kiwanis Boys Home Lawsuits Top $22M

By Natalie Johnson / njohnson@chronline.com

Since beginning with a handful of plaintiffs in 2015, a campaign of lawsuits aimed at state agencies and Kiwanis International alleging negligence, sexual abuse and general mistreatment of wards of the state placed in the Kiwanis Vocational Home in Centralia has amassed monetary settlements of more than $22 million for more than 40 former residents. 

While a handful of other standalone lawsuits have been filed regarding the facility, attorney Darrell Cochran of law firm Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala, represents the former residents in these cases. 

Cochran told The Chronicle that since the first settlements in December 2017, the total monetary amount awarded to his clients has reached $22,099,000, with $19,849,000 coming from the state and $2,250,000 from Kiwanis defendants. 

“My reaction is it’s just a fraction of the damage that was caused by the state negligence at the Kiwanis Vocational Home campus,” he said, adding that he believes the money doesn’t come close to mitigating the “grander damage to society” caused by alleged crimes and poor management at the facility. 

September

Sept. 4, 2019

New Year, New School: Students, Teachers Explore New Centralia Schools as Classes Get Back in Session 

By Natalie Johnson / njohnson@chronline.com

The halls of Centralia High School were swarming with students early Wednesday morning, all eagerly exploring their new and, even for returning students, completely unfamiliar surroundings. 

“It’s really maze-like,” said senior Karlee Robinson. “It’s really nice though. It’s really modern.”

Jenny Forsberg, who teaches English Language Learners, said she was impressed with the improvements in technology at the school. 

“It’s really exciting to be a part of this,” she said. “Everything’s state of the art. They’ve given us all of the tools we need to take this school to the next level.” 

Fords Prairie and Jefferson-Lincoln Elementary Schools were completed this summer.

Sept. 12, 2019

Providence Centralia Aims for Largest Hospital Solar Array in Washington

By Natalie Johnson / njohnson@chronline.com

Every morning, the rising sun shines directly on the roof of Providence Centralia Hospital’s C building, one of its oldest structures. 

Right now, nothing is capturing that energy, but staring in January, about 340 solar panels will collect nearly 100 kilowatts of power, offsetting about $10,000 a year in energy costs for the hospital, said Keith Edgerton, interim facilities manager and sustainability coordinator.

The expected 25-year return is $442,391. 

Aside from the savings and the benefits to the environment, the size of the project also gives Providence Centralia bragging rights over its larger rivals, including Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. 

“Then we’ll be the largest solar array on a hospital in Washington,” Edgerton said.  

Sept. 17, 2019

Seabeas Salute Fallen Shipmate

By Natalie Johnson / njohnson@chronline.com

When remembering Petty Officer First Class Regina R. Clark Saturday at the dedication of the Skookumchuck River bridge in her honor, her shipmates and superiors remembered her smile, a can-do, no-nonsense attitude, and in particular for retired Rear Admiral Paula Brown, “innovative” ways to make cinnamon rolls despite less-than ideal rations. 

“There are just some people that make this world a better place to live in,” Brown said. “She made you feel like you mattered no matter who you were … she was unflappable. CS1 always excelled. She always went the extra mile.”

When Clark went to Iraq in 2005 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, she did so as a culinary specialist — her job was to feed and fuel Seabeas in charge of rebuilding water, wastewater, power and critical buildings damaged by fighting in Fallujah. 

October

Oct. 12, 2019

UNFI’s Arbitration Appeal Puts Union Workers ‘In Limbo’ 

By Ralph Mancini / rmancini@chronline.com

A sense of gratification and relief on the part of 300 Teamsters following an arbitration ruling in their favor last Monday proved to be short lived.

Employees from United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) in Tacoma were soon informed that the nationwide food distributor is appealing a directive for the corporation to transfer the terms and conditions of Local 117’s current contract once the workforce is transferred to a new distribution center in Centralia. 

“It’s really unfortunate that they’re going against their word,” said longtime forklift operator, Greg Wiest.

 

Oct. 17, 2019

Local Vape Shop Owner Says Profits are Down 94 Percent Since Ban on Flavored Vaping Products  

By Celene Fitzgerald / cfizgerald@chronline.com

The owner of Centralia’s Vape D Lish, Allen Kettle, had a large inventory of products last week made up primarily of flavored e-liquid. 

This week, those shelves are empty. 

On Oct. 10 the Washington State Board of Health responded to the lung injuries associated with vaping by placing a 120-day ban on flavored vaping products in the state. 

The decision puts Kettle’s business — and others in Lewis County and around the state — in a precarious position.

An employee at Vape D Lish, Sabrina Ayers, expressed her concerns for her future at the business located on East High Street in Centralia. 

“We can’t guarantee that we’ll be able to stay open and then I might be out of the job,” she said.

 

Oct. 26, 2019

Nurses’ Strike Looming at Providence Centralia Hospital 

By Ralph Mancini / rmancini@chronline.com

Nurses at Providence Centralia Hospital are scheduled to vote Oct. 29 on an authorization for a strike over contract disputes on paid time off, wages, and worker retention. 

Members of the  United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW 21) at seven Providence hospitals are planning to vote on strike authorizations in the next two weeks. 

“From my memory, this is as close as we’ve ever come. I’ve never even taken a strike vote before,” said UFCW shop steward Diane Stedham-Jewell, a 41-year registered nurse at Providence Centralia Hospital, located at 914 S. Scheuber Road. 

 

Oct. 28, 2019

Mourners Chant Eloy Perez’ Name One More Time

By Jordan Nailon / jnailon@chronline.com

Friends, family, and former foes of Eloy Perez put the fire marshal’s maximum capacity for the Rainier High School cafeteria to the test on Saturday as hundreds of mourners came out to pay their respects at the local legend’s memorial service.

Perez, who died under suspicious circumstances in Mexico in early October, attended both Rochester and Rainier high schools and made a lasting name for himself with his exploits on the playing field, inside the boxing ring, and out in the community at large. Once, during his senior year, he garnered significant press coverage when he spent a Friday night under the lights churning up yards and touchdowns for the Mountaineers before spending his Saturday fighting trading punches professionally.

His professional career came to an arguably premature end with just one loss to his name. However, Perez was able to solidify his cult hero status by continuously giving back to the two communities that claimed him as their own after his family moved to the United States when he was just a toddler. He was a fixture as a visitor in the classrooms in both Rainier and Rochester and for a time he worked for the Quinault Tribe in their community development program.

 

November

Nov. 2, 2019

Gov. Jay Inslee Visits County’s Severe Weather Shelter

By Ralph Mancini / rmancini@chronline.com

Gov. Jay Inslee, during his Thursday tour of the Hub City Mission Severe Weather Shelter at the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds identified multiple challenges in mitigating the homelessness epidemic, such as providing adequate surplus housing for down-and-out individuals and improving the quality of mental healthcare services.

Inslee spoke to a small gathering of media members on earlier discussions with the Board of County Commissioners about his commitment to “maintain the flexibility” of local programs to help the homeless treat substance abuse and the lack of job training, among other areas of need. 

The governor also referred to an “unfortunate stereotyping” of the homeless by people who claim that many of those seeking shelter are actually working people who simply can’t afford to pay rent. 

Nov. 12, 2019

Historical Society Displays Several Never-Before-Seen Items From 1919 Tragedy

By Carrina Stanton / For The Chronicle

“We don’t talk about it.”

That’s the typical answer local historians say they get when they ask people about the 1919 Centralia Armistice Day Tragedy.

Even 100 years after it happened, it remains a sore spot for many. But there are a few voices fighting to not just keep the history alive but possibly shed new light on the incident. They took the opportunity of the 100th anniversary of the tragedy to invite the public to learn more about the controversial subject.

“It shouldn’t be forgotten,” said Lewis County Historical Museum Director Jason Mattson. “It shouldn’t be swept under the rug and I think for the longest time that was what people wanted to do about it. That’s not how history should be treated.” 

The Lewis County Historical Museum in Chehalis hosted a special exhibit over the weekend marking the 100th anniversary of the Armistice Day Tragedy. At the same time, in Centralia, a pop-up museum, at the property on Tower Avenue owned by the Lewis County Historical Society, also displayed artifacts from the incident. They were just two of many activities over the weekend commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armistice Day Tragedy, Armistice Day and the founding of the Grand Hodges American Legion Post. 

 

December

Dec. 17, 2019

Jaime Herrera Beutler Will Not Support Impeachment

By The Chronicle

On Friday, Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, announced that she would not vote to support articles of impeachment drafted against President Donald Trump. 

“Since the president’s call with Ukraine came to light, I have been clear that no one is above the law. I’ve also advocated for providing the American people with full and absolute transparency into the circumstances surrounding that conversation. This morning, the House Judiciary Committee reported two articles of impeachment to be voted on by the full House of Representatives,” her statement reads.

The two articles of impeachment charge Trump with obstruction of Congress and abuse of power. 

Herrera Beutler said neither article was adequately proven. 

 

Dec. 19, 2019

 

Dollar General Under Construction in Centralia; Expected to Open Spring 2020

By Celene Fitzgerald / cfitzgerald@chronline.com

Construction began on a Dollar General location on West Reynolds Avenue in Centralia a couple months ago and the store is predicted to open in the spring of 2020.

“At this time, a grand opening is slated for early spring 2020, but understand that construction progress may alter this date,” said Mary Kathryn Colbert with Dollar General’s Public Relations Department.

Dollar General is a chain of stores that sells a variety of goods from shampoo to toys to food. All items do not cost a dollar, like the similar store ‘Dollar Tree,’ but the company claims to have low and affordable prices. The company was established in 1939 and now has 15,000 locations in 44 states, according to the Dollar General website. 

 

I-5 Auto Group Acquires Chehalis Titus Will Chevrolet Buick Dealership

By The Chronicle

I-5 Auto Group announced this week that it had acquired Chehalis’s Titus Will dealership and the opening of its newest dealership — Awesome Chevrolet Buick — on the same site at 2580 N. National Avenue. 

This will be the sixth dealership in the I-5 Auto Group. Other dealerships under the banner are I-5 Toyota, Awesome Ford, Volkswagen of Olympia, Awesome RV and I-5 Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram. 

Awesome Chevrolet Buick officially opened Wednesday.

“This franchise adds some very unique brands to our already great lineup, and it’s a wonderful opportunity for the I-5 Auto Group to grow with a name that already has amazing roots in our community,” said I-5 Auto Group owner Heidi Pehl, in a statement.

 

Firm Announces  $195M Sale of UNFI Centralia Site

By The Chronicle

A news release from the Newman Knight Frank real estate advisory firm earlier this week announced the sale of the UNFI Centralia distribution center by Centralia DC LLC to Exeter Property Group for $195 million in what is reportedly being described as one of the biggest real estate transactions of the year. 

The site — located at the Port of Centralia — was established by O’Keefe Development for UNFI on a 20-year lease term and includes 606,795 square feet of dry warehouse/offices and 529,000 square feet of computer-controlled cooler/freezer space, with a trucking maintenance and fueling facility. 

 

Dec. 14, 2019

Pe Ell Gets 8-Plus Inches of Rain in Two Days; Grand Mound Sees ‘Moderate’ Flooding

By Natalie Johnson / njohnson@chronline.com

Though no major flooding was reported along the Chehalis and Newaukum Rivers during Friday and Saturday’s storm, areas such as Pe Ell and Ryderwood experienced an absolute barrage of rainfall — seeing roughly 8 total inches over a 48-hour period.

As of early Saturday morning, the 48-hour total of rainfall for Pe Ell was 8.15 inches and for Ryderwood was 7.91 inches, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Rain continued to fall through Saturday. 

 

 

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