The last few days of the year are a great time to reflect, and in that spirit, we’re presenting our top stories of 2018. The following are excerpts from our most important and most read stories of the past year, including high points and low. Many continue to have a lasting impact on Lewis County. 

All of these stories are available at chronline.com.

January

Jan. 9

One Lewis County Submits Signatures to Begin the Home Rule Charter Process

The political action committee One Lewis County took a monumental step forward in its plans to launch the home rule charter process by turning over its petitions filled with signatures for validation to the county’s auditor’s office on Tuesday morning as the group continues on its path to potentially reorganize Lewis County government.

Spearheaded by the Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce, One Lewis County members stated they had collected more than 2,000 signatures.

“We are really excited,” executive director of the chamber Alicia Bull said. “We think it’s a positive move for Lewis County that will allow the voters to take a look at what other options are out there as far as the form of government.”

Tom Stanton, chief deputy auditor for Lewis County, said the validation process should only take a couple of days.

“We are going to get it done because everyone wants to know as soon as possible,” Stanton said, adding the results will likely be available by the end of the week. 

If at least 1,668 signatures match the ones on file in the auditor’s office voter registration database, then two measures would be placed on the November ballot. Those would include a vote to pursue the charter process, while another one would elect the freeholders that would be charged with drafting a plan to reorganize the county form of government.

• The measure ultimately did not pass.

 

Jan. 12

Centralia Couple Who Severely Neglected Child, Fled Sentencing Get 7 Years

Anthony Foxworth, 45, and Mary Foxworth, 43, pleaded guilty in October 2017 to one count each of first-degree criminal mistreatment in the case. In Januray, they each pleaded guilty to an additional charge of bail jumping after fleeing to South Carolina before their first sentencing date in November of that year.

Superior Court Judge Andrew Toynbee imposed a sentence of 75 months on the first-degree criminal mistreatment charge and eight months for the bail jumping charge, to run consecutively for a total of 83 months, in accordance with a request from the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office and each of the defense attorneys for the Foxworths.

They will also be prohibited from contacting the victim for 10 years. 

In 2016, the Foxworths took their then 16-year-old son to a local medical clinic, reporting he hadn’t eaten in days. The boy weighed 54 pounds. Medical professionals later interviewed by police said they were shocked and horrified at the boy’s condition. They were charged months later, when the boy had recovered.

 

Jan. 19

Inspection at Rochester's For Heaven’s Sake Rescue Leaves Fawns’ Fate Up in the Air

A visit to For Heaven’s Sake Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation in Rochester by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife earlier this month appears to have left the gate open to salvation for some of the 11 deer who were previously slated for euthanization after wildlife officials deemed them “too friendly” for wild release.

A public post on the For Heaven’s Sake Facebook page, which is managed by owner Claudia Supensky, from Jan. 13 reads in part:

“We were visited by WDFW on Monday, January 8. The deer were frightened by the presence of humans in the area. The two very small fawn who had received special attention early on due to not thriving well, were able to be cornered and eventually, with lots of effort, approached. This does not mean they are habituated because had they not been fenced in, they would have ran, kept going, and not been caught.”

The deer were later released into the wild.

 

Jan. 26

Employee Alleged 9 Years of Sexual Harassment by Judge in Claim Settled Out of Court

Lewis County settled a claim out of court in 2017 from a former employee alleging nine years of sexual harassment by former Lewis County Superior Court Judge Nelson Hunt.

Hunt, who denies all of the allegations, filed a request for an injunction Thursday in Lewis County Superior Court to stop the county from releasing the records to The Chronicle without first redacting several lines of personal medical information.

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for 9 a.m. Feb. 1 in Cowlitz County Superior Court.

As a result, The Chronicle has not yet obtained details of the original complaint, tort claim or settlement, but Hunt’s request filed with the Lewis County Clerk’s Office gives insight into the contents of the unreleased documents. 

In 2016, former Lewis County Drug Court Manager Jennifer Soper-Baker filed a tort claim with Lewis County regarding alleged harassment, Hunt wrote.

“The claim is 10 pages in length and essentially divided into two parts. The first part alleges that the judges and other official (sic) of Lewis County failed to adequately protect her when she was feeling threatened by a coworker,” he wrote. “The second section alleged that for nine years, 2007 to 2016, that the plaintiff (Hunt) engaged in a course of sexual harassment.”

 

Jan. 30

Grand Opening of New W.F. West STEM Wing Celebrated

About 400 community members on Monday came out to celebrate the grand opening of the W.F. West High School STEM wing, a facility that speakers said would help the district, the community and the nation as a whole by equipping students with the skills they need to compete for high demand jobs across Washington state. 

Chehalis School Board President Joe Clark said the science, technology, engineering and mathematics wing ties back to the district’s collaborative effort known as the Student Achievement Initiative that focuses on three strategic goals: to improve, modernize and prepare. The initiative has been heavily supported by The Chehalis Foundation and its donors. 

“Everyone in this room, this community has been supportive of our efforts,” Clark said. “Whether you gave $10 or $10 million, your generosity has been overwhelming. It is truly with heartfelt appreciation on behalf of the school board and the staff that I say ‘thank you.’ Together we are creating a world class educational system.”

The new 16,000-square-foot STEM wing features six 1,300-square-foot lab classrooms and two 1,040-square-foot science classrooms, as well as three lab prep rooms, a cell culture room and a room housing the scanning electron microscope. It also features a centralized collaborative breakout space that gives students a place to work together as a team. 

February

Feb. 6

 ‘A Hero on the Scene:’ Off-Duty Firefighter Pulls Man From Burning Truck in Chehalis

An off-duty Seattle firefighter driving south on Interstate 5 Tuesday morning stopped and pulled a man from a flaming pickup truck, possibly saving his life, said Chief Ken Cardinale of the Chehalis Fire Department.

“There was a hero on the scene,” he said. “He was just on his way to work and came upon the accident and the most serious injury was in the pickup truck, and the pickup truck was on fire. He pulled him out of the truck and started administering first aid.”

The injured man, identified by the state patrol as James P. Holmes, 54, of Centralia, was driving a 1998 Dodge pickup truck which struck the freeway’s jersey barrier, was hit by two semi-trucks and rolled before catching fire. He had a serious head injury and was later airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, Cardinale said.

“He remained on scene to help the paramedics,” he said. “He was a great help to everybody.”

He was later identified as Mossyrock resident Chris Quinlan.

 

Feb. 16

Cleanup at Centralia Hoarder Vic Bonagofski's Property to Cost Lewis County $120,000

Lewis County crews on Tuesday began what they estimate will be a two- to three-week project to clear 20 years of accumulated garbage, tires, pallets and derelict houses packed full of cardboard and other trash from a Reynolds Avenue property once owned by notorious Centralia hoarder Vic Bonagofski. 

With labor and a $90 per ton garbage hauling cost, the budget for the most recent cleanup is estimated to be $120,000. 

“Anything he could get for free, he would take it,” said Steve Skinner, manager of the Solid Waste Division of Lewis County Public Works, who said he felt the project would likely come in under budget. 

Bonagofski died at 72 years old in 2015 after being hit by a train while riding his bike on a Centralia railroad crossing. He was well known for collecting cardboard and other items in a trailer attached to his bicycle.

Lewis County obtained his property in the 1300 block of West Reynolds Avenue through a tax foreclosure process last year, said Bill Teitzel, supervisor for the Environmental Services Division of Lewis County Public Health and Social Services.

 

Feb. 26

Judge Rules Chehalis Teen Arrested in ‘Sextortion’ Case Will Be Charged as Juvenile

A Chehalis teen accused of eliciting sexual images of W.F. West High School classmates using social media and extorting the classmates if they tried to stop sending pictures will not be charged as an adult, Superior Court Judge James Lawler ruled Monday.

“I just can’t see that there’s enough here to do that,” he said. “I see far more problems than solutions if that had been my decision.”

While Lawler ruled the allegations were serious and that the suspect’s actions were premeditated — requirements for charging him as an adult — he said other factors pointed in the boy’s favor, such as his lack of previous criminal history and his willingness to take responsibility and undergo treatment.

The Chronicle does not name suspects charged in Lewis County Juvenile Court.

The teen’s defense attorney, Elissa Brine, argued that evaluations of her client, nearly 17 now and 15 at the time of the alleged crimes, showed that he has shown remorse and was not mature enough to fully understand the impact of his actions.

 

Feb. 27

Cascade Marks Completion of New Mental Health Facility

Lewis County residents who need mental health treatment will no longer have to leave the area to get inpatient care, Cascade officials said Monday at a ceremony marking the completion of a new facility at the Port of Centralia. 

The Cascade Evaluation and Treatment Center is set to open in mid- to late-April, a 22-bed facility that will serve both those undergoing court-mandated treatment and those simply seeking care.

“It was really important that our Lewis County residents are not sent to Western State Hospital, that they have some place they can come here,” said Cascade Chief Executive Officer Richard Stride. “You can imagine, it’s very traumatic to be sent to one of these facilities anyway, but more traumatic when you have to take an ambulance all the way up to Lakewood or all the way down to Vancouver or clear over the mountain to Yakima. We need to keep our Lewis County residents here where their family is — natural support.”

Cascade broke ground on the $8.5 million, 23,000-square-foot building in May 2017, and Monday’s ribbon cutting marked an on-schedule completion. It will open once the company completes its staff training and orientation. 

 

March

March. 4

Orin Smith, Dedicated Donor and Hometown Hero, Dies at 75

Orin Smith, a product of Chehalis who became a wildly successful businessman and a prolific philanthropist who supported dozens of projects and causes in Lewis County and beyond, has died. 

He was 75. 

Smith had for the past several years resided in Jackson, Wyoming, but his heart never left his hometown, said Chehalis attorney J. Vander Stoep, who worked closely with Smith through the Chehalis Foundation and on a number of other fronts. 

Smith’s contributions included sizeable donations to Centralia College, the Chehalis Foundation and its Student Achievement Initiative, the Gail and Carolyn Shaw Aquatics Center and the Vernetta Smith Chehalis Timberland Library, which is named for his mother.

 

March 15

TransAlta Unveils Plans for Largest Solar Project in State at Site of Former Coal Mine

The former site of a coal mine could be producing solar power by the end of 2020, according to plans unveiled Tuesday by electricity provider TransAlta.

The Calgary-based company has owned the site just south of Bucoda since 2000. The mine shut down in 2006, with reclamation work beginning the following year to restore it to forest and pasture land. Now, TransAlta believes it’s a prime location for its solar project.

The plan, if approved, would be the largest solar project in Washington, entailing 300 jobs during construction and creating four permanent solar technician jobs. It’s expected to generate 180 megawatts of electricity, a figure that could change as plans adapt.

“The location is good because it’s close to transmission lines,” TransAlta lead developer Ryan Schmidt told locals in attendance at the presentation at Centralia College. “We know exactly what’s in the ground, because we put it there when we reclaimed the site.”

 

April

 April 5

‘I’m Addicted to This Mountain’: Mount Rainier National Park Volunteer Still Going Strong at 81

High on a steep, snowy slope, with a chilling wind whipping across Mount Rainier, Annemarie Randall sits down. She’s not taking a break. The 81-year-old leans back, kicks up her snowshoes and is gone, a blur of motion heading down the mountainside in a cloud of powder. I follow with a giddy whoop — glissading, the technical term for butt-sledding, is an awful lot of fun — and Annemarie is already standing and laughing by the time I join her at the bottom.

The sun peeks out as we continue our hike, and Annemarie turns around with a grin.

“Doesn’t it make you feel good, all the way up here?” she says.

Annemarie is a volunteer with the National Park Service, and she’s lived just outside the park entrance for the better part of three decades. She’s out hiking at least four times a week, which is why I crossed paths with her on this same snowshoe trail two weeks ago. This time, I’ve returned to hear her story — and Annemarie is full of stories.

April 7

Officials Vote to Put Twin Transit Expansion on Ballot

Area leaders voted overwhelmingly Friday in favor of expanding Twin Transit countywide, putting the measure to Lewis County voters in November — with the exception of Napavine.

“It’s a historical moment,” said Twin Transit General Manager Derrick Wojcik-Damers. “We can think about how we’re going to provide transportation for the next generation of Lewis County.” 

The cities met at a transit conference Friday facilitated by the Board of Lewis County Commissioners at the Lewis County Courthouse, and voted 8-1 to move forward with the expansion of bus service, with Napavine being the only community to opt out. Unless Napavine reconsiders in the next 60 days, it will not be served by Twin Transit or pay the two-tenths of 1 percent sales tax that will fund the expansion.

Centralia and Chehalis are already part of Twin Transit, so the measure will not be on the ballot in those cities either. The decision will be left to voters in Morton, Mossyrock, Pe Ell, Toledo, Vader and Winlock, as well as unincorporated Lewis County.

 

April 14

Deer at Rochester Animal Rescue Are ‘Free at Last’

After eight precarious months under the heavy thumb and critical eye of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, eight deer formerly in the care of For Heaven’s Sake Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation in Rochester are now bounding freely across their new home on the range.

On Friday afternoon, the operators of For Heaven’s Sake, Claudia and David Supensky, were able to corall eight of the 11 deer remaining at their care center into a travel trailer with the help of Brian Calkins, regional wildlife manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Once those deer were secured in the trailer they were driven to a remote location in South Thurston County and released on private property that is adjacent to hundreds of secluded acres of undeveloped timberlands.

The pardoned deer were initially cautious when the trailer door swung open to reveal their new stomping ground amidst a verdant pasture and expansive timberlands. Gradually though, the deer began making their way out of the trailer, and one by one they began to stretch leisurely their legs and nibble green grass while they worked up a group consensus about which way to roam.

“Free at last,” whispered Claudia Supensky as the herd began to assemble on their own terms for the first time.

 

April 26

Stellajoe Staebler’s Contributions Went Far Beyond Seminary Hill

Stellajoe Staebler’s legacy seems obvious enough — the 72 acres of unspoiled forest perched right above downtown Centralia.

But the savior of Seminary Hill, who passed away Saturday at 101 — on the same day as an annual clean-up at the natural area — leaves behind more than a swath of trees and ferns to carry on her memory. 

There are also the Girl Scouts and Sunday School kids and artists and students — all of whom were touched by Staebler’s myriad contributions to the community she called home for nearly 60 years.

“She always wanted to be useful, and useful meant doing something for somebody else,” said Rebecca Staebler, Stellajoe’s daughter and a Centralia city councilor.

Stellajoe is best known for her efforts to preserve Seminary Hill. When some began discussing logging the city-owned property for revenue in 1980, she and another Girl Scout troop leader, Chloe Palmer, collected thousands of signatures urging city officials to keep the forest intact. It was, after all, her backyard. She lived on the residential area of the hill from the time she moved to Centralia until a year and a half ago.

 

April 28

JNET, DEA Seize 126 Pounds of Meth, Other Drugs From Semi Trailer in Centralia

A traffic stop Thursday in Centralia led to the seizure of 126 pounds of methamphetamine, thousands of Oxycodone pills and smaller amounts of heroin and cocaine hidden in a semi truck, according to the Centralia Police Department. 

The drugs have an estimated street value of $4 million, Lewis County deputy prosecutor Joel DeFazio said Friday. 

Two suspects — Carlos Alejandro Luna-Rodriguez, 22, of Mexicali, Mexico and Bernardo Olivas-Leyva, 62, of Fontana, California, were arrested and booked into the Lewis County Jail Thursday morning on numerous felony drug charges. 

They made their first appearances on three charges each of possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver, possession of heroin and possession Oxycodone and are both being held on $1 million bail.

DeFazio asked Superior Court Judge James Lawler on Friday to impose $2 million bail for each defendant, citing the massive amount of illegal drugs found in the men’s possession. 

“This is an unusual case with this quantity of drugs,” he said. 

 

May

May 19

Toledo School Board Votes to Put $7M Bond on November Ballot

Come November, Toledo voters will see the highly-discussed $7 million school construction bond on their ballot.

The Toledo School Board voted unanimously Thursday to place a $7 million bond measure in front of voters this November for a 21-year term, following a recommendation from Superintendent Chris Rust.

Should the bond pass with the required 60 percent supermajority, Toledo School District will receive $18 million in state funds to build a new high school. The $18 million is composed of a $10 million grant from the state and $8 million in state School Construction Assistance Program (SCAP) funding. 

“Most of the feedback I’m getting is very positive,” said Board Chair Brad Dykstra during the board’s regular meeting.

The Toledo School District Board of Directors met Thursday evening for the second time this week. Their regular meeting followed a special meeting on Tuesday, where the board sought feedback from community members about the bond.

 

May 26

One in Custody After Fatal Shooting in Winlock

A Winlock man has been arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder after a shooting Wednesday night, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

Randolph Thomas Graham, 58, of Winlock, was arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder.

Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer told The Chronicle that as of Friday morning, Graham was still in police custody in a hospital. Charges are pending an autopsy on the victim.

The incident was first reported at 8:12 p.m. Wednesday night in the 400 block of Meier Road in Winlock.

According to the sheriff’s office, deputies responded to a report that a 44-year-old man was shot by his neighbor.

 

May 31

Commission Chooses Erik Martin for County Manager

Lewis County’s Board of Commissioners chose Erik Martin to serve as county manager Wednesday, moving the county’s Public Works Director into the newly created executive role.

Martin was offered the position after being named as one of the commissioners’ finalists, along with former Longview City Manager Dave Campbell. Campbell had also served as city manager in Chehalis.

“I am pleased that Erik stepped up to pursue this,” said Commissioner Bobby Jackson. “I think he’s going to be an excellent county manager. There’s a learning curve, but I think he’s equal to the task.” 

Jackson’s counterparts also offered praise for Martin before the unanimous vote.

“I appreciate that we had another qualified candidate in Dave Campbell,” said Commissioner Edna Fund. “After reviewing and doing the research, we believe that Erik will be the best person to fill this position.”

 

June

June 9

W.F. West Senior Creates Test Strip for Zika

W.F. West senior Ashlynn Gallagher discussed her upcoming plans over coffee this week — an impending graduation, a trip to Italy, some light Friday-night reading. Then, just as casually, she talked about patenting her research.

Gallagher, a local science student turned entrepreneur, recently created a strip that tests for Zika virus in less than two minutes.

Her list of accolades this spring is long — first place in the South Sound Regional Science and Engineering Fair, fourth in biomedical engineering at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair and an internship placement this summer in Italy with Fondazione Bruno Kessler WebValley summer school.

This success wasn’t handed to her, though. If anything, it came because she was allowed the independence to pursue her own ideas.

 

June 23

Leaders Tour Site as Chehalis Dam Project Awaits Environmental Review

South of Pe Ell, the narrow Chehalis River cuts through forest land before weaving its way east toward bigger cities, widening along the way.

It’s here, though, on Weyerhauser-owned timber land, that local authorities think they can tame the flooding that has proved such a menace downstream. A cohort of officials visited the site Friday to hear the latest on a nine-figure dam proposal designed to retain much of the water that surges over the river’s banks during flood events. 

“The idea is to reduce the frequency and extent of flooding downstream,” said project designer Keith Moen, of HDR Engineering. “When a high flood is anticipated, you could close the gates and temporarily retain water upstream to prevent the flood wave.”

Moen’s long-discussed project is a 254-foot tall dam with a spillway that’s 210 feet wide. While a dam has been discussed for years, the proposal currently under environmental review would not alter the river’s flow until gates are raised during flood events. The dam would be installed where what’s known as the Tin Bridge currently spans the Upper Chehalis.

 

July

July 3

Brothers Charged with Murder, Rape of Randle Teen

Two East Lewis County brothers accused of brutally murdering and raping their 16-year-old friend before leaving his body in a shallow grave off Cispus Road last week are being held on $10 million bail pending their next court hearing.

Benito S. Marquez, 16, and his brother Jonathan R. Adamson, 21, were formally charged Monday afternoon in Lewis County Superior Court with first-degree murder, first-degree rape, tampering with physical evidence and unlawful disposal of remains in the case of Ben Eastman, III, reported missing in Randle last week.

Both were arrested Friday in Ellensburg after being stopped on Interstate 90 by a trooper with the Washington State Patrol, the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office announced Saturday.

Marquez was charged as an adult, despite his age. In Washington, juveniles of at least 16 years old are automatically charged as adults in cases of serious, violent felonies.

 

July 24

On the Edge: High Rock Lookout Undergoes Emergency Restoration

PACKWOOD – When High Rock Lookout was constructed in 1929, it required a full day’s ride from Mineral by horseback and a team of mules in order to get assorted supplies close to their destination more than a mile above sea level. Now, nearly a century later the U.S. Forest Service and local volunteers are again trekking up to High Rock Lookout with toolboxes and raw materials in order to undo the unrelenting ravages of both time and vandals.

These days the trek to the trailhead is considerably more manageable thanks to Forest Service roads that lead to the area, but that final ascent, fully loaded with lumber and hardware, remains a daunting task.

The retired, and staggering, fire lookout structure is located on top of High Rock at an elevation of 5,685 feet. From that vantage there are panoramic views of Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams and even Mount Hood on clear days, along with the surrounding evergreen valleys and alpine lakes. While Forest Service roads will get you to the trailhead, the final 1.6 miles to the lookout perch must be undertaken by foot, with 1,365 feet of vertical gain to boot.

 

August

Aug. 2

County Begins Work to Save Houses Near Packwood from Cowlitz Erosion

Residents of the Timberline community near Packwood are breathing a sigh of relief this summer, as crews have begun work to stanch the erosion problem that has washed away several homes along the banks of the Cowlitz River and continues to threaten others.

“Folks can sleep a little easier at night up in Timberline,” said county commissioner Gary Stamper, whose district encompasses the area.

For decades, the encroaching river has been a threat for homeowners in the area, said Steve Albert, president of the Timberline Community Association. Erosion has claimed three homes already, during high-water events in 1978, 2006 and 2016. 

Last fall, the Cowlitz ate away another half-dozen feet of the bank during October rains, then claimed 10 more feet in November. Several houses now teeter over the river, and residents didn’t believe they will withstand another wet fall.

“We were going lose two homes this November,” Albert said. “(This project) is going to save their properties.”

 

Aug. 14

Developer Spills Details on $100M Centralia Grocery Distribution Center

A $100 million grocery distribution center scheduled for construction in Centralia in the next year will have a footprint of more than 1.3 million square feet (more than 30 acres), and be surrounded by one and a half miles of fencing. 

At the Monday afternoon Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce Forum, Principal and CEO of O’Keefe Development Tom O’Keefe updated the room on the grocery distribution center construction and his “anonymous” tenant.

“We’re not letting any paint dry,” O’Keefe said of construction. “The anonymous tenant needs it really fast.”

Although the grocery distribution center is definitely coming to Centralia, and bringing 350 jobs with it, the tenant has asked O’Keefe to not disclose its name, he said. 

O’Keefe said the tenant is set to be in the building and operating by July 1, 2019, but he believes it’s possible to have them in by April 1.

 

Aug. 23

Centralia Police Audit Finds Hundreds of Errors in Evidence Storage, Including 55 Lost Marijuana Plants

A 2018 internal audit of the Centralia Police Department’s two property storage rooms uncovered a glut of errors, including missing or misplaced evidence, prompting the department to reevaluate personnel managing the intake, outtake and organization of evidence.

It could have been much worse, indicated Chief Carl Nielsen, noting that none of the affected evidence was tied to active criminal cases.

“It was a step backward,” said Nielsen. “It was a shock for all of us. Particularly, you saw the number of discrepancies. Now fortunately, the vast majority of those discrepancies were not lost items or misplaced items, they were just not in the right spot.”

The total number of discrepancies Nielsen referenced tally to 114. The audit, which includes brief descriptions of each error, repeatedly includes the phrase, “Item is missing.”

 

Aug. 30

Winlock Man Found Guilty of Murder, Drive-By Shooting

A jury found Randolph T. Graham guilty of all charges leveled against him Wednesday afternoon — including the first-degree murder of Randy Lester and the first-degree attempted murder of the victim’s 15-year-old son.

The courtroom was mostly full when the jury returned with their verdict — which they reached within the span of a few hours Wednesday afternoon. Muffled gasps of excitement were audible from the numerous friends and relatives of the Lester family who sat through a majority of the trial, which kicked off the Wednesday prior.

“Overwhelming relief … (I’m grateful) that justice was served,” said Rachel Lester, Randy Lester’s wife, following the verdict. “We’re just trying to figure out how to keep moving forward and just trying to figure out how to live life without my husband.”

Graham, 59, was accused of shooting and killing his neighbor, 44-year-old Randy Lester, and firing at the victim’s fleeing son on May 23. Authorities say he fired rounds from his truck and on foot at his neighbor while Lester played basketball with his son at the end of their driveway just off Meier Road in Winlock.

September

Sept. 4

Centralia Teachers to Strike

Centralia school teachers will be out in force Tuesday morning — the day before the district’s first day of school — but not inside their classrooms.

Members of the Centralia Education Association will be on strike beginning Tuesday, they told The Chronicle Monday. Months of negotiations between the union and representatives for the Centralia School District have yet to result in a contract agreement, and the teachers’ previous contract expired Friday.

A bargaining session is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at the district office. Teachers will be picketing outside the district office as well as Centralia High School, Fords Prairie Elementary School and Jefferson-Lincoln Elementary School.

Centralia teachers would be the only ones on strike in Lewis County, but would join those in Longview, Battle Ground and other Southwest Washington teachers’ unions either already on strike or potentially headed in that direction.

 

Sept. 8

One Lewis County to File Lawsuit Regarding Commission’s Freeholder Map

With just more than a month before ballots are sent out, leaders of the effort to re-draft Lewis County’s system of government will sue Lewis County over the way county commissioners determined freeholders — 15 people tasked with writing the new charter — will be chosen.

Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce Director Alicia Bull confirmed Friday afternoon that One Lewis County met Friday morning and decided to pursue the lawsuit. The Chamber board also took a majority vote to support the decision. One Lewis County is a political action committee formed by the Chamber.

Bull said the organization hopes for a hearing as soon as September 21. The suit will be filed in Thurston County.

In a letter to the county sent on Aug. 31, lawyers for One Lewis County said the political action committee is prepared to file suit if county officials don’t meet demands to scrap the freeholder plan and call for a special election early next year with new district guidelines. The county says it won’t acquiesce to those demands, and One Lewis County is meeting early Friday morning to discuss its next move.

 

Sept. 25

Community Outraged at Possible Randle Library Closure

Randle residents and county officials are mounting a full-throated defense of the Mountain View Library, calling its potential closure the result of a hasty, secretive process by the Timberland Regional Library system that has damaged the public trust.

The first public notice that the library’s fate was in question came at a town hall meeting on Sept. 20 put on by Timberland Regional Library officials at the Randle Fire Hall. TRL oversees 27 libraries in a five-county area, including Mountain View. About 200 residents packed the facility, where they were told that TRL is rethinking the “traditional library model.”

TRL leases Mountain View within the Randle Square building, and that contract expires on Oct. 31. On Wednesday, TRL’s Board of Trustees will meet in Ilwaco, where it is expected to decide whether to sign a new lease or move to a “mobile services” model. What that model would look like has not been clearly defined.

“This is one of our busiest rural libraries,” said Lewis County commissioner Edna Fund, who served for 10 years as a TRL trustee. “We’ve had the closure of schools around there, Packwood, Mineral and Glenoma. We’ve lost mills. We need the community living room in Randle. … And now you want to close that one? What in the world?”

 

October

Oct. 4

TRL Rejects, For Now, Library Closure Plan

A controversial proposal to close nearly a third of the libraries in the Timberland Regional Library system was rejected Wednesday by the Timberland board’s Facilities Committee during a contentious meeting that saw one board member repeatedly exchanging words with the administrative staff who crafted the document.

“Closing any branches must only be considered as a last possible action,” said board member Corby Varness, who represents Grays Harbor County. “I am disturbed by the way this administration has proceeded over the past few weeks regarding this so-called Facilities Proposal. I’m hoping tonight that we can wipe that slate clean and return to working — per our policy — as a team.”

Varness was dismayed that board members had been largely left out of the yearlong effort to craft the proposal, which was written in light of a looming budget deficit. The 98-page document led to public outcry throughout Timberland’s five-county system after it was released last week, and Varness said it should never have gotten that far before board members knew closures were on the table.

In several back-and-forth exchanges with Varness, administrative staff emphasized that the proposal was only intended to facilitate discussion and look at options — not be considered as a sweeping yes-or-no action.

Oct. 13

No Charges Filed Against Centralia Teacher Accused of Sexual Contact With Student

A Centralia High School teacher accused of having sexual contact with a student will not face charges — though the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office believes a crime occurred — due to the alleged victim’s unwillingness to cooperate.

“If needed, I could force the issue, but obviously that creates a very different dynamic,” said Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer. “If there was another victim that came forward, I would ask law enforcement to go back and talk to (the first alleged victim) again.”

The Centralia School District is still conducting its own investigation. Centralia School District Superintendent Mark Davalos did not make himself available for comment on Friday. Ed Petersen, who is the public relations and communications coordinator for the district, responded by email to The Chronicle’s interview request. 

“... (O)ur investigation is independent of the Prosecutor's office and it's still ongoing,” Petersen wrote. “We generally don’t comment on ongoing investigations and we don’t have any new information to share at this time.”

 

November

Nov. 1

Judge Reflects on Foot Chase with Inmates that Captured International Attention

In the aftermath of an incident in Lewis County District Court on Oct. 16, in which two inmates made a break for it at the end of a hearing only to have the judge chase them down, nobody could have predicted the explosion of media attention the incident would garner — including the man at the center of it all, Judge R.W. Buzzard.

Buzzard gave chase to inmates Tanner D. Jacobson, 22, of Onalaska and Kodey L. Howard, 28, of Winlock, catching Howard just before he reached an emergency exit. Jacobson was apprehended by Lewis County deputies a few blocks away.

On Oct. 19, the Chronicle got ahold of security footage of the incident, and posted it online, where, as of Wednesday afternoon, it reached just over 62,000 views. But that was nothing compared to the totality of the incident’s attention.

“I Googled ‘judge chases inmates’ and I got to 10 full pages and then I stopped looking,” Buzzard told The Chronicle Tuesday. Networks across the nation and some spanning international waters ran the story and video. Buzzard received interview requests from The New York Post, Good Morning America, Inside Edition and Seattle and Portland outlets.

 

Nov. 3

Ceremony Marks Completion of Chamber Way Bridge Construction

A phrase not often heard in today’s political climate became a central theme Thursday at the ceremony to commemorate the completion of the Chamber Way Bridge rebuild in Chehalis: This is what happens when the government gets it right.

Representatives from the local, state and federal levels of government spoke glowingly one after another about how, in the days after the bridge took a critical hit from an oversized load on I-5 in July 2016, party affiliations and egos evaporated as they huddled to form a plan that ultimately led to the erection of a new bridge at least five years ahead of schedule.

State Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia) remarked that state leaders don’t always get things right, but in the case of the Chamber Way bridge, everyone involved should feel proud of their efforts.

 

Nov. 8

Herrera Beutler Earns Reelection, Holds Off Strong Challenge from Long

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, is poised for reelection with a 5-point lead in the 3rd District, holding off a hard-fought challenge from Democrat Carolyn Long.

Wednesday evening, the incumbent held a 52.6 to 47.4 percent lead — a margin of about 13,000 votes — following a campaign that saw Long shatter fundraising records and mount the first serious Democratic challenge to Herrera Beutler since she won the seat in 2010.

“I’m so honored to have once again earned the trust of Southwest Washington residents who have selected me to serve them in Congress for another term,” Herrera Beutler said in a statement Wednesday, after the second vote count made clear she would be the winner. “I’ve always worked to be a public servant who solves local problems and makes our region’s priorities my priorities, and that will be my approach in this next Congress.”

 

Nov. 17

Timberland Admins Planned Randle Library Closure for Months, Silenced Staff Who Tried to Warn Public

When the Timberland Regional Library board voted to extend the lease of Randle’s Mountain View library in September, the system’s leaders credited an overwhelming public response for helping inform the decision to spare the branch.

But emails obtained by The Chronicle show Timberland administrators discussed closing Mountain View as far back as July, viewed it as a foregone conclusion and explicitly forbade branch staff in Randle from informing the public it was on the chopping block in the weeks leading up to the vote. 

“Realistically, I don’t think we’ll make anything public until after the board meets on the 26th,” District Manager Trisha Cronin wrote to Mountain View Library Manager Mary Prophit on Sept. 5. 

Prophit emailed Cronin on Sept. 1 to ask if she could tell patrons their library was on the verge of closing.

“If they don’t make a decision at that meeting, it may not be until later,” Cronin wrote. “I truly understand your feelings that it’s unfair to them not to tell the Randle community so that they can attempt to sway the decision. However, although we will make sure that they get to air their feelings, it would be a disservice to them to lead them to believe they can change the decision.”

Nov. 29

East County Bus Service On Track to Continue, Despite Do-or-Die Rhetoric

One thing was made clear during the months-long push to expand Twin Transit bus service countywide: Not doing so would almost certainly lead to the demise of Lewis Mountain Highway Transit. 

Its inability to afford increased costs associated with receiving the state grant funds that make up most of its operating budget would eliminate the only source of public transit for most Lewis County residents east of the Twin Cities, proponents said, leaving riders unable to attend medical appointments, take classes, or shop in Centralia or Chehalis. 

Whether or not someone agreed that expansion would benefit themselves, surely they could see the need to keep buses running to and from Packwood, residents heard in a number of presentations.

However, Doug Hayden, executive director of the nonprofit that runs LMHT, now says that imminent danger was not only misstated, but had actually been averted the previous year due to a change in legislation. The nonprofit expects to continue to receive grant funding and to maintain its East County routes without Twin Transit’s help, contrary to statements made by board member Bobby Jackson and director Derrick Wojcik-Damers while they campaigned for expansion.

 

December

Dec. 1

'Extinction is Not an Option': Quinault Worry for Salmon Beset by Sea Lions, Climate Change and Dams

There’s a November chill in the air as Ed Johnstone checks his fishing nets, one bend of the Chehalis River upstream of Cosmopolis. He hauls the nets over the bow of his weathered boat and pulls, hand over hand, to inspect their contents. He finds eggs, pieces of salmon flesh — but no fish. 

Nearby, a half-dozen or so sea lions surface intermittently, the reason so many of the salmon that find their way into Johnstone’s nets are gone before he can retrieve them. 

“It’s combat fishing,” he says.

As gulls circle and fill the air with their cries, Johnstone talks about his history on this river. A member of the Quinault Indian Nation, he’s been fishing the Chehalis since the 1974 legal decision that restored treaty-guaranteed fishing rights to Native American tribes, including fishing on off-reservation waters. Though the Quinault reservation is well north of the Chehalis River on the Olympic Peninsula, tribal members have been fishing its waters for thousands of years, and many have found their way back to the river in the four-plus decades since the Boldt Decision was rendered.

 

Dec. 11

Wealth of Resources: Ascot Gets OK for Exploration of Mining Potential Near Mount St. Helens

Susan Saul knows the Green River valley better than most.

In 1980, she led a group of about 20 people on a hike through the valley into the old-growth forest of Douglas fir and western red cedar just north of Mount St. Helens. Saul, then the co-chair of the Mount St. Helens Protective Association, was trying to rally support for conservation as timber companies left bare hillsides on the neighboring slopes and mining operations prospected the valley for copper ore.

She wanted people to see that the valley, with its wild river and ancient trees, had more value than the resources that could be extracted from its land. The hike she led on May 10, 1980, was part of her efforts to convince people that the land around Mount St. Helens should be set aside for conservation.

One week later, St. Helens erupted. 

Much of the Green River valley was decimated, like so much of the surrounding area, but some swaths of the valley — protected by high surrounding peaks — remained untouched.

 

Dec. 22

Fred Meyer Ends Negotiations With Centralia Station

The future of the long-promised Centralia Station project is up in the air following the announcement Friday that negotiations between developer Powell Development and Fred Meyer for a 175,000 square-foot anchor store are over.

The two parties had been in talks since March 2017, when the Port of Centralia entered into a real estate and purchase agreement with the developer for about 28 acres of land near the Interstate 5 interchange at Mellen Street. A 2017 study by ECONorthwest estimated Centralia Station, when completed, would produce $118 million in local sales and employ more than 500 people.

Kyle Heaton, executive director of the Port of Centralia, told The Chronicle earlier this month that he hoped to complete infrastructure development on the site by the end of next year. Powell has about 90 days to find another anchor tenant before its contract with the port expires and it could walk away as well.

“I know they’ve been reaching out to other potential anchors and trying to backfill and see what a product mix would look like with a different anchor,” Heaton said. 

“Obviously, as you go with different shopping developments and what locates well with different anchors, there’s some crossover. I think they’re trying to get their arms around it right now to try and come through with a replacement.”

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