Julie McDonald Commentary: County Likely to Pay for Botching Christensen Death Investigation


Although I’m not a fan of our sue-happy culture, I don’t blame the family of Aron Christensen for filing a $20 million claim against Lewis County after the August shooting of the 49-year-old Portland musician and his puppy, Buzzo.

The family contends the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office damaged the corpse of the 4-month-old dog and sabotaged the criminal investigation into the shooting of Christensen, who was hiking on the Walupt Lake Trail south of Packwood in mid-August last year when he and his puppy were shot. 

From all I’ve read, it appears the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office botched the investigation from the start, and a medical examiner for the Lewis County Coroner’s Office cross-contaminated the evidence, so much so that Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer announced in April that his office wouldn’t file felony charges against Ethan Asbach, 20, of Tenino, even though he admitted firing a gun Aug. 19 in the area where the bodies of Christensen and Buzzo were found.

I don’t know Asbach, but I doubt he deliberately intended to kill anyone, yet we’ll never know, because the prosecutor won’t file involuntary manslaughter charges and bring the case before a jury to evaluate. According to Washington state law, “A person is guilty of manslaughter in the second degree when, with criminal negligence, he or she causes the death of another person.”

The last time I served on a jury in 2013, I heard the case of a mother who was charged with burglary and felony assault after she shoved open the door of her son’s house, which his live-in girlfriend was holding closed, and retrieved his truck keys so he could use the title to post bail. After jurors wasted two days waiting for a witness to show up, the prosecutor’s office dismissed the burglary charge and the woman pleaded guilty to non-felonious assault. She was sentenced to a day in jail, which she had already served.  

That was under Meyer’s watch. His office filed a felony assault charge when injuries were nonexistent or minimal.

Now we have a man whose life has been cut short. He and his puppy were both shot and killed. Yet Meyer refuses to file any charges — at least to this point. If he does file charges, they’ll be misdemeanors. 

As Christensen’s family said at the time, “We wholeheartedly disagree with the Lewis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office’s assessment that the reckless behavior that caused Aron’s death cannot be proven in court. The shooter killed another person on a frequented public trail, during peak recreation season. Any hiker in the same position as the shooter, with a headlamp on no less, should have been aware of the possibility that it was Buzz, a four-month-old blue heeler puppy, and Aron that they saw just off the trail and not a mountain lion or other wild animal as the alleged shooter claimed to believe.”

The family’s claim is a precursor to a lawsuit and it’s likely Lewis County will have to pay for its incompetence. Although the county’s insurer may settle the claim, taxpayers will pay in the end with higher premiums to belong to the insurance pool.

Why wasn’t the death properly investigated? Why weren’t the autopsies conducted professionally? Why hasn’t anyone been charged? 

It’s a tragedy, any way you look at it.

Rants: Gas Prices 

In early May, we traveled to Pullman to watch our daughter graduate from Washington State University in genetics and cell biology. We rented an Airbnb in Lewiston, Idaho, as lodging prices near Pullman were astronomical during graduation week. 

When we filled up the gas tank in Lewiston, the cost was 80 cents per gallon cheaper than what we paid at Napavine before we left. The following week, I drove to Portland for a writers’ critique group meeting and filled up the tank again — this time the cost was 40 cents cheaper per gallon.

As I’m writing this column, the average price for gasoline nationwide is $3.56, with the lowest in Mississippi of $2.99 a gallon and the highest in California at $4.81, according to AAA. The cheapest price I’ve seen locally is $4.29 a gallon. Washington gas prices lag behind only California and Hawaii.

Much of the difference can be attributed to gas taxes and rural residents are likely to pay even more when Washington implements its proposed 2.5-cent-per-mile fee. Just how likely is it the gas tax would be reduced if that fee goes into effect?  



I enjoyed shopping at Albertsons in Lewiston and leaving the store with groceries in bags that I didn’t need to pay extra to use. Remember when it used to be that way everywhere? 

Nowadays, we can’t even pay eight cents for a bag at Walmart. We must buy cloth bags or leave without our groceries bagged. 

Yes, I have a stash of bags in the trunk, and of course, I always forget to bring them. Now I bag my groceries at my trunk before heading home.

Fast Food

I’m on the road a lot and eat far too much fast food, which is unhealthy and expensive. 

But I’ve been baffled a bit by changes I’ve seen lately. 

Because of inflation, local McDonald’s franchises have ditched the Dollar Drink prices for large beverages, but that’s not true everywhere. They’re still a dollar in Idaho and Oregon, from what I’ve seen. 

Burger Kings in our region changed its Diet Coke formula so it tastes more like seltzer water, so I quit going there. But at Othello in Central Washington on the way to Pullman, we didn’t have much choice, yet the Diet Coke there tasted normal. Go figure.

Decades ago, I worked at Burgerville one summer while attending the University of Washington. I took and fulfilled orders for food and beverages, which is the job I was hired to do. I never expected tips, although I received a few now and then when guys wanted to ask me for a date. (I said no.) Today, perhaps because its workers have unionized, we’re asked every time we drive through if we want to leave a tip. 

Maybe it’s a sign of the times. I earned a whole lot less money each hour working at Burgerville and never expected tips. However, while waiting tables at Denny’s and Kopper Kitchen during college breaks, I appreciated tips. At that time, though, people who received tips earned a lower minimum wage ($2.60 per hour) than those who didn’t ($3.10 per hour). Today, all workers in Washington receive the standard minimum wage of $15.74 per hour.


Locked Bathrooms

When I’m on a road trip, I often postpone a pit stop until I’m nearly desperate. Then I rush inside to use the restroom, only nowadays, I often find it locked. So, admonishing my bladder to behave, I shuffle to the counter and ask for the code, then shamble back and unlock the door. 

It’s so frustrating! Someday I worry my bladder may ignore my admonishment.

With the increases in vandalism and homelessness, I can understand why more businesses lock their bathroom doors, but it’s frustrating to me that all must be punished for the behavior of a few. 

It’s like traveling on an airplane nowadays. Most of us must remove our shoes because of the idiotic behavior in 2001 of one man who decided to try igniting a bomb in his shoes to destroy an airplane.

Those 75 or older no longer need to remove their shoes. Of course, elderly people might want to think twice before accepting free shoes from strangers.



Speaking of airports, I picked up a friend from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport one Sunday evening recently and followed the traffic to the arrivals section. As I spotted my friend, I pulled the car to the side, although the curbside lane was full, and hopped out. A man with a megaphone shouted and called me an idiot, so I jumped back in and drove two feet forward with my friend standing beside the car. When I climbed back out, the man was yelling at others and calling them names while a woman constantly blew on a shrill whistle.

If that man were a police officer, he’s the kind likely to kneel on someone’s neck for nine minutes.

Welcome to Seattle. I’ll take Portland International Airport any day.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.