Editor’s note: The year 2009 opened with wicked weather and ended with a late Christmas present when the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board lifting a building moratorium across the county. Here are the top stories of the past 12 months, as voted on by the Chronicle’s newsroom:
1. Snow, Freeze, Flood and Slide — the Wicked Weather of December and January
The No. 1 story of 2009 came just days after the new year, after a record amount of snow in East Lewis County and the lowlands was followed by torrential rain and flooding, plus major mudslides along U.S. Highway 12.
A 20-mile section of Interstate 5 was shut down for the second time in 13 months as residents across the county — with images of the record 2007 storm and Chehalis River flood still fresh — prepared for the worst. Although the Chehalis, Newaukum and Skookumchuck rivers overflowed their banks, downtown Centralia was spared.
The multi-faceted disaster prompted the return of FEMA to the county, another round of visits from political figures and controversy over floodplain development in the Twin Cities.
2. Soon Yang Killed in Mossyrock
Mossyrock gas station owner Soon Yang was trying to stop a man from leaving without paying for gas when she was run over multiple times and killed in April.
Yang was 53.
The man behind the wheel — John Angeline — pleaded innocent to second-degree murder and second-degree burglary by insanity. Evaluations conducted by Western State Hospital determined that he was competent to stand trial but insane at the time of the crime.
Angeline remains in state custody pending additional evaluations.
3. Sheriff’s Deputy Who Hit Elk Dies
The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office lost one of its own after Deputy Stephen “Mike” Gallagher collided with an elk while responding to a domestic violence call in Packwood Aug. 17.
The 34-year-old Adna resident died the following day at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Hundreds of colleagues and counterparts from across the state attended a memorial and funeral for Gallagher.
4. Local National Guard Troop Leaves for War
On the eve of Veteran’s Day, busloads of National Guard soldiers drove from their home base at the Centralia Armory past flag-waving crowds as they shipped out for specialized training leading up to their mission of finding and defusing roadside bombs in Afghanistan.
The 400-day “route clearance” mission is crucial for American efforts in the region. Despite the danger, volunteers have joined the 204th Engineer Company from as far away as Arizona and Texas.
The 102 members of the Centralia unit leave for Afghanistan from their training grounds in Wisconsin within weeks.
5. Brian Baird Chooses Not to Run in 2010
U.S. Congressman Brian Baird, D-Vancouver, announced his surprise decision not to run for re-election in 2010.
Almost immediately after the six-term Vancouver Democrat broke the news, names were thrown around as new candidates jumped into the race.
Baird cited wanting to spend more time with his family for stepping down, but he had come under fire as of late and received national criticism for describing those who disrupted health care meetings as using “Brown Shirt tactics.”
6. Ground-breaking Dancer, Choreographer Merce Cunningham Dies
Born in Centralia as the second son in a prominent legal family, Mercier “Merce” Cunningham went on to become one of the best-known avant-garde choreographers in the world.
His groundbreaking work was the first to separate dance from music. He also used chance to determine parts of his dance by tossing dice or using the I Ching.
His death at age 90 was front-page news in his adopted hometown of New York and around the world. He is honored in his hometown by a wall-sized painting at Centralia College.
7. Former Randle Couple Guilty of Murder
It was a Christmas Day tragedy that shocked residents in two states.
Ricky Morales, 11, died in a Riverside, Calif., duplex after being severely beaten by his aunt and uncle acting as guardians and left in a closet on Dec. 25. While investigating that case, investigators learned Ricky’s 13-year-old brother Conrad Morales had been murdered a few months earlier.
Raul and Cathy Sarinana were sentenced to death in June for torturing and murdering Ricky. Conrad is believed to have been killed near Randle while the Sarinanas lived there. The Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office chose not to prosecute the couple because they already have received death sentences.
8. County Escapes GMA Purgatory
Lewis County’s decade-long struggle to comply with the state’s Growth Management Act ended a few days before the end of the year with a ruling that, finally, the county’s rules were no longer invalid under the law.
The decision is a major development after years of legal struggles between county leaders who tried to avoid infringing on property rights and citizen activists who wanted to see more protections on rural landscapes and farmland.
The ruling issued just a few days ago sets the stage for the county to remove a development moratorium that has strictly limited activity on tens of thousands of acres of land throughout the county. It also opens the door for the mammoth Maytown auctioneer Ritchie Bros. to relocate to south Lewis County along Interstate 5.
9. Chehalis Developer Phil Smith Indicted
Things were bad for Phil Smith when the state fined him $232,000 for destroying wetlands while clearing his property just off Exit 63 near Toledo.
The situation intensified in September when Smith, a Chehalis resident, was indicted by a federal grand jury. He now faces four alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act.
The fine from the state was approved Oct. 29 after Smith’s lawyer filed an appeal.
Smith’s property is also no longer under consideration for a proposed regional equestrian center. He was one in a group of investors seeking state sales tax funds through the Lewis County Public Facilities District.
10. Port of Chehalis Receives New Labree Road
The $52 million project aimed to increase the accessibility to the Port of Chehalis from I-5 was completed in June of this year.
Construction began in 2007 and finished a full season ahead of schedule.
Port officials said the new interchange would play a major role in development and the port’s future once the economy begins to turn around.
Also receiving votes:
• Crossbow attack in Pe Ell
• Fire razes Centralia factory, Cascade Structural Laminators
• The recession
• Temps hit records during summer heat wave
• Centralia College opens new science center and health center
• Tenino woman Nancy Moyer goes missing
• Swine flu hits, killing a Chehalis woman in her 30s and a new California mother with ties to Lewis County
• White Pass Ski Resort Expansion
• County opens first cancer center
• 90-year-old man crashes, camps for two nights on ATV
• Gootee shuts down, finds new owner; Campbell Dodges Closures
• Mother arrested after 12 years on the run
• Wind farm proposed for West Lewis County