The top 10 stories of 2012

December 26, 2012

By Michele Mihalovich

The year 2012 will go down as a big breaking-news year for Snoqualmie Valley. And is often the case when breaking news hits — the news wasn’t always good. The normally quiet Valley was dealt several tragic blows — including a fatal plane crash and multiple shootings. But the year also experienced some ups, like large construction projects and expanded city limits.

January storm paralyzes the Valley

The area was hit with a big winter storm in January.

A mix of snow, wind and ice paralyzed the Snoqualmie Valley between Jan. 18 and 21, leaving more than 10,000 people in the dark as tree limbs collapsed and downed power lines.

By the time power returned Jan. 22, the storm had left a trail of mudslides, icy roads, small fires and closed highways.

The weather cancelled dozens of events and meetings, school days and the long-awaited grand opening of the Snoqualmie YMCA.

Without power, families did what they could to stay warm, which almost turned into tragedy for some North Bend residents.

On Jan. 20, a family had placed candles on a cardboard box when a fire began. Eastside Fire & Rescue units arrived and controlled the fire. Nobody was injured and the building suffered minimal damages.

No fatalities were reported, although some suffered minor injuries in vehicle accidents on Interstate 90.

 

Plane crashes at Mount Si

Calls reporting a sputtering plane engine, a pop and then an explosion near Mount Si started coming in at about 2 a.m. Feb. 15.

In the light of the day, Snoqualmie Valley residents learned that a single-engine Cessna 172 had crashed into the side of Little Mount Si. There were no survivors.

Licensed pilot Rob Marshall Hill, a 30-year-old Federal Way man, was a swim coach at Decatur High School and the Valley Aquatics Swim Team in South King County.

Seth Dawson, 31, also an instructor with the Valley Aquatics Swim Team, and Liz Redling, 29, of Federal Way, were also in the plane.

Trails at Mount Si and Little Mount Si remained closed for weeks while debris was removed and the National Transportation Safety Board investigated. A Dec. 20 call to NTSB investigator Wayne Pollack regarding the cause of the crash was not returned before press time.

 

Man shot, killed after home invasion

A North Bend neighborhood was traumatized after one of their own shot and killed an intruder who had thrown a propane tank through a sliding glass window.

At about midnight March 30, 911 received a call from the 400 block of Southeast Orchard Drive. A man said a stranger entered, started trashing his house and kept yelling, “Where are you? I’m going to kill you.”

Sgt. Cindi West, King County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, said the couple, a 46-year-old man and his girlfriend, hid in a bedroom while on the phone with a dispatcher.

She said the man who lived in the house retrieved a handgun from his nightstand and kept telling the intruder, “I have a pistol. Get out of my house!”

The suspect, Joshua Henderson, 30, of North Bend, kicked the bedroom door down and the man fired several shots in defense of himself and his girlfriend, West said.

King County prosecutors determined that no charges should be filed against the man who shot the intruder.

 

Peter Keller kills wife, daughter and later himself

Peter Alex Keller ended a 22-hour standoff with police April 28 when he killed himself inside a fortified bunker he’d been carving out of Rattlesnake Ridge for eight years. With his death went any explanation as to why he killed his wife, daughter and pets. Videos released later also didn’t provide answers.

“I don’t think we’ll ever have a satisfying answer as to why Keller killed Lynnettee and Kaylene,” then-King County Sheriff Steve Strachan said. “You’d be trying to apply logic to a totally illogical set of actions.”

The saga of Lynnettee Keller, 41, and daughter Kaylene, 18, began as a call about a house fire in rural North Bend on April 22. It became clear the women inside did not die in the fire, but rather suffered gunshot wounds, and that Keller, 41, was missing.

Also discovered in the home were the family cat and dog; both had been shot. Court documents said Peter rarely went anywhere without his dog.

Court documents described Keller as a gun enthusiast, computer repairman and survivalist preparing for the “end of the world.”

SWAT teams located the heavily camouflaged bunker April 27 and were fairly certain Keller was inside; they heard movement inside and smelled smoke from a wood-burning stove, Strachan said.

Officers used tear gas to flush Keller out, but those attempts failed. During the night, officers heard a popping noise, which they believe was Keller shooting himself.

The next morning, officers discovered Keller’s body, 30 feet below at the foot of the bunker, with one hand clutching a radio and a pistol nearby. They found multiple guns, ammunition, bullet-proof vests, water, soda, beans, a generator, fuel and a small trailer.

The bunker has been destroyed.

 

New construction projects in the Valley

After years of a stagnating economy, three big construction projects are good indicators of a recovering economy.

Redmond-based Motion Water Sports Inc. began building a 128,000-square-foot building in Snoqualmie’s Business Park in April.

The company designs and builds water sports products, like wakeboards and slalom skis, along with ropes, handles and vests, and distributes its products worldwide.

The building will include a 21,000-square-foot office and 107,000-square-foot warehouse.

Ground was broken for North Bend’s new fire station July 11.

North Bend and King County Fire District No. 38 entered into an interlocal agreement to pursue a $5 million bond for a new facility. In February 2011, voters overwhelmingly approved the bond — 73.21 percent in North Bend and 62.01 percent in the fire district.

The 13,166-square-foot fire station, at East North Bend Way and Maloney Grove Avenue Southeast, will house a minimum of three firefighters and two paramedics, space to support a ladder truck, engine, aid car, water tender and two paramedic units. Completion is expected by July.

Snoqualmie Valley Hospital began construction on its new site, off Interstate 90 at exit 25, in October.

The 70,000-square-foot facility will be more than twice the size of the existing hospital, and allow full occupancy of the hospital’s 25 licensed beds, and better access and service to outpatients.

The new building will have individual, private inpatient rooms, inpatient and outpatient physical therapy, a larger emergency department, women’s health services, senior health services, rehabilitation services, a larger gastroenterology service, expanded laboratory services, imaging and diagnostic services, and will accommodate an enlarged primary and specialty care clinic. Groundbreaking is expected in early 2013.

 

Freshman campus approved, school boundaries adjusted

The Snoqualmie Valley School Board approved in a split vote the 2013 creation of a freshman learning center on the Snoqualmie Middle School campus.

In a contentious March 9 meeting, the five-member board also voted 5-0 to return a bond measure to a ballot no later than February 2013. The bond would pay for a new middle school.

Nevertheless, the board’s 3-2 decision regarding the freshman campus means that for at least two years, the district will have two middle schools.

If the February bond passes, the new Snoqualmie Middle School would open in 2015.

Approving the freshman campus made it necessary to come up with boundary changes.

The board voted 3-0-1 to approve a realignment of boundaries for middle school students, which will send all fifth-graders and all Snoqualmie Middle School sixth- and-seventh-graders from Fall City and Snoqualmie to Chief Kanim Middle School starting in 2013, with the exception of Cascade View Elementary School fifth-graders.

Students at CVES, along with students from North Bend and all the way to the southeast corner of the district, would attend Twin Falls Middle School.

Next year, current eighth-graders have to begin registering for the Freshman Learning Center, scheduled to open in fall 2013, at the current Snoqualmie Middle School Campus.

 

Snoqualmie city limits expand

The city of Snoqualmie is 593 acres larger.

In a 5-2 vote Aug. 13, the City Council approved annexing what is commonly referred to as the Old Weyerhaeuser Mill site, east of historic downtown, and it became effective Sept. 28.

Not all councilmembers were thrilled. Councilmen Jeff MacNichols and Charles Peterson voted against the annexation, citing concerns about possible Meadowbrook Bridge improvements.

A couple of other councilmembers also shared expenses-versus-revenue concerns associated with the new land, but said economic development opportunities for the large block of land outweighed those.

Councilwoman Maria Henriksen said she thought the city was becoming too reliant on residential property taxes, and the annexation would open opportunities for light to medium industries, green technology businesses and recreational opportunities.

Of the 593 acres, about 350 have been zoned open space and 200 acres were zoned planned commercial/industrial land. Portions of the property could be used to connect the gap existing in the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, as well as provide land for a river walk trail corridor adjacent to the Snoqualmie River. Hunters used to shooting on that land learned that activity would have to cease, due to the fact that it’s illegal to shoot guns inside city limits.

 

North Bend to end King County police contract

The North Bend City Council, in a 4-3 vote in September, decided to end its police services contract with the King County Sheriffs Office, which it had used for about 40 years, and hired the Snoqualmie Police Department.

On March 1, 2014, the SPD will officially be tasked with protecting and serving North Bend citizens.

North Bend Councilmen David Cook, Alan Gothelf and Ryan Kolodejchuk were the three who voted against sending the termination letter and approving the contract.

“I still have concerns about whether it is right to switch … I may not agree on what was done tonight, but we need to stand behind this decision and support the Snoqualmie Police Department,” Gothelf said. “The public safety of our citizens must come first.”

The five-year contract with Snoqualmie is expected to save North Bend $300,000 to $400,000 annually. Councilman Jonathan Rosen said monetary savings wasn’t the only determining factor in his decision; he also thinks Snoqualmie will provide a better level of police service.

 

Escape of inmates at Echo Glen Children’s Center

The Sept. 22 escape of six inmates from Echo Glen Children’s Center near Snoqualmie prompted center officials to address questions from the public and the City Council.

One of the center’s male inmates struck a staff member with a frozen water bottle, grabbed her keys and then released the other males from a maximum-security cottage.

The six inmates were rounded up about three hours after the escape with the help of the county’s Guardian One helicopter, 21 King County Sheriff’s Office deputies, two dogs and multiple law enforcement officers from Issaquah, Snoqualmie and the Washington State Patrol.

Even though the capture was quick, the big question at the Oct. 22 City Council meeting was why there is no fence around a facility that houses medium- and maximum-security youths charged with felonies.

Snoqualmie Police Chief Steve McCulley said he and city officials recently visited the facility, and he determined the existing security, along with improved security equipment and extra training, will be more than sufficient.

He said the building that holds maximum-security students is extremely secure, includes a 20-foot-high fence and residents should not be concerned about their safety.

Echo Glen officials said anyone who wants a tour of the facility should call 831-2705.

 

Emergency winter homeless shelter turns into reality

North Bend Police Chief Mark Toner knows the city has a homeless problem.

He knows citizens are concerned about the gauntlet of sometimes scary people who line the bridges by river trails. He knows city leaders want something done about the homeless sleeping in tents by the rivers.

What he didn’t know was what could be done about it.

Toner, with the help of Pastor Pete Battjes at North Bend Community Church, organized a Nov. 6 meeting through word-of-mouth and a string of emails.

Roughly 30 dedicated volunteers have since shown up week after week with the goal of opening a no-frills, emergency winter shelter — what they say could save lives of Snoqualmie Valley’s vulnerable population living in tents and cars.

Call it a Christmas miracle, or divine intervention, as church member Steve Miller said, but the shelter will open Dec. 23 at the North Bend church.

“I don’t know if something’s in the water here or what, but I’ve never seen anything come together so quickly,” said Congregations for the Homeless Executive Director Steve Roberts, who has been helping the volunteers. “This community is just wonderful.”

The shelter, which can hold up to 40, will be open from 8:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. every night until March 7. Email snovalleywintershelter@gmail.com for information, or go to its Facebook page — www.facebook.com/SnoqualmieValleyWinterShelter.

 

Michele Mihalovich: 392-6434, ext. 246, or editor@snovalleystar.com.

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