Every year brings stories that stand out from the rest – sometimes due to the potential impact on a community, frequently because of the can’t-believe-it’s-true narrative and on occasion, unfortunately, due to a tragic turn of events.
With 2016 all but in the books, it’s time to look at the Courier-Herald stories that caught readers’ attention during the past 12 months.
BLACK DIAMOND GOVERNMENT
If Hollywood script writers attempted to create a reality show based on municipal dysfunction, this might be the result. Competing factions have butted heads all year, leading to headlines questioning the City Council’s ability to issue a simple parade permit to near-scuffles among grown-up, elected leaders. Few communities have had to deal with an attorney standing in open, public session and detailing legal action against members of the City Council.
As the year entered its final couple of weeks, the city had not passed a budget for the coming 12 months. That spurred talks of a potential citywide shutdown and the possibility of the small-town government being in violation of state law.
As always, opposing factions are at odds over growth and everything it brings. Tensions hit a new high (low?) in December when the mayor and mayor pro-tem physically wrestled for the gavel while uniformed police settled an angry crowd of onlookers.
The saga continues…
WHITE RIVER BRIDGE
This one moves nearly to the top strictly due to the number of people who were impacted.
Most everyone who routinely travels between Enumclaw and Buckley knows the backstory: a still-unidentified rig damaged overhead beams while traveling over the bridge. The state Department of Transportation launched a project to make permanent repairs in mid-April, closing a small-but-important stretch of state Route 410 to everyone – vehicular traffic, emergency rigs and even pedestrians.
For drivers of the estimated 20,000 vehicles that pass over the bridge every day, the detour was long and tedious. Those who normally take 10 minutes to commute between work and home were, instead, treated to a 45-minute trek through Auburn.
The good news came when workers finished a bit early, slicing a day off the planned closure.
VOTERS APPROVE BOND MEASURES
In a move that will impact tax bills for two decades and presumably benefit students for generations to come, voters approved bond measures totaling approximately $314 million in February. The requests – each met with greater than 60 percent support – were made by the Sumner, White River and Carbonado school districts.
The money in question, to be generated through property taxes, will do everything from building a new elementary school in the growing Tehaleh development to adding substantial upgrades to the White River High stadium. In the White River district, extensive renovations are headed to Elk Ridge Elementary and Glacier Middle School. In Sumner, additions are planned for both district high schools. And in Carbonado, the historic, main school building is in line for major work, inside and out.
Enumclaw voters had approved a bond measure a year earlier and, in 2016, saw a replacement Black Diamond Elementary school springing to life, along with early work on the Enumclaw High campus.
WOMAN KILLED BY STRAY BULLET
Tragedy struck the Prairie Ridge neighborhood south of Bonney Lake during the late-evening hours of Nov. 3.
What started as a vehicle theft escalated into a stray bullet being fired, which resulted in the death of an innocent victim.
The story unfolded like this, according to Pierce County Sheriff’s Department reports: A Prairie Ridge man witnessed his car being stolen from his driveway at approximately 11 p.m. and fired several shots as the vehicle left the scene. A little more than an hour later, another man dialed 911 and reported his mother, Linda Green, was bleeding from the head.
Authorities determined one of the stray shots blasted through Green’s bedroom window and caused her death. She lived about two blocks from where the shots were fired.
Panton was charged with manslaughter. Both he and the victim resided on Prairie Ridge Drive East.
SUSPECT PLEADS GUILTY TO WHITE MURDER
More than a year after Enumclaw resident Nicole White was killed, Jonathan Daniel Harris offered his guilty plea.
White had been reported missing in June 2015 after spending an evening at a Spanaway bar with Harris. She never made it home and her car was soon found down an embankment near Graham. Search dogs located her body.
As part of his plea agreement, Harris admitted to second-degree murder and both second- and third-degree assault. He had immediately been pegged as a suspect and police found White’s blood on a sweatshirt in Harris’s home. Additionally, a GPS unit in his vehicle showed Harris had driven to the site where White’s body was found.
COSTCO ANNOUNCES PLANS FOR BONNEY LAKE
Rumors had floated around Bonney Lake for years, hinting that giant retailer Costco was coming to town.
Talk turned to action during a September meeting of the Bonney Lake City Council, when preliminary plans were offered for commercial development in what was formerly known as the WSU Demonstration Forest.
Plenty of legwork stands between between early paperwork and formal groundbreaking, but there was general agreement between all parties. The proposed building would be slightly larger than the Costco on South Hill and calls for 30 fuel pumps.
The $30 million project would impact everyone traveling through the area – not just shoppers – as a new entrance onto state Route 410 would be created. The road would include installation of another traffic light on 410.
FOUR HIGH SCHOOL IN FOUR LEAGUES
When athletes from the area’s four high school launched their fall campaigns, they were competing in four different leagues spread across three classifications.
The development might not register with the entire Plateau-and-Valley community, but it was mighty significant to the kids who play the games and those who follow the various athletic programs.
The governing body behind high school sports, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, has attempted every couple of years to keep classifications roughly the same size. The result? Sumner High is in the South Puget Sound League 4A; Enumclaw also competes at the 4A level, but in the North Puget Sound League. Bonney Lake moved into a new Pierce County League, a 3A league, and White River remained in the South Puget Sound League 2A (even though the league was expanded and divided into two divisions).
Despite the shuffling, some traditions remain. The Enumclaw and White River football teams staged their Battle of the Bridge to kick off the 2016 football season and a tussle between Sumner and Bonney Lake was played as well. Enumclaw and White River have already gone against each other during the basketball season, on a nonleague basis, and Sumner and Bonney Lake will square off in late January.
CHANGES COME TO 31st DISTRICT POLITICS
The political dominoes started tumbling in the spring, when Christopher Hurst, a longtime member of the House of Representatives, announced he would not seek re-election.
That brought a small handful of hopefuls and, through the primary process and general election, Auburn’s Phil Fortunato won the House seat. That was significant in Olympia’s power structure, as a Democrat was replaced with a Republican.
Also during November’s general election, Pam Roach – a longtime state senator – was victorious in her bid for a seat on the Pierce County Council. She will resign her Senate post next week, meaning additional shuffling. Making the puzzle even quirkier is the possibility that 31st District Rep. Drew Stokesbary, or Fortunato, could be appointed to Roach’s former position. That would require 31st Republicans to come up with a House replacement.
ENUMCLAW TEEN STABBED IN STREET FIGHT
The story is more familiar to big cities, but it happened in a quiet, residential Enumclaw neighborhood.
Two teenagers were stabbed and a third landed in jail following a brawl that had been arranged through social media. Multiple 911 calls were made on a Saturday afternoon, all telling of a fight playing out in the vicinity of Kibler Avenue and Loraine Street. Police arrived to find a pair of victims, one 18 and one 16, and learn that a suspect had fled the scene.
The older teen was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with injuries described as life-threatening. The younger teen, who had come to the defense of his friend, was hospitalized locally with minor injuries.
The suspect, also 18, was quickly taken into custody. He was charged with first- and second-degree assault by the King County Prosecutor’s Office.
BONNEY LAKE MAN DIES IN HOUSE FIRE
A pair of dramatic fires rattled Plateau communities in early August – one because it took a life and the second because it ruined a gathering place for veterans.
It was the afternoon of Aug. 4 when East Pierce Fire and Rescue heard of a fully-engulfed, single-wide mobile home in the Prairie Ridge neighborhood. They found a deceased 83-year-old man inside the burning structure; two other men, the victim’s adult sons, suffered serious injuries and were transported to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
A day later, flames shot into the Buckley sky as two buildings burned. Things started at a downtown motel, where an employee had sparked a blaze when welding in a motel outbuilding. The fire quickly spread to the adjacent Veterans of Foreign Wars hall.