Top 10 stories of 2018

Check out the top stories from the Plateau that either shaped last year, or promise to affect the next.

Albert Einstein once said time is relative. Of course, he was talking scientifically, and not about the metaphorical idea that one person’s day could drag on while another blinked, and it was over.

Between the two extremes, I can’t decide how I feel about 2018. In the moment, it feels like the year has dragged on longer than Marvel movie credits. But upon scanning through a years-worth of Courier-Herald newspapers, it’s clear an amazing amount of news has happened this year, so much so that we’ve forgotten much of it.

With New Years around the corner, this is the perfect time to not only look forward to the year ahead, but also reflect on the one behind us, and examine the events that led us to where we are in our lives today. Some we’ll remember with fond smiles; others, with grief and tears.

And every year, we at The Courier-Herald do the same, by examining the top stories of 2018. It’s not as easy as picking out the ones we liked writing the most, or ones that were the most popular on our websites — we want this list to be emblematic of the previous year, a holistic view of our community, which means mixing the bitter with the sweet. Several stories have been updated with new information, so make sure to check them all out.

After all, the strength of our community doesn’t just come from “the good times” and the successes we experience, but also how we come together in times of pain and loss, helping each other stand back up to be stronger than we were.

2018 was not an easy year. But, upon reflecting on the last four years I’ve been at The Courier-Herald, I’ve found no year has been. And still we persevere, showing kindness and selflessness to our neighbors, striving to make our communities better.

Happy New Year, readers, and may 2019 find you well.

10) Sex offender arrested, Lileana Christopherson found

The Plateau community was rocked when the disappearance of Bonney Lake resident Lily Christopherson, 15, led to the arrest of four people for kidnapping and rape. When her disappearance was first reported in early May, details were scarce, but a month-long search by the Bonney Lake Police Department and other law enforcement eventually tracked down Christopher Fitzpatrick, 39, who was arrested May 26 in connection with Lily’s disappearance, and eventually charged with kidnapping in the first degree with sexual motivation, promoting the sexual abuse of a minor, and multiple charges of rape in the third degree. About a week after his arrest, Lily was spotted in Tacoma, and police helped her return to her family.

Fitzpatrick, as well as his accomplice Maria Counts, are currently awaiting trial. Counts’ is scheduled for Jan. 3, 2019; Fitzpatrick’s on April 9, 2019. Another two men, William Kent Pittman and Nicholas David Biancalana, pled guilty as charged with rape of a child in the third degree in September.

9) Remembering James Larsen, Zach Roundtree, Camron Cozzi

Hundreds gathered at the candlelight vigil on March 6 to honor Officer James Larsen and Zach Roundtree. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

Hundreds gathered at the candlelight vigil on March 6 to honor Officer James Larsen and Zach Roundtree. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

Bonney Lake was also hit this year with the deaths of Officer James Larsen, 41, and resident Zach Roundtree, 27, as well as the passing of Camron Cozzi, a name known to many on the Plateau for his fight against a highly aggressive brain tumor.

James and Zach were killed by an avalanche while on vacation near Cle Elum on March 3. The Bonney Lake Police Department arranged to escort the two home, and were greeted by hundreds of Plateau residents at Weeks’ Funeral Home in Buckley. Later that night, a candlelight vigil was held at Bonney Lake’s Allan Yorke Park as family and friends shared memories of the two with each other.

Camron died from cancer on March 10, shortly before midnight on his 18th birthday. He was known in the Sumner-Bonney Lake School District for his athleticism up until he was diagnosed in 2015. His prognosis was poor, but his community’s support helped him live more than two years longer than doctors had expected. A candlelight vigil for friends and family was held March 14.

8) $17,000 found, given to Sumner Food Bank

Not all the stories of 2018 were grim. In August, homeless Sumner resident Kevin Booth found $17,000 in a brown paper bag outside the Sumner Food Bank and, instead of keeping the money (though it’s been reported it was a difficult decision) he gave it to the food bank, which is using it to help expand its reach for those in need.

A GoFundMe page has been set up with Kevin’s permission, in order to raise $17,000 or more as a reward for him being so honest. As of this week, nearly $15,000 has been raised. You can visit the page at www.gofundme.com/6dnvyw8.

7) “Pooling” community resources

Rafael Rodriguez was one of Sumner High’s top swimmers before graduating. He was one of several people to speak to the Bonney Lake City Council about the importance of a community pool this year. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

Rafael Rodriguez was one of Sumner High’s top swimmers before graduating. He was one of several people to speak to the Bonney Lake City Council about the importance of a community pool this year. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

The Enumclaw and Bonney Lake communities are contemplating their community pools.

The ‘Claw’s pool was built in the early 1970s, and saying it’s starting to show its age is an understatement. The Enumclaw City Council first put together a pool advisory committee in January, and the committee then turned to the public for their opinion in April. By October, public opinions were collected and an official report on the status of the pool laid out how expensive potential repairs and other projects could be, from a $1.8 million “do nothing” scenario where the city attempts to repair the pool on an as-needed basis, to a $9.6 million estimate on building a brand-new modern facility. According to the 926-person poll, 51 percent of people favored bringing the pool up to code, which could cost between $2.3 and $7 million, while only 1 percent were fine with closing the pool. At the moment, the city council is discussing exactly which path to take and, maybe more importantly, where to find the money for their decision. This could include trying to pass a levy or creating a taxing district for not just Enumclaw, but other nearby cities whose residents use the pool facilities.

Bonney Lake’s pool talk started when the Sumner-Bonney Lake School District announced in 2017 the school pool would close at the end of the 2017-2018 swim season. Plans changed, and the pool is expected to remain open through the 2018-2019 season, but will then close to make room for more school parking. In February 2018, school district students and their parents approached the Bonney Lake City Council, hoping to convince council members to fund the creation of a community pool amidst the construction of Midtown Park, which is to be built in the WSU forest. The school district has already committed $6.6 million to help the city construct a pool, but it’s likely the city will need more than that to build it. At the moment, ideas are still being discussed, but Mayor Neil Johnson has stated before he’d like to see a community pool in his city, and may be willing to try and create a taxing district or run a levy to help fund its creation.

6) Teachers, support staff talk of strikes

Gabrielle Wright, president of the Sumner Education Association and an English teacher at Bonney Lake High School, led a picket group of teachers, bus drivers and nutrition workers who were demanding the Sumner-Bonney Lake School District give them a large percentage wage increases or face a strike. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

Gabrielle Wright, president of the Sumner Education Association and an English teacher at Bonney Lake High School, led a picket group of teachers, bus drivers and nutrition workers who were demanding the Sumner-Bonney Lake School District give them a large percentage wage increases or face a strike. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

The summer months may seem forever ago to the rest of us, but it’s likely school district employees and administration have not forgotten the tense weeks when teachers and support staff called for strikes.

When money started streaming from the state into district coffers, thanks to the State Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, many school employees — classified and nonclassified — felt it was time for them to be properly compensated for their work, and around the state, asked for double-percentage pay raises. By late August, White River teachers secured a 14 percent increase in wages, plus a 2 percent increase for the following two years, and Enumclaw a 12 percent increase, followed by another 3 percent.

But at the same time, the Dieringer teachers voted to approve a strike if an agreement with the district wasn’t reached by the start of the school year. Sumner-Bonney Lake teachers followed suit early September. At the last minute, agreements were reached — Sumner-Bonney Lake teachers agreed to a 13 percent increase, and Dieringer teachers a similar increase.

However, Sumner-Bonney Lake transportation and nutrition staff also wanted a pay raise, and voted early September to strike if their requests weren’t met. Parties eventually a tentative agreement, and staff agreed to a 7 to 8 percent increase in pay over the next two years on Sept. 17.

5) Enumclaw disappearance mystery solved, kind of, after almost two years

Enumclaw resident Kristian Burnstad went missing in February 2017, and police turned up no evidence of his whereabouts until Sept. 1, when a citizen’s tip led them to a body in the vicinity of Bass Lake.

The body wasn’t identified as Kristian until later that month, but details were scarce regarding his manner of death.

In a recent interview, the King County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed they still have not determined the cause of death. The office said it typically takes 6 to 8 months for their analysis to be completed, meaning the mystery surrounding Kristian’s disappearance may again make news come this spring.

4) East Pierce Fire and Rescue makes state history

The passage of East Pierce Fire and Rescue’s $80 million general obligation bond during the last election marks the largest voter-approved bond ever passed by a fire department in state history.

It was a close call — the bond, needing 60 percent of voter approval to pass, did not appear to garner enough support when election night results were called. But little by little, more and more “yes” votes were counted, until the measure passed with 60.27 percent of the vote.

The $80 million will go toward renovating several fire stations, and creating two brand new ones, as the department tries to mitigate the ever-rising number of emergency calls in their district, especially EMS calls. Many of East Pierce’s fire stations are several decades old, and some are so small, they can’t even store modern fire engines. The modernized stations, the department hopes, will store more equipment and house more firefighters, potentially leading to faster emergency response times.

3) Black Diamond settles OPMA case, voters approve recall

The Oakpointe Open Public Meeting Act lawsuit filed against the Black Diamond City Council happened back in December 2016 — and was wrapped up January 2018. On Jan. 25, the court ruled in summary judgement that former council members Erika Morgan and Brian Weber, who declined to run for re-election the November previous, as well as then-councilwoman Pat Pepper violated the OPMA six times. The developer and defendants meet the next day to discuss settlement terms, which included each individual paying a $500 fine for each violation, and the city paying $58,000 for their legal fees — less than half of the reported $144,000 they had spent on their defense.

A few months later, Pepper was voted out of her council seat in a special election held Feb. 19. Of the 844 voters who participated in the recall vote, 66 percent supported it. According to Ballotpedia.org, Pepper was the sixth elected official in Washington to be recalled in state history.

2) Bonney Lake increases water, sewer rates

After 2 years of research and debate, the Bonney Lake City Council increased its water and sewer rates, much to the chagrin of some residents. This story is notable both in its duration, starting in November 2016 by hiring a consulting company to look at the city’s utility rates, as well as the fundamental question the debate about rates carried about governing — is it better for residents to pay a little more now for necessary repairs to keep their water and sewer system safe and working? Or kick the costs of repairs down the road until something breaks, potentially costing the city and its residents more money to fix? The council decided the former, although that may not be much solace to residents who are expecting average bills to increase around $50 starting in January. Whether or not this was the correct decision for the council to make is yet to be seen — but their decision is sure to affect the city’s future, in one way or another.

1) Confronting the social myths of mental health and suicide

The Enumclaw High auditorium was filled with community members of all stripes to learn more about mental health and suicide prevention last November. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

The Enumclaw High auditorium was filled with community members of all stripes to learn more about mental health and suicide prevention last November. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

Enumclaw’s Rainier Foothills Health and Wellness Foundation, with the Enumclaw School District, held a Nov. 14 forum about mental health and suicide prevention in light of the death of former Hornet Kione Gill. The forum was packed, as people from all over the community listened to local experts on mental health and suicide prevention — including the leaders of the Graham-based nonprofit Jordan Binion Project — discuss the myths and realities of mental health, and how to be proactive and effective when helping a loved one through suicidal thoughts or a mental health crisis. This was the first of three mental health and suicide prevention-related events: the Foundation hopes to continue the discussion during another event in March, and a third a month or two after.

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