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The Courier-Herald’s Top 10 stories of 2020

It’s time to reflect on the past year — and realize, not everything was about COVID.

  • Friday, January 1, 2021 4:19pm
  • News

A new year is once again upon us, and it’s time for the wonderful tradition of reflecting on the year we are going to leave behind.

Of course, if you feel anything like how I feel about 2020, looking back on this year is not something I want to spend my energy doing. There are better uses of my time, right? Like snacking on Tide Pods. Remember when that was a thing? Man, what I’d give to return to such an innocent time.

But seriously — if you’re reading this, do me a favor: get comfy in your seat, and breath in. Deeply. Hold it. Just a bit longer. Feel that burn begin in your chest. And……… release.

Repeat that a couple of more times. Because even though we may not reflexively want to examine the dumpster fire that was 2020, maybe that means it’s so much more important that we do so, with as open as a mind as we can manage.

They say that those that don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it — and say what you want about these past 365 days, but it’s an objective fact that there’s a lot of history for us to learn from.

And if there’s just one lesson we all should learn from this year, it’s this: that we can’t go at it alone.

2020 may have been the year we’ve felt more isolated than we’ve ever been before. I can’t even begin to list the ways our world was turned upside down, not just by COVID, but wildfires and politics and protests and murder hornets.

But it’s also the year where we had to band together in the most important ways. Think about how our community came together around local businesses to keep the local economy rolling along; remember the Zoom meetings you had with your loved ones, and being able to enjoy their company when you didn’t know if it was safe to see them in person; contemplate how quickly the leaders and volunteers of our community were able to cobble together ways to keep government running, kids learning, food banks serving, and people working.

Yes, some of those solutions were far from perfect. There were times I felt utterly frustrated by some of the systems put in place, or invisible to the powers-that-be. I felt helpless as my plans and cherished traditions crumbled around me, and tragically, I sometimes turned the pain I was feeling against my neighbor, my spouse, my friend.

But I’m also proud of what we’ve accomplished as a whole. And I think that if we focus on those accomplishments, we will see that 2020 was a far brighter year than we would first assume.

We’re not out of the woods yet, but as Winston Churchill once said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

And I, for one, am glad to know that when I take my first step into 2021, you’re going to be there with me.

Happy New Year!

10. Enumclaw teens drowned, Rainier School resident still missing in separate incidents (Feb. 12)

Tragedy struck the Plateau in early February as three people — two teenagers and one Rainier School resident — died or disappeared. The teens, Austin Grote and Aleecia McAskill, disappeared Feb. 1. More than 40 King County deputies and search and rescue workers were involved in the search, and the two were found Feb. 4 having drowned, presumably in the White River or one of its offshoots. Their deaths were ruled accidental.

Over at Buckley’s Rainier School, Joel A. Wellman disappeared Jan. 31, but the search was called off Feb. 3 when search and rescue couldn’t find the man, who was developmentally disabled, in the forest south of the school. It remains unclear how or why Wellman disappeared.

Yosedely Barragan and Commander Tony Ryan at the Feb. 24 Enumclaw City Council meeting. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

Yosedely Barragan and Commander Tony Ryan at the Feb. 24 Enumclaw City Council meeting. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

9. Policía local, niño bilingüe salva la vida del bebé (March 4)

For those that don’t speak Spanish, the headline reads, “Local police, bilingual girl save baby’s life.” According to the Enumclaw Police Department, Commander Tony Ryan received a call on Feb. 3 regarding a 1-year-old child no longer breathing. When he arrived, he was unable to speak to the parents, as they spoke mostly Spanish. However, their daughter, Yosedely Barragan, spoke both Spanish and English, and was able to help Commander Ryan save the life of her little sibling. Yosedely and Ryan were honored by the city of Enumclaw on Feb. 24 for their bravery and quick thinking.

8. COVID-19 precautions prompt Plateau shutdown (March 18)

Coronavirus chaos finally came to the Plateau area mid-March after weeks of news coming from cities to the north, with Gov. Jay Inslee ordering schools to shut down and restaurants to close on March 16; in short notice, the cities of Black Diamond, Enumclaw, and Buckley issued state-of-emergency notices as upcoming spring and summer events were cancelled one after another.

7. Meet Buckley’s new city administrator (May 6)

With Buckley’s former City Administrator Dave Schmidt having retired in the spring after nearly 20 years of service, young buck Paul Weed took charge in mid-March. The Courier-Herald caught up with Weed a couple of months later to see how the White River High School graduate was settling in.

6. King County lists long-term care facilities with most COVID-19 deaths, Enumclaw Rehab No. 2 (May 13)

Out of all the local news regarding COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, it was the fact that Enumclaw Health and Rehabilitation had the second-most coronavirus deaths out of all long-term care facilities in King County that was one of the most striking. As of May 7, the rehab center reported 23 deaths, which was only behind the Life Care Center of Kirkland, which suffered 45 deaths as the epicenter for King County’s COVID-19 crisis.

As of Dec. 21, 2020, Enumclaw Rehab remains No. 2 on the list of most deaths in long-term care facilities, with a total of 24 deaths.

Dr. Shaun Carey took the reigns at the Enumclaw School District July 1. Photo by Kevin Hanson

Dr. Shaun Carey took the reigns at the Enumclaw School District July 1. Photo by Kevin Hanson

5. New superintendent chosen to lead Enumclaw School District (June 10)

With the departure of former Superintendent Mike Nelson earlier in the year, Dr. Shaun Carey stepped up to take the reins at ESD. Carey, hailing from the Parkland-based Franklin Pierce school system, officially took charge July 1 after a seven-week search. In a later (Aug. 12) interview with the Courier-Herald, Carey told of his childhood as an “Army brat” and traveling the world to his first job at teaching at the Clover Park School District before rising up in the ranks of school administration.

The city had a small celebration for former Buckley Police Chief Jim Arsanto on June 30, 2020, his last day, having been an officer of the law since 1987. Image courtesy Assistant Chief Mike Northam

The city had a small celebration for former Buckley Police Chief Jim Arsanto on June 30, 2020, his last day, having been an officer of the law since 1987. Image courtesy Assistant Chief Mike Northam

4. After 30-plus years with Buckley force, Chief Jim Arsanto steps into retirement (July 7)

A local man through-and-through, former Chief Jim Arsanto retired on June 30. In a final interview with the Courier-Herald, Arsanto recounted how he began as a reserve officer in 1987 before becoming full-time at the Buckley Police Department. At the department, Arsanto was named Police Officer of the Year in 1992, ‘93, and ‘94, and with those honors, was eventually named police chief in 2003.

3. Predmore goes from police officer to fire chief, now into retirement (July 29)

It was a big year for the city of Buckley losing many of its long-time leaders. After City Administrator Dave Schmidt and Police Chief Jim Arsanto, Fire Chief Alan Predmore was next to slip into retirement. A graduate of Enumclaw High School, Predmore became a volunteer firefighter/EMT with the Enumclaw Fire Department in 1982, but then went on to be a police officer in Buckley just a couple of years later. In 1993, Predmore shifted back to being a firefighter at the Buckley fire department, taking the reins from then-Chief Joe Kolisch.

2. Mountain accidents take lives of Black Diamond resident, JBLM soldier (Aug. 26)

Mount Rainier took the lives of several people this year, including former Black Diamond Councilmember Craig Goodwin and JBLM soldier Antonio Scott. Scott went missing Aug. 15 after swimming in an unnamed lake below Emmons Glacier at the White River Campground. The search lasted over the weekend and through Monday, when his body was found around noon. Goodwin was camping alone when he was reported missing Aug. 18 when he failed to return from his trip. His body was discovered by the South Mowrich River the next day.

Allan Thomas attended an Aug. 27, 2019 Drainage District 5 meeting with its three new commissioners in order to help them figure out how to set their yearly budget and provide them other information. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

Allan Thomas attended an Aug. 27, 2019 Drainage District 5 meeting with its three new commissioners in order to help them figure out how to set their yearly budget and provide them other information. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

1. Former drainage district commissioner, wife charged again with conspiracy, aggravated identity theft (Sept. 23)

For those that need a refresher, locals Allan Thomas and Joann Thomas were charged with one count of mail fraud in September 2019 regarding the alleged embezzlement of $460,000 from local taxpayer wallets. According to investigators, the couple used fake invoices to get taxpayer money from King County for work that was never performed in local drainage ditches; this was the purview of Drainage District 5, of which Allan was a former commissioner. However, the couple have been charged again with one count of conspiracy, four counts of mail fraud, two counts of aggravated identity theft, and four counts of money laundering.


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