Top 10 stories of 2015 | Year In Review

With the end of 2015 right around the corner, it’s time to examine everything that happened over the last 364 days of the year before setting goals for the next. For the Courier-Herald, that means taking a look at all the news stories that touched the Plateau, whether they be tragic deaths and senseless crimes or triumph over adversity and celebrations of enduring life.

The Top 10 stories of 2015.

The Top 10 stories of 2015.

With the end of 2015 right around the corner, it’s time to examine everything that happened over the last 364 days of the year before setting goals for the next.

For the Courier-Herald, that means taking a look at all the news stories that touched the Plateau, whether they be tragic deaths and senseless crimes or triumph over adversity and celebrations of enduring life.

These stories, and many, many more, define us just as much as we define them. How we move towards the future is determined by how we view the past; these are your stories, and these stories are you.

1. Bridge collapsed, killed Bonney Lake family

It took only a second for the state Route 410 sidewalk-widening project in Bonney Lake to go from going smoothly to ‘the worst tragedy’ the city has ever seen.

On April 13, a chunk of the barrier wall on the SR 410 bridge over Angeline Road in the city fell and killed Josh Ellis, his wife Vanessa and their eight-month old son instantly as they drove in their truck under the overpass.

It quickly came to light that the demolition plan for cutting the barrier wall may not have been followed correctly, which resulted in the deaths of the Ellis family.

The Department of Labor and Industries fined WHH Nisqually, Highmark Concrete Contractors, Station Companies and Hamilton Construction/American Concrete a total of $87,000 for workplace safety violations and a wrongful death suit has also been filed against the construction companies and Bonney Lake, but criminal charges relating to the deaths of the family members have not to be filed.

(Photo: Carolynn Williams and Makayla Weishaupt light candles for the Ellis family after the prayer vigil at EastPointe Foursquare Church. The church was so packed, the church opened an overflow room after the main sanctuary was filled shoulder to shoulder by family, friends, and other members of the community. Photo by Ray Still)

2. SR 410 closed in both directions at White River Bridge for several days

The closure of the SR 410 White River bridge greatly interfered with the lives of some Plateau residents when damage was found to the structure on April 4 during a routine inspection.

The damage was done to a steel overhead support structure, and the bridge had to be closed and repaired before anyone was allowed across, blocking the only passage many drivers take to get between Enumclaw and Buckley.

The state Department of Transportation originally announced closure dates to happen during weekends throughout the holiday season, but plans were changed following a meeting between the DOT and Enumclaw, Buckley and Bonney Lake business owners.

The bridge is now scheduled to be closed day and night April 15 23.

3. Enumclaw man charged with third-degree child rape

Enumclaw resident Ryan Rothermel was charged with third-degree child rape on May 15.

Police arrested Rothermel after discovering he had sexual relations with a 14-year-old girl while living in a home with her, the girl’s mother and Rothermel’s girlfriend.

Rothermel was living in the home for approximately a year before he was arrested.

Police were alerted to the crime, documents stated, when a witness overheard Rothermel telling other people about his relationship with the girl.

Rothermel has a criminal history, including attempted voyeurism with sexual motivation, fourth degree assault, second degree criminal trespass, resisting arrest and two counts of domestic violence court order violation.

4. Enumclaw-born baker competes on Cake Wars

Not all the top news stories of the year are dark and dreary; some happen to be quite delicious, as Enumclaw baker Natalie Vorpahl could say.

Vorpahl and her business partner Kristina Serfass at Baked Custom Cakes in Seattle competed on the Food Network Channel’s Cake Wars last year, which was aired July 13.

The two bakers came away as winners of the competition, which was all about wedding cakes. They received a $10,000 prize.

“It was kind of a pretty crazy experience with the cameras in your face constantly,” Vorpahl said about the experience. “It’s nerve racking enough making a wedding cake without being filmed.”

(Photo: In their bakery, Kristina Serfass and Natalie Vorpahl make and decorate unique made-to-order wedding cakes for their customers. Submitted photo)

5. Lake Tapps refill

Bonney Lake and Lake Tapps residents were inconvenienced last summer when Lake Tapps, after being emptied for repairs, was unable to be filled in time for the start of the season.

This was due to the unexpected, and record-breaking, lack of rainfall in the spring and summer season this year.

When Cascade Water Alliance drew down lake levels in fall 2014 in order to repair the dykes that took water in and out of the lake, it was expected the lake would be refilled by Memorial Day weekend, which is when the lake typically opens for the recreational summer season.

Instead, the lake was open to all recreation nearly a month later in July, thanks to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project that allowed more water to flow into Lake Tapps.

(Photo: Lake Tapps was not open on Memorial Day as scheduled because of a lack of rain and snowfall over the winter.)

6. Washington’s smoke signals

After the Plateau was introduced to legal marijuana when two retail stores opened in Buckley, the Courier-Herald examined the science, history and politics of the new Washington marijuana legalization in a four part series.

The series won first place in the “Comprehensive Coverage of a Single Issue or Series” category of the annual Washington Newspaper Publisher’s Better Newspapers Contest.

Reporter Rebecca Gourley wrote on the continuing evolution of politics surrounding marijuana, focusing specially on the reconsideration of drug convictions, and the history of hemp in the United States.

Reporter Ray Still focused on the science behind cannabis and how it affects the body, and examined some myths and misconceptions about marijuana.

7. Enumclaw passes school bond

If Enumclaw residents ever felt if their vote mattered, it was probably when the Enumclaw School District’s $68.5 million bond issue passed by only four votes in May.

The four votes meant the bond issue received the supermajority, or 60 percent, of votes it needed to pass. After the April 28 Election Day, the bond was passing with just six votes, and then fell under the 60 percent mark by three votes, and then one vote, by May 4, before once again going over the line May 6.

The bonds will be used to renovate Enumclaw High School, including construction of a two-story addition to replace aging classrooms, library, science labs, music facility, auditorium and gymnasium and upgrading systems in commons, offices and art/automotive wing. The funds will also be used to build a new Black Diamond Elementary School.

Following suit, the Sumner, White River and Carbonado school districts are asking voters this coming spring to approve bond measures as well.

8. Enumclaw woman murdered

Enumclaw resident Nicole Elizabeth White went missing in early June, and after a two-week long search, was found killed outside Kapowsin.

Graham resident Jonathan Daniel, who was out with White that night, was arrested and charged with murder in the second degree. Data stored in the ignition interlock device in his car and cell photo records place Daniel where detectives found White’s body.

Charges were increased in November to first-degree murder, because forensic analysis revealed White was beaten to death.

Daniel pleaded not guilty to these charges.

9. Sumner School District’s hard climb to top five

Two years ago, the Sumner School District made the goal to be ranked in the top five top performing school districts by 2017.

With the halfway mark behind them, it looks like the district is remaining on task with their goal, improving from 37th in the state to 17th.

The rank was given to the district by School Digger, a free school-ranking service that compares school and school district state assessment scores to determine which are the best (and the worst) in the nation.

Staff said the improvement comes from the changes Superintendent Sara Johnson brought in to the district, especially changes relating to academic support students receive and professional support teachers receive.

10. Incumbents lose elections

After a fiery campaign season, incumbents in both the Enumclaw and Black Diamond city councils lost their re-election bids in November.

In Enumclaw, challenger Kim Lauk beat incumbent Darrel Dickson with 56 percent of the vote.

In Black Diamond, challenger Brian Weber took Council Position 4 from Craig Goodwin with 68 percent of the vote, and challenger Pat Pepper unseated Ron Taylor with similar numbers.

Over in Bonney Lake, former Councilman Mark Hamilton decided not to run for re-election, and Justin Evans has taken his place, winning 60 percent of the vote against David Baus.


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