SEATTLE – The savage early morning killings of four Lakewood police officers gunned down in a suburban coffee shop was voted the top Washington state story of 2009 by editors of the state’s daily newspapers.
The massacre on the Sunday after Thanksgiving and the subsequent manhunt for the killer dominated headlines here and around the country until Maurice Clemmons, a parolee from Arkansas with a history of violence, was shot to death by a Seattle patrolman less than 48 hours later.
The Lakewood killings marked the worst of a bloody two months for police in Washington state. The shooting of a Seattle police officer on Halloween night was voted No. 7. On Monday night, two Pierce County deputies were badly wounded while responding to a domestic violence complaint near Eatonville, a story that broke too late to make the ballot.
The killings drove home the fundamental danger of police work, even at seemingly safe times.
“What we are not trained for is people that are ambushing us,” Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said after the most recent shootings. “We now know it’s going to be part of the job.”
Elsewhere in 2009 news, editors chose voters’ approval of a sweeping domestic partnership law for gay couples; high unemployment driven by the recession; the end of the print edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; Boeing’s long struggle to launch the 787 jetliner; Gov. Chris Gregoire’s recent decision to disavow her own budget and call for tax increases; the deaths of more than 60 people from swine flu; slugger Ken Griffey’s return to the Seattle Mariners; and a massive landslide that buried a mountain highway and rerouted the Naches River.
The Lakewood slayings dominated the voting, however, testament to the story’s drama and heart-wrenching consequences. The four officers, apparently chosen at random by the killer simply because they were in a coffee shop frequented by police, were attacked as they caught up on paperwork at the beginning of their shifts.
Together, Sgt. Mark Renninger and Officers Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold and Greg Richards left nine children behind.
Richards managed to wound his killer. Over the next two days, relatives and friends helped Clemmons evade a massive manhunt, bandaging him with duct tape and providing him with transportation and shelter, police said.
The hunt ended when a lone Seattle police officer stopped to investigate a stolen car and found himself face-to-face with Clemmons. The patrolman opened fire, killing Clemmons before he could draw a weapon taken from one of the slain officers, police said
Earlier in the year, opponents of gay marriage forced a statewide vote on the new “everything-but-marriage” law expanding rights for gay couples. The referendum narrowly qualified for the ballot, sparking hard-fought campaigns. In the end, strong support from liberal areas including King County swamped opposition in Eastern Washington and other conservative parts of the state.
Ranking third on the top stories list was the growth of unemployment as the nationwide economic meltdown finally caught up with Washington. The state shed tens of thousands of jobs, and the unemployment rate climbed above 9 percent by late summer.
News from the newspaper industry itself ranked fourth; the Seattle Post-Intelligencer published its final paper edition on March 17 after 146 years. Most of the paper’s reporters and editors were laid off while a comparative handful of people remained to publish the online-only seattlepi.com.
At No. 5, the Boeing Co. made plenty of headlines this year as it continued to struggle with the production and launch of its new 787 jetliner. In October, the company confirmed one of the region’s worst fears when it decided to build its second 787 production line in South Carolina. In better news, the 787 made its maiden flight this month.
Gregoire’s budget proposal for next year made big headlines and ranked No. 6 not just for the deep cuts she was required to propose in offering a balanced budget, but because she immediately disowned the plan and pledged to seek tax increases when the Legislature convenes in 2010.
The deadly toll of the swine flu was the No. 8 story as more than 60 people died after the disease took hold here in September.
The return of Griffey to the Mariners ranked No. 9. Although slowed by age and injury, Griffey remained a big draw for Mariners fans and his leadership helped the team go 85-77 after their disastrous 2008 season.
Rounding out the Top 10 was the landslide that shoved a quarter-mile of state Route 410 into the Naches River in early October, uprooting homes and forcing the river into a new course.