What’s news in the Northwest today:
PORT ORCHARD, Wash. — A Port Orchard church held a “Blue Christmas” service where the pastor told worshippers it was OK to be sad. Pastor Joe Smith told about 30 worshippers at the First Lutheran Community Church they didn’t have to be cheerful and were welcome “just the way you are.” The Kitsap Sun reports one couple at the Tuesday service were mourning a miscarriage. Smith held his first Blue Christmas service last year to minister to those dealing with deaths, lost relationships, unemployment and other trials.
Pasco aggravated murder trial closing in Spokane
SPOKANE — Vicente Ruiz decided not to take the witness stand Wednesday in the final day of testimony at his aggravated murder trial in Spokane. The Tri-City Herald reports jurors have a day off Thursday while lawyers debate jury instructions. The case is expected to go to the jury Friday after closing arguments. The 46-year-old Ruiz is accused of being one of two men who killed five men and wounded another in a 1987 shooting at a Pasco auto body shop. His lawyers say it’s a case of mistaken identity. This is his third murder trial. The case was moved to Spokane after two mistrials in Franklin County.
Kidnapping, eluding suspect awaits verdict
YAKIMA, Wash. –A Yakima man accused of kidnapping his one-time girlfriend and shooting himself in the jaw is awaiting a jury verdict on kidnapping and eluding charges. The jury, which began deliberations in the case Wednesday in the trial of Rory Buckley, will reconvene this afternoon in Yakima County Superior Court. Buckley was charged following a July 20, 2008, incident in which he was accused of forcing the 19-year-old woman into his car at the West Valley shopping center where she worked. The woman said Buckley was pointing a gun at her when she escaped by jumping out of the moving car at Cook and Stone roads, about five miles west of Yakima. Buckley then shot himself in the jaw in an apparent suicide attempt.
Police investigate disappearance of 3 Wash. men
LAKEWOOD, Wash. — Lakewood police are investigating the disappearance of three Pierce County men who usually carpool to work together in Seattle. Lt. Chris Lawler says the men haven’t been seen since Sunday afternoon, when their shifts ended at Lake Union Wholesale Florist and they drove off together as usual. Their families reported them missing Monday. The pickup truck they commuted in was reported abandoned Tuesday at a Kent apartment complex. Lawler says the disappearance “just appears suspicious.”
Washington may release man who nearly killed cop
RICHLAND, Wash. — Gov. Chris Gregoire is deciding whether to block the release of a man convicted of nearly killing a Richland police officer 28 years ago. The Tri-City Herald reports Jerry Dean Lain is scheduled for release Monday by order of Washington’s Indeterminate Sentence Review Board. The governor apparently has the authority to overrule the board, but the power hasn’t been used in 30 years. Former Richland officer Mike Fitzpatrick asked the governor to intervene. He was stabbed seven times and shot in the face and abdomen in 1982. Lain was convicted of assault and has been in prison ever since.
Appeals court allows NCA Bible lawsuit
BOISE — A federal appeals court has ruled that a lawsuit by the defunct Nampa Classical Academy against the state of Idaho can proceed. The Idaho Press-Tribune reports the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which seeks to allow the use of the Bible in the classroom. The appeals court ordered the case to move forward on Nov. 24. The state had asked for the dismissal because the academy lost its status as a public charter school. The Idaho Public Charter School Commission closed the academy earlier this year, citing troubled finances.
3 teens in custody after high-speed chase
BILLINGS, Mont. — Montana troopers say they pursued a stolen pickup truck in a high-speed chase that ended when officers laid spike strips across a highway near Hardin. The Billings Gazette reports that two boys and a girl, all either 14 or 15 years old and from Wyoming, were detained Wednesday by the Big Horn Sheriff’s office. Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Eric Winburn says the driver of the stolen truck took off when Winburn spotted it on Wednesday afternoon near Lodge Grass. Winburn says he chased the truck along Interstate 90 and Highway 47 for a half-hour at speeds up to 105 mph.
Pond near Clark Fork to be turned over to public
MISSOULA, Mont. — A pond and adjacent land along the Clark Fork River has been bought and will be turned over to the state as a public fishing and picnic site after the effects of mining are remediated. The 275-acre Paracini Ponds property with the 30-acre pond had been part of a ranch next to the Interstate 90 exit 11 miles south of Deer Lodge. The Missoulian reports that Trout Unlimited members contributed about $25,000 to get the project going. The Upper Clark Fork River Basin remediation fund provided a $1.2 million grant to buy the property. The property is in the possession of the state Department of Environmental Quality. It will likely be turned over to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks after some removal or capping of toxic-metal slicks along the river, along with planting new vegetation in the affected areas.
Oregon gas tax going up 6 cents in January
EUGENE, Ore. — The Oregon state gas tax will go up by 6 cents next year to 30 cents a gallon. The hike was approved in 2009 by the Legislature. The Register-Guard reports it was supposed to kick in after two consecutive quarters of job growth in the state or, if that did not occur, on Jan. 1, 2011. The higher tax is expected to add more than $30 a year to the average driver’s fuel costs.
Yakima police chief says he’ll leave at year’s end
YAKIMA — Yakima Police Chief Sam Granato says he’s leaving his job at the end of the year. Granato told the Yakima Herald-Republic on Wednesday that he’s accepted a severance package offered by City Manager Dick Zais. The newspaper says the package includes $100,000 in severance pay — which is about eight months of his salary — and Granato’s assurance he will not sue or make other claims against the city. The 58-year-old chief called his departure a retirement, but didn’t rule out working in law enforcement in the future. Granato arrived in Yakima in 2003 from Texas.
Oregon town begins slow cleanup after rare tornado
AUMSVILLE, Ore. — The dump trucks are rolling into the tiny Oregon town of Aumsville as families begin the long process of rebuilding after a rare tornado ripped the roofs of houses and sent trees crashing into yards and porches. The town about 50 miles south of Portland survived the twister with damage to 50 houses and four commercial buildings. No one was seriously injured. Power was back up Wednesday, even in damaged homes, and the town’s Christmas tree was lit. Late Wednesday afternoon, Marion County requested Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s assistance and he’s working with state emergency managers to determine the level of aid to offer Aumsville and the area of Marion County surrounding it.
Seattle police say car recovered with Twitter
SEATTLE — Seattle police say their new effort to publish stolen car information on Twitter has helped recover a car. Police say a woman called 911 on Tuesday night to tell them the location of a previously tweeted stolen Honda Civic. An officer recovered the car and notified the owner. Earlier this month, Seattle police announced they would begin publishing the color, year, make, model, body style and license plate of stolen cars on a Twitter account dubbed “Get your car back.” Police say the average number of cars stolen per day in the city has risen from 8.46 last year to 9.9 this year. The department reports that 3,011 cars were stolen through October. The department encourages Twitter followers who spot stolen cars to call police.
UM cornerback who bit woman’s leg pleads guilty
MISSOULA — University of Montana cornerback Jimmy Wilson has pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct for biting a woman’s leg over the summer. The Missoulian reports Wilson appeared in Municipal Court on Wednesday and was given a six-month deferred sentence. Judge Marie Anderson also imposed a $50 fine and $101 surcharge, and required him to write an apology letter to the victim. His attorney, Paul Ryan, acknowledged his client bit the woman in a car but said he did it in a playful manner. Wilson was initially charged with misdemeanor assault stemming from the Aug. 8 incident. He said after his court appearance that “considering I put myself in a bad position, I’m glad it’s all behind me now.”
Oregon county hires firm to collect jail day use fee
GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Convicted inmates at the Josephine County Jail in Grants Pass can expect to hear from a bill collector soon. The Daily Courier reports that Josephine County has signed a contract with a company to collect day use fees from inmates. The company, Connex, would get a 12 percent cut of any money collected. Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson said inmates will be charged $50 daily, plus medical expenses. Gilbertson said the sheriff’s office has used its own employees to try to collect fees from inmates in the past, but the expense didn’t justify what little was collected.