August 18, 2011 in Region

NW today: Court pushes open investigative records

Compiled from wire reports

What’s news in the Northwest today:

OLYMPIA — The public release of investigative records does not violate the privacy of an officer who was accused of sexual assault but never charged, Washington’s Supreme Court ruled today. In a split decision that led only four of the nine justices to write the majority opinion, the court determined that Bainbridge Island police Officer Steven Cain’s identity should be redacted when the documents are released. Open government lawyer Michele Earl-Hubbard said she’s concerned that setting a precedent of redacting the names of accused workers will make it difficult to expose those who have multiple complaints filed against them. But she said the ruling is a victory for disclosure because there was an increasing trend of law enforcement departments withholding documents. “It’s a practical victory,” Earl-Hubbard said. “It gives us a way to get some records and have some oversight and not leave us completely in the dark.” Four of the justices agreed that disclosure with Cain’s name redacted was the right decision, while four others, including Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, argued that the full document should be released. Justice James Johnson said the entire document should be kept private. Madsen wrote that redacting the name does not align with the letter or the spirit of state public records law.

Mow your lawn, or else, in Cosmopolis

COSMOPOLIS, Wash. — The Cosmopolis City Council has passed a new law on lawns. The height limit is 8 inches. The short grass ordinance takes effect Aug. 22. Offenders will have two weeks from receiving notice to mow. Otherwise they could be fined up to $200 a day. If a shaggy lawn is not mowed in 30 days, the city may mow it and put a lien on the home for the cost. KBKW reports Mayor Vickie Raines doesn’t like the cutting ordinance. She says there are times when the city’s own cemetery isn’t mowed.

Alaska bank employee charged with stealing $4.3 million

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — An Anchorage bank employee embezzled more than $4 million the old-fashioned way — by carrying it out of the building, according to federal prosecutors. Gerardo Adan Cazarez Valenzuela, 26, is charged with stuffing $4.3 million into computer boxes and wheeling them out of a KeyBank vault on a rolling cart. He was arrested in Mexico on Aug. 1 and indicted Wednesday by a grand jury in Anchorage, the U.S. attorney’s office said. Valenzuela, also known as Gary Cazarez, remained in Mexico today. Valenzuela allegedly entered the vault at 6:39 p.m. July 29 — a Friday — with three computer-size boxes on a rolling cart, turned out the vault light and filled the boxes with cash.

In Wenatchee, a day of tears and anger

WENATCHEE – People in Wenatchee should reject gangs, drugs and violence, the Rev. Argemiro Orozco told the crowd gathered Wednesday for the funeral of two little boys killed in a fire that police think was arson and gang-related. “Those things are destroying our peace and our families,” Orozco said, translating into English after the Mass of Christian Burial what he had said earlier in Spanish. More than 200 people gathered at Holy Apostles Catholic Church in East Wenatchee for the funeral Mass. At the front of the church sat two small caskets holding the bodies of Ricardo Alejandre-Garcia, 6, and Mariano Alejandre-Garcia, 4. The boys died Aug. 4 when the duplex they were sleeping in went up in flames at 620 Palouse St. The father of the two boys, Israel Alejandre, remained at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with burns suffered in the fire.

SW Idaho charter school loses appeal

BOISE — A federal appeals court has upheld the dismissal of an Idaho charter school’s lawsuit against state officials who barred use of the Bible and other religious texts as a teaching tool in the classroom. In a decision Monday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the previous ruling against the now-defunct Nampa Classical Academy. The state closed the academy last year citing troubled finances. The founders of the charter school tangled with Idaho officials over the use of the Bible and other religious texts shortly after opening in August 2009 with more than 500 students in southwestern Idaho. The academy filed a federal lawsuit against Idaho officials in September 2009. U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge dismissed that lawsuit, determining the ban did not violate the school’s rights.

Yellowstone oil spill cleanup will last into fall

BILLINGS — The cleanup of a major oil spill in the Yellowstone River has proven more difficult than expected and could go on for several more months, an Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. executive said today. Areas hit hardest by the July spill should be cleaned up by the first half of October, said company vice president Geoff Craft. That includes a 20-mile stretch of the Yellowstone stretching from the spill site near Laurel downstream to Billings. But scattered sites still would need to be dealt with, including contaminated river sections downstream of Billings and two large islands in the heavily-impacted area. Work in those areas could continue until Thanksgiving, Craft said. Within days of the 1,000-barrel spill, Exxon Mobil was ordered by the Environmental Protection Agency to complete its remediation work by Sept 9. Officials have said since that the date was not intended to be a hard deadline.

Eastern Washington wheat harvest a mixed bag

WALLA WALLA, Wash. – After a delayed start, the wheat harvest is in full swing throughout Walla Walla County. After being pushed back by cool temperatures and wet spring weather, farmers have been at work to make up for lost time, reaping hundreds of acres across the county’s rolling countryside. As of this week, the winter wheat harvest was ongoing and in some places nearly ended while spring wheat harvest was expected to be under way in the next couple of weeks. In Umatilla County, wheat harvest was also reported fully under way. While some growers are reporting phenomenal yields, others say that while this harvest is no bust it isn’t setting records either. An outbreak of stripe rust hit millions of acres of wheat throughout Eastern Washington earlier this spring. But some farmers said they are hitting the jackpot when it comes to this year’s harvest.

Oregon city shuts down cancer patient’s garage sales

SALEM, Ore. — The city of Salem, Ore., is shutting down the backyard garage sales a woman has been using to help pay her bills for terminal bone marrow cancer. KATU-TV reports Jan Cline lost her job and was looking for extra income after her cancer diagnosis. Her illness causes holes in her bones that leave them vulnerable to fractures. Cline said the garage sales were bringing in several hundred dollars each weekend until a neighbor complained and the city sent a shutdown order. City officials say rules intended to prevent permanent flea-market-type sales on residential properties limit residents to three yard sales per year. Cline said she understands the city’s intent, but that she made an effort to hold the sales in the backyard so they’re not a nuisance.

Doctors say tourist from Idaho attacked by shark

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Doctors in Puerto Rico say a shark estimated at 6 feet long bit a U.S. tourist earlier this week who was swimming in a popular bioluminescent bay at night. Dr. Ernesto Torres says the woman faces several months of physical therapy and will remain hospitalized until the weekend. He identified her as 27-year-old Lydia Strunk of Idaho but did not list where in the state she’s from. Torres said today that a marine biologist confirmed the bite was from a shark but couldn’t identify the type of shark because no teeth were recovered. Dr. Pablo Rodriguez said the wound is about 10 inches long and runs from below the knee to the ankle. Strunk was swimming with other tourists in Vieques late Tuesday when she was bitten.

Logging plan would divide Western Oregon forests

EUGENE, Ore. — Oregon congressman Rep. Peter DeFazio, a Democrat, has proposed a plan he said will keep logging and conservation interests happy while unfurling the legal logjam that has stopped progress on talks among those groups and left timber-dependent counties nervous. They need to find a solution soon, as federal payments to counties are set to end this year and Congress is unlikely to renew them. The timber industry says the current proposed federal solution doesn’t allow enough logging on the 2.2 million acres of Oregon forests administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Conservation interests argue it doesn’t meet federal environmental requirements. The most recent management strategy is bogged down in lawsuits from both sides, while counties eye the looming expiration of the timber money that pays for roads and schools. The Eugene Register-Guard reports says splitting Western Oregon lands in half will solve the problem. Half would be managed for timber revenue, and the other half would be given to environmental interests.

There are three comments on this story. Click here to view comments >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email