What’s news in the Northwest today:
MONTESANO, Wash. — Two other women were assaulted in the past six months at the Washington state prison where a female guard was strangled, adding to questions about the safety of prison workers. Officer Jayme Biendl, 34, was killed Saturday night in a chapel at the reformatory unit for medium-security inmates at the Monroe Correctional Complex, about 30 miles northeast of Seattle. Union officials have questioned why she was alone after complaining to supervisors about being the only guard working in the chapel without anyone checking on her. Gov. Chris Gregoire on Monday called for an outside investigation focusing on whether prisons are adequately staffed. Prison Superintendent Scott Frakes told The Daily Herald of Everett that he has to wait for the criminal investigation before he can change how Washington’s largest prison is run. There are about 2,500 prisoners at the Monroe complex. Frakes said he can’t even question some of his own officers to determine what went wrong. All security practices will be reviewed and many activities for inmates will likely be scaled back, he said.
$30 annual state parks fee could apply to beaches
ABERDEEN, Wash. — A beach parking fee idea has been dropped, but it still could cost to visit some Washington beaches as lawmakers look for ways to help fund state parks. State Fish and Wildlife Department Director Phil Anderson told Aberdeen radio station KBKW the department, the state parks and Department of Natural Resources are requesting legislation for a $30 annual fee to visit any of the state’s parks, DNR lands and Fish and Wildlife property. An earlier beach parking fee idea drew widespread opposition from coastal businesses, and Steve Brand of the state Parks and Recreation Commission told The Daily World of Aberdeen that idea has been dropped.
Avalanches threaten search for missing Washington skier
SNOQUALMIE PASS, Wash. — Warming temperatures will create a high risk of avalanches for searchers in Washington state who are looking for a backcountry skier in the Red Mountain area near Snoqualmie Pass. KIRO-TV reports the higher temperatures today could weaken slopes. The King County sheriff’s office says the missing Seattle woman apparently went skiing alone on Wednesday. Another skier found her backpack and glove, and her car was left in a ski parking area near Interstate 90.
WSP trooper fires at car trying to run her down
FIFE, Wash. — No one was seriously injured in a stolen car chase that involved a Washington State Patrol trooper shooting at a driver she believes was trying to run her down near Fife. KOMO News reports the chase began Wednesday afternoon near Federal Way and went down Interstate 5 to an exit at Fife where the man jumped in another car. The WSP says the driver drove at a motorcycle trooper two times. She stopped and was on foot when she fired. The driver then tried to speed off, but was rammed by other troopers and taken into custody with the use of a Taser. The suspect was treated at a hospital for minor injuries. The motorcycle trooper was not injured.
Exec: Boeing could build more than 10 787s a month
EVERETT — The head of Boeing’s commercial airplanes division says it could eventually increase the production rate of its new 787 jetliner beyond the previously announced 10 per month it plans to build by the end of 2013. President Jim Albaugh tells The Daily Herald of Everett that Boeing will have the capacity to assemble 15 planes a month once all 787 production lines at Everett and in South Carolina are operating. He spoke Wednesday at a ceremony to show off the 1,000th Boeing 767 built. Albaugh says producing 15 a month would require additional investments in the 787’s supply chain, but there is demand for more than 10 jets a month. Boeing hopes to deliver the first 787 to a customer later this year, more than three years late.
Court asked to stop Yellowstone bison slaughter
BILLINGS — Wildlife advocates are asking a federal judge in Montana to stop the impending slaughter of many of the hundreds of bison captured this week as they attempted to migrate out of Yellowstone National Park. Today’s motion for a restraining order would prevent the National Park Service from shipping to slaughter bison that test positive for exposure to the disease brucellosis. Those shipments are expected to begin this week. More than 300 bison left the snowed-in park in recent days in search of food at lower elevations. They were turned back by park workers and state livestock agents to prevent any contact between bison and livestock, which could lead to the spread of brucellosis. The disease causes cattle, bison and some other animals to prematurely abort their young.
Oregon universities may form own police force
EUGENE, Ore. — Some students at the University of Oregon are concerned that turning the security department into a police force would lead to guns on campus. A student member of the Sensible Drug Policy Group, Dan Chapman, told a meeting Wednesday there’s no need for guns or even Tasers. KVAL reports the meeting was held to discuss proposed legislation that would allow each university in Oregon to establish a sworn police agency. Arming campus officers with guns is not part of the proposal, but that decision could be made later by university leaders.
Vancouver police identify victims in double homicide
VANCOUVER, Wash. – Vancouver police have identified two men whose bodies were found in an Image neighborhood home Tuesday as Kenneth W. Koltz, 32, and Christopher M. Haske, 27. Both men lived at the home at 12007 N.E. 40th Circle where they were found dead, in what police said Wednesday was a double homicide. Police and firefighters rushed to the scene Tuesday after a relative of one man called 911 to say he’d arrived at the home and found the bodies. The case was initially described as a shooting, but police Wednesday had not confirmed that was the cause of the men’s death. Detectives also had not identified a suspect or revealed what they suspect might be the reason for the killings.
Man wrongfully convicted of rape makes plea for compensation bill
VANCOUVER, Wash. – Alan Northrop lost 17 years of his life after being wrongfully convicted of a 1993 rape in La Center and imprisoned. After he was cleared of the crime last July, he received no compensation from Washington state and, instead, was saddled with a child support bill of more than $100,000. Northrop shared his story Tuesday afternoon with a Senate committee hearing in Olympia. He spoke in favor of a bill that would compensate wrongfully convicted defendants up to $20,000 for each year they spent behind bars. Northrop is 46 and lives in Ridgefield. While he has a job at a metal fabrication shop in Vancouver, he still can’t afford a car and has to rely on public transportation. Sponsored by Sen. James Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, Senate Bill 5139 was introduced Jan. 17 and was referred to the Committee on Human Services and Corrections.
Man killed in fuel truck explosion
PICABO, Idaho — Fire officials in eastern Idaho say a fuel truck explosion killed a man in Picabo. Wood River Fire and Rescue says the explosion and fire happened at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. The truck was reportedly hauling about 4,000 gallons of fuel. The man’s name and hometown haven’t been released, but his family has been notified. The cause of the explosion is still under investigation. The Blaine County Sheriff’s Office was expected to release more information today.
Family says boy improving after house fire
CALDWELL, Idaho — The grandmother of a 5-year-old Caldwell boy who was burned in a trailer fire last month says he is slowly improving. Alanna Volksman told KBOI-TV Wednesday that Christian Joseph is still at the Salt Lake City burn center and breathing with the help of a ventilator, but doctors hope to take the breathing tube out next week. Volksman said her grandson has opened his eyes, acknowledges people around him and nods “yes” and “no.” Doctors say his lungs are improving and his skin grafts are healing. Firefighters say Christian was playing with a lighter when the fire broke out on Jan. 22, destroying his family’s trailer. His hands and legs were burned and the boy suffered from smoke inhalation.
Closing arguments planned in fatal crash trial
KALISPELL, Mont. — Closing arguments are expected today in the case of a 17-year-old Evergreen girl charged with intentionally crashing her car into an oncoming SUV, killing the pregnant driver and her 13-year-old son. Justine Winter is charged as an adult with two counts of deliberate homicide for the March 2009 crash that killed Erin Thompson and Caden Odell on U.S. 93 between Kalispell and Whitefish. Both sides called their final witnesses Wednesday, wrapping up an eight-day trial before District Judge Katherine Curtis. Prosecutors argued that Winter was suicidal after an argument with her boyfriend and texted him that she was going to crash her car about 15 minutes before the crash. The defense argued that Winter’s text messages did not constitute a credible threat.
Montana senators to Interior chief: restart wolf talks
Montana lawmakers are asking Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to resume negotiations with governors in the Northern Rockies over the status of gray wolves. U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus told Salazar in a Tuesday letter that it was time to “re-engage” the governors after talks on the issue broke down last year. The Montana Democrats say the election of Republican Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead offers a chance to break the stalemate. More than 1,700 wolves roam Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. The states have divergent proposals to manage the predators — a factor cited in a federal judge’s decision that blocked proposed hunts and restored endangered status to wolves in Idaho and Montana. Wyoming’s plan would allow wolves to be shot on sight across most of the state.
Cow that escaped slaughterhouse has new adventure
BILLINGS — Five years after a Montana cow dubbed the “Unsinkable Molly B” leaped a slaughterhouse gate in an escape that brought international acclaim, the heifer has again eluded fate, surviving the collapse of the animal sanctuary where she was meant to retire. Molly B was among an estimated 1,200 animals removed from the Montana Large Animal Sanctuary and Rescue in recent weeks as part of efforts to bail out its overwhelmed owners. Animal rescuers said they were forced to euthanize dozens of starving and ill animals from the sanctuary in Sanders County. The bovine celebrity herself — an overweight black Angus breed said to be sore in the hoof but otherwise relatively healthy — is being boarded at a nearby ranch and will be moved to a new sanctuary this week.