What’s news in the Northwest today:
KALISPELL, Mont. — A century-old rock chalet in Glacier National Park that was damaged by an avalanche may be open for only a few weeks this summer after crews working to ready the backcountry hotel for the season found additional damage to the two-story hotel and its kitchen building. Chalet coordinator Kevin Warrington says this winter’s heavy snow load damaged the roofs and rafters of both buildings. In a post on the chalet’s web site Thursday, Warrington said repair crews will need complete access to the chalet for much of July as well as in late August and September. Sperry Chalet’s season was scheduled to begin July 8, but all reservations are being cancelled through July 19. Reservations in September and some in the last week of August also are being canceled.
UI president completes Idaho tour
MOSCOW – Simultaneously exhausted and energized, University of Idaho President Duane Nellis returned to Moscow Thursday after an eight-day, 1,500-mile tour of Idaho to re-engage with the state. Billed as a followup to Nellis’ “listening tour” two years ago when he was new to the job, the tour took Nellis to 14 cities, 37 events and 21 media interviews. On that first tour, Nellis said he heard from UI alumni, business leaders and others that the university needed to return to its land-grant roots and make a greater effort to serve the entire state. “They felt that the University of Idaho had somehow shied away from that,” Nellis said in a news conference in his office. But now the university’s various constituencies believe the school is on the right track, he said. As evidence, he pointed to partnerships with businesses like Simplot, Avista, Schweitzer Engineering, Wells Fargo, Agri Beef, Micron, Coeur d’Alene Mines and Potlatch that have allowed the university to leverage its shrinking state appropriations to greater effect.
Contractor accused of arson at Metzger home
HILLSBORO, Ore. — The Washington County sheriff’s office says DNA evidence led to the arrest of a contractor on arson charges for a fire in May 2010 at a home under construction in the community of Metzger. The sheriff’s office says the homeowner claimed that work completed by contractor William Michael Bunch was not done correctly. The dispute went to arbitration. The homeowner’s son was sleeping at the home at the time someone attempted to burn it down. He interrupted the suspects before an accelerant was ignited. Detectives took a DNA sample from Bunch that matched DNA evidence at the scene. He was indicted June 3 on arson charges and arrested June 8.He has been released on bail.
$1 verdict costing Seattle taxpayers for lawyers
SEATTLE — A $1 jury verdict is costing Seattle taxpayers much, much more in lawyers’ fees. The law firm that represented a police officer in the case has billed the city $331,000, and defense lawyers are asking a judge to approve fees of another $419,000. If the judge approves the fees the total is $750,000. The case involves a man who was detained too long by a Seattle police officer in 2007 after a traffic incident. He sued the city for excessive force and won, but the federal court jury awarded him only the minimum $1 in damages. Lawyers for both sides say they put in hundreds of hours of work on the case and are entitled to their fees.
Court rules against Washington state on nuclear waste dump site
RICHLAND, Wash, – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied requests today to find that the Yucca Mountain, Nev., nuclear waste repository had been illegally shut down. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has failed to rule on whether DOE could withdraw its license application for the project, leaving no decision for the court to review, it said in its ruling. The state of Washington and Tri-City business leaders were among those who filed suit, arguing that DOE had acted illegally to shut the repository project down. They argued that Congress had mandated that Yucca Mountain be the nation’s repository for nuclear waste, including used commercial nuclear power fuel and high level waste at defense sites, including Hanford. “At least to this date, the DOE has not failed to take any discrete agency action that Congress ordered it to take,” the decision said.
Evaluation ordered for S. Ore. man in arson case
KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — The trial of a man accused of burning a Klamath County mental health building has been adjourned after a judge ordered a mental evaluation. The Herald and News reports the trial of 57-year-old Michael Scott Wynn was halted Thursday and he was ordered sent to the Oregon State Hospital in Salem after he made verbal outbursts and attempted to leave his seat, requiring court deputies to stop him. Wynn has pleaded not guilty to six counts of arson and one count of harassment in the February fire that caused an estimated $660,000 in damage. Defense attorney Tom Della-Rose of Klamath Falls had asked that Wynn be evaluated in Klamath County but Klamath County Circuit Judge Marci Adkisson ordered him sent to the Salem hospital.
Portland woman pleads guilty to bank robberies
PORTLAND, Ore. — A 25-year-old Portland woman faces up to 30 years in prison when she is sentenced for her role in the armed, takeover-style robberies of two banks. Pamela M. McGowan pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court in Portland two conspiracy and robbery charges. Prosecutors say she purchased getaway cars, bought body armor and drove two men who carried out robberies in September and October that netted more than $22,000. The Oregonian reports they were planning a third robbery when they were arrested.
Fired Medina chief files $14 million claim
MEDINA, Wash. — The former police chief of Medina has filed a $14 million wrongful termination claim against the wealthy Seattle suburb, accusing the city manager and mayor of racial prejudice. Chen, who is Asian, says the city manager referred to him as “you people” and said the mayor also made an inappropriate comment about his ethnicity. He says he was fired in retaliation for exposing salaries hidden by the city manager. The city says it cannot comment on the claim or personnel matters, but it says Chen was fired for using the city’s archive email system without authorization and voiding some traffic tickets. He says he had authorization and followed city policy. KOMO reports that Chen says his firing destroyed his career. The city has 60 days to respond to his claim.
Washington trooper injured in highway crash
BELLEVUE, Wash. — The Washington State Patrol says a trooper is recovering at home from a leg injury he suffered when his patrol car was rear-ended on Interstate 405 in Bellevue. The trooper had stopped a suspected drunken driving just before midnight Thursday on the shoulder when the collision pushed the patrol car into the other car. In addition to the trooper, a 32-year-old Bellingham man was injured, along with the driver who caused the crash, a 26-year-old Shoreline woman. She’s suspected of impaired driving. All were taken to Overlake hospital in Bellevue.
2nd suspect in Lummi stabbings surrenders
FERNDALE, Wash. — A second teen suspected in stabbings that injured four people on the Lummi Indian Reservation is in custody. He surrendered Thursday afternoon to the sheriff’s office. The first boy was arrested early Thursday at the scene. The sheriff’s office says a fight broke out after a drinking party at a house. The Bellingham Herald reports three of the stabbing victims were taken to St. Joseph hospital in Bellingham. A man with stab wounds in the neck and throat underwent surgery at the hospital and is expected to survive. The two others were treated and released. Lummi Police Assistant Chief Ralph Long says the two suspects are not Lummi tribal members.
Oregon Shakespeare Festival to open tent theater
ASHLAND, Ore. — The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is opening productions at its temporary tent theater in Lithia Park in Ashland next week while repairs continue on the indoor Bowmer Theatre. The temporary venue will open Thursday and is being called “Bowmer in the Park.” The Ashland Daily Tidings reports the tent will have 598 stadium-style seats and crews are hauling in production equipment to prepare. The Bowmer Theatre was closed for repair after festival staff discovered a cracked main support beam on June 18. Festival officials say the Bowmer in the Park temporary outdoor tent theater will use virtually the same production sets for its plays that would have been used in the indoor theater.
Bear killed on freeway near Bellevue
BELLEVUE, Wash. — A young bear trying to cross Interstate 405 was struck and killed early today near Bellevue. Washington State Patrol Trooper Julie Startup told KOMO Radio the patrol was notified at 2:40 a.m. about the carcass. A trooper moved it to the side of the freeway and notified the Fish and Wildlife Department. The driver who hit the bear had left the scene.
Justice Department sues on behalf of reservist
TACOMA — Justice Department lawyers have filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of an Air Force reservist who they say was not properly rehired when he returned from active duty. Dave Axtell worked as a driver supervisor at James J. Williams Bulk Service Transport before he was called up in 2005. The University Place, Wash., man was honorably discharged in 2009. Federal lawyers say the company violated the law protecting the employment rights of military reservists and National Guard members. The complaint filed Thursday in Tacoma alleges the company waited three months to rehire Axtell, then employed him in an unsalaried, lower status job requiring longer hours. It contends the company fired him without cause shortly after hiring him back. The suit seeks lost wages and benefits, as well as damages. The company did not immediately return an after-hours call for comment.
Western ranchers fight push to give up brands
OMAK, Wash. — Cattle brands have been a hallmark of the West, and many ranchers are resisting a push to trade them in for newer ways of tracking animals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been trying for years to develop a program that would allow regulators to pinpoint animals’ location with 48 hours of a disease outbreak. Countries like Canada and Australia have been touting their programs to advantage in the competition for export markets. The USDA’s final proposal for a mandatory program is due this summer. It’s leaving it up to states to decide how livestock will be tracked, but it’s pushing low-cost ear tags. Western ranchers argue brands are a permanent mark, while ear tags can fall off when cattle graze in brush, next to fences or in harsh weather.