May 10, 2011 in Region

NW today: Comics page proposal no joke

Compiled from wire reports

What’s news in the Northwest today:

OLYMPIA – Sandra Kinnunen was in her bathrobe, enjoying a cup of coffee and the Monday morning newspaper, when she found a birthday surprise from her boyfriend. Dave Sanders, 53, of Tumwater had drawn a comic strip titled “Happy Birthday Sandra Kay,” and paid $190 to run it on the comics page of The Olympian. Inside the strip, he wrote, “As a cartoonist, this seems like the most natural place to ask … Sandra, will you marry me?” The couple met through an online dating service and have been together for about seven months. She is a counselor at a nonprofit organization. He works in customer service at the Valley Athletic Club and does freelance graphic design and cartooning on the side. The comic-strip proposal displaced “Doonesbury” for one day.

Education reform opponents halfway to signature goal

BOISE — A group seeking to overturn Idaho’s new education reform laws has more than half the signatures needed to put the issue on the November 2012 ballot. That’s according to Mike Lanza, who heads Idahoans for Responsible Education Reform and says nearly 30,000 signatures have been collected on each of the three petitions as part of the referendum campaign. The group needs almost 48,000 signatures from registered voters by June 6. Lanza says organizers are nearly halfway to their 60,000 goal. The reforms were authored by public schools chief Tom Luna and surrounded by contentious debate during the 2011 session. The changes phase out tenure for new teachers and restrict collective bargaining while also shifting money from salaries to fund technology upgrades in the classroom and a new merit pay plan.

Gregoire could block cold case murder parole

SEATTLE — The office of Gov. Chris Gregoire says she’s considering whether to overrule a state board and block the parole of a man who has served seven years in prison for a cold case murder conviction. The Seattle Times reports King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg and the family of Kristen Sumstad are opposing the decision of the state Indeterminate Sentence Review Board to release John Nicholas Athan as soon as next month. The 43-year-old was convicted in 2004 of second-degree murder in the 1982 killing of Sumstad when he was 14 and she was a 13-year-old neighbor in Seattle. The case went unsolved for two decades until police got a DNA sample from Athan by tricking him into licking an envelope. The parole board says Athan is unlikely to reoffend.

Stranded woman’s condition upgraded to good

TWIN FALLS, Idaho — The condition of a Canadian woman who survived seven weeks in remote Nevada mountains by rationing trail mix and hard candy was upgraded to good today by doctors in Idaho. Surrounded by family, Rita Chretien, 55, had a dinner of salmon, rice and green beans Monday night and a breakfast burrito with homemade salsa today. “Her spirits are high,” said Ken Dey, a spokesman for St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center. “The medical team is watching her closely but indicators of her recovery are very good.” The hospital said it wasn’t certain yet when she would be discharged. A search team was still looking for her husband, 59-year-old Albert Chretien. The couple from Penticton, British Columbia, strayed onto a mountain road in northeastern Nevada en route to Las Vegas in March. Albert Chretien left their van on March 22 to find help and never returned. Searchers were holding out the slim hope he found shelter.

Hanford contractors to give selected 1.5% pay raises

KENNEWICK – Hanford contractors who will be getting some relief from a federal wage freeze announced plans Monday for allocating the additional money. Each contractor will decide whether nonunion employees will see across-the-board increases or pay raises doled out in different amounts to individual workers. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced in December that he was freezing the salaries and bonus pool increases for 75,000 federal contractor employees, including those at Hanford and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The freeze was intended to be consistent with a two-year pay freeze for federal employees, including those at the Department of Energy’s Hanford Office of River Protection and Richland Operations office. However, DOE employees continue to get “step” increases, which are described as percentage increases on a predetermined schedule tied to increased experience for employees with good performance.

Gates Foundation won’t invest in clean energy

SEATTLE — Bill Gates says he’s personally involved in clean energy innovation, but it won’t be a focus of the Gates Foundation because it’s a capitalistic venture. The Microsoft chairman spoke today at a Seattle breakfast meeting about climate change and clean energy, and how they relate to addressing hunger, disease and poverty. Gates says he’s interested in a solution that is cheap and does not emit carbon emissions. The event is sponsored by the Northwest-based nonprofit Climate Solutions. Its co-chairman is former Microsoft executive Jabe Blumenthal. Bill Gates is co-chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Oregon officials hope to eradicate feral pigs

SALEM, Ore. — Washington state is keeping a close eye on the feral pig populations in Oregon, where the fish and wildlife department has ordered farmers to determine the size of the destructive pig populations on their land and get rid of them. An Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife official says the feral pig populations are likely moving north from groups in California, where they are hunted as game. The Capital Press reports a group of between 50 and 100 feral pigs in southwestern Idaho was culled to 20 through surveillance and tracking in the area, and Oregon hopes to duplicate that success. States in the Midwest and Southeast suffer from massive feral pig populations that wreak havoc on valuable crop land. Oregon officials hope to eradicate them before that happens.

Idaho man pleads guilty to injuring 2-year-old boy

POCATELLO, Idaho — An eastern Idaho man has pleaded guilty to violently shaking a 2-year-old boy in January. The Idaho State Journal reports Dennis Timberlake Jr., of Pocatello, faces up to five years in prison at a sentencing hearing scheduled for June 20. Timberlake pleaded guilty to a charge of felony injury to a child in Idaho’s 6th District Court on Monday. Timberlake told the court he became aggravated because the toddler kept spilling things and had shaken the boy harder than he should have, but meant no harm. The child was taken to a Pocatello hospital on Jan. 3 and later flown to Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City. The boy’s mother, Jennifer Jones, says he suffered severe brain trauma and has difficulty using the left side of his body.

Washington woman wants ‘ghost bike’ off her property

PORTLAND, Ore. — A Vancouver woman says the bicycle locked to a memorial sign in honor of a rider killed in a 2009 accident should be removed from her property. KATU-TV reports Sue Ujvary saw the accident that killed Hudson’s Bay High School teacher Gordon Patterson from her driveway. After more than one year of memorials like flowers and vases, someone locked a so-called ghost bike to the memorial on Easter Sunday. Now, Ujvary says she’s tired of cleaning up after the memorials and doesn’t want to be reminded of Patterson’s death every day. Police have told her she’s free to remove the memorial. Ujvary says she wants to speak with Patterson’s family first.

Tumwater history teacher has kids chop, churn

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Tumwater Middle School history teacher Bob Cooksey brings the 1800s to life by having his students chop wood and churn butter. Some students in the Homesteaders program dress in period attire and re-enact the lives of south Puget Sound residents at fairs. The Olympian reports Cooksey recently won a teaching award from the state Historical Society. He says his work is fun. Cooksey is a former Air Force military police officer who became a teacher in 1995 through the Troops to Teachers program.

Portland commissioner’s daughter fatally shoots self

VANCOUVER, Wash. – Kara Leonard, the daughter of Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard, died Sunday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head after a long battle with drug abuse. Having struggled with heroin addiction for more than a decade, officials said Leonard was trying to get her life back on track in Clark County Superior Court’s drug court program. The 31-year-old shot herself while on an outing with her boyfriend to a recreational firing range near Larch Mountain, east of Hockinson. As the two were target shooting on L1400 Road, near Rawson Road, investigators said Leonard turned the gun – owned by her boyfriend, Ty Takaezu – on herself. Takaezu called 911 and performed CPR as deputies and paramedics arrived. Leonard died aboard a Life Flight helicopter as she was being flown to Southwest Washington Medical Center. Clark County sheriff’s Sgt. Scott Schanaker said the shooting does not appear to be accidental and alcohol was not involved. Monday afternoon, Commissioner Leonard’s chief of staff characterized the woman’s death as a result of her long struggle with heroin.

Plucky dog escapes Oregon vet’s office

MEDFORD, Ore. — A German shepherd named Jack is credited with three late-night escape attempts from a Medford, Ore., veterinarian’s office. Last week, he made it. The Medford Mail Tribune reports the crafty canine managed to pull open his kennel, trip the dead bolt on the clinic’s back door and pull down the handle to get outside. He set off three motion-detector alarms on the way and managed to rip open four bags of food. The dog roamed seven miles from the vet’s office, but only made it home when animal control officers took him to a shelter where he was reunited with his worried family. A veterinarian calls the dog’s recovery from flu-like symptoms “impressive.”

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