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In brief: Thunderbirds will fly in Spokane next spring

The Thunderbirds will return to Spokane skies in spring 2014 for an open house at Fairchild Air Force Base.

The U.S. Air Force squadron known for wowing crowds with its F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft performances will fly in Spokane on May 31 and June 1.

“They’re kind of like our ambassadors,” Staff Sgt. Alex Montes said. “They go out and show our ability to fly an aircraft.”

The open house, which is free to the public, will also feature demonstrations of military vehicles and base operations, he said.

The base is awaiting approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to start planning the show. Montes expects to begin preparations next month.

Fairchild had planned to revive the annual Skyfest air show earlier this year, but the base canceled the event when the Thunderbirds aircraft were grounded due to budget cuts from the federal sequestration. Skyfest typically draws more than 100,000 people to the base.

Pickup truck strikes, kills man crossing 57th Avenue

A man was struck and killed by a pickup truck in rush-hour traffic while attempting to walk across 57th Avenue near Regal Street on Wednesday evening.

The pedestrian was headed south across the street when he was hit by a GMC pickup driving eastbound shortly after 5 p.m. He was not in a crosswalk. The unidentified man was pronounced dead at the scene.

The driver of the pickup is cooperating with investigators, according to Spokane County sheriff’s Deputy Craig Chamberlin. Deputies don’t believe impairment or negligent driving were factors in the accident.

The pedestrian was crossing the road after dark and was wearing dark clothing, making it difficult for the driver to see him and stop in time, Chamberlin said.

“This is just a tragic situation where the pedestrian did not use one of the nice, well-lit crosswalks,” Chamberlin said.

129 bald eagles spotted ahead of Eagle Watch Week

The annual bald eagle gathering at Lake Coeur d’Alene continues to grow, as “eagle ambassadors” gear up for the annual Eagle Watch Week activities during the school break.

Carrie Hugo, U.S. Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist, counted 129 bald eagles Wednesday in the Wolf Lodge Bay area.  That’s up from 86 eagles counted last week and up from  57 eagles counted two weeks ago during her weekly survey.

For decades, the eagles have provided  a popular wildlife-viewing attraction as the birds are lured to the northeast corner of the lake from mid-November into January to feast on the spawning kokanee that stack up in the bay.

Eagle numbers are down from the past few years. Wednesday’s count of 129 eagles compares with 260 during the same week last year, Hugo said.

Eagle Watch Week, Dec. 26-30, features displays and staff from BLM and Idaho Fish and Game available to answer questions about eagles and share their high-powered spotting scopes for an eagle-eye view of the birds. The activities are based at the Mineral Ridge boat launch and trailhead on State Route 97 south of Interstate 90 from the Wolf Lodge exit. 

Man pleads not guilty in death of Childress

Jason Flett, 27, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to first-degree murder in the killing of Ramona Childress, a woman whose remains were found a year after her disappearance in a makeshift grave near Elklast month.

Investigators were tipped to the site by an unnamed source who reported Flett was involved in a string of burglaries at known drug houses. A family friend told police he helped Flett bury Childress sometime in September 2012 and said Flett told him he fatally stabbed Childress to keep her from going to the police “about something.”

Flett is being held in the Spokane County Jail on $1 million bond. His trial is scheduled to begin early next year.