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Today’s highlights

Kelly Hamill tries to detect the faint aroma of vanilla found in the bark of a mature ponderosa pine during a class for teachers at the Dishman Hills Natural Area on Tuesday. Hamill was among the elementary schoolteachers taking a class about how to use the popular park for educational purposes. SR photo Jesse Tinsley

Happy Thursday, everyone. We're another step closer to Friday. We've got some good highlights from today's Valley Voice, including more details on the replacement of the west Sullivan Bridge over the Spokane River. The bridge that carries southbound traffic was built in 1951 and has been rated structurally deficient. Construction should begin in early 2014.

Reporter Pia Hallenberged tagged along on a recent field trip for teachers in the Dishman Hills Natural Area. The teachers were learning how to incorporate plants, animals and geology of the area into their classrooms.

The eastern edge of Spokane County has a lot of what is known as no man's land - areas not served by a fire district. Residents living in those areas can't count on a fire department coming to their rescue if their house catches on fire, though in some cases the firefighters come anyway. A recent fire in a no man's land area north of Otis Orchards drew a response from three surrounding fire districts.

Reporter Lisa Leinberger dropped by a special Zombie Day at the Spokane Valley Library recently. The library has been having various events for kids all summer and in this one they put on makeup to make themselves look like zombies, ate zombie treats and learned about zombie books.

Overhaul begins on trails in Dishman Hills Natural Area

CONSERVATION — About 200 volunteers chipped in today to start a major revamping of the Dishman Hills Natural Area trail system.

Groups such as the Spokane Mountaineers and Gonzaga University student programs turned out in the Spokane Valley for the annual service day organized by the Dishman Hills Conservancy.

Regular trail users will soon notice a big difference as new trails are built to connect a series of four larger loops while some other trails, including sections of a few well-used ones, will be decommissioned.

The effort seeks to reduce the criss-crossing of trails and provide more resting areas for wildlife.

More signs will be posed as the project continues.

Other groups today planted hundreds of trees to reforest an area near the Camp Caro parking lot off Appleway and Sargent Road.

Dishman Hills rattlesnake puts teen in hospital

WILDLIFE – A girl struck by a small rattlesnake in the Dishman Hills Natural Area required three days of hospital care despite getting to Valley Hospital for treatment within 40 minutes.

The 17 year old girl stepped off the trail while hiking with a friend in the northeast corner of the Valley natural area near 8th Avenue on June 1 and thought she was stung on the ankle by a bee.

Her father said she had no warning — perhaps she stepped on its tail — and that it wasn't until after it struck that the small snake crawled a few feet away rattling.

The snake was only 12-15 inches long. Experts say random rattlesnake bites are extremely rare. Most snake bites are the result of people trying to catch or handle the snake.

Doctors administered antivenin, but the swelling continued to get worse for 20 hours all the way up to her knee.

Doctors were at the brink of resorting to surgery to relieve the pressure when the swelling began to subside.

Two weeks later, her leg is almost normal.

Doctors gave the family this insight on rattlesnake bites during the treatment:

  • Don’t use a constricting bandage or tourniquet. “(The victim and her friend) wrapped it tightly with a handkerchief," the father said. "The doctor says this traps the poison in a small area where it can do more tissue damage.”
  • Stay calm and don’t run. The girl ran about 200 yards to get to a car. "The doctor said it’s best not to get your heart pumping.

What the youths did correctly was to get to medical help as fast as possible, he said.

“Without quick treatment with antivenin, it could have been a lot worse.”

REI prompts flurry of volunteer work at recreation area sites

Popular recreation sites around Spokane will be getting a major spring facelift this weekend from volunteer efforts supported by grants totaling $20,000 from Recreational Equipment, Inc.

Projects the Spokane outdoor equipment store is supporting in partnership with local groups include:

Centennial Trail, Saturday 9 a.m. – The 20th annual Unveil the Trail event, supported by a $5,000 REI grant to the Friends of the Centennial Trail, taps volunteer groups to spruce up sections of the 39-mile paved trail along the Spokane River. Preregister to join a group and get a free lunch, 624-7188.

Mirabeau Point boat access, Saturday, 9 a.m. – A $10,000 REI grant to the Spokane River Forum funded an overhaul of the Spokane River access for rafts, canoes and kayaks fall. Volunters plan to finish the work and prepare the area for hydroseeding, which is being funded by the Spokane Canoe & Kayak Club.

Dishman Hills Natural Area, Sunday, 1 p.m. – Hundreds of volunteers already are signed up for the Earth Day work project to pick up litter, restore habitat, improve trails and other projects based out of Camp Caro in Spokane Valley.  The project is backed by a $5,000 grant to the Dishman Hills Natural Area Association. Preregister for t-shirt and food at www.rei.com/Spokane.

Spokane can take pride in its outdoor volunteer spirit

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CONSERVATION — Workers from kids to senior citizens gave up the first beautiful Saturday of a soggy spring to pull weeds, build trail, obliterate unauthorized routes, groom a native plant garden and pick up trash during the community work project at the Dishman Hills Natural Area today.

More than 330 people volunteered to help.

The event was sponsored by REI and several outdoor groups, who served a pizza lunch to the throng after the work. 

Then I noticed quite a few people slipping off into the hills to enjoy the work nature had done.  The trails were quiet, that is until you came near a pond. Then the racket of chorus frogs — some call them tree frogs — would almost shake the trees.

Grass widows and buttercups were blooming. The buds of serviceberries are ready to pop open in brilliant white blooms — just give them a couple warm weeks.  And arrowleaf balsamroots are showing their heads and ready to shoot up from the ground.

Transient faces 10-12 years for slaying

A Spokane transient faces 10 to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaguther for the beating death of a man last April. 

Roland E. Benton II pleaded guilty Friday to first-degree manslaughter with a deadly weapon in the slaying of Douglas J. Klages, 46.

Klages' badly beaten body was discovered by hikers April 30 in a small cave at Camp Caro Community Park at Dishman Hills.

 Detectives retracing Klages' final hours found surveillance video of Klages leaving a Spokane Valley Rosauers store with Benton the day his body was discovered. Benton was arrested May 5.

Benton, who appeared in Spokane County Superior Court before Judge Sam Cozza, initially was charged with first-degree murder. The lesser charge to which he pleaded guilty carries a sentencing range of 102 to 126 months.

The deadly weapon adds two years to the sentencing range, and Benton will not be eligible for an early release based on good behavior. His sentencing is set for April 25. "The victim's family members were present and were satisfied," Deputy Prosecutor Jim Kaufman said. Klages is pictured with his two daughters. Past coverage: May 5: Homicide victim hoped for fresh start

Suspect arraigned in Dishman Hills murder

A man accused of beating another man to death in the Dishman Hills Natural Area pleaded not guilty today to one count of first-degree murder.

Roland E. Benton II, 34, appeared in Superior Court via video feed from the jail, where he’s been since May 5, nearly a week after Douglas J. Klages, 46, was found beaten to death in a small cave where he camped. Klages’ pants pockets were turned inside out, and his cell phone was missing.

A Rosauers receipt found with Klages helped police identify Benton, who had left the store with Klages just hours before the April 30 murder. Benton also reportedly told a friend on the day of the killing that he had done something that would be on “the national news,” according to court documents.

Klages’ family and friends, including his parents and one of his daughters, attended Benton’s arraignment today before Judge Linda Tompkins.

Benton’s public defender, Victoria Blumhurst, did not ask for a reduction in bond, which was set at $500,000 during his first court appearance May 6.

His next court appearance is set for June 22.

Past coverage:

Police: Suspect admitted Dishman killing to friend

Homicide suspect left jail just before murder

Homicide victim hoped for fresh start

Police search for murder victim’s cell phone

Police are searching for the cell phone of a man found murdered in the Dishman Hills Natural Area late last month.

Spokane County Sheriff’s detectives hope information from AT & T on the time and location of calls made since Douglas J. Klages’ murder will help them solidify their case against Roland E. Benton, who was arrested for first-degree murder last week.

Benton, who’s in jail on $500,000 bond, is to be arraigned May 18.

Klages used his cell phone to call his parents the day before he died.

“At the time the body was discovered, the victim’s pants pockets had been turned inside out, as if someone had gone through them,” according to a search warrant filed today in Superior Court. “(This detective) believes that it is possible that the cell phone, as well as other items, may have been taken from the victim at the time of his murder.”

A Rosauers receipt found with Klages helped police identify Benton, who had left the store with Klages just hours before the murder.

Benton also reportedly told a friend on the day of the killing that he had done something that would be on “the national news.”

Past coverage:

Police: Suspect admitted Dishman killing to friend

Homicide suspect left jail just before murder

Homicide victim hoped for fresh start

Suspect was jailed 2 days before murder

A Spokane transient was arrested Wednesday for the murder of a man found beaten to death in the Dishman Hills Natural Area on Friday.

Roland E. Benton, 34, was booked into Spokane County Jail about noon Wednesday – one week after he was released on a domestic violence charge.

Jail records show it’s his third booking this month: He also spent two days behind bars on a warrant for not complying with court orders for a 2006 misdemeanor hit-and-run.

Benton is the only suspect in the murder of Douglas J. Klages, 46, said Sgt. Dave Reagan. No other arrests are expected.

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

Homicide victim hoped for fresh start

Homicide victim was beaten to death

When Douglas Klages last talked to his parents, he was planning for the future. The 46-year-old Spokane native struggled with alcoholism but wanted to clean up. He told his parents so in a phone call last Thursday.

“He said, ‘I know you’ll be happy: I’m lining myself up for a treatment program,’” said his father, Don Klages. “It was a terrible addiction.”

The next day, Don and Karen Klages learned of their son’s murder. Hikers found his body in a small cave inside the Dishman Hills Natural Area Friday afternoon, where Spokane County Sheriff’s detectives believe he’d been camping.

An autopsy showed he died from blunt-force trauma to his head, according to the Medical Examiner’s Office.

Now, as detectives search for his killer, Doug Klages’ friends and family are struggling to understand how a man with no enemies and a generous heart could end up beaten to death. Klages’ death is the first homicide investigated by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office this year.

“This community is grieving,” said Dean Whisler, day room manager at the Union Gospel Mission, where Klages stayed on and off for several years. “Everyone loved him.”

Read the rest of my story here.

Dishman Hills homicide victim identified

A man who authorities believe may be Spokane County’s first homicide victim this year has been identified as Douglas J. Klages.

Hikers on Friday found Klages, a 46-year-old transient, dead in a small in a small cave at Camp Caro Community Park, south of Sprague Avenue, in the Dishman Hills Natural Area.

An autopsy was conducted Monday afternoon, but investigators have not release Klages’ cause of death.

Investigators found trauma on his body but no cause of death was immediately determined. They searched the area for several hours Friday but found no additional evidence, Sgt. Dave Reagan said

Klages has been in and out of homeless shelters and was apparently camping in the area around the time of his death, Reagan said.

The only other homicide in the Spokane area this year was the still-unsolved shooting death of John S. Williams, 38, outside a party at 5405 North Crestline on Jan. 17. Spokane police are investigating that case.

Klages gave his address as Cusick, Wash., when he was arrested in a drunken driving incident in 2004 that included a man accidental riding on his car’s roof.

Klages was sentenced to 150 days in jail with credit for 97 days served for driving under the influence, hit and run and operating a vehicle without an ignition interlock.

Read a brief on the crash by clicking the link below.