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Mount Spokane Summit Road opens June 1

PARKS — Hikers and bikers enjoyed plenty of elbow room at the Vista House and 5,886-foot top of Mount Spokane today, May 31.

The experience will be a little busier starting on Monday, June 1, when Mount Spokane State Park rangers are scheduled to open the gate to allow motor vehicles on the Summit Road.

Discover Passes are required on motor vehicles.

International Selkirk Loop motor route detailed in new book

OUTDOOR TRAVEL — A photographic journey encircling the Selkirk Mountains of northern Idaho, eastern Washington and southeastern British Columbia has been compiled into a new book.

“Selkirks Spectacular” (Keokee Books) highlights the International Selkirk Loop, a 280-mile scenic route named by Rand McNally as one of five “Best of the Roads.”

The book features more than 300 images by photographers Jerry Pavia and Tim Cady along with chapters written by Canadian Ross Klatte on the history, geology, communities, natural features, attractions, and the flora and fauna showcase this beautiful corner of the earth.

A book publication party with the authors and photographers is set for 6 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 21, at The Pearl Theater, 7160 Ash St. in Bonners Ferry.

The book captures highlights from Lake Pend Oreille to Kootenay Lake to endangered woodland caribou and ruffed grouse as well as the region's mining and logging legacies.

The book has two front covers, one for the U.S. side and one for the Canada side. Halfway through, readers flip the book over and start again from the other side.

Cayuse pass closed for season, Chinook reopened

MOUNTAIN PASSES —  The Washington Transportation Department has closed Cayuse Pass for the season, but conditions at nearby Chinook Pass are more favorable. Chinook Pass was reopened at noon Wednesday — but no one knows how long the road will remain open.

Cayuse Pass is on Highway 123 and Chinook Pass is on Highway 410 on the east side of Mount Rainier National Park.

Both passes are typically closed for the winter by deep snow and avalanche danger. 

Highway ‘deer crossing’ signs are no joke

WILDLIFE — The signs along highways warning motorists that wildlife frequently crosses the road in certain stretches aren't random acts of government spending. 

State's keep track of roadkill — what they pick up and where motor vehicles are reported to have collided with critters. fall and winter are the most hazardous times. 

Statewide, more than 1,100 wildlife/vehicle collisions are reported to the Washington State Patrol every year. Many more go unreported but leave animals dead.  Washington Department of Transportation crews remove an average of 3,500 deer and elk carcasses from highways every year. 

Those "wildlife crossing" signs are placed in the hot spots for these statistics.

Eastern Washington areas with the highest wildlife/vehicle collision rates include: 

  • Spokane County's and the state highways heading north, especially in the Chewelah-Colville area as well as Newport, where highways intersect with white-tailed deer wintering grounds. 
  • The Methow River Valley, home of the state’s most prolific mule deer herd, consistently has high numbers of animals killed in collisions each year.
  • The Wenatchee vicinity has high deer collision rates on the busy highways that run through prime mule deer ares north and west of the city. On U.S. 97.
  • Goldendale and to the north between Omak and Tonasket have high wildlife collision rates.
  •  Interstate 90 near the Easton/Cle Elum vicinity has the highest number of elk/vehicle collisions in Eastern Washington. 

Several factors combine to make late fall the peak of the "bumper crop."

  • Colder temperatures and snow force more deer and elk from the mountains to milder conditions and better food sources in the lowlands.
  • Hunting seasons are underway, increasing deer movements.
  • Deer mating season, which also increases deer movements and makes normally wary bucks stupid, builds from late October, peaking in mid-November and tapering off into December.

A 2008 analysis of deer-elk collisions along Washington state highways — the lead author was Woody Myers, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife big-game researcher based in Spokane — gives state agencies more guidance in planning highway routes and when to use measures such as fencing or wildlife overpasses or underpasses.

  • The DOT has posted a short video of images from cameras that illustrate how a range of wildlife use properly sited underpasses.
  • See commonly asked questions and answers about reducing the risks of wildlife vehicle collisions can be found in this  DOT Question and Answer page. 

WSDOT is working with the Department of Fish and Wildlife and other stakeholders on a statewide Habitat Connectivity assessment that will identify areas where wildlife require movement across the highway.

The Hyak to Easton project under construction on I-90 has a number of wildlife crossing structures and wildlife fencing. 

If you watch TV shows set in England

Sooner or later you have to ask yourself. Would I be able to drive over there? Or would I be too afraid that I might forget which lane I’m supposed to be in?

Vehicle emergency kit cheap insurance for winter travelers

WINTER TRAVEL — Slippery roads this week are a reminder that drivers should be prepared for mishaps that might catch stuck, stranded or off the road in winter conditions.

A bag of items stashed in your vehicle could spell the difference between comfort and misery if not — in the worst case scenario — life and death. 

Carry a survival kit in your vehicle.

  • First-aid kit
  • Blankets or sleeping bags
  • Cellular phone and charger
  • Windshield scraper with snow brush
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Extra winter clothes including shoes, hats and gloves
  • Compact shovel
  • Traction aids (bag of sand or  cat litter) and tow strap
  • Emergency flares
  • Jumper cables
  • Non-perishable food and bottled water
  • Road map
  • Candles, matches, non-liquid firestarter.
  • Special-needs items vehicle passengers may require.

Snow closes Rainier highway passes for season

PARKS — The Washington Transportation Department has closed two passes on the east side of Mount Rainier for the winter.

Chinook Pass on Highway 410 and nearby Cayuse Pass on Highway 123 have been closed by recent snow and avalanche danger, department officials announced today.

When do we park - for good?

Do we ever reach an age when we are too old to drive? Too slow in our reflexes? Tragedy can result.

An elderly friend of mine made decisions for herself when she thought she may pose a bit of a threat: she reduced the radius of her travel from home, drove only in daylight and (my favorite) stopped making left turns on any busy street.

She drove until the month before she died (at 91) and she volunteered at the hospital two days each week. She said she never wanted to be the cause of an accident; she would rather limit her own freedom. Yet, she was active and busy.  

How do we know when we might be a danger on the road?

(S-R archives photo)

Crew paints yellow line over dead raccoon

This photo provided by Sean McAfee from Aug. 2 shows a dead raccoon that McAfee saw with the road dividing line painted over it before he stopped his motorcycle to take the picture on Franklin Rd. in Johnstown, Pa

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (AP) — The "squirrelly" configuration of a western Pennsylvania road helped cause a state road crew to paint a double-yellow line over a dead raccoon.

Motorcyclist Sean McAfee snapped a photo of the mistake before it could be cleaned up and submitted it to the Tribune-Democrat of Johnstown (http://bit.ly/MkHa1K).

He says he almost crashed, he was laughing so hard.

PennDOT spokesman John Ambrosini says paint crews usually have a foreman on the job who clears away any dead animals before the paint-spraying truck equipment passes by. This crew didn't have a foreman and the equipment was too big to turn around in traffic, remove the animal and repair the paint. He says the "the squirrelly geometry" of the narrow road didn't help.

But the crew did try to stop the paint gun.

When are you too stoned to drive?

The vehicular homicide trial of Jonathon Bales raised an interesting legal question that a defense attorney made his focus during opening arguments: At what point does a driver become impaired after smoking marijuana?

Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Mary Ann Brady argued to the jury Monday that marijuana contributed to Bales’ turning some 47 feet prior to his intended intersection on Wandermere Road, causing the collision that killed 54-year-old Rene Blaume on July 16, 2010.

The lead investigator determined “the cause of the collision was because (Bales) had active THC in his blood at the time of the collision,” Brady said.

Blaume was driving 45 mph in the northbound lane and investigators estimated that Bales, 22, was driving a 1985 Pontiac Firebird 9 to 10 mph in the southbound lane when he crossed the centerline, causing the crash that severed Baume’s leg and killing her.

But defense attorney Sean Downs pointed out that none of the investigating deputies – who were trained to look for DUIs — reported that Bales appeared to be impaired when they spoke to him after the crash. A blood was negative for alcohol but showed 3.9 nano-grams of active THC per milliliter. THC is the active ingredient in marijuana.

“That doesn’t mean anything unless there are signs of impairment,” Downs told the jury.  Bales “may have misjudged how far away Ms. Blaume’s scooter was … but that is a simple infraction.

“This was an incredibly tragic case to be sure. But the evidence will show it was nothing more than a terribly tragic accident.”

Brady called Rebecca Flaherty, a forensic toxicologist, who said the American Medical Association has yet to come to agreement – as they have with alcohol – which level drivers become impaired after smoking marijuana.

Downs asked Flaherty whether a blood test or the officers at the scene would be the best judge at determining impairment. She replied: “The officers are the scene.”

On re-direct, Brady asked Flaherty whether marijuana could have caused Bales to drive in the wrong lane and attempt to make a turn 47 feet before the intended intersection. “It could be an explanation for why he made those errors,” Flaherty responded.

The same issues caused a jury to become deadlocked last September.

How to lose customers the easy way

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Spokane Business Owner,

Want to get rid of customers fast and forever? It's simple, really.

Just have a van or truck prominently adorned with the name of your establishment and hire a driver who is an utter ass out on the road.

Works every time.

Naked unicyclist arrested in Texas

KEMAH, Texas (AP) — Police say a man arrested in a Southeast Texas city for riding his unicycle in the nude was distracting drivers and creating a hazard.

Kemah police Chief Greg Rikard says 45-year-old Joseph Glynn Farley was not intoxicated or impaired when he was arrested Wednesday on a bridge in the city 20 miles southeast of Houston.

Rikard says Farley had been falling off the unicycle and into traffic.

Farley told officers that he liked the feeling of riding without his clothes, which were found at the base of the bridge.

Police charged Farley, of Clear Lake, with misdemeanor indecent exposure. Bond is set at $1,500.

Online jail records did not list an attorney for Farley.

Driver gets 3 speeding tickets in hour

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Traffic officers along Interstate 84 in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge say a lead-footed driver was in such a hurry to make a court date on a meth possession charge that he racked up $2,000 worth of speeding tickets in an hour.

Police say 34-year-old Jose Romero-Valenzuela of Las Vegas, Nev., was zooming west Wednesday morning and got pulled over three times — first at 105 mph, then at 98 mph and finally at 92 mph.

Police say the last ticket appeared to have an effect. Down the road a bit, a trooper set up watch and clocked him at the limit, 65 mph.

Besides fines and penalties, police say his license could be suspended for up to 90 days if he's found guilty on the citation alleging driving in excess of 100 mph.

Police confirm he was indeed scheduled for a court appearance later Wednesday in Oregon City, south of Portland.

Dozing driver arrested after near collision

A dozing driver nearly crashed into an off-duty Spokane police officer Tuesday evening, the Spokane Valley Police Department said today.

Clarence R. Keesler, 49, of Coeur d'Alene, was arrested for misdemeanor reckless driving and making false statements after allegedly telling Spokane Valley police he was asleep in the passenger side of his Ford Bronco when it drove over a sidewalk and crashed into a chain link fence.

Off-duty Spokane police Officer Nathan Donaldson was westbound on Broadway Avenue about 5:40 p.m. when he swerved to avoid the eastbound Bronco when it crossed the center line, police said.

Keesler said a vehicle "had cut him off and forced him to drive into the yard," according to a news release. A jail deputy found a small baggie of meth on Keesler during booking, leading to a felony charge.

It’s dark, people, and you are wearing all black


When I was getting ready to drive home last night, I happily noticed that a slender line of daylight was still visible on the western horizon. I am a little tired of the dark – any light is very welcome these days. Soon after, it was pitch black and I was headed South on Perry Street minding my own business. That's when it happened: a person wearing nothing but black came running off the curb, probably in a hurry to cross the street without getting too cold. I'm sure this man saw me – but I surely didn't see him until he was right at the passenger side of my car. I swerved, I stood on the brakes, and the man trotted behind my car on his way over to the gas station. At no point was I close to hitting him, but the whole thing scared the crap out of me. And no, I was not on my cell phone.

So I have a simple plea to all you morning joggers and evening walkers: please wear some bright clothes – a white hat – a yellow scarf or something reflective. Or get your pooch a reflective collar. I know you run in the street because the sidewalks are full of cracks and holes, but please do some little thing to make yourself more visible. And don't do what this guy did. If someone had been tailgating me I surely would have been rear-ended. Wait? Tailgating in Spokane? That's a different blog post.

Chocolate milk buy leads to meth arrest

An apparent trip to buy chocolate milk led to a felony drug arrest Tuesday night in Spokane Valley.

Officers Ryan Walter and Jason Karnitz followed a 1992 Eagle Talon after it pulled out of a convenience store parking lot at Park and Broadway about 9 p.m.

The driver made three quick turns, the pulled behind a closed business and turned off his headlights,  police said. Curious, Walter and Karnitz pulled behind the Talon as the driver, Christopher Neal Kinyon, 39, exited the car.

The officers say Kinyon didn't follow their commands and reached inside the car as if he were reaching for a weapon. They ordered him away from the car, then spotted a small bag of methamphetamine in the center console where Kinyon had reached.

Beside the meth was recently purchased chocolate milk, police said. Kinyon had a suspended driver's license and was booked into jail for that and the drug charge. Officers impounded the Talon after being unable to determine who owned it, according to the Spokane Valley Police Department.

Kinyon was convicted in 2006 of three counts of delivery of a controlled substance and possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver.

Police: Clear your windshield

Not only is it illegal to fail to clear the frost from your windshield before driving, not doing so caused an accident this morning in which a woman in a crosswalk was hit. The Boise Police report that they were called to a collision at 7:30 a.m. today at Front Street and Broadway, where a woman in her 50s who was crossing with a green light as she walked home from work was struck by a male driver in his 50s who was making a right turn from Broadway onto Front and didn't see her - because his "vehicle's windshield was heavily obstructed by an icy frost." The woman was transported to a nearby hospital with non-life threatening injuries including facial lacerations; the man was cited for failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk, plus driving with an obstructed windshield.

Here's what the law says on clearing car windows: "No vehicle shall be operated when the windshield and/or windows of the vehicle are coated with ice, snow, sleet, or dust to the extent that the driver’s view ahead, or to the sides or rear of the vehicle are obstructed."