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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Hindsight sets off highs, lows of 2011 in Inland Northwest

2011 was a year that some in the Inland Northwest could be thankful for.

Thankful that a bomb on a Spokane street didn’t detonate during a parade. Thankful that a wrangler and her horse would charge a grizzly in Montana. Thankful that a criminal case that started in 2006 would finally come to trial and a verdict.

It was a year in which economic numbers shifted down and population numbers shifted up.

An Idaho Guard unit returned from Iraq, but not before losing two Coeur d’Alene soldiers in Baghdad.

The EWU Eagles football team started the year on a high note; the WSU Cougars ended it on a hopeful one.

Here’s a look at 2011, the year that was, in and around the Inland Northwest:


1 Rich Munson, longtime Spokane Valley activist and former City Council member and mayor, dies.

6 Jim and Carolyn McCullar, of Ephrata, Wash., and Holly Lahti, of Rathdrum, both have the winning numbers in the $380 million Mega Millions Lottery.

7 EWU Eagles win the NCAA Division I Championship. Down 19-0 in the third quarter, they rally to beat Delaware 20-19.

10 Legislatures in Washington and Idaho open sessions with budget problems at the top of their to-do lists.

18 The Martin Luther King Jr. Day Unity March is rerouted when contract workers and Spokane police find a bomb on a downtown bench.

18 An estimated 352,000 pounds of lead washes into Lake Coeur d’Alene from flooding sparked by heavy rain on top of snow.

29 Washington Corrections Officer Jayme Biendl is slain by inmate Byron Scherf, who was sentenced to prison in Spokane County for a 1995 kidnapping and rape.


6 Doctors are studying a possible link between smelter slag in Trail, B.C., and digestive disorders in northeast Washington.

7 Washington has a new campaign to fight flu: Wash-your-hands- ington.

10 Spokane is rated the nation’s “boldest city” by Jim Beam, partly because of the number of men who have tattoos and mustaches. Seattle is a mild-mannered 63rd.

10 Eva Lassman, who moved to Spokane after surviving the Holocaust in Europe, dies at 91.

11 Valley businessman Jeff Baxter is named to an open state Senate seat when county commissioners pass on GOP activists’ first pick, state Rep. Matt Shea.

23 Census figures place Washington’s population at 6,724,540, enough for a new congressional district. Idaho’s population later comes in at 1,587,582, up 21 percent but not enough for a new district.

24 Boeing wins an Air Force contract for the next generation of air-refueling tankers.


2 Federal Judge Lynn Winmill rules Idaho’s open primary is unconstitutional. The Legislature later passes a law to limit primaries to party members.

4 WSU basketball star Klay Thompson is arrested for marijuana possession and suspended for one game. Thompson would later turn pro.

8 The Idaho Legislature passes a law stripping teachers of most bargaining rights. Later bills set up merit pay and shift money from salaries to technology upgrades. The “Students Come First” laws are subject to a referendum next November.

9 Kevin Harpham of Addy, Wash., is arrested for the MLK Day march bomb plot. He eventually pleads guilty and is sentenced to 32 years.

13 Former state Sen. Bob McCaslin dies at 84.

14 Washington begins monitoring radiation from Fukushima reactors after the tsunami in Japan.

17 Budget woes get worse for Washington: The revenue forecast drops $780 million in just three months.

25 The Jesuit Oregon Province, which includes Spokane, agrees to pay an estimated $166 million to settle child sex abuse claims.


1 Rusty the cat turns up nine years after being lost, thanks to an implanted microchip.

5 The Idaho Legislature passes a law banning abortions after 20 weeks on the grounds of fetal pain. In August a Pocatello woman files suit to overturn the law.

6 Federal prosecutors warn marijuana dispensaries in Spokane they’ll be prosecuted if they don’t close.

11 Gonzaga University’s Courtney Vandersloot, who led the women’s team to the Elite 8 in the NCAA tournament, is chosen in the first round of the WNBA draft.

16 A tunnel collapses at the Lucky Friday mine, killing Larry “Pete” Marek. Hecla Mining would later be given four citations and face penalties of nearly $1 million.

20 The city of Coeur d’Alene reaches an agreement with Sanders Beach homeowners not to build docks.

27 Two departmental reviews clear Spokane County Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Hirzel in the August 2010 shooting of Baptist pastor Wayne Scott Creach.

28 Silver reaches a near-record $49 an ounce.

29 After consulting with federal prosecutors, Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoes most of a bill that would have established state rules for dispensing medical marijuana.


1 51,260 people finish Bloomsday, up 3 percent from 2010.

3 Washington announces it collected $321 million through a tax amnesty.

5 A federal jury convicts Edgar Steele, self-described “attorney for the damned,” for plotting to kill his wife.

10 Margaret Witt, who successfully fought her discharge from the Air Force Reserves under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” announces she’ll retire.

16 Rain and the melting of a heavy snowpack from La Niña winter triggers heavy flooding in the Inland Northwest.

22 1st Sgt Clifford Beattie, 37, of Medical Lake, is killed by an improvised explosive device during his third tour of duty in Iraq.

25 After a regular session and a special session, the Washington Legislature passes a budget with cuts to schools, colleges and social services, with likely tuition hikes for students.

31 The U.S. Census says Idaho ranks 50th among states for per-pupil spending in schools.


1 Labor Secretary Hilda Solis gives the commencement address at Bridgeport High School, which was a finalist for a speech from President Obama.

6 State and federal regulators deny permits for a new Spokane County waste treatment plant because of PCB concerns.

13 Hecla agrees to pay $263.4 million to help clean up heavy metals in the Coeur d’Alene Basin, resolving one of the largest Superfund lawsuits.

13 Gregoire says she won’t run for a third term. Republican state Attorney General Rob McKenna and Democratic U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee quickly announce campaigns.

16 One day after the Washington budget is signed, the state economist says projected reserves have already shrunk from $730 million to $163 million.

17 Spokane’s photo-red traffic camera system may be invalid, a judge says.

23 Caterpillar announces it will open a distribution center on the West Plains with up to 150 jobs.

25-26  The biggest local sports weekend of the year features Hoopfest in Spokane and the Ironman Triathalon in Coeur d’Alene.

29 Kevin Newland, a Spokane man serving 45 years for a 2006 murder, is shot and killed during an attempted prison break at Clallam Bay Corrections Center.


6 Three refugees from Bhutan die when their car plunges into the Spokane River.

7 Idaho Guardsmen Nathan Beyers and Nicholas Newby, of Coeur d’Alene, die when insurgents attack their convoy in Baghdad.

12 An arbitrator says new rules giving the city’s police ombudsman more power are invalid because they weren’t negotiated with police unions.

15 Army Staff Sgt. Wyatt Goldmsith, 28, of Colville, is killed by a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan during his third wartime deployment.

26 Southwest Airlines says it will discontinue flights between Seattle and Spokane.

30 While guiding a trail ride in Flathead National Forest, wrangler Erin Bolster and her horse Tonk charge a grizzly bear to stop its attack on an 8-year-old boy. After a story in The Spokesman-Review, Bolster and Tonk wind up as guests on David Letterman’s TV show in October, get thousands of emails and Tonk gets his own Facebook page.


1 The fastest-growing occupation in Spokane County? Security guard, says state Employment Security Department.

5 State regulators close the Bank of Whitman, order assets sold to Columbia Banking System of Tacoma.

9 Spokane Mayor Mary Verner says the city is re-evaluating its legal strategy in the Otto Zehm case because Assistant Police Chief Jim Nicks has testified Officer Karl Thompson violated use-of-force procedures.

12 Steve and Janet Funk, of Coeur d’Alene, are the Tree Farmers of the Year, according to the American Tree Farm System.

16 Verner, seeking to be the first two-term mayor since the 1970s, collects 60 percent of the vote in the city primary.

22 University of Idaho graduate student Katy Benoit is killed by former assistant professor Ernesto Bustamante, who later commits suicide. Benoit had filed a complaint about Bustamante after breaking up with him, two months before the deaths; she told UI officials she was frightened by Bustamante, who carried guns “everywhere.”


9 Verner announces a “complete internal and external review” of the 2006 death of Otto Zehm.

12 Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick and Assistant Chief Jim Nicks say they’ll retire in 2012.

14 Washington chief economist says the state’s General Fund is $1.4 million out of balance; Gregoire calls for a special session six days later.

16 A hunter in the Buckhorn Mountain area is killed during an attack by a wounded grizzly bear, which he and a partner mistook for black bear.

22 The Securities and Exchange Commission accuses Doris “Dee” Nelson, of Colbert, owner of the Little Loan Shoppe, of collecting $126 million in a Ponzi scheme.

25 Most of the Idaho National Guard’s 116th Cavalry Brigade is home from Iraq.

26 Fire ravages Mary Lou’s Milk Bottle and Ferguson’s Café, two Garland District landmarks.

29 Federal prosecutors accuse Spokane officials of continually misleading the public in the Zehm case.

30 GU student Christopher Smith pulls a suicidal man from the Spokane River.


5 City police announce they have disbanded the unit handling property crimes because of budget cuts.

9 Milo, a Jack Russell terrier thrown from a thief’s getaway truck after his owner’s house was burglarized, is rescued and returned to owner Paul DeFazio.

17 Costco makes the biggest contribution in Washington history to an initiative campaign: $8.9 million to I-1183, which would end the state’s control of liquor sales.

26 Gregoire asks state workers to pay more for health insurance. Employees unions say she should first ask businesses to make similar sacrifices on tax exemptions.


1 A federal jury in Yakima convicts Spokane Police Officer Karl Thompson of using excessive force in the 2006 Zehm death and lying about it. Defense attorneys’ later request to question jurors about watching television coverage was rejected; fellow officers salute Thompson as he is taken from the courtroom.

8 David Condon ousts Verner for mayor; Ben Stuckart defeats former City Council President Dennis Hession; former state Rep. Mike Padden defeats appointed state Sen. Jeff Baxter. Washington voters overwhelmingly end state control of liquor sales.

9 Edgar Steele is sentenced to 50 years in murder-for-hire plot.

17 Brandon Gray is fatally injured in an accident in the Lucky Friday Mine.

18 Paul Rhoades is executed for a 1987 triple murder, the first execution in Idaho since 1994.

28 Protesters opposing budget cuts fill hearing rooms and some are evicted from the Capitol rotunda as the Washington Legislature starts a special session.

29 WSU fires head football coach Paul Wulff, who had a record of 9-40 over four years. A day later the school hires former Texas Tech Coach Mike Leach to a five-year contract with an annual salary of $2.25 million plus bonuses.


1 Citizen activist Shannon Sullivan, who led the 2005 recall against Spokane Mayor Jim West, files a recall petition against Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker.

9 The Spokane City Council cuts money for the Chase Youth Commission but spends more for council staff.

12 Council approves extensions to some city labor contracts despite requests from incoming mayor and council to let them make the call.

14 The Washington Legislature adjourns after passing a $480 million “down payment” budget.

14 Seismic activity known as a rock burst injures seven in the Lucky Friday Mine.

29 A record 273 bald eagles are counted at Lake Coeur d’Alene; the birds congregate at Wolf Lodge Bay to feast on spawning kokanee.

30 David Condon is sworn in as Spokane’s 44th mayor.