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

Gingerbread house survives – mostly – after man steals van carrying it, crashes into downtown precinct

It was the kind of scenario that usually only happens in movies.

A van, in the midst of transporting a monthslong bakery project to a nearby gingerbread house competition, is suddenly stolen – gingerbread house and all – by a cursing, shouting stranger. Speeding down the road, the van dodges into a parking lot – a lot which happens to serve the downtown police precinct. It then proceeds to ram, at speed and in reverse, through the precinct’s front doors.

For the workers of Sweet Frostings Blissful Bakeshop on 15 S. Washington St. in downtown Spokane on Sunday morning, the bizzare series of events was reality, not fiction, and hardly entertaining.

“We have four buildings,” said Jessica Winfrey, pointing to what was left of a towering gingerbread house facing judges and onlookers Sunday afternoon in the Davenport Grand Hotel. “Well, we had four buildings.”

Just before 8 a.m. Sunday, Winfrey and five other bakers and shop workers were loading the sculpture – representing over 200 hours of hard work – into a company van, bound for display at the hotel’s Gingerbread Build-off competition, which benefits Christ Kitchen. They’d gotten as far as hoisting the sculpture’s mountain of rice crispy treats and gingerbread onto the bed of the vehicle, organizing the houses and other dressings in boxes and laying them on the sidewalk, when tragedy struck.

Walking down the road was a man, making a ruckus and screaming profanity and threats. Such sights are not unknown in downtown Spokane, so the workers didn’t pay much attention. But he kept coming, and he kept shouting.

Scared and threatened, the group retreated inside the bakery shop – which is closed on Sundays – and locked the door, leaving the gingerbread house and van behind.

And the van’s keys.

“And there he went,” Winfrey said.

The bakers watched as the white company van peeled out and headed eastbound on First Avenue. It made it a block, before turning into the parking lot of the Spokane Intermodal Center.

The driver stopped, put the van in reverse, and crashed into the large glass entrance doors of the Spokane Police Department’s downtown precinct. He fled on foot.

Patrol officers reviewed video of the crash and identified the suspect as 32-year-old Jesse L. Jones, who is apparently a known offender, police said in a news release.

Officers located Jones directly across the street at the corner of Sprague Avenue and Bernard Street. He was booked into Spokane County Jail at 9:53 a.m. under suspicion of first-degree vehicle theft, malicious mischief, hit and run on an unattended building, and two counts of felony harassment for threatening to kill the workers.

Nobody was injured in the ordeal, including Jones, but there was a Christmas casualty. One of the gingerbread houses was smashed beyond repair.

“It was gone,” said Sally Winfrey, the bakery’s owner. “Gone.”

The bakers trudged on and rallied the troops. With a little help from friends and family, they transported the house in sections to the hotel blocks away.

The event organizers offered a gracious leeway period by extending the competition deadline. Before long, the mountain was put into place, the houses followed, and then the rest. And where one house should have stood, tiny people made of fondant icing took its place.

To the untrained eye, you’d never guess anything was missing.

“This might be our last good year,” said Jessica Winfrey, explaining that the mastermind behind the bakery shop’s gingerbread house prowess was leaving. “This is like our Super Bowl.”

Eventgoers and gingerbread aficionados were immediately drawn to the house that could have never been. Some commented it was a clear shoo-in for judge’s and people’s choice. Others just sat and stared at the tiny, picturesque Bavarian scene, modeled after Washington’s iconic Leavenworth in the Cascade Mountains.

One woman was enraptured by the clear candy windows with visible objects behind them. Children marveled at the flashing lights and the spinning candy Christmas tree, and the man on a ladder, endlessly falling and returning to a precarious ledge like a Clark Griswald metronome.

Despite the unthinkable, the illogical and the unimaginable happening hours before, the workers of Sweet Frostings were confident they were going to win. And they really, really wanted to.

After the morning they had, who’d blame them?

“We want it,” Sally Winfrey said. “But we’re here. And we’re safe. That’s all that really matters.”

By Sunday evening, the results were in, with judges naming a sculpture from bakery Sweet Geeky Cakes as their top pick.

And the people’s choice award? A tiny Bavarian town at the base of a rice crispy treat mountain. After a long, trying day, Sweet Frostings claimed their win.