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Slain WSP trooper’s name among 5 being considered for new Pasco middle school

By Cameron Probert Tri-City Herald

KENNEWICK, WASH. – A slain Washington State Patrol trooper may be remembered on Pasco’s newest middle school.

Trooper James Saunders is one of five names suggested for the school that’s due to open its doors in fall 2021.

The other finalists include former Pasco High School Principal Ray Reynolds, 4-H and FFA leader Willetta Mae Burns, labor leader Cesar Chavez and Juniper.

Saunders worked for the Kennewick WSP detachment for nine years before he was killed during a traffic stop in Pasco in October 1999.

His killer, Nicolas S. Vasquez, was caught him after a 26-hour manhunt and is serving a life sentence at the state prison in Walla Walla.

His daughter, Megan, who was 2 years old at the time, recently joined the Washington State Patrol to carry on his legacy. His wife, Billie, and their son, Jim, who was born four months after Saunders died now live in Western Washington.

Pasco connections

The Pasco School Board also is considering four other names with significance to the region or the district.

Ray Reynolds graduated from Pasco High School in 1945 before joining the U.S. Army and fighting in the Korean War. After returning and graduating from college, he also was a WSP trooper, then a teacher and coach at Eastern Washington College.

He finally returned to the Pasco School District in 1968 where he worked as a teacher, coach, assistant principal, principal and director of secondary education. But Reynolds, who died in 2000, was best known for his time leading Pasco High School.

The district previously considered naming Chiawana High for him.

The new middle school is being built on Burns Road, named for Willetta Mae Burns.

Initially born in Oregon, she moved into the area in 1939. She was involved in farming and was a major force in 4-H, FFA and the Columbia Valley Grange. She died in 2015.

“She was a guiding influence in the lives of many generations of children attending the Benton-Franklin Fair,” said information from the district. “Many of her children and grandchildren are educators in the Tri-Cities area.”

The fourth person – Cesar Chavez – follows the district’s trend of picking historically significant names, such as Robert Frost or Maya Angelou.

The labor leader is an icon both for the Latino community, but also organized labor, Pasco officials said.

“His work led to improvements for union laborers,” they wrote. “He has received many accolades including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”

Juniper trees and nearby Juniper Forest are the inspiration for another of the names under consideration.

The school board is to make its decision on May 14.

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