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Local highlights of 2016

The final six months of the year brought tragedy, triumph and change to the region

Editor’s Note: This is the second of two parts reviewing community happenings in Wasco and Sherman counties from July through December:


• USMC Capt. (retired) Dan Brophy was chosen to lead the 2016 Independence Parade as grand marshal “I think the Fourth is the time for us to appreciate America, and celebrate in an appropriate way the freedom we have as a nation,” said Brophy, who was disabled during a 1968 deployment to Vietnam.

• Plans were made for the community to honor Darrell Hill, 77, former The Dalles Police Chief and former Wasco County Sheriff. who died on June 29 from a rare form of dementia.

• A swift moving wildfire east of The Dalles threatened homes in the Moody Road area, west of the Deschutes River. Celilo Village and Heritage landing were temporarily evacuated as the blaze gained traction and consumed thousands of acres near the communities.

• Chris Mumford, an Army veteran and drummer, called on musicians to form a band that would play to raise money for veteran and military family support. The seven-member group known as “Got Your Six” debuted in November at two local Veterans Day events.

• A homeless summit was held in The Dalles to create a clearinghouse to direct transients to services and train volunteers to deal with the mentally ill. The ad hoc committee working to help those less fortunate organized the forum that drew about 30 people, including representatives from the criminal justice system, as well as medical and social services.

• An armed robber hit Jack’s Mini Mart near The Dalles Bridge, making off with an undisclosed amount of cash. Police believed the crime was connected to an earlier robbery in Hood River. Tucker Douglas Shepherd, 20, a Hood River resident, later admitted to the crimes.

• Local law enforcement officials reacted to the murder of five police officers in Dallas, Texas, and the wounding of seven others by black Army veteran Micah Johnson, who stated that he “wanted to kill white people.” Four officers from The Dalles Police Department traveled to Dallas to pay their respects to their fallen “brothers” and their families. “They are hurting right now and their communities, like many others, are in a dark place. We want them to know that we are here for them and are grieving for them,” said The Dalles Police Officer Josh Hones.

• Wasco County unveiled a new logo to represent the vision statement “Pioneering Pathways to Prosperity.” The new logo was designed to reflect the agricultural and scenic setting of the area.

• Fire destroyed a home, wellhouse and woodshed on Reservoir Road. Barbara Nearing, the owner, lost everything in the blaze and expressed gratitude for help that poured in from community members, organizations and businesses.

•The Pokémon GO craze invaded The Dalles and people could be seen wandering down streets playing the virtual reality game.

• Wasco County and the City of The Dalles finalized agreements for distribution of $250,000 in Google funds on 11 projects that would provide an immediate benefit to area communities.

• Tamara Janin Kucher, 40, and Hunter William Reese Spears, 21, died in a single-vehicle rollover wreck on Boyd Loop Road just outside Dufur. A third person, Marshall Allen Johnson, was ejected from the vehicle and Lifeflighted to Portland with bleeding on the brain. Oregon State Police Sgt. Kaipo Raiser said alcohol was likely a contributing factor in the crash.

• U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, who spent much of his childhood in The Dalles and now lives in Hood River, was one of the first speakers at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where Donald Trump was nominated as the presidential candidate. Trump went on to win the election.

• Kim Mason, a transgender woman whose daughter and grandchildren live in The Dalles, emerged on the local scene seeking funds to travel from her home in upstate New York to meet them in her changed role.

• An exchange of students from American Samoa was such a success that local youth from Wahtonka Community School began making plans to visit Samoa in 2017.

• Pat Ashmore took the helm at The Dalles Police Department, replacing Jay Waterbury, who retired after decades of service. Ashmore arrived following a long and distinguished career with the Oregon State Police.

• Bryan Brandenburg, regional jail administrator, and Wasco County Sheriff Lane Magill began to focus on helping inmates build self-esteem by kicking addictions and finding resources, such as housing, jobs and transportation, once they are released. Their goal was to reduce a rate of recidivism that tops 60 percent.

• The Dalles City Council remained optimistic about underwriting the events despite a loss on the first of two summer concerts. Officials said the concerts brought tourists into town, providing an economic boost, and provided residents with entertainment in a social setting.


• A plane crash at the Columbia Gorge Regional Airport claimed the life of Hood River pilot Richard Sperling. The first fatality at the airfield took place in a Lancair 360, a type of home-built plane.

• Damion Morris, an employee at Domino’s Pizza and 2016 graduate of The Dalles High School, saved a suicidal man’s life in a dramatic tussle on a freeway overpass. Morris sprang into action after delivering a pizza and spotting the man getting ready to jump from Interstate 84 near Exit 85.

• Guy Simer of Tygh Valley was killed in a farming accident near Helix. He was pinned between a water truck and semitrailer while hooking a tow strap between the vehicles.

• The first-ever air quality testing to evaluate naphthalene emissions from AmeriTies began after the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality received complaints about odors and emissions.

• A Prineville family that owns five hotels in eastern Oregon received city approval to build an 80-room, four-story hotel at Sixth and Snipes in The Dalles.

• The Dufur Threshing Bee ended after 35 years due to a lack of horses to power antique equipment for wheat harvest demonstrations. The event was replaced by Vintage Dufur Days that included many of the traditional activities using vintage machinery.

• North Wasco County PUD announced its plans to build a substation, at a cost not to exceed $8 million, and buy a mile-long transmission line for $500,000.

• The historic Columbia River Highway Centennial Celebration included an Antique Car Tour on the scenic roadway that brought visitors from the metro area to the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center for a barbecue.

• The Dalles City Council entered into negotiations with an unnamed party interested in purchasing a portion of the downtown Granada block property.

• A wildfire that started in Heritage Park at the mouth of the Deschutes River quickly spread across several hundred acres.

• The Dufur City Council voted unanimously to recommend denial of the Dufur Pastime’s liquor license after Wasco County Sheriff Lane Magill urged the vote in the interest of public safety. He made that recommendation following July’s fatality on Boyd Loop Road because the occupants of the vehicle had been at the Pastime a short time before the crash. Magill listed five other drunk driving incidents since 2013 that involved people who admitted to drinking at the Pastime.

• Stevie Lynn Drews was injured and a house trailer destroyed an early morning fire on West Eighth Street. Two other residents were unharmed.

• A Troutdale woman was killed near Mosier in what Wasco County Sheriff Lane Magill said was the worst crash he’d ever seen. Passenger Tanisha Crowel, 26, died at the scene and the driver, her husband, Cameron Crowel, 27, was Lifeflighted to Legacy Emanual Medical Center in Portland. Magill said alcohol and speed were factors in the crash.

• Duane Francis, long-time president and CEO of Mid-Columbia Medical Center, announced his retirement on Oct. 31.

• In a bid to compel AmeriTies to improve emissions control, Carmen Kontur-Gronquist and Janine Connors filed a $20 million lawsuit against the company, alleging nuisance, trespass and negligence.

• The Oregon National Guard unit based in The Dalles switched its unit designation after 10 years from Alpha Company 3-116 Calvary to Delta Troop 1-82 Cavalry.

• The Dalles/Wasco County Library completed a 2,300-square-foot addition to the main building to be used for kid-oriented activities.

• Taner Elliott, a city councilor, announced his intent to seek another two-year term in the at-large position. He was challenged by Andretta Schellinger but won by a wide margin in November.

• The Dalles City Council gave the green light to development of a 10-space RV park on West 10th Street that is owned by Linda Heath and expected to open in spring 2017.

• Two Moro citizens helped the Sherman County Sheriff’s Office chase down and tackle a suspect. Jim Payne and Rick Whitaker were volunteering at the local fire hall when they heard on the police radio about the pursuit of Timothy Henkel, 47 of Billings, Mont., who jumped out of his vehicle during an attempted traffic stop and ran. He was wanted for drug-related crimes. “…I think small communities need to stick together and keep it safe,” said Whitaker about the incident.

• Members of The Dalles High School football team apologized to the Lion’s Club for leaving early after they agreed to do a four-hour shift helping with the Dallesport drag races.

• Heritage Heights Apartments on West 10th Street opened to provide 24 units of affordable housing to families in the agriculture industry.

• Esther Wilkerson, 71, pleaded guilty to intentionally causing her husband’s death on their 40th wedding anniversary. James Wilkerson, 67, a disabled man living at The Oregon Veterans Home, was found dead in the fall of 2015 in his room. His wife cut his throat and then stabbed him in the neck with a 10-inch knife. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

“There is no evidence she did this out of mercy,” said Wasco County District Attorney Eric Nisley of the murder-suicide pact that Esther claimed to have made with her husband. “Ironically, it is also very clear that she loved her husband very much.”

• A group of Dallesport residents mounted a movement to block a rezoning proposal to divide land zoned for single-family residences with larger lots into multi-family housing on much smaller parcels.

• Residents of three apartments on Lincoln Street were displaced after a fire destroyed the historic house.

• Wamic Auto Parts was burglarized and thousands in tools and equipment stolen. Owner Wade Delco believed the thieves had been in the business before committing the crime to see where the best high-performance items were stored.

• The Mid-Columbia Interagency Narcotics Task Force arrested nine area residents, including a fugitive, for drug possession and/or delivery, after executing search warrants at residences around the region.


• Tom Peachey, attorney for Cliff Wirtz, owner of the Dufur Pastime, wrote a letter to the state liquor control board disputing Wasco County Sheriff Lane Magill’s recommendation that the business lose its license.

Peachey contended that Magill’s letter had been “heavy on innuendo but lacking in facts implicating the Dufur Pastime in wrongdoing or violation.”

• A man in a stolen car with warrants for his arrest was caught on the east end of town due to the help of numerous citizen tipsters.

The suspect, Joshua Lannell Richards, 36, of Albany, blew through stop signs in The Dalles and almost hit several vehicles while attempting to flee the pursuit of Oregon State Police Trooper Jason Calloway that began on Interstate 84. Richards abandoned his vehicle to flee on foot and was taken into custody at Poppy’s Market following one of several reports called in by residents.

• The American College of Surgeons approved another three-year accreditation of MCMC’s breast health center, making it one of only seven with national accreditation in Oregon and Southwest Washington.

• Barlow Gate Grange continued its “neighboring” push by inviting area residents to an ice cream social at the historic building in Wamic.

The open house followed a community breakfast in July to raise money for operational costs. The goal of the grange board is to make the facility available at no charge for community groups and people wanting to hold weddings and social events in a setting that can accommodate a large group.

• Union Pacific Railroad’s plan to add roughly four miles of new track near Mosier drew ire from Mosier residents and others wanting to stop the passage of oil trains after June’s derailment.

• Emergency responders gathered to observe the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the East Coast that took nearly 3,000 lives, including 340 firefighters and 71 law enforcement officers.

• Google announced a prospective purchase agreement to buy 96 acres — the old Northwest Aluminum smelter site — following the purchase of 42 acres of port property in June. Company officials said there were no immediate plans to develop the site.

• The Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue board decided to ask voters to approve a new $3.85 million bond to replace aging fire apparatus and ambulances, and do property maintenance. The measure was approved in the Nov. 8 general election.

• Two law enforcement families were chosen as recipients of proceeds from the annual Pig Bowl competition, The Marble family of Dallesport and the Anderson family of Hood River are both struggling with a serious illness. Deputy Mike Anderson of the Hood River County Sheriff’s Office has colon cancer and Abby Marble, 10, daughter of Wasco County Sheriff’s Deputy Gaven Mable and his wife, Megan, has incurable neurological Mitochondrial Disorder.

• Katie Burns, a valedictorian of the class of 2016 at The Dalles High School, earned the prestigious “National Scholar” designation, the highest level of AP (Advanced Placement) Scholar.

• The Dufur City Council reaffirmed its decision to recommend that the liquor license of the Pastime pub not be renewed.

• Columbia Gorge health providers and community organizations were awarded $25,000 for their inclusive and collaborate approach to health care. Gorge Grown applied for the prize on behalf of a long list of community partners.

• The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife began urging owners of forested properties to remove dying trees from the landscape to stop the spread of bark beetles across 12,300 acres in Wasco and Hood River counties.

• Ben Hammet III, 34, of Sherman County, jumped off the upper falls at White River Falls State Park and his body has never been found.

• Roger Sandvold, 70, drowned in Pine Hollow Reservoir and his body was recovered by a dive team about 15 feet from the shoreline.

• A Portland man taking pictures at Rowena Crest spotted what turned out to be a pipe bomb, which was detonated by the Oregon State Police bomb squad hours later.

Luke Krieger, a former infantry Marine, recognized the device as a potential explosive and took a photo before calling authorities. He warned other people to move away from the area prior to the arrival of emergency responders. No suspects were located.

• The grade school in Maupin went into lockdown after a man began asking questions about when children would be out and around. Because the man, later identified by law enforcement officers as having mental health problems, was unknown to administrators and had no ties to the school, security measures were enacted.

• A community memorial service was held for M.D. Van Valkenburgh, who had died in August at the age of 88 in the Oregon Veterans’ Home.

• The Wasco County Planning Commission gave a green light to Union Pacific’s expansion plans in Mosier, approval later overturned by the county board.

• Dr. Gary Gingrich recognized National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month in September by urging men to get regular screenings. The disease is the second cause of cancer death of American men, behind only lung cancer. The Dalles resident Terry Armentrout shared his story of survival.


• The local medical and mental health center for veterans, sporting the new Loren R. Kaufman VA Clinic sign, was dedicated Saturday morning as two federal officials joined local government leaders, administrators from the Oregon Military

Department and community members for the dedication ceremony.

• The second concert in the Summer Celebration series lost money, as had the first, but promoters, most members of The Dalles City Council and Mayor Steve Lawrence were satisfied with the outcome. “When you look at it, it cost the city about $16,000 to put on two large concerts,” Lawrence said. “That’s pretty darn good. That’s really something.”

• Police said reports are unsubstantiated and not credible about a possible clown attack at local schools, but patroled the area anyway so students were “safe and also feel safe,” said The Dalles Police Chief Patrick Ashmore.

• Farmers in Wasco County were on the move to educate people in large urban centers of Oregon, which usually carry the vote, about how devastating passage of Measure 97 — a proposed tax on gross receipts — would be to food production.

• Mitch France, a 1988 graduate of The Dalles High School, and now a detective with the Newport Police Department, was honored for his work overseeing a complex and regionally significant homicide case. The department gave him a Distinguished Service Award in September for his work in the case against a woman who threw her autistic 6-year-old son, London McCabe, off the Yaquina Bay Bridge in December 2014.

• Former Wasco County Sheriff Art Labrousse explored his work in law enforcement during the county’s dealings with the “Rajneeshees” in his book, “Elected through Terror.”

• The Dalles Chronicle announced plans to move into new office space on the east end of town and sell their existing building at 315 Federal Street.

• A proposed rezoning plan to accommodate a high-density housing development in Dallesport continued to spark controversy as the Klickitat County Commission came to Dallesport to hear from the public.

• A Coast Guard rescue boat built in 1939 and restored by Goldendale resident Glen Cathers drew the attention of boaters while docked at The Dalles Marina.

• A male classroom aide at The Dalles Middle School was arrested and accused of inappropriately touching two female students at school.

Jose Luis Martinez-Robledo, 48, an English Language Learner aide, was pulled from class and trespassed by the school district from coming back on school property after the complaints were originally filed, said Bob Dais, human resources director for the school district.

• The Civic Auditorium Historic Preservation Committee hired Elizabeth Wallis as the new program manager.

• A Vancouver woman was uninjured when she crashed her 2005 Nissan into a guardrail and sign at The Dalles Marina.

• A male and female, both wearing orange Jack-O’Lantern type masks and brandishing guns, held up a gas station on the west end of town and made off with an undisclosed amount of cash, police said.

The robbery in the 2100 block of West Sixth Street was reported just before 10:30 p.m. The robbery was later tied to an armed robbery in Portland, where a male suspect was shot by police.

• Scott Baker was named the new director of the Northern Wasco County Parks and Recreation District.

• Candidates for mayor and city council came together in The Dalles for a discussion of issues that was civil but filled with disparate opinions. Questions asked of three contestants for mayor, two for the at-large council position and two for council Position Two, ranged from economic development, and beautification along Interstate 84 to housing and the city’s choice to pay for community concerts.

• ScanEagle, the gorge-made robotic aircraft that has logged almost one million hours of flight, landed in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum collection.

The most widely known product of Bingen-based Insitu, the ScanEagle X200 was inducted into the museum in October. Insitu officials believe the ScanEagle, long proven as a tactical observation tool for the military, is only now poised to make a mark in the area it was originally designed for: The commercial world.


• At an Oct. 26 open house at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, officials with the Oregon Department of Transportation displayed plans for repaving of Interstate 85 from Rowena to Hood River, a $7 million project that was expected to go to bid in the fall of 2017.

• Painkillers and opiates were called “the good, the bad and the ugly” during an informal discussion led by John Evans, a certified pain specialist who focuses on psychopharmacology, who explored how opioids interact with the body and mind.

• Max Jaques and Elizabeth Flores, students at Wahtonka Community School, never knew that getting ready for Halloween was so much work, but then they hadn’t planned a party for hundreds of children before. The two students chose to meet their 16-hour requirement for community service by helping The Dalles Main Street get ready for the annual downtown trick-or-treat rush on Halloween.

Jaques and Flores, along with Arielle Labarge and Emily Opbroek, both sophomores, were tasked with emailing or passing out orange notices that were posted in nearly 200 business windows to let children know there was candy inside.

• After a Wednesday evening appeal hearing that stretched over five hours, the Wasco County Board of Commissioners reversed an earlier decision by the planning commission and voted unanimously to deny Union Pacific’s application to add several miles of new track through the Mosier area.

• The family of Tony William Lafollette, who was missing for 11 days and believed to have drowned in the Columbia River, held a candlelight vigil in The Dalles.

• A 27-hour regional phone outage stretched from 3 a.m. Sunday to 3 p.m. on a Monday afternoon, presenting a challenge for officials on how to get the word out about an alternate emergency number since 9-1-1 didn’t work.

• Students at The Dalles High School had the rare, and perhaps nerve-wracking distinction of performing a play for the man who wrote it. Texas-based Don Zolidis was in town to do a playwriting workshop at the high school and caught a dress rehearsal of “Game of Tiaras,” his comedic mash-up.

• Joe Martin, executive director of ACTS (Acclaim Christ Through Sports), a nonprofit organization, said his decades-long quest to build a Gorge Youth Center in The Dalles overcame a major hurdle with the donation of lands for the center.

• Local students gained an appreciation for their own fortunate circumstances, and empathy for the plight of refugees, following a talk from Anna Spindler, the logistics chief of the United Nations’ refugee program, who heads the global supply chain and logistics services for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

• The body of a missing fisherman with ties to Wasco County was recovered off the shoreline of Roosevelt, near where the boat he was in capsized more than two weeks prior.

• With Mayor Steve Lawrence and two incumbent members of The Dalles City Council re-elected on Nov. 8, the makeup of the body remains largely the same going into 2017 — with the exception of a single newcomer.

Darcy Long-Curtiss won the Position 2 seat that represents the western part of The Dalles after incumbent Dan Spatz decided not to seek another four-year term.

• Roads were closed around the hospital for about an hour when a leak in Mid-Columbia Medical Center’s main oxygen tank was detected.

• The Dalles Public Works Director Dave Anderson told the city council that the U.S. Forest Service wants further environmental review before signing off on permits on the Dog River Pipeline Replacement Project in The Dalles, considered one of the most critical infrastructure projects facing the city.

• The Wasco County Citizen Review Board set out to collect reading material for 200 children, pre-teens and teens with a book drive for youth and foster care.


• A pair of dogs went on a spree in Murray’s Addition, killing a cat, biting a man’s pant leg, and attempting to get at chickens and other dogs before being caught and taken to the animal shelter.

The dogs were released to their owner, but Wasco County Sheriff Lane Magill later recommended the dogs be euthanized because they posed a threat to people and other animals.

• Six contestants in the upcoming 2017 Dancing with the Gorge Stars competition got advice both from past winners and from some who didn’t take home the Mirror Ball Trophy. “I always knew I didn’t have any rhythm and now the whole town knows it,” said Dean Dollarhide, a local insurance agent who competed in the 2016 competition. “It was a ton of fun but I was way out of my element.”

• A school bus loaded with middle schoolers had to lock its brakes when it was cut off by another driver as it turned into the Wahtonka campus parking lot during the storm, and slid into a fence, damaging both fence and bus.

• Area disposal companies prepared a fleet of bikes for holiday gifts, spearheaded by Kevin Green, district manager of The Dalles Disposal.

• The Oregon State Bar directed that a formal disciplinary proceeding be instituted against Wasco County District Attorney Eric Nisley, a “rare” step to take against an elected prosecutor, a spokeswoman said. Kateri Walsh, spokesperson for the bar’s State Professional Responsibility Board, which acts in the role of a grand jury, alleged that Nisley violated a rule of conduct that states “a lawyer shall not knowingly make a false statement of material fact in a disciplinary matter.”

• Five members of a family, including an infant, lost everything in a fire at the house they were renting in the 1900 block of Dry Hollow Road in The Dalles. No one was home when the blaze started.

The mother of the family worked at Bickler Orthodontics in The Dalles, which then spearheaded a drive to collect clothing and household items to replace the things they lost.

“It’s just awful and we’re trying to help,” said Katie Pickthorne.


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