The final chapter in a legendary hashish-smuggling ring that involved Willapa Bay is now closed, as the U. S. Attorney’s Office announces that the last defendant in the case has been sent to prison. U. S. Attorney Jenny Durkan says that 66 year-old Lee Rushing of Tacoma, also known as Anthony Bear, has been sentenced to five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and is ordered to forfeit $2.5 million for money-laundering. Rushing was arrested in Amsterdam back in 2008, connected to the infamous “Kila Kila” smuggling operation. Working with conspirators Frank Falco, Jeffrey Jay Warren and others, Rushing schemed to bring 50,000 pounds of hashish into the United States from Pakistan, using a rented boat from Seattle called the “Kila Kila.” In 1992, the conspirators worked with a fisherman named Russell Tillitz to rent a home and a warehouse in South Bend, using those facilities to bring the hash from a mother ship to shore. The drugs were then distributed to Oregon, California and New York, using rental trucks. Tillitz was the first one arrested, picked up in 1998. After his arrest, the other conspirators fled the country, and were arrested one-by-one over the next ten years.
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Officials with Weyerhaeuser report that there was a release of sodium hypochlorite last night at the facility in Longview. Around 10 pm, environmental engineers reported that they had a spill of about 1,200 pounds, but they also noted that the spill was contained on-site, with no exposure to the environment. They also report that there were no injuries connected to the incident. Company officials say that the cleanup will be handled in-house, and have notified County Emergency Management, the Department of Ecology and Federal officials, as well. The cause of the spill hasn’t been disclosed.
In addition to the statewide action of lowering flags to half-staff today, and a Celebration of Life this afternoon at the Kelso Eagles Lodge, the announcement regarding the Washington memorial service and interment of Army Specialist Mikayla Bragg of Longview is out. Serenity Funeral Home of Renton reports that memorial services for Bragg will be held this Saturday at Christian Faith Center in Federal Way, followed by a private interment ceremony at Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent. They say that more than a thousand people are expected at the public services, then only family members will be involved as Bragg’s cremated remains are interred, with full military honors. The 2008 Mark Morris graduate was shot and killed on December 21st, while on duty at a guard station in southern Afghanistan. Today’s Celebration of Life is set to begin at 1 pm at the Kelso Eagles Lodge, located at 609 South Pacific Avenue. The event is open to all who wish to come by and pay their respects.
Today marks the passing of a full year since the day that Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter was shot and killed. A couple of events are planned in connection with the remembrance. From 5 to 8 pm today, a spaghetti dinner fundraiser is planned at Rainier Junior-Senior High School, served in the school commons. Proceeds from the dinner will go to the school’s “backpack program,” raising money to help provide food to needy kids in the area on the weekends. Cindy Johnson is helping to organize the dinner, and she says Painter was a big supporter of the program. They’ll also be holding a silent auction during the dinner, with proceeds from that going to signs for the Ralph Painter Memorial Highway. The dinner costs five dollars, and includes spaghetti, salad, dessert and a beverage.
At 8 pm, a candlelight vigil is planned for Rainier’s Riverfront Park. All are invited to attend this event, marking one year from the day where Painter was shot and killed as he responded to a car theft report at the base of the Lewis and Clark Bridge. A large crowd is expected, so some traffic control measures are going to be set up. “A” Street will be closed between Veterans Way and the Fox Creek Bridge, starting at 7 pm. Traffic control personnel will be set up on Highway 30, to direct attendees to designated parking areas. Law enforcement who plan to attend are asked to drive patrol cars, which will then be parked in the closed section of “A” Street, right next to the park. Rainier Police are also asking that everyone take part in a moment of silence at 10:57 this morning, marking the exact time that Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter was shot and killed, one year ago today.
Some of the Longshore Union members and their supporters who’ve been arrested in connection with protests outside of the EGT grain terminal have been seeing some welcome mail over the past couple of weeks, learning that the Cowlitz County Prosecutor is having their charges dismissed. County Prosecutor Sue Baur says that this process is nothing unusual. She says that this would be similar to a DUI sting or a similar operation, resulting in a large number of arrests. As her office examines each individual case, decisions are made to proceed with prosecution or drop the case. Baur says that as they’ve gone forward with that process, decisions were made to dismiss charges against several of those people arrested in connection with the protests. She says that the number is not large, perhaps three to four individuals in the past couple of weeks. Baur says that her office is focusing resources on its strongest cases. Late last year, it took a jury only 12 minutes to acquit Kelly Palmer on a disorderly conduct charge. Dozens of people are still facing court cases connected to the arrests between July and September of last year, including nine who are charged with felonies. Originally, ten had been charged with felonies, but Scott Leroy Mitchell, 40, of Kelso arrived at a plea agreement in November, reducing the charge to misdemeanor malicious mischief.
At the same time that the Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Central Labor Council puts out a “Call to Action” in anticipation of the first ship to put in at the EGT grain terminal, Robert McEllrath, the International President of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, is sending out a letter, informing Longshore Division of the action that the union is planning when that first ship arrives. McEllrath says that they anticipate that security will be heavy, including Coast Guard escorts going from the mouth of the Columbia to the facility at the Port of Longview. They also anticipate a heavy law enforcement presence on shore. McEllrath says that they need to follow a “narrow path,” dealing with federal law that he says makes a show of worker solidarity a criminal act. He also claims that the National Labor Relations Board is seeking an injunction, looking for a ruling that any disruption of work by the ILWU at West Coast docks at the same time as the EGT protest would constitute a violation of federal law. For that reason, McEllrath says that any protest must insure that work continues at other ports. He says that the goal is to sent a message to EGT, along with local and federal law enforcement, saying that EGT is threatening the stability of the community and the Pacific Northwest grain export industry. McEllrath says that they’ll be informing Longshore Division locals about actions that the locals and supporters can take, but he also advises “extreme caution” when dealing with non-ILWU-sanctioned “calls to action.” McEllrath concludes by saying “everything is at stake” for the Longview community and ILWU members, including personal freedom. He says that they welcome outside support, but they must also make effective use of their collective power.
While other agencies around the area were reporting decreases in the number of DUI arrests over the past holiday period, there was a dramatic increase in Cowlitz County. The Washington Traffic Safety Commission reported that 81 motorists were stopped and arrested for DUI in the period between November 24th and January 2nd, nearly double the total in 2010, when 42 people were taken into custody. Statewide, more than 3,800 DUI arrests were reported during this period of increased enforcement. The police agencies from each city in Cowlitz County took part in the emphasis patrols, along with the Sheriff’s Office and the State Patrol. The extra patrols were funded by a grant from the Traffic Safety Commission.
New safety equipment is now installed at the South Kelso railroad crossing where three men died and one was seriously injured in March of last year. Coach America van driver Steven Sebastian of Castle Rock was killed on March 23rd of last year, along with BNSF crew members Tom Kenny of Shoreline and Christopher Loehr of Seattle, as the crew shuttle Sebastian was driving got hit by a train as they left the rail switching yard. Dwight Hauck of Auburn, another BNSF crew member, was also seriously injured in the collision. Late last month, Burlington Northern-Santa Fe completed installation of flashing lights and crossing arms at the three-track crossing. It’s being reported that an initial report on the collision from the Federal Railroad Administration should be released in the next couple of months. There’s speculation that a parked train obscured Sebastian’s vision, making him unable to see another train that was coming north on the tracks.
A Castle Rock-based Christian music group is looking to make a splash in the industry with the release of a new album. An independent record label called the Tate Music Group is announcing the national release of “Victory Call,” a debut album of ten songs from “Anna’s Kin” from Castle Rock. The six-member group is all from the same family, all sharing a goal of creating honest and uplifting music. Representatives with Tate Music say that “Anna’s Kin” crosses several musical genres on the album, helping to appeal to different musical tastes. “Victory Call” from “Anna’s Kin” is now available for purchase on the iTunes Store, Amazon.com and directly from TateMusicGroup.com.
Governor Chris Gregoire is directing that flags at all state agencies be lowered to half-staff tomorrow, in memory of Army Specialist Mikayla Anne Bragg of Longview. The 2008 Mark Morris graduate was shot and killed on the 21st of last month, while on station in a guard tower in southern Afghanistan. Bragg is the first resident of Cowlitz County killed in a combat zone since the Vietnam War. Gregoire’s office says that the flags should remain at half-staff through the close of business on Thursday, or first thing Friday morning. They’re also encouraging other government entities, citizens and businesses to join in the recognition. In addition, a Celebration of Life is planned for tomorrow afternoon at the Kelso Eagles lodge, starting at 1 pm. Bragg’s family says that the event is open to anyone who wishes to come by and pay their respects. On the 29th of last month, a memorial service was held at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where Bragg was stationed as part of the 201st Brigade Support Battalion, Third Brigade Combat Team, First Infantry Division. While tomorrow’s event is planned as a Celebration of Life, the date, time and place for Bragg’s local funeral services have yet to be set.