Top Mountain News Stories of 2011


1.  The Mountain News-WA launches on February 7, 2011

After months of planning and preparations, the Mountain News-WA flickered into life upon our computer screens with our first posting on February 7.  Eleven months later we’ve reached 100,000-plus hits and posted 230 stories from 6 authors: Paula Morris, Judy Spiers, Bev Marshall, Candace Brown, Tari Parker and yours truly, Bruce A. Smith.

Also, The Mountain News needs to acknowledge Anuttama Budd, Trevor, and Mike England and the Viral Biz guys for tech support.  Special thanks are necessary for Anuttama, who set up the web site along with graciously delivering hot chai tea and great lunches.

Blessedly, the early days of the Mountain News were graced with cold hard cash from a spendid few who truly value honest local reporting on things that matter.  After the “angels” stepped to the side, many local businesses agreed to give us a try and their advertising dollars have been thoroughly appreciated.

2.  Former NTCC pastor Michael Fontenot’s story on his child rape conviction and imprisonment finally revealed. 

In October, Cristine Growder told the Mountain News the story of her ex-husband and former New Testament Christian Church pastor Michael Fontenot raping their then-twelve year old daughter in 2005, and how he then began grooming a second child in another NTCC-based family.  Plus, Cristine revealed the tortuous judicial journey that led to Fontenot’s eventual imprisonment for ten years-to-life in 2010.  It is a tale of tragedy and triumph, and it was never an easy story to tell, for anyone.

3.  South Hill murder; body buried in Graham, links to NTCC.  

In September, South Hill resident Cori Lewis was murdered by another former NTCC pastor, Kelly Merz, in a neighborhood populated by members of the NTCC community.  Further, the apartment complex was owned by Merz’ ex-wife, Cherlyn Merz, who also had a prominent role in the NTCC before leaving the church several years before the homicide.  Although there are no direct links between the New Testament Christian Church and the crime, the close association of many members of this faith community is unsettling.

4.  DB Cooper:  40th Anniversary Symposium held; Marla Cooper provides FBI’s “most promising lead” and DB Cooper case agent Curtis Eng is convinced.  Plus, Tina Mucklow’s interview and pix; Norman Hayden and his parachute.

40,000 readers came to the Mountain News in early August to read our account of my five-word interview with flight attendant Tina Mucklow in her first face-to-face meeting with a journalist since 1982.  During that interim, she had spent 12 years in a cloistered convent and then another 20 years hiding in a run-down neighborhood in central Oregon.  Why she has withdrawn from public view despite being the primary witness to the DB Cooper skyjacking is still unknown.

In addition, the Mountain News published photographs of Tina, taken in 2010 by DB Cooper investigator Galen Cook.

Shortly afterwards, the FBI stunned the world when it declared that it had received its “most promising lead” in the 40-year old case, and thereby ushered Marla Cooper and her uncles LD and Dewey upon the global stage.  Marla said that her recalled memories from childhood indicated that her uncle Lynn Doyle (LD) Cooper was the skyjacker, and that a second uncle, Dewey Max Cooper, was the getaway guy.  Then in November, the world was shocked again when Ms Cooper announced that Curtis Eng, the FBI case agent for the skyjacking, had told her that he was convinced that LD did it and was going to close the case.  However, the Bureau has been mum, maintaining that the case is still open.

Along the way, the Mountain News was at the 40th Anniversary DB Cooper Symposium in Portland, Oregon, and we were also the first media outlet to examine Norman Hayden’s recently identified DB Cooper parachute, one of the four that traveled aboard Flight 305 on that fateful night.

In the meantime, the Mountain News has become one of the leading sources of investigatory information on the skyjacking, and half our hits come from DB Cooper stories.

5.  Wood Smoke and Diesel Exhaust – an emerging crisis

The Mountain News is examining reports claiming that on some nights Pierce County has the worst air pollution in the country due to wood smoke pouring from thousand of fireplaces and stoves – stoked by folks trying to save a few bucks on heating bills.

In addition, local diesel exhaust is producing 80% of all the carcinogens in our air.

It’s a double whammy, and increasing numbers of residents can’t breathe.  The friction between the two segments of society is mounting, and in the new year the Mountain News will focus more intently on this story and will organize a community forum on this issue.

6.  Darlene Wilson is convicted on animal cruelty

After multiple interventions by Pierce County Animal Control to help her take care of her horses, Darlene Wilson of Roy was finally charged with three counts of animal cruelty in the 2nd degree.  In April, she was convicted on all three counts in a jury trial.  However, her compliance with her sentencing has been spotty, and even after several additional appearances in Judge Pat O’Malley’s court room, the issue of health and well-being of Wilson’s Arabians is still unclear.

7.  Open Studio Tour reveals depth of artistry and talent in south Pierce County

Judy Spiers, our most prolific Mountain News columnist, devoted many days to exploring the rich artistic life of southern Pierce County and wrote several sparkling articles on the painters, sculptors and photographers enhancing our lives.  The centerpiece of her work was the Open Studio Tour, a three-day event held in November.

8.  Freddy Town is almost fixed – 176th St expands from two-to-five lanes ; bridge opens! 

Orange barrels abound in Frederickson, delineating the widening of 176thSt to four or five lanes – depending on whether the county is doing the counting or a commuter stuck in traffic – and the two or three year project (I’ve lost count, have you?) is winding down.  Nevertheless, we’ve got a new bridge over the railroad tracks and a few more lanes to travel east and west across south County.  Next: more expansion work on 176th in Spanaway, and an eventual connection to a Cross-Base Highway.

9.  Beth Rossow, her tree house story inspires legions of admirers.

One of the most enduring stories on the Mountain News is the profile piece on Beth titled, “Woman of the Mountain, Siren of the Sound.”  It’s a piece examining her 35 years of living in a tree house, camping by herself in a tent for 3 months a year deep in the Hoh rainforest, and thriving on only $2,000 per year.  Beth’s life is remarkable and we are made the richer for it as she graces the Pierce County Fair every August to run operations in the Fair office.

10.  Comedy comes to south County – JR Whistle Stop, and Ricky J’s., innovations in business as owners search for broader revenue streams.

Two local entrepreneurs operating Mountain Country eateries, John Reynolds at JR’s Whistlestop in Spanaway and Kate Lowry at Ricky J’s in Frederickson, are now offering live stand-up comedy as a way to attract more customers.  As witnessed by the Mountain News, the plan seems to be working and Ms. Lowry has expanded to weekly shows while JR is offering comedy nights monthly.

11.  “Newbie in Graham”

Paula Morris made us all smile as her “Newbie in Graham” column described her travails of being new to town: getting lost again and again,  making peace – sort of – with the Guns of Graham, and finding a vet for her bunny.  Plus, her issues with retirement and insufficient social security income coalesced to trigger numerous stories on the theme of “Getting By.”  Along the way she seemed to rile an estimated 98.3% of all the conservative Republicans in Pierce County.  Go Paula!

12.  Occupy Movement

While hundreds marched in the streets of Tacoma, about 50 young people pitched tents downtown along Pacific Avenue, and the Mountain News covered both the protests and the details of the soggy but spirited encampment.  Besides railing against the corruption of the political and financial systems, the Occupy Movement became an opening to discuss a variety of topics on the theme of de-centralizing our corporate-driven world: buy local, develop regional stock markets, Slow Money investments, and personal sovereignty.  On the latter subject, the Graham –Self Reliant Community continued through 2011, and a similar group formed in Eatonville and had its first meeting in late spring.

13.  Fukashima – heightens local concerns and awareness of radiation.  No KI in WA.

The tsunami in Japan on March 11 was dramatic, but the big story locally was the impact of Fukashima radiation wafting down upon us several weeks later.  Health concerns soared and every tablet of Potassium Iodide was bought-up as parents sought to protect their children from thyroid cancers connected to radioactive Iodine-131.  Related issues, such as “How bad is it?” and “Can we really trust the government to tell us what is going on?” dominated comments from readers and our writing.

14.  Sprinker rebuilds

The County scrounged-up $6 million early in the year and Sprinker Park in Spanaway should have a new roof and ice skating rink by the first of the year.

15.  Silk Road offers passive solar hot water system that may provide radical solutions to alternative energy issues.

Richland-based Silk Road Environmental Designs traveled repeatedly to Mountain Country to demonstrate its innovative methods of heating water with solar energy.  Several workshops in Yelm, coupled with a massive show at the Puyallup Fair Grounds in June, triggered enormous interest in their products.  Owner Ray Lam said that his composite metal cores will heat-up even on the cold, cloudy days of winter, thus providing hot water year-round.  If even partially true, it could herald a dramatic breakthrough in the effort to provide affordable home heating, and bypass stinky wood stoves and soaring electricity bills.

16.  Roy Watch Dogs organize, crime up, cops cut

The Mountain News was only able to offer Roy some cursory coverage of its enormous problem with crime.  However, the Roy Watch Dogs was formed and is functioning – utilizing community members to conduct neighborhood surveillance and monitor suspicious people in an effort to contain crime in a part of the county that has always suffered from inadequate policing.  The latter has been made worse by lay-offs and budget cuts in the Sheriff’s Department due to the economy.

17.  Economy worsens.

Some indicators may suggest that the worst may be over, but locally there is no dramatic evidence to convince most people that the economy is improving.  Rather, the local news is dire.  BSD announced recently that half of its students now live in poverty, and simple things such as the attendance at the monthly breakfast meetings of the Graham Business Association is down.  In fact, a recent fund-raiser for BEST scholarships only generated $5,000 whereas a few years ago the figure topped $10K.  In addition, county officials announced that currently 147,000 residents in Pierce County now receive federal food stamps and/or rely on 60-plus food banks for food.  Along those lines, the Bethel School  District recently announced the weekly arrival of a mobile FISH Food Bank semi-trailer truck at Bethel High on Wednesday, starting January 11.  In related news, local governmental leaders announced that the state is another few billion in the hole due to revenue drop-off.

©  2011  The Mountain News-WA

This entry was posted in Bethel News, Business, Cops and courts, Culture, DB Cooper, Eatonville News, Environment, Frederickson, Graham News, Judy Spiers, Newbie in Graham, NTCC, Paula Morris, Pets and livestock, Politics, Self Reliance, South Hill, Spanaway, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Top Mountain News Stories of 2011

  1. RE 12. Occupy Movement:

    (this is a comment, not a vote)

    The part where you said “about 50 kids” perplexes me. The average age of those occupying Pugnetti Park was, at the time you covered it, over 30 years old. The oldest occupier (that I know of) was over 55, and the youngest was 18.

    With that, I’m curious why you refer to the Occupiers as “kids”.

    • brucesmith49 says:

      Thanks, Stacy, for chalenging my perhaps too-flippant characterization of the folks at Occupy Tacoma as “kids.”

      Average age is 30? Really? I didn’t ask for ages, but that is surprising. Next time there, I’ll ask.

  2. Robin says:

    Great Job, Bruce

  3. Don and Ange says:

    Hey Bruce,

    Welcome back from the holidays. This piece is full of surprises. Would you consider adding links to your top stories within this article? Thanks (either way). DnA

  4. Cele Noble says:

    Hi Bruce,

    Your news is a wonderful resource for info in our local area. Thanks for seeing the need, and for starting The Mountain News:)

  5. David J Johnson says:


    A very Happy New Year to you and keep the D B Cooper stories coming.

    Best regards,

    David & Susie Johnson (from Portland, UK)

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