Earth movers have been busy busting up ramshackle
tennis courts and an old RC track to make room for six homes that
will be built on the site — which actually abuts 12th Street — in
the coming months. Brad Young, a developer and house-flipper who
moved here three years ago, believes the location will
“I’m really looking forward to building there,” he
said, noting it’s within walking distance of the ferry. “I think
the market is really good in Bremerton.”
Each residence, constructed by Young’s company
Spectrum Homes, will be about 1,600 square-feet and will include
garages and covered decks. The construction comes at a time when
the city has
serious demand for housing.
The area has seen its share of changes over the
years. Before the Warren Avenue Bridge was constructed in 1958,
11th Street didn’t even reach Warren Avenue due to an embankment
near Chester Avenue. The
Pee Wees have long practiced at the playfield and tennis courts
at 11th and Warren were once home to city league matches. There was
Girl Scout’s hall on the site, according to former Kitsap
Sun Editor Chuck Stark.
Today marks my 10 year anniversary at the
Kitsap Sun. It’s a milestone that I’ve been thinking
about a lot lately. I’ve witnessed a dramatic transformation
in journalism this past decade. Not all has been positive: the
newsroom staff is half the size it was when I got here, reflecting
an era of massive media consolidation. (That’s
the nice way to put it). But I am also part of a new
era, where the most creative and industrious minds will prevail in
an age where anyone can publish a story.
I wanted to take you back through this decade, for a
trip through the stories that fascinated me most. Many of
these, you will notice, are from my first seven years on the job,
when I was the Sun’s crime and justice reporter. But Bremerton, as
home to the Sun and those I’ve covered, has always played an
1. After 62 years, death comes six hours
Amazing stories that are told on the obituary page
nearly everyday. So I was especially curious when my editor, Kim
Rubenstein, came to me with a rather unique one: A couple whose
obituary ran together, in the same article.
I phoned the family, wondering if they would be
interested in telling their parents’ story. It’s a phone call that
never gets easier, having to call someone coming to terms with
death, but it’s a call I feel is a newspaper’s obligation. In doing
so, I’ve always tried to explain I’d like to give the community a
chance to know the person they were in life, and if not, they were
free to hang up on me. Everyone grieves differently but some people
view the opportunity as cathartic.
In this case, the family was thrilled and invited me
to their home in Kingston.
I learned of a
very special love story — a couple through 62 years of marriage
did everything together. Everything. Even getting the mail.
It’s a story that not only touched me emotionally, but
apparently others as well. Few stories I’ve ever done attracted
broader attention. I got calls, emails and letters from all over
the country, and was even interviewed by the Seattle P-I about
2. The CIA is doing what in Washington
Undercover police officers have their identities
concealed for a reason: they are often conducting sensitive, and
sometimes high risk, investigations that warrant it.
But what about when police chiefs, who use their
government issued vehicles mainly for the purpose of driving to and
from work, start using those undercover license plates?
But nothing could prepare me, months after the
initial story, for a call from Austin Jenkins, NPR reporter in
Olympia, who’d been hearing testimony in the State Legislature
about these license plates and changes to the program.
Later, the DOL would backpedal and say that they had
no authority to release information about those “federal agencies”
that have the licenses. But it was a fascinating discovery, an
amazing story to work on and I am glad
we were able to help bring the program to transparency.
3. The Pentagon’s calling, and they’re not
Ever wonder what it’s like to have The Pentagon angry
with a story you did? Well, let me tell you.
Through a public records request, I got hold of a
Navy document that reported he’d received an honorable
discharge from the Navy — something a former Navy JAG told me was
unheard of following a sex crime conviction.
We ran the story.
The following Monday, The Pentagon called.
“Your story is wrong,” I was told repeatedly. “Are
you going to correct it?”
“How is it wrong?” I asked.
I couldn’t get an answer because those records were
private, I was told.
“So how can I correct it?” I wondered.
Round and round we went, for what felt like an
eternity. Newsroom meetings were held. I freely admit it does not
feel good when the Pentagon is not happy with you.
Eventually, others at The Pentagon and the local base
released information that showed the man had received an “other
than honorable” discharge. To this day, I am uncertain why I
saw reports that contradicted each other.
4. Burglary victim becomes the
Imagine coming home from a trip to find your home has
been burglarized, and yet
you’re the one getting hauled off to jail. That was the
situation Luke Groves faced in 2009. A felon, he’d broken into a
school in Shelton at 18, and now, at 37, police found his wife’s
guns in their Hewitt Avenue home.
Prosecutors, who charged him with felon in possession
of a firearm, had offered him no jail time in exchange for his
guilty plea. But Groves took the case to trial,
was convicted, and could’ve faced years in prison over it.
The case was one that former Kitsap County Prosecutor
Russ Hauge and I had butted heads about. He felt we’d cast the
prosecutor’s office as the bad guy in a case which they could not
just “look the other way” on a weapons charge.
I followed the trial from start to finish, including
Hauge himself handling the sentencing — something I can’t
recall on an other occasion in my seven years covering the court
system here. Hauge told the judge that Groves should ultimately get
credit for time served for the crime, and Groves was released.
The story started with a scanner call for a DOA (dead
on arrival) near the road in Olhava. I inquired with the police
sergeant, who told me that the death was actually a pretty
interesting story — certainly not something I expected to hear. I
headed north, parked, and followed a little trail into the woods
where I found “The Shiloh,” Christensen’s home among Western Red
It was a “meticulously organized world,” I wrote. “A
campsite with finely raked dirt, a sturdy green shed and a tent
filled with bins of scrupulously folded clean laundry and cases of
Steel Reserve beer.”
In the subsequent days, I learned all about his quiet
penned this story. Most satisfying to me was that Christensen’s
family had lost touch with him. Without the story, which thanks to
the Internet made its way across the country, his family would’ve
never found him. He got the dignified burial he deserved.
6. Heroin’s ugly grip on Kitsap, the
I’ve probably put more energy into covering the
opiate epidemic than any other single topic in my decade at the
I’ve received a lot of “jail mail” over the years,
and while there’s usually an interesting story, it is, shall we
say, not always one I would pursue in print.
When the letters started coming from Robert “Doug”
Pierce in 2010, I was skeptical. He was convinced that Kitsap
County had miscalculated his “good time” or time off for good
behavior, and that he was serving too long a sentence from his
current cell, at Coyote Ridge in Connell.
Now I will tell you I am a journalist and not a
mathematician. But the basic gist was that jail officials here were
calculating his good time by simply dividing his time served by
three, rather than tacking on an additional to his overall
sentence. The result was he would serve 35 extra days.
A criminal past can often haunts someone for the rest
of his or her life. That was certainly true for Ed Gonda, a man who
moved his family to Bainbridge Island and had heard it was a “laid
back, forgiving kind of place.”
His crime was a sexual relationship with a
15-year-old girl. He admitted to it, did time for it, paid more
than $10,000 in treatment for it — and had lived a clean life for
15 years, to include starting his own family.
But under Washington state law, he had to register as
a sex offender, though he was not a pedophile. And somehow, after
making friends at a local church and at his daughter’s school, word
“The news traveled fast, and people who they thought
they knew well acted swiftly,”
I wrote. “His daughter could no longer play with friends down
the street, he said. The church pews around them were vacant on
Sundays. They more or less stopped going out anywhere on the
“We’re treated like we’re diseased,” his wife told
It was the start of a
three part series I knew would be controversial, but I felt was
important. We want to protect all people in society, especially
children. But is there ever a point when we’ve gone too far and it
has infringed on the rights of those who have already done their
Let’s face it: Bremerton has a gotten a bad rap over
the years, following the demise in the 1980s of its retail downtown
core. An increasing violent crime rate followed, and in many ways
the reputation was earned.
When I was hired in 2005, the city had the highest
per capita violent crime rate. During my interview, which was just
weeks after two murders blocks from the Kitsap Sun’s office, I was
asked how I would take on the story. Aggressively, I said.
If you live in Bremerton, you know that each time we
do have a tragic, violent episode — even if far outside city limits
— it reinforces the stereotype.
But followers of this blog know better. There are
many positive signs of a community improving: Increasing ferry
traffic. Volunteers embracing parks. Home improvements being made.
We’ll see how long it takes for the rest of the world
10. Walking the story in
Any reporter will tell you that we spend a lot more
time with the story than what ends up in the paper. But what about
those people who want to know more, who
are curious for every last detail?
When William Langham finally got a roof
over his head, it took time for him to adjust to it.
Having lived in the woods of Illahee
Preserve for 10 years, the tall ceilings were simply too high
for Langham, who propped his tent inside his South Court Apartment,
a kind of reverse claustrophobia.
“He had been hiding away in a tent in the woods for
such a long time, he wasn’t sure about taking the first step,” said
MaryAnn Smith, a social worker with Taking
it to the Streets Ministry.
But adjust he would, and for the final eight years of
his life, Langham had greater security and a restored dignity,
those who knew him say.
“He kept his apartment in very good condition,” Smith
said. “He valued what he had … I was so proud of Billy, when I
moved, he stepped up and paid his own bills and kept his cable and
His life was not perfect. That he was found in
his apartment a few weeks after he had died speaks to a certain
loneliness, some who knew him say. His penchant for Hurricane
beverages fed his alcoholism.
Pancreatic cancer ultimately took the
But Billy, as he was known, was charming and quite
skilled. He was a gentleman who could play guitar and fix
anything, according to neighbors Judith Holden and Corinna
“He was a very genuine man,” Maroney said.
“He had so many skills, talents and abilities,” said
Beverly Kincaid, a grant writer. “The fact he didn’t have a roof
over his head did not define him.”
Kincaid took a chance on Billy. She had met him while
doing a project, finding Billy in his tent in the woods of East
Kincaid took it upon herself to arrange Billy’s
services, held recently at the Salvation Army he frequented for
meals and social nourishment. She got in touch with his family and
paid more than $200 to have an obituary placed in the Kitsap
If Kincaid made sure he had dignity in death,
Smith ensured it in his life. After all those
years in the woods, she fought to get him disability
benefits that finally put a roof over his head.
It’s easy to think the homeless might just want to
live in the woods. But that’s an often faulty assumption, homeless
advocates say. His quality of life was much better inside a
“I could tell by the way that Billy talked, that he
was tired of being in the woods, wondering where his next meal was
or where to go,” Smith said. “I believe that the homeless need a
place to call home, not just another tent.”
“From our experience, once basic necessities
like housing are met, then we can start addressing other barriers
in their life,” said Kurt Wiest, executive director of Bremerton
Housing Authority. “The vast majority of those without housing
would thrive if given that place that is their own.”
We’ll see how it goes. In the meantime, many of the
homeless in the woods around Kitsap will continue doing so, just as
Langham did for a decade.
Some people have asked recently about a “For Lease” sign on the
portion of Westpark slated for commercial development. The sign,
near Kitsap Way and Oyster Bay Ave., apparently was put up in
The redevelopment plan for the
82-acre site has about five acres designated for retail use along
Arsenal Way and at the corner of Kitsap Way and Oyster Bay.
The properties are intended for sale, the Bremerton Housing
Authority says. A new sign that says commercial plats are
“available now”, has already been put up. First Western Properties (College
Marketplace/Olhava in Poulsbo) is handling the sales.
We’ll have more information about the progress of the area’s
redevelopment soon. You can read up on what we’ve written about it
so far: Continue reading →
The Bremerton City Council approved with a 9-0 vote
an ordinance to revamp how it deals with properties that are
home to chronic problems.
The new law would notify a property owner if there are three
problems within two months. If the owner does nothing to solve the
issue or doesn’t attempt to, the city can issue a fine of $1,000.
If the problems persist the city could ask the courts to fine
property owners $100 a day.
There was significant opposition, though most of it was from
people who thought the new ordinance was too vague and needed to be
tightened up. In concept almost everyone thought the ordinance was
a good idea.
Benedict House Lead Site Monitor Alex Munro said, “I’m all for
this ordinance. I think you ought to pass it . . . when you’re done