Category Archives: Peninsular People

Head of special needs PTA down but not out

In May, we wrote about Zac Stephenson, the South Kitsap woman who started a PTA for parents of children with special needs.

Called SODA PTSA for “Support of Different Abilities,” the stand-alone, parent-teacher-student association, not affiliated with a single school, is chartered by the state PTA and is open to parents from all districts in Kitsap County. Stephenson wants to fills a niche for families like hers, whose special needs and interests aren’t always high on the radar of regular PTAs.
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Stephenson and her spouse Harmony have three children, Auri, 11, Toby, 4, and Sam 8, who has autism. Stephenson, a volunteer at Sam’s school Hidden Creek Elementary, wants to build a playground that children like Sam can enjoy. He prefers playing by himself, spinning and the feel of different textures.

In the midst of trying to get SODA off the ground, Zac and Harmony have had a rocky time that just got rockier.

Harmony since January has been receiving diagnosis and treatment of what turned out to be a chronic illness that affected her digestive tract. Harmony, the lone breadwinner of the family is not able to work at this time.

Zac, a stay-at-home-mom, has not been able to work for some time due to multiple health problems, including a work-related back and neck injury. Both women have had surgeries since January. There’s medication and therapy appointments for Sam. Toby, too, appears to have some form of disability, which his parents are sorting out.

On top of mounting medical bills, there was a fire last spring, started by the family’s Springer spaniel who knocked over a heat lamp trying to get at some baby chicks. And most recently, the couple has had car problems.

“It seems like we just keep circling the drain,” Harmony said.
On Aug. 20, Zac was trying to siphon gas out of one vehicle, which is not working, into another, which is. She used an electric pump that she didn’t know had a bare wire, and there was an explosion that set her on fire. Zac’s face was badly burned, and although she’s feeling better now, for some time she was crazed with pain.

In that state, she left the house of a friend on foot, and when the friend couldn’t immediately find her the alarm went out on Facebook that Zac was missing. “Apparently, I owe people in Port Orchard an apology,” Zac said. “It just kind of escalated. I wasn’t running away. It wasn’t anything that was planned. I was just in so much pain. Things had been really, really rough.”

Earlier this week, Zac said she is feeling better. Her face is healing, and the pain is manageable. The family is doing OK for food, between the food bank and public assistance. Harmony is applying for disability assistance, which will help right the ship. The family lives frugally — no cable for example — so they don’t need much to live on. But transportation remains a problem. The van is OK, but their truck needs work and the car is dead.

With everything going on SODA PTSA has been pushed to the back burner, but it’s not dead by a long shot, Zac said.

“The PTA is still in place,” she said. “I had talked to Harmony about stepping down because we have so much to deal with.”

On second thought, however, she will continue to head up the organization and still hopes to see its efforts toward fully accessible playgrounds spread to other schools and other districts.

If anyone wants to help with fundraising and seeking sponsorships, Zac would welcome it, but the best thing anyone could do is join SODA PTSA for $15 a year, she said.

For information on SODA PTSA or to join, contact Stephenson at 509-378-6263 or go to

To learn about forming your own special needs PTSA, contact your Washington State PTA regional director at Region 1 covers Clallam, Jefferson and Kitsap counties and includes North Mason School District.

Peninsular Interning: The best of Kitsap

Peninsular Thinkers, you know your towns better than anyone else. So what are the things you’d recommend to someone who’s never set foot in the Pacific Northwest before? If your relative came into town (and you liked that relative) what are the places, attractions and restaurants you would insist they experience?

That’s the position that I’m in. My name is Miranda Davis and I arrived in Kitsap County about two weeks ago to spend my summer interning at the Sun. The plot twist? I’m from Kansas. I’m a senior studying journalism at the University of Kansas and I drove two thousand miles at the end of May and before that, I’d never been west of Denver. Everything I thought I knew about the area before arriving was from Grey’s Anatomy and Starbucks. I know, I’m awful.

When I tell people I’m new here they say I’m so lucky, because summer is the best time to experience the area, and I completely agree. It also appears as if I brought my pink rain boots for nothing.

So send in the things you think I have to see, eat and experience before August 1st, and I’ll give them a try. Ideally, I want to experience the things that you think of when you think of the word “home,” so hopefully that includes a mix of tourist attractions and things that are off the beaten path.

My rules:

  1. I am willing to drive up to two hours each way if It’s something I can do for the majority of the day. I also like taking the ferry to Seattle but I plan on trekking it on foot once I get into the city.
  2. I’ve already been to the Space Needle and Pike Place Market (It was so busy! There was too much happening around me! I ate a really good grilled cheese!)
  3. I have no diet restrictions and I will eat almost anything. Seafood is growing on me every minute I’m up here. (However, bonus points if you recommend an awesome cheeseburger, and double bonus points if you recommend barbeque)
  4. I’m not afraid of heights but I really dislike roller coasters. Please don’t make me go on a roller coaster.
  5. While mountains and large bodies of water are new to me, I like hiking and swimming, but do not expect me to run a half marathon.
  6. I want to attend festivals and events and I’m 21 years old (so yes, I would really like to know what craft beer I should be purchasing at the grocery store)

I’ll post about the best of my experiences on the Peninsular Thinking blog, where you can see what I think of the best Pacific Northwest and weigh in from the comments section or on social media.

Send all ideas to, or find me on Twitter @MirandaDavisUDK. That’s also where I’ll be posting photos, videos and unrefined thoughts from my adventures.

Officer faces second round with brain tumors

Doug Dillard is a name we’ve seen a lot here in the newsroom. With the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office for 30 years, Dillard was most recently was tasked with monitoring the county’s sex offenders. That also meant organizing meetings with residents when, as Josh Farley wrote, “Level 3 sex offenders change addresses.”

Now he’s got a different job, battling a brain tumor thought to have gone away 14 years ago.  According to GoFundMe page set up on his family’s behalf:

“Doug has an inoperable brain tumor called a glioblastoma . Brain cancers are extremely difficult to treat and glioblastomas are among the most aggressive tumors. Unfortunately, Doug’s is no different. His Neuro Oncologist has Doug on a treatment regimen that includes bi-weekly  infusions, daily anti-seizure therapy, and routine MRIs to monitor his brain tumor .”

Former Sheriff Steve Boyer wrote of a Dillard’s courage throughout his ordeal, saying that Dillard “never became victim,” when the tumor returned. He expressed admiration for Mary, Dillard’s wife, calling her “an angel.”

The GoFundMe page has a goal of raising $20,000 to help the family with expenses as Dillard goes through infusion treatments. “We want to show Doug how much we, and his community, love and support him,” the page’s author wrote. “We are saying, ‘Thank you for being an amazing husband, father, uncle, and friend. Thank you for your service. Thank you for your example.'”

On Friday the site passed the $4,000 mark.

SKHS grad flips out as L.A. stuntwoman

Coming up later tonight at, we profile a 2011 South Kitsap High School grad who is now a stunt woman in Los Angeles.

Sydney Olson, who started in gymnastics at Mile High Gym in Port Orchard and spent most of her time at Olympic Gymnastics Center in Silverdale, will appear Monday on “American Ninja Warrior.” I had never heard of it, but I learned that contestants have to navigate a strenuous obstacle course.

Olson’s skills in freerunning and parkour — both explained in the article which runs Sunday in the Kitsap Sun — helped her earn a spot on the show out of 10,000 people who auditioned.

You can read Olson’s story in print tomorrow or online tonight/Saturday when it posts at (I would expect by 8 p.m. or 9 p.m PST). You can see how she did in the competition by tuning in to “American Ninja Warrior” at 8 p.m. PST Monday on NBC.

You can see Olson in action in these YouTube Videos.

Wins, Fails and Grunts … in which Olson shows how much work it takes to master the moves.

BODYPOP, Official Music Video, in which she appears with social media entrepreneur Cassey Ho. That’s her on the right in the first frame.

Red Bull Art of Motion Submission 2014, in which she shows her stuff, like running up trees and flipping over backwards.

This post has been edited. The original version misstated Sydney Olson’s last name on first reference.

An unsympathetic autobiography from a Klahowya grad

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 6.39.50 PMAbout two-thirds of the way through “Smoke: How a small-town girl accidentally wound up smuggling 7,000 pounds of marijuana with the Pot Princess of Beverly Hills,” 2004 Klahowya High School grad Meili Cady confesses:

“…I’d hung my last hope for happiness on my future with Ben. But I knew that he would leave me. If I’d had the choice, I’d leave me too. I couldn’t stand what I’d become. I was stuck with me and this bizarre, unbearable reality that was suffocating me.”

Having read the previous 186 pages, seeing Cady come to the conclusion, “I’d leave me, too,” might inspire you set the book down for a moment and, if you’re a demonstrative type, yell out, “You think?” Yelling at a book doesn’t count for normal activity in most settings, but page after page Cady gives you reason.

For the uninitiated, Cady moved to Los Angeles after high school to pursue her Hollywood acting dreams. Over the years she landed some screen work, but not a lot. Finding a friend was tough, too. A mutual friend introduced her to Lisette Lee, the “Pot Princess” in question.

The story of what happened over the next few years was first revealed in a 2012 Rolling Stone story, “The Gangster Princess of Beverly Hills.” That was the first time many of us were introduced to Cady, who was Lee’s unlikely friend. When we did our story on Cady I was somewhat sympathetic to her, because in five decades I can count a few times when I’ve done things despite my suspicions because I wanted to believe those suspicions were off base. Wanting to believe can be a real hazard.

Reading Cady’s own written version in “Smoke,” I was less sympathetic, and that might be a compliment to her. Cady tells us what happened, what she did, without much effort to justify it. It’s a gutsy move. It’s also the most accountable way to tell a story.

The book is a fast read, reveals much that you didn’t know from the earlier stories and could be the last we ever hear of this tale, unless Lee starts talking or there is a movie. I don’t know about Lee, but the movie is a real possibility.

Another Kitsap crew runs in Boston

BostonCompactOn Monday 19 of our ambitious, dedicated and skilled friends will run the Boston Marathon. Bib No. 18775 is a friend of ours. Who you see here as Luz M. Rodriguez is someone my wife, Diana, and I know as Marcela.

We met Silverdale’s Marcela when she and Diana were teammates in a relay that runs essentially from the Canadian border in Blaine to somewhere on Whidbey Island. Those relays are a tough haul. Diana had to run two extra miles when she missed a turn. Marcela herself wasn’t sure she could tough out the last of three legs each runner agrees to run, but she did it, making it look like it was easy. Diana has since run the Portland Marathon and from what I can tell is not eager to run another one.

Marcela, on the other hand, set her sights on Boston some time ago. We’ve celebrated her progress. And since Boston is something you have to qualify for, we’ve been especially proud of her work. So has her home country of Chile. Marcela comes from the southern quarter of that country and on Friday was featured in her hometown paper. At the end of the story she’s telling anyone that if they want to, they should go after a goal like this one, repeating the Spanish version of the common English saying, “If I can do it, anyone can.”

The view from Chile of Silverdale's Luz Marcella Rodriguez.
The view from Chile of Silverdale’s Luz Marcela Rodriguez.

While I don’t agree that anyone can qualify for Boston, if it’s not a marathon that’s in your dreams, there is something. And in that sense, Marcela is right. If she can achieve this dream, you can achieve yours. I have a few things I dream of accomplishing, and finishing a marathon is one of them. Aside from the fact that it’s hard for anyone (Well, a few people make it look pretty easy.) to run 26.2 miles, for me to do it would prove that I had accomplished so much more. If you’ve met me, you know what I’m talking about. Any marathon would be my Boston.

So maybe that’s the question. What is your Boston?

Good look to all our Kitsap runners. Thanks for inspiring us to pursue our Bostons.

Note from Esteef: I tidied this thing up quite a bit since its initial publication.  I normally give these things at least another read or two before hitting the “publish” button, but it was late on Friday and I spent most of the week coughing, so I was tired and ready to go home. Had I read it at least one more time I might have noticed a few things that needed changing, including the fact that I misspelled Marcela’s name throughout. I also forgot to mention that of all the Spanish or Portuguese-speaking nations in the world, Chile is the best. It’s not even a close contest. Some of it is the dramatic variety in the nation’s landscape, going from the driest climate on Earth to a point where the next neighbor to the south is a penguin. It’s also got great beaches, mountains and enough earthquakes to satisfy even the thirstiest of thrill seekers. I hear the wine is quite good. The shellfish is excellent and plentiful , Chileans have perfected the art of dressing up a hot dog and the empenadas should be part of every death row inmate’s last meal as a testament to our compassion for even the most vile among us. The best parts of Chile are probably the Chileans, except for the one in charge when I lived down there. He was a jerk.

Anyway, all this to say that most American of explanations, “Mistakes were made.” 


South Kitsap sisters are the Siskel and Ebert of children’s books

With a mom who’s a school librarian, how could Kai and Kiki Wilson not love books? Well, it’s not as if their mom Heather Wilson had to drag them kicking and screaming.

I interviewed the girls, 9 and 7, last week about their YouTube channel, Follow the Readers, where they review their literary picks and pans.

In our Features story Sunday, find out how the girls got their start … and their reading recommendations.

To find the Wilsons on YouTube, search Follow the Readers, and on Facebook, see Their blog is at

While you’re waiting for the story, here are a couple of samples of their work:

CK grad and Kitsap 12 represents at his home in Super Bowl country

Note: When I first posted these photos earlier in the week, I left out most of the details because I wasn’t sure if I might include Ashtin Fitzwater in the story about 12s going to Arizona without game tickets. I posted it early because other news agencies were already getting the photo out there and I didn’t want to be too far behind them.

So here is an expanded version of Wednesday’s post, with more information I had then, and updates, including one that’s humongous! And I don’t use that word or exclamation points liberally.

Central Kitsap High School grad (as well as Ridgetop Junior High School and Emerald Heights Elementary School) represents the 12s at his home in Chandler, Ariz.
Central Kitsap High School grad (as well as Ridgetop Junior High School and Emerald Heights Elementary School) Ashtin Fitzwater represents the 12s at his home in Chandler, Ariz.

Ashtin Fitzwater left the Northwest in 2004 following his graduation from Central Kitsap High School, but remains a 12, representing in his new hometown of Chandler, Ariz.

We first posted this Wednesday, but a lot has happened since.

Fitzwater took about five hours on a Saturday to paint the home he and his girlfriend rent from her mother. I was skeptical, and so was one of my editors, that a house could be painted in five hours, but Fitzwater has skills. He graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in housing and community development and has worked in construction since. “I’ve painted a lot of houses,” he said.

The Seahawk logo on the lawn was done by hand. He set himself up to do it well, applying math to the Seahawk logo from his construction helmet to measure out a 20-foot-by-7-foot rectangle with corners staked with rebar. (And you kids say math won’t help you in life.) He used string to create the box for the bird and went to work, looking at his helmet and spraying the lawn.

This week, as you can imagine, there has been a crush of media in Arizona, including lots from Seattle. KING-5 TV was, I think, the first media outlet to post pictures of Fitzwater and his house. Fitzwater’s brother, Jeremy Hunt, re-Tweeted a KING-5 photo and mentioned he’s a CK alum, so I got him on the phone. Since then, other Seattle news agencies have been by and the Fox affiliate in Phoenix paid attention. A Spokane station, KXLY, has given him the most attention, which we’ll get to shortly.

Fitzwater said he’s seen lots of people driving by to get a look. A neighbor counted 30 cars one day. One family came by and the mom had a Patriots jersey on, so the 12s that were with her had fun and put duct tape over her mouth and wrapped a Hawk flag around her as they took pictures. The mom was a willing victim, so save the nasty letters.

Yesterday when Fitzwater arrived home he found someone had left him a jumbo bag of Skittles. He set up a camera to see footage of people responding to the setting. A lot of people have taken selfies, some of them looking around nervously as if a house that’s begging for attention is also demanding privacy. One day Fitzwater heard a woman yelling “We found it!” to her friends. They’d been out scouring Chandler neighborhoods looking for the Seahawk house.

As Fitzwater and I were talking Friday a mailman stopped across the street to get a selfie with the house behind him.

And so it has gone, but that’s not the biggest news yet. Hunt is, as of this writing, traveling down to Arizona to watch the game with Fitzwater, but that’s not the biggest news either.

KXLY caught the big news, Fitzwater proposing to his girlfriend, Melissa Duke, at night as both are standing on the Seahawk logo. The two have been together eight years and have been talking about marriage. They’ve been talking about it so much, in fact, that Duke kept telling Fitzwater that he couldn’t surprise her.

She was wrong.

A friend asked Duke on a scale of 1-10 how surprised she was by the proposal.

Can you guess her answer?

Hint: She’s a Seahawk fan, too.

Second hint: Look to the roof of the house, or any car with a flag waving anywhere near Seattle.

Standing behind them in the KXLY video were a pair of friends, Adam Collins (also a 2004 Central Kitsap High School grad) and Christina Adams. They’ve been engaged two years and have been having trouble figuring out where to get married and what kind of arrangements to make. According to Fitzwater they now plan to get married Sunday morning, on the Seahawk lawn.

Duke, for her part, has always dreamed of a destination wedding, so she and Fitzwater are beginning to make their plans for sometime in the future.

My suggestion: San Francisco, early February 2016. If all goes well they could be there to witness the birth of the Three-Hawks.


How we got the river rescue story

Maddy Herring at the Skokomish River in Olympic National Park. Photo by Meegan Reid, Kitsap Sun
Maddy Herring at the Skokomish River in Olympic National Park. Photo by Meegan Reid, Kitsap Sun

On Sunday we told the story of Maddy Herring, a local 21-year-old who nearly lost her life in the Skokomish River. The story itself was certainly worth telling, but every once in a while the story behind the story is worth revealing to some degree. That is the case here.

Every morning and every evening we make calls to the local fire agencies, Washington State Patrol, the coroner’s office and to Central Communications to ask them and other local police agencies if anything happened worth reporting. It’s just one way we learn about things. Other times it’s people calling us, messaging us on Facebook or Twitter or we hear something on the scanner. It’s not the only way we learn things, but sometimes it turns into something newsworthy. The vast majority of times there is nothing new to report that comes from these calls. But they are worth making because of the times there is something worth reporting.

On Monday, Aug. 25 it was my turn to make the night calls. Included on our list of calls are three Bremerton Fire stations. My recollection is that I called one station and the officer who answered said there was nothing to report from the department, but that I ought to talk to Kevin Bonsell at Station 3 because of something he experienced while out with his family at Staircase the day before. When I called there and talked to another department officer I asked if Bonsell was available. I told him I had heard he had experienced something unique on Sunday and he told me the entire story.

After hearing what happened I was eager for someone here to get the story in the paper for a couple of reasons. One was that there was a public service element to it that reminded people of the dangers rivers can pose. The second, though, was that the story had that element of danger, but ended well for everyone. People showed up and did what they could and Maddy Herring is alive because of it. Bonsell said he would see if the family was willing.

My understanding is the Herring family found him again by reaching out through someone at the Central Kitsap Fire District, and that word got over to Bremerton through them. No one who was directly involved was advertising a story. That makes it even more attractive, because no one was looking for publicity just for themselves. Bonsell didn’t reach out to me, but once I asked him to tell the story he saw the public service benefit as well.

It took a few days but eventually Bonsell called me back with phone numbers for Maddy and her mother. By the time I spoke with Maddy it was a week and two days after the event. I was hoping I could get Bonsell to go out to the site to point out where it happened and talk on video. I had very little hope that Maddy herself would be willing to go. When I spoke to her, though, she was up for it, again recognizing the public service aspect of the story. So we made plans to meet her out there on Friday with a photographer, Meegan Reid.

The video setting is not far from where it all happened, but it’s not exactly there. When we first got there she tried to recognize the spot and could not right away. We eventually figured that the river was running lower than it was the Sunday almost two weeks before. So we filmed from a nice place to provide a good setting for the story. As you can see, Maddy was quite good at retelling it.

After we finished filming Maddy, Meegan and I began walking back to our car as Maddy decided to hike further up the trail. Meegan and I kept thinking that we had missed a turn on the trail so we hiked a little more than we’d planned before making it back. I decided to go the ranger’s station and see if we could get an incident report, which was when Maddy returned from the trail. In the interim she had found the actual spot where she was stuck and took some pictures. She said it looked more or less the same as it had that Sunday, but there would have been no way we could have gone down there with our cameras. She said seeing it made her heart race a little and she was careful not to get too close. The other bonus was the Herrings had left two pair of flip-flops and a T-shirt behind in all the chaos, and that they were still there two weeks later.

A man described as a political science professor also played a role in the rescue. I reached out to several at the different colleges in the area and struck out. Maddy’s mother, Theresa, called me on Friday and we spoke that day. I wrote the story and edited the video that night.

This whole thing came about because of a regular phone call we make in which we essentially ask, “Anything happening?”

My guess is the crews at the fire stations are not glad we interrupt their mornings and evenings to ask that question. I’m always glad when they tell me the calls have been routine. Some of that is because when the calls are not routine it usually means something bad happened to someone. The other part is if something happened it means more work. We’re like NASCAR fans who don’t necessarily want there to be a wreck, but if there is one we don’t want to miss it.

Most local fire agencies, the ones who still welcome our calls, have been very good about sharing what’s happening with us. Maybe it’s because they see the public service element in what they tell us. I’m sure sometimes they get disappointed in how we write what happened. That’s the risk, I suppose. But I think the public is well served in that relationship. And it’s because of that relationship that we were able to tell Maddy Herring’s story.

On Saturday, memorials for two young people

A summer of loss.

This is how it feels. Three young people in Kitsap County died within a month of one another.

On July 4, Josh Osborn, 17, of South Kitsap, was on an outing with friends when he fell into the Ohanapecosh River. His body was recovered on July 28.

On July 14, JJ Hentz, 12, also of South Kitsap, was found floating in Island Lake. He died two days later at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma.
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Jenise Wright’s parents reported her missing on Aug. 3. The last time the 6-year-old was seen was around 10 p.m. the night before. On Aug. 7 her body was found, partially submerged in a muddy bog near Steele Creek Trailer Park in East Bremerton, where her family lives. On Aug. 9, Gabriel Gaeta, a friend of the Wright family, was arrested on suspicion of raping and killing Jenise.
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A memorial for JJ Hentz was held several weeks ago. JJ was “a bubbly and energetic boy with an old soul,” said cousin Jaime Wainwright, whom JJ called “Aunt Jaime.”

On Saturday, Josh Osborn and Jenise Wright, will be mourned at memorial services a couple of hours apart. Both are open to the public.

Jenise’s service is at 1 p.m. at the Silverdale Stake Center, 9256 Nels Nelson Road NW.
Jenise was outgoing, always at the center of activity at the mobile home park. She loved the colors pink and purple.
The Wright family is accepting donations to help offset expenses. Donations can be made online at a gofundme account or at Chase Bank branches, under the “Jenise Wright donation account.”

Josh Osborn was “every parents’ dream” according to his obituary, written by his family. “He was kind, handsome, smart, funny, but most of all he had the biggest, most loving heart. Josh loved life and he lived every day to its fullest. He had many passions and dreams.”
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A memorial for Josh is planned for 3 p.m. Saturday at the South Kitsap High School gym. In honor of Josh, the family asks that you wear your Seahawks or South Kitsap gear.