Category Archives: Reputation

10 Stories from my 10 Years at the Kitsap Sun

This job is never boring, let me tell you. LARRY STEAGALL / KITSAP SUN
This job is never boring, let me tell you. LARRY STEAGALL / KITSAP SUN

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 integral role.



1. After 62 years, death comes six hours apart

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.

When they were buried, they were placed side by side, in the same casket.

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 doing it.


2. The CIA is doing what in Washington state?

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?

That line that line of inquiry got me started down a path that revealed that in Kitsap County, and indeed all of Washington, there are a lot of confidential license plates driving around.

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.

The story had revealed not only the confidential license plate program, but that the state’s Department of Licensing was also issuing confidential driver’s licenses.

I teamed up with Jenkins and we went to Olympia to interview the DOL. Amazingly, Gov. Jay Inslee and Gov. Chris Gregoire before him, didn’t even know about the program.

The biggest shocker of all came when a spokesman revealed that many of those confidential driver’s licenses were going to the CIA.

“Yes, that CIA, “the spokesman told us.

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.

Wikipedia photo.

3. The Pentagon’s calling, and they’re not happy

Ever wonder what it’s like to have The Pentagon angry with a story you did? Well, let me tell you.

You may recall the story of Naval Base Kitsap’s highest enlisted man being convicted in a sting not dissimilar from To Catch a Predator. He served his time, but I had wondered what kind of discipline he faced from the Navy, and that became the subject of a story months later.

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.

Photo by Meegan M. Reid.
Photo by Meegan M. Reid.

4. Burglary victim becomes the suspect

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.


5. Squatter’s ‘meticulous’ highway home

I never met Chris Christensen. But I feel like in many ways I knew him following his 2008 death in the woods off Highway 3 in Poulsbo.

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 Cedars.

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 life and 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.

Nametags of those who went through Kitsap Recovery Center who later died or went to prison.
Nametags of those who went through Kitsap Recovery Center who later died or went to prison.

6. Heroin’s ugly grip on Kitsap, the nation

I’ve probably put more energy into covering the opiate epidemic than any other single topic in my decade at the Sun.

Heroin, in particular, was virtually nonexistent when I got here. But following the explosion of opiate medicines for pain, drug cartels seized their chance to feed a spreading addiction more cheaply.

The story has taken me all over Puget Sound. I interviewed a man at McNeil Island prison who had an 8-pill a day OxyContin habit and was bringing sheets full of “Oxy” from California to Kitsap; I visited a woman who was literally injecting opiates near the knuckles on her fingers in Suquamish. I’ve hugged mothers whose children were lost forever when they could not kick the habit.

It is a problem that remains unsolved.


7. Bad math on jail’s good time

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.

He was right.

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.

Small potatoes? When you consider that at the the time it cost about $100 a day to house a prison inmate and that there were 548 inmates from Kitsap in prison, it’s actually quite an expense. After our story ran, the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office corrected his sentence, along with everyone else’s, and fixed the policy.


8. ‘Where can we live?’

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.”

It turned out to be anything but for his family.

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 got out.

“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 island.”

“We’re treated like we’re diseased,” his wife told me.

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 time?

As part of my series on the 20th anniversary of the Community Protection Act, I also ventured to McNeil Island with Photographer Larry Steagall to see the state’s civil commitment center for sexual predators. Such a beautiful and pastoral setting for such a hideous complex. I am fairly certain Larry will never forgive me.

Yes, I have ridden in the back of a cop car. MEEGAN REID / KITSAP SUN
Yes, I have ridden in the back of a cop car. MEEGAN M. REID / KITSAP SUN

9. Bremerton’s plunging violent crime rate

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.

I spent a lot of time in a patrol car — every shift including graveyard — and was introduced to Bremerton’s seedy underbelly before meeting any other part. It was a scary place: I saw lots of people high on meth, fights between police and drunkards, violent domestic abusers whose victims would try to shield their attackers from the cops. And I wrote extensively about it.

But in the years since, that violent crime rate plummeted, for reasons I documented in a story last November. The tide, in my eyes, is turning: the city is making a turn for the better.

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. Developments downtown.

We’ll see how long it takes for the rest of the world to notice.


10. Walking the story in Bremerton

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?


This January, I found myself thinking about those two big Sequoia trees on Veneta Avenue. In writing about longterm plans to save them but close the road their roots are destroying, I came to the realization that nothing — not a story in print, online or even a video — would compare to the experience of going there, and seeing the story for yourself. I invited experts who I’d interviewed for the story to come along.

And thus was born the thing I’m most proud of since taking over the Bremerton Beat: my monthly Story Walk. It’s been such a satisfying journey taking the story to the community, rather than the other way around. We’ve walked all over town and I have gotten to know so many great people in the city in doing so.

There’s momentum for many more to come, too.

Here’s to 10 years at the Sun, and a hope that the next 10 will be just as exhilarating.

Welcome to a city of ‘mixed nuts’

photo by AARP.
photo by AARP.

I’ve been thinking a lot about a conversation I had with the owner of Bremerton’s Quonset hut last week. Andrew Johnston, the hut’s owner who now lives in Jefferson County, gave a varied review of Bremerton — some good, some bad.

Johnston moved to Bremerton sometime around 2000, an owner in a long line who was drawn to the Quonset hut’s peculiar and industrially-inclined space. He was intrigued by the city’s various neighborhoods and how mixed they were socioeconomically and racially.


He was distressed, however, by several problem homes nearby. He got tired of the police calls, traffic and noise at all hours and a near certainty that there were drugs being sold and drugs being done. (If you’ve lived in the city for any length of time, you know what he’s talking about.)

Even within that Quonset hut, a nearly indestructible Navy relic, that stuff could get to you. It made Johnston wonder, just as we all have wondered: how could such a pretty place have such seedy elements?

“Bremerton should be a gem,” he told me. “This should be one of the most sought after communities in the entire Puget Sound.”

And yet, Johnston, who is trying to sell the hut, also had a fondness for the place. He saw it as that melting pot — “what America aspires to be,” he told me.

“Kind of like mixed nuts,” he said.

Welcome to a city of mixed nuts.

Related nuts note: Just don’t go shucking peanuts on the sidewalk. Or do. It’s not actually against the law. 

Inside Bremerton’s Quonset HutCOMING SATURDAY: Ever wonder what the inside of Bremerton’s Quonset Hut, a residence and relic of the city’s Navy past, looks like? Find out in Saturday’s Kitsap Sun.

Posted by Josh Farley on Friday, May 8, 2015

Some of you I know, some of you I am meeting for the first time



The bottom line: the beat is back. 

The fine print: It’s been nearly four years since the Kitsap Sun brought you the Bremerton Beat, a blog showcasing the very best (and sometimes the not-so-very best) of Bremerton. It was disbanded in a blog “rightsizing,” you might say, until recently when I asked for the opportunity to bloat the company blogosphere back to its previous size.

I have big shoes to fill, following in the footsteps of inimitable Steven Gardner and the estimable Andy Binion (who, I might add, just revived my old blog at the crime and justice desk).

Since my transition from covering Kitsap County’s crime and chaos for eight years, I have yearned to resurrect this blog to give Bremerton readers a place to turn for slices of life in the city straddling the Port Washington Narrows.

Here, no story’s too big or too small. We’ll go behind the scenes. I’ll bring you along on assignment. Field trips will include vertical ones to the Sixth floor of the Norm Dicks Government Center — the hub of Bremerton’s city government — and horizontal ventures to all corners of the city. We’ll also discuss the past and future of Bremerton, a city founded as an industrial powerhouse but one establishing a new identity through its revitalized core and its active neighborhoods.

So: once more unto the breach, dear friends. (And yes, I will quote Shakespeare from time to time.)

Welcome aboard.


True-Crime Author Puts Spotlight on Bremerton

A piece of Bremerton’s tragic past will be spotlighted this coming spring.

True-crime author Gregg Olsen has a new book about the 1997 murder of Dawn Hacheney. Her husband, Nicholas Hachney, a former Bainbridge Island pastor, was convicted in 2002 of killing her in and hiding the evidence by setting fire to an East Bremerton apartment. He was sentenced to just over 26 years in prison, though he could be released in 16-19 years. Details of his post-prison community custody terms still must be worked out in court again.

The case drew gasps and wide eyes of horror from community members when sordid details of the case came out in court. Nicholas Hacheney had reportedly had affairs with several parishoners, including one mistress’s daughter. One woman claimed she had a vision from God, who told her that Dawn Hachney was going to die and that she would become Nicholas Hachney’s new wife.

In other words, the details of the case proved perhaps inevitably that a true-crime writer would seize upon it. That seems apparent in the promotional video for the book “A Twisted Faith,” which is set for release March 2010 (see promo video below).

It may not one of the highlights of Bremerton’s collective memory (we’ll just blame Bainbridge), but then isn’t all PR good PR?

– Angela Dice

Bremerton Gets Boils

Dear Bremerton,

This is just a little note in case you’re feeling a little blue lately. You’re walking around with pride in chest and a comfortably fitting hat because you held your own in that smackdown with Seattle. All is well in B-Town, you think.

Then your hometown bank gets taken over by the feds and a bank from Port Orchard, your mayor and your high school principal quits and you’re losing police officers while those guys across the bay are talking about hiring more. And we’ve still got a lot of empty condos.

Let me start with a story I think you can relate to.

There was this guy. Job. (Pronounced Jobe, and it’s not the one from “Arrested Development,” but the one from the Bible.) According to the books written about him, he had it goin’ on, if you know what I’m saying.

OK, he lived in a place called Uz, but otherwise he had a pretty good gig.

He had a hot wife, amazing kids, tons of bank, a loyal posse of friends and a killer crib. Actually, I don’t know if his wife was hot or if it’s appropriate at all for me to speculate. But the guy had 10 kids. You decide.

Word was he was a righteous dude, but Satan didn’t buy it. God and the devil get into this conversation and decide to let Job get tested. First he loses his stuff and some of his kids.

Job shaves his head, which is something I can relate to, because I once shaved my chest hair after a girlfriend broke up with me. TMI. Sorry. Then he says something like “Easy come, easy go.”

So then he gets boils all over his body. Now I don’t know what a boil feels like, but I had an abscess that got me hospitalized for a couple days and off work for a week. I had the benefit of drugs to get me through it. Job’s boils were so bad his wife suggested he curse God and die.

Job’s friends came to see him and didn’t recognize him, then didn’t say anything for a whole week. When they do speak they tell him all this stuff is probably his fault.

Job complained a lot, but not about God. In the end Job eventually gets it all back and twice as much.

This could be your lot (not “Lot”) Bremerton. Sure things look tough now, but let’s just call this a Job moment on the way to the “twice as much” part. We’ve got a new downtown park opening this weekend and I had someone tell me it’s pretty kickin.’

And if we needed any other reasons to feel good about ourselves, there’s this display on Sixth Avenue:


We’ll be fine, Bremerton. Keep your chin up. We’ll be making fun of Port Orchard again in no time.


Steven Gardner

Bremerton Is Getting Profiled

Quick, name anything else these guys ever did. I thought so.
Quick, name anything else these guys ever did. I thought so.

Anytime anyone writes in the news or blogs about Bremerton, I get to hear about it through the magic of Google Alerts. Many of you are probably familiar with Google Alerts and use it to be notified when things like “Bremerton School District,” “MxPx” or “salamander” come up somewhere.

I’m curious, though, in my role as monitor of scurrilous attacks on our fair seaside city, why every once in a while I get an alert about Bremerton that has nothing to do with this place. Moreover, it usually involves crime.

Case in point: Today I received an alert about a murder in Manassas, Virginia. Sometimes when we get news like that there is a verifiable Bremerton connection. But in this story there’s no link whatsoever.

Are we being typecast? Are we the Adam West of crime now? For all the talk of revitalization and no new taxes, Bremerton still gets tagged with stories of residential murders?

It’s not all bad news. Thanks to the link to the story I found out that Laura Bush “totally forgot” about Obama’s speech.

A Bremelo Rides in Style

*eghemmm* Could somebody drop me some beats, please? Rap with me, now.

Here’s a boring kinda story ’bout a reporter cruisin’ sixth,

With a burger in hand and a phone that takes pics, 

Econoline stops and he does a double take,

Gotta flip up the camera and prove this ain’t fake

This van’s a bremelo

This van’s a bremelo

Hope you guys channeled your inner Mix. 

Bremelo is indeed a less-than-flattering reference to a type of lady from our fair city, immortalized in song by the great Sir Mix-a-lot in 1988.

(If you’re new to the area, defines bremelo here.)  

Love it or hate it, this guy’s celebrating a slice of Bremerton’s pop culture heritage, I can’t deny. 


Defending Bremerton’s Honor

Photo Credit

When a stranger insults your mom, there might be a fight.
When it’s your brother insulting your mother, you give leeway.

In this case, the insults came from a stranger, so that means there is a going to be a fight.

Keep that in mind, and bite your lip, Bremerton Beat, hike up your highwaters and brush your tooth, because we are taking a condescending tour of how our betters see us.

This comes from a blog, “A Vivid and Continuous Dream,” which seems to focus on pets. You know, animals that you’re not supposed to eat unless real hungry?

Our Tocqueville has made Bremerton the hometown of a “main character” of hers. She’s writing a novel, or an opera. I’m not sure, really. Maybe it’s an operatic novel.

Bremerton was much like I imagined it to be, at least his neighborhood; very drab and filled with bleak, nondescript ramblers with overgrown lawns and old faded curtains in the windows and peeling paint. Almost exactly the way I pictured it, in fact.

Initially I was tempted to write a blog post that began:

“A Vivid and Continuous Dream was much like I imagined it to be, very drab and and filled with bleak, nondescript ramblings with an overgrown ego.” I would make several references to misplaced priorities and our society’s increasing dependence on psychiatric medications. But no, I thought, that would be immature. And fun.

But wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. At least this person made the effort to confirm what she already believed to be true.

Instead, I tried to put myself in the blogger’s shoes: what’s the use of getting to know a place that doesn’t have a yoga studio, or where people work for a living and spend their money on food, clothing, grape Swishers and 40 ouncers instead of IKEA drapes and custom Martha Stewart colors? Isn’t it easier to imagine the world outside Wallingford (I don’t know if she lives in Seattle, or even in Washington state) as a vague yet continuous sprawl of unwashed masses who don’t know what “vegetarian alternative” means? What an earthy, authentic place for a “main character’s” hometown.

What we’re talking about is class. Money. And on its route to that goal of “revitalization,” Bremerton will likely confront more of this kind of prejudice. In fact, guessing from the slogan out of the mayor’s office, “It’s not about out past. It’s about our future – don’t miss it,” the powers that be are more than aware.

It’s a two-headed hydra, however. Consider this story, in Washington CEO, previously commented upon in these pages, which takes a purist (shall we say?) position and compares Bremerton to Oakland, Harlem and Compton. I guess because if you are poor, you must be black.

Our town wants the bucks and the energy of a wealthier population. However, many of those people, and their followers, have already made up their minds about us. Not because we are Bremerton, but because we aren’t Fremont.

Which Way to Bremerton, Man?

Bremerton: More Hippies Than Olympia

Bremerton has made another list.

Soon we here at the Bremerton Beat might have to create a list of all the times Bremerton has been put on a list.

This time County Home magazine ranked us #22 in the country for “green living,” one notch below Salinas, Calif. and one above Duluth, Minn.

And, for the record, it’s “Bremerton/Silverdale.”

Top billing went to Corvalis, Ore., home of the Oregon State Beavers and not much else. Last on the list, #25, was Medford, Ore. (I once slept in a ditch next to I-5 in Medford, and I can tell you, I awoke feeling refreshed.)

For a list of the “also rans,” click here. It’s kind of funny the magazine lists the “best” 379 green cities. Las Vegas got #132. Is it just me, or does any list of green cities that includes Las Vegas seem a bit dubious?

Only one town in a state east of the Mississippi River was included in the Top 25, Pittsfeld, Mass. As for Washington, “Seattle metro” got #13.

“Our list comes from a formula that weighs a variety of factors key to living a more eco-friendly life,” the magazine said.

The Bremerton-Bainbridge Divide

Former Kitsap Sun reporter Chris Kornelis, now at the Seattle Weekly, wrote a story about the chasm between Bainbridge Island and Bremerton. It seems to me he pretty much makes the case that there is more perceived animosity than real discomfort between the two cities.

They’re in the same county, share the same courthouse, and are separated by less than a mile of water. But for many of the roughly 60,000 residents who call Bainbridge and Bremerton home, there’s been a chasm, sometimes real, sometimes purely perceived, between them. Islanders, so the story goes, are the rich elitists who make local calls to Seattle and would rather be part of the King County conversation than that of Kitsap. Then there’s Bremerton, cast as a Navy town with stabbings, ax murders, cheap housing, and a fondness for NASCAR.

You can find the story here. I found it because Chris shamelessly told me about it.

He touches on my favorite issue.

Nothing articulates the perceived class struggle as well as the ferry system. Whereas Islanders get the nice boats, the quick, 35-minute rides, and the frequent trips, Bremerton commuters spend two hours a day on board and have to choose between the 10:30 p.m. and 12:50 a.m. boats during Mariner games.

Kornelis also put together a slide show with conversations with the mayors of both cities.

The people quoted in the story are mostly friendly. The first commenter, naming himself “guillermo,” resorts to all the standard stereotypes, playing the part of “troll.”

When I covered Bainbridge Island, though, someone named William did speak to me of the “Bainbridge tax,” the extra fee contractors charge because they assume you have money. The William I knew would never use the term “Bremelo.”