Category Archives: This Blog

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.

A Heavy-Handed Farewell to the Bremerton Beat

In the second month, January 2006, of the Bremerton Beat blog I wrote a post about Bremerton adding free wireless Internet downtown. In case you didn’t notice, and chances are you didn’t, city-backed free wireless went away last year. Next week, so does the Bremerton Beat. Truth is, not many will notice that exit either.

We launched this site when blogs were the new thing that were threatening to replace us reporters. I was excited about the medium and the opportunity to flex some literary muscles we don’t normally get to in straight news stories. The blogs gave us the chance to do things like create a video asking whether a candidate’s photo was doctored. That post was on this site, basically because we didn’t have another logical home for it. We won a verifiable SPJ award for that first year of work. I had visions of blogging for a living.

As fun as it was, though, it is work. And we had the speedway issue going on at the time. The “Bremerton Beat” blog was always my second blog and about my fifth responsibility. For a while the fun of what we could put here was enough to bring me back.

This place really hit its stride in 2008 with Andy Binion writing it. That didn’t last nearly long enough. In 2009 I was handed the lower-case Bremerton beat again. As for the upper-case version, this one, we agreed upon a shared responsibility. We had our moments, such as when we ganged up on Seattle. But generally the blog never hit its stride again. Like so much, when this site was everyone’s responsibility it was no one’s. The last post was in January. Frankly I was surprised to see it had been that recent.

So we agree with the final commenter on that post, that it’s time to retire The Bremerton Beat.

Honestly, I’m a little sad, but I couldn’t agree more. The only reason I didn’t suggest it sooner was because I thought there should be a home for what once lived here regularly. We think we found a place. We’re invading South Kitsap. It probably won’t be too difficult to take over completely. We’ll send them invites to a lugnut shooting party one day, camp out on their blog while they’re gone and refuse to leave. It’s how we roll in Bremerton.

Port Orchard, you’re on notice.

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

Silence is argument carried out by unemployment

<i>“I don't care if I fall as long as someone else picks up my pen and keeps on writing.” -- What Andy Binion would say, I think, unless he was just asking for directions to the Sev.</i>
“I don't care if I fall as long as someone else picks up my pen and keeps on writing.” -- What Andy Binion would say, I think, unless he was just asking for directions to the Sev.

Wherever we are in the stages of grief, it’s clearly not over, based on the complaints aimed at those of us trying to fill the shoes Andy Binion left behind here.

Believe us, we’re not happy about this either.

I’ve been in contact with Andy a couple of times and he is, if nothing else, staying pretty busy, which explains why I haven’t seen any police reports that include his name. I guess the other part is I don’t read the police reports where Andy hangs out these days.

When we started the Bremerton Beat in late 2005 it was with the idea that this could be a central hang out for people interested in the city, for people who wanted to get beyond the Code 911 stories in which Bremerton figures so prominently and the stories about downtown redevelopment. Along the way we had some fun, a lot of it at the expense of Port Orchard, and developed a bit of a voice.

Then I shifted primarily over to county, port and state issues and Andy took over and made this place his own. I, as much as anyone, looked forward to his take on dead cats on his car, visitors to the city and the tickets that were being issued even when mail wasn’t being delivered. I think the Bremerton Beat was the funnest blog on the street, kicking the crap out of the Caucus in wit and wisdom.

Oddly, Andy doesn’t think he did a very good job at the blog. I got an e-mail from him yesterday saying as much. I beg to differ. So do most of you, I bet.

Sadly, this is the state of our business these days. The newspaper business is, I hope, transforming, but in the meantime good writers hit the road. Andy was certainly one of those.

I say “I hope” above, because I hope the biz is not dying. I trust that however it looks, news gathering will continue. The rise of the Internet should mean more people are providing it. We hope that means there will still be money in it, enough for me to send my kids to college so they can get better paying jobs than their old man. And yet here I am, to some degree, contributing to the industry’s demise, by posting something you get to read for free and hidden from those who pay for our stuff.

Beyond hoping there’s a place for me in the future of this business, I also hope there’s a place for Andy and the writers who will be umbilical cordless when the P-I shuts down.

For Andy I’m optimistic, because as good as he was, I never got the sense that “reporter” was what he was. For some of us, what we do probably matters too much. My dad retired from being a police officer 30 years ago, but he’s still a cop. Some of us in this business come in as reporters and have to learn to write or writers who have to learn to report. But at our core, we remain mostly what we came in as. Andy, I believe, is a story teller and an activist. Surely, there is a place for that somewhere in this world, probably now more than ever.

Bremerton Still Tasty, Port Orchard Not As Much

Bremerton gets smug with Port Orchard after enjoying a delicious meal from Popeyes.
Bremerton gets smug with Port Orchard after enjoying a delicious meal from Popeyes.
Remember that time when Bremerton got Popeyes?

And remember how someone from Port Orchard got all superior and stuff because they had Popeyes first?

They were all, “We had it first.”

And we were all, “Whatever.”

Remember how there seemed to be a pent-up demand when Popeyes opened here, because there were long lines and stuff?

Yeah, that was awesome.

And you can still get in line in Bremerton.

Not so in Port Orchard. The Popeyes there is closed. I’ve contacted headquarters to find out why, which is really Rachel Pritchett’s job, but I couldn’t resist an opportunity to get all childish.

On my home one of these days, I’m going to stop by and get me some Popeyes, because I still can. The spicy chicken in still in the house in Bremerton.

Yo, Port Orchard. Now that I’m contributing here again, you’re back on notice.

Back To Work!

Photo Credit

I’ve returned from vacation. This is what I learned:

1 – The desert is hot, even at night.

2 – Las Vegas, as a town, has a problem with impulse control.

3 – If you see a UFO in Nevada, your friends won’t believe you.

4 – Movies watched on hotel room cable are more entertaining than they should be (i.e., “Varsity Blues.”)

5 – Floyd Mayweather enjoys his fans, and also enjoys nachos and Mountain Dew.

6 – The zebras in Tijuana aren’t really zebras, and the cab drivers there are not looking out for your best interests.

7 – There are nice, conscientious people in Los Angeles who aren’t vain and vapid.

8 – San Diego has stayed classy.

9 – In the center of Arcata, Calif., the epicenter of all things hippie, there is a statue of a man with his hand out.

10 – If you run over small, furry creatures while driving down a dark highway, you will feel guilty, even if you couldn’t help it.

As for the blog, the changes were not made.

I Want A Holiday In The Sun

sun shine.jpg
Photo Credit
Greetings and salutations;

Your fearless/fearful blogger will be gone on holiday for a week. That’s right, I’ll be living the high life, doing all sorts of fun things like helping my grandmother move into a home and attending my girlfriend’s grandparent’s 60th wedding anniversary in Idaho.

(Remember how boring vacations were when you were younger? With nothing to do but sleep in, stay up late and occupy yourself with beer? Thank goodness those bleak days are over!)

Of course this means updates to the blog will slow to nothing, and I won’t be able to approve comments. I’ll try to figure out how to do it remotely, but if not, keep the faith. Like the Terminator, I’ll be back.

In the meantime, keep in real, Bremerton.

A New Voice Here

Some of you have seen the picture on the main blog page and figured out the cryptic message I left before. Andrew Binion is taking over the Bremerton beat, which means he’s also taking over the Bremerton Beat.

Binion has done some impressive reporting since starting here about a year ago. He brings to the beat experience covering legislatures in Washington and Illinois and local coverage here and with other local papers.

This blog has been a blast for me. This was one of the original Kitsap Sun blogs and has been a great place to learn this story form in the two years I’ve overseen it. Thanks for all your input and enjoy the new voice here.