As cracks widen in Rattlesnake Ridge, here’s what to know about landslide risk

First published on kiro7.com in Jan. 2018 with high engagement time;  I also produced a social video that’s been viewed nearly 50,000 times

Two hours southeast of Seattle along Interstate 82, drivers will find the Rattlesnake Hills – with a fissure in the ridge so big it can be seen from the road on a clear day.

With the daunting crevice comes a slow-moving, 20-acre landslide that has gradually inched downward on Rattlesnake Ridge near Yakima for months.

Geologists and engineers don’t know exactly what the scale of the slide will be if it hits the base of the ridge, but they’ve conceived several scenarios of what could happen – with some alarming residents, drivers and emergency crews.

Here’s what experts know now about the fissure, the slide, and how leaders are preparing.

Where exactly is this going on?

Not to be confused with the popular hiking trail sharing the same name in North Bend, Rattlesnake Ridge is 12 miles south of Yakima.

Rattlesnake Ridge stands beside Ahtanum Ridge, and between both ridges is the gap — where nearly 54,000 vehicles a day travel on Interstate 82 and U.S. Highway 97. The massive chunk of land moves on the ridge above them.

Continue reading As cracks widen in Rattlesnake Ridge, here’s what to know about landslide risk

In time of Trump, Washington lawmakers want to pass bill mandating abortion coverage

First published on kiro7.com in Jan. 2018

Washington state could soon require health insurers that cover maternity care to also cover abortions.

While most insurers already provide that coverage, some Washington leaders and activists wants to mandate it — especially in the time of President Donald Trump’s administration.

“Washington has long led the way on this issue, and passing the Reproductive Parity Act (RPA) will be yet another example of that,” said state Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens), who introduced the bill this legislative session in Olympia. “It should pass, and we should move quickly on it because these days it’s really anybody’s guess as to what the Trump administration will or won’t do next.”

Hobbs, along with Rep. Eileen Cody (D-Seattle), in the House, have introduced this bill in the upper chamber for years, but it hasn’t passed despite some bi-partisan support. When it was first discussed in 2012, it failed 26-23. With Democrats recently taking control of the Washington state Senate, Hobbs believes that the shift in power will lead to swift passage.

Continue reading In time of Trump, Washington lawmakers want to pass bill mandating abortion coverage

Washington’s counting on $741M in pot revenue amid Trump administration threat

First published on kiro7.com in Jan. 2018; story generated more than 600 social engagements within day of publishing

After nearly five years of legal marijuana in Washington the Trump administration took a step on Thursday that could threaten the current cannabis movement as we know it.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has assailed marijuana as comparable to heroin and has blamed it for spikes in violence, revoked a policy that kept the Department of Justice from standing in the way of a state’s decision to legalize pot.

It could blow out part of the Washington state budget, where more than $700 million is expected in revenue from legal marijuana sales.


Quickly, here’s a breakdown of what’s happening:

  • Sessions’ new stance gives federal prosecutors the power to decide to aggressively enforce longstanding federal law prohibiting marijuana
  • Sessions rescinded the “Cole memo” written by former U.S. Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, who served during the Obama administration. That memo generally barred federal law enforcement officials from interfering with marijuana sales in states where the drug is legal. Read exactly what it outlined here.
  • Session’s anticipated move is adding to confusion about whether it’s OK to grow, buy or use marijuana in states where the drug is legal.
  • Washington state leaders – including Governor Jay Inslee, Attorney General Bob Ferguson, and former US Attorney and newly-elected Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan – are standing up for the voters’ 2012 decision to have legal marijuana.

Gov. Inslee said it’s too early to say whether Washington state will take legal action against the DOJ, but his administration is considering all options.

So what does this means for Washington state right now? Leaders say right now “we are going to continue operations.”

As 745 active licensed producers and 310 retailers continue with their businesses, Washington state has plans of its own when it comes down to anticipated pot revenue.

The Office of Financial Management’s current budget cycle – which covers fiscal years 2018 and 2019 – already shows that the state expects to generate nearly $741 million from taxes and licenses related to marijuana business and production.

That projected $741 million may only be a small slice of the nearly $44 billion budget, but it would fund a variety of health and social services programs. See a break down below.

 

Legal pot sales in Washington state exceeded $1.3 billion last year, with the state collecting more than $300 million in excise taxes. In 2016 and 2017, programs received funding like the projected totals for the current budget cycle.

Continue reading Washington’s counting on $741M in pot revenue amid Trump administration threat

These strange creatures aren’t supposed to be in northwest, but now they’re washing ashore

Scientists are trying to figure out why strange sea creatures are showing up in northwest waters. Pyrosomes, also called Sea Pickles, are tropical, filter-feeding and spineless creatures. (Image: TiffanyBoothe/SeasideAquarium.)

First published in Dec. 2017 on kiro7.com

When taking a stroll on a northwest beach, a Seattle-area woman vacationing on the Oregon coast found bizarre, tubular, jellylike creatures on the sand.

“These guys were all over the beach,” Nalia Borges Nichols said. “The ocean seems to introduce me to new creatures or circumstances every so often.”

These animals called pyrosomes – or more simply referred to as “sea pickles” – made headlines over the summer because the tropical-dwelling animals started showing up in unprecedented numbers along the northwest coast this year, as far up as Alaska.

It’s a never-before-seen phenomenon for northwest waters.

A National Geographic research team’s net pulled up 60,000 in five minutes near Sitka, Alaska, where salmon fishermen had to take a break from their work as the tubular, spineless creatures invaded their hooks.

Continue reading These strange creatures aren’t supposed to be in northwest, but now they’re washing ashore

What we can learn from these unearthed mugshots from the 1940s

Published on kiro7.com November 2017

Nearly 75 years after their incarceration, a stack of inmates’ mugshots surfaced in a box of forgotten vintage black-and-white photographs at a cluttered Centralia antique store.

Underneath each card’s punch hole, once thread through something like an office binder or filing cabinet, a man stands with a sign around his neck that reads, “Washington State Reformatory.” The crimes the men committed are typed on the back of each mugshot.

>> See all the mugshots here

When taking a look at the back of the photographs, some sentences for what could now be considered petty crimes seem quite long — digging for clams, entering a laundromat while drunk — while others seem too short for crimes that could now possibly fit under class A felonies.

A trip to Seattle ended in arrest 

When the two young men traveled the west coast from Los Angles to Seattle in 1940, they paid their way by cashing a series of worthless checks totaling $1,200 — a value of nearly $20,000 today.

Herbet Ratliff, 23 at the time, and his partner bought three cars with their trail of checks, but their journey came to a screeching halt at a resort near Lake Sammamish when they were arrested.

When facing a King County judge, Ratliff was handed a 20-year sentence in Washington State Reformatory (WSR) in Monroe.

During Ratliff’s time, Washington State Reformatory — currently operating under the name Monroe Correctional Complex — housed felons with the intention of providing industrial training and military discipline. But idleness among inmates became a huge problem during this decade, mostly due to inadequately trained employees.

A supervisor talked to The Seattle Times in 1942, acknowledging that these difficulties were negatively impacting their roughly 3,000 inmates.

“Five or six years of enforced idleness will ruin any individual,” Dr. Richard McGee said in the article. “They soon fall into lethargy that damages them and makes it difficult for them to work when work is offered.”

It’s unclear what Ratliff worked on, or didn’t work on, while serving time. But what we do know is that Ratliff received 15 years more than what the maximum sentence for a forgery charge under current Washington State law currently lists.

Other mugshots reveals more unbalanced penalties

Other inmates found in this stack of unearthed mugshots also served more time, or less, before the laws were revised.

  • For example, grand larceny, now theft, could come with a 15-year sentence. Many people served time for property crimes that now rarely result in jail time.

 

  • Public intoxication, now treated under behavioral health services, could get someone arrested if they were using profanity under the influence.

 

  • The crime of seduction, under 1909 criminal code in Washington, largely involved men having sex with chaste women. Some court cases show that men were engaging in non-consensual sex; sometimes, it involved teen girls.

 

The bulk of these sentences and laws were changed in a state criminal code overhaul in 1976.
With unbalanced penalties, lawmakers, justices and prosecutors wrote about the need for change in a review journal years before the code was enacted.

“The inadequacies in the existing criminal code have had profound detrimental effects on the quality and reputation of law enforcement and criminal justice in Washington,” former state Senator Perry Woodall wrote.

“The glaring inadequacies in the present criminal code create a critical lack of public confidence not only in the code itself, but also in the police, prosecutors and courts.”

So how did this change impact incarceration leading up to today?

As state laws evolved from the overhaul over the last 40 years, incarceration in Washington state only increased. Washington’s up-tick coincides with national numbers, such as when an emphasis on drug crimes began in the 1980s, dramatically increasing the prison population for decades. It’s stabilized over the last few years.

According to the latest Department of Corrections numbers, 17,500 people make up the prison population today; among those are mostly middle-aged white men serving for violent crimes. But reform advocates point out that the state — in line with national trends — still has racial disparities in its inmate population. While nearly 70 percent of Washington state’s inmates are white, the imprisonment rate for black people is higher when looking at arrests per 100,000 people.

Most of those serving in state receive a sentence for over ten years. Washington state saw a decrease in inmates in 2010 after a decade of reducing sentences for drug crimes, but this also coincides with nearly 3,200 inmates being set free erroneously.

But in this shift, the emphasis of crimes committed turned to violent crimes, such as murder, rape and assault.

 

With the amount of violent offenders incarcerated, Tom McBride, a spokesman for the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, has said, “It’s hard to find anybody who doesn’t deserve to be there.”

How do reform advocates want to move forward?

Even with some of the lowest incarceration numbers in the country, housing inmates comes at a high cost: $36,000 for each inmate annually. To relieve that fiscal burden, that’s where advocates – and some state and city leaders – argue a different approach in putting more money in prevention and treatment versus paying for a lengthy sentence.

Members of criminal justice reform group The Sentencing Project say large prison population mostly comes down to the time given to inmates.

When asked if another criminal code re-write — like the one in 1976 — is due, executive director Mark Mauer said probably not.

“I think it’s unlikely a new code would reverse the trends we’re seeing,” Mark Mauer said. “It may or may not be a good time to review and think about a re-write, amending parts of it, but I think that should be determined on its own merits.”

Mauer says that change, in part, comes from rethinking the amount of time given to inmates.

To change the trends, Mauer’s group believes it largely comes down substantial revisions in how people are sentenced. His group advocates for the elimination of minimum sentences and cutting back on excessive lengthy sentences.

Passport to fly domestically? What Washington residents need to know

Published October 2017 on kiro7.com; more than 2,000 engagements on social 

Standard license; Washington DOL file photo

For years, Washington residents have expressed confusion over whether their driver’s licenses will get them through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints in the near future.

The concerns stem from a complicated federal law passed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to bring better security at airports, and Washington state is still working to get into compliance. So what does this mean for residents?

Simply, read the first four answers to learn exactly what you need to get on a plane. Then continue reading the Q&A about the REAL ID act and how Washington is working toward a fix.

1. I’m a Washington resident with a Washington state license, what do I need to get on a domestic flight right now? 

Just your driver’s license, either standard or enhanced.

2. What do I need to get on a domestic flight next year? 

Again, just your driver’s license, either standard or enhanced.

3. When do rules change?

Enforcement for the new law starts in 2020, according to an extension granted to the Washington State Department of Licensing on Wednesday.

After enforcement starts in 2020, the state’s standard licenses will not be accepted by TSA. Read why below.

However, TSA will accept Washington’s enhanced driver’s licenses. Many residents in state already have these. If you need one, here’s how to apply

If you’re not interested in an enhanced license you, you can still board with other documentation — such as a passport, permanent resident card or military ID.

4. Will people be turned away after October 2020?

People using a standard licenses without additional documentation will not be allowed to pass TSA. Enhanced driver’s licenses will be permitted to enter.

Continue reading Passport to fly domestically? What Washington residents need to know

Where did ash fall in Western Washington? This map will show you

Published Sept. 2017 on kiro7.com

Throughout the Puget Sound region on Tuesday morning, residents found ash on their cars and around their homes as wildfires burned more than 150,000 acres in Washington state.

KIRO 7 asked people to submit zip codes for areas in which they saw ash falling. Our digital team took hundreds of submitted zip codes and put them in the below map to give an idea on which areas saw the most ash fall.

How to read this map: In dark red areas, the number of reports was as high as 78, and in lighter red areas, there were fewer reports. Click or tap on a zip code area to see the exact number of reports.

Scroll down to see the map and read specifics on how the data was collected. 

About the data in this map: This map is not based on a scientific measurement of ash falling. Unlike something such as rainfall, there is not a gauge in the state that measures ash.

Continue reading Where did ash fall in Western Washington? This map will show you

Live in Seattle and worried about North Korea? Read this

First published Sept. 2017 on kiro7.com; a third ICBM was reported fired on Nov. 28. Read the most updated version here.

With North Korea testing missiles at an unprecedented rate, experts calculate the Seattle area could eventually be in range.

But is that a realistic worry for people on the West Coast? KIRO 7 News talked to scientists and government leaders, who explain below.

How did we get here?

Many West Coast residents feel unease with their homes being the closest in the United States to North Korea as tensions between the two countries build every week.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday again gave a doomsday warning to Kim Jong Un. And just last week, North Korea launched a missile that flew over the northern part of Japan.

File AP

2017 has been a rapid year of progress for North Korea, with its 22 missiles fired over 15 tests since February. That includes the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missile, launched over the summer.

North Korea, known for being a propaganda machine, has claimed that a missile could carry a nuclear warhead. Whether that could actually happen, physicists do not yet know.

What’s the real threat to the Seattle area, if there is one? 

After two ICBM launches, analysts calculated everything west of Chicago could be in range.

“The distance from North Korea to Seattle is about 5,100 miles (8,200 km),” said David Wright, a physicist and co-director of the global security program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“We don’t know how heavy North Korea’s nuclear warheads are, and the weight affects how far a missile can carry them. However, most experts believe North Korea’s longest range missile, the Hwasong-14, may be able to carry a nuclear warhead as far as Seattle or will be able to in the near future.”

 

Missiles are highly inaccurate. Wright told KIRO 7 News that Kim would likely shoot at a city physically bigger than Seattle in an attempt of hitting a population center.

Continue reading Live in Seattle and worried about North Korea? Read this

Mexico’s strongest earthquake in a century recorded at Mt. Rainier

File photo of Mount Rainier from Tolmie Peak

First published on kiro7.com in Sept. 2017; more than 6,000 engagements on social

Seismic stations on Mount Rainier recorded Mexico’s magnitude 8.1 earthquake, the strongest to hit the country in nearly a century.

The deadly earthquake’s epicenter was in the Pacific Ocean nearly 74 miles off the coast of Mexico. The Chiapas and Oaxaca states – home to 9 million people – were closest to the epicenter, and they are left with casualties and rubble of collapsed buildings in its wake.

On the other side of the continent, some of the 11 seismograph stations on Mount Rainier picked up distant recordings of the powerful earthquake.

The recording picked up on Mount Rainier stations. Image: PNSN

“The whole mountain was ringing from this earthquake,” said Pacific Northwest Seismic Network director of communication and outreach Bill Steele,

Distant recordings are not unusual.

Sensitive international seismographs, such as the ones on Mount Rainier, pick up events with magnitudes of about 4.5 or greater. The tools magnify ground motion – the movement of the earth’s surface from earthquakes or explosions – as it travels through the earth and along its surface.

As the instruments have the ability to measure local seismic events, it can also take what’s called teleseismic recordings. That’s when an earthquake is measured more than 1,000 kilometers from the actual event

These distant recordings contribute to global research in disasters such as the one in Mexico. Local seismologists observe the events and then collaborate on real-time data.

Image of M8.1 quake’s epicenter. Image: USGS

“A scientist in Japan and Mexico can use that data in real time for research to study that earthquake … The data is shared freely in the USGS,” Steele said. “First arrivals from around the world create a picture of how the fault broke and slipped by going backward to image where the energy was and how it was processed.”

As it does with every big earthquake, the United States Geological Survey is providing preliminary impact information and interactive maps on this resource page about the devastating Mexico quake so that the public can better understand the events leading up to the event.

Unseen photos of Mt. St. Helens eruption discovered in forgotten camera at Goodwill

Published on kiro7.com in June 2017; more than 10,000 engagements on social

A Portland woman, who finds old cameras and develops forgotten film, discovered unseen photos of the Mount St. Helen explosion. Image: Courtesy Kati Dimoff

A Portland woman who finds old cameras and develops forgotten film has discovered unseen photos of the Mount St. Helens eruption.

“I run into the big Goodwill in [Southeast Portland] and check all their film cameras for exposed, but undeveloped rolls of film,” said Kati Dimoff, who is a photographer herself. “[In May], I bought an Argus C2, which would have been produced around 1938, and it had a damaged roll of Kodachrome slide film in it.”

Dimoff dropped it off at a Portland shop that develops vintage film. When she picked it up, a message was left on her package of photographs.

“Is this from the Mount St. Helen eruption?” it read.

Thirty-seven years ago, 57 people lost their lives amid raining ash throughout Washington state in the wake of the Mount St. Helens explosion.

Journalists and residents alike captured moments of the volcano’s notorious eruption in 1980; thousands of people to this day still watch their surreal video and chilling photos the lateral blast that took out the north side of the mountain.

But Dimoff’s images show a new perspective of the plume cloud that haunted the northwest.

Continue reading Unseen photos of Mt. St. Helens eruption discovered in forgotten camera at Goodwill