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Year in review: Federal Way in 2011
Here is a recap of top Federal Way stories and headlines from 2011.
• Federal Way road rage: A 31-year-old Auburn man was shot in the head Jan. 2 in a road rage incident at Military Road South and South 304th Street. The victim lost an eye after suffering a single gunshot wound to the head by a suspect in a passing vehicle. Justin R. McCleod, a 32-year-old Shoreline resident, pleaded not guilty to first-degree assault and unlawful possession of a firearm on Oct. 3.
• Mayor Skip Priest customizes management at City Hall: Federal Way’s new elected mayor, Skip Priest, rang in the new year with a change to his management team. Priest announced on Jan. 4 that he hired two new employees to help him in the mayor’s office, and restructured the responsibilities of two existing department directors. Priest said the changes come in an effort to create a sustainable short-term and long-term budget. A savings of $885,000 will be seen in the 2011-2012 biennium as a result of the changes, the city reports.
• Federal Way’s high-rise deal dies: Federal Way’s contract with Twin Development to build a high-rise project at the former downtown AMC Theatres site has dissolved after more than three years and seven extensions of a purchase and sale agreement. Twin Development was expected to close by March 31 on the 4.1-acre property at 31600 20th Ave. S. The city-owned land was designated for a mixed-use project featuring residential, retail, hotel, parking and parks. Twin Development’s $350 million project proposed a 35-story high rise, two 45-story towers and a public park.
• Mom sentenced to five years in daughter’s methadone overdose: Jane Griffith will serve up to five years in prison for giving her 12-year-old daughter the doses of methadone that caused her death. Griffith pleaded guilty and was sentenced for the crime of controlled substances homicide. Jessica Griffith, a student at Lakota Middle School in Federal Way, died Oct. 18, 2010, at her aunt’s apartment in Tacoma. Jane Griffith told police that over a period of two days, she twice gave her daughter doses of methadone after the girl complained of knee pain.
• Federal Way’s population: The U.S. Census Bureau released 2010 Census data pertaining to Washington state. The cities of Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma, Vancouver, Bellevue, Everett, Kent, Yakima, Renton and Spokane Valley are (in order) Washington’s 10 most populated cities. The 2000 Census ranked Federal Way the eighth most populous city in the state. Federal Way now ranks 11th in population with 89,306, which is up from 83,259 residents in 2000.
• Soldier from Federal Way dies in Iraq: A soldier from Federal Way was killed in Iraq and will be posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his service. Cpl. Brandon Hocking was killed by an improvised explosive device in As Samawah in southern Iraq. Hocking, 24, was serving in his second deployment.
• Tsunami ravages Federal Way’s sister city of Hachinohe, Japan: Federal Way’s sister city of Hachinohe, Japan, dealt with the aftermath of one of the strongest earthquakes in recent history. A tsunami was triggered March 11 by a magnitude 8.9 earthquake that struck off the northeast coast of Japan. Online footage shows boats and tankers washing ashore in Hachinohe, which is located about 400 miles northeast of Tokyo and faces the Pacific Ocean. Federal Way and Hachinohe have been sister cities since 1993.
• Merger adds muscle to conservation in Federal Way: Friends of the Hylebos joined EarthCorps in a partnership that’s expected to strengthen conservation and restoration efforts in Federal Way’s natural areas. EarthCorps, which is affiliated with AmeriCorps and based in Seattle, mobilizes thousands of volunteers every year for environmental restoration projects.
• Woman at St. Francis Hospital allegedly raped by another patient: A 48-year-old Seattle man was charged after allegedly raping a female patient at St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way on April 25. The man and victim were both voluntary patients receiving mental health care. The incident took place about a month after a male nurse was accused of molesting a patient at the hospital. The nurse, who had a history of sexual assault complaints, was charged with second-degree rape after allegedly molesting a female patient while she was at St. Francis for treatment of back pain.
• Drunk driver sentenced to eight and a half years: The driver that killed two teenagers three days before their graduation from Decatur High School will be spending the next eight and a half years in prison. Kirkland resident Alexander E. Peder was sentenced to 102 months for two counts of vehicular homicide while driving under the influence after killing Decatur seniors Derek King, 18, and Nicholas Hodgins, 18, on June 9, 2010. The driver of the car, Anthony Beaver, a Decatur senior at the time, survived.
• Federal Way hopes ‘cash for gold’ law reduces burglaries: City officials hope to curb the amount of residential burglaries that target jewelry and other precious metals in Federal Way. The city council unanimously passed an ordinance April 19. The jump in property crime in the city is being blamed on the proliferation of “cash for gold” businesses, which offer on-the-spot cash for precious metals.
• Federal Way enacts moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries: The Federal Way City Council voted unanimously to enact a six-month emergency moratorium regarding medical marijuana dispensaries. The measure directs the city clerk not to accept applications for business licenses or other documents from any medical marijuana organizations. There were three medical marijuana dispensaries operating in Federal Way. All three were denied business licenses, and have since closed.
• Tacoma man charged in Federal Way kidnapping: Tacoma resident Benjamin H. Trinh, 28, was officially charged after kidnapping an 8-year-old Federal Way girl from a playground near Olympic View Elementary. The incident caused a statewide Amber Alert. Police are crediting an employee at the Federal Way Target store for the arrest of Trinh on April 12 in Tacoma. The Target employee, a mother herself, received the Amber Alert over her cell phone and recognized the girl. The employee remembered seeing the girl with an Asian man around the fitting rooms inside Target.
• Light rail lawsuit? Federal Way considers legal action against Sound Transit: The Federal Way City Council ratcheted up the pressure on Sound Transit. The city wants a reasonable explanation for the transit authority’s decision to exclude the completion of light rail to Federal Way. Despite voter approval for the plan in 2008, Sound Transit has announced an indefinite delay in extending light rail past South 240th Street and into Federal Way. Federal Way officials estimate the city’s taxpayers will have paid $400 million total into the Sound Transit light rail by the time the project is finished in 2040 — regardless of whether light rail reaches the city.
• Federal Way targets trashy properties as vacant homes become dumping grounds: In response to an increase in foreclosures on local homes, Federal Way amended its “unfit building” code to include unfit premises. The revision comes after complaints that many properties, especially those going through foreclosure, have become impromptu junkyards.
• Federal Way murder conviction overturned: The man convicted of murdering 75-year-old Jane Carol Britt in 2008 and stuffing her body in the trunk of her car had that decision overturned by the Washington State Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals found that Joseph Njonge had his right to a public trial violated when the court arranged seating for all potential 65 jurors during jury selection.
• Federal Way Farmers Market moves to new location: The Federal Way Farmers Market opened May 7 at the former AMC Theatres site, 31600 20th Ave. S. (near the transit center). The market spent its first seven seasons in the Sears parking lot at The Commons Mall.
• Branches Garden Center fights fire code: After facing closure over a fire code violation, Branches Garden Center and the city made a deal that will keep the business open. The garden center, located at South 320th Street and Military Road, received an order to cease activity after it was determined that the plastic greenhouse roofing did not comply with fire safety standards.
• Federal Way faces harsh reality with airport noise: For residents of the Marine Hills neighborhood, the noise generated by flights arriving and departing Sea-Tac International Airport has become a fact of life, albeit an unwanted one. During a Port of Seattle commissioners meeting at Federal Way City Hall, one of the topics presented was the proposed Part 150 noise reduction plan that the Port has been working on since 2009.
• Jury acquits Federal Way man accused of poisoning wife with strychnine: Joseph Naimo is a free man. The 64-year-old Federal Way resident was acquitted on murder charges by a King County jury after six days of deliberation in connection with the strychnine poisoning death of his wife, Ann Marie Naimo. The acquittal came after the second trial for Naimo, a pest-control general manager in Kent. Ann Naimo’s daughter was allowed to testify that she believed her mother committed suicide.
• Federal Way schools stir buzz with rigorous course policy: Two recent reports highlighted Federal Way Public Schools’ policy of requiring any student who meets standards to enroll in a rigorous Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) or Cambridge program. Some people criticized Federal Way for a “one size fits all” approach to education, while others lauded the school district’s efforts to raise the bar and hold students, parents and teachers to higher standards. The difficult courses are intended to get students ready for college and beyond. The courses require more time and commitment than other high school classes.
• Suspected shoplifter dies in Federal Way police shooting: Federal Way police were involved in a fatal shooting of a suspected shoplifter July 21 at Wal-Mart, located in the 1900 block of South 314th Street. Two Federal Way officers approached the man, who then began running. The two officers pursued the suspect about 40 yards before he stopped and turned. The man appeared to be reaching toward an ankle holster. According to reports, a Federal Way officer fired 11 shots at the suspect, identified as 29-year-old Jedidiah J. Waters.
• Architects fine-tune Federal Way 320th Library design: A bigger and better Federal Way 320th Library is in the works. The facility at 848 S. 320th Street will be torn down and replaced with a new building that features an extra 4,000 square feet, study areas and plenty of windows. The present facility opened in 1970. Construction is expected to begin in April 2012 and will last about one year. The construction is expected to cost $5 million and will be funded through a bond measure approved by voters in 2004.
• Civic center moves forward in Federal Way: Years in the making, the proposed civic center project for downtown Federal Way is in its due diligence phase. Four architecture and engineering firms were given interviews with the city, and LMN Architects of Seattle was chosen to design the first step in what city officials hope is a revitalization of downtown Federal Way.
• Discover Pass required for WA state parks: Starting July 1, Washington residents had to pay to visit state parks, including Dash Point State Park in Federal Way. An annual pass costs $30 and a daily pass costs $10 per vehicle.
• Steel beam for 9/11 memorial arrives in Federal Way: Two South King Fire and Rescue firefighters crisscrossed the country to retrieve a steel beam from the World Trade Center, which was destroyed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The steel beam will become part of a memorial in Federal Way to honor the nearly 3,000 victims who died in the attacks. The memorial will be dedicated Sept. 11, 2012, at fire station 64 at South 320th Street and Military Road.
• King County car tab fee passes without public vote: The King County Council voted 7-2 to approve an emergency Congestion Reduction Charge during an Aug. 15 meeting. King County residents will pay an extra $20 on their car tabs to help keep Metro bus services at current levels.
• Sand sculpting masters return: The World Championship of Sand Sculpting’s “Tour of Champions” began a three-week run on Aug. 18. Nearly 11,000 people attended the event, which attracts dozens of the world’s best sand sculptors. The event is expected to return in 2012 at a new location in Federal Way.
• Federal Way will hire more police officers: The Federal Way Police Department was awarded a grant of $807,345 from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program. Coupled with a $1.03 million COPS grant in 2010, the money will help fill seven vacant officer positions.
• School district blames old technology for scheduling crisis at Thomas Jefferson High School: Students at Thomas Jefferson High School started the school year with chaos and confusion after arriving the first day without a class schedule of any kind. The superintendent said the biggest culprit in the scheduling was a technical glitch between two computerized systems at TJ: one that controls and creates the schedule itself, and another that is part of a new system designed for standards-based grading.
• Federal Way teen Robert Harris drowns in Lake Tapps: Family and friends gathered at Decatur High School to pay homage to Robert Harris, a 17-year-old student who drowned in Lake Tapps the evening before. Reports said Harris had been at a family barbecue when he went into Lake Tapps to retrieve a football that was floating on the water.
• Federal Way takes next step in Crystal Palace project: The Federal Way City Council voted unanimously to move forward with a purchase/sale agreement with a Boston-based firm that hopes to build an ambitious Crystal Palace design on the former AMC Theatres site in downtown Federal Way. The preliminary design would include about 500 residential units, 12,000 square feet of office and retail space; 50,000 square feet of recreation, cinema, restaurant and entertainment space; and 75,000 square feet of the “crystal palace” space.
• King County libraries allow porn on computers: At King County libraries, adult patrons have the right to access anything they wish online, including porn. The issue surfaced after a man was detained by police for masturbating at the Federal Way Regional Library. The man was viewing pornography on a computer.
• Layoffs save $300K for cash-strapped South King Fire and Rescue: South King Fire and Rescue announced the layoffs of four employees in a move that will save nearly $300,000 annually. The fire district’s revenue, which comes from property taxes, has declined nearly 22 percent the past three years. Firefighters also declined a cost of living wage increase in 2011, which is expected to save nearly $247,000.
• Police unions reject Federal Way health care plan: Three unions that represent the Federal Way Police Department voted no on changing health care providers for city employees. The change, which would have saved the city nearly $619,000 with all parties on board, will now save approximately $300,000. This will cost the city jobs, likely in the police department, according to Federal Way Mayor Skip Priest.
• Election results: For the 2011 general election in Federal Way, Susan Honda and Bob Celski won seats on the city council, and Dini Duclos won re-election. Voters picked Claire Wilson and Danny Peterson for school board. South King Fire and Rescue ccommissioners Mark Thompson and Jim Fossos won re-election. Tim McClain was elected to the Lakehaven board. Initiative 1183, the controversial liquor privatization measure, passed with more than 60 percent of the statewide vote.
• School levies go to Feb. 2012 ballot: The Federal Way School Board unanimously approved two levy proposals for the district to be placed on a Feb. 14, 2012 ballot. The two proposals are the “replacement” Educational Programs and Operations (EPO) levy, and a capital levy for rebuilding Federal Way High School.
• Federal Way police report lower crime rates: Federal Way Police Department reports some of the lowest crime rates in the city’s history. The numbers show an overall decline in index crimes since 2005. Index crimes include homicide, rape, robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson.
• Pacific Highway South construction: After 10 years, construction crews wrapped up the final phase of construction on Pacific Highway South.
• Bally Total Fitness closes: Longtime patrons at Bally Total Fitness lost more than just a place to play tennis. They lost a community institution. Bally closed its doors Dec. 8, following the company’s recent acquisition by L.A. Fitness. Bally was embraced by the Federal Way tennis community as a social hub.
• Federal Way schools revise controversial grading system: Federal Way Public Schools Superintendent Rob Neu announced some adjustments to the district’s controversial Standards Based Grading system. The system generated outrage from many parents, students and teachers.