Auburn’s top stories of 2023

The Auburn Reporter’s year in review.

Jan. 2023

Police arrest Auburn man accused of trying to kidnap bikini barista: Matthew William Darnell, 39, initially charged in January for the attempted kidnapping of an employee working at a bikini barista coffee stand in Auburn, accepted a plea deal and pleaded guilty to a charge of felony harassment. Surveillance footage from the coffee stand showed Darnell seizing the right wrist of the barista, a 31-year-old woman, as she handed him money. The footage showed him trying to lasso a 10- to 12-inch looped zip tie around her head and missing. Escaping Darnell’s grasp, the woman quickly shut the window and called police. After Darnell’s arrest the following day of the incident, a search warrant executed at Darnell’s residence on Jan. 18 led to the discovery of additional zip ties. King County Judge Joe Campana sentenced Darnell on Aug. 25 to 50 days in King County Jail, with 220 days of credit for time served for his previous time in custody, satisfying his sentence and resulting in his release from custody.

Council taps Cheryl Rakes to be new council member: The Auburn City Council selected Cheryl Rakes, executive director of the Downtown Auburn Cooperative, to replace former Councilmember Chris Stearns. Stearns resigned his Auburn position to take up his new duties as the newly-elected Representative for Legislative District 47. Rakes, an Auburn native and a 1973 Auburn High School graduate, was chosen from among five finalists.

Feb. 2023

Powerball winner bought ticket at Auburn Fred Meyer: Becky Bell, a supply chain analyst for the Boeing Company for nearly 36 years, had claimed the $754.6 million Powerball jackpot that was drawn on Feb. 6. Bell bought the winning ticket while she was grocery shopping with her daughter Feb. 5 at the Auburn Fred Meyer at 801 Auburn Way N. As Bell told WA Lottery officials, when she saw a sign on the Lottery vending machine showing the estimated jackpot at $747 million, it occurred to her that Boeing had just that week delivered its last 747 jumbo jet. The winning ticket represents the fifth largest payout in the game’s history.

Winning Powerball ticket leads to gift for Auburn Food Bank: Debbie Christian was working in her office at the Auburn Food Bank at 10 a.m. Feb. 9 when the phone rang. The Auburn Fred Meyer, where a winning Powerball ticket had been sold, had received a $50,000 bonus from the Washington State Lottery. The Auburn Fred Meyer store decided not to keep that bonus, and instead gave away every penny of it to the Auburn Food Bank, with whom it has worked for years.

Careers take flight at Green River College’s aviation program: Green River Aviation is one of 37 institutions throughout the nation the Federal Aviation Administration has selected for the Collegiate Training Initiative (CTI) program. The closest alternatives to GRC’s programs are in Anchorage, Los Angeles, and Grand Forks, North Dakota. The CTI program establishes an official partnership between the FAA and select aviation education programs. Green River recommends its students to the FAA for hire as air traffic controllers, granting students an advantage in the extremely competitive hiring process.

Seattle Kraken partners with Muckleshoot Tribe: The Seattle Kraken, Climate Pledge Arena and the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe announced a multi-year partnership Feb. 22, making the Tribe the Kraken’s first-ever jersey patch partner, and the first Indian Tribe to hold this honor in the National Hockey League. The Muckleshoot Indian Tribe logo will be placed on the right chest of the Seattle Kraken home and away jerseys, among the top-sellers in the NHL, sharpening awareness among millions of fans over content platforms across North America and the globe.

The South King Tool Library’s Auburn branch held its grand opening Oct. 12 at 1101 Outlet Collection Way. (Courtesy photo)

The South King Tool Library’s Auburn branch held its grand opening Oct. 12 at 1101 Outlet Collection Way. (Courtesy photo)

March 2023

Auburn business owners deter crime with a few design tricks: As part of its crime prevention community program, the Auburn Police Department implemented a security survey and site plan program to provide businesses with feedback on improving security and surrounding environments in order to reduce and prevent criminal activity, emphasizing a philosophy of designing urban spaces to deter crime.

Green River College celebrates legacy of Rich Rutkowski: On March 11, friends, family, former colleagues and fishing buddies came to the Mel Lindbloom Student Union Building on the GRC campus to honor the life and legacy of former college president Rich Rutkowski, who died in October 2022. Given the many capital improvements Rutkowski brought to the campus, some of them visible through the windows, there could have been no better setting to celebrate the man. Rutkowski’s proudest legacy, however, would surely have been the thousands of students whose lives he touched, along with every person who worked at the college under his leadership.

April 2023

Autopsy sheds light on fatal shooting by King County deputies: A 2022 incident involving Cicero Sanchez is still under investigation. What happened on May 4, 2022, that led to the shooting death of 31-year-old Cicero Sanchez during his arrest in Federal Way? An unreleased autopsy report and unreleased photographs of the scene revealed new details regarding the fatal police shooting of Sanchez.

Construction on Sound Transit parking garage expected to start this year: Auburn’s second Sound Transit parking garage has been decades in the planning stages. But the agency now says it expects to share final designs with the community by mid-year and to start building in late 2023 at 1st Street Northwest.The aim also is to improve access to the Auburn Sounder Station for riders, whether they get there on foot, by bicycle, by connecting buses or driving, so that more people can conveniently access the Sounder train and regional bus service. According to Sound Transit’s website, the garage should be finished by 2027.

The Muckleshoot Indian Tribe unveils its gift of a Welcome Figure and provides a song and a blessing during the Postmark Center for the Arts grand opening. The figure was created by Muckleshoot artists Sam Obrovac, Tyson Simmons and Keith Stevenson. Photo courtesy of City of Auburn

The Muckleshoot Indian Tribe unveils its gift of a Welcome Figure and provides a song and a blessing during the Postmark Center for the Arts grand opening. The figure was created by Muckleshoot artists Sam Obrovac, Tyson Simmons and Keith Stevenson. Photo courtesy of City of Auburn

May 2023

Burmese exchange student charged in fatal crash on State Route 18: King County prosecutors filed charges against an 18-year-old exchange student from Burma living in Auburn for a May 12 single vehicle crash along westbound State Route 18 in the Auburn/Black Diamond area that resulted in the death of another exchange student. The exchange student drove at speeds of 130 mph prior to the collision that resulted in the death of his passenger.

Jury convicts Auburn man in plot to attack U.S. Capitol: A Washington, D.C., jury convicted an Auburn man and three other Proud Boys members of a plot to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Ethan Nordean, of Auburn, who was the leader of the Seattle chapter of the Proud Boys, was found guilty May 4 of seditious conspiracy, according to media reports. The jury also convicted Enrique Tarrio, of Miami; Joseph Biggs, of Ormond Beach, Florida; and Zachary Rehl, of Philadelphia of the same charge, which carries a prison sentence of up t0 20 years. Jurors were convinced that the far-right extremist group attacked the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to keep Donald Trump as president even though he lost the 2020 presidential election to Joe Biden.

Council ready to change Auburn mayor’s compensation and benefits: The Auburn City Council appears ready to move on a series of changes to city code that will address concerns about the handling of leave accruals for the Auburn mayor. The issue dates to a meeting in November 2022, when members of the Auburn City Council were taken aback during a routine updating of the city code to ensure compliance with state law to find language on the books that revealed a financial exposure and potential room for abuse. Exposure that could have obligated the city to compensate current Mayor Nancy Backus up to $150,000 in unused vacation leave had she left office at that time. On June 5, the Auburn City Council adopted ordinances that settled the issue of the mayor’s salary and benefits as well as those of future city mayors. From now on, the city’s Independent Salary Commission’s single purpose will be to set the salaries of the mayor and city council. Employment benefits like sick leave, vacation or management leave will now be spelled out by city ordinance.

June 2023

Teenager charged with killing girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend: King County prosecuting attorneys charged a 16-year-old Auburn boy with the May 30 shooting death of a 20-year-old Auburn resident, charging him with murder in the first degree. According to court documents, the boy shot the man three times at an intersection prior to fleeing with his 17-year-old girlfriend to Portland, Oregon. Prosecutors say he pursued the man’s vehicle after tracking his girlfriend’s location and realizing she was spending time with another person. Because of the severity of the offense, the teen will be tried as an adult.

City receives money to rebuild Auburn Avenue Theater: The city of Auburn will receive $1.54 million from the state Department of Commerce for rebuilding the Auburn Avenue Theater. The Max House Apartment fire in July 2021 destroyed the building and several businesses. Subsequent demolition work on the burned building in the closing days of 2021 damaged the theater, and the city condemned it in January 2022. The city has noted broad public support for rebuilding the theater, which, with more than 14,000 visitors every year, has been a vital economic driver of downtown Auburn for decades.

Community invited to celebrate Auburn’s new bike park: Auburn’s Parks and Recreation Department has worked with the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance for months on adding a new, shining star to the city’s constellation of parks amenities. Something unlike any others — a mountain biking skills park at Cedar Lanes Park at 1002 25th St. SE. The skills park is open to everyone to ride and enjoy during regular park hours.

Auburn School District Superintendent Dr. Alan Spicciati addresses attendees of the grand opening of Terminal Park Elementary School on Sept. 26. (Photo by Robert Whale, Auburn Reporter)

Auburn School District Superintendent Dr. Alan Spicciati addresses attendees of the grand opening of Terminal Park Elementary School on Sept. 26. (Photo by Robert Whale, Auburn Reporter)

July 2023

Two sides clash over admission of evidence in Nelson trial: Pretrial proceedings continued for Jeffrey Nelson as the embattled Auburn police officer’s attorneys argued against prosecutors for the King County Superior Court to admit evidence, while the defense team accidentally submitted confidential information as evidence on an external flash drive. Nelson is the first officer in Washington to be charged with murder since the passage of Initiative 940, which changed the standard for holding police criminally liable for excessive use of force. Nelson is awaiting trial for second-degree murder and assault in the first degree related to the May 31, 2019, shooting death of 26-year-old Jesse Sarey. Nelson remains under house arrest, preparing for a trial that may not wrap until 2024 — while the city of Auburn and its taxpayers continue to pay him $100,000 a year.

Company to close mining operation in Auburn: For 40 years, developers and builders have used the gravel and rock mined from Segale’s pit at 1875 Kersey Way on the city’s south end for infrastructure projects throughout Auburn. But now, as Mark Segale, the son of Segale Properties founder Mario Segale, said the pit is approaching the exhaustion of its resources. Within three to five years, he said, the company will close the mining operation and redevelop the land. What shape the redevelopment takes won’t be known for several years. But whatever the answer turns out to be, the project will certainly be sprawling and complex, encompassing not only the pit, but the two existing sub-areas on the south end that flank it, of which Segale is the majority landowner — the Stuck River Road sub area and the Mt. Rainier Vista sub-area on the plateau to the south.

Aug. 2023

Auburn reaches $5.9M settlement with family of man killed by police: The estate of a 26-year-old man who was shot and killed by an Auburn police officer in 2019 has reached a $5.9 million settlement with the city of Auburn and its police department. The family of Enosa Strickland Jr., the man Auburn police officer Kenneth Lyman shot and killed 2019, filed the wrongful death suit in federal court in 2022. The settlement is the highest paid by the City of Auburn to resolve an excessive use of force claim against the Auburn Police Department or its officers to date.

Auburn man charged in money laundering scheme that included North Korea: An Auburn man and Russian national faced money laundering charges for allegedly operating an unlicensed cryptocurrency transferring business that facilitated more than $1 billion in money laundering transactions, including transactions for a North Korean cybercrime organization.

Sept. 2023

Historic Auburn post office reopens as Postmark Center for the Arts: They came in droves Saturday, Sept. 16, to the grand opening of Auburn’s new arts and culture center. And it did not disappoint. So radical has been the transformation from the old Auburn Post Office and later public Health Building into the Postmark Center for the Arts that even people who could recall the gloomy interior of yesteryear struggled to orient themselves in the bright light streaming in from high windows once covered up by a suspended ceiling. Former Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis recalled that negotiations with King County Executive Dow Constantine for the building began way back in 2004. As the new hub for the arts and for community gatherings in downtown, city officials said, they expect the Postmark Center for the Arts to crackle with energy, and make the downtown into the sort of place where people will want to be. In front of the building is a carved Muckleshoot welcoming figure, a man in a robe with a traditional Salish design of the type often used at longhouses to welcome neighboring tribes, a goodwill gesture to the city and its residents from the tribe on whose ancestral lands the center stands.

Auburn woman dies three days after motorcycle crash on I-5: A 48-year-old Auburn woman died at Harborview Medical Center three days after she suffered severe injuries in a single-vehicle motorcycle collision on Sept. 2 in Seattle. The collision resulted in the hospitalizations of Therecilla Casino Allen, 48, of Auburn — a passenger on the motorcycle — and the driver, a 53-year-old Auburn man. Harborview Medical Center staff declared Allen deceased on Sept. 5. The motorcycle struck a puddle of water traveling northbound on Interstate 5 at the convention center, flipping and ejecting both riders.

The 58th annual Veterans Parade and Observance was held Nov. 11 in downtown Auburn. It’s one of the largest Veterans Day parades on the West Coast. The event featured a flyover from a C-17 Globemaster III by the 446th Airlift Wing from Joint Base Lewis-McChord as well as America’s First Corps Band from JBLM, antique military vehicles, honor guards and ROTC Units, military marching units, veteran marching groups, drill teams, community and scouting groups, as well as numerous motorcycle clubs, antique car clubs and more. (Photos courtesy of the City of Auburn)

The 58th annual Veterans Parade and Observance was held Nov. 11 in downtown Auburn. It’s one of the largest Veterans Day parades on the West Coast. The event featured a flyover from a C-17 Globemaster III by the 446th Airlift Wing from Joint Base Lewis-McChord as well as America’s First Corps Band from JBLM, antique military vehicles, honor guards and ROTC Units, military marching units, veteran marching groups, drill teams, community and scouting groups, as well as numerous motorcycle clubs, antique car clubs and more. (Photos courtesy of the City of Auburn)

Oct. 2023

Auburn Mountainview High School football hazing raises concerns: The Auburn Police Department has started an investigation into a hazing incident at Auburn Mountainview High School involving the school’s junior varsity football team. The students responsible for the incident were suspended and removed from the football team. School staff learned of the hazing incident late Oct. 19, involving students on the junior varsity football team. There are several victims, with the school providing support to victims, according to the school district. All involved in the incident were minors, police said.

Rescuers save man who fell off 60-foot cliff: Multiple fire agencies coordinated on Oct. 15 to rescue a man who fell down an approximately 60-foot cliff in the 37800 block of Auburn Enumclaw Road Southeast. The man suffered serious injuries in the fall. The man was located after his car was found abandoned up on a hillside where he was working. Family and friends went up to go look for him when they found he had fallen over the edge. Using a rigging system with both a safety line and main line, rescuers performed a high angle rope rescue, placing and strapping the man into a basket that was pulled up the cliffside.

South King Tool Library opens Auburn branch: The South King Tool Library has opened a new branch in Auburn. Members can borrow ladders, screwdrivers, hoses, drills, saws and more for residential, business or other projects. A grand opening celebration was held Oct. 12 at The Outlet Collection, 1101 Outlet Collection Way, #1357. The tool library already has a location in Federal Way. The Auburn branch was made possible from a nearly $200,000 grant from King County that’s awarded to projects that aim to reduce waste in the community. Tool libraries help people avoid tossing their rarely-used tools. They also create opportunities to repair appliances and furniture rather than throwing them away, and affordably connect people with odd or expensive tools they may only need to use once or twice.

Nov. 2023

Anonymous benefactor donates $800,000 to fully fund food bank relocation: A local businessman stepped forward with an $800,000 donation to fully cover the costs of the Auburn Food Bank’s relocation to its new home in the remodeled former Sports Page Tavern in north Auburn. In so doing, the generous benefactor, who prefers to remain anonymous, single-handedly lifted one enormous problem that had been pressing for months on the Food Bank, its executive director, and its hard working staff: the agency’s inability to move in to the nearly completed facility until the money it owed the contractor was paid. “I am going to be able pay my debt, and I am going to be able to shake the hand of the contractor, and say thank you very much for your wonderful work,” said an elated Debbie Christian, who has been executive director of the Auburn Food Bank since 2006. “I have a Christmas miracle at Thanksgiving.” Christian announced the news to her staff after she picked up the check on Nov. 15.

Video shows Auburn homeowner shooting at intruders: An armed Auburn homeowner fired shots at home intruders after they attempted to kick down their door, scaring the intruders off. When officers arrived, a resident at the address reported an attempted break-in and burglary at their home involving three suspects. Security footage of the incident showed three masked men carrying guns and announcing themselves as “Seattle police” prior to attempting to kick down the door. The homeowner, who was armed, fired multiple shots at the intruders through the door, shattering the glass of their storm door, footage shows. Video shows the intruders fleeing immediately, stumbling from the home, as the shots rang out.

New faces will join Auburn City Council: Looks to be all but certain by now that come January, Auburn City Council incumbents James Jeyaraj and Robyn Mulenga will relinquish their seats to, respectively, Tracy Taylor-Turner and Clinton Taylor.

Dec. 2023

Human remains identified as victim of Green River Killer: Law enforcement believe they have identified the human remains of one of the Green River Killer’s unidentified victims. Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer, pleaded guilty on Nov. 5, 2003, to 48 counts of aggravated murder for the serial murders of women between 1982 and 1998. Through forensic genetic genealogy testing, a DNA technology company concluded the remains of a deceased unidentified victim found in Auburn in 1985, referred to as Bones 17, belonged to a girl named Lori Anne Razpotnik. In 1982, 15-year-old Lori Anne lived with her family in Lewis County. She ran away from her home in 1982, and her family never saw her again. According to the King County Sheriff’s Office, employees from the City of Auburn discovered potential human remains on Dec. 30, 1985, after being called in to investigate a car over an embankment in the 2000 block of Mt. View Drive Southwest.

Suspect in I-5 freeway shootings arrested in Auburn: The Washington State Patrol announced the arrest of an individual suspected of involvement in a series of five freeway shootings on Dec. 6 on Interstate 5. Captain Ron Mead of the Washington State Patrol stated Marco Antonio Ramos-Valdez served as an active shooter at a press conference on Dec. 8. Of the five shooting incidents, one resulted in injury, with the shooter striking the driver of a vehicle on southbound Interstate 5 in the neck.

Auburn to annex Bridges neighborhood from Kent: On Dec. 4, the Auburn City Council voted unanimously to annex the Bridges community from Kent. That action removed annexation from the city council’s hands and placed it in the hands of the clock, and when time ticks down to 12:01 a.m. Jan. 1, 2024, the annexation becomes official — and Auburn grows in an instant by 386 homes. Both cities — Auburn and Kent — and the communities involved have approved the annexation. The City of Kent annexed the Bridges area in 1987, about 21 years before Auburn’s annexation of Lea Hill. Prior to the latter action, the Bridges was just a portion of Kent that was not contiguous to that city’s boundaries. But when Auburn took Lea Hill under its wing, it made the Bridges area an island of Kent entirely surrounded by Auburn.

State regulations shutter Auburn’s Santa House: Sorry, kids, there’ll be no Santa House in downtown Auburn this Christmas season. What’s more, unless a permanent spot can be found to place the one that’s ready and cooling its heels on a trailer in north Auburn, there may not be a Santa House in the city for a long time. Blame it on a recent change in state regulations that subjects small structures on trailers to the same rules as tiny houses, said Cheryl Rakes, director of the Downtown Auburn Cooperative (DAC). The upshot is that even a tiny Santa House must have a bathroom, a sink, water and a kitchen when it’s on a trailer — or no one can be inside of it.