2020: A news year in review

Clark County Today offers a glimpse back at a year like no other

The year 2020 has been like none before.

News over the past nine months has been dominated by the coronavirus pandemic that has closed businesses, schools and forced social distancing and mask wearing to become parts of our everyday lives.

In addition to COVID-19, social and political unrest led to a saddening amount of violence. Those of us in the Western United States also had to deal with horrific wildfires that burned acres and acres of land and filled the skies with smoke for far too many days.

On Sept. 29, Clark County Today completed its fourth year bringing news to area residents. The number of you who routinely view our content increased exponentially in 2020. The news of the past year, along with the efforts and talents of our staff, have led to remarkable growth in the traffic to our website. This year, we have had highs of 202,056 unique visitors and 788,826 page views in one month. We have had 258 percent growth in unique visitors over the past year. 

Here are links to 13 stories we published in 2020. It’s offered as just a glimpse of the year in review with stories listed in no particular order.

Gov. Inslee shuts down the state

On Mon., March 23, Gov. Jay Inslee spoke directly to Washingtonians to announce that he would sign a statewide order that would require everyone in the state to stay home. At the time, he said the order would last for two weeks and could be extended. 

The proclamation required every Washingtonian to stay home unless they needed to pursue an essential activity. It also banned all gatherings for social, spiritual and recreational purposes and closed all businesses except essential businesses.

The order built on the early and unprecedented steps the state took in the previous few weeks which included closing schools and restaurants, entertainment venues and other businesses where people congregate.

Emergency orders issued

Announcements of emergency orders, closures and restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic have been a regular occurrence in Clark County and the state of Washington in the year 2020.

This April 17 story received more page views than any other story Clark County Today published in 2020. It came after Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes issued two new emergency orders related to the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

PeaceHealth Southwest worker vaccinated

On Dec. 16, Schaeffer Seabrook, a registered nurse at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver, became the first frontline medical worker at the hospital to receive a dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

PeaceHealth Southwest, which is one of 17 sites in 13 Washington counties to serve as a staging area for the vaccine, received 4,000 initial doses. The state received 64,200 doses in the first shipment on Dec. 14, with a total of 222,000 doses expected before the end of the month.

Schools closed to in-person learning

Nearly three weeks since Washington schools were originally closed, parents learned April 6 that children will not return to their classrooms for at least the remainder of the 2019-2020  school year. They have yet to reopen for most in-person learning.

Gov. Jay Inslee, along with State Schools Superintendent Chris Reykdal announced that districts across the state would move to a distance learning model for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year while also using the time to prepare for the probability that the start of the 2020-2021 school year would also be delayed.

Washington became the 14th state in the U.S. to cancel the remainder of its academic school year. At the time, Washington had fewer than 8,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 338 deaths blamed on the pandemic.

Let Us Worship event

In September, thousands of area worshipers showed no fear of the pandemic by making a grand gesture of their faith. Let Us Worship, a tour that had stops throughout America, made its way to Vancouver on a Friday evening for a stop at the Vancouver Waterfront. 

The event was needed, said local Christian leaders. “Worship is not only an activity that God desires, it’s an important activity individually and collectively,” said Dennis Fuqua of Clark County Prayer Connect. 

The organizers and attendees of the event were heavily criticized by many because most in the crowd did not wear masks. However, there was no evidence presented by the Clark County Public Health department in the following weeks that the event led to any spike of COVID-19 cases in the area.

Wildfire threatens North Clark County

While still mired in the midst of the pandemic, many Clark County residents were forced to deal with evacuation notices in September when the Big Hollow wildfire burned over 12,000 acres of forest land.

Washington Department of Natural Resources officials placed parts of Northeast Clark County on either level 1 (be on alert) or level 2 (get ready) evacuation notices because sparks from the Big Hollow wildfire threatened to spread east and could possibly even jump the reservoir and spread into Cougar or Yale. 

Areas north of Chelatchie Prairie up to the Cowlitz and Skamania county lines were placed on a level 2 evacuation notice, meaning people were encouraged to pack their belongings and be ready to go.  Areas south of Chelatchie including Amboy and north Yacolt were put on level 1, meaning they were told to be alert to any further information.

Smoke from the Big Hollow fire continued to pour into areas of north Clark County and south Cowlitz County, creating an eerie scene. It was added to smoke from fires raging in Oregon that was pushed northward by shifting winds.

November general election

More than 85 percent (277,013) of Clark County’s 325,355 registered voters turned out for the November general election.

Two races needed several days of ballot counts to determine a winner. In the race for state representative, position No. 1 in the 17th Legislative District, Democrat challenger Tanisha Harris held a lead of 1,612 votes over incumbent Republican Vicki Kraft on election night. Kraft eventually won reelection by 1,771 votes.

In the race for the Clark County Council District 3 position, Democrat Jesse James had an advantage of 1,110 votes over Republican Karen Bowerman on Tuesday night. Bowerman eventually won the race by 1,623 votes to give the five-member County Council three known conservatives, which includes County Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien and Gary Medvigy. 

Republican gubernatorial candidates debate

The seven men who were vying to become Washington’s first Republican governor in 34 years squared off in their first and only debate ahead of the Aug. 4 primary election in July in Camas. The event was put together by the Clark County Republican Women, and hosted at Shangri-La Farms by former State Rep. Liz Pike.

Around 150 guests were allowed into the event, and more than 600 watched a live stream on the Facebook page of Lacamas Magazine.

The group of gubernatorial hopefuls spent about two hours answering questions on taxes and budget policy, transportation issues, homelessness, the response to the pandemic, and the recent protests and riots following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The group of candidates included Loren Culp, the eventual nominee, who was defeated by Gov. Jay Inslee in the November general election.

Camas man shot in officer-involved shooting

An officer-involved shooting on Oct. 29 resulted in the death of 21-year-old Camas resident Kevin Peterson Jr.

The Lower Columbia Major Crimes Team and the Southwest Washington Independent Investigations Response Team completed its investigation of the shooting in November. The results of the independent investigation produced a video summary of the incident. The video can be viewed at https://youtu.be/0bP6kf5CbTk.

At the request of Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik, this case will now be reviewed by the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office. 

Patriot Prayer member killed

A man shot and killed in downtown Portland in August was identified as a supporter of Patriot Prayer, the organization led by Camas resident Joey Gibson. The deceased was 39-year-old Aaron J. Danielson, of Portland. The Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office conducted an autopsy and determined the manner of death to be homicide and the cause of death gunshot wound of the chest. 

Danielson had attended a duel protest rally in Camas by area residents separately supporting law enforcement and Black Lives Matter the day before he was shot and killed in downtown Portland, where nightly riots and protests against law enforcement had taken place for nearly 100 consecutive days. Multiple reports indicated that Danielson was targeted by his assailant because he was wearing clothing that identified him as a supporter of Patriot Prayer.

On Sept. 3, Danielson’s suspected killer, Michael Reinoehl, described as a far-left anti-fascist activist and antifa supporter, was shot and killed by a federally led fugitive task force near Lacey.

Protest temporarily closes I-5 Bridge

Several hundred Black Lives Matter protesters held an event In June in downtown Vancouver in observance of Juneteenth. Participants in the event gathered in Esther Short Park before walking together to Interstate 5 and on to the Interstate Bridge, blocking traffic for more than an hour, before returning to the Washington side of the bridge and dispersing.

D. Angus Lee, a Vancouver Criminal defense and civil rights attorney, filed a lawsuit against Washington State Patrol (WSP) for what he alleges was the facilitation of the mass gathering.

Vancouver pet groomer charged

A pet groomer was charged with defying an emergency order in May when she opened her pet grooming business in defiance of Gov. Jay Inslee’s shutdown order, leading to a motion to have the charges dismissed. 

Kelly Carroll was charged by the city of Vancouver with defying an emergency order after she reopened her PetBiz grooming business at 5620 NE Gher Road on May 16.

In his motion, Vancouver-based attorney Angus Lee made several arguments in Carroll’s defence, the primary one being that the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy’’ order issued on March 23 included an exception allowing “activities essential for the health and safety of family, household members, and pets,” as well as authorizing “caring for a family member, friend, or pet in another household or residence.”

Charges against Carroll were dismissed in August.

Longtime teacher files lawsuit

In March, a long-time Washougal resident filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Evergreen School District and two individuals, claiming violations of his constitutional right to freedom of speech.

Eric Dodge, who was entering his 17th year as a teacher in the Evergreen School District, was scheduled to begin an assignment at Wy‘east Middle School last fall before a conflict occurred with his then Principal Caroline Garrett over his support for President Donald Trump. Specifically, Garrett clashed with Dodge over his possession of a “Make America Great Again’’ (MAGA) hat, which has become a well-known symbol for Trump supporters.

The lawsuit is yet to be resolved. Dodge is no longer teaching. Soon after the lawsuit was filed, Garrett and the Evergreen School District parted ways.