Atkins still has long to-do list after one year as sheriff; Agency understaffed despite new hires; jail a major concern

Chuck Atkins had been retired for two years, following a 35-year with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, before coming back to lead the agency after winning election in late 2014.

He got a nice break and did a little traveling, but he said he’s been too busy to miss retirement.

“I knew it was a snake before I picked it up. I knew what I was getting into,” he said.

Atkins took over as sheriff at the start of this year after Garry Lucas retired in 2014 following 24 years in the office.

“I love this agency, and I worked many, many years here, and I didn’t see what I believed to be what was right for this agency knowing Garry was walking out the door,” Atkins said.

He said he’s trying to take the long view, and said he thinks his first year has been successful in that regard.

“I’m not going to be 72 and still working here,” he said, referring to Lucas’ age at retirement. “If I do well and the people like me, then I’d like to do two terms — then somebody else is going to be prepped and ready to step in with my support.”

To him, a lot of the office’s success this year started with staffing and personnel needs, something he sees as a core part of the agency’s health.

“I believe, and I’ve said many times, the success of this agency is the character of the people that work here,” he said. “My biggest concern when I was running and hoping that I would win was, ‘Who was I going to surround myself with to make sure the job is getting done?’

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Therapy dog shares warm tidings; Canine brings holiday cheer to children staying at Share Homestead shelter

The children at the shelter came running when Limon, a yellow Lab therapy dog, showed up at the Share Homestead shelter on Hazel Dell Avenue midafternoon on Christmas Eve.

Heidi Anderson watched as Limon and her youngest, Brookelynn, 4, played on the floor.

Anderson and her family have been working to find permanent housing for about 1.5 years, since their home in the Brush Prairie area burned down.

Limon rolled on her side and let the gaggle of kids, a couple barely toddlers, scratch her belly.

Henderson said they’re in the process of getting a service dog to help her family — she’s there with five children — through anxiety and depression issues.

“You know what they do for us,” she said, gesturing at Limon. “Me and my daughter, she went right up to us, she knew that we needed it.”

The dog and her handler, Cindy Bean, were visiting through a program organized with DoveLewis Animal Hospital and Guide Dogs for the Blind.

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‘Force Awakens’ local ‘Star Wars’ fans; multiple generations flock to highly anticipated film

Debbie Asby joked she brought five kids to the premiere of “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” Thursday night.

Her grandchildren, James, 9, Colton, 13, Ashlynn, 10, and Madelyn, 12.

“And then my biggest kid, who’s 41, who saw the first ‘Star Wars,’ is the one who started this whole thing,” she said, referring to the influence of her son, Biron Asby, on his nieces and nephews.

“We took him to the drive-in and he was a child, an infant, and he claims he remembers it,” she said. “He’s the one who’s got the next generation all excited about it.”

Ashlynn said it took about 20 minutes to get their hair in Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia-style side buns. Madelyn quickly said it was more like 30 minutes.

The younger kids’ favorite “Star Wars” film? “The Empire Strikes Back.” Madelyn leans more toward “Return of the Jedi.”

Asby and her family joined fans old and new crammed into the Mill Plain Boulevard Cinetopia’s lobby, awaiting a chance to see the seventh installment of the storied franchise.

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Battle Ground residents heard roar, then saw flying objects, debris

BATTLE GROUND — Sheron Alvarez was in her bedroom late Thursday morning, seeking respite from already frightening weather.

“There was lots of thunder and it was loud, and then all of a sudden, the hail was terrible,” Alvarez said.

Then Alvarez was overwhelmed by sheer noise. The weather was on top of her.

A tornado ripped through the city of about 18,000 at about 11:15 a.m. Thursday, leaving trees torn from the ground, fences and debris scattered, and reports of 36 homes damaged. Alvarez’s home on Southwest First Avenue, along with her neighbors, were among them.

“I heard my roof ripping off,” she said. “I knew that was not good.”

Read more here, including other team coverage of the tornado from The Columbian.

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Tornado hits Battle Ground; 100 mph-plus winds damage homes, down power lines and trees; no injuries are reported

BATTLE GROUND — A tornado with winds in excess of 100 mph tore through Battle Ground late Thursday morning, sending emergency personnel to downed power lines and damaged houses, vehicles and other property. No injuries were reported.

The National Weather Service said the EF1-rated twister reached speeds of up to 104 mph and touched down around 11:15 a.m. in at least two spots along a 2-mile path in the southeast quadrant of the city.

As it headed northeast, the tornado downed dozens of trees 1- to 3-feet wide, and snapped a handful of others, weather service surveyors said. Trees fell onto cars, houses and into roadways, and closed multiple streets throughout the day. The storm also cut power to parts of the city for hours.

Residents captured footage of funnel clouds and debris flying in the air on their cellphones.

The tornado damaged two commercial businesses, Real Deals on Home Decor and IQ Food Market, which share a building on South Parkway Avenue. Officials deemed the building unsafe and it was evacuated, according to the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency.

Jenny Bauer, an employee at Real Deals, said she had just about stopped shaking by Thursday evening.

There were four workers and a handful of customers in the store when the tornado hit, she said.

“I was amazed at how quickly it hit, without warning,” she said.

Read more of The Columbian’s team coverage here.

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Car crashes into Arby’s off Mill Plain following short chase

A car crashed into the Arby's restaurant off Mill Plain in East Vancouver on Thursday afternoon. No major injuries were reported. (Washington State Patrol)

A car crashed into the Arby’s restaurant off Mill Plain in East Vancouver on Thursday afternoon. No major injuries were reported. (Washington State Patrol)

State troopers arrested a man suspected of driving a car into an Arby’s restaurant Thursday afternoon while trying to evade police near the Wal-Mart off Southeast Mill Plain Boulevard near Interstate 205.

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Concerns arise over volunteer armed patrols at homeless camp

A friend told David Ellis to take a drive through the tent city that’s sprouted around West 13th Street and Lincoln Avenue, to see firsthand the extent of homelessness in Vancouver.

What he saw downtown made him feel like helping, and so Ellis has been among the groups of armed volunteers patrolling the camp at night the past two weekends.

“I felt emotional about it,” said Ellis, who lives just outside of Vancouver. “You or I, even if we fell on hard times, maybe we have family to fall upon, too. But these guys don’t have anything; that’s why they’re here.”

Groups of volunteers have been patrolling the streets around the camp in an effort to help offer its residents a sense of security overnight. Some of these volunteer guards, Ellis among them, have been armed, alarming some neighbors, city officials and homeless advocates.

What happens next is in doubt. The weather took a nasty turn over the weekend, the city plans to start enforcing its camping ordinance Monday, and more shelter beds are opening, in theory nearly enough to accommodate all of the neighborhood campers.

Read more here.

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