Northwest NEWS

December 24, 2001


Slayings, earthquake, Brightwater, terrorism: What next?

by Jeanette Knutson
   Staff Writer
   What made it an "annus horribilis" were the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The surprise, the devastation, the loss of life, the subsequent deepening recession, the resultant crippling of the airline/travel industry, the war in Afghanistan, the anthrax scares, the weakening job market, the "collateral damage" that pundits refer to - all occurred in less than four months.
   Nor was the local news without its low points. The year started off with two homicides, reminding us that we, too, can experience big-city ills in our burg that boasts "country living, city style."
   And the Nisqually quake sure got us talking and wondering "What if?"
   Those 40 seconds of rolling triggered about 40 days of genuine earthquake angst. The good news is that the region is getting a state-of-the-art sewage treatment plant. The bad news is that it might be within one flush of downtown.
   Here, then, are the big stories of the year.
   The Emert Slaying
   A brutal attack that ended the life of 40-year-old real estate agent Mike Emert on Jan. 4 took place in a second floor exercise room of an up-market Woodinville home in the 19500 block of 157th Place Northeast. Emert was thought to have been showing the home to a client at the time of the incident. Medical reports reveal that the deceased was stabbed in excess of 20 times, yet no murder weapon was identified. Apparently the bdy was dragged to a bathroom and hoisted into the bathtub. The deceased was fully clothed except for his shoes, which remained in the exercise room. Tap water was running from both the tub and sink faucets when the owner of the home discovered the body. She, returning home from an errand, heard water running upstairs and went up to investigate. Finding the victim, she called police. The owner indicated she did not know the slain man. Emert's gold wedding ring studded with three vertical diamonds and his gold and stainless Breitling Chronomat watch were taken from his body. Missing, too, were his wallet, his cell phone and his black 2000 Cadillac Escalade sports utility vehicle.
   The personal jewelry was never found, though photographs of it ran in many area newspapers. The wallet was recovered at a pay phone inside the Coleman ferry dock complex within 24 hours of the incident. Police have the cell phone but never revealed where it was found. The SUV was found in the parking lot at Kirkland Park Place, a known hangout of a gentleman considered early on in the investigation to be a "person of interest."
   The deceased man's wife indicated to police that her husband felt uneasy about meeting a client named "Steven," whom the victim referred to as a "weird dude." She said her husband mentioned that the man was in his 50s and walked with a limp, using a cane. This man was reported to have been from the San Francisco area, staying locally with friends, working as some type of counselor.
   King County Sheriff's Department detectives believe Emert met the man on Jan. 3 and made arrangements to show him the Woodinville home the following day. They also believe the name "Steven" may be false.
   Jeffrey John Solo, 62, who does walk with a limp and uses a cane, was initially considered a person of interest. Officials questioned him, conducted a search of his Seattle apartment, took hair and blood samples.
   But weeks into the investigation, police learned Solo had a very strong alibi for the day before the murder. He had a doctor's appointment at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Seattle, a fact confirmed by a physician.
   Another two persons of interest were sought in the case and apparently never found. One person was described as a white male, late 50s to early 60s, with dark graying hair, light complexion and a large nose. He was seen on the day prior to the murder at a home in Redmond that Emert had listed for sale. Emert was also at this house in the 9300 block of 218th Avenue Northeast on the same day.
   Authorities do not know if the man sought was a client of Emert's. The person in question was driving a tan or orange 1970s or 80s Toyota Celica-type vehicle. The car was very dirty with a black grille and noisy muffler.
   The second person sought was a white gray-haired male, 40- to 50-years-old, about 5 feet 6 inches, medium build, with a tan complexion. He was wearing a short dark jacket, light khaki pants and had a wooden cane. This man was seen on Jan. 3 or 4 at about 3 p.m. at the Kirkland Post Office in the 700 block of Fourth Avenue. He was walking away from a black Cadillac Escalade, which was parked in the post office lot.
   Police also sought a clean white van that was seen at Northeast 195th and 156th Avenue Northeast, about a block from the crime scene, at about 12:40 p.m. on the day of the killing. (Emert's body was discovered around 12:45 p.m.) The driver was a male wearing glasses. This man, not a person of interest, may have seen something.
   The $50,000 reward offered by Emert's employer, Windermere, and the Eastside real estate community has gone unclaimed.
   Two airings of the case on TV's "Unsolved Mysteries" on the Lifetime cable network did little to move the case forward. From the beginning, detectives believed it was unlikely Emert was attacked randomly or that he walked in on a burglary in progress.
   In fact, the crime scene was so devoid of evidence, including DNA, that they suspect a professional hit man committed the murder.
   Yet police admit that nearly a year after the slaying, they've unearthed no motive.
   Review of Emert's background shows a squeaky clean individual.
   "Usually in these cases," said Urquhart, "there's something to do with sex, drugs, or money. It's just not there."
   The Boussiacos Homicide
   A month and five days after the Emert murder - on Feb. 9, at 6:50 p.m. - police discovered a body in the trunk of a black 1994 Nissan Stanza, backed into a parking stall on the east side of the Woodinville Athletic Club in the 17700 block of the Woodinville-Snohomish Road.
   The car belonged to Elaina Boussiacos, a 27-year-old divorced Woodinville woman who disappeared without any apparent reason sometime between Friday night, Feb. 2, and Monday, Feb. 5. The body in the trunk was identified as that of the young Boussiacos.
   Medical examiners would not comment on the condition of the body nor on the time or means of death. They did say they are treating the case as a homicide.
   Family members became suspicious when the otherwise responsible young mother failed to report to work on Feb. 5 and to collect her 9-year-old son after school that same day. Boussiacos also missed a morning flight to Ontario, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 3, to visit her mother.
   The athletic club staff reported noticing the car in their lot as early as 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 3. Since one front tire was much smaller than the other tires, staff assumed the car had had a flat and a replacement spare was put on. It was assumed the car's owner would be back to fix the car. When the car was still in the lot on Friday, Feb. 9, the club's owner asked a police officer that is a club member to run a license plate check on the car. The club owner was unaware police had been searching for the car.
   Store surveillance videotape, recorded at 7 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 3, showed a man walking from the direction of the Woodinville Athletic Club toward a nearby shopping center, just east of the club.
   Detectives with the King County Sheriff's office believe the car containing the slain body of Boussiacos was parked on the east side of the athletic club lot at about the same time on the same day.
   They think the man caught on tape - an adult male with dark hair and an athletic build, wearing a light-colored long-sleeved top and dark pants or jeans - walked through the shopping complex and out to 140th Avenue Northeast, then toward the Woodinville-Duvall Road.
   Authorities never did link the videotaped man to the killing.
   And so 10 months after the grizzly discovery, the homicide remains a mystery. Boussiacos moved to Washington six years ago and for the year prior to her death worked as an executive assistant at Digimine, a data-base-management firm in Kirkland.
   Her fiancé, Sione Lui, 30, may have been the last person to see her alive. He told police Boussiacos got home sometime before 11 p.m. and went right to bed because she had an 8 a.m. flight to California the next morning to visit her mother.
   Apparently Boussiacos dropped her son off for a weekend visit with his father in Tacoma.
   Lui said he fell asleep in front of the television and when he woke up about 7 a.m., she was gone.
   Police continue to look for clues.
   The Nisqually Quake
   At 10:54 a.m. 40-second jolt rocked the Pacific Northwest on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2001. Catastrophic destruction was averted because the 6.8 earthquake occurred along a so-called deep fault, 33 miles below the earth's surface.
   Nonetheless, the most powerful quake to hit the region in 52 years shook buildings and psyches.
   Schoolchildren and workers area-wide shot under desks or darted outdoors as windows shattered, brick facades sloughed off old buildings and pavement buckled near the temblor's epicenter, 10 miles northeast of Olympia.
   Elected officials in Kitsap, King, Gray's Harbor, Pierce and southwest Snohomish and Thurston counties declared a state of emergency in their jurisdictions. The cities of Seattle and Snoqualmie also declared a state of emergency.
   Reports listed one death, a heart attack victim, as attributable to the quake. There were 407 injuries reported statewide.
   Telephone networks were rendered useless, not so much because of fallen lines but because of call volume exceeding a normal day's volume by 50 to 100 times.
   Power transmission lines tripped out, leaving 200,000 customers in south King, Pierce and Thurston counties without power. Seattle City Light confirmed an additional 17,000 outages.
   Less than a day after the quake, power had been restored to 80 percent of those customers.
   SeaTac Airport sustained runway, terminal and tower damage. By evening the day of the quake, the airport remained closed to most incoming flights.
   King County Airport (Boeing Field) incurred runway damage with a one-foot drop in the main runway. A secondary runway was available for emergency use only.
   Coleman Dock car ferry terminal was closed. Though ferry service was interrupted, some service resumed the day of the incident.
   Amtrak and freight trains stopped operation for track safety inspections.
   Most major arterials remained open throughout the day of the disaster, but traffic was heavy and slow as dismissed workers from downtown offices drove home.
   Preliminary inspections of 1,800 state-owned bridges and structures were made the day of the quake. A dozen bridges, overpasses or on-ramps were closed. Most notably in this paper's readership area, the bridge to Fall City at Milepost 2.5 was closed.
   State Route 202 (Fall City-Snoqualmie Road) was closed to all north- and southbound traffic between Southeast Fish Hatchery Road and Snoqualmie Falls.
   Inspectors found extensive damage to a 1,000-foot section of roadway near the falls that included a longitudinal crack in the center of the road that extended over 900 feet. In addition, the roadway separated from the lane adjacent to the Snoqualmie River and fell away approximately six inches.
   The Tolt Hill Road Bridge between State Route 203 and West Snoqualmie River Road Northeast was also shut down.
   In Olympia, the Capitol was damaged; it and 20 other government buildings were closed.
   In King County the courthouse was closed. The Department of Judicial Administration and Superior Court were closed in Kent. The county administration building was closed. So was the Seattle Division of King County District Court.
   In Seattle, old and un-reinforced brick buildings in historic Pioneer Square and in the SODO district suffered most, as brick walls fell away from buildings, glass shattered and water mains burst.
   Eastside damage was minimal. Cans fell off store shelves, glassware tipped, parking lots cracked.
   The relative lack of damage overall is due to the depth of the quake itself. But the Northwest's retrofitting efforts - begun in earnest after the Oct. 17, 1989, 7.1 magnitude earthquake in the San Francisco Bay area, which killed 67 and did $7 billion in damage - prevented untold damage and casualties.
   The dryness of the winter minimized landslides. The countless drills schoolchildren and workers practiced - all the community planning - paid off.
   September 11
   Tuesday, Sept. 11, was a day that changed America forever. News traveled quickly that terrorists hijacked four airplanes. Two planes flew intentionally into New York City's World Trade Center's twin towers; another purposely crashed into the Pentagon and a fourth went down south of Pittsburgh, Pa. It was learned subsequent to the Pennsylvania crash that certain passengers on this flight united to overthrow the hijackers.
   Their efforts probably caused the plane to go down, but in so doing, an even greater calamity was averted. It was later learned that the plane might have been heading for the White House.
   The government quickly responded by closing borders, all airports and many public facilities nationwide.
   The military was put on full alert and throughout the country increased security was present, especially at transportation centers.
   Many large private facilities closed and most public events were cancelled.
   As people spent Tuesday at home and work, trying to get more details about the unprecedented and horrific tragedy, all levels of government instituted their emergency operations. Flags were flown at half-mast.
   In Washington state, the Emergency Operations Center at Camp Murray was activated. Representatives from the military, transportation, ecology, Washington State Patrol, American Red Cross, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Defense and the Federal Bureau of Investigation monitored activities within the state.
   The Washington State Ferry system was closed to car traffic for hours. Navy ships from Everett and Bremerton patrolled coastal waters.
   King County Emergency Operations Center helped coordinate the mobilization of the region's Urban Search and Rescue Teams. Woodinville Fire and Life Safety District sent four members to Camp Murray, two of whom were later deployed to New York.
   Gov. Gary Locke held a phone conference with the cities of the state. The cities of Woodinville and Bothell activated their Emergency Operation Centers.
   One hundred local citizens from the Cottage Lake Cluster of Churches joined in Woodinville on the evening of Sept. 11 for a quickly arranged multi-denominational church service at Northshore United Church of Christ.
   After sharing hymns, prayers and readings, people came forward one by one to light a candle.
   Each spoke a few sentences, dedicating their candle's flame to ease the suffering of victims and families, for guidance of leaders, in thanks for emergency workers and volunteers, in compassion for all people who have experienced similar terror and grief across the world.
   In response to the governor's invitation to all communities statewide to hold their own gatherings and unite the state of Washington in tribute to America, the city of Woodinville welcomed community members to join in a special remembrance ceremony. About 75 community members circled around Flag Plaza at the east entrance to City Hall on Friday, Sept. 14. Marie Stake, communications director for the city, read a letter from Woodinville Mayor Randy Ransom, asking community members, in part, to "Let the horror of last Tuesday reaffirm our commitment to one another and let us support our leaders and pray that their decisions will bring about an end to terrorism throughout the world and a rebirth of compassion and understanding for all."
   Battalion Chief Robert Whipple of the Woodinville Fire & Life Safety District spoke words of sympathy for the fallen emergency response personnel - for all the lost lives - and grieving families left behind.
   His words were followed by a moment of silence. The ceremony ended with the ringing of bells.
   Woodinville's ceremony of remembrance was one of thousands held state-, nation- and worldwide.
   Officials from the cities of Duvall and Carnation met and participated in the phone conference with Gov. Locke. In Carnation, city officials were assured that local dams and reservoirs had been checked to eliminate any potential threats to the safety of nearby communities.
   As a precaution, critical facilities for the city were also checked for security purposes, but it was not anticipated that there were any active terrorist targets in the Snoqualmie Valley.
   In Duvall officials discussed emergency monitoring with the fire department and made sure emergency procedures were in place.
   Duvall City Hall Administrator Doreen Wise said the city did not go into emergency mode, but was prepared to do so.
   She added that the 30 American flags recently donated to the city by the American Legion were put up almost immediately on Main Street by city crews.
   The Puget Sound Blood Center and those around the nation were swamped with residents who wished to donate blood. The country's blood supply soon filled to capacity and people who wished to donate were asked to call to make appointments for October and November.
   The Brightwater Sewage Treatment Plant
   In March, King County Executive Ron Sims and Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel announced seven proposed candidate sites for Brightwater, the new regional wastewater treatment plant that will be built, as it turns out, in Snohomish County. The county initiated a search for the new treatment plant site in late 1999.
   Early on, approximately 95 land areas were reviewed as potential plant sites. Of these, 35 were evaluated and screened, and six - the site in the city of Woodinville near the intersection of Northeast North Woodinville Way and the Woodinville-Duvall Road was removed from consideration in April when it was learned a 170-unit housing development was to be built there - became final candidate sites.
   The six sites were the Point Wells site between the city of Shoreline and the town of Woodway; the Edmonds Unocal property adjacent to the Port of Edmonds marina; a gun range between Brier and Bothell; a location in Thrashers Corner in the city of Bothell; a gravel quarry and additional undeveloped land adjacent to the quarry on the Bothell border; and a site near the intersection of Highway 9 and Highway 522 north of Woodinville by the intersection of 228th and Highway 9, commonly known as the Route 9 site.
   The sites were further evaluated to determine if they met already adopted criteria that included community, environmental, financial and technical categories. A Brightwater Siting Advisory Committee issued a report in June laying out their findings. For each site, members identified red flag issues that they believed had to be resolved in order for the site to be further considered in the selection process.
   Only two sites, Edmonds Unocal and Route 9, made it through the committee's screening process without a single red flag. In September, those two sites were selected by the two county executives to become the final candidate sites to be considered for the sewage treatment plant. The two sites, after being adopted by the King County Council, will undergo even more rigorous environmental review along with concurrent detailed engineering, geotechnical and cost analysis, not to mention public scrutiny.
   In November some on the siting advisory committee began to second-guess the executives' decision to forward only two sites to the King County Council for adoption. Some thought it might be prudent to have a backup site or two, in case one of the earmarked sites didn't pass muster. But the county council concurred with the executives, endorsing only the Edmonds Unocal and the Route 9 sites. Their decision, it was reported, was based on time and money. It was cost effective to investigate two sites, as opposed to three or four. Three to four million dollars could be saved. Too, having only two sites in play meant the project would be more likely to meet its 2010 deadline.
   Many in Snohomish County have grumbled because King County is undertaking such a colossal project ($1 billion plus) in a county other than its own. To that, Siting and Mitigation Manager for the Brightwater project Michael Popiwny said, "The county's sewage treatment service area includes most of urban and suburban King County, a small portion of Pierce County and 26 square miles of south Snohomish County. For 35 years King County has been providing wastewater treatment services to all of these areas. But along with providing the services comes the responsibility of building and maintaining a system that provides for the future.
   Hence, the King County Executive has been responsible for building the third needed wastewater treatment facility.
   By the way, 63 percent of the wastewater treated in this new facility will come from Snohomish County. Right now Snohomish's wastewater is sent to the West Point facility or all the way down to Renton to be treated."
   A fierce and vocal opposition to an Edmonds treatment plant has coalesced. A less fierce and less vocal opposition to the Route 9 plant is "out there." Route 9 opponents also have a strong, savvy group of pro-plant people with whom they must contend. Public input will play an important part in the final selection of the sewage treatment plant site. Those who feel they have something to gain or lose are advised to get involved ... soon.
   Comprehensive State Environmental Policy Act and National Environmental Policy Act review will continue for most of next year.