Every year brings stories that stand out from the rest — sometimes due to the potential impact on a community, frequently because of the can’t-believe-it’s-true narrative and on occasion, unfortunately, due to a troubling turn of evens.
With 2016 all but in the books, it’s time to look at the top 10 Renton Reporter stories that caught the readers’s attention during the past 12 months.
Robert James Morrison
Perhaps the year’s most shocking story broke in August when police arrested Lee’s Martial Arts owner Robert James Morrison, 42, and charged him with three counts of rape of a child in the third degree and one count of communicating with a minor for immoral purposes.
According to court documents, Morrison allegedly began a relationship with a 14-year-old student that eventually became sexual when the student was 15, both at the school and at his home. Three other students also told authorities that he sent them nude photos of himself.
Documents labeled the martial arts school owner as a “severe danger to the community.” He pleaded not guilty to all charges and was released on $300,000 bail with additional conditions including orders of protection for all victims and a no contact order with all minors.
Other owners in the Lee’s Martial Arts franchise disavowed Morrison and he is no longer active in the Renton and Maple Valley schools. His case is expected to go to trial next year is innocent until proven guilty.
Renton made national headlines for the wrong reasons in January when Dane E. Gallion, a 29-year-old Newcastle man accidentally shot and wounded a 40-year-old woman when his handgun discharged during a movie at The Landing.
The woman was treated for her injuries at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle and was release.
Gallion told police he took the gun to the theater because he was worried about mass shootings in public places. He sat in the middle of the theater, chambering a round in his 9 mm handgun which was unholstered in his waistband. Someone sitting next to him was bothering him but he couldn’t tell a detective exactly how when interviewed at the police station, according to court documents.
After the shooting, he left the theater but was later turned in by family members.
Gallion pleaded guilty to third-degree assault charges in October.
Lindbergh Fall Sports
The three Renton high schools all moved into new leagues this year as the Seamount League dissolved following the 2015-16 school year and while some teams struggled in their new leagues and teams, individuals from Lindbergh thrived in the fall season.
Swimming coach Roger Miron won coach of the year for leading his group of mostly underclassmen swimmers to an unbeaten season, their first in recent memory. Four swimmers also made the all-league first team.
Cross Country coach Jeff Rettman also won Coach of the Year honors and he was joined by junior Tyler Hughey who won Athlete of the Year for boys cross country. In addition, four seniors made the all-league first team.
On the girls side, the team won the division, but not the league and sent three runners to the all-league first team.
In girls soccer, Lindbergh sophomore Thai Nguyen was named offensive player of the year.
In football, the Eagles finished in the middle of the pack, but Johsiah Serquina received first-team all-league honors on both sides of the ball. Three other Eagles also made the all-league team.
The decision combined the Renton Fire Department with Fire District 25 to create the new department, complete with its own taxing authority and guaranteed revenue line. The vote also changed how Renton resident pay for their fire service, instituting a fire benefit charge based on the difficulty of fighting a fire at a particular structure, instead of straight property value.
Following the vote, Chief Mark Peterson announced his retirement from the department after 35 years with the city and more than six years as chief. Peterson, whose career began in the early 1970s, said he wanted to spend more time with his family.
In September, the authority’s governing board officially named former Assistant Chief Rick Marshall as the department’s new chief.
RenCon and Multicultural Festival
The city of Renton hosted two new festivals this fall with hopes of them becoming permanent parts of the city and regional landscape.
During the last weekend in September, the mayor’s Inclusion Task Force coordinated a two-day event designed to highlight the arts, music, dance, food and activities from the many communities that make up Renton’s diverse population. Hundreds of people turned to out celebrate the event.
A month later, at the end of October, the Chamber of Commerce hosted the first Renton City Comic Convention — or “RenCon” — a celebration of comic books, films, art, video games, technology and all things geeky.
Featuring panelists such as animators, actors and NASA engineers, as well as costume contests and a room full of vendors and merchandise, the event drew more than 800 attendees to the city over the course of the weekend, with several vendors already inquiring about space next year.
Both festivals were great successes and appear poised to become annual events designed to draw more people into the city.
Perhaps the most spine-chilling case of the year that made its way to national headlines was the murder of Ingrid Lyne.
The 40-year-old Renton resident, and mother of three girls, was reported missing in April after she went on a date. Next day, partial body parts were found in a recycling bin in Seattle’s Central District.
The county medical examiner positively identified the parts to be Lyne’s and determined that she died of homicidal violence.
Police arrested John Robert Charlton, the man with whom Lyne went on a date with after meeting him on an online dating service. He was held on $5 million bail and pleaded not guilty on his first-degree murder charge.
Charlton is expected to go on trial next year and if convicted, he could face a prison term of 21 to nearly 28 years in prison.
Renton African-American Pastors group and Renton Police Department
Ever since the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Renton Police Department and Renton African-American Pastors group have partnered to prevent a similar tragedy happening within city limits.
This year, both groups put their words into action and hosted multiple events throughout the year, including “Cops, Kids and Teens” and “Real Issues, Real Solutions,” in an attempt to build relationships with the community and deconstruct preconceptions.
They even hosted an “open dialogue” right after the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille. Inspired by the conversations at the dialogue, the group then hosted the city’s first “Unity March,” a march from the Piazza to the City Hall to promote unity and inclusion.
After months of delay and high public anticipation, the Highlands Library finally opened its doors to the public in March.
The 15,000-square foot building was initially set to open in October 2015 but was delayed until February due to vandalism that left an estimated damage of $100,000. The February opening was pushed back again after being unable to get the power to the building.
The updated library finally opened to the public in March with more computers, bigger selection and extra infrastructure to accommodate more patrons.
While there weren’t any Renton-specific issues on the November ballot, there was one hot button issue that had the city nearly fuming — Sound Transit 3.
The $50 million proposal did not include room for the light rail to make its way to Renton, however included money for an I-405 Bus Rapid project (to be completed by 2024) and contains Mayor Denis Law’s proposal to move the downtown Transit Center to Rainier Avenue South and Grady Way.
While council members said they were pleased to see that Renton was included in the ST3 plan, they were disappointed that there were no plans for the light rail to make an appearance in the city. Even after city representatives formally requested amendments to the package, Renton had little to show for at the end.
The city estimated that residents pay about $20 million per year in sales tax — a total about $237 million in the past 20 years — but the city has almost nothing to show for it.
Despite strong opposition from Renton and other South King County cities, the package passed with 717,116 voters approving the proposal and 609,608 rejecting it. Nearly 57.91 percent of King County voters said yes to the package.
Pieces of the old Sartori Education Center building came down brick by brick this year to make way for the new Sartori Elementary School, scheduled to open on September 2018.
More than 100 former students walked through the halls and classrooms of the school one last time in July before the building was demolished. The olden wooden building, built in 1907, was replaced by a two-story brick school in 1939.
The the new elementary school will house students from kindergarten through fifth-grade, and could be designed as a choice school, meaning that parents from neighborhoods throughout the district could choose to enroll their child in the new school. It is designed to be a three-story, 650-student building, and will have flexible learning spaces that can be adapted to accommodate new, innovative technologies.