Renton’s top stories of 2023

Year in review includes stories and photos found in the Renton Reporter.

Jan. 2023

Renton’s Jessica Buchan named Washington’s Assistant Principal of the Year: To help kick off the new year, Jessica Buchan of Renton High School has been named Washington State Secondary Assistant Principal of the Year. “I was flabbergasted,” Buchan said of her win. “It feels like a fever dream like, did that really happen? It’s such an honor because it’s a big deal.” Buchan was nominated by Gioia Pitts, the Renton School District’s chief of secondary education, who told the Association of Washington School Principals (AWSP) that Buchan “never gives up” and is passionate about making a difference in the lives of students.

Photo by Bailey Jo Josie/Sound Publishing
Before their performance at the first Renton Moon Cake Festival on Sept. 29, two dancers share a candid moment.

Photo by Bailey Jo Josie/Sound Publishing Before their performance at the first Renton Moon Cake Festival on Sept. 29, two dancers share a candid moment.

Feb. 2023

Sartori Elementary students take a scientific look at SR 169 asphalt plant: The Renton Reporter wrote about a special lesson course at Sartori Elementary School, where fourth-grade students gave their researched opinions on the State Route 169 asphalt plant that’s planned to open outside of Renton. What started out as a fourth-grade lesson on the life cycle and habitat of salmon in the Cedar River quickly turned into a mission to learn about Lakeside Industries’ new asphalt plant. “It was a great preview of opinion writing,” said Carolyn Colley, a science coach at Sartori. “Students learned about citing sources, about government and power. What power do we have as the community?” Many students spoke about their opposition to the plant in speeches, often citing the taxpayer burden, negative environmental impacts or the potential damage to the Cedar River. On the rare occasion, a student spoke in support of the plant.

Line Dancers dazzle at the Renton River Days Parade.

Line Dancers dazzle at the Renton River Days Parade.

March 2023

Renton man’s Hyundai gets hot-wired thanks to social media challenge: Teenagers broke into and took a joyride in Doug Lindquist’s 2019 Hyundai Elantra. Rates of vehicle thefts in Renton jumped as a TikTok challenge showcasing users how to hotwire Hyundais and Kias swept the nation.

Renton’s Hudson Portrait Studio celebrates 41 years, thanks to strong relationships: Local photographer and “Relationographer” Bruce Hudson was interviewed by the Reporter for an award-winning article about him and his multi-generational family business. While Hudson’s talent behind the lens has been apparent since he was a teen taking pictures at family functions, it was his family that helped shape his business, leading him to become one of the top professional photographers in the Pacific Northwest. “My clients are really passionate about our relationship,” said Hudson. “I am the family photographer.”

Mayor Armondo Pavone gave his first State of the City address: He focused on economic growth, public safety, the city’s accomplishments and goals for the coming years. “I can tell you, going through the pandemic and going through all of that chaos that was 2020, it really illuminated the city of Renton,” said Pavone. He spoke about a city “business plan” that provides principles or “pillars” to help Renton thrive. Along with providing a safe, healthy and vibrant community, the pillars include promoting economic vitality and strategically positioning Renton for the future; supporting planned growth and influencing decisions to foster environmental sustainability; building an inclusive, informed and hate-free city with equitable outcomes for all in support of social, economic and racial justice; and meeting service demands and providing high-quality customer service.

As rental tenants face challenges in Renton, some call for protections: The Renton City Council moved to have city staff conduct a study of rental tenant data in the community to see if the city needs to implement rental protections recommended by tenant advocates and the Regional Coalition For Housing alike. Tram Tran-Larson, who works for the Housing Justice Project that provides attorneys for low-income tenants facing eviction in King County, testified to the council in support of tenant protection laws that she claimed would create more uniformity among cities in the county — many of which have already adopted renter protections, and would ultimately benefit both tenants and landlords. Tran-Larson said Renton makes up 4.7% of the total population of King County, while the unincorporated areas around Renton make up more than double at 10.8%, yet their number of evictions are nearly the same. She said this means that renters inside the city limits of Renton are nearly twice as likely to be evicted.

Renton City Councilmember Carmen Rivera recognizes someone in the crowd during the Renton River Days Parade.

Renton City Councilmember Carmen Rivera recognizes someone in the crowd during the Renton River Days Parade.

April 2023

Renton family seeks reparations from school district: Renton resident John Houston and his family had been speaking at Renton School Board meetings for months, seeking reparations for what had happened to their family 55 years ago. Houston spoke with the Reporter about his family’s nearly 10 acres in the Renton Highlands and how, after multiple fires and the setting off of an explosive on their front porch, the family was pressured to sell their property to the school district to make way for a school that wasn’t built. Since the article was published in the Renton Reporter, the Houstons have been interviewed by The Seattle Times and Converge Media, and their story has spread.

Jury acquits Renton man in death of 2-year-old boy: Five and a half years after his arrest, a jury found D’Andre Glaspy not guilty after prosecutors charged Glaspy for the murder of his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son in 2017. The King County Medical Examiner’s autopsy identified the boy as having died as a result of multiple blunt force injuries. Defense experts found that Moses suffered from pneumonia and disseminated intravascular coagulation, leading to the appearance of bruising on his body. The medical examiner’s office stands by the homicide ruling despite the evidence found during the investigation.

Renton School District funded a student trip to Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Eleven students from Renton High School, 10 students from Hazen High School and five students from Tally toured several different HBCUs during the district’s spring break. “We are very diverse with a large population of Black students and staff,” said GEAR UP district coordinator Kirsten Thornton of the students in the Renton School District. “But this experience at an HBCU, you wouldn’t have it anywhere else. It’s an opportunity to give students a chance to see the climate of the South and give our students something that will help them see themselves.” Plans for a second HBCU spring trip are currently underway.

A scene from Renton River Days.

A scene from Renton River Days.

May 2023

Man pleads not guilty to 1994 Renton murders: In October 1994, a 23-year-old mother and her 3-year-old son were found shot to death in Renton. About 28 years later, Renton police believed they solved the murders of 23-year-old Stacy Ann Falcon-Dewey and her 3-year-old son, Jacob. Jerome Frank Jones, 53, awaits a jury trial on murder charges that, if he is convicted, will result in a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Best of Renton 2023: The Renton Reporter announced the winners of the 2023 Best of Renton with an awards event hosted by the Renton Chamber of Commerce. The results were revealed on May 17 and each winner received a plaque.

Photos by Bailey Jo Josie/Sound Publishing
Volunteers for Sustainable Renton flag 5k runners, walkers and rollers through the course.

Photos by Bailey Jo Josie/Sound Publishing Volunteers for Sustainable Renton flag 5k runners, walkers and rollers through the course.

June 2023

Renton police recover $1.5M of stolen merchandise in man’s home: Renton police recovered an estimated $1.5 million of stolen merchandise from a suspected property trafficker. The investigation found multiple shoplifters provided stolen items to a Federal Way man. Law enforcement discovered piles of stolen merchandise at his home after serving a search warrant.

Kara Sutra reads to some children during Pride Month.

Kara Sutra reads to some children during Pride Month.

July 2023

Renton police seek suspect in series of strong-arm robberies: Renton police searched for a suspect they said was involved in a series of strong-armed robberies for a number of months, targeting the same convenience store business approximately five separate times, in addition to six or more incidents at other locations in Renton. Police arrested the suspect on July 22 in a “high risk” traffic stop without incident following another gas station robbery.

Park-goers remember Sam the Gene Coulon man: Sam Velick, 67, had been living at Gene Coulon Park for 30 years before his death on May 13. He had made countless friends during his time there, from Parks Recreation workers to daily joggers, but many still asked, “Who was the Gene Coulon Man?” The Renton Reporter spoke with several friends of Sam and a family member who shared stories about the private man who spent his days reading, fishing and doing pull-ups in the park.

Burlesque dancers enchant at the Renton Civic Theatre.

Burlesque dancers enchant at the Renton Civic Theatre.

Aug. 2023

Student’s assault on Renton teacher raises district safety concerns: On March 30, a 12-year-old girl at Dimmitt Middle School attacked Stephanie Hartung, a seventh-grade teacher, leaving her with a laceration to the face, a concussion, a black eye, substantial facial swelling, bruising and scratches, and chunks of hair pulled out. A Renton Reporter investigation into the incident found the 12-year-old girl had a criminal history, and was placed in Hartung’s classroom without informing her of the girl’s arrest history.

Kiwanis Club of Renton to close after 93-plus years: Due to a decline in membership, the Kiwanis Club of Renton announced it would close its operations in October 2023. “It feels miserable, to be perfectly honest,” said Jon Pozega, club president. Elderly members have been retiring and wanting to travel, and young families have been too busy to join, Pozega said. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, the Renton Kiwanis Club had around 150 members. As of August 2023, it had 11. As one of its final contributions to the city, the club donated its Kiwanis Bell and gavel to the Renton History Museum. The bell was given to the club by another Seattle Kiwanis Club for its founding in 1929. In the museum, the bell will also have a shadowbox, detailing its mission and other aspects of its impact in Renton.

Photos by Bailey Jo Josie / Renton Reporter
Samuel, Adeline and Ash Blythe pose with the red dragon egg they found during the April Dragon Scavenger Hunt. There were a total of red dragon eggs hidden throughout the city for the dragon egg hunt.

Photos by Bailey Jo Josie / Renton Reporter Samuel, Adeline and Ash Blythe pose with the red dragon egg they found during the April Dragon Scavenger Hunt. There were a total of red dragon eggs hidden throughout the city for the dragon egg hunt.

Sept. 2023

Renton company named in lawsuit over fatal plane crash: Representatives of passengers killed in a Sept. 4, 2022, plane crash in Mutiny Bay filed three lawsuits in August 2023, one year after the crash, against multiple aircraft entities, including Renton company Northwest Seaplanes. Northwest Seaplanes denied any liability in the crash, claiming aircraft manufacturer De Havilland Aircraft of Canada was fully liable for the incident. The pilot and all nine passengers on the scheduled flight from San Juan Island to Renton died as a result of injuries after the plane impacted and sank in the waters near Freeland and Whidbey Island.

Girls design award-winning app to help out-of-state abortion patients: Bellevue team The STEM Girls!!! are named one of seven American regional winners for their app “MyChoiceHousing” by Technovation, a global nonprofit organization dedicated to tech education for girls ages 8 to 18. Two 14-year-old friends and their 12-year-old sisters set the groundwork to develop an app that helps those who are traveling out-of-state to seek an abortion. “Ever since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, millions of women have been affected,” said Isabel Xu. “We volunteer at women’s shelters and found that many of the women were from Idaho and that they had made the journey to Washington to seek abortions. Talking to them, we learned that they felt isolated […] It can be emotionally demanding if you’re here alone.”

Someone dumps hundreds of gallons of cooking oil in the Black River: The Washington Department of Ecology investigated an apparent dumping of hundreds of gallons of cooking oil in a Renton waterway, hoping to find out who was responsible for the pollution. Responders were notified of an apparent oil spill in the Black River near a King County pumping station near 550 Monster Rd SW. on Aug. 31. It was originally estimated by responders that about 200 gallons of oil were in the wetland, but after closer inspection and initial response efforts, that estimation was expanded to be somewhere between 400 and 500 gallons of cooking oil. Safflower oil, soybean oil and peanut oil were among the primarily identified pollutants, leading investigators to believe it was a “deliberate dumping” of waste cooking oil. But with no obvious truck access to the waterway, and few leads, investigators are not sure how the oil got there and who is responsible.

Renton man sentenced in plot to burn down Seattle Police union building: A 35-year-old Renton man was sentenced on Sept. 13 in U.S. District Court to 40 months in prison for his role in a plot to burn the Seattle Police Officers Guild building in downtown Seattle during the September 2020 protests. The defendant, Justin Christopher Moore, pleaded guilty in September 2022. According to records filed in the case, Moore made and carried a box of 12 Molotov cocktails in a protest march to the Seattle Police Officers Guild building on Sept. 7, 2020. Ultimately the marchers were moved away from the building in downtown Seattle. Police smelled gasoline and grew concerned about the intentions of protesters. The box containing the 12 gasoline devices was found in the parking lot next to the Seattle Police Officers Guild building.

Shiny and chrome at the downtown car show.

Shiny and chrome at the downtown car show.

Oct. 2023

Renton man pleads not guilty in mother’s homicide: Prosecutors charged 40-year-old Renton resident Walter Smith for the killing of his mother at her home in Renton with a knife and leaving her dead on the front porch. Law enforcement arrived at the scene to find Kathleen Smith with multiple knife wounds to her face and severe cuts to her neck “so severe that it appeared the spine was the only thing keeping the head attached to the body.” Walter Martin Smith pleaded not guilty to charges.

Renton Reporter wins big: At the 2023 Washington Newspaper Publisher’s Association’s Better Newspaper Contest, Ben Ray won third place for “2023 Sports Writer of the Year,” Bailey Jo Josie won first place in the category of “Personality Profile, Short” for her business profile on photographer Bruce Hudson, Benjamin Leung won second place in “Crime & Court Story” for his article “Renton man’s Hyundai gets hot-wired thanks to social media challenge,” and Katie Morgan won second place in the category of “Newspaper House Ad” for her “Shop, Dine & Do Business in Renton” newspaper advertising design. Benjamin Leung and Cameron Sheppard also won for their coverage for the Auburn Reporter, and Olivia Sullivan won for her work for the Federal Way Mirror.

Nov. 2023

Substance delivered to KC election office tests positive for fentanyl: An unknown substance was delivered to the King County Elections building in Renton on Nov. 8, resulting in the evacuation of the building and arrival of hazmat crews. Additional deliveries of unknown substances to the Pierce County, Skagit County, and Spokane County elections buildings also resulted in evacuations. A presumptive test of the substance showed positive results for traces of fentanyl of an unknown percentage makeup.

Renton minimum wage increase to appear on ballot in 2024: After raising enough signatures throughout the year, the initiative to raise the city’s minimum wage to be over $19 an hour officially made it to the ballot. The Raise the Wage advocacy group urged the Renton City Council to approve the initiative in December, but instead, it will be decided by voters on Feb. 13.

Sustainable Renton sunsets free grocery store: A program that kept families and individuals fed through the pandemic has come to and end, as Sustainable Renton’s “free grocery store” hosted a final free grocery store day Dec. 18. Hannah Flory, vice president of Sustainable Renton, said the idea and effort to establish the free grocery store food drive “came out of need” at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. Flory said part of Sustainable Renton’s mission is to find ways to reduce food waste, and closures during the pandemic created a mass surplus of food that was at risk of being thrown out among businesses across the region. Sustainable Renton and their volunteers turned up their efforts to “glean,” a term that describes the process of collecting excess fresh foods from farms, gardens, farmers markets, grocers, restaurants, or any other sources in order to provide it to those in need.

Seahawks drum finds new home in Renton: The massive bass drum that boomed and bellowed across the Seahawks’ stadium during the peak of the Legion of Boom era was recently donated the Renton History Museum to be celebrated and remembered as a token of the best venues and environments to enjoy a football game anywhere in the country. On Nov. 9, the roughly 500-pound bass drum was put on a flatbed truck and shipped from Lumen Field to the Renton History Museum. When it arrived in the back alleyway behind the museum, a crew of nearly one dozen Seattle Seahawks staff worked together to hoist it down from the flatbed and onto its specially-designed wheeling base.

A new kind of first responder in Renton: The Renton Regional Fire Authority’s FD CARES program assigns units typically comprised of a registered nurse and a social worker to respond to situations that police and firefighters may not be totally equipped for — and frankly, may not have the time to respond to. On Nov. 15, the Renton Reporter did a ride-along with an FD CARES unit working out of the Renton Highlands neighborhood. The FD CARES units, in many ways, are equipped to deal with the non-emergency calls in which people still may need help or a followup — urgent situations that are not yet an emergency, but could be if not cared for proactively. The units also respond to frequent over-users of the 911 system.

Dec. 2023

Suspect in I-5 freeway shootings arrested: A series of freeway shootings on Interstate 5 on Dec. 6, targeting multiple random vehicles, injured one person. Police arrested and prosecutors charged Marco Antonio Ramos-Valdez for two of the shootings. Ramos-Valdez indicated to police that about nine months ago he started to hear voices threatening to kill him. He said the voices identified specific vehicles that served as a danger to him on Dec. 6.

Valley Medical raises money to begin construction on robust Cancer Center in 2024: Announced in July, the Cancer Center was able to raise enough money to provide more “one-stop” oncology services to cancer patients and families throughout South King County.

Photos by Bailey Jo Josie/Sound Publishing
Maynard James Keenan sings “Fear Inoculum” from Tool’s 2019 album of the same name at the Tacoma Dome in 2023.

Photos by Bailey Jo Josie/Sound Publishing Maynard James Keenan sings “Fear Inoculum” from Tool’s 2019 album of the same name at the Tacoma Dome in 2023.