2014: A year in review | Triumphs, tragedy and controversy on Whidbey Island

It’s been another eventful year on Whidbey Island. Seahawks fans were overjoyed. An election made headlines. A landmark oak was felled.

  • Friday, January 2, 2015 1:41pm
  • News


It’s been another eventful year on Whidbey Island. Seahawks fans were overjoyed. An election made headlines. A landmark oak was felled.

Perhaps most memorable, the Oak Harbor football team forfeited a title game to Marysville-Pilchuck after a tragic school shooting.

Here’s a look at the year that was 2014:



North Whidbey Park and Recreation District began the search for a new executive director after Bill Walker resigned at the end of 2013.

Some people complained that cement blocks at Outlying Field Coupeville have a negative effect on the landscape of Ebey’s Landing National History Reserve.

A dentist of 35 years, Dr. Harry Turner, retired.

The national Defense Authorization Act allotted $117 million to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island for the P8-A Poseidon and EA-18 Growler squadron programs.

The Island County Sheriff’s Office sought the owner of a silver SUV, who may have attempted to abduct a child. A suspect was never found.

The Oak Harbor Police Department grew concerned over burglaries that occurred while residents were at home.

Oak Harbor resident Joshua Greene was charged with first degree assault with a deadly weapon after stabbing his sister’s boyfriend in the chest.

Joe Martinez, an officer at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, was fired for alleged inappropriate racial comments and other misdeeds.

Oak Harbor was chosen to host an official Seahawks rally the Friday before the National Football Conference championship game against the San Francisco 49ers.

NASWI announced base population will increase by 25 percent between 2015 and 2018.

An Oak Harbor resident Ashley E. Firth was accused of forcibly tattooing a man. She later pleaded guilty to assault in the fourth degree.



The Coupeville Marshal’s Office and the Island County Sheriff’s Office entered into an inter-local agreement in which the sheriff’s office took over law enforcement for the town.

Deputy Hodges Gowdey with the Coupeville Marshal’s Office was arrested in connection with a 2007 incident in which police said he allegedly handcuffed his former girlfriend on the side of a road.

A North Whidbey dog breeder, Matthew Hernkind, was accused of running a puppy mill. He later pleaded guilty to two counts of improper dog breeding, with deferred sentencing.

The Oak Harbor City Council approved  a proposal for a kraken statue for downtown Oak Harbor.

Central Whidbey residents approved two school levies.

Oak Harbor High School student Reilly Richards joined the Oak Harbor School District’s board of commissioners as the student member.



Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley’s former executive assistant Renee Recker settled a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city for $182,500.

The Loganberry Festival was cancelled due to conflicts with other upcoming events.

Douglas Saar, formerly a prominent attorney in Oak Harbor, was accused of allegedly stealing from clients. He was charged with four counts of theft in the first degree, one count of theft in the second degree and nine counts of money laundering. He pleaded not guilty and his trial is set for 2015.

A flash mob was held outside of Albertson’s in Oak Harbor to surprise Christine Eborda, recently diagnosed with cancer.

(Below: Christine Eborda is hugged by choreographer Bernice Manglona after a flash mob of pink dancers surprised her in Albertson’s grocery store parking lot in March. The Oak Harbor resident, who was diagnosed in November 2013 with stage IV cancer, watched friends and loved ones dance to Pharrell’s “Happy” in support of her recovery.)

Oak Harbor officials had the landmark Garry oak tree at the post office cut down and removed. The decision to cut the ancient tree was made behind closed doors, causing many in the community to criticize the city’s administration.

Island County planning commissioners removed the ban for marijuana growth permits for land within Ebey’s Reserve.


APRIL 2014

The Oak Harbor Police Department asked the community for any information regarding the 17-year-old murder of 7-year-old Deborah Palmer, but the case remains unsolved.

A sailor from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station rescued people from a burning vehicle in Oregon.

Upset with noise, Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve leaders went to Washington, D.C., to lobby against the Navy’s EA-18 Growlers.

Oak Harbor City Councilman Rick Almberg apologized for the decision to cut down the Garry oak tree being made in executive session.

(Below: Oak Harbor city staff take down a 300-year-old Garry oak because the mayor said it posed a danger.)

More than 3,000 runners registered for the 13th Whidbey Island Marathon, almost double the number in the 2013 marathon.

A mobile home on Race Road in Coupeville burned to the ground. No one was injured.

The Navy base was tentatively approved for six new P-8A Poseidon squadrons.

Oak Harbor Police Department Capt. Tim Sterkel retired after 39 years on the job. Teri Gardner became the new police captain.



The Oak Harbor City Council settled with the Swinomish Tribe over the human remains dug up during the construction project on Pioneer Way in 2011. The tribe received a 2-acre piece of city property and $2 million.

Island County Commissioner Kelly Emerson resigned suddenly during a meeting, giving one week’s notice.

Anti-noise group COER held a protest near OLF Coupeville.

Island Transit opened its new main base facility and held a grand opening celebration.

Wanda Grone, Island County chief deputy treasurer, filed to run for county treasurer and is fired from her job by her boss, Treasurer Ana Maria Nuñez.

Oak Harbor resident Ricardo Piloneo was charged with three counts of harassment, threats to kill after allegedly threatening three people with a Samurai sword.

Oak Harbor Mayor Dudley called for dismissal of Whidbey Island Marathon coordinator Tamra Sipes.

The North Whidbey Park and Recreation District hires Gino Wolfe as the new executive director.

An Anacortes resident died after being struck by a vehicle while he was crossing State Highway 20.

South Whidbey Fire/EMS got a new fire boat.



Two Navy men, Vincent C. Ya and Joseph T. Lee, died while kayaking off Whidbey Island.

About 1,500 people participated in Oak Harbor’s Relay for Life.

A total of 309 seniors graduated from Oak Harbor High School.

Hodges Gowdey, a former Coupeville Marshal’s deputy, pleaded guilty to a gross misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct and avoided going to trial over felony charges of unlawful imprisonment and witness tampering.

The Waste Management Call Center in Oak Harbor announced it was closing and moving to Arizona, costing 126 employees their jobs.



The Oak Harbor City Council voted to appoint Nikki Esparza as the new city attorney.

Whidbey General Hospital’s chief nursing officer, Linda Gipson, was charged with a single count of assault in the fourth degree after allegedly assaulting a patient.

Five people were left homeless after a house burned to the ground on July 4. The fire was ruled accidental and unrelated to fireworks.

Former owner and publisher of the Whidbey News-Times Wallie Funk received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce.

Whidbey General Hospital Chief Executive Officer Tom Tomasino put in a one-year notice with plans to retire in October 2015.

Five North Whidbey Fire and Rescue firefighters went to help battle the Carlton Complex wildfire.

Island Transit uncovered major financial troubles and was forced to lay off 24 employees, cancel Saturday services and change or eliminate five regular routes.

Seven 12-year-old kayak students were separated from their instructors and were rescued by helicopter by Coast Guard and Navy Search and Rescue emergency responders.

Navy Petty Officer Michael McCastle was 828 pullups shy of breaking the Guinness World Record for number of pullups in a 24-hour period. He raised more than $10,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project in the attempt.

The Whidbey Island Race Week attracted about 80 sailboats to Penn Cove for the competition.

The PBY — Naval Air Museum held a grand opening event for its new location on Pioneer Way.



Oak Harbor resident Dave Olinger announced he was running for Island County sheriff as a write-in candidate. The 87-year-old nudist made headlines across the nation but didn’t get enough votes to make it on the ballot.

(Below: Write-in Island County Sheriff candidate Dave Olinger, a liberal nudest, brandishes a gun to show his ferocity. Olinger did not win a bid in the primary.)

Island Transit was audited by the Washington state Auditor’s Office after its financial troubles came to light.

Democrats appeared to lead during the primary elections for Island County, with Karla Jacks leading for the District 3 Commissioner spot and Ana Maria Nuñez leading the race for Island County treasurer.

The estate of Joan Biondi, who died in 2011, filed a lawsuit against Island Transit for wrongful death. Biondi was injured riding a paratransit bus, and the estate alleged the injury resulted in Biondi’s death.

Oak Harbor’s Run IN Color raised $5,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project.

The Oak Harbor Elk’s Lodge was selected to organize the 2015 Whidbey Island Marathon.

North Whidbey Park and Recreation District Executive Director Gino Wolfe fired head swim coach Bill Patterson without the approval of the board of commissioners. The board later confirmed the termination after two special meetings.

The Hydroplane Races returned to Whidbey Island after 40 years, drawing 42 boats to the 10 different divisional races.



About 15,000 people attended the Oak Harbor Music Festival held Labor Day Weekend.

Former Coupeville dentist Michael Nieder died in a house fire.

The Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce Director Kathy Reed was fired suddenly by the board of directors.

Oak Harbor resident Jim Bailey was arrested for allegedly impersonating a police officer for years. The charges were later dropped.

A 3-year-old was bitten in the face by a pit bull, requiring 15 stitches and possibly plastic surgery in the future.

Oak Harbor School Board President Christine Cribb was appointed as the new executive director for the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce.

Martha Rose resigned from her position as executive director of Island Transit following public condemnation of her leadership during the financial troubles at the agency.

An Oak Harbor woman was allegedly attacked and choked by an acquaintance, Larry Byars. Byars was arrested on suspicion of second degree assault, two counts of residential burglary, attempted car theft and malicious mischief in the third degree. Later, he pleaded guilty to two counts of residential burglary.

Whidbey General Hospital Chief Operating Officer Hank Hanigan resigned to become the new chief executive officer of Whitman Hospital in Eastern Washington.

Whidbey General Hospital’s Tour de Whidbey raised more than $50,000 for the hospital.



The woman who was allegedly assaulted by Whidbey General Hospital’s head nurse Linda Gipson filed a lawsuit against the hospital.

The Whidbey News-Times placed third in General Excellence in the Washington Newspaper Publisher’s Association’s annual Washington Better Newspaper contest.

The Navy started revisiting an environmental impact study on EA-18 Growlers, including 36 additional aircraft at the base.

Matthew Beltran, a Navy man, was arrested during an online child exploitation sting carried out by Skagit County law enforcement. Beltran allegedly offered a 14-year-old girl, who was actually an undercover officer, a $27 Marshalls gift card in exchange for sex.

Oak Harbor man Anthony Speed was found dead in a ravine in Clinton.

Adam Garcia, a 21-year-old Oak Harbor resident, was killed in a shooting. Suspect Christopher Malaga was charged with second degree murder by the Island County Prosecutor and held on $1 million bail. His trial is set for 2015.

Martha Rose received a $106,000 payout from Island Transit after resigning as executive director, including $88,000 in vacation and sick pay, despite evidence that Rose took vacation without deducting it from her vacation balance.

A tragic school shooting occurred at nearby Marysville-Pilchuck High School, resulting in five deaths, including the shooter. The Oak Harbor High School football game against Marysville Pilchuck  for the Wesco 3A North title was postponed and eventually forfeited by Oak Harbor because, as the high school football coach Jay Turner said, “It was the right thing to do.”

Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley called for all the members of the Island Transit board of commissioners to resign in the wake of the agency’s financial difficulties. Only Councilman Jim Campbell complied; Dudley was appointed in his place.



Marysville-Pilchuck High School gave Oak Harbor High School Wildcats the Wesco 3A football trophy after the Wildcats forfeited the title to M-P following the tragic shooting.

Republican candidates dominated Island County elections. Rick Hannold was elected as the new county commissioner and Wanda Grone as the county’s new treasurer. Incumbent Auditor Sheilah Crider and Reps. Norma Smith and Dave Hayes retained their positions. Rep. Rick Larson was the only Democratic winner in local races.

A 14-year-old Oak Harbor boy who allegedly texted school shooting threats was bailed out of juvenile detention.

Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks reopened an investigation into the assault of Daniel Raavel. Troy Hilkey was charged with second degree assault.

Oak Harbor High School Wildcat football team was invited to the Seattle Seahawks practice facility in light of their actions regarding the Marysville-Pilchuck shooting.

Theresa Gonsalves of Oak Harbor was charged with first-degree theft after allegedly embezzling about $30,000 from an Oak Harbor property management company.

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson was selected to serve as chairwoman of the Island County Board of Commissioners for 2015

Island Transit hired Kenneth Graska, the former executive director of Community Transit in Snohomish, as its interim executive director despite a scandal that lead to him leaving the job in Snohomish 20 years ago.

(Left: Casey Scott-Mitchell, with her daughter, Emmy, waits for husband and father Andrew Mitchell before the homecoming of Electronic Attack Squadron 134 in November.)

Mayor Dudley went to a Langley City Council and a Coupeville Town Coucil meetings to ask their respective Island Transit council members to step down.

North Whidbey Help House handed out about 360 baskets with all the necessary items to make a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Oak Harbor City Administrator Larry Cort underwent surgery to have a mass removed from his brain.

David Vier, a former Coupeville resident, was arrested in an online sting operation targeting child sex predators and was charged with attempted commercial sexual abuse of a minor.



Mayor Dudley was removed from Island Transit’s board by the Oak Harbor City Council for 2015. Councilman Rick Almberg will take over his seat.

The Omnibus Spending Bill funds 15 new PA-18 Growlers for 2015, but President Barack Obama still needs to the legislation.

A class-action lawsuit was filed against Windermere Real Estate and RE/MAX Acorn Properties, alleging they provided incomplete noise-disclosure forms to buyers.

Deception Pass State Park drew a record 2.7 million visitors in 2014.

The North Whidbey Park and Recreation District’s executive director, Gino Wolfe, quit after less than a year, effective Jan. 1, 2015.

Whidbey General Hospital fought a subpoena demanding it released the internal investigation report of allegations that head nurse Gipson assaulted a restrained patient.

North Whidbey Park and Recreation chairman of the board, Allan McDougall, quit with no notice at a special meeting.

North Whidbey Park and Recreation commissioners hired new head coach Dick Taylor after multiple meetings held to discuss the contract and background check information.

Coupeville sold developmental rights to 54 acres of property near Outlying Field Coupeville to the Navy for $800,000.

New County Commissioner Rick Hannold was appointed to the Island Transit board, joining fellow Commissioner Jill Johnson and replacing Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, who is now an alternate.

Navy Petty Officer Michael McCastle raised more than $700 for the Wounded Warrior Project by flipping a 250-pound tire 13 miles.


More in News

Help just in time for the holidays

Families who cannot afford gifts this holiday season have an island-wide resource.

Increasing call volume leads to shuffle in North End ambulance staffing

WhidbeyHealth will be operating an additional ambulance out of the five available in the North End.

Virtual meeting slated to discuss replacing 5 Oak Harbor schools

The Wednesday meeting is a time for the public to have a say in how the buildings will look.

Island school districts likely returning to remote learning

Increasing case numbers in the county have school officials considering a move to at-home learning.

Job numbers show county rebounding

Although the pandemic has hurt the local economy, unemployment numbers are gradually improving.

County election results certified

Final counts showed voters favored Democratic candidates, although some races were tight.

Photo by John Fisken
Putting the wind to work

Photographer John Fisken snapped a few pictures of a surfer on Monday.

COVID-19 outbreak being investigated at Regency

18 people have tested positive for coronavirus at a long-term care facility in Oak Harbor.

Oak Harbor Police Dept. earns state association accreditation

The accreditation didn’t change how officers do their jobs, but does include important adjustments.

Most Read