2016 in review: The good, the bad and the weird

From scary clowns to a giant weiner on wheels, 2016 saw its share of weirdness.

There was also plenty acts of kindness, some controversy and, unfortunately, tragedies. The following is a look at the news stories of the year,


An arsonist struck Naval Air Station Whidbey Island housing for a second time. A reward was set, but nobody was arrested.

Christian Alexander Longoria was the first baby of the year born on Whidbey Island.

Oak Harbor Mayor Bob Severns took office. He said his goals are to restore good relations between the mayor’s office and the council, work together with other governmental entities and help improve the economy.

Representatives from the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office toured the Island County jail, where Keaton Farris died from dehydration in 2015.

North Whidbey residents who were visiting another state found out that their home was being used as a clandestine drug lab while they were away. The suspect was arrested and later convicted of burglary.

Ryan’s House for Youth purchased the former Coupeville Inn for temporary housing of homeless youth.

The Oak Harbor City Council picked Erica Wasinger as the new council member. She took Severns’ seat.

Whidbey Playhouse in Oak Harbor celebrated its 50-year anniversary.

Oak Harbor resident Nolan Brown was sentenced to more than six years in prison after being caught dealing methamphetamine near a school bus stop.

In a split decision, Island County commissioners elected not to accept a compromise from a Greenbank couple who are at odds with the county over the ownership of a small beach-access property. The commissioners decided the issue will be decided in court.

Whidbey General Hospital changed its name to WhidbeyHealth Medical Center.

Ancient Native American remains discovered at the site of sewage treatment plant being built in downtown Oak Harbor don’t affect work because the city had a plan in place and a archeologist on site.


Two Oak Harbor teenagers were arrested in connection with a crime spree involving burglaries and car theft.

A new sign showed that Tractor Supply Co. was moving into the old Kmart building in Oak Harbor.

The first-ever Chocolate Walk event was held in Coupeville.

An affordable housing crisis developed on North Whidbey as the number of personnel grew at NAS Whidbey.

The Oak Harbor City Council voted 5-2 to drop plans to include a $4.6-million community room in the campus of buildings that will make up the sewage treatment plant currently under construction.

Capt. Geoffrey Moore took over for Capt. Mike Nortier as commanding officer of NAS Whidbey.

Two Democrats announced plans to challenge state Sen. Barbara Bailey in this year’s election.

Oak Harbor resident Brian Rayford pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the 2015 shooting death of John “Jay” Johnson. He agreed to testify against his three co-defendants.


Members of the Oak Harbor School District voted to create an intermediary school for fifth and sixth grades.

A company backed out of plans to build a $15-million rehab center on Pioneer Way.

An analysis showed that Oak Harbor sewer rates may double in the next five years, largely due to the cost of the new sewage treatment facility.

A jury found Oak Harbor resident Christopher Malaga guilty of murder in the first degree in the 2014 shooting death of his friend, 21-year-old Adam Garcia. The motive was a petty grievance. He was later sentenced to 37 years in prison.

Oak Harbor police sought tips on the Subway robber.

The state Appeals Court upheld a summary judgment in favor of Island County in a lawsuit brought by Kelly Emerson, a former Island County commissioner.

Democrats in Island County picked U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in presidential caucuses.


A man turned in a handgun left in a grocery store bathroom by Ed Green, who was Oak Harbor’s police chief at the time. The embarrassing incident made statewide news.

Mike Nortier, former commanding officer of the Navy base, was offered and accepted the job of director of Island Transit. The agency is recovering from money and public image problems from a financial debacle two years ago.

Members of VAQ-129 gathered to help an ailing shipmate in Oak Harbor.

The only suspect in the disappearance of North Whidbey resident Betty Tews, her son Raymond Willey, died in California.

Oak Harbor resident Elma Pein turned 103.

A man fell and injured himself at Deception State Park and was rescued the next day.

A South Whidbey man was charged after shining a laser at captains of a ferry crossing from Clinton to Mukilteo. He was later fined $100,000 by the Coast Guard.

For the first time in its 29-year history, Island Transit collected fares on a route. The route travels from Camano Island to Everett.

The Oak Harbor High School robotics team earned top honors at a regional contest.

Thieves stole a tentacle from the Kraken sculpture in downtown Oak Harbor.

Anti-jet-noise group Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve took its complaints about the Navy’s EA-18G Growler landing practice at Outlying Field Coupeville to the county health board, arguing that the noise is a public health hazard. The board later passed a resolution saying it wouldn’t address the issue.

Businessmen Craig McKenzie and Jim Woessner announced they are resurrecting hydro races in Oak Harbor. The event is called Hydros for Heroes.


Whidbey resident Keesha Harden was killed in a car accident near Joseph Whidbey State Park. The driver, Jeromy Ladwig, was later charged with vehicular homicide.

Jonathan Frostad, an Oak Harbor science teacher, was one of 35 educators picked for a National Geographic fellowship to study climate change at an island near the North Pole.

NAS Whidbey was named as one of the Department of Defense’s top bases.

South Whidbey resident Jonathan Sage was defiant in court during a sentencing hearing that followed his convictions for raping two boys. He received a sentence of 35 years to life.

Mayor Severns asked Ed Green to resign as police chief. Severns investigated morale problems in the department and felt a change in management was warranted. Green received $60,000 in a severance payment.

An Oak Harbor woman survived a murder-suicide attempt. Her husband choked her, thought he had killed her and then took his own life.

David Nunez, 20, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and is sentenced to 25 years in prison in the shooting death of Oak Harbor teenager Jay Johnson. The motive for the killing was revenge for a $400 impound fee. Derek Reeder, a teenager, and Kitana Hernandez, who was 21 at the time, pleaded guilty to lesser charges.

The state announces that the coho season was closed for the year.

The City of Oak Harbor’s preferred alternative plan for Windjammer Park involved getting rid of the RV park and adding a water park.


Gary Wallin announced he’s leaving the Oak Harbor School Board.

Relay for Life raised more than $100,000.

Convicted rapist Curtis Brogi, who’s been deemed a sexually violent predator, filed paperwork in court to move to North Whidbey. A jury denied the request.

The Cutty Sark ran aground in the San Juans with Boy Scouts on board.

Penny and Richard Baldwin of Oak Harbor won $460,000 in the state lottery’s Hit 5 game.

WhidbeyHealth officials quietly tore down a sculpture that stood in front of the hospital since 1970. Some residents objected to the lack of notice to the public.

A crosswalk project championed by Scott Dudley, Oak Harbor’s former mayor, was axed by the city council.

An open house at NAS Whidbey drew aviation fans and many others.

A petulant blackbird ruffled feathers by dive-bombing pedestrians on Pioneer Way.


Oak Harbor resident Fernando Aguilar, Jr. was seriously injured from rolling his pickup truck after dragging a deputy and then leading him on a car chase.

A man shot at a sports bar in Oak Harbor initially refused to speak with detectives about the incident. The shooter, Shaunyea Allen, later pleaded guilty to an assault and weapons charge and was sentenced to four years in prison. He dodged a “third strike” by taking the plea bargain.

The driver of an ATV damaged trees at the Centennial Grove. The grove of the city’s namesake tree, the Garry oak, was created and maintained largely by volunteers.

Oak Harbor High School graduate Marti Malloy competed in the Olympics in Rio. She previously earned a bronze medal but came away without a medal this year.

Candidates for local elected positions participated in the first of many forums on Whidbey.

The Pokemon Go craze that spread across the nation hit Oak Harbor.

People searched Whidbey for painted stones. The treasure hunt was started by a Facebook page.

Former Oak Harbor Mayor Al Koetje was honored with the 2016 Best of Whidbey Lifetime Achievement Award. Best of Whidbey is a Whidbey News-Times contest.

A couple of teenagers used a drone to help track a couple who stole a boat on Camano and drove it to South Whidbey.

Officials discussed the homelessness problem as an Oak Harbor property owner deals with people camping on his property.

Court documents showed that hospital officials fronted a potentially illegal loan to fund the defense of an administrator accused of assaulting a patient.


Oak Harbor residents relished the chance to see the famous Oscar Mayer Weinermobile.

Incumbent candidates did well in the primary election.

Mat Sypert surprised Amanda Simpson with a wedding proposal that appeared on the big screen at the Blue Fox Drive In near Oak Harbor. She said yes.

The FBI arrested Oak Harbor Police Officer John Little on suspicion of possessing child pornography. He was allegedly exchanging explicit messages and images with a 13-year-old girl in another state. He was later indicted by a grand jury.

An injured woman was rescued after being found under Deception Pass Bridge.

An 81-year-old Poulsbo man leaped from a ferry on the Coupeville-to-Port Townsend run. The man’s body was later found in waters off Coupeville.

A judge issued $100,000 bail for Jeromy Ladwig, a vehicular homicide suspect, after he failed to appear at a court hearing. A state trooper later caught him during a vehicular stop.

Members of Oak Harbor High School’s NJROTC unit presented the colors at a Mariners’ game.

Mayor Bob Severns hired Kevin Dresker, a former Wenatchee Police Department officer, as the city’s new police chief.

Former beauty queen and murder suspect Peggy Sue Thomas was released from prison as an Oxygen network documentary about the 2003 South Whidbey murder of Russel Douglas airs.

A fire destroyed a Coupeville man’s house.


About 20,000 people attended the Oak Harbor Music Festival in downtown Oak Harbor.

Eric Anderson, an Oak Harbor veterinarian, was picked by the hospital board to replace Anne Tarrant, who resigned earlier in the year.

Ana Maria Schlecht was picked to replace Gary Wallin on the Oak Harbor School Board.

Mayor Bob Severns and Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson teamed up to form a task force to look into solutions to bring more affordable housing on the island.

Hannah Gluth attracted the attention of excited young girls by donning a mermaid tail and swimming in the lagoon at Windjammer Park.

Island County settled a lawsuit involving the 2013 Ledgewood landslide for $1.5 million. A total of 65 residents of the area will split the money.

Robert “Al” Baker was resentenced after an attorney appealed his original sentence on his behalf but without his consent. He received the same 52-year sentence for murdering his wife, Kathie Baker, at their Greenbank home in 2012.

A crew with the zombie-related TV show Z Nation filmed at Fort Casey State Park in Coupeville.

An Oak Harbor woman led an effort to take back her neighborhood from a problem house.

Oak Harbor resident Arcan Cetin was arrested on suspicion of shooting and killing five people at the women’s Macy’s store at the Cascade Mall in Burlington. Island County Sheriff Brown was in the store but unarmed at the time of the shooting. Lt. Mike Hawley with the Island County Sheriff’s Office arrested Cetin outside of his Oak Harbor apartment on the day after the shooting. Records showed that Cetin has a history of mental health problems and domestic violence incidents involving his parents.


Eric Baum was hospitalized after saving a 4-year-old girl from a mobile home fire at Coupeville’s Terry Mobile Park.

Oak Harbor’s Veteran’s Day parade was cancelled after the founder couldn’t get enough volunteers. The chamber of commerce hopes to restart the parade next year.

Coupeville Port Commissioner Mike Diamanti resigned after being blindsided by the other two commissioners when they fired the director.

A scary clown caused trouble in Oak Harbor as a wave of clown sightings creeped out the nation. A clown accosted a bike rider downtown and then was spotted in several other areas of the city. The clown remains at large.

Coworkers at Windermere Real Estate in Oak Harbor and Habitat for Humanity surprised receptionist Heather Czlapinski with the news that she was selected as a recipient of the home ownership program.

Predictions of a giant wind storm in the Puget Sound region turned out to be overblown.

Chief Criminal Prosecutor Eric Ohme announced that he won’t file charges against a teenager in a July 26 altercation that left a 37-year-old man dead. Evidence showed that the teenager punched the man in self-defense and then the man fell to the ground, hitting his head on the pavement.

The first P-8 Poseidon aircraft arrived at NAS Whidbey.

Oak Harbor Schools Superintendent Lance Gibbon announced that graduation rates were at 91.4 percent.

The Navy announced that it would be testing drinking water wells surrounding the Ault Field base and OLF Coupeville for potentially hazardous chemicals from firefighting foam used to put out aircraft fires.


Oak Harbor pediatrician Dr. Gabe Barrio left to practice in Eastern Washington.

A fire left Oak Harbor resident Donna Moore, along with her daughter and granddaughter, homeless and claimed the lives of their beloved dogs.

Three people were charged in connection with the theft of guns in Oak Harbor.

An elderly woman was charged with hit and run after hitting and injuring a pedestrian in a crosswalk in Oak Harbor.

The Island County commissioners approved a plan to create an outreach program for people who abuse opioids. The sheriff’s office and the human services department will partner on the program.

Donald Trump was elected president. It was a good night for incumbents in Island County. Incumbent commissioners Jill Johnson and Helen Price Johnson won reelection. State Sen. Barbara Bailey came out ahead of challenger Angie Homola. The three incumbents for state representative seats also won.

The state Board of Health agreed to investigate an anti-jet-noise group Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, or COER, complaints against two Island County health officials.

The Navy finally released a draft Environmental Impact Statement on the effect of increasing the number of EA-18G Growlers at NAS Whidbey. The study found that there is no evidence that noise from Navy jets has an affect on health. COER members and other people in the community disputed the claims. The Navy is accepting comments on the draft.

An A-6 Intruder memorial was unveiled at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

A state Appeals Court heard arguments in Joshua Lambert’s appeal of his conviction for stabbing his two 80-year-old grandfathers to death in 2013.

COER President Ken Pickard claimed bogus posts on a Seattle Times story lead to death threats. The Seattle Times investigated and found that the comments were not written by Pickard.

Oak Harbor cheerleader Katie Schisler was elected to participate in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York.

A number of Whidbey Island residents protested on the island while others traveled to the Dakotas to help the Standing Rock Sioux protest plans to build the Dakota Access Pipeline through sacred ground and underneath a lake and river that are the source of the tribe’s drinking water.

An audit by the state Auditor’s Office found that the travel coordinator at the Oak Harbor Senior Center allegedly misappropriated $34,000. Local authorities are investigating the allegations.

A Christmas Grinch damaged and stole toy soldiers decorating downtown Oak Harbor.

Oak Harbor resident Marvin Willey was shot after he allegedly acted unruly and injured a neighbor with his car. Willey was later charged in connection with the incident.

The county coroner ruled that the October death of Coupeville resident Ronnie Wilkinson, 71, was a homicide.


State officials decided to place the state’s newest ferry, the 144-car Suquamish, on the Clinton-to-Mukilteo run. Local leaders lobbied to get the boat, arguing that it will help with the long lines. It will be delivered in the fall of 2018.

Navy meetings in several communities about the draft EIS on Growlers drew crowds and silent protests.

A group proposed to build a homeless shelter in Oak Harbor. New county data showed that the homelessness problem on Whidbey was worse than originally believed.

The first snow of the season hit Whidbey. Schools were two hours late; kids played in the snow, building snowmen and throwing snowballs.

Supporters of the Boys & Girls Club of Oak Harbor started a campaign to raise money for a new facility as the group outgrows the Roller Barn.

A Greenbank man was arrested after he allegedly drove into six other cars in Seattle, went the wrong way down a ramp and attempted a carjacking, the state patrol reported.

Testing by the Navy found seven drinking-water wells had levels of potentially hazardous chemicals above the lifetime advisory level set by the EPA. As of the end of the year, six of the contaminated wells are near the Outlying Field Coupeville and one was near the Ault Field base. The Navy is providing safe drinking water to everyone affected, although officials haven’t yet proven where the contamination came from.

The Coupeville Town Council doubled Mayor Molly Hughes’ salary.

The state Supreme Court found that the Island County commissioners violated state law and the state constitution by hiring a private attorney without the prosecutor’s consent. Prosecutor Greg Banks filed the lawsuit against the private attorney, arguing that she was usurping the duties of his office. The high court agreed.

North Whidbey resident Laura White and her two children, 5-year-old Ivylynn and 3-year-old Imriel, were killed in a house fire. The investigation found that the fire was started accidentally.

A canopy problem was cited as the cause of a Growler mishap that injured two people at the base.

The state closed popular Penn Cove Beach for clamming from New Year’s Day to June 1 in order to give the shellfish populations time to rebound.

Whidbey’s lone elk snarled his antlers in various objects, including a bike, a bucket and a tarp.

Photo by Bart Rulon                                Greenbank photographer Bart Rulon captures an orca rising out of the water at Holmes Harbor in April.

Photo by Bart Rulon Greenbank photographer Bart Rulon captures an orca rising out of the water at Holmes Harbor in April.

Photo by Ron Newberry                                Thousands of rainbow trout are released into Goss Lake on South Whidbey in April.

Photo by Ron Newberry Thousands of rainbow trout are released into Goss Lake on South Whidbey in April.