It was a busy and eventful year in Thurston County.
During 2017, student unrest over allegations of institutional racism at The Evergreen State College in Olympia made national headlines.
There also were stories of tragedy, a couple of deaths on Interstate 5 and a Minnesota mother’s hope that her missing son was located in Tumwater.
Here are the local stories that drew the most readership over the year:
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1. Evergreen evacuates campus due to ‘direct threat,’ will remain closed Friday.
On June 1, officials at The Evergreen State College evacuated the campus because of a threat.
Student unrest against police and the college’s administration had been building up for month before protests erupted at the liberal arts college in May. Some students alleged institutional racism at the college. Others alleged reverse discrimination against white people had taken place on campus.
A recording of the threatening phone call made to law enforcement was obtained by The Olympian.
The caller stated: “Yes, I’m on my way to Evergreen University now with a .44 Magnum. I am gonna execute as many people on that campus as I can get a hold of. You have that? What’s going on there? You communist, scumbag town. I’m going to murder as many people on that campus as I can. Just keep your eyes open, you scumbag.”
On July 3, Robert Kerekes of Morris Plains, New Jersey, was arrested for allegedly making the threatening phone call.
2. 2 gurneys, 1 occupied, fall out of coroner’s van into traffic, police say
On Aug. 7, two gurneys, including one holding a deceased person, fell out of the back of the Thurston County Coroner’s van and into traffic at the intersection of Martin Way East and Phoenix Street Southeast.
There was no trauma to the body after the incident, and the family was notified about it, Coroner Gary Warnock told The Olympian.
He said the van was going to be tested and checked for mechanical failure.
3. Man fatally shot by trooper on I-5 near Lacey ‘wanted suicide by cop,’ WSP says
On July 8, a man was shot and killed by a Washington State Patrol trooper on southbound Interstate 5 near Lacey. Police say Michael Anthony Rude was suicidal and that trooper John Pierce felt in danger of his life when Rude exited his car and came at troopers with a knife in his hand.
Rude’s family later told The Olympian they were disappointed that the Thurston County Prosecutor declined to seek criminal charges against the the trooper, and that they don’t believe Rude was suicidal.
His uncle, Li’a Mefi, said he thinks troopers could have stayed in their vehicles and talked to Rude over a speaker or used a less-lethal option.
“He wasn’t holding anybody hostage; he wasn’t threatening anybody,” Mefi said. “He basically needed somebody to talk to. … I didn’t think they needed to shoot to kill.”
4. This boy has been missing for 3 months. Now, his mother thinks she may have heard from him in Tumwater
On Sunday, Nov. 19, Meghan Eastman talked to an Olympian reporter from her home in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.
Her son, Parker Eastman, 15, ran away from home Aug. 21. She received a text that said, “It’s Parker.” Eastman reached the person on the other line, who said a boy at Tumwater Walmart had asked to use the phone.
Parker Eastman was found safe Nov. 24 in California.
5. 2 women killed in Lacey, suspect flees with kids, shoots self in Olympia after chase
On July 31, two women were fatally shot at Sunset View Estates off Yelm Highway Southeast in Lacey.
The suspect fled by car with two children, believed to be a toddler and a teenager, leading police on a chase winding through Thurston County on Interstate 5, Highway 101 and surface streets that took him south into Tumwater, then into west Olympia.
Police say the suspect, Ricardo A. Gardin-Gonzalez, 32, shot himself after a pursuit, which ended near the Olympia auto mall.
Gardin-Gonzalez is accused of fatally shooting his estranged wife, 31-year-old Rachel Gardin-Gonzalez, and her mother, 51-year-old Kimberly Redford. He is also suspected of raping his 11-year-old stepdaughter that same day.
On Nov. 22, Gardin-Gonzalez pleaded not guilty to several charges, including two counts of aggravated first-degree murder. The case is scheduled to go to trial until next October.
6. Teen killed in single car crash near Lacey
Speed is believed to have been a factor in a fatal crash that was reported at 2:21 a.m. on June 17 in the 3600 block of Carpenter Road NE.
Colton Thormstrom-Smith died in the crash, according to the Thurston County Coroner’s Office. He had graduated from River Ridge High School in Lacey the night before.
7. Evergreen professor Bret Weinstein appears on Fox News after student protest
Evergreen professor Bret Weinstein appeared on a show hosted by Tucker Carlson on Fox News to talk talk about on-campus protests and a viral video where about 50 students confronted him and demanded that he resign. A day later, hundreds of students protested, alleging “institutional racism” at the school, and demanding that administrators fire Weinstein and Stacy Brown, chief of Police Services.
Weinstein had criticized changes to the school’s annual Day of Absence after white students who chose to participate were asked to go off campus to talk about race issues. He called the event “an act of oppression,” according to emails obtained by The Olympian.
The incident led to protests and threats over allegations of racism and intolerance, pulling Evergreen into a national debate over free speech on college campuses.
“They imagine that I am a racist and that I am teaching racism in the classroom,” said Weintein about the Evergreen student protesters during a segment that was called “Campus Craziness.” “And that has caused them to imagine that I have no right to speak, and that I am harming students by the very act of teaching them.”
In September, Weinstein and his wife, Heather Heying, resigned from their faculty positions and received a $500,000 settlement from the college.
8. Students allege racism, protest administrators at The Evergreen State College
Chanting “Hey-hey, ho-ho, these racist teachers have got to go,” hundreds of students filled the third floor of The Evergreen State College’s Library building on May 24 and surrounded president George Bridges’ office.
Students said they were protesting alleged institutional racism at the college.
“It’s important. It’s necessary,” said Halla Warmer, a junior. “It’s life or death for us.”
The students’ actions also drew outside criticism and threats and thrust the college the national spotlight for months.
9. Viral video shows motorcyclist riding on car after I-5 crash in Tumwater
An uploaded video showed a motorcyclist rear-ending a vehicle on northbound Interstate 5 in Tumwater, then hanging on for a ride atop the car’s trunk.
Several people who shared the video said they drove by the scene shortly after 2 p.m. on Jan. 16 near the Deschutes Way exit.
The driver of the car was eventually arrested for DUI, but a trooper at the scene determined the crash was the motorcyclist’s fault, according to the Washington State Patrol.
10. Woman dies after fall from I-5 overpass onto vehicle
A 58-year-old Olympia woman either jumped or accidentally fell from the Custer Way overpass and hit a southbound vehicle at about 11:45 a.m. May 24. She died at the scene.