Tragic stories of murders, major crimes and car crashes were, by far, the most read news articles in Bellingham in 2015.
Choosing a handful of those stories to represent a year on the local public safety beat is a difficult and sobering task. These are accounts of people dying, or otherwise having their lives upended, often with grieving families left to grapple with the aftermath.
These are a few recent events that struck at the heart of our community.
Throat-slashing accomplice trial, Jan. 29 to March 24
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Trial opened in late January for a Bellingham woman accused of helping her boyfriend in a plot to murder a Ferndale mother of two.
Prosecutors charged Lesley Alexandra Villatoro, 29, with driving her boyfriend, Chad C. Horne, to the home of a 39-year-old woman on the morning of May 2, 2014, to carry out the killing. Horne bound the woman’s hands with zip ties, slashed her throat and fired a gunshot at her, but missed. She escaped and lived to testify about the attack. Horne died that day, shooting himself in the head at the end of a police chase.
Driver sentenced for hitting, killing Dragan Skrobonja, Feb. 23
A driver who struck and killed a man in downtown Bellingham received the longest sentence for vehicular homicide in Whatcom County’s history.
The family of Dragan Skrobonja, 37, of Bellingham, begged a Superior Court judge in February to sentence Dustin Frederick Brown, 28, to the maximum prison term.
At the hearing,Brown said he was “deeply, deeply sorry” for what he’d done. He admitted he had too much to drink that night, May 25, 2014, before he got into his black Ford F-350 truck, swerved down North State Street, and crashed into four people. Skrobonja died at the scene. Three other young men were injured but survived.
Judge Charles Snyder sentenced Brown to 16 years and two months in prison.
Semi, U-haul, car crash kills teen, Feb. 26
A Ferndale teen died when his car was crushed by a semi and a large U-Haul truck on Grandview Road.
Dante DeLeon, 16, started turning left from North Star Road onto Grandview on the afternoon of Feb. 26, when his Mazda Protege was struck by an oncoming semi hauling a carbon-dioxide tank. Both vehicles went into the westbound lane, where they collided with a U-Haul truck. Dante, a track athlete at Ferndale High School, died at the scene.
“We are focused on pulling together as a school community, reaching out to those who are grieving this sudden loss,” the school district said in a statement.
Shooting death at the border, March 19
A young man wanted for murder in Canada was shot to death by a U.S. Border Patrol agent on March 19, just south of the border west of Sumas, according to authorities.
Shortly after he crossed illegally into the United States, Jamison Edward Childress, 20, sprayed an agent with bear spray about 600 feet south of the border on Kneuman Road, according to the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office. The agent shot him with his sidearm. Childress died at the scene.
The shooting made national news in the United States and Canada, where Childress had been linked to the homicide of Brando Walker, 18. Walker’s body was found partially burned along the Elbow River, near Calgary, less than two weeks before the shooting.
County Prosecutor Dave McEachran later found the border agent was justified in using lethal force.
City council member's son dies in shooting, April 3
A young man was shot and killed by a friend who was “horsing around” with a .22-caliber semi-automatic handgun, according to police.
Masen Jon Potter, 21, and Aaron R. Bornemann, 23, son of Bellingham councilman Terry Bornemann, had been dry-firing the gun on the night of April 2 at Potter’s home on Grant Street, police said. At some point, someone loaded the gun. Potter aimed at Bornemann’s head and shot him, according to charging papers. Bornemann died early the next morning.
Potter pleaded not guilty to a charge of manslaughter. He’s awaiting trial.
Crash kills 2 students at Windward High School, June 10
Two boys were killed and two others were seriously hurt when an SUV crashed into them on West Smith Road near Windward High School.
According to charging papers, William Jeffrey Klein, 34, was driving the black Toyota 4Runner that struck four Windward students on a gym class walk: Shane Ormiston, 18; Gabriel Anderson, 15; Michael Brewster, 17; and Kole Randall, 17. Two of the boys, Shane and Gabriel, died at the scene. The other two survived serious injuries.
Klein told troopers he’d fallen asleep at the wheel, according to his attorney. That day troopers said they suspected he’d been driving under the influence of a drug. However, charges were later amended to reflect that drug tests came back negative for any active drug, including THC.
Klein awaits trial on charges of vehicular homicide and vehicular assault. Meanwhile, families of the deceased have filed wrongful death lawsuits.
Murder for hire case on Oat Coles Road, June 24
An alleged murder-for-hire plot ended with an estate heir and his girlfriend arrested on charges of trying to kill a 75-year-old Everson man in June.
Prosecutors accused Sean Head, 26, of trying three times to hire someone to murder his business partner, Edward Davidson, 75, at his home on Oat Coles Road. Head was heir to Davidson’s estate, and charging papers suggest mounting tensions between the two men in the preceding months.
Head’s girlfriend, Esmeralda Martin, 23, eventually agreed to shoot Davidson, the charges say. She visited Davidson’s house on Oat Coles Road around 10 a.m. June 24. She chased him around the house, firing a 9mm pistol that Head had given her, according to the charges. Davidson was wounded but survived.
Head and Martin were charged with attempted murder in the first degree. Both pleaded not guilty. They’re awaiting trial.
Woman kills husband, son near Bellingham, July 19
A real estate agent found the slain bodies of his friend and his friend’s toddler son at a Noon Road home July 19, as he was about to show it to potential buyers.
Erin Lee Jordan, 43, née Agren, was charged with two counts of murder. She was found alive but wounded in the upstairs bedroom with the bodies of her husband Michael David Jordan, 59, and their son Miles, 1.
Jordan told detectives she’d been overwhelmed by recent changes in her life — a new marriage, a baby, a house for sale — and that she shot her husband and son while they slept. She said that she’d “saved” them by doing what she did, according to the charges. She shot herself in the shoulder and survived.
Michael D. Jordan was remembered as a beloved Lummi school teacher.
A judge accepted Erin Jordan’s plea of not guilty by reason of insanity in December, finding that she’d been suffering from delusional disorder at the time of the killings. She was committed indefinitely to Western State Hospital.
Woman shot to death by neighbor’s friend, Aug. 20
A man shot and killed a Bellingham woman in the presence of her preteen son in the early morning hours of Aug. 20, according to charging papers.
Raymond Hamilton Gilbert III, 32, and one of his close friends, Barry Williamson, had past disputes with the woman, Debra Christie, 49, according to charging papers. She once was one of Williamson’s neighbors in an apartment complex at 1015 Otis St.
Around 1 a.m. Aug 20, Gilbert made a visit to Christie at her Otis apartment. Her son, 11, saw them on a back deck, according to the charges. Then he heard a pop, and went outside to find his mother dying from a gunshot wound near her left eye. Police believe Gilbert fled the scene.
“I love you you’ll never have to worry about the bitch again. I promise,” he texted Williamson within the hour, according to the charges.
Gilbert turned himself in at the jail around 4 a.m. He has pleaded not guilty to a charge of murder in the first degree.
Bistro owner arrested on rape charges, Sept. 25
Nine women came forward alleging rape and sexual abuse by the co-owner of a Bellingham bistro.
Jamison Scott Rogayan, 31, was arrested in September on multiple charges of rape and sexual misconduct. Earlier this year, women made social media posts on Facebook and reddit.com, alleging Rogayan committed sex crimes against them or someone they knew.
As women started seeing their own stories echoed by others online, they were compelled to come forward, police said. Incidents ranged from 2006 to late 2014. Drugs or alcohol were involved in each report, leading some alleged victims to blame themselves for what happened.
Rogayan was, at the time, the upbeat front-of-house face of Cosmos Bistro, a new sit-down restaurant on the first floor of the Herald Building. The co-owner banned him from the business after learning of the allegations and sought legal help to separate him from it.
Rogayan has been charged with three counts of rape in the second degree, one count of indecent liberties and one count of unlawful imprisonment. Four other cases can’t be prosecuted because the statute of limitations has passed, and a fifth woman did not want to press charges.
Rogayan has pleaded not guilty, and he’s awaiting trial.