8/20/06

 

CIVIL SUIT FILED AGAINST COUNTY CORONER TERRY WILSON

MOTHER OF DEAD WOMAN ASKING JUDGE TO REVIEW RULING ON DEATH

 

Sharyn Decker
Police, Fire and Court reporter

The Chronicle

The mother of a Toledo woman who was discovered fatally shot on the floor of her walk-in closet, with an electric blanket over her, filed a civil case in Lewis County Superior Court on Friday against Coroner Terry Wilson.

Barb Thompson has been working since her daughter, former Washington State Patrol trooper Ronda Reynolds, died to persuade authorities it was not a suicide.  The filing, called a petition for judicial review and extraordinary writs, requests a judicial review of
Wilson's actions and determinations in the case.

Reynolds was 33 years old and married to Ron Reynolds, principal of
Toledo Elementary School, when she was found dead in their home on Dec. 16, 1998.

"Hopefully this will accomplish something," Thompson said in a brief telephone interview on Friday evening from her home in
Spokane.  Thompson, now 60 years old, said she has never stopped working to get officials to recognize her daughter's death as a homicide.

Errors plagued the investigation, including neglecting to check Ron Reynolds' hands for evidence he had fired a gun, meaning it was harder to clear him of suspicion.

The case was closed as a suicide by the Lewis County Sheriff's Office in May 1999, under protest by the lead investigator, former detective Jerry Berry. Thompson convinced then-Sheriff John McCroskey to reopen the case in 2001 and Coroner Wilson changed the manner of death to undetermined.  Expert opinions have varied, with some certain the woman was murdered and some certain she took her own life.

In April 2002, investigators with the state Attorney General's Office reviewed evidence given to them by the sheriff's office and agreed the death should be classified as a suicide. And so
Wilson's office changed the manner of death once again.  Thompson's filing alleges Wilson's actions in determining the manner of death were inaccurate, arbitrary and capricious.

Wilson, who is running for his seventh term as elected coroner, could not be reached for comment.

The bulk of the 60-page filing is an analysis of the case by former police officer Marty Hayes. Hayes is seeking to unseat
Wilson.  Hayes, who was interviewed this week for another news story, didn't mention the lawsuit, but did say he began helping Thompson about four years ago and was proud of the work he had done on the case. He said he wasn't going to make it a focus of his campaign to become coroner.

Thompson said she met with new Sheriff Steve Mansfield and then this spring with
Wilson, sharing new expert opinions that she hoped would change their minds, but they didn't. She had hoped it wouldn't drag out so long and into the middle of the contested election for coroner, she said.

"I don't want Ronda's case to be part of an election," she said. "That was not my choice. That was not my wish."