Suspect in serial killings charged in 2 more slayings

Herald staff

TACOMA – Robert L. Yates Jr., who already faces eight murder counts in serial killings in Spokane County, has been charged with two additional killings in Pierce County.

Pierce County prosecutors on Monday charged the 48-year-old Spokane man with two counts of aggravated first-degree murder in the December 1997 slaying of Melinda L. Mercer and the September 1998 killing of Connie LaFontaine Ellis.

Deputy prosecutor Gerry Horne said he did not expect to bring Yates to Tacoma to enter a plea on the charges soon, unless Yates’ attorney requests a quick arraignment.

Yates, who is being held without bond in Spokane, might not come to Tacoma until the end of his Spokane County trial, set for May 2001.


Grass fire contained: A grass fire burned 4,800 acres along Highway 14 in southeastern Klickitat County Tuesday, but no one was hurt and no buildings were immediately threatened. By late afternoon, winds had subsided and the fire was about 50 percent contained, said Tammie Wilson, a state Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman. Fire crews had largely contained the blaze to a canyon that was well away from 20 buildings, including some mobile homes and scattered wheat farms and orchards in the area. The site is five miles north of the Columbia River. About 220 firefighters were at the scene, along with a helicopter, two airplanes and other pieces of heavy equipment. The cause of the fire was under investigation.


Artifacts stall soccer field: A plan to build a new youth soccer field at a county park is on hold after arrowheads, flints, stone tools and a fire pit were found by workers. The artifacts are believed to be from a prehistoric American Indian camp. The field at the southwestern edge of 25-acre Fall City Park has been fenced off while county officials, soccer players and Snoqualmie tribal leaders try to figure out what to do next. Possibilities include reburying the artifacts where they were found and building the field on top of them, or removing all the artifacts before proceeding with the work. Chris Miss, an archaeologist at Seattle-based Northwest Archaeological Associates, said the artifacts are being tested to determine their age.


Keiko’s Web site hacked: A hacker altered the Oregon Coast Aquarium’s Web site Tuesday, changing a headline to say Keiko the movie-star killer whale had been killed by terrorists. ‘"Free Willy’ is dead," read the item, dated July 14. Actually, Keiko, the star of the 1993 family film "Free Willy," is alive and well in Iceland. His trainers have been taking him on open ocean "walks" since May in an effort to return him to the wild. The hackers’ story said the terrorists threatened to continue to kill killer whales until they received a ransom of $2 million. The Web site was taken down Tuesday while the site was restored. Aquarium president Phyllis Bell said that other pages of the Web site were also altered, and some included material that was sexually graphic.

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