The Morning Press: Hit and run arrest, Seahawks gear, Sparks Furniture

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The is expected to shine this weekend. Check out the local weather forecast here.

Here are some of the week's top stories and news you may have missed:

Vancouver hit-and-run suspect held on $1M bail

photoBrandon C. Smith, 27, of Vancouver, makes a first appearance Thursday in court on two counts of vehicular homicide, three counts of felony hit-and-run, one count of vehicular assault and one count of tampering with physical evidence

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His head hung low, Brandon Smith shuffled into Clark County Superior Court on Thursday to face accusations that he was the driver of a pickup that hit and killed two Vancouver women in a crosswalk, then fled the scene and never called police. While detectives searched for the mystery driver, court documents say he apparently ordered parts to repair the front end of his damaged pickup.

The 27-year-old man, who has no criminal history, wore orange jail clothes — the color designated for felonies — and ankle and wrist shackles for his first court appearance. Judge Barbara Johnson held Smith on $1 million bail.

He is scheduled to be arraigned Feb. 7 on charges of two counts of vehicular homicide, three counts of felony hit-and-run, one count of vehicular assault and one count of tampering with physical evidence.

Read the full story here.

Fort Vancouver High mural controversy spurs debate

photo Two Fort Vancouver High School students were among a group of teens who painted this mural on the school's softball dugout in January at the request of the softball coach. This week, Fort Principal Scott Parker said students plan to modify the mural to better match school colors.

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Controversy surrounding a student-created mural spray-painted onto the girls' softball dugout at Fort Vancouver High School last weekend is sparking debate in the community after some media attention.

When Crystal Wallace, the school's softball coach, asked students to paint artwork on the dugout, students painted shaded block letters to spell "Trapper," the name of the school's mascot. The students and coach were enthusiastic about the finished artwork, but they didn't realize they needed approval before the students started painting.

Now, school administrators are deciding whether to paint over the mural. Principal Scott Parker said he doesn't object to the student artwork, but he said the coach and students didn't follow district protocol to seek approval before the students started working.

"I don't think anyone's denying the quality of the mural," he said.

"(Wallace) meant well and was doing what she felt was right," Parker said. "But the reason we have protocol is to keep anyone from making changes to facilities."

Read the full story here.

Sparks set to sell downtown site

photoTom Craig, a fourth-generation owner of Sparks Home Furnishings, is closing in on a deal to sell the familiar downtown store at the corner of Broadway and Evergreen. The family business was founded in 1882 by Craig's great-grandfather Marshall Rowe Sparks.

(/The Columbian)

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The northeast corner of Broadway and Evergreen Boulevard won’t be the same without the Sparks Home Furnishings store, located there since 1951.

But a change is likely on the horizon for the familiar brick-and-glass building and its double marquees emblazoned with the company’s identity, “Sparks,” spelled out in big blue letters. A downtown developer is moving forward with plans to transform the building into a multitenant space for a second Torque Coffee Roasters coffee shop, new headquarters for Olson Engineering Inc., and more office and retail space, although the store owner says nothing is settled yet.

Sparks owner Tom Craig says the property sale isn’t finalized. But if the expected deal comes to pass, it will mean an end this summer to a family-owned company that has been downtown since 1882. The company is now in its fourth generation of family ownership.

Developer Ryan Hurley, whose company has been acquiring and redeveloping downtown real estate for six years, has commissioned a design for renovating the building, lined up a couple of tenants and deposited earnest money toward purchasing the site. He expects the deal to close in June for the 40,000-square-foot structure at 1001 Broadway. The store sits one block west of the main freeway overpass that carries vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians over Interstate 5 and into the downtown core.

Read the full story here.

Kitzhaber: CRC will die without action by March

photoOregon Gov. John Kitzhaber discusses problems with the website for Cover Oregon, the state's health insurance exchange, during a news conference in Portland on Nov. 1. More than a month after Cover Oregon was supposed to launch, reality is lagging far behind Gov. Kitzhaberís ideals. The online system still doesn't work, and the exchange has yet to enroll a single person in health insurance.

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Oregon will pull the plug on the Columbia River Crossing in March unless its Legislature recommits to the $2.7 billion project, Gov. John Kitzhaber said in a letter sent to lawmakers on Monday.

Kitzhaber, a Democrat, said the Oregon Legislature must act on the proposed Interstate 5 Bridge replacement by March 9, the last scheduled day of its 2014 session. If not, Oregon will close the project and begin archiving materials, Kitzhaber said.

“Oregon must either decisively move the project to construction or refocus and reprioritize our resources,” Kitzhaber wrote. “A project in limbo is the worst and most expensive outcome for Oregon, and continuing expenditures to sustain work without progress is a waste of money and resources.”

Leaders are now chasing an Oregon-led version of the CRC after Washington’s Legislature pulled out last year. Such a plan would replace the I-5 Bridge and extend light rail into Vancouver, but eliminate most freeway work on the Washington side of the river. The project would be financed mainly by toll revenue and federal money, but must first get a green light from the Oregon Legislature.

Kitzhaber’s letter isn’t the first time CRC backers have attempted to use deadlines to ratchet up political pressure. Last year, officials repeatedly claimed that the project needed both states’ commitment in 2013 to seize a closing window of opportunity. When that didn’t happen, planners pressed on anyway.

Read the full story here.

Banker's suicide chapter in history of 1866 Charles Brown House

photoA doorway on the second story of the Charles Brown House opens to nothing but a view of downtown Vancouver.

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Charles Brown was a prosperous banker. The former mayor and his family lived in one of downtown Vancouver's showcase homes at the turn of the 20th century.

When Brown's propensity for cooking the books was suddenly revealed, however, the banker and his accomplice used the same pistol to kill themselves.

While the Browns moved out long ago, the house built in 1866 is still there. Now it's the office of the Stahancyk, Kent & Hook law firm.

And 113 years after his death rocked Vancouver, Brown's distinctive house at 400 W. 11th St. still has stories to tell.

So do a lot of other buildings in established neighborhoods around the area. On Saturday, the Clark County Historical Museum will host a morning workshop on uncovering those stories.

During the 2 1/2-hour class, Brad Richardson will discuss resources available in the museum's library for researching historical properties.

It's actually a topic that comes up frequently through museum programs, Richardson said.

Read the full story here.

Local businesses gear up for the big game

It's almost here. And this Sunday's Super Bowl match-up between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos has Clark County businesses scrambling for field position with displays of beer and Skittles, extra seating and all things team blue and green.

"Whatever we get in is selling out very quickly," said Ron Bichler, store manager of the Battle Ground Albertsons.

The store has put all of its party essentials — chips, soda and chicken wing bar — front and center. It also is selling Seahawk-emblazoned hoodies and pullovers, 12th-man socks and team caps and banners.

This year's Super Bowl-related sales could be bigger than ever for local businesses. Their challenge, some merchants say, is to capitalize on the short, two-week window of time for sales between conference playoffs and the big game.

A study commissioned by the National Retail Federation estimates Super Bowl fans will spend $12.3 billion on everything from food to decorations, including some who will take the party to a restaurant or bar. This year, it's the Washington businesses' turn to take a larger share of the spending.

Read the full story here and be sure to visit Columbian.com after Sunday's game to see local fans' reactions.