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News in Brief: Nov. 24 – 30, 2023

Bellingham police seek information on potential rape victims

News in Brief is published online every Friday, and updated throughout the week with bite-sized news from across Whatcom and Skagit counties. Read a roundup of the week’s news in print the following Friday.

Thursday, Nov. 30
Bellingham police seek information on potential rape victims
The Bellingham Police Department is seeking the public’s help in identifying potential victims of rape, according to a Nov. 30 public alert.
The department arrested Bellingham resident Julio C. Ortiz-Ortiz, 27, on charges of attempted rape in the second degree and unlawful imprisonment with sexual motivation based on a Nov. 18 incident. The department believes there are more victims, police said.
Ortiz-Ortiz was booked into Whatcom County Jail following his arrest. Police said victims, who could be in Bellingham, Seattle or nearby cities, are likely vulnerable men who are homeless or incapacitated by alcohol or other substances.

“We are concerned for Bellingham’s vulnerable population. To best protect our community, we need help from the public to better identify the scope of what we are dealing with,” said Police Chief Rebecca Mertzig in the alert. “We are providing the community with Ortiz-Ortiz’s photo to see if there are additional victims. It is an extreme injustice when a person’s existing vulnerabilities expose them to victimization and predatory behavior.” 


Police said their investigation showed Ortiz-Ortiz would pick up victims in a black, two-door, extended-car Toyota Tacoma, with the license place C24711N. The police department has impounded the vehicle.

Ortiz-Ortiz is 5-foot-7 and 260 pounds. He has long, dark, wavy hair, brown eyes and a dark complexion. He speaks both English and Spanish. Anyone with information concerning incidents of sexual assault, or similar incidents, involving Ortiz-Ortiz is requested to call the non-emergency line at 360-676-6911. The investigation is ongoing.

Thursday, Nov. 30

Mount Baker to receive up to 35 inches of snow beginning Thursday

Mount Baker is expected to receive between 15–35 inches of snowfall Thursday through Saturday.

Heavy snow and strong wind gusts of up to 50 mph are possible, according to the National Weather Service Seattle. Areas above 2,000 feet elevation in the Cascades and Olympic mountain ranges are expected to be impacted. Snoqualmie Pass may receive between 16–46 inches of snow, and Stevens Pass can expect between 22–52 inches during the time frame. Travel could “be very difficult,” a winter storm warning said.

Travelers should share plans with family and friends, winterize their vehicles, pack an emergency supply kit, check road conditions and monitor the weather forecast before driving. In anticipation of the winter storm, state Department of Transportation officials on Thursday closed State Route 20, the North Cascades Highway, for the season.

Mt. Baker Ski Area is still closed, and the winter storm will not guarantee its opening next week, according to a Tuesday, Nov. 28 ski area update. The ski area said it expected to know more next week, but to “get ready to roll towards the mountains when the snow hits.”

Bellingham Herald reduces print production to 2 days per week

The Bellingham Herald announced it will decrease its print production to two days per week beginning Jan. 29, as the paper turns its focus to digital production.

“The print editions will publish Wednesdays and Sundays,” but the Sunday paper will be delivered on Saturday, according to the Herald.

An e-edition will be published every day.

Scott Heisel was recently hired as senior editor of the Herald.

The Bellingham Herald is part of the McClatchy Media Network, which is owned by Chatham Asset Management LLC, a hedge fund based in New Jersey.

Wednesday, Nov. 29

State Route 20 to close for the season Nov. 30

State Route 20, the North Cascades Highway, will close for the season at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30.

The decision was made due to snow and rain forecast to fall Thursday night. The closure will begin at milepost 134 at Ross Dam Trailhead on the west side, and at milepost 171 at the Silver Star Gate on the east side. The highway will open again in the spring.

Monday, Nov. 27

Freezing fog advisory in effect in Whatcom County

A freezing fog advisory is in effect for Whatcom County until 10 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 28, according to a National Weather Service alert.

NWS warns of hazardous driving conditions due to low visibility and potential frost on bridges. Freezing fog can drop visibility to one-quarter mile or less.

NWS advises drivers to slow down, use their headlights and leave plenty of distance between any vehicles ahead.

Temperatures are expected to hover around freezing overnight Monday with a low of 32, before warming back up to the high-40s Tuesday afternoon.

No injuries in Sunday drive-by-shooting near WWU

No one was injured in a drive-by shooting near Western Washington University Sunday evening, Nov. 26, the university confirmed Monday.

Individuals targeted in the shooting that happened around 6:30 p.m. Sunday were not Western students, according to a Western alert.

The reported shooting occurred about a half-mile from campus, on the 2700 block of McKenzie Avenue.

University police and Bellingham Police Department are investigating the incident.

This brief will be updated as more information becomes available.

Saturday, Nov. 25

Grand opening for Thornton Street overpass set for Dec. 2

The City of Ferndale is celebrating the new Thorton Street overpass with a grand opening event Saturday, Dec. 2.

The event will start with an open house on the overpass bridge at noon, according to a city news release. There, guests can talk with the project team, view city and Whatcom County transportation vehicles, and check out the overpass before it opens to public traffic at 3 p.m. Saturday.

Event parking will be along Thornton Street on each end of the new bridge.  The city asks attendees to enter either the Portal Way/Second Avenue roundabout or Malloy Avenue and park along the curb. The city will have staff members directing traffic to assist with parking.

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