Murder of pregnant woman made national news in 2008

By the Herald staff December 30, 2010 

-- Editor's note: The Herald is looking back as the first decade of the millennium wraps up. This is the eighth of a 10-day series recounting the top local news stories of that decade.

A grisly slaying that drew international attention was the top story of 2008.

The shocking crime was discovered when the body of Araceli Camacho Gomez, 27, a Pasco mother, was found dumped in Columbia Park in Kennewick.

She had been stabbed to death and her nearly full-term baby cut from her womb.

Her infant son was found when the suspect, Phiengchai Sisouvanh Synhavong, called 911, saying she had just given birth and the baby wasn't breathing. Doctors and police quickly learned the baby didn't belong to the 23-year-old Kennewick woman.

Sisouvahn Synhavong was charged with aggravated first-degree murder. She was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to life in prison.

Camacho Gomez's baby, Salvador, is being raised by his father, Juan Felipe Campos Gomez.

Other top stories of 2008 were:

No. 2: The Tri-Cities watched with dismay as efforts failed to recruit a $2 billion uranium enrichment plant proposed by Areva. Idaho won the project, which Tri-City business interests thought would complement the Richland Areva plant that has made fuel for commercial nuclear power reactors for 38 years.

While Idaho launched a strong and very public campaign to win the plant, a Herald investigation showed Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire avoided an active recruiting role, even after she was warned Washington appeared to be running second.

The proposed plant would have employed at least 400 people with an annual payroll near $30 million.

No. 3: Few animals -- or people -- had as big a year in 2008 as Chocolate the dog. The Chesapeake Bay retriever was found in a field north of Pasco, hobbling on two badly broken legs and carrying a nubby yellow ball. After the Herald printed his story, community members stepped up with offers to adopt him and almost $30,000 that paid for four months of surgeries and physical therapy for the lovable dog.

No. 4: A technicality gave him a second trial, but the end result was the same for Kevin Hilton -- a life sentence in prison for gunning down his Richland landlords to avoid eviction. After a five-week retrial moved to Asotin County because of extensive media coverage in the Tri-Cities, a jury took just seven hours to return guilty verdicts against him on two counts of aggravated first-degree murder.

No. 5: The state, and Benton and Franklin counties saw record voter turnout in the November election with high interest in the presidential contest and local races.

Benton County had a turnout of 84.8 percent and Franklin County 84.4 percent. Statewide turnout was 84.6 percent, beating the record of 84.54 percent set in 1944.

No. 6: Gas prices angered Tri-Citians like few things could, then dropped to levels some thought they would never see again.

Prices soared above $4 per gallon for regular unleaded and to almost $5 for a gallon of diesel in summer. But demand plummeted with the economy's nosedive, and a gallon of gas was selling for an average of $1.70 in the Tri-Cities as the year ended.

No. 7: Tri-City housing sales slowed by about 20 percent over the year as home prices across the nation dropped and foreclosures increased. Prices of local homes held relatively steady, however, with the average sale price through November at $187,800, down 1.3 percent from $190,200 for the same period in 2007.

No. 8: Fed up with repeated delays in Hanford cleanup, the state sued the federal government to get a judge to set and enforce new deadlines.

The state had begun negotiations with the Department of Energy 18 months earlier when it became clear DOE would miss legal cleanup deadlines by years. Talks fell apart when Department of Justice attorneys stepped in and insisted on language Gov. Gregoire believed would leave the agreement toothless.

No. 9: The Tri-Cities' annual job growth rate of 4.3 percent drew national attention when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ranked the area fifth in the nation among metropolitan areas for the greatest percentage of job growth in a year. Experts said growth in the agriculture industry and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Hanford cleanup sustained the job market.

No. 10: Hanford's B Reactor received the recognition its supporters long had thought it deserved when the National Parks Service declared it a National Historic Landmark. The Department of Energy then announced plans to increase public access to the world's first full-scale reactor, which produced plutonium for the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.

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