Tri-City Herald reporters won three first-place C.B. Blethen Memorial Awards for Distinguished Newspaper Reporting on Thursday.
The three winning articles were about a fiery highway crash that killed two young Richland girls; a close look at a botched police investigation of a huge underground marijuana growing operation; and a feature about a hospice volunteer who began working with dying patients after he learned he was dying of advanced prostate cancer.
Reporters Kristin M. Kraemer and Paula Horton won first place in deadline reporting for two stories, "Two young girls in critical condition" and "Schoolmates struggle with death." The stories are about the two Chief Joseph Middle School sixth-graders killed in a horrific crash on Interstate 182 in Pasco that caused both vehicles to explode.
Horton also won a first place in enterprise reporting for "Bust gone bad." Her series reported that a major drug bust was squandered because of sloppy investigative work and poor communication stemming from leadership problems in the Tri-City Metro Drug Task Force.
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Horton began her investigation after she learned the Pasco sergeant who was leading the task force had been suspended and ultimately demoted.
Reporter Sara Schilling, who earlier this month went to work for the Herald's sister newspaper in Tacoma, won first place in feature writing for "Learning how to live," a poignant profile about Kennewick's Chuck Watson and his hospice volunteer work.
Kraemer and Horton swept the deadline reporting category, also taking second place with "Stabbing kills Pasco mother," a story about a 21-year-old Pasco mother who was killed three months after telling a judge that she feared for her life and needed protection from her former live-in boyfriend.
The last time the Herald won four awards was in 2005 -- a first-place and three second-place awards.
"This year is the best we've ever done," said Herald Executive Editor Ken Robertson.
"I'm especially proud of the Herald staff's success in this year's awards because, as almost everyone knows, 2009 was a terribly difficult year in the world of newspapers," he added. "I'm really proud that the Herald's reporters, photographers and editors were able to stay focused in trying economic times on still bringing excellence to all of the Herald's readers."
The Herald has won 35 Blethens since taking its first award in 1988.
The awards were established in 1977 in honor of C.B. Blethen, publisher of The Seattle Times for 26 years, from 1915 to 1941.
This year's awards were announced at the annual meeting of the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association in Portland.
The first- and second-place winners in each category receive plaques and cash awards donated by The Seattle Times.
PNNA member newspapers in Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Alaska, Alberta and British Columbia are eligible to enter the contest.
The awards honor reporters from newspapers in two circulation divisions, over-50,000 circulation and under-50,000 circulation. The Herald competes in the under-50,000 category.