Fireworks suspected in Rancho Reata mailbox destruction

Authorities believe illegal fireworks may have been used to blow up two mailboxes late Wednesday.

Benton County sheriff's deputies responded at 10:20 p.m. to a report of a house fire on Clover Road in the Rancho Reata area and determined it was the bushes in front of the home that caught fire, Lt. Joe Lusignan said.

The fire was caused by a firework that exploded inside a mailbox, he said. It also ended up melting the front fender and paint on the side of a Jeep in the driveway, he said.

The house was not damaged.

Richland police also investigated a mailbox explosion in the 600 block of Meadows Drive that was likely caused by fireworks, Lusignan said.

The type of firework was not known, but Lusignan said it was "much bigger than a firecracker."

It's possible the two incidents are related because they occurred around the same general timeframe, Lusignan said.

Witnesses were able to provide a description of a vehicle seen leaving the area to Richland police, but no vehicle was seen in the Rancho Reata area.

Residents heard a vehicle drive into the neighborhood, then speed off before the explosion, Lusignan said.

Anyone who spots suspicious fireworks-related behavior should call police and try to get a vehicle description and license plate number, he said. Those caught blowing up mailboxes with fireworks could be charged with malicious mischief for damaging property or illegal possession of fireworks, Lusignan said.

Fireworks restrictions differ depending on the city or county laws, but all firecrackers, bottle rockets, so-called cherry bombs and M-80s are illegal in the state, even though they're legal to buy and use on tribal lands.

"The general rule of thumb (for fireworks) is that anything that leaves the ground or explodes is illegal in Benton County because of the dangers it presents to both handlers and the potential fire danger," Lusignan said.

More officers to be on lookout this weekend

Extra Washington State Patrol troopers will be patrolling Mid-Columbia highways during the Independence Day weekend.

They'll be watching for speeders, impaired drivers and motorists not wearing their seat belts -- violations that are most commonly linked to fatality and injury collisions, authorities said.

Four additional troopers will be out in the Tri-Cities. Other areas with increased patrols include Yakima, Sunnyside and Walla Walla.

The state patrol's commercial vehicle division also will have extra troopers and officers on duty during the weekend to conduct inspections and patrol for aggressively driven commercial vehicles.

"We are asking everyone to celebrate responsibly this holiday weekend," said state patrol District Commander Shawn Berry. "Please do not drink and drive and always remember to buckle up to keep you and your loved ones safe."

Kennewick man sought on variety of charges

Kennewick police and Tri-Cities Crime Stoppers are searching for a 29-year-old Kennewick man authorities say is armed and dangerous.

Gabriel John Mata is wanted for failing to appear in court on five charges: delivering methamphetamine, theft, forgery, taking a vehicle without permission and possessing stolen property.

Mata is 5-foot-8, 215 pounds with black hair and brown eyes. He has numerous tattoos on both arms.

Tri-Cities Crime Stoppers pays a cash reward of up to $1,000 for information that results in a felony arrest.

Anyone with information about Mata's whereabouts can call 586-8477 or go to Tips also can be sent by text message by writing "Text TIP 411" plus the message to CRIMES (274637).

All calls to Crime Stoppers are confidential.