By John McCallum
Managing Editor 

What was that?

Continuous medium-high pitched whining sound awakens Cheney-area residents Thursday morning


Last updated 2/27/2020 at 2:57pm

CHENEY – Several residents inside and outside Cheney were awakened early Thursday morning, Feb. 20, by something they had never heard before and can’t explain its source.

Marie Shepard said she and her husband Tim were awoken around 2:45 a.m. in their house across State Route 904 from the Bi-Mart Arena rodeo grounds by a very loud, sustained noise. Shepard said the noise was hard to describe, but sounded somewhat like a medium-high pitch machine whine that didn’t vary in pitch or intensity.

The noise lasted about 5-10 minutes before ending abruptly, leading the couple to wander about the house trying to determine where it came from. Shepard said it wasn’t a train on the nearby Washington Eastern tracks, which can be seen from their front window.

“No, a train screeching has a variation in pitch and we saw no trains going by,” she said.

After more exploring, the couple determined the noise seemed to be coming from the direction of Cheney. Others apparently heard it too as Shepard said Tim noticed several neighbors’ lights coming on in their homes, followed soon after by what sounded like car horns honking, possibly from alarm systems being set off.

She added the sound made her think of an air raid siren, but without the warbling change in pitch and volume.

“It was very, very bizarre,” she said. “It was unsettling.”

The Shepard’s neighbor to the east on South Merriney Road, Casey Lawrence, also heard a similar noise about the same time. He said it was loud enough to wake him up and lead him to look around.

“To wake me up over my fans, it had to be fairly loud,” Lawrence said. “I looked around, didn’t see any of my motion lights on so I went back to sleep.

Lawrence added he later talked to a friend who lived above the rodeo grounds who also heard the sound. The friend went outside to see what it was, thinking it might a stuck train horn, but saw no trains.

“You can tell trains, they kind of have a little rumble,” Lawrence said. “It’s kind of weird.”

Contacted on Monday, Feb. 24, Washington Eastern Railroad officials — who own the line paralleling SR 904 — said they had no train traffic through the area at the time or any locomotives parked nearby.

In Cheney, police department dispatcher Thomas Hall said they received a call from a resident on Cambridge Lane in the Avalon Place development near Betz Road and North 6th Street who reported hearing a sustained siren-type noise. An officer responded and was apparently tracking the direction of the sound near Eagle Point Apartments on the 1000 block of Betz Road when it abruptly disappeared.

Hall said they had also ruled out the source of the noise as being a train.

“They couldn’t locate the sound,” he said.

Spokane County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Cpl. Mark Gregory said a preliminary check of roads in the area came up empty for calls to dispatch from county residents who may have heard the noise too.

“Then again, we’ve had shootings in residential neighborhoods before and no one called in the noise,” Gregory added. “Other times, we’ll get multiple calls.”

Marie Shepard said they have never heard a sound like that in the years they’ve lived along SR 904, and haven’t heard it since last Thursday. She said sometimes when she is in the backyard she will hear noises that sound nearby, but because of the characteristics of the sound and the environment, discover they are actually coming from elsewhere.

The sound that awakened her on Feb. 20 wasn’t like that.

“When you don’t know what it is, you worry about it,” she added.

John McCallum can be reached at

Author Bio

John McCallum, Managing Editor

John McCallum is an award-winning journalist who has been with the Cheney Free Press for over 20 years. He has received 10 Washington Newspaper Publisher Association awards for journalism and photography, including first place awards for Best Investigative, Best News and back-to-back awards in Best Breaking News categories. He has been serving as editor of the Spokane Valley News Herald since March 2020.

Phone: 509-235-6184
Contact John McCallum


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