Tuesday, 23 July 2024


The beloved Western Meadowlark is the state bird for six Western states. Courtesy photo.




Fine, clear, dazzling, morning, the sun an hour high, the air just tart enough.

What a stamp in advance my day receives from the song of that meadow lark perch’d on a fence-stake twenty rods distant! Two or three liquid-simple notes, repeated at intervals, full of careless happiness and hope. With its peculiar shimmering slow progress and rapid-noiseless action of the wings, it flies on a way, lights on another stake, and so on to another, shimmering and singing many minutes.

Walt Whitman – Specimen Days, March 16, 1878




Distinctly a bird of the Americas, the First People often included this singing, long-legged, walking bird in many of their stories and legends, but it wasn’t until Lewis and Clark first noted the yellow-breasted bird in 1805 that it caught the attention of the ornithologists of their day.

Even so, it wasn’t until 1840 that this Western songbird was named. John James Audubon dubbed it neglecta (nee-GLEK-tah; Latin for neglected) because, as he wrote in 1840, although "the existence of this species was known to the celebrated explorers of the West, Lewis and Clark, no one has since taken the least notice of it."

Today the Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta, is an abundant and familiar bird of open country that you can see singing its familiar song from fence posts along roadsides; or you might catch it walking though grasslands and agricultural areas with a few dozen others.

This bird is so well-loved that it is the official state bird for six Western states – Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon and Wyoming – and there is barely a western movie made that doesn’t have the familiar melodic song of the meadowlark in its soundtrack.

A member of the same bird family as blackbirds and orioles, the meadowlark is distinctly not a “black bird,” having a bright yellow breast and undercarriage, a bold black “V” on its chest, and a back of streaked brown and white (we’ll be forgiven if we think the bird looks like it is sporting a modern suit of clothes).

Meadowlark legs are long, and their tails are short, with white outer tail-feathers that are obvious in flight. During the breeding season the yellow and black become more pronounced.

In winter you can see meadowlarks in groups, or with other blackbirds and starlings. In early spring, they will be doing their dance of mating.

The male will begin singing continuously, a beautiful song advertising his presence to the females from shrub tops, fence posts, utility poles or any other high structure. If she notices him and there are no other male meadowlarks around to challenge him a sort of chase will begin, the pace kept by the female.

The male at some point will stop and face the female, breast forward, head up, and if she chooses to pay further attention to him they will mate and the female will then begin making a nest. Successful males will often mate with two (or more) females.

The female will build her nest on the ground, typically under dense vegetation which makes it very difficult to find. The nest will be built mostly from grass that is tightly interwoven, and it will be shaped like a dome, with side entrances. The completed nest will be very waterproof.

She will then lay four to six eggs and incubate them for 13 to 14 days. After the eggs hatch the female will provide most of the food, although the male may help a bit. The young meadowlarks will leave the nest 10 to 12 days after hatching. At this age they still cannot fly but can run very well, and, with the help of shadowy and cryptic feathers, can hide successfully in the grass.





A Western Meadowlark singing from its perch atop a fence post. Courtesy photo.



Meadowlarks forage mostly on the ground, probing the soil with their bills, eating grasshoppers, beetles and caterpillars (even the hairy ones) by the thousands. In the fall and winter, seeds and grains become an important addition to their diet.

You will notice as you watch them on the ground that they neither hop nor run but always walk, a style of movement that is comparatively uncommon among birds. You may also notice that immediately upon landing the male will flirt his tale vigorously once or twice, showing the white outer feathers.

Western Meadowlarks are full-time residents throughout much of their range, but when deep snow covers food sources they may move into sheltered valleys. Some populations do appear to be long-distance migrants.

Here in Northern California, as in other parts of their range, Western Meadowlarks are abundant and widespread, but breeding populations have declined somewhat in recent years. Much of this decline can probably be attributed to habitat destruction from livestock grazing, mowing and development, and perhaps as a result of contamination from pesticides.

These birds are extremely sensitive to human disturbance during the breeding season and will abort nesting attempts if they are flushed while incubating eggs.

The meadowlark has a just claim on the affections of people whose fields he adorns.

Debra Chase is the executive director of Tuleyome. She resides on a small family farm in Colusa County.

Tuleyome is a local nonprofit working to protect both our wild heritage and our agricultural heritage for future generations. Past Tuleyome Tales articles are available in the library section of their Web site, www.tuleyome.org.

Jazz pianist Rodney Franklin shared his magic at the Concert with Conversation on Saturday, March 27, 2010, at the Tallman Hotel in Upper Lake, Calif. Photo by Jillian Billester.







UPPER LAKE – Last Saturday, March 27, just before intermission at the Tallman Hotel’s Concert with Conversation featuring the prolific stylings of Jazz pianist Rodney Franklin and bassist/band leader Curtis Olson, I glanced around the room and noted some of the changing faces of Lake County.


The hotel’s Riffe's meeting room was slightly over the advertised 40-ticket limit. In that intimate setting was the enraptured countenances of music lovers, really into what Misters Franklin and Olsen were putting down.


This burgeoning appreciation of Jazz/Funk/Fusion in Lake County is no new thing. A few years back, when James Brown’s last guitarist Robert Watson was the music director at the now defunct Konocti Blues Café, Watson consistently brought in a cast of world-class players from the above-mentioned genres, including Franklin, Miles Davis guitarist Barry Finnerty, Maze/Santana drummer Billy Johnson, Sly & The Family Stone’s Rusty Allen and a host of others.


So, memory not withstanding, it was refreshing to see the patrons at the Tallman come to support the event, many of whom never made it to the KBC.


The cool thing about Concerts with Conversation is the workshop-style format. As the title of the series suggests, dialogue between the artists and the audience is encouraged.


One of the first things out of the mouth of Curtis Olson was how much he admired Rodney Franklin’s understanding and execution of harmonic structure. A little history on the evolution of Rodney Franklin as he himself explained during a break in the music.


“As a child born and raised in Berkeley, I was placed in a great music program at the age of 6 and was taking Jazz piano lessons,” he explained.


“Instrumental in my early development was Dr. Herb Wong, KJAZ disc jockey and music educator. Dr. Wong would consistently bring world class Jazz musicians to our school,” Franklin continued. “As a youngster I saw Miles Davis and Rhasaan Roland Kirk at school. I was introduced personally to Oscar Peterson, who so dazzled me with his playing that I decided that’s what I would do.


“I entered my first music competition at age 8,” he added. “I played in an award-winning junior high jazz band. We lost our first three competitions, which made us get serious enough to win one hundred-seventeen in a row.”


Curtis Olson was a witness to the prowess of the Berkeley Music Education program. Olson grew up in nearby Pittsburg, Calif., and remembers as a high schooler, Franklin's junior high school band coming to Pittsburg and outplaying by far the Pittsburgh High School Band.


That experience, said Olson, spurred him to study harder and as fate would have it, he and Franklin started playing the occasional gig together later in life.


Saturday night’s Concert with Conversation found the duo playing from the songbooks of Hoagy Carmichael, Ray Charles, George Gershwin, Stevie Wonder and originals as well.


Franklin was on the road for years with Stevie Wonder. Olson was on the road with Ray Charles for years as well. They both told interesting revealing anecdotes about their respective tenures.


This reviewer has seen Franklin in action close to a half a dozen times or more. It was my second time hearing Curtis Olson. They complemented each other very well.


The all-important eye contact, in terms of their improvisational delivery, was very evident. Franklin would call out a key signature, then at the last millisecond before the down beat, change it and Olson could not be thrown off. Great chops – and I don’t mean suey.


And in other pertinent Lake County Music News, Twice As Good was awarded the Best New Band of The Year at the West Coast Blues Hall Of Fame Awards Show held at the Oakland Airport Hilton on Sunday, March 28.


The house was packed as Paul and Rich Steward received their award among other awarded luminaries such as Jazz great John Handy, Laura Joplin, who received a posthumous award for her sister Janis, Snooky Flowers, saxophonist who recorded with Janis and Big Brother and The Holding Company, Juan Escovedo for Shela E., Zakiya Hooker, Freddie Hughes and many, many more.


Keep prayin, keep thinkin’ those kind thoughts!


T. Watts is a writer, radio host and music critic. 



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Paul and Rich Steward of Twice As Good recently received the award for the Best New Band of The Year at the West Coast Blues Hall Of Fame Awards Show. Here they show off their award at the Bue Wing Saloon and Cafe in Upper Lake, Calif. Photo by Bernie Butcher.

LAKEPORT – Facing a tough economy and foreclosures, on Wednesday Piedmont Lumber took action to close one of its North Coast facilities.

The company has several properties around Northern California, including a store at 2465 S. Main St. in Lakeport.

James Simmons, a spokesman for the company, said Piedmont Lumber closed its Calpella-based truss manufacturing facility – Calpella Lumber & Truss, located at 6301 N. State St. – on Wednesday.

“The word is, unfortunately, it had to be closed immediately,” he said.

Wednesday was the end of the year's first quarter, and the company determined that it was the appropriate time to make the transition, Simmons said.

He did not have information on the number of employees affected, and didn't know if any would be transferred to other Piedmont Lumber properties.

“I know employees were laid off effective today,” he said.

Simmons said the reason for the closure was, simply, the state of the economy.

“It's just a bad economic situation here in the state,” he said. “It just could not sustain operations.”

The economy, coupled with the impacts of the company's loss of its Walnut Creek store to a fire on March 13, made it “too difficult” to keep the Calpella facility open, Simmons said.

“The inventory there at Calpella has been moved to the Lakeport facility, which will remain open,” said Simmons.

Piedmont Lumber also is facing a lawsuit filed earlier this month by its lender, Umpqua Bank, which is seeking judicial foreclosure on several of its properties, including the Lakeport store, as Lake County News has reported.

On March 1, the same day that the bank filed the lawsuit, it also served notices of default against the Lakeport store, a securing property on two loans totaling more than $14.5 million.

In addition, the company is facing a federal lawsuit alleging it has failed to pay benefits to its union-represented workers.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

LAKEPORT – Well it is finally spring!

It’s April. After what seems to have been a very long and wet winter, the flowers are blooming, the lake is almost full and the trees are beginning to bud, even the new trees we have planted at the south side of the Soper-Reese.

We have put enough pear and crepe myrtle trees to eventually provide cooling shade for our outdoor events in the courtyard. It may take a few seasons before they actually grow big enough but they have started.

And we have started to engage the community more and more with an ever-expanding offering of shows at the theater.

On April 9 and 10 we will welcome the first of what may become a series of concerts featuring Christian bands and other artists from around the nation.

The local alternative Christian rock band “Revolution” will be headlining a concert playing music fit for the whole family. Blake Miller will be a featured guest singing along with Sebrina Dolloso lead singer of “Revolution.”

The opening band is the “Pneumati Band,” a national touring family band from Oregon. Proceeds from this series will go to benefit Compassion 2 Help, a not for profit organization providing food, clothing and support for our own needy neighbors here in Lake County.

The Triskela Celtic Harp Trio will return Saturday, April 17, for a concert of traditional Celtic and original harp tunes. They were a near sellout last time they appeared on stage and I am sure they will be well received this time.

The new band “Uncorked” will open for Triskela. Uncorked has been assembled by Eleanor Cook and features the fine talents of Andi Skelton, Don Coffin, Dennis Hadley, Dan Harris, Teale Love and Greg Bushta. What a great lineup for the month of April.

The North Bay Realtor Association enjoyed their last conference so much that they have decided to use our venue the next round of meetings on April 29. Using the Soper-Reese as a meeting place for both businesses and nonprofits helps to anchor it as a much-needed conference venue for Lakeport.

We are also excited to be hosting the 29th annual Spring Dance Festival this year. This major fund raiser for the Lake County Arts Council has longer legs than most of the dancers. This marks the first time that it has been held at the theater.

All of the dance studios in the county are contributing to this display of almost 200 dancers and all

participants are very busy rehearsing for this showcase of the Terpsichorean muse. The Dance Festival is the first weekend in May with a tech rehearsal on the last day of April.

You may have noticed on our posters and on our Web site that we are affiliated with the American Association of Community Theatre.

The AACT is a group of community theaters joined together from around the country sharing resources, experiences, directions and ideas about operating and maintaining performing art centers and theaters.

We are proud members of this organization and rely upon their network of seasoned experts to help us bring a professional live stage experience to the entire community.

Visit our Web site for more details about the Soper-Reese and all of our upcoming shows at:

www.SoperReeseTheatre.com .

Bert Hutt is artistic director for the Soper-Reese Community Theatre in Lakeport, Calif.

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GLENN COUNTY – A man who allegedly used floral deliveries as a premise to burglarize homes in Glenn County was arrested earlier this week on the North Coast.

Joshua Tannenbaum, 40, of Anderson, is in the Mendocino County Jail for driving a vehicle allegedly stolen from Chico, according to Glenn County Sheriff Larry Jones.

Last Sunday at about 10 a.m. the Glenn County Communications Center received a call of a burglary occurring at 1854 State Highway 45 in Glenn, Jones reported.

While Glenn County Sheriff’s deputies were responding, the victim told the dispatcher that a blue pickup had backed up to a shed, and it was now at her gas pump.

When Sgt. Sean Arlin and Detective Dan Blair arrived at the residence, the vehicle was gone.

The deputies were able to obtain a description of the suspect – which they allege to be Tannenbaum – and the vehicle, said Jones, and they learned that the suspect had taken some property from the shed as well as the gasoline.

About an hour later, Blair received a call about a person trying to steal a motorcycle at 7783 County Road 16 just west of Hamilton City.

The owner was able to get his motorcycle back and described the suspect as a white male adult with short brown hair, wearing a black baseball cap, a dark blue jacket, and tan or brown canvas pants.

The suspect in that incident also was driving a blue pickup. The victim was able to give Blair a license plate number of the vehicle, Jones said.

After further investigation, Glenn County detectives learned that the blue pickup had been stolen out of Chico.

The following day Glenn County detectives learned that the blue pickup had been recovered in Ukiah, and that the California Highway Patrol had taken Tannenbaum into custody.

Sheriff’s Detective Greg Felton went to Ukiah and recovered property in the pickup taken from the burglary at 1854 State Highway 45 in Glenn. One particular recovered item was a commercial grade leave blower valued at $450.

Upon returning to Glenn County, Felton contacted both victims and they were able to identify the pickup and Tannenbaum as being involved in the burglary and theft of the motorcycle.

As Tannenbaum is on active state parole, Mendocino authorities have obtained a no-bail hold.

Based on the Glenn County Sheriff’s Office investigation, the Glenn County District Attorney’s Office has charged Tannenbaum, who has a very extensive criminal history, with burglary and vehicle theft. Tannenbaum is expected be transferred to the Glenn County Jail when he is released from Mendocino County.

It is believed Tannenbaum had been approaching homes in Glenn County, and possibly other areas, with fresh flowers in his hands, Jones said.

If someone answered the door, as a ruse, he would explain he was there to make a floral delivery and leave. If no one would answer, he would think it safe to attempt a burglary.

The Glenn County Sheriff’s Office would like to hear from anyone who may have experienced a suspicious floral delivery. Contact the office at 530-934-6431.

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MENDOCINO NATIONAL FOREST – The Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) trail system on the Upper Lake Ranger District of the Mendocino National Forest will be closed to vehicle traffic for six days, beginning the morning of Saturday, April 3.

The closure order covers only the Upper Lake Ranger District and is scheduled to lift the morning of Friday, April 9, conditions permitting.

The OHV trails on the Grindstone Ranger District are still open.

The closure is the result of rain and snow this week that have left trails muddy and, in some places, covered by more than a foot of snow.

Additional storm systems in the current forecast are predicted to bring more rain and snow to the Upper Lake Ranger District and trail system.

Using the trails in their current condition would result in damage not only to the trails, but would also impact other resources including soils, water quality, and wildlife habitat.

“We recognize this is a popular weekend for recreation on the Forest, particularly for OHV enthusiasts,” said Forest Supervisor Tom Contreras. “We appreciate the public’s understanding and cooperation with the temporary OHV trail system closure. By closing the trails now and preventing further damage, we are reducing the risk of longer closures for costly repairs and restoration efforts. Waiting for conditions to improve and the trails to dry out will help us continue to provide quality recreation areas for OHV riders.”

The Emergency Trail Closure for the Upper Lake Ranger District of the Mendocino National Forest is formally referenced under Order Number 08-10-03.

Violation of this closure order is punishable by a fine of no more than $5,000 for an individual, $10,000 for an organization, or up to six months imprisonment or both.

For more information, please contact the Mendocino National Forest at 530-934-3316 or visit www.fs.fed.us/r5/mendocino.

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NORTHSHORE – The body of a Lakeport man reported missing early in March has been found.

William Michael Farrell's body was found floating in Clear Lake along the Northshore, according to Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

Bauman reported that a motorist traveling eastbound along Highway 20 Thursday just before 11 a.m. saw what he believed to be a body floating in the water just a few feet from the shore between Lucerne and Glenhaven.

After stopping to verify what he saw, the man reported his discovery to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office and deputies responded by land and from the lake, Bauman said.

Upon their arrival, Bauman said deputies recovered the body of a white male adult wearing clothing similar to what Farrell was believed to have been wearing when he disappeared several weeks ago.

At the scene deputies located a wallet and and saw that the body had tattoos which positively identified the remains as that of the 49-year-old Farrell, Bauman said.

Farrell had been reported missing on March 8, the day after he embarked in his older 14-foot wooden boat from the Konocti Vista Resort Marina to go to a friend’s house in North Lakeport, as Lake County News has reported.

The sheriff's investigation found that Farrell never reached his destination and two days after he was reported missing, the Sheriff’s Marine Patrol recovered his unoccupied partially submerged boat from the lake about 400 feet off of the Buckingham Peninsula.

There were no obvious signs of trauma to the remains found Thursday morning and there were no obvious signs of a collision or other damage to the boat when it was recovered three weeks ago, Bauman said.

The cause of Farrell’s apparent drowning is pending further investigation. Bauman said an autopsy will be scheduled to try and determine the exact manner and cause of his death.



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LAKE COUNTY – The 2010 Census forms have arrived in mailboxes throughout Northern California.

It should take approximately 10 minutes for each household to complete its form. Each 2010 Census packet includes a postage-paid envelope addressed to one of three U.S. Census Bureau’s Data Capture Centers located in Jeffersonville, Indiana, Phoenix, Arizona or Baltimore, Maryland.

Census forms are delivered directly to each household, either by the U.S. Postal Service or U.S. Census Bureau’s employees. About 90 percent of households in the United States received the census forms in the mail, the remaining 10 percent rural households had their forms hand-delivered.

Each census form contains a unique barcode and the 20-digit identification number for each household. The information embedded in the barcode and the 20-digit identification number allow the Census Bureau to precisely allocate the count to the cities and counties where these households are located.

Opportunists and scammers may want to take advantage of this once-a-decade national effort.

To ensure that the count is safe and confidential, the following information will help residents avoid census fraud and scams:

  • The unique barcode and the 20-digit ID number are on the back of each 2010 Census form.

  • None of the questions on the 2010 Census form asks for Social Security number, driver’s license number, bank account or PIN number, immigration or citizenship status.

  • The Census Bureau NEVER asks for donations or money.

  • The Census Bureau NEVER requests for information via e-mail.

  • The Census Bureau does not conduct surveys or censuses on behalf of political parties or organizations.

If you are unsure that the 2010 Census form you received is authentic, please visit a Questionnaire Assistance Center (QAC) near you for help or call the Seattle Regional Census Center at 425-908-3000.

QAC locations can be found on the Internet at www.2010census.gov ; a list of local centers can be found at http://lakeconews.com/content/view/13258/919/ .

Toll-free telephone assistance hotlines are available seven days a week, from 8 am to 9 pm, in English and five other languages: English (1-866-872-6868), Spanish (1-866-928-2010), Chinese (1-866-935-2010), Vietnamese (1-866-945-2010), Korean (1-866-955-2010) and Russian (1-866-965-2010). Deaf and hard-of-hearing persons can call the TDD number: 1-866-783-2010.

Beginning in May, census workers will be visiting households that fail to mail back the 2010 Census form to collect information.

To help residents avoid fraud and scams, here are ways how census workers can be identified:

  • The 2010 Census workers will present residents a notice titled “Your Answers Are Confidential,” which explains the U.S. Code, Title 13, which guarantees the safeguarding and confidentiality of information collected by the Census Bureau.

  • Questions asked by 2010 Census workers will be the same questions on the 2010 Census form.

  • The 2010 Census workers will NEVER ask to come into your home.

  • The 2010 Census workers will NEVER ask for money or donations, Social Security number, driver’s license number, bank account or PIN number, immigration or citizenship status.

  • The 2010 Census workers wear a white ID badge with blue and red lettering.

  • The 2010 Census workers may carry a black and white canvas bag that bears the Census Bureau’s name and logo.

In the event residents want to verify that the census takers at their doors are legitimate employees of the US Census Bureau, they are encouraged to call the Seattle Regional Census Center at 1-877-471-5432.

Residents also can ask census workers to provide them with a Local Census Office’s telephone number, which they can call to verify employment status. If residents feel threatened, they should call local law enforcement or 911.

Mandated by the U.S. Constitution, the census takes place every 10 years. Census Day is April 1, 2010. Census data determine boundaries for state and local legislative and congressional districts.

More than $400 billion in federal funds are distributed annually based on census data to pay for local programs and services, such as schools, highways, vocational training, emergency services, hospitals, unemployment benefits and much more. Learn more about the 2010 Census at www.2010.census.gov .

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LAKEPORT – With his trial set to start later this month, the man accused of murdering a taxi driver almost three years ago reached a plea deal with the prosecution on Thursday.

Morgan Matthew Jack, 33, of Nice, was facing trial for first-degree murder for the death of 39-year-old Paul Womachka on June 27, 2007, as Lake County News has reported.

However, Jack and his attorney, Stephen Carter, reached a plea agreement with Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff in which Jack pleaded no contest to a charge of voluntary manslaughter and admitted a special allegation that he personally used a knife or other sharp instrument to commit the crime.

The plea was taken before Judge Arthur H. Mann on Thursday.

The District Attorney's Office said that, for sentencing purposes, Jack's no contest plea is the same as pleading guilty.

When Jack is sentenced May 24 in Mann's Department 3 courtroom, he'll face a maximum 12-year sentence, according to the District Attorney's Office.

Hinchcliff said discussions over the plea deal started March 29. The trial had been scheduled to begin April 27.

After discussing the case and the state of the evidence with four of the investigators involved, and holding discussions at length with Paul Womachka's family – who agreed to the plan – the offer was made, said Hinchcliff.

“This was not something that we wanted to do,” he said, but added that he believed it was the right thing to do.

Carter said voluntary manslaughter carries 3-, 6- or 11-year terms, with the special allegation adding another year.

Jack will receive credit toward whatever prison term he receives, including the more than two years he has spent in the Lake County Jail, Carter said. Jack will have to serve 85 percent of the sentence.

Carter said that, in addition to the murder charge, two prior prison terms Jack served were dismissed from consideration as part of the plea deal. He estimated that Jack's worst case scenario is that he'll have to serve up to eight years in prison.

“Given the fact that he was looking at life in prison, we're extremely excited for him in terms of the resolution,” Carter said.

Womachka was called to Robinson Rancheria Resort & Casino to give a ride to Jack, who he picked up shortly after midnight on June 27, 2007. The District Attorney's Office said that, based on witnesses and surveillance tape obtained by investigators, Jack appeared extremely intoxicated when he was at Robinson Rancheria, where patrons and security staff assisted him in getting the taxi ride from Robinson to Big Valley Rancheria.

Later that same day, shortly after 11 a.m., Womachka's ex-wife and business partner, Ericka Womachka, would report him missing.

His body was found two days later, submerged in his Hey, Taxi! minivan, which was found in the marina at Big Valley Rancheria in Lakeport.

During testimony in Jack's April 2008 preliminary hearing, it was disclosed that Womachka was still wearing his seatbelt, his hands on or near the steering wheel, and his foot on the gas, with the minivan in drive gear, its doors locked and several of the windows open.

Womachka had received four “sharp force injuries” – including wounds in the left upper chest and left shoulder, and wounds on both sides of his neck, including a cut to his jugular vein.

An extensive sheriff's investigation led to Jack's arrest. The District Attorney's Office said the investigation continued for the next two and a half years, in which investigators spent a substantial amount of time following up on all leads.

They spoke to anyone who may have any information about the crime, pursued all information circulating in the community, and had forensic testing done on potential evidence items, officials reported. A district attorney investigator was assigned to assist in the investigation.

No witnesses to the killing were ever found, although video obtained from Konocti Vista Casino showed the taxi van passing by the casino about 15 minutes after leaving Robinson Rancheria and heading toward the residence where Jack was staying, near the marina where the submerged van later would be found.

A small amount of blood evidence was found on one of Jack's shoes, and DNA testing revealed that it was Womachka's. However, the sample was so small that it was consumed by the testing, said Carter. He said that would have been an issue at trial, as it would have put the defense at a disadvantage because they wouldn't be able to retest it.

“Our defense theory was largely based on whether or not they had the right guy,” said Carter.

Neither the prosecution nor the defense offered any new theories on what they believed ultimately happened early that morning.

Carter said that an autopsy showed that Womachka's blood alcohol content was “pretty significant.”

Hinchcliff was critical of Carter's statement about the blood alcohol level, saying there was “no evidence whatsoever” that Womachka had been drinking alcohol while on duty or prior to picking Jack up from Robinson Rancheria.

He explained that the pathologist who did the test couldn't be certain whether the test readings were the result of decomposition – which causes alcohol to form in the body – or actual alcohol, but he said it's well known that the decomposition process can cause organs to test positive for alcohol when none was consumed.

“The only evidence was a completely unreliable post- death and post-decomposition testing that the forensic toxicologist stated was unreliable, and which Mr. Carter had in his possession and was aware of,” said Hinchcliff.

Carter said he also wasn't sure that he agreed with law enforcement's view of how the van ended up in the lake or how many people were involved.

“But we're never going to do that trial,” he said.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf.

LAKEPORT – A local man who last September allegedly sped through an intersection and collided head-on with another car, killing its driver and severely injuring the passengers, has been arrested on charges including second-degree murder and vehicular manslaughter.

Alejandro Aurelio Arias, 28, of Nice was arrested Wednesday without incident at his mother's home by District Attorney's Office investigators, two days after Deputy District Attorney John Langan filed a criminal case against him in Lake County Superior Court.

Last Sept. 11, Arias – driving a Ford Mustang he had modified for racing – hit and killed 41-year-old Charlane Hill of Laytonville, as Lake County News has reported.

The collision also seriously injured Hill's passengers, Clearlake resident Maria Holt and Hill's young niece, Elizabeth Hill of Ukiah, who both were hospitalized.

In addition to the second-degree murder and vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence charges, Arias – who has had numerous vehicle-related criminal cases filed against him over the last decade – faces three counts of reckless driving, according to court records. His bail has been set at $500,000.

California Highway Patrol Officer Kevin Domby, who works for the CHP's Clear Lake office, was at the scene. Recalling the incident on Wednesday, he called it a “very violent, horrific crash.”

Members of Hill's family chose not to comment when contacted Wednesday.

Arias originally was arrested at the scene of the crash in September for driving under the influence and gross vehicular manslaughter and then was transported to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital for treatment of major injuries to his head, pelvis and legs.

“The fact that he survived it is amazing,” Domby said.

Since the crash, the District Attorney's Office has been investigating the case, which it filed March 29, Langan said.

About 10 minutes prior to the crash, Arias had been pulled over by a sheriff's deputy near Robinson Rancheria Resort & Casino in Nice, Langan said.

The deputy, according to Langan, had reportedly spotted Arias “peeling out” as he left the casino, and stopped him to issue a warning. The deputy would later arrive at the crash scene and report that he had warned Arias.

Just prior to the crash – which occurred at approximately 9:42 p.m. – several witnesses reported seeing Arias driving along Highway 29 at high speeds, said Domby.

One of the witnesses was a Lakeport Police officer who saw Arias go by. Domby said Arias' vehicle was recorded by the Lakeport officer's mobile audio video unit.

“We believe he was doing about 100 miles per hour southbound on Highway 29,” Langan added.

Langan said Arias is then alleged to have run the red light at Highway 29 and Highway 175 outside of Lakeport before crossing the double yellow lines and hitting Hill's Buick Regal head-on south of the intersection.

“It's a miracle he didn't hit anyone in the intersection,” said Domby.

Hill was declared dead at the scene, according to Langan.

Domby said Arias' Mustang had several modifications, including a nitrous oxide system that wasn't hooked up, heavy duty brakes that Arias told officers he had put on the car, a super charger to increase the horse power and a fin on the back of the car.

Arias reportedly had raced the car in Oregon, Domby said. “The car was capable of doing very high speeds.”

Domby said the CHP's Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT), was called in. It conducted lengthy, in-depth analysis of the incident, including examining skid marks and other physical evidence.

That's where the MAIT Team really shines, is doing their calculations on the physical evidence that's left and the metal crush from the vehicles,” said Domby.

In filing the case, Langan said several factors came into play in deciding to charge Arias with second-degree murder.

One of those factors was Arias' driving history, said Langan.

Arias has an extensive past history of criminal cases involving speeding, driving without a license and failure to provide insurance.

Superior court records show 18 previous driving-related cases – going back as far as 2000 – filed against Arias.

He was convicted and sentenced in 10 of those cases:

  • May 20, 2003: Sentenced to fines for failing to display current registration tabs and having no driver's license in his possession;

  • June 20, 2003: Sentenced to fines for exceeding the maximum speed of 55 miles per hour;

  • Jan. 6, 2005: Sentenced to fines for exceeding the maximum speed of 55 miles per hour and failing to notify the Department of Motor Vehicles of an address change;

  • Jan. 14, 2005: Sentenced to fines for improperly turning over double-yellow lines;

  • June 16, 2006: Sentenced to 10 days in jail and fines for driving on a suspended or revoked license;

  • June 16, 2006: Sentenced to three years probation for failure to provide insurance;

  • Dec. 18, 2008: Sentenced to fines for driving while unlicensed;

  • Dec. 18, 2008: Sentenced to fines for failure to provide insurance;

  • Dec. 18, 2008: Sentenced to fines for exceeding the maximum speed of 55 miles per hour.

In August of 2009, a month before the fatal crash, Arias was sentenced in his 10th case, again receiving fines for speeding, according to court records.

Langan is alleging that Arias personally knew of the dangers inherent in his actions.

“With that history and knowledge, we believe it elevates it from manslaughter to second-degree murder,” he said, adding that Arias displayed “reckless indifference.”

Domby called the murder charge filing “significant,” noting he's not seen such a charge made in Lake County before based on someone's driving history. But, he added, it has been done elsewhere, although it's still relatively rare.

Mostly, he said, he's seen such charges arise from driving under the influence cases.

Still under investigation, said Langan, is whether or not Arias was in fact under the influence of any substance, as was alleged in his original arrest.

California Highway Patrol reported initially that Arias showed “signs and symptoms” of intoxication at the scene.

A blood test was conducted at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital when Arias arrived for treatment, but Domby said the results couldn't be disclosed at this time.

Arias' arrest record indicates he is due in Lake County Superior Court for his first appearance on the charges on Friday.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

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