Tuesday, 23 July 2024


Ronald Craig was sentenced to four years, eight months in prison Monday. Lake County Jail photo.


LAKE COUNTY – A Kelseyville man has been sentenced to state prison for the molestation of two young girls.

Deputy District Attorney John DeChaine reported that on Monday Judge Arthur Mann sentenced Ronald Kenneth Craig, 66, to the upper term of four years and eight months in prison for sex crimes against the two girls, ages 6 and 14.

Mann imposed the maximum prison sentence after denying the defendant’s motion for probation, according to DeChaine.

DeChaine prosecuted the case, which was investigated by Detective Mike Curran of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.

Craig had pleaded guilty to two felony counts of child molestation on April 27, DeChaine reported.

With regard to the 6-year-old girl, DeChaine said Craig pleaded guilty to attempting to commit a lewd or lascivious act with a minor under the age of 14 years in violation of penal code sections 664/288(a).

Attempting to commit a lewd act with a child under the age of 14 – in this case, with a 6 year old – is categorized as a serious strike in California, DeChaine reported. As such, any future felony conviction can result in the doubling of the new sentence.

With regard to Craig’s 14 year old victim, Craig also had pleaded guilty to committing a lewd act with a 14 or 15 year old in violation of penal code section 288(c), according to DeChaine.

DeChaine said when a defendant is accused of certain sex crimes in different counties, Penal code section 784.7 permits the prosecution of those crimes in a single jurisdiction.

The crime involving the 14-year-old victim was committed in Sacramento County, DeChaine reported. However, the Lake County District Attorney’s Office successfully obtained approval from Sacramento to prosecute Craig in Lake County for the crime involving his 14-year-old victim.

Craig was arrested on Aug. 4, 2006, and was booked into the county jail, DeChaine said. Throughout the year-long prosecution of the case, Craig has been held in custody with bail set in the amount of $250,000.00.

Craig also had been charged with annoying or molesting a third victim, an 8-year-old boy, according to DeChaine. The charge involving the boy was a misdemeanor charge in violation of penal code section 647.6(a) and was dismissed as part of the negotiated plea.

Though dismissed, DeChaine said it was dismissed in a manner that permitted Judge Mann to consider the allegation involving the boy in determining the appropriate prison term.

All three children alleged that Craig offered or gave them small amounts of money in conjunction with of each offense, DeChaine said.

Family members of each of the victims provided emotional victim impact statements at the time of Craig's sentencing, according to DeChaine. Crystal Martin of the Victim Witness Division of the District Attorney’s Office works closely with victims of sexual assault and provided needed emotional support in the courtroom.

After hearing arguments from the attorneys, Judge Mann imposed the maximum sentence despite the fact that Craig had no prior criminal record, said DeChaine.

The court found that despite Craig having no prior record, he took advantage of a position of trust, and also found that the 6-year-old victim was particularly vulnerable, warranting the upper term sentence, DeChaine reported.

When Ronald Craig is released from prison, DeChaine said he will be required to register as a sex offender for the remainder of his life.


LAKE COUNTY – Over the last month the sight of deer alongside roadways during the night hours has increased, and it's become a deadly situation for the animals.

The California Highway Patrol incident logs has reported numerous incidents of deer being hit by cars and killed as they cross roads at night.

Department of Fish and Game Warden Loren Freeman said the deer are migrating right now, looking for sources of water.

By the beginning of fall, said Freeman, a lot of the local creeks and other water sources used by deer had dried up.

Even with the recent rains, the US Geological Survey shows creeks are at extremely low levels.

With few options, the deer are drawn to the county's largest water source, Clear Lake, said Freeman.

“They do have to go once a day in order to get water,” he explained.

That means they must cross busy roads and highways.

Deer usually move at dusk or dawn, preferring to move under concealment of darkness and before bedding down. “That's the most volatile time,” said Freeman.

Freeman urged people to be more cautious when driving, especially at night, in order to avoid hitting the animals.

Another reason it's important to keep an eye out: the Department of Fish and Game says it's deer mating season, which can cause the deer to move more than usual, and be uncommonly aggressive.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representative Mike Thompson (D-First District) was honored this week with an award from the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE) in recognition of his work as a steward of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Thompson joined Reps. Michael Castle (R-DE), Norman D. Dicks (D-WA), Ron J. Kind (D-WI), Jim Saxton (R-NJ) and Todd Tiahrt (R-KS) in being recognized for their efforts to protect – and adequately fund – the refuge system.

The awards were presented at a Capitol Hill reception on Wednesday sponsored by CARE and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and marked the 10th anniversary of the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997.

The landmark legislation laid the framework for a system that today includes 548 refuges representing nearly 100 million acres of the most visually stunning and biologically diverse lands and waters in the U.S. With at least one refuge in every state, the system attracts some 40 million visitors each year.

Thompson was recognized for the hard work he has put into securing funding for refuges both inside and outside his district, and his strong backing of fully functional North Coast ecosystems that include the rivers and streams necessary to help sustain healthy fisheries.

“On behalf of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the California Department of Fish and Game and all our partners in the San Pablo Bay, we want to thank Congressman Thompson for his support of funding year after year,” San Pablo’s Refuge Manager Christy Smith said. “We also are thankful for the $40 million bill included in Water Resources Development Act for San Pablo Bay Watershed restoration. The Congressman’s attention to land and conservation issues doesn’t go unnoticed.”

Thompson also was recognized for his demonstrated commitment to protecting these biologically diverse wild spots by helping to form the Congressional Wildlife Refuge Caucus and serving as one of its vice chairs.

"The National Wildlife Refuge system is a destination point for people to enjoy our nation’s diverse fish and wildlife and brings more than $700 million into local economies," Thompson said. "However, unless we address the System’s nearly $3 billion operations and maintenance backlog, we risk losing the cornerstone of our country’s public lands. I am very grateful for this award and look forward to working with CARE on this very important issue."

The National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act mandates a “wildlife first” conservation philosophy, and the system’s refuges are home to more than 700 bird species, 220 mammals, and 260 endangered or threatened species. While protecting wildlife is the primary mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System, the system offers a wide variety of recreational opportunities, including wildlife photography and observation, hunting and fishing, environmental education and interpretation. The system generates some $1.4 billion in annual revenues.

“The Refuge System faces a budget crisis of extraordinary proportions,” said Evan Hirsche, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association and chair of the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement. “We're grateful to have Congressman Thompson leading the charge for a healthy and vital Refuge System. With his vision, our American wildlife heritage has a fighting chance.”

Working in partnership since 1995, CARE consists of 22 wildlife, sporting, conservation and scientific groups dedicated to educating Congress and the American public about the Refuge System. Recognizing the value of a healthy system for the wildlife and habitat refuges seek to protect, CARE works to represent the five million national constituents of its member organizations by securing strong investments in these remarkable lands and waters.

For more information about CARE visit www.refugenet.org/CARE/CareHome.html.


Samples of Safeway's exterior improvements on display at the Lakeport Community Development Department. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


LAKEPORT – Businesses in Lakeport’s Willow Tree Shopping Center on 11th Street have a new landlord – Safeway has purchased the property.

“We closed escrow and we are now the proud owners,” said Safeway spokesperson Espe Greenwood.

Lake County News obtained a copy of a certified letter Safeway sent to businesses dated Aug. 23 notifying them that as of Aug. 22 Safeway had taken ownership of the shopping center.

Safeway purchased the shopping center from Seagulls Unlimited, a Santa Cruz-based company which, according to Lake County Assessor’s Records, purchased the property in November of 2000.

Greenwood said negotiations took place all the way up to the last minute.

Safeway has been in that location since 1981, said Greenwood. The store employs 100 people.

The shopping center is divided into two parcels – 979 11th Street, an 8.4-acre parcel, and 1071 11th Street, which is 3.9 acres, according to Lake County Assessor Records. The transfer amounts for both properties totaled $16 million in 2000.

Terms of Lakeport’s Safeway purchase were not disclosed.

Safeway’s 2006 annual report noted that the corporation had 1,761 stores across California, the Western United States, the Chicago metropolitan area and the Mid-Atlantic region, along with Canada.

Of those 1,761 stores, the company owns 40 percent of them, the report states.

With the purchase of the Lakeport store, Safeway now owns both of its Lake County stores. The Clearlake Safeway store, located at 14922 Olympic Drive sits on a four-acre parcel that the company purchased in 1990, according to Lake County Assessor’s Records, with a transfer amount of $3,161,500.

The corporation’s decisions to buy real estate depends on a lot of factors, said Greenwood. She added that buying stores it leases isn’t necessarily a trend for Safeway.

In the case of Lakeport’s store, Greenwood said the company chose to buy for a lot of reasons, which she didn’t specify. “It’s very hard to say that any one thing stands out from the rest.”


Greenwood said Lakeport’s Safeway is slated for a remodel which will convert it to the company’s new “Lifestyle” store format.

The Lifestyle store will have “the bells and whistles,” said Greenwood, including an expanded wine section featuring local wines, a larger floral department which will feature bouquets and arrangements for special occasions, and an expanded bakery with a hearth oven.

The remodeled store also will include more energy efficient refrigerators and new lighting, with the company changing from fluorescent lights, said Greenwood.

All of those changes are meant to reduce the company’s environmental footprint, reduce costs and make Safeway more competitive, Greenwood added.

The remodel also will increase the size of the store from 40,342 to 46,982, according to plans submitted to the Lakeport Community Development Department. Greenwood added that most Safeway stores are in the 40,000 to 55,000 square foot range.

Greenwood said the company plans to invest more in its properties. Safeway conducted 276 Lifestyle remodels in 2006, according to its annual report.

The remodel plans include removing the parking along the front of the store and moving handicapped parking out into the first rows of the main parking area.

The front façade and the sides of the Safeway building will undergo significant changes, according to the plans submitted to the city, which were drawn up by Nadel Retail Architects of Sacramento.

The building's front overhang will be removed, and decorative touches including planters and a wooden trellis will be added. The two main entrances will remain in their current locations. An area also will be added for a pharmacy.

The plans are being reviewed right now, said Community Development Director Richard Knoll.

He said he believes the remodel will go to the Lakeport Planning Commission for approval in November or December.

“If everything went in a quick order they’ll probably be ready for a building permit in spring,” said Knoll.


John Peterson, chief operating officer of Mendo-Lake Credit Union, told Lake County News that his company was notified of Safeway’s plans to purchase the complex during the first week of July.

The plans Safeway has submitted to the city’s Community Development Department include moving a portion of the shops between Safeway and Longs Drugs. Specifically, the shops that would be removed are leased by orthopedic hand surgeon Rebecca Jensen, Willow Tree Dental, Advance America and Bandbox Music.

Ron Benkelman, owner of Bandbox Music, said he has been in his location near Safeway since February of 1999. “This is the best location I’ve had in the county,” said Benkelman.

Bandbox Music has been in business in Lake County for 51 years altogether, said Benkelman, who purchased the business in 1990. During that time the business has had six locations. “This is by far the nicest.”

He said his business benefits from the foot traffic in that part of the shopping center.

Safeway is offering Benkelman the chance to move to another area of the shopping center, he said.

So far, Benkelman said he has been offered a spot near Longs, but nothing has been finalized. He also doesn’t know when Safeway will expect businesses to move under the new leases, and said merchants like him want to know that date.

Greenwood said Safeway will definitely be relocating some of its tenants. “It will be happening next year.”

Benkelman said the last owners treated the property badly and didn’t make an effort at upkeep, a statement with which Lynn Fegan, owner of Catfish Books, agreed.

The experience with Safeway as a landlord has so far been positive said Fegan, who added that she made out her first rent check to Safeway for the month of September.

Fegan, who has owned the store for 14 years, said Catfish Books has been in the same location for 27 years, since the shopping center was built.

She said last year her business was up 35 percent. However, with the change in ownership and the plans for demolishing one part of the shops, Fegan said she’s unsure of what the future will hold for her business.

The big question, she said, is will she be required to move or will Safeway choose to not renew her lease, causing her to close?

The other major change tenants expect is a raise in rent.

Benkelman said he is prevented by the terms of his lease from discussing his current rental rate, but said he expects it to rise to $15 per square foot per year, which for his 1,200 square foot shop would equal $1,500 a month, a price he said is much more in line with Pleasanton’s rates than Lake County’s.

“All change is for the good. All change is uncomfortable,” said Benkelman.

Greenwood said Safeway is committed to improve the shopping center. “We’ll definitely invest a lot of money in this property to make it nice.”

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


SACRAMENTO – Late last week Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed two bills authored by Sen. Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa).

The first bill, Senate Bill 735, would have required Caltrans (and all entities contracting with Caltrans) to track the type, amount and percentage, city, county, Caltrans district and completion date of the project in which of recycled and/or virgin materials were used for sub-base, base and lean concrete base for all highway and street construction and repair projects.

Caltrans would also be required to submit that information in a report to the Legislature every two years beginning on April 1, 2010.

A state auditor’s report in 2006 determined that although Caltrans is encouraging the use of recycled materials in its highway projects, its collection of data is scant with regard to the department’s recycling and solid waste diversions efforts.

Aggregate is used by Caltrans and other builders of roadways to provide a solid foundation for asphalt and other paving materials and to bear the weight of millions of cars and trucks. Recycled aggregate base (RAB) is produced by crushing concrete, and sometimes asphalt, to reclaim the aggregate.

This past June, the California Integrated Waste Management Board released a waste characterization study of construction and demolition material in four major metropolitan areas of California. That study found that the largest recoverable category of disposed material was recyclable aggregates, which made up about 27 percent of disposed construction and demolition material.

“While I appreciate the fact that Gov. Schwarzenegger has been supportive of much of my legislation to date, I am nevertheless disappointed that he chose to veto SB 735,” Wiggins said. “The use of recycled aggregates saves contractors the expense of landfill fees, decreases disposal costs, and extends diminishing natural aggregate resources, and my bill would have helped promote the use of recycled materials while reducing landfill waste.”

The second bill, Senate Bill 861 would have enabled the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) to reallocate $5.5 million in reserves toward other purposes, including environmental cleanup and remediation as well as the establishment of “quiet zones” in the city of Novato and additional locations.

Specifically, SB 861 would have allowed the NCRA to utilize the $5.5 million, previously reserved for repayment of a loan which has since been forgiven, for environmental cleanup ($3.5 million), administrative expenses related to environmental remediation and remediation of hazardous and dangerous conditions along the NCRA right-of-way ($1 million) and to establish “quiet zones” and associated upgraded rail-highway crossings in the City of Novato and other locations ($1 million).

“It is critical to restore freight and passenger rail service on the North Coast, which would serve as a major boost for the regional economy, lessen the burden of traffic on Highway 101, and provide new opportunities for the Port of Humboldt Bay,” Wiggins said. “I am disappointed that the Governor opted to veto SB 861, which would have enabled the NCRA to continue its progress.”

The governor has signed six of Wiggins' bills so far. Six of her bills are still on his desk, and he must make a decision to veto or sign them by midnight, Oct. 14.


This is the fifth installment of a series on the unsolved October 2002 murder of Barbara LaForge.

LAKEPORT – On Oct. 10, 2002, Janeen Hawkins, Barbara LaForge's adopted sister who lives in Jacksonville, Fla., received a phone call from Nancy Enos, a friend of LaForge's from the Lakeport English Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses. {sidebar id=14}

Enos gave her unimaginable news: That two days earlier, LaForge had been found fatally shot in her Main Street frame shop.

Hawkins got her family together, including sister Lisa Hatcher and mother Christine Jones, to share the news.

It was amazing to the family that LaForge – a woman who loved life, who had overcome so much in her 43 years, who was devoted to her family and friends and to her church – could have died in such a violent manner.

Hawkins said it took her a year to come to terms with the violence of her adopted sister's death. “You can't even grieve the loss until you get past the violence.”

On the night of the murder, Enos went to the crime scene, where then-Sgt. Brad Rasmussen of Lakeport Police delivered LaForge's whippet dog, Carmen, to her. The dog had been kept at the scene throughout the day. “She just leaped into my arms,” said Enos.

The trembling dog sat in the lap of Nancy Enos' husband, Norm, all the way to LaForge's house at 5232 Piner Court in Kelseyville. There, LaForge's husband, Dan Hamblin, and his family were gathered.

Enos said she reached out to comfort Hamblin, and later in the week brought over food for him.

LaForge – who loved to cook – had a weekend routine, said Enos, which included fixing food for the coming week. When Enos opened up the refrigerator, she found it fully stocked, with three casseroles LaForge had made after getting back from the Sacramento dog show over the weekend.

Hatcher said her family also tried to reach out to Hamblin, to offer support and comfort.

“From day one he would not talk to us,” she said.

Hawkins added that her mother and sisters all took turns calling Hamblin, never receiving calls back. She spoke to Hamblin's sister shortly after LaForge's murder, and had been told he was having a hard time.

LaForge's friend Genevieve Day, who left Scotts Valley for Klamath Falls, Ore., had sold LaForge Carmen, but retained a partial ownerships. She said she and LaForge were planning to attend a dog show together in Pleasanton later in October.

On Oct. 7, 2002, Day said she spoke to LaForge. “She was really upbeat and looking forward to getting to Pleasanton.”

A day or so after the murder, another friend of Day's from Lake County called to tell her the news. Day said she spoke with Dale Stoebe of Lakeport Police shortly after the murder to try to find out more about what happened.


Day said Hamblin had never liked Carmen, making LaForge keep the dog in a crate at night rather than letting her sleep on the bed with the couple. So when LaForge died, Day said she decided to try to get the dog back, since she and LaForge had reached an agreement in which Day retained part ownership of Carmen.

She said she called Hamblin to ask if he wanted her to come and take the dog. Day said Hamblin told her no, that it was one of the last things he had that still connected him to LaForge.

But Day said a few days later, Hamblin called her back, saying the dog was upset and that Day could come and get her.

LaForge's memorial service was held on Oct. 13, 2002, at the Lakeport English Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, according to her obituary.

Day said she made the trip down to pick up Carmen on the day of the memorial service so she also could attend.

Enos said Hamblin sat in a separate part of the hall, called the library, during the service. It's an area with a glass wall where the service is piped into the room, where mothers frequently take babies.

Day, Tommy Gilliam and Enos said Hamblin sobbed openly through the service. Gilliam and Day said they felt his tears were staged.

Later, after the service, Day met Hamblin at 5232 Piner Court, the home he had shared with LaForge, to pick up Carmen.

Day said she walked into the front of the home where Hamblin and his family were. She stood speaking with Hamblin when, from the back of the house, came Carmen, who Day said always was overjoyed to see her.

Day said Hamblin turned around toward the dog and Carmen flinched away, a reaction Day said she didn't know how to interpret, considering Hamblin never liked the dog.

Hamblin and Day went out into the garage to gather Carmen's things, including beds and toys, which Day offered to pay for; Hamblin, however, refused her offer.

As they talked for an estimated 20 minutes, Day said Hamblin began a strange confessional, telling her that he was with another woman, that he had not found LaForge sexually attractive and had wanted to be with someone else.

“It was like he had this load of guilt and he had to dump it,” said Day.

Stunned by the conversation, Day said she took the dog and left.


Within weeks, possibly days, of LaForge's memorial service, life at 5232 Piner Court moved on.

On the day of the memorial, a woman was seen packing LaForge's clothes and belongings into black garbage bags, according to former Lakeport Police Chief Tom Engstrom.

That woman was 47-year-old Linda Ann Mafrice, that “someone else” the 41-year-old Hamblin had desired.

LaForge's family in Jacksonville said they were told that Mafrice moved in with Hamblin within a few weeks of LaForge's death.

Two months before the murder, in August of 2002, Mafrice was charged with 90 counts of forgery, theft from an elder adult and theft, according to court documents. The theft charge and 89 of the forgery charges were dismissed.

The charges stemmed from her theft of about $180,000 from residents at the Royal Shores condominiums. District Attorney Jon Hopkins, who personally prosecuted Mafrice, said she had done some bookkeeping at the complex, which gave her access to an elderly couple, who were the source of much of the stolen money.

Court documents show that a search of Mafrice's condominium at Royal Shores revealed copies of the couple's financial documents throughout her residence.

Mafrice eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 300 days in jail, which she finished serving in 2004 before being released on probation, court records show.

The court also ordered her to pay back restitution to totaling $113,116.07, with credit for $65,000 that she had already paid back. In addition, Mafrice was required to pay 10 percent in administrative costs, 10 percent per year to the victim and more than $1,000 in other fees and penalties.

“She has not paid full restitution at this point,” said Hopkins in an interview Oct. 5.

Court records from 2005 state that Mafrice suffers from serious unspecified health problems, besides mental health issues. She had taken a doctor's note to court asking for her probation – which she is still under – to be modified. Hopkins said she forged the doctor's note.


When it comes to important players in the drama that surrounds Barbara LaForge's death, few are as key as her husband, Dan Hamblin.

And few are as silent.

Unlike some family members of murder victims, Hamblin has never approached the local media to ask for help in finding his wife's murderer. Nor did he place an obituary for his wife in local newspapers. Instead, her Jacksonville family placed an obituary in the newspapers in that city.

When Lake County News approached him to request an interview for this investigation, his employer, Charlie Tanti of Henry Repairs, promised to pass on the request but said he doubted Hamblin would agree.

“He doesn't like to talk about it,” said Tanti.

And, indeed, he never contacted Lake County News in response to the request.

Nor has he worked with Lakeport Police to solve the murder, say police.

Tom Engstrom, Lakeport's former police chief, said he found Hamblin neither candid nor sincere during interviews following his wife's death.

Engstrom said he has given death notifications and seen people so distraught that he had to hold them in his arms. Yet, when, at the Lakeport Police station, police informed Hamblin of the murder on Oct. 8, 2002, Engstrom said he received the news matter-of-factly.

Current Lakeport Police Chief Kevin Burke said Hamblin has retained an attorney and refuses to speak with police any further about LaForge's murder.

Engstrom said Mafrice had been cooperative “to a certain extent” with the investigation, and agreed to speak to police. He said he wasn't able to form an opinion of her sincerity.

Eventually Mafrice retained an attorney and also quit talking to police, he said.


Hatcher, Hawkins and their mother, Christine Jones, had requested pictures and mementos of LaForge's, but their requests of Hamblin were never acknowledged or honored.

Instead, LaForge's family also was told that a box of her belongings, with her name and date of death, was left in the driveway of a woman who she had attended church with at the Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Hall in Lakeport. A similar box with her religious books was left at the church itself.

Enos added that Hamblin gave her many of LaForge's belongings to pass on to other church members.

After police were done with the crime scene, Tommy Gilliam said he went into LaForge's frame shop to help clean it up.

He said there were small drug vials that rescuers had used to try to save LaForge littered across the floor.

Gilliam said from looking at the scene it appeared that his sister must have spun around as she was shot, leaving a trail of her blood on the wall.

He could see where her body had fallen into what he called a “nest” of matte board and glass, where she remained until she was found hours later, bleeding out on the floor.

“If they had found her sooner, she may have lived,” he said.

A terrified Gail Salituri, the artist whose gallery shared space with LaForge's framing shop, kept the shop shut for months because she felt frightened and unsafe in the building.

When she did reopen early the next year, she sealed off the back door through which LaForge had last entered the building.


In part six, Lakeport Police investigators share the latest developments in the case.

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LUCERNE County officials have located an area near an old mercury mine along Highway 20 with elevated mercury levels, and are now conducting monitoring to watch the spot.

Tom Smythe of the county’s Water Resources Division said the area is immediately adjacent to the old Utopia Mine along the road shoulder outside of Lucerne.

The Utopia Mine was open for two years about the start of the 20th century, Smythe explained.

“We have a grant to do hot spot monitoring around the county for mercury to determine if there’s any mercury hot spots in the Clear Lake Watershed,” said Smythe.

That’s what led to the discovery of the higher mercury levels, he said.

One sample showed the presence of mercury at 17 parts per million in sediment, said Smythe, as compared to a normal mercury found in the lake’s upper arm, which measures about 1 part per million.

Smythe said the county is doing additional monitoring to try to determine how extensive the mercury is at that spot, and what it might be adding to the lake’s sediments.

“That testing is still ongoing,” said Smythe, and is located on the shoulder in the road cut.

The mine had two adits – or horizontal shafts – that came out on the shoreline, Smythe explained, and are located in Caltrans' right-of-way.

Smythe said it’s believed Caltrans plugged those shafts with concrete in the 1960s, although the agency hasn’t found the records to prove its involvement.

“We're pretty sure it was Caltrans,” said Smythe.

There is a total maximum daily load (TMDL) stakeholder group of which Caltrans is a member, said Smythe. The group looks at issues surrounding minerals affecting the lake's health. “We have been keeping this group apprised of what we've got.”

The ball may be in Caltrans’ court as far as mitigating the site, said Smythe.

On Sept. 10 the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board sent a letter to Caltrans saying that Caltrans needed to submit a plan within 90 days of the letter's date to explain what they will do to address the mercury levels.

Caltrans spokesman Phil Frisbie Jr. confirmed that Caltrans received the regional water board's letter.

“We are in the process right now of performing our own soil and water testing in that area,” said Frisbie.

As soon as Caltrans has samples back, it will formally respond to the regional water board, Frisbie said – hopefully within the 90-day window.

If the tests confirm the regional water board's findings, Caltrans will have to put measures in place in order to keep the mercury from going into the lake, said Frisbie.

Frisbie said he found information online that said the mine shut down in 1908.


Smythe said Water Resources is still investigating the area, which he said is not an immediate health concern.

The area's mercury levels are minor when compared to those found at the Sulphur Bank Mine, said Smythe.

“Overall I think it's a small source of mercury,” he said.

The Utopia Mine, one of numerous mercury mines that operated around Lake County at one point, may not even be the source of the mercury, said Smythe.

It could be that it's just another area that's naturally rich in mercury and cinnabar, Smythe suggested. Because of that, they took cinnabar samples for analysis.

The area that's giving off the mercury is “pretty small,” said Smythe. The outcropping he saw was less than one square foot in size. But mercury is toxic even in small amounts, he added.

Smythe said no similar sites with such elevated levels have been found.

Mercury is naturally occurring in Lake County. Smythe said other areas, like the east end of High Valley, also have high levels of mercury, which comes up in the region's volcanic soils.

In the Coast Range, said Smythe, mercury tends to be deposited in mineral springs and associated with geothermal fluids.

Some springs still actively deposit mercury; as examples, Smythe pointed to one near the Turkey Run Mine along Highway 20 and one near Wilbur Springs in Colusa County.

Along with mercury, geothermal springs along the border of Lake, Napa and Yolo counties also deposited gold, said Smythe.

“Geologically, that's what happens,” he said.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


LAKE COUNTY – Another Internet scam has surfaced locally, this time using the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as a front.

An area resident contacted Lake County News Friday to say that she had received an e-mail telling her that she was entitled to a tax refund.

The e-mail directed her to respond in order to get the proper forms. She was concerned because she had not previously given the IRS her e-mail address.

She immediately contacted the IRS via its Web site at www.irs.gov.

The IRS responded by e-mail, telling her, “The IRS does not e-mail taxpayers requesting private confidential information. This is a scam. Do not respond to the e-mail. We also recommend that you contact the postmaster general.”

Using the names of government agencies as part of e-mail scams isn't new.

Earlier this year, the Federal Bureau of Investigations' Internet Crime Complaint Center reported on the use of fraudulent e-mails using the FBI's name and its director, Robert Mueller, on false lottery endorsement and inheritance notifications.

Another e-mail scam claimed to be from a U.S. military official requesting funds on behalf of U.S. troops overseas, according to the FBI.

A third spam e-mail scheme claimed to be from the Department of Justice, warning the recipients that they have been the subject of complaints filed with the DOJ. The e-mails even include an attachment that is supposed to be a copy of the complaints against the e-mail recipient.

The FBI reported that these spam e-mail messages are hoaxes and should be immediately deleted.

The agency also warned consumers to be wary of unsolicited e-mails that request them to take any information – even clicking on an attachment – because doing so could launch viruses, Trojan horse programs or other malicious software on their computers.

Anyone who has received such messages is urged to file a complaint online at the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center, www.ic3.gov/. The site also offers tips on computer safety. More information on protecting yourself from Internet scams also can be found at www.fbi.gov/becrimesmart.htm.

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KELSEYVILLE – The stoplight project at the Kit's Corner intersection could be finished by the end of this month, according to Caltrans officials.

The project, at the intersection of Highways 29 and 281 – known locally as Kit's Corner – went forward thanks to community efforts to convince Caltrans that it was needed.

Phil Frisbie Jr., a spokesman for Caltrans' District 1 – which includes Lake County – said this week that the agency hopes to wrap work on the project by the end of October.

If there are no weather delays in the coming weeks, Frisbie said the contractor, Steiny and Co. of Vallejo, will be able to finish up work.

That, said Frisbie, would allow Caltrans to stay on a tentative schedule of turning on the light on Oct. 24.

The contractor is expected to finish some paving and raising of light standard poles by week's end, said Frisbie.

Caltrans began work on the intersection signalization project in September, said Frisbie.

The signal project has only cost the county about $33,000, as Lake County News previously reported. The entire project originally was expected to costs about $500,000, but Steiny and Co.'s bid came in at just under $400,000.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


This is the seventh installment in a seven-part series on the unsolved October 2002 murder of Barbara LaForge.

LAKE COUNTY – This past April Barbara LaForge's adopted mother, Christine Jones, began remodeling her Jacksonville, Fla., home. {sidebar id=15}

The house had been a haven for the young Barbara LaForge and her brother, Jack, after they found themselves largely forgotten by their own family.

Jones' daughter, Lisa Hatcher, said as her mother began opening closets and pulling out boxes, she made a discovery – after more than 20 years, diaries LaForge had written as a young woman came out into the light once again, filled with her poetry and her observations on life.

Written decades before her death, the diaries carried no hint of what would someday lead to her death. They did, however, reveal a young woman determined to be guarded about her heartaches and troubles, a trait she would carry into the last moments of her life.

That was exemplified in a poem titled “Me,” written when LaForge was between 18 and 20 years old. (See sidebar.)


Five years after her death, Barbara LaForge's story still has no official conclusion which, for those close to her, has translated into a lack of an emotional conclusion as well.

But there are other reasons for that.

For one, none of Barbara LaForge's friends or family – with the exception of her husband, Dan Hamblin – know the location of her final resting place.

According to her 1978 will, LaForge had asked to be cremated and buried near her father, Jack LaForge, at Oaklawn Cemetery in Jacksonville, Fla.

After authorities released her body back to Hamblin, he had her cremated. Hatcher said Chapel of the Lakes Mortuary recently confirmed to her that LaForge's remains had been returned to her husband.

Hamblin, however, has not communicated to LaForge's family where – or if – he laid her to rest.

Nor did he follow LaForge's own last wishes to be reunited with her father. A representative of Oaklawn Cemetery in Jacksonville, Fla., located a block from the St. Johns River, said that LaForge's ashes were not at the cemetery with the remains of Jack LaForge, whose suicide his young daughter witnessed.

Hamblin has not responded to requests for an interview from Lake County News about his wife's murder and the case so far.


During her last visit to Florida in 2001, LaForge told her adopted family that Hamblin had left her to return to his first wife, and also mentioned that her 1978 will – calling for her burial arrangements and splitting her estate between adopted parents, Christine and Gerald Jones, and her brother, Jack LaForge – remained in effect.

Although Hamblin later returned to LaForge, she never retracted her will, according to her family.

Jones and her family felt it important to advocate for LaForge while the murder investigation proceeded, so they went to court in March of 2003 to enforce the 1978 will in light of California law, which normally allows a spouse to inherit assets.

Lisa Hatcher said the family's concerns had mounted because of Hamblin's behavior, which they called “erratic.” That troubling behavior, in their view, included moving his girlfriend, Linda Mafrice, into the house with him shortly after the murder.

“We weren't after any of her property,” said Hatcher.

Court documents report that LaForge's belongings were valued at just over $76,000 at the time of her death; of that, just over $1,000 was in personal effects and $75,000 was the half interest in their home at 5232 Piner Court. The family disputed those amounts which were provided by Hamblin.

The family retained Steve Brookes, who also serves as Lakeport's city attorney, to represent them.

Jones' filings in the dispute over the estate yields the only written reference in a public record to a suspect in the LaForge's case.

In statements included in the court record, Jones said that Hamblin was a suspect in the murder and, until such time as the investigation cleared him, it would be inappropriate to allow him to control the estate of his murdered wife.

Hatcher said her mother eventually decided to stop the fight.

Most of the assets, said Brookes, were community property, and although Jones did have some rights under the old will, community property laws resulted in her having nothing to administer.

Brookes explained that the law says a person cannot benefit from the will of a person whose death they intentionally caused. However, with nothing developing in the investigation to preclude Hamblin from inheriting, Jones relinquished the effort.

“We agreed to be removed once there was no progress in the case,” Brookes said.


Jones was removed as executor, which allowed Hamblin to proceed in disbursing his wife's estate. In July of 2005 Hamblin filed papers officially closing the estate's administration.


On May 21, 2004, Tom Gilliam, died at age 84, never knowing who killed his beloved stepdaughter. His wife, and Barbara's mother, Donna, had died in January 2002.

Tom Gilliam held two Silver Stars, the Bronze Star for Valor and had been a candidate for the Congressional Medal of Honor, said son, Tommy Gilliam. Yet, it was LaForge's death that caused him to fall apart.

“I think Barbara's death hurt him more deeply than anything else did,” said Gilliam, who said he thought the lack of closure had affected his father the most.

Tommy Gilliam said his father never shared with him who he thought killed LaForge. “I never really did get much from Dad.”

For Tommy Gilliam himself, he's not sure the murder will ever be solved, calling the case “still very wide open.”

After Barbara LaForge died, Tommy Gilliam said his stepsister, Leilani Prueitt, moved into Tom Gilliam's home with him, spending thousands of dollars of his father's money. By the time Tom Gilliam died, his son and the executor of his will said he had altered his will to leave Prueitt $30,000.


There are many more unanswered questions about the LaForge case. One is the hundreds of thousands of dollars in life insurance policies family said LaForge had on herself, to help pay off her home and benefit her husband in the case of her death.

Retired Police Chief Tom Engstrom said there were “at least a couple hundred thousand dollars” in life insurance policies, which the companies were refusing to pay out until the investigation was concluded.

LaForge's family in Jacksonville said there may have been as much as $400,000 in life insurance policies on LaForge, payable at her death.

In September 2005, two months after the official closure of LaForge's probate, Hamblin refinanced their home at 5232 Piner Court, with Linda Mafrice – who had become involved with Hamblin before LaForge's death – added as a co-borrower. The loan amount was $277,500.

That loan proved too much for the couple. This past April, the home that LaForge had loved was foreclosed on and Mafrice and Hamblin were forced to move. The home now sits empty, with a for sale sign out front.


Five years later, Engstrom, now retired from Lakeport Police says his perspective on the murder and who was responsible has not changed.

“I still believe it was not a random act of violence,” he said. “I think she was singled out. I think she was singled out by someone who knew her, by someone who knew what her schedule was, who was waiting for her.”

Engstrom also remains convinced that LaForge's murder was not connected to a series of commercial burglaries in the Lakeport in the previous weeks, and that the timing was merely coincidental.

“There weren't any signs of forced entry into the place and it seemed more to me that somebody was waiting inside for her rather than someone confront her outside and have her unlock the door,” he said. “It just seemed more like they were already in the place when she got there. I never was convinced that there was any kind of a robbery or a burglary that she walked in on. I just think someone was laying in wait for her.”

Engstrom said he felt it was well planned, and that only a small number of people had motive. “To me it seemed like there was small core of people that might have been responsible in concert or independently.”

He said he and his department took the case personally, a sentiment his successor, Lakeport Police Chief Kevin, told Lake County News he also shares.

“They tell you when you're in the police academy that you can't take it personally but in a small town it's hard not to take it personally," said Engstrom.

Engstrom said he and his department felt they owed to LaForge, her family and friends, and the community to bring the case to a close.

“I've asked myself many, many times what else we could have done,” he said, adding that he believes they did everything within their power yet still failed to get all the pieces they needed.

He said Lakeport hasn't had a murder since LaForge's. “That's why it's so devastating. It just doesn't happen everyday.”

As much as Engstrom wanted to stay to solve the murder, he said he has a lot of faith in Burke and his department.

Engstrom particularly praised Lt. Brad Rasmussen, 38, who has been with the department for 18 years.

“He's as honest as they come,” said Engstrom. “I nicknamed him one time 'Bulldog' because he's just so tenacious. He just stays after something; he won't give up. I always thought, if somebody's gonna solve this case, it's going to be Brad because he just won't quit until he gets it solved.”


One of the people haunted most by LaForge's death is Gail Salituri, an artist whose gallery shared space with LaForge's frame shop. The two women worked together for nearly five years before LaForge was found in the shop, fatally shot.

“There has not been a day that has passed in the last five years when I have not thought about Barbara LaForge and this very unfortunate and gut-wrenching unsolved murder,” said Salituri.

“There are not enough descriptive words in the English language for me to be able to begin to

convey the all-consuming grief, frustration, anger and disbelief that this murder has brought to my psyche and our community. It has been a nightmare you can't awaken from and a question that holds few answers.”

She continued, “A life was stolen in a moment and a murderer walked free. It is quite disturbing that this occurred in such a small town as Lakeport.

“People often ask me if I know who did this, and to this day, I do not know. One can only speculate.

“Although I have not given up hope that this murder is solved, five years is a long time to remain patient. I continue to pray justice is one day served for Barbara.”

Salituri added, “Certainly I can empathize and relate to all victims of violent crimes at this time. How could I not?


She had taken a walkabout in Australia's outback, traveled alone to Spain, been abandoned by her mother, saw her biological father commit suicide, been placed in an orphanage when a young teenager, yet found love and acceptance in an adopted family.

Yet Barbara LaForge still had her smile and her optimism, she deeply loved her husband, was thoughtful and genuine to friends, family and strangers.

“She realized you can get over anything,” said Hatcher.

Family members remember her wicked sense of humor – Monty Python's Holy Grail was her favorite movie – her continual writing and drawing.

“She was one of a kind,” said Hatcher.

Hatcher and sister, Janeen Hawkins, both say LaForge was wonderful with children and wanted to be a mother, but her husband had children in his previous marriages and didn't want more.

Barbara LaForge's life was far from ordinary, and it reads like a novel. Right up to its violent end.

And, as it turns out, beyond.

Because Barbara LaForge's death has become the stuff of a mystery novel, an unanswered question amidst the fabric of Lakeport's everyday life. It is a frightening, unsolved crime, leaving many to wonder if her murderer still walks casually among them, wrapped so far in anonymity.

“I definitely do not feel like it's unsolvable,” Hatcher said of her sister's murder.

Her friends and loved ones continue to advocate for her, making sure she's not forgotten.

The frame shop remains open, owned by Salituri but run by her family members as part of the gallery.

“Barbara loved this place,” said Salituri, who keeps a picture of she and LaForge on the counter.

“Everybody wants an answer to this one,” said Engstrom. “Barbara will not be forgotten. That's for sure."

Solving the case, added Christine Jones, LaForge's adopted mother, “will put a dot at the send of the sentence.”

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WILLIAMS – A popular restaurant that many travelers stop at while traveling along Highway 20 to the Sacramento Valley was destroyed by fire Thursday.

Granzella's Restaurant, located in Williams, caught on fire Thursday afternoon, according to Williams Fire Protection District Chief Jeff Gilbert.

Firefighters were dispatched at 3:21 p.m., said Gilbert.

At the time, there were 200 people – both patrons and employees – in the building, Gilbert said.

Mutual aid to battle the fire came from Glenn, Colusa, Yolo, Sutter and Yuba counties, said Gilbert. All told, there were 19 pieces of apparatus – including engines and command vehicles – and 96 firefighters.

The fire was contained by about 7 p.m. Thursday, Gilbert added.

The fire's precise cause isn't yet known, said Gilbert, but officials are focusing on the kitchen, where they believe the blaze started.

Two-thirds of the structure were completely destroyed, with the rest of the building – mostly its popular sports bar, which is a newer part of the building – damaged by smoke and water. Gilbert said the remainder of the building that was saved will have to be torn down.

Damages also are still being tallied, said Gilbert, with no dollar amount yet known. “It will end up being a total loss,” he said.

Much of the sports memorabilia from the sports bar was saved, said Gilbert.

That included the two stuffed polar bears, one above the bar – which had some minor smoke and water damage – and a second in a glass case, which Gilbert said was undamaged.

Everyone has been asking about the polar bears, Gilbert added.


As far as fires go, Gilbert said, “I've been here four year and I've never seen anything this big.”

Jim and Beverly Granzella opened the restaurant as an Italian deli in 1976, according to the company's Web site, www.granzellas.com.

The business eventually expanded into a restaurant, growing into a popular stop for travelers along Interstate 5 and Highway 20.

Lake County News was unable to reach a company representative for comment. However, Denise McCarty, daughter of Jim and Beverly Granzella and a co-owner in the restaurant, told the Sacramento Bee that the family intends to rebuild and continue the business.

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This is the fourth installment of a series on the unsolved October 2002 murder of Barbara LaForge.

LAKEPORT – In the last years of her life, Barbara LaForge – who had survived a rough childhood, overcoming loneliness and abandonment – was able to achieve the American dream: she and husband Dan Hamblin bought their first home. {sidebar id=14}

“She was so thrilled,” said friend Nancy Enos, who met LaForge through their membership in the Lakeport English Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Enos visited the home at 5232 Piner Court often. She remembered walking through the house with LaForge, who was proud and excited to have her own home.

In one area of the yard Enos said LaForge had planned to plant a vegetable garden. Nearby was a small bridge that crossed Kelsey Creek. LaForge loved that the big garage had a work bench for her husband.

Enos said LaForge fell in love with a large screened-in porch and made it the master bedroom. LaForge's artistic skills were put to good use in the home, said Enos, who added that LaForge was having a great time with her new space.

While LaForge enjoyed her life and her own activities – especially music and art – she also was devoted to caring for others.

A main focus for her was her mother and stepfather, Donna and Tom Gilliam.

Stepbrother Tommy Gilliam said that his elderly father was living on a large property outside of Lakeport that became too much for him, so he and Donna purchased the house next door to LaForge and Hamblin on Piner Court.

Friends say LaForge took the couple meals every night, becoming their primary caregiver.

Gilliam said his stepsister was the love of his father's life.


Enos, who had known LaForge for 12 years, said she also was like a daughter to her and her husband, Norm, who died last year.

LaForge, said Enos, was extremely creative and even happy-go-lucky despite her sad upbringing.

And she loved people. LaForge would make a point to come and watch football with Norm Enos, especially when LaForge's team, the Miami Dolphins, played.

“Boy, the two of them, they were noisy,” said Enos, remembering the two football fans cheering in her living room.

Enos said LaForge was a talented artist and singer, and a loyal wife.

“She had so many things she liked to do,” said Enos, adding that LaForge wanted to do so much more. “If she'd had enough time, she probably would have.”

Enos said LaForge was a devoted dog lover, who for years had a beautiful mixed breed, red-eyed dog named Kelly.

It was dogs that brought together LaForge and Genevieve Day, a former Lake County resident who now lives in Klamath Falls, Ore.

Day, who previously lived in Scotts Valley, went into LaForge's shop one day and mentioned that her purebred whippet was about to have puppies. LaForge would purchase one of the pups from her, and named her Carmen, an appropriate name since LaForge loved opera.

While she still lived in Lake County, Day said she saw LaForge and Carmen at least three times a week. When Carmen was 6 months old, LaForge started taking her to dog shows, said Day. “She very much enjoyed the dog showing.”

In the fall of 2001, Day moved to Klamath Falls. The following May, LaForge and Carmen made the rip to Oregon for a dog show, where Carmen won her first and only point on the show circuit.

“I'm glad she was able to do that,” said Day.

Enos said she received a call from LaForge announcing Carmen's win. “She was so thrilled,” said Enos, who said LaForge was very enthused about showing the dog, and planned to spend more time pursuing it.

Day said she and LaForge became good friends over the years. LaForge was a tremendously thoughtful person, giving Day several antique boxes for her collection. In return, Day said she gifted LaForge with spoons, which she enjoyed collecting.


But LaForge's last years weren't free of trouble.

In the fall of 2001, LaForge received a death threat. It came via mail, in – of all things – a Christmas card.

Gail Salituri, who saw the card, said the Christmas greeting inside had been crossed out and someone had written in the card, “You will be dead in 2002.”

Lakeport Police Chief Kevin Burke said police have followed up on the threat, but did not disclose more, saying the threat is part of the protected information contained in the homicide investigation.

In addition to the card, Salituri said there other events that caused concerns.

"I recall Barbara had received disturbing telephone calls at the frame shop the same week she received the mailed death threat,” Salituri recalled. “The phone calls stopped when she installed caller ID.

"When I questioned Barbara about who was calling her, she said it was a female and she had no idea whose voice it was,” Salituri added.

Stepbrother Tommy Gilliam said he believed something was definitely amiss with LaForge during the last year of her life. He said he felt she was having a psychic breakdown. The frame shop appeared out of order, he said, with unused supplies and cardboard stacked everywhere.

Tommy Gilliam said both LaForge's biological mother, Donna Gilliam, and grandmother had psychological problems. “She was convinced it was happening to her, too.”

LaForge also had had a major confrontation with her younger sister, Leilani Prueitt, who lives in Kelseyville, said Gilliam.

At a family reunion on July 4, 2002, Tommy Gilliam said Barbara and Prueitt had a serious argument, in which Barbara LaForge told her sister to stay away from their stepfather, Tom Gilliam, because she didn't like the way Prueitt treated him.

Salituri said she also noticed a change in LaForge, but couldn't put her finger on just what was different.

Shortly before LaForge died, Enos said she sensed a change in her friend.

“I could tell she was upset for the week before her death,” said Enos.

Adopted sisters Lisa Hatcher and Janeen Hawkins agreed with the assessments of LaForge.

“You could tell things just weren't right in her life with her husband,” said Hawkins.

Hatcher said the last year of her sister's life, “there was something different,” although Hatcher believes it was not spiritual but emotional, and based on her husband's other relationships.

Stepbrother Tommy Gilliam said LaForge was doing a lot of online shopping in her last months, especially on eBay.

Hawkins concurred, saying her sister had run up some debt because of the shopping – a statement corroborated by a bill from Chase credit cards submitted to her estate that totaled just under $10,000.

For LaForge, shopping was a means of escape when she was depressed, Hawkins explained.

Hawkins surmises that her sister may have found out that her husband was having another affair.

After leaving LaForge in January 2001 for his first wife, Hamblin had returned to LaForge. But later he began a relationship with then-Lakeport resident Linda Mafrice, a fact that was generally known at the time, said family and friends, as well as retired Lakeport Police Chief Tom Engstrom.

Hawkins said that, according to Jehovah's Witnesses teachings, adultery is one of the few true grounds for divorce.

“The only reason she would have left him was for adultery,” Hawkins explained, noting that her sister was extremely trusting of Hamblin. “That's the one thing she would not have tolerated from him.”

Although LaForge and Prueitt had had a strained relationship in light of the July 2002 argument, they eventually worked out a deal, said stepbrother Tommy Gilliam.

Prueitt had reportedly borrowed money from their stepfather, Tom Gilliam. LaForge and Prueitt agreed that on the morning of Oct. 8, 2002, Prueitt would be at the frame shop to help do some clean up in order to pay back the money she owed to Tom Gilliam.

On that morning, as LaForge walked into her gallery for the last time, she likely was expecting her sister to join her that day.

Who was waiting for her in the gallery, however, remains the critical mystery.

In part five, friends and family receive the news of LaForge's death and struggle with its unsolved nature.

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