Saturday, 13 July 2024


LAKE COUNTY – This weekend, a year's worth of strenuous study will be put to the test in Lake County’s 30th annual Academic Decathlon.

The public is welcome to attend the last part of a 10-part testing process – the Super Quiz – as well as the awards ceremony right after, which will be held this Saturday, Feb. 6, at Upper Lake High School's multi-use room, 675 Clover Valley Road.

Doors to Upper Lake’s multi-use room open at 4 p.m., yet the students will have been testing since 8:30 a.m., according to Robin Totorica, Lake County’s Academic Decathlon coordinator. The competition's essay portion took place on Jan. 22

“The academic decathlon is a valuable program,” said Lake County Superintendent of Schools Dave Geck, whose office sponsors the event. “It is an opportunity for the community to celebrate their students’ academic excellence.”

This year’s theme will be the French Revolution.

The Super Quiz will focus on the history of the French Revolution. Afterward, the event will relocate to the gymnasium where Upper Lake’s school band will treat attendees with music relating to the French Revolution and its time period. After the entertainment, the awards ceremony will begin.

Bronze, silver and gold medals will be awarded in most of the categories, as well as trophies, Totorica reported. The testing and awards are based from three levels of academic excellence – honors, scholastic and varsity.

Nancy Harby has coached Lower Lake’s decathlon team for 11 years and never tires of witnessing the positive impact that the event has on the student participants.

“No matter what happens I am so proud of them for balancing multiple academic subjects at the college level,” said Harby. “As far as my experience, almost all of the decathletes go on to college after high school.”

This year, Lower Lake has assembled two eight-person decathlon teams since more than nine students, the normal size of a decathlon team, signed up for the event.

Upper Lake High School, this year's host, produced last year’s championship team, which went on to compete at the state level.

Upper Lake’s coach, Anna Sabalone, and Middletown’s coach, Ryan Callen, are both in their second year of coaching in the Academic Decathlon.

The competition will be as fierce as ever, especially since Middletown High School has now established a dedicated course to prepare its students for the event, just like the other Lake County schools have done in the past, Callen said.

“Last year’s course was more or less a learning process,” said Callen. “But this year, anything can happen.”

Sabalone has been a part of the Academic Decathlon ever since she participated her senior year at Upper Lake High School during the 1999-2000 season.

“It was almost surreal seeing it from the other side. But, it is also great seeing how the kids grew from last year,” said Sabalone. “They seem a lot more comfortable with the format.”

Upper Lake High School is planning a field trip for its decathletes regardless if they make it to state or not, said Sabalone.

At Saturday's Super Quiz competition refreshments will be available for sale, with the proceeds going to help fund Upper Lake's field trip – possibly to a musical or play in San Francisco.

When the Academic Decathlon started in Lake County, five high schools took part, Totorica said. However, this year only Upper Lake, Middletown and Lower Lake high schools have assembled decathlete teams.

Kelseyville stopped participating after the 2004-05 decathlon season and last year was Clear Lake High School’s final participation, said Totorica. Lake County News was unable to contact Clear Lake High officials about the reason for not taking part.

“I would love for all of the schools to participate,” said Totorica. “But, perhaps due to funding issues, this year we only have three.”

Geck said that participating in the competition takes resources – whether money or time.

“This spring we will have to decide as a community what we want to see survive – we are in survival mode,” said Geck. “I think schools will end up having to look at the academic programs that they alone can provide.”

All high school decathletes can expect to gain much more than mere medals. Some of the core values encouraged by the United States Academic Decathlon Association include multidisciplinary learning, high standards of honesty and integrity, and a respect for diverse points of view.

The student participants and teams are:

  • Lower Lake High School, Team 1: Justin Harrison (H), Elizabeth Perkins (H), Alyssa McCosker (H), Joe Riggs (S), Corey Cherrington (S), Victoria Hanners (S), Kenneth Cates (V), Spence Hadden (V), Carina Ruedas (V); alternate includes Stephen Whitcomb.

  • Lower Lake High School, Team 2: Teodora Toshich (H), Bianey Madrigal (H), Cesar Ruiz (H), Sean Grant (S), Carla Martinez (S), Leslie Sweeden (S), Gerald Skinner (V), Samantha Weatherly (V), Shawn McAlister (V).

  • Middletown High School: Nick Speridon III (H), Seamus O’Herlihy (H), Jolon Cisneros (H), Donald Albright (S), Terry Marley (S), Haley Tallman (V), Melinda Dixon (V) Nicole Lawrence (V), Julia Rebolledo (V); alternate includes Breeann McKnight.

  • Upper Lake High School: Courtney Havrilla (H), Laura Wold (H), Justine Moran (H), Ian Weber (S), Roy Hankins (S), Devin Hoyt (S), Ben Mullin (V), Tiffany Criss (V), Cameron Beighle (V); alternates include Yessica Ayala, Jose Ruiz Olguin, Megan Morgan and Sean Gay.

Saturday's Super Quiz will last until about 7 p.m., said Sabalone.

Winners can expect to participate in the statewide competition beginning on March 12, and if they make it to nationals, the competition begins on April 17, said Totorica.

E-mail Tera deVroede at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .

LAKEPORT – On Tuesday a former county correctional officer under investigation by local and federal officials was arrested on several charges including grand theft and embezzlement.

Russell Leslie “Rusty” Wright, 37, of Kelseyville was arrested without incident at about 1:30 p.m. in Lakeport, according to Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

Deputies booked Wright into the Lake County Jail on felony charges of grand theft, embezzlement by a public officer, receiving stolen property and possession of dangerous fireworks, Bauman said.

Wright's bail was set at $15,000. Jail records showed that Wright posted bail and was released later Tuesday afternoon.

Bauman said an ongoing sheriff's office criminal investigation involving Wright resulted in the agency submitting a criminal complaint to the Lake County District Attorney on Monday morning. Judge Arthur Mann signed Wright's arrest warrant Tuesday morning.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff told Lake County News on Tuesday that Wright, who was terminated for serious misconduct earlier this month, is alleged to have taken items including a Taser, several sets of handcuffs, a belly chain and leg shackles.

Sheriff Rod Mitchell confirmed to Lake County News this week that Wright – a former sheriff's office rangemaster – also is the subject of an investigation regarding his alleged possession of assault weapons, parts of such weapons as well as a large amount of ammunition.

Some of those items were seized in a Jan. 16 search of Wright's home but he allegedly told investigators that he transported a .50 BMG caliber rifle and another assault weapon to a friend in Utah, as Lake County News has reported.

In addition, county documents indicate that sheriff's officials are investigating the disappearance of a trigger mechanism from an M16-A1 rifle that was one of 10 the sheriff's office received from a US military surplus program.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also is involved in the investigation and working with the sheriff's office, an official confirmed this week.

Wright's first appearance in court is tentatively scheduled for April 9, according to jail records.

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 and on Facebook at .

Back row from left, Mendocino College Foundation Board Member Leroy Chase, George Weger and Mendocino College Superintendent/President Kathryn G. Lehner; front row, from left, Mendocino College Foundation President Channing Cornell, Hulda Weger and Mendocino College Board of Trustees Member Joan Eriksen. Courtesy photo.


UKIAH – A retired elementary school teacher is making a contribution to benefit Mendocino College students for years to come.

Hulda Weger is donating $25,000 to be used for annual scholarships, the Mendocino College Foundation has announced.

Weger, 99, has always appreciated education.

She dedicated more than 30 years to teaching youngsters in Mendocino County, starting with a small school once located between Hopland and Cloverdale and continuing at Ukiah Grammar School.

Two of her former students are now associated with Mendocino College, one on the governing Board of Trustees and the other on the Foundation’s Board of Directors.

The $25,000 gift will generate a permanent $1,000 per year scholarship to benefit Ukiah High School students who will be attending Mendocino College, Foundation officers stated.

The scholarship contribution is from Weger and her late husband Alfred, who are well known for their involvement in the Ukiah community.

Alfred Weger, who died in 1991, was the owner of the Redwood Tree Gas Station in town, and the Wegers owned and operated Orr Springs Resort until they sold it in 1972.

Weger now lives only a few blocks from Ukiah’s Civic Center, previously the site of the school where she taught elementary pupils.

Foundation President Channing Cornell and Mendocino College Superintendent/President Kathy Lehner visited Weger in her home recently to thank her for her contribution.

They were joined by Trustee Joan Eriksen and Foundation board member Leroy Chase, who had been students in Weger’s third- and fourth-grade classrooms, respectively. Weger’s son George, of Sebastopol, also attended the informal meeting.

Speaking with Cornell and Lehner, Weger said she wanted the scholarship funds to “go to individuals who are going to better themselves” and she especially wants to assist Ukiah High School graduates.

Weger said she and Alfred invested in stocks years ago upon the advice of a New Zealand woman who had visited the family’s resort.

Approximately 23 years ago, they switched brokers when a young man trying to start his own business knocked on their door. “Alfred said that anyone who went door-to-door like that deserved our business,” Weger said.

Weger started teaching in 1930 after finishing college at Humboldt State. She had started her studies at Marin Junior College, where she spent one year after graduating from Ukiah High School.

At that time, a young woman completing high school had a choice of only two professions, teaching or nursing, Weger said, “and my dad insisted I continue with school.” Only two years of higher education were needed to become a teacher.

Her first teaching job was at the Pine Mountain School, at Comminsky Station off Highway 101, where she would spend the week and return to her family home near Ukiah on weekends. She enjoyed traveling when each school year was over, and she remembers taking a trip to Europe by herself in 1932.

Following two years at the Comminsky school, Weger took a job as an instructor at Ukiah Grammar School. She said she was paid $100 a month when she began teaching and received a raise a few years later. (The other teachers were mad because she was the only one to get a salary increase, she told the group gathered at her home recently.)

After she married Alfred, in 1940, she would teach during the week and work at the family resort on the weekends. Weger retired from teaching in 1968.

Weger remembers teaching both Eriksen and Chase. She said Eriksen was a “very good student.” When asked if Chase also was a good student, she paused and replied, “They all were,” which brought laughter from the group visiting at her home.

Eriksen said Weger had made a point to praise her when she was appointed to the Board of Trustees 14 years ago. Eriksen told the group that Weger had said to her, “I just came to town to congratulate you for being picked for the board. It’s about time they picked someone local and who knows something.”

Third grade was Weger’s favorite with the opportunity to teach all subjects to her elementary students. She did teach high school “for one or two years,” she said, making a sour face and noting, “I didn’t like it.”

Making a general statement about students’ behavior, Weger said, “Years ago they minded better.”

However, she recalled a student sticking his tongue out at another teacher one day when Weger kept the youngster after school to complete his work. Weger swiftly scolded him for it. Mocking his answer, Weger said the student replied, “Can I help it if my tongue hangs out when I’m listening?”

Discussing Weger’s desires for distributing the scholarship money, Lehner and Cornell explained that she has the discretion to establish specific requirements and the intent of the fund disbursement.

“I don’t care as long as (the recipients) make something of themselves,” Weger responded, jokingly adding, “I’m not smarter than a fifth-grader.”

It was decided that the recipients should be Ukiah High School graduates attending Mendocino College.

The Mendocino College Foundation is beginning its 26th year of service to the college. The majority of funding for scholarships is derived from donations to the foundation and from fundraising events such as the annual Gala on the Green.

For information about the foundation and giving opportunities, visit the foundation’s Web site at or call the office at 707-467-1018.

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SAN FRANCISCO – Lake County wines won nearly 80 awards this year at the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, with approximately 50 of the top medals going to Lake County Winery Association members.

The annual San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition is touted as the “largest competition of American wines in the world.”

The 2010 event concluded Jan. 8 following five days of tasting and evaluating 4,913 entries, a world record number, according to the event’s Web site.

“We are ecstatic to learn that Lake County wines and wineries stood out among the 4,900 entries,” said Monica Rosenthal, executive director of the Lake County Winery Association. “It helps distinguish Lake County as a premier winegrape producing region. We know we have excellent grapes and wine, but it is especially nice to get that recognition from panels of professional judges ranking entries in such a renowned competition.”


Members of the Lake County Winery Association receiving bronze, silver, and gold medals for their wines are Bell Hill Vineyards, Brassfield Estate Winery, Dusinberre Cellars, Gregory Graham Wines, Noggle Vineyards & Winery, Red Lava Vineyards, Rosa d’Oro Vineyards, Shannon Ridge Vineyard & Winery, Shed Horn Cellars, Six Sigma Ranch and Winery, Tulip Hill Winery and Wildhurst Vineyards.

Gold medal winning Lake County wines produced by association members include: Brassfield Estate’s 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon ($50-$59.99) and its 2008 Sauvignon Blanc ($14-$19.99), Gregory Graham’s 2008 Sauvignon Blanc ($14-$19.99) and 2008 Riesling, Rosa d’Oro’s 2007 Sangiovese, Shannon Ridge Winery’s 2008 Chardonnay ($20-$24.99) and 2008 Sauvignon Blanc ($14-$19.99), Sol Rouge’s 2007 Syrah ($25-$29.99) and Wildhurst Vineyards’ 2007 Merlot ($15-$19.99).

Other wineries receiving gold medals for Lake County wines include VIE Winery, which captured gold with its 2008 Lake County Roussanne, and Robledo Family Winery which received a gold for its 2007 Lake County Tempranillo.

Awarded the highest honor among all the Lake County wines entered, Obsidian Ridge Vineyard’s 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon was selected as Best of Class and Judges’ Choice in its category (Cabernet Sauvignon $25-$29.99). It was one of six Cabernet Sauvignons selected as Judges’ Choice winners, qualifying it for the Sweepstakes Round.

The win “comes on the heels of a tough year for us,” said Peter Molnar, partner and general manager at Obsidian Ridge. “It shows that we have what it takes in Lake County to produce a really good Cabernet.”


Molnar was “particularly happy,” he said, because it was a 2007 that was “just released.” He described the wine as one made from small berries with intense flavors. He emphasized that the honor indicates that for Lake County’s wines “recognition is happening.” Obsidian Ridge also received an award for its 2007 Lake County Syrah.

Awards were presented to the following Lake County wineries and wineries that produce wines from Lake County grapes: Beaver Creek Vineyards, Bell Cellars, Big Valley, Bonterra Vineyards, Charles Creek Vineyard, Dacalier, Fortress Vineyards, Imagery Estate Winery, Main Street, Matchbook, McDermaid Family Vineyard, Sunce Winery and Zina Hyde Cunningham.

Two Lake County wineries were the recipients of Double Gold awards. Double Gold indicates a unanimous Gold choice by the judges in any particular category. Double Gold awards were presented to Robledo Family Winery for its 2006 Los Carneros Pinot Noir ($40-$49.99 category) and to Sol Rouge for its 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (over $60 category).

Winning entries in each category can be found on the competition website, . Tickets for the public tasting portion of the event may be purchased online.

The public’s opportunity to taste entries from the competition is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 20, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. Tickets are $60 per person in advance and $80 per person at the door.

For more information about the Lake County Winery Association, visit the association’s Web site, or contact Monica Rosenthal at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Information about Lake County winegrapes and vineyards may be found at , on the Lake County Winegrape Commission Web site or contact Shannon Gunier at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


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LAKE COUNTY – A Local Food Summit is scheduled for March 15 as a means to launch a grant award from the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) designed to benefit Lake County residents and farmers.

The Health Leadership Network is coordinating the event and is asking all specialty crop farmers, restaurant owners, and other establishments/institutions that serve food, as well as grocery store

produce managers to save the date.

A.G. Kawamura, California’s Secretary of Agriculture, will give the opening remarks.

More details on the event will be announced in the near future, organizers said.

An exciting grant project, “A Growing Movement to Seed Healthy Eating,” was awarded to the Lake County Department of Public Health in coordination with the Health Leadership Network (HLN) to enable new and existing HLN partners to rally under a shared vision to build a vibrant local food system.

The grant focuses on the consumption and production of “specialty crops,” defined by the CDFA as fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture.

Specialty crops do not include eggs, grains, or dairy, and does not distinguish between conventional and organic production methods.

The Local Food Summit will kick off the work plan the HLN will undertake for this grant.

Other components of the grant include marketing, education, expanding the farm-to-school/institution program, coordination to connect the “eat local” efforts within a food delivery system that works in tandem to optimize consumer nutrition, and expanding market opportunities for farmers including the creation of an online ordering system.

The HLN will continue to act as the coordinating hub for implementation of the project. It has been at the forefront of obesity prevention efforts with the launch of the farm-to-school program, school nutrition, and a countywide food assessment.

For more information contact Jackie Armstrong at 707-274-2459 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

UKIAH – Authorities have made three additional arrests in connection to a Ukiah home invasion robbery that occurred in January.

Shannon Diaz, 31, of Redwood Valley; Jerry Robinson Jr., 18, of Hopland; and Chris Fraser, 18, of Ukiah were arrested last week for allegedly being involved in the incident in the early hours of Jan. 17, according to Capt. Kurt Smallcomb of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office.

There are alleged to have been among several suspects who forced their way into a home in the 3000 block of Eastside Calpella Road and assaulted a group of six adults while demanding money, as Lake County News has reported.

Michael Diaz, 35, and David Diaz, 37, both of Redwood Valley, were the first to be arrested by Mendocino County Sheriff's deputies and booked on charges of robbery, burglary, vandalism and assault with serious bodily injury on Jan. 29. The bail for each has been set at $750,000.

Diaz, Frasier and Robinson all are facing charges of robbery, making threats and conspiracy, with the bail for each set at $150,000, according to Smallcomb.

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LAYTONVILLE – The search for a Laytonville man missing since last month led to a murder arrest Tuesday afternoon.

Mendocino County Sheriff's deputies arrested 62-year-old Phillip Frase of Laytonville for the murder of 49-year-old Steven Richard Schmidt, according to Capt. Kurt Smallcomb.

Schmidt, a transient, was reported missing from Frase's home at 59659 Bell Springs Road in Laytonville on Jan. 17, Smallcomb said.

An investigation led to Schmidt's motor home being located and unoccupied in the Fort Bragg area. Smallcomb said the vehicle was towed to the sheriffs office for further investigation.

At 7 a.m. Tuesday Mendocino County Sheriff's detectives and other personnel, along with assistance from the Major Crimes Task Force, search and rescue personnel, Nevada County Cadaver Canine personnel and others, went to Frase's residence, which was Schmidt's last known address, Smallcomb said.

They served a search warrant at the property, and Smallcomb said Frase told investigators that Schmidt wasn't at the residence.

However, after three hours of searching, investigators found Schmidt's body adjacent to a tree and covered with fresh cut brush and branches, said Smallcomb. Detectives and officers continued their investigation at the scene for further evidence.

Frase was booked into the Mendocino County Jail on the murder charge, with bail set at $500,000, Smallcomb said.

On Wednesday afternoon, an autopsy was conducted on Schmidt's body. Smallcomb said preliminary results revealed that Schmidt died of blunt force trauma to the head, and that it appeared a large object was used to inflict the injuries.

Smallcomb said the murder investigation is continuing. Anyone with information about the incident is asked to telephone the detectives tip line at 707-467-5159. Callers can remain anonymous.

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LAKEPORT – A former Lake County correctional officer is the focus of an investigation by local and federal officials regarding machine gun and assault weapon parts and ammunition found in his home earlier this month.

During the Jan. 16 service of a search warrant at his ranch on Wight Way in Kelseyville, Russell “Rusty” Wright, 37, was alleged to have been found in possession of hundreds of rounds of machine gun ammunition as well as parts of what appeared to be assault weapons, according to documents obtained by Lake County News.

“No, I don't have anything to say right now,” Wright said when contacted by Lake County News on Monday.

On Monday Sheriff Rod Mitchell said his department's investigation into the matter is still under way, and that they are coordinating with federal agencies – including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) – because Wright is alleged to have transported across state lines unregistered weapons that are illegal in California except when possessed by peace officers in the course of their duty.

“The rules apply to everybody,” Mitchell said.

Nina Delgadillo, a senior special agent with the ATF's San Francisco Field Division, confirmed late Monday that they were working with the sheriff's office “and currently reviewing the case for potential federal prosecution.”

She said that the ATF investigates violations or potential violations of federal firearms and explosives laws. When such a case comes across their radar screen or if a local agency asks them to investigate, they become involved.

“That's, in general terms, how it would work,” she said.

Although the local investigation remains “dynamic,” Mitchell added, “I can confirm that some aspects of what we found have been turned over to the district attorney for review.”

Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff, who signed the search warrants in the case on behalf of the District Attorney's Office, said on Monday that he couldn't comment on the case at that time.

Any person found manufacturing or transferring into the state any assault weapon or .50 caliber machine gun can be convicted of a felony and face as much as eight years in state prison, according to California's Dangerous Weapons Control Law.

Mitchell, who said he has not seen any similar situation in his time in the department, said he and his command staff are implementing new policies to prevent similar occurrences in the future.

According to county documents, Wright – who started with the county as a correctional officer at the Lake County Jail in October 1995 – was terminated on Jan. 8, eight days before the search warrant service, following the conclusion of an internal affairs investigation that began Oct. 9.

Wright, was one of six rangemasters for the sheriff's office. Correctional officers who serve in that capacity receive 2.5 percent above their base pay, according to the memorandum of understanding between the Lake County Correctional Officer's Association and the county of Lake.

He also was a member of the California National Guard and deployed several times to active duty around the United States and overseas, according to documents supporting the investigation.

Wright was placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation, which focused on “serious misconduct.”

Search warrant documents prepared by Sgt. Brian Martin of the sheriff's office explained that Wright “was terminated for conduct that will certainly prevent him from obtaining employment in law enforcement if it is discovered during a hiring process.”

The nature of the conduct for which Wright was fired was not specified and Mitchell could not address it because of personnel privacy rules.

However, he said that the search warrant service and the internal affairs were unconnected, and the investigation into the weapons allegations arose because of a separate audit of assault weapons conducted by the sheriff's office on Jan. 11.

On that day, Senior Rangemaster Sgt. Don McPherson conducted an audit of 10 M16-A1 rifles the sheriff's office obtained about two years ago from the US military through a program that allows local law enforcement agencies to obtain surplus military firearms.

Based on the requirements of the weapons grant program, the weapons must be inspected every 24 months, Mitchell said.

Rather than just looking at the serial numbers, McPherson went further and checked out each rifle more closely, and discovered that the trigger of one of them had been replaced with one from an AR-15, a weapon similar to an M16-A1.

“This was good, thorough work,” said Mitchell. “We interviewed everybody who has access to our armory.”

None of the other rangemasters, when questioned, said they knew anything about the replaced parts, according to Martin's search warrant narrative.

“I'm just very pleased that the audit was as detailed as it was so that we could get started toward assuring that all of the things that we're responsible for are in our proper care,” Mitchell said.

On Jan. 12, sheriff's officials discovered that when Wright had returned his keys to the sheriff's office when he was placed on administrative leave in October, the key to the armory – which he had held as part of his rangemaster duties – was missing. On that same day, the armory was rekeyed.

“We're committed to tracking our resources, protecting the things that we own,” said Mitchell. “I think it's going to hold accountable the person responsible.”

Questions and the search warrant service

Deputy Lucas Bingham, a sheriff's detective, told Capt. Cecil Brown, who was leading the investigation, that he believed Wright owned several assault weapons.

Bingham told investigators that he had seen Wright at the sheriff's firing range with a a .50-caliber BMG rifle in 2005 or 2006, shortly after Wright returned from a National Guard deployment in Utah. He said he believed Wright purchased the rifle while on deployment and brought it back to California.

One of the kinds of rifles referenced in the search warrant was the Barrett .50 caliber rifle, which ranges up to 57 inches in length, use large 6-inch rounds and have a firing range of up to 6,800 meters – or just over four miles, with a suggested safety range of five miles, according to specifications offered by the manufacturer, Barrett Firearms Manufacturing Inc. of Mufreesboro, Tenn.

On Jan. 14, another correctional officer, Chad Holland – also one of the department's rangemasters – disclosed that he had several assault weapons that were not legally registered, which he then turned over to the sheriff's office.

Mitchell said Holland's case was investigated and he faces no criminal allegations.

On Jan. 14 Brown and Capt. Rob Howe went to Wright's horse ranch and offered him the opportunity to surrender any unregistered assault weapons. Investigative documents said that Wright stated, “I don't have 'em any more.”

Wright told them that in October – the same month he had been placed on administrative leave – he had taken the weapons to Utah, where he gave them to a friend. At the same time, he denied knowing anything about the changes to the M16-A1 rifle.

At that point Brown also demanded back the armory key, which Wright said he thought he had returned earlier. He then went into his home and returned with a ring of keys for the armory and the sheriff's firing range at Highland Springs, according to the search warrant's supporting documents.

During previous encounters, Wright reportedly had to be admonished to return other department belongings, including other firearms and his badge.

The search warrant affidavit explained that Wright did not provide the sheriff's office with a dealer record of sale for the assault weapons and a search of the Automated Firearms System for firearms registered to Wright found only two weapons – both handguns.

Believing Wright might have a .50-caliber machine gun and a Bushmaster Model SX-15 .223 caliber assault rifle in his possession – both of which he could have lawfully purchased out of state – investigators filed an affidavit for a search warrant signed Jan. 16 by Judge Stephen Hedstrom and executed the same day.

Items seized during the search included 125 live .50 caliber rounds; 225 spent .50 caliber rounds; a box of what appeared to be assault rifle parts, including triggers, hammers, grips, barrels, pistol cylinders and more; 55 rounds of 7.62 millimeter by 39 millimeter live ammunition; 12 long AK-47 style magazines; seven shorter 7.62 mm by 39 mm magazines; three drum-shaped magazines capable of holding 100 rounds of 7.62 mm by 39 mm ammunition; one drum-shaped magazine that can hold up to 75 rounds of 7.62 mm by 39 mm ammunition; other items including staff sergeant military insignia and pins; six high capacity Glock handgun magazines, including two .40 caliber magazines that each have a 15-round capacity, and four .45 caliber magazines that each can hold up to 13 rounds and were stamped “Restricted LE/Govt only.”

Mitchell said his department issues .40 caliber magazines, but not .45 caliber magazines, so it's not believed the item marked “Restricted LE/Govt only” came from the sheriff's office.

The items were taken and stored in sheriff's evidence facilities, according to search warrant return documents.

The law and machine guns

California, which has more restrictive gun laws than some other states, prohibits the ownership of machine guns and assault weapons, including the .50-caliber Barrett rifle, for which Wright was found to have had hundreds of ammunition rounds, according to investigative documents. Those laws also prohibit possession of parts meant to convert a regular weapon into a machine gun.

Under the California Dangerous Weapons Control Law, peace officers may possess the weapons but they are not exempted from following registration requirements, which include written permission from their department head, in this case Mitchell. The investigation documents stated that Mitchell didn't authorize Wright's purchase of such weapons.

Mitchell said his department's interpretation is that such an exemption only applies to individuals employed as peace officers, who are certified under the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), and not correctional officers.

“Although they are listed as peace officers, the way the law is written, they do not quality for that,” he said.

The memoranda of understanding for the county's correctional officers and peace officers also differentiates between the two classifications.

In the investigation so far, the missing trigger mechanism from the county's M16-A1 rifle hasn't been accounted for, said Mitchell. Nor have they located the weapons Wright is believed to have had.

Investigators haven't yet disclosed where Wright got most of the materials found at his home, although they've stated in the search warrant affidavit that they believed he purchased them lawfully in other states.

The new policies the department is implementing in the wake of the investigation will include new signing procedures, and tightened restrictions on who can access the items and when, he said.

In addition, Mitchell said the frequency of inventories will be increased and spot audits will be conducted regularly.

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 and on Facebook at .

NORTH COAST – One of the “positive” effects of the recession is that communities are becoming aware of the need to support their local businesses.

Money that stays in the community strengthens the local economic landscape; making it more resilient to recession. In rural counties, supporting the large industry of equine activities is meaningful.

Under the umbrella of SAFER ( – a 501c3 nonprofit organization – the “Donate A Bale” program has been brought to Mendocino and Lake counties.

It does several things that are important to local citizens.

Folks can contribute any amount at the check out stand and a receipt for tax deduction is issued. In turn, the money collected is spent right at that feed store for hay that will feed displaced horses until new homes are found, or provide for Hay Assistance to others.

Those customers who choose can also leave their name and email to receive bulletins regarding emergency foreclosures or downsizing that is producing horses needing placement.

Feed store owners are in the direct line of fire as horse-keeping decreases. They provide jobs and resources that the local population needs. Contributing customers are making a statement that they care about their county’s horses. They care about the folks who are in transition and needing this service.

They also help keep their favorite feed store in business though the downturn. And they can take a tax deduction for an activity that is meaningful to them. All in the process of doing their regular shopping activity.

To maintain a healthy population of horses, SAFERHorse has a “Hay Assistance Program” that provides temporary feed. It targets the family with horses that still have the land to keep them on, but for whom feeding costs are becoming prohibitive.

SAFERHorse reported that it is a lot easier to keep the horse in a home where it is wanted than to try and find it a new home. Even humane euthanasia is out of reach financially for most owners and the horses are carted off by traders in the slaughter industry – who often arrive disguised and with stories of a “good home.”

To make a donation to the Mendocino – Lake County SAFERHorse “DONATE A BALE” program you can go to the Mendocino County Farm Supply in Ukiah or Rainbow Ag. in Ukiah and Lakeport.

Guidelines and application forms for the Hay Assistance Program can be found on the home page of , or you may contact Angie Herman at 707-459-3265 or Pam Respini at 707-485-7324 in Mendocino County or Susan Edwards at 707-279-8523 in Lake County.

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LAKEPORT – Fifth Amendment issues for a witness proved a major point of concern during the second day of testimony in the murder trial of two Clearlake men.

Shannon Lee Edmonds, 35, and Melvin Dale Norton, 38, are alleged to have murdered 25-year-old Shelby Uehling during an early morning confrontation on Highway 53 in Clearlake on Sept. 22, 2009.

Edmonds and Norton are asserting self defense in what their attorneys allege was a situation that arose over their concern about Uehling and his relationship with Patricia Campbell, Edmonds' on-again, off-again girlfriend. She and Uehling had become briefly involved during a period last August when Campbell and Edmonds were not together.

Before the case's jury was brought into Judge Arthur Mann's Department 3 courtroom Tuesday morning, prosecutor Art Grothe said the attorney for Linda Dale, a witness scheduled to testify that afternoon, was concerned about her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself on the stand.

Mann ordered a hearing before she was brought to the stand in the afternoon.

Attorney William Conwell is representing Dale is a pending case regarding possession of drugs for sale, and he was concerned about the line of questioning that might be pursued by Edmonds' attorney, Doug Rhoades, and Norton's attorney, Stephen Carter. In the homicide case, Dale is believed to have been involved in drug issues with Uehling, to whom she may have been selling.

During the afternoon hearing, Rhoades said he didn't intend to ask Dale about her current case. Carter said he wanted to query her about the nature of her relationship with Uehling, and if she sold him drugs.

Conwell told the court that Dale's current case is now set for arraignment.

Mann said he didn't see anything that would raise a problem with the Fifth Amendment, and Dale was called to the stand.

On the stand, Dale testified to knowing Uehling for about nine months previous to his death last September. He occasionally stayed at her place and the homes of other friends, although his main residence was his uncle's Cobb home.

She had last seen him about three days before he died, but he had called her between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. on the night before he died and said someone was chasing him, and later called and asked to speak to a Joseph Taylor, who was staying at her residence, who he asked to help with “watching his back.”

As Carter was questioning Dale, he asked if she had done drugs with Uehling, which caused Conwell to speak up from his seat in the audience, and Mann called Grothe, Carter, Rhoades and Conwell up to his bench for a sidebar.

Afterward, Mann asked the jury to leave the room while he heard Conwell's objection to the line of questioning based on his Fifth Amendment concerns.

He said the questions could influence Dale's current drug case. Grothe said that current case involves allegations that came up well after Uehling's death.

Carter said he had a line of questions about drug use, and if Dale was allowed to assert the Fifth Amendment, he would ask for all of her testimony to be stricken, as it would go to the issues of bias and her ability to perceive what is happening.

Rhoades added that he believed Carter's question about drug use with Uehling was well founded given the information about her allegedly Uehling with drugs.

“I certainly think it's an area that's ripe for exploration because it goes to bias,” he said.

Grothe told Mann, “In my opinion, I don't see any way in the world that anything she said about that transaction with Mr. Uehling could in any way lead to a prosecution,” especially since Uehling is deceased.

Conwell said there is a search warrant in Dale's case and he doesn't have access to either that or the police reports. Grothe said he could have access to the search warrant “if he walked down the hall 45 feet” and went to the court clerk's office.

Mann overruled Conwell's objection and said he didn't see anything that would incriminate Dale.

Conwell replied that her testimony goes to knowledge of what the substances are, which she would not be able to deny in her current case.

When the jury was brought back in, Carter asked Dale if she saw Uehling use illegal drugs like methamphetamine. She said she saw him use the drug two to three times. When Carter asked when those instances were in relation to Sept. 21, 2009, Conwell asked to approach the bench.

Following another sidebar with the attorneys, Carter resumed his questioning, and Dale said she couldn't remember dates very well because of neurological issues with her brain.

When Carter asked if she ever used methamphetamine with Uehling, she replied, “Once.”

Carter asked if she had supplied methamphetamine to Uehling and Conwell objected, with Mann sustaining the objection.

Police recount scene, investigation

The second day of testimony began with Clearlake Police Officer Michael Carpenter back on the stand to complete his testimony.

Carpenter, the first witness called by the prosecution last Thursday, was the first to arrive on the scene on the morning of Sept. 22, 2009, and discovered Uehling's body, face down, next to an oak tree on the shoulder of Old Highway 53.

Under cross examination by Rhoades, Carpenter related that he saw two unidentified people in the area of the fatal fight and spoke briefly with them, and they were not involved in the case.

“What was the first thing that caught your attention?” Rhoades asked about the scene.

“It was the pool of blood on the shoulder of the road,” said Carpenter, who explained that medical personnel arrived about 10 minutes after him.

Carter asked Carpenter about the handle end of a golf club that was lying in the roadway. Carpenter explained it was run over by the passenger-side tires of a medical vehicle arriving at the scene.

Carpenter testified that medical personnel put Uehling – who hadn't yet been declared dead – in an ambulance and transported him to St. Helena Hospital Clearlake, with Carpenter following behind.

At the hospital, medical personnel removed Uehling's clothing, and Carpenter photographed both Uehling's body and the clothing, discovering a fixed-blade knife in Uehling's shoe when he inspected it.

At the scene, Uehling's red Honda had been found on Lotowana, a side road off of Highway 53, located about 15 yards from Uehling's body. The car was still running, Carpenter said.

Sgt. Brenda Crandall, a patrol sergeant for Clearlake Police who was the second person on the scene, was next on the stand.

At around 11 p.m. on the night of Sept. 21, Crandall had seen Uehling's red Honda parked in a way that she thought looked unusual – backed up in a parking space and unlocked – at Mendo Mill on Highway 53. When she checked it, it was unoccupied and the vehicle's hood was still warm.

She didn't see the vehicle again until she arrived at the crime scene, where she and Carpenter were dispatched on a report of a battery. Crandall said Carpenter arrived about a minute before she did, and said he had checked for Uehling's pulse and didn't find one, and checked again in Crandall's presence.

Crandall, who noted that medics arrived about a minute or so after she did, said she saw a large gash on Uehling's neck, and after assessing the scene asked fellow officers to contact Det. Tom Clements.

She also began taking photos, asked another officer on the scene to seek witnesses as there was a residence nearby, and then locked down the scene until detectives arrived. She had another of her officers do a crime scene log to track everyone who came and went from the scene.

Det. Martin Snyder arrived at the scene and took items into evidence, said Crandall.

After the scene was secured, Crandall said she turned off Uehling's car's ignition, using a gloved hand to do so.

Rhoades drew a diagram and asked Crandall to draw in Uehling's car at the scene. It was sitting on Lotowana around the corner from his body, which was alongside Highway 53. Crandall agreed Uehling's car could have been parked in such a way as to allow him to watch traffic.

Snyder, the last witness in the morning session, processed the crime scene at Old Highway 53 and Lotowana, and later would fully process Uehling's car at a secure facility.

He also measured the distance of the scene from Norton's home – 582 feet – and Edmonds', which was three-tenths of a mile away, he said. Snyder described the area in which the homes were located as “condensed mobile home parks.”

Grothe presented Snyder with a cell phone and charger found in Uehling's car. After that cell phone was admitted into evidence, Grothe showed Snyder another phone, which he took from Edmonds' teenage daughter.

The phone number of that phone had been logged into the Clearlake Police Department's RIMS record management system as belonging to Shannon Edmonds, Snyder said.

As Snyder searched the vehicle, he said he recalled finding no knives.

Under Grothe's questioning, Snyder described a series of photos he took of the car's interior, which he described as “very dirty.”

The photos showed money and bank cards under a front floor mat, a hammer handle sticking out from between the front seats, a cell phone on the driver's side seat, a screw driver on the floorboard, numerous personal items on the floor and seats, as well as a variety of prescription medication.

He also photographed the trunk and the passenger side dash board, where a golf club head was seen protruding, with the broken end of the club's shaft pointing out the passenger side window.

Snyder's testimony was interrupted by the lunch break, and didn't continue until late in the afternoon, after Valerie Alderson, Pat Hand and Dale were on the stand.

Rhoades cross-examined him about the evidence he found and the processing of the evidence taken from the scene and the car.

Other witnesses supply more details about events

The court heard briefly on Tuesday afternoon from Clearlake resident Valerie Alderman, who last Sept. 7 sold Uehling the red 1988 Honda that was found about 15 yards from his body.

Alderman said she didn't know Uehling before he called to inquire about the car, which she had a sign on and had been driving around town.

Grothe showed her pictures of the car's interior and asked if the front seats' headrests were broken when she sold him the car. She said no.

Rhoades asked Alderman about the car's condition when she sold it to Uehling for $500. She said the car had all of its windows. He asked if there was anything unusual about the two-door vehicle's passenger-side door. She said once when she opened that door the horn honked.

Also on the stand Tuesday was Pat Hand, who had been hanging out with Edmonds and Norton at Edmonds' motor home on Sept. 21. Hand and Edmonds lived about four spaces apart at the Lakeside Mobile Home Park.

On the afternoon of Sept. 21, Hand and Edmonds drove to the Flyers convenience store to buy cigarettes. Hand said he stayed in the car while Edmonds went inside, and didn't see him make any calls or speak to anyone.

Later that night, between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., while watching movies in the motor home – where Edmonds' girlfriend, Patricia Campbell was asleep in the back room – Hand said a call came in on Campbell's phone. Edmond saw the number was from someone he called “Dude” and he handed the phone to Norton, who answered it.

“I heard Melvin say, 'No, you can't talk to Patricia. No, you can't talk to Patricia. Do you want to handle this? Do you want to handle this?'” Hand said.

Norton then hung up, but the person called back, and Norton suggested they meet there at the trailer park to “handle” the situation.

Rhoades asked Hand how long he had known Edmonds before Sept. 21. Hand estimated about two months.

He left Edmonds' home on Sept. 21 between 11:30 p.m. and midnight.

At times frustrated and confused, Hand said during questioning that he was having trouble remembering the details of his interactions with Edmonds.

Hand was awakened at 4 a.m. Sept. 22 by police, who had found his car still sitting at Edmonds' home.

Testimony is set to continue at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

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 and on Facebook at .

LAKEPORT – The health of Clear Lake and its surrounding landscapes is a top priority on the county and community’s agenda alike, and those efforts were celebrated at an event last week.

Volunteers were awarded for their efforts with their local watershed groups at the eighth annual “Year-Review” meeting on Jan. 29 at the Scotts Valley Women’s Clubhouse in Lakeport.

The meeting included a milestone for all parties involved with the release of drafts of the Scotts, Middle and Kelsey Creek Watershed Assessments as well as the Clear Lake Integrated Watershed Management Plan.

The clubhouse filled up quickly and Greg Dills, district manager of the East and West Lake Resource Conservation Districts, began with a PowerPoint presentation filled with interesting facts and memorable photographs of both the beauty of Lake County’s landscapes, and the abuse of it.

The assessments and many other efforts were made possible thanks to a $400,000 grant from the CALFED Watershed Committee, funded by Proposition 50, and administered by California’s Department of Water Resources, said Dills.

On the clubhouse's back wall, there was a large green felt board covered in laminated pictures of some of the cleanup efforts of volunteers. Last year they removed a dumped Pepsi-Cola vending machine; this year’s big find was a Coca-Cola vending machine.

Chuck Morse, president of the West Lake Resource Conservation District, explained how the county helped keep this assessments project alive when there was a temporary stop on the work before they got an extension on the grant. He also wanted to stress the importance of the assessments.

“What these four documents do is mark an important turning point in the process of accomplishing resource conservation, habitat restoration as well as addressing a myriad of other water issues,” said Morse. “These documents are the basis of attaining those goals.”

The evening also included the presentation of Volunteer of the Year awards, which were sponsored by the Upper Cache Creek Watershed Alliance.

Although all volunteers were thanked for their efforts, a few specific people were awarded Volunteer of the Year awards. Recipients of the awards were Ron Yoder, Robert Stark, Tom Smythe, Harry Lyons, Morse and Dills.

Each was given a plaque, engraved with their names and the watershed group they worked with during the year. It also displayed a photograph of the beautiful landscape they are helping to preserve.

A surprised Dills was elated with the award from Scotts Creek Watershed Group. After resolving a technical issue with his PowerPoint system, he continued the presentation he began earlier in the evening, explaining the importance of the watershed assessment documents.

“Having these documents enable us to qualify for grants and funding,” said Dills.

The issues discussed in each of the watershed assessments include history, geology, soils, hydrology, hill slope and stream channel geomorphology, water quality, water supply, terrestrial and aquatic wildlife habitats and species, invasive species, fire and fuel load management, social and economic setting, land use and current watershed management.

Erica Lundquist, writer and researcher on the assessment project, said there is a huge amount of information, which she is compiling and bringing to the public.

“It is a lot of detailed, broad-brush information, like sedimentation loads,” said Lundquist. “But, we don’t really know where it is coming from at a smaller level, aside from things like the Sulphur Bank Mercury Mine.”

She also is concerned about invasive plant species and informing the public on how to get rid of them.

The well-known algal bloom in the summer of 2009 is only one of many invasive species affecting the health of Clear Lake. The integrated watershed management plan reports that sediment cores show that the lake could have existed for as long as 2.5 million years, it was reported during the meeting.

As of 1986, Clear Lake is on the Clean Water Act’s list of impaired water bodies due to mercury and nutrient contents.

The assessments are one of many steps that will need to be taken in order to restore Clear Lake to the state it was in before European influence, stated the integrated watershed management plan, officials reported.

The final versions of the assessments are expected to be finished sometime in the next two weeks.

One thing concerned citizens can do is join their local watershed groups. For general information and a list of other organizations involved, please visit

E-mail Tera deVroede at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .





Firehouse Pizza locations:

Clearlake Oaks: 12638 Foothill Blvd. at Highway 20 (across from the fire station); telephone: 707-998-1687.

Lucerne: 6232 E. Highway 20 (across from the park and harbor); telephone: 707-274-7117

Hours: 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.

I’ve been silent for so long now it's going to roar out of me like floodwaters: on days when I don’t feel like cooking I always go to Firehouse Pizza just a mile from my house.

The owner, Brian, I can only describe as insane. Totally cuckoo. He’s got to be!

Why do I say that? I typically order a medium-sized pizza for myself, and it has too much stuff on top.

I’ve tried the medium-sized gourmet garlic chicken and the flaming chicken pizza (among others), and they both must have at least an entire chicken breast worth of meat on them. How do you make a profit in business giving away that much food, on a medium pizza?

And that’s just the chicken; there are even more toppings on these varieties, and all of them are loaded on as generously. But then again, “If he’s crazy, what does that make you?”

While at most pizzerias the toppings are glued to the pizza with cheese, on a Firehouse pizza the toppings occasionally fall off because of the sheer weight of their numbers. It’s nuts, I tell ya!

Sarah, the young lady that takes the orders, is one major factor proving Brian isn’t completely crazy. She’s fantastically gorgeous, always quick to help, and I have always received exactly what I ordered. The first time we went into Firehouse and saw Sarah, I whispered in my daughter’s ear, “We can eat here as often as you like.” Of course being a typical teenage girl my daughter just rolled her eyes at me. She’s no Nurse Ratched!

I’ve tried many of Firehouse’s different pizzas; for example, the All Meat Pizza which has Canadian bacon, Italian sausage, Linquica (a Portuguese cured sausage, pronounced “lin-GWEE-sa”), pepperoni, and salami. This pizza could leave a grizzly bear sated! This pizza is so heavy with meat that I can’t eat more than a couple of slices at a time.

I’ve also had the Ba’Donga Pizza, which has Linquica and artichoke hearts with a creamy garlic sauce. The first time I ordered this pizza Brian came out from the kitchen to personally inform me that they were out of mushrooms at the moment and they were a vital part of the pizza. Following his advice, I waited for another day to have this pizza. It has now become one of my favorites.

There’s the flaming chicken pizza, which is very spicy, has huge chunks of chicken and a whole lot of other ingredients that complement the hot Cajun sauce. It’s not “brain burning,” but it’ll leave you

wanting for a drink.

There’s also the gourmet garlic chicken pizza, and it’s like no other pizza you’ve had before. Creamy garlic sauce, roasted chicken and bacon are the highlights of this pizza packed with plenty of other


And of course, there’s a vegetarian delight, consisting of the creamy garlic sauce, artichoke hearts, fresh broccoli, two types of onions, tomatoes and zucchini. OK, so your personal trainer is never going to say, “You need to eat more pizza!” but I do feel a little better about myself after eating this pizza, and it’s delicious too! The vegetables are perfectly cooked in the pizza oven. There is also a plain vegetarian pizza that is a little more traditional.

Those are just my favorites. That doesn’t include the buffalo chicken wings that I enjoy, or the pepperoni pizza that my wife and daughter order every time they go there. They don’t like to deviate too much from their favorite pizza, and I can’t really blame them when a pizza is as good as these are.

Pizza sizes available are small, 10 inches; medium, 12 inches; large, 14 inches; and extra large, 16 inches. Firehouse also offers a good variety of beer, sodas and a couple of wines. Although I’ve never tried them myself (yet!) they also have hot sandwiches and salads available.

Prices are right on average for what you expect in a pizza restaurant. Occasionally I have an event or meeting of some sort around dinnertime and since the Firehouse delivers for free in town, I can easily leave my daughter at home with a twenty dollar bill and she can have dinner delivered.

The dining room at Firehouse Pizza has ample seating in booths, a pool table and several video games. I’m no good at video games, but “At least I tried.”

Stop by Firehouse Pizza and enjoy a pizza or two before the owner comes to his senses and starts making pizza’s like everybody else’s.

Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community. Follow him on Twitter, .

Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .

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