Wednesday, 24 July 2024


LOWER LAKE – A juvenile riding a motorcycle was injured Monday evening in a collision with a pickup pulling a horse trailer near Lower Lake.

The California Highway Patrol reported that the crash took place shortly before 6 p.m. at Riata Lane and Spruce Grove Road.

Few details on the crash were available late Monday, with the CHP only reporting that the juvenile – whose age and gender were not available by time of publication – had collided with a Dodge pickup hauling a horse trailer.

Firefighters transported the juvenile to nearby Jonas Oil, which became an impromptu staging area for a Calstar helicopter.

The helicopter departed at about 6:30 p.m., headed for UC Davis Medical Center, which it expected to reach in under 30 minutes.

Monday evening's motorcycle-related collision was the third in as many days. Two fatal motorcycle crashes occurred Saturday.

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


LAKEPORT – The California Highway Patrol reported that the victim of a fatal motorcycle crash on Highway 175 Saturday was a Santa Rosa man who was an experienced rider.

Mansur Balaei, 30, died after colliding with a guard rail three miles west of Lakeport, the CHP said Sunday.

The CHP said Balaei, who has ridden motorcycles for 16 years, was traveling with a group when the crash occurred at 1:22 p.m.

He was riding 50 miles per hour in a sharp curve when he lost control of the bike and went off the roadway, hitting a guard rail head-on, according to the CHP report.

Officials said a Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital emergency room nurse was the first on scene, and performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Balaei for 20 minutes.

REACH helicopter was summoned but medical personnel at the scene decided Balaei wasn't stable enough to travel by air, said Lakeport Fire Protection District Captain Bob Ray. Instead, Balaei was transported to Sutter Lakeside Hospital by ground ambulance.

CHP said Balaei succumbed to blunt force trauma injuries. He had been wearing safety gear – helmet, leathers and boots, Ray added.

Balaei leaves behind a 28-year-old widow and a 5-month-old daughter, the CHP reported.

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MENDOCINO NATIONAL FOREST – Firefighters held the advance of the Soda Complex of fires to only 20 acres of growth on Saturday, with the amount of containment remaining steady.

The fires, which have burned 8,381 acres on the Mendocino National Forest's Upper Lake Ranger District near Lake Pillsbury, remained at 79-percent containment Saturday, according to a Saturday report from Forest Service spokesman Marc Peebles.

The Mill Fire, the last and largest of the complex's four fires, has burned 2,772 acres, Peebles reported. Its estimated full containment date is this coming Wednesday.

Peebles reported that 744 firefighters under the command of Southern California Incident Management Team No. 3 – based at Upper Lake High School – are fighting the Mill fire as well as continuing patrol on the areas of the other fires that already have been contained – the Monkey Rock, Big and Back fires.

On Friday, the Mill Fire once again got past containment lines, burning 150 acres to the southeast and northeast of the fire, Peebles said. Several spot fires also have occurred.

Peebles said six residences – located between Deadmans Flat and Sunset Gap to the east flank of the fire – are under evacuation at this time, which the Lake and Mendocino County Sheriff’s offices coordinating evacuations.

Also on the Mendocino National Forest, the Vinegar Fire – which is in the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness – has burned 10,235 acres and is 30-percent contained, according to Forest Service spokesperson Phebe Brown.

The Vinegar Fire is part of the Lime Complex, which has burned 25,558 acres in Trinity and Tehama counties, Brown reported.

Lake County's air looked murkier in some areas again on Saturday, as smoke continued to come into the northern part of the county from the Mendocino Lightning Complex, which was contained on Thursday.

Doug Gearhart, Lake County's deputy air pollution control officer, said air quality should be back in the good range by Sunday.

Gearhart said smoke will likely continue in the county until all of the fires around Northern California are finally out.

Cal Fire reported Saturday that of the approximately 2,093 fires that had raged across the state at the peak of this past month's deluge of wildfires, 38 are still actively burning.

In all, those fires have burned 926,427 acres, Cal Fire reported.

For more information about the forest fires visit Forest Service Web site at or For information about other fires around the state, visit

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Lake County Narcotic Task Force members investigate a drug case on Ninth Avenue in Lucerne on the afternoon of Monday, July 21, 2008. Alan Monroe, sitting on the ground to the far right, was later arrested on a drug charges. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

LUCERNE – Law enforcement officials arrested a Lucerne man as part of a drug investigation that took place late Monday afternoon.

Arrested was Alan Wayne Monroe, 55, a mechanic from Lucerne, according to Lake County Jail booking records.

Monroe was arrested for felony possession of a controlled substance for sale, with bail set at $10,000.

On Ninth Avenue, at the side of the creek that runs through town and across the street from residences, Lake County Narcotic Task Force members had handcuffed Monroe and four other subjects – two males and two females – while an investigation took place nearby.

Task Force member Steve Ladeck said they were releasing the other four subjects.

Ladeck said he had no other information to release Monday, as the investigation was continuing.

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MENDOCINO NATIONAL FOREST – The Soda Complex has grown by a few hundred more acres with containment making no advances, officials reported Sunday.

The complex of four fires – three of which are contained – is located in the vicinity of Lake Pillsbury on the Mendocino National Forest's Upper Lake Ranger District. The fires were ignited by a dry lightning storm June 21.

US Forest Service spokesman Marc Peebles reported Sunday that the last of the fires still burning, the Mill Fire, has reached 2,972 acres and is 60-percent contained, with full containment – originally estimated to take place on Wednesday – pushed back to July 26.

The entire complex has burned 8,581 acres and is 79-percent contained overall, the same as the previous day, Peebles reported.

Nearly 30 more firefighting personnel have been assigned to the fire since Saturday, bringing the total, according to Peebles, to 793. There also are 23 crews, 26 engines, three dozers, 11 water tenders and 14 helicopters working the fire.

Peebles said the fire continued to spread through spot fires into steep and rugged terrain in a southeast direction, where firefighters and aircraft continue to work to hold the fire. Crews also continue to patrol the areas of the already-contained Monkey Rock, Big and Back fires.

Seven residences in Lake and Mendocino counties remain under evacuation at this time between Deadmans Flat and Sunset Gap to the east flank of the fire, he said.

Also still burning is the Vinegar fire, which has burned 10,410 acres on the the Mendocino National Forest and another 16,975 in the Shasta Trinity National Forest, for a total of 27,485 acres burned, according to forest officials.

For more information about the forest fires visit Forest Service Web site at or For information about other fires around the state, visit

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


I hadn’t been to Cabo’s restaurant in Clearlake in quite a while, and I did remember it as having really good food, so I thought that it was time to go again.

Normally I’m an eat-alone type of person. It could be a primal urge from when mankind had to fight for every scrap of food, so he’d tear a piece off a carcass and then run away from the group in order to not lose his food to a stronger tribe member. Maybe it just gives me a chance to enjoy my food with my own thoughts and not have to worry about entertaining dinner guests with conversation. But most likely it’s because if I eat alone, I’m free to flirt with the cute waitresses. Hey, I’m getting older and having a young, pretty girl smile at me is now the highlight of my day.

But this time my wife, daughter and I all went out to eat together, and wouldn’t you know it, there was a smokin’ hot waitress there. Oh well, time to concentrate on the meal I guess.

When you first arrive, you are seated with warm tortilla chips and a couple types of salsa. What is it about that combination that makes you instantly ravenous? Everyone at the table snatches at chips until the basket is empty and the waitress brings more and the process starts again.

Before I go on, I will first have to mention that I love spicy food. No, probably not like you enjoy spicy food, I’m much more hard-core than that. I consider Tabasco sauce so mild that it can be used to clean wounds. I have a large assortment of hot sauces in my fridge, and my wife can only handle two of them. So I naturally decided to have the Camerones a la Diablo, The Devil’s Shrimp. My wife had the chicken fajitas, and my daughter ordered the garlic fries and shrimp cocktail.

The Camerones a la Diablo and the chicken fajitas each came with a trip to the salad bar, which isn’t anything very impressive, but I can see its being missed by folks if they didn’t have it. I would have forgone the trip to the salad bar had I any idea of the amount of food that was about to be placed in front of me.

The entree comes on extra-large plates, packed to the absolute brim with ingredients; you are going to be full by the end of this meal. Two words of warning: one, unless you have asbestos hands, don’t grab the plate – HOT, HOT and HOT! And two, you only get two tortillas (your choice, flour or corn) with your order, so you will want to request some extra tortillas on the side to handle all of the food.

My shrimp were well cooked, and as I tasted the sauce I was impressed by the complexity of flavor, but thought that it wasn’t spicy enough to justify the namesake. I shared these thoughts with my wife, so she tried the sauce and then said in a strained, breathy voice, “It’s hot enough; the back of my throat is melting.” Oops, sorry, it made my lips tingle but that’s about it.

The shrimp came with refried beans, rice, grilled vegetables, sour cream and guacamole. The chicken fajitas come with the same accompaniments, and they were all well cooked and delicious.

The shrimp cocktail was nothing like what we were expecting. It was warm with the shrimp swimming in a mild, soupy sauce. I wouldn’t say it was bad; it just isn’t what we were expecting. The garlic fries are covered in cheese and garlic, and the cooking process caramelizes the garlic making it fantastically sweet. But like the rest of the food, the plate is piled so high that this is not a one-person dish. These fries would make a good shared plate for four people.

The price for dinner was fair for the amount of food served, and we left with full bellies and plenty of left-overs. The décor has a touristy, “cabo flair” to it and a wide-open feel so it doesn’t seem crowded as the room fills up, and it does fill up so get there early for best seating.

Note to the readers who are shocked at my flirting with young waitresses: my wife has been my own personal editor for everything I have written for years. You would be shocked at some of the things that she has edited out over the years! By comparison, my flirting with waitresses is tame, especially if my wife lets it slip through!

Note from Ross’s wife/editor: Ross is like a strong alcoholic drink, best in small doses over a long period of time; too much too fast can cause vomiting with accompanied groans.

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.


MENDOCINO NATIONAL FOREST – The Soda Complex reached 85-percent containment Monday, with firefighters hopeful that the last of the original four fires in the complex will be contained by Saturday.

The complex is located north and northwest of Lake Pillsbury on the Mendocino National Forest's Upper Lake Ranger District. The fires were ignited by a dry lightning storm June 21.

US Forest Service spokesman Marc Peebles reported that the last fire burning actively, the Mill Fire, had burned 2,981 acres as of Monday, a growth of only nine acres over the previous day. At the same time, containment grew from 60 percent on that fire to 80 percent.

Overall, the Soda Complex has burned 8,590 acres, with total containment rising from 79 percent Sunday to 85 percent Monday.

Peebles reported that spot fires continue to challenge firefighters on the Mill. However, he said both day and night shift crews made good progress as they continued to construct direct and indirect line around the slop over and spot fires.

He said firefighters will continue to construct indirect contingency line around the southern/eastern portion of the fire.

On the fire's east flank, between Deadmans Flat and Sunset Gap, seven residences in Lake and Mendocino counties remain under evacuation at this time, according to Peebles.

On the western and southwestern flanks, Peebles said fire crews continue to improve and hold containment lines and mop up along Thomas Creek, while multiple aircraft continue to support firefighters on the ground with water and retardant drops.

While the complex's other three fires – the Monkey Rock, Big and Back – have been contained, firefighters continue to patrol their areas, Peebles said.

The Vinegar Fire, which is part of the Yolla Bolly Complex – which now is managed as part of the Lime Complex – has burned 10,565 acres on the Mendocino National Forest and is 30-percent contained, said Forest Service spokesperson Phebe Brown.

County Deputy Air Pollution Control Officer Doug Gearhart reported Monday that the county's air quality should continue to improve this week, falling in the good to moderate range.

However, some smoke might reappear in Lake County's air basin Tuesday night and into Wednesday, Gearhart reported, as north to northwest winds are predicted. Gearhart said continued west to southwest winds have kept smoke to the north of Lake County.

For more information about the forest fires visit Forest Service Web site at or For information about other fires around the state, visit

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


The Westshore Pool offers a fun and cool place to hang out this summer. Photo courtesy of Scott Harter.


LAKEPORT – With a scorching summer visiting the county this year, a number of new programs at Lakeport's Westshore Pool offer adults and children alike a chance to stay cool and exercise.

This is the second summer the Westshore Pool has been open since it was renovated in the spring of 2007. The season opened June 16.

Because it had been some time since the pool had been open, the city of Lakeport's Public Works Department – which oversees the pool – set about setting up new programs for the public, said department secretary Tina Banuet.

Banuet said the pool is open for public swims Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. The cost is $3 for children ages 2 to 17, $4 for 18 years and older, and $2 for seniors. Season passes also are available, costing $175 for ages 2 through 17, $250 for adults 18 and over, and $100 for seniors.

Family passes, which cost $15, admit two adults and three children for a day, with some flexibility offered if there is one less adult and an additional child, she said.

Children age 9 years and younger must be accompanied by an adult 18 years or older, without exception. Anyone entering the pool, even adult spectators, must pay the entrance fee.

Those fees help offset part of the city's cost of operating the pool, which Banuet said ran approximately $50,000 – excluding capital improvements – in the 2007-08 fiscal year.

After the first experience of running the pool last summer, Banuet said department staff and Public Works Director Doug Grider set about expanding the pool's offerings for this season.

She said they researched what other counties offered at their pools. “That's how we came up with everything this year,” she said.

New this year is an adult swim, held Monday through Thursday, 6 a.m. to 7 a.m., said Banuet. The cost is $2 per day. The adult swims end Aug. 21.

The pool also now offers swimming lessons for children at all skill levels – beginners, advanced beginner and intermediate – this season, said Banuet.

Two swimming lesson sessions remain open for this year, running from July 28 through Aug. 7 and Aug. 11 through Aug. 21, Banuet said. The cost is $60 per child.

Among the other new offerings this year are pool parties, which groups can book on Friday nights and on Sundays, said Banuet.

Banuet called attendance at the pool this year “awesome,” with daily attendance averaging between 50 and 100 people, up from last year. A day care also visits the pool five days a week, bringing between 40 and 60 children, besides camps and other organizations using the pool this summer.

The pool, which is staffed by five lifeguards, will close for the season Saturday, Aug. 30, Banuet said.

Keeping the pool open year round is a goal, said Banuet. “We would like to – we just haven't gotten that far yet.”

For more information call the Lakeport Public Works Department, 263-3077.

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


CLEARLAKE – A teenager accused of the murder of a schoolmate was in court Friday for the setting of her preliminary hearing date.

Gabrielle Rachel Varney, 18, is facing charges of murder and a special allegation of using a knife in the June 5 death of 17-year-old Heather Valdez. Varney pleaded not guilty to the charges last month.

Her attorney, Stephen Carter, said Varney went before Judge Richard Freeborn in Lake County Superior Court's Department 4 Friday afternoon.

Carter said Varney's preliminary hearing in the case will be held Tuesday, Sept. 30.

He said the case will be called on Sept. 26 for the purpose of assigning the preliminary hearing to a specific department.

Varney and Valdez allegedly were involved in a confrontation after getting off the school bus from Carlé High School, where they were both students, as Lake County News has reported.

Police said the girls had been involved in a feud for months before the fight occurred.

Varney remains in the Lake County Jail.

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


For more than a month jurors in the trial of 23-year-old Renato Hughes Jr. have heard a case filled with intricate details, differing versions of what happened on a December morning in 2005, and horrifying descriptions of a confrontation that ended in two deaths and a young man's serious assault.

They've also heard from Hughes himself about what happened in the Clearlake Park of Shannon Edmonds on Dec. 7, 2005, ending in the deaths of his friends, Christian Foster and Rashad Williams – deaths for which he is being tried.

All of that is expected to culminate this week in District Attorney Jon Hopkins' and defense attorney Stuart Hanlon's closing arguments.

The two men have, between them, nearly seven decades of legal experience. They've been battling each other in the Hughes case since Hanlon took it over in 2006, long before the trial opened last month in Martinez, after having been granted a change of venue.

Both say they expect closing arguments to take place Wednesday. Final evidence is due to be presented in court on Tuesday, when Hanlon is set to call character witnesses to testify on Hughes' behalf.

Hopkins said he expects Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Barbara Zuniga to give instructions to the all-female jury on Thursday. He added that he hopes a verdict could be returned the following day.

The prosecution has alleged that Hughes, Foster and Williams went to Edmonds' home to steal medical marijuana from him, a provocative act which resulted in Williams and Foster being shot to death.

Hughes, because of his alleged part in the robbery scenario, is being held accountable for his companion's murders under the provocative act law, which says a person can be held accountable for any death that results in the commission of a crime likely to result in a lethal response.

The defense has offered that the three young men – and a fourth, so far unaccounted-for suspect – were buying marijuana from Edmonds, who they allege is a known drug dealer – and the deal went bad, ending in him killing Williams and Foster.

Last week was notable for Hughes himself taking the stand to give his story. Hanlon told Lake County News that, initially, he wasn't in favor of Hughes testifying, but the young San Franciscan wanted to do so. In the end, Hanlon said he was glad Hughes did tell his story in his own words.

Hanlon said young people who are being tried in such serious matters as homicide tend to “fall apart” on the stand.

In Hughes' instance, on the stand last Thursday he had some good moments and some where he had a hard time keeping it together, said Hanlon, who added that he's “almost like a father” to Hughes.

There were questions Hughes “just couldn't answer,” said Hanlon, including where a gun came from that is alleged to have been used in the confrontation.

Perhaps one of the most important parts of Hughes' testimony involved a fourth man – known to him only as “Dre,” and said to be a friend of Williams – who he said was with him, Williams and Foster that night.

“The evidence clearly shows there was a fourth person there,” said Hanlon, describing Dre as skinnier and taller than Hughes' 5-foot, 9-inch frame, and wearing an orange jacket.

Hopkins questioned the account of the fourth man. “This was totally brand new,” he said. “I hadn't heard a word of it. Nobody had.”

He said that the name “Dre” in connection to the case hadn't come up from Williams' grandmother, who lives in Clearlake, or any of the young men in the neighborhood.

“This is somebody who immediately disappeared and was never heard or seen again,” he said.

Hanlon disputes that Hopkins didn't know about it, and said the fourth man has been a factor since early on. “I've known about it since I began the case.”

Hopkins questioned why, if the fourth man was such an important factor, it hadn't been brought up by Hanlon sooner in an attempt to clear Hughes. Hanlon, for his part, said the investigation has yet to find Dre.

For Hopkins, Hughes' testimony proved he had been in the house, a point which he said the defendant and his family had denied early on in the case.

According to Hopkins, Hughes testified he had been slumped down in the back seat of a friend's car outside of Edmonds' house, drowsy from smoking a lot of marijuana, when he heard a crash and went running into the home to see what was going on. It was then that Hughes said he cut his hand on a shattered window, which he said was the reason his blood was found at the scene.

“It's not impossible for it to have happened the way he said,” said Hopkins. “It just defies common sense that it would have.”

Hopkins said he plans to emphasize crucial pieces of physical evidence to disprove Hughes' account in closing arguments this week.

For Hanlon, it was another individual who provided the most intense and important moments of the trial – Edmonds himself.

During his testimony, Hanlon said Edmonds testified to shooting Foster while he was on the ground.

“That, to me, is murder,” said Hanlon.

He said self-defense doesn't allow a person to take such actions, which Hanlon called “vigilante justice.”

“That's not what the law allows,” he said.

Hopkins asserted that Edmonds actually testified that he said it was possible he could have shot someone while they were down, but the situation was so chaotic it was hard for him to know what was going on. “There's no physical evidence, really, that says that he did,” Hopkins said.

All of the victims' recollections differ because of the trauma they experienced, said Hopkins.

On the audio from a surveillance camera, which Hopkins played in court, he said Edmonds could be heard screaming. “He said on the stand, 'I lost it,'” Hopkins recounted.

Other notable points in the trial, said Hanlon, included gathering of evidence, including a hammer with Hughes' blood on it that didn't show up when law enforcement initially searched Edmonds' home.

“The question becomes, what is the evidentiary value of my client's blood on that hammer?” Hanlon offered, adding that Hughes' blood was on a lot of things in the house. “I don't know what it means.”

He called the police work “totally incompetent,” although he added police “did the best they could.”

Asked which moment in the trial stood out as critical, Hopkins said he couldn't pick just one. “I think the key is the combination of evidence.”

An uncommon case

The case was moved to Contra Costa County after a judge ruled last year that Hughes couldn't get a fair trial in Lake County.

When picking the jury in Lake County, Hopkins said they only had encountered two people in the more than 300 considered for jury service who had a bias based on race.

“We had a whole lot more than that in Contra Costa County,” he said, adding that diversity doesn't mean a lack of racial bias.

Hopkins said the jury includes 12 female members, plus four alternates – including two men.

The jury's makeup, Hopkins said, includes two black women, two Asian women – one born in Vietnam and one in South Korea – and one woman who came from Poland.

Hanlon said the case is a complex one which has been “grueling emotionally” for him because of its huge implications – namely, that a guilty verdict means Hughes is headed to prison, possibly for life.

He called the case against Hughes “outrageous” – “given who Edmonds is.”

“What it all means the jury will have to figure out,” he said.

The results of the confrontation at Edmonds' home two and a half years ago already have been devastating, he said, with Edmonds' family destroyed and his girlfriend's son left with a permanent brain injury from being hit in the head.

Hughes' life has been torn apart and “two wonderful families” – those of Williams and Foster – have two dead sons, Hanlon added.

Hanlon, who has been practicing law for 35 years, said the case is an uncommon one. “I wouldn't have made it this long if this was par for the course.”

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LAKEPORT – A motorcyclist died Saturday afternoon as the result of a crash on Highway 175.

The male subject, whose name was not released Saturday, crashed into a guard rail on Highway 175 at about 12:25 p.m. three miles west of Lakeport, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The crash victim was said to be unconscious at the scene, with labored breathing, the CHP reported.

REACH air ambulance was called to transport the man to the hospital.

Shortly before 2:30 p.m. the man was reported to have died, according to the CHP.

CHP's Ukiah Dispatch Center would not release further information on the crash Saturday evening.

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The $16 million Walker Ridge curve realignment is expected to be completed this fall. Photo courtesy of Caltrans.


LAKE COUNTY – A multimillion-dollar road improvement project which state officials believe will increase highway safety is continuing in the south county.

The Walker Ridge curve realignment is taking place along Highway 20. The project is likely familiar to drivers who have experienced stops in the area while road crews continue their work.

Caltrans spokesman Phil Frisbie said the $16 million project was awarded to Argonaut Construction in September of 2006, when some minor prep work was performed. Major work didn't begin until April of 2007.

It's the largest Caltrans project under construction in Lake County at this time, said Frisbie.

The project, which Frisbie said is expected to be completed this fall, includes a large retaining wall where the highway has been widened.

“It's realigning some of the curves to increase sight distance and it's also widening the shoulders and installing some new drainage systems,” he said.

The project, said Frisbie, is meant to increase safety along the stretch of highway.

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Caltrans intends for the project to help increase sight distance and safety, along with widening the road and installing new drainage. Photo courtesy of Caltrans.



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