Thursday, 18 July 2024


LAKEPORT – Detectives are investigating the shooting of a local man that occurred Monday evening in the unincorporated area of Lakeport.

Marshall Wisterman, 35, was the victim of the shooting, according to Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff’s deputies responded to the shooting at the Lakeside Village Mobile Home Park in north Lakeport at around 8:30 p.m., with the Lakeport Police Department also responding to assist, according to Bauman.

Bauman said that when the first responders arrived at the scene, they found Wisterman lying in the hallway of his home with an apparent gunshot wound to his abdomen.

Wisterman was alive and as deputies secured the scene, rescue personnel from the Lakeport Fire Protection District responded in to treat his injuries and transport him to a waiting air ambulance, Bauman said.

Bauman said Wisterman ultimately was flown out of county for further treatment. Detectives with the Sheriff’s Major Crimes Unit were called out to the scene to assist with the investigation.

Preliminary information obtained at the scene revealed that an unidentified man had apparently come to Wisterman’s home and was allowed inside to talk to him, Bauman said.

The conversation between Wisterman and the visitor began to turn into an argument and when Wisterman took the man outside to get the confrontation away from his wife and children, a single gunshot was heard, according to Bauman.

Authorities believe the shooting occurred in or near one of the carports. Bauman said the suspect was gone on the deputies’ arrival and it is unclear at this point what the argument was about, or how Wisterman got back into his home after being shot.

Sheriff’s personnel processed the crime scene throughout the night and as of about 3:30 a.m. – when the scene was cleared – no suspect was in custody, Bauman said.

He said the shooting is pending further investigation and Wisterman’s condition is believed to be critical as of this release.


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Herons are expert fishers and often are seen near the water. Courtesy photo.





A very special caller has been helping us out on the farm of late. The visits are usually in the early morning hours just before dawn and again at dusk. We see him most often at the little fish pond in the front yard, standing motionless and alone. Wary and alert, he waits for prey to come within range of his long sharp beak.

Standing about 4 feet tall, long-legged with dusky light feathers floating above the thicker gray-blue feathers of his back and neck, he will begin a slow, measured gait away from the pond. Moving at a snail's pace towards the nearest gopher hole he suddenly strikes with a speed so great you can barely see his head move forward, and then he is back in position again with a vole or gopher proudly displayed in his beak. Then whoosh down the gullet it goes. Ahhh, breakfast!

Sometimes called Big Cranky, Long John, or Poor Joe, and often called the blue crane (although related, herons are in a different taxonomic family than are cranes), the great blue heron is the most common and largest of North American herons and one of the most widely distributed, breeding from southeastern Alaska to Nova Scotia and southward across the continent to Mexico and the West Indies.

Standing some 3 to 4½ feet tall and sporting a wingspan of nearly 6½ feet, great blues are a great joy to see in flight, often cruising at a speed of 20 to 30 miles an hour. As nature would never be without irony this beautiful bird, majestic in flight and displaying movements on the ground measured with the precision of a Swiss watchmaker, has a flight call that can only be described as a cranky honk, and when startled it produces a low pitched croak sounding much like grandpa waking from a deep sleep.

Great blues prefer to nest in colonies in very tall trees but will also nest by themselves in low shrubs. Typically their nests are flimsy, flat platforms of sticks about 18 inches across, but well-used older nests can be very bulky and measure 3 to 4 feet across. These older nests are generally repaired and used year after year, and may be lined with twigs, mosses, pine needles, reeds, and marsh grasses.

Generally, nesting occurs between March and May. The birds will lay three to seven eggs that are a pale blue-green to olive in color.

Both parents will take turns incubating the eggs and feeding the nestlings; when newly hatched, the nestlings are fed by the parents regurgitating food into the mouths of the chicks (usually fish) and then later onto the nest floor.

The young will start taking sustained flights around the nesting grounds 60 days after hatching and will abandon the nest between 65 and 91 days after hatching.

Great blues typically live between 10 and 21 years.




A great blue heron nabs a gopher. Photo by Rick Leche.



The great blue heron is protected by law and may not be kept in captivity without a permit. Adult great blues have few natural enemies. They are occasionally preyed upon or attacked by hawks or owls, but predation is not a limiting factor on their populations. The eggs and young can be heavily preyed upon in the nest by crows, ravens, hawks, owls, gulls and raccoons.

Historically populations of great blue herons were adversely affected by shooting and collecting of their plumage for fashion (for plumed women’s hats) and egg collecting, as well as by the extensive loss of wetland habitats in the U.S. within the last century.

Changing attitudes and the regulation of wetland losses in recent years have allowed great blue heron populations to recover and stabilize throughout much of the species’ range, though the potential for human-caused declines still exists.

As urban sprawl claims more of our beautiful landscape year after year, you can bet that wherever the interests of humans and wildlife collide the great blue heron is a good indicator of the environmental health of its region.

As one of many top-level predators, great blue herons cut a high profile within an ecosystem. These birds require wetland areas that are relatively disturbance-free for nesting, while feeding in both aquatic and terrestrial habitats throughout the year.

Environmental landscapes that support great blue herons clearly have many elements required to support a variety of other wildlife species.

Because they are waders and expert fishers the great blue heron is typically seen along coastlines, in marshes, or near the shores of ponds or streams. Their diet consists primarily of fish, but they also eat amphibians, reptiles, insects, crustaceans, and sometimes small mammals and birds.

They are often seen around rice fields, in open pastures (especially when wet), along creeks and in protected wetlands, or in my front yard eating the voles and gophers.



Debra Chase is the Executive Director of Tuleyome. She and her husband Dave reside on their farm in Colusa County. Tuleyome is a local nonprofit working to protect both our wild heritage and our agricultural heritage for future generations. Past Tuleyome Tales articles are available in the library section of their Web site, .

LAKE COUNTY – Subscribers to Mediacom's 22-channel basic service will get a lower-priced spread starting Monday, Jan. 4.

Lake County Mediacom system manager Shawn Swatosh said this week that the changes are designed to open up more channels for high-definition in the more expensive packages such as Family Cable, which carries 70 channels. He said two new HD channels were added Monday, for a total of 40.

Subscribers have been notified of the new channel lineup by mail.

Basic subscribers will lose Fit TV on Channel 21 to Shop NBC and ABC Family on 16 to the TBN religion channel. The QVC shopping channel on 18 will move to channel 14 and be replaced by the Home Shopping Network. KOVR, the CBS affiliate in Sacramento, will move from 14 to 13, previously a blank channel which once was a guide listing programs.

Swatosh said the changes are partly motivated by economics. “Fit TV kept raising their rates.” The shopping channels cost the cable provider nothing.

An Associated Press story published Tuesday in the Sacramento Bee said the entire “free TV” industry is in flux, with networks and local stations demanding higher fees from the cable systems for the right to broadcast their stations. They also face increased competition as cable channels proliferate. Some viewers turn to watching favorite shows on their computers at convenient times.

Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. owns Fox, reportedly told a shareholder meeting this fall that Fox "can no longer be supported solely by advertising revenues."

Swatosh said that as of Tuesday afternoon he had heard of no cancellations because of the new channel changes. He said there were several cancellations when the guide channel was eliminated.

Mediacom's franchise agreements with Lake County and with the city of Lakeport now are statewide franchises while the city of Clearlake has a franchise running until 2013. The statewide franchises were instituted in 2007 by the California legislature and require that the franchise holder pay 5 percent of its annual gross to the state, with the state expected to pass part of that back to cities and counties.

Jeff Rein, who oversees the franchise in the county's administration office, said he hasn't yet heard from the state about what amount the county can expect; the last annual check from Mediacom was for $280,000 in January, 2008.

E-mail Sophie Annan Jensen 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 Monday a judge denied a motion to separate the trials of two men accused of a September homicide.

Judge Arthur Mann ruled that Melvin Dale Norton, 38, and Shannon Lee Edmonds, 35, will stand trial for murder together. Jury selection in their trial is set to begin Jan. 12.

The men are charged with killing 25-year-old Shelby Uehling in the early morning hours of Sept. 22.

Edmonds is charged with murder with a special allegation of using a knife, while Norton faces charges of murder with a special allegation that he used a billy club, and assault with a deadly weapon with a special allegation of causing great bodily injury, according to court documents.

Uehling, who had recently moved to Lake County from the Bozeman area of Montana, had been seeing Edmonds' girlfriend – who temporarily had separated from Edmonds – which is alleged to have sparked the fatal confrontation.

The prosecution alleges that Norton found Uehling sleeping in his car in the Clearlake neighborhood, known as “the resorts,” where Edmonds and his girlfriend lived after the couple reconciled.

Norton is then alleged to have called Edmonds before grabbing a golf club and leaving to join Edmonds in going to Uehling's car. Uehling was found lying by the side of Old Highway 53 near the car, with his throat slit.

Stephen Carter, Norton's defense attorney, filed a motion late last month to separate Norton's trial from Edmonds', as Lake County News has reported.

Prosecutor Art Grothe – who had indicated to Lake County News that he planned to oppose the motion – filed a response to Carter's separation motion, but Judge Mann said he hadn't had a chance to read it before the hearing started Monday morning.

Mann, who said he intended to read through Grothe's motion after the hearing in order to issue the ruling Monday, asked Carter for any further arguments.

Carter cited a 1967 case, People vs. Massey, which set fourth four points to look at when considering a severance motion: if an incriminating confession from one of the defendants exists, if there is a prejudicial association, would confusion result from multiple counts and conflicting defense, and would a co-defendant give exonerating testimony.

“All four of these issues are present for Mr. Norton,” said Carter.

Carter said that Edmonds made incriminating statements during a phone call from jail – which law enforcement reportedly had recorded, according to court records – in which he admitted to causing Uehling's death, which he stated was done in self defense.

That's incredibly important in the case, said Carter, which charges Norton and Edmonds in going to Uehling's parked car and getting into a fight with him.

Carter added that he wasn't saying that Norton was completely innocent of everything, although the jury may find that to be the case.

He said his client has stated that he went up to talk with Uehling about being a problem for Edmonds' girlfriend and the situation unfolded.

Convenience of trying both men at the same time isn't a good reason for the joint trial, Carter said.

“We don't mean to bash Mr. Edmonds but simply to show that these two defendants are very differently situated,” Carter said.

Edmonds' involvement in the Renato Hughes case also is expected to come up in the prosecution, and Carter was concerned about the potential for prejudicial impacts on his client's case.

Hughes and two friends had allegedly broken into Edmonds' Clearlake Park home in December of 2005; as they fled Edmonds shot two of the men in the back and Hughes was prosecuted for their deaths under the provocative act law because he was allegedly taking part in a crime that could result in a lethal response. Hughes later was acquitted of the murder charges.

Carter also referenced a later situation in which Edmonds allegedly tried to get his then-girlfriend, Lori Tyler, to commit suicide with him.

While those two issues may be admissable in Edmonds' trial, Carter said they shouldn't be allowed to be presented during Norton's.

“Mr. Norton has nothing to do with any of those things,” Carter said, and to have him tried with Edmonds “puts Mr. Norton in a very bad position.”

Carter said he expected both men would testify in their trials and would be forthcoming. “But having their cases joined has a chilling effect on my client, Mr. Norton, to testify,” he said.

One central concern was that neither Norton or Edmonds have waived time, meaning their trial proceedings need to move forward in short order. Carter said the time waiver issue didn't need to affect the requested separation.

In arguing against separating the two prosecutions, Grothe told the court, “The factual scenario here is rather important.”

He said the two defendants are friends. A conflict arose between Edmonds and Uehling over Uehling's involvement with the woman. Subsequently, Norton allegedly saw Uehling sleeping in his car at around 1 a.m. Sept. 22, which prompted him to call Edmonds.

Grothe said Edmonds armed himself with a knife and an asp – or a billy club – and Norton took with him a golf club which later was found buried in the dash of Uehling's car.

He said he wouldn't characterize the two mens' statements as “entirely forthcoming,” but they're not necessarily inconsistent and therefore, “There is not a conflicting defense between the two.”

Citing the 2007 Tafoya case which went before the California Supreme Court, Grothe said severing a joint prosecution only is appropriate if it would be so grossly unfair that it would deprive a defendant of a fair trial.

He said he was introducing information about prior cases involving Edmonds, but he didn't plan to use them in the case in chief, and anticipated the trial court would “severely manage” how and when that information is used.

Grothe argued that Norton and Edmonds “jointly planned and executed” the crime, afterwards changing out of their bloodstained clothing at Norton's place.

Attorney Doug Rhoades, representing Edmonds, joined Grothe in opposing the motion. “I am not in favor of severance at this time,” Rhoades said.

Addressing Grothe's allegations that Uehling's death was jointly planned by Edmonds and Norton, Carter said, “That's not borne out by the evidence.”

Carter said the trial's timing and judicial economy “should not carry the day” when a person is facing life in prison.

Mann asked Carter about the impact of the potential severance due to the time waiver.

Carter said he'd considered it but didn't have a definite answer. He suggested, however, that it would be appropriate for Edmonds' trial to move forward and Norton's to follow, since he had made the severance motion.

Grothe maintained that they couldn't do two separate trials in a narrow time frame. Carter suggested his client would waive time in a limited aspect if the motion were granted.

Noting that the time waiver and the possibility that Edmonds would testify in Norton's trial both weren't certain, Grothe said, “I don't like to rely on either of those maybes.” He said he planned to offer Edmonds' statement in a recorded jail phone call in the trial as an admission.

After speaking with Norton – seated beside Edmonds in the back row of the jury box – Carter said Norton would waive time until after Edmonds' trial was completed.

At the end of the hearing, which lasted around 20 minutes, Mann said he would take the matter under consideration and issue his ruling by day's end, which he did. The ruling against the motion came out before 4 p.m.

“It likely will be a big issue on appeal should Mr. Norton be convicted of anything at trial,” Carter said late Monday.

Two more hearings currently are scheduled before the trial starts next week, including a settlement conference on Wednesday and a trial assignment hearing Friday, Carter said.

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

Flotilla 88 Commander Harry De Lope receives the Flotilla of the Year award from Division Commander Rich Thomas and Vice Division Commander Jill Munger. Photo courtesy of Dorothy De Lope.


LAKE COUNTY – The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Flotilla 88 of Lake County has been honored for excellence in its efforts to serve the community.

The group recently won “Flotilla of the Year” for 2009.

At the Dec. 13 Division 08-08 meeting at the Benbow Inn in Garberville, with four flotillas represented, Lake County's Flotilla won the honor of being selected as Flotilla of the Year based on total number of volunteer hours.

Flotilla 88 Commander Harry De Lope said the flotilla received the award because its 49 members devoted a total of 4,876 hours to Coast Guard administrative and missions supports in 2009.

Those volunteer hours covered 146 safety patrols, 25 regatta patrols, 18 marine safety patrols, 164 Coast Guard support hours, 20 boaters assists and $37,000 property saved, and 180 vessel inspections, De Lope said. The group also published 35 public affairs articles.

The prestigious award will be displayed at the Lake County Courthouse in the flotilla's showcase adjacent to the elevators on the first floor, according to flotilla officials.

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Will contracts are agreements to dispose of property by will in a specified manner (such as gifts to relatives and friends), not to revoke an existing will (or wills) or not to make a will at all (and so allow one’s property go to one’s intestate heirs).

When used at all, a will contract often is between persons contemplating marriage (e.g., regarding premarital property agreements); married persons (e.g., in order to protect children from prior relationships); persons involved in dissolving their marriage (e.g., as part of a settlement agreement); or between someone who is receiving personal services and the care giver involved (e.g., involving compensation for a personal services contract).

An example would an agreement between husband and wife that the surviving spouse shall leave everything equally between the deceased spouse’s children (50 percent) and the surviving spouse’s own children (50 percent). Another example is an agreement by someone receiving personal care at home (say cleaning and companionship services) to leave a significant gift to the caregiver.

Will contracts are valid under California law; they are governed by the law of contracts, not the law of wills. Therefore, to be enforceable the contracting parties must have mental capacity to contract and voluntarily give their consent (i.e., without coercion); have a lawful objective (i.e., not an agreement to do something that is unlawful or contrary to public policy – such as to require that a beneficiary marry inside of a certain religious faith in order to inherit). In addition, the contract must be supported by consideration; that is, each party must get something.

Presuming a valid contract, its terms and provisions can ideally be established by a written contract signed by the parties; otherwise, without such an independent writing, by means of a will that either contains the material provisions of the contract or an express reference to the contract, with the terms of the contract proved by external evidence.

Failing that, when necessary to prevent an injustice, clear and convincing evidence of an agreement or a promise that is enforceable in equity (i.e., fair play and justice require enforcement) is also allowed.

Will contracts, not surprisingly, are very difficult and expensive to draft. They involve describing the property interests subject to the contract, defining the rights of the parties to use or dispose of the properties (and any income), providing remedies to any breach of contract, and providing flexibility to respond to unanticipated future circumstances.

Often such planning results in lawsuits, such as over whether the surviving party may consume or gift away the property received from the deceased party to the detriment of the deceased party’s intended purpose.

Also, controversy may result over tracing the proceeds from the sale of certain property that was part of the contract. Thus, while lawful, will contracts are undesirable and should be avoided. Fortunately, much better alternatives such as trusts or reciprocals wills exist. These alternatives are controlled by the law of trusts and wills.

That is, instead of using a will contract, the parties could use a trust and become co-trustees. The trust could either start out as irrevocable or become irrevocable on the death of the first party to die.

Alternatively, the parties could execute reciprocal wills – with identical dispositions at each death – and establish a testamentary trust at the death of the first party to die.

Drafting these types of documents is less expensive and the results are more predictable, due to the controlling statutory and case law being better defined. Thus, litigation is less likely, a definite plus.

Dennis A. Fordham, attorney (LL.M. tax studies), is a State Bar Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Probate and Trust Law. His office is at 55 1st St., Lakeport, California. Dennis can be reached by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone at 707-263-3235.

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MIDDLETOWN – A local woman had to be extricated from her vehicle following a New Year's Day crash near Middletown.

Highway 29 was closed down for a time as rescue personnel cut Middletown resident Kathleen Gregory, 51, out of her vehicle, according to a California Highway Patrol report.

The crash occurred at 5 p.m. on Highway 29 near the Dry Creek Cutoff, according to CHP Officer Steve Tanguay.

Kathleen Noble, 43, of Middletown was driving her Saturn Vue southbound on Highway 29, approaching Dry Creek Cutoff, as Gregory was heading eastbound on the cutoff in her 1989 Acura Legend, approaching the stop sign at Highway 29, Tanguay explained.

According to the collision report, Gregory did not stop at the posted stop sign and moved forward onto the highway directly in front of Noble, and Noble's Saturn hit the left side of Gregory's Acura.

Tanguay said Gregory had to be extricated from her vehicle and was flown by helicopter to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital for her injuries.

Officer Mark Barnes is investigating the collision, according to the report.

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Whether you’ve made your new year’s resolutions already or if you haven’t, I want you to think about adding one more thing to your list for the new year. I do it every year myself: Try some new foods.

You could call it your culinary “bucket list” or just a simple “There, I tried it, now leave me alone” list. Personally I try to experience as many different types of foods and flavors as I can. This is not only to be able to say that I’ve tried it but I’m looking to possibly add it to my own kitchen. After all, you are going to be eating for the rest of your life, why should you stick with the same old thing over and over again? Why not expand your culinary horizons to something that may change your way of cooking forever?

I cooked a pig’s head recently just to say I’ve done it. Unfortunately for a culinary adventurer like myself, at this point in my life there are very few things that I haven’t at least tried so things keep getting more and more exotic. This year my list of new things to try will include things like lamb’s eyeballs, canned gooseneck barnacles and Bhut Jolokia chilis.

I don’t expect everyone to be as adventurous as that. I don’t even expect my own family to try all those things (although here’s hoping they will!).

Here’s my list of things you might not have tried before but should in 2010.

Asian fish sauce

Buy a bottle, but make it a small bottle. It doesn’t spoil even at room temperature, so you will most likely own it for the rest of your life (unless you are like me and develop a taste for it and try to put it in everything).

Ignore the people who say it tastes like anchovies and armpits – although they are correct – still, ignore them and try it. It’s used as liquid salt in many Asian cuisines. It adds salt and a distinctive anchovy-like flavor to many dishes. It is the parent sauce of Worcestershire sauce.

Puy (aka green) lentils

Available at local health food stores, green lentils don’t dissolve into a paste when cooked like other lentils do. Sometimes called “caviar lentils” since they mildly resemble caviar. They take about 20 minutes to cook, and take about 10 minutes longer if you cook them in an acidic liquid. They have a firm texture and are almost impossible to overcook.

Use them as a side dish, as an addition to soups, salads, even bread. They can even be spouted. They have a fantastic unique flavor, and are high in protein.


Every time I buy sake someone asks what it tastes like and I tell them, “Wine tastes like grapes intensified a thousand times, and sake tastes like rice intensified a thousand times.” Good quality sake should be drunk cold. The practice of drinking sake warm was to hide the fact that after the war American GIs were being served cheap sake and heating it hid its bad qualities.

The thing that most people don’t know is that it is impossible to get a hangover from good quality sake. Try adding a couple of tablespoons of sake to the water in which you cook your rice.


Capers are the pickled unopened flower buds from a Mediterranean shrub. They are salty and sour, with floral overtones.

Popular in sauces like puttanesca, they add a brightness to even the heaviest sauce, especially tartar sauce. Mayonnaise, lemon juice, chopped dill pickles, and chopped capers is my favorite accompaniment for French fries.

A rarer find are caper berries, the pollinated flower “seed”; they are similar in taste but look like an olive with a stem attached and less delicate of a flavor. These are popular as a cocktail garnish. If you are really curious about them let me know – I’ve got a huge jar of them in the fridge.

Israeli couscous

Different from regular couscous in that it is larger and toasted. It is sometimes called “pearled couscous.” This is one item that my family enjoys too.

Boil in water or stock, drain, then serve with butter. You could change things up by draining the couscous and then tossing in a handful of grated cheddar while still hot and stir to combine.

If you don’t want to try Israeli couscous, orzo (in the pasta section of your grocery store) also is a great thing to play with. It’s rice-shaped pasta that's a great change from rice with dinner.

Look for Israeli couscous in the Kosher area of your grocery store. I always have this in my kitchen.

Italian-style Giardiniera

A traditional pickled Italian vegetable mix. My father-in-law used to make it at home and so my wife says the smell of Giardiniera is “the smell of summer.” It's carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, pearl onions, red bell peppers, and pepperoncini in a salty/sour brine.

Chicago has a Giardiniera sandwich spread that is nothing like the Italian-style Giardiniera (Why does Chicago have Giardiniera that isn’t Giardiniera and a pizza that isn’t a pizza, and what’s up with those hot dogs? Chicago is a culinary dichotomy).

Giardiniera is a great snack food, especially if served cold during the summer. I snack on it year-round. I always have a jar in my fridge and one or two more in my pantry.

Kava tea

Kava Kava is derived from the root of the pepper tree and contains a narcotic that is very popular with men in Micronesia where it grows. The Kava Kava drink that is popular in New Zealand tastes like muddy water and gives your mind a foggy narcotic veil for a couple minutes (I had it once while on vacation).

The Kava tea (available at many local health food and grocery stores) is much better tasting and puts a much milder narcotic veil like effect. I drink it after a stressful day just before bedtime. CAUTION: It WILL show up on a drug test, so drink it appropriately. In New Zealand, men who abuse Kava Kava develop impotence.

Palm hearts

Eaten fresh in the American South and Caribbean where they grow, Southerners call it “Cajun cabbage,” which is confusing since it is nothing like cabbage.

Commonly found in jars and cans in the canned vegetables aisle, it has a taste and texture like nothing you have ever experienced before. It looks like shiny, bulky, white sticks of chalk. I like to chop some coarsely and throw it on salads to bring to potluck dinners. It’s fun to watch the looks on people’s faces when they see them and can't quite figure out what they are.

Very mild flavored, palm hearts are a fascinating ingredient to use and even just snack on plain. My first experience with palm hearts was in the Cayman Islands and are a part of one of my greatest and fondest memories.

If you can’t see yourself eating even one of these ingredients, go ahead and make your own list. Try a new vegetable, a new fruit, a new sauce, a new deli meat, a new cheese, a new liqueur, a new flavor of ice cream, a new spice … you’re getting the idea. Just open yourself to something you have never experienced before.

I’d love to hear your comments about the new things you’ve tried and what you thought about them.

Have fun with new ingredients, and Happy New Year!

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, .

The badly damaged Beats Workin' II, photographed on August 27, 2009, shortly before it was released from evidence by the Lake County Sheriff's Office. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

LAKE COUNTY – On the morning of Thursday, Aug. 20, following six hours of jury deliberations, 13 days of testimony and 51 witnesses, a Lake County jury acquitted a Carmichael man of charges that he had been responsible for a fatal boat crash three years and four months earlier.

Bismarck Dinius, 41, hugged his attorney, Victor Haltom, in relief after the verdict from the nine-man, three-woman jury was read.

While the verdict brought an end to a long and complex criminal case, it also would open a new chapter in Dinius' story, one that will include a federal civil rights lawsuit set to be filed against the county of Lake early in the new year.

On that August morning, the jury found that Dinius was not guilty of felony boating under the influence causing great bodily injury or a misdemeanor count of boating under the influence. The jury deadlocked 11-1 on a misdemeanor count of boating with a blood alcohol level of more than 0.08, a charge later dismissed.

Dinius had been at the tiller of the sailboat Beats Workin' II, owned by then-Willows resident Mark Weber, on Clear Lake on the night of April 29, 2006, out for an evening sail with friends following the Konocti Cup sailing races earlier that day.

On board were Weber's longtime girlfriend, Lynn Thornton, 51, and two new friends she had invited along – Zina Dotti and Ed Dominguez.

At about 9 p.m., as the sailboat was heading back across Konocti Bay to its mooring point at Richmond Park Bar & Grill – where Konocti Cup participants had gathered for a post-race dinner earlier that evening – the sailboat was hit from behind by a powerboat driven by Russell Perdock, an off-duty sheriff's deputy, who was accompanied by his friend, James Walker, and Walker's teenager daughter, Jordin.

Weber and Dinius both were seriously injured, as was Jordin Walker. Thornton died a few days later at UC Davis Medical Center due to blunt force trauma injuries to the head.

While Perdock wasn't charged, Dinius was. District Attorney Jon Hopkins alleged that Dinius had blood alcohol level of 0.12 at the time of the crash and that he had failed in his duty to have the sailboat's navigation lights on. A test had found Weber had a blood alcohol level of 0.18.

Haltom's experts – including Dr. William Chilcott – maintained the sailboat's lights were on, and that they had been knocked out when Perdock's powerboat – estimate to be traveling around 45 miles per hour – hit the sailboat, traveled up its mast and landed in the water on the boat's other side.

The trial drew worldwide attention, particularly from the sailing community, whose members felt that Dinius was being targeted in an effort to protect Perdock.

The case gained increasing attention since it was filed in 2007, almost exactly a year after the crash had occurred. That initial filing had included a manslaughter charge that Hopkins dismissed in July, about a week and a half before the trial started on July 28. Hopkins said, in doing so, that it was his opinion that the civil case settlement resolved the issues of responsibility for Thornton's death.

“Our first reaction was one of utter shock and, really, of outrage,” said Rick Thomsen, one of Lynn Thornton's older brothers who lives in Texas. “We thought, they're charging Bismarck Dinius and not Russell Perdock?”

Carol Stambuk, a close friend of Thornton's and the executor of her will, said Thornton – who at the time of her death had just retired from her job as an investigator with the state dental board – was “beyond safety conscious,” and she wouldn't have invited Dotti and Dominguez out on an unlit sailboat. Neither would Weber have gone out without the required running lights, she said.

Rick Thomsen agreed, noting his sister was very careful. “If she would have seen it was unlit, she would have said something.”

Roger Thomsen, Thornton's oldest brother, said after the crash, the first thing he asked Weber was if the lights were on. He said Weber looked him in the face and said yes, they were.

Thornton's friends and family said they wanted to share information with authorities, but weren't given the chance. So instead they wrote letters to the court and to Hopkins, which they said weren't acknowledged.

Hopkins said this week that he stands by the decisions he made in the case.

“The difficulty with the case was that the law regarding boating under the influence specifically states that the operator of a vessel is the person steering it,” he said this week.

While that's easy to understand where someone is steering a motor boat – because it's much like a car – Hopkins said the situation with a sailboat operator is much more complex, but there is not a separate definition for operating a sailboat.

“Our position was that since the law says the person steering the vessel is subject to the boating under the influence laws, that person was Dinius and it was his responsibility to be sober enough to know what he was in charge of as the helmsman steering the sailboat,” Hopkins said. “The owner of the sailboat was not steering, so he couldn’t be prosecuted for boating under the influence.”

Although he said many people wanted Perdock prosecuted simply because he was a deputy sheriff rather than the strength of the evidence, he said Perdock's blood was tested before Dinius' was and Perdock was found to have no alcohol in his system.

“There were really only two options for a prosecutor, turn your back on a case where an intoxicated person was the operator of a sailboat without running lights at night where another person was killed, or prosecute the intoxicated operator,” he said.




The Baja powerboat owned by Russell Perdock that collided with the Beats Workin' II on April 29, 2006. The boat was photographed on August 27, 2009, after the conclusion of the trial and before it was released from evidence by the Lake County Sheriff's Office. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



Case moves to trial

In 2008, Haltom had staged a tough defense during a preliminary hearing that stretched across four days in May and June, but in the end it was left up to a jury to decide.

The trial was set to begin May 19, with Judge J. Michael Byrne, a retired visiting judge, presiding.

But Deputy District Attorney John Langan, who was handling the case at the time, had filed a motion for a delay, seeking more time to investigate new information that he had received that indicated Perdock may have been at Konocti Harbor Resort & Spa in the hours before the crash, and that a deputy had corroborated former Sgt. James Beland's allegation that he was ordered not to give Perdock a breathalyzer test at the scene. Perdock's blood test occurred at St. Helena Hospital Clearlake.

During a May 19 hearing, Langan told the court he was concerned that he wouldn't be able to complete an in-depth investigation into the information, and stated that 911 calls in the crash had been purged. He indicated he might dismiss the case at a June 12 hearing.

“It's a possibility given the amount of investigation that we believe we would need to ethically do now before presenting a trial that would be fair to both sides,” Langan said at the time.

But Langan didn't get the chance to dismiss the case. At the June 12 hearing, Hopkins appeared, having taken over the case the previous week. At that time, Hopkins told the court the case would continue.

Over the following month, the sheriff's office would discover copies of the 911 tapes in the case, which Lake County News reported in an exclusive July 6 story. The information was disclosed to Lake County News as part of a Freedom of Information Act request filed for information about the 911 tapes.

When it finally began, the trial stretched over a month, as Hopkins and Haltom argued facts and battled over the allegations.

While Dinius was in the courtroom every day, he wasn't the only one on trial. The sense throughout the proceedings was that two men were being tried – Perdock in absentia, and Dinius in person. At times, Haltom seemed more of a prosecutor and Hopkins a defender, as Haltom attempted to focus the blame on Perdock.

Haltom told Lake County News this week that the majority of the discovery evidence he received from the prosecution was provided after the trial started.

Perdock had been scheduled to testify as a prosecution witness on Aug. 6, but Hopkins surprised the court by resting his case without calling Perdock to the stand. It later emerged that Hopkins had been notified that Perdock – on medical leave since June – was the subject of an internal affairs investigation.

Haltom called Perdock to the stand on Aug. 11. At that time, Perdock spent about an hour and a half on the stand, and during testimony maintained he had not set foot at Konocti Harbor Resort & Spa that day.

When the verdict was delivered to a hushed and crowded courtroom on Aug. 20, it was greeted with relief by the defense team and Thornton's friends and family, who said they were happy for Dinius.

“The right decision was made,” said Stambuk.

“My reaction to the verdict was, finally he gets justice,” said Roger Thomsen. “Thank God Dinius got off, and thank God the people of Lake County didn't buy into what the prosecutor was saying.”

Rick Thomsen was off from work on the day the verdict came in. He said he and his family in Texas stood around the computer and watched the Twitter updates come through from Lake County News and Bay Area reporter Dan Noyes.

“It was so weird, we kept saying to each other, this is like our verdict,” He said. “We were so nervous.”

He added, “It was like a family member of ours was on trial.”

Dinius said he and his wife greeted the verdict with joy and exhaustion.

“We were pretty confident that there wasn't a jury in the world that was going to convict me,” he said.

Weber said the verdict came out the way he had hoped, but he emphasized that it never should have gone to trial.

He also had taken the stand, and said he had been eager to do so after nearly three and a half years of keeping silent due to fears he also might be prosecuted.

Haltom said that, to him, the injustice of the prosecution was compelling to him.

“To this day, I can't figure out what made Lake County authorities tick,” he said.

He believes, as he asserted in court, that there was an effort to protect Perdock at the expense of Dinius.

“They had to know he was not guilty of causing Lynn's death,” Haltom said of his client.

Haltom, who also was strained financially by devoting himself entirely to the case, has gotten back to work in his own practice.

But he's far from done with the case.

He and the Northern California Innocence Project – which worked with him on Dinius' trial – are assisting Berkeley attorney Lawrence Masson in a civil rights case expected to be filed next month against the county of Lake. They've compiled a “mountain of documents” – Haltom estimated there are 10,000 pages of information compiled in the case so far.

The action will include a defamation filing against Hopkins – who before the trial issued a public letter on his reasons for pursuing the case – and also will name Sheriff Rod Mitchell, Perdock and some other individuals within the Lake County Sheriff's Office and the District Attorney's Office.

“The ground work has been laid,” he said.

Masson couldn't be reached for comment on Thursday.

While the verdict was a relief, it couldn't bring back Thornton, a beloved partner, mother, sister and friend.

“The person who killed my sister is still out there,” said Roger Thomsen, referring to Perdock.

“We're still grappling with, what about Lynn?” Stambuk said.

In the case of Perdock, Mitchell confirmed to Lake County News this week that he still has not returned to work after being placed on medical leave in June.

Officials defend their work on the case

Hopkins said if Perdock had been charged, his attorney would have argued that he was sober, his speed couldn't be proved beyond reasonable doubt, that a reasonable speed would have resulted in the death, that all the witnesses to the collision said that the sailboat did not have its running lights on and that Dinius and Weber – both of whom were determined to be intoxicated – were responsible for the death.

“There is no way any responsible prosecutor would have charged the chief deputy,” said Hopkins. “The only reason would have been political and designed to curry favor with some people.”

Hopkins said the negative publicity – which he called “the most extreme example of abuse of publicity in a criminal case that I have seen in my 38 years in the criminal justice system” – resulted in a lot of people basing their opinions about the case on misinformation. Attempts to pressure his office even resulted in personal threats.

“It disturbs me that people who don't know me and how committed I am to making the right decisions and seeking justice, make all these outlandish untrue claims that can impact the confidence our local people have in their system of justice,” he said. “It doesn't affect the way I approach my work, because I know who I am and intend to remain true to myself.”

Hopkins said he's believed throughout his career that he can't base decisions “on the whims of political opinion.” He added that, “Decisions motivated by fear are not in the best interest of public safety.”

Like Hopkins' staff, Mitchell's also received abusive messages and harsh criticisms about the case. “My staff took an undue beating,” he said.

He said he feels his agency is a good enough organization to learn from cases like this one. “We do have to learn things from it.”

There are things there will never been in his control, he said. “I don't think anything was going to change the outcome of that case.”

Mitchell said he worked to be transparent, and brought in outside agencies – including a Sacramento County Sheriff's investigator and the Attorney General's Office, which reviewed his handling of the case and didn't find issues. “The attorney general validated our process,” he said.

“The filing is what seemed to alter the course,” he said.

Many people believe the criminal case filing was an injustice, and they associated the investigation with that filing, he said. “I think the evidence shows we did an unbiased investigation.”

Shortly after the trial ended, Mitchell asked a three-person panel to gather questions from the community, which he answered and posted online at his Web site under “Debriefing: The Final Report – November 3, 2009” ( ). The information was voluminous, and accompanied the sheriff's investigative files in the case.

Overall, he's received positive feedback from it, although he noted there is still confusion because of the sheer amount of information about the case.

Mitchell added of the case, “What I know to be true is nothing I would ever say for publication.”

Dinius deals with trial aftermath

Since the trial ended, Dinius said he's been coming to terms with the physical, emotional and financial impacts of his prosecution, all of which have been severe.

Even though the prosecution lost its case, Dinius said the case has left his life in ruins.

On May 18, he lost his job with Verizon, and with the Sacramento area's unemployment at nearly 18 percent, he's been unable to find work.

He's been trying to regroup, has sailed a little with a friend and said he's found out who his friends are – and who they aren't. He's grateful for the support from Thornton's family, and he said he thinks about her all the time.

Financially, “It's ruined me,” he said, noting his defense bills totaled about $300,000. While he's been unemployed he's struggled to pay off the experts in the case, but still owes Haltom – who worked the case full time for about six months before and during the trial – a large sum of money.

Dinius said the aftermath of the trial has been a difficult time.

“It really was the beginning of a different chapter,” he said. “It's been a struggle.”

“I feel so bitter about the district attorney and the sheriff's department and the way that they handled it and the way they treated me,” he said.

He said he's been very grateful for the financial support and notes of encouragement from people around the world, especially those in Lake County, for which he has a fondness thanks to that outpouring. He said he and his wife have been moved by the messages they've received.

“It's not over for me,” he said.




Lynn Thornton and her older brothers in happier times

CLEARLAKE OAKS – A Clearlake Oaks woman suffered major injuries last week when she was hit by a car while crossing Highway 20.

Ronda Gullickson, 49, sustained major injuries to her legs and arms Dec. 29 after being hit while walking with her dog in a marked crosswalk west of Acorn Street near the Red and White Market, according to the California Highway Patrol.

With Gullickson was 24-year-old Jonathan Miraville, who was not reported to have been injured in the crash, which occurred shortly before 5:30 p.m., according to the CHP report.

Officer Steve Tanguay said Chris Cravalho, 53, of Clearlake was driving his 1997 Chevrolet Lumina westbound on Highway 20 when he struck Gullickson.

An ambulance from Northshore Fire Protection's Clearlake Oaks station transported Gullickson to Sutter Lakeside Hospital, Tanguay said.

Gullickson's dog also was injured, and was transported home by her father, according to the CHP.

Tanguay said Officer Steve Curtis is investigating the collision.

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The historic stone wall in the foreground made for a great frame to this sunset show Miguel Lanigan took about half a mile west of Clearlake Oaks in December.


LAKE COUNTY – A good way to start the new year is with gratitude, especially for the beauty and natural wonders of Lake County.

Local readers are generous with contributions and pictures, and to start the new year off we've compiled a group of pictured submitted by readers over the past month.

Photos always are welcome; e-mail them to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with information about who took the photos, when they were taken and where.

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

A hummingbird visits a feeder at the home of Clearlake Oaks resident Miguel Lanigan, who snapped the shot in December.

Frank Hodges of Lucerne sent in this colorful sunrise captured in December.

Lucerne resident Lenny Matthews captured this sunset

Konocti Harbor Resort & Spa closed temporarily but indefinitely in November 2009. Courtesy photo.



KELSEYVILLE – In November, an era of music and entertainment ended in Lake County, when its premier resort, Konocti Harbor Resort & Spa, closed its doors.

The news that the resort would close temporary but indefinitely came to light in early September, after Boca Raton, Fla.-based WhiteStar Advisors LLC – an asset management company that was put in charge of overseeing the resort following a federal lawsuit that was settled in 2007 – began notifying local, state and federal officials of the closure.

As many as 700 employees – the resort's peak seasonal workforce – were estimated to lose jobs.

While the job losses inflated already high unemployment in the county, harder to quantify is the impact on other local businesses, which benefited from the concert goers that the resort drew.

The county also is losing significant transient occupancy – or bed – tax from the resort, according to county officials.

Also in September, the 90-acre resort was listed for $15 million with a local Realtor, a listing that later was canceled.

That sales price was $10 million below a sales price that had been established in 2007 with Page Mill Properties, after the federal Department of Labor's lawsuit was settled. The Page Mill deal later fell through.

Later in September, James Bishop, managing director of WhiteStar Advisors LLC, told Lake County News that the resort was under a sales contract, but he would not divulge the potential buyer or the price. That contract didn't involve a local Realtor, he said.

Since the September news of a sales contract, few new details about a potential new owner for the resort have emerged.

WhiteStar has not returned calls seeking comment on the resort's sales status. Greg Bennett, the resort's president and general manager, also could not be reached for comment.

County officials also haven't received details from WhiteStar, according to County Administrative Officer Kelly Cox.

Cox said the county communicated with the resort's owners and their representatives about assistance that the county may have been able to provide to help keep the resort from closing. He said the county may also be able to assist new owners.

“The current owners and their representatives are aware of the county's strong desire for the resort to have remained open,” he said. “They are also aware of our desire for the resort to reopen at the earliest possible date.”

Cox said the county has actively sought potential buyers for the resort and have arranged for them to meet with the resort owners' current representatives. They've also been supportive when other potential buyers have contacted the county for information about the resort.

If the resort weren't to reopen, Cox anticipated “a negative long-term impact on our unemployment rate and on many sectors of the local economy.”

He continued, “There are many local small businesses who have been largely dependent upon the business generated through Konocti harbor resort. The local tourist industry will be the most heavily impacted but it will also impact other sectors of the economy. It is extremely important that the resort be reopened.”

In 2004, the US Department of Labor filed a lawsuit against Local 38 of the United Association of Plumbers, Pipefitters and Journeymen, whose Convalescent Trust Fund, Lakeside Haven, had owned Konocti Harbor since 1959.

Last year, the resort's ownership was transferred into the ownership of a trustee, according to county property records.

The Department of Labor suit alleged that Local 38's current and former trustees violated federal law by diverting more than $36 million from retirement, health, scholarship, apprenticeship, and vacation and holiday funds to renovate and operate Konocti Harbor, as Lake County News has reported.

Federal officials told Lake County News that they estimated the union actually transferred closer to $54 million from the trust fund between 1994 and 2004.

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 .

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