Thursday, 25 July 2024

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The grim reaper looks on as Lakeport Fire paramedics pull victims from a mock collison scene on Wednesday, April 15, 2009, at Clear Lake High School in Lakeport. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

 

 

Editor's note: The following story recounts a reenacted fatal crash scene, with staged rescue and arrests. No students were actually harmed, killed or arrested.


LAKEPORT – Dylan Rose is a bit of a cut up, and used to getting laughs from his fellow students at Clear Lake High School.


But no one was laughing when, during third period class on Wednesday, the grim reaper strode into classroom 119, his sickle looming in his hand, and plucked the 16-year-old junior out of class.


“I usually cover up things with laughter but I felt like crying,” Rose said.


An obituary for the teen was then read, describing his death in a fatal auto collision – along with two other teens – which was caused by alcohol. A red rose was left in his seat.


Rose was among 21 students pulled from classes – symbolic for being taken too early from their lives – and kept segregated from fellow students for the rest of the school day as part of the Every 15 Minutes program. The program takes its name from the statistic that a young person dies every 15 minutes from an alcohol-related incident.


Alexandra Wiggs, 17, a senior and a student coordinator for this year's Every 15 Minutes program at Clear Lake High, helped create the list of student casualties – along with fellow student coordinator Martin Diaz – in her work with the program over the last several months. She saw firsthand the reactions of her fellow students.


“I've gone into a lot of classrooms this morning, and I've seen a lot of disbelief, I've seen a lot of crying,” Wiggs said.


Diaz said they chose students of different backgrounds to serve as the mock casualties. Not all of the obituaries recounted deaths in DUI collisions; one student, said Diaz, was portrayed as having become drunk and drowned in a swimming pool.


Only the students working on the program in various capacities – either as coordinators or “casualties” – knew the Every 15 Minutes program was taking place on the school beginning on Wednesday. So Wiggs said it was a surprise to everyone.

 

 

 

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The "living dead" -- students who were pulled out of class every 15 minutes during the school day -- look on during the mock collision on Wednesday, April 15, 2009, at Clear Lake High School. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

 

 


The element of surprise is important to the program, which hammers home the message of how quickly, and unexpectedly, young lives can be lost when alcohol and vehicles mix.


The last time the two-day program was held at Clear Lake High was 2005. It's scheduled every four years so that every student experiences the program at least once in their high school career. This year's event was coordinated by Dale Stoebe and Jarvis Leishman, officers with the Lakeport Police Department.


Student casualties continued to be pulled out of classes all day, but the day's main event was held just before the lunch hour – a reenactment of a fatal two-car collision, staged on Hartley Street, which runs behind the high school.


Hundreds of students watched as police and fire department personnel responded to the scene, where three classmates were trapped in the crumpled cars.


The grim reaper hovered nearby, running his hand over the blade of his sickle, as firefighters pulled the teens from the cars, using saws and axes.


Several of the “living dead” – including Rose and fellow students who had been pulled out of class earlier in the day – looked on, their faces painted with heavy white makeup, their eyes ringed in black.


One of the mock collision victims was reported to be dead at the scene. Two others were listed as critical, with one of them suffering an amputated hand in the staged crash.


A fourth student was arrested for driving under the influence, and was taken to the jail and processed as he would be in the case of a real arrest.


A Lake County Sheriff's unit showed up to do coroner duties. Two coroners documented the scene, examining the body of the mock casualty, covered in a bright yellow sheet, while a sheriff's chaplain looked on. Chapel of the Lakes Mortuary later came to transport the body.

 

 

 

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The mock collision resulted in three "fatalities." The scene was staged on Hartley Street behind Clear Lake High School in Lakeport on Wednesday, April 15, 2009. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.
 

 

 


One of the staged collision victims was transported via Lakeport Fire ambulance to Sutter Lakeside Hospital's emergency room, where they were pronounced dead. REACH air ambulance landed at the school's football field and transported another victim to Sutter Lakeside also, where that student became the third “fatal” of the day.


Death notification teams were later dispatched to contact the parents of the students involved in the staged collision.


What followed was a painful 24 hours, in which parents and children, and friends and classmates, were separated.


The students spent the night away from home at the local National Guard armory, where Wiggs said they'll have team building exercises. There also will be the heart-wrenching work of writing goodbye letters to their families.


The separation will end with a Thursday morning assembly, where a mock funeral will be held, and some of those goodbye letters will be shared, both by students and parents. Guest speakers at the event will include Josh and Laura Farris, California Highway Patrol Officer Adam Garcia, Sheriff Rod Mitchell, Clear Lake High Principal Steve Gentry, Lakeport Police Chief Kevin Burke and Leishman.


Afterward, parents, friends and the “living dead” will be reunited in an emotional gathering. In a sense, it's a second chance for those who have experienced a degree of loss in a temporary, but still traumatic, setting.


Leishman said the Every 15 Minutes presentation at Clear Lake High is the result of eight months of planning. A 15-member committee guided the effort, which was assisted by 30 law enforcement officers and 20 fire personnel.


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

 

 

 

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A REACH air ambulance landed at Clear Lake High School's football field to transport one of the mock collision victims to Sutter Lakeside Hospital on Wednesday, April 15, 2009. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.
 

LAKEPORT – The case of a man accused of stabbing to death a young girl and seriously injuring her sister took an unusual turn on Monday afternoon, when he entered two new pleas – both of them guilty.


As his family looked on, James Roland Pagan, 32, stated “guilty” when Judge Arthur Mann asked him how he would plead to the charges of first-degree murder, with a special allegation of using a knife, and assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm.


He had previously pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, according to statements in court on Monday.


His defense attorney, Ken Roush, did not return calls from Lake County News seeking comment.


Pagan was accused of attacking Tessa Faith Walker, 10, and her sister, Kristen, 14, as the two girls walked through their Hidden Valley Lake neighborhood after getting home from school on March 21, 2008.


Tessa Walker died later the same day of of numerous stab wounds, while Kristen Walker was treated for a moderate stab wound, as Lake County News has reported.


Last September, following a preliminary hearing, Pagan had been ordered to stand trial on five felony counts, including the two he pleaded guilty to on Monday. No trial date had been set.


The other original counts – mayhem, attempted murder and inflicting injury on a child – were dismissed on Monday as part of the agreement reached between Roush and Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff.


Pagan, was led into the courtroom wearing a red and white jail uniform with his hands secured by handcuffs to his waist.


“Do we have a disposition?” asked Mann, who presided at the preliminary hearing last fall.


Roush said yes, and asked permission to approach the bench, handing Mann a document several pages long.


Hinchcliff told the court that the evidence in the case was “overwhelming.”


“There's no evidence that the defendant wasn't the perpetrator of the crimes that he is admitting to,” said Hinchcliff.


Three doctors evaluated Pagan, Hinchcliff said, with all of them concluding he was sane at the time of the girls' stabbings.


Mann asked Pagan if he had gone over the plea agreement with his attorney. “Yes, sir,” Pagan responded.


The judge the proceeded to ask Pagan for his pleas on the homicide and assault with a deadly weapon counts, receiving guilty pleas to both, with Pagan also admitting to the special allegation of using a knife.


Mann then asked Roush if he was withdrawing the previous pleas of not guilty by reason of insanity. Roush said he was going to submit them.


During the hearing, Pagan also waived his right to have a jury determine his sanity at the time of the alleged stabbings. Roush and Hinchcliff also waived a jury determination on the subject.


Based on the findings of each of the three doctors who evaluated Pagan, Mann found that Pagan was not insane at the time of the offenses. “I'll accept the defendant's pleas,” he said.


Mann added that the court found that the first-degree murder of Tessa Walker was willful and premeditated.


He ordered a probation report to be prepared before the sentencing, which will take place on May 11 at 1:30 p.m.


Hinchcliff said after the brief court session that he and Roush had been working for several months on the plea agreement, but it wasn't until Monday morning that he received word that the defense planned to offer the guilty pleas.


Pagan is looking at a potential maximum of 30 years to life, said Hinchcliff. The best case scenario for Pagan is that he could receive parole in 28 years.


Hinchcliff said it's “very unusual” to have a guilty plea entered in a first-degree murder case.


“This just happened to be a case where the evidence of guilt was overwhelming,” he said, adding there wasn't anywhere for the defense to go with the case.


Tessa Walker's family has been invited to give victim impact statements at Pagan's sentencing next month, but Hinchcliff said he doesn't know if they'll attend. The Walker family issued a statement after the attacks last year, offering their forgiveness to Pagan.


Pagan, a student who had lived with his parents in Hidden Valley Lake near to the Walker family, had no previous local criminal cases except a May 2007 traffic ticket, as Lake County News has reported.


Hinchcliff said Pagan has never stated why he stabbed the two young girls. He added that Pagan was not found to be on drugs or alcohol at the time of his arrest.


Asked about a theory for the motivation behind the stabbings, Hinchcliff said he had his own ideas, based on his experience as a prosecutor.


“My theory would be that he did it to get attention,” Hinchcliff said.


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

SACRAMENTO – Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee Chairman Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata) has asked the California Water Quality Control Board to report on progress the agency has made on revising proposed rules to regulate septic systems at a Committee hearing scheduled for Tuesday, April 14.


Earlier this year the Water Board proposed new regulations under AB 885 (2000) that, among several new requirements, would have made regular inspections of septic systems mandatory.


After encountering severe opposition from septic system owners at a dozen workshops across the state, the Water Board decided to withdraw its proposals and start over. New proposed regulations are expected to be announced later this year.


The Committee will also take action on three proposed bills related to AB 885 at Tuesday’s hearing.


The Committee hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. in Room 444 at the Capitol Building.

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District officials cut the ribbon dedicating the new Lower Lake High School gym on Tuesday, April 14, 2009. From left, Lower Lake High School Principal Jeff Dixon; school board member Hank Montgomery; project manager Harriet Rogers; school board members Carolynn Jarrett, Mary Silva, Anita Gordon and Herb Gura; and Lower Lake High School Athletic Director Marty Udy. Photo by Glen R. Erspamer Jr.
 

 




 

LOWER LAKE – On Tuesday evening, the Konocti Unified School District hosted a celebration of the new Lower Lake High School gym, a massive state-of-the-art facility that embodies the community's willingness to invest in a vision of better facilities for its children. {sidebar id=139}


The new building – which provides the largest indoor event space in the county – has been open to events since January, but Tuesday marked the gym's official dedication and ribbon-cutting.


District Board President Mary Silva wielded the ceremonial big pair of scissors as other board members held a ribbon in front of the main entrance.


The accomplishment inspired one board member, Carolynn Jarrett, to call Konocti Unified “the little district that could.”


Measure G, an $18 million bond voters passed with 71.6 percent approval in 2004, provided some of the funds for the $9.5 million gym, which officials said came in $750,000 under budget but took a little longer than expected to complete, with about 16 months between groundbreaking and it being open for use.


Cliff Lantz, who retired last year from his post as district assistant superintendent, said the district put together about $40 million in bond funding, modernization funds, developers fees, Clearlake redevelopment funds and state grant funds to carry out districtwide facilities improvements. The bonds were originally supposed to be sold in three rounds but the higher property assessments at the time allows them to sell the bonds in two sales.


Lantz, a member of the management team that helped guide the project in its initial stages, said those funds paid to remodel classrooms and multipurpose rooms at each of the district's school campuses – Lower Lake High didn't get a new multipurpose room because it got the new gym – and build new libraries at each school.


Lower Lake High's gym is the capstone in the series of projects.


Lantz said that $1 million still remains in the form of funds to be reimbursed by the state. When the district eventually receives that money, Lantz said the old Lower Lake High gym will be modernized to include a fitness room, and the school's old auto shop will be renovated and turned into a wrestling room.


During the ceremony, attended by about 250 people, Superintendent Dr. Bill MacDougall said the new gym is a testament to community involvement.

 

 

 

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Superintendent Dr. Bill MacDougall said the gym was an example of the community working together. Photo by Glen R. Erspamer Jr.
 

 

 


“Last year I asked a group of students what they liked best about Lake County and Clearlake,” he said.


Their answer: “In Clearlake, we help our own.”


MacDougall thanked the district's board members, local dignitaries and leaders, parents and students for their work to make the gym a reality.


Silva told the crowd, “This is such a great day.”


In the five years since the district decided to build the gym, it's faced numerous obstacles, including recent budget cuts, she said.


“Our district and community chose to invest in the future of our schools,” said Silva, noting that it's amazing what can be accomplished when people work together.


Silva said the district's schools exist and thrive out of hope for a brighter future for the community's children.


Former Superintendent Dr. Louise Nan said that dreams, when brought out into the daylight, become visions.


She noted that Tuesday was the 81st anniversary of the dedication of Lower Lake High School.


Nan said the district's board started the project after deciding that the children deserved better than what they had.


“I love you Lower Lake,” she said. “Enjoy what you have.”

 

 

 

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From left, Supervisor Jeff Smith, County Administrative Officer Kelly Cox and Supervisor Jim Comstock look on during the Lower Lake High School gym dedication ceremony on Tuesday, April 14, 2009. Photo by Glen R. Erspamer Jr.
 

 

 


Marty Udy, the school's athletic director, called the gym “something the kids can take pride in,” and said he's seeing them take care of the building.


It's also a point of pride, said Udy, to have a facility that is the envy of other schools.


Lower Lake High Principal Jeff Dixon – who called himself the luckiest principal on earth – noted the gym's use not just as an athletic facility but also as a great performance space, and the school's drama and music students proved Dixon right with several songs and skits. The school's jazz band even played a composition of Dixon's called “Play Ball,” to celebrate the building's sports use.

 

 

 

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Music teacher Cydney Dixon leads the concert choir in one of its performances during the gym dedication ceremonies on Tuesday, April 14, 2009. Photo by Glen R. Erspamer Jr.
 

 

 


Lower Lake Elementary's “Confused Souls” band also rocked the house, with second grader Gabrielle Murray singing a solo and fifth grader and singer Megan Smith, 10, of Lower Lake leading the bad through numbers that included “Twist and Shout,” a song she suggested that “some of you might have heard of.”


After the ceremony, Associated Student Body members offered tours of the facility as the band continued to play on.


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

 

 

 

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The new plaque that will be featured at the gymnasium, which Emmalena Illia

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Lakeport Fire personnel examine Stephan Brooks (behind motorcycle) following his collision with a pickup in Lakeport on Monday, April 13, 2009. Photo by Harold LaBonte.

 

 

 

LAKEPORT – A 69-year-old motorcycle rider from Nice escaped serious injury after being involved in a collision with a pickup truck Monday afternoon in Lakeport.


Stephan M. Brooks was riding his 2001 BMW motorcycle southbound on Main Street just after 3 p.m. Monday, with Mike Maitland, also of Nice, traveling behind him in a 1999 Chevy Silverado pickup.


Maitland told Lakeport Police that Brooks suddenly applied his brakes and stopped just short of the intersection at Main and C Streets, which resulted in the pickup colliding with the back of bike.


Lakeport Police Lieutenant Brad Rasmussen told Lake County News that Brooks believed that he had seen a woman getting ready to cross the street at the west side corner of Main and C streets. Brooks did not see the woman actually step off the curb but he decided to stop to allow her to cross just before the truck struck him.


Traffic was diverted around the scene for 20 minutes while Lakeport Fire medical personnel examined the rider and police officials removed the downed motorcycle.


Brooks was able to stand and with some assistance and walked to the nearby sidewalk where the initial investigation continued.


Both parties were found to be in legal compliance of the law and no citations were issued on scene.


Brooks' bright yellow motorcycle suffered very minor damage, while the pickup had noticeable damage to the front grill and headlights.


Brooks was reluctant at first to accept the medic’s suggestion to have him transported to Sutter Lakeside for closer examination. After he was assured of the security of his newly acquired motorcycle he agreed.


Sutter Lakeside personnel told Lake County News that Brooks had been examined and released but would not release any other information regarding his condition.


Police were still on scene more than an hour later looking for witnesses and hoping to find the woman preparing to cross the street.


Rasmussen said that until all possible witnesses have been contacted and interviewed no immediate determination of fault could be made.


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

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The Konocti Project raffle will raise funds towards the preservation and purchase of lands on top of Mt. Konocti. Courtesy photo.





LAKE COUNTY – Travel around Clear Lake and one towering view commands center of attention – Mt. Konocti.


While visible to so many people, few have actually experienced the spectacular views from the top – wide panoramas of Clear Lake and the Mayacamas, distant glimpses of Lake Berryessa and the Sutter Buttes. On a clear day, one can even see Mt. Lassen.


Lake County now has the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire 1,520 acres, putting much of the mountain top into public hands for perpetuity.


The ultimate goal – to link the County and Bureau of Land Management-owned land with Clear Lake State Park, making it possible to develop access from Clear Lake to the top of Mt. Konocti. Public donations through September will benefit the acquisition and allow the future purchase of additional properties.


Efforts to raise funds to assist with the purchase of Mt. Konocti are gaining momentum.


To assist in the fundraising effort, the Konocti Project Inc., a nonprofit organization devoted to the “preservation, exploration and protection of Mt. Konocti,” is sponsoring a raffle drawing to be held at the upcoming Heron Festival at Clear Lake State Park in Kelseyville


Kevin Kealey, currently managing the Konocti Project, and a group of volunteers have assembled a wonderful collection of prizes from local businesses and organizations.


“A number of people and businesses really stepped forward to help in our fundraising efforts,” said Kealey. “The prizes donated truly showcase the unique qualities that make Lake County special, from local award-winning wines to mini-ecotours and a winemaker’s dinner.”


Prize drawings will be held during the annual Heron Festival on April 26, 3 p.m. at the Mt. Konocti Acquisition Booth. Raffle tickets will be available for sale both days of the festival, with a donation of $10 for a book of five tickets.


Prizes include:


– Top of Mt. Konocti vehicle-guided tour with brown-bag lunch for four, sponsored by Lake County Department of Public Services.


– Winemaker dinner for eight people at the Rolling Knolls Vineyard in Lower Lake, from Shannon Ridge Vineyards.


– Lake County Winery Association (LCWA) Wine Cellar Collection of fine wines from Six Sigma, Gregory Graham, Tulip Hill, Wildhurst, Brassfield, Rosa d'Oro, Jeff Smith of Dusinberre Cellars and Langtry Estates.


– Lake County wine picnic basket with an assorted collection of Lake County wines provided by the Lake County Winegrape Commission.


– Tasting sampler of fine Lake County wines for four persons at Lake County Wine Studio in Upper Lake.


– Free one-day rental of a pontoon boat that holds eight people from the General Store at Clear Lake State Park.


– Guided kayak trip for two persons into either Anderson Marsh or down to Cache Creek Dam, provided by Herb Gura.


– Top-of-Mt. St. Helena vehicle-guided tour with brown-bag deli lunch for two person, sponsored by Pete McGee.


– Guided bird-watching eco-hike in Clear Lake State Park or Rodman Slough with Brad Barnwell.


– Inflatable Advanced Elements two-person kayak system from AirKayaks.


The public is encouraged to support the fundraising effort. Raffle tickets are available at the following locations:


  • Wild About Books, 14290 Olympic Drive, Suite A, Clearlake.

  • PennySaver, 14913 Lakeshore Blvd., Clearlake.

  • Shannon Ridge Tasting Room, 12599 East Highway 20, Clearlake Oaks.

  • Wildhurst Tasting Room, 3855 Main St., Kelseyville.

  • Watershed Books, 305 N. Main St., Lakeport.

  • Six Sigma Winery, 13372 Spruce Grove Road, Lower Lake.

  • Lake County Visitor's Center, 6110 E. Highway 20, Lucerne.

  • Lake County Wine Studio, 9505 Main St., No. 1, Upper Lake.


Raffle tickets can also be purchased online at www.PreserveKonocti.org/KonoctiProject or mail a check to Konocti Project, Inc. P.O. Box 3369, Clearlake, CA 95422. Please include your name, mailing address and phone number and $10 for each raffle book of 5. The tickets will be mailed to you. Deadline for tickets to be sent out by mail is 4/20. Details on the prizes can also be seen on the website.


All proceeds benefit the Mt. Konocti Acquisition Fund. Ticket holders do not need to be present to win, but must be 21 years or older to participate. The raffle drawing is sponsored by The Konocti Project, Inc. a 501c-3 nonprofit dedicated to the preservation and protection of Mt. Konocti.


For more info on the organization or raffle, contact Kevin Kealey at 707-994-1967 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Details on the Heron Festival and weekend events can be found at www.heronfestival.org/.

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Jennifer Swenson has been named St. Helena Hospital Clearlake's new vice president of operations. Courtesy photo.



CLEARLAKE – St. Helena Hospital Clearlake has appointed Jennifer Swenson, who has been part of the hospital’s management team for the past five years, to vice president of operations effective May 2.


Swenson succeeds Linda Gibson who is leaving Adventist Health following a restructuring of the leadership team.


As senior vice president of operations, Gibson has been instrumental in improving quality and patient satisfaction at St. Helena Hospital Clearlake, according to a Tuesday statement. She had made many positive changes, including the addition of a hospitalist program for in-patient care and a new physicians’ group to staff the emergency department.


Swenson, a Hidden Valley Lake resident, has worked for the hospital since 2004 as its chief financial officer and assistant vice president of finance. She joined Adventist Health in 1990 and has worked at four of its California hospitals, including St. Helena Hospital in Napa County.


“I am excited to continue our mission to provide top quality health care to the residents of Lake County. I really believe in that mission and the work we’re doing,” Swenson said.


Swenson was a key manager behind several major accomplishments at the hospital, including the designation as a critical access facility and the construction of projects ranging from the recent front entrance remodeling to the new $1-million Kelseyville Family Health Center that opened last month.


“Jennifer’s wealth of knowledge in managing hospital finances and operations is a tremendous asset to St. Helena Hospital Clearlake. Her commitment to the hospital and the community and to our patients, employees and physicians is inspiring,” said Terry Newmyer, St. Helena Hospital president and chief executive officer. “We appreciate Linda’s many contributions to our hospitals and wish her the very best.”

SANTA ROSA – A Kelseyville teenager will be tried as an adult in a homicide case filed against him in Sonoma County.


Marco Antonio Meza, 17, is facing a murder charge for the April 6 shooting death of 18-year-old Luis Suarez of Santa Rosa, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Spencer Brady of the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office.


It's alleged that Meza shot Suarez in a driveby shooting, Brady said.


Meza was arrested by the Santa Rosa Police Department April 8 after being taken in for questioning with another man, 20-year-old Santa Rosa resident Fernando Mendoza. Mendoza was arrested on a parole violation.


A suspected Sureno gang member, Meza entered no plea during an appearance in Sonoma County Superior Court on Friday, Brady said.


The teenager, who Brady said will continue to be housed at Sonoma County's juvenile detention center despite being tried as an adult, is scheduled to return to court on Friday, April 17.


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

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Researching this week’s column has given me a change of heart about the direction of my life, and I would like to announce my turn to a life of crime.


After all, my entire life has been spent as a law-abiding citizen, with the occasional speeding ticket being my biggest peek into the dark side of the law. Throughout my short existence I have saved more lives than I can even remember, and worked with many charities and community organizations in any way I can.


Why do I bring this up? Because evidently a life of crime will make you more infamous and, in a way immortal, than being an altruistic person.


Benmore Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) is named after Benjamin Logan Moore, a resident of Lake County in the mid-1800s. His claim to fame was being a cattle rustler and horse thief, but he also was so cruel to his wife that she finally ran away from him in the middle of winter with their infant son and reached her destination with bloody frostbitten bare feet. His wife was from one of the Lake County tribes, and to this day the Moore name continues down to their tribal ancestors here in the county.


Moore spent the better part of his life as a criminal and eventually left the US for South America to escape prosecution. He allegedly died down there but the details are sketchy as to how or when.


He used what is now the Benmore AVA as a hideout and grazing land for his ill-gotten herd, which was an ideal location. Due to its remoteness and altitude, he could see anyone approaching the land long before they were a danger and he could slip away.


This lifestyle has benefited him to the score of nine Lake County landmarks that are or were once named after him, not including places that were named in conjunction with him. For example, Ben Moore was one of the three bachelors that lived in Bachelor Valley for a time.


The Benmore Valley AVA was established in 1991 by Vinmark Inc. The only vineyard in the valley was owned by the Trione family of Geyser Peak Winery. They grew Chardonnay vines on the valley floor and sides.


The Benmore Valley AVA is a small valley in western Lake County just north of Highway 175. The entire valley itself is only 1,440 acres in size. Many descriptions state that it lies on the southwestern corner of Lake County, but as most local people can confirm it is the western edge but more in the center of the county. With the unusual way our county is laid out both descriptions could be considered accurate.


It is not only a unique micro-climate from the rest of the county, it sits at 2,400 feet elevation with the mountains surrounding it averaging 2,800 feet.


Some descriptions represent it as being more of a depression in the mountains than as an actual valley. The valley is unique from other valleys of Lake County by having ample water from run off, groundwater, a creek and three manmade lakes. The valley floor was once a lake itself and contains alluvial soils.


This ample water and deeper soil is good for commercial agriculture, which seems to be an exact opposite environment of the other Lake County official AVAs, which sit on top of dryer, thinner soils that are the home to most vineyards. However the sides of the valley need to be irrigated and a massive irrigation system was installed at one time.


The unique environment of Benmore Valley is compounded by fact that the growing season starts later than the rest of the region. For instance, while the average last frost date in Napa is in March, the Benmore Valley’s is late May. I spoke to several people about the valley and growing grapes there, but listening to them talk was like listening to a veteran talk about being in a war.


Growing grapes in the Benmore AVA is very much like a war, and turning the valley into a vineyard would be like turning Clear Lake into a prime shark fishing destination. Sure, it could be done, but it shouldn’t be done.


Frost is such a problem in Benmore Valley that there have been years when it has occurred on the forth of July. Just in case it needs to be said, grapes absolutely hate frost and need to be protected from it. If you are a winery or vineyard that has to worry about frost year round, you can understand why a farmer in that situation would sound like he’s suffering from shell-shock.


The growing season in Benmore is so short that sometimes harvests would have to take place as late as November, and the grapes sometimes wouldn’t reach their peak in flavor. Only Chardonnay grapes were grown there and they didn’t like the climate at all. It’s thought that there may be some European grape varietals that might like the climate and do well in the AVA, but California varietals don’t. It may be possible to grow Sauvignon Blanc grapes on the hillsides, but results would be iffy at best.


The soil is described as “fair to good, at best,” so although the property is beautiful it isn’t good vineyard land. My personal opinion about putting a vineyard in the Benmore Valley is that it was a case of falling love with the idea of having a vineyard on a property before putting in the necessary research to see if it could work as a vineyard. Ah! How many of us have tried to change something that couldn’t be changed? I know my wife is still trying!


Geyser Peak used the grapes from the Benmore AVA for a while, and some even went to Korbel and Kendall Jackson, but in the end the work to raise the vines in the valley was too difficult. The valley floor is just too cold and the soil doesn’t have anything remarkable for the vines to survive in it.


The Triones sold the property a few years ago, most of the vines have been pulled out, and though there are some recreational facilities in the valley for vacation rental and hunting facilities, the purpose that Benjamin Moore originally used the area for is its purpose now: cattle grazing land; and according to some of the people I spoke to, that is all that it is really good for.


There are only about 10 acres of chardonnay vines still left on the property, and those are used by individuals for personal winemaking. While grapes are still growing in the valley, they are slowly but surely being removed or dying off and won’t be replanted. Essentially, Benmore Valley AVA as a commercial grape growing region is effectively dead.


I have high hopes for the cattle grown there and would love to see the Benmore Valley supply prime cattle from a cattle rustler’s infamous valley. Excuse the obsequiousness but I’m just trying to promote the cattle from the valley of my compatriot in crime. We criminals have to stick together.


So I am off on my life as a womanizing, drunken, sinful criminal, and hopefully if I have the follow-though to become the new Snidely Whiplash your grandchildren will be going to Ross A. Christensen High School, or your wine will made in the Ross AVA. Maybe I could take a short cut and not actually live a life of crime, but instead run for senator …


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.

 

SACRAMENTO – Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee Chairman Wesley Chesbro (D-First District) said Tuesday that the State Water Resources Control Board is making progress on new septic tank regulations that protect the environment without imposing financial hardship on property owners.


However, the committee he chairs approved legislation intended to continue legislative pressure for a new approach.


“Water Board representatives made it clear they have torn up the onerous regulations proposed late last year and are willing to start over with a clean slate,” Chesbro said after a Committee hearing Tuesday at which the Water Board staff reported on progress made in revising proposed rules to regulate septic systems under AB 885 (2000). “The Water Board is responding to the concerns of constituents whose pocket books will be affected by new regulations.”


Late last year the Water Board sparked controversy when it proposed new regulations under AB 885 (2000) that, among several new requirements, would have made regular inspections of septic systems mandatory.


After encountering severe opposition from septic system owners across the state who criticized the high costs associated with the proposed requirements, the Water Board decided to withdraw its proposals and start over. In Tuesday’s report to the Committee, Water Board representatives said the Board hopes to have the framework of new proposals ready by the end of summer.


“The Water Board staff learned a lesson about involving the public earlier in the process,” Chesbro said. “It’s hard to imagine what its staff was thinking with its earlier proposals in these economic times. The board’s new proposals must protect our water resources without overly burdening septic system owners.”


He added that too often the process takes place behind the scenes. “This time the Water Board needs to make sure the process is more transparent. This committee, on a bipartisan basis, will be monitoring the process. I have asked the Water Board to return late this summer for a progress report.”


The Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee approved AB 580 (Huber), which addresses some of the concerns expressed about AB 885, Tuesday afternoon.


Chesbro said AB 580 will be available if needed if the Water Board’s new proposals aren’t what the committee is expecting.


“We passed this bill with a bipartisan effort and we will move it to the governor’s desk in a bipartisan fashion if we need to,” Chesbro said.

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From left, paid call Engineer Bob Cummesky, Fire Marshal Dave Miinch, paid call Firefighter Dave Watkins and Battalion Chief Jim Wright. Courtesy photo.

 


MIDDLETOWN – The South Lake County Fire Protection District has a new piece of equipment in its arsenal.


On April 8, the district took delivery of a new Office of Emergency Services engine identified as OES-359.


This new engine was provided to the South Lake County Fire Protection District to utilize in response to California’s ever-increasing threat of fire and earthquake related emergencies.


The Office of Emergency Services provides the engine free of charge with the agreed upon understanding that should a catastrophic emergency arise within the State of California the South Lake County Fire Protection District will provide the staffing needed to respond.


The fire district can use the engine to augment its existing apparatus inventory in an effort to quell the threat of fire and other related emergencies locally.


“Our Fire District has been providing this needed staffing since 1971 upon signing our first agreement with Office of Emergency Services,” said Fire Marshal Dave Miinch. “Much appreciation goes out to our paid call fire staff who answer the call of duty when an emergency arises in the state of California. Several times each year this engine will be called upon to respond to emergencies and without the help of our Paid Call Fire Staff that wouldn’t be possible.”


This most recent delivery provided what is known as a Type I Fire Engine and a Type III Urban Search and Rescue Unit.


The new unit has the capability of delivering 1,250 gallons a minute with a tank capacity of 850 gallons of water. It carries specialized equipment, which can be utilized in the search and rescue of victims during earthquake emergencies and other related disasters.


“It’s one of the finest pieces of rescue apparatus I’ve seen in my fire service career of 22 years,” said Miinch. “The California Office of Emergency Services should be commended for providing such a quality piece of fire apparatus to protect the people of California from the threat of fire and other related disasters.”

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T. Watts at the KPFZ microphone. Courtesy photo.
 

 

Don’t drive drunk …”

Stevie Wonder, circa 1984



A few season’s ago when my son was a senior in high school, his school partnered with local law enforcement and emergency agencies and presented a great public awareness program around the hazards of drunk driving.


We simulated (I say we because I was a parent volunteer) a fatal drunk driving accident complete with a wrecked car, student actors and real props including a Medvac helicopter, fire trucks, California Highway Patrol and Lake County Sheriff's personnel. It was a quite impressive dramatic presentation – so powerful that real tears were shed in its wake.


Later during graduation week, great pains were taken by the school and booster club to insure that Sober Grad night was indeed a sober affair. Again, I was a parent volunteer, and stayed up all night long chaperoning and supervising as our senior teens frolicked in ritual celebration without the social lubrication of alcohol and drugs at a local business that was equipped to handle the affair.


Nonetheless, since that class has graduated there have been at least a couple of alcohol- or drug-related real fatalities involving teenaged peers of that same class. Again, real tears were shed. Memorial flowers are still left at the scene of one of the fatalities that occurred at least three years ago.


Thrust into the role of investigative journalist through simple dialogue with students and parents alike, I was astounded and perplexed to learn of some incongruous allegations involving students, parents and, dare I say, law enforcement as well.


The first thing I learned was that the teens of today are pretty hip when it comes to circumventing the law around intoxication. They know how to use the designated driver concept to the max.


The second thing I learned was that there seemed to be private parties every weekend that were chaperoned by parents who allowed underage drinking at these events. Frequently the revelers would simply crash all night long at the party site which diminished the probability that these young’uns would be out behind the wheels of automobiles.


The third piece of information that was laid upon me was the assertion of the unwritten, look-the-other-way code by law enforcement. My sources implied that if an officer made a stop of a vehicle that contained inebriated minors, they would be cut loose as long as the driver was not under the influence. Hmm … These are deep allegations that permeate the very social order or lack thereof in the county of Lake. Part of the problem is the lack of activities for young folks here.


There certainly is talk and money being bandied about for the revitalization of Lake County. Catchphrases like county plan and redevelopment corridor of Lucerne and other neighborhood projects costing millions of dollars. Strange that it seems with all these monied, revitalization talks, there is not much evidence of jobs for young people here. There has been heavy resistance to drug and alcohol rehabilitation and education in this county. The old NIMBY routine. You know, not in my backyard!


Meanwhile, the crank that has been cooked here through generations continues to be cooked. Ganja farms possibly legal and hugely illegal proliferate. Seems like our priorities are pretty skewed.


This piece kinda started out as a dialogue about the hazards of underage drunkenness. Seems as though the issue(s) are much larger and more interrelated than just that. Where have all the Mothers Against Drunk Driving gone? Or the parents against drunken societal decisions? Or the connected societal big ol’ boys who skirt the law and laugh all the way to the … can I say bank? They shoot banks, don’t they? With apologies to Elvis and Otis Blackwell, we are all shook up here.


Goin’ out with a little Curtis Mayfield. Why don’t you check out your mind? Been with you all the time


Have a blessed Easter.


Keep prayin’, Keep thinkin’ those kind thoughts!


*******


Upcoming cool event:


Tallman Hotel/Blue Wing Saloon “Concert with Conversation” Boogie Woogie Queen Wendy DeWitt, Friday April 24, 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., 9520 Main St., Upper Lake. 707-275-2233.


T. Watts is a writer, radio host and music critic. Visit his Web site at www.teewatts.biz.

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