Monday, 15 July 2024


A view of Lake County from the top of Mt. Konocti taken by photographer Ron Keas of Lucerne, Calif., on Thursday, May 13, 2010.

LAKE COUNTY – Thursday marks a special day for Lake County – the 149th anniversary of its founding.

On May 20, 1861, California's seventh governor, John Downey, approved the act organizing Lake County, which was formed from land taken from Mendocino, Napa and Colusa counties, according to the 1881 edition of the “History of Napa and Lake Counties.”

With Clear Lake – believed to be 2.5 million years old, which may make it North America's oldest lake – and Mt. Konocti at its center, Lake County has a land area of 1,327 square miles, according to county officials. It currently is estimated to have about 65,000 residents, according to the US Census Bureau.

On the first Monday in June 1861, the county held its first election to organize its county government, with Lakeport chosen as the county seat, the history explained.

A two-story, clapboard wooden courthouse was built in downtown Lakeport, which local historian Donna Howard said burned down – likely because of arson – in 1867 and was replaced with the building today known as the Courthouse Museum.

To put Lake County's founding in historical perspective, the county came into being in the same year as the Civil War broke out. Earlier in the year, the Confederate States began to form and Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as the 16th president of the United States.

Also on May 20, 1861, North Carolina became the last state to secede from the United States, according to the online North Carolina Museum of History.

Lake County once had been known as the Hot Springs Township of Napa County. Howard thinks a new county may have been formed due to expediency and convenience.

If anyone had to conduct legal business, they had to go all the way to Napa which, in the 1800s, “was a long trip,” Howard pointed out.

Lake County's sesquicentennial will take place next year.

Lake County Deputy Administrative Officer Debra Sommerfield, who heads the county's marketing department, said the county is looking at organizing events to mark the 150th anniversary next year.

Budgets currently are tight, but Sommerfield noted, “We definitely would like to do something in celebration.”

More details about Lake County's history can be found at

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 .

CLEARLAKE – An Oroville man died Saturday when the boat he and two others were riding in sank.

The body of Steven Wade Smith, 45, was located Saturday afternoon after a search that lasted beginning early in the morning, according to Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

Early Saturday at about 4:30 a.m., sheriff’s deputies responded to the area of Redbud Park in the city of Clearlake to assist Clearlake Police with a reported sunken boat and recovery of its occupants, Bauman said.

He said that other agencies responding to the incident included the Lake County Fire Protection District, a dive team from the Northshore Fire Protection District, the Sheriff’s Marine Patrol and Lake County Search and Rescue.

Dive team resources from the Napa, Mendocino, and Sonoma County Sheriff’s Departments also were requested for what would later turn out to be the recovery of a drowning victim, he said.

When sheriff’s deputies arrived at Redbud Park, Clearlake Police officers were already on scene after responding to reports of shouting coming from somewhere on the water. Bauman said that two of the three occupants of what was described as an older 15-foot bass boat that had reportedly sunk had been rescued from the water by another fisherman involved in a catfish derby and taken to shore.

He said the two people pulled from the water were identified as 40-year-old Jennifer Christensen and 44-year-old Jeffrey Cruz, both of Oroville. Their rescuer was identified only as Johnny Stevenson.

While medics attended to Christensen and Cruz onshore, Bauman said a Clearlake officer boarded Stevenson’s boat and went back out to look for the third occupant, later identified as Smith.

Bauman said Stevenson and the Clearlake officer searched the area for more than a half hour but were unable to locate Smith but they did locate the sunken vessel submerged about 5 feet below the surface of the lake. The boat ultimately was recovered and towed in by a Northshore Fire Dive Team boat out of the Clearlake Oaks station.

As additional resources arrived at the scene throughout the morning, search and dive teams were deployed on the lake to look for Smith, Bauman said. By early afternoon, Smith had been located by a Napa County dive team by use of sonar equipment. He was submerged in about 20 feet of water, nearly a mile offshore. Smith’s body was ultimately recovered and brought to shore at 2:20 p.m. by the Napa County dive team.

According to the surviving occupants of the boat, Christensen, Cruz and Smith had launched Smith’s boat from Redbud Park the previous evening and they had been on the lake fishing the entire night for the catfish derby. Bauman said that t about 10 p.m. they docked at Clearlake Oaks to weigh their fish and noticed water had accumulated in the bilge area of the boat.

They pumped the water out and proceeded back out to continue fishing. Bauman said all three went to sleep while out on the lake and at some point, Christensen woke up and discovered more water in the boat.

Smith began motoring in slowly towards shore but as he did, the boat took more and more water on. When it was clear that the boat was sinking, all three occupants abandoned the vessel, Bauman said.

Smith was reportedly having trouble staying afloat and despite Cruz’s repeated efforts to help keep Smith on the surface, Smith kept pulling Cruz down with him and Cruz eventually had to let him go to preserve his own life. Bauman said Christensen and Cruz were in the water for 15 to 30 minutes before Stevenson rescued them.

Stevenson told deputies he was also out fishing for the catfish derby with a friend and relative. They also were sleeping on board their boat while anchored off of Redbud Park when, at about 4:30 a.m., they awoke to people yelling for help somewhere out on the water, according to Bauman's report.

Bauman said that Stevenson immediately proceeded toward the yelling and was able to locate and rescue both Christiansen and Cruz from the water. They continued searching for Smith but could not find him so he returned to shore with the two survivors.

Christensen and Cruz were both transported to St. Helena Hospital Clearlake where they were treated and released, Bauman said.

The cause of the sunken fishing boat is pending further investigation, according to Bauman, and the manner and exact cause of Smith’s death is pending autopsy results.

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LAKE COUNTY – If you have been lamenting, “I thought it was spring?” – be prepared to continue wondering as unseasonable wet, windy, cold and rainy weather returns Friday and lingers through the weekend.

Mostly cloudy skies with scattered showers and a daytime high near 56 degrees is forecast for much of Lake County Friday, with wind gusts as high as 20 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service in Sacramento.

The average high for Lakeport at this time of year is 78 degrees, which the county is forecast to fall far short of Friday and throughout all of next week.

The National Weather Service predicts the overnight lows to be at or near the record of 35 degrees, set in 1941, which means that area farmers and gardeners will need to continue monitoring for frost and freeze protection throughout the weekend.

A 20-percent chance of isolated showers continue through Saturday with partly cloudy skies, according to the National Weather Service, with daytime highs in the mid-50s and lows in the mid-30s.

However, Western Weather Group is warning that some areas of Lake County could drop in to the upper 20s on Saturday night – which could mean that some areas of the county may see snowfall overnight.

Skies are forecast to clear somewhat on Sunday, and continue clearing on Monday, with chances of rain returning on Tuesday through next week still accompanied by unseasonably cool temperatures, according to the National Weather Service.

Temperatures will remain near 60 degrees during the day with overnight lows in the 40s through Thursday, forecast models by the National Weather Service predict.

For up-to-the-minute weather information, please visit the Lake County News home page.

E-mail Terre Logsdon 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 .

LAKE COUNTY – The Lake County/City Area Planning Council (Lake APC) will host two community workshops on Saturday, June 5, to review the proposed Lake County 2030 Regional Blueprint Plan.

The workshops are the culmination of almost two years of community visioning and scenario modeling to look at how the county should grow and develop in the next 20 years.

The goal for the Lake County 2030 Regional Blueprint Plan is to guide local government planning and policies over the next 20 years, particularly for land use and transportation.

The final plan will serve as guidance to local governments as the county grows to an estimated 101,000.

According to Lisa Davey-Bates, executive director of the Lake APC, “The Preferred Growth Scenario incorporates the values and vision of Lake County’s residents as they were expressed in previous workshops. Now is the time to see if we got it right.”

The workshops are identical and both scheduled on the same day: Lakeport, June 5, 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., Fritch Hall, Lake County Fairgrounds, 401 Martin St.; Lower Lake, June 5, 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., Lower Lake Historic School House Museum, 16435 Main St.

Registration and refreshments start 30 minutes before each workshop start time.

To entice Lake County residents to attend, there will be door prizes, including 10 pairs of Chicken-Q tickets donated by People Services at the Lakeport workshop and restaurant gift certificates at the Lower Lake workshop.

Attendees will have the opportunity to learn about and comment on the proposed “Preferred Growth Scenario,” a vision of Lake County in 2030 that focuses most growth within existing communities.

Also included are some new development areas that incorporate smart growth features such as community centers, bike paths and a range of housing choices.

Lake APC invites all Lake County residents to one of these workshops. There is no RSVP needed.

For more information or to make a special request for accommodation if you have a physical, transportation or language need, please call Terri Persons at Lake County/City Area Planning Council, 707-263-7799, 711 (TTY), or e-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

More information about the Lake 2030 Blueprint process is available on the Lake APC Web site,

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A local census taker will work with you to complete the 2010 Census questionnaire for your household. It's easy and should take about 10 minutes. Photo courtesy of the US Census Bureau.



LAKE COUNTY – As census workers fan out into Northern California collecting 2010 Census information from households that did not mail back their form, the U.S. Census Bureau wants to remind people about how to avoid fraud and scams.

Starting May 1, the Census Bureau launched its door-knocking operation, where census takers personally visit households that didn't mail back a completed 2010 Census questionnaire.

The personnel-intensive operation – referred to as non-response follow-up (NRFU) – is part of the bureaus' wide-scale effort to count every person living in the United States.

Nationally, an estimated 48 million addresses will be visited through July 10. An estimated 1.8 million addresses will be visited in Northern California. The Census Bureau’s Northern California region stretches from Santa Cruz County, to the south, and the Oregon border, to the north.


About 635,000 census takers have been deployed around the nation for this operation, with more than 19,000 in Northern California.

All enumerators were hired locally, typically working in the neighborhoods where they live. As US Census employees, enumerators take an oath to not reveal any identifiable information with anyone. Violating the oath could result in a penalty of up to five years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine.

Opportunists and scammers may want to take advantage of this once-a-decade national effort.

If a 2010 Census worker knocks on your door, here are some ways to verify that person is a legitimate census taker:

  • Census takers wear an ID badge that contains a U.S. Department of Commerce watermark.

  • Census takers may carry a black and white canvas bag with a Census Bureau logo.

  • Census takers will NEVER ask to come into your home.

  • Census takers will present residents a notice titled “Your Answers Are Confidential,” which explains the U.S. Code, Title 13, guaranteeing the safeguarding and confidentiality of information collected by the Census Bureau.

  • Census workers will ask the same questions that appear on the 2010 Census form. It should take less than 10 minutes if people cooperate with census takers.

  • Census workers will NEVER ask for money or donations, Social Security number, credit card information, bank account numbers, immigration or citizenship status.

  • The Census Bureau NEVER requests for information via e-mail.

  • The Census Bureau does not conduct surveys or censuses on behalf of political parties or organizations.

In most cases, census workers will make initial visits during afternoons, early evenings and weekends.

Census workers will make up to six attempts at each housing unit address to count possible residents. This includes leaving notifications of the attempted visit at the house or apartment door, in addition to trying to reach the household by phone to conduct the interview or schedule an in-person interview.

The Census Bureau is urging cooperation and patience with the census takers, as this is the best way to ensure that everyone is counted properly.

If asked, the census taker will provide the supervisor’s contact information and/or the Local Census Office phone number for verification. If residents feel threatened, they should call local law enforcement or 911.

Mandated by the U.S. Constitution, the census takes place every 10 years. Census data determine boundaries for state and local legislative and congressional districts.

More than $400 billion in federal funds are distributed annually based on census data to pay for local programs and services, such as schools, highways, vocational training, emergency services, hospitals and much more.

Learn more about the 2010 Census at

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HIGHLAND SPRINGS – A special gathering this Sunday, May 23, will discuss the fascinating history of the Highland Springs area.

Meet at 2 p.m. in the picnic area in Highland Springs Park.

The father of Dr. Neal Woods, now 96, purchased the Highland Springs property in 1943 and renovated the remains of the Highland Springs Hotel for their family home.

The hotel and resort once was known as “The Great Sanitarium of the West.”

Woods has a wonderful scrapbook of old photos from days gone by, collected over the years. He also has many memories of the locations of the hotel, the pool, the riding stables, the medicinal springs and much more Highland Springs information.

Please come and enjoy and bring your questions.

Dr. Woods is looking forward to this gathering to pass along this information for all to enjoy and make sure that the memories of Highland Springs Resort will not be forgotten.

Poor health or rain will cancel.

Please RSVP and remain in contact Saturday evening and again Sunday morning.

For more information contact Kim Riley at 707-279-0343 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Fr. John Boettcher portrayed Jesus Christ during the 30th annual Lake County Passion Play, which took place Saturday, May 15, and Sunday, May 16, 2010, near Lakeport, Calif. Boettcher said that he receives some new insight about the passion play story each time he takes part in the production. Photo by Tera DeVroede.





LAKEPORT – This past weekend the annual Lake County Passion Play once again returned with its unique portrayal of the last days of Jesus Christ.

Hundreds of people arranged themselves in the audience area of the field with their own lawn chairs and blankets to watch the reenactment of some of the most important moments in Christian scripture.

Beautiful weather and gorgeous scenery complemented this year’s Passion Play; the weather proved perfect for an outdoor play.

“The setting makes the play,” said the play’s co-founder, Father Philip J. Ryan.

The Passion Play, celebrating its 30th anniversary, is extra special this year because Jesus began his public ministry when he was 30 years old, according to event organizers.

The play required no entrance fee but donations are always accepted. Bumper stickers, license plate covers and T-shirts were some new items offered for donations, aside from the bottled water.

Ryan said that all of the money raised always goes back into the Passion Play grounds, which are located in the north Lakeport area off of Highway 29.

In 2001 the Passion Play Board of Directors purchased the 85-acre Beltramo Ranch property that makes up the grounds for $399,500 after owners Armondo and Catherine Beltramo offered it for sale, organizers reported.

Ryan said the production usually costs somewhere around $3,000 to produce each year.

All three stages underwent renovations in the past four years and were redone with a much more durable material called Trex.

The massive production attracts people from across the nation and the globe each year. Ryan said he knew of people who came from Scotland, Australia and many other countries, just to see this play.

Many local people attended as well, as there are audience members who have been there nearly every year, he said.




Juan Erquiaga portrayed a Roman charioteer during the 30th annual Lake County Passion Play, which took place Saturday, May 15, and Sunday, May 16, 2010, near Lakeport, Calif. Photo by Tera DeVroede.



Bonnie Edwards of Ukiah attended, and she was in a Passion Play production that took place in Ukiah several years ago. It was her first time attending Lake County’s.

“I was in tears,” she said. “It was so well done. This brought reality to such an incredible moment in time.”

She is excited about volunteering in the Lake County Passion Play in the future.

This year Jesus was played by Fr. John Boettcher. He has volunteered to act in that role for 13 years during the play's history.

At times he comes all the way from Rome and Jerusalem for the play. If that is not dedicated enough, he also truly carries a heavy wooden cross, weighing 120 pounds, up the hillside to the crucifixion scene.

“Every time I’ve been in the play, I’ve experienced some new insight,” said Boettcher. “It’s always something different for me.”

Nearly 150 people volunteered to act in the play, as the entire production is possible through volunteerism, Ryan said.

If anyone is interested in volunteering, please call 707-279-0349.

Visit for more information.



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



The liturgical dancers perform at the base of the three crosses during the 30th annual Lake County Passion Play, which took place Saturday, May 15, and Sunday, May 16, 2010, near Lakeport, Calif. Photo by Tera DeVroede.

WILLITS – This week a Willits woman pleaded guilty to embezzling $24,000 from an area food bank.

Susan Gravier, 54, entered the guilty plea to felony embezzlement on Tuesday before Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Cindee Mayfield, according to a report from the Mendocino County District Attorney's Office.

Gravier allegedly embezzled the funds while employed as the director of the Willits Food Bank, the district attorney's office report.

She allegedly started stealing from the Willits Food Bank in January 2008, and continued until she was caught in April 2009 by other members in the organization, according to the prosecution, led by Matt Hubley.

As director of the Willits Food Bank, Gravier had access to credit and debit cards issued to the organization and would routinely gamble with the food bank’s money at local casinos, officials reported.

The district attorney's office said she faces a maximum of three years in prison and will have to reimburse the Willits Food Bank for all of the money she embezzled.

Officials reported that Gravier, defended by attorney Elizabeth Fowlds, is set to be sentenced on June 30.

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LOWER LAKE – A device believed to be a pipe bomb caused traffic along some roadways near Lower Lake to be closed for several hours Tuesday while a bomb squad was called in to investigate.

The object was found on Siegler Canyon Road, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Steve Tanguay.

At around 3:30 p.m. the CHP was en route to investigate, Tanguay said.

By that time, the road already had been closed down, he added.

Drivers along Siegler Canyon Road had to go back to Butts Canyon Road, while those traveling along Highway 29 reported that the CHP was turning back westbound traffic on the Glasgow Grade near Lower Lake.

CHP Sgt. Scott Moorhouse said a bomb squad came from Napa County to investigate the device.

They concluded that the object was not a pipe bomb but a GPS device, Moorhouse said.

He said the affected roadways were reopened later in the evening.

This past January, a facsimile device found along Highway 20 east of Highway 16 by Caltrans workers required a bomb squad be called out, as Lake County News has reported. That item also was not a bomb.

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 .

LAKE COUNTY – The State Bar of California has concluded that it will take no action on a complaint against the county's district attorney regarding an open letter to the community he released prior to a trial last summer.

District Attorney Jon Hopkins received a letter from State Bar Deputy Trial Counsel Robert Henderson dated May 13 that notified him of the decision.

“The State Bar has completed the investigation of the allegations of professional misconduct reported by Victor Haltom and determined that this matter does not warrant further action,” Henderson's letter stated. “Therefore, the matter is closed.”

Haltom is the Sacramento attorney who represented Carmichael resident Bismarck Dinius in a felony boating under the influence trial last summer.

Dinius was prosecuted in connection with a fatal April 2006 boat crash in which he was sitting at the tiller of a sailboat that was hit from behind on a dark night by an off-duty sheriff's chief deputy, Russell Perdock.

Both of Hopkins' opponents in this year's district attorney race, defense attorneys Don Anderson and Doug Rhoades, said they felt that releasing the open letter was not a good idea.

“It may not have been a technical ethical violation, it may not have violated the Rules of Professional Conduct, but I thought it was improper,” Rhoades said Monday.

Anderson said he didn't think it was morally right.

On July 17, 2009, about a week and a half before the trial began, Hopkins released an open letter in which he announced he would drop a manslaughter charge against Dinius.

At that time Hopkins also addressed several key questions in the case, including whether or not the sailboat's running lights were on, when blood alcohol tests were done, the motorboat's speed, the charges and conflict of interest allegations. See the letter here:

Hopkins' letter angered Haltom and some community members because it made statements about “drunken sailors” in reference to Dinius.

“I thought the 'open letter' plainly violated governing ethical standards,” Haltom said Monday. “That is why I submitted the complaint to the State Bar. I've been practicing for nearly two decades now. This is the only complaint I have submitted to the State Bar.”

Dinius would go on to be acquitted of the felony boating under the influence causing great bodily injury charge and a misdemeanor count of boating under the influence, with the jury deadlocking on a misdemeanor count of boating with a blood alcohol level of more than 0.08, which later was dismissed, as Lake County News has reported.

Hopkins said the State Bar notified him last year that a complaint had been made against him regarding the letter by an individual named Brent Vordross.

In response, Hopkins wrote a letter explaining his decision to release the statement to the community, and pointed out that Judge J. Michael Byrne had found no ethical violation because of the letter.

Shortly before the Dinius trial started last summer, Haltom filed a motion accusing Hopkins of prosecutorial misconduct because of the letter, which Byrne heard on July 21, 2009. During the arguments on the motion, Haltom called the letter “a remarkable, unprecedented event.”

Byrne held that there was a constitutional right guaranteeing press access to court matters, but told Hopkins, “I don't think it was a good idea to issue a press release at this time.” However, Byrne added that he was satisfied that Hopkins wasn't guilty of misconduct, as Lake County News has reported.

Hopkins said the open letter was meant to combat a “barrage of defense publicity,” which he said he has a right to do under the California Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 5-120.

Section C of that rule, Hopkins said, “allows me to make a statement that I would reasonably believe is required to protect my client – the people of Lake County – from substantial undue prejudicial effect of recent publicity not initiated by me.”

He added, “That's built into the Rules of Professional Conduct specifically.”

Hopkins received a letter dated Nov. 17, 2009, from Manya B. Lewis, a complaint analyst with the State Bar's Los Angeles office, who notified him that the complaint had been reviewed and evaluated.

“The determination has been made that there are insufficient grounds for disciplinary action,” Lewis wrote. “Therefore, we are closing our files at this time.”

Then, in April, Hopkins received a letter from the San Francisco State Bar office, notifying him of the second complaint, this one by Haltom, in which it was alleged Hopkins was attempting to use the open letter to taint the jury pool.

Hopkins said he responded with a three-page letter. “In this one they got an investigator and an attorney involved in reviewing it,” he said.

There was no danger of tampering the jury pool, Hopkins asserted, noting that the jury already had been admonished not to read media reports about the case. Those who did violate that admonishment during the jury selection process were excused for cause.

While Haltom was critical of Hopkins for the letter, Hopkins in turn was critical of many of Haltom's media disclosures.

In one case, on the first morning of jury selection last summer, Hopkins said he, Haltom and Byrne were still finalizing the jury questionnaire. Before they were finished that morning, he said Haltom had released the questionnaire to a Bay Area TV station, which posted it on its Web site.

Haltom told Lake County News that he also received a letter from the State Bar notifying him of its decision.

That letter, which he said was written by State Bar counsel, stated, “After review, I have concluded that there is insufficient proof to obtain a culpability finding. Therefore, I am closing this matter for lack of sufficient proof. Clearly the State Bar is concerned about the issue of pre-trial publicity in this matter. Unfortunately, it does not appear as if the matter could be proved by clear and convincing evidence.”

Haltom said he has no experience regarding State Bar prosecutions, so he doesn't know the standards the State Bar applies in such cases.

“So, I cannot intelligently comment on what exactly the State Bar would need to prove that Mr. Hopkins violated ethical standards by writing and publishing his 'open letter' during jury selection in the Dinius trial,” Haltom said.

In response to questions about whether or not either of them had ever been the subject of a complaint to the State Bar, Anderson said he once received a letter from the State Bar about an insufficient funds issue regarding a check being deposited into his trust account in a personal injury case. But no formal complaint resulted.

Rhoades said a complaint was filed against him previously, but nothing came of it.

He said complaints are made all the time, but very few are sustained.

“I think almost any attorney who has been in business for more than 10 years has had at least one,” he said.

Hopkins said he had gone 37 years as an attorney before the first complaint was lodged against him last year.

None of the three men have any public record of discipline or administrative actions against them, according to the State Bar.

Anderson, attended San Jose State University, where he received his undergraduate degree, and attended Empire College School of Law in Santa Rosa. He was admitted to the State Bar on Dec. 11, 1989.

Hopkins was admitted to the State Bar on June 2, 1972. He received an undergraduate degree from the University of Akron in Akron, Ohio, and studied law at California Western School of Law in San Diego.

Rhoades received his undergraduate degree from California State University, Sonoma in Rohnert Park and, like Anderson, studied for his law degree at Empire College School of Law in Santa Rosa. Rhoades was admitted to the bar on Dec. 6, 1996.

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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