Tuesday, 23 July 2024


LAKE COUNTY – A former Kelseyville resident found guilty of the 1986 murder of his ex-wife's boyfriend and assaulting his teenage stepson with a firearm was denied parole in a May 4 hearing.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff appeared at the parole hearing for Richard Cruz, 59, at the California State Prison in Solano, where. Hinchcliff said he argued against granting parole.

Cruz was sentenced on June 8, 1987, to 33 years to life for the first-degree murder of Michael Koschik and assault with a firearm on a teenage boy.

Hinchcliff reported that the investigation found that Cruz and his wife of seven years, Beverly Cruz, had separated in 1985 and divorced in July 1986 because of Richard Cruz’s excessive alcohol abuse and problems with violence.

At the time of the murder, Beverly Cruz was living with Michael Koschik at a residence on Bell Hill Road in Kelseyville, along with her three children – the youngest of which was Cruz's biological child – and Koschik’s two children, according to Hinchcliff. The five children were between the ages of 7 and 16.

In May of 1986, Beverly Cruz obtained a restraining order against her ex-husband because of his ongoing threats and harassment, including an incident where he damaged Koschik’s truck, Hinchcliff reported. Between June and September of 1986 Cruz violated the restraining order several more times, and in September of 1986 he resisted arrest when deputies arrested him for violating the order.

Investigators interviewed several witnesses who stated that Cruz had made several threats to harm or kill Beverly Cruz and Michael Koschik prior to the murder, according to Hinchcliff.

Then, on the afternoon of Nov. 16, 1986, Cruz drove to Koschik’s Bell Hill Road home with a .357 revolver and a box of ammunition, Hinchcliff reported. Beverly Cruz, Koschik and the five children were all home, having just returned home from a sports banquet for one of the children.

When Cruz pulled up in front of the house, Koschik walked out on the front porch, according to Hinchcliff's report. Cruz got out of his truck with the gun and approached with the gun pointed at Koschik. As Koschik started to back up and turn to go back into the house, Cruz shot Koschik four times from a distance of about 12 feet while several of the children watched.

One of Cruz’s teenage stepsons, afraid that Cruz was there to kill the entire family, retrieved a shotgun, loaded it and shot Cruz as he was reloading the handgun, Hinchcliff's report noted. Cruz then fired at least two shots at his stepson.

Koschik died at the scene, Hinchcliff said.

At the parole hearing, Hinchcliff advised the parole commissioners that due to the callousness and brutality of the crime, Cruz’s violent history and the devastation caused to so many young children, Cruz should never be paroled under any circumstances.

Three of the children who were present at the murder, all of them now adults, were present at the hearing to ask that Cruz not be released, Hinchcliff reported.

The commissioners denied Cruz parole, and set his next parole hearing in five years, the maximum denial time allowed by law, Hinchcliff noted. Cruz's next parole hearing will be in 2012.

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Young dancers from Robinson Rancheria put on a colorful and intricate display at Saturday's Art & Nature Festival. Photos by Terre Logsdon.




RODMAN SLOUGH – The Lake County Land Trust hosted its fifth annual Art & Nature Festival at its Rodman Slough Preserve Saturday.

The free, daylong event featured the work of local nature artists and offered a variety of activities focusing on the county's natural beauty and wildlife. A special theme this year was introducing children to art and nature.

One of the event's highlights was a performance by young dancers from Robinson Rancheria, whose dancing gave visitors a glimpse into their rich culture.


LAKE COUNTY – Foreclosure rates are growing across the country and California, and here in Lake County a new report shows that the number of people defaulting on their mortgages is increasing.

DataQuick Information Systems, a real estate information service, has reported that the number of default notices sent to California – and Lake County – homeowners last quarter increased to its highest level in almost 10 years.

That increase in foreclosures among the state's eight million homes and condos is attributed to flat appreciation, slow sales and riskier subprime loans, according to the report.

The report also noted that while foreclosure properties tugged property values down by almost 10 percent in some areas 10 years ago, the effect on today's market is negligible.

Foreclosure rates statewide jumped 148 percent in the first quarter of this year as compared with that period in March 2006, growing from 18,856 to 46,760.

Last quarter's default level was the highest since 47,912 Notices of Default (NoDs) were recorded statewide in second-quarter 1997, according to DataQuick.

Defaults peaked in first quarter 1996 at 61,541. An average of 33,847 NoDs have been filed quarterly since 1992, when DataQuick's NOD statistics begin.

Andrew LePage, a DataQuick spokesman, said in Lake County foreclosures in the first quarter of 2006 numbered 48, compared with 109 foreclosures in this year's first quarter, a 127-percent increase.

This year's first-quarter foreclosure rates are the highest recorded for the county since 1992, when DataQuick began tracking the information, said LePage.

The last big wave of foreclosure activity in the county appeared in the mid-1990s, he said.

Lake County's homeownership rate of 70.6 percent is higher than the state average of 56.9 percent, according to the US Census Bureau. The county's owner-occupied homes number 19,164, with the county's median home value listed at $255,300.

LePage noted Lake County's default rates have traditionally been “really low,” with a quarterly average of 41. In the third quarter of 2005, the county only had four foreclosures reported, he added.

He suggested that the growth in foreclosures likely correlates with a growing population.

LePage did not have a breakdown of foreclosures by the county's different communities.

The county's foreclosures appear to have started going up late last year, according to LePage. In the third quarter of 2006, foreclosures numbered 67, jumping to 102 the following quarter.

“When you have a slower market and not as much appreciation or no appreciation, that sets the state for rising foreclosure activity,” LePage explained.

In neighboring counties, the rates also have risen. Napa's foreclosures are up by 87 percent, and Sonoma's by 159 percent.

Risky loans a key

For people beginning to have financial problems who have little or no equity, those market characteristics make it much more difficult for them to pull out of a “financial tailspin” by refinancing, he said.

Home purchases statewide peaked in the summer of 2005, said LePage. Loans typically begin to go bad within the first year and a half, he said, and DataQuick's research shows that most of the loans that went into default last quarter were originated between April 2005 and May 2006.

Many risky subprime loans were being made at that time, said LePage. With foreclosure activity continuing to rise, he added, “It's probably telling us that some of the more creative financing and subprime financing is starting to fuel these numbers.”

On primary mortgages, homeowners were a median five months behind on their payments when the lender started the default process, DataQuick reported. The borrowers owed a median $10,784 on a median $331,200 mortgage.

Most homeowners emerge from the foreclosure process by bringing their payments current, refinancing, or selling the home and paying off what they owe. However, DataQuick's study found that about 40 percent of homeowners who found themselves in default last year actually lost their homes to foreclosure in the first quarter. A year ago it was nine percent.

Trustees deeds recorded, or the actual loss of a home to foreclosure, totaled 11,033 during the first quarter, up 81.5 percent from 6,078 for the previous quarter, and up 802.1 percent from 1,223 for last year's first quarter, according to DataQuick.

Foreclosure sales peaked at 15,418 in third-quarter 1996, and hit a low of 637 in the second quarter of 2005, DataQuick reported.

Lakeport attorney Steve Elias, a nationally recognized expert on bankruptcy who has written three books on the subject, said foreclosures and bankruptcy often go hand-in-hand.

Bankruptcy, Elias explained, slows down the foreclosure process, and in the case of Chapter 13 bankruptcy, it offers individuals the ability to repay overdue debts – along with current payments – over a five-year period.

He said he doesn't see many cases these days where people in bankruptcy actually lose their homes, with many managing to refinance or get extremely harsh “bridge loans.”

Bankruptcy, noted Elias, is a good way to let go of home rather than letting it be taken in foreclosure. That's because only the bankruptcy will show up on a credit report, not a foreclosure, he explained, which does less harm overall to one's future credit rating. Short sales, he added, can become a problem because the IRS counts them as taxable income.

Is the state at its foreclosure peak? “We don't think we're there yet,” said LePage, looking at the state as a whole, and noting that a peak would require conditions that would begin to seriously erode home values.


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




Schoolchildren from Kiyoima Primary School in Uganda welcomed Weeks and her family. Photo by Leslie Weeks.


Editor's note: This is the last of two articles by Clearlake resident Leslie Weeks on her trip to Uganda in December. Weeks, her husband, John Weeks, MD, and their daughter went to Uganda with Dr. Arthur Bikangaga, who is from Uganda.


Soon after our arrival, the electricity went off (electricity is sold to neighboring countries for a better rate, so the electric often goes off at night) and we were left sitting in a room with one candle.

The staff may have been a bit unsettled because there had been a riot at the university a week before. The teachers had demanded a raise in pay and were demonstrating. The police ended up chasing them through the campus with guns and sticks.

We went to bed and abruptly woke up at 2 a.m. because the time difference between Uganda and California is 11 hours. We had problems with sleep for about one week and during this time we were always so glad to hear the “Call to prayer” sung at the local mosque each morning at 5:45 a.m. The city was fully quiet at that hour, and this beautiful voice floating over the rooftops always seemed to make everything better.

After four days one suitcase with my daughter’s and my clothes arrived. The next day the school supplies were located, but customs would not release them unless we came to the airport in person. The claim was that we were going to sell the supplies on the street so it was necessary to pay a tax. We did not realize that this was all about bribing the customs agent.

We spent three hours counting each pencil, pen and toothbrush, handwriting a list on a piece of paper, and then waiting on a hard wooden bench. We would peer around the piles of opened boxes in front of us to see our self-important agent sitting at his table and occasionally speaking with one of his cohorts. We waited. It was very hot.

He finally signaled for us to approach his table and gave us a piece of paper after dramatically stamping it. He directed us to another fold out table where a scowling woman sat. I fearfully approached, hoping there wasn’t going to be another three-hour delay.

She held my paper in hand, the other hand hovering the stamp directly over it. This lasted about 15 minutes. She finally stamped the paper and handed it to me, told us to go get the luggage and see the lady at the door. She gave me a significant look. However, I had no idea what it meant.

We got our four suitcases and headed toward the door. There was no lady there, so we left, not paying any “taxes” after all. My husband got his suitcase with all of his clothes and our hiking gear, mosquito nets, extra medicine, etc. three days after we arrived back in Lake County. One bag of medications had somehow disappeared in that cluttered room.

After he wore the same outfit for six days, we decided we had to replace John’s clothes, which we had not anticipated financially. We realized the airlines weren’t going to be quick to find the missing clothes after a more empathetic airline representative informed us, “I guess I can understand why an American would be upset if he had to wear the same clothes for six days.”

Ugandans put a lot of importance on dressing well, or “smart,” and consider the “Mzungus” (white people) rude if under-dressed. Whenever we told Ugandans of our suitcase plight, they were always quick to say “Sorry,” which is their way of expressing sympathy.

Cash economy

We quickly learned very few places in Uganda take credit cards, and then they only take Visa. We became familiar with the two malls and various other shopping areas. We then found a Woolworth’s willing to take the credit card. With everyone freshly clothed, we were ready to continue our journey.

Six hours and one flat tire later, we arrived at the Kiyoima primary school. The reception the children and staff gave us made all the previous difficulty and discomfort insignificant.

Although school is out in December and January, children, teachers, elders from the village, and the assistant headmaster had gathered just to welcome us. The children sang two delightful songs that brought tears to my eyes. These children still only spoke their local dialect and had learned these songs in English. There are approximately 63 dialects in Uganda, but all the schools teach English.

After we shared a surprisingly delicious barbecued goat (meat is a delicacy in Uganda, vegetarians are pitied), the children led us outside where they performed their local dance. They grabbed our hands and we danced with them amidst many giggles.

We had to leave because it was getting late, so we reluctantly said goodbye to these beautiful children and their teachers. We told the teachers that we had mailed clothes for them in the beginning of December, but they hadn’t arrived yet. We told them two boxes of books would hopefully arrive in February. The assistant headmaster jumped with joy. We wished we could give them more.

We continued our safari and saw the wild beauty of Uganda. We were within yards of mountain gorillas that barely gave us a glance. When a huge silverback did look our way, there was no question of who was boss.

We searched for hours for the climbing lions in Ishasha, and eventually found the gorgeous lions languidly hanging out in fig trees. Baboons lined the dirt-rutted roads while several species of monkeys clamored overhead.

The earth was so fertile, local people had gardens on every inch of cleared space. Zebras, hippos, crocodiles and elephants were all equally stunning. Birds were brimming with grace and color. Water buffalo, impalas and wart hogs all had their own personalities.

Even as we were thrilled by the incredible and diverse wildlife, we were also impacted by the strength and individuality of each Ugandan.

Safari lesson

We left Uganda two weeks later, feeling elated, frustrated, tired, hungry, and sad to leave.

On this safari that originated in Lake County, we learned that tolerance and understanding starts with one person, and can spread to many.

Rudyard Kipling says it well in his poem, “We and They”:

Father, Mother and Me

Sister and Aunties say

All the people like us are We,

And everyone else is They.

And They live over the sea

While we live over the way,

But would you believe it?

They look upon We

As only a sort of They!

We eat pork and beef

With cow-horn-handled knives.

They who gobble Their rice off a leaf

Are horrified out of Their lives;

While They who live up a tree,

Feast on grubs and clay,

(Isn’t is scandalous?) We look upon

As a simply disgusting They!

We eat kitcheny food.

We have doors that latch.

They drink milk or blood

Under an open thatch.

We have Doctors to fee.

They have the Wizards to pay.

And (impudent heathen!)

They look upon We

As a quite impossible They!

All good people agree,

And all good people say,

All nice people, like Us, are We

And everyone else is They:

But if you cross over the sea,

Instead of over the way,

You may end by (think of it!)

Looking on WE

As only a sort of They!

With people like Bill and Kate, Julia, wonderful giving teachers in Uganda, students in elementary schools, and generous people here in Lake County, cultural gaps can be bridged and differences can begin to be overcome on a much grander scale.

Traveling to other countries is not always easy, things we experience there are not always pleasant, or comfortable, but I hope it always brings the “They” into our “We.”


LAKE COUNTY – The results of the state's fifth and final snow measurement of the season have led state officials to call for redoubling water conservation efforts, and devoting more energy to water storage plans.

Here in Lake County, plans also are under way to begin planning for future water projects.

The Department of Water Resources' snow measurement, held Tuesday, showed the state's snowpack average at 29 percent of normal, a number that by Friday had dropped to 27 percent.

Those are the lowest snowpack levels since 1988, officials reported.

The snowpack measurements help hydrologists forecast water supplies for the year, the Department of Water Resources reported.

It's been a sparse year for snowpack overall, with Mendocino National Forest officials last month reporting the driest April reading since measurements began in 1944.

California has enjoyed several years of strong rainfall and snowpacks, which means that the state isn't yet in a crisis, said Department of Water Resources Director Lester Snow. As well, in the last 20 years the state has put increasing emphasis on building water storage infrastructure, including reservoirs and conveyance.

However, Snow said climate change is leading to more drastic conditions, a pattern which he said has developed over the last 40 years.

The Department of Water Resources has estimated that the state's snowpack will decrease by 40 percent by the year 2050 due to climate change, a prediction that appears backed up by recent conditions.

Planning has become critical in offsetting serious drought events, said Snow.

"There is no question that these snowpack results indicate the need for conservation and more water storage," Snow said in a statement, which also called for support for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Strategic Growth Plan. That plan includes increased surface and groundwater storage and Delta preservation in light of the state's growing population.

Snow said the Department of Water Resources is working with local and regional agencies throughout the state to encourage and implement water conservation measures as a precaution against subsequent dry years.

The agency reported that some communities have begun voluntary rationing. Those include the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which called on their 2.4 million customers to reduce their water use by 10 percent or they could face water rationing this summer.

In addition, the East Bay Municipal Utilities District has asked their customers find and fix any plumbing that leaks, to water their laws only three days a week and never on consecutive days and to do so at night or in the morning, the Department of Water Resources reported.


“This is a reminder that climate change isn't going to happen for our children, it's happening now,” Snow said of this year's drier conditions.


Pam Francis, deputy director of the county's Water Resources Division, agrees. “We need to come to grips with that,” she said.

The county, Francis said, has met with the Department of Water Resources because they're concerned about water conditions.

She said Lake County is fortunate because it isn't tied closely to snowpack conditions. And while rain levels have been lower this year, recent groundwater monitoring has shown local wells are within average range, and the lake itself is about average, she added.

“I wouldn't say that we have any serious concerns locally,” Francis said.

The trends, however, suggest that the area is in the beginning stage of a dry period, she said.

While most people only think of conservation during crisis periods, Francis emphasized that conservation “is always a good thing for any resource.”

Locally, Francis said plans are under way to begin planning for the county's water future.

On May 16, the county will host its first integrated regional water management planning meeting for county stakeholders.

The group's goal, said Francis, is to work together to formulate a regional water management plan, which looks at water from both the supply and demand sides.

Several water bond measures were approved by voters last fall, but to receive those funds, said Francis, the county must have an integrated regional water management plan.

The meeting will be a step toward applying for a grant to aid the county in the planning process. “We expect to do that next summer,” said Francis. “That's our goal.”

The plan will include a list of local water projects, said Francis, which must meet certain criteria.

“Multiple beneficial uses are key to any project,” said Francis. Those multiple uses include groundwater recharge, increasing storage capacity, improving water quality and flood control.

Some of the projects Francis expects to see included in the management plan include the Middle Creek Restoration Project, which would restore 1,200 acres of wetlands and 500 acres of floodplain around the lake; the Full Circle Project, which seeks to transport the county's wastewater to The Geysers for injection; and the Lakeport Dam, which, among other things, would help recharge Scotts Valley's groundwater.

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From left, Bureau of Transportation and Housing agency Secretary Dale E. Bonner, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger; Attorney General Jerry Brown; Cathy Clearman, widow of fallen CHP Officer Brent Clearman; and CHP Commissioner Mike Brown at Wednesday's ceremony. Photo courtesy of the CHP.


WEST SACRAMENTO – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger joined the families of several fallen California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers Wednesday to honor and pay tribute to 210 officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice in their service to the state of California.

The governor joined Business, Transportation & Housing Agency Secretary Dale Bonner and CHP Commissioner Mike Brown in laying a wreath at the CHP Academy’s Memorial Fountain.

“I know the bravery and dedication to service these officers possess as everyday these men and women stand beside me, willing to risk their lives to protect me and my family,” said Schwarzenegger. “These officers set an example of courage and determination that all Californians can admire.”

Whether it’s pulling an impaired driver off the road, assisting a stranded motorist or protecting their fellow officers, CHP officers have a commitment to service.

“It takes a special person to do the job these men and women do, people are running away from danger as they walk into it,” said Secretary Bonner.

The CHP Academy Memorial Fountain bears plaques engraved with the names of each of the Department’s 210 officers killed in the line of duty since its formation 78 years ago. This year, Oakland area CHP Officer Brent Clearman’s name was added to the fountain.

Clearman, 33, an Iraq war veteran in the Marine Corps and sniper specialist, was investigating a collision on an onramp to I-880 in Oakland the night of August 5 when he was struck by a hit-and-run driver. The injured officer was taken to the hospital where he died the next morning. He is survived by his wife, Cathy.

“My heart goes out to the family and friends of these officers who made the ultimate sacrifice for keeping us safe,” said Commissioner Brown. “It’s an honor to serve with these men and women in uniform who are sworn to protect us everyday without any regard for their own lives.”


KELSEYVILLE – This week, work will continue on a fire prevention project in the Black Forest that began last month.

During the week of April l5-21, crews from Cal Fire – the new name for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection – began cutting brush and snags from the forest's edge running along Soda Bay Road in order to create a shaded fuel break.

The Bureau of Land Management project is intended to reduce the likelihood of a wildland fire in the forest, according to Rich Burns of the BLM's Ukiah field office. The project is sponsored and funded by BLM and the US Department of Interior.

On April 21, community volunteers helped drag undergrowth the Cal Fire crews had cut up to Soda Bay Road, where tons of materials was chipped. Taking part in the effort were students from Carle, Kelseyville and Clear Lake high schools; Big Valley Lions Club members; and local volunteers as well as those from as far away as Contra Costa and San Diego counties.

In addition, Bob Braito, used his heavy equipment to grade a staging area near Golf Road and Soda Bay and moved many yards of brush from Soda Bay Road to the staging area. The Buckingham Homes Association, led by manager Julie Berry, provided lunch with help from donations from Bruno's and D&J Pizza.

Volunteers on April 21 weren't able to complete chipping all of the materials, so the rest of the work is slated for completion this week.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, flaggers will be controlling traffic from Madrone to Little Borax Road. One volunteer flagger for Tuesday, quipped, "I feel that I am getting to be on my sixth grade school traffic squad again. You were special if you were trusted to use the whistle and the little stop sign."

The west side of the road will have two chippers working in tandem with 20 Cal Fire members feeding the chippers the rest of the cut undergrowth. This work will complete the first phase of the Black Forest Fire Prevention Project.

Only a portion of the "Prescription Plan" developed by CDF and BLM in 2004 was completed in Phase I. The plan for the Black Forest calls for removing all brush and trees under 3 inches in diameter at a height of 10 feet. The removal would extend 300 feet into the forest, providing a defensible fire control area, Cal Fire officials explained.

Most fires that start along the road smolder for a long time. If the grass fires cannot easily ladder up into the trees, the local fire service has a better chance of extinguishing the fire. Roads to the entrance of Yosemite National Park and other national parks entrances are being treated with the same prescription prepared for the Black Forest.

The prescription was established by BLM when the 250 acres was turned over to the BLM from the Lake County Land Trust. The Land Trust was able to purchase the property from loggers and hold the property in trust until a combination of donations and grants were obtained. All the land, except for seven acres owned by Lake County, was turned over to BLM in September 2004.

Planning will soon start for the project's next phase.

The Black Forest Fire Prevention Project Phase II is scheduled for Saturday, Sept 29, on National Public Lands Day. That effort will be discussed at an information celebration at 4 p.m. Friday, May 11, at the Witherell home, 8100 Soda Bay Road.

The public is invited to see the results of Phase I and discuss a Phase II project. Youth are encourage to attend. All three high school representatives have indicated that they plan to bring their students on Sept. 29 for phase II.

For more information about National Public Lands Day, visit www.publiclandsday.org. For more information about the Black Forest project, e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Bill Landers puts an osprey egg in the osprey nest, where it's hoped it will hatch. Photo courtesy of Sandie Elliott.

LAKE COUNTY – An osprey in trouble recently got a helping hand.

Pacific Gas & Electric Troubleman Bill Landers received a call April 26 that an osprey was in trouble. The bird was tangled and dangling from the nest.

Landers called SpiritWild, Lake County's wildlife center, to assist. By the time everyone arrived, the tangled adult had freed itself, but SpiritWild Director Sandie Elliott requested a nest check to be sure no babies were injured in the flap and struggle that had occurred.

While the mother circled, swooped and screamed, Landers quickly checked the babies and removed some hazardous twine and other debris.

The nest contained two hatchlings and one egg still unhatched.

SpiritWild has had an osprey egg in an incubator for nearly a month that was retrieved from an endangered nest by PG&E. The egg was due to hatch during the week of April 26-30, and this was the perfect nest in which to place the egg.

Landers and Elliott met again later in the day and Landers placed the egg in the nest.

The baby that will hatch will have a much better chance for survival with an osprey upbringing rather than one done by humans with puppets.

This is another example of the remarkable job PG&E has done assisting these magnificent birds time and time again, through its policies and its conscientious employees.


LAKE PILLSBURY – A 3.1 earthquake occurred early Thursday, and was followed by several more quakes over the course of the morning.

The 3.1 quake, centered eight miles west northwest of Lake Pillsbury along an unnamed fault, was recorded at 7:40 a.m. at a depth of 4.1 miles, the US Geological Survey reported.

Within five minutes, a second quake in the same area occurred, measuring 2.6 in magnitude, according to the US Geological Survey.

Five more smaller earthquakes followed over the next three hours, ranging up to 2.4 in magnitude, the US Geological Survey reported. Two were centered in the same location as the first two quakes, two others were nine miles west northwest of the lake, and one was six miles north of the lake.

Over the past month, seismic activity has become a daily occurrence in the Lake Pillsbury area, according to US Geological Survey records.

Since the start of April there have been eight earthquakes measuring 3.0 in magnitude or above. The largest, a 4.8 magnitude quake, took place on April 18, as Lake County News previously reported.

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Bill Bordisso's students have become pen pals with schoolchildren in Uganda. Courtesy photo.


Editor's note: This is the first of two articles by Clearlake resident Leslie Weeks about a trip to Uganda she took in December with her husband, John Weeks, MD, and their daughter.

It takes imagination and understanding to want to help those in a third world country who have been trampled by poverty and disease as well as decades of horrendous dictatorship. It also takes a lot of determination to break the numerous barriers that are blocking the way. Furthermore, it may result in a different outcome than one expects.

My husband, daughter and I were lucky to be able to travel to Uganda this December. We were invited to experience this incredible country by Arthur Bikangaga, who is originally from Kabale, Uganda.

Arthur had left during the height of the Idi Amin years, after too many close calls with this dreadful dictator. His father and mother were still there, amazingly intact despite their political participation. Unfortunately, although Arthur’s father lived a long and productive life, he died an hour before we arrived. He lived long enough to say good-by to his son.

Uganda is a landlocked African country of 27 million people struggling to achieve a stable economy with a more modern, safe reputation.  It is surrounded by Sudan, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Kenya, and Tanzania. The second largest lake in the world, Lake Victoria, sits on its southern border.

Uganda is glaringly impoverished. The average yearly income is about $1,200. Signs requesting aid for orphans are posted everywhere you look because so many parents die before they turn 45. Women and children carry water to their house in five-gallon jugs so the family can clean and drink. Even at an early age children earn money by running to cars with sticks of cooked chicken, fruit, or maize to sell to slowing traffic.

Uganda is also a beautiful, lush place where people commonly greet you with the phrase “you are welcome.” There is no intolerance between races. The people are generally frank and straightforward. The villagers resolve differences in regular community meetings. Entire communities attend and help pay for lavish weddings. It is unthinkable not to pay your respects to a family who has had someone pass away.

Because of Arthur’s invitation, we began a “safari” (which means journey in Swahili), which began in Lake County, continued in Uganda, and, at least for me, hasn’t ended yet.

Our safari was also inspired by Bill Bordisso, who teaches a fourth grade class at Lower Lake Elementary School. He had established a pen pal relationship between his class and a school in Uganda, thus initiating a cultural connection with a Ugandan school, Kiyoima Primary School, and his own class. He became interested in this school because of his sister, Kate.

Lower Lake connection

Kate has been helping the Kiyoima School since she visited Uganda four years ago when she went to the Kibale Forest chimp reserve, which is near the school. She met Julia Lloyd, a young woman completing her PhD on the influence of humans on chimp behavior. They became fast friends.

Julia introduced Kate to Ronald, who works at the chimp reserve as a guide, and had graduated from the primary school as “Best Boy.” Best boy is awarded to the most promising boy in the class. Through Ronald, Kate and Julia both became involved in the school and have been helping it ever since.

This primary school is located about six hours northwest of Kampala, the capital of Uganda. It is in the midst of a swamp, and next to the chimpanzee reserve. The school has a few cinder block buildings, a couple shelves of books, and eight instructors. There are more than 500 students who must walk to school each day. The assistant headmaster walks six kilometers to work each day.

Because of the long treks for children and teachers, the school is trying to become a boarding school. A recent donation allowed the school to purchase mattresses. The children each carried a mattress on their head through the swamp to the school, giggling and laughing the whole way.

Primary schools in Uganda are free and go through grade seven. The parents are required to provide all school supplies, including pens, paper, books, and school uniforms. Girls must all have their hair cut very short, almost shaved. Their skirts fall below their knees, and socks meet the skirt’s hem. They are all the same color, usually green or blue. Black shoes complete the outfit. No jewelry is allowed while they are in school.

After seventh grade, schools are private and testing determines what quality of school the child attends next. The family then pays the full fee for continued education.

When Kate told Bill about the school, he eagerly wanted to involve his students. He taught them about Uganda, and his class began writing pen pal letters. The children in Uganda are getting excellent practice with their English by writing back regularly. Both groups of kids are learning about each other’s cultures, opening up their minds to the beauty of diversity.

Amidst Bill’s animal skeletons and motorcycle models, Ugandan photos and maps are displayed in the classroom. The fourth graders in his classroom have not only become educated about the geography and culture of Uganda, but have become familiar with the entire continent of Africa.  They eagerly await letters from their pen pals.

As well as offering to carry the pen pal letters to the school, we videotaped Bill’s class singing and put together a musical postcard. Inspired by Bill’s dedication to this cultural exchange, we also collected donations from the generous staff at Redbud hospital.

We ended up with four large suitcases of school supplies, eye medicines and dental supplies.

With letters, school and medical supplies in hand, we were off to Uganda. We arrived after 36 hours of traveling to find that all of our luggage had been lost. Two more hours of filling out paper work (there is a different sense of time in Uganda, no one was in a hurry to get us on our way) we then left in a taxi at midnight to the Makerere University Guest house where we were to stay.

Bill's singing telegram


Note: Tomorrow, Leslie Weeks describes learning about the Ugandan economy and social customs, and experiencing a safari.


Andre Stevens was arrested Friday by Clearlake Police. Lake County Jail booking photo.


CLEARLAKE – Police arrested a Clearlake man Friday in connection with an early morning homicide.

Clearlake Police reported that they arrested 42-year-old handyman Andre Lafayette Stevens on murder charges after officers found him with a weapon and the victim identified him.

A statement from Clearlake Police Lt. Mike Hermann said that officers were dispatched to the 14100 block of Lakeshore Drive shortly after midnight on a report of a stabbing in progress.

Sgt. Tim Celli and Officer Tim Hobbs arrived on scene within moments, Hermann reported, to find Stevens still holding the knife with bloody hands.

Celli and Hobbs detained Stevens and found the victim nearby with multiple stab wounds, Hermann reported.

The victim, who police initially found conscious, identified Stevens as his attacker before dying of his injuries, according to Hermann's statement.

Several residents of the area told police they witnessed the incident, Hermann reported, because the victim had called for help.

Clearlake Police detectives arrived at the scene, Hermann reported, and Stevens later provided police with a statement on the incident. Hobbs arrested Stevens, who was transported to the Lake County Jail and booked for murder.

Hermann's statement said police have not yet released the victim's name pending notification of family.

Police say the investigation is ongoing with no further information available at this time.

Anyone with information in the case is asked to call the Clearlake Police Department's Detective Division, 994-8251.

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


LAKE COUNTY – On Wednesday, Rep. Mike Thompson criticized President George W. Bush's Tuesday veto of an emergency spending bill for the Iraq war that included a timeline for withdrawing the troops.

Thompson's office issued a statement in which he said Bush's veto “signals his determination to keep this war going indefinitely.”

Bush's veto comes as a bill Thompson authored, which includes a similar call for a timed withdrawal, moves through Congress.

The veto also canceled emergency funds for rural areas like Lake County through an amendment to renew the county payments law, which funds counties based on historic timber receipts.

The U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health and Iraq Accountability Act, HR 1591, passed the House on a narrow 110 to 60 vote in March, as Lake County News previously reported. A Senate version of the bill also passed, before ultimately going to the president's desk this week, where it was vetoed.

The bill included increased funding for military and veterans' health care, allocations to improve the readiness of stateside troops and military housing allowances.

However, it also called for withdrawing US troops by Aug. 31, 2008.

Because of the timeline aspect, President Bush had said for months he would veto the bill, which Thompson and others in Congress knew early on.

Although this wasn't the bill he wanted, Thompson said in March he and others in Congress who were against emergency supplementals supported it, calling it “the most responsible bill we could have passed given the divisions in this very diverse Congress.”

Thompson's statement noted that even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said that a timeline such as was included in HR 1591 “communicates to the Iraqi government that this is not an open-ended commitment.”

“Our troops have done what we sent them to do,” Thompson stated. “It's now time for the Iraqis to bring peace to their country. We need to show the Iraqi government that we're serious about the benchmarks we've set for them. Just asking them to meet the benchmarks hasn't worked for four years. This bill sets a realistic timeline for making progress in Iraq."

Thompson also took issue with Bush's criticism of domestic emergency aid that was included in the bill, including money to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, aid to farmers who suffered agriculture disasters, and fund schools and roads.

Included in the Senate version of the bill was an amendment to restore funding to an updated version of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act, commonly known as the county payments law, according to the office of Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, one of the authors of the amendment and the original bill.

California's most recent allocation from the bill was $68 million, of which $1 million came to Lake County. That $1 million, in turn, was divided between the county's road department and area schools, with about $240,000 going to Upper Lake's high school and elementary school, according to the Lake County Office of Education.

Thompson said the bill isn't “pork,” but is meant to offer emergency aid. He added that Bush should put funding requests for the war through the annual budget process, where they belong.

“He has sought to hide the true costs of the war by continuing to use emergency supplemental funding bills, while criticizing the emergency domestic funding the supplemental should be used for,” Thompson said.

The bill also would have included help for those in Northern California affected by the decision to divert water for salmon, which not only resulted in killing salmon but taking away income from thousands of families, Thompson said.

Other funds would have helped fund the county's veterans facilities, including Walter Reed Hospital. Last week, Thompson said he visited the hospital, which he said he's done regularly since the war began. “I met a soldier who had traveled 300 miles for his 14th surgery because he couldn't get adequate care at his local veteran's hospital.”

The veto of HR 1591 doesn't bode well for a bill Thompson introduced earlier this year, HR 787, the Iraq War De-Escalation Act of 2007, which also includes a timeline for withdrawal.

In fact, Thompson's bill calls for the troops to be brought home by March 31, 2008, months earlier than HR 1591's provisions. Sen. Barack Obama's SB 433 is the companion to Thompson's bill.

Many of HR 787's provisions were included either directly or in modified form in HR 1591, said Anne Warden, Thompson's spokesperson.

Is Thompson concerned that if his bill passes Congress, it, too, will ultimately die on the president's desk?

No, said Warden.

“His bill is helping to continue the pressure on the president, and we're going to keep that pressure on until we have a plan for ending the war,” she said. “The party is in line with that thinking and Rep. Thompson is going to continue pushing his bill as meaningful plan for Iraq.”

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


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