Sunday, 14 July 2024


UPPER LAKE – The Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake have received approval from the federal government to place land in trust, a decision tribal representatives say is a crucial step in moving forward with plans to build a $35 million casino.

The US Department of the Interior's Office of the Secretary has issued a “finding of no significant impact” – or FONSI – on the tribe's proposal to place an 11.24-acre site on Highway 20 in trust, said the tribe's attorney, Robert Rosette.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs approved the finding based, it said, on analysis and recommended mitigation measures in a May 2007 draft environmental assessment, as well as comments from the public, responses to those comments, the tribe's request for a reduction in acreage and the development of a final environmental assessment.

Rosette said the FONSI is an important legal entitlement that will allow the 200-member tribe to proceed with building a casino on its land next to the Upper Lake County Park.

Tribal members were “elated” by the news that BIA was approving placing the land in trust, said Rosette.

“It's a significant victory in the grand scope of their project,” he said. “Emotionally, as well, it means an awful lot to this tribe to reestablish their land base.”

The last thing the tribe must do before it can break ground on the casino is to get an approved tribal gaming compact with the state, said Rosette. “That's certainly a priority now.”

Negotiating with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for that compact hinged on the FONSI, since Schwarzenegger has had a policy of not negotiating with tribes unless their land already was in trust, said Rosette. The federal government must then approve the compact.

Rosette said there's an outside chance the tribe – which already has had preliminary meetings with representatives from the governor's office – might be able to have a compact ready to be approved by the state Legislature before it adjourns for its fall break in mid-September.

That could put the tribe on track to break ground on the $35 million casino project in the first part of 2009, which Rosette called “a best-case scenario.”

He estimated construction will take between a year and 18 months to complete.

Once finished, the facility will create 250 jobs, said Rosette. One of the tribe's main reasons for pursuing the casino is to provide jobs for tribal members. However, most of the jobs will be available to Lake County residents, since many of the tribal members don't live in the area, he said.

Rosette said the tribe has entered into an agreement with Luna Gaming Upper Lake LLC, a Michigan-based gaming management company that is funding the project.

The company is involved with Indian casinos including Rolling Hills Casino in Corning and Little River Casino Resort in Manistee, Mich., besides having commercial gaming interests in Detroit and operating Cal Neva Resort in Lake Tahoe, according to its Web site. Luna Gaming also is working on casino development projects with Oklahoma's Kiowa tribe and the Ewiiaapaayp Band of Kumeyaay Indians in San Diego.

Rosette said the Habematolel casino will be a “class 3” Las Vegas-style establishment, with 20,000 square feet of gaming space featuring 349 slot machines as well as blackjack and other card games.

Phase one of the project also will include a restaurant and bar, said Rosette. Phase two of the project may include a small, 200-room hotel, which the tribe included in its environmental impact report and which the federal government approved.

To supply water to the casino, the tribe will dig its own well, said Rosette.

The tribe at one point had considered annexing to the Upper Lake County Water District, as Lake County News has reported. In October 2007, the tribe paid the district more than $7,700 for an engineering study that explored hooking the casino into the district as well as other alternatives

FONSI is a final step in tribe's restoration

Rosette said the FONSI finding is a final milestone for the tribe, which received its Restored Lands Determination last November in order to reestablish its reservation.

The Habematolel's lands in Lake County were lost in the 1950s under the federal “termination” policy, said Rosette.

A report from California Indian Legal Services said 38 California tribes lost their lands and federal recognition due to termination, with many of the tribes now seeking to have their status restored, some through litigation.

The Habematolel were among those tribes that took their battle to court, winning a lawsuit against the United States in US District Court in 1983, with the court finding the tribe's termination was unlawful, Rosette said.

Yet, while they won in court, it didn't mean they received their land back. So Rosette said the tribe has worked since then to acquire new land suitable for tribal government purposes.

It also took the Habematolel 20 years to receive Bureau of Indian Affairs approval on a tribal constitution, said Rosette, which wasn't complete until l2004.

The constitution was another in a series of necessary steps, as it made the tribe's government legitimate in the eyes of the federal government, said Rosette.

Once the constitution was accepted, said Rosette, the tribe moved quickly to reestablish their land base, working on their deed of trust application in late 2005. That resulted in this latest approval to place their acreage in trust as “Indian Lands.”

Forging relationships with the county

County Chief Administrative Officer Kelly Cox is optimistic about the casino's possible benefits.

“Overall I suspect it will be a positive impact on the economy,” he said, with the casino creating jobs both during construction and once it's up and operating. He added that he hopes they add the hotel, because more lodging facilities are needed in Lake County.

Cox also praised the tribe for the way it reached out to the county to create a positive working relationship.

On July 11, 2006, the county and the tribe entered into a detailed memorandum of understanding which Cox said covers everything from law enforcement and traffic control, to adhering to state building code requirements, air quality issues, fire and emergency services, the tribe's willingness to support agritourism and address the impacts of problem gaming.

All county department heads got together, discussed their concerns and included them in the lengthy agreement, said Cox. “It covers everything we can think of.”

In addition, the tribe agreed to pay revenue in lieu of property tax as though the land were privately owned, and will pay taxes and fees like any regular developer, Cox said. He thinks that, from the county government's standpoint, the result will be a plus on the revenue side.

“We had excellent negotiations with them,” he said. “They wanted to do the right thing, from day one.”

The county also wanted to do the right thing and not take unfair advantage of the situation, said Cox, which meant not taking the path of some other local governments that have tried to extract millions from tribes. Rather, the county simply asked the tribe for agreements and fees that would be expected of any developer.

“I think we came up with a good agreement,” he said. “Neither one of us were trying to harm each other.”

The tribe has already proved true to its word; Cox said the Habematolel have contributed $378,000 to the Lake County Sanitation District for improvements to the sewer system that the casino will necessitate.

The tribe also offered its support of the Middle Creek Restoration Project, despite the fact that it will put a large portion of the 60 acres the tribe owns under water, said Cox.

Originally, the tribe had intended to put all 60 acres in trust, but Tribal Chair Sherry Bridges said in a written statement that, based on local government's concerns and those of area residents, the tribe and its executive council made “a great sacrifice” and scaled back the amount to the 11.24 acres.

Cox said a separate agreement, reached between the tribe and the county in June of 2007, covers that reduction in acres for the restoration project.

“There's a strong level of trust and credibility that's been established by this tribe with local government, as well as state and federal,” said Rosette.

He said the tribe has chosen to exercise its sovereignty in a new way, by reaching out to the various levels of government and the community. “There are several projects around the state that are following the same processes that Upper Lake is, they're just not moving with the same efficiency as Upper Lake is.”

That's because some tribes try to circumvent parts of the process and it ends up in delays, said Rosette, an expert in Indian gaming law who has represented other tribes in casino projects, including previously working for the Elem Colony on their recent casino efforts.

He said the Habematolel Pomo are aiming to set up a strong, mutually beneficial relationship that will work out for everybody.

Rosette added that the Habematolel “hope to be an example to other tribes.”

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Firefighters work on the small grass fire Saturday evening near Hill Road. Photo by Harold LaBonte.


LAKEPORT – Firefighters were able to quickly contain a small grass fire that broke out Saturday evening along Lakeshore Boulevard.

The fire was reported shortly before 6 p.m. near trees and power lines in the vicinity of Hill Road.

Lakeport Fire Protection District responded and was able to contain the fire to only a very few acres, with a helicopter summoned to the scene canceled.

Two Lake County Sheriff's deputies questioned a subject at the scene about the fire but no one was detained.

Although the fire was under power lines none of the lines appeared to have been damaged and none were down.

Firefighters said they were not sure of what caused the fire.

Harold LaBonte contributed to this report.

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Firefighters were able to quickly contain the fire to, at most, a few acres. Photo by Harold LaBonte.


MENDOCINO NATIONAL FOREST – Firefighters have prevented the Soda Complex from burning any more acreage, with the complex remaining at 95-percent containment while other fires on National Forests around Northern California continue to burn huge areas.

The Soda Complex has burned a total of 8,652 acres, with 3,043 acres burned by the Mill Fire, which is 93-percent contained, and is the last – and the largest – of the complex' fires to continue burning, according to US Forest Service spokesman Marc Peebles.

Officials expect the complex, located to the north and northwest of Lake Pillsbury on the Mendocino National Forest's Upper Lake Ranger District, to be fully contained Saturday, Peebles said. There are 782 personnel assigned to the fire, a number slightly down from the previous day.

Firefighters on the Mill Fire made good progress holding and performing mop up procedures on containment lines even though hampered by poor visibility due to smoky conditions, Peebles reported. The fire continued to hold with no further advancement into the steep terrain in the southeast portion of the fire.

He said fire suppression repair work continues on numerous portions of the fireline.

Aircraft – used to patrol controlled fire areas and make water drops on the Mill fire – couldn't operate Thursday afternoon due to poor visibility, Peebles reported.

Peebles said excess crews and equipment will begin to be released to assist in other firefighting efforts in California.

Wildfires continue to rage on Forest Service lands in California.

The National Interagency Fire Center reported Friday that there are 15 fire complexes statewide – the Soda Complex among them – burning statewide. Approximately 671,939 acres have been burned in those fires.

On Friday, officials reported that 18-year-old National Park Service firefighter Andrew Palmer, working on the Iron Complex of fires on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest near Redding, died of injuries suffered on the southwest flank of the Eagle Fire late Friday afternoon.

Also late Friday, officials reported that the Yolla Bolly Complex – part of which is on the Mendocino National Forest – has been separated out from the Lime Complex and is once again being managed separately.

Dave Larson’s Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team took over management of the complex, which consists of four fires that have burned 64,658 acres. The complex is 15-percent contained.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Abigail Kimbell will visit Redding on Saturday where she'll meet with Pacific Southwest Regional Forester Randy Moore and Shasta-Trinity National Forest Supervisor Sharon Heywood to discuss the wildfire situation in Northern California, the Forest Service reported Friday.

During the visit, Kimbell will meet with firefighters and thank them for their work and discuss rehabilitation of federal lands, along with the effective coordination of resources between local, state and federal partners during this wildfire siege, according to the Forest Service statement.

Air conditions in Lake County Friday continued to be smoky in some areas on Friday, with winds helping to clear away some of the smoke in the late afternoon.

Deputy Air Pollution Control Officer Doug Gearhart said the smoke in the air basin continues to come from the Soda Complex, as well as the Lime Complex farther north, brought here by north to northwest winds.

He said air conditions – trending toward the unhealthy range on Friday – are expected to improve slightly for Saturday and into Sunday, with west to northwest winds developing. Unhealthy air quality conditions may develop and persist should winds shift to a more northerly flow.

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

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Lance Corporal Ivan Wilson, 22, who died July 21, 2008 in Afghanistan's Helmand province, will be remembered at a special public memorial opening Monday. Courtesy photo.


LOWER LAKE – On Monday a public memorial will open to the public in honor of a local Marine killed in Afghanistan last week.

Lance Corporal Ivan Wilson, 22, died July 21 after being fatally injured by an improvised explosive device while supporting combat operations as part of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan's Helmand province, as Lake County News has reported.

A memorial site where the community may pay its respects and offer tributes to the young Marine will open Monday at Jones and Lewis Clear Lake Memorial Chapel, located at 16140 Main St. in Lower Lake, Wilson family friend Ginny Craven reported.

Wilson's family in Clearlake has not yet announced details of his funeral or other final arrangements.

Wilson joined the Marines on Sept. 11, 2005, a year after graduating from Clearlake Community School. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, U.S. Marine Corps, based in Twentynine Palms.

Prior to serving in Afghanistan, Wilson had served a tour in Iraq in 2007.

County offices are keeping flags at half-staff in Wilson's memory through Monday.

Flags in Sacramento also were flown at half-staff late last week in Sacramento by order of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Private First Class Ivan Wilson, who dedicated his life to protecting the liberty of his fellow citizens and Marines,” Schwarzenegger said in a written statement. “Californians are forever indebted to Ivan’s unwavering courage and service. Maria and I send our deepest condolences to Ivan’s family and friends.”

The US Marine Corps told Lake County News that Wilson received a posthumous promotion from private first class to lance corporal.

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MENDOCINO NATIONAL FOREST – The last fire on the Soda Complex was nearing full containment on Saturday, as firefighters continued strengthening firelines in the remote wildland area where the fire is located.

The Soda Complex was listed as 97-percent contained Saturday, with burned acres remaining at 8,652, according to the US Forest Service.

The four-fire complex, located 15 miles northwest of Upper Lake on the Mendocino National Forest's Upper Lake Ranger District, had 655 personnel assigned to it on Saturday, the Forest Service reported.

Officials said the last remaining fire in the complex – the Mill, which is 95-percent contained at 3,043 acres – was primarily burning in 6-foot chaparral, oak woodlands, grass, timber and mixed conifer.

Fire crews continued on Saturday to conduct mop up operations and fire suppression work. The Forest Service reported that the firefighters' work time was prolonged due to the steep terrain and the area's difficulty to access.

The Yolla Bolly Complex has burned 64,658 acres and is 15-percent contained, according to forest officials. One of that complex's fires, the Vinegar, is at 35,238 burned acres with 10 percent containment. More than one-third of that fire's acreage is located on the Mendocino National Forest.

The fires have had a heavy impact on Lake County's air, but blue skies were visible again Saturday.

County Air Pollution Control Officer Bob Reynolds reported that good to moderate air quality is expected to continue through Sunday as long as winds continue to keep smoke from the Yolla Bolly and Lime complexes away from the air basin.

Reynolds said the smoke from Northern California wildfires is presently dispersing to a higher height and diluting more as it's transported than it did late last week.

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

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LAKEPORT – A Lakeport man was tasered Tuesday night after leading deputies on a foot chase.

David Wayne Howard, 19, was tasered during the incident, according to Chief Deputy James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

Bauman said a training team of two deputies in a patrol car was dispatched to the Robin Hill area on the report of a party in a field late Tuesday night.

The deputies located an intoxicated male adult walking down the middle of the road toward the patrol car, said Bauman.

When they attempted to stop and detain him, Bauman said Howard turned and ran.

“One deputy chased him down and ultimately had to tase him to get him to stop running,” said Bauman.

Lakeport Fire responded to check Howard over before he was taken to the jail, Bauman added.

Howard was arrested on misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest and being drunk in public, and two misdemeanor bench warrants, according to jail records.

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MENDOCINO NATIONAL FOREST – After five weeks and millions of dollars in firefighting costs, the Soda Complex has reached full containment, the US Forest Service reported Sunday.

The complex of four fires, touched off June 21 by a dry lightning storm, has burned approximately 8,652 in an area 15 miles northwest of Upper Lake and in the vicinity of Lake Pillsbury on the Mendocino National Forest's Upper Lake Ranger District.

The last of the fires to be contained was the Mill Fire, totaling 3,043 acres, which also was the complex's largest blaze. Other fires previously contained included the Monkey Rock, 1,829 acres; Big, 2,193 acres; and Back, 1,567 acres.

Forest Service spokesman Marc Peebles said the fire has cost an estimated $17,156,942 to suppress, although he added that isn't a final tally, as not all of the costs have been finalized.

Although the fire is contained, the work for firefighters is far from over. Peebles said fire crews are conducting fire line rehabilitation. “They're also still in somewhat of a mop up and control status.”

On Sunday there were still 655 fire personnel, eight crews, nine engines, one dozer, 10 water tenders and two helicopters assigned to the fire, according to Peebles.

Many of those firefighters are now being sent to other National Forest fires, including the Iron and Yolla Bolly complexes, Peebles said. However, fire crews who have been on the fire lines in excess of 14 days are being given a few days off before being reassigned.

Peebles is part of Dave Fiorella's Southern California Interagency Incident Management Team No. 3, which has been managing the fire from its headquarters at Upper Lake High School. Other agencies involved in the firefighting effort include Cal Fire; Bureau of Indian Affairs; Fish, Wildlife and Parks; the National Park service; and private entities.

On Monday at 7 a.m. the team is due to return management of the Soda Complex to the Mendocino National Forest's Upper Lake Ranger District, Peebles said.

A scaled-down firefighting crew will be maintained on the complex for mop up and patrol, Peebles said. He reported that some smoke from the interior of the fire area may be seen for a period of time, but should not threaten the containment lines.

Peebles said he's not sure which fire the incident management team will be heading to next, although they're likely to head home to Southern California for some rest first, since they've reached their mandatory 21-day time out on assignment.

He said the team thanked the various agencies and the town of Upper Lake for their continued support and assistance during this incident.

The team is one of three from Southern California, Peebles said. Although they often stay in their home territory, they've been spending more time in recent years in Northern California, he said.

“In the last couple of years this has been a very, very busy place,” he said.

Northern California incident teams also have helped out in Southern California when it's been needed, he said. “Firefighters go where the fires are.”

He added, “California has one of the absolute best master mutual aid systems in the nation,” which is how local, state and federal firefighters can mobilize so quickly.

Most of the fires burning around California now are on National Forests, Peebles said.

The National Interagency Fire Center reported Sunday that 14 active fire complexes are still burning on National Forests, and have scorched approximately 617,918 acres.

The June 21 lightning storm that touched off the Soda Complex ignited as many as 50 fires on the Mendocino National Forest. Included among those is the Vinegar Fire, a portion of which is on the forest and which has burned 38,160-acres. It's 10-percent contained.

That fire is being managed as part of the Yolla Bolly Complex, which was placed for a time under the same supervision as the Lime Complex. However, the Yolla Bolly Complex – located in the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness – has grown to approximately 64,615 acres in Mendocino, Tehama and Trinity counties, the Forest Service reported. That complex is 20-percent contained.

The Yolla Bolly and Lime complexes are sources of smoke that could end up in Lake County's air basin should the winds shift.

However, on Sunday, Air Pollution Control Officer Bob Reynolds said the blue skies that had appeared over the weekend are likely to continue, with west to northwest winds expected to prevail through Tuesday. Those winds will carry smoke from the major wildland fires to the north and east of the county's air basin, Reynolds said.

With the Soda Complex's full containment, Peebles reported that Pogie Point and Navy Campgrounds at Lake Pillsbury are now reopened to the public and no longer being used as sleeping areas for firefighters. The temporary flight restriction over the complex also has been lifted.

The public is cautioned to be very careful with fire and smoking in the area, where Peebles said fire danger is – and will remain – very high.

The Sanhedrin Wilderness and the southern portion of the Yuki Wilderness in the Upper Lake Ranger District will remain closed until further notice, according to Peebles.

Also remaining closed at this time are portions of the M1 road are closed between the intersections of the M1 with the M6 and M61, Peebles reported. The access road to the Mill Fire, Road 20N04, is closed to the general public to provide firefighting personnel safety, but is open to property owners and residents.


For information on forest road closures call the Upper Lake Ranger District, 275-2361.

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

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I’ve mentioned before about having a well stocked pantry and it’s a fantastic thing to have. Since I am not a wealthy person it has taken me years to get it to where I’m pleased with it, and I want to encourage everyone to do it. Not only does it help you save money but in case of a disaster you have plenty of food and supplies to fall back on.

The first step to starting up a pantry is to find a space that is out of the way. My pantry is in the laundry room just off the kitchen, but if you have room you could place yours right in your kitchen, or in a spare bedroom or out in the garage.

I bought some sturdy stainless steel shelving from a restaurant supply place online, but any really sturdy shelving will do. Then I started the slow process of filling the shelves up.

First of all start with things that you know you are going to need, like spices, dried pasta, muffin mix, sugar, flour, hot sauces, apple sauce and some of those whatchamajigits that you like to snack on. You don’t have to buy all of them at once, so don’t panic about the huge grocery bill. Just remember the next time you go to the grocery store to get one of these kinds of items, pick up two.

When I go to the store I may know that I don’t need vinegar right now, but I’ll pick up a new flavor anyway and throw it in the pantry. If I notice the market is having a special on Valerian root powder, great! I pick up an extra.

Eventually after a couple of years of doing this, you’ll stop one day and look at your pantry and realize that you could feed your family for a long time with just what you have in stock. I love it when I start to think about cooking dinner and I look in the pantry and realize, “I have everything we need to make lentil soup!” PANTRY RAID!

My daughter came to me one day and said she would like it if we had emergency supplies. Smart idea, so I told her that we could start collecting some in the pantry. On my shopping list once a month is “Disaster food,” and it reminds me to pick up one or two items of shelf-stable food. That includes canned ravioli, chili, tuna, ready-to-serve soups (none that have to have water or milk added since in an emergency those two items will be too valuable elsewhere or not available), heat-and-serve, vacuum-packed meals, and don’t forget big jugs of drinking water.

Once a month we buy one or two of these ready-to-eat type meals and every once in a while someone in the family will eat one on a fend-for-yourself night, but I just replace it at the next shopping run.

I’ve organized my pantry into categories. On one shelf is dried beans, rice and pastas, one shelf has baking equipment and ingredients plus things for dessert, one area for home brewing supplies, one shelf for the microwave and toaster ovens (it frees up kitchen counter space), one section for appliances like the food processor, blender, etc. (it frees up cupboard space and makes them much more accessible), one shelf for disaster food, and one for everyday cooking supplies.

On the floor underneath the shelves are half a dozen jugs of spring water. I also have a section that you may call “kid food” so when my daughter has friends over there is enough food for them on a moment's notice. Sodas, chips, dip, smoked oysters (don’t ask me, it’s what they requested) and maraschino cherries for sundaes, just to name a few. Other places in the house have the stocks of paper towels, toilet paper, etc.

I’m a big fan of buying in bulk, I’m the guy you see in the grocery buying 20 pounds of sugar and 18 rolls of paper towels. Following this practice has saved me hundreds of dollars every year just by getting a better price on something that doesn’t spoil or that I’m going to be using soon anyway. It all just gets tucked into the pantry and out of the way.

Something I will warn you about: when storing food in bulk, some food storage containers may look airtight but they really aren’t. For example, I’ve lost a lot of flour and rice to little worms and moths. To solve this, I tend to put everything in a gallon-sized zip-top bag before I put it into storage containers.

Now there are times that I look at my pantry and say, “Why in the world do I have a jar of pickled grape leaves?” And there may come a day when you look into your pantry and ask, “Why do I have a jar of hearts of palm?” When you’ve reached that place, you can feel comfortable that you are ready for any emergency.

We here in Lake County have mild earthquakes practically on a daily basis which keep us relatively safe from the build up of seismic energy, so we don’t have to worry about a massive earthquake. The fact that we live on top of a mountain keeps us pretty safe from disastrous flooding, too, so other than fire danger, and largemouth bass bent on revenge, we’re relatively safe from major catastrophes.

But researchers have predicted with a great deal of certainty that someday (likely very soon) San Francisco is going to shake itself right into the sea. Reports from the 1906 Great Quake tell that during that quake effects were felt even here in Lake County. Things on shelves were rattled off and there were some buildings damaged around the county, so it’s logical to assume that with the mega quake they’re predicting that we will feel its effects here as well, so it’s good to be prepared.

And even if I don’t suffer any damage from the mega quake or aren’t seriously damaged by it, much of my pantry can be sent to people in the Bay Area who will need it (I wonder if this makes my pantry a tax deduction?).

So even if no great disaster strikes you or your family, having a pantry with emergency supplies can be a benefit to someone.

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.


Elliott Thomas Bracket, seen here clothed in a recent Lake County Jail mug shot, is currently being sought by sheriff's deputies after he allegedly was interrupted committing a burglary.


UPPER LAKE – Lake County Sheriff's deputies are seeking a man who allegedly attempted to break into an Upper Lake home this morning and was last seen fleeing law enforcement – in the nude.

Elliott Thomas Brackett, 52, was interrupted Friday morning just before 9 a.m. while allegedly attempting to break into a home in the area of Highway 29 and Highway 20 in Upper Lake, according to a report from Lt. Dave Garzoli of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

Garzoli reported that deputies found Brackett on the scene – still clothed at that point – and, after a brief struggle, he fled on foot, heading toward the area of Bridge Arbor North and Bridge Arbor South.


There, deputies found Brackett in the water, completely nude, said Garzoli.

Brackett then swam away from detectives, swimming south down the water channel, Garzoli reported.

Officials have continued searching for him since, Garzoli said, but have yet to locate him.

Garzoli said Brackett is considered a danger to the public, and if someone spots him they should contact 911 immediately and report his location.

Chief Deputy James Bauman said the sheriff's department conducted a special phone notification Friday of 2,735 Upper Lake residents, warning them that Brackett was on the loose in the area.

Brackett is described as 5 feet, 11 inches tall and weighs 210 pounds. He is bald and was last seen in the nude.

He was arrested earlier this month by a Lake County Sheriff's deputy on a charge of possessing burglary tools.

That followed his arrest last month by Mendocino County Sheriff's deputies on charges in connection with his alleged involvement in a string of burglaries in Ukiah, as Lake County News has reported.

When Lakeport Police and Mendocino County officials located Brackett – who has been listed as a transient – on June 7 in a tent on 11th Street in Lakeport, he was allegedly found in possession of stolen property that matched items taken during the Ukiah burglaries.

Brackett also was arrested in July of 2007 on suspicion of trying to sell methamphetamine in the parking lot at Hopland Sho-Kah-Wa Casino.

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HIDDEN VALLEY LAKE – Even though it looks to be a tight budget year for the Hidden Valley Lake Community Services District, ratepayers won't have to worry about paying higher rates.

Last week the district's board of directors approved a tight budget with no rate increases for the fiscal year 2008-2009.

The budget reflects less revenue from the prior year due to the forecast of foreclosures and the economy, which in return gives the district a slim operating budget, according to a report from the board.

The district reported that it is able to sustain its operations by pumping during off-peak hours to obtain the lowest power costs, and running an effective, efficient water and sewer system through the water infrastructure project and the sewer system projects.

The district also continues to operate with the same number of employees as in 1992, the board reported.

The last rate increases were in August 2007, according to the district.


The small grass fire moved close to a barn, burning up some debris. Photo by Harold LaBonte.


LAKEPORT – Weed mowing is believed to be the cause of a small fire that was sparked Friday morning.

The fire was reported at 9:57 a.m. in the 3700 block of Highway 175, said Lakeport Fire Protection District Chief Ken Wells.

“There was a gentlemen out there mowing weeds and it started a grass fire,” Wells said.

The six-acre fire went through an orchard and burned debris around a barn, but no structures were lost, said Wells. The person living at the address reported there were no losses, he added.

Three engines and six firefighters from Lakeport Fire responded, along with an engine from Kelseyville Fire and three firefighters, said Wells.

Wells said Cal Fire also sent two engines, a hand crew and a helicopter, the latter used to make water drops.

The fire was contained at approximately 10:10 a.m., Wells said.

Wells said it was hard to know how exactly how the fire started, although he didn't attribute any fault to the man mowing the weeds with a tractor.

“We tell people not to cut grass after 10 a.m. because the humidity comes down at the temperature goes up,” he said.

The mowing, he added, was taking place right at that cutoff time. Wells added that the fire didn't appear to have been sparked by the mower hitting a rock.

With the season's extreme fire danger, the conditions were just right to start a fire, which could even have been caused by the hot tractor exhaust hitting the very dry grass, he said.

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Firefighters from Lakeport, Kelseyville and Cal Fire responded. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



Lakeport Fire Chief Ken Wells (fourth from left in yellow turnout jacket) directed the firefighting effort. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



A Cal Fire helicopter made several water drops. Photo by Harold LaBonte.




The closing arguments took place in Judge Barbara Zuniga's Department 2 courtroom in the Wakefield Taylor Courthouse in Martinez on Thursday. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


MARTINEZ – The number of bullets in a handgun used to shoot two men fleeing from the Clearlake Park home. An orange jacket and a fourth suspect alleged to have worn it. The lack of blood on a shotgun and a hammer not discovered at a crime scene until a followup investigation.

What all of those things have in common is they're key points of contention between the prosecution and defense in Renato Hughes Jr.'s double murder trial.

Closing arguments in the trial began Thursday in Judge Barbara Zuniga's Martinez courtroom, where the trial was moved after a change of venue was granted.

Lake County District Attorney Jon Hopkins and defense attorney Stuart Hanlon spent the day arguing the merits of their theories about what happened in the early morning hours of Dec. 7, 2005, in the Clearlake Park home of Shannon Edmonds.

One of the irrefutable facts of the case is that Rashad Williams, 21, and Christian Foster, 22, were killed that morning as they ran from Edmonds' house.

Edmonds admitted to shooting them as they fled and, in testimony during the trial, stated he shot Foster once in the back while Foster was down, a statement that would play a key part in Hanlon's arguments Thursday.

Hughes, 23, who wore a light gray suit and sat quietly through the day's proceedings, is being tried for his friends' deaths because the three of them are alleged to have set out to rob Edmonds of his medical marijuana, Hopkins argued.

That opens the door for the provocative act theory, which holds a person responsible for any deaths that result during the commission of a crime – such as an armed robbery – that could result in a lethal response.

Hopkins said Thursday that Hughes also is facing an assault charge because Edmonds was struck with a shotgun, plus an attempted murder charge in the near-fatal beating of 17-year-old Dale Lafferty, the son of Edmonds' girlfriend, Lori Tyler.

The boy was hit in the head repeatedly with a metal bat, which eventually required doctors to perform a procedure similar to a frontal lobotomy to reduce the swelling on his brain, Hopkins said. Lafferty has suffered permanent brain injury.

The other thing the two seasoned attorneys could agree upon is the sad nature of the case.

"There's clearly one thing in this case where there's absolutely no doubt. This case is a tragedy," Hopkins said as he led off closing arguments.

"Anyone involved in this case will never be the same," he added.

Both he and Hanlon would remind the 12-woman jury during the day that their's was a solemn, crucial task – the end of which was justice, not trying to make things right for those involved.

Crucial to achieving a conviction, as Hopkins would explain in a review of legal principles, is the need for jurors to come away from looking at the evidence with an abiding convicting of Hughes' guilt.

That includes showing Hughes was aware that his friends were allegedly intending to commit the robbery, and that in doing so he was aiding and abetting them – resulting in a provocative act.

"In this case there is a great difficulty in determining the facts of the case because of the circumstances surrounding the event," which Hopkins described as a "melee" that affected the perceptions of many of the witnesses.

Edmonds has said he saw two shotguns during the alleged attack by the three men on his family, although only one shotgun was recovered. "That's doesn't mean he's making it up," said Hopkins.

It does, however, require careful analysis of all witnesses and their credibility, based on the circumstances under which their recollections were created, Hopkins said.

Hopkins alleged that Hughes, Foster and Williams were part of a "crime team" that went into the house with the intent to confront someone and steal marijuana, and it ended in a deadly confrontation.

They allegedly broke a sliding glass door to gain entry to the house at 4 a.m., an act not done "for some legal purpose," Hopkins said.

He said the men began screaming and yelling and demanding "weed." They rushed into the home's master bedroom, where Foster allegedly struggled with, and assaulted, Edmonds.

Hughes, meanwhile, allegedly punched Tyler repeatedly in the face, Hopkins asserted. He said Hughes was wearing an orange jacket, a seemingly small detail mentioned in Tyler's 911 call that would have greater import as the two attorneys' arguments developed throughout the day.

Lafferty and his friend, 16-year-old Justin Sutch, got in the fight, with Lafferty originally wielding the bat that Hopkins said wound up in the hands of Williams, who beat Lafferty with it.

Lafferty wasn't doing anything to anybody when he was assaulted, said Hopkins. "He (Williams) just hauls off and creams him at that point."

Hopkins alleged that any reasonable person would know that hitting a person several times in the head with a metal bat will kill, so he asserted that Williams meant to kill the teenager.

The desperate struggle, said Hopkins, could be heard on the audio of a surveillance camera.

During the fray, Edmonds had "some adrenaline rush or something," said Hopkins, after he saw Lafferty's assault.

He said Edmonds threw the men off of him and someone – possible Sutch – held the bedroom door closed while Edmonds retrieved his pistol from a gun safe.

"The physical evidence show that 10 shots were fired," said Hopkins, all of which can be heard on the surveillance tape.

Although Edmonds thought he first shot the pistol in the hallway, it was in the living room where three shell casings were found. He was firing at Foster and Williams as they tried to get out the broken sliding glass door. Edmonds fired another round outside that was found in a pickup tire.

"And he fires three more and three more, in fairly rapid succession," Hopkins said.

When Edmonds later shows the pistol to police, there is one bullet remaining in the chamber and thee more in the magazine, which – in additional to the 10 shots fired – makes for a total of 14 bullets in the pistol, another point that would be argued when Hanlon's turn came.

Hopkins said Edmonds' state of mind can be inferred from the surveillance tape, on which he can be heard screaming. "It was clearly in response to the provocative acts that were happening in his bedroom."

He attacked the testimony Hughes gave during the trial, in which Hughes said he and his friends were at Edmonds' home to buy marijuana.

Hopkins questioned why, if they were buying marijuana at 4 a.m., they had a getaway car with its doors and trunk propped open, and why the car was parked down the street rather than being parked at Edmonds' home.

He also challenged the idea that a fourth person, who Hughes said was with them, could have squeezed into the back seat of Foster's Honda, which had clothes and his college book bag stacked on one of the seats.

If it were an attempt to buy marijuana, Hopkins asked why they broke the window, which experts agreed was shattered from the outside in. They also would have needed more than the $10 found on Williams to buy the drug, Hopkins suggested.

And then there's the matter of the weapons.

"They want us to believe there's no shotgun," said Hopkins. "It takes 47 days to locate a shotgun that could be involved."

That gun – a long-barreled, 12-gauge pump action shotgun with a wooden stock – was found in a field of wild parsley on 14th Street in Clearlake Park. The shirt Hughes wore at the crime scene was found covered with wild parsley burrs, Hopkins added.

In his testimony on the stand last week, Hughes said a fourth man – who he knew only as "Dre" – had been with he and his two friends that night. While Hughes said he had remained in the car outside, only rushing in when he heard a commotion, he said Dre was in the house with Williams and Foster.

"There is no 'Dre,'" said Hopkins. "Mr. Hughes does not make a credible case for his existence."

Sutch had recalled seeing a taller, skinnier man who didn't match Hughes' description and who was wearing the orange jacket. But Hopkins dismissed that testimony, saying Sutch also had stated at one point that a large white man had been involved in the alleged attack as well.

Defense attacks 'gaping holes' in prosecution theory

Hopkins' remarks lasted about two hours. The remainder of the day belonged to Hanlon, who, for more than three and a half hours, argued against Hopkins' statements, pointing to holes big enough to drive a truck through, he said.

Hanlon began by reminding the jurors of the importance of their part in determining Hughes' innocence or guilt. "Other than voting, this is the most intense and important public service you can do."

He emphasized that the law allows people charged with crimes to be cloaked with a presumption of innocence until the prosecution makes a case that leaves jurors with an abiding conviction of the truth of the charges.

"It's clear no one really knows what happened here," said Hanlon.

Hughes, he said, didn't shoot or hurt anyone, and had a minimal role in the incident.

He questioned why blood wasn't found anywhere on the shotgun if Hughes – who had a cut, bleeding hand – had truly carried it from the crime scene to the field where it was found. Just leaving the gun exposed to the elements wouldn't have cleaned away the traces of proteins, said Hanlon.

A woman also reported seeing Hughes run by her home – "running like the devil was chasing him" – but didn't see him carrying a shotgun, Hanlon said.

He agreed with Hopkins that the case was complex, but he accused the district attorney of attempting to shift blame onto Hughes and fit the evidence to fit the provocative act theory.

Merely being at the scene didn't mean Hughes was involved, said Hanlon. "The real issue in this case is, did by client aid and abet?"

The answer, in Hanlon's opinion, was no.

And then there was the issue of the fourth suspect, Dre. "There was always a fourth person there," said Hanlon. "It was clear."

Yet he faulted Clearlake Police investigators for making up their minds early in the investigation that it was a simple home invasion robbery. "That's all they wanted to see and they don't look at the whole picture, which could lead them other places."

Hopkins, he added, was part of forming that initial theory.

Hanlon questioned why witness testimony changed and enlarged over time, with the description of the taller man in the orange jacket beginning to match Hughes over time. He also asked jurors to consider why the clothes of Tyler, Edmonds and the others at the scene weren't tested for DNA evidence.

"You can't do what the police did," he told the jury, as they prepare to decide the case. "They solved it in the first miserable day."

A hammer found at the scene that had a microscopic spot of blood matching Hughes' DNA is another piece of questionable evidence, said Hanlon, because it wasn't discovered during the initial investigation, leaving its validity open to doubt.

Hanlon's defense of his client included a rigorous attack on Edmonds, who he called a drug dealer – who uses children to sell drugs – and a murderer, who shot Foster again while he was on the ground.

"He gets to do whatever he wants," Hanlon said of Edmonds. "Think about it: Is that someone you believe?"

Hanlon also challenged Hopkins' statements about the 14 bullets in Edmonds' pistol. Pulling the pistol out of evidence to show the jury, Hanlon said it could only have held 13 bullets.

On the surveillance tape an 11th shot can be heard, which led Hanlon to assert that Edmonds reloaded the pistol to continue shooting at the fleeing Williams and Foster.

"What you have here is cold-blooded murder by Shannon Edmonds," he said.

Doctors confirmed that one of the four shots that hit Foster in the back was fired while he was face down on the ground, Hanlon said. The bullet entered Foster's back and exited through his shoulder.

"He made a decision – 'I can be the executioner,'" Hanlon said of Edmonds, who he also suggested planted evidence on Foster and Williams to make it appear as if a robbery had taken place.

A key piece of information in Hughes' favor, said Hanlon, is that he wasn't picked out of a photo lineup by the witnesses at the scene.

Even if Hughes aided and abetted in a robbery, Hanlon said it doesn't fit the provocative act charges.

He said Hughes – a graduate of a Catholic high school, who had passed a violence prevention program and was preparing to return to school at San Jose State University – wasn't likely to have committed the crimes of which he stands accused.

Hanlon asked jurors to carefully question the rebuttal arguments that Hopkins will offer. "You cannot convict my client on these types of facts."

Zuniga told jurors that court will resume at 9 a.m. Friday, at which time Hopkins will give his rebuttal to Hanlon's arguments.

The judge will then give jury instructions, with the jury adjourning for the day at 1 p.m. due to a scheduling conflict for one of the jurors.

Jury deliberations to reach a verdict will begin next week.

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


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