Tuesday, 23 July 2024

News

THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED WITH INFORMATION ON THE PRECISE SOURCE OF THE SMOKE. 

 

LAKE COUNTY – Cal Fire said Wednesday that the thick smoke clogging the county's air basin is coming from other North Coast wildland fires, and isn't the result of any new fire activity in the county.


Cal Fire's St. Helena command center reported receiving thousands of calls from concerned Lake and Sonoma County residents on Wednesday morning, as conditions became smokier.


Residents in Hidden Valley Lake told Lake County News that heavy smoke was coming into their area.


In response, Cal Fire sent out helicopters to scout the south Lake County and north Sonoma County area, but they found no new fires.


Lake County's Air Quality Management District had advised on Tuesday that changing wind patterns could result in more smoke coming back through Lake County, brought here primarily from fires on the National Forests.


With this year's already devastating fire season well under way, Cal Fire isn't discouraging residents from being vigilant. The agency suggests calling fire officials if they see a column of smoke emerging from the ground.


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MENDOCINO NATIONAL FOREST – After a month of steady effort on the part of firefighters, the Soda Complex appears to at last be winding down.


US Forest Service spokesman Marc Peebles reported Tuesday that the complex, located to the north and northwest of Lake Pillsbury on the Mendocino National Forest's Upper Lake Ranger District, was 90-percent contained.


A dry lightning storm on June 21 sparked the four-fire complex, which has burned approximately 8,618 acres, Peebles reported. The final fire burning is the Mill fire, which is the largest of the fires, at 3,009 acres and 85-percent containment. Firefighters expect to have it fully contained by Saturday.


On Tuesday there were 890 personnel assigned to the complex, with 24 crews, 36 engines, three dozers, 10 water tenders and nine helicopters, Peebles reported.


While the Mill Fire continues to have the potential to spot and spread into steep and rugged terrain in the southeast/northeast direction, Peebles said fire crews were successful in holding it on the ridge above Panther Creek drainage.


Seven residences in the Deadmans Flat and Sunset Gap area to the east flank of the fire remain under evacuation, said Peebles.


On the western and southwestern flanks, Peebles said fire crews continue to mop up and improve line at Thomas Creek, with multiple aircraft continuing to support firefighters on the ground with water drops.


Patrol by air of the areas of the already-contained Monkey Rock, Big and Back fires will continue. Peebles said work will begin with district resource officers to begin rehab planning on the Monkey Rock Fire.


Forest Service spokesperson Phebe Brown said the Vinegar Fire on the Mendocino National Forest has burned 13,015 acres and is 30-percent contained. The Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness fires have burned 33,993 acres in Trinity and Tehama counties.


Brown said Covelo is experiencing a lot of smoke. The Mendocino National Forest set up air quality monitoring equipment in Round Valley on Tuesday to provide information to citizens.


Shifting winds brought smoke back into Lake County's air basin on Tuesday. Deputy Air Pollution Control Officer Doug Gearhart said conditions are expected to remain good to moderate through Wednesday, though moderate air quality conditions may develop into the overnight hours.


For more information about the forest fires visit Forest Service Web site at www.fs.fed.us/r5/mendocino or www.inciweb.org. For information about other fires around the state, visit www.cdf.ca.gov.


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Lake County Narcotic Task Force members investigate a drug case on Ninth Avenue in Lucerne on the afternoon of Monday, July 21, 2008. Alan Monroe, sitting on the ground to the far right, was later arrested on a drug charges. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.




LUCERNE – Law enforcement officials arrested a Lucerne man as part of a drug investigation that took place late Monday afternoon.


Arrested was Alan Wayne Monroe, 55, a mechanic from Lucerne, according to Lake County Jail booking records.


Monroe was arrested for felony possession of a controlled substance for sale, with bail set at $10,000.


On Ninth Avenue, at the side of the creek that runs through town and across the street from residences, Lake County Narcotic Task Force members had handcuffed Monroe and four other subjects – two males and two females – while an investigation took place nearby.


Task Force member Steve Ladeck said they were releasing the other four subjects.


Ladeck said he had no other information to release Monday, as the investigation was continuing.


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LAKE COUNTY – Two children injured in recent vehicle-related incidents appear to be doing OK, officials reported Tuesday.


Ten-year-old Jacquelyn Newton of Seaside, who was visiting Konocti Harbor Resort and Spa with her family, was hit Saturday by a pickup truck driven by 35-year-old Dennis Olson of Kelseyville, as Lake County News reported.


A UC Davis Medical Center official told Lake County News on Tuesday that the girl was in good condition.


California Highway Patrol Officer Josh Dye said the child suffered a partially collapsed lung, right leg fracture, and lacerations to her liver and spleen laceration as a result of the collision.


CHP arrested Olson on charges including hit and run and driving under the influence causing bodily injury.


On Monday evening, an 8-year-old Lower Lake boy also was flown to UC Davis Medical Center after he had a collision with a pickup, according to CHP Officer Mike Humble, who did not have the boy's name.


Humble said the boy, who was riding a motorcycle near his home on Riata Road, collided with a pickup truck pulling a horse trailer driven by Annette Jean Holley, 44, of Lower Lake.


“It appears that he's a fault,” said Humble, who did not have further information on the particulars of the incident.


The boy suffered a cut to his face and complained of abdominal pain but who was otherwise OK, Humble said.


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KELSEYVILLE – A Kelseyville man was arrested late Saturday on charges that he allegedly fled the scene after hitting a child with his pickup.


Dennis Elsworth Olson, 35, was booked into the Lake County Jail early Sunday morning on charges of hit and run resulting in injury, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs causing bodily injury, and driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 or more causing bodily injury.


Olson allegedly hit and injured a 10-year-old Seaside girl while driving through the Konocti Harbor Resort and Spa parking lot, the California Highway Patrol reported.


An eyewitness at the scene, who asked that their name not be used, said the girl had just gotten off a trolley and was crossing the street when she was hit by the pickup, which was speeding through the area and allegedly didn't slow down after the collision. The girl's mother and grandparents reportedly witnessed the incident.


The CHP report confirmed that the girl was crossing the street and Olson, who allegedly was intoxicated at the time, didn't see her.


The pickup struck the girl, leaving her with major injuries, according to the CHP. Olson is then alleged to have fled, driving westbound through the resort.


Witnesses at the scene reported staying with the child and her family while waiting for emergency medical personnel. CHP said the witnesses also provided lifesaving assistance to the girl.


Meanwhile, Lake County Sheriff's deputies searched the resort for Olson, using information from eyewitnesses, with sheriff's Deputy Brian Lande finding him shortly before the CHP arrived.


CHP conducted a DUI investigation and arrested Olson.


The little girl was taken to UC Davis Medical Center. CHP Officer Mike Humble said Monday that he didn't have further information on the girl's condition.


“We're doing the full investigation,” Humble said of the incident.


Olson posted $30,000 bail and had been released from the jail by Sunday afternoon, according to booking records.


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MENDOCINO NATIONAL FOREST – The Soda Complex reached 85-percent containment Monday, with firefighters hopeful that the last of the original four fires in the complex will be contained by Saturday.


The complex is located north and northwest of Lake Pillsbury on the Mendocino National Forest's Upper Lake Ranger District. The fires were ignited by a dry lightning storm June 21.


US Forest Service spokesman Marc Peebles reported that the last fire burning actively, the Mill Fire, had burned 2,981 acres as of Monday, a growth of only nine acres over the previous day. At the same time, containment grew from 60 percent on that fire to 80 percent.


Overall, the Soda Complex has burned 8,590 acres, with total containment rising from 79 percent Sunday to 85 percent Monday.


Peebles reported that spot fires continue to challenge firefighters on the Mill. However, he said both day and night shift crews made good progress as they continued to construct direct and indirect line around the slop over and spot fires.


He said firefighters will continue to construct indirect contingency line around the southern/eastern portion of the fire.


On the fire's east flank, between Deadmans Flat and Sunset Gap, seven residences in Lake and Mendocino counties remain under evacuation at this time, according to Peebles.


On the western and southwestern flanks, Peebles said fire crews continue to improve and hold containment lines and mop up along Thomas Creek, while multiple aircraft continue to support firefighters on the ground with water and retardant drops.


While the complex's other three fires – the Monkey Rock, Big and Back – have been contained, firefighters continue to patrol their areas, Peebles said.


The Vinegar Fire, which is part of the Yolla Bolly Complex – which now is managed as part of the Lime Complex – has burned 10,565 acres on the Mendocino National Forest and is 30-percent contained, said Forest Service spokesperson Phebe Brown.


County Deputy Air Pollution Control Officer Doug Gearhart reported Monday that the county's air quality should continue to improve this week, falling in the good to moderate range.


However, some smoke might reappear in Lake County's air basin Tuesday night and into Wednesday, Gearhart reported, as north to northwest winds are predicted. Gearhart said continued west to southwest winds have kept smoke to the north of Lake County.


For more information about the forest fires visit Forest Service Web site at www.fs.fed.us/r5/mendocino or www.inciweb.org. For information about other fires around the state, visit www.cdf.ca.gov.


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HIDDEN VALLEY LAKE – A project to add a left-hand turn lane on Highway 29 leading into Hidden Valley Lake has hit a snag, with paving problems causing it to be temporarily suspended.


The Caltrans turn lane project is meant to increase the safety in the area, where accidents have been known to happen.


Contractor Argonaut Construction of Santa Rosa began work on the project April 21, according to a Caltrans road bulletin.


But earlier this month work stopped, said Caltrans spokesman Phil Frisbie.


“We've widened the road and paved, but the project got put on hold,” said Frisbie.


That's because the new pavement didn't turn out correctly, said Frisbie, which will require Argonaut to repave it.


However, once the pavement is redone, the roadway will be striped and the turn lane completed, Frisbie said.


“We're expecting it to be done soon,” he said. “We don't have an exact time frame.”


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CLEARLAKE OAKS – A Nice man died Saturday afternoon in a crash that proved to be the second fatal motorcycle collision of the weekend.


Robert Edward Steinmier, 62, died in the crash, which occurred at 4:35 p.m. on Highway 20 east of Morine Ranch Road, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Mike Humble.


Humble said Steinmier was riding his 2001 Harley Davidson motorcycle westbound when he went over double yellow lines, attempting to pass vehicles.


Ahead of him, also traveling westbound, was a 2000 Chevy Sierra pickup truck driven by Douglas Wayne Cooper, 49, of Clearlake, Humble said.


Cooper, who was towing a boat trailer, slowed to make a left-hand turn into Clearlake Flagship Marine and Steinmier collided with the driver's side of the pickup, according to Humble.


Humble said Steinmier was pronounced dead at the scene.


There was no initial indication that alcohol was involved, however a full coroner's inquest is taking place, Humble said.


Earlier on Saturday, 30-year-old Mansur Balaei of Santa Rosa died after crashing his motorcycle head-on into a guard rail on Highway 175 three miles west of Lakeport, as Lake County News has reported.


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For more than a month jurors in the trial of 23-year-old Renato Hughes Jr. have heard a case filled with intricate details, differing versions of what happened on a December morning in 2005, and horrifying descriptions of a confrontation that ended in two deaths and a young man's serious assault.


They've also heard from Hughes himself about what happened in the Clearlake Park of Shannon Edmonds on Dec. 7, 2005, ending in the deaths of his friends, Christian Foster and Rashad Williams – deaths for which he is being tried.


All of that is expected to culminate this week in District Attorney Jon Hopkins' and defense attorney Stuart Hanlon's closing arguments.


The two men have, between them, nearly seven decades of legal experience. They've been battling each other in the Hughes case since Hanlon took it over in 2006, long before the trial opened last month in Martinez, after having been granted a change of venue.


Both say they expect closing arguments to take place Wednesday. Final evidence is due to be presented in court on Tuesday, when Hanlon is set to call character witnesses to testify on Hughes' behalf.


Hopkins said he expects Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Barbara Zuniga to give instructions to the all-female jury on Thursday. He added that he hopes a verdict could be returned the following day.


The prosecution has alleged that Hughes, Foster and Williams went to Edmonds' home to steal medical marijuana from him, a provocative act which resulted in Williams and Foster being shot to death.


Hughes, because of his alleged part in the robbery scenario, is being held accountable for his companion's murders under the provocative act law, which says a person can be held accountable for any death that results in the commission of a crime likely to result in a lethal response.


The defense has offered that the three young men – and a fourth, so far unaccounted-for suspect – were buying marijuana from Edmonds, who they allege is a known drug dealer – and the deal went bad, ending in him killing Williams and Foster.


Last week was notable for Hughes himself taking the stand to give his story. Hanlon told Lake County News that, initially, he wasn't in favor of Hughes testifying, but the young San Franciscan wanted to do so. In the end, Hanlon said he was glad Hughes did tell his story in his own words.


Hanlon said young people who are being tried in such serious matters as homicide tend to “fall apart” on the stand.


In Hughes' instance, on the stand last Thursday he had some good moments and some where he had a hard time keeping it together, said Hanlon, who added that he's “almost like a father” to Hughes.


There were questions Hughes “just couldn't answer,” said Hanlon, including where a gun came from that is alleged to have been used in the confrontation.


Perhaps one of the most important parts of Hughes' testimony involved a fourth man – known to him only as “Dre,” and said to be a friend of Williams – who he said was with him, Williams and Foster that night.


“The evidence clearly shows there was a fourth person there,” said Hanlon, describing Dre as skinnier and taller than Hughes' 5-foot, 9-inch frame, and wearing an orange jacket.


Hopkins questioned the account of the fourth man. “This was totally brand new,” he said. “I hadn't heard a word of it. Nobody had.”


He said that the name “Dre” in connection to the case hadn't come up from Williams' grandmother, who lives in Clearlake, or any of the young men in the neighborhood.


“This is somebody who immediately disappeared and was never heard or seen again,” he said.


Hanlon disputes that Hopkins didn't know about it, and said the fourth man has been a factor since early on. “I've known about it since I began the case.”


Hopkins questioned why, if the fourth man was such an important factor, it hadn't been brought up by Hanlon sooner in an attempt to clear Hughes. Hanlon, for his part, said the investigation has yet to find Dre.


For Hopkins, Hughes' testimony proved he had been in the house, a point which he said the defendant and his family had denied early on in the case.


According to Hopkins, Hughes testified he had been slumped down in the back seat of a friend's car outside of Edmonds' house, drowsy from smoking a lot of marijuana, when he heard a crash and went running into the home to see what was going on. It was then that Hughes said he cut his hand on a shattered window, which he said was the reason his blood was found at the scene.


“It's not impossible for it to have happened the way he said,” said Hopkins. “It just defies common sense that it would have.”


Hopkins said he plans to emphasize crucial pieces of physical evidence to disprove Hughes' account in closing arguments this week.


For Hanlon, it was another individual who provided the most intense and important moments of the trial – Edmonds himself.


During his testimony, Hanlon said Edmonds testified to shooting Foster while he was on the ground.


“That, to me, is murder,” said Hanlon.


He said self-defense doesn't allow a person to take such actions, which Hanlon called “vigilante justice.”


“That's not what the law allows,” he said.


Hopkins asserted that Edmonds actually testified that he said it was possible he could have shot someone while they were down, but the situation was so chaotic it was hard for him to know what was going on. “There's no physical evidence, really, that says that he did,” Hopkins said.


All of the victims' recollections differ because of the trauma they experienced, said Hopkins.


On the audio from a surveillance camera, which Hopkins played in court, he said Edmonds could be heard screaming. “He said on the stand, 'I lost it,'” Hopkins recounted.


Other notable points in the trial, said Hanlon, included gathering of evidence, including a hammer with Hughes' blood on it that didn't show up when law enforcement initially searched Edmonds' home.


“The question becomes, what is the evidentiary value of my client's blood on that hammer?” Hanlon offered, adding that Hughes' blood was on a lot of things in the house. “I don't know what it means.”


He called the police work “totally incompetent,” although he added police “did the best they could.”


Asked which moment in the trial stood out as critical, Hopkins said he couldn't pick just one. “I think the key is the combination of evidence.”


An uncommon case


The case was moved to Contra Costa County after a judge ruled last year that Hughes couldn't get a fair trial in Lake County.


When picking the jury in Lake County, Hopkins said they only had encountered two people in the more than 300 considered for jury service who had a bias based on race.


“We had a whole lot more than that in Contra Costa County,” he said, adding that diversity doesn't mean a lack of racial bias.


Hopkins said the jury includes 12 female members, plus four alternates – including two men.


The jury's makeup, Hopkins said, includes two black women, two Asian women – one born in Vietnam and one in South Korea – and one woman who came from Poland.


Hanlon said the case is a complex one which has been “grueling emotionally” for him because of its huge implications – namely, that a guilty verdict means Hughes is headed to prison, possibly for life.


He called the case against Hughes “outrageous” – “given who Edmonds is.”


“What it all means the jury will have to figure out,” he said.


The results of the confrontation at Edmonds' home two and a half years ago already have been devastating, he said, with Edmonds' family destroyed and his girlfriend's son left with a permanent brain injury from being hit in the head.


Hughes' life has been torn apart and “two wonderful families” – those of Williams and Foster – have two dead sons, Hanlon added.


Hanlon, who has been practicing law for 35 years, said the case is an uncommon one. “I wouldn't have made it this long if this was par for the course.”


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LAKE COUNTY – The closing arguments in the trial of a San Francisco man have been postponed by a day, court officials reported Tuesday.


District Attorney Jon Hopkins and defense attorney Stuart Hanlon originally were supposed to present their closing arguments in the trial of 23-year-old Renato Hughes Jr. on Wednesday in a Martinez courtroom.


However, Contra Costa County Superior Court reported late Tuesday that closing arguments had been pushed back a day to Thursday, when they're set to start at 9 a.m.


The trial began last month. The defense was granted a change of venue motion last November, which led to the trial being sent to Contra Costa County earlier this year.


The prosecution alleges that Hughes and his companions, Christian Foster and Rashad Williams, tried to rob Clearlake Park resident Shannon Edmonds of his medical marijuana on the morning of Dec. 7, 2005.


Edmonds shot Foster and Williams as they ran from his home. He has not been charged in the case.


Hughes, however, is being held to answer for their deaths under the provocative act doctrine, which allows him to be tried for homicide in the two mens' deaths because he is alleged to have taken part in a crime that resulted in a lethal response.


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LOWER LAKE – A juvenile riding a motorcycle was injured Monday evening in a collision with a pickup pulling a horse trailer near Lower Lake.


The California Highway Patrol reported that the crash took place shortly before 6 p.m. at Riata Lane and Spruce Grove Road.


Few details on the crash were available late Monday, with the CHP only reporting that the juvenile – whose age and gender were not available by time of publication – had collided with a Dodge pickup hauling a horse trailer.


Firefighters transported the juvenile to nearby Jonas Oil, which became an impromptu staging area for a Calstar helicopter.


The helicopter departed at about 6:30 p.m., headed for UC Davis Medical Center, which it expected to reach in under 30 minutes.


Monday evening's motorcycle-related collision was the third in as many days. Two fatal motorcycle crashes occurred Saturday.


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LAKEPORT – The California Highway Patrol reported that the victim of a fatal motorcycle crash on Highway 175 Saturday was a Santa Rosa man who was an experienced rider.


Mansur Balaei, 30, died after colliding with a guard rail three miles west of Lakeport, the CHP said Sunday.


The CHP said Balaei, who has ridden motorcycles for 16 years, was traveling with a group when the crash occurred at 1:22 p.m.


He was riding 50 miles per hour in a sharp curve when he lost control of the bike and went off the roadway, hitting a guard rail head-on, according to the CHP report.


Officials said a Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital emergency room nurse was the first on scene, and performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Balaei for 20 minutes.


REACH helicopter was summoned but medical personnel at the scene decided Balaei wasn't stable enough to travel by air, said Lakeport Fire Protection District Captain Bob Ray. Instead, Balaei was transported to Sutter Lakeside Hospital by ground ambulance.


CHP said Balaei succumbed to blunt force trauma injuries. He had been wearing safety gear – helmet, leathers and boots, Ray added.


Balaei leaves behind a 28-year-old widow and a 5-month-old daughter, the CHP reported.


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