Thursday, 25 July 2024


UKIAH – After a day of aggressive work on the ground and in the air, firefighters contained a Ukiah-area fire on Tuesday evening.

The Sheppard Fire, located in the Spanish Canyon and the Oak Knoll area outside of Ukiah, burned 105 acres after it was sparked Monday afternoon, as Lake County News as reported.

Cal Fire reported that the fire was 100-percent contained at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

There were no injuries reported and no structure loss, according to Cal Fire spokesperson Tracy Boudreaux.

She noted that several structures had been in “potentially devastating conditions.”

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, Boudreaux said.

Success in containing the fire quickly was credited to rapid response of aircraft, fire crews and homeowners keeping defensible space around their homes, Boudreaux said.

More than 325 firefighters were involved in the incident, including engines and overhead – or leadership – positions from out of county, Boudreaux reported.

Boudreaux said crews came from Cal Fire's Mendocino Unit, Ukiah Valley Fire, Ukiah City Fire, Redwood Valley/Calpella Fire, Hopland Fire Protection District, Potter Valley Fire, Brook Trails Fire, Little Lake Fire Protection District, Long Valley Fire Protection District, Comptche Fire, Albion Little River Fire, Mendocino Fire Protection District, Fort Bragg Fire, three office of Emergency Services engines staffed by Mendocino County local fire agencies, and the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office and the California Highway Patrol.

West winds on Monday night carried smoke from the fire into Lake County.

Lake County Air Pollution Control Officer Doug Gearhart said Tuesday that there were several hours on Monday night when there were measurable impacts from the smoke on local air quality, but those issues clear up.

Much of the initial smoke moving into Lake County on Monday remained elevated, only mixing to the ground late in the afternoon as the west winds subsided, Gearhart noted.

The smoke primarily impacted Northshore communities and the Mendocino National Forest, with residual smoke dispersing though the Lake County air basin late in the evening and overnight, he said.

On Tuesday, there were no measurable impacts on air quality from the Sheppard Fire's smoke, although in some areas minor smoke impacts might have been visible or noticeable, Gearhart said.

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

Authorities are looking for Berret Brown, who fled the scene of a crash on Sunday, July 19, 2009. Photo courtesy of the California Highway Patrol.

CLEARLAKE OAKS – Law enforcement officials are looking for an armed man who fled a crash scene on Sunday.

California Highway Patrol Officer Steve Tanguay said 24-year-old Berret J. Brown and a second unnamed subject ran from officers on Sunday morning.

Brown, who goes by the nickname “Bear,” is an active parolee at large who should be considered armed and dangerous, said Tanguay.

Brown was driving a 1995 Mazda MX6 northbound on Highway 53 approaching the stop sign at Highway 20 at approximately 10:30 a.m. Sunday when he struck the back end of a 2000 Mercedes driven by a 41-year-old Elk Grove woman who was sitting at the stop sign ahead of him, Tanguay said.

Tanguay said that, after the collision, Brown and an unknown male passenger got out of the Mazda and pushed it out of the roadway before fleeing the scene on foot.

CHP and the Lake County Sheriff's Office conducted a search for the men.

Reports from the scene indicated that one of the men was running north through nearby vineyards, and CHP had Verizon “ping” his phone to find him. One of the men – believed to be Brown – motioned in a manner that led officers to believe he was armed by no weapon was seen.

Tanguay said CHP asks anyone who has information about Brown's whereabouts to call the Clear Lake CHP office, 707-279-0103, or the Lake County Sheriff's Office, 707-262-4200.


UKIAH – Hundreds of firefighters have been called in to fight a Ukiah area blaze that is putting out thick smoke that the wind is carrying into Lake County's air basin.

The Sheppard Fire started shortly before 3:30 p.m. Monday, according to Cal Fire spokesperson Tracy Boudreaux.

By 9:30 p.m. Monday the fire had grown to 105 acres in size, with 60-percent containment, Boudreaux reported.

Boudreaux said the fire is believed to have started in the area of 3630 Robinson Creek Road, cross of Highway 253 in Ukiah. The fire is in the west hills, in the area of Spanish Canyon and Oak Knoll.

“We're hitting it pretty hard with air tankers right now,” Boudreaux said early Monday evening, nothing there have been “spotting problems” with the fire.

More than 300 firefighters were on scene by the end of Monday, along with five air tankers, one helicopter, one water tender, four hand crews, three bulldozers and 18 engines on scene, Boudreaux said.

“We drew all of the closest engines to jump on this right away,” she said.

Cal Fire resources also have been called in from out of the county, she added.

Earlier in the day, structures were reported to be threatened in the immediate area. By by Monday night Boudreaux said the threat to the structures was minimal – unless the weather changed Tuesday.

No evacuations were in force, although Boudreaux said some people were asked not to return to their residences while firefighters are working earlier in the afternoon.

Later in the evening Boudreaux said all area roads had been opened up, some to residents only and others – like Boonville Road – to the public at large.

Boudreaux said more aircraft and hand crews are expected to be on scene on Tuesday.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, according to Boudreaux.

“We haven't even had a chance to get to the origin,” she said.

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

NORTH COAST – More than 10,100 people participated in a Monday night telephone town hall hosted by Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA).

The majority of callers had questions about health care reform, according to Thompson's office.

The congressman also fielded questions on climate change, renewable energy, the peripheral canal and the state of our economy.

“It was great to hear from so many people and have a chance to talk about the issues facing our country,” said Thompson. “While I didn’t have a chance to get to everyone’s question, it was an important opportunity for me to hear from constituents about what’s important to them. People are understandably concerned about their access to quality, affordable health care, and I’ll continue to keep my constituent’s feedback in mind as Congress fine-tunes its reform legislation.”

Thompson will respond in writing to 565 voice mails left by participants after the call that were not able to ask their question during the hour long forum.

LAKE COUNTY – While the Midwest and Eastern United States experiences cooler-than-average temperatures, the West, including Lake County, continued to sizzle over the weekend with high temperatures above 105 throughout most of the county.

The question is, how long will these century-mark temperatures last?

The high pressure system that's been holding sway over Lake County is slowing being pushed out by a stronger low pressure system that will usher in temperatures closer to normal over the next week, according to the National Weather Service in Sacramento (NWS).

Highs today should top out around 95, and continue throughout the week, with lows in the mid- to upper-60s, the NWS predicts.

However, The Weather Channel (TWC) predicts that Tuesday and Wednesday will again surpass the century mark, with Thursday and Friday hovering closer to normal temperatures in the mid-90s.

Both the NWS and TWC agree that high temperatures for the weekend will reach the mid- to upper-90s, with overnight lows in the upper 50s to mid-60s.

The chance of precipitation from both agencies is zero with low humidity. Caution is advised as this is high wildfire season.

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

A Cal Fire helicopter dropped a hand crew that battled the fire before it began water drops. Spring Valley resident Melinda Needham captured this photo as the helicopter flew over her house on a water drop.


SPRING VALLEY – A grass fire in Spring Valley Monday afternoon burned 10 acres and jumped a road before firefighters brought it under control.

Firefighters were dispatched to the blaze, along New Long Valley Road, just before 1 p.m., according to Cal Fire.

Northshore Fire Battalion Chief Pat Brown credited Cal Fire Helicopter 104 and its crew for quick action.

He said they “pretty well saved the day” when the helicopter dropped off a hand crew that went to work against the fire, which jumped New Long Valley Road and started a run.

The helicopter then began dropping water on the fire, drawing the water from the nearby creek, according to area resident Melinda Needham.

She noted it was amazing how fast firefighters responded between the helicopter and ground crews.

Cal Fire sent five engines, the hand crew and helicopter, said Brown. Northshore Fire sent two engines and a water tender from its Clearlake Oaks station, along with one engine from Lucerne. Lake County Fire Protection District sent a water tender.

The fire was contained at approximately 1:40 p.m., according to Cal Fire.

Brown said the cause is still under investigation.

The fire caused an estimated $1,000 worth of damage to one structure, which it burned right up to before being contained, Brown said.

Monday proved an especially hectic day for area firefighters, especially in neighboring Mendocino County, where the Sheppard Fire was sparked near Ukiah around 3:30 p.m., as Lake County News has reported.

A fire near Lakeport threatened a home and outbuildings on Monday afternoon. A call to the home's owner late Monday was not returned.

At about 5:30 p.m., a small grass fire near Hidden Valley Lake at Spruce Grove Road was put out quickly, according to Cal Fire.

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

UKIAH – A large wildland fire burning near Ukiah is expected to be fully contained later today.

The Sheppard Fire was sparked Monday afternoon along Robinson Creek Road near Highway 253 in the west hills near Ukiah, as Lake County News has reported.

On Tuesday morning more than 300 firefighters on scene had kept the fire's size at 105 acres, said Cal Fire spokesperson Tracy Boudreaux.

Boudreaux said the fire was 85-percent contained, and full containment is expected Tuesday afternoon.

Additional aircraft will be dispatched on Tuesday to help bring the fire under control, Boudreaux said.

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

MIDDLETOWN – A deputy sheriff's patrol car was stolen Saturday evening after he responded to a call.

Officials said the vehicle was recovered a short time later but the vehicle's key and the deputy's personal cell phone were missing.

Capt. Rob Howe of the Lake County Sheriff's Office reported that a sheriff's deputy responded to what he believed to be a fight behind Noble's Bar in Middletown at 12:55 a.m. Saturday.

The deputy followed one of the involved parties into the bar, Howe said, and upon returning to the parking lot, the deputy found that his patrol vehicle had been stolen.

The deputy located the vehicle approximately 10 minutes later, parked behind Hardester's Market in Middletown, with the key and phone missing, Howe said.

Howe said the vehicle’s Mobile Audio Visual (MAV) Unit captured video of the subject believed to have stolen the vehicle.

He said the suspect is still outstanding at this time. No description of the suspect has been released.



LOWER LAKE – Local families are benefiting from a program that focuses on supplying children with nutritious food during the months they're out of school.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Summer Food Service Program is the single largest federal resource available for schools and local organizations that want to combine a feeding program with a summer activity program for children and their families – and the more people that take advantage of it, the better it is for the entire community.

During the school year, meals are available for children through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, but those programs end when school ends for the summer and many children face food insecurity – in other words, lack of meals or nutritious meals – during the summer months.

Konocti, Kelseyville and Middletown unified school districts are participating in this federally-funded program.

“It’s more than just a meal,” said Marla Peterson, Konocti Unified's food service director.

Peterson explained that the Summer Food Service Program provides a social outlet in the summer for youth and families to share quality time together without spending money, as well as provides an opportunity for KUSD to extend their services and deepen their connections to the community.

KUSD is participating in the USDA Summer Food Service program this year and is offering free breakfast and lunch to all youth up to age 18, and adults accompanying children may purchase a meal for $1.50.

Participation in the program helps families to fill the hunger gap so children and their families do not need to go hungry during the summer, said Peterson.

“And at the end of the month,” Peterson said, “families may even have extra money to do other positive activities together,” that they wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise – or would have had to scrimp on meals to do so.

KUSD is able to provide this program at no cost all students, regardless of family income, and the more youth and adults that participate in the program, the more funding the program receives, thereby ensuring it can serve more youth and families nutritious and economical food.

So far, KUSD has provided 600 to 700 meals per day to youth and the adults that accompany them, which includes serving some locally-grown produce from Irene Farms in Lower Lake, Leonardis Organics in Lakeport and Seely’s Farm Stand in Upper Lake.

All children are welcome to participate in this program; no proof of age or income verification is required. Everyone up to 18 years of age will be given free meals at breakfast and lunch. Adults accompanying children may purchase a meal for $1.50 per adult.

Because the lunches are served picnic-style, many families grab their lunches and head to area parks to play and enjoy a meal together, Peterson explained.

“Families come together, and they’re able to have quality family time together,” she said.

Recently, an excited line of children formed to receive their lunches – it was the place to be on a hot summer afternoon – with the adults standing off to the side.

After the children had received their lunches, Konocti Unified staff invited one older woman over to receive a lunch. The woman, who explained that she was caring for her grandchildren over the summer while their parents were at work, hugged the staff and told them that she didn’t know how she would have made ends meet if it weren’t for this program.

“We’re willing to go the extra mile,” Peterson said, not only of the food service staff, but of the entire Konocti Unified staff. “We’ve had great support from the whole district, from teachers to IT to administration.”

Another parent admitted that they didn’t need the assistance, but that their children wanted to be where their friends were, so they came to receive a lunch and join in the festive family atmosphere.

Because the program is available to all families in Lake County – regardless of income – participating youth and adults do not have to worry about being labeled, and everyone can enjoy the nutritious breakfasts and picnic-styled lunches.

To receive free meals for students and discounted meals for adults 18 and over, visit:

  • Burns Valley Elementary School, 3620 Pine Av., Clearlake;

  • East Lake Elementary School, 13050 High Valley Road, Clearlake Oaks;

  • Lower Lake Elementary School, 9240 Lake St., Lower Lake (call 707-994-4543, Extension 3211, as the exact location may change with the change in the regularly scheduled daytime activity).

Breakfast is served between 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. and lunch is served between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, throughout the summer break.

For more information, contact Marla Peterson at 707-994-4543, Extension 3211; for Spanish, call Lily Olivares, 707-994-4710, Extension 3214.

For informational brochures, printable flyers, and a public service announcement video that is being aired bilingually on TV8, visit the KUSD Summer Feeding Program Web site at .

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



Judge J. Michael Byrne discusses the motions in the Bismarck Dinius case as District Attorney Jon Hopkins looks on in Lake County Superior Court on Tuesday, July 21, 2009. Photo by Harold LaBonte.




LAKEPORT – On Tuesday District Attorney Jon Hopkins went forward with dropping a vehicular manslaughter charge against a Carmichael man, while the defense filed a motion arguing for prosecutorial misconduct due to an open letter Hopkins issued Friday.

Judge J. Michael Byrne ruled that he found no misconduct on Hopkins' part, although he told the district attorney he didn't think issuing the open letter at this time was a good idea.

The day also saw a jury impaneled for Bismarck Dinius' trial, set to start next week.

Hopkins moved to drop the manslaughter charge against the 41-year-old Dinius, who is being tried for an April 29, 2006, boating collision that mortally injured Willows resident Lynn Thornton.

Dinius was steering a sailboat owned by Thornton's boyfriend, Mark Weber of Willows, when it was hit by a power boat driven by Russell Perdock, an off-duty chief deputy with the Lake County Sheriff's Office. Thornton died a few days later. Perdock was not charged in the case.

In an open letter to the community issued last Friday, Hopkins announced his plans to drop the felony vehicular manslaughter with a boat charge against Dinius, but noted his intention to move forward with a felony charge of boating under the influence causing great bodily injury.

Victor Haltom, Dinius' attorney, argued that the two charges are basically the same, and rotate on the same factual issues, so dropping the manslaughter charge was meaningless.

He also filed a motion alleging prosecutorial misconduct on Hopkins' part for releasing the letter in the middle of jury selection.

Hopkins said he chose to release the open letter at a time when it would not influence the jury. “This publicity is the result of information after the entire jury panel has been admonished by the court not to follow any media, including Internet and so forth,” he said.

If there's a question of jurors having seen the information, he suggested it would be a good idea to question them during the remainder of the selection process.

He said counsel can issue statements to mitigate “recent adverse publicity” that might affect a client in a case such as this.

“My client, of course, is the people, the community,” he said.

Hopkins said there has been a “steady barrage” of media coverage on the case that goes back a long time. He faulted Haltom for allegedly submitting all of his filings and motions to the media, saying that Haltom's entire 51-page prosecutorial misconduct motion was on a Bay Area TV Web site.

“We have had a blatant publicity campaign for months and months and months,” Hopkins said.

As a result, Hopkins said jurors have come to believe information that he characterized as false in the case.

He said Haltom has engaged in person attacks on him. “That is not the tenor of what I released.”

Hopkins also asserted that he didn't release any information that argued Dinius is guilty.

Haltom, Hopkins asserted, released false and misleading information to inflame jurors, while Hopkins argued that his open letter “is designed to not affect the jury.”

In addition, Hopkins said he wanted Judge Byrne to rule on whether or not there was any legal authority requiring the DUI charge to be dismissed along with the manslaughter charge.

During his arguments, Haltom said Hopkins' Friday afternoon letter “is a remarkable, unprecedented event.”

“I've never seen anything like it,” said Haltom. “The whole thing is an argument that Mr. Dinius is guilty.”

Haltom said Hopkins' letter repeatedly accused Dinius of being a “drunken sailor.” The fact that he also included information about Dinius' previous driving under the influence conviction was “egregious” and wouldn't be admissable in court.

Byrne asked where the statement actually had ended up. Haltom said it was posted on the district attorney's Web site and published in local media.

Haltom said the press has been interested in the case throughout the proceedings, and he maintained he has spoken to the press in an ethical manner at all times. Any information he's released has been public record.

The timing of the letter will result in the issue being talked about, and will “slow things down” as they have to question jurors more closely, Haltom said.

Arguing for the dismissal of the DUI charge, Haltom said there are for elements to consider for both offenses – driving, being under the influence, commission of a negligent act or omission and proximate causation of death.

“In this case those two charges are the same,” he said.

Byrne noted that both “are alternative charges on the same fact situation.”

Hopkins said the charges are such that if a person is convicted on the two charges at once, they wouldn't serve time for both.

Byrne said he was bothered by the fact that they were spending about 45 minutes to hear the motions when they could be spending time on the jury selection.

Regarding the media coverage, Byrne said he had gotten into the case too late to start criticizing one side or another. He said there's a constitutional right guaranteeing the press access. “That's part of our system as much as the trial by jury is part of our system.”

However, he told Hopkins, “I don't think it was a good idea to issue a press release at this time.”

Jurors, he noted, will be tempted to look at the information. However, given his instruction to the jury, Byrne said he didn't believe the proceedings would be subjected to undue prejudice.

The judge also said he was satisfied that the district attorney was not guilty of misconduct.

While there has been a huge amount of publicity, a trial can create a vacuum where jurors must decide about a case based on what witnesses are willing to say under oath, Byrne said. “Our tradition is that's a better source of information to make a decision on” than what those same witnesses might say when they're not on the stand and have nothing to lose.

Hopkins said he's been concerned from the start about slanted media coverage. However, he added, “It doesn't matter what they hear from this point forward, they should not be listening, and it would cause a reversal on appeal.”

Byrne said he understand the district attorney is a political figure who has a right to respond to public opinion. He said he read over Hopkins' statement a few times on Monday afternoon and didn't find any issues with what was released.

He requested counsel on both sides not allow anything else to go out at this state, but said he found nothing that rose to the level of misconduct.

The judge wanted to move to jury selection, but Haltom brought up Hopkins' plan to dismiss the manslaughter charge. “That ought to happen before the jury comes in,” Haltom said.

Hopkins, rising, stated, “I would at this time move to dismiss the county one” in the “interests of justice,” adding he'll proceed on the boating under the influence charge and two lesser included offenses of driving with a blood alcohol level over 0.08 and driving while under the influence.

Shortly before the 45-minute hearing ended, Haltom told the court that if Hopkins said during his opening statement that Dinius had a previous driving under the influence conviction it would result in a mistrial.

Byrne agreed. “That part would be improper.”

“I certainly know that,” said Hopkins.

Jury selection continued throughout the day, ending in the seating of a final jury panel, said Hopkins.

The panel consists of seven men and five women, with four alternates – three men and one woman, he said.

Hopkins said testimony is scheduled to begin on July 28.

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




Victor Haltom, Bismarck Dinius' defense attorney, argued in Lake County Superior Court on Tuesday, July 21, 2009, that District Attorney Jon Hopkins was guilty of prosecutorial misconduct. Judge J. Michael Byrne found no misconduct. Photo by Harold LaBonte.

CLEARLAKE OAKS – A man was injured after he was approached and stabbed by a stranger last week.

Capt. Rob Howe of the Lake County Sheriff's Office reported Monday that Michael Wayne Schnell suffered a 7-inch laceration across his forearm in the incident, which occurred July 16.

Schnell was installing a swamp cooler at a friend's house at 12521 Foothill Boulevard in Clearlake Oaks when an unknown suspect approached and started shouting at them, according to Howe's report.

Howe said Schnell got into a brief argument with the suspect, who then produced a knife and slashed Schnell’s right forearm before fleeing the area.

Deputies responded to the scene, Howe said, and found Schnell, who was bleeding profusely and appeared to be losing consciousness.

Howe said medical personnel responded to the scene and Schnell was eventually transported by REACH helicopter to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital for treatment.

Deputies searched the area for the suspect but didn't locate him. A description of the suspect wasn't released.

LUCERNE – As California Water Service begins the process of seeking another rate hike for the community of Lucerne, a local grassroots group that wants to see Lucerne's water locally owned has reached a milestone.

On July 17 Lucerne Friends of Locally Owned Water (FLOW) received notification that it has attained nonprofit, 501c3 status, according to Craig Bach, the group's vice president. The status went into effect July 13.

He said the nonprofit application was submitted Feb. 13. It was Lucerne FLOW's third attempt, and Bach credited this latest attempt's success to the work of retired attorney Bob Plank, who assisted in making the application.

Bach said Lucerne FLOW will now be able to receive tax-deductible donations as it moves forward in its goal of gaining control of Lucerne's water production and distribution facilities.

Charlie Behne, Lucerne FLOW's president, added, “Now we can pursue some grants and things to help us with some of the things we want to do.”

Lucerne FLOW and its sister organization, Lucerne Community Water Organization, were founded in 2005 in response to San Jose-based Cal Water's proposal to hike the community's rates 278 percent, according to Bach. Cal Water has owned the town's water system since May of 2000.

Lucerne FLOW filed for and received its incorporation status in the fall of 2006, Bach said.

Cal Water is once again seeking a rate increase of 54.9 percent, which Bach said would go into effect in 2011.

Bach said Lucerne FLOW's mission is to gain control of Lucerne's water from the multibillion dollar Cal Water, which he said is guaranteed by the California Public Utilities Commission to make a profit.

Lucerne FLOW, Bach said, is modeled after other FLOW groups, particularly Felton FLOW. That group, located near Santa Cruz, recently gained local control over their water from Cal American, a subsidiary of the European energy giant, RWE.

The effort to meet Lucerne FLOW's goal of locally owned water will be a long one, cautioned Bach.

“It's not going to be done overnight,” he said. “It's going to be a long, tedious process.”

That long process will involve going through the Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO) and forming a community service district. The LAFCO process is estimated to cost about $15,000, Bach said.

Behne said Lucerne FLOW has spoken to LAFCO officials to get insight about what will be involved. Beginning that phase is “probably our next big step,” he said.

Bach thinks there's a good chance of succeeding, pointing out that Lucerne FLOW has been effective.

For one, he said it's succeeded in its efforts to keep Cal Water from getting that original large rate hike, which had been meant to fund the new plant. Eventually, Cal Water received a loan from the state for the plant.

Bach believes the new plant is working, but it's still having to deal with the unique challenges of Clear Lake's water in the third low water year. “This is like the test of the plant.”

He said previous water managers have said Cal Water hasn't understood Clear Lake's unique nature. “I think it's a lot harder than they originally thought,” he said, noting that they're asking for new equipment for the plant as part of the latest proposed hike.

As Lucerne FLOW prepares to start the process, it's also busy with other community projects, such as beginning a community garden, said Behne.

It also will work against the proposed rate hike. Lucerne FLOW will work with Lucerne Community Water Organization to look at the proposed hike and form a plan to address it. The point is to make sure the community gets what it pays for, Behne said.

“Cal water has a pretty good history of getting rate increases and then not spending all the money for those purposes,” he said.

For more information about the volunteer group visit .

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