Saturday, 13 July 2024


MIDDLETOWN – New details from eyewitnesses are filling in the picture of what led to a double fatality in a Saturday morning crash near Hidden Valley Lake.

The crash, which involved two vehicles, occurred shortly before 10:30 a.m. on Highway 29 at Spruce Grove Road Extension, as Lake County News has reported. The roadway wasn't fully reopened until nearly two hours later.

Jon Johnson, 52, was driving toward Middletown on Highway 29 shortly before 10:30 a.m. Saturday in a 2001 Dodge Durango, according to his son, Jason Johnson.

Witnesses said Jon Johnson was driving at the 55 mile per hour speed limit when, a short ways from Spruce Grove Road Extension, a Lincoln sedan pulled out into his path. Johnson swerved but wasn't able to miss the sedan, which it hit squarely on the driver's side.

An off-duty firefighter reported the first fatality, according to reports at the scene, within minutes of the collision.

That victim, the sedan's driver, was identified as Eugene Klebe, 80, of Hidden Valley Lake to Johnson's family, according to Jason Johnson. Other community members also have identified Klebe as one of the fatalities.

Klebe died at the scene, according to witnesses. Rescue personnel spent a long time at the scene attempting to resuscitate an elderly female passenger in Klebe's car, who died a short time later.

Jason Johnson said his father had to climb out the back of his Durango because the doors were locked. Jon Johnson went to the hospital as a precaution where he was x-rayed, and is otherwise OK, his son said.

Specifics about the crash investigation haven't been released to the public by the CHP.

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

HIDDEN VALLEY LAKE – Two people have died in a collision in front of Hidden Valley Lake.

The California Highway Patrol has confirmed two fatalities in the crash, which occurred on Highway 29 at Spruce Grove Road Extension shortly before 10:30 a.m

CHP reported one fatality when officials first arrived at the scene, with another person with major injuries.

Fire officials were attempting to extricate another victim as sheriff's officials responded.

The second death was confirmed at approximately 10:53 a.m.

The crash also blocked the roadway. Just after 11 a.m. officials opened the road with one-way traffic control, which was in effect for just over 40 minutes before the highway was once again opened. Tow services were summoned to remove vehicles from the scene.

CHP has so far not offered any other details on the specifics of the incident, including how many cars were involved and the identities of the victims.

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

MENDOCINO COUNTY – Mendocino County health officials are reporting a growing number of H1N1 flu virus cases.

The Mendocino County Public Health Department is reporting a total of 12 cases in that county, with one new hospitalized patient in stable condition. Six other patients who previously were hospitalized have been released.

Lake County has so far reported one case, as Lake County News has reported.

The Centers for Disease Control is reporting a total of 43,771 cases in the United States and its territories, and 302 deaths. In California, there have been 3,161 cases and 52 deaths.

The H1N1 influenza virus will continue to cause mild to severe illness throughout the summer and into the annual flu season, officials reported.

A vaccine for the virus currently is under development.

On Wednesday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices met to make recommendations for the vaccine's use when it becomes available, and to determine which groups of the population should be prioritized if the vaccine is initially available in extremely limited quantities.

The committee recommended the vaccination efforts focus on five key populations: pregnant women; people who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age; health care and emergency services personnel; persons between the ages of 6 months through 24 years of age; and people from ages 25 through 64 years who are at higher risk for novel H1N1 because of chronic health disorders or compromised immune systems.

Those groups total approximately 159 million people in the United States.

The novel H1N1 vaccine is not intended to replace the seasonal flu vaccine. It is intended to be used alongside seasonal flu vaccine to protect people.

Mike Rogers, Calpine's senior vice president, accepted the award from Director Bridgett Luther, Department of Conservation, on Thursday, July 30, 2009. Courtesy photo.

MIDDLETOWN – For the eighth year in a row, Calpine’s geothermal operations at The Geysers is the winner of the California Department of Conservation (DOC) award for its ongoing commitment to safety and the environment and its excellence in lease maintenance.

“Renewable energy is vital to California’s future, and it is encouraging that Calpine, the nation’s largest geothermal producer, consistently maintains its facility at The Geysers in an environmentally sound manner. The Department of Conservation is pleased to recognize companies that manage their facilities in a responsible way and congratulates Calpine on its eighth consecutive lease award,” said DOC Director Bridgett Luther.

Mike Rogers, Calpine’s Senior vice president, geothermal region, accepted the award on behalf of Calpine from Ms. Luther.

“We are very pleased that for the eighth year in a row The Geysers has been recognized for exemplary performance in maintaining leases that are environmentally clean and safe,” Rogers said. “We take seriously our responsibilities to put forth our best efforts to protect the environment and act as good neighbors in the community. This award is a testament to the team spirit and effort by our employees at The Geysers.”

District 1 Supervisor Jim Comstock appeared to offer a congratulatory speech and Calpine received a Joint Certificate of Special Recognition from Assemblymember Noreen Evans and Senator Patricia Wiggins.

Calpine currently owns and operates 15 geothermal plants at The Geysers, providing approximately 725 megawatts of generating capacity to northern California’s power grid.

Calpine is the largest producer of electricity from geothermal resources in the United States. Its operation at The Geysers accounts for about 20 percent of the renewable power produced in California.

To learn more about The Geysers and about geothermal energy, The Geysers Visitor Center is open to the public 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday to Saturday, at 15500 Central Park Road, Middletown. Call 1-866-GEYSERS for more information. Visit them on the Web at .

LAKEPORT – Day four of Bismarck Dinius' trial saw five witnesses take the stand as the prosecution continues to present its case.

Hopkins alleges that Dinius, 41, was steering Willows resident Mark Weber's sailboat on April 29, 2006, when it was hit by a powerboat driven by Russell Perdock, an off-duty sheriff's deputy. Weber's girlfriend, Lynn Thornton, 51, was mortally injured and died days later from her injuries.

Perdock was not charged in the case, but Dinius is facing felony boating under the influence with great bodily injury, because District Attorney Jon Hopkins alleges he had a blood alcohol level of 0.12 and did not have navigation lights on according to state and federal boating laws.

At the end of the first week of testimony, Hopkins' witnesses were law enforcement investigators who described handling key pieces of evidence as well as the larger investigation.

Craig Woodworth, the District Attorney's Office's acting chief investigator, testified that last month, on June 3, he went to the sheriff's Boat Patrol facility at Braito's Marino on Buckingham Point to remove the speedometer and tachometer from the instrument cluster of Perdock's 24-foot Baja Outlaw powerboat.

Woodworth said he photographed and bagged the instruments, which he gave to another district attorney's investigator, John Flynn, who in turn transported the items to the California Department of Justice's Santa Rosa lab.

The instruments were sent to the DOJ, where a “needle slap” test was conducted. Criminalist John Yount explained that a needle slap is when an instrument with a needle experiences an extremely abrupt acceleration or deceleration, like a car crashing into a wall.

In some cases, the needle would strike the back of the speedometer face and leave a mark, which can give an indication of the vehicle's speed at the time of impact.

Yount received the instruments on June 3, and tested them between June 4 and June 8, using clear, low angle lighting.

His conclusion – there was no indication of needle slap on either instrument, and therefore testing the instruments didn't yield evidence of the vehicle's exact speed at impact. That matched the conclusion by Dr. William Chilcott, defense attorney Victor Haltom's expert, who examined the instruments about a year ago, Haltom said in court on Friday.

“Can you explain why there might not be any needle slap on the inside of these instruments?” Hopkins asked during direct questioning.

Yount said there are a variety of possible explanations, from the vehicle not coming to a very abrupt or immediate halt after impact. The needles may well have struck the instrument faces, Yount said, but not with enough force to leave noticeable marks.

He said he didn't go further and do experiments to try to determine how fast the boat would have had to travel to have needle slap occur, because he wasn't asked to do that.

“You just did exactly what they asked you to do?” Haltom asked.

“That's correct,” said Yount.

Even if they did find needle slap, Yount said, “It would be difficult to say how fast the vehicle was actually traveling.”

Sheriff's Det. Jerry Pfann returned to the stand Friday morning to briefly help clear up some conflicting testimony.

Both Pfann and retired sheriff's Sgt. Mark Hoffman had testified on Wednesday that they had transferred blood samples belonging to Weber and Dinius to the sheriff's evidence facility in Lakeport. Pfann, who testified before Hoffman, was in the courtroom as the custodian of the blood samples when he heard the testimony.

Pfann said he had taken those two samples, along with Perdock's, to the main evidence facility. On Friday he presented a report originated in the sheriff's office's RIMS software program with a date stamp to back up his statements.

Boat Patrol sergeant details scene, beginning investigation

Boat Patrol Supervisor Sgt. Dennis Ostini, who in two weeks will mark his 31st year with the Lake County Sheriff's Office, gave the bulk of the day's testimony on Friday.

In his three and a half hours on the stand he described events including the initial call summoning him to the crash scene, as well as his decision to bring on an investigator from an outside agency to help handle the case. By the time of the crash, he had only been in the Boat Patrol about four months, and said on the stand Friday he hadn't done much boating before being assigned to the unit.

On the night of the crash, Ostini took a 20-foot aluminum sheriff's boat from its slip in Holiday Harbor in Nice and started off across the lake to Konocti Bay shortly after 9:30 p.m. He recalled there was little wind and it was a very dark, moonless night.

About two-thirds of the way there, he received a call saying the boats were being towed to 9130 Soda Bay Road, at Bayshore and Boren Began resorts, so he reduced his speed and went to the boat barn where he met Deputy Lloyd Wells and proceeded to the scene in a sheriff's pickup truck.

When he got to the “chaotic” scene just after 10 p.m., nearly an hour after the crash took place, Sgts. Mark Hoffman and Mike Morshed were there, trying to organize the scene. Witness interviews already were under way, and Kelseyville Fire paramedics were caring for the injured, including young Jordin Walker, who has been a passenger on the powerboat, and Thornton. The damaged boats were docked by that time.

Ostini said he directed Wells to tow Weber's sailboat, the Beats Workin' II, back to the Boat Patrol barn at Braito's. He had Hoffman transport Weber to the hospital, where he received medical care and a blood draw was conducted that later allegedly showed a blood alcohol level of 0.18.

Perdock came up to Ostini and they discussed the crash. Perdock told him he was involved, and Ostini said Perdock didn't appear to be intoxicated. He said Perdock also indicated he wanted a blood draw, which Ostini said is part of the agency's normal process when fatal crashes occur.

“You would have ordered it whether he volunteered or not?” Hopkins asked.

“Yes, and whether I thought he was intoxicated or not,” he said.

The task of taking Perdock to Redbud Community Hospital – now St. Helena Hospital-Clearlake – was given to then-Sgt. James Beland, Ostini said.

Beland raised the issue of giving Perdock a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) test – or a breathalyzer – at the scene, but Ostini said he told him no, “that I wanted to get a blood test and he's volunteered to get a blood test, so we're going to get a blood test.”

Hopkins asked if Dinius and Weber received PAS tests at the scene. No, said Ostini.

Ostini said he spent “a considerable amount of time” at the scene that night. Perdock's boat was towed by a friend, with Ostini following behind, to the boat barn, where it was locked into the building after Ostini moved around some of the stored boats inside. The sailboat was towed and stored in a slip outside until the following day.

Later, at about 1:30 a.m. April 30, 2006, in the Sutter Lakeside Hospital emergency room, Ostini found Dinius being treated for a broken wrist. Dinius also is reported to also have suffered a head injury and broken ribs. Ostini said he didn't see Dinius with signs of intoxication.

Ostini said he introduced himself and asked Dinius if he was the boat's operator. “Initially he said he didn't think so because he doesn't like to dock other peoples' boats and they were on the way in when the collision occurred,” Ostini said.

Ostini said Dinius then corrected himself and said he was at the tiller. Dinius also reportedly said he had consumed two glasses of wine two hours before the collision and had a beer on the boat.

“I asked him if he knew if the navigation lights on the sailboat were illuminated,” said Ostini. He said Dinius replied, “I don't recall that specifically,” although he did remember the cabin lights being on.

Ostini asked if Dinius remembered seeing or hear the powerboat. “Is that what hit us?” he recalled Dinius saying.

Later that morning, after Ostini returned to his office after getting a little rest for the night, he said one of the first things he did was call Sheriff Rod Mitchell about bringing in a private investigator or consultant to assist with the case because of Perdock's involvement. He said Mitchell gave the go ahead.

Ostini then called Wes Dodd, the lead instructor for the California Department of Boating and Water Ways classes, one of which Ostini had completed about two weeks before the crah. He asked Dodd if he would be interested in conducting the investigation. Dodd urged Ostini to find another law enforcement agency before bringing in a private investigator.

Since then, Dodd has joined Dinius' case as one of the defense experts. His testimony is expected later in the trial.

Ostini said he knew of then-Sgt. Charles Slabaugh from the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office. They'd been introduced previously when Slabaugh came to Lake County on a mutual aid agreement to help patrol the lake during the BoardStock event at Konocti Harbor Resort & Spa.

Slabaugh, after receiving Ostini's request, arrived late in the evening of the day next, May 1, 2006, along with a deputy. Ostini briefed them and they began looking over the boats.

Hopkins had Ostini look over a list of evidence items taken from the sailboat. They included a 1.75-liter bottle of vodka with five ounces of liquor left inside, a bottle of Wildhurst reserve wine that was about one-third full, a half-full 1.75-liter bottle of tequila and a GPS device attached at the stern. During testimony later in the day he said there had been seven empty beer cans in various parts of the boat.

Ostini pressed on speed issues

During his time on the stand, Haltom questioned Ostini repeatedly on issues of safe speed.

Haltom asked Ostini if he remembered testifying in a deposition on the case about how fast he was traveling in his sheriff's boat to the scene.

He said he didn't recall a specific number, although he thought he said 30 miles per hour. Ostini said he believes now he went much faster. In his deposition he had used the phrase “breakneck speed.” In last year's preliminary hearing Ostini had said it was between 30 and 35 miles per hour, according to Haltom's reading of the transcript.

Ostini testified that he wasn't very comfortable traveling at the high speed across the lake. “It was just a kind of an eerie feeling.”

Once he heard the boats were being towed in and no people were in the water, Ostini – according to the preliminary hearing transcript to which Halton referred – slowed to between 15 and 20 miles per hour.

When Haltom attempted to ask Ostini's opinion on a safe speed to travel across the lake, Hopkins objected. Judge J. Michael Byrne sustained the objection and offered to let Haltom reword the question.

Haltom asked Ostini if he had been trained in federal navigation rules, particularly rule six, the safe speed rule. Ostini said he had been and explained that, in general terms, it says a person should not travel any faster than they can safely stop in half the distance to an obstruction.

The general thrust, Haltom suggested, is to travel at a safe speed based on conditions? “Yes, that would be a good characterization,” said Ostini.

Haltom asked what is the fastest speed Ostini would have felt safe traveling on the lake. Hopkins objected, Byrne sustained. Haltom tried again, asking what was the fastest speed at which Ostini would have felt comfortable.

Hopkins again objected and this time Byrne overruled. When Hopkins continued to argue against the question, saying there were too many conditions, Byrne held up his hand, saying he didn't want to argue in front of the jury, and that they could discuss that question later.

Ostini said the issue of the sailboat's lights didn't arise for him until a fisherman, Colin Johnson, told him about seeing the unlit sailboat during an interview on the lakeshore. Perdock also told Ostini that night that he didn't see the boat's lights. In addition, Johnson told Ostini he had shined a spotlight on the sailboat, and that he hadn't seen any lights on it.

Haltom asked why Ostini brought in Slabaugh. “Although I felt fairly comfortable conducting the investigation, I knew that anytime a law enforcement officer was involved in something of this nature, there was a possibility of questions of impropriety,” Ostini replied.

During his cross-examination, Haltom also asked about shore lights and how they can make navigating at night difficult. “Sometimes shore lights can be a distraction,” said Ostini, especially in the area of resorts like Konocti Harbor and Richmond Park.

Haltom asked if a boater headed toward Richmond Park at night – as Perdock was – could see background lights that might interfere with the ability to see another vessel ahead. “Not necessarily,” Ostini said.

But possibly? Haltom asked. Ostini said it's possible.

Haltom also questioned Ostini about a nighttime trip he and Slabaugh took on the lake at night to visit the area of the crash. He asked Ostini if he remembered mistaking a boat light for a shore light. Ostini said he had seen a light far away which they eventually realized was a boat.

During an afternoon break, the judge allowed the prosecution and defense to argue the objection over the safe speed questions.

Hopkins, who objected to the line of questioning, said, “Safe speed, first of all, is a legal conclusion.”

Byrne said they have officers giving opinions in traffic cases all the time.

Hopkins replied that the US Supreme Court has pointed out that the safe speed question “depends on the particular circumstances involved.” He said Haltom was asking his questions about safe speed in a vacuum.

Byrne suggested that the form of the question should relate to the time and place, adding that Ostini had the expertise to offer an opinion.

Haltom said he thought it was implied that he was asking Ostini about the very conditions he had experienced on the lake that night. He quoted Ostini's deposition for the civil lawsuit related to the crash, in which he said the safe speed that night was between five and 10 miles per hour.

He went on to quote Ostini in the deposition saying he mistook a boat light for a shore light. Ostini, who was present for the exchange, said to Hopkins that he didn't say that, and Hopkins replied that wasn't what was stated.

As the prosecutor and defense attorney continued to argue about how to quote transcripts and other points, Byrne admonished them not to get petty. “We had a good week.”

With Ostini back on the stand, Haltom asked him about the interview he had with Perdock following the crash, and how fast Perdock said he was going.

“He said he thought he was going about 40,” Ostini said.

“Did he tell you how he knew hew as going 40?” Haltom asked.

“He said that it takes his boat that speed or about that speed to get it up to plane or on plane,” said Ostini.

It was explained Friday that “on plane” is when a powerboat levels out after it picks up speed.

When Haltom asked him what would have been the top safe speed to travel on Clear Lake that night, Ostini said he didn't think he could accurately answer the question because he was responding to an emergency call.

During continued questioning about safe speed, Ostini said, “As a general rule, regardless of moonlight conditions, I rarely exceed a speed of 20 to 25 miles per hour at night, unless it's a real moonlit night.”

Haltom read a piece of Ostini's testimony from the preliminary hearing, in which he said five to 10 miles per hour would have been the top safe speed on the lake that night.

Ostini said he has yet, to this day, to experience a night that duplicated that night in April 2006 in terms of darkness.

Haltom once again questioned him about seeing a boat and thinking it was a shore light. Ostini said he saw the boat and didn't think there were shore lights in that area of Konocti Bay, and then they got closer and saw it moving.

He also questioned Ostini more on navigation laws, including safe speed and maintaining a proper lookout. As he sought to have Ostini answer his questions in relation to Perdock's boat that night, Hopkins lodged repeated, successful objections.

Hopkins then asked how far away a boat's navigation lights can be spotted at night. “The law says if a boat has a properly operating stern light, it's required to be seen for two miles,” said Ostini.

Could such a light have been seen on a night like April 29, 2006? Hopkins asked. Ostini said he believed so.

In cases involving powerboats and sailboats, Haltom wanted to know which is required to stay out of the way of the other. “The sailboat is less maneuverable so the powerboat should stay away from it,” Ostini said. “If the powerboat operator can see that boat.”

Haltom asked if federal navigation rules say anything about boats being lit or unlit as part of the requirement for powerboats to stay away. Ostini said he would have to read it, so Haltom handed him a copy.

During another break, Haltom objected to a comment that the judge had made about needing to see the boat in relation to the boating rules.

Byrne said a fundamental issue in the case is causation. “If speed trumps visibility, that's a question for the jury.”

When the jury returned, Byrne clarified for the jury that it's the prosecution's burden to establish that Dinius was operating a vessel while intoxicated, that he failed to exhibit side and stern lights between sunrise and sunset, and that neglect of those ordinary duties resulted in bodily injury to Thornton.

Sacramento sheriff's lieutenant begins testimony

Lt. Charles Slabaugh spent about 45 minutes on the stand before the day concluded. A 28-year veteran of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office, he has experience investigating boating accidents.

He explained how he and a deputy arrived from Sacramento and began a walkaround of the boats in the sheriff's boat barn before they began photographing them.

Under Hopkins' questioning, he explained the boats' conditions. The sailboat's stern light housing appeared to have come in contact with the underside of the speedboat as it passed over, leaving a long black mark along the entire side of the speedboat.

He described a picture of the boat's light switches that showed the cabin lights were on, but the running lights, bow light and stern light were off. Slabaugh also described finding protruding wires from the stern light, which sat on a rail that was bent by the impact.

Court recessed for the week shortly before 4:15 p.m. “We are getting a lot done,” Byrne told the jury.

Testimony continues at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Witnesses so far, in order

Day one (following opening statements): James Ziebell, sailor, helped skipper Beats Workin' II in Konocti Cup; Doug Jones, past commodore of local sailing club; Anthony Esposti*, fisherman; Colin Johnson*, fisherman.

Day two: Lake County Sheriff's Det. Jerry Pfann; Andrea Estep*, phlebotomist, St. Helena Hospital-Clearlake (formerly Redbud Community Hospital); former sheriff's Sgt. James Beland; LaDonna Hartman, phlebotomist, Sutter Lakeside Hospital; retired sheriff's Sgt. Mark Hoffman; California Department of Justice criminalist Gregory Priebe, Santa Rosa lab; California Department of Justice criminalist Gary Davis, Sacramento toxicology lab.

Day three: Jennifer Patterson, witnessed crash from Holdener property on lakeshore; Gina Seago, witnessed crash from Holdener property on lakeshore; Jordin Walker, passenger on Russell Perdock's powerboat; James Walker*, high school friend of Perdock's and passenger on his powerboat; sheriff's Deputy Mike Morshed*; sheriff's communications operator Kimberly Erickson; sheriff's Boat Patrol Deputy Lloyd Wells*.

Day four: Craig Woodworth, the District Attorney's Office's acting chief investigator; John Yount, criminalist with the California Department of Justice's Santa Rosa lab; sheriff's Det. Jerry Pfann; Boat Patrol Supervisor Sgt. Dennis Ostini; Lt. Charles Slabaugh of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office.

* = Indicates a witness subject to recall at the request of the defense.

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

The Toyota sedan involved in Wednesday's crash was hit from behind. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



LAKEPORT – Traffic on Highway 29 was snarled for nearly an hour Wednesday afternoon after a traffic collision sent at least one person to Sutter Lakeside Hospital.

First reported at 2:45 p.m. the collision, located just south of Thomas Drive on Highway 29, involved a 1995 Mazda van and a 2008 Toyota sedan.

First responders indicated via radio that four persons had suffered mild to moderate injuries.

Medics and fire personnel from Lakeport and Kelseyville were on scene as well as California Highway Patrol officers.

CHP Officer Mark Crutcher told Lake County News that a couple from Kansas was preparing to make a left turn from Highway 29 when the Mazda van struck it from behind.

The Toyota suffered serious rear-end damage, while the Mazda was damaged enough to require a flatbed truck to transport it from the scene.

Three persons involved were still on scene at 3:30 p.m. while CHP investigated the accident and medical personnel evaluated their injuries.

Both vehicles appeared to be registered in states other than California. The van carried plates from Washington state and the Toyota from New Mexico.

The roadway was opened to two-lane traffic by 3:30 p.m. although cleanup crews continued to remove debris that had been pushed to the side of the road.

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




Emergency personnel clean up the crash scene outside of Lakeport. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



Zino's Ristorante: 6330 Soda Bay Road, Kelseyville; telephone 707-279-1620. Open for dinner every day of the week, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Visit the restaurant online at .

I was standing in The Kitchen Gallery during an event some time ago when a beautiful young woman came up to me and asked (the exact question has been changed to protect the innocent), “Are you Ross Christensen, the food writer?”

Since up to this point I had been standing anonymously in front of Zino Mezoui, the owner of Zino’s Ristorante, I stood there not knowing what to say. After all, I didn’t want to be recognized by a restaurant owner that I would be reviewing one day, but after a couple of awkward moments I turned away from Zino and his staff and said to her, “Yes, I am.” OK, so pretty women are my kryptonite, and I couldn’t be rude to her.

I have avoided doing a review on Zino’s out of fear that they would recognize me from that incident. But it had been quite a while, and I was recently camping nearby Zino’s with my daughter and we decided to have dinner with them. After all I’m not that memorable in the looks department and I was sure they wouldn’t recognize me.

In the world of Italian restaurants you can predict the food by what the restaurant calls itself. A ristorante is the most formal type of establishment with printed menus and haute cuisine, while a trattoria is casual, family style eatery. An osteria is similar to a tavern or working class type regional food, a pizzeria and spaghetteria … you get the hint. Zino’s is a ristorante.

We arrived at Zino’s just as they were opening and were able to immediately get a table. Our waiter Jim introduced himself and we knew that this evening was going to be special.

Jim is a very formal and practiced waiter, appearing almost like he was military trained if there was a martial maitre d’ program. He would approach our table and appear to almost stand stiffly at attention before asking “May I take these away” followed by a crisp gesture to the empty plates. His formality, poise and professionalism made me feel guilty for wearing a t-shirt and shorts to dinner, but after all, I was on a camping trip.

He did make one notable mistake with our dinner that we didn’t even notice until we got home and started comparing notes for writing this review, but it didn’t detract anything from the meal, and since it took us so long to figure it out we’ll just keep it too ourselves this time.

The décor of the restaurant is nice with rustic walls and a little fitting artwork, but the dominating feature of the room are the windows looking over the lake. There isn’t a table in the house that can’t see the water. The lake is the major decoration of the dining room.

One of the highlights of the evening for me was when my daughter went to take a drink from her glass and she accidentally hiccuped into it giving off a loud echoing “Heeerraap!” as if a pterodactyl had just swooped into the room. Her face turned bright red as she glanced around the room to see if anyone else noticed. I thought it was adorable. Just a little daddy moment to share.

We ordered the crab cake appetizers that were the special for the evening, and for entrees I had the petrale sole special with lemon butter while my daughter ordered the pepper steak. They both came with mashed potatoes, sautéed vegetables, and we ordered the Caesar salad instead of the soup.

The crab cakes were very good with a couple different colors of sweet peppers adding some great color to the interior. They were sitting in one sauce and topped with another which seemed a bit over the top, but they worked well together and didn’t overpower the cakes.

Now, there will never be a man so educated or refined that will live up to my daughter’s expectations. I know this because when the salad showed up my daughter looked up at me all bright-eyed and said, “Wow, a classic Caesar salad!” Now to prove my point we’ll pause for a moment for parents of teenage boys to ask their young men what that means ...

Yeah, she’s a spoiled girl.

I’ve written column on the history of Caesar salad that you’ll read soon, but for this story I’ll let you know that Caesar salad should contain whole romaine lettuce leaves from the center of the head which are meant to be eaten with the fingers and not a fork. The Caesar salad at Zino’s was exactly that, hearts of romaine leaves stacked neatly like Lincoln logs, then dressed and covered in Parmesan cheese. My daughter recognized it instantly. Although it's not really “classic” Caesar salad at Zino’s it was close enough to thrill my daughter.

The petrale sole was fantastic, simply prepared, perfectly seasoned and a very good sized portion. The mashed potatoes were unique, being made with a combination of sweet potatoes, starchy potatoes and waxy potatoes in perfect harmony with some of the potato peels also included.

The sautéed vegetables surprised me because the combination of broccoli, summer squash and carrots all cook at different rates yet were all perfectly cooked, and I ate every single bit of them, happy knowing that Zino’s kitchen staff was really on the ball.

My daughter ordered her steak rare and it was perfectly done to that standard. It was a large portion which she wasn’t able to finish, which caused the chef to send Jim to our table to ask if everything was OK. We said it was but since the steak was probably a full 1 percent of her body weight it just wasn’t going to get finished.

Part of the way through our dinner I noticed that every table in the room was either full or had a reserved placard on it, so I would definitely recommend calling ahead for a table before you make the drive. Prices are fair for the experience that you receive. If you are curious about what they have to eat and the prices, their usual menu is posted on their Web site.

Zino’s has several reviews online already and they all are in the four- to five-star range and I would have to agree. Zino’s Ristorante is a definite “must visit,” whether you are a local resident or visiting the county.

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.

MENDOCINO NATIONAL FOREST – A Santa Rosa teenager riding in a Jeep in the Mendocino National Forest on Thursday died after the vehicle overturned.

The 17-year-old female, whose name was not released, was riding in the rear of a 2000 Jeep Wrangler driven by 20-year-old Sunnyvale resident Nathan Winter, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Steve Tanguay.

Tanguay said another teen, a 16-year-old female from Forestville, was in the Jeep's right front seat.

Winter was driving westbound on Mendocino National Forest Road No. M-10 at an unknown speed when the crash occurred at noon on Thursday, Tanguay said.

For unknown reasons, Winter turned his gaze away from the road ahead, then felt the Jeep start to travel up an embankment. Tanguay said Winter aggressively applied the vehicle's brakes and turned the steering wheel in an attempt to correct the Jeep's path.  

Winter lost control of the Jeep as it traveled up a steep embankment and overturned, causing fatal injuries to the unrestrained rear passenger, Tanguay said.

REACH responded and transported the other female juvenile passenger – who also was unrestrained – to Sutter Lakeside Hospital, according to Tanguay.

Winter suffered minor injuries and was not transported. Tanguay said alcohol and drugs are not considered to be factors in the collision.

This collision is still under investigation by CHP Officer Nick Powell.

LAKEPORT – The details of forensic testing, chain of evidence procedures and testimony from a former sheriff's sergeant who stated he was ordered not to give a breathalyzer test at a crash scene were discussed during testimony Wednesday in a trial over a fatal sailboat crash.

The second day of Bismarck Dinius' trial took place on Wednesday.

The 41-year-old Carmichael man is charged with felony boating under the influence causing great bodily injury and two lesser included offenses of boating with a blood alcohol level over 0.08 and boating while under the influence.

Dinius is alleged to have had a blood alcohol level of 0.12 while sitting at the tiller of Willows resident Mark Weber's sailboat, Beats Workin' II, on the night of April 29, 2006. The prosecution alleges that Dinius, by steering the boat, was responsible for operating it, and that he failed to have the boat's running lights turned on.

The sailboat was hit by a powerboat driven by an off-duty sheriff's chief deputy, Russell Perdock. Witnesses on Tuesday gave estimates that Perdock was driving his boat between 40 and 50 miles per hour that night, which was extremely dark and moonless.

Weber's girlfriend, 51-year-old Lynn Thornton, was mortally injured in the crash and died a few days later.

Establishing the custodial chain and testing of key pieces of evidence in the case – including blood samples from Dinius, Weber and Perdock – was a focus of much of the day's testimony.

Sheriff's Det. Jerry Pfann, who manages the agency's evidence storage, explained how he was contacted shortly before 2 p.m. the day after the crash and traveled to the Lower Lake substation to pick up Perdock's blood sample, taken the previous night at Redbud Community Hospital. The hospital has since changed its name to St. Helena Hospital-Clearlake.

Pfann said all sworn personnel and some designated civilian personnel have access to the substation, which serves as patrol office and holding area for inmates for court, and has a room for evidence storage.

He found Perdock's sample in a small refrigerator and transported it to the sheriff's main office on Martin Street in Lakeport.

Pfann told the court that he placed Perdock's sample – along with those from Weber and Dinius – in an evidence refrigerator, at the back of a shelf behind other materials in evidence. “Because of the nature of the case and who was involved, I wanted to be the only person who knew where they were,” he said.

The next day – Monday, May 1, 2006 – Pfann found all the samples the way he had left them before taking all of the items to the California Department of Justice (DOJ) Lab in Santa Rosa for testing.

Pfann brought the samples – picked up from the DOJ earlier this month – to court on Wednesday, where District Attorney Jon Hopkins had him open the sealed plastic and paper envelopes containing the vials of blood and reseal them in new plastic bags before submitting them into evidence. Court had a brief recess while Pfann went to retrieve his portable heat sealing machine.

Beland testifies about night of crash

A former sheriff's sergeant who stated that he was ordered not to give a preliminary alcohol screening – or PAS, also known as a breathalyzer – test to Perdock at the crash scene also took the stand.

James Beland related how he got the call and volunteered to notify Sheriff Rod Mitchell before responding to the Konocti Bay area, where the crash took place.

Beland said Sgt. Dennis Ostini, the primary supervisor for the sheriff's Boat Patrol, led the investigation.

When Beland met up with Ostini and then-Sgt. Mike Morshed at the scene, he recalled, “I said, 'I have a PAS on board.' Do you want to use it?'

“Sgt. Ostini's response was, 'No, no no, Perdock has already volunteered to do blood,'” Beland said.

Beland said his patrol vehicle was one of the few at that time that had a mobile audio visual unit (MAV) which could be used for videotaping witness statements. Another deputy used the unit to take statements and Beland had to wait before being able to transport Perdock to the hospital, getting there, he believed, around 11:30 p.m.

After the blood draw, Beland said he and Perdock parted ways. He said he didn't see Perdock with any signs of intoxication.

During questioning, Beland also admitted that he had written the wrong date – April 30 rather than April 29 – on one of the pieces of evidence, which was brought to his attention several months later.

Haltom asked Beland if he was still with the sheriff's office. Beland replied that he was terminated last December.

“Was your termination related to this case?” Haltom asked.

“Yes,” Beland responded.

Hopkins objected to the question, and Judge J. Michael Byrne sustained the objection.

Under Haltom's cross-examination, Beland described seeing Mitchell arrive at the crash scene, where he walked up to Perdock and hugged him.

Beland explained that Ostini was the second-most senior sergeant in the sheriff's office at the time of the crash. Rather than press the PAS, Beland said, “I pretty much followed what those two had to say.”

“Were you ordered not to give a breath test to Russell Perdock?” asked Haltom.

“If I had done that I would have been written up,” said Beland, who was a new sergeant in April of 2006.

He added, “It was a discussion on how to handle the situation, but it was also an order.”

Beland said he had no reason to question Ostini. “He's a very fine upstanding person,” and also was a mentor.

It wasn't until a few months later that Beland said he became upset about the decision not to do the PAS. When Haltom asked why, Hopkins objected and Byrne sustained the objection.

Haltom asked Beland if he administered breath tests in other driving under the influence-type arrests. Beland said yes.

“Is it desirable to get as early a possible test result as you can?” Haltom asked, to which Beland again responded in the affirmative.

Beland explained that having the PAS results helps verify field sobriety test results. It also gives a timespan during which blood alcohol levels may be going up or coming down.

After Dinius' preliminary hearing, which took place in May and June of last year, Beland said he wasn't happy with his performance, so he researched his activities that night. Originally he couldn't remember exactly what he did after leaving the hospital – he'd stated in court last year that he and Perdock had driven around afterward, but he couldn't remember where he had taken him.

About the time that he gave testimony in the preliminary hearing in late May of 2008, Beland said he generated a report that stated he was ordered not to give the PAS at the scene.

Beland said the blood test was a good call, but he “couldn't say either way” about whether not giving the PAS was a bad call, since he didn't know how boating collisions were handled.

Hopkins asked if there was a difference between breath and blood tests. “So, blood's the best?”

Yes, Beland replied. Haltom objected and Byrne sustained.

Hopkins asked the question another way, questioning Beland about whether blood was better than breath and urine tests. Beland said yes.

Beland mentioned in his testimony that some of his reports where changed, including the original report that documented how he handled Perdock the day of the crash.

His original report stated that he notified Mitchell of the crash. He said Capt. James Bauman ordered him to take that part out.

Under continued cross-examination, Haltom asked, “Is it optimal to have both blood and breath?”

“If it was a vehicle accident, yes,” Beland said.

Hopkins, taking another turn at questioning Beland, challenged his assertion that his report was altered by the sheriff's office, but that he had changed it himself at the order of a commanding officer. That wasn't unlike Beland ordering his own patrol deputies to correct reports, Hopkins suggested.

Hopkins asked if it was standard procedure to have higher-ranking officers approve reports. It isn't standard for supervisors, Beland responded.

But Beland said he was an exception. “They wanted my reports approved.”

Criminalists explain testing procedures

Gregory Priebe, a senior criminalist with the DOJ's Santa Rosa lab, spent time on the stand Wednesday afternoon explaining the science behind blood alcohol testing, testing procedures, handling evidence and levels of impairment.

Priebe tested all three blood samples in the case. His analysis found no alcohol in Perdock's blood which, by agency protocol, was then sent to the DOJ toxicology lab in Sacramento because anything under 0.08 percent blood alcohol undergoes additional testing.

Weber's sample showed 0.18 percent blood alcohol and Dinius' 0.12, according to the testing done by Priebe, who said he has tested between 7,500 and 10,000 samples in his career.

Hopkins asked Priebe about the impacts of alcohol on human function and judgment. Priebe said effects range from impairment of a person's ability to process information and its impact on inhibitions and vision.

“You're just not processing information at same rate as you're processing it when you're sober,” Priebe said.

“Would that affect your ability to remember to turn your lights on, for instance?” asked Hopkins.

It could, said Priebe.

Priebe went on to explain, “Everyone is impaired at a 0.08 percent,” and most people are impaired at 0.05 percent.

At Hopkins' request, Priebe explained intoxication levels and how quickly they would change for a hypothetical 200-pound man, whose body composition would cause him to eliminate 0.018 percent alcohol per hour. That's about the rate that same man's blood alcohol level would go up for one 12-ounce beer, a 4-ounce glass of wine or one and a quarter ounce glass of hard liquor.

Priebe also stated that the DOJ blood draw kits have gray-stoppered tubes to hold blood that contain sodium fluoride, a strong enzyme inhibitor, which doesn't require they be refrigerated. The samples can safely be stored at room temperature, but handling samples is an issue determined by agencies. DOJ refrigerates samples to slow the enzymatic process, he added.

Under Haltom's cross-examination, Priebe explained that drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short time period would cause a person with an otherwise empty stomach to reach a peak intoxication rate within 15 to 30 minutes, while a person with a full stomach's peak intoxication would come between 30 and 90 minutes.

Priebe said this was the first time he's testified in a case involving a sailboat. His only experience on a sailboat led to the craft sinking in the bay.

He didn't know much about sailboats, but said he understood what it took to steer such a vessel. “I know how difficult it is because I sank one of these things,” Priebe said.

Haltom asked Priebe about a time limit for taking blood samples. Priebe said there is a three hour time period in which samples should be collected in order to accurately reflect intoxication levels.

Priebe, in response to another question by Haltom, said there was no rush in testing the samples in this case. “We have a bureau policy we turn around blood alcohol results, try to, within five days of receiving the sample,” he said, adding that toxicology labs take longer.

Being able to respond to conditions in a sailboat, said Priebe, takes longer than in an automobile.

Hopkins asked how many drinks a 200-pound man would have to drink to have a blood alcohol level of 0.12. Priebe calculated 6.6 drinks.

If that person's blood alcohol level actually was declining from a peak three hours earlier, Priebe calculated the peak would be 0.15.

Senior criminalist Gary Davis, who works at DOJ's Sacramento toxicology lab, discussed the drug testing conducted on Perdock's blood sample, which included screening for six groups of drugs, among them opiates and barbiturates.

An initial screening will indicate if a general type of drug is present, said Davis. A confirmation test identifies the specific drugs present.

“Can the screening test be misleading,” asked Hopkins.

“It can be wrong at times,” said Davis.

Haltom asked about the screening's results.

“The initial one was positive for opiates and nothing else,” said Davis, explaining opiates include Codeine, Vicodin, Hydrocodone, opium and Oxycontin.

“Are you testifying that that was a false positive?” Haltom asked.

“Yes,” Davis said.

False positives happen less than 5 percent of the time, Davis explained, and can be triggered by small bubbles that appear in the samples.

“I don't know what exactly happened in this case,” said Davis.

Hopkins asked if he asked for a second screening on the blood sample. Davis said yes, and the result was a negative test.

Phlebotomists, retired sergeant testify

During the day's testimony, the jury also heard from the two phlebotomists who drew the blood samples.

Andrea Estep, who works at St. Helena Hospital-Clearlake, took Perdock's sample at 11:30 p.m. the night of the crash. She acknowledged she wrote the wrong date – April 30 – on the sample.

Estep, who works late-night graveyards shifts, explained that she often dates materials for the next day and didn't double-check herself that night before turning over the sample to Beland.

LaDonna Hartman took Weber's sample at 11:15 p.m. and Dinius' at 12:05 a.m. at Sutter Lakeside Hospital and gave them to Sgt. Mark Hoffman.

Both Hartman and Estep explained how they took the samples and sealed DOJ blood draw kits before turning them over to the deputies.

Beland took Perdock's blood sample to the Lower Lake substation, where Pfann retrieved it the next day, while Hoffman took Weber's and Dinius' samples to the main sheriff's facility before logging them into the evidence facility.

Hoffman, now retired, was a sheriff's patrol sergeant in April of 2006. On the stand Wednesday he described being one of the first responders to the crash scene, where he was instructed to take Weber to the hospital for the blood draw.

Testimony continues on Thursday.

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

Closely held and family run businesses are vital to our economy, our society and integral to the American dream itself.

Planning for transitions in ownership and control is necessary to ensure retirement income to the owner; liquidity to the owner’s estate upon death; preservation of the business as a “going concerns”; and estate tax minimization, as relevant.

If you are a business owner, such planning entails asking yourself the following: (1) How will your business continue without you – will you keep the business in your family or sell it, and if so, to whom; (2) if some children will participate in the business and others not how will your estate plan accommodate that; (3) Are there key employees you need to retain; (4) Does your business need reorganization; (5) Do you have a “buy sell” agreement in place (presuming multiple owners); and (6) How will the “buy sell” agreement be funded. Now, let’s examine each area.

At the outset, examine your business and family goals, and identify limitations placed on such goals by business agreements with co-owners; determine who will be your successor(s). If you plan to sell to outsiders, ask yourself what do you need to get the business ready for sale, and how will you find potential buyers? Presuming family participation, who has the interest and necessary aptitude? Do you need the consent of the other partners? Will their plans and your plans coincide nicely? Will a sale to them provide you with an adequate retirement? Will you continue as a consultant or employee to assist them and to earn retirement income?

Next, how will your estate plan provide for your other children not in the business? Does being fair to them mean treating them equally or unequally? Are there other assets (like insurance) to give them? Do you wish to give them an economic ownership interest only? If so, should the active family be allowed to buy-out the inactive family?

What about your key employees, will they be retained after you leave? Will your family accept them, and vice versa? Should they have an ownership stake? If so, will they be allowed to buy-in, or will they receive their interests as conditional employee bonuses (sweat equity) subject to forfeiture? Furthermore, will they participate in management?

Does your business need reorganization in order to transfer or retain control and/or ownership interests as desired? Sole proprietorships are often converted into LLC’s, corporations or partnerships. For example, with an LLC you can retain control as the general partner but allow your children ownership as limited partners.

Alternatively, you may want to give control but retain an economic interest for your retirement. For example, with a corporation you can retain preferred stock and transfer common stock, and so require that dividends be paid to you first.

A “buy sell” agreement is needed when you have co-owners in order to allow your interest to be purchased upon certain triggering events: disability, retirement, and death. The agreement sets the a price, often by formula or appraisal. Also, it may allow the business itself, or your remaining co-owners, a right of first refusal to purchase your interest.

Above all, how will you fund the plan? Usually the business or its owners purchase life insurance, and sometimes disability insurance, on each owner. Alternatively, an installment sale to the business, its remaining owners, or outsiders may be used. Installment sales, however, may present a cash flow problem to your estate when it needs money in order to support your family, to pay immediate administration costs, and to pay taxes.

Lastly, succession planning is a multi-disciplinary endeavor involving business planning, estate planning, financial planning, income tax and estate tax planning, and perhaps business counseling. Typically, a team consisting of an attorney, accountant, and a financial planner is needed to advise and assist you.

Dennis A. Fordham is an attorney licensed to practice law in California and New York. He earned his bachelor's degree at Columbia University, his juris doctor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and his LL.M in taxation at New York University. He concentrates his practice in the areas of estate planning and aspects of elder law. His office is at 55 First St., Lakeport. He can be reached by e-mail at dennis@dennisfordhamlaw , com or by phone at 707-263-3235.

LAKEPORT – Passengers in a powerboat that hit a sailboat in April of 2006 and a sheriff's deputy who stated that breathalyzers being used for drunk driving arrests weren't properly calibrated were among the seven witnesses who testified in day three of Bismarck Dinius' trial on Thursday.

Dinius, 41, of Carmichael is on trial for felony boating under the influence causing great bodily injury.

He was at the tiller of a sailboat belonging to Willows resident Mark Weber on April 29, 2006, when it was hit by off-duty sheriff's deputy, Russell Perdock. A sailboat passenger, Lynn Thornton, 51, died three days after the crash of her injuries.

The prosecution alleges that Dinius had a 0.12 blood alcohol level at the time of the crash and that he was piloting the boat, the Beats Workin' II, without its navigation lights on.

The defense is arguing that Dinius was not in charge of piloting the boat and that Perdock – who witnesses on Thursday estimated was traveling between 35 and 40 miles per hour on that dark April night – was responsible and should have been charged.

District Attorney Jon Hopkins called witnesses on Thursday including teenagers Jennifer Patterson and Gina Seago, who were at the Holdener home on Soda Bay Road next to the lake the day of the crash.

Patterson said she was sitting cross-legged on a trampoline looking out at the lake, while Seago said she was sitting down on the dock talking with another friend at the time of the crash.

Seago said the night was “pitch black,” with no moon.

Both said they saw no other lighted boats that evening but Perdock's, the navigation lights of which they watched traveling south across Konocti Bay shortly after 9 p.m. They could also hear the boat.

“It was really loud, like, unusually loud, and it was going pretty fast,” said Seago. She also stated during her testimony that the boat “looked like it was going faster than it should probably.”

Seago said she saw the sailboat's sails light up when the speedboat's navigations lights hit it, about two seconds before the collision.

Then the crash occurred.

“At impact it was pretty loud,” said Patterson. It was silent for a second, then she said she heard people laughing, “and then it turned into screaming very quickly.”

Patterson said she could see sparks when the power boat struck the sailboat's mast as it flew over it following the initial collision.

Seago also saw sparks and heard two really loud snaps during the crash. She said it looked liked the powerboat was suspended in the air as it went up the sailboat's mast before coming down on the other side.

Members of the Holdener family got in a wakeboard boat and went out to offer help to the two boats in the crash.

Walkers give perspective from powerboat

James Walker and his daughter, Jordin, 18, also were on the stand Thursday.

The Walkers were riding with Perdock in his powerboat when it hit the Beats Workin' II.

James Walker, a high school friend of Perdock's, was visiting from out of county and staying in another friend's cabin at Lily Cove outside of the city of Clearlake and across the lake from Konocti Bay.

That night between 8:30 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. Perdock came by and asked them if they wanted to go for a ride.

The Walkers, who had been getting ready to turn in for the night – Jordin Walker was in her pajamas – agreed and got in the boat for what they estimated was between a five- and 10-minute ride to Konocti Harbor Resort & Spa. There, Perdock drove by the dock to show Walker another friend's boat before heading for Richmond Park Bar & Grill in Konocti Bay to get gas.

“It was one of those beautiful Clear Lake nights,” James Walker said, noting the temperature was about 80 degrees.

He said Perdock had just put his boat into the water for the summer and wanted to make sure it was in proper working order, so both men were paying attention to its instrumentation panel.

As they were coming around Fraser Point – which, along with Wheeler Point farther to the south, denotes the boundaries of Konocti Bay – Walker said he noted that Perdock's speedometer was moving between 35 and 40 miles per hour. “It was staying right in that range.”

In their turns on the stand, Jordin and James Walker both said they saw no other boats with lights on the water that night, and it wasn't until immediately before the collision – when Perdock's navigation lights fell on the sailboat – that they saw it.

Jordin Walker said she saw “just a pole and a white sail” about two seconds before impact. Her father said he saw a “white blur.”

Jordin Walker, who was sitting in the passenger seat on the lefthand side, was thrown forward in the boat and suffered an injured back and leg. James Walker, who was standing between his daughter and Perdock, said he was afraid the speedboat was going to flip over. Perdock suffered cuts to his head, he added.

During testimony, Jordin Walker dabbed her eyes with a tissue as she recounted the crash, and described hearing people screaming in the sailboat.

After the crash, “I was in shock,” she said, adding that she doesn't remember the powerboat going over the sailboat or some of the other details involved with the incident.

James Walker didn't know if the powerboat was taking on water, and feared his daughter might drown, so he pulled her out of where she was pinned between a seat and the front of the boat.

“It took a long time to get her out of there because I thought she had a broken back,” he said.

Afterward, he held her as they were towed to shore by fishermen Anthony Esposti and Colin Johnson.

At the shore paramedics placed Jordin Walker on a stretcher and transported her, her father and Dinius by ambulance to Sutter Lakeside Hospital.

Deputy recounts scene; says breathalyzers not calibrated

Sheriff's Deputy Mike Morshed, who was the sergeant in charge of detectives in April of 2006, took the stand Thursday afternoon.

He was one of the first sheriff's personnel to respond to 9130 Soda Bay Road, where the boats were being towed. There, he and Sgt. Mark Hoffman tried to help control and organize the situation.

“The scene was chaos,” Morshed said.

He saw the powerboat being towed in, with Perdock standing on the bow with blood coming from his forehead. Before that, Morshed said he didn't know Perdock was involved.

When Perdock was on shore, Morshed spoke with him, and said he smelled no alcohol and saw no signs indicating Perdock was intoxicated.

A short time later Sgt. Dennis Ostini of the sheriff's Boat Patrol arrived and took over charge of the scene, Morshed said.

Morshed said he witnessed then-Sgt. James Beland offer to conduct a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) test on Perdock.

“I remember Sgt. Ostini, Sgt. Beland and myself having a three-way discussing about using the PAS,” said Morshed.

He said they concluded that they didn't detect any odor of alcohol on Perdock, who had agreed to go to the hospital for a blood draw. Morshed added that the PAS had not been calibrated for a long period of time so there was no point in using it.

“It's kind of a useless tool to us,” he said.

He later assisted Deputy Lloyd Wells tow the sailboat to the sheriff's Boat Patrol barn at Braito's Marina on Buckingham Point.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Victor Haltom asked Morshed what he thought was a safe speed on the lake at night. Hopkins objected, saying Morshed's opinion was irrelevant. Judge J. Michael Byrne sustained the objection.

At one point on the shoreline, Morshed said there was yelling back and forth between the sailboat and powerboat occupants. He said the people from the sailboat were yelling at Perdock, who yelled back that they didn't have their lights on.

“We were trying to keep the two sides separate,” he said.

Morshed said Sheriff Rod Mitchell arrived later that night, and he saw Mitchell speaking with Ostini and Perdock.

Haltom asked Morshed more questions about the PAS tests.

Morshed explained that, at the time of the crash, the program for the PAS units was “not being calibrated like it should have been calibrated,” which meant the readings probably weren't accurate.

Were the tests still being used to arrest people for driving under the influence, Haltom asked? Morshed said they were.

“Even though they were inaccurate?” Haltom asked.

“Yes,” Morshed replied.

In April of 2006, Det. Jerry Pfann, who testified about handling the blood evidence on Wednesday, was one of Morshed's subordinates.

Under Haltom's cross-examination, Morshed explained that he had evidence lockers added at some point to the Lower Lake Substation and the sheriff's main office so deputies could secure evidence without having to drive it immediately to the main evidence facility in Lakeport. He said he couldn't remember if that had been done by the time of the crash.

The individuals with access to the main evidence facility, Morshed said, were Pfann, Perdock and Ilona Parker, Pfann's assistance. Morshed said he didn't have a key.

During his testimony on Wednesday, Beland said Ostini said no to the PAS test, and that he understood Ostini's direction not to administer the test as an order, which would have resulted in him being written up if he had pressed it.

But when Haltom questioned Morshed about the PAS test on Thursday, Morshed stated, “In my opinion there was no order given either way.”

That conflicts with a statement Morshed gave to District Attorney Investigator John Flynn this past April 29, in which he said he ordered Beland not to give the test. In that statement Morshed said the PAS units hadn't been calibrated in more than a year.

During his testimony Thursday, Morshed said he didn't get on either boat before helping tow the sailboat to the boat barn. “The sailboat was just destroyed. You almost couldn't tell what it was.”

During an afternoon break, the judge spoke with Hopkins and Haltom out of the jury's hearing, at which time Hopkins said that he heard from one of his staff that Dinius had arrived at court that morning accompanied by women holding signs about the case, which jurors had to walk by to get to the courtroom.

“I'm getting concerned that we're going to have jurors who are influenced,” he said.

Hopkins said he also had heard an outburst from people in the audience who were wearing t-shirts with Thornton's picture when Morshed was testifying.

“I think we need to maintain decorum in the courtroom,” he said, arguing that such behavior can backfire and affect the jury.

Haltom said Dinius wasn't involved with signs or t-shirts, and he referred to a US Supreme Court case that allowed people to wear buttons to court.

Carol Stambuk, Thornton's friend, stood up and showed off the black t-shirt she wore, which had pictures of Thornton and her brothers.

“Those are a little more than buttons,” said Hopkins.

Byrne said it's part of peoples' right to expression. But he warned that if it appears orchestrated, it can backfire.

“This case has plenty of serious issues in it,” Byrne said.

Hopkins also was concerned that the jury and spectators might be mingling at times in the courthouse building.

“This is a good argument for the state budget to pay for a new courthouse in Lake County, that's for sure,” said Byrne.

Morshed reports on speed

After that exchange Morshed returned to the stand, where Haltom continued cross-examination.

Morshed said he discussed the crash with Perdock.

“Did he tell you how fast he was going?” asked Haltom.

“He told me he was going 40 miles per hour,” Morshed said.

Morshed asked Perdock how he knew his speed. He said Perdock responded that he knew his boat well, and that the tachometer was straight up and down, which means 40 miles per hour.

Recalling other statements Perdock made, Morshed said, “He kept saying the lights on the sailboat were off.”

Under continued questions from Hopkins, Morshed explained that PAS tests are used as part of field sobriety tests when making a determination in a driving under the influence case.

Hopkins asked if the PAS is used to confirm that alcohol is present. Morshed said it can be, although a deputy doing a DUI investigation already is assuming there is alcohol due to odor.

“When the PAS devices were not calibrated, was it your understanding that the result they showed would not be introduced in court?” Hopkins asked.

Morshed said if they were introduced in court, they would have to disclose, when questioned, that the device was off due to it not being calibrated.

Hopkins asked if the sheriff's office maintained a policy to take suspected DUI drivers to get blood, urine or breath tests at a location other than the scene. Morshed said yes.

In a final round of cross examination, Haltom asked if all PAS tests in the county weren't calibrated. Morshed said it was just those used by the sheriff's office.

Dispatcher reports on emergency calls

Kimberly Erickson, a communications operator with the county's Central Dispatch, was on duty on the night of the crash along with Deputy Martina Santor.

Erickson remembered receiving the first call about the boat crash, which was from Perdock, who used his cell phone to dial into the Central Dispatch number. Cell phones dialing 911 usually are routed through California Highway Patrol Dispatch in Ukiah before being transferred to the appropriate agency.

Erickson said she thought she called out REACH air ambulance along with different fire departments, and tried to find an agency with a boat that was available. Santor notified Ostini.

She said they received many calls about the crash – between 20 and 30 – as she attempted to dispatch emergency response, a situation which was “extremely chaotic.”

The airwaves were so flooded that Santor issued a Code 33, telling other law enforcement officers not to use the radio and to keep the airwaves clear for dispatch.

Erickson said Perdock called in several times with information about the situation and the location.

Haltom asked Erickson if she treated others trying to report the crash differently because she had already spoken to Perdock.

“If they weren't able to provide anything new we let them know we were aware of the situation,” she said, adding that she was interested in getting information from anyone who could give it.

The first incident report which Erickson generated showed a time of 9:10 p.m. Medics from Kelseyville Fire were on scene by 9:25 p.m. The initial reports noted that there were three people in the water, information which Erickson said she believed Perdock gave her.

Boat Patrol deputy testifies about scene

Boat Patrol Deputy Lloyd Wells got a call around 9:30 p.m., about 20 minutes after the crash. When he arrived at the scene, Ostini told him to tow the sailboat back to the boat barn at Braito's.

He said Morshed gave him a ride back to get the sheriff's boat, and the two of them then came back for the Beats Workin' II.

Wells estimated it took him 45 minutes to tow the badly damaged sailboat, which he placed in a boat slip in front of the boat barn.

The next day he went to Doug Jones' business to retrieve the sailboat's trailer so he could tow it out of the water and place it in the boat barn.

He said he and Jones discussed the trailer being in disrepair, with broken lights. Wells said the ball on the trailer hitch he had wasn't the right size, so he had to borrow one before being able to tow it.

Jones, who testified on Tuesday, had stated that he saw lights on the sailboat, and that he had attempted to tell Wells, who he said replied that he couldn't have seen lights.

But on Thursday Wells denied that such an exchange took place, adding that he knew very little about the case at that point.

Wells said he didn't participate in the investigation on the night of the crash, that his time was taken up in towing the boat.

“Were you aware of any issue to do with lights on the sailboat?” Hopkins asked.

“No,” said Wells, adding that he didn't know there were allegations that he sailboat's lights weren't on. “I was in and out of there pretty quick” before he left to tow the boat.

On May 3, 2006, Wells photographed the sailboat's bow, stern and mast lights before removing and packaging them. They were then placed in an evidence locker in downtown Lakeport. The bow and mast lights appear fine, and the stern light, which was bent over, remained intact as well.

He also determined that the boat had cabin lights, one of which he found lying on the cabin floor.

Wells recounted on the stand that while he and Morshed were towing the sailboat back to the boat barn they discussed what was going on with the situation on shore but didn't get into the case's specifics.

A high ranking sheriff's deputy was involved in a crash and it wasn't a topic of discussion? Haltom asked. Wells said it might have been for Morshed, but it wasn't for him.

He said he was too busy dealing with the sailboat. He'd never towed one before and didn't know to tie the rudder down straight. “I was chasin' that thing the whole way over there,” he said, explaining that the sailboat's rudder caused it move around behind the 22-foot aluminum sheriff's boat.

Once the sailboat was at Braito's, it was left unsecured for as long as seven hours, with Wells estimating that he left around 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. before returning at 9 a.m. By that time, Ostini already was there.

Testimony continues on Friday.

Witnesses so far, in order

Day one (following opening statements): James Ziebell, sailor, helped skipper Beats Workin' II in Konocti Cup; Doug Jones, past commodore of local sailing club; Anthony Esposti*, fisherman; Colin Johnson*, fisherman.

Day two: Lake County Sheriff's Det. Jerry Pfann, Andrea Estep*, phlebotomist, St. Helena Hospital-Clearlake (formerly Redbud Community Hospital); former sheriff's Sgt. James Beland; LaDonna Hartman, phlebotomist, Sutter Lakeside Hospital; retired sheriff's Sgt. Mark Hoffman; California Department of Justice criminalist Gregory Priebe, Santa Rosa lab; California Department of Justice criminalist Gary Davis, Sacramento toxicology lab.

Day three: Jennifer Patterson, witnessed crash from Holdener property on lakeshore; Gina Seago, witnessed crash from Holdener property on lakeshore; Jordin Walker, passenger on Russell Perdock's powerboat; James Walker*, high school friend of Perdock's and passenger on his powerboat; sheriff's Deputy Mike Morshed*; sheriff's communications operator Kimberly Erickson; sheriff's Boat Patrol Deputy Lloyd Wells*.

* = Indicates a witness subject to recall at the request of the defense.

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


MIDDLETOWN – A local man won more than $1.5 million at Twin Pine Casino this week.

On Tuesday the man, who requested anonymity, hit a MegaJackpot of $1,501,686.39 by playing a “Marilyn Monroe” dollar slot machine.

The machine, which is known as a “Wide-Area Progressive,” is electronically connected to other similar machines throughout the country, and these types of machines can pay off very large jackpots through a group play network rather than through standard individual play.

Twin Pine has several wide-area progressive machines on its new gaming floor to accommodate customers who are hoping to hit the supersized jackpots.

Twin Pine Casino is owned by the Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California.

Referring to the major jackpot, Carl Rivera, the Rancheria’s tribal council chairman, said, “The tribe has been pointing to this moment for a long time. We knew it would happen, but you just never know when. With the recent grand opening of Twin Pine as California’s newest casino, it couldn’t come at a more exciting time for all of us.”

The $1.5 million jackpot is the largest single payout in Twin Pine’s 15-year history. It also represents the largest payout of its type in Lake County history, and exceeds the jackpots of all other casinos in the Bay Area.

“It’s a real thrill to see one of our many loyal guests combine with one of our most popular gaming machines to produce such a life-changing event,” said Richard Howard, General Manager of Twin Pine Casino.

Twin Pine Casino has operated a Las Vegas-style gaming facility of the latest slot machines and table games since 1994.

This year the Middletown Rancheria recently opened its 107,000-square-foot new casino/ hotel/ restaurant complex at its current Middletown location.

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