Tuesday, 23 July 2024


SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. – Hundreds of firefighters were on the scene of a fire in Bodega Bay on Saturday, according to state fire officials.

The fire began Saturday at 12:34 p.m. near the 18000 block of Highway 1, Cal Fire reported.

Cal Fire said there were approximately 300 firefighters working the wildland incident, including personnel from Cal Fire and Sonoma County Fire Services including the volunteer companies of Bodega, Bloomfield, Cazadero, Camp Meeker, Valley Ford and Wilmar, and local fire departments from Bodega Bay, Forestville, Goldridge, Marin County, Monte Rio, Rancho Adobe, US Coast Guard FD and Windsor.

The wildland fire was 89 acres 90 percent contained Saturday night, according to the Cal Fire report.

One firefighter injury was been reported, with the firefighter transported to a Bay Area hospital for medical treatment. Cal Fire reported that the firefighter was in critical but stable condition.

The wildland fire threatened homes and the town of Bodega. Cal Fire reported that one outbuilding and two vehicles were destroyed by the wildland fire. Firefighting crews were committed overnight and will continue mop up through Sunday.

There are two road closures at this time – Highway 1 and Bodega Highway, and Highway 1 and Estero Road, according to Cal Fire.

As a result of the fire, the 911 emergency call system was down for the residents in Bodega Bay, although the Bodega Bay Fire District is currently staffed and available to response to local emergencies, Cal Fire said.

Officials urged Bodega Bay residents to call 707-875-3001 to report emergencies until the 911 emergency call system is restored.

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A vehicle collided with a tree on Elk Mountain Road near Upper Lake, Calif., on the night of Thursday, September 23, 2010, resulting in minor injuries for the driver. Photo by Gary McAuley.



UPPER LAKE, Calif. – A vehicle that crashed into a tree near Upper Lake Thursday night resulted in minor injuries for the driver.

The crash occurred just after 10:30 p.m. several miles up Elk Mountain Road, just north of the U.S. Forest Service ranger station, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The two-door Chevrolet went off the roadway and hit a tree, according to reports from the scene.

The CHP reported the driver was 26-year-old Kara Snow, who was alone in the car.

Responding to the scene were the CHP, Lake County Sheriff's and Northshore Fire Protection District.

Northshore Fire was dispatched at approximately 10:37 p.m., according to Battalion Chief Steve Hart.

Hart responded along with one engine, one medic unit and two off-duty battalion chiefs.

The driver had been able to get out of the car on her own, according to Hart. She was transported by Northshore Fire ambulance to Sutter Lakeside Hospital.

The CHP reported that Snow suffered minor injuries.

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California Highway Patrol, Lake County Sheriff's Office and Northshore Fire Protection District officials examine a vehicle that collided with a tree on Elk Mountain Road near Upper Lake, Calif., on Thursday, September 23, 2010. Photo by Gary McAuley.

LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – As the recipient of stimulus funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), the county of Lake will soon realize significant energy savings through cost-effective projects that will be completed on publicly-owned facilities, while at the same helping to stimulate the local economy; create and retain jobs; reduce fossil fuel emissions; reduce total energy usage, and improve energy efficiency.

The contract between the California Energy Commission (CEC) and the county of Lake, which will provide nearly $259,000 in funds from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG), became fully encumbered on Sept. 21 which means the county can begin work on the projects, which must be completed before September of 2012.

Staff in the Lake County Public Services Department submitted an application to the CEC to receive funds for cost-effective energy efficiency projects on county facilities in January of this year in an effort to make better use of taxpayer money.

After a few updates initiated by the CEC, the notice to proceed was issued on Sept. 21.

“The Public Services Department is committed to seeking every opportunity to save energy in county-owned facilities, which in turn will allow government dollars to be allocated to other important programs,” said Public Services Director Kim Clymire.

Clymire further noted that, “Our deputy director, Caroline Chavez, has worked tirelessly with the state to fulfill all requirements and requests that will allow our staff to begin these important energy-saving projects.”

Projects funded by the EECBG include replacing heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) units at Juvenile Hall, Probation, and the Courthouse in Lakeport, as well as at the Mental Health/AODS in Clearlake.

In addition to HVAC units, regular thermostats will be replaced with MAMAC remote systems – which allow the thermostats to be monitored and adjusted remotely – saving staff travel time and money.

Occupancy sensors installed will turn off lights when rooms are unoccupied and automatically turn lights on when occupied.

Contractors will be hired to replace the larger HVAC units in the Courthouse, all other projects will be completed by staff in the Public Services Department, Building and Grounds Division. Funding from this grant will help retain county staff, as well as stimulate the local economy by hiring local contractors.

For more information, contact Terre Logsdon with the Lake County Public Services Department at 707-262-1760.

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LAKEPORT, Calif. – In deliberations that took just over an hour a Lake County jury on Thursday acquitted a local doctor who had been accused of inappropriate conduct toward a patient.


At the end of what defense attorney Patrick Clancy said was an emotional five-and-a-half-day-long trial, the jury found Dr. Corey Warner not guilty of sexual battery by fraudulent representation and a second count of sexual battery under a different section of the penal code.


Prosecutor Ed Borg said jury selection took place Sept. 14 and the presentation of evidence began the next day. The jury went into deliberations on Thursday and returned a short time later with the not guilty verdict.


Warner, 41, was arrested June 10 following the conclusion of an investigation into allegations made by a female patient, according to the Lake County Sheriff's Office's June report.


The patient alleged that on July 7, 2009, she visited Warner's practice at Hidden Valley Medical Services in Hidden Valley for an examination following a fall from a horse, according to Clancy.


Clancy said the patient alleged that Warner gave her a breast exam she didn't request. “He claimed, and his records showed, that no such exam was ever given,” Clancy said.


Borg said the woman also alleged that Warner thrust his pelvis against her while having her bend over to do a range of motion exercise.


The woman, whose name was not released by the defense or prosecution, reported the alleged incident on the same day that she said it occurred, Borg said.


Clancy alleged that while the sheriff's office said the investigation had been going on close to a year before Warner was arrested, there actually had been large delays in the investigation, which he said amounted to more than 11 months.


“It's the worst case in terms of an investigation that I've ever seen,” Clancy said.


Clancy suggested that it should have taken a week to wrap up the inquiry into the case's facts. “The delays were just totally unconscionable, totally inexcusable.”


While he didn't blame the initial lag on sheriff's Det. Mike Curran, Clancy said Curran didn't speak to witnesses in the case, including doctor's office staff, for many months afterward. That's an issue, he said, because, “Everyone knows that memories fade with time.”


Borg disputed Clancy's claims about the delays. There were timing issues – which were a concern for the jury – but he said they weren't as serious as Clancy portrayed them to be.


While it should have taken just a few days for the deputy who took the report to pass it on to Curran, Borg said for some reason it wasn't routed to Curran immediately. Curran got the case late in November and had completed most of the investigation within a month.


The defense theorized that the female patient was angry with Warner after she received a steroid shot for poison oak in January 2009, with the shot resulting in a 5 centimeter by 4 centimeter by 2 centimeter depression on her buttocks, Clancy said.


During the trial Clancy called a number of witnesses to testify to Warner's moral character and exceptional professional reputation.


Those witnesses included other local doctors and some of Warner's own patients, one of them a man whose young wife died unexpectedly last year and who broke down on the stand, saying he could never have made it without Warner's support.


“They love him. They absolutely love him,” Clancy said of Warner's patients.


Clancy said the backbone of the defense included the office procedures and standards of practice used to ensure client protection, which they went over in detail during the trial.


Borg said Clancy gave “an excellent closing argument” in which he highlighted what he considered the flaws in the case. Clancy in turn noted that Borg was both professional and ethical in his approach to the prosecution, and he felt Judge Andrew Blum was very fair in his handling of the case.


The jury came back with its verdict at about 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Borg said.


After speaking with jurors, “Essentially, it came down to they didn't feel we had proven the case,” Borg said. The jury also had problems with inconsistencies in the alleged victim's testimony and the testimony of office staff.


In his conversations with jurors, Clancy said they noted they didn't find the patient a reliable witness.


With the verdict decided, “What happened afterwards is what is utterly amazing,” said Clancy.


Warner and his wife were hugging and crying, and as the jurors walked out, each patted him on the back, according to Clancy.


The jurors waited outside to talk, and the female jurors later approached Warner and asked him to be their doctor, Clancy said.


He said the female jurors also got together with Warner's wife to let her know that they didn't just vote not guilty, but that they voted him innocent. Some of the jurors also reportedly confronted Curran after the trial, Clancy said.


While the Warners never doubted he would be acquitted, the prosecution has taken a toll on them. At the same time, Dr. Warner has continued his practice, Clancy said.


Dr. Warner is taking a few days off to be with his wife before getting back to his patients on Monday, according to Clancy.


However, while he loves his patients and is being asked to say, Clancy said Warner is having to give considerable thought to whether he will stay in Lake County.


Sheriff Rod Mitchell said Friday that once Curran got the case, he brought the shortfalls in its handling to the attention of both Mitchell and Capt. Rob Howe.


Mitchell said review steps have been put in place to avoid such delays in investigations going forward.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – A federal marijuana charge stemming from an arrest earlier this month has been dropped against an Upper Lake man, but a federal case filed against him and several co-defendants last year continues to move forward, accompanied by a growing amount of discovery.

Drug Enforcement Administration agents arrested Thomas Lee Carter, 59, on Sept. 1, alleging possession with intent to distribute marijuana and violation of previous release terms, as Lake County News has reported.

Carter had been arrested in August 2009, along with one of his employees, Brett Bassignani, 44, of Nice; Scott Feil, 44, and his wife, Diana, 29, of Upper Lake and Redwood Valley; Diana Feil's stepfather, Steven Swanson, 60, of Sebastopol. They're charged with various counts stemming from the government's allegations that they were connected in a marijuana distribution operation.

On Tuesday the US Attorney's Office filed a notice of dismissal on the charge relating to Carter's Sept. 1 arrest, according to court documents.

An unsigned copy of that dismissal notice was filed online by the court. The notice must be signed by U.S. Magistrate Elizabeth D. LaPorte before it's official, based on court protocol. The San Francisco Clerk of the Courts said Thursday that a signed version had not yet been filed with that office.

Geoffrey Hansen, a federal public defender who is working on Carter's case, said a federal grand jury chose not to indict Carter on the charge.

“One never knows why the grand jury does or does not indict in a particular case,” as the proceedings are sealed, Hansen told Lake County News.

The US Attorney's Office could not offer comment on the case. Spokesman Jack Gillund said they could neither confirm or deny the actions taken Tuesday. In the interest of fairness, the agency does not comment on cases until after they are adjudicated.

The dismissal notice states that the complaint was dismissed “without prejudice,” which Hansen said leaves the door open for the US Attorney's Office to refile the case.

Hansen said the government clearly indicated that it was trying to get Carter back in custody and revoke his bond with the new arrest, a strategy which he said was spelled out in a Sept. 8 hearing. But federal Judge Bernard Zimmerman “would have none of it,” Hansen said.

While the Sept. 1 arrest complaint is gone, still moving forward is the case from the August 2009 arrests, Hansen said. In that case Carter and his co-defendants were released on property-secured bond last year.

If convicted in that case, all of the defendants are looking at multiple years in federal prison and loss of millions of dollars in property to federal forfeiture, based on information in case filings.

The charges against Carter include a single count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana, which carries a minimum 10-year sentence and $4 million fine, and two counts of distributing or possessing with intent to distribute marijuana, each charge carrying a five-year minimum and a $2 million fine.

Bassignani is charged with two counts of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana and one count of distributing or possessing with intent to distribute marijuana.

Carter and Bassignani are alleged to have been involved in agreeing to sell 500 rooted marijuana plant clones to an informant, who is alleged to have made direct contact with Bassignani but not Carter.

The government's case alleges that Bassignani told undercover agents that he was Carter's “plant manager,” and that he was employed “for the sole purpose of caring for marijuana plants, and that his salary was paid for entirely with proceeds from the sale of marijuana.”

Scott and Diana Feil and Swanson are charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana, distributing or possessing with intent to distribute marijuana, conspiracy to launder money and engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specific unlawful activity. Scott Feil is facing two counts of filing false tax returns, and Swanson two counts of tax evasion.

A superseding indictment handed down in July added another defendant, Mark Leonard Garcia, in connection to a San Diego dispensary. Court documents indicate Garcia is charged with two counts of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana.

Hansen said the substantive motions in that case will be in court in December, with the defendants themselves set to appear in federal court the following month. That's when the judge will hold a status hearing on the motions and the issues with the significant amount of discovery in the case, now estimated to be well over 100,000 pages of case documents.

Hansen said the judge has allowed the two sides to do serial filings due to the amount of discovery that continues to come in on an ongoing basis.

“We've had a number of discovery issues with the government,” said Hansen, a complaint he has made in motions to the court, stating that the US Attorney's Office has not been forthcoming with some of the information it's required to share with the defense.

A Tuesday afternoon hearing was held to discuss some of those issues, Hansen said, with the judge taking various arguments under discussion.

Attorneys allege flaws in government's case

In its case filings, the US Attorney's Office is alleging that Carter, Bassignani, the Feils, Swanson and Garcia were part of a marijuana distribution operation with bases of operation in Lake County, Los Angeles and San Diego.

“They've endeavored to make some connection,” said Hansen, suggesting there is an attempt to make Carter something he is not.

Hansen said that, from his perspective, there is no relationship whatsoever between Carter and Scott Feil. His main evidence to support that belief is that the government has never charged Carter with conspiracy relating to Feil's case.

He said he believes that if the case goes to trial it will be sometime in the middle of 2011.

“Motions are going to be very important here,” he said.

Hansen said Feil's lawyers are making very strong arguments that a search of Feil's Los Angeles medical marijuana dispensary in 2005 was illegal and that it has tainted the entire prosecution.

“If they're right, this case goes away,” said Hansen.

He added that in the Tuesday discovery hearing Zimmerman acknowledged that Feil's attorneys' argument on that point is a substantial one.

Santa Monica attorney Charles Lindner, a member of Feil's defense team, explained that on March 15, 2005, the Los Angeles Police Department raided Feil's medical marijuana dispensary, United Medical Caregivers Clinic, and seized $186,416 in assets.

“They started before they got a search warrant,” Lindner said, explaining that the police later found a judge to sign a warrant and allegedly didn't telling him the search involved a medical marijuana establishment.

In that case, in which Feil was represented by attorney Paul Gabbert, the Ninth Circuit Court reversed a lower court decision and found that the search violated the Fourth Amendment – which guards against unreasonable search and seizure – according to a copy of the ruling, filed in October 2009. The Los Angeles Police Department was ordered to return Feil's assets.

“From that point forward we are under DEA investigation,” said Lindner.

He added, “The whole thing about the feds is, they want money,” noting that the federal government receives large percentages of the property seized in such cases.

Lindner said the portions of the case that rely on that illegal 2005 search are what is problematic.

He explained them in terms of a legal doctrine called “fruit of the poisonous tree,” which requires an exclusion of all evidence obtained illegally.

The doctrine was established in a US Supreme Court ruling in Wong Sun versus the United States in the 1950s, according to legal histories of the case. Illegal arrests was made and the resulting statement made by one the defendants was considered by the court to be illegally obtained, and therefore the “fruit” – or direct result – of an illegal arrest.

Lindner alleges that in the 2009 case against Feil and Carter, the unlawful search warrant in 2005 was the start of the investigation.

If the court agrees the government has got a big problem in its case, Lindner said.

Lindner said if the case holds to its schedule, evidentiary hearings in the case should start in January.

However, he's not certain about a time frame for trial.

“These cases can get really, really, really complicated,” he said.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf.

This pickup was wrecked when its driver allegedly pulled in front of another driver on Highway 20 in Nice, Calif., on Tuesday, September 21, 2010. Photo by Gary McAuley.


NICE, Calif. – Three people went to area hospitals and Highway 20 was briefly closed down following a head-on collision in Nice Tuesday evening.

The crash, reported shortly after 6:30 p.m., occurred on Highway 20 and Lakeshore Boulevard, according to the California Highway Patrol.

A pickup towing a small trailer and heading westbound pulled into the path of a Toyota Land Cruiser while attempting to turn onto Lakeshore Boulevard, according to CHP Officer Josh Dye.

The CHP and Northshore Fire Protection District responded to the scene.

Northshore Fire sent two battalion chiefs, two medic units and three engines to the crash site, according to Battalion Chief Pat Brown.

He said one person from the Land Cruiser was transported by REACH Air Ambulance to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, while another from the same vehicle was transported by ambulance to Sutter Lakeside.

One subject from the pickup went to Sutter Lakeside, also via ambulance, and a fourth person denied medical help, Brown said.

Firefighters were helping to control traffic as cleanup at the site continued at around 8 p.m. The CHP reported that the roadway was clear 15 minutes later.

Dye did not have the names of those involved immediately available.

The CHP reported that the crash victims suffered minor injuries.

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A Toyota Land Cruiser that was damaged in a head-on collision in Nice, Calif., on Tuesday, September 21, 2010. Photo by Gary McAuley.




The California Highway Patrol investigates the scene of a crash on Highway 20 at Lakeshore Boulevard in Nice, Calif., on Tuesday, September 21, 2010. Photo by Gary McAuley.

A fire on Friday, September 24, 2010, burned an outbuilding and endangered nearby homes in Lakeport, Calif. Photo by Brian Hajik.





LAKEPORT, Calif. – A late afternoon fire in Lakeport burned an outbuilding, burned nearby vegetation and got close to some homes.

The fire was reported shortly before 5 p.m. on Lakeshore Boulevard, according to reports from the scene.

Lakeport Fire firefighter/paramedic Ponciano Hernandez, the agency's duty officer on Friday, said the fire was located in the area of Lakeshore Boulevard and Rainbow Road.

Hernandez said the fire burned an outbuilding and then got into vegetation on the hill.

“We had some houses threatened up on top,” he said.

It took about an hour from the time firefighters arrived on scene to the completion of mop up, Hernandez said.

Lakeport Fire sent three engines, Cal Fire sent a battalion chief and Kelseyville Fire sent an engine, he said.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, according to Hernandez.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .



Firefighters work at the scene of a fire off of Lakeshore Boulevard in Lakeport, Calif., on Friday, September 24, 2010. Photo by Brian Hajik.




Lakeport Fire with mutual aid from Kelseyville Fire and Cal Fire responded to put out the blaze in Lakeport, Calif., on Friday, September 24, 2010. Photo by Brian Hajik.

LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – Although autumn is now officially under way, Mother Nature is about to throw an atmospheric curve ball at Northern California that will extend the game of summer just a bit longer.

Temperatures are forecast to climb back in to the high 90s and near 100 over the next few days, according to the National Weather Service in Sacramento.

A strong high pressure system is building over Northern California, including Lake County, which will push temperatures a little higher each day with the hottest days predicted on Monday and Tuesday, forecaster said.

Overnight temperatures will warm up as well, the National Weather Service predicts, with overnight lows 15 to 20 degrees warmer than the last few nights, when temperatures dipped in to the low 40s, and cool off to the upper 50s and low 60s.

Forecasters state that Friday's high will reach in to the upper 80s, with both Saturday and Sunday expected to reach well in to the 90s.

Prepare for summer weather if you are planning on attending one of the many outdoor events scheduled this weekend, including the Kelseyville Pear Festival, the Clear Lake Splash-In in Lakeport or the People's Choice Wine Awards in Lower Lake.

Morning events, such as parade at the pear festival, the guided walks at both Rodman Slough Preserve and Clear Lake State Park, should have ideal temperatures in the mid 60s and low 70s.

Temperatures will continue to increase early next week, according to forecasters, with daytime highs in the upper 90s near 100 on both Monday and Tuesday, with a cooling trend beginning on Wednesday.

Although temperatures are expected to trend downward beginning on Wednesday as the high pressure system moves out, it will still remain slightly warmer than the average temperature of 82, according to the forecast.

For up-to-the minute weather information, please visit the Lake County News homepage.

E-mail Terre Logsdon at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

Johnny Colcleaser of Vallejo, Calif., was arrested late Monday, September 20, 2010, after deputies searched fro him following his alleged threat to kill a cousin. Lake County Jail photo.

LUCERNE, Calif. – A Vallejo man who managed to evade local law enforcement for most of Monday ended up spending the night in jail.

Johnny Colcleaser, 27, was arrested just after 9 p.m. and booked into the Lake County Jail an hour later, according to jail records.

Colcleaser was arrested at a home on Fourth Avenue in Lucerne on Monday evening, according to a report Lake County News received from an area resident.

His arrest came approximately 12 hours after sheriff's deputies were first dispatched to Lucerne on the report of threats, as Lake County News has reported.

Colcleaser reportedly went to the Ninth Avenue home of his cousin, who he allegedly threatened to kill before walking away. Capt. James Bauman said sheriff's deputies responded and Colcleaser took off in a foot chase that lasted several blocks, with Colcleaser eventually disappearing into the creek bed at Ninth Avenue.

The Lake County Sheriff's SWAT Team, the California Highway Patrol and the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office's helicopter assisted with the search, which lasted several hours Monday, as Lake County News has reported.

Some area businesses were temporarily closed and Lucerne Elementary School was locked down for part of the day.

During the search for Colcleaser deputies located a 2002 Ford pickup stolen from San Pablo that he is alleged to have driven to Lake County, according to Bauman.

Colcleaser was arrested on a felony parole violation and a felony charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm, as well as misdemeanor resisting arrest.

He is being held without bail due to the parole violation.

Jail records indicate that Colcleaser is due to appear in Lake County Superior Court on Wednesday.

For footage of the day's search, see Lake County News' YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/user/LakeCoNews?feature=mhum.

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LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – The California Highway Patrol is investigating two fatal crashes that occurred Friday morning.


One occurred near Blue Lakes shortly after 10:30 a.m. and the second was a hit-and-run collision involving a vehicle and a motorcycle at Highway 29 and Siegler Canyon Road that took place after 11 a.m., according to CHP and witness reports.


The crash on Highway 20 at Blue Lakes involved three vehicles, according to CHP Officer Dallas Richey.


Richey did not have full details available mid-afternoon, as the report wasn't complete.


Northshore Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Steve Hart said one of the vehicles went over the side of the road and was about 10 feet from the lake.


One person was pronounced dead at the scene, and the other crash victims suffered minor injuries and refused medical care, Hart said.


In addition to Hart, Northshore Fire responded with two ambulances and two engines, and Lakeport Fire sent one ambulance as mutual aid, he said.


Hart said the crash temporarily shut down the highway while first responders got on scene.


“We were able to open up one lane for traffic control within the first 15 minutes,” he said. “We did get it going as fast as we could.”


Hart said the scene was cleared after about two hours, with one person detained by CHP.


The incident at Highway 29 and Siegler Canyon involved a vehicle that hit a motorcycle and then left the scene, Richey said.


The motorcyclist was flown out by air ambulance to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, where he later died, according to Richey.


A suspect vehicle has been found but Richey said the suspect hasn't yet been identified.


Lake County News will follow up with more information as it becomes available.


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It’s easy to imagine awkward moments on college campuses these days as veterans of the Iraq/ Afghanistan era mix with another category of student also using generous education benefits of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

“What’s your service and where did you serve?”

“I didn’t. My dad (mom) did.”

More than 38,000 military children and spouses have gone to college this past year on benefits transferred to them from military careerists and recent retirees. And that flow has just begun.

Through early September, the services had approved requests from 145,000 service members to transfer GI Bill benefits to 331,000 children and spouses. Congressional auditors two years ago estimated the transferability feature alone would add $10 billion to program costs over the first decade.

Benefits can be transferred to a spouse if the member has served at least six years and commits to four more. Transfer to children, in return for that extra time, is allowed after 10 years’ service.

But GI Bill transfers are in overdrive right now because Defense officials made almost the entire career force eligible, and eliminated or reduced that extra service obligation for those near to retirement.

As a result, awkward moments over transferability are occurring on Capitol Hill too. In July, at a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) said the Department of Defense “has too broadly extended this benefit.”

Akaka said Congress believed transferability would be used selectively, to retain members with critical skills, and not to reward all careerists.

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), chief architect of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, in a brief interview Friday, recalled how he hesitated to accept transferability when pushed by the Bush administration in final GI Bill negotiations.

“My personal focus was on the citizen soldier who spends a tour and then returns to civilian life. They are the ones who were to benefit, as they did from the original GI bill, the World War II GI Bill. To help these people get on with the rest of their lives has been my main focus,” Webb said.

“I would like to see the numbers on transferability,” he said. “I’m not saying I’m opposed but I would be very curious to see the numbers.”

And on his visits to the Pentagon, Webb added, “I’d like to see senior leaders over there spend more time talking about how great this benefit is for the people who leave the military. Yet every time I come over they want to talk to me about transferability … I remind them they ought to be just as happy about those people who have gotten out” after fewer than six years.

The first bill Webb introduced as a new senator in 2007 was a GI Bill to rival the post-World War II benefit, paying the full cost of college for a new generation of warriors, at least at state-run schools. When his idea gained steam in early 2008, Republican leaders countered with a more modest plan to beef up the Montgomery GI Bill. Defense leaders preferred this, fearing Webb’s more generous plan would put force readiness at risk, enticing many to leave for college after a single hitch or mid-career.

Then-Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) proposed a compromise, a transferability test to allow members to give half of their new GI Bill benefit to family members. Bush had endorsed transferability in his 2008 State of the Union address, so it snowballed into a very robust feature of Webb’s bill.

Eligibility would depend on how Defense officials wrote the implementing regulation. What they produced was far more inclusive than many observers had expected. Even some veterans’ service organizations were surprised at how expansive they made GI Bill transferability.

“DoD got this great retention tool. Instead of managing it by specific military occupational specialty or hard-target skill sets, DoD says ‘It doesn’t come out of our budget so we’re going to give it to everybody,’” complained an education expert for one vet organization. “They made the application for transferability so liberal it was perceived as a retiree benefit. That, very clearly, was not the intent of the legislation. It’s the equivalent of paying new retirees a retention bonus for being retired.”

Akaka thought he had a partial solution in May when he introduced a comprehensive bill to reform the Post-9/11 GI Bill. He tucked in a provision to shift the cost of transferability from the VA budget to DoD, so Defense officials would tighten eligibility or suffer the fiscal consequences. By August Akaka had pulled that provision at the request of Defense officials.

DoD has no plans to tighten transferability rules.

“Transferability will help us continue to recruit and retain highly qualified American youth,” said Robert E. Clark, assistant director for accession policy at DoD.

It’s a tool, he said, “to address the force management goals of the services, while allowing career service members to share the benefits they've earned with their families.”

Members qualified for transferability only if they were on active duty on or after Aug. 1, 2009. In opening it to the entire career force, Defense officials relaxed the four-year added service obligation for anyone eligible to retire from August 2009 through July 2012. This had to be done, officials said, to preserve force structure and promotion opportunity.

That very large wave of eligible families with older children will pass with time and won’t be seen again. One official put it this way:

“The old-guys-get-the-money stuff pretty much happens in the first year or two,” he said. “After that, they're all signed up and it's the people completing six years who are your new class of [transfer] takers. So in the end, all warriors will have benefited … but it will grow to become applicable only to those completing their sixth year – a retention sensitive group – exactly as Senator Akaka suggests.”

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