Thursday, 18 July 2024


Student stars: Laura Benavides and Kyle Coleman found out Tuesday that they'll each receive a $20,000 scholarship from the Horatio Alger National Scholarship Program. The program places special emphasis on supporting young people who have overcome adversity, are committed to continuing their education and serving their communities. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


UPPER LAKE – Two very special young people received an incredible piece of news this week – they had each been chosen out of thousands of applicants nationwide to receive $20,000 scholarships to help fund their college education.

Kyle Coleman, 17, of Upper Lake, and Laura Benavides, 18, of Nice, received word Tuesday that they were among 105 recipients of the scholarships, offered by the Horatio Alger National Scholarship Program.

Carrie Blewitt, spokesperson for the awards program, said about 33,000 students from across the United States applied this year for the scholarships, which have been offered since 1984.

“These are the cream of the crop,” Blewitt said of the winners.

Karen Riordan, a counselor at Upper Lake High School – where both Coleman and Benavides are in their senior year – called the news “phenomenal.” Riordan said it's the first time Upper Lake High students have received nationwide scholarships.

Upper Lake High is one of three high schools nationwide – including John Johnson High School in Roseville, Minn., and Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Miss. – to have more than one recipient of this year's scholarships. Blewitt called the achievement of having more than one student per school “not that common.”

Benavides and Coleman are among seven Californians included on this year's roster of distinguished students.

Blewitt said all of the scholarship recipients will be welcomed to a three-day conference in Washington, DC from April 2 through 4. During the all-expenses-paid trip they will accept their scholarships, do a little sightseeing and take part in ceremonies.

“It's a packed three days,” said Blewitt.

One of the ceremonies will take place at the US Supreme Court, led by Justice Clarence Thomas, one of the members of the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, whose membership also includes Maya Angelou, Hank Aaron, Wayne Gretzky, Ross Perot and Colin Powell.

A Saturday morning scholars breakfast, held on April 4, will offer the students a chance to share their stories, “which is pretty moving,” said Blewitt.

The students say their parents were very happy about the scholarships. So were there friends, and Riordan said she “squeezed Laura to death” at the news. Riordan added the school is very pleased and proud of the two.

Benavides said one of her friends helpfully offered to beat her with a stick if she didn't take the scholarship and make the most out of it.

Both students said they found out about the scholarship the old-fashioned way – on the counseling bulletin board's list of available scholarships.

Named for the author Horatio Alger Jr., who wrote stories about people overcoming adversity through tireless work and persistence, the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans Inc.'s national scholarship program honors young people who have shown the same willingness to face tough times and overcome them.

Emphasis also is placed on “critical” financial need – preference is given to students from homes where the adjusted gross income is $50,000 a year or less – involvement in community and co-curricular activities, and a strong commitment to pursue a bachelor's degree at an accredited US college or university.

One of the largest college financial aid programs in the country, the Horatio Alger National Scholarship Program also seeks to recognize students who have a commitment to use their college degrees in service to others.

The lengthy online application asked many personal questions about the students' background. Benavides said it was important to be willing to share those experiences.

The determination to succeed

Despite their youth, both Benavides and Coleman have faced and overcome challenging situations. And, in both cases, it's the power of love and encouragement from family members that have helped them succeed.

Benavides, who has a 3.59 grade point average and is Upper Lake High's Webmaster, is one of eight children. She and her twin sister, Lisa, along with a younger brother and sister, all live with her mother, Angela Robertson, and with her grandparents, Gene and Kathy Robertson. She also has four younger siblings under the age of 10 who live with her father in Reno, Nev.

Originally from Reno, she said abuse and drugs were issues for her family, which at one point lived in a poor part of town. “It pushed me to try harder.”

But she credits her mother and grandparents with helping her to stay on the right track and encouraging her to think big.

In particular, she said her “papa” isn't afraid to tell her when she's being dumb or when she's doing a good job. “He's been through a lot, too,” she said.

“There's never, ever been a time in my life when my papa and nana haven't been there to support us,” she added.

“We're so proud of her,” said Gene Robertson.

The Robertson have raised six children and now are helping their daughter raise their four grandchildren. Gene Robertson said he thinks his straight talk approach, mixed with love, has helped Benavides and her siblings.

“She's always worked really hard at everything she's done, so it's been easy to try and steer her in the right direction,” he said.

Robertson said his granddaughter is constantly trying to learn and increase her knowledge. “That's amazing to me, to watch her learn.”

He said Laura and her twin sister, Lisa, are “as different as night and day.” Laura Benavides has in the past been involved in the school's famed Academic Decathlon team along with band, with science and English being her favorite topics, while Lisa – also is an A student – is an athlete, playing basketball, softball and volleyball.

Coleman's story also has elements of struggle, plus an added measure of heartbreak.

He was just 11 years old when his mother, Diedre Coleman, was murdered in July 2002. He mentions the tragedy briefly in discussing the obstacles he's had to overcome.

Nor has he let a serious injury suffered in his freshman year slow him down. He was in wood shop class when an accident severed three of the fingers on his left hand. Then his 27-year-old half-brother, Nathan, recently passed away.

Coleman said his dad, Bill Coleman, and brother Wade have helped him get through the hard times.

Bill Coleman said the teen has grown through his problems. “He's a tough little man.”

The baby of the family, Kyle Coleman has two older brothers, Eric and Wade, and a sister, Amber.

Kyle Coleman always has been driven, and is just as good at academics as athletics, said his proud dad.

“He's just unbelievable,” said Bill Coleman.

Kyle Coleman, who has a 4.05 grade point average, will be this year's valedictorian, said his father.

Besides being a great student who is particularly fond of math and history, Coleman is an all-around athlete. He plays basketball and golf, and played football for three years before deciding this year to give cross-country running a try, improving his times by the end of the year.

Riordan teases that he took on cross-country so he could outrun the girls.

He's also a member of the Academic Decathlon team, which Bill Coleman accompanied as a chaperone on a trip to Egypt in late November. The Lake County Academic Decathlon competition will be held Feb. 7.

Achievement is clearly on both students' minds. Riordan said both are very driven with the ambition to succeed.

Benavides has applied to several schools, but her top picks are the University of Nevada, Reno – which already has accepted her – and the University of California, Davis. She wants to study microbiology with a view to a medical career.

Coleman expects to have word about his acceptance any time from his two top picks, both University of California schools – Santa Barbara and San Diego. He's interested in computer engineering, but as for a prospective career, he said, “I haven't found that out yet.”

While their awards are sizable, the $20,000 scholarships both Benavides and Coleman received will be only a small part of the money they'll need to get through the university of their choice. That's due to the ever-increasing costs of higher education that are facing young people.

At the University of Nevada, Reno, Benavides said all expenses for in-state students for a year – including tuition, and room and board – amount to $19,000 and $26,000 for out-of-state students.

The University of California campuses Coleman is eying have total annual expenses of about $25,300, and could top $26,000 if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed tuition hikes for the 2009-10 fiscal year go through.

That means more scholarships are needed for both. They're still in the process of receiving some others, applying and waiting for results.

There's also the April trip to Washington, DC prepare for, which will be Coleman's first experience of the nation's capitol. Benavides visited last year for the first time on an academic trip.

They're both looking forward to the rest of the school year, with college and leaving their families looming just beyond graduation.

Benavides said she is going on a “memory rampage” with her camera, trying to capture as much of it as possible because she knows it will be over soon.

They both have the love of their proud parents, grandparents and siblings to help carry they forward to the next place.

“I hope she's going to go great places in this world,” Gene Robertson said of his granddaughter.

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


LUCERNE – An 18-year-old Lucerne resident has been arrested for his alleged assault of, and oral copulation with, a child under age 14.

Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office reported that deputies arrested Paul John Mendez on Thursday morning.

Bauman said the sheriff's office received information about Mendez during what began as a “relatively routine call” for service on Jan. 4.

At that time, a sheriff’s patrol deputy received information that Mendez allegedly had been molesting a minor, Bauman said.

After further investigation by sheriff’s detectives over the course of this week, Bauman said Superior Court Judge Richard Martin signed a warrant for Mendez's arrest on felony charges of oral copulation with a child under 14 and three counts of assault with the intent to commit rape.

On Thursday morning, Mendez was located in front of the Lakeview Market in Lucerne and arrested without incident pursuant to the warrant, according to Bauman.

Mendez was booked at the Lake County Jail where he remains in custody with a bail set at $500,000.

In an effort to safeguard the victim's confidentiality, Bauman said no further information would be made available on the case at this time.

Mendez's arrest follows two others reported by local officials this week involving rape or lewd and lascivious acts with children or young teens.

On Tuesday, Lake County Sheriff's deputies arrested 18-year-old Austin Duncan for allegedly raping a 13-year-old girl at a Lucerne motel on New Year's Eve. He's facing felony charges of rape by force and lewd and lascivious acts on a child under the age 14.

Clearlake Police on Monday arrested Christopher Adam Sanders, 28, of Lucerne for lewd and lascivious acts with a juvenile.

Duncan remained in the Lake County Jail on $30,000 bail as of Thursday evening, while Sanders had posted his bail – which was set at $100,000 – and was released.


LAKE COUNTY – When it came to major crime incidents over the holidays, the bad guys appeared to have taken some time off with a few notable exceptions in Lakeport.

Lakeport Police Chief Kevin Burke, whose agency reopened its public office hours on Monday following a two-week city furlough, said there were two burglaries of note in the city in late December – one at the Blockbuster video store and the second at the now-closed Carlos and Vinny's restaurant.

Blockbuster, located on Lakeport Boulevard, was the victim of a “smash and grab” early on the morning of Dec. 20, Burke said.

The perpetrators smashed in the business' front window on the northeast side of the building and took two Playstations. Burke said police were dispatched to the area at about 5:30 a.m. Dec. 20 when the break-in triggered the alarm.

About a week and a half later, at some time on the night of Dec. 29 or early on the morning of Dec. 30, a break-in occurred at Carlos and Vinny's restaurant on S. Main Street, Burke said.

He said the suspects, who aren't known at this time, smashed a window on the north side of the business, which has been closed since late November.

The building's property manager reported that most of the business' contents were there but believed alcohol had been stolen, said Burke.

“At this point we haven't confirmed exactly what was taken,” he said.

Besides those two notable exceptions, there were a few cases of vandalism and driving under the influence during the holiday period, which Burke said weren't out of the ordinary for Lakeport.

For the most part, the rest of the county was quiet for the Christmas and New Year's season.

Lt. Mike Hermann of Clearlake Police called the holidays “pretty uneventful.”

“We had a few minors arrests, just two DUIs, but nothing out of the ordinary,” he said.

The same appeared to be the case for the county at large.

“Fortunately, it appears to have been a slow holiday,” said Capt. Jim Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

No DUI arrests outside of Clearlake or Lakeport were reported in the jail logs during the California Highway Patrol's maximum enforcement period from Dec. 31 through Sunday, although there had been three arrests during its increased enforcement period around Christmas.

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Eugene Peplinski was sentenced Jan. 9. Lake County Jail photo.



CLEARLAKE – A Clearlake man has been sentenced to three years in state prison for a “road rage” assault last summer.

On Friday Judge Richard Freeborn sentenced Eugene Arnold Peplinski, 48, to the prison term for the felony assault that occurred on the transition road connecting Highway 20 to Highway 53 on Aug. 22, 2008.

A unanimous 12-member jury previously had found Peplinski guilty of assault with a deadly weapon – namely a Ford Ranger pickup truck – and driving under the influence of alcohol, according to a report from the Lake County District Attorney's Office.

Peplinski's attorney, Ken Roush, did not return a call seeking comment on the case.

According to the prosecution, a Clearlake woman was driving home with her boyfriend at about 7 p.m. on the date of the incident after having dinner in Clearlake Oaks.

Peplinski, driving a black Ford Ranger pickup truck eastbound on Highway 20, came up behind the couple at a high rate of speed.

Although the single lanes of traffic were separated by solid double yellow lines, Peplinski attempted to pass the couple several times by crossing the double yellows into the oncoming lane of traffic, the District Attorney's Office reported.

Peplinski’s repeated attempts to pass were unsuccessful. He directed obscenities at the couple, and swerved his pickup truck at highway speeds toward the Mustang at least once, and possibly as many as three times, as the vehicles traveled eastbound, the prosecution alleged.

Upon reaching the transition road connecting Highway 20 to southbound Highway 53, Peplinski attempted to pass the Mustang again, this time by driving on the right shoulder of the roadway, and swerving his truck into the Mustang, the District Attorney's Office reported.

When Peplinski’s truck struck the passenger side of the Mustang, he continued to steer his truck into the couple’s car, nearly forcing the Mustang off the road and over the left-side embankment, the report noted.

While the young woman struggled to keep her Mustang on the road, Peplinski crashed, flipping his truck on the right shoulder of single-land transition road. The prosecution stated that Peplinski’s blood alcohol level was found to be 0.16 percent, twice the legal limit.

Deputy District Attorney John Langan, who prosecuted the case, said there were other options to prison, such as probation, but that Freeborn chose the middle term of three years.

In denying Peplinski’s request for probation, Freeborn noted that despite the assaults Peplinski committed on them, the couple stopped to render aid to him, according to the report. But when the male passenger went to check on Peplinski, he threatened the man and directed more obscenities at him.

California Highway Patrol Officers Mark Barnes and Robert Hearn responded to the scene and arrested Peplinski. His jail booking sheet shows that he has remained in custody since the attack.

Langan said Peplinski, a mechanic, has several prior convictions, including two misdemeanor convictions for domestic violence resulting in injury.

At the time of the August incident, Peplinski was on probation for another road rage incident in the county in which he made criminal threats against another female motorist, and also was on probation for a “wet wreckless” – a charge just below driving under the influence – that took place in another county.

Langan estimated that when time served credits are counted, Peplinksi actually will serve about half of the three-year state prison term.

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JoAline Olson, president and CEO of St. Helena Hospital Clearlake and St. Helena Hospital in Napa County (left), is taking a new position with Adventist Health. She'll be succeeded by Terry Newmyer. Courtesy photos.



CLEARLAKE – A leadership transition is taking place at St. Helena Hospital Clearlake, as the current new president and chief executive officer leaves to take a new position and her successor prepares to come on board.

After nearly three years as the hospital's president and CEO, JoAline Olson is moving on to a new position. However, she is staying with the parent health care system, Adventist Health, as vice president of clinical innovation.

"We are pleased that JoAline has accepted this new position for the Adventist Health system," Scott Reiner, senior vice president of Adventist Health, said in a written statement. "Her past experience as both a patient care executive and president/CEO will bring a wealth of insight and expertise as we redesign the patient experience and leverage our Adventist heritage of health and wellness.”

Succeeding her in Clearlake will be Terry Newmyer, who also will lead the hospital's sister facilities, St. Helena Hospital in Napa County and the St. Helena Center for Behavioral Health in Vallejo.

Newmyer has held key roles at Florida Hospital in Orlando, the largest hospital in the country.

He led a $100 million campaign while serving as chief development officer of the hospital foundation and secured alliances worth over $90 million with companies such as Walt Disney World, GE, Philips and Nike as the hospital's senior vice president for business development.

"Terry is a very dedicated leader who has demonstrated a real passion for high-quality, mission-driven health care,” said Reiner. “He brings a diversified portfolio of experience in areas of growth and development.”

The leadership change takes effect in early February, according to Adventist Health.

Olson told Lake County News that Adventist Health timed the start time of her new job to coincide with Newmyer's hire.

As vice president of clinical innovation, Olson said she'll be based in St. Helena. "With my new position I can kind of work anywhere."

She said Adventist Health has asked her to work on completing new innovations at St. Helena Hospital that can be replicated at the Clearlake hospital and other Adventist Health facilities.

"Clearlake will always be part of the scope of what I'm looking at," she said.

Some of the innovations she'll work on include wellness and lifestyle programs currently being developed at the St. Helena Center for Health, and a high quality patient experience that focuses on individualized care.

That patient experience effort, Olson said, is one of the things Adventist Health is focusing on for the new emergency department being built in Clearlake.

She'll also oversee the new Martin O'Neil Cancer Center, and lead a systemwide effort to improve philanthropic efforts at all 18 Adventist Health hospitals.

Olson has been with St. Helena Hospital in several leadership roles for 20 years, with 11 of those spent as president and CEO. During her tenure St. Helena Hospital achieved status as one of the nation’s Top 100 Heart Hospitals and earned many awards for quality, patient and physician satisfaction.

She led the funding and construction of the first comprehensive cancer treatment center in the North Bay, which will open this fall on the St. Helena Hospital campus in Napa County and serve residents of Lake County and beyond, Adventist Health reported.

Olson was in charge of the effort to combine the leadership of St. Helena Hospital Clearlake with the Napa County hospital, which Adventist Health said was done in order to maximize resources and improve services and care for Lake County residents.

“It's the best of all worlds now because one can have some autonomy, which is always fun as a leader,” she said; at the same time, the two rural hospitals' leadership can contribute to strategy and take advantage of the larger organization's resources.

In Lake County in particular Olson oversaw a $10 million investment in facilities.

Among them is the new emergency department, set to double the size of the old one, with construction to begin in April; remodeling the hospital's surgery suites and front entrance; a new family health center in Kelseyville that opens in March; and building a multi-specialty medical office in Hidden Valley Lake.

She called the Hidden Valley Lake office “a wild success.” It now features a full-time internal medicine physician and is getting busier every day. Visiting specialists host clinics on a regular basis; they may see as many as 25 patients a day.

“Our goal has been to bring additional health care services to the Lake County communities, and we've succeeded in Hidden Valley, we've succeeded in Clearlake and now Kelseyville will have a brand new clinic,” said Olson.

Newmyer will bring new perspectives to the Napa and Lake County hospitals, said Olson. “One of our objectives is to have more horsepower here instead of less.”

She's confident of a good transition at the Clearlake campus, thanks to Linda Gibson, senior vice president of operations, who she said is very good at patient care and quality.

Olson admitted that there has been a lot of change at St. Helena Hospital Clearlake in the last few years, from name changes and construction to new faces.

Prior to her tenure, there were two interim CEOs who followed Kendall Fults at the hospital's helm. Fults left in 2006 and now works at another Adventist Health hospital, Central Valley General, where he is senior vice president of clinical operations.

Despite the county's economic troubles, health care is still hiring current positions but not adding many new ones, said Olson.

She said she just received a memo from the California Hospital Association, which noted that health care is seeing a definite impact due to the economy.

“The ability to borrow money has hit health care just like it's hit everywhere else,” said Olson.

That's caused some health care organizations to put capital projects on hold, which hasn't been the case for Adventist Health. Any projects current under way are continuing, but new ones aren't being approved.

If the economy worsens, the question will be how that affects people's use of the health care system, Olson explained.

She said they've already seen a small downturn in usage of the emergency department, as well as people waiting for elective surgeries. “It all ripples.”

Olson said she has enjoyed working with her staff, governing board and committees and witnessing their enthusiasm for health care.

“My greatest personal and professional satisfaction is really being able to see firsthand the care and the compassion and the commitment that the professionals have for the community of Clearlake and also for St. Helena Hospital Clearlake,” she said.

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CLEARLAKE – A Lucerne man is behind held in the Lake County Jail on $100,000 bail after being arrested for lewd and lascivious acts with a juvenile.

Clearlake Police arrested Christopher Adam Sanders, 28, early Monday, according to a report from Lt. Mike Hermann.

Hermann said the Clearlake Police Department is continuing to investigate the incident that led to Sanders' arrest.

He said portions of the allegedly crime occurred within the city limits.

Hermann said additional incidents also were reported to have occurred within the county's jurisdiction. In order to avoid jurisdictional conflicts, it was determined that the Clearlake Police Department would lead the investigation.

No other information is being released on the case is being released at this time, Hermann said.

Sanders, whose booking sheet indicates he works as a plumber, remained in the Lake County Jail Monday night.

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LOWER LAKE – Lower Lake High School is competing with high schools across the nation for the chance at winning one of 10 $100,000 grants being offered by US Cellular.

The competition is US Cellular's “Calling All Communities,” which began Dec. 3 and ends Jan. 15. It's open to all K-12 schools, public and private.

The 10 schools that receive the most nominations will each receive $100,000. The winners will be announced next month.

Michael Schenck, director of technology for Konocti Unified School District, reported that Lower Lake High was in seventh place on Jan. 2. However, by Jan. 9, the school was up to fourth place, and was the only California school to be in the top 10.

Schenck said the district is hoping to get as many participants as possible to a special voting event planned for noon to 2 p.m. on Saturday at Clearlake's Burns Valley Mall's US Cellular store.

Voting continues through Jan. 15, so there still is time for communities to rally behind their schools to win. Votes can be cast at any US Cellular store.

Stores in Lake County include the store in the Burns Valley Mall, 14896 Olympic Drive; DFM Car Stereo, 2600 S. Main St., Lakeport; and Plaza TV and Appliance, 360 Lakeport Blvd., Lakeport.

"Small communities continue to hold their own against the big city schools in a fight to the finish," said Karen Ehlers, vice president of public affairs and communications for U.S. Cellular. "We can’t wait to see who wins but really we consider all of our customers across the country to be a part of our U.S. Cellular family. We are rooting for everyone."

Since its Dec. 3 launch, Calling All Communities has driven more than 40,000 people to U.S. Cellular stores to cast votes for their favorite school.

More than 5,000 schools have been entered into the contest that hinges on their ability to harness community spirit. Each week, new schools were propelled into the top list on the sheer power of their support.

Large and small schools continue to jockey for position in the coveted final 10 slots. Seven of the top schools this week are from communities with less than 5,000 residents.

Bearden High School in Knoxville hails from the largest city with 180,000 residents. The school powered into first place this week due largely to the efforts of its football team, who handed out flyers urging people to hurry in to U.S. Cellular store and vote.

Kinston High School in Kinston, N.C., is in the number two spot with a significantly smaller population of just under 23,000.

Humphrey St. Francis School dashed to third place up 12 spots from last week. The K-12 school sits in a small but mighty community of 768 residents in Humphrey, Neb.

Midland Trail High School in Hico, West Virginia, and Lower Lake High, both small schools, follow closely behind. Midland Trail, located in a community of just 900 residents, slipped to 10th place on this week’s list from its previous 8th place position. Lower Lake, whose town’s population is just 1,755, moved up from seventh to fourth place. Both schools plan to make a strong showing at community-wide last-call rallies with elected officials and local media to drum up votes this weekend.

High schools historically have dominated the leader board but one small-town elementary school, St. John the Evangelist Elementary School, has dug in its heels to remain in the top 10. However, the Carrollton, Ill. school currently ranks ninth, down from its number five spot last week.

Another elementary school, Garfield Elementary of Moline, Ill., moved onto the top 20 list for the first time this week at number 19, joined by two other newcomers, Waukon Senior High School (17th) in Waukon, IA. and Preston High School in Kingwood, W.Va. (20th).

"We are really dazzled at the creativity and spirit across the country. We have schools, districts, and towns planning rallies and doing whatever they can to get people out to vote," Ehlers said. "Now is not the time for leading schools to sit back and relax. Many schools are within striking distance of nabbing the top spots. A strong community surge could make all the difference."

There is still time to vote for a school in your community by visiting any U.S. Cellular store before Jan. 15, 2009 for a postage-paid postcard ballot.

All public and private schools in the U.S., serving kindergarten through high school, are eligible for the award which will be announced in February 2009. No purchase is necessary and each person can only vote once.

The top 20 leading schools are posted weekly at participating U.S. Cellular stores and at, where official rules also can be found.


UPPER LAKE – An Upper Lake teenager has been arrested on charges of rape and lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14 following an alleged assault of a young girl over the holidays.

Austin Dion Duncan, 18, was arrested Tuesday, according to Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

Duncan is alleged to have raped a 13-year-old Lucerne girl at a rental motel room on Lucerne on New Year's Eve, Bauman said.

The young victim didn't report the incident until the night of Jan. 4, when she told her mother what had happened, said Bauman. When the mother found out, she took her daughter to Sutter Lakeside Hospital.

Sheriff's deputies responded to the hospital on the report of the alleged rape and molestation just after midnight on the morning of Jan. 5, Bauman said.

Bauman said the girl told the investigating deputy that she and some friends were at a motel room celebrating New Year's Eve when she allegedly was forced to have sex with Duncan.

The victim was subsequently released from the hospital later on Monday morning, said Bauman.

At the same time, sheriff’s detectives began locating and interviewing potential witnesses to the incident, he said.

Bauman said by early Tuesday afternoon, deputies had found Duncan at his residence in Upper Lake, where he was arrested without incident.

Duncan, whose booking sheet says he is a student, was booked at the Lake County Jail on felony charges of rape by force and lewd and lascivious acts on a child under the age 14.

He remained in the jail Wednesday evening, according to jail booking information. Bauman said bail is set at $30,000.

Bauman said Duncan also is suspected of allegedly having unlawful sex with a 15-year-old Upper Lake girl in a case that was reported to the sheriff’s department in October.

That case, said Bauman, is currently under review by the District Attorney’s Office for a felony complaint.

On Dec. 2, Duncan was the subject of a nearly daylong search by local law enforcement and Search and Rescue near Upper Lake, as Lake County News has reported.

Sheriff's deputies had tried to contact him for a reason that officials have not revealed. That prompted Duncan to run across Highway 20 and into the Reclamation Road area. A family member suggested at the time that he had been upset over the death of a relative.

After evading deputies for several hours, he fell and hurt his back and called 911 for help. He was located in wild berry bushes and transported to the hospital. He was not arrested at that time.


NICE – The second of two rollover collisions on the Northshore Monday resulted in major injuries.

The California Highway Patrol reported that the rollover occurred at about 6:46 p.m. on E. Highway 20 just east of Sentry Market.

The driver, whose name was not released, was seen swerving just prior to the collision, according to the CHP incident logs.

The driver was reportedly transported to Sutter Lakeside Hospital with major injuries.

No further information was available Monday evening.

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View Larger Map KELSEYVILLE – The state has issued a $3,945,000 fine against a local private water company, alleging that the company failed to submit required monitoring reports for several years in violation of its permit.

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board's just-retired assistant executive officer, Jack DelConte, issued the administrative civil penalties against Riviera West Mutual Water Co.'s drinking water treatment plant in a Nov. 21 letter to Jim Snodgrass, the water company's president.

In December, the regional water board issued a public statement announcing the fines on the system.

It's one of the highest fines the state has assessed for this type of penalty, said Wendy Wyels, environmental program manager with the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Riviera West Mutual Water serves the Riviera West Homeowners Association, which includes 500 total lots and 250 homes over a few hundred acres. The subdivision was created in 1969, according to association officials.

The company is required under the conditions of its permit to submit monitoring reports on the discharge of effluent from its drinking water plant, according to Wyels. Those reports are designed to show whether or not the waste has been treated adequately to comply with the permit conditions.

The complaint against the company states that monitoring reports were not regularly turned in between Jan. 1, 2004, and July 1, 2007.

The water company takes its drinking water from Clear Lake and runs it through a treatment program, said Wyels. Any solids, sludge and other waste materials are then settled out and discharged.

The company's permit allows for discharging those solids directly back into Clear Lake as long as they're within certain limits, Wyels said.

"They tell us they have not been discharging into Clear Lake for a couple of years, but they have not been submitting monitoring reports so we have no verification," said Wyels.

Wyels said the company turned in one report in March 2004 which showed that they exceeded effluent limits.

The regional water board placed a cease and desist order on Riviera West Mutual Water in 2002 after it was discovered that no monitoring reports had been submitted from June 1996 through May 2002, said Wyels.

That order required the water company immediately start monitoring to comply with their permit, Wyels said.

"We're looking to see what they're putting into Clear Lake will not impact the beneficial uses of Clear Lake," she said.

Company officials told the state that they're now discharging the wastes on a land area near the lake, she added.

Wyels said the company told the state that their personnel had changed which is why the reports had not been made.

In December Riviera West Mutual Water retained Melissa Thorme of the Sacramento-based firm Downey Brand Attorneys LLP to represent them in the matter.

Thorme told Lake County News she hasn't been able to speak with the plant's operator who was responsible for filing the reports during the three years noted in the citation. That's because that person is no longer employed by the company.

She said she believes Riviera West Mutual Water Co. is now complying with its permits and the enforcement order.

Originally, the fines were set for a hearing before the regional board on Feb. 5 and 6. However, Thorme said the company waived the need for a hearing that by state law must be held within 90 days of the citation's issuance.

Thorme said she and water company officials will meet with the state later this month to discuss the situation, including how the fines must be paid. Wyels confirmed that the meeting date is Jan. 20.

In 2004, state law changed to make fines for noncompliance with monitoring requirements mandatory, said Wyels.

California Water Code now requires a mandatory minimum penalty of $3,000 for each 30-day period in which a report was not submitted.

That leaves little wiggle room when it comes to what kind of arrangements can be worked out, a point on which both Wyels and Thorme agree.

"The problem with mandatory minimum penalties is they're mandatory," said Thorme, who added she didn't think the state Legislature foresaw these kinds of situations when they changed the rules.

“This is a huge amount of money for a small community, but this is a mandatory thing under the California Water Code,” said Wyels.

Putting another wrinkle in the situation is that the permit for discharge that Riviera West Mutual Water is alleged to have violated by not making its monitoring reports has expired, Wyels said.

"Legally they shouldn't be discharging," she said.

Wyels said the company's officials just came in this week with an application to renew the permit.

Riviera West Mutual Water is proposing in the new permit to only discharge the plant's effluent to a land area. “Right now they have a permit to discharge to the lake and they don't want to do that anymore, so we need to get a new permit that actually jives with what they're doing,” said Thorme.

Wyels said mandatory penalties don't apply to land permits. The regional water board could still levy penalties, but it would be a matter of the board's staff assessing the fines based on the size of the community and other factors.

The company would still have to monitor its discharge and show that it doesn't run off into Clear Lake, said Wyels, noting the regional water board is concerned about the land where the company proposes to deposit the solids, because it's a hilly area close to the lake.

First, however, the company and the regional water board need to settle the citation and the fines.

Wyels said the fine is one of the highest they've given out. That was one of the reasons the regional water board didn't see the need to go back farther and assign fines for the pre-2004 violations. “We wish we didn't have to do this.”

Thorme, who is a specialist in water system compliance issues, said, “For the size of the district, it's huge.”

Resolving the citation and settling payment of the fines will depend on how the meetings between Riviera West Mutual Water Co. and the regional water board.

“That's what we're going to have to muddle through,” Thorme said.

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


WASHINGTON – On the first day in the 111th Congress, North Coast Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA) introduced a bill that would permanently prohibit oil and gas drilling off the coasts of Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte Counties.

The Northern California Ocean and Coastal Protection Act provides protection to the unique and productive marine environment along Northern California’s outer continental shelf (OCS).

“For the economic and biological health of our country, it’s critical that we permanently protect this unique area from the environmental hazards of off-shore drilling,” said Congressman Thompson. “Unfortunately in the last Congress drilling became a political drama, rather than a policy debate. My legislation is one aspect of a broader campaign to restore sensible, science based policy and ensure the health of our oceans for generations.”

During the last Congress, the ban on OCS drilling expired, which leaves the North Coast susceptible to drilling in as little as three years.

The moratorium on OCS drilling had been a bipartisan agreement in Congress since 1982, but came under regular attack, and was not renewed in 2008.

In order to make sure that the North Coast of California is permanently protected, Congressman Thompson introduced his legislation today.

“Our coastline is home to one of the four most important upwellings in the world, which together support 20 percent of the ocean’s fish,” Thompson said. “Drilling on the North Coast doesn’t make sense, either from an economic standpoint or an environmental perspective. By permanently banning drilling, we can provide our coast with the protection it needs, regardless of who is in charge in Washington.”

Upwelling regions are coastal areas that support extremely abundant and productive marine life. This is because an upwelling brings cold, nutrient-rich waters up from the ocean depths that, when combined with sunlight, enhance seaweed and phytoplankton growth.

The seaweed and phytoplankton provide energy for some of the most productive ecosystems in the world, including many of the world’s most important fisheries, such as the North Coast fisheries.

Drilling for gas and oil off the Northern Coast of California could cause serious harm to the unique and productive ecosystem and abundant marine life found off the coast, including the fish many local North Coast economies depend on.


LUCERNE – A Lucerne woman sustained minor injuries in a vehicle rollover that occurred Monday.

Erica Soto, 41, was traveling westbound on Highway 20 west of Harvey in Lucerne shortly after 3:30 p.m. when she failed to negotiate a right curve in the road and traveled off the west edge, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Adam Garcia.

Soto's green 2000 Dodge Caravan rolled over and came to rest on its wheels along the lakeshore, Garcia said.

Initial reports indicated that the vehicle went into the lake but that was not the case when CHP arrived on scene, Garcia noted.

Soto was transported to Sutter Lakeside Hospital with minor injuries, Garcia said.

Garcia said CHP currently believes that Soto was under the influence of a controlled substance at the time of the collision and that substance is to be determined by the investigating officer.


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