Friday, 22 September 2023


CLEARLAKE – Jury selection in a Clearlake murder trial is set to begin Jan. 21 after a judge ordered Tuesday that the trial would move forward despite prosecution concerns about the availability of a key witness.

Eighteen-year-old Erik Michael McPherson of Clearlake will go on trial this month for the May 2008 stabbing death of Nicolai Chukreeff, also of Clearlake.

On Tuesday Judge Stephen Hedstrom heard a motion filed by Senior Deputy District Attorney John DeChaine, who requested that Hedstrom dismiss the case because DeChaine held that a key prosecution witness would not be available for the trial if it began this month.

DeChaine called the female witness “foundational” to his case against McPherson. He explained that the woman had allegedly driven McPherson to the Harbor Lite Motel in Clearlake. There, Chukreeff was stabbed once in the chest following an alleged confrontation.

The woman told investigators that she sat in her car waiting for 30 minutes when, according to DeChaine, McPherson allegedly came running back to the car with someone chasing after him – reportedly Chukreeff himself. McPherson is then alleged to have jumped into the car and demanded that the woman drive off.

She and McPherson then allegedly drove around during the middle of the night, with the woman telling officials that he was attempting to hide things in the bushes, DeChaine said. They they went back to her home, where McPherson allegedly put his clothes in garbage bags before disappearing into the night.

The issues with the woman's availability arose late last month, said DeChaine.

It was then that the woman allegedly stabbed herself in the chest with a knife in what appears to have been a suicide attempt.

Now living in Massachusetts, the woman was rushed to a Boston-area hospital where she underwent open heart surgery to repair an injury to her heart as well as a collapsed lung. She later required followup surgery due to internal bleeding.

During the more than two and a half hours of arguments on the motion Tuesday, DeChaine and defense attorney Stephen Carter argued whether the woman was recovered enough to take part in the trial.

DeChaine said not having her testimony could damage his case. He told the court that, if the case was dismissed, he intended to refile charges against McPherson the same day. That would allow the case to be presented at a later time when the woman was recovered enough to travel west.

Carter called DeChaine's motion a “fallback position” that he was using because he couldn't justify getting a continuance for the trial. He also called DeChaine's plan to seek a dismissal and to refile “a problem.”

McPherson, Carter argued, has a constitutional right to a speedy and fair trial. Dismissing the case and then refiling it over the witness issue would be a blatant attempt to undermine that right.

“That's the true basis of our objection to this motion to dismiss,” Carter explained.

The time to schedule McPherson's trial ran out on Tuesday, said Carter.

Carter said his private investigator found that the witness ahadn't decided whether or not she intended to cooperate with the prosecution and testify.

On Monday, the defense and prosecution had met with Hedstrom in chambers, during which time the judge had offered to get one of the victim's doctors on the phone to discuss her ability to travel. Carter said that DeChaine hadn't been interested in pursuing that discussion.

The defense's attempts to track down the witness also were meeting with limited success, said Carter. He and his law partner and wife, Angela Carter, had requested the woman's contact information from DeChaine but had yet to receive it. Stephen Carter also accused DeChaine of stalling his attempts to receive the witness' medical records.

“It's not OK what they're doing,” Carter said of the prosecution, who he suggested was trying to delay the trial because they didn't like how it was shaping up.

Carter said a dismissal or continuance could cause problems for the case at the appellate level, where he's found murder cases thrown out because of similar delaying actions.

DeChaine said his reasons for seeking the dismissal were simple: Based on the available information, the prosecution couldn't move forward with its case unless its key witness was available at the start of the trial.

He denied trying to stall the defense, which also had filed a motion it later dropped accusing him of prosecutorial misconduct, allegedly because he withheld information. “I haven't tried to hide the ball here.”

Carter, in rebutting DeChaine, accused him of “negligent and lame” attempts to get the court information on his dismissal motion.

He said DeChaine's real motive was to reevaluate the evidence, including the defense's allegations that another man is responsible for Chukreeff's murder.

“What the prosecution wants, your honor, is more time because they think they might lose,” said Carter.

Carter said the prosecution isn't supposed to seek dismissals in order to prolong a case. They're supposed to pursue “justice – always justice,” not just a conviction.

Hedstrom called a break until later in the afternoon and asked DeChaine to provide the Carters with medical information on the key witness.

Following the break, DeChaine reported he had the opportunity to speak with the witness' doctor, who submitted an electronic declaration testifying to the woman's current condition.

Looking at the declaration, Carter said the doctor had placed no travel restrictions on the woman, which meant she could come to give testimony right away, and wouldn't have to wait at least a month, as DeChaine originally had estimated.

DeChaine argued that Carter was minimizing what the doctor said, explaining that the woman's condition still needs to be stabilized. She's being treated for a pulmonary embolism – a blockage of a pulmonary artery – and needs to have her medications checked twice weekly, which DeChaine called “not insignificant.”

He maintained that he still wasn't comfortable with moving forward with the case due to his concerns about the womans' condition.

In making his ruling, Hedstrom said the reasons for the witness' possible availability issues are very serious. “This is no minor thing,” he said. “Apparently, she stabbed herself.”

A witness in the case could be subjected to serious stress, said Hedstrom, adding that she clearly has other issues.

However, Hedstrom felt it was reasonable for the woman to have one of her regular checkups, then to fly out to California, give her testimony and then return home to Massachusetts.

Some case dismissals are appropriate, said Hedstrom. Based on certain merits, “This court was fully prepared to grant a dismissal.”

However, the main factor of whether or not the woman could attend the trial changed with the new information from the doctor, said Hedstrom. For that reason, he couldn't find substantial reasons to support the prosecution's dismissal motion.

“Therefore that motion is denied,” he said.

The defense and prosecution have given varying estimates of how long the trial could last – from six to eight weeks.

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


WASHINGTON – Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA), Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), and Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner (D-CA), along with 29 of their colleagues, sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) late Friday urging them to ensure that rural areas receive an equitable share of any economic stimulus package.

“People across this country are struggling to pay their mortgages and afford rising health care costs, but rural communities are being hit even harder by the tough economy,” said Congressman Thompson. “Congress must ensure that America’s rural areas receive their fair share of any economic stimulus package by investing in the highways, bridges, and other infrastructure that are the arteries of our country’s economy. America cannot be restored to greatness without the help of all Americans, not just those in urban areas.”

His colleagues also emphasized the importance of public-private partnerships and investing in rural infrastructure such as broadband and electric grids.

In the letter to Pelosi, they wrote, “As Congress continues to craft an economic stimulus package, it is critical that the benefits of any stimulus are broadly distributed throughout rural, urban, and suburban America.”

That's because, according to the letter, approximately 50 million Americans live in rural communities.

“An economic stimulus package must recognize that rural Americans make vital contributions to our economy and face the same struggles with rising unemployment as people living in urban and suburban communities,” the members of Congress explained. “In fact, seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for non-metropolitan areas were higher each quarter in 2008 than for metropolitan areas.”

Thompson and his colleagues – all of them from rural districts – assured Pelosi of their support for her continued efforts to include infrastructure spending in a recovery package.

“However,” they said, “legislation with infrastructure spending that ultimately only funds projects in urban and suburban communities will fail to provide the broad economic benefit the American people expect. Facing rising unemployment, rural America cannot afford to be shortchanged in an economic recovery package.

“As representatives of rural districts, we know that rural communities are prepared with ready-to-go infrastructure projects that could put people to work within months,” the members of Congress wrote. “Rural communities have the workforce and the infrastructure needs to effectively utilize new federal spending. Rural areas should be provided with an equitable share of economic stimulus funds to improve their local economies just like metropolitan communities.”

The Job Creation and Unemployment Relief Act of 2008, H.R. 7110, included a provision to distribute stimulus funds between rural and metropolitan communities.

The letter explained that funds in the Federal Transit Administration Transit Capital Assistance Grants were specifically reserved for rural formula grants.

The representatives said Congress should “build on the precedent created by the transit funds in the Job Creation and Unemployment Relief Act with guarantees in new economic recovery legislation to ensure an equitable distribution of all infrastructure funds between rural and metropolitan areas.”

In adding to Thompson, Rahall, Gordon and Filner, signatories to the letter included Reps. Joe Baca, John Barrow, Marion Berry, Dan Boren, Leonard Boswell, Shelley Moore Capito, Chris Carney, Ben Chandler, Travis Childers, Jim Costa, Jerry Costello, Henry Cuellar, Lincoln Davis, Bob Etheridge, Frank Kratovil Jr., Jim Marshall, Eric Massa, Jim Matheson, Charlie Melancon, Mike Michaud, Alan Mollohan, Collin Peterson, Mike Ross, John Salazar, Heath Shuler, Mike Simpson, John Tanner, Tim Walz and Peter Welch.



I know, I know, you don’t like Brussels sprouts. I get it, you hate them ... are you through complaining about it?

I have to tell you something and this is going to hurt a little but I think that you have to hear it ... it’s your mother’s fault. It is. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but she didn’t know how to cook them and she scarred your psyche forever because of it. OK, maybe not your psyche but definitely your palate.

Now close your mouth and wipe the tears of disbelief away and I’ll explain. No, no, don’t start telling me how your mother could cook the seat from an antique junked Harley Davidson and make it delicious and tender, I don’t doubt that. It’s only the Brussels sprouts that I’m saying escaped her talent. Now please, let me explain.

Brussels sprouts are a member of the same family as cabbage, broccoli and kohlrabi. Their development began in ancient Rome but their cultivation is best in colder climates so they are more popular with countries that have cooler regions for growing.

They really started to become a mainstream item when they were grown in the country of Belgium (capitol: Brussels, hence the name) in the first half of the last century. For us, the coastal climate of California gives them a place to thrive with the cool ocean air and foggy days. They are best in the winter although they are available year round.

A look at a Brussels sprout plant is to see an evolutionary branch that you may not have ever considered otherwise. A tall stalk, 2 to 3 feet high, has leaves on the top to nourish it while the tiny heads form on the sides of the cane. Large leaves growing up the stalk are removed during sprout formation. Removing them gives the sprouts room to grow and better access to sunlight.

Anywhere from 20 to 40 little heads will develop at a time and after picking the first harvest off the stalk, another flush of sprouts will grow. When you purchase fresh Brussels sprouts try to cook them as soon as you can, because after a few days they start to develop strong tastes reminiscent of horseradish.

Brussels sprouts are freakishly nutritious and should be part of your regular diet. One cup of Brussels sprouts has 150 percent of your daily Vitamin C and 250 percent Vitamin K. They also have a large amount of folic acid, which is why obstetricians recommend Brussels sprouts for pregnant women.

Then there is the Vitamin A, iron, fiber – the list of the nutrition that they contain goes on for quite a while. Several studies have even shown that Brussels sprouts can contribute in preventing cancer, and people who ate a diet high in cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts had 49 percent less incidence of colorectal cancers than the rest of the population. For those of you who think one cup of Brussels sprouts is a lot, it’s only about seven whole sprouts, that’s it.

Many people believe that Brussels sprouts are best after they have survived a frost. Since many plants try to protect themselves by storing sugars after a frost this is more than just an old wives tale. Although Brussels sprouts are fairly easy to grow, just about every garden parasite you can think of loves them, so being vigilant when growing them is important. If you think about it, if so many pests love them then they must be good for you; after all, how many pests do you get on your weeds?

The reason your mother couldn’t cook Brussels sprouts very well is because most cooks seem to think if you cook something longer it will get less bitter. With Brussels sprouts this is exactly the opposite; the more they are cooked the worse they taste.

If Brussels sprouts are overcooked they become bitter and develop a sulfurous smell, which as you know is not very appetizing. It’s similar with other members of Brussels sprouts family like cabbage and broccoli – overcook them and they become bad tasting, too. The Brussels sprouts firmness and almost willful refusal to become tender when overcooked makes them their own worst enemy.

So when cooking Brussels sprouts you should consider it more that you’re heating them to a comfortable temperature rather than performing a usual cooking process. If you want good tasting Brussels sprouts then you need to cook them for no more than six minutes – and I’m talking about “down to the second” six minutes. If they are cooked for six minutes and 10 seconds then you’re just scarring your child like your mother did to you, and don’t we want to break the cycle?

My daughter loves Brussels sprouts because I follow the rule of never overcooking them. I even add an extra layer of safety by only cooking Brussels sprouts for five minutes and allowing carry-over heat (the heat already inside the sprouts) to finish the cooking process. I beg you to try it so we can end the stigma of Brussels sprouts.

Some sources recommend cutting a cross into the base to assist in the cooking of Brussels sprouts, but I don’t see the need. To help with even cooking I cut all of my Brussels sprouts in half, and instead of boiling or steaming I prefer pan frying. The sear on the sprouts gives an extra layer of flavor that I enjoy.

Pan fried Brussels sprouts

2 pounds fresh Brussels sprouts (halved)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil (bacon fat works great also)

4 tablespoon cold butter

2 drops orange extract (optional)

A kitchen timer (not in the least optional)

Salt to taste

Put a large fry pan with a lid on high heat with the vegetable oil. When the pan is very hot and the oil starts to smoke, set and/or start a timer for five minutes. Add the Brussels sprouts and cover the pan and let the sprouts sit for a minute (one whole minute, seriously, you’ve got a timer for a reason).

At the one minute mark turn the heat down to medium and stir the Brussels sprouts well. Re-cover the pan and let cook one more minute. Don’t remove the lid just shake the pan every minute or so until the timer rings.

Then remove from the heat and pour sprouts into a bowl, add the cold butter and orange extract and stir to melt the butter and coat the sprouts. The cold butter will stop the sprouts from overcooking as you stir it in. Add any desired salt. Once the butter is melted put the sprouts in a serving bowl or plate.

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.


KELSEYVILLE – A Tuesday evening collision blocked a highway intersection.

The California Highway Patrol reported that the crash occurred at about 6: 30 p.m. at Highway 175 and Highway 29 on the way to Cobb.

Two vehicles were reported to be involved. Responders included the CHP and Cal Fire.

Some of the vehicle passengers were reported to have suffered minor injuries, the CHP reported. No medical transports were reported.

Traffic was being diverted around the crash scene because the damaged vehicles were blocking the intersection, according to the CHP.

CHP reported that the roadway was cleared shortly after 7:30 p.m.

Names of the crash victims were not available from the CHP Tuesday evening.

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


SACRAMENTO – The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) has released its preliminary draft California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) guideline amendments, which – once formally adopted – will guide public agencies on how to analyze the impacts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions generated by new projects on the environment.

“California is a world leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in our fight against climate change,” said the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research Director Cynthia Bryant. “With these draft guidelines, OPR took a thoughtful approach to how greenhouse gas emissions can be addressed in a comprehensive and fair way, so that we can rebuild California’s infrastructure and stimulate our economy while at the same time reducing our carbon footprint.”

In 2007, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed SB 97 by Sen. Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga). The bill’s purpose is to advance a coordinated policy for reducing GHG emissions by directing OPR and the Natural Resources Agency to develop CEQA guidelines on how state and local agencies should analyze, and when necessary, mitigate GHG emissions.

Under SB 97, OPR has until July 1 to submit proposed draft CEQA guidelines to the Natural Resources Agency.

The Natural Resources Agency must then take the draft CEQA guidelines through a formal rulemaking process and adopt them as state regulation by Jan. 1, 2010.

OPR is releasing the draft guidelines ahead of schedule to allow additional time to address public comments and for the Natural Resources Agency to prepare the necessary documentation as part of its rulemaking process.

In June, OPR released its technical advisory, which was developed in consultation with the Natural Resources Agency, California Environmental Protection Agency and the Air Resources Board.

Until the CEQA guidelines are adopted next January, this technical advisory provides a blueprint that public agencies can use to address GHG emissions within existing requirements of the CEQA statutes and guidelines.

OPR will hold two public workshops on Jan. 22 and 26 to discuss the preliminary language before submitting its final recommendations to the Natural Resources Agency.

For more information on the OPR preliminary draft CEQA guidelines and additional tools for public agencies, go to


T Watts at the KPFZ microphone. Courtesy photo.

Let us attend to first things first. The correct first name of the actor, Mr. Brody who played Leonard Chess in Cadillac Records is Adrian. Last week I cast the d into CyberSoulSpace and it appeared to you as “Arian.”

I would also like to thank Lake County News reader Social Worker Ken who brought out the very important point of Eartha Kitt’s 1968 visit to the White House in his response to this blog ... Wikipedia reports it thusly:

“However, in 1968, during the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson, Kitt encountered a substantial professional setback after she made anti-war statements during a White House luncheon.

"In 1968 she was invited to a White House luncheon and was asked by Lady Bird Johnson about the Vietnam War. She replied: 'You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot.' The remark reportedly caused Mrs. Johnson to burst into tears and led to a derailment in Ms. Kitt's career.

“The public reaction to Kitt's statements was much more extreme, both for and against her statements. Publicly ostracized in the US, she devoted her energies to overseas performances.”

Ken also posed the question: Who could play Matriarch of the Blues, Etta James, if and when her life story is given a film treatment? The CyberSoulMan would like to submit for your approval one Teeny Tucker, daughter of acclaimed Chess/Checker recording artist, Tommy Tucker.

Mr. Tucker is the writer and original performer of the famous 1964 hit song, “Hi-Heel Sneakers,” which rocketed to No. 11 on the Billboard Top 100. The song has been recorded and covered by legions of artists from Sammy Davis Jr., the Grateful Dead, Jose Feliciano, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Leon Russell, to the Rolling Stones and others.

Teeny Tucker has now recorded her third CD to critical acclaim. Titled “Two Big M’s,” the CD has been nominated for the best independently produced Blues CD of 2008 by the Memphis, Tenn.-based Blues Foundation. With the looks and pipes reminiscent of a young Etta James, Tucker, in my opinion, would be perfect for the part of Etta on the big screen.

For more information on Teeny Tucker, visit her website at On Monday Jan. 26, the CyberSoulMan will be interviewing Teeny Tucker on Blue Monday, broadcast on KPFZ, 88.1 FM Lake County Community Radio at 8 a.m. It will be rebroadcast on Wednesday Jan. 28, at 6 a.m.

The Teeny Tucker interview also will be streamed over the Internet at 2 p.m. on In The Blues Spot at

* * * * *

I’ll be the first to admit that frequently in my life, I don’t appreciate the greatness of an artist until after they are no longer with us.

When Jazz trumpet great Freddie Hubbard passed away on Dec. 29, 2008, I pulled out all of his work in my library and spent time with a critical ear glued to the representative performances that I have access to.

Hubbard was a great melodic, hard boppin’ player. I came away with a new respect for the man who, throughout his career, was overshadowed in popularity by Miles Davis.

I remember seeing Freddie Hubbard headline the Berkeley Jazz Festival in about the year 1970. At one point he was understating melodically a section of a ballad. It was pianissimo to the max. It required intense listening and had the crowd was doing just that.

He was playing so softly, it was just his horn and our ears sharing this quiet space. Suddenly some idiot shattered the stillness with a rude shout, “Freddie you can play, but you can’t kick like Miles.”

It broke the mood. People in the crowd laughed nervously. Hubbard did his best not to show pain that was difficult to conceal in such a vulnerable moment. People can be so cruel …

* * * * *

Upcoming cool performance … Morris Day and the time will play Cache Creek Casino on Valentine's Day, Feb. 14. That’s a gig that I might just have to make.

Hope your life is free flowing despite the ills of the world. Keep prayin’, keep thinkin’ those kind thoughts. Until all of us are free, none of us are free.

T. Watts is a writer, radio host and music critic. Visit his Web site at


Timothy Freeman will be nearly 86 years old before he's eligible for parole because of the lengthy prison sentence he received Monday. Lake County Jail photo.


LAKEPORT – A Contra Costa County man received a life sentence on Monday for a June 2008 sexual assault.

Judge Arthur H. Mann sentenced Timothy Hanse Freeman, 43, a mechanic from San Pablo, to an indeterminate term of 50 years to life in state prison for a sexual assault which took place on June 13, 2008, according to a report from the Lake County District Attorney's Office.

Attorney Ken Roush, who defended Freeman, did not receive a call seeking comment.

Deputy District Attorney Ed Borg prosecuted the case. Det. Martin Snyder of the Clearlake Police Department acted as lead investigator.

On Nov. 3, 2008, Freeman pleaded guilty to one count of sexual intercourse with a child 10 years of age or younger and one count of aggravated sexual assault of a child, the District Attorney's Office report.

In addition, officials said Freeman admitted to a special allegation that he had previously been convicted of a violation of rape by force, as well as admitting that he had suffered a prior strike for rape.

In exchange for Freeman's plea, the District Attorney's Office dismissed several additional counts and special allegations.

According to police reports, Freeman – who was on parole for a weapons charge – absconded from parole in Contra Costa County in May of 2008.

Investigators discovered that Freeman and the victim’s mother had a mutual acquaintance, and he made his way to the city of Clearlake, where he stayed with the victim’s family for several weeks. The victim’s mother was aware that Freeman was a parolee but unaware that he had absconded from parole.

On June 12, 2008, the victim’s mother asked Freeman to watch her two children – the victim, a 9-year-old girl, and her 7-year-old brother, while she worked a graveyard shift because her regular babysitter was unavailable, according to the investigation.

The prosecution alleged that later that evening Freeman assaulted the victim.

The young victim told her mother about the assault early the next morning, according to investigators. The girl's mother then told Freeman to leave and notified the Clearlake Police Department, which arrested him later that day.

Because the charges he pleaded to are violent felonies, Freeman must serve 85 percent of 50 years, or 42.5 years, before he is eligible for parole. That would make him nearly 86 years old before he could have the opportunity to be released.


Norman Henderson won't be eligible for parole for 20 years, when he'll be 82 years old. He was sentenced to 24 years in state prison on Jan. 9, 2009, for a series of 10 arson fires he was convicted of setting between April of 2007 and April of 2008. Lake County Jail photo.


CLEARLAKE – A Clearlake man could spend the rest of his life in prison after receiving a 24-year sentence on Friday for a series of arsons – some of which claimed historic local buildings – that he was convicted of late last year.

Norman Ralph Henderson, 62, received the upper term of 24 years in prison from Judge Richard Martin for 10 arson fires he intentionally set between April 25, 2007, and April 10, 2008, in Lake County, according to a Sunday report from Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff. Defense attorney Jeremy Dzubay represented Henderson.

Henderson also has a long history of setting fires that goes back decades, according to officials.

Hinchcliff said that, because the convictions include what are termed “violent felonies,” Henderson is subject to credit limitations so he will have to serve 85 percent of his sentence before being eligible for parole.

Martin also ordered Henderson – who will be 82 years old before being eligible for parole – to pay restitution to his victims in the amount of $543,046.25, Hinchcliff said.

On Oct. 3, 2008, Henderson pleaded guilty to starting the fires in the eastern Lake County areas of Bartlett Springs Road and Indian Valley Reservoir, according to Hinchcliff.

The fires Henderson was convicted of starting involved two motor homes, two inhabited vacation residences, a Yolo County Flood Control District cabin, two water bottling and purifying facilities owned by Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water that had been shut down, and two wildland fires.

Beginning in the spring of 2007, a series of suspicious fires began to hit vacation homes and other buildings in the Bartlett Springs area, as Lake County News has reported.

Two of the fires in particular claimed the old Bartlett Springs Lodge and the lodge's rebuilt gazebo, along with water bottling facilities that are part of the former Bartlett Springs Resort property now owned by Nestle Waters North America, the parent company of Arrowhead.

Because of their remote locations, the fires usually were well under way before firefighters could respond. That, along with the fact that by the time they arrived there was no one on scene, had left fire investigators with few leads as to who was responsible, according to previous interviews Lake County News conducted at the time with local officials.

But an important break came the way of Lake County Arson Task Force investigators when, in April of 2008, Henderson was arrested for setting fire to a fruit stand on Highway 20 just west of Williams in Colusa County, said Hinchcliff.

That case came to the attention of the task force when Williams Fire Chief Jeff Gilbert called Northshore Fire Protection Chief Jim Robbins and told him, “We may have your guy,” as Lake County News reported last May.

Lake County Arson Task Force members – including Sheriff’s Investigator Corey Paulich, Cal Fire Investigator Chris Vallerga and Lake County Fire Protection District Investigator Brice Trask – were able to connect Henderson to the Lake County fires, said Hinchcliff, who is the District Attorney's Office's arson prosecutor.

Hinchcliff said Henderson's guilty plea in October was part of an agreement reached with the District Attorney's Office which agreed not to charge Henderson with prior “strikes” for previous arson conditions in Nevada and Butte County.

Henderson's background investigation, Hinchcliff said, revealed a conviction for setting fire to a barn in Butte County in 1969. Then, in 1991, Henderson went to prison after threatening a 73-year-old Las Vegas woman. That same year he also reportedly set fire to the Nugget Casino in Fallon, Nev.

Even after spending time in prison, Henderson's series of arsons continued. Hinchcliff said that Henderson set ablaze an unoccupied building in Fallon, Nev., in 1994.

Hinchcliff said Henderson is still facing charges related to the Colusa County fire. Although the Williams fruit stand fire was quickly extinguished with little damage as a result, Henderson currently has an outstanding Colusa County warrant for that case.

Henderson, who has done yard work for a living according to his booking sheet, currently is in the Lake County Jail for the local arson cases and the outside agency warrants, according to jail records.

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


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..


Chuck Morse, volunteer for Middle Creek CRMP, and president of West Lake RCD, talks to students about invasive weeds during the annual Kids in the Creek event. Photo by Linda Juntunen.


UPPER LAKE – The Middle Creek Coordinated Resource Management and Planning (CRMP) group will serve as this year’s host to the Lake County watershed groups for a celebration of activities and achievements throughout 2008.

The annual “year in review” will be held on Thursday, Jan. 15, at 6 p.m., at the Odd Fellows Hall, 9480 Main Street in Upper Lake.

The evening will shine a spotlight on the events and accomplishments of the various watershed groups in the county’s Upper Cache Creek Watershed, the two local Resource Conservation Districts, and their partners in the Upper Putah Creek Watershed.

The West Lake Resource Conservation District (RCD) will announce the recipient of their “2008 Partner of the Year” award. Last year’s well-deserved award was given to the Lake County Department of Public Services, under the direction of Kim Clymire.

This will be the second year for the presentation of the Volunteer of the Year awards. Sponsored by the Upper Cache Creek Watershed Alliance, the award will recognize an outstanding volunteer from each of the active watershed groups.

Last year's recipients were Kevin Ingram, Big Valley Watershed Council; Robert Geary, Chi Council for the Clear Lake Hitch; Fran Ransley, Lower Lake Watershed Council; Joe Dias, Middle Creek CRMP; Jim Bridges, Nice Watershed Council, and Patty Patten, Scotts Creek Watershed Council.

Greg Dills, watershed coordinator for the East Lake and West Lake RCDs, will present the highlights of 2008 for the watershed groups in the Upper Cache Creek Watershed.

Dwight Holford will present activities for the Upper Putah Creek Stewardship, and Korinn Woodard will discuss the accomplishments of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The event provides a wonderful opportunity for the community to see what these groups do. Be sure to mark this great event on your calendar.

All stewardships, CRMPs and watershed councils are invited to attend, and are being asked to assist with potluck refreshments and food.

The groups also are encouraged to bring materials that they’d like to display or share with others. Natural resource partners, public agencies, tribes, neighbors, friends, and everyone interested in the health of the local watersheds are welcome and encouraged to attend the event.

For questions about the event or refreshments, please call Linda Juntunen, 263-4180, Extension 16, or Greg Dills, 263-4180, Extension 12.



Game Warden Loren Freeman and his law enforcement dog, Leo, have the attention of everyone at Kids in the Creek. Photo by Linda Juntunen.




An annual visitor to Kids in the Creek is Smoky Bear and his friends. Photo by Linda Juntunen.




UKIAH – An earthquake was recorded near the Ukiah area on Saturday.

The 3.6-magnitude quake occurred at 1:18 a.m. Saturday, according to the US Geological Survey.

The US Geological Survey report noted that the earthquake was recorded at a depth of three miles.

Its epicenter was 11 miles southwest of Ukiah and 12 miles southwest of Talmage, according to the report.

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


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.

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


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