Sunday, 25 February 2024


SACRAMENTO – The California Highway Patrol (CHP) has a few suggestions for motorists looking to stay safe this year: never drink and drive, watch your speed and always buckle up before heading out.

In an effort to keep California’s roads safe this holiday season, enhanced CHP presence will occur during the upcoming Christmas enforcement period which begins Thursday, Dec. 24, at 6 p.m. and continues through midnight, Sunday, Dec. 27.

“The holidays are about family, friends and celebration,” said CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow. “Unfortunately it’s also a time of year when we see too many alcohol-related fatalities.”

According to the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS) there were more than 4,000 collisions that occurred during last years’ Christmas enforcement period in California.

During that same time period, 37 people died on California’s roadways and among those killed, 23 lost their lives in alcohol-related crashes.

“Driving impaired is not worth the consequences,” said Commissioner Farrow. “Pre-plan your holiday celebration by designating a non-drinking driver before the event.”

Along with the increased enforcement effort, the CHP is asking motorists to help keep the state’s roadways safe by calling 911 to report a suspected drunk driver. Callers should be prepared to provide dispatchers a description of the vehicle, its location and direction of travel.

“Hopefully by drawing attention to the enforcement efforts, motorists will choose to voluntarily comply with the traffic safety laws and be there to ring in the new year,” added Commissioner Farrow.

The CHP will conduct a similar holiday enforcement effort over the long New Year’s weekend which begins Thursday, Dec. 31, at 6 p.m. and continues through midnight, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2010.

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FORT BRAGG – A body found amidst the burned debris of a Fort Bragg home has been identified.

The Mendocino County Sheriff's Coroner's Division positively identified the structure fire victim as Ariel Robin Hembel, 31, according to a Friday report from Capt. Kurt Smallcomb.

Hembel's body was found by firefighters on Wednesday at her residence at 32280 Ellison Way, as Lake County News has reported. Fire destroyed the building.

Smallcomb reported that Fire Investigator Larry Graft has determined the cause of the fire to be accidental.

He said the fire started in the area of the roof where the wood burning stove chimney runs through the roof.

Hembel's cause of death appears to be from inhalation of smoke but is pending toxicology results, Smallcomb said.

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LAKE COUNTY – Local officials are urging community members to be careful in hiring potential Santas this holiday season.

On Wednesday, District Attorney Jon Hopkins' office issued an advisory about reports of persons who have been convicted of child molestation offering their services as Santa Claus.


Before hiring a person or allowing a person to play Santa, local businesses should consider looking on Megan's List to make sure they are not exposing children to potential inappropriate and illegal behavior, Hopkins said.


Megan's list can be accessed on the Internet by visiting .


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HIGH VALLEY – A large fire early Friday destroyed three buildings and did major damage to the main old ranch house at High Valley Ranch outside of Clearlake Oaks.

Fire officials estimated the total damages to be about $1.5 million at PSI World, the retreat center which makes its home at High Valley Ranch.

Destroyed were two bunkhouses and a laundry building, said Northshore Fire Battalion Chief Pat Brown.

Brown said firefighters were dispatched just after 3 a.m. Friday to a possible structure fire west of High Valley Road.

The first unit on scene reported three to four structures were fully involved and others were threatened, he said.

Brown added that alert tones were activated to warn firefighters of downed power lines and to request mutual aid.

Fire personnel were able to stop the fire halfway into the ranch house, where they prevented it from entering the second floor, Brown said. Also saved was a mobile home in front of the ranch house.

Heavy water use from multiple engines overwhelmed the hydrant system of High Valley Ranch and a water tender shuttle was set up to pull water from Brassfield Estate Winery, he said.

A total of 22 firefighters responded to the scene, Brown said.

Northshore Fire sent three engines from its Clearlake Oaks, Nice and Lucerne stations, along with two water tenders from Clearlake Oaks and Upper Lake, and a medic ambulance and two battalion chiefs, he said. Lake County Fire Protection sent one engine and one water tender.

No injuries to fire personnel were reported.

Brown said Northshore Fire, Cal Fire and the Lake County Sheriff's Office are continuing the investigation into the fire's cause.

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SACRAMENTO – On Thursday, the state Senate voted to ratify the Habematolel Pomo compact, putting the tribe on track to break ground on its new gaming facility later this month.

The 30-3 vote took place Thursday afternoon.

That followed a 69-0 vote by the Assembly last week, as Lake County News has reported.

Late Thursday, Sherry Treppa, Habematolel's tribal chair, said it was unprecedented for both houses of the Legislature to approve a compact while they were in recess.

That clears the way for the tribe to start building its new $25 million, 34,000-square-foot facility, which will include 349 slot machines, six game tables, retail shops and restaurants on an 11.24-acre parcel on Highway 20 outside of Upper Lake.

The project is estimated to create about 140 new jobs for the county, tribal officials reported.

As part of the state compact, the tribe will pay the state 15 percent of its revenues.

On a local level, the tribe has entered into agreements with the county for payment in lieu of property tax; has paid more than $378,000 for upgrades to the sewer system and will pay another $112,000 to hook up to the system; has pledged to help mitigate off-reservation impacts; and will support fire and law enforcement – including $80,000 annually to Northshore Fire Protection District.

The tribe has overcome huge obstacles to keep the project on track, Treppa said.

The compact, which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed in September, needed to be ratified by the Legislature before the plan could move forward.

That didn't happen before the end of the legislative session in September, as the compact was signed three days before the session ended. However, Assembly members Wes Chesbro and Noreen Evans worked to get the necessary legislation before lawmakers during its recess.

Treppa said the 205-member tribe was worried that the compact might not get through the Legislature this year. If it hadn't, they would have had to wait until next August for their next chance.

Because the project's funding is tied to strict deadlines, “That would have been the end of us,” Treppa said.

Chesbro spokesman Andrew Bird said Chesbro did a “gut and amend” on SB 89, originally a budget bill presented last year. After inserting the Habematolel compact into the bill, it was presented on the Assembly floor Dec. 10, where it was approved.

Bird said Chesbro worked the floor and made a speech to get support for the amended bill.

Chesbro called the compact “a unique developer agreement,” and said the approval was urgent because Lake County is suffering from one of the highest unemployment rates in the state and the jobs are badly needed. Lake County's unemployment rate for October was 16.2 percent.

Evans told Lake County News that she helped get the Assembly speaker's agreement to take the bill up on the floor in the hopes of getting the new jobs for the county secured before Christmas. Like Chesbro, she also helped convince Assembly colleagues to give it their support.

She said it was important to point out how the tribe has worked with local agencies. “They're really ready to go forward and break ground,” she said.

Evans called it “pretty extraordinary” to get the measure through, especially with the Legislature's focus on other issues like the “Race to the Top” legislation and water bonds.

It's also unusual to take up an issue like this that would solely affect a small county like Lake, Evans said.

She said she shared with Assembly members the need for jobs in Lake County. “That really got their interest and got their vote, and that was really heartwarming to see,” she said.

The Senate Governmental Organization Committee held an information session Wednesday on Habematolel's compact, as well as that of Pinoleville in Mendocino County.

Kirstin Kolpitcke, deputy director of the Governor's Office of Planning and Research, told the committee that Habematolel's compact allows for a class three gaming facility with up to 750 slot machines; for every slot machine from 350 and above, the tribe would pay the state $900. Kolpitcke said the tribe also has agreed to pay into the state's revenue sharing fund.

“The administration believes this compact is good for the state and good for the tribe,” Kolpitcke said.

Lake County Deputy Administrative Officer Debra Sommerfield, accompanied by county Special Districts Administrator Mark Dellinger, also spoke to the committee Wednesday in support of the tribe.

Sommerfield read a letter from District 1 Supervisor Denise Rushing and County Administrative Officer Kelly Cox, who praised Habematolel's efforts to work with local government and be a good neighbor.

The letter stated that the county and tribe have established “an exemplary government to government relationship.”

If the Senate didn't ratify the compact, county officials worried that the project would be lost and “the community will suffer the consequences.”

The compact didn't face opposition from Stand Up California, a group that closely monitors gaming issues in the state.

“I did not find a problem with the Upper Lake situation,” said the group's director, Cheryl Schmit.

Schmit, who interacted with county government in looking at the tribe's plans, said it was important that the tribe worked out local agreements with the county.

Treppa said there are still hurdles that remain for the tribe, and that's the reason for the urgency.

The legislation must be signed by the governor and the secretary of state, and then must go to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, DC, for approval.

The BIA typically doesn't sign California compacts because they feel the state is taxing the tribes, Treppa explained.

However, “They won't disapprove them because they know it's critical to the tribe,” she said, and if the BIA takes no action in 45 days, the compact is deemed approved.

Ratification is critical because it will open up funding from the tribe's lender, Michigan-based Luna Gaming, she said.

Treppa said the tribe wants to get the facility's doors open before Memorial Day weekend or by the first of June in order to hit the peak season, which runs from the end of April to the start of October.

Once the tribe's final environmental impact report is published Dec. 21, they should be able to break ground on the casino within a few days, and would likely have full funding for the project by Jan. 15.

She credited local support, particularly that of county officials, for being instrumental in getting the needed approvals.

“We are blessed to be able to work with a county as forward thinking and willing to work with a tribe as Lake County,” Treppa said. “If we didn't have county support, we wouldn't have been able to get this done out of session.”

Individuals who want to find out more about job opportunities at the new facility are encouraged to call the Habematolel tribal offices in Upper Lake, 707-275-0737. Treppa said resumes can be faxed to 707-275-0757.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .

FORT BRAGG – Mendocino County officials are investigating a suspicious death on the coast.

Capt. Kurt Smallcomb of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office reported that Cal Fire contacted the sheriff's office at 2:45 p.m. Wednesday regarding the discovery of a body in the burned debris of a home fire at 32280 Ellison Way in Fort Bragg.

Smallcomb said sheriff's deputies responded to the location and teamed up with Fort Bragg Fire and Cal Fire Personnel to begin an investigation.

Cal Fire investigators are conducting the investigation into the cause of the fire, and Mendocino County Sheriff's deputies are attempting to confirm positive identification of the decedent, Smallcomb said.

Smallcomb said more details of the situation will be released to the public once the person's identity is confirmed and the cause of the fire has been established.

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SONOMA COUNTY – The California Highway Patrol said this week that a teenager involved in a fatal crash on Thanksgiving weekend wasn't drinking at the time of the incident.

The Santa Rosa CHP office said that toxicology testing found that 19-year-old Steven Culbertson of Lakeport had no alcohol or drugs in his system when he hit two other vehicles during a four-car collision at the intersection of Lakeville Road and Highway 27 on the night of Nov. 28.

Culbertson, who allegedly was traveling at a high speed in his Mini Cooper, reportedly failed to stop for a red light at the intersection, based on witness reports and physical evidence. He clipped one car before broadsiding a Nissan Quest carrying the Maloney family of Sonoma, the CHP said.

The entire family – parents John and Susan Maloney, and their young children, Aiden and Grace – died at the scene, as Lake County News has reported. Culbertson was taken off life support and died the following morning.

Within days of the crash, Petaluma resident Michael Loffredo told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and the CHP that he allegedly saw Culbertson sitting at the bar at Traxx, a Petaluma bar and restaurant, shortly before the fatal collision.

Because Traxx is licensed as a bar and restaurant, Culbertson would legally have been allowed inside the bar, officials reported.

Even so, CHP Officer Jon Sloat told Lake County News on Friday that investigators with the CHP and Alcoholic Beverage Control followed up on Loffredo's claim and weren't able to substantiate his account.

Sloat said investigators have warrants in for Culberton's cell phone texts and credit cards.

However, based on other witnesses and cell phone records that they've received so far, it's the CHP's conclusion at this point that Culbertson wasn't at Traxx that night and that his Mini Cooper wasn't in the parking lot of the establishment.

Sloat wasn't aware if investigators had tried to corroborate Loffredo's story with his own family members, who he also said were there, or if they checked to see if Loffredo had been at the restaurant as he said he was.

They're also investigating whether Loffredo may have made a false report to the authorities, Sloat said.

Meanwhile, Sloat said they've only been able to put together “a little bit” of what Culbertson was doing in the hours before the crash.

“It's still in pieces,” said Sloat.

The CHP's Major Accident Investigation Team is still working on an estimate of how fast Culbertson was going, Sloat said.

He said an investigation into an incident like this usually takes a month.

“We want to take our time and cover all our bases,” Sloat said.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .

COVELO – This week authorities took into custody a Covelo man accused of taking his child.

Douglas Whipple, 23, was arrested for concealing and child and a parole violation Monday afternoon, according to Capt. Kurt Smallcomb of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office.

At about 1 p.m. Monday sheriff's deputies were summoned to a location off of Tabor Lane in Covelo regarding a parental abduction of a child, Smallcomb said.

Upon arrival deputies spoke with the mother of a 1-month-old infant and learned that Whipple, the child's father, allegedly had come to the home and wanted to take the child, according to the report.

After a brief altercation, Whipple allegedly kicked opened the door to the residence and took the infant, Smallcomb said.

Deputies learned the infant was dressed only in a blanket and was currently breast feeding. Smallcomb said the father had taken no other implements to care for the infant upon fleeing the location.

Following a search of the area, deputies located Whipple, who led them on a foot chase. Smallcomb said Whipple was seen running into a residence where deputies found and arrested him.

Deputies learned the child had been taken back to the mother's residence and were able to conduct a welfare check of the infant, Smallcomb said.

Whipple was booked into the Mendocino County Jail on charges of parole violations and child secreting, and is being held without bail, Smallcomb reported.

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LAKE COUNTY – This year, the annual Clear Lake Christmas Bird Count will be on Saturday, Dec. 19.

The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is a traditional project of Audubon societies around the country and takes place between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5.

Each December birders gather to record every individual bird and species encountered during the day. Each count group has a designated circle of 15 miles in diameter and tries to cover as much ground as possible within a certain period of time.

The data collected by each count group are then sent to the National Audubon Headquarters in New York.

Count data is published in a special book-size edition of National Audubon Society Field Notes magazine.

Redbud Audubon invites all birders and nature enthusiasts to join in the upcoming Christmas Bird Count. Birders of all skill levels are encouraged to participate. This is Audubon’s longest running wintertime tradition and is the 35th year the Count has taken place in Lake County.

After the count, participants are invited to a Pizza dinner at 5:30 p.m. at DJ’s Pizza on State Street in Kelseyville to join in the Count Compilation where the tally of the day’s sightings is compiled.

Previous to the bird count, at the Thursday, Dec. 17 meeting, Redbud Audubon will present an extensive slide show and discussion of distinguishing features of birds that are often seen during the annual count.

If you are interested in participating in the bird count, call Darlene Hecomovich, at 707-928-5591 or Jeannette Knight, 707-928-4233.

The Christmas Bird Count began more than a century ago when 27 conservationists in 25 localities, led by scientist and writer Frank Chapman, changed the course of ornithological history.

On Christmas Day in 1900, the small group posed an alternative to the “side hunt,” a Christmas day activity in which teams competed to see who could shoot the most birds and small mammals. Instead, Chapman proposed to identify, count, and record all the birds they saw, founding what is now considered to be the world’s most significant citizen-based conservation effort – and century-old institution.

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SONOMA COUNTY – A jury has found that a man who killed the mother of his two young children and stuffed her body into a toy box was sane at the time of the crime.

Honorio Pantaleon, 32, had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the murder of Patricia Barrales. But on Friday, a Sonoma County jury returned the verdict regarding Pantaleon's sanity, according to Sonoma County District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua.

Last week, the jury convicted Pantaleon of first degree murder for killing Patricia Barrales in May 2008. They also found him guilty of the special circumstance of torture and the attempted murder of his mother-in-law, which occurred in Mendocino County two days after Barrales was murdered.

The same jury that decided his guilt began to receive evidence on Monday regarding Pantaleon's mental status.

Passalacqua said the verdict case exemplified the horrific tragedy of this crime.

“The victim and her family received justice in a Sonoma County courtroom today,” he said Friday. “This was a heinous attack that underscores the tragic consequences of domestic violence. This man planned a purposeful attack to kill and torture his partner. He will never again be free to harm any other innocent people.”

On May 10, 2008, Barrales returned to the Santa Rosa apartment she shared with Pantaleon and their children after celebrating Mother’s Day with her family in Ukiah, Passalacqua's office reported.

A short time after returning home Barrales was murdered. Both of the minor children were present during and witnessed the crime.

The oldest child, who was 4 years old at the time, provided officers with information which led to the location of the victim’s remains.

Barrales had 68 stab and incised wounds on her body, including her head, neck, chest, back and abdomen.

Pantaleon had used at least two knives during the commission of the crime before he placed Barrales' body in a toy box, moved the toy box into the children’s closet, covered up a bloody carpet and left with his two children and family dog.

He drove to his parent’s house in Kelseyville where he began planning to murder the victim’s mother, officials reported. He and a friend then reportedly drove to a sporting goods store to purchase ammunition.

On May 12, Pantaleon entered his mother-in-law’s home, pointed a rifle at her chest and pulled the trigger. The gun did not discharge and Pantaleon hit her on the head with the rifle and fled the location. He was arrested in Ukiah later that day.

The now 5-year-old son of the victim testified via closed circuit television to avoid the trauma of being in the courtroom with his father, Passalacqua's office reported.

The witness who purchased the ammunition with Pantaleon refused to testify, was found in contempt and placed into custody. He will remain in custody pending completion of the sanity phase or until he agrees to testify.

Deputy District Attorney Tashawn Sanders was the lead prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney Tania Partida was the second chair assigned to the case, Passalacqua's office reported. Sergeant Alissa Johnson with the Santa Rosa Police Department was the lead investigator.

Pantaleon's sentencing is pending.

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NAPA COUNTY – An early morning crash in Napa County on Wednesday took the lives of two men, one of them from Clearlake.

Augustine Quezada, 29, of Clearlake and Saul Alverez-Ayala, 46, of Napa died in the collision, which occurred on Silverado Trail north of Skellenger Lane at 5:45 a.m. Wednesday, according to the California Highway Patrol's Napa office.

The CHP's report explained that Quezada, who was driving a 2008 Ford Mustang, was traveling southbound on Silverado Trail at an unknown speed as Jorge Mora, 22, of Napa, approached from the opposite direction in his 1981 Honda Accord, also at an unknown speed. It was raining at the time.

For reasons not determined, Quezada's Mustang spun out of control in a counter-clockwise direction, traveling into the northbound lane. The Mustang's rear bumper collided with the Accord's front bumper.

Alverez-Ayala, who was riding in the right front passenger seat of Mora's Accord, was pronounced dead at the scene, the CHP reported.

Emergency personnel transported Mora and Quezada to Queen of the Valley Hospital in Napa, where the CHP said doctors pronounced Quezada deceased just after noon on Wednesday.

The CHP said that Silverado Trail was closed for three hours for the investigation and cleanup.

Quezada and Mora were both reported to be using their seat belts, while the CHP said Alverez-Ayala was not.

Anyone who witnessed the crash is asked to call the CHP's Napa office at 707-253-4906.

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Marco Antonio Meza, who turned 18 in September, is facing eight charges in connection with the alleged gang-motivated assault on a Norteno gang member and his pregnant girlfriend in Kelseyville on Monday, April 6, 2009. That same day, Meza had been implicated in a driveby shooting of a Norteno gang member in Santa Rosa, a case in which he is being prosecuted as an accessory. Lake County Jail photo.


LAKEPORT – A Kelseyville teenager who earlier this year was cleared of a murder charge in Sonoma County is facing numerous felony charges for an incident that occurred the same day as the shooting for which he had been charged in Santa Rosa.

Marco Antonio Meza, 18, is set for an appearance in Lake County Superior Court this Friday, at which time his defense attorney, William Conwell, will argue for reducing the $100,000 bond that's keeping Meza in the Lake County Jail.

The case's preliminary examination likely will be scheduled at the hearing this Friday as well, Deputy District Attorney Dan Hurst told Lake County News.

Meza faces eight charges – four for assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm; participating in a criminal street gang; making threats to commit a crime; selling, importing or keeping a weapon; and disturbing the peace for his alleged part in an April 6 assault in Kelseyville.

Meza is alleged to be an Angelino Heights Sureno gang member, according to court records, and is reported to have several “A” and “H” tattoos on his body.

On April 6 Meza, then 17, and several other people – some of them reportedly gang members and Meza's relatives, including his sister – allegedly assaulted a man who is a validated Norteno and his girlfriend as they were walking along Gold Dust Drive.

The female victim, who was pregnant at the time, was hit in the stomach with a baseball bat. Her child, born some time later, was reported to be OK.

Before the confrontation began, one of the subjects reportedly taunted the male victim to try to get him to fight, calling out “Angelino Heights.”

Later that same day, 18-year-old Santa Rosan Luis Suarez, said to be affiliated with the Nortenos, was killed in a driveby shooting in Santa Rosa at around 9:30 p.m. Two days later, Santa Rosa Police arrested Meza, as Lake County News has reported.

The Lake County District Attorney's Office initially charged Meza in the Kelseyville assault case in June, while he was still being held in Sonoma County.

Then, in September Sonoma County District Attorney Stephen Passalacqua dropped the murder charge against Meza and announced that he would charge with murder 21-year-old Santa Rosa resident and suspected Sureno gang member Fernando Mendoza, who had been arrested at the same time as Meza on a parole violation.

At a Dec. 5 court appearance, officials reported that Meza is still being prosecuted as an accessory in the Suarez murder.

During that hearing, Conwell objected to Meza's bail remaining at the $100,000 level, saying that no new evidence in the case had been presented.

But the prosecution replied that the case in Sonoma County, in which Meza is alleged to be an accessory, is still pending. “If someone was killed it still makes a huge difference in my mind,” said Judge Richard Martin.

Martin left the $100,000 bail in place until this Friday's bail review hearing.

Hurst said later that, despite the fact that Meza was under age when the alleged incident took place, the case is being direct filed in adult superior court under the auspices of Proposition 21, passed in 2000.

That law allows for direct filing on juveniles age 16 and over for some serious violent crimes as well as those involving gang activity.

Records submitted to the court as part of the Kelseyville assault case showed that Meza had a lengthy juvenile criminal history, including involvement in a strong arm robbery in Kelseyville in March of 2007, a car theft and burglary in July of 2006 and, in October of 2005, he was found to have tossed a loaded Derringer pistol from a car during a traffic stop.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .

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