Saturday, 20 July 2024

News

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T. Watts at the KPFZ microphone. Courtesy photo.
 

 

Don’t drive drunk …”

Stevie Wonder, circa 1984



A few season’s ago when my son was a senior in high school, his school partnered with local law enforcement and emergency agencies and presented a great public awareness program around the hazards of drunk driving.


We simulated (I say we because I was a parent volunteer) a fatal drunk driving accident complete with a wrecked car, student actors and real props including a Medvac helicopter, fire trucks, California Highway Patrol and Lake County Sheriff's personnel. It was a quite impressive dramatic presentation – so powerful that real tears were shed in its wake.


Later during graduation week, great pains were taken by the school and booster club to insure that Sober Grad night was indeed a sober affair. Again, I was a parent volunteer, and stayed up all night long chaperoning and supervising as our senior teens frolicked in ritual celebration without the social lubrication of alcohol and drugs at a local business that was equipped to handle the affair.


Nonetheless, since that class has graduated there have been at least a couple of alcohol- or drug-related real fatalities involving teenaged peers of that same class. Again, real tears were shed. Memorial flowers are still left at the scene of one of the fatalities that occurred at least three years ago.


Thrust into the role of investigative journalist through simple dialogue with students and parents alike, I was astounded and perplexed to learn of some incongruous allegations involving students, parents and, dare I say, law enforcement as well.


The first thing I learned was that the teens of today are pretty hip when it comes to circumventing the law around intoxication. They know how to use the designated driver concept to the max.


The second thing I learned was that there seemed to be private parties every weekend that were chaperoned by parents who allowed underage drinking at these events. Frequently the revelers would simply crash all night long at the party site which diminished the probability that these young’uns would be out behind the wheels of automobiles.


The third piece of information that was laid upon me was the assertion of the unwritten, look-the-other-way code by law enforcement. My sources implied that if an officer made a stop of a vehicle that contained inebriated minors, they would be cut loose as long as the driver was not under the influence. Hmm … These are deep allegations that permeate the very social order or lack thereof in the county of Lake. Part of the problem is the lack of activities for young folks here.


There certainly is talk and money being bandied about for the revitalization of Lake County. Catchphrases like county plan and redevelopment corridor of Lucerne and other neighborhood projects costing millions of dollars. Strange that it seems with all these monied, revitalization talks, there is not much evidence of jobs for young people here. There has been heavy resistance to drug and alcohol rehabilitation and education in this county. The old NIMBY routine. You know, not in my backyard!


Meanwhile, the crank that has been cooked here through generations continues to be cooked. Ganja farms possibly legal and hugely illegal proliferate. Seems like our priorities are pretty skewed.


This piece kinda started out as a dialogue about the hazards of underage drunkenness. Seems as though the issue(s) are much larger and more interrelated than just that. Where have all the Mothers Against Drunk Driving gone? Or the parents against drunken societal decisions? Or the connected societal big ol’ boys who skirt the law and laugh all the way to the … can I say bank? They shoot banks, don’t they? With apologies to Elvis and Otis Blackwell, we are all shook up here.


Goin’ out with a little Curtis Mayfield. Why don’t you check out your mind? Been with you all the time


Have a blessed Easter.


Keep prayin’, Keep thinkin’ those kind thoughts!


*******


Upcoming cool event:


Tallman Hotel/Blue Wing Saloon “Concert with Conversation” Boogie Woogie Queen Wendy DeWitt, Friday April 24, 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., 9520 Main St., Upper Lake. 707-275-2233.


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

SANTA ROSA – A Kelseyville teenager has been arrested on a murder charge for the death of a young Santa Rosa resident.


The Santa Rosa Police Department reported that they arrested the 17-year-old male – whose name was not released due to his age – on Wednesday. He is alleged to have murdered Luis Suarez, 18, on Monday.


Police are continuing their investigation of the shooting and the motivations behind it, including the possibility that it's gang-related.


However, Sgt. Lisa Banayat told Lake County News, “I cannot say for sure that it's a gang crime.”


Just after 9:30 p.m. Monday Santa Rosa Police received a call of shots fired in the area of Grand and Pressley avenues. Callers also advised 911 dispatchers that a person had been shot and was on the ground.


Officers located Suarez with gunshot wounds in the 1000 block of Grand Avenue. Ambulance personnel had also been summoned, and determined Suarez already was deceased.


Detectives from the Violent Crime and Gang Crime Investigations Teams have been interviewing suspects and witnesses, as well as following leads from the public regarding this case.


On Wednesday, officers stopped a car they believed to be connected to the case at Santa Rosa Avenue and Court Street.


Two subjects in the car – the 17-year-old Kelseyville resident and Fernando Mendoza, 20, of Santa Rosa – were detained for questioning.


Police later arrested the Kelseyville teen for murder and transported him to the Juvenile Justice Center.


Mendoza was arrested on a parole violation and booked at the Sonoma County Jail.


Banayat said Suarez knew some gang members, but she didn't yet have verification on whether or not the Kelseyville teenager is himself a gang member.


She said the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office is deciding this week if it will prosecute the teen as an adult. If it does his name will be released.


Banayat added that she had no information about the teenager's criminal history, and wouldn't be able to release that information if she did.


The Sonoma County Alliance’s “Take Back Our Community” program has offered a $2,500 reward for anyone who provides information to the Santa Rosa Police that facilitates the arrest of the involved suspect(s).


Anyone with information regarding this investigation is encouraged to contact Detective Bradley Conners of the Santa Rosa Police Department’s Violent Crimes Team at 707-543-3590.

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Firefighters responded to the fire along Highway 20 shortly before 1:30 p.m. Monday, April 6, 2009. Photo by Harold LaBonte.
 

 

 
NICE – A garage was destroyed and a home damaged Monday when a controlled burn that appeared to be extinguished caught the buildings on fire.

The fire was reported shortly before 1:30 p.m. at 1757 E. Highway 20, near Red Hills Lane, according to Northshore Fire Chief Jim Robbins.

Robbins said a woman had been doing a controlled burn of some leaves and thought it had smoldered down to nothing, so she walked out to get her mail and when she came back found her single-car garage was on fire.

The building was fully engulfed when firefighters arrived and by that point it had started to burn the nearby doublewide mobile, said Robbins.

Radio reports indicated there may have been some explosions within the garage due to gas cans.

While firefighters were able to quickly extinguish the garage fire, fighting to save the house took longer, Robbins explained.

The mobile had wood siding and a second roof. Robbins said the fire got up between the two roofs, which meant firefighters had to use chainsaws to cut holes in the outer roof.

It took 16 firefighters, three engines – one each from Northshore Fire's Lucerne, Nice and Upper Lake stations – and a water tender from Upper Lake about two hours to take care of the fires and the subsequent mop up, said Robbins. At least one Lakeport firefighter also was on scene.

An ambulance from the Lucerne station also was on hand, but Robbins said no one was hurt.

Robbins estimated the fire caused $30,000 in damage.

While the garage was a complete loss, the doublewide mobile was saved, said Robbins. “It will take some repairs.”

Harold LaBonte contributed to this report.

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

 

 

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A Lakeport firefighter uses a chain saw to cut through one of two roofs on the mobile home on Monday, April 6, 2009. Photo by Harold LaBonte.
 

LAKE COUNTY – Lake County's health officer says the community has a number of health challenges, but she says people have power to make positive choices and improve their lives.


This year National Public Health Week is being observed April 6 through 12.


For officials like Dr. Karen Tait, MD, Lake County's health officer and head of the Public Health Division, it's a good time to talk with the community about its health issues and ways to be healthier.


Tait – whose first anniversary on the job coincided with the April 6 beginning of National Health Week – has a small staff to do a big job, covering a wide range of activities.


The Public Health Division is within the Department of Health Services, overseen by Health Services Director Jim Brown. Tait said her division is funded by a mix of federal and state funding, with some local realignment funds.


Public Health has 29 full-time employees, with 1.25 full-time positions – divided among three nurses – dedicated to communicable disease control activities, she said. There's no epidemiologist on staff, and Tait herself analyzes local health statistics.


Division activities include working to prevent communicable diseases, ensuring vaccinations are completed on schedule, promoting nutrition and dental care, providing screenings for various types of diseases, and inspecting food and sanitation systems. They also cooperate with the community, hospitals and emergency responders to prepare for public health emergencies.


Everyone multi-tasks to the extreme, she said.


“We're very interested and motivated, and we have very few resources,” she said.


Looking at the county's current health challenges, Tait lists among her concerns the rise in births to adolescent mothers, and the 17.2-percent rise in accidents resulting in significant injuries.


She said people in rural environments do have more accidents, with farm accidents raising that overall number, besides the area's regular number of roadway collisions.


There is some longterm planning officials can do to change some of those factors, but Tait adds, “You can't make the deer use crosswalks. There are just some things beyond our control.”


One big issue for Lake County is smoking and the resulting coronary heart disease and lung cancer. “Clearly we know that smoking is linked to these diseases,” she said, adding that asthma also is a resulting condition.


Smoking continues to be a public health concern all over the country. Tait said smoking rates seem to hover around 20 percent locally, and it's hard to get below that level.


She said California Department of Public Health findings regarding tobacco use show that, in 2008, statewide rates for smokers had a significant reduction of 13.3 percent among adults.


Numbers available in the California Department of Public Health's online database still show 2005 numbers, which showed an adult smokers rate of 17.9 percent in Lake County, compared to the mean rate of 23.3 percent reported the same year by California Breathing.


Both statistics, said Tait, put Lake County above the state's average, which is a concern.


Also above the state average is the number of local young people who smoke, rated at 17.4 percent as of 2006 statistics, compared to the statewide average of 15.4 percent. More dramatic, said Tait, is that 44.9 percent of Lake County's young people report smoking at some time, which she said indicates how much experimentation takes place with cigarettes.


She believes many young people smoke because of a still-glamorous image. Tait said so much is known about the harm that smoking does that it defies logic that anyone would choose to do it.


Public health officials also reported that statistics from the 2004-08 reporting period shows that Lake County ranks between 53 and 57 statewide for a number of health-related issues, including death from all causes, chronic lower respiratory disease, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, suicide and drug-induced deaths.


Cancer: A “complex” issue


Then there's the issue of cancer itself and its impact on Lake County's population.


Various reports have shown high cancer rates for the county.


A 2008 health status profile under the Healthy People 2010 program ranked Lake County as No. 2 statewide for the number of deaths per capita for all cancers, or 208.4 persons per 100,000, which was a 5.5 percent reduction from the 2001-2003 rate of 220.6.


That same report also ranked Lake County No. 4 for lung cancer deaths, or 66.3 per 100,000, down 8.6 percent from the 72.5 per 100,000 recorded in the 2001-2003 cycle. All numbers are age-adjusted.


Breast cancer and prostate cancer numbers ranked the county No. 13 in the state, and colorectal cancers ranked it No. 9.


Cancer is a tricky topic, and Tait points to the difficulty in understanding it.


“I think the safest thing to say about it is it's a complex issue,” she said.


There are many factors that impact cancer rates, she said.


“I think you have to look at what is the origin of cancer,” she said.


Cancer has both a genetic factor as well as a long time line. For that reason, she said it's really impossible to draw a connection between where someone lives now and the causes of their cancer.


In Lake County, many people come from other areas to retire. For that reason, Tait said it's hard to know how the reported cancer rates were influenced by environment, or where on the time line a person's cancer is when they come here.


“People do die from cancer at a higher rate here than they die of some other things that might kill them,” she said. “It becomes a very complex issue.”


Other influence on the cancer rates may be access to health care and socioeconomic factors that might affect a person's state of health. “We have a fairly high poverty rate here in Lake County,” Tait said.


She emphasizes that the public shouldn't draw the wrong conclusion that they're going to die from cancer because they live in Lake County.


“That would be a big leap,” she said, pointing to Lake County's positive environmental factors, including its very clean air.


Get out and exercise


In many areas, Tait said, the county is showing public health improvements. Those include showing better comparisons with other areas on such issues as incidences of diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, influenza/pneumonia and infant mortality.


Improving access to health care is one of Tait's goals for this geographically isolated area. “We have to

find creative ways to make sure people do have access to health care,” she said.


That means not just the basics but also the ability to get specialty care such as is provided by cardiologists, oncologists and other specialists.


Tait emphasizes healthy lifestyles as a means of preventing disease.


“So much of our progress in public health is making the right lifestyle choices,” she said. “In the case of lifestyle, getting enough exercise and not smoking are my two favorite topics.”


Exercise, she points out, “is probably the best thing a person can do for their health in so many ways it's impossible to list them all.”


Some of the notable benefits include preventing obesity, fighting depression, preventing dementia and bringing down the number of lipids – which include cholesterol – in the blood. She notes that it's all speculation why exercise works.


Tait recommends 20 to 30 minutes of exercise a day. She particularly likes exercise videos, which she said help people pace themselves while pushing them to do more than they thought they could.


“The key is to do it regularly, at least five times a week,” she said, and to look at exercise like medication, taking it in prescribed amounts.


Tait is encouraged by a health attitude she sees here in Lake County.


She said she recently attended a community blueprint workshop and was impressed by the mindset of local residents, which she said was very much in sync with building a healthy community.


Tait said she considers it a ray of hope that Lake County's residents value their lifestyle and environment so much.


And, she added, it means she won't have to sell them on the concept of living healthy lifestyles.


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

CLEARLAKE OAKS – A dangerous area of Highway 20 has become the site of another crash, this one deadly.

Mica Marks, 19, of Sacramento died Tuesday night when she lost control of her car on Highway 20 near Walker Ridge Road and east of Clearlake Oaks during a rainstorm.

Officer Steve Tanguay of the California Highway Patrol confirmed that the nearest mile post marker to the fatal crash was 44.19, the scene of six other crashes in the past two years, as Lake County News reported last month.

Tanguay said the crash that claimed Marks' life occurred at 4 p.m. Tuesday. At the time of the collision it was raining.

Marks was traveling eastbound on Highway 20 in a 2001 Honda Accord, according to Tanguay.

He said that, for an unknown reason, Marks lost control of her car and the vehicle went to the left, crossing over the double yellow lines into the westbound lane of traffic and spinning out of control on the wet roadway.

Marks' Honda struck a 1995 Chevrolet van driven westbound by 65-year-old Sue McGibben of Clearlake head on, said Tanguay.

Northshore Fire Battalion Chief Pat Brown said a Kelseyville Fire unit was passing through the area, returning from an out-of-county medical transfer, when it was nearly involved in the collision. As a result, Kelseyville Fire ended up being the first responder on scene to offer medical assistance.

Brown said another Northshore Fire battalion chief, Jamie Crabtree, was in charge of the incident. Crabtree oversaw three Northshore Fire rigs that responded. A Lake County Fire Protection medic unit also was sent to assist, as were Cal Fire units.

Tanguay said Marks was declared dead at the scene. A unit from Clearlake Oaks' Cal Fire station transported McGibben to St. Helena Hospital-Clearlake for moderate injuries.  

It took firefighters and officials two hours to deal with the crash scene, said Brown.

At least one of the previous six crashes at mile post marker 44.19 was fatal, and four required major rescue efforts because the road – which travels past the old Turkey Run and Abbott mines – drops off into a ravine, as Lake County News has reported.

A rope rescue wasn't needed this time, said Brown, as Marks' car didn't go off the road.

Brown expressed his concern over that stretch of roadway, which Caltrans said last month it was investigating due to the high number of serious crashes that have taken place there, all during rainstorms. Caltrans installed new signage there last November to encourage drivers to take the curve more slowly, with a speed advisory sign now showing 35 miles per hour rather than 40.

Most of the crashes so far have been attributed to speed, including one that took place there just weeks ago on March 16.

Tanguay said that crash was attributed to unsafe speed on the wet roadway, along with the driver making an “unsafe turning movement.”

Officer Brendan Bach is investigating the Tuesday collision, Tanguay said.

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

FORT BRAGG – Mendocino County Sheriff's deputies arrested a Clearlake couple late last week for drug charges and allegations of a false vehicle registration.


The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office reported Monday that Kenneth High, 56, and Tammie High, 46, were pulled over for a traffic violation on North Highway 1 in Fort Bragg just before 10:30 p.m. Friday, April 3.


When they contacted Kenneth High, the deputies observed marijuana and a digital scale inside the vehicle and a false registration tab affixed to the rear license plate. Kenneth High subsequently was arrested for the false registration tab.


Following his arrest the deputies searched the car and found approximately 5.0 grams of methamphetamine in High's pocket, according to the Monday report.


Tammie High, who was riding as a passenger in the vehicle, also was arrested for the false registration tab and for being under the influence of a controlled substance, sheriff's officials reported.


The Highs were transported to the Mendocino County Jail where they were booked and lodged with bail set at $10,000.

CLEARLAKE OAKS – What a difference eight months makes.


Eight months ago, the Clearlake Oaks County Water District Board faced a hostile crowd over a proposed rate increase. On Thursday, it had a meeting to present much-anticipated audits of the district's finances, and the small crowd that did appear was both supportive and responsive.


Beginning last summer, the district's meetings had been crowded with ratepayers concerned over the district's shaky finances and the potential for big rate increases.


The district board had anticipated a big crowd Thursday, so they moved it from the small meeting room at the district office on Highway 20 a few miles down the road to the Lake Village Estates Clubhouse, provided by Board member Dena Barron.


But an audience of only 10 people came to hear about the audits for financial years ending 2006, 2007 and 2008.


“This is too easy,” said Board President Mike Benjamin at one point during the hour-long meeting.


El Dorado Hills-based auditor Larry Bain made the trip to offer an outline of his findings and answer questions from ratepayers.


“My responsibility on the financial statements is to provide an opinion,” said Bain.


His opinion on the district's finances and bookkeeping procedures for the three years in question was an adverse one for a variety of reasons.


Bain said capital assets weren't maintained, which had been an error going back to a previous auditor who hadn't offered an adverse opinion. But Bain felt it was a significant enough issue to warrant the adverse ruling.


Governmental Accounting Standards Board guidelines require that major funds, like sewer and water, be separated, which wasn't done by the district in the time frame Bain audited.


In the June 30, 2008, audit, Bain said the district's capital was overstated by a material amount. When he did the fieldwork, the district was not in a positive cash position, with more liabilities than assets, which required them to work out payment plans with contractors.


Bain said there were some red flags in the district's finances, including multiple bounced checks and Internal Revenue Service levies.


Iris Hudson, a former water district employee for 26 years, asked about a figure in the 2008 audit that indicated the district was $300,000 in the red, and had been in the red in previous years as well. Bain said much of that negative number was due to depreciations, and he estimated the district had spent about $240,000 more than it had during the auditing period.


Community member Richard Kuehn asked Board member Harry Chase – the only board member remaining who had served through all three of the auditing years – if it was the previous board's general recollection that the district was doing all right during that period.


“I knew that we had personnel problems,” said Chase. “That was one of the things I hadn't anticipated when I ran for the board, that we would have such a big turnover in at-will employee.”


Another community member, Bill Rett, asked why the previous board hadn't done the required yearly audits, the last one of which had been for the period ending 2005, Bain reported during the meeting.

Chase said he had had no idea what was required.


“What failsafe measures do we have in place now to ensure audits will be taken care of?” asked audience member Chuck Lamb.


Noting the yearly auditing requirement, Lamb added, “For me it's unfathomable that we didn't have audits every single year.”


Chase – who has worked in government at various levels – said no one flagged the board or made them aware of it, and there appeared to be no regulatory oversight.


Lamb asked if it would normally be the general manager's position to make the board aware of such requirements. “I would think so,” said Chase.


The general manager during most of the audit period was Ellen Pearson, who left the district in March 2008, as Lake County News has reported.


Pearson, however, was not directly mentioned during the Thursday meeting.


Board looks ahead


Benjamin said the board is now working to prove its transparency in the wake of its challenging recent history.


“Continued public involvement in these meetings and the ongoing business of the water district is gong to prevent these kinds of things from happening again,” he said.


The district has learned from its past mistakes, is doing the best they can with what they have and is now moving in a completely different direction, said Benjamin.


Next is another audit that will begin this summer once the 2008-09 fiscal year ends and the crafting of a “livable” budget, said Benjamin. The board also will present and finalize responses to Bain's audit at its next meeting.


“The majority of these are going to have a positive response,” said Benjamin, explaining that many of Bain's recommendations and findings already have been addressed by the district over the last six months.


Community member Judy Barnes wanted to know if there were findings of criminal negligence.


“We aren't going to respond to requests about criminal negligence,” said Benjamin. “It is no secret that the grand jury has investigated this and has an ongoing investigation.”


Benjamin said the district ahas sought assistance from County Counsel Anita Grant.


He said there's no doubt that there were irregularities in how some financial matters were handled. “We have already taken preventative measures so these don't happen again.”


Rett asked if the district's insurance will cover any financial losses. Benjamin said it depends on whether there are findings of fraud or malfeasance, and that would be up to the insurance company.


Holly Harris commended the board for getting the audits done. She asked about Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) money that had been widely discussed in the community as having disappeared.


General Manager Darin McCosker said the district received FEMA money for a storm event on New Year's Day of 2006. At the time he was working for another district. “That's my alibi,” he quipped.


He said the district does have that capital back in place but the work hasn't been done yet.


Benjamin said the district has experienced a major turnaround since last year.


“Last summer the district was several hundred thousand dollars in debt, and today we're in the black,” he said, noting they've paid off nearly all of their debts.


Last November the district implemented a minor rate increase of $9.95 per month per single-family household.


However, Benjamin said, “That didn't make the difference. The difference is the way business has been conducted.”


He said they're scrutinizing spending on everything, from saving $1 per paper towel roll to working to reduce the district's phone bill from close to $1,000 a month down to about $250 a month. They're also looking at employee benefits.


Benjamin credited McCosker for doing an outstanding job.


McCosker said he fully intends to have operating and capital budget by when we're required to this summer.


He noted that he's hampered by an outdated accounting system that could cost as much as $60,000 to replace. Benjamin said the district is trying to live within its means and isn't yet ready to spend the money for a new system.


“This is the greatest recovery that I've ever seen for a small entity,” said Benjamin.


There's much more to do, including major capital projects – among them replacement of the High Valley water tank and work on the waste treatment plant. Benjamin said everyone is contributing to the effort to continue moving forward; employees haven't received wage increases and they're down four and a half positions, two less than when they implemented a hiring freeze.


Hudson told the board that she doubts the district has employees qualified to do internal audit checks, which Benjamin agreed was an issue raised in the audits. He said the auditor position hasn't worked well in a number of years. Hudson responded that during a six-year period they had seven auditors.


Barnes asked about future rate increases. Benjamin said they're not even discussing any.


McCosker reported that the district is requesting a US Department of Agriculture grant for $4 million. The USDA is waiting on the audits as it considers the application.


Kuehn asked if the board was considering special assessments – not rate increases – for certain projects like the wastewater plant. Benjamin said after the next audit they'll know more about their financial situation to be able to answer about what the district needs to do next.


“Our goal is to keep our district in the black and to serve all customers,” said Board member Judy Heeszel.


She said she thinks it's inevitable that eventually there will be another rate increase, and she understands people's financial concerns. The district is trying to work in everyone's best interests, Heeszel added.


The board also was asked about a list of priorities, which Benjamin said they plan to have staff present. “It will be part of the budget process, absolutely.”


Barron said it's good to know the district board can work together, and that they hadn't had any real “head-butting moments.”


Benjamin said sometimes people on boards and commissions aren't given the information they need and they have to do the best job they can with what they know at the time. He said Chase has been instrumental in helping straighten out the district's finances, and he didn't want to see him criticized because of his presence on the previous board.


He said the board will continue addressing the recommendations in Bain's audits, which must be sent to the county auditor and state controller. They'll start looking at the next audit toward the end of June.


New levels of control have been instituted, he said. “You won't find credit card abuse in this district now,” nor can an employee do what they want with their own payroll. All taxes are being paid and McCosker added that they've not had a bounced check since March of 2008.


Harris said she hoped if there is wrongdoing that it will be addressed to prevent it happening elsewhere. Because the district is a public entity, Benjamin said they have to protect the public interest, and they will do what's required by law.


Barnes said she wants to see the district remain a public entity and not be owned by a private company, such as is the case in Lucerne. Benjamin said the board is there to do just that.

“It's not for the pay,” quipped McCosker.


Bain said when he accepts a client he looks at integrity. He said the board chose to make public some aspects of the audit which could have been kept private. “I view that as a positive sign of strong integrity,” Bain said.


Benjamin pointed out that the special meeting required only 24 hours notice beforehand, but the district released the audits and gave notice for the meeting 10 days ahead of time in order to give the community time to look at the information.


Lamb asked if they would pursue a forensic audit. Benjamin said they will look at it if it's needed, but it could be extremely expensive. Bain noted it would be charged hourly. Benjamin said their decision to do one would depend on the budget and have to be balanced against other district needs.


McCosker said he also is being as transparent as possible, and is getting information to the board quickly. Ninety-five percent of the things on his to do list have been accomplished.


Benjamin said the board will do everything they can to make sure past mistakes aren't repeated and to be honest with ratepayers. “And there's nothing else we can do beyond that.”


Lamb noted the difference between where the district is now and where it was six months ago is “unbelievable.”


Benjamin thanked community members for their work to change things.


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

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Lake County Sheriff's Sgt. Richard Helbush was shot and killed after stopping to help two stranded motorists along Highway 29 on May 2, 1981. The woman sentenced to prison for his murder, Annika Ostberg Deasy, returned to her home country of Sweden on Wednesday, April 8, 2009. Photo courtesy of the county of Lake.

 

 

LAKE COUNTY – A woman who pleaded guilty to the 1981 murder of a Lake County Sheriff's sergeant has been sent back to her home country of Sweden.


Annika Ostberg Deasy, 55, arrived in Sweden early Wednesday morning after leaving California on Monday.


She has served 27 years in prison for the May 1981 murder of Sgt. Richard Helbush, a 13-year veteran of the Lake County Sheriff's Office, and the murder days earlier of Stockton restaurateur Joe Torre.


California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson Terry Thornton told Lake County News on Tuesday that Deasy was transferred from the California Institution for Women in Chino to federal authority on March 25. Thornton would offer no further details on the case.


Sheriff Rod Mitchell called Deasy's release “outrageous.”


“I just would never have believed that this would happen,” said Mitchell.


District Attorney Jon Hopkins, who has attended Deasy's parole hearings to speak against her release, was equally astonished by the news.


Both Hopkins and Mitchell said they were essentially cut off by state and federal officials who considered the transfer, and that their inquiries and concerns about sending Deasy back to Sweden were ignored.


Deasy was released back to Sweden under the auspices of the US Department of Justice's International Transfer Unit, which did not respond to Lake County News' request Tuesday for comment on the transfer.


When Lake County News contacted the agency in recent weeks to ask questions about its consideration of Deasy's transfer, a spokesperson said they do not discuss specific cases. Federal law grants the prisoners privacy rights.


Swedish prison officials flew Deasy to Sweden on a private chartered jet that cost the Swedish government $62,000, according to The Local, a Swedish publication.


When contacted by Lake County News on Tuesday, the Swedish Foreign Ministry Office in Stockholm said they could not offer comment on Deasy's case. An official said that the Swedish Ministry of Justice is expected to comment on the case at some point.


Martin Valfridsson, press secretary to Swedish Minister for Justice Beatrice Ask, told Lake County News early Wednesday morning that Deasy had landed in Sweden earlier in the morning aboard the chartered jet.


Valfridsson said she is being held at the Hinseberg prison, the most highly secured Swedish prison for women.


1981 murders led to prison sentence


Deasy and her boyfriend, William “Bob” Cox, met Stockton restaurateur Joe Torre to sell him some meat in late spring of 1981. Cox and Torre reportedly got into an argument during which it's alleged that Cox shot Torre. It's also been alleged that Deasy may have set up the meeting as a potential robbery. Both she and Cox had growing drug habits, according to the biography on her Web site, www.annikadeasy.org.


Following the shooting, Deasy and Cox traveled to Lake County, where Deasy's son and his father lived, because she said she wanted to see the child.


During their trip through Lake County, their car tire went flat later that night.


Shortly after midnight on May 2, 1981, 34-year-old Sgt. Richard Helbush came upon the two on Manning Flat on Highway 29. He was traveling back from Clearlake to Lakeport, where he was going off duty for the night, according to Don Anderson, a former Lake County Sheriff's deputy who today is a local defense attorney.

 

 

 

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Annika Ostberg Deasy as a younger woman. Photo courtesy of www.annikadeasy.org.
 

 

 


When Helbush stopped to help the couple, Cox shot him three times in the back and once in the back of the head. He and Deasy then took Helbush's wallet, service revolver and patrol car, and left Helbush's body on the side of the road, where he was later discovered by fellow deputies, Anderson said.


Later that morning, Anderson, a reserve deputy and an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer would apprehend Cox and Deasy following a car chase and a gun fight on Cobb, during which Cox was wounded several times and Anderson was hit in the leg by bullet fragments.


Cox and Deasy reportedly had a suicide pact, said Anderson. Following the preliminary hearing, Cox – who had done time in Turkish prison on drug charges – hung himself using bed sheets in the Lake County Jail, then located behind the courthouse on N. Forbes, where the District Attorney's Office is located today.


“They made a suicide pact that only he was serious about,” said Anderson.


Deasy would go on to face murder charges herself. “It originally was a death penalty case,” said Anderson.


She pleaded guilty to two charges of first-degree murder for the deaths of Helbush and Torre in a deal with then-District Attorney Steve Hedstrom, said Hopkins. Each charge carried a sentence of 25 years to life.


Process moved quickly


Late in February, Jon Hopkins found out that the California Board of Parole Hearings once again was considering Deasy's request to be returned to Sweden so she could serve out her sentence closer to her family. He sent a letter to the board, voicing his objection to allowing Deasy to return to Sweden.


Hopkin said he had written, called and e-mailed a state Board of Parole Hearings official regarding Deasy's consideration for transfer, and that the man had never returned any of his calls. It's a situation he said he's never encountered as a prosecutor.


His February letter stated that Deasy has been convicted of three separate homicides – Helbush's, Torre's and a 1974 manslaughter conviction for the death of Donald McKay in San Francisco. He alleged that she refused to take responsibility for any of her crimes.


“She has not been found suitable for parole at any of the several Lifer Hearings held over the years,” he wrote. “She has not been found suitable for the International Prison Transfer program, in spite of regular requests to be sent back to Sweden to serve out her sentence.”


Hopkins added, “It is clear that she would be released from custody soon after arriving in Sweden, should she be transferred.”


Deasy has been refused parole four times and transfers to Sweden three times previously, according to Gordon Hinkle, deputy press secretary for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.


Her most recent denial for parole of transfer had come last September, Hinkle said. He said that hearing was separate from the consideration under the International Prisoner Transfer Program.


Under California Government Code, the governor or his designee – in this case, the executive officer of the Board of Parole Hearings – can give approval to a prisoner transfer to a country which has a treaty with the United States that provides for prisoner transfers.

 

 

 

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For many years Swedish officials have been trying to get Annika Deasy transferred to Sweden to serve out her sentences. Photo courtesy of www.annikadeasy.org.

 

 


Hinkle said the criteria for considering a transfer request includes background, history, public safety, and what's in the best interest of the person with respect to rehabilitation and integration.


He said that, while state approval for a prisoner transfer is necessary before the US Department of Justice's review can begin, the process is a federal one.


Late last month Hinkle had confirmed to Lake County News that Deasy was approved for federal review of her request to be transferred to a Swedish prison.


At that point, she had not been approved for transfer, Hinkle said, noting, “She still has to go through several steps.”


But that process, which had just been approved, appeared to already have been well under way, as Deasy was released to federal custody on March 25, within days of Hinkle's comments to Lake County News.


Swedish officials received the agreement from US authorities for Deasy's transfer on March 26, said Valfridsson.


The effort to get Deasy returned to Sweden has been ongoing for a long time, however it had appeared to gain more momentum in recent years.


Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt met with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in California in May 2007 and discussed Deasy's case.


“He stressed from the Swedish point of view the importance of having a Swedish citizen transported to Sweden,” Valfridsson said.


The following month, Ask took up the matter with then-US Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. Ask said in a Wednesday statement that those efforts finally had borne fruit.


Valfridsson said Sweden's prison authorities must ultimately make the decision about where Deasy goes next.


Mitchell and Hopkins both are furious over state and local officials' failure to keep them apprised of the situation.


Hopkins said he couldn't believe the state would make a decision about someone convicted of killing a law enforcement officer without having the courtesy to have a conversation of any kind with the prosecution or the agency that lost its sergeant in the line of duty. “It's really got me hot.”


He also was concerned that the basic merits and facts of the case weren't considered. “I think we need a change in how things are done.”


Mitchell said state and federal officials have not been responsive to local concerns. “On so many levels it's horrifying.”


Helbush's family has chosen not to comment publicly on the matter. However, family members have in the past made appearances at Deasy's parole hearings to speak against her release.


Deasy seen as a martyr


“Annika is a person with a history of drug abuse from a young age who lived irresponsibly as a young adult. As such, it would suggest justice was well served; however, nothing is ever as simple on it's surface as it would appear,” says a passage found at her Web site, www.annikadeasy.org.


Deasy moved to the United States from Sweden with her mother when she was 11 years old. The biography on her Web site said she and her mother moved to the US when her mother married a wealthy American businessman, who became a “cold, distant and emotionally abusive stepfather.”


Speaking little English, she soon began having problems, including being picked on by classmates. At the age of 12 she was sent to a youth detention center, and the following year, in the spring of 1967, she ran away to San Francisco with a musician in his 20s. There she later met Greene Johnston, the father of her only child, Sven, and got into drugs and began working as a stripper and prostitute to support herself and her son while still a teenager.


She later married a man named Brian Deasy and moved with him to Stockton, getting off drugs and becoming a housewife. But within a few years her marriage broke up, she returned to drug use and met Cox, a drug dealer with a long criminal record.


Anderson, who has thoroughly studied Deasy's case and even corresponded with her for a time, said in 1974 she admitted killing McKay. There were allegations that another man – an ex-boyfriend – had actually done the killing, but Deasy, who was being investigated for welfare fraud at the time, was convicted, given a suspended sentence and did five years' probation.


In Sweden, where Deasy's case is well known, prison terms aren't as long, and Deasy reportedly wouldn't have faced the murder charges.

 

 

 

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Don Anderson, a former Lake County Sheriff's deputy, apprehended Annika Deasy and her boyfriend, William Cox, following a gunfight on the morning of May 2, 1981. Anderson, now a defense attorney, shows the files he's collected on Deasy. He's writing a book about his experiences on the case. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.
 

 

 


Many Swedes also believe Deasy's case illustrates an overly harsh US justice system. Her Web site, noting that she had served longer than even her attorneys had expected, says, “unfortunately she has become a pawn in the misguided agenda of California politics.”


In her home country she's become a celebrity. Hopkins' Feb. 20 letter to the state Board of Parole Hearings noted, “The Swedish media has created a cult following which believes Ms. Deasy is a victim of American justice who has done nothing wrong.”


Anderson said he became friendly with a Swedish filmmaker who invited him to Sweden for a week's stay in 1999 and encouraged Anderson to write a book about his experiences, which he's now finishing.


He called Deasy's popularity in Sweden – where she's had plays, books and countless articles written about her – “remarkable,” adding that she's seen as a martyr.


Her elderly mother, Maj-Britt – who Anderson called “a very nice lady” – has been a very vocal advocate for having Deasy released home to Sweden.


During his visit to Sweden Anderson was surprised to find out how he was viewed by the Swedish public.


“I was portrayed as a ruthless and brutal cop who beat up Annika at the scene,” he said. “I had no clue what they were talking about.”


Following the shootout, Anderson said Deasy went to Cox's side and started feeling around on the ground for his gun.


Anderson said when he got to a point where he could see neither Cox or Deasy had the gun in their hands, he went up, put the barrel of his handgun in Cox's eye sock, used his other hand to grab the back of Deasy's head and shove it in the dirt and stepped on Cox's other hand, holding the two down while the other officers came to help arrest them.


Anderson said he found out later he had pulled a large handful of Deasy's hair out. After he handcuffed her, he had to fight to get Deasy into the patrol car.


He said he didn't brutalize Deasy – who he called “a pretty good-sized woman” – “but I wasn't gentle with her at all.”


Anderson said that, from studying Deasy's defense case in the Helbush prosecution, “She knew exactly what was going to happen,” when Cox sent her to look for his driver's license – which he didn't have – in the car while he spoke with Helbush. She was helping distract Helbush, who Cox then shot.


He said he believes Deasy does take responsibility for what happened, but her position is that she didn't shoot Cox. “She feels she's being punished as if she was the one who pulled the trigger.”


But not everyone is convinced that it was Cox who pulled the trigger. Mitchell, who said he is baffled by Deasy's folk hero status, said he's not entirely convinced that Deasy herself didn't shoot Helbush.


A case of troubling timing


Anderson said Tuesday he also was surprised at how the case was resolved without local input.


He still has strong feelings about the night of Helbush's shooting.


Just before Helbush left to make his fateful drive to Lakeport, the two men had coffee at the firehouse in Clearlake.


“He was a good guy, he really was. He was a friend,” Anderson said of Helbush, remembering him as a very conscientious man who was always smiling.


But Anderson added, “I can see both sides of it. I really can.”


Anderson said one part of him feels Deasy has spent enough time in prison, while the other part of him holds that she took part in killing his friend.


The timing of Deasy's release also is particularly troubling, in light of the recent shooting deaths of four police officers in Oakland and three in Pittsburgh, said Anderson. “Now they're going to let a cop killer go. It's kind of disheartening.”


Both Hopkins and Mitchell agreed.


“My thoughts exactly,” said Hopkins.


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

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MIDDLETOWN – A local school has received state recognition for excellence in education.


For the fourth time, Middletown Middle School has been named a California Distinguished School. The annual award recognizes some of the state's most exemplary public schools.


On April 1 State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell called Middletown Middle School's principal, Daniel Morgan, to notify him of the award and to offer his congratulations.


The school, which has 270 students, previously won the award in 2001, 1994 and 1992, according to records of the award. It also has received a National Blue Ribbon nomination, according to the Middletown Unified School District Web site.


Middletown Middle School is among 261 middle and high schools named California Distinguished Schools this year, O'Connell said.


The selected middle and high schools represent about 10.9 percent of California's nearly 2,400 middle and high schools, according to O'Connell's office. Of those schools, only 341 schools met the eligibility criteria based on their student achievement and were chosen from 170 school districts in 46 counties.


An awards ceremony honoring the Distinguished Schools will be held Friday, May 29, at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.


“California Distinguished Schools must meet the challenge of providing all their students with a rigorous education and to fully prepare today's students for success in postsecondary education or the workforce,” O'Connell said in a statement. “In an increasingly competitive global economy, it is important that the academic success of all of today's students is directly linked to the effectiveness, competitiveness, and resiliency of our not-too-distant future workforce.”


O'Connell said the schools honored with the award “have shown they are able to increase the achievement of all their students and have provided evidence that they are closing the achievement gaps that, unfortunately, exist at many schools.”


He added, “The Distinguished Schools program always identified schools that are leaders in academic achievement. It now also recognizes schools that are leaders in helping all students succeed, and highlights the best practices that are effective in closing the gap.”


Other local schools that have received the honor since the awards were first given out in 1986 include Cobb Mountain Elementary (2006), Middletown High School (2003 and 1992), Riviera Elementary School (1997), Lucerne Elementary School (1997), Kelseyville High School (1996) and Gard Street Elementary School (1986).


This year, the selection process required schools to provide an in-depth description of two “signature” practices implemented at the schools that are replicable, and directly related to the success of their students, the Department of Education reported.


During an intensive site visitation by a trained team of external educators, additional evidence about the effectiveness of the signature practices was gathered and analyzed.


Information about these successful signature practices will be shared through the California Department of Education Web site, www.cde.ca.gov, and other venues including an upcoming Web tool for educators called the Brokers of Expertise to become operational later this year.

SACRAMENTO – The California Highway Patrol (CHP) has begun its transitional, nine-month “Comprehensive Approach to Reducing Speed” (CARS) project on roadways throughout the state.


Funding for this project is provided by a $3.5 million grant from the state Office of Traffic Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.


CARS focuses on reducing the number of fatal and injury collisions on both state highways and county roads, thereby reducing the number of victims killed and injured in such collisions.


Another focus for the program is reducing the number of fatal and injury motorcycle-involved collisions within CHP jurisdiction and the number of victims killed and injured in such collisions.


Using project-funded overtime, the eight CHP field Divisions will deploy officers on state highways and county roads to enforce traffic violations that most commonly cause collisions.


Officers also will be watching for traffic violations that most commonly cause collisions involving motorcycles. These violations will include speeding, right of way, following too close, improper turning, and driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.


The CHP urges motorists to prevent fatal and injury collisions by reducing their speed, being watchful for motorcyclists, reducing distractions and buckling their safety belts.

LOWER LAKE – An illegal campfire is believed to have been the cause of a late night fire that scorched several acres at Anderson Marsh State Historic Park on Monday night.


The fire was reported just before 11:30 p.m. Monday, according to Lake County Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Charlie Diner.


He said the fire was located on the park grounds off of Lakeview Way near the white bridge.


A total of about 30 firefighters from Lake County Fire Protection and Cal Fire responded, said Diener, along with three engines and a water tender from the district and two Cal Fire engines.


The fire was located in tules, said Diener. It burned about seven acres but didn't come near any buildings.


“It was a pretty difficult fire,” said Diener. “It took us a good couple of hours.”


The reason for the difficulty was that they couldn't get engines very close, so they had to do an extensive hose lay to fight the blaze.


The engines and firefighters returned to quarters just after 3 a.m., Diener said.


Diener said an illegal camp fire is believed to be the cause.


Officials found some teenagers in the area who they spoke to about the fire, said Diener. While they don't believe those teens were responsible, they were cited by a state park ranger for another illegal campfire and littering in the park.


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

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Richard Williams, in an undated photo. Courtesy of the Contractors State Licensing Board.
 

 

 


LAKE COUNTY – Local and state officials are looking for a man who has allegedly been running an illegal paving operation for years that has resulted in numerous people being ripped off.


The Contractors State Licensing Board has listed Richard John Williams, 64, of Lakeport among its most wanted.


The Lake County District Attorney's Office also has issued a $750,000 warrant for Williams' arrest, the licensing board reported.


Williams has a long history of unlicensed, illegal contracting and substandard work, officials reported.


He had been living in a motel and operating in the Lake County area for at least the first few months of this year under the business name of “Seal Coat Contractor,” according to the Contractors State Licensing Board.


He's also operated under the business names of “Asphalt Sealing Crack Filling and Patching” and “Richard Williams Seal Coat Contractor.”


Williams has been arrested numerous times, including a 2005 multi-victim case in Mendocino County. He has operated his paving scam in a number of Northern California communities and is known to have worked in Sonoma, Sacramento, Mendocino, Yolo, and Colusa counties.


Among the violations listed against him are grand theft, elder abuse, contracting without a license and illegal advertising, according to the licensing board.


Williams was arrested by the District Attorney's Office on March 19 on misdemeanor charges of advertising as a contractor without a license and contracting without a license, with bail set at $1,000 for each of the charges, according to jail records.


He appeared in Lake County Superior Court on March 23 for sentencing on a prior felony construction-related case and then was released on bail, the licensing board reported.


However, since additional charges were filed following the March 19 arrest, Williams was rescheduled to appear in Lake County Superior Court on April 27. It is believed that he has left the Lake County area.


Williams is described as 6 feet 1 inches tall and 250 pounds, with gray hair, a fair complexion and blue-green eyes. He wears glasses and has tattoos on his forearms.


He is associated with a white 2008 Chevrolet Silverado with an Arizona license plate, ABN8561, and may be pulling or parked near a trailer with a tank with the California license plate, 4KB5826.


The Contractors State License Board said that anyone who sees Williams shouldn't attempt to apprehend him themselves, but should immediately call local law enforcement and then the licensing board itself at 916-255-2924.

 

 

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Williams, pictured in a March 19, 2009, Lake County Jail booking photo.
 

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