Saturday, 20 July 2024


THE GEYSERS – A 3.1-magnitude earthquake and several smaller aftershocks rocked The Geysers area late Thursday and into Friday.

The 3.1 quake occurred at 11:46 p.m. Thursday, according to US Geological Survey records.

It was centered three miles east of The Geysers, three miles south southwest of Cobb and four miles west northwest of Anderson Springs at a depth of 2.5 miles, the US Geological Survey reported.

It was followed by 14 smaller earthquakes, ranging between magnitude 1.0 and 2.0, over the next 24 hours, according to the report.

Shake reports came in on the quake from Clearlake, Middletown, Kelseyville, as well as Healdsburg and Geyserville. The US Geological Survey also reported receiving a report from as far away as Salinas.

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LAKE COUNTY – October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and shelters around the state got good news on Tuesday – much-needed funding was restored temporarily with the signing of a new piece of legislation.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed SBX3 13 by state Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-San Jose) to restore $16.3 million of state funding to support California domestic violence shelters.

Gloria Flaherty, executive director of Lake Family Resource Center, which is in the process of opening its new Freedom House shelter in downtown Kelseyville, greeted the news with relief. She said it will mean victims can once again get comprehensive services and the center's remaining staff will get some help.

The bipartisan legislation provides a one-time loan from the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Fund to fund domestic violence shelters statewide for the 2009-10 fiscal year, according to the Governor's Office.

Officials said the loan will be repaid with interest at the rate earned by the Pooled Money Investment Account by June 30, 2013.

“I want to congratulate the many groups that put victims first and came together to find this creative solution that will keep domestic violence shelters throughout the state open,” Schwarzenegger said.

He called the bill “good news for every Californian whose life is devastated by violence in the home,” and noted that it will help ensure domestic violence victims have a safe place to go.

Schwarzenegger had cut domestic violence shelter funding in July by using his line-item veto. Opponents called the move illegal, while Schwarzenegger countered it was needed to balance the budget.

Flaherty noted that, since the funding was cut in July, six shelters in the state have closed and dozens more, including Lake County's, have cut staff and services. Lake Family Resource Center laid off four staff members.

The bill had passed the Legislature with bipartisan support during the special session.

First District Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata) said it was a relief that the bill had moved forward, noting that shelters in rural communities have been on the verge of closing their doors.

“The services the shelters provide – counseling, legal, advocacy, medical and housing assistance – are vital to helping victims restore harmony to their lives,” he said.

Flaherty said Lake Family Resource Center expects to get back about 70 percent of its previous budget, which would amount to about $150,000.

She said the solution is a temporary fix, and because of that they won't be able to restore full-time jobs with benefits to those individuals laid off. Instead, they will be forced to offer part-time, temporary positions until they know the funding is stable and continuing.

“We hope Lake County residents will support and participate in our efforts to advocate that the state make domestic violence prevention and intervention a priority by permanently reinstating a state-based grant program again,” said Flaherty.

Domestic violence is a public safety and public health issue, Flaherty said, and the loss of domestic violence shelters would result in critical problems.

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LAKEPORT – The Lake County Planning Commission will hold its final public hearing on the Cristallago housing and resort development's environmental impact report when it meets this Thursday.

The hearing will take place at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 22, in the board chambers at the Lake County Courthouse, 255 N. Forbes St., Lakeport.

Cristallago, which has a Tuscan theme, is to be located on 860 acres along Hill Road in the north Lakeport area.

The plan, which is being proposed by developers Matt Boeger's and Mark Mitchell's Cristallago Development Corp., includes 650 single family homes, 325 resort units, an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course, a trail system, clubhouse, spa, conference center and nature preserve.

The commission held off on certifying the project's environmental impact report (EIR) at its Sept. 10 meeting, as Lake County News has reported.

However, the five-member commission is expected to make a decision on the document Thursday, at which time they'll also consider amending the general plan to allow for the project as well as rezoning some of the land and approving a general plan of development.

Community members will be able to offer comments during the meeting.

Cristallago's final EIR and comment letters can be found online at the County's Web site, .

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ST. HELENA – St. Helena Hospital recently received the largest charitable contribution in its history.

St. Helena resident Mabel Johnson and her late husband Wayne have made an $8 million gift to the St. Helena Hospital Foundation. The Johnsons’ gift came through an irrevocable trust to benefit the hospital.

“My late husband Wayne and I cherish this community, which has been home for more than 80 years,” said Mabel Johnson, a volunteer at the hospital since 1996. “There are not many organizations that can benefit everyone, but St. Helena Hospital is one that can. Providing this gift was an ideal choice for us because the hospital is so central to the lives of so many residents.”

“Having an excellent hospital is a huge advantage not only for our local community but for the whole region as well,” Mabel Johnson said. “Without the best technology, you cannot attract the best doctors, and you can’t have a great hospital without great doctors.”

The Johnsons’ commitment to the community is to help maintain the most advanced technology at St. Helena Hospital through the future purchase of new medical equipment and information technology, said Elaine John, president and chief executive officer of the St. Helena Hospital Foundation.

“Mabel and Wayne’s extraordinary gift will help ensure that patients and families continue to experience the high quality health care rarely seen in a community of our size,” John said. “We owe them a great deal for their vision, planning and articulate giving.”

In recognition of their generosity, the hospital is naming its newest building the Johnson Pavilion. The 24,000-square-foot structure, which will be completed this fall, will house the Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center and the Pavilion Surgery Center.

“We are overwhelmed and forever grateful,” said Terry Newmyer, president and chief executive officer of St. Helena Hospital. “The Johnsons’ exceptional generosity will benefit our community for many years to come. Their spirit of community involvement is a model for us all.”

Mabel and Wayne Johnson were married in 1942, soon after graduating from St. Helena High School. Both retired from long careers with the local PG&E office. Wayne died in 2001.

Mabel Johnson has logged more than 3,500 hours at St. Helena Hospital. She currently manages the hospital’s Volunteer Project Center.

St. Helena Hospital serves Napa, Lake, Solano, Sonoma and Mendocino counties with cardiovascular, orthopedic, emergency, surgical and behavioral health care.

The hospital was established in 1878 and today is widely recognized as one of the best heart and vascular centers in the North Bay. St. Helena Hospital is opening a 24,000-square-foot cancer center and surgery pavilion in fall 2009, funded by $26 million in community contributions. Last year, the hospital performed over 90,000 outpatient procedures and cared for 5,500 inpatients.

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LAKE COUNTY – A man with an extensive criminal history has been arrested for an alleged home invasion and shooting of a Lakeport man that occurred early Tuesday morning.

Thomas Loyd Dudney, 59, of Fulton was arrested at midnight and booked into the Lake County Jail on an attempted murder charge. His bail is set at $100,000.

Dudney is charged for the Tuesday morning attack on 49-year-old Ronald Greiner, who was found hogtied, shot and beaten outside of his S. Main Street home, as Lake County News has reported.

Greiner told authorities that some time during the previous night at least two people broke into his home to assault him and steal his marijuana, according to Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

Bauman said Greiner was so badly hurt that he was barely able to talk, but he nonetheless managed to provide a possible identity to at least one of his assailants before being transported from the scene.

Lakeport Fire Protection District subsequently transported Greiner from his home to Sutter Lakeside Hospital, and from there he was flown out of county by REACH air ambulance. On Wednesday Bauman said Greiner was listed as being in critical but stable condition.

With what little information they were able to get from Greiner, the Lake County Sheriff’s Major Crimes Unit began coordinating a multi-agency effort to identify and locate his assailants, Bauman said.

While Lake County District Attorney’s Investigators responded to the Lakeport scene to assist with several search warrants, Bauman said sheriff’s detectives began coordinating with Santa Rosa Police and the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department to confirm that Dudney was the suspect Greiner described.

Bauman said Sonoma County law enforcement knew Dudney well, although before the current case he'd had no contact with local law enforcement.

Lake County detectives responded to the Santa Rosa area and joined Santa Rosa Police and Sonoma County Sheriff’s detectives in conducting surveillance on both Dudney’s home in Fulton, and the home of 46-year-old Deborah James of Windsor, Bauman said.

Bauman said the crime scene at Greiner's Lakeport home was processed and the two Sonoma County homes were watched throughout the day Tuesday as authorities waited for Dudney to surface.

Around mid-afternoon, authorities observed Dudney leave his home and subsequent to a high-risk traffic stop of his vehicle, he was taken into custody without incident, Bauman said.

Throughout the day and into the night Tuesday search warrants were executed at Greiner's residence, as well as Dudney’s and James’ homes, Bauman said.

Bauman said a determination about James’ exact involvement, if any, in the incident is pending further investigation. James is an acquaintance of Dudney's and a person of interest in the case, but she was not arrested.

Detectives had cleared all three residences by Tuesday night and Dudney was transported to the Lake County Jail and booked for attempted murder, Bauman said.

He added that the investigation into the incident is continuing, with investigators exploring the possible motive for the alleged home invasion and attempted murder, as well as the possibility that there are other suspects.

Dudney, whose occupation on his booking sheet is listed as “disabled,” has previous convictions going back 35 years, beginning with a conviction for assault with a deadly weapon, according to court records.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation provided Lake County News with a list of records show that Dudney has been sentenced to state prison seven times since 1974 from Tulare, Fresno and Sacramento counties.

Previous convictions include receiving stolen property, drug sales and possession, carrying a concealed weapon in a vehicle, possession of ammunition by a convicted felon, disregard for public safety and possession or manufacturing a weapon.

Corrections records show that Dudney was released on parole in July of 2008 and his parole ended this past April, after which he appears to have moved to Sonoma County.

Dudney is tentatively scheduled for arraignment on Friday.

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FORT BRAGG – A Fort Bragg man was found dead Monday after he is believed to have fallen from a bluff into the ocean while fishing.

The body of 51-year-old Dennis Wade Regusci was found by a friend floating in the ocean near the 40000 block of S. Caspar Drive on Monday, according to a report from Lt. Rusty Noe of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office.

Noe said Mendocino County Sheriff's deputies were called to the scene at about 8 a.m. Monday, where they met a friend of Regusci's who had found him at the bottom of a bluff and in the water, unresponsive.

Deputies called Mendocino Fire and Rescue to recover Regusci's body, Noe reported.

The investigation revealed that Regusci had left his home at 4:30 p.m. Sunday to go fishing, according to Noe.

Regusci didn't return home, and the next morning family called the Fort Bragg Police to report him missing, Noe said.

The family friend was contacted and knew where the victim liked to fish, Noe said. The man subsequently went to that location and found Regusci.

Noe said the investigation revealed that Regusci had slipped and fallen into the water. The exact cause of death is pending the results of an autopsy.

LAKEPORT – On Thursday a Sonoma County man made his first court appearance in an alleged home invasion robbery and assault case.

Thomas Loyd Dudney, 59, was arraigned in Lake County Superior Court for charges in connection with the Tuesday attack on Lakeport resident Ronald Greiner, 49.

Deputies and Lakeport Police found Greiner shot, beaten and hogtied outside of his Lakeport home Tuesday morning. Despite his injuries, Greiner was able to identify a suspect alleged to be Dudney, as Lake County News has reported.

Dudney, the only suspect arrested in the case so far, is facing a battery of charges, according to District Attorney Jon Hopkins.

The charges against Dudney include premeditated attempted murder, aggravated mayhem, torture, home invasion robbery in concert with another, first degree burglary with a person at home, assault with a firearm, assault with a blunt force object, assault likely to cause great bodily injury and serious battery, Hopkins said.

He said there also are special allegations of use of a firearm, which could add 25 years to life if he's convicted, and great bodily injury.

Premeditated attempted murder, aggravated mayhem and torture all carry life sentences on conviction, Hopkins said.

Defense attorney Doug Rhoades has been assigned to defend Dudney. He said he's read the accounts in the local media of the incident for which Dudney has been arrested, but emphasized that the media isn't where cases are to be tried.

“Until such time as Mr. Dudney is adjudicated by a court of law as guilty, he remains innocent of all charges, regardless of the accusations that are pending against him,” Rhoades said.

So far, Hopkins hasn't made allegations about Dudney's extensive prior criminal record for the purpose of alleging previous strikes. Dudney was released from state prison last year after serving nine years on a drug charge, according to California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Records.

Investigators are still working on identifying another suspect in the case, and reports continue to come in, Hopkins said.

Dudney initially was held on $100,000 bail. However, Hopkins said on Thursday he asked the judge to put a no-bail hold on Dudney until a hearing is held due to the seriousness of the threat and his previous record.

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 .

This is the second installment in a two-part investigation into the challenges currently faced by organizers of the Miss Lake County Pageant.

LAKE COUNTY – After four and a half decades, the Miss Lake County Pageant is facing more than its fair share of challenges as it seeks to rebuild in the wake of turmoil in its leadership and concerns over its finances.

Contestants have struggled to get their scholarship money following the departure of Trish Combs, who was the pageant's executive director for three years.

After Combs moved to Washington state last year, the Miss California Organization granted a franchise agreement to Tino and Kathy Gamber, who Combs had recruited to lead the organization.

But concerns about the pageant's finances, and Combs' unwillingness to turn over any accounting, caused the Gambers to step away, as Lake County News has reported.

The state pageant then asked Sandra Orchid and Carla Butler to take over the local pageant's leadership, which they did last December.

But with no financial records or legacy funds from past years, Orchid and Butler have been faced with trying to put together a pageant with, essentially, no funds, which has caused them to have to reschedule the pageant to January.

Insight into how the pageant runs

Cheryl Herrick, who ran the Miss Lake County Pageant for 20 years before recruiting Combs to succeed her in 2005, explained that the pageant signs a franchise agreement with the state pageant, which is renewed annually.

She said when she ran the pageant – backed by a nine-member committee – there was no queen's closet, that they had a few dresses and a handful of swimsuits to help contestants.

The last year she ran the pageant, 2005, they gave out $18,000 in scholarships, an “unusually large” amount compared to the $5,000 to $6,000 given out in average years, based on the number of girls in the event, which usually averaged around eight or nine. One year they had 17 contestants.

Herrick said scholarship money was raised through various sources, including annual fireworks sales, which she said usually netted about $8,000 at most.

With a City Council vote in June, those fireworks sales now are gone, although a ballot initiative is set to go to city voters this November. That initiative will allow the city's voters to restore the sales, as Lake County News has reported.

Herrick said the local pageant organization was never audited by the Miss California Organization. However, she was required to make a yearly report on scholarships.

The local pageant also has to follow certain guidelines for handling the program and scholarships in order to be considered a preliminary pageant for Miss America, she said.

Herrick said she ran the program year-round, with a short break during the holidays. After she retired in 2005, Herrick said she no longer stayed involved in the local pageant, although she's judged a few other pageants since then.

Red flags arise

Karen Wilson, the director of the Miss Lake County Outstanding Teen competition and the local pageant's committee secretary, said she and Combs were “glued at the hip” when Combs was the pageant's executive director.

“It was the best year and a half of my life, I can tell you,” Wilson said, recalling Combs as being a dynamic and positive person.

Wilson said Combs put a lot of money into the pageant. “Everything she did was first class.”

But, at some point, Wilson added, “Something appears to have gone terribly wrong, whether it's personal or financial.”

It began with small things. For instance, Wilson was puzzled when Combs told her not to contact pageant contestants with instructions on how to claim their scholarships.

She said executive directors sometimes will send out letters telling contestants what they've won. In 2008, Wilson wanted to do just that, but Combs told her not to, saying it would teach the girls responsibility to figure it out for themselves.

“Little did I know that the girls sometimes just don't ask for it,” Wilson said of their scholarship money.

The issue of who had the organization's check book arose shortly before Combs left the area.

For Wilson, who had worked in a bank for 16 years, not being able to find financials was a “danger sign.”

“It got to the point I was afraid to ask,” she said, adding that she knew something was wrong.

Shortly before Combs left, she put out more of her own money, writing Wilson a personal check to cover a hotel room in Fresno for a pageant-related trip.

Wilson said she hasn't attempted to speak with Combs about the situation since she left.

She said the Gambers did everything possible to get the money and the financials straightened out, but they couldn't succeed.

The entire situation has come down to jumping through hoops “to the point of ridiculousness,” said Wilson.

While Wilson still characterizes the situation as “a mess,” she said the current committee is working well together, and both Orchid and Butler have paid a lot of money out of their own pockets in order to push forward.

Wilson said she's also briefly talked to a sheriff's deputy about the case.

Combs said she was working with Arnhym to get things sorted out. “I just need to get this cleared up. I'm worried about the girls. I'm worried about the program.”

However, pageant officials disputed that claim. They also disagree with Combs' assertion that her daughter Saundra, a former Miss Lake County, started the queen's closet in 2006 to help other contestants. Combs told Lake County News that the dresses and clothes belonged to her daughter.

Combs said she has been to Lake County several times and went to the sheriff's office to discuss the investigation, which she said has “cost me a lot of money.”

“So much energy is being put into making me look bad,” she said.

Regarding the organization's funds, Combs said she has an out-of-area accountant, who she did not name, who handles the money. Information about the pageant's current financial situation were not provided by Combs, and an attempt to contact the accountant, whose name was provided by another source, was unsuccessful.

Combs had indicated over the summer that she intended to organize an August pageant that didn't materialize.

She said the former Miss Lake County Web site,, still belongs to her, and she can be contacted through it by contestants who want to collect their scholarship money. She also can be e-mailed at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Combs also said the name “Miss Lake County Scholarship Organization” belongs to her.

“I will do whatever it takes to continue the program,” she said.

Building a new organization

Bob Arnhym, president and chief executive officer of the Miss California Organization, said he's been trying to counsel the various sides, and keep an overview of what's happening.

“We have absolutely no relationship to them financially,” he emphasized.

Arnhym said it's up to the pageant's participants to apply for their scholarships. “They must pursue it,” he said.

He said he's spoken to investigators and to Combs' attorney, and has urged to her to put together financial documentation, including an income and expense statement. “On a number of occasions she has promised to do this.”

Because he hasn't been contacted by creditors or contestants, Arnhym said, “I can't say that she has outstanding bills that she hadn't paid.”

He said that the Gambers have asked for an accounting of the money, and Combs said she would acknowledge that.

Ultimately, Arnhym said he needed to leave the issues up to the local committee.

“It's frustrating for me,” he said. “I'm sure it's frustrating for others in the community.”

Arnhym said he doesn't want “to let anything like this slide.” He said that, while he doesn't have a legal obligation to the local pageant, he feels that he has a moral obligation.

With no money and no financial records from the past leadership, no August pageant was held. The local committee initially planned to reschedule for November, but late last month, the local committee made the decision to push the pageant back further, to January 2010.

Orchid said she hasn't had any time to even think about organizing a pageant so far, because she's been so busy trying to track down the amounts that are owed to the past contestants. And there's other money, besides that set aside for scholarships, that hasn't been accounted for yet, said said, because no records are available.

On a brighter note, Orchid and Butler have received the all clear to move forward for another year from Arnhym, who last month issued them a new franchise agreement.

Combs did not respond to further questions from Lake County News this week regarding outstanding payments to contestants, the pageant's leadership or finances.

It's now a rebuilding process. Getting the local pageant off the ground will require about $5,000, Orchid explained.

“This pageant is really important because it is a small county,” she said.

For those interested in donating time or money to assist the new organization, visit its new Web site, or contact Sandra Orchid at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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 .


LAKEPORT – The Lake County Sheriff's Office is investigating what appears to be a home invasion and attempted robbery that resulted in a man being shot several times at a Lakeport residence on Tuesday morning.

Sheriff's deputies and the Lakeport Police Department were dispatched to a residence on S. Main Street south of Kmart shortly after 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning on the report of a man yelling for help, according to Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

Bauman said when the first two patrol units arrived at the scene, they found a man bound and hog-tied on the ground outside of the home.

The victim, who identity has not been released thus far, appeared to have been beaten and shot multiple times, Bauman said.

He said the evidence found at the scene indicates the assault may have been the result of an apparent home invasion and attempted robbery.

Rescue personnel from the Lakeport Fire Protection District transported the man to Sutter Lakeside Hospital where he was immediately transferred to a REACH air ambulance and flown out of county, said Bauman.

The assault victim’s condition was not known late Tuesday, Bauman said.

Bauman said sheriff's officials are continuing to investigate the incident, took place just outside of the city limits.

KELSEYVILLE – The Kelseyville County Waterworks District and several other agencies in the North Coast region are among the recipients in the latest round of stimulus funding.

On Thursday Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that a total of $717 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and state funding has been awarded or approved for loan for 160 water projects throughout California to date – for the purpose of stimulating the California economy, saving and creating jobs and protecting public health and the environment.

Projects awarded funding or loans range from Del Norte County in the north to San Diego County and from the Pacific shore to the Nevada state line.

The Kelseyville district, managed by Lake County Special Districts, will receive approximately $3,775,108, the Governor's Office reported.

In Mendocino County, the Covelo Community Services District received $1.3 million for wastewater treatment plant improvements and $149,450 went to the Mendocino County Department of Transportation for a feasibility study on a low water crossing.

Napa County received more than $3.7 million, including $2.25 million for a water treatment plant in its Lake Berryessa Resort Improvement District and just over $977,000 for the Napa River's Rutherford reach restoration.

More than $3.9 million went to Sonoma County for well replacement and safe drinking water projects.

Other neighboring counties receiving funds include Colusa, which received $519,780 for reducing sediment and pesticides in runoff from the county's almond orchards, and Yolo County, where the city of Woodland will get $14.8 million for a water meter project.

Special Districts Administrator Mark Dellinger said the funds Lake County received will be used for improvements to hydraulic capacity at the Kelseyville wastewater treatment plant. Dellinger said the plant's treatment process also is being changed to an aerated lagoon system.

He said slightly more than half of the funds the county is receiving from the State Water Board has ARRA as their source.

The State Water Board manages $567.1 million of the total funding – of which $256 million is from the Recovery Act and $310 million from the Board’s ongoing Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF).

The State Water Board assists local communities in preventing and cleaning up water pollution. Its financial assistance concentrates on wastewater projects, treatment plants for water quality improvement projects, stormwater treatment and “green” projects such as wastewater recycling and low impact development.

Under the stimulus program, the State Water Board is handling $270.5 million in addition to more than $300 million normally loaned by the CWSRF each year. The Water Board approved the first Recovery Act project the same day that it received money from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Water Board worked with local governments and others in advance of receiving Recovery Act to ensure their clean water projects were ready to begin work and qualify for Recovery Act money as quickly as possible.

“Rural areas, towns and cities are all critical to protecting water quality and all have been affected by the recession,” said Charles Hoppin, chair of the State Water Board.

He said many small towns have, historically, been unable to benefit from economies of scale and modernize the sewer plants that are critical to assuring water quality. “A portion of our grants and ultra-low interest loans this year is being used to keep water in such towns usable,” Hoppin said.

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) manages $149.9 million of the total funding (all of which comes from the Recovery Act) through the Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF).

The DWSRF provides funding to correct public water system deficiencies prioritized to address public health risks, comply with requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act and address household affordability.

“These shovel-ready water system projects will significantly improve the drinking water infrastructure in California,” said Dr. Mark Horton, director of CDPH. “The projects are located throughout the state and will provide jobs to many local communities in addition to improving drinking water quality. This is another example of how we are maximizing federal stimulus dollars to benefit all Californians.”

The Recovery Act and State funds are targeted to projects in communities that might not normally be able to qualify for CWSRF or DWSRF loans. The funds are being granted or loaned at rates even lower than normally available.

Of the $567.1 million awarded from the CWSRF, $514.2 million is in the form of grants and ultra-low interest zero-and one-percent loans. Of the $150 million awarded from the DWSRF, $120 million is in the form of grants and $30 million in the form of low-interest loans.

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LAKE COUNTY – As the traditional flu season arrives, the usual seasonal illnesses – coupled with concerns about the H1N1 virus – are leading to high absentee rates at local schools, officials reported Tuesday.

Up to 20 percent of students in some Lake County Schools were absent from the classroom last week, according to a joint report Tuesday from the Lake County Public Health Department and the Lake County Office of Education.

Although reasons for absence are not tracked in detail, much of the drop in attendance is attributed to a rise in influenza cases, according to Lake County Health Officer Dr. Karen Tait.

Only hospitalized cases are currently reportable to local public health authorities, but a rise in influenza-like-illness has been evident through informal tracking of outpatient cases and calls from the public, Tait reported.

Testing at the state’s Viral and Rickettsial Disease Laboratory indicates that the Pandemic 2009 H1N1 Influenza A virus continues to be the predominant strain of influenza A that is currently circulating, officials reported.

“It is safe to assume that the increase in flu-like illness is attributable to this new virus,” Tait said.

Tait said that, up until now, Lake County has had only four hospitalized cases resulting from Pandemic 2009 H1N1 Influenza A. Most cases can be treated at home and resolve like other forms of influenza.

However, along with increased numbers of outpatient influenza patients, there has been an increase in hospitalized cases suspected to be infected with the 2009 H1N1 strain and awaiting laboratory confirmation, said she.

Lake County Public Health and Lake County Office of Education have been working closely together on influenza issues since the first appearance of the new H1N1 pandemic strain virus in Spring 2009.

“School districts continue to provide teachers, school staff, and students with information and support in regards to ways to protect against the flu,” said Lake County Superintendent of Schools Dave Geck.

Geck said schools throughout the county have emphasized good hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and cleaning of frequently touched environmental surfaces.

Lake County Office of Education Healthy Start and AmeriCorps programs most recently collaborated with county schools in disseminating H1N1 information at back to school nights and facilitating classroom based “Germ” lessons for students.

“The first concern was educating our students on healthy habits, such as hand hygiene,” said AmeriCorps Director Rob Young. “Promoting healthy habits limits the spread of germs, which reduces the chances of becoming ill with the flu.”

Young believes “the second concern is distancing the healthy students from the sick students.”

Of concern is whether parents are keeping ill children home while they are infectious with influenza.

Although guidelines from the Centers from Disease Control say that children can return to school 24 hours after resolution of fever (without the use of fever-reducing drugs), Lake County Public Health recommends adhering to earlier recommendations that call for seven days at home in addition to being fever-free for a full twenty-four hours. This more conservative approach considers that children may shed virus for longer periods of time than adults.

“The hope is to keep schools open, if possible, recognizing that wholesale dismissal of kids from school creates hardships for families and may result in greater transmission of infection in other settings, such as informal daycare arrangements,” said Tait.

However, the current approach requires the cooperation of all families and staff to keep ill persons away from the classroom.

“It is probably not possible to keep infectious people away 100 percent of the time because they may become contagious a day before their symptoms develop,” said Tait. “Effective control of disease transmission requires a combination of excluding infectious persons and good infection control measures in the classroom.”

Lake County Public Health will continue to work closely with Lake County Office of Education and individual schools as necessary to monitor absenteeism related to influenza illness.

“Although we still hope to avoid school closures, that option will be considered if we believe that ongoing transmission of infection is occurring in the classroom, as opposed to other settings where students congregate,” said Tait.

The new Pandemic 2009 H1N1 vaccine is expected to arrive in significant quantities in November, said Tait.

Currently, small supplies are available through several local clinics and doctors’ offices that treat young children. As larger quantities of vaccine arrive, more widespread vaccination efforts will help to curtail the spread of influenza, she said.

Since the regular seasonal influenza may eventually surface at any point during the flu season, both adults and children are also encouraged to be vaccinated with both seasonal influenza vaccine and, when it becomes available, H1N1 Pandemic influenza vaccine, officials reported.

Information about vaccination opportunities for Pandemic 2009 H1N1 Influenza A vaccine will be provided as soon as it is available.

Information on the virus can be found at .

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This is the first installment in a two-part investigation into the challenges currently faced by organizers of the Miss Lake County Pageant.

LAKE COUNTY – The 45-year-old Miss Lake County Scholarship Organization is in turmoil.

For the first time in decades, there has been no summer pageant, which the new organizers are pushing back to January 2010 due to lack of resources and time constraints.

Many past contestants have only just now received scholarship funds or are still waiting to be paid for their participation with the fall college semester already well under way.

Pageant officials also allege that they can't account for money and the “queen's closet,” which over the last few years has supplied dresses and costumes for pageant contestants, which has resulted in a Lake County Sheriff's Office investigation now being reviewed with the help of the District Attorney's Office.

In addition, there are allegations that locally raised funds might have been co-mingled and used to fund scholarships for contestants in Bay Area pageants.

“This is a sad situation,” said Bob Arnhym, president and chief executive officer of the Miss California Organization, which issues franchise agreements to pageants like Miss Lake County.

Sandra Orchid, one of the new pageant directors, said it feels like they're starting from scratch this year.

They have renamed the organization – now called the Miss Lake County Scholarship Program – and have established a new Web site,, after the former executive director, Trish Combs, refused to turn over the former Web site and maintained that she owns the name “Miss Lake County Scholarship Organization.”

Orchid said the committee believes Combs should have handed over to them several thousand dollars, as is customary when an executive director leaves the position.

“Where did that all go?” Orchid asked.

Struggle over leadership

The problems appear to have started last year, following the 2008 pageant.

Last October, Combs, the program's executive director since 2005, moved with her husband, Dr. William Combs to Washington state.

Before leaving, she had recruited Lakeport business owners Tino and Kathy Gamber to succeed her in running the pageant.

Arnhym said he issued the Gambers a temporary franchise agreement in August, however, they “quickly withdrew” because they weren't happy with the organization's financial reports.

Combs alleged that the Gambers were “torpedoed” by others who she didn't identify.

Tino Gamber's take on the situation is markedly different from Combs'.

“Trish Combs left us with a bag of worms,” he said. “Because of that we decided to step down.”

Over the years the Gambers, who own the Lakeport clothing shop All About Me, have made numerous donations to the organization and the young contestants, including giving contestants everything from gowns to shoes.

They also put on a fashion show in 2008 to help cover the funds that the group would ordinarily have made from July 4 fireworks sales, which were canceled last year due to fire concerns, as Lake County News has reported.

Tino Gamber said they donated $5,000 to the organization as a result of the fashion show.

When Combs was preparing to leave, she sought the couple out to take over the organization's leadership. “She came to us and thought that we would be the right team to take it over,” Tino Gamber said, noting his wife was to act as executive director.

But Gamber said Combs wouldn't turn over the organization's account books to he and his wife, and said there were similar issues on other Bay Area pageants where Combs had been involved.

“Nobody could seem to get the records out of her,” he said.

The Gambers also had repeatedly demanded an accounting of where the $5,000 they donated to the organization went, but Tino Gamber said Combs has never given it to them.

He said he and his wife don't know that the organization ever got that money. Pageant officials reported that Combs' previous committee reported never hearing of the Gambers' donation.

“There's a lot of money that was donated, not just from us but from other people in the community,” Tino Gamber said.

After Combs relinquished the organization's control to the Gambers, they retained it for only a short time because they believed something was wrong.

When the Gambers stepped away, local pageant committee members contacted the state pageant's field director about the fact that there was no one to oversee the contestants.

State officials asked Sandra Orchid and Carla Butler if they were interested in leading the organization, and the Miss California Scholarship Program issued them a new franchise agreement on Dec. 10, 2008.

In interviews with Lake County News held in recent months, Combs claimed she was still the local pageant's executive director.

Combs' last franchise agreement was signed two years ago, and only was good through the end of August 2008, according to pageant documents.

“It's kind of sad for the pageant,” as well as for the community, which is skeptical now about supporting the group, Gamber said.

Although Combs maintains she's still executive director, pageant officials notified her last December, in writing, that a franchise agreement had been signed with the new group, headed by Orchid and Butler. At that time she also was told of the organization's concerns about her meeting the obligations to title holders.

When Combs refused to acknowledge the written notifications about the change in the franchise agreement, local pageant officials told her in person that same month.

With new leadership in place, local pageant officials began to realize there were problems. Sheriff's records show that they made a report alleging missing funds in January, a month after taking over.

Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office confirmed that the agency has investigated “allegations by current members of the organization's management, that as much as $50,000 in funds and property belonging to the organization is missing or unaccounted for and that Ms. Combs may be involved.”

Bauman said the case was sent to the District Attorney's Office for review in June to determine if the case even constitutes a criminal complaint.

“They may file a complaint for embezzlement, determine more follow-up investigation needs to be conducted for a criminal complaint, or determine the case is a civil matter and not a criminal one,” Bauman said.

District Attorney Jon Hopkins confirmed his office has the case.

“It has not been referred to us for prosecution,” he said. “It has been the request of the detective working the case to have one of our attorneys review the case and work with him on further investigation.”

In January, the same month as the local pageant made its reports to the sheriff, a property the Combses owned on Mission Rancheria Road went up for trustee sale as part of a foreclosure action.

Then, in September, a home they owned in Corinthian Bay also went up for a foreclosure trustee sale. According to county records, both properties appeared to have had significantly more owed on them than their original purchase prices several years previously.

The Gambers spoke to the Lake County Sheriff's Office, which has been conducting an investigation into the case. They were told that Trish Combs told investigators that the money is hers, she can do whatever she wants with it and doesn't owe anyone an accounting.

Combs said she's also been devastated by allegations that are being circulated about wrongdoing. “I've shed many tears, things I have heard.”

New committee hits roadblocks

Butler, whose daughter, Taylor-Paige, is this year's Miss Lake County, said the group is struggling financially, and it was a challenge to get funding to take them to this year's state competition, held in June.

Butler said the queen's closet, which was established to help support contestants of all income levels, is gone.

In addition to the $5,000 given to the organization last year by the Gambers, an anonymous donor also gave the group $5,000 last year after it voluntarily didn't sell fireworks due to fire concerns, she said.

She said there should have been $20,000 in the organization's account by now.

When they asked for accounting books, they were told there were none. “All the records are gone,” Butler said. “The bank accounts are gone.”

In addition to the local committee asking for all accounting books, funds and the queen's closet, the state pageant also has repeatedly asked Combs for a financial accounting.

Over the last two months, contestants have started to be paid as parents have sent registered letters and local and state pageant officials have pressed Combs on the payments. An accounting the current directors compiled showed that out of $7,000 in awards, $5,200 has been paid.

Combs also said she took out a newspaper ad to seek past contestants, and extended an Aug. 8 deadline for them to apply for their scholarships.

“These girls did what they were asked to do, period,” said Orchid, explaining that Combs finally was forced to come through with the funds.

A local appearance by Miss California also required months and repeated requests by pageant officials before Combs paid for it.

Then there are the concerns about the possibility that local funds went to support out-of-area pageants.

Combs placed $4,000 in deposit with Scholarship Associates, which is the holding organization for scholarships in connection with the Miss California Scholarship Program. But $1,500 of that funding reportedly was to go to pageants in San Jose, San Mateo and Redwood City with which Combs had been associated.

All of that money is now completely gone, said Orchid, and it appears local money went south to help the Bay Area pageants.

Representatives from those other organizations told Orchid that they had had to pay their own expenses because of also not getting funds they requested, and that they didn't know the source of the funds Combs put into their events.

Miss Redwood City-Miss San Mateo County Scholarship Organization did not respond to requests from Lake County News about working with Combs. The Miss San Jose Pageant wouldn't comment.

Contestants confused about the process

Some of the unfolding situation resembles misunderstandings and miscommunication.

Many of the contestants also were reportedly told by Combs that they had another year to apply for their funds, despite the fact that Combs had set an Aug. 8 deadline.

Jennifer Humble, 18, the first runner up in the 2008 pageant, received $1,200 in late August, which she needs to help pay for her schooling at Dominican University of San Rafael.

However, Orchid said Humble is still owed $1,000 from the previous year. Also owed $400 is Taylor-Paige Butler, this year's Miss Lake County.

Humble told Lake County News in an interview this past summer that the process to get the scholarship money was confusing for both her and her fellow contestants, who, at that point, didn't know what they needed to do to get their money and were “in the dark.”

Katie Murphy, 17, this year's Outstanding Teen, who had tried for months to get her money also was kept waiting for her $1,200 until Aug. 17, according to the group's accounting.

Orchid said when Murphy requested her scholarship from Combs, she was told to fill out a form, but Orchid maintains there isn't a form. Combs, however, said there is, and said she would send it to whoever requested it.

Murphy, whose sister Erin competed four years ago, said her parents had to pay for all of her expenses – from clothing to the hotel stay in Fresno for the state competition – out of pocket this year.

While her sister had the use of the queen's closet, Katie Murphy said this year's contestants didn't.

Murphy said she sent an e-mail to Combs asking her for shoes and shorts from the closet. She received no response, then Combs' son showed up with the wrong pair of shoes and some shorts.

At one point, Murphy – who had no evening gown for the competition – was loaned a dress by a woman at the competition. “People were kind of sympathetic to us,” Murphy said.

Saundra Combs, a former Miss Lake County, was once again in the Miss California Pageant this year, this time representing Culver City. Murphy said she saw Trish Combs at an orientation in relation to her daughter's presence in the competition.

“She came up to me when I was alone and said 'hello,' which I thought was bizarre,” said Murphy.

Murphy said Trish Combs offered to sponsor an ad page in the sponsor booklet, which officials confirmed that she did.

Tomorrow: Background on how the pageant runs, red flags arise and the committee works to rebuild.

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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