Thursday, 25 July 2024


Charitable giving to tax exempt organizations combines your philanthropic intent with tax planning.

The amount of your income tax deduction depends on the following: your contribution base; the value of the gift itself; whether the charity is a public or private charity; whether the gifted property is a capital gain property or an income producing property; and whether you have other charitable deductions.

Let’s examine the rules.

Your “contribution base” is your adjusted gross income, not including any net operating loss carry-backs. Your current year deduction is at a minimum limited to a certain percentage of your current contribution base (discussed below).

Such percentage depends on whether the charity is a “public charity” or a “private charity,” and whether the gift is cash, “capital gain” property or “ordinary income” property (see below). Additional complex limits may apply if other charitable deductions are taken that may further lessen the deduction.

The IRS requires records be kept for gifts over $250. Gifts over $5,000 require appraisals. Determining the value of the gift can be difficult. For example, a gift of any artwork (e.g., painting or sculpture) or collectible (e.g., coins, stamps, etc.) requires a “qualified appraisal performed by an independent, qualified appraiser.”

A qualified appraiser is someone with the relevant expertise and professional credentials under IRS regulations. The appraiser must be someone independent of the donor.

Tax exempt organizations are either “public charities” or “private charities.” They are exempt from income tax on their receipts, except for unrelated business income. Gifts to “public charities,” however, are subject to a 50-percent limitation on deductions on gifts of cash, “ordinary income” property and a 30-percent limitation on “capital gain” property (discussed below); whereas private charities have a 30-percent limitation on gifts of cash capital property or “ordinary income property” and 20-percent for gifts of “capital gain” property.

The deduction for any “ordinary income” property is limited to your original purchase price and not its value at time of giving. The foregoing percentages apply to your contribution base to limit how much of the gift’s value or purchase price, as relevant, you may deduct in the current year of the gift. Any excess is carried forward for five years.

Public charities are those charities that either receive part of their support from the general public or distribute all of their receipts in their charitable operations each year. Examples are churches, schools, hospitals, and private operating foundations that provide direct support to the public (e.g., food banks). Private charities are all other tax exempt organizations. Examples are VFW’s and fraternal societies (see IRS publication 78).

Capital gain property is property you hold for long-term appreciation (i.e., more than one (1) year), and not property that you made yourself or that you purchased as inventory for resale. For example, artwork you purchased and held for more than a year is capital gain property. But, that same artwork in the hands of the creative artist is ordinary income property.

Furthermore, when gifting “tangible personal property” (i.e., artwork not produced by the donor) such gift must be intended to be “related to the purpose or function for which the charity is tax exempt.”

For example, giving your “stamp collection” to a university intending for it be studied by students learning engraving would qualify as a gift related to the university’s tax exempt function. If, however, the collection were donated with the intention that it be sold by the university, then the value of your gift is reduced to how much you paid for the property.

The above is a very simplified glimpse into the complexities of charitable tax deductions. Donors must carefully consider all of their annual charitable deductions together because they will impact how much of each charitable gift may be deducted. Lastly, proper valuation of the gift is crucial as otherwise the deduction may be lost entirely.

Dennis A. Fordham is an attorney licensed to practice law in California and New York. He earned his bachelor's degree at Columbia University, his juris doctor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and his LL.M in taxation at New York University. He concentrates his practice in the areas of estate planning and aspects of elder law. His office is at 55 First St., Lakeport. He can be reached by e-mail at dennis@dennisfordhamlaw , com or by phone at 707-263-3235.

CLEARLAKE OAKS – A young Clearlake Oaks woman sustained severe injuries on Wednesday when she lost control of her vehicle.

The California Highway Patrol reported that Amy Duschka, 21, was injured in the crash, which occurred just after 5 p.m. Wednesday.

CHP Officer Steve Tanguay said Duschka was driving her 2004 Kia Rio southbound on State Route 53, south of State Route 20, at an unknown speed.

Tanguay said Duschka made an unsafe turning movement and lost control of her vehicle. The Kia went off of the roadway, hit an embankment, and overturned.

As a result of the collision, Duschka's left arm was severely injured, Tanguay said. Duschka was transported by REACH to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.

Tanguay said the collision is still under investigation by Officer Rob Hearn.

Drugs and alcohol are not considered to be factors in this collision, Tanguay said.

LAKE COUNTY – The National Weather Service has issued a red flag fire warning for Thursday based on the potential for lightning over interior Northern California, including Lake County.

The agency reported that a red flag warning will be in effect from 1 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday.

In Lake County, the warning specifically relates to elevations from 1,000 to 3,000 feet.

Within a few hours of the warning, about three lightning strikes were reported in the county between 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The concerns arise from an unseasonably strong low pressure system off the coast that are expected to move through Northern California on Thursday, the National Weather Service reported. The threat of thunderstorms is expected to increase as a result.

With the potential for rain comes concerns about lightning strikes, combined with dry fuels and gusty winds, the agency reported.

The National Weather Service reported that thunderstorms and gusty wind will diminish Thursday evening as the low pressure system moves east of the area.

LAKEPORT – On Friday, as a Carmichael man's trial for a fatal 2006 boat crash entered its eighth day, the defense began to present its case, calling an expert who disputed key prosecution findings and the owner of the sailboat whose girlfriend died as a result of the collision.

Defense attorney Victor Haltom called Dr. William Chilcott, a forensics engineer who specializes in small boat accident reconstruction, and sailboat owner Mark Weber of Willows to the stand in the defense of 41-year-old Bismarck Dinius.

Dinius was at the tiller of Weber's sailboat, the Beats Workin' II, on the night of April 29, 2006, when it was hit by a powerboat driven by Russell Perdock, an off-duty sheriff's deputy.

District Attorney Jon Hopkins is prosecuting Dinius for felony boating under the influence causing great bodily injury because Dinius allegedly had a blood alcohol level of 0.12 and the sailboat's navigation lights were alleged not to have been on.

Hopkins argues that those factors led to the proximate cause of fatal injuries for Weber's girlfriend, 51-year-old Lynn Thornton, who died three days after the crash.

Chilcott, who had worked for the District Attorney's Office on a fatal boat collision more than a decade ago, has extensive engineering training and is a sailor and boater himself.

He worked on safety standards for boats, improving life jacket design to protect the heads of race boat drivers. Along the way, he also became associated with Richard Snyder, now a retired engineer from Mercury Marine, who Hopkins had called to testify on Tuesday.

Chilcott has his own company, Marine Testing Co., to look into crash causes. “I tried to retire for the last 11 years,” he said. “The phone keeps ringing.”

The same was true for this case. When Chilcott first became involved, he was called by an insurance company investigator, within days of the crash. Under Haltom's questioning, Chilcott explained that he determined the angle of impact, noting a propeller cut on the sailboats starboard quarter was a “key landmark.”

“At that split second we know where each boat was relative to each other,” he said.

Chilcott also conducted a “needle slap” examination of the Baja powerboat's gauges, using a black light to try to detect phosphorescent paint left by the needles. He found none.

State Department of Justice criminalist John Yount testified last week that he also had done a needle slap examination. He used a low angle white light and also didn't detect needle slap marks.

Snyder had testified on Tuesday that marks on the sailboat's knocked-down mast were propeller strikes from the Baja. But Chilcott disagreed.

“Whatever put that on came from the front going to the back,” he said, while the crash took place with the powerboat coming from the back to the front.

He said the propeller also couldn't speed up and slow down as it would have needed to do to leave strikes in the distance apart show by the marks. The propeller would have needed to go the exact opposite of the axis of the mast to make the depth of cuts, and there was an “astronomical” probability of that happening.

“This looks very much to me like 'recovery rash' due to its variation,” he said. Recovery rash is damage done after a crash, usually when a vessel is being towed.

He said the other materials on the mast was not gel coat from the Baja's underside, but rather resembled plastic or paint.

Chilcott also disagreed with another key prosecution witness, Department of Justice criminalist Toby Baxter, who testified earlier this week regarding his tests on the sailboat's stern light bulb's filaments. Baxter said he believed the sailboat's stern light was off when the crash occurred.

A wave pattern in the stern light filament was typical of “lateral loading while hot,” said Chilcott, noting he was talking about the light being thermally hot rather than electrified.

He said that knowing the difference between alternating and direct current, which Baxter said he didn't know much about, was important.

Chilcott said he believed the sailboat's electricity was cut when the powerboat first hit it, which is why there would be signs of a “cold break,” leading to the conclusion that the lights had not been on at all.

“Bottom line, was this filament recently heated shortly before the breakage?” Haltom asked.

“My opinion is, yes,” said Chilcott.

Chilcott said Baxter's experiments of slamming a two by four board with a lamp fixture attached to try to show stresses and filament breakage “totally lacked scientific validity,” because they didn't use readily available instruments to track the g-load or do the slamming, which a person can't precisely each time.

Boat rules and responsibilities emphasized

Facing the jury, Chilcott then explained boating rules and who has responsibility for watching the 360 degrees around the vessel.

Because the sailboat was hit from behind, Chilcott emphasized, “The rule in overtake is, that the overtaking boat must stay out of the way of the boat being overtaken.” The boat being overtaken can do anything it wants and the overtaking vessel must stay away. Both boats have an obligation to watch portions of the 360-degree area around the vessel.

Haltom asked Chilcott if, in high velocity collisions, there is sometimes jostling of toggle switches. Chilcott said he's dealing with a boat crash case in Tyler, Texas, right now where the switch covers were completely knocked off.

The master of the boat usually is the owner except on larger vessels, Chilcott said. It's the master's duty to direct everything that's done on the boat, with the crew being an extension of the master's capabilities.

Three thing make any sailboat go – wind, sail setting and helm control, said Chilcott. “The master is the only one sailing the boat from a command position.”

Is the blending of shore lights and boat lights and issue? Haltom asked. Chilcott said it is, with a 10-watt all-around light a mile away and a 75-watt shore light from a house able to look the same. Approaching a boat from the rear, it would be easy to see a boat light and think it was on shore. “That's the reason why we have safe speed as one of the rules.”

When asked about Snyder's statement on the stand that he had driven his powerboat 60 miles per hour at night, Chilcott said he wouldn't do it.

Haltom had Chilcott go over inland navigation rules, from lookout to visibility to other responsibilities, including overtaking and crossing, and proceeding with caution to avoid collision.

Rule 18 states, “A boat under power will stay clear of a boat under sail.”

Chilcott said Perdock's powerboat did not stay clear of the sailboat.

During cross-examination, Hopkins also questioned Chilcott about boating rules, and looked closely at the visibility rules under Rule 13.

“There's a difference between being visible and being seen,” Chilcott said.

Hopkins suggested that, in other words, you can't close your eyes. Chilcott replied that if you don't see something, it doesn't lessen your onus or responsibility. Boaters must watch out for unlit objects, like logs and derelict boats, and can't proceed in a manner that endangers life, limb or property.

What if a sailboat wasn't lighted, as it's supposed to be between sunset and sunrise, and it's hit by another boat? Hopkins asked.

“That's a complete hypothetical,” Judge J. Michael Byrne pointed out.

Quoting federal case law, Hopkins referred to a ruling in which a federal court said a sailing vessel that wasn't displaying its lights in one case was “virtually invisible.”

If a vessel isn't displaying its lights, is it not in the sight of another vessel? Chilcott said said it wasn't.

If the sailboat did not have its lights on and was virtually invisible to a powerboat, would the visual rules apply? Hopkins asked.

Haltom objected. Byrne replied, “Then we're going to get into sight issues,” said Byrne. Hopkins said they already were. Byrne sustained, telling Hopkins he had plenty of other issues to question.

Hopkins asked if cabin lights can be a substitute for navigation lights. No, said Chilcott.

He then questioned the lookout rule, and asked if there is a responsibility of overtaking rules applying if a boat isn't lit. Chilcott said the onus is on the overtaking vessel.

Hopkins asked if there are a series of horns and signals used for crossing the path of another vessel. “Now you're mixing maritime ocean rule with inland navigation rules, and the inland navigation rules are what apply here. Those in the ocean don't,” said Chilcott.

Based on a federal court's interpretation, Hopkins questioned Chilcott about if he disagreed that a lookout must “methodically scan” all 360 degrees around a vessel. “I don't disagree or agree with the federal courts. That's not my job,” Chilcott said.

In California law, who is the operator of the boat? asked Hopkins. Chilcott said the master. Hopkins quoted law which said the operator is the person at the helm.

Is an operator who doesn't look out for someone crashing into them, from the back or not, in violation of the rules? Hopkins asked. Not if the crash comes from the rear, said Chilcott.

What if the sailboat doesn't have its required lights? Hopkins continued. Chilcott said that's a different situation and not, in his opinion, what occurred in this case.

Byrne asked where the speed comes into play in overtaking a boat. Chilcott said the boat's operator has to operate so they are able to avoid a hazard.

Hopkins referred to testimony given earlier from Jim Ziebell, who had helped race the Beats Workin' II during the Konocti Cup race and stated he was the helmsman. Chilcott said Ziebell wouldn't have been the master.

“If you were coming up on another vessel and you are to their starboard side and they are going the same direction you are, do you sound a signal to let them know you're coming under inland navigation rules?” asked Hopkins.

In theory, yes, said Chilcott, but it's usually not done in a small boat. Once boats have communicated by horn, they can't say they aren't aware of the other's presence.

During his testimony, Chilcott stated, “I think there was gross failure to apply to the rules and there have been no consequences,” referring to Perdock.

Hopkins said it sounded like he had a position in the case that went beyond that of an expert, to which Haltom objected. Byrne sustained the objection.

“Do you have an opinion as to who should be prosecuted in this case?” Hopkins asked.

“I have an opinion as to who violated the rules,” Chilcott responded.

Hopkins asked if that colored how Chilcott looks at the case. Chilcott replied that the rules are clear.

Chilcott explains evidence, disputes findings

Under Hopkins' questioning, Chilcott explained that he went to inspect the boats after h was first hired by an insurance company. When he asked to see the lights, the sheriff's office told him he couldn't.

“They didn't say why, they didn't describe it as evidence, they just said they had removed them,” he said.

Chilcott said he was concerned about the evidence. “Removal of lights can be a very delicate situation if they don't know how to remove them,” said Chilcott, who has seen other law enforcement agencies destroy lights they remove.

Hopkins questioned Chilcott about a January 2008 report he submitted on the crash, which incorrectly listed 2007 on it, which Chilcott attributed to “geezerhood.” Hopkins asked if a person with a PhD in engineering and physics would be less likely to make that mistake than a police officer. Chilcott said he couldn't answer.

When Hopkins asked if everyone was subject to such a mistake, Chilcott replied, “I don't speak for all of us.” He added, “My wife never misses a date so it's not common for her,” which got laughter. “I can join you on that one,” said Hopkins.

Chilcott said his analysis of the lights didn't include the switches. “Having switches in a given position is meaningless as far as a clinical analysis,” he said, as it's common for switches to be flipped on and off after a crash in order to check them.

In the case of a Tyler, Texas, boat crash he's investigating, the switch covers were knocked off. Law enforcement picked them up, replaced them and tried turning on a switch, which fried the filament, Chilcott said.

He said criminalist Toby Baxter'e experiments on g-load – conducted by slamming a two by four with a lamp attached to test filament reaction – has “nothing reproduceable about it.” He said instruments are readily available that could have been used. “I wouldn't use that fashion of testing for anything,” Chilcott added.

Hopkins also questioned why Chilcott was critical of criminalist John Yount's tests of the powerboat's instrument needles for signs for needle slap. Chilcott didn't find needle slap with a black light, so why should Yount have done the same test?

“I was worried about spoilation of evidence,” said Chilcott, explaining that, when you take face off a dial, “frequently you alter things.”

He added, “It would have been inappropriate for me to have done that.”

Hopkins asked Chilcott about water drop experiments he had done, which involved dropping people out of speeding boats to check their physiological reaction. The test eventually was incorporated into astronaut training.

Chilcott said he's been dropped out of a boat at 84 miles per hour. He's also been out of a hydroplane at 120 miles per hour, “but that was not anticipated nor expected,” which the court reacted to with laughter.

He said he did his PhD thesis on marine safety training and its sources. He said he was astounded at the lack of such training, noting the Boy Scouts did the most, but the Coast Guard wasn't training its own people well.

“It's greatly improving,” he said, recalling a widespread “national ignorance” of safety procedures.

Following the lunch break at 1:30 p.m. the court held a 15-minute hearing on Haltom's request for Perdock's personnel file, based on an in-chambers discussion Thursday in which it was revealed that Perdock was the subject of an internal affairs investigation. For a full account of that hearing and the motions, see Defense attorney seeks sheriff's captain's personnel file.

Cross-examination lasts until late Friday

Once court reconvened for the afternoon at 1:45 p.m., Hopkins continued his cross-examination of Chilcott, which lasted two more hours.

They discussed disconnected wires which Chilcott found and which he believed were for the stern light. Chilcott didn't test the wires to make sure of where they were, insisting that their size and appearance was consistent with his conclusion.

Discussing a picture of the powerboat, Chilcott said its rub rail came into contact with the sailboat's mast. He said the rub rail had a mark where it had come into contact with the mast, and the mast had a crease which approximated the rub rail's shape.

He believed the mast could have snapped off at any time in the crash. “It had to be a significant shock load because it was strong enough to pull the halliard out of the track.”

The halliard is a line used for raising and lowering the sail. Chilcott surmised that the boat went between the mast and sail, pulling out the halliard.

Chilcott maintained the marks on the mast couldn't have come from the powerboat's propeller, which would have had to experience radical changes of speed in 1/50th of a second, which he said “is not physically possible.”

He said Hopkins kept saying the marks happened during the crash, but “I see nothing which tells me they had do.”

Hopkins questioned Chilcott's findings on the filaments. “Under the microscope I could see variations in the coil and a wave which are typical of hot filament response,” Chilcott said.

Looking at a picture of the damaged boat and its smashed fiberglass, Chilcott said that shows how it ended up, “It doesn't tell you all the dynamics of how it got there.”

Returning to photos of the filaments, Hopkins questioned Chilcott again about the spacings and shape in the filament. “It has the same characteristics that we've already explained a half a dozen times,” said Chilcott. He made similar remarks signaling his impatience with the repetitive questioning throughout the afternoon.

Referring to a transcript of Chilcott's testimony from May 22, 2008, during Dinius' preliminary hearing, Hopkins noted that, at that time, Chilcott hadn't noted that the coil's stretching could be partially due to the manufacturing process, which he stated Friday. Nor did he mention that in his January 2008 report.

Showing Chilcott another filament photo, Hopkins asked why there weren't melted blobs on the ends of the tungsten filaments. Chilcott said that doesn't happen in direct current although Baxter looked for it. What led Chilcott to believe Baxter expected to find it? “He said so,” said Chilcott.

Haltom interjected. “This is getting repetitive, and asked and answered,” he said.

“I would like to get this witness done today,” said Byrne.

Hopkins continued with his questioning, asking Chilcott if he agreed the filament breaks were due to cold shock, which mean they were not electrified at the time of the crash. Chilcott said yes, but cautioned that a cold break is a vague definition. Such lights, when they're turned off, don't get cold instantly, he said.

Hopkins asked if the tungsten alloy cools in a millisecond. “You're misstating it totally,” said Chilcott, explaining that cooling begins within a millisecond after the electricity is cut.

Weber: The lights were on

With just 15 minutes left before court was due to stop for the day at 4 p.m., Chilcott was excused and Mark Weber – who had waited in the court hallway all day while waiting to be called – made his way to the stand.

Weber said he and Dinius had known each other for close to 10 years, and always saw each other at the annual Konocti Cup.

During the cup race on April 29, 2006, Weber raced the Beats Workin' II, with Jim Ziebell and Bill Pickering as part of his team. Dinius was on another boat.

After the race, they went to Richmond Park Bar & Grill where he met up with Thornton, his significant other. They saw Dinius there later that evening.

There was wine tasting, dinner and socializing, with the crowd working its way down to the docks. Weber said the beer cans found on the sailboat were a result of people drinking nearby and throwing their empties into the boat.

Later that evening, Weber and Thornton were joined by Dinius, Ed Dominguez and Zina Dotti for a cruise across Konocti Bay. Thornton had met Dominguez and Dotti earlier that way while playing golf.

Sitting at the tiller, a person can't see the toggle switch panel, said Weber.

But he had no doubt the lights were on when the sailboat left for its cruise.

“I remember distinctively saying, 'We've got lights, let's go',” Weber said.

After they were under way, Weber said he turned on the cabin lights after he put up the sail. He was sitting near Dinius at the back of the boat with Thornton sitting slightly forward of Dinius.

Weber said he manned the sails as they went on a straight port tack three quarters of a mile before coming back on a starboard reach.

He said he couldn't remember how long it was before the crash took place.

“I remember Lynn asking me to go down and fix the radio,” he said, explaining it had a lot of static.

So he went down into the cabin. When he emerged a short time later, the crash had taken place, and people were on board, doing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Thornton.

“Would there have been any reason for someone to turn off the lights?” Haltom asked.

“Absolutely not,” Weber replied.

Later when he was on shore, Weber said he saw Perdock. “I yelled at him,” Weber recalled, because someone had told him Perdock was stating their lights weren't on. He shouted an expletive at Perdock and said, “Our lights were on.”

Nearby, paramedics had Thornton on a picnic table and were working on her. Weber said he didn't remember where Dinius was.

After only 10 minutes of questioning Haltom said he had nothing further.

Byrne asked Hopkins if he wanted to get started in cross-examination. “Let's call it a day,” Hopkins said.

After the jury had left, Haltom said he wanted to call Dominguez and Dotti Tuesday morning after Weber.

“Hopefully the cross(-examination) of Chilcott is not indicative of things to come” when it comes to length of time to deal with witnesses, Haltom said.

Hopkins said he believed they could finish questioning Weber, Dominguez and Dotti on Tuesday morning.

Haltom said he plans to call Perdock and Byrne suggested scheduling Perdock to appear at 11 a.m.

Testimony resumes at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Witnesses so far, in order

Day one (following opening statements): James Ziebell, sailor, helped skipper Beats Workin' II in Konocti Cup; Doug Jones, past commodore of local sailing club; Anthony Esposti*, fisherman; Colin Johnson*, fisherman.

Day two: Lake County Sheriff's Det. Jerry Pfann; Andrea Estep*, phlebotomist, St. Helena Hospital-Clearlake (formerly Redbud Community Hospital); former sheriff's Sgt. James Beland; LaDonna Hartman, phlebotomist, Sutter Lakeside Hospital; retired sheriff's Sgt. Mark Hoffman; California Department of Justice criminalist Gregory Priebe, Santa Rosa lab; California Department of Justice criminalist Gary Davis, Sacramento toxicology lab.

Day three: Jennifer Patterson, witnessed crash from Holdener property on lakeshore; Gina Seago, witnessed crash from Holdener property on lakeshore; Jordin Walker, passenger on Russell Perdock's powerboat; James Walker*, high school friend of Perdock's and passenger on his powerboat; sheriff's Deputy Mike Morshed*; sheriff's communications operator Kimberly Erickson; sheriff's Boat Patrol Deputy Lloyd Wells*.

Day four: Craig Woodworth, the District Attorney's Office's acting chief investigator; John Yount, criminalist with the California Department of Justice's Santa Rosa lab; sheriff's Det. Jerry Pfann; Boat Patrol Supervisor Sgt. Dennis Ostini; Lt. Charles Slabaugh of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office.

Day five: Richard Snyder, retired Mercury Marine engineer; Lt. Charles Slabaugh of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office.

Day six: Lt. Charles Slabaugh of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office; California Department of Justice criminalist Toby Baxter; retired Sgt. Wes Frey, Lake County Sheriff's Office; Jeff Holdener, who responded to the crash scene via boat; Stephanie Green, friend of Weber and Thornton, who saw them leave in the sailboat a few hours before the crash; Craig Scovel, friend of Perdock's who assisted in taking his boat and trailer to the sheriff's Boat Patrol building.*

Day seven: Craig Woodworth, the District Attorney's Office's acting chief investigator. The prosecution rested.

Day eight (Defense begins presenting case): Dr. William Chilcott, forensics engineer; Mark Weber, owner of the Beats Workin' II and Lynn Thornton's longtime boyfriend.

* = Indicates a witness subject to recall at the request of the defense.

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

View Konocti Bay and Dinius crash in a larger mapView Larger Map




LAKEPORT – Less than an hour after testimony in a fatal sailboat crash began on Thursday morning, the prosecution rested its case without calling the driver of a powerboat involved in the collision three years ago.

Shortly before 10 a.m., District Attorney Jon Hopkins announced to the court, “The people rest,” in the case against 41-year-old Carmichael resident Bismarck Dinius, on trial for felony boating under the influence causing great bodily injury.

Hopkins had just finished entering evidence and questioning one of his investigators, Craig Woodworth, about tests on the electrical lighting of the Beats Workin' II, the sailboat hit from behind by a powerboat driven by Russell Perdock, an off-duty chief deputy with the Lake County Sheriff's Office, just after 9 p.m. April 29, 2006.

Dinius was at the tiller of the Beats Workin' II, owned by Mark Weber of Willows, which Hopkins alleges was under way without running lights. The prosecution also alleges Dinius had a blood alcohol level of 0.12 at the time of the crash.

Weber's girlfriend, 51-year-old Lynn Thornton, sustained injuries in the crash that took her life on May 2, 2006.

Perdock was scheduled to come to the stand on Thursday as a prosecution witness, according to statements Hopkins made at the end of court on Wednesday.

Defense attorney Victor Haltom has argued Perdock, not Dinius, was responsible for the crash.

Haltom alleges Perdock was driving too fast on a very dark night – witnesses have estimated Perdock was driving anywhere between 35 and 50 miles per hour – and therefore violated safe boating rules by driving faster than was safe for conditions.

But Hopkins surprised the court by resting and not calling Perdock.

He offered no reason in court for the decision, and declined to explain the decision later out of court.

“It's not something I would want to comment on,” Hopkins said in a brief interview with Lake County News on Thursday afternoon.

The decision not to call Perdock caught Haltom unprepared. Haltom said he had expected Perdock to be on the stand for much of Thursday before Haltom would begin calling his own witnesses, who were told to be ready for testimony on Friday.

After court, both Dinius and Haltom said they were caught off guard by the turn of events.

“I was stunned. Everyone in that courtroom was stunned” – with the exception of Hopkins, Haltom said.

Haltom said he plans to call Perdock to the stand.

Despite the change in plans, Dinius was feeling optimistic at the end of the prosecution's case.

“I'm feeling good,” he said. “I'm feeling very confident.”

District attorney investigator describes testing lighting

Hopkins had started the day by calling Woodworth, a former police officer and certified mechanic who is now an investigator with the District Attorney's Office.

He recalled that other investigators had handled the crash case initially. In April of 2008 he was brought back from a computer crimes task force to fill in as acting chief investigator while another investigator was on medical leave.

Woodworth assigned Investigator John Flynn to assist the deputy district attorney who was prosecuting the case. Around the end of May or the first of June of this year, Woodworth became involved in the investigation.

On the stand Woodworth explained that he had experience investigating traffic collisions as a police officer, although he hadn't previously done a boat crash. He also was a mechanic for several years before getting into law enforcement, and as a hobby builds drag race engines.

He inspected the boats this summer, researched the powerboat's motor and got in touch with Richard Snyder, an engineer who retired from Mercury Marine and who testified in the trial on Tuesday.

Woodworth also examined a GPS device that had been on the sailboat.

“How did you discover there was a GPS?” Hopkins asked.

“You told me,” replied Woodworth.

Haltom moved to strike the comment as hearsay but Byrne allowed it to stand.

Woodworth said he contacted Det. Jerry Pfann of the Lake County Sheriff's Office to see if there was a GPS unit, then he went online to download an owner's manual and discovered the device had a feature that would track movements.

The next step was getting a search warrant to collect the data. The GPS in question was an older unit which has been discontinued, and Woodworth said he couldn't do a “data dump” but had to turn it on and photograph its readings.

Before he could get the device operating, he had to remove its dead, corroded batteries, clean it up and put in new batteries. He was able to get GPS coordinates, which he plotted on a map to show a route the boat had followed.

However, the device's dating function wasn't accurate, he said. The last point it logged a location at was Richmond Park Bar & Grill. Testimony has been provided during the trial that the Beats Workin' II left from the restaurant to take its nighttime cruise across Konocti Bay, where the crash occurred.

On June 8 Woodworth went to view the sailboat and powerboat, taking photos of them and looking at the sailboat's cabin lights to determine if they were operational.

Haltom asked to question Woodworth's qualifications. Woodworth explained his various licenses and automotive repair courses. Then Haltom asked if he knows the difference between direct current and alternating current. Woodworth said he had training in direct current but none in alternating current.

Based on those responses, Haltom objected to Woodworth's testimony, saying the difference between the two currents is “a fairly fundamental basic electrical principal.”

“Actually, it's not,” said Hopkins.

Byrne allowed the questioning but said he would sustain the objection if it became more in-depth.

When Hopkins resumed his direct questioning, he asked Woodworth about testing the various lights to see if power was going to them. One of the lights in a bow storage area of the cabin had a “sticky switch,” which Woodworth said isn't uncommon. He said he believed it was on although the switch didn't appear to be working properly.

During a brief cross-examination, Haltom asked Woodworth if he was friends with Perdock. He said no. What was Flynn's relationship with Perdock? Haltom asked. Woodworth said they were both members of the Masonic Lodge in Clearlake.

Haltom showed Woodworth a picture of the Masonic Lodge's members. Woodworth said he had never seen the picture before, but he recognized Flynn in it.

Regarding the GPS readings, Woodworth stated in court that he got the readings off the device on July 8.

“Had anybody in this case attempted to get those GPS coordinates, say, back in the summer of 2006, would they have been able to get accurate information out of the GPS device?” Haltom asked.

“It's possible,” said Woodworth.

Did no one at the District Attorney's Office or the Lake County Sheriff's Office attempt to get the information? Haltom asked. Woodworth said he was not aware of such attempts by either agency.

Woodworth sat in with Flynn on an interview with Perdock held this past April 27 at the District Attorney's Office. When Haltom asked if it was in June that the District Attorney's Office first endeavored to look at the cabin lights, Woodworth said yes.

On redirect, Hopkins asked if the cabin lights appeared to be in the same condition as they would when the sailboat was first stored. Haltom objected on the basis of lack of foundation, and Byrne sustained.

Were any of the lights taken apart? Hopkins asked. No, Woodworth said, getting another objection from Haltom, which Byrne also sustained.

Did the lights appear to be in a whole state? Hopkins asked. Woodworth said all of them did except for one he had found on the floor, where it appeared to have been knocked down by the collision.

If the GPS was turned on, it wouldn't record? Hopkins asked. No, said Woodworth.

Evidence, stipulation and a surprise

After Woodworth left the stand shortly before 10 a.m., Byrne suggested that it might be time to take a break before the next witness took the stand, because the witness was going to take a long time, he said, referring to Perdock.

Hopkins said first he wanted to introduce evidence, which both he and Haltom did.

Hopkins then entered a final exhibit, people's 80, that included Thornton's six-page autopsy report accompanied by a stipulation he and Haltom agreed on, that stated that Thornton was driven by Kelseyville Fire ambulance to Sutter Lakeside Hospital on the night of April 29, 2006.

“The parties stipulate that Lynn Thornton died as a result of injuries she suffered in the boating accident in this case, which occurred shortly after 9 p.m. April 29, 2006,” Hopkins said, reading from the document.

Thornton suffered head and neck injuries in the crash that were the cause of her death, which occurred on May 2, 2006, the stipulation stated.

The judge told the jury that, although he often reminds them that what the attorneys say isn't necessarily fact, “This is the one exception where both sides have agreed to a fact.”

After that, Hopkins stated, “The people rest.”

He then said, “It would probably be a good time to take a recess.”

After Byrne let the jury go for a break, Haltom said he had anticipated Perdock being on the stand all day, and he wasn't prepared to call any of his other witnesses.

“I could call Perdock,” he said.

Hopkins said that the trial is still on a good schedule even if they lost the afternoon.

Haltom asked if Perdock was available Thursday. Hopkins said he didn't know.

The prosecution and defense had an agreement to notice law enforcement and make them available to testify, said Haltom.

Byrne said that everyone had expected Perdock to be called, and he suggested that Hopkins find a way to make him available.

Defense moves for acquittal

The court took a morning recess, after which Judge J. Michael Byrne heard Haltom's motion for acquittal on the felony boating under the influence count.

Haltom argued that the court had failed to offer any evidence that Dinius was the person responsible for turning on the boat's lights.

“If he had no duty to turn on those lights there can be no proximate cause due to some failure to turn on the lights,” said Haltom. “That's No. 1.”

No. 2, said Haltom, was that eyewitnesses – including prosecution witnesses – have stated the lights were on.

Hopkins had presented witnesses who stated that they didn't see what Perdock's boat hit until after he hit it. But Haltom presented information about a 1902 ruling involving an 1899 collision in Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, between the steamship Richmond and the three-masted schooner, the George Clark.

The steamer was charged with failing to keep out of the schooner's way, “slacken her speed, stop or reverse, or to take any other precautions necessary and prescribed to avoid a collision, and that the collision was caused entirely and exclusively by the fault and negligence of the steamer's navigators,” according to the original opinion.

At the same time, the schooner was charged with having unskilled navigators and the failure “to have and maintain lawful lights, properly set and burning,” as well as proceeding at too rapid a speed and improperly changing her course.

Of four steamship officers interviewed in that case, only two testified to not seeing the light.

In that case the justices ruled, “The failure to observe a light cannot be said to disprove its existence.”

He also quoted another case, Clary Towing co. v. Port Arthur, which had witnesses testifying to seeing the lights burning on a boat when it left the dock shortly before a collision. The presumption in that case was that the lights continued burning until the collision.

“That presumption applies in this case,” said Haltom.

Hopkins argued that Dinius was under the influence and was the boat's operator, and that his failure to have the boat's light's on was the proximate cause of Thornton's injury.

The defense said the lights were seen on at dusk, but by the time of the crash it was pitch black, said Hopkins.

He said it's not like the “old time cases” Haltom quoted. In those situations, “It comes down to a matter of credibility on whether the lights were on or off on the boat and that's one of the factors that they were taking into consideration.”

While Hopkins hadn't read those cases, he said he'd be willing to bet there was more going on than the court simply concluding that the lights were on before the crash.

“The test here is whether we failed to present sufficient evidence to sustain a conviction on appeal,” Hopkins said.

He said he's presented six witnesses so far that saw the motorboat's lights clearly but didn't see what it hit. The fact that people saw lights on the sailboat 40 minutes earlier doesn't mean the lights were still on at the time of the collision.

He said the light panel is right there to see, “and those switches are off.”

“The matter has to be resolved,” said Byrne, and he believed that, ultimately, the case was for the jury to decide.

Byrne said he was concerned about the duty of turning on the lights. On Wednesday, Lt. Charles Slabaugh of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office, who conducted the crash investigation and teaches classes on inland navigation rules, said turning on the lights was a responsibility shared by those on the vessel.

“There is evidence that Mr. Dinius was at the tiller by his own statements,” said Byrne.

Byrne ended by denying Haltom's motion.

Defense wants to call Perdock

Haltom indicated that he wants Perdock brought to court. “I'd like to take him as a hostile witness.”

Hopkins replied, “I don't think he's available today.”

Haltom said he wanted the jury told that they were expecting Perdock. Byrne said he wouldn't blame the district attorney before the jury, and in dismissing the jury told them simply there had been scheduling issues.

The judge asked if Perdock could be made available to testify on Tuesday. “I'll have to check,” said Hopkins. Byrne said he should be there.

Then, at Hopkins' request, Byrne, Haltom and Hopkins went into chambers for an on-record but confidential discussion on a case issue. Dinius himself remained in the courtroom, excluded at the judge's order.

When the attorneys emerged just over a half-hour later they offered no information on what has taken place behind closed doors. Court adjourned for the day just after 11:15 a.m.

Testimony is expected to resume at 9 a.m. Friday, when the defense begins to present its case.

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

LAKEPORT – A jury on Tuesday heard testimony from an engineer and a lead investigator who discussed speed and the conditions of two boats following a fatal April 2006 boat crash.

District Attorney Jon Hopkins called the two witnesses as he continued to build his case against Bismarck Dinius, 41, of Carmichael.

Dinius is charged with felony boating under the influence with great bodily injury. The prosecution alleges that Dinius, while steering a sailboat owned by Willows Mark Weber, was under way without navigation lights and also was alleged to have had a blood alcohol of 0.12 on the night of April 29, 2006.

The sailboat was hit by a powerboat driven by an off-duty sheriff's chief deputy, Russell Perdock, who was not charged in the case. Weber's girlfriend, Lynn Thornton, 51, died in the crash.

The day's testimony began close to 9:15 a.m.. Shortly before that, Judge J. Michael Byrne scolded both Hopkins and defense attorney Victor Haltom about not being ready to go at 9 a.m. He said he had suggested both be in court by 8:45 a.m. in order to be ready to go.

However, Haltom said Hopkins had just handed him new discovery, specifically, a CD of photos that Haltom said he needed to be able to see them before testimony began. Hopkins also appeared to be running behind at the start of the day as he prepared to begin calling witnesses.

At the start of court Tuesday, Hopkins changed witness order. Although on Friday Lt. Charles Slabaugh of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office had been on the stand land and was expected to continue testimony, Hopkins wanted to bring on another expert due to scheduling issues, which the court approved.

Hopkins' first witness of the day was Richard Snyder, a retired engineer with Mercury Marine, the company that built the engine on Perdock's 24-foot Baja Outlaw powerboat.

Snyder, who worked with Mercury Marine from February of 1959 until his 2001 retirement, has remained a consultant with the company. While actively working for Mercury Marine, he was an expert in propellers, gear cases and products testing, and was director of product safety. He also was on a small team that designed the company's first stern drive in 1961.

In his career Snyder has amassed 11 patents, testified in 41 trials and given 107 depositions, he told the court Tuesday.

On Monday, Snyder went to the sheriff's Boat Patrol facility at Braito's Marina on Buckingham to look at the sailboat and powerboat involved in the crash. He was accompanied by several people including Hopkins, Slabaugh, Boat Patrol Supervisor Sgt. Dennis Ostini and District Attorney's Investigator Craig Woodworth as he looked over the boats.

Snyder said he's been working on boating safety for many years. He worked closely with Mercury Marine's legal department in responding to civil lawsuits. He's also worked with national boating organizations on safety and regulations.

“I am always trying to find ways to reduce accidents and reduce injuries,” he said.

He also was involved with conducting a series of impact tests in 1999 to look at the resulting damage in crashes at 20, 25 and 30 miles per hour. Most of the crashes involved one boat going over another.

At 20 miles per hour, a boat would hit and drag its gear case over the other boat. At 25 miles per hour, the gear case might clear and not leave any marks. “Thirty was just way more of the same,” Snyder said, noting the “bullet” boat – the one hitting – would pass completely over the target boat.

They didn't look at collisions at speeds above 30 miles per hour, Snyder said. “They start all looking the same after that.”

Snyder said that the Baja's stern drive is powered by an inboard engine originally made by Chevrolet.

During the tests they found that the stern drive's gimbal ring shattered and the gear case fell off if there was a 45 mile per hour or more differential between the speed of the two boats involved, Snyder said.

If there had been more than a 45 mile per hour differential when Perdock's power boat hit the sailboat, Snyder estimated the stern drive should have broken off.

By hitting near the starboard stern of the sailboat and going diagonally over, the Baja had a longer way to travel, Snyder explained.

At the time of impact the Baja appeared to be on a slight left turn, Snyder said. During impact, the Baja's propeller left a number of marks on the sailboat's mast.

Hopkins asked if the stern drive broke during the collision. Snyder said there didn't appear to be breakage.

At Hopkins' request, Snyder then calculated the powerboat's speed at 3,000 revolutions per minute, arriving at roughly 35 miles per hour, Snyder said.

Snyder said you can't estimate boat speed based on the propeller marks on the mast without knows the engine's RPMs. He could only look at the circumstances and make an educated guess unless the boat had an engine black box, one of Snyder's patents, that would keep a running memory of the RPMs.

Doing another set of calculations, Snyder estimated that the Baja could have been going 25 miles per hour when its propeller marked up the sailboat's mast, which already had been knocked over by the impact with the powerboat.

Snyder estimated that the impact could have slowed the Baja 10 to 15 miles per hour, putting it in the 40 to 50 mile per hour range at impact.

Could the boat have been going 35? Hopkins asked. Snyder said he believed that was unlikely given that the powerboat sailed over and didn't rip off the sailboat's stanchions – which are upright posts which hold lifelines.

Hopkins had Snyder explain a series of pictures put on an overhead projector, including several of the Baja and the sailboat, both with damage. The Baja had a black smear from the sailboat's stern light's plastic housing extending down its bow side. The sailboat had significant damage along its starboard rear.

Snyder said the Baja wasn't going perfectly straight, and that something caused the boat to rotate slightly, possibly Perdock pulling the wheel down, instinctively or not, as the powerboat started to go over the sailboat.

Another picture showed ropes wound tightly around the Baja's prop. “This would have been dead in the water at this point,” said Snyder.

If the Baja was traveling between 20 and 25 miles per hour, what would Snyder have expected to see? Hopkins asked.

Snyder said the sailboat's stanchions would have been taken off. “It would have been significantly different from the way it turned out.”

Was the impact enough to cause serious injury to a person sitting at the right rear corner of the boat? Hopkins asked. “Without question,” Snyder said.

During cross-examination, Haltom asked Snyder when he was first contacted by the District Attorney's Office. About a month ago, Snyder said.

Haltom asked if Snyder knew what part of the sailboat was embedded in the Baja's bow. Snyder said he didn't know. Snyder also couldn't say for sure which boat would have sat higher in the water.

Using a projector, Haltom showed a picture of the sailboat's broken mast with seven propeller marks on it. Snyder said the distance between the marks could be affected by whether or not the mast had been rigidly fixed. “There's some dynamic things happening here.”

Haltom noted there was some material between the strike marks. Could it have been the gel coat from the bottom of the Baja? Snyder didn't know.

Snyder emphasized, however, that the mast would have had to have been lying parallel to the path of the Baja for the propeller to make the marks. He didn't appear to think the marks could have been made afterward, by an officer towing the boat.

Haltom asked about the Baja turning. Snyder said it didn't necessarily have to have happened at impact. Would the boat's side have risen up if someone turned, say, in response to a fisherman flashing a light at the operator? Haltom asked. Snyder said it could have risen up.

The longer the boat vaults over another boat, the faster it was going, right? Haltom asked. Yes, said Snyder. Haltom asked if Snyder had heard that the Baja had landed on the other side of the sailboat and bounced. Snyder said that's not uncommon and wouldn't affect his speed analysis.

Haltom asked if the Baja was going between 40 and 50 miles per hour at impact? Snyder replied yes.

At Haltom's request, Snyder then did calculations of RPMs at 50 miles per hour, estimating 4,300 RPMs.

Haltom questioned Snyder about visibility standards he had mentioned earlier relating to the American Boat and Yacht Council. Snyder said that group's H1 visibility standard, which requires a minimum of four boat lengths of visibility in front of the boat's bow to pass a standards of visibility.

“Day or night?” asked Haltom.

“It has to be seeable,” said Snyder, explaining that, during daylight, nothing – the bow or anything else – should block the driver's view.

Snyder said at a 45-mile-per-hour differential between the speed of the two boats, he would expect the gimbal ring to fail. If the sailboat was going 5 miles per hour, that would put the powerboat's speed at a maximum of 50 miles per hour.

He explained that a side impact on the stern drive can cause more damage than a direct hit, although that has not been tested.

However, adding in side load Snyder said, “If it has any effect at all I think it would lower the speed.”

Snyder said if the Baja had been going 55 miles per hour he would have expected gimbal failure.

“That's why my top-end estimate was 50, because it didn't break,” he said.

After court reconvened for the afternoon, Hopkins asked about what it would take for the powerboat to make a sharp left turn and still hit the sailboat. Snyder said it would have had to have come across the back of the sailboat, and making such a turn would have dipped the side of the boat, making a stern light more visible.

Would traveling at 40 to 50 miles per hour create any bow visibility problems with seeing the stern light, asked Hopkins. Snyder said there would be no issues. The Baja has some of the best visibility possible.

Haltom asked Snyder about the impacts of shore lights on nighttime boating.

“That issue is a major issue with nighttime boating and it's been talked about for years and years by the people I work with,” said Snyder, adding it's conceivable that you can confuse a white boat light and a white shore light.

Haltom asked if that confusion would be enhanced if a person who is supposed to wear prescription glasses wasn't wearing them. Hopkins objected; Byrne suggested Haltom ask it different. He asked if not wearing glasses would create visibility problems. Snyder said he couldn't answer that, because he also has glasses nighttime driving but doesn't notice a very large difference.

Snyder said he frequently drives a powerboat at night, sometimes as fast as 60 miles per hour, on Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin, where he lives. Driving that fast, he noted, doesn't bother him. He said he couldn't put a universal maximum speed on nighttime boating.

Under Hopkins' questioning Snyder said shore lights wouldn't be a problem for navigating if the lights were a mile or a half-mile away and another boat was 100 yards away. In those cases, there shouldn't be a problem differentiating between a boat and the shore.

Slabaugh returns to the stand; discusses investigation

Following Snyder, Hopkins recalled Lt. Charles Slabaugh to the stand. Slabaugh was brought in from the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office to assist in the original investigation.

He explained beginning his investigation and assessing the damage to the boat. The sailboat had its railings ripped off, a damaged hatch, a knocked down back bulkhead, debris in the cabin and on the deck, propeller marks and other destruction. When the powerboat went over the sailboat it struck the sailboat's Honda outboard engine, which left marks on the powerboat.

Haltom asked if Slabaugh was at the boat barn on Monday with Snyder. He said yes. Haltom asked if they had any disagreements. They didn't, said Slabaugh.

When Haltom tried asking Slabaugh a series of questions about his time out on Clear Lake on the night of May 2, 2006, and his estimate of the location of the crash, he ran into repeated and successful objections from Hopkins.

Slabaugh went out that day on the lake with Ostini twice – once during the daytime and again at about 9 p.m., close to the time the crash took place days before.

“It got dark relatively quickly,” he said, recounting there was a crescent moon as they came around Fraser Point.

“There was quite a bit of lighting on the shoreline from Fraser Point as it circles around to some of the resorts on the other side,” he said.

Slabaugh, who helped cover BoardStock, said he'd seen many boat travel at high speeds at night on the lake. At a great distance it could take a moment or two to distinguish navigation lights from shore lights.

On the night he was out with Ostini, they saw a bow light about 300 yards away from their boat; the other boat was about 150 yards offshore, he estimated.

Under Hopkins' questioning, Slabaugh confirmed that when he worked on the case he consulted with Wes Dodd, his friend and instructor in boating investigations. Dodd now is working with Dinius' defense team.

Slabaugh asked Dodd to look at his original report and sent it to him, asking for his feedback. They talked afterward on the phone.

Hopkins asked Slabaugh if Dodd read his report. Haltom objected, saying there had been an in limine motion to exclude that information; Hopkins said the two things weren't related. The judge had them approach the bench to discuss it and afterward allowed Hopkins to ask the question.

The prosecutor then handed to Slabaugh a two-page fax from Dodd, sent to Slabaugh on May 11, 2006. Hopkins asked Slabaugh if, based on that fax – the contents of which weren't stated in court – Slabaugh changed his report. No, Slabaugh replied.

In further cross-examination of Slabaugh, Haltom asked him if he had examined the sailboat's cabin lights. He hadn't but at the time of the preliminary hearing last summer he had one of the local investigators look at them. When Haltom asked why that step was taken two years after the crash, Hopkins objected, saying it was irrelevant and Byrne sustained.

Was Slabaugh aware that people had seen the cabin lights? Hopkins objected and Byrne sustained. Haltom approached the bench to offer proof of the value of the questioning.

He was allowed to continue his questioning, and asked if the cabin lights were on at the time of the crash could they been seen from a distance? Hopkins objected, saying it was hypothetical. When Haltom tried to ask the question in another way, Hopkins again objected, saying there were too many hypothetical aspects to his question. At that point, Byrne overruled.

Haltom asked if cabin lights provide illumination; yes, inside a vessel, said Slabaugh. On a dark light is that illumination detectable? He asked. Hopkins objected, saying it was again hypothetical.

Had Slabaugh ever seen a cabin light illuminate a sail? No, he replied. When Haltom asked Slabaugh how much sailboat experience he had, he said very little.

Haltom asked Slabaugh the scope of his investigation. He said he did the reconstruction of the crash scene and investigation. At first he thought he would do the interviews, but as the investigation went on and took more time, and since Slabaugh had his own unit to oversee in Sacramento, he asked the Lake County Sheriff's Office to continue to do the interviews because it turned out “there were a few more than they had originally taken.”

Slabaugh did conduct a few interviews, including a face-to-face interview with Perdock and phone interviews for Hans Peter Elmer and Karen Elmer.

Haltom asked if Slabaugh was brought in due to concerns about the appearance of impropriety due to the sheriff's office investigating one of its own. Slabaugh said yes.

He was asked if he stated, “It was their investigation,” referring to the sheriff's office. Slabaugh said yes. Reading to him from a deposition in the civil case, Haltom quoted Slabaugh as saying he had to trust the local officers.

Slabaugh attempted to pinpoint a location for the crash, but when Haltom questioned him about it Hopkins objected repeatedly, saying it was based on hearsay. Byrne sustained, questioning Slabaugh's expertise in answering the question.

Haltom asked if Slabaugh had training in crash reconstructions. Yes, he said. “Were you trying to determine the location of the accident in this case?” Yes, Slabaugh said.

Slabaugh also acknowledged receiving information about the speed of Perdock's boat, with estimates ranging between 40 and 45 and 50 and 55 miles per hour. He used 40 miles per hour as his baseline.

Perdock told Slabaugh that the crash happened about a minute after he rounded Fraser Point. What was the distance of the crash from Fraser Point? Haltom asked. Hopkins objected, saying it was a speculative question.

Slabaugh spoke to Sheriff Rod Mitchell during the investigation. He said Mitchell thanked him for taking the time to do the work.

When Haltom asked about the light on May 2, 2006, compared to the night of the crash, Hopkins objected. Byrne instructed Haltom to ask the question as a hypothetical, so Haltom asked if there would be more moonlight with a bigger moon. Hopkins objected once again, pointing to there being a different phase of the moon when Slabaugh was out.

Hopkins also objected when Haltom attempted to get Slabaugh to state a safe speed for traveling on the lake the night we was out with Ostini. Slabaugh said that it was very difficult to see.

The day ended with Haltom asking Slabaugh a series of questions about navigation rules, including the rule for responsibility of a vessel.

“Who is the master of the boat?” he asked.

Slabaugh responded that, in maritime law, the master can be an absent owner or person who is on board directing the crew but who doesn't have actual help control. Haltom asked if the owner is usually the master. Yes, Slabaugh replied.

They also briefly discussed lookout and safe speed rules, and assessing risk of collision before court adjourned at about 4:10 p.m.

Once the jury was dismissed, Byrne and the attorneys discussed the objections to Haltom's questions, which Byrne said was an issue of “bringing things in that are beyond the scope.”

Explaining his issues, Hopkins said, “Since when are you entitled to take a witness from the prosecution and make it your own witness during the people's case when it's not within the scope of what that witness has testified to?”

During the discussion, Haltom also wanted to be able to ask the jury if they were willing to take a trip out on the lake at night to get a sense of conditions and to take part in the “jury view.” Hopkins said he didn't want to even pose the question until they determined there was adequate foundation in the case to justify taking the trip.

Testimony continues on Wednesday.

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

LAKEPORT – I know most of you readers have had to deal with home remodeling projects at one time or another. Maybe you have done some work in your bathroom, installed new carpeting, repainted your living room, or even had your kitchen remodeled whether it was just a new countertop or you went all out with new cabinets all new appliances.

If you have ever done any of the above projects, you have dealt with contractors. I know how it works, I was one myself. No matter how you schedule a project, be it small or large, it always takes more time to finish. There is always something else that has to be done before everything is done.

That’s what is happening at the Soper-Reese. We were supposed to have all of our next phase of construction done by the end of June. We almost made that date. Then we looked at finishing in July. Now we are in August and we are still doing outside work. But we do have some wonderful news.

There are new outside doors and steps along Martin Street with ramps to make it easier for exiting by wheelchairs. New ramps inside make it easier to access the stage and emergency exits. We have more lighting capacity for better effects on stage. The back curtain has been fully rigged with a valance for a finished look. The stage is now completed from wall to wall with handrails installed for better safety. These great improvements make your theater experience even better.

We reopened our doors in July to the public with a memorial for Joan Holman, the well respected advocate to the Arts in the county. There was a huge turnout for this well loved actress and tireless supporter of the Clear Lake Performance Arts symphony.

Mid month we had a wonderful turnout for the first annual Lake County Singer Songwriter’s Festival produced by radio station KPFZ. Local talent was showcased for a Sunday afternoon of entirely original music.

And we have new shows coming this month all of them are sure to be entertaining.

The Golden Follies are returning with a brand new show. These very talented ladies will be singing and dancing to Broadway show tunes this weekend along with special stars, the “Ladies of the Lake” dance ensemble. There will be two shows this year for the Follies, Aug. 8, at 7 p.m., and Aug. 9, at 2 p.m.

The Taste of Lakeport will be on Aug. 21 with the entire downtown of Lakeport participating in a wine and food extravaganza. Look for the Soper-Reese and stop by to say hello.

The young people who brought us “The Complete Works of Shakespeare – Abridged,” are coming back with a new show, “The Great Books – Abridged” (all the books you were supposed to read in high school but were afraid of trying). It will be a very physical, crazy, high energy romp through the library shelves on Aug. 30 at 2 p.m.

The Soper-Reese is an all-volunteer venue and as such, we are always looking for new volunteers to help out so duties at the theater never become a burden for anyone. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, please come to our next performance and fill out a volunteer form. You can also call us and we will be happy to talk to you. Call 707-263-0577, the Soper-Reese, your community theater.

Bert Hutt is artistic director of the Soper-Reese Community Theater.

View Konocti Bay and Dinius crash in a larger mapView Larger Map



LAKEPORT – On Wednesday a criminalist told the jury in a fatal sailboat crash case that he believed the sailboat's stern light wasn't on when it was hit by a powerboat in April of 2006.

Criminalist Toby Baxter, a crash investigator, along with friends of the people involved in the April 29, 2006, crash made their way to the witness stand on day six of 41-year-old Bismarck Dinius' trial.

The Carmichael man is being tried for felony boating under the influence causing great bodily injury in connection with the crash. He was at the tiller of a sailboat owned by Willows resident Mark Weber when it was hit at night by a powerboat driven by an off-duty sheriff's deputy, Russell Perdock, who was not charged.

Weber's girlfriend, Lynn Thornton, sustained injures that she died from three days after the crash. The lights on the sailboat allegedly were not on when the crash occurred.

The day started with Lt. Charles Slabaugh of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office back on the stand under cross-examination by defense attorney Victor Haltom.

Slabaugh, who was asked to come in to lead the crash investigation, has so far spent nearly half a day on the stand in the trial, which was in its sixth day on Wednesday.

Under Haltom's questioning, Slabaugh said the crash involving Dinius and Perdock was the sixth he had investigated.

Slabaugh made findings, but the entirety of his report hasn't been revealed in the trial so far.

“Did you make a decision not to share with the jury your findings in this case?” Haltom asked. Slabaugh said no.

During direct questioning by District Attorney Jon Hopkins, Slabaugh was asked if he agreed with conclusions offered by Richard Snyder, a retired engineer who had testified about the crash and the powerboat on Tuesday. Haltom objected and Judge J. Michael Byrne sustained it. When Hopkins attempted to ask the question another way, Haltom lodged another successful objection by challenging the question's relevance.

Both Hopkins and Haltom closely questioned Slabaugh about inland waterway rules. Slabaugh teaches classes on the rules, and also holds a Coast Guard captain's license.

Hopkins asked Slabaugh if he had made a conclusion about the collision's dynamics. Slabaugh said he concluded that the Baja powerboat struck the sailboat's right stern quarter and continued over it.

Would the powerboat's operator have been able to see the sailboat's stern light if it were on? Hopkins asked. Slabaugh said he believed so.

Haltom asked if Slabaugh knew how far cabin light illumination would be visible. Slabaugh said he didn't.

The defense attorney then began questioning Slabaugh about his report's conclusions. Hopkins objected, but Byrne said, “We have to know where they hit.”

Haltom said Slabaugh didn't write in his report that this was a rear-end accident. “You allocated responsibility amongst the people involved in the accident, correct?” he asked.

Slabaugh said yes. Had he told the jury about that allocation? No, said Slabaugh.

The cabin lights, in Slabaugh's opinion, were on, based on eyewitness statements and the position of a switch on the lighting panel. Slabaugh had previously testified that the panel's toggles noted the running lights were off.

“Have you seen high velocity impacts that caused toggle switches to change position?” Haltom asked. Slabaugh said he hadn't.

Slabaugh recounted that Perdock told him he didn't seen any lights on the water that night. Perdock also reported that the crash occurred about a minute after he came around Fraser Point – the northernmost point that denotes the boundary of Konocti Bay – heading south toward Richmond Park Bar & Grill.

Haltom asked if Slabaugh agreed with the assessment Snyder gave on the stand Tuesday that Perdock was traveling between 40 and 50 miles per hour a the time of the collision with the sailboat. Slabaugh said yes.

Slabaugh said he used Perdock's speed and the amount of time he was under way to try to determine the crash location. On May 2, 2006, he and Boat Patrol Supervisor Sgt. Dennis Ostini went out on the lake during daylight hours to try to come to a conclusion about where the crash took place. When Haltom asked the location of where he believed the crash occurred, Hopkins objected, saying it was irrelevant, and Byrne sustained.

Under the rules of navigation, whose responsibility is it to turn on the stern light? Haltom asked. Slabaugh said it can be one of several people – the person operating the boat, crew members, the master or others on board.

Hopkins asked Slabaugh if there were rules in which a sailing vessel needed to stay out of the way of other vessels. Slabaugh said yes. Do cabin lights satisfy a sailing vessel's legal lighting requirements? No, Slabaugh said.

During his investigation, Slabaugh found wires leading from the running light switch which were frayed after having been pulled out of a clip holding them in place. Haltom asked if that was a result of the crash, and Slabaugh said yes.

Haltom asked Slabaugh about rule 19 of the inland navigation rules, which addresses conduct of vessels in restricted visibility. Part of the rule Haltom quoted states, “A power driven vessel shall have her engines ready for immediate maneuver.”

Hopkins asked Slabaugh about example of restricted visibility. Slabaugh said fog, mist, rain and sand storms are examples. Haltom asked if night was a restricted visibility situation. Slabaugh said not in his opinion.

Criminalist details findings about light bulbs

Most of the day's testimony came from California Department of Justice criminalist Toby Baxter, who spent close to three and a half hours detailing his conclusion that the sailboat's stern light was off at the time of the collision, based on a forensic examination of the light bulbs and filaments.

Baxter, with the DOJ since 1985, is stationed in the Eureka office. Head lamp analysis has been one of his work areas since 1999.

This was the first case he's investigated which involved a boat light, but Baxter said boats use lights that are similar to those in automobiles.

Before Hopkins' questioning of Baxter got very far, Haltom received Byrne's permission to question Baxter's qualifications. Baxter had one formal three-day DOJ course on headlight analysis in 1999, has done his own research and read literature in the field. Haltom objected to his qualifications but Byrne overruled, saying there was reason to admit his testimony.

Baxter explained how incandescent light bulbs work. They're outfitted with tungsten filaments that can withstand the extremely high temperatures – between 2,200 and 2,500 degrees centigrade (or about 4,000 to 4,500 degrees Fahrenheit)– used to light the bulbs. Tungsten has high tensile strength and is able to maintain its shape for a considerable amount of time compared to other metals.

Baxter received three lights – the sailboat's mast, stern and bow lights. The stern and bow lights were the focus of his testing, which included looking at the broken filaments in the stern light.

Hopkins asked what can happen if a tungsten filament is subjected to a sharp impact. Baxter explained that tungsten is not prone to break as much as it it to stretch and deform. When it cools it can become more brittle and can break, but that “cold break” looks different than it would when the filament is hot when the breakage occurs.

There are ways to determine if the filament was on when it broke, said Baxter. That includes finding tungsten oxide, a white or yellow powder that forms as a reaction when oxygen hits the tungsten.

If deformation and alignment of the coil structure inside the bulb resulted from whipping of the support posts, Baxter said the filament would likely remain shiny but would look distorted or, as Hopkins suggested, like a stretched Slinky.

A collision could cause a hot or cold break, said Baxter. He noted that a filament wouldn't break as easily when it's warmer and ductile.

The light bulbs Baxter evaluated in this case were cylindrical festoon bulbs, which he said are frequently used for auto dome lights.

Baxter examined the stern light bulb's filament to determine what kind of breakage occurred. He said the broken areas were angular and grainy in appearance, “which is consistent with a cold break.”

In a cold break, the filament will resemble the uneven edges of a green stick when it's broken, said Baxter.

He used stereo and comparison microscopes to look closely at the filament, and concluded the stern light wasn't on when it was broken.

Hopkins asked if a a cold break could look like a hot break if the posts inside the bulb whip and break the filament. Yes, said Baxter, but he said the filament in that case would be more likely to break than to stretch when it's cold and brittle.

Reviewing a series of pictures of the lights, Baxter noted that the stern light, the cover of which was missing with pieces broken out and a whole light bulb with a broken filament, “did receive some fair amount of damage.”

Some of the pictures, which Hopkins showed to the court on a projector, were taken by Baxter on a comparison microscope, and showed the twisted and broken stern light filament and the unbroken bow light filament side by side. He also compared the bulbs with brand new bulbs.

Several of the photos also showed filaments of bulbs used in an experiment that Baxter conducted to see what would happen if power to the lights was cut a second or a second and a half before an impact. The bulbs were affixed to a lamp structure in a two by four board that Baxter than slammed on the floor.

One of the photos of a filament that had the power cut a second and a half before impact had some stretching but could be a “close call” because it had attributes of both a hot and cold break, said Baxter.

A filament with the power cut a second before an impact had a bowed coil “more consistent with hot shock,” he said, with the filaments not completely cooled.

Filaments of the size used in these bulbs can take from two to four seconds to cool down before passing the transition phase and becoming brittle, said Baxter.

“My conclusion is there is no evidence of hot shock or warm shock that I could observe,” said Baxter, adding that he he wouldn't have an opinion about when the filament break occurred.

Haltom asked if Baxter had reached a conclusion about whether the unbroken bow light had been on or off at the time of impact. Baxter said he hadn't.

Pointing to a picture of the broken stern light filament, which had a wave shape, Haltom asked if that could be indicative of hot shock. Baxter said it could be but other factors would have to be considered.

Baxter, who began working on the lights in April of 2007, couldn't answer questions about direct current and alternating current as it would have pertained to the bulb's operation. He said that, based on his reading of the investigative literature, it's never been an issue.

Haltom presented Baxter with a copy of a report he wrote this past April. The report listed a victim and a suspect. When Haltom questioned him on who those subjects were, Hopkins objected, saying it was irrelevant.

The report, the second Baxter had prepared, was in reaction to documents from a defense experted that needed to be addressed.

Baxter said he received the transcript of the preliminary hearing testimony of Dr. William Chilcott. After seeing that report Baxter conducted the experiments.

Haltom wanted to know if it would be possible to have an event where there is one crash with multiple impacts, with the stern light suffering different shocks. Baxter said he's not an expert on boat accident reconstruction and couldn't offer an informed opinion.

After the jury was allowed to leave for lunch, Haltom asked Byrne to let him question Baxter about the “victim” and “suspect” notations on his report.

He said the report listed Dinius as the suspect and Perdock as the victim. “That's clearly relevant to a central theme of this case, that this is a slanted investigation designed to deflect blame away from Russell Perdock,” Haltom said, adding that it's absurd to list Perdock as the victim when it's Thornton who died.

Hopkins said in other places of the report a victim and suspect aren't listed. He argued that the issue wasn't relevant. Byrne said he would allow Haltom to ask the question but it needed the relevant foundation.

Experiment had variables that are hard to duplicate

After court reconvened following lunch, Haltom questioned Baxter closely on whether or not his experiments could be exactly replicated. Baxter said there were several variables that couldn't be duplicated in another set of tests, such as the amount of force he used to slam the two by four.

Haltom then returned to the issue of the victim and suspect notations. Baxter said he wasn't sure why it was listed the way it was. “I'd have to say that was a typo on my part.”

Hopkins objected to the questioning, but Byrne overruled him, and allowed the jury to hear that Perdock had been listed as the victim and Dinius the suspect.

When Haltom asked if the wave shape in the broken filament could have resulted from one impact, with a second impact breaking it, Baxter said he saw no evidence to support that hypothesis. In that case there would still be evidence of a hot break, which Baxter said isn't in evidence.

Haltom raised statements Baxter had made during a previous deposition, in which he had stated that he couldn't rule out the possibility that the stern light was on when the crash occurred. Baxter didn't recall making that statement, and after reading over the transcript called the document confusing.

Based on his examination of the broken ends of the stern light bulb's filament, Baxter believed the light wasn't on. “I don't believe I offered a conclusion as to when that filament was actually broken and I don't believe I can.”

He added, “The only thing I'm willing to say with any real conviction here is the lamp was not on when it broke.”

The wave shape of the broken light could be a result of the manufacturing process, but Baxter said he didn't contact any bulb manufacturers. He doubted they would discuss their manufacturing processes based on the desire to protect proprietary information.

Afternoon witnesses fill in variety of details

A group of witnesses followed Baxter to the stand Wednesday afternoon, some of them testifying for only a matter of minutes.

Wes Frey, a retired deputy sheriff currently working as a part-time sheriff's welfare fraud investigator, said in April 2006 he was working on detective sergeant overseeing the sheriff's welfare unit.

He said he had heard about the crash and opened up a supplemental report filed on the incident by then-Sgt. James Beland. Last week, Beland testified that his reports on the crash had been changed, but when questioned by Hopkins Beland said he had been directed to make some of the changes by a superior officer.

The RIMS software the sheriff's office uses shows an audit trail, and Frey's name appeared on the audit report, however, he said he didn't change anything.

Jeff Holdener, who owns property on the lakeshore on Soda Bay Road, followed Frey to the stand.

Two young women who testified in the trial last week, Jennifer Patterson and Gina Seago, were visiting with Holdener's family on April 29, 2006, when they witnessed the crash and came running in to tell Holdener, who was playing cards with family.

Holdener, his brother-in-law and nephew got in Holdener's wakeboard board with a light bar and went out to offer help at the crash scene, being careful for fear people were in the water.

“The first thing we saw was the sailboat,” he said, noting the smell of fiberglass in the air.

Another boat towed the sailboat to Boren Bega, which Holdener said was on a straight course from the crash scene.

“The sailboat was just chaos,” he said. “There was a lot of people hurt. There was a lot of people bleeding.”

Men from the nearby Young Scandinavians Club had come out to help as well, with two of them doing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Thornton, Holdener said.

Stephanie Green, a friend of both Weber and Thornton's, recalled meeting them for dinner at Richmond Park Bar and Grill at around 4 p.m. or 5 p.m., several hours before the crash.

Weber had competed in the Konocti Cup earlier that day and had won, and she recalled Weber and Thornton as being very excited.

Green said she and her husband, Rob, were with Weber and Thornton, and they were drinking beer and wine with dinner. A large group was at the restaurant, where there was barbecuing and karaoke.

That night she met Dinius for the first time, recalling he was “having fun like everyone else.”

Weber and Thornton invited the Greens to joint them for the cruise. “My husband talked me out of going,” Stephanie Green said, acknowledging that she can't swim.

She said she was probably upset with her husband, but agreed not to go.

Green recalled saying goodbye to Thornton, who she said she adored. Waving goodbye as the sailboat pulled out using its motor, Green recalled seeing its lights on.

Hopkins asked her if she had a chance to see Weber's state of intoxication. Green, who was a police officer for 15 years, said he was “highly intoxicated.” She said she had told Haltom's investigator that Weber was, to use the more colorful term, “s***-faced.”

Green said she couldn't assess Dinius' condition. “We were all drinking.”

Last on the stand Wednesday was Craig Scovel, a friend of Perdock's since high school, who responded to the crash scene that night and towed Perdock's damaged powerboat back to the sheriff's boat barn.

On the evening of the crash, Scovel took his own powerboat over to Konocti Harbor for a beer and a hamburger, and testified there were few people at the resort that night. He didn't see Perdock; if he had, Scovel said he would have talked to him.

Later, as he was heading home after dark, Scovel said he heard a helicopter. When he was almost home he got a call from Perdock's mother who said Perdock had been in a crash.

Scovel and two friends went back across to Bayshore Resort where they found Perdock on shore. Perdock asked Scovel to go back to Lily Cove and get his pickup and boat trailer, which Scovel did. He found the truck and trailer parked near the dock of the homeowners association where Perdock lives. Scovel said he hadn't seen the truck and trailer there when he left on his trip to Konocti at around 7 p.m.

Scovel's testimony provided some confusion, as he repeatedly said he believed it was a Friday night when he went to the resort. However, Haltom pointed out during his cross-examination that April 29, 2006, was a Saturday. Scovel said he couldn't remember for sure if it was a Friday, but he knew it was the same night as the crash.

Haltom said the whole point of the testimony that it was a Friday was to establish that not many people were there that night. Hopkins objected and Byrne sustained. “I think we probably figured it out,” said Byrne.

Would there have been more people at the resort on a Saturday than a Friday? Haltom asked. “Not necessarily,” said Scovel, pointing out it was April at the time, not the busier summer season.

Haltom asked if Scovel had made different statements previously.

He then asked Scovel if his goal on the stand is to give “Mr. Hopkins what he wants” through the testimony. “I'm not sure what he wants,” said Scovel.

Perdock himself is expected to come to the stand Thursday, when testimony resumes.

Witnesses so far, in order

Day one (following opening statements): James Ziebell, sailor, helped skipper Beats Workin' II in Konocti Cup; Doug Jones, past commodore of local sailing club; Anthony Esposti*, fisherman; Colin Johnson*, fisherman.

Day two: Lake County Sheriff's Det. Jerry Pfann; Andrea Estep*, phlebotomist, St. Helena Hospital-Clearlake (formerly Redbud Community Hospital); former sheriff's Sgt. James Beland; LaDonna Hartman, phlebotomist, Sutter Lakeside Hospital; retired sheriff's Sgt. Mark Hoffman; California Department of Justice criminalist Gregory Priebe, Santa Rosa lab; California Department of Justice criminalist Gary Davis, Sacramento toxicology lab.

Day three: Jennifer Patterson, witnessed crash from Holdener property on lakeshore; Gina Seago, witnessed crash from Holdener property on lakeshore; Jordin Walker, passenger on Russell Perdock's powerboat; James Walker*, high school friend of Perdock's and passenger on his powerboat; sheriff's Deputy Mike Morshed*; sheriff's communications operator Kimberly Erickson; sheriff's Boat Patrol Deputy Lloyd Wells*.

Day four: Craig Woodworth, the District Attorney's Office's acting chief investigator; John Yount, criminalist with the California Department of Justice's Santa Rosa lab; sheriff's Det. Jerry Pfann; Boat Patrol Supervisor Sgt. Dennis Ostini; Lt. Charles Slabaugh of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office.

Day five: Richard Snyder, retired Mercury Marine engineer; Lt. Charles Slabaugh of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office.

Day six: Lt. Charles Slabaugh of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office; California Department of Justice criminalist Toby Baxter; retired Sgt. Wes Frey, Lake County Sheriff's Office; Jeff Holdener, who responded to the crash scene via boat; Stephanie Green, friend of Weber and Thornton, who saw them leave in the sailboat a few hours before the crash; Craig Scovel, friend of Perdock's who assisted in taking his boat and trailer to the sheriff's Boat Patrol building.*

* = Indicates a witness subject to recall at the request of the defense.

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

LAKE COUNTY – A Lucerne man has been sentenced for an animal cruelty case involving an injured dog first reported last year.

Paul Jon Westergren pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor violation of Penal Code section 597(b), subjecting an animal to needless suffering or cruelty, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff. Deputy District Attorney Dan Moffatt prosecuted the case.

Dixie the pit bull was rescued from Westergren's home last summer, as Lake County News first reported last year.

Just 6 months old at the time, Dixie had been hit by a semi truck two days earlier and been left to cry in pain in Westergren's yard for two days while she suffered from a crushed pelvis and broken leg. She also had internal nerve damage and injuries to her bowel and urinary tracts.

Animal Care and Control received a call about the dog on June 27, 2008, and Officer Eric Wood went to Westergren's home, found Dixie and saw that Westergren had not sought medical care for her, as is required by law. The dog was injured so badly she hadn't been able to urinate in two days.

Dixie was taken to Wasson Memorial Veterinary Clinic in Lakeport where she underwent several surgeries to repair her shattered hip and repair the nerve damage.

Eventually, her right back leg had to be amputated because the leg did not heal right and was dragging the ground, causing sores on her foot and creating the possibility of infection.

Dixie has since gone to a new home out of county, where she lives with a loving new owner and several canine friends.

However, Animal Care and Control Deputy Director Bill Davidson said she has had continued health problems because of infections, and her situation is “touch and go.”

Hinchcliff said Westergren was prosecuted for not getting the dog prompt medical attention for two days and allowing her to suffer.

Judge Richard Martin sentenced Westergren to three years probation, 80 hours work service, search condition for residence, and a term and condition is he possess no pets for three years, Hinchcliff said.

In addition, Hinchcliff said Westergren will be ordered to pay restitution for vet bills for the animal and fined $100.

Hinchcliff said he thinks the sentence is a fairly typical one, if there is such a thing in animal cruelty cases.

He said if Westergren had caused the broken hip through abuse, he likely would have been charged with a felony rather than a misdemeanor, leading to a more severe sentence.

Westergren is looking at hefty restitution for Dixie's vet bills. Davidson told Lake County News last week that Dixie's care amounted to about $7,000, covering the surgeries and a rare internal bacterial infection she contracted.

Davidson said Westergren's overall sentence differed slightly from that of a woman convicted of neglect in the case of Hero, a German shepherd impounded in the summer of 2006 after he was found to be severely emaciated, with bleeding feet filled with foxtails.

Martin sentenced Donna Mae Heath to 180 days in the county jail for animal neglect and failure to provide medical care. She also was required to pay nearly $4,000 in restitution for the dog's vet bills, couldn't own an animal for three years and received three years formal probation.

The case involving “Luke,” a 10-year-old German shepherd rescued from a home in July 2008, also went to the District Attorney's Office for prosecution, said Davidson, but there has been no resolution in that case yet.

Luke, who was found unable to stand, with no food or water in the hot sun, had hair matted with foxtails and stickers and open wounds filled with maggots. He eventually had to be put down because he couldn't be rehabilitated, as Lake County News has reported.

Another case involving a dog named “Nellie,” found severely emaciated at her Lower Lake home last August, has gone to the District Attorney's Office. Davidson said she was adopted out to a new home but was put down recently due to continuing health problems.

Two other dog abuse cases from last year, those of Teiya, a pit bull whose owner beat her until her leg was broken, and a puppy named Sugar, whose juvenile owner picked her up and threw her, breaking her front elbow, didn't end up being prosecuted, Davidson said.

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

SAN FRANCISCO – On Friday, Congressman Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) and State Treasurer Bill Lockyer met in San Francisco to discuss legislation that would help spur green energy investments.

At the request of Treasurer Lockyer, Congressman Thompson introduced H.R. 3525, the “Private Activity Bonds for Clean Energy Projects” bill, which would add additional categories of tax-exempt private activity bonds to spur investment in clean energy technologies.

“We need to act quickly to change our methods of energy consumption,” said Congressman Thompson. “Failing to act now will cost us trillions of dollars, both in spending on foreign oil, and on combating the effects of climate change. By making it easier for local governments and private entities to finance alternative energy projects, we can help move our economy towards a greener future.”

Tax-exempt bond financing is a low-cost method of financing a project or manufacturing facility, with interest costs that are lower than commercial loans.

By granting private entities access to this low-cost financing, the bill will help stimulate investment in clean energy projects such as solar installations, creating new green jobs and rebuilding our economy.

“Expanding the benefits of tax-exempt bond financing to privately-developed renewable technologies is a win-win for California’s environment and economy,” said Lockyer. “We’ll spur green projects that produce alternative energy sources and stimulate the economy by creating green-collar jobs.”

Thompson’s bill would amend the IRS code to add additional categories of tax-exempt private activity bonds for renewable energy, energy efficiency, demand side management, energy storage, electric transmission, smart grid, water conservation, zero-emission vehicle projects and manufacturing facilities.

Additionally, the legislation would allow private companies to utilize both tax exempt bonds and federal tax credits for these projects.

The discussion was held at Project Open Hand, a charity serving meals to those in need.

Project Open Hand has dedicated themselves to carrying out their mission in a sustainable fashion, and has installed solar panels on their roof to power their facilities, saving over $12,000 per year.

LAKE COUNTY – Smelly, yes. Sewage, no.

That's the word from local officials who are continuing to respond to concerns about the algae plaguing the lake this summer.

Huge mats of the blue-green algae lyngbya have been causing headaches for resort owners and residents over the last few months.

Reasons for the algae's appearance this year have been attributed to a variety of factors, including Clear Lake being at one of the lowest levels in a few decades, allowing sunlight to get through and support algae growth.

Some spots appear to be clearing, such as one area along the lakeshore in north Lakeport where residents previously reported thick mats.

Another town hall to discuss the local response to the problem is planned for 6 p.m. Thursday at Clearlake City Hall, 14050 Olympic Drive.

Lake County News has continued receiving reports from concerned residents and visitors who, in some areas around the lake, insist that they're seeing sewage, not algae.

A few such reports came in earlier this week in the Clearlake Keys.

However, Darin McCosker, general manager of the Clearlake Oaks County Water District, said they've continued responding to such reports but haven't found any sewage.

“We've been chasing down reports and Environmental Health has been chasing down reports,” he said.

McCosker said his staff also has been yelled at by angry individuals insisting that the district is allowing sewage to go out into the lake.

“We've gone out of our way to investigate everything,” McCosker said. “Every time something is alleged we go out and check manholes.”

He said repeated tests have shown that the problem isn't fecal matter, but algae.

Ray Ruminski, director of the county's Environmental Health agency, said they've done repeated tests around the lake for bacteria, finding that bacteria levels are higher in algae but don't rise to the level that would be present in a sewage spill.

There's been so much testing, Ruminski added, “We kinda busted our budget for lab samples already.”

His staff hasn't done specific testing in the Clearlake Keys areas in a few weeks, but they did respond to a complaint there on July 31.

Environmental Health staff encountered no human sewage but found “a big scummy algae mass,” Ruminski said.

There is a possibility, said Ruminski, that leach fields of properties around the lake are feeding nutrients into the lake that is encouraging algae growth. But he said local officials are convinced there isn't a sewage spill floating around the lake.

However, he added, “It smells like sewage. There's a very real connection in peoples' minds.”

He said the last time the algae was this bad was around 1991.

Most of the complaints were coming from the Clearlake Highlands area in June and early July, said Ruminski.

During the last week of July, the most complaints were coming from Clearlake Oaks, he said.

Ruminski suggested wind patterns are responsible for moving the algae mats around, but that the winds aren't strong enough to break up the mats.

Some residents are offering their own fixes.

Anthony Sperling, who live near Baylis Point, said he saw a huge mat – which he estimated to be 300 feet by 50 feet – coming toward his property on Tuesday evening.

He said if that mat had settled on the shoreline the stench and the algae itself would have pretty much put a halt to his family's enjoyment of their property and the lake for the rest of the summer.

So Sperling tried a low-tech solution – he drove his pontoon boat through it repeatedly. After about 50 to 60 passes through it, the mat was pretty well dispersed.

A similar solution was suggested at a previous algae town hall meeting held last month in Clearlake.

Sperling said it's not a “silver bullet” solution, but he said it's one way to chip away at the problem.

In the mean time, Ruminski said a health advisory about the algae issued June 12 is still in effect.

“Caution is advised but not panic, and that's different,” Ruminski said.

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

LAKE COUNTY – Law enforcement officials are investigating three rapes that are alleged to have taken place late last week.

Two of the rapes were reported on Saturday, said Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

Bauman said the two rapes – one in Middletown, one in Kelseyville – were reported within an hour of each other by women from Hidden Valley Lake, and both incidents were alleged to have occurred on Friday.

In the first case, a 25-year-old woman went to Twin Pine Casino where she met with her family and friends and had some drinks.

The woman woke up the next day at home to find she was missing her underwear. Bauman said it's believed that a male subject who is an acquaintance of the woman, and who was seen at the casino that night, had sex with her while she was under the influence of alcohol.

In the second case, Bauman said deputies responded to Sutter Lakeside Hospital on Saturday night.

There they found an 18-year-old woman who reported she had been raped the previous night in Kelseyville. Bauman had few other details, as the report still is being written in that case.

A third rape was reported to have taken place Saturday night in Lakeport, according to Lt. Brad Rasmussen of Lakeport Police.

Rasmussen said an 18-year-old Lakeport woman attended a concert at the Lake County Fairgrounds on Martin Street Saturday night.

At the event she met a security guard who let her in for free, Rasmussen said.

The two exchange phone numbers, and Rasmussen said later that night the guard sent her a text message and got her outside of the concert.

There the male subject asked the woman for sex. When the woman refused, the male physically assaulted her, Rasmussen said. The rape was reported early Sunday morning.

Rasmussen said police have received forensic evidence in the case and are still investigating.

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

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