Wednesday, 17 July 2024


LOWER LAKE – A day after a stabbing claimed the life of one of its students and resulted in the arrest of another, Carlé High School's students and staff gathered to show support for the girls' families and each other, and begin the long healing process. {sidebar id=85}

Heather Valdez, 17, died Thursday afternoon after she was stabbed near her home in the area of Austin Drive near Mullen Avenue in Clearlake.

A short time later, Clearlake Police arrested 18-year-old Gabrielle Rachel Varney, who is being held in the Lake County Jail on a murder charge.

Both girls were juniors, completing their first year at Carlé High School in Lower Lake, a model continuation school which Principal Bill MacDougall called “a place of absolute peace.”

But that peace was shattered by Valdez's death Thursday.

“There's apparently been some type of feud between them for a couple of months,” said Lt. Mike Hermann of the Clearlake Police Department said of Valdez and Varney.

Both of the teens lived in the area where the incident is alleged to have taken place, said Hermann.

Hermann said Valdez and Varney got into an altercation. Varney allegedly had a knife on her and she pulled it out during the fight. She allegedly admitted to police that she stabbed Valdez.

People in the area saw bits and pieces of the incident, said Hermann. He said no one so far has claimed to have seen Valdez being stabbed, but they saw the fight and then saw her bleeding.

More students were interviewed Friday, and Hermann estimated the investigation shouldn't take long to complete.

Konocti Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Louise Nan said a four-member district grief crisis response team was deployed on Friday morning to work with students.

“We're working through the day,” said Nan, who added that it will be “quite a process” ahead for students and staff.

MacDougall, who next month will succeed Nan as the district's superintendent, said, “This is a tragedy not only for Carlé, our school district and our community, but it's absolutely devastated two families.”


Valdez and Varney had been friends, he said. “They were girlfriends, so there was that young girl tension that came on and off, but there was nothing that was way out of the ordinary that we could see.”

He added, “If there was anything physical, I never saw it.”

Students, however, have been bringing up incidents that they say took place between the girls as they open up to teachers and peers, he said.

MacDougall said many of his 10 staffers were on their way home when they got the news Thursday afternoon. The stabbing, according to police, took place just after 2 p.m.

All of the teachers came back to the school, where they assembled in MacDougall's office. He said at 6 p.m. he put out an automated call to notify students and their families of the tragedy. The staff remained together until about 7 p.m.

He said the first focus was to stop the rumors and get out the truth to students; the next step was to facilitate healing.

The school's annual field day had been planned for Friday, but that was canceled, MacDougall said.

Instead, when students arrived for school, they filled the school's central quad area with rose petals from the school rose bushes, and the 80 students, 10 staffers and the school's custodian came together – as a family – in a big circle, instinctively holding hands, to begin the healing process, MacDougall.

They shared stories of Valdez, who was a talented artist, said MacDougall.

Varney also is a good artist, and a member of the school's cadre of designers, said MacDougall.

They then shared a prayer by St. Francis of Assisi – which includes the words, “Make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love, where there is injury, pardon ...”

The school then moved into the rest of its day, said MacDougall, with the school psychologist taking some of the teens to the county park, and other students doing “the usual Carlé thing” – playing music and moving about their activities, but the air was much more somber.

MacDougall had to go to district negotiations, and when he came back after lunch, he could see the students had begun the process of healing and working through their understanding of what happened. But they still must move through the long grieving process.

The tragedy comes less than a week before Carlé High's graduation is scheduled to take place. MacDougall said commencement ceremonies will be held as scheduled beginning at 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 11.

As a community, the imperative is to bring happiness into the lives of its children, he explained.

The sense from the Carlé community, he added, is that “we have to make sure this never happens again.”

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LAKE COUNTY – A man convicted 18 years ago of attempting to murder his girlfriend was denied parole for the fifth time this week.

Richard Dowdle, 53, was once again denied parole by the Board of Prison Terms, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff, who attended the parole hearing to argue against Dowdle’s release.

The parole hearing was held on June 2 at Corcoran State Prison, located 240 miles southeast of Sacramento.

In August 1990 Judge Robert C. Crone sentenced Dowdle to life plus five years for the attempted murder of his girlfriend, Hinchcliff said. Current Superior Court Judge Richard Martin was the deputy district attorney who prosecuted Dowdle.

In January 1990, Dowdle was released from the Hill Road Jail in Lakeport after serving time on a domestic violence offense against his girlfriend, according to Hinchcliff.

When he returned to their residence on Emerald Drive in Kelseyville that day, Hinchcliff said Dowdle discovered that his girlfriend had moved her 17-year-old son and a friend of his into the residence to help pay rent.

Hinchcliff said Dowdle, who worked in The Geysers steam field as a driller and was a cross-dresser, was upset that there were “intruders” in the house. He stated that being a “roughneck” he would be too embarrassed to wear female clothing in front of the “intruders.”

Dowdle became angry and confronted the victim while she was in the bedroom with their baby daughter, and punched her, Hinchcliff explained. Dowdle then went into the kitchen, retrieved a butcher knife, and stabbed his girlfriend several times in the shoulder and abdomen. Her son helped her escape from the house.

When deputy sheriff’s arrived and entered the residence, they found that Dowdle had used the knife to cut his own throat and disembowel himself, according to Hinchcliff.

Hinchcliff said Dowdle initially became eligible for parole in May of 2000.

This was Dowdle’s fifth parole hearing since 1998, said Hinchcliff, who also attended the previous hearings to argue against parole.

Although Dowdle has obtained his GED and remained disciplinary free in prison, and may some day be granted parole, the parole commissioners agreed with Hinchcliff that Dowdle had not done enough in prison to address his alcohol abuse problem, his anger control problems or his psychiatric problems. They also found he had no concrete parole plans if he were released, and he still presents a substantial risk of danger to women if released from prison.

Hinchcliff said Dowdle's next parole hearing will take place in two years.


LAKE COUNTY – Although there were local, state and federal offices on the ballot on Tuesday, Lake County voters didn't turn out in big numbers for the second of three trips to the polls many will take this year.

The Lake County Registrar of Voters reported that 8,366 ballots were cast in the June 3 primary, only a 25.2 percent turnout from among the 33,143 registered voters countywide. That's compared to the 47.3-percent turnout reported on Super Tuesday, Feb. 5.

Total ballots included 4,844 absentees (14.6 percent) and 3,522 precinct ballots (10.6 percent), according to records from Tuesday, which still have to be officially certified by Registrar of Voters Diane Fridley and her election staff.

In the race for the House of Representatives seat representing Congressional District 1, incumbent Congressman Mike Thompson handily won against fellow Democrat Mitch Clogg, gaining 86.4 percent of the votes to Clogg's 13.2 percent, with 15 write-in candidates accounting for 0.3 percent of the vote.

In the Republican race for the Congressional District 1 seat, Zane Starkewolf defeated Douglas Pharr, 55.2 percent to 43.6 percent, besides 1.1 percent of the vote going to 27 writes-ins. Carol Wolman was the only candidate on the Green Party ticket for the seat in Congress, with 95.8 percent of the vote for her party, plus two write-ins, which accounted for 4.2 percent of the vote.

State Assembly hopeful Wes Chesbro, facing no challenger from the Democratic Party, received 98.8 percent of the vote,or 4,066 ballots cast in his favor, with 1.2 percent devoted to write-ins. Republican Jim Pell, also running unopposed on his party ticket for the District 1 State Assembly seat, took 98.3 percent of the vote, or 2,158 ballots. Thirty-eight write-ins gained 1.7 percent of the Republican vote.

As in February, decisions by local voters mirrored state results with respect to the battling eminent domain measures. Proposition 99 won statewide and in Lake County as well, garnering a 64-percent approval locally while Proposition 98 was defeated with a 57-percent “no” vote.

Measure A, a special tax proposed in the Butler-Keys Community Services District, passed with 80 percent of the vote, according to vote tallies.

Among local partisan central committees, no candidates filed in Republican Central Committee districts 1, 2 and 5, where write-ins took 100 percent of the vote in each district. In District 3, there were a total of five seats available, but the only stated candidates were Penny Lunt, who took 49.6 percent of the vote, and Robert Gene Lanfranco II, with 49.2 percent, with eight write-ins. In District 4, it was Gregory D. Scott, 31 percent; Judith Steele Lanfranco, 23.8 percent; Tracy L. Davis, 22.9 percent; Martha Steward, 21.4 percent; and 13 candidates vying for the remaining vacancy.

Among major parties, Democrats had a larger turnout overall, with 4,632 total ballots cast – 2,696 absentees, 1,936 at precincts – amounting to 32.3 percent.

Approximately 2,948 registered Republicans – or 28.8 percent – voted in Tuesday's election, with 1,266 precinct ballots cast and another 1,660 cast by absentee ballot.

Green Party members had a 16.2-percent turnout, with a total of 63 ballots – 29 absentee, 34 precinct.

The largest turnout by supervisorial district was in District 5, where incumbent Supervisor Rob Brown was elected to a third term over challenger Robert Stark. Turnout in District 5 was 29.7 percent or 2,152 ballots cast.

Those results compare with 27.1 percent, or 1,922 ballots cast, in the crowded District 1 race, and 23.7 percent turnout or 1,555 votes cast in District 4, where Supervisor Anthony Farrington easily won his unopposed reelection.

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Bob Bartley of Lakeport cuts a dramatic silhouette at the Friday ceremony. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



LAKEPORT – Cutting an imposing figure in his World War II-era Army uniform, Lakeport resident Bob Bartley was more than 5,000 miles and 64 years away from the beaches at Normandy, but looking at him gave a sense of what it might have been like on that frightening morning decades ago.

Bartley was at the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association's memorial mast in Library Park on Friday morning to pay respect to the soldiers who took part in the D-Day invasion.

Beginning on June 6, 1944, the invasion saw an estimated 160,000 Allied soldiers fight to gain a foothold in a Europe overwhelmed by Hitler's forces.

Bartley's green wool uniform included an ammunition belt and haversack which was many pounds short of the supply-laden, 90-pound packs US soldiers carried on their backs as they scrambled onto Omaha Beach.

The military's amphibious vehicles landed too far out in some cases, so men jumping into the sea found themselves up to their necks – or over their heads – with the packs on their backs and bullets whizzing by.

Many men drowned struggling under their packs. Accounts by survivors recount soldiers having to swim through corpses to get to land.

Bartley was a poignant figure in the short morning ceremony, meant to honor that day and what would turn out to be a masterstroke in the war – against overwhelming odds, mercurial weather and two months after hundreds of men died in Exercise Tiger, a practice run for the invasion carried out off the south coast of England near Slapton Sands.

“We're not here to celebrate it, we're here to commemorate it,” Ronnie Bogner, the master of ceremonies, explained of the D-Day anniversary event, held each year overlooking Clear Lake.

Pastor Mike Suski of Lakeport Christian Center led a prayer to bless the gathering. A native of Poland, the day had special meaning for Suski, who told the crowd that he was born in “Old Europe.”

During the ceremony, Bogner said that US casualties were highest among the US troops who landed at Normandy, because of Omaha and Utah beaches' treacherous conditions.

The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Vietnam Veterans of America were on hand, and the colors of the US military branches were on display, as was the POW/MIA flag. On the memorial mast flew the “First Jack” (often called the “snake flag,” said Bogner, for its portrait of a snake and the words, “Don't tread on me”), the US flag and the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association flag.





Special guests seated in the audience's front row included Jim Harris of Lucerne, who was at Pearl Harbor and then D-Day three years later, aboard the destroyer USS McCook (DD 496), which helped destroy German positions used for firing on the soldiers landing on the beach. He was joined by fellow Pearl Harbor Survivor Walt Urmann, who served aboard the USS Blue; and Alice Darrow, widow of Dean Darrow, who was at Pearl Harbor aboard the USS West Virginia.



The real deal: Jim Harris of Lucerne was at Pearl Harbor in 1941 and D-Day in 1944. Photo by Ginny Craven.


California Highway Patrol Commander Dane Hayward once again attended the ceremony, bringing with him several CHP officers, and Lakeport Police Chief Kevin Burke attended in full uniform.

Newly re-elected District 5 Supervisor Rob Brown was the guest speaker. Brown said he was born 16 years after the invasion, but was fortunate to be raised in Lake County, where veterans are valued.

He said he hopes future generations will learn to value their veterans.

Brown pointed to differences in the media coverage of World War II and the current war in Iraq. He quoted a World War II-era headline that asked, “Why doesn't Hitler quit?” Brown contrasted that with sentiment in today's media, which he said asks instead why the US doesn't quit.

“It's dependent on us to continue to support our troops,” Brown said.

He recognized efforts like Operation Tango Mike, founded by Ginny Craven – who was in attendance – for working to keep up soldiers' morale.

A bugler from the United Veterans Council's Military Funeral Honors Team played “Taps” as the US flag was lowered to half-staff for the remainder of the day in remembrance of the invasion.

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Bob Bartley sported an authentic World War II-era military uniform. Photo by Ginny Craven.



LAKE COUNTY – A task force carried out special enforcements late last month targeting driving under the influence and drivers without licenses.

Chief Deputy James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's reported that over the past Memorial Day weekend, the Lake County “Avoid the Three” DUI Task Force conducted a driving under the influence/driver's license checkpoint in the city of Clearlake and special saturation patrols in and around the cities of Clearlake and Lakeport.

The task force's objective, Bauman reported, is to detect and remove intoxicated or impaired drivers from Lake County streets and highways.

The checkpoint and saturation patrols were conducted by members of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, the Lakeport and Clearlake Police Departments, and the California Highway Patrol, said Bauman.

Eleven officers operated the DUI checkpoint on May 23 from 8 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. in the city of Clearlake, Bauman reported.

Of the 391 vehicles screened during the checkpoint, he said two arrests were made for DUI, 10 arrests were made for other misdemeanor violations, 15 citations were issued and nine vehicles were impounded.

The DUI task force conducted five saturation patrols in and around the cities of Lakeport and Clearlake from May 24 through May 26, according to Bauman. The increased patrols resulted in a total of 149 vehicle stops in which 25 field sobriety tests were conducted, nine DUI arrests were made, 17 other misdemeanor or felony arrests were made and seven vehicles were impounded.

The DUI Task Force is planning additional checkpoints and saturation patrols for the upcoming Independence Day weekend in July, and the Labor Day weekend in August, Bauman reported.

Funding for the “Avoid” program is provided through a grant managed by the Lake County Sheriff’s Office and provided by the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Safety Administration.




LAKEPORT – At the end of his 10:30 a.m. Sunday mass – the biggest mass of the week – Father Ted Oswald stood before his parishioners at Saint Mary Immaculate Church and delivered a shocking piece of news.

The 63-year-old priest told his flock that he was taking a leave of absence because of a civil lawsuit that alleges he sexually abused a teenage boy between 1988 and 1995.

He said he couldn't do his work as priest until the lawsuit was resolved, adding that he wanted his day in court.

Oswald, who has been the parish's priest for 20 years, then asked his church members to pray for him and all involved in the case.

Lakeport resident Phillip Myers, a pastoral advisory council member who was attending mass that morning, said the reaction to the well-beloved priest's announcement was “absolute astonishment.”

Late last month, a copy of a civil complaint making the allegations against Oswald was delivered to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa, according to Lt. Brad Rasmussen of the Lakeport Police Department.

Dierdre Frontczak, spokesperson for the Diocese of Santa Rosa – which oversees Lakeport – said the lawsuit specifically names the diocese and Oswald as defendants, but she had no other details.

The civil case was filed in Sonoma County Superior Court, with an amended complaint filed on May 5.

On Monday Rasmussen issued a brief statement to Lake County News on behalf of the department, where Oswald has been a volunteer chaplain, responsible for such duties as delivering death notices and offering counsel to officers and citizens. He and his dog therapy Rosie are known for visiting the hospital and jail, as well as their regular walks in Library Park.

Rasmussen said Oswald has been placed on administrative leave from his police chaplain position. Meanwhile, Lakeport Police asked the Lake County District Attorney's Office's Criminal Investigation Division to conduct an independent investigation of the civil case's allegations, which currently is in progress.

Oswald, who also has served for many years as one of the Lake County Sheriff's Office chaplains, asked Sheriff Rod Mitchell last week for a leave of absence while the matter is being reviewed, a request Mitchell confirmed Monday that he granted.

Frontczak confirmed Oswald was on a leave of absence from the parish. She said it's the diocese's policy to put anyone faced with such an allegation on leave until the legal process is sorted out.

“Our policy, to be on the safe side, is to safeguard our young people,” said Frontczak.

She said it's not the diocese's policy to comment specifically on litigation.

The civil complaint has made no crossover to criminal allegations, according to officials.

The alleged victim has not contacted the Lakeport Police Department about his complaint, said Rasmussen – despite the fact that the case alleges the abuse took place in Lakeport.

Nor did the Lake County District Attorney's Office receive any criminal complaint relating to the matter, according to District Attorney Jon Hopkins.

“To my knowledge we have not been given a report asking us to file charges against Father Ted for anything,” Hopkins said Monday.

Frontczak had no information on what, if any, monetary amount was specified in the civil lawsuit.

Since 1990, the diocese has paid or promised to pay $20 million in settlements relating to cases in which priests were accused of having sex with minors, according to a September 2007 Associated Press report that attributed those numbers to Frontczak.

Of the 17 priests who had been accused by the time of that report, allegations could only be verified in roughly half of the cases, according to the Associated Press.

Overwhelmed by community support

Oswald is a colorful figure, a motorcycle-riding priest who did a tour of duty in Vietnam in 1968, and spent three years in the military police and 11 years as a civilian police officer before leaving to pursue the priesthood.

“A good cop and a good priest are the same thing,” he told Lake County News.

In 1984, the year he earned a master of divinity degree from a seminary in Rome, he met Pope John Paul II.

He said he came to Lakeport in 1988 to fill in for a short time and ended up staying and falling in love with the county. Since then, he has become a well-known local figure.

In April 2005, it was Oswald who officiated at the funeral mass for slain human rights advocate Marla Ruzicka, his authority and calm anchoring a grieving community, and angering actor Sean Penn because Oswald asked speakers to keep politics out of the event.

In an interview on Monday evening, Oswald said, “You know, I'm doing good, believe it or not.”

He said he has been overwhelmed by support from his parishioners and fellow clergy members from different denominations, one of whom had called to pray with him a few minute before the interview.

Following the Sunday mass, Oswald said church members came to hug him after his message, many of them weeping, which caused him to break down.

“I want to fight this,” he said of the allegations against him, which he stated are absolutely false.

He's an unlikely person to be accused of sexual misconduct with a minor, considering his background and his own efforts to bring such a case to light more than 30 years ago.

As a young teaching brother in the church in 1976, Oswald had investigated a sexual abuse case involving a Catholic priest with whom he had worked in Yuma, Ariz., according to an Arizona Daily Star report.

Oswald took reports from several boys involved and reported it to the Diocese of Tucson. The following year, he quit the order after he asked about the boys' statements and was told the diocese didn't know anything about them, he said. That priest was later transferred to another part of the diocese, according to the newspaper report.

While he knew about such cases firsthand before these recent allegations surfaced, Oswald said he has publicly – and from the pulpit – criticized the idea of “repressed memory,” under which many priest abuse allegations have been made, and he believes those statements may have made him a target. He mentioned a Swiss priest who, after allegations of sexual abuse were made against him, committed suicide. Oswald added that he feels many innocent priests have been unfairly accused.

He said he received notification of the allegations about two weeks ago. Although the allegations are painful, he said he made it through Vietnam, and every day since then has been a gift. He believes he can make it through this situation as well.

His fellow veterans in the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 951 are standing behind him.

“We believe in Father Ted and we support Father Ted,” said chapter President Dean Gotham.

Oswald is the chapter's chaplain, and has arranged for them to hold their monthly meetings at Saint Mary Immaculate's parish hall, said Gotham.

He added that the chapter has no plans to ask Oswald to take a leave of absence from his chaplain's post.

Future uncertain for priest, parish

Oswald, who also is caring for his 91-year-old mother, said he wants to get back to his work.

I want to return to my parish and retire there when it's time to retire,” he said.

The church is still waiting to hear who will act as priest in Oswald's absence. Myers said they're supposed to know something from the diocese the middle of this week.

However, Myers, said the church is supporting Oswald, who he called a “fantastic priest” who works hard for people.

“All of the parishioners I have talked to are totally behind Father Ted,” Myers said.

Added Gotham, “I think the Lord will look out for him on this one.”

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LAKE COUNTY – With jury selection completed, the trial of a San Francisco man accused of the murders of two friends is set to begin next week.

Renato Hughes, 23, will go on trial beginning Wednesday, June 11, in Martinez, District Attorney Jon Hopkins reported.

Jury selection wrapped up Friday, said Hopkins.

The minute the jury was selected, a young woman raised her hand and asked to be excused because a medical condition she has was being exacerbated by the proceedings, said Hopkins.

The judge granted the request, said Hopkins, which required he and defense attorney Stuart Hanlon to choose a new juror from among four alternates.

Opening statements are scheduled to begin Wednesday morning, said Hopkins.

He anticipates the trial wrapping up in the latter part of July.

Hughes is being tried for the murders of his two friends, Christian Foster and Rashad Williams, who were shot to death after allegedly breaking into Shannon Edmonds' Clearlake Park home on the morning of Dec. 7, 2005.

The case against Hughes alleges he and his two companions beat Edmonds, his girlfriend and her son severely as they tried to steal marijuana Edmonds claimed to have a medical prescription to use.

Edmonds reportedly shot Foster and Williams as they ran from the home, but Hughes is being tried for their deaths under the provocative act legal theory because he allegedly took part in a crime that could result in a lethal response – the shooting of his two companions.

The jury seated Friday actually is the second jury to be selected in the Hughes case.

Last Nov. 15, after a three-week jury selection in Lake County was completed and the jury seated, Judge William McKinstry, a retired Alameda County judge assigned to the case, granted Hanlon's change of venue motion. In his decision McKinstry cited the number of jurors excused for various reasons.

In January, Lake County Superior Court Judge Arthur Mann ruled the trial would move to Contra Costa after Hanlon and Hopkins mutually agreed to the venue.

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LAKEPORT – The 64th anniversary of the D-Day invasion will be commemorated this Friday at a special ceremony at the Pearl Harbor Memorial flag mast at Library Park.

The public is invited to attend the event, which begins at 11 a.m.

On June 6, 1944, Allied forces launched one of the greatest invasion forces in history in an attempt to take back Europe from Adolf Hitler's German forces.

Before the soldiers went into battle, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower delivered a message in which he told them, “The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you.”

A US Army history of the event reports that 160,000 Allied troops – with the support of more than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft – fought their way ashore along a 50-mile stretch of Normandy, France, where they encountered the Germans' heavy fortifications.

US soldiers set foot on Omaha and Utah beaches, the British landed at Gold and Sword beaches, and the Canadians at Juno Beach, according to military histories.

Eisenhower also had warned his men that the waiting German forces would fight savagely, and he was right. After ferocious fighting and heavy casualties – the US Army said more than 9,000 men died or were wounded in the invasion – Allied soldiers would hold the beach and begin their march across Europe.

Veterans who survived the “Day of Days” will be honored at Friday's event.

For more information contact Veterans Services at 263-2384.

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LAKE COUNTY – For those of you who don't vote by absentee ballot, Tuesday is the day to remember to get to the polls.

The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. around Lake County on Tuesday.

This will be the second of three votes county residents will make this year. Voters last took part in the presidential primary in February.

Three supervisorial seats – for Districts 1, 4 and 5 – are on Tuesday's ballot, when they could be decided or sent to a November runoff.

If you have questions about polling sites or other election-related questions, call the county Elections Office, 263-2372.


LAKEPORT – A Tracy man has filed a civil lawsuit against the Diocese of Santa Rosa and a local priest, seeking millions of dollars for damages he alleges he suffered due to sexual abuse.

Christopher Griego, 31, of Tracy filed a lawsuit in Sonoma County Superior Court on Jan. 2 in which he alleged he was sexually abused as a child. However, in that initial filing he did not specifically name anyone, referring only to a “John Doe,” according to court documents.

On May 5, his attorney – Richard Simons of Hayward – filed an amended complaint naming the diocese and Lakeport priest Father Ted Oswald.

The diocese's attorney, Dan Galvin of Santa Rosa, said Griego is seeking just over $2.5 million in total damages – from psychological and emotional damages, to current and future medical expenses and earnings losses.

Galvin said the complaint was just recently served on the diocese, which plans to file a response.

Griego's suit alleges he was the victim of sexual abuse from 1988 to 1995 – during which time he was a Lakeport parishioner and an altar boy – and that the diocese failed to protect him.

The amended complaint states that in 2006 Griego discovered that his “psychological injuries and illnesses” resulted from childhood sexual abuse, but his allegations do not include specific incidents.

A number listed in the phone book for Griego was not in service. Simons didn't return a call seeking comment on Thursday.

Court records show the case is set to have a hearing on Aug. 14.

On Sunday, at the end of morning mass at Saint Mary Immaculate Church in Lakeport, Oswald told his parish about the accusations and said he would be taking a leave of absence, as Lake County News has reported.

Dierdre Frontczak, the diocese's spokesperson, said Oswald was placed on administrative leave as of Monday, which is standard procedure when such an allegation is made.

Oswald requested, and was granted, administrative leaves of absence from his chaplain posts at the Lakeport Police Department and the Lake County Sheriff's Office, officials in those agencies confirmed.

Saint Mary Immaculate's priest since 1988, Oswald told Lake County News this week that he is innocent and that he wants his day in civil court to resolve the matter. He said he hopes to return to his parish and go back to work.

Oswald also has reported that parishioners and friends continue to offer their support and encouragement.

Galvin said cases such as this typically come down to the alleged victim's word versus that of the alleged perpetrator.

“In this situation, the plaintiff claims he was sexually abused,” said Galvin. “The priest denies vehemently it ever happened.”

He added, “Credibility is, typically, the key in these cases.”

How long the case could take to resolve is hard to say, said Galvin. Civil discovery will look into the background of the individuals involved, and depositions could take months to complete.

Many such cases end up in mediation before they get to trial, Galvin said.

It's also not guaranteed that the case will make it through. “We have had several of these cases thrown out by the trial court based on statute of limitations defenses,” Galvin said.

However, Galvin will be up against a tough opponent in Simons.

The biography listed for him on the Web site for his firm – Furtado, Jaspovice and Simons – reports he has extensive experience representing clients who bring sexual abuse cases. He was co-counsel for more than 125 victims in Northern California cases where child sex abuse was alleged against priests or other clergy, and assisted in bringing in more than $150 million in settlements and awards.

Griego never reported his abuse allegations to the Lakeport Police Department, officials there confirmed this week. Lakeport Police has asked the District Attorney's Office to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations, which is in progress.

David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, based in St. Louis, said he didn't consider it unusual for Griego's case to have begun in the civil courts and not the criminal system.

People alleged to have been abused by an authority figure are likely to distrust other authority figures – such as police and other law enforcement, according to Clohessy, who said he is an abuse victim.

When cases such as this go through the civil process, Galvin asserted that the plaintiffs are looking for money.

Clohessy acknowledged that there have been some false accusations made against clergy members – with money a motivation for some – but said if a person's goal is to scam the court system, sexual abuse is the wrong claim to make, because church officials hire defense attorneys who “fight brutally and ruthlessly” to beat the cases in court.

Frontczak said Oswald went before the diocese's review board, where he maintained his innocence and denied Griego's allegations.

The review board assists in investigating initial reports and accusations against clergy, said Frontczak.

Griego also has been invited to the board, but Frontczak said she doesn't know if he will appear. Very often individuals bringing abuse allegations don't want to meet with the board, she added.

Clohessy said his group urges people making abuse allegations to think “long and hard” before going to church authorities, because the group believes the church will not act in the victims' best interest.

He said he finds it troubling that, in cases like Oswald's, people rally to a clergy member's cause rather than waiting to see what will be determined in court.

That reaction by church and community members, he maintained, will discourage other alleged abuse victims from coming forward.

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SOUTH LAKE COUNTY – With its packed field, the campaign for District 1 has looked very much like a horse race and, true to form, Tuesday's result was a photo finish.

Susanne La Faver took 31.7 percent of the vote, with James Comstock coming in a hair behind at 30.5 percent of the south county vote.

In the final results Tuesday – which the Elections Office still must officially certify – La Faver took 599 votes, with Comstock edging to within 22 votes of her, with 577.

Don Dornbush, who came close to upsetting Ed Robey in his reelection bid four years ago, placed third, with 232 votes or 12.3 percent of the vote, followed by Scott Fergusson, 208 votes, 11 percent; Robert MacIntyre, 171 votes, 9 percent; and Joey Luiz, 99 votes, 5.2 percent. There also were four write-in candidates which accounted for 0.2 percent of the vote.

As the two frontrunners, La Faver and Comstock will now gear up for the next phase of the race, which will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 4, in concert with the presidential election.

La Faver said Tuesday's results were exactly what she had expected.

“We campaigned against five tough candidates,” she said. “We’re thrilled to be the top choice of District 1 voters. We look forward to discussing the issues with voters and our opponent during the next five months, then going on to win in November.”

Comstock said Tuesday night that it felt “really good” to be in the runoff.

La Faver, 59, a consultant and graduate business instructor at Golden Gate Unviersity, was one of the first candidates to declare her intention to run for the District 1 seat last summer when Supervisor Ed Robey announced he would not seek reelection. She later garnered Robey's endorsement.

Comstock, 58, a longtime member of the Middletown Unified School District Board of Trustees and a well-known local businessman and rancher, came into the race after La Faver.

“We got in a little later, and we're playing catch up and it looks like we caught up,” he said.

Throughout the returns Tuesday night, Comstock and La Faver had topped the field, with La Faver beginning with a sizable lead of absentees and votes reported from the initial precincts.

But as the last precincts were tallied, Comstock had closed the gap, coming to within less than two dozen votes of a tie.

Comstock said his lead issues – which have remained the same from the beginning – are jobs and the creation of businesses locally, which he said have resonated with people. His school board experience and lifelong residency also gained him support, he added.

Both La Faver and Comstock are getting ready to kick their campaigns into high gear for the five-month stretch ahead.

That includes looking at returns and trying to pick up voters from the four candidates – Dornbush, Fergusson, MacIntyre and Luiz – whose campaigns ended Tuesday.

La Faver said Tuesday she already had spoken with Joey Luiz and invited him to join her summer and fall campaign, indicating he had accepted.

Comstock said he suspects the November turnout will be much higher than that on Tuesday, which between absentees and precinct ballots cast amounted to 25.2 percent countywide, according to the Registrar of Voters report, with a 27.1 percent turnout in District 1.

Of the greater turnout expected in November, he added, “Who knows who that's gong to benefit?”

Find out more about the candidates at and

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


LAKE COUNTY – If you see a lot of helicopter activity around the county this week, you're likely noticing Pacific Gas and Electric Co. at work checking out its power line system.

The company is planning its annual helicopter patrols in parts of the county this week as a means of ensuring its power system's reliability.

Using helicopters, company representatives will check power distribution lines for maintenance from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, weather permitting.

The patrols will take place in Lake and Mendocino counties Wednesday through Friday, the company reported.

Company officials are looking for sagging lines, fallen tree limbs, vegetation overgrowth, potential fire hazards and other problems. Issues identified during these patrols will be corrected to ensure system safety and reliability going forward.

PG&E patrols and inspects all of its lines annually – more than 100,000 miles of them – to ensure safety and reliability, and to identify equipment in need of repair.

The company reported that the patrols allow officials to proactively schedule repairs of problems that might otherwise result in power outages.

In rough country, remote areas, or areas where there are fewer trees, the most efficient and sometimes only way to accomplish this is by helicopter.

Depending on the terrain and other seasonal obstacles, some power lines are inaccessible by truck and can only be seen from the air.

The helicopter patrols allow crews to get almost eyeball-to-equipment to identify potential problems, the company reported.


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