Monday, 22 July 2024


LAKE COUNTY – The California Highway Patrol (CHP) is giving thanks this holiday season for drivers who play by the rules and help make the state’s roads a safer place.

“Our message is simple … drive safe, drive sober and buckle up,” said Lt. Dane Hayward, Commander of the Clear Lake Area CHP office.

To emphasize safety on the roadways, the CHP has scheduled another Maximum Enforcement Period during the Thanksgiving holiday, according to CHP Officer Adam Garcia.

The official Thanksgiving holiday driving period begins Wednesday, Nov. 21 at 6 p.m. and continues through Sunday, Nov. 25. At the same time, the CHP will implement the Maximum Enforcement Period and put every available officer on the road.

Joining the thousands of CHP officers out on the road Thanksgiving week are millions of Californians, and crowded highways can often lead to frustrating moments at the wheel, CHP reported.

“Be prepared for traffic tie-ups, especially on the Wednesday before or the Sunday after Thanksgiving,” said Lt. Hayward.

In addition to busy roadways, inclement weather is another factor motorists may have to contend with. Rain, fog, wind and snow have been known to create not only frustrating, but hazardous conditions for drivers.

“Many crashes are caused by driving too fast for current conditions,” added Lt. Hayward.

Last year, during the Thanksgiving MEP, 42 people died in 4,768 collisions that occurred in California. More than half of the vehicle occupants killed were not wearing their seat belt.

Another sobering statistic: 1,670 people were arrested by CHP officers for driving under the influence last year over the Thanksgiving holiday; a nearly 10 percent increase from the same time period the previous year.

The Thanksgiving Maximum Enforcement Period also is an Operation CARE (Combined Accident Reduction Effort) holiday, Garcia reported.

Operation CARE is a joint program of the nation’s highway patrols that promotes safe driving on interstate highways during holiday periods, according to Garcia. CARE highways in California include Interstates 80, 40, 15 (San Bernardino to the Nevada border) and 5 (Bakersfield north to the Oregon line).

The Thanksgiving Maximum Enforcement Period will be one of the year's last. Garcia said every year CHP conducts the maximum enforcement operations on New Year's, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.


LAKEPORT – The California Highway Patrol has issued a report on a fatal Saturday crash which may have been caused by reckless driving.

The CHP reported that 61-year-old Wayne Stafford of Redwood Valley died as a result of the Saturday collision, which took place at about 1:30 p.m. on Highway 20 west of Scotts Valley Road.

Stafford was driving his 1990 Harley Davidson motorcycle westbound on Highway 20 “in a reckless manner,” passing other vehicles at high speeds while passing over double yellow lines in a right curve, according to CHP.

The road surface was wet due to the day's rainy weather, and the CHP reported that Stafford lost control of his motorcycle while passing over the double yellow lines.

The CHP report said the motorcycle went down on its left side and ejected Stafford onto the pavement.

Thomas Brower, 51, of Ukiah was driving his 1995 Toyota eastbound at between 50 and 55 miles per hour, according to the CHP. He hit the brakes but was unable to avoid hitting both Stafford and his motorcycle as they slid into the eastbound lane.

Stafford was transported to Sutter Lakeside Hospital where he died of his injuries, the CHP reported. Brower was physically uninjured.

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WASHINGTON – On Friday, the House passed a bill that would provide millions of middle-class families with tax relief and help grow our economy without increasing the national deficit.

One of the most important provisions in this bill would protect 23 million middle-class families from being hit by the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), including more than 42,000 families in California’s 1st Congressional District.

“The AMT was created to make sure multi-millionaires were paying their fair share. It was never designed to hit middle-class families,” said Congressman Mike Thompson, who voted in favor of the Temporary Tax Relief Act of 2007 (H.R. 3996). “This bill is going to bring tax relief to tens of thousands of working families throughout our district. And it’s not going to increase the national deficit by one cent.”

In regards to the AMT, this bill would provide one-year AMT relief for nonrefundable personal credits and increase the AMT exemption amount to $66,250 for joint filers and $44,350 for individuals.

In addition to fixing the AMT, this bill would:

  • Provide 30 million American homeowners with property tax relief;

  • Help 12 million families by expanding the child tax credit;

  • Help 4.5 million families better afford college with the tuition deduction;

  • Save 3.4 million teachers money with a deduction for classroom expenses; and

  • Provide thousands of American troops in combat with tax relief under the Earned Income Tax Credit.

“The new Majority in Congress made a firm commitment to fiscal responsibility,” said Thompson. “This bill provides millions of hard-working Americans with much-needed tax relief, without passing the cost onto our grandchildren and without borrowing from foreign countries, such as China. And it will provide significant help to Americans trying to achieve the dream of homeownership and higher education.”

The bill would also help spur economic growth. The Temporary Tax Relief Act would extend tax incentives targeting small businesses and provides assistance to homeowners facing foreclosure or bankruptcy.

The bill also contains provisions modeled upon two pieces of legislation authored by Congressman Thompson. H.R. 1576 would make permanent tax incentives to landowners who conserve our country’s agricultural land and open spaces. H.R. 1304 would improve the manner in which motor sports complexes may depreciate facility-related expenses.

The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.





LAKE COUNTY – Foreclosure rates around California continue to reach record levels, with foreclosures also continuing to climb in Lake County. {sidebar id=28}

A report released late last month by DataQuick Information Systems of La Jolla said that mortgage lenders started formal foreclosure proceedings on a record number of California homeowners in 2007's third quarter quarter, which resulted from declining home prices, sluggish sales and subprime mortgage distress.

A total of 72,571 Notices of Default – a notice given to a borrower that if they do not make payments by a certain deadline their property will be foreclosed on – were filed during the July-to-September period, according to DataQuick. That's up 34.5 percent from 53,943 during the previous quarter, and up 166.6 percent from 27,218 in third-quarter 2006.

Because a residence may be financed with multiple loans, last quarter's 72,751 default notices were recorded on 68,746 different residences, DataQuick reported.

In Lake County, Notices of Default in the third quarter numbered 129, up 20 over the second quarter of this year and 92.5 percent higher than the third quarter of 2006, in which there were 67 Notices of Default.

“That would be a record,” said DataQuick spokesman Andrew LePage.

In Sonoma County, Notices of Default rose 224 percent from last year, with Trustee Deeds jumping more than 500 percent. For Napa County, Notices of Default were up 279 percent over last year, and Trustee Deeds were up 720 percent.

Statewide, recorded Trustees Deeds – which marks the actual loss of a home to foreclosure – totaled 24,209 during the third quarter, the highest number in DataQuick's statistics, which go back to 1988, LePage reported.

Last quarter was up 38.7 percent from 17,458 for the previous quarter, and up 604.8 percent from 3,435 for last year's third quarter, according to DataQuick. The peak of the prior foreclosure cycle was 15,418 in third-quarter 1996, while the low was 637 in the second quarter of 2005.

In Lake County, there were 53 Trustee Deeds in the third quarter, a 342-percent increase over the third quarter of 2006, in which there were 12 Trustee Deeds, said LePage. That's another record, as it's also up from the 48 Trustee Deeds in 2007's second quarter.

Since 1996, the average number of Trustee Deeds filed in a given quarter was 16, LePage said.

“As long as the Notice of Default number is increasing, you're likely to see an increase in the number of foreclosures,” LePage explained.

On primary mortgages statewide, homeowners were a median five months behind on their payments when the lender started the default process. The borrowers owed a median $10,914 on a median $344,000 mortgage.

"We know now, in emerging detail, that a lot of these loans shouldn't have been made,” said DataQuick President Marshall Prentice. “The issue is whether the real estate market and the economy will digest these over the next year or two, or if housing market distress will bring the economy to its knees. Right now, most California neighborhoods do not have much of a foreclosure problem. But where there is a problem, it's getting nasty.”

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LAKE COUNTY – Events planned around Lake County today will honor the sacrifices veterans have made in order to protect our country throughout its history.

The Avenue of Flags is scheduled to fly at the Upper Lake Cemetery, Lower Lake Cemetery and Hartley Cemetery in Lakeport from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., weather permitting.

Dean Gotham, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 951, said his chapter is in charge of Hartley's Avenue of Flags.

If rain continues Sunday, the flags won't go up, said Gotham, and they're waiting to see what the weather will hold.

“I've been telling everyone to show up and the decision will be made at 0700,” he said.

At 8 a.m., a ceremony is planned at Hartley Cemetery's Veterans Circle, which local veterans groups dedicated on last Veterans Day, said Gotham. The circle is meant to be a resting place for indigent veterans.

The main event for the day will be the Lake County Veterans Day Ceremony will take place in the Theater Building at the Lake County Fairgrounds, 401 Martin St. The ceremony will begin at 11 a.m.

This year’s keynote speaker will be District 5 Supervisor Rob Brown.

The ceremony will include brief presentations of the county’s eighth annual “Friend of The Veteran” award and the United Veterans Council’s “Veteran of the Year” award.

Also taking part in the ceremony will be the Clear Lake High School Band, Lake County 4-H, Kelseyville Sea Scouts, Emily Barker, Ginny Craven and the United Veterans Council’s Military Funeral Team.

Immediately after the ceremony, the fourth annual Free Veterans Barbecue will take place at the Theater Building. The barbecue is sponsored by the United Veterans Council and all of Lake County’s Veterans Service Organizations.

Everyone is welcome to attend the ceremony and barbecue, and join in in remembering and honoring all veterans.

Also taking place through the rest of the weekend are poppy sales at Safeway, Longs, Century Market and Piedmont Lumber, according to the Vietnam Veterans of America. The poppy sales, which commemorate the World War I battles at Flanders Field, raise funds for local veterans groups.

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LAKEPORT – Officials have arrested a local dentist on a battery of charges, including burglary, forgery and obtaining controlled substances by fraud.

Dr. Scott Clayton Wheadon, DDS, 49, of Kelseyville was arrested on Nov. 7 by Lake County Narcotic Task Force agents, with the assistance of the California Highway Patrol, the Lake County Sheriff's Office and Lakeport Police Department, according to a report released to Lake County News Friday morning.

Wheadon is the dental director for Lake County Tribal Health's facility at 925 Bevins Court in Lakeport, according to a report from Lake County Narcotic Task Force Commander Richard Russell. Wheadon has been the dental director there for 10 years.

The arrest followed a four-month investigation, according to Russell.

In July, the task force received information that Wheadon was allegedly obtaining prescription medications for his personal use, which is illegal, Russell reported.

An investigation found evidence that Wheadon had allegedly obtained prescription medicals by fraud, deceit, misrepresentation or subterfuge on a number of occasions, according to Russell. Task force agents were able to identify some of those transactions through California Department of Justice records.

Agents contacted Wheadon at his office Wednesday while simultaneously serving a search warrant on his Kelseyville home, Russell said.

At Wheadon's home, Russell said agents found patient records, dental medications, and prescription medications Wheadon had allegedly obtained illegally.

They also found numerous firearms, including hunting rifles, a 9 mm pistol and a .38 pistol, said Russell. The firearms appeared to have been obtained legally, Russell added.

Wheadon was arrested on six felony charges, including procuring the administration of controlled substances by fraud, possessing controlled narcotic substances, forging or altering narcotic prescriptions, possessing a destructive device, forgery of prescriptions and first degree burglary.

The burglary charge, explained Russell, was added because Wheadon allegedly entered his place of work with the intent to commit a felony – in this instance, misrepresentation of a prescription.

The specific charges for which Wheadon was arrested stemmed from activities at his place of work, said Russell.

Russell would not disclose how long Wheadon was allegedly involved with the drug activities.

However, Wheadon's alleged activities don't appear linked to a larger prescription drug ring, and the drugs appeared to be for his personal use. “It was an isolated incident as far as we know,” said Russell.

Russell would not comment on a connection between Wheadon's alleged activities to obtain drugs and his patients.

Agents were unable to find evidence of similar alleged drug activity in other communities, Russell added.

According to jail booking records, Wheadon's bail was set at $65,000. By Friday morning Wheadon had posted bail and been released from the Lake County Jail.

According to his booking sheet, Wheadon is set to appear in court on Jan. 14, 2008.

On Jan. 31, 2008, Wheadon's dental license is set to expire, according to state Department of Consumer Affairs.

A call to Lake County Tribal Health to inquire about Wheadon's current employment status was not immediately returned.

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LAKE COUNTY – The Registrar of Voters Office has released an updated vote count for the Tuesday, Nov. 6 election.

No board seats have changed hands due the revised counts, although percentages have changed and write-in candidates have been tallied.


Lake County Office of Education Governing Board

Trustee Area 4 (ONE vacancy) – 5 of 5 precincts completed

David Browing: 1,370 votes, 78.6 percent

Larry A Juchert: 369 votes, 21.2 percent

Write-in candidates(s): 3, 0.2 percent

Mendocino-Lake College District Governing Board

Trustee Area 3 (ONE vacancy) – 16 of 16 precincts completed

Joan M. Eriksen: 2,340 votes, 55.3 percent

Larry MacLeitch: 1,887 votes, 44.6 percent

Write-in candidates(s): 8, 0.2 percent

Trustee Area 7 (ONE vacancy) – 16 of 16 precincts completed

Jerry DeChaine: 2,301 votes, 53.6 percent

Gary Taylor: 1,971 votes, 45.9 percent

Write-in candidates(s): 18, 0.4 percent

Kelseyville Unified School District Governing Board (THREE vacancies) – 7 of 7 precincts completed

John R. DeChaine: 1,021 votes, 18.8 percent

Gary Olson: 788 votes, 14.5 percent

Chris Irwin: 743 votes, 13.6 percent

Andy Dobusch: 735 votes, 13.5 percent

Valerie A. Ramirez: 579 votes, 10.6 percent

Don Boyd: 552 votes, 10.1 percent

Philip Murphy: 522 votes, 9.6 percent

Mireya Gehring Turner: 503 votes, 9.2 percent

Write-in candidates(s): 2, 0.0 percent

Lakeport Unified School District Governing Board (THREE vacancies) – 7 of 7 precincts completed

Bob Weiss: 932 votes, 24.5 percent

Robyn K. Stevenson: 916 votes, 24.1 percent

Philip T. Kirby: 847 votes, 22.3 percent

Craig Kinser: 734 votes, 19.3 percent

Patricia Jonas Voulgaris: 364 votes, 9.6 percent

Write-in candidates(s): 4, 0.1 percent

Lucerne Elementary School District Governing Board (ONE vacancy) – 4 of 4 precincts completed

Kay Hancock: 297 votes, 64.6 percent

Bruce Higgins: 163 votes, 35.4 percent

Write-in candidates(s): 0, 0.0 percent

Upper Lake Union High School District Governing Board (TWO vacancies) – 8 of 8 precincts completed

Annie Barnes: 560 votes, 29.0 percent

Colleen Alexander: 489 votes, 25.3 percent

Gary L. Lewis: 344 votes, 17.8 percent

Dawn R. Binns: 311 votes, 16.1 percent

Howard Chavez: 225 votes, 11.6 percent

Write-in candidates(s): 4, 0.2 percent


Anderson Springs Community Services District (TWO vacancies) – 1 of 1 precinct completed

Beatrice A. Moulton: 46 votes, 46.5 percent

Penelope D. Falduto: 42 votes, 42.4 percent

Daniel L. Wood: 11 votes, 11.1 percent

Write-in candidates(s): 0, 0.0 percent

Clearlake Oaks County Water District (THREE vacancies) – 2 of 2 precincts completed

Helen G. Locke: 333 votes, 23.2 percent

Mike Anisman: 259 votes, 18.0 percent

Frank Toney: 256 votes, 17.8 percent

Bob White: 244 votes, 17.0 percent

June A. Greene, 185 votes, 12.9 percent

Glenn R. Rowe, 157 votes, 10.9 percent

Write-in candidates(s): 2, 0.1 percent

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




LAKEPORT – A Saturday afternoon collision between a motorcycle and a vehicle has claimed one life.

The California Highway Patrol's Ukiah Dispatch Center confirmed Saturday evening that one person died as a result of the crash, which was reported at 1:33 p.m. on Highway 20 near Scotts Valley Road.

The CHP incident logs reported that a motorcycle collided with a dark-colored vehicle, with the vehicle going off the roadway and into the bushes.

At the same time, the motorcycle went into the lake, with the male rider down in the roadway, according to the logs. The crash blocked both lanes of traffic.

A caller reported to the CHP that an off-duty fireman and a nurse were doing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on one of the accident victims who, nearly 45 minutes later, had not regained consciousness.

The CHP reported Saturday night that a report on the accident had not yet been completed, and the CHP dispatcher did not have information on which one of the victims – the motorcycle rider of the vehicle's driver – had died.

The victim's name also was not available as of Saturday evening.

With the roads wet from a steady rain on Saturday, the CHP reported a number of non-injury collisions throughout the day along Highway 20.

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LAKE COUNTY – The first successful Congressional override of a veto in the Bush presidency will have direct impact on Lake County, with the bill in question authorizing an ecosystem restoration project.

President George W. Bush vetoed HR 1495, The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2007, on Nov. 2.

In his veto message to Congress Bush said the bill “lacks fiscal discipline,” authorizing over 900 projects and programs at a cost of $23 billion, with another $38 billion in appropriations necessary to complete all the projects in the future.

Bush added that the bill failed to set priorities, and should have focused on projects with “the greatest merit.” He said it will hinder the Army Corps of Engineers' ability to pursue critical projects in providing greater hurricane protection for New Orleans, flood reduction in Sacramento and restoration in the everglades.

However, with no WRDA bill passing in seven years, Congress acted to hand Bush the first veto override of his presidency.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted to override Bush's veto in a bipartisan 361-54 vote, according to Congressional records.

On Thursday morning, the Senate followed suit, overriding the veto in a 79-14 vote, with seven senators not voting.

Congressman Mike Thompson, who voted in favor of the House's override, greeted the Senate's action with enthusiasm on Thursday.

"The past three Congresses failed to pass WRDA, and when the new majority in Congress made sure its passage was a top priority, the president vetoed it,” said Thompson. “Fortunately, Congress voted to override the president's veto with a strong, bipartisan majority. Communities across the country have waited too long to repair aging infrastructure that’s putting their residents and businesses at risk.”

He took aim at the president's claims about the bill being “fiscally irresponsible,” saying the bill “does not spend one cent.”

“It is a multi-year authorization bill; spending only occurs when Congress later appropriates funds for projects,” Thompson explained.

“Much of our nation’s flood control and navigation infrastructure is out of date,” said Thompson. “Many environmental restoration projects are struggling with inadequate funding. This bill authorizes the government to spend the money necessary to keep our communities safe. It’s an excellent example of how this Congress is working to address the priorities of the American people.”

What it means to Lake County

One of the projects authorized, but not funded, in WRDA's 2007 version is the Middle Creek Ecosystem Restoration Project in the Northshore area.

The project will restore 1,200 acres of wetlands and 500 acres of floodplain in the Clear Lake area, as Lake County News has previously reported.

The project calls for reconnecting the Scott’s Creek and Middle Creek to the historic Robinson Lake wetland and floodplain. These two watersheds provide 57 percent of the water flow into Clear Lake.

Bob Lossius, Lake County's assistant director of Public Works, said the project is very important to Lake County, and has never been this far along before.

With the bill becoming law, it will authorize the project, which Lossius said is critical to getting the federal, state and private funds needed to complete the work.

“It's another step in keeping the project going,” he said.

He added, “The next step will be for Congressman Thompson and others to get us appropriations in appropriations bills to fund this project at the federal level.”

The total project is estimated to cost about $45 million, said Lossius. The federal government will only cover 65 percent of that amount, so the remaining 35 percent – just under $16 million – must come from state and local sources, including nonprofit groups and private donations.

WRDA itself, said Lossius, only authorizes Middle Creek. “It doesn't commit a single dime to it.”

Lossius added that the county already has a $5 million grant to go toward property acquisition, which can be used as a match to that local funding requirement.

“We'll keep plugging along, going after grants,” he said.

At the state level, the county will work with Sen. Patricia Wiggins and Assemblywoman Patty Berg to get the state to agree to implementing the project. If the state does agree, said Lossius, there is a 50-percent chance of getting up to 50 percent of that $16 million non-federal share.

With WRDA's authorization, state legislation to get the state reclamation board's participation is another item on the to do list, said Lossius.

He said the county also hopes that nonprofit groups will be willing to donate funding to push the project forward.

A lengthy process still ahead

Middle Creek already has a lengthy history, said Lossius.

In 1989, Tom Smythe, an engineer with the county's Water Resources Division, suggested fully restoring an 80- to 90-acre area of land along the Nice-Lucerne Cutoff that is now being transformed into an organic rice field. The owner at the time, however, was not willing to sell, said Lossius.

In 1994, the county, the state Department of Water Resources, property owners and the Army Corps of Engineers met to discuss the area's deteriorating levees, and what could be done to stop flooding.

The Army Corps of Engineers suggested the ecosystem restoration as the best method to improve water quality, benefit wildlife and reduce floods in the Middle Creek area, said Lossius.

In 1997, the Army Corps of Engineers completed a reconnaissance study on the program, Lossius explained. The study was to look at the best options for addressing all of the problems.

The Army Corps of Engineers then conducted environment and feasibility studies beginning in 1999. Those studies were completed in 2004, said Lossius, and cost about $1.5 million, with the county receiving $400,000 in grants to go toward the project, and the state adding another $400,000.

The Corps' conclusion, said Lossius, was that the full Middle Creek restoration was the best of about six alternatives analyzed. The Army Corps chief proposed it in his report to Congress in November 2004.

Then they had to wait three years for a WRDA bill, which takes the project to the next step, said Lossius.

The county, for several years, has been setting aside $400,000 in matching funds for the project's phase one design, said Lossius. “We've been putting it aside for the last three, four years, hoping that this thing would get authorized so we could move forward with design.”

The design's phase one actually will be split into three phases of its own to give the county the opportunity to get together the needed funds, Lossius explained.

Project design will cost between $2 million and $3 million total, said Lossius. The county already has an agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers to start the design once authorization and appropriation of the funds are in place.

About 13 homes still need to be moved out of the area – seven already have been moved, said Lossius – and 35 acres of Pomo land that will be flooded are still at issue. Lossius said the tribe has other land it would like to transfer into trust instead, but that has not yet been settled.

Restoring wetlands will improve water quality by filtering sediments out of the floodwaters that come out of the Scotts Creek and Middle Creek watersheds, said Lossius.

The project also will result in returning the area of Bloody Island – called Bo-No-Po-ti in the Pomo language – to an actual island once more when the lake is full, said Lossius.

So, how quickly could the project become a reality?

“The absolute best, if they appropriated at the federal level all of the funds and we had all of the non-federal funds available, it's going to take another three years just to get the design done,” said Lossius.

It would then move to construction, said Lossius. His best guess for the quickest completion would be five years.

However, realistically, it's more likely 10 to 15 years to get such a project completed, he said.

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United Veterans Council Military Funeral Honors Team raises the flag at Veterans Circle Sunday morning. Photo by Ryan Eldredge.

LAKEPORT – Veterans gathered at Hartley Cemetery in Lakeport for a special ceremony on Sunday.

Following the raising of the Avenue of Flags, the United Veterans Council Military Funeral Honors Team held a flag raising ceremony at the cemetery's Veterans Circle, an area created to eventually be the final resting place of indigent veterans.

Firing party commander Rich Feiro – also known as “our fearless leader” to the other veterans in the group – explained that each year the team honors a veteran during the raising of the colors.

This year, Harry Stivers, who retired from the Air Force, was honored and his flag was raised, then lowered to half mast along with the POW/MIA flag. Stivers' family was in attendance for the ceremony.

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Veteran Harry Stivers was honored in this year's ceremony. Photo by Ryan Eldredge.




LAKEPORT – Sheriff's investigators hope that technology will offer them another clue in the unsolved murder of a Nice man. {sidebar id=26}

Lt. Cecil Brown of the Lake County Sheriff's Office released a statement Friday to update the community on the investigation into the death of 39-year-old Paul Joseph Womachka.

Womachka was reported missing on June 27 by his ex-wife and business partner, Erica Womachka, as Lake County News previously reported. Two days later, his body was found in his Hey Taxi minivan, underwater in Big Valley Rancheria's marina.

On Friday, Brown reported that sheriff's investigators are waiting for the results of a forensics examination on several pieces of evidence, about which Brown did not elaborate. A previous report explained that the Department of Justice was conducting DNA analysis to identify one or more individuals who may have been present at the time of the murder.

One piece of possible evidence he did share pertained to the minivan itself.

Brown said detectives are working with experts from General Motors to recover any available information from the on-board computer of the van. The computer may reveal details of when and how the van was driven before it entered the lake.

“We're not sure exactly what it's going to tell us yet,” said Brown.

The hope, said Brown, is that the computer will reveal the position of the throttle when the minivan went into the water.

A previous sheriff's office report said the van crashed through a fence before going in the water.

On Friday, Northshore Dive Team members John Rodriguez and Keith Hoyt told Lake County News that they found the minivan in about 9 feet of water. The van was discovered as water depth measurements were being taken for BoardStock.

Hoyt said the minivan was about 10 to 15 feet offshore, and that water weeds had kept the vehicle from moving farther. The windows were down and the minivan was filled with water, with Womachka still inside.

Divers did not remove Womachka's body from the vehicle, said Hoyt. Instead, the van was pulled from the water and tarped, and Lake County Sheriff's investigators had it moved from the scene.

Investigation still lacks rancheria's cooperation

At about midnight on June 27, Womachka received a call from Robinson Rancheria, where he was hired to drive Morgan Matthew Jack, 30, to his home at Big Valley Rancheria.

“He didn't want to take that ride,” Erica Womachka told Lake County News Friday.

Nevertheless, Paul Womachka took the job and never returned home.

After his body was found, an autopsy would confirm that he had been murdered, according to the sheriff's office.

However, the precise cause of Womachka's death has yet to be made public.

Even now, investigators are carefully guarding the information.

Brown said Friday that sheriff's investigators asked him not to comment on the cause of Womachka's death, which he said is too revealing.

“There is going to be some information we're going to hold onto,” Brown said.

Brown said he was not aware of Womachka having received any threats prior to his death. “Everything that I've heard is that he was easy to get along with and not prone to conflict.”

Morgan Jack initially was taken into custody and questioned in connection with the case, since he was believed to be among the last people to see Womachka alive, according to the sheriff's office.

Later, Jack was taken into custody by state officials for a parole violation, and moved to San Quentin for processing.

Since then, state parole officials have released Jack, said Brown.

“He is out of custody,” said Brown, who added, “He has not been cleared from this investigation.”

In early September Brown released a statement in which he explained that the sheriff's office was receiving no cooperation from Big Valley Rancheria in the investigation.

Brown reported at that time that sheriff's investigators had received second-hand information that a number of people at the rancheria had either described the attack on Womachka in detail or claimed to have taken part in it.

He told Lake County News in a previous interview that when sheriff's investigators went to the rancheria to question certain individuals, those people literally ran away or had already gone into hiding.

After that initial public statement, Brown said he received a call from Tribal Chair Valentino Jack, who promised to cooperate with the investigation, including providing rancheria maps to the sheriff's office.

Det. Nicole Costanza has yet to receive that promised information from Valentino Jack, Brown added. Neither have any significant witnesses come forward, Brown added.

“The detectives continue contacting and interviewing people who live in that area but nobody has provided any significant information,” said Brown.

A call Lake County News placed to Valentino Jack's office at Big Valley Rancheria was not returned.

Family searches for answers

Connie Goetz, Erica Womachka's stepmother, said that Paul Womachka's family continues to feel the repercussions of his death.

One of the most disturbing things the family has faced is that Womachka's three sons have been harassed over the murder by other children at school, said Goetz.

A girl who sat behind one of the boys in class, reportedly the niece of Morgan Jack, laughingly told Womachka's son that her uncle had murdered his father.

“We went right to the police,” said Goetz.

Erica Womachka agreed that her sons have been struggling with their father's death at the same time as they've had to deal with the cruelty of some of their peers.

Although she hasn't been threatened, Erica Womachka said she doesn't feel safe since her ex-husband – and best friend – was murdered.

“I do feel that my children are sometimes in danger because of this situation,” she said. “How immediate it is, I can't say.”

As a result, she is considering leaving Lake County. But she said she wants her sons to help make that decision which, so far, they've been unwilling to do. “They all don't feel like they want to leave.”

Womachka said she has been unemployed since the murder, and has been devoting her time to homeschooling her sons. “I am definitely going to need to do something soon,” she said.

Because Paul and Erica Womachka were divorced, his next of kin are, technically, his parents, who live in Iowa, Erica Womachka said. She said investigators have been relaying information to the Iowa family members.

Goetz said that Det. Nicole Costanza has made herself available to answer the family's questions, but that investigators have been careful in what they've told the family as well. “They told Erica she may never know the cause of death,” Goetz said.

Erica Womachka said she believes local authorities are doing everything they can to solve the case.

The approaching holidays can be a tough time for families suffering a loss. To help deal with that, Erica Womachka said her sons will go back to spend time with their father's family in Iowa, a trip her sons are looking forward to taking.

Looking back at her ex-husband's murder, Erica Womachka said she has a hard time believing that four months have passed already.

Added Goetz, “There's got to be some kind of closure in all of this.”

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


LAKE COUNTY – The prosecution of sex offenders in Lake County remains a top priority for the District Attorney’s Office, with prosecutors netting another conviction on a sex-related case.

On Nov. 7, Judge Stephen Hedstrom sentenced Daniel Reneker, age 65, to six years in state prison for failing to register as a sex offender, according to a report from Deputy District Attorney John DeChaine.

Reneker is required to register pursuant to penal code section 290 as a result of two prior sex offenses, DeChaine said.

In 1985, Reneker was convicted of committing a lewd or lascivious act on a child under the age of 14 in Solano County, according to DeChaine. In 1995, Reneker was convicted of sexual battery in Yolo County. Both prior convictions were felony convictions but only the 1985 conviction qualifies as a strike in California.

Reneker last registered as a sex offender in Vallejo, California in April 2006, said DeChaine. Local authorities were not aware that Reneker was residing in Lake County until this past January, when Reneker was discovered living in Lower Lake.

State law requires that certain convicted sex offenders, including Reneker, register within five working days of changing residences, DeChaine reported. The investigation, which was conducted by Det. Mike Curran of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, yielded information that Reneker had been residing in Lake County for at least two months prior to his arrest on Feb. 1.

DeChaine said the District Attorney's Office filed the complaint against Reneker on Feb. 5.

Reneker pleaded guilty on May 4 to one felony count of failing to register as a sex offender, in violation of Penal Code section 290(a)(1)(A) and the District Attorney’s Office required that he admit that he had suffered a prior strike conviction, DeChaine said.

The court sentenced Reneker to the upper term of three years in prison for failing to register, according to DeChaine.

However, because Reneker was required to admit the prior strike conviction, DeChaine said Reneker's prison sentence of three years was enhanced to a total of six years.

The admission of the prior strike conviction also mandates that Reneker will not be eligible for parole until he serves at least 80 percent of his prison commitment, DeChaine reported. Had Reneker not been required to admit his prior strike conviction, he would have been eligible for parole after serving only 50 percent of his time.


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