Tuesday, 16 July 2024

News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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T. Watts at the KPFZ microphone. Courtesy photo.
 

 


Seems like love should be easier to bear

But it’s such a heavy load

World wide traveler, you ain’t been nowhere

Till you’ve traveled down love’s road

Smokey Robinson (A Fork In The Road, circa 1965)


It was announced last week that Smokey Robinson will be appearing at Konocti Harbor Spa & Resort later this summer. Robinson is one of the ever-shrinking group of legendary Motown artists still performing on a grand scale.


As I’ve stated before Smokey Robinson was my favorite artist during my most sensitive years. You know, the teen ones.


My high school buddies and I used to debate for hours into days, the merits of the group Robinson fronted, The Miracles versus the Temptations.


My buddies were all Temptations freaks. They couldn’t help it. The Temptations were glossy and sharp. From their chemically processed hair to their precision choreographed stage routines, they could truly get down. Everyone in the group could sing lead as well. They really were probably the most rounded of all the Motown ensembles.


However if the Tempts were the consummate showmen, Smokey Robinson was the consummate artist. According to the Songwriters Hall of Fame he has written more than 1,000 songs. (Other sources suggest that the actual number is more than 4,000!)


That was the crowning point of my teenaged debates. The fact that Mr. Robinson was writing for virtually every act at Motown put him in a category that defies normal description.


And he has continued to grow. When I last interviewed the King of Motown in 2004 he’d recently appeared here in Lake County at Robinson Rancheria as well as at Cache Creek.


I’d seen him perform prior to that way back in 1967, 37 years before. He has actually become a better dancer over that time period, than he was when he was a young man. Well into his 60s when he was here last, I observed him do a 90-minute set, then a meet and greet with fans for over an hour after the gig. He’s in great shape.


That is not to say that there have not been some bumps in the road of life for Robinson as well. It’s all detailed in his biography titled “Inside My Life,” co-written with David Ritz.


If you want to be more intimate with Robinson, word is he has just joined Twitter. The global village is yet shrinking. Smokey Robinson is up on the new technology for staying in touch. The King of Motown still walks among us.


Keep prayin’, Keep thinkin’ those kind thoughts!


*****


Upcoming cool event:


Blue Wing Blue Monday Blues

Lake Blues All-Stars, Monday, March 30, 6:30 p.m. at the Blue Wing Saloon & Café. 9520 Main St., Upper Lake. 707- 275-2233


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

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

 

 

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


1981 murders led to prison sentence


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


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


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


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

 

 

 

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

 

 


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


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


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


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


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


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


Process moved quickly


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

 

 

 

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

 

 


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Deasy seen as a martyr


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


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


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


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


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


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

 

 

 

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

 

 


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


A case of troubling timing


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Both Hopkins and Mitchell agreed.


“My thoughts exactly,” said Hopkins.


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

THE GEYSERS – The Geysers area felt a sizable earthquake on Friday afternoon.


The 3.0-magnitude quake was reported at 12:21 p.m., according to the US Geological Survey.


The quake, which occurred at a depth of 1.4 miles, was centered two miles north of The Geysers, five miles west of Cobb and seven miles west northwest of Anderson Springs, the US Geological Survey reported.


The last quake measuring 3.0 or above in the county was reported on March 5, as Lake County News has reported. It measured 3.3 on the Richter scale and was centered two miles north northeast of The Geysers.


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

 

 


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

 

 

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

LAKE COUNTY – Lake County Public Health, along with health departments across the country, recognizes April 6-12 as “National Public Health Week.”


This year’s theme of “Building the Foundation for a Healthy America” calls attention the importance of Public Health in building healthy communities.


Although huge strides have been made over the last century to improve overall health, there is still much to be done, according to a statement from the office of Dr. Karen Tait, the county's public health officer.


Just a few examples of successful public health measures are vaccinations, sanitation and clean water programs, reduction of tobacco use, and improved dental health.


Despite these successes, many challenges remain.


Although the United States is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, it has one of the lowest life expectancy rates among developed nations.


Babies born in America are three times more likely to die than those born in some developing countries.


Obesity rates are up 36 percent in the past 20 years. Despite some successes in reducing tobacco use, one of two young people who start and continue to smoke will be killed by tobacco-related illness.


Statistics for the period of 2004-08 show that Lake County falls short of national objectives and behind the majority of other California counties in a number of areas.


Out of 58 counties in California, Lake County ranks between 53 and 57 in a variety of categories, including death from all causes, all cancers, chronic lower respiratory disease, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, unintentional injuries, motor vehicle crashes, suicide and drug-induced deaths.


On the positive side, Lake County statistics rank much better in comparison with many other California counties in the categories of diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, influenza/pneumonia and infant mortality.


Officials report that Public Health is everywhere you look, but often goes unrecognized. Its work is done quietly and often confidentially.


Communicable disease investigators work to prevent the spread of tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases, meningitis, and other serious infections.


Public Health nurses and health educators work with health professionals and the community to assure that vaccinations are completed on schedule, to promote sound nutrition practices, and assist with prevention of dental decay.


Public Health promotes a lifetime of age-appropriate health screenings for anemia, cancer, heart disease, and other health conditions.


Environmental health inspectors work to keep retail food safe, maintain good sanitation systems, and prevent hazardous exposures.


Public health professionals plan together with hospitals, emergency responders, and community members to prepare for an influenza pandemic and other public health emergencies.


These activities and more are the core of Public Health. They are essential to keeping the community safe and healthy.


Moving ahead, the country faces continuing and changing health challenges. Public Health officials want to build communities in a way that promotes healthy lifestyles and is in balance with the environment. The goal is to help people avoid preventable disease, be emotionally well, and live full and productive lives.


National Public Health Week is an opportunity to appreciate the important foundation that Public Health services provide and to recognize the continuing and new health challenges that we face in the future.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harold LaBonte contributed to this report.

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

 

 

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

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The 26th annual Catfish Derby will be held in Clearlake Oaks the weekend of May 15, 16 and 17, and included in this year’s festivities will be the inaugural Catfish Derby Cook-Off.


Get out your old family recipes or pull something new out of your head, because the prestige alone in winning the inaugural event is worth it. We hope to see some really inspired and creative dishes to start this tradition off right.


Cooking will be done at the Live Oak Senior Center, 12502 Foothill Blvd., and judging will take place at the Clearlake Oaks fire station.


The entry fee is $15 if entered before May 2, entries received after May 2 will be $20. Visit www.clearlakeoaks.org for entry forms and complete contest rules.


Wondering where to find catfish? Catfish filets will be available for purchase at the Nylander’s Red and White Grocery store nearby the cooking facilities the week of the competition.


Entries for this contest can consist of any category of food, e.g., breakfast, lunch, or dinner; main course, salad, side dish or dessert; hors d’oeuvres or beverage; but all entries must contain catfish.


Best catfish recipe awards are as follows:


  • First prize: $250 cash, wines from almost every winery in the county and a trophy;

  • Second prize: $150 cash, a wine basket from the Lake County Winegrape Commission and a trophy (estimated values, $350);

  • Third prize $100 cash and a trophy.


There also will be a trophy awarded for the most unique dish, and another for the person who travels the farthest distance to enter.


Anyone over 21 years old can enter (Lake County wines will be among the awards and you must be 21 years old to receive).


The competition will take place on Saturday, May 16.


For the contest's complete rules go to www.clearlakeoaks.org. Failure to follow the complete official rules may result in disqualification.


Here is a brief rundown of the rules.


1. Eligibility. Anyone is eligible to enter, whether amateur or professional cook/chef. Must be 21 years or older to enter (alcoholic prizes will be awarded). Entry fee is $15 per recipe entered. Entries arriving after May 2nd will still be accepted, but the entry fee will then be $20. Entrants may present more than one dish, but each entry will be considered separately. All recipes must contain catfish.


2. Procedures and policies. Anyone can enter by sending their name, address, phone number, and name of dish to be cooked with the appropriate entry fee to: Catfish Derby, P.O. Box 1211, Clearlake Oaks, CA 95423. Entry deadline is May 2, though late entries will be accepted (see above). On May 9, every entrant will receive notification of their time slot when the kitchen at the Live Oak Senior Center will be available for them to do their final cooking and plating. Competition will begin at 10 a.m. Entrants will have 20 minutes to cook and plate their dish. The final cooking and plating must be done at the senior center. Basic food preparations are to be done off site – no facilities for preparation will be provided. To promote uniformity of entries, covered containers will be provided for each entry for transportation and presentation to the judging area. No raw fish of any type may be presented. Entrants will need to prepare four servings of each entry, one for each of the three judges and one for the announcer outside so that he/she may give a description to the audience of what is being judged.


3. Judging. Judging will be based on taste, presentation, and on any particular factors at the judges’ discretion. Judges will rate each dish independently, giving each a score of up to 10 points for taste, up to five points for presentation, and up to five points to be awarded at each judge’s personal discretion. Criteria for “most unique” will be subject to the judges’ interpretation of items that were beyond expectation, represented a new concept, or surprised the judges in some way. The panel of judges will be introduced and present at the time the winners are announced. All decisions by the judges and the Catfish Derby Committee are final.


So get creative, have fun, and we’ll see you there!


Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community.

CLEARLAKE OAKS – The Clearlake Oaks County Water District has released three much-anticipated audits of its finances, which raise concerns over financial management and internal controls.


The audits will be the focus of a special meeting on April 9 at the Lake Village Estates Clubhouse, 400 Sulphur Bank Road. The meeting starts at 6 p.m.


The water board directors approved the audits late last year in the face of the district's financial problems coming to a head.


District Board President Mike Benjamin said he and other board members can't comment on the specifics of the audits until the April 9 meeting.


The full audits can be downloaded at the district's Web site, www.clocwd.org/.


El Dorado Hills-based auditor Larry Bain, a certified public accountant, looked at fiscal years ending in June of 2006, 2007 and 2008, and issued findings that target internal controls and financial management.


District board members at the time of the first two audits were Pat Shaver, June Green, Glenn Rowe, Bob White and Harry Chase.


In November 2007, Green, Rowe and White were voted out of office in favor of Mike Anisman, Helen Locke and Frank Toney. Last August, Shaver resigned, to be followed the following month by Anisman and Locke. They have since been succeeded by Mike Benjamin, Judy Heeszel and Dena Barron.


Bain's report contained an “adverse opinion” on the district's financial procedures because they failed to follow Governmental Accounting Standards Board guidelines. The audit further identified numerous “significant deficiencies” in internal controls that prevent the district from being able to properly and reliably handle its financial data.


The district had not completed an audit since June 30, 2005. Bain's findings point out that government code requires the district to complete audits within one year of the end of a fiscal year.


New financial controls suggested


Among Bain's recommendations were a list of new financial controls, including putting measures in place “to segregate duties so that one employee cannot override controls, without being detected. We also recommend the District have controls in place to perform internal audit checks designed to detect irregularities.”


Bain's audit found that the district was not making all required payroll tax payment to the Internal Revenue Service, the Employment Development Department and the Public Employee Retirement System. The audit found that in June of 2007, $67,366 was owed to the IRS, $8,086 was owed to the EDD and $30,309 was owed to PERS.


In February of 2008, the IRS levied the district's bank account for $48,990, which included $2,081 in penalties and the $46,809 unpaid balance.


The audit also pointed to issues with missing statements for the Local Agency Investment Fund (LAIF) investment account from December 2005 to May 2006. During that time they noted the LAIF balance, was reduced by $165,000, funds which appeared to have been transferred to other district accounts.


Significant issues arose from the district's failure to reconcile its general ledger on a regular basis during the 2006-07 fiscal year. At one point, more than $254,000 in outstanding checks had not been reconciled. That resulted in the general ledger's cash balance being overstated by $121,951. Bain's recommendation is that the district reconcile its bank account on a monthly basis.


Bain's audit found that the district was making infrequent bank deposits in 2007, with staff holding more than $61,000 in the district safe. “Infrequent deposits increase the risk of kiting, theft or other types of fraud,” Bain noted, recommending the district make the deposits more frequently.


Other findings included a $1,500 interest-free loan in January of 2006 that was made to an employee, who was not identified. The district's records revealed no supporting loan agreement or purchase order for the loan.


Bain said a review of the books found the loan had been repaid, but he suggested the district not loan money to employees. “This could be construed as a misuse of public funds,” the audit stated.


The findings also showed that the district's investment pool funds plummeted from more than $350,000 at the end of fiscal year 2005-06 to just over $13,000 at the end of July 2008.


Other issues Bain found included: A check for more than $48,000 reported as outstanding was voided and had actually been written for half of that amount; a staffer was allowed to drive to deliver vendor checks, which resulted in mileage reimbursement; lack of inventory counts; no district board minutes prepared from January 2007 through to the date of the audit's field work; schedules of capital assets weren't maintained; numerous disbursement checks that had no documentation; and the district's water and sewer fund activities were not reported as separate major funds.


Bain's findings noted that the district's current auditor/bookkeeper, Jana Saccato, has begun the process of cleaning up employee files and organizing records. Because Saccato is new to governmental accounting, Bains suggests the district should provide her with training, and should cross-train employees so there is more than one employee knowledgeable in each of the districts accounting procedures.


The audit found that the district didn't have a written financial and accounting policy that included internal control procedures. It suggested the district needed to create such policies.


District board member Frank Toney said the district will be able to discuss publicly at the April 9 meeting the measures it's taking to come into compliance with the audit's recommendations.


Questions over overtime, personal charges on credit cards


The audits covered a period of time during the tenure of previous general manager, Ellen Pearson, who was replaced by the district's current general manager, Darin McCosker, in January of 2008. She left the district in March of 2008, receiving severance pay of approximately $31,623.21, which she was entitled to under the district's personnel rules, according to McCosker.


Pearson's attorney, Tom Quinn, said Pearson was still reviewing the audits and was not prepared to comment on them.


During the 2007-08 fiscal year, Pearson collected nearly $30,000 in overtime, the audit reported. She billed 863 hours of overtime during that time frame, with nearly 75 overtime hours logged in September of 2007 alone.


“According to the personnel policy, the general manager position is an exempt position and should not be paid overtime,” the audit notes.


Rowe, however, said the board had allowed Pearson to draw overtime, and even bought her a computer so she could work at home.


When the district lost its bookkeeper, Pearson also took over those duties, said Rowe.


“She was doing too much, had too big a load and that became a real problem,” Rowe said.


Rowe said the previous boards had gotten along well with Pearson and supported her.


The audits found that while Pearson was general manager of the district she made thousands of dollars in personal charges – or charges without any supporting documentation to show they were for district supplies – on a district credit card.


The district's former auditor/bookkeeper, who was not named, also used the credit card for personal charges, according to the audit.


“We calculated the auditor/bookkeeper charged $5,769 in personal charges and the general manager charged $8,572 in personal charges,” the audit noted.


Both Pearson and the former auditor/bookkeeper were reimbursing the district for the expenses, according to the audit.


However, the audit found some expenditures for which the district didn't appear to have been reimbursed, including a $169 charge for a veterinarian in the 2006 fiscal year.


In several cases, Bain noted there were missing credit card statements and lack of supporting documentation on the specifics of the charges.


In July of 2007, Pearson charged $718.83, and Bain couldn't locate supporting documentation for $445.91 she spent at Cabela's Inc. No statement could be located for October of 2007, and no invoices supported November 2007 charges of $1,343.72. In December of 2007, Pearson charged $241.61 at Wal-Mart as a district expense, but Bain found no invoice to support the charge.


“We did not observe any credit card reimbursements for personal charges during the 2007/2008 fiscal year, nor could we determine if any of the charges were for personal use because of incomplete documentation,” Bain wrote.


Both Pearson and the former auditor/bookkeeper appeared to be the only employees using the credit cards for personal use, the audit found. “They also were the employees charged with monitoring compliance with the program,” the document stated.


The findings also included notations that many of Pearson's paychecks did not include state or federal income tax withholdings, including her final March 2008 check.


The audit found Pearson was allowed to sell back vacation and sick time to the district, despite the fact that she did not have the requisite amount of time in reserve, according to district protocols.


District's financial picture becoming better


Last year, the district's financial situation came to a head, with McCosker at one point in a public meeting estimating the district was in a $250,000 deficit. The precise numbers of how deep the district was in the hole are still not entirely clear.


He said when he started as general manager in early 2008 he was facing an uphill battle due to few rate increases having been implemented in recent years. From 1999 to 2004, rates were either frozen or rolled back. Then in 2005, there was a small increase that he said amounted to less than 3 percent.


“That's not enough,” he said. “It was too little, too late.”


Rowe agreed with that estimate, explaining that during his four years on the board only one rate increase went through. “We didn't increase the rate fast enough,” he said. “We ran into a hell of a problem.”


He said the government regulations on the district kept increasing and the result was that the district lost more money to government and was able to put less money toward its own needs.


Last fall, after making rate increase proposals that included one of nearly 40 percent – which resulted in significant community outcry last summer – the board went through resignations and new additions, and a small, more palatable rate increase went into effect in November, as Lake County News has reported.


“Things have turned around,” said Toney.


McCosker said the increase amounted to a total of 17.7 percent on sewer and water bills, or about $9.95 per customer per month.


They also dealt with major rate inequities, such as charges on mobile and manufactured homes and some sewer charges, which McCosker included among the district's major accomplishments.


He estimates the district is now about $70,000 in the black.


“I'm ecstatic,” McCosker said of how the district has been able to resolve some of its problems.


The adjusted rates also are going to allow the district to start rebuilding its reserves, he said.


Those reserves – which the audits noted had been depleted from about $350,000 down to about $13,000 between 2006 and 2008 – were eaten away because the district's rates weren't sufficient to meet its financial needs, said McCosker.


Having strong reserves in the district's LAIF account will be necessary to carry out future capital projects, such as replacing the High Valley water tank. McCosker said that project is likely to cost about $600,000.


McCosker said he'll wait for the district board to discuss on April 9 how it's implementing Bain's recommendations. However, he did note some changes already in place, such as careful handling of the district's bank accounts to avoid overdraft charges. In 2007, he said the district paid almost $6,000 in overdraft charges, but they haven't had a single one since he took over.


He credits Benjamin's leadership and administrative experience – Benjamin has served on numerous councils and boards in other communities over the years – in helping put the district on a firmer footing and making sure meetings are run correctly.


With the audits now in hand, McCosker said he can craft a good budget. He said he intends to have a proposed budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year by the middle of June.


It's been an exhausting process, but McCosker said the district has done everything it can to put things right. “I'm damn proud.”


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

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