Sunday, 21 July 2024



NORTH COAST, Calif. – Years after he left the military, Jack Alderson began asking questions about chemical testing he was involved in and its effects on his health and the health of others.

Those efforts led to the introduction of a bill earlier this month that would offer health benefits to veterans exposed to chemical agents during two classified government projects in the 1960s and 1970s.

North Coast Congressman Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) and Republican Congressman Denny Rehberg of Montana introduced HR 5954 on May 1.

If passed, the bill will provide Veterans Affairs health benefits to veterans who were exposed to biological, chemical or other toxic agents as part of Project 112 and Project SHAD.

Rehberg said the legislation is loosely crafted after that which was written to address Agent Orange. A similar bill previously was introduced but it died in the Senate.

Project 112, which included Project SHAD, was a series of tests conducted between 1963 and 1973 by the Department of Defense and other federal agencies, according to Thompson and Rehberg. During these projects, a number of weapons containing chemical and biological agents such as VX nerve gas, Sarin nerve gas and E. coli were tested on unknowing military personnel.

According to the Force Health Protection and Readiness Program tests were conducted on the open sea in the North Atlantic, open water locations of the Pacific Ocean and near the Marshall Islands, Hawaii, Baker Island, Puerto Rico and the California coast. In addition, there were land-based tests in Alaska, Hawaii, Maryland, Florida, Utah, Georgia and in Panama, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Testing took place at the Deseret Test Center at Fort Douglas, Utah, according to a Department of Defense fact sheet. Project SHAD – which stands for “Shipboard Hazard and Defense” – took place offshore.

Its purpose was “to identify U.S. warships' vulnerabilities to attacks with chemical or biological warfare agents and to develop procedures to respond to such attacks while maintaining a war-fighting capability,” the Department of Defense fact sheet explained. The project sought to find out how chemical and biological agents behaved under different climatic, environmental and use conditions.

But the true nature of the classified projects was kept under wraps for decades, and is still only slowly being revealed, according to Thompson.

Bringing the truth to light

Shortly after he was elected to Congress in 1998, Thompson said he was approached by one of his constituents from Humboldt County, Ferndale resident Jack Alderson, who had been a tugboat commander during Project SHAD. Alderson had become ill and had cancer issues but couldn't get answers about the project from the government.

“For years they denied that this was ever happening,” said Thompson.

Similarly, Rehberg said he was approached by a constituent on the day he was sworn into Congress in 2001.

Alderson, 74, said he's been fighting to break the issue loose since 1993.

When President John F. Kennedy was elected, the US had a strong nuclear program, but lacked similar strength in biological and chemical weaponry, explained Alderson.

Kennedy directed his secretary of defense, Robert McNamara, to strengthen the nation's chemical program, and the result was Project 112 which included Project SHAD and gave rise to the development of chemical weapons such as Agent Orange, said Alderson.

In October of 1964, Alderson – at the time a 32-year-old lieutenant who had served in the Navy for 10 years – was assigned to Project SHAD, along with several hundred other experienced sailors and officers. The point was to see how a Navy warship could hold up under chemical attack.

“We were all ordered in,” Alderson said. “None of us were volunteers.”

The testing involved all branches of the military. Alderson commanded five Army tugboats, each of which had a Navy lieutenant as the officer in charge and a crew of 11 sailors, handpicked for their experience and secret clearances.

Alderson said they were trained how to decontaminate a ship after a test and conduct air sampling. After two months of training, he reported to his superiors that they were ready for their mission.

President Lyndon Johnson signed off on the tests, which Alderson said commenced in January of 1965.

The tugboats left Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and went to Johnston Island, southwest of the Hawaiian islands, where Alderson said the tests took place. Accompanying the tugs was the laboratory ship, Granville S. Hall.

Alderson said the tugs would go out to sea for six days at a time, and would form a line as long as 100 miles. On their decks would be three caged Rhesus monkeys, although some tests didn't involve animals.

Two Marine jets would fly over and spray a chemical weapon – including E coli., Bacillus globigii, Coxiella burnetti, Pasteurella tularensis and fluorescent particles – as well as a trace element and simulants. Alderson said the tugs had small labs on board, where they would take air samples. All of the chemicals used were carcinogenic.

Some tests involved the tugs taking out barges of monkeys which were sprayed with the neurological agents Sarin and VX. Those agents weren't used directly on the tugs, said Alderson.

The tugs would then go to the laboratory ship in rotations, taking the sick monkeys and their air samples. “The monkeys were not in good shape,” he said.

The monkeys, if they survived, would be observed by lab technicians on the laboratory, who eventually would euthanize the animals and conduct necropsies on them.

Alderson and his fellow Navy men began to suffer health problems themselves, including respiratory issues. They also noticed their immune systems suffered after they were vaccinated against the chemical agents.

The operations in the Pacific were carried out through rehearsal and written instructions, said Alderson. They stayed off the radio, not wanting anyone to know they were there conducting tests.

Alderson was involved in the secret operations until 1967. He made trips back to the Deseret Testing Center in Ft. Douglas, Utah, and that's where he met Jack Barry, who had been in an Army chemical corps for five years but was a civilian working for the Department of Defense by the time he met Alderson.

Barry, who was the right-hand man to the Marine colonel overseeing a number of biological tests, would be in Oahu, Hawaii, during the late spring and early summer of 1965, when officials carried out “Big Tom,” a Navy test that focused on the vulnerability of island naval bases in the event of a biological or chemical attack from the sea.

The drift of that test – which used Zinc Cadmium Sulfide and liquid Bacillus globigii – came in from sea and went across parts of the island, said Barry.

Barry said that similar drift tests, using the same chemicals as well as nerve agents, were conducted near Fort Greeley, Alaska. A fact sheet on Project SHAD's “Shady Grove” operations said tests took place at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

Alderson said he doesn't think the Department of Defense wants it known just how many tests were done near civilians and on or near US soil.

When Alderson and Barry left their involvement with the tests, they said they were threatened with prosecution and prison time in Ft. Leavenworth if they disclosed anything about the operations.

Discovering troubling common threads

Alderson later went on to become chief executive officer of the Humboldt Bay Harbor District from 1975 to 1996. Barry left the Desert Testing Center in 1975 and joined the US Forest Service, moving to Davis to manage a technology development enterprise team.

In 1993, Alderson said he and some of the men who he served with decided to get together for a reunion.

It was a challenge, he said, to gather the men, who largely hadn't kept in touch. Most of the men wouldn't speak to their former Navy colleagues on the phone or answer anything in writing.

He said they did finally manage to get together for a small reunion in San Diego, where about 40 people came.

When they got together, they discovered many of them had suffered ongoing respiratory problems and various types of cancer. Alderson himself has had malignant melanoma, the most severe form of skin cancer. He also discovered that he has four pieces of asbestos in his lungs. In addition, he has had prostate cancer, and suffers from fatigue syndrome and severe allergies, the latter of which he said developed immediately after he was inoculated during the Project SHAD years.

When he discovered that he wasn't alone in his health concerns, he decided to start looking for answers.

The first politician he approached was US Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who had visited the harbor district to discuss a harbor dredging project. While she was in Alderson's office, he shared his story.

Feinstein asked him to write her a letter outlining the situation, which she in turn took to the Department of Defense, which responded that Alderson should contact them directly. That, he said, was their way of putting him off.

It wasn't just the government pushing back on Alderson's requests. He said he went to a veterans group with his story. Their response, he said, was that the government wouldn't do that to its servicemen.

Meanwhile, Thompson had gotten into Congress, and the two men knew each other from having worked together on local issues when Thompson was in the state Senate. Alderson took him the story and began working with Thompson and his staff, who Alderson credits with doing a lot of hard work and investigation to bring the issues to light.

The Department of Defense at first denied that the program had taken place. But in May 2000 Alderson said CBS began doing TV reports on the issue.

Following pressure by Thompson and further investigation by CBS, the Department of Defense released a fact sheet on Project SHAD, a copy of which was obtained by Lake County News.

The date of the release? Sept. 13, 2001.

“You saw it in the paper, didn't ya?” Alderson joked.

He said he believes the government's timing was calculated for release during a time of crisis so that the issue wouldn't draw attention.

While getting classified information on the testing hasn't been possible, Alderson said a lawsuit regarding Project SHAD resulted in the deposition in 2004 of the project's plans and operations officer and lead scientist, Dr. J. Clifton Spendlove.

While the Department of Defense had claimed that most of the records for Project SHAD were destroyed or had deteriorated, Spendlove said most of the records were still in Utah, and he additionally stated he had filmed some of the tests.

“We have enough evidence that we believe Dr. Spendlove was telling the truth,” said Alderson.

Spendlove also has testified publicly about the project before a special advisory panel convened by the Institute of Health.

Gradually, however, the issue began making its way into news reports, which is where Barry saw it.

He said he wrote to Thompson to tell him of the civilians who were exposed. Alderson found out about Barry's letter and the two men reconnected. At Alderson's invitation, Barry has since joined a special subcommittee set up by the Vietnam Veterans of America to work on issues related to Project SHAD.

Barry himself currently suffers from a rare form of cancer, but he says he's unsure if it's from the testing, his previous Army service or even time in the Forest Service, which also used toxic chemicals.

Thompson said that while the government eventually admitted the reports were correct, “We haven't had the level of cooperation from our government that we believe we should be getting.”

Finding the people exposed has been even more of a challenge, said Thompson.

Rehberg said preliminary estimates are that as many as 6,000 vets were exposed to the toxic agents, along with as many as 1,500 civilians. Thompson said Vietnam Veterans of America believes the numbers of vets exposed are actually much higher.

Alderson said that, just counting technical staff involved in the testing, between 500 and 600 people were affected. If you add in the many others on Navy ships exposed to the chemicals, the number climbs to 6,000. Add in “white coats” – people who were conscientious objectors and wouldn't fight but who volunteered for chemical tests – and that brings the number up to 18,000.

About 50 to 60 percent of the men he worked with on the light tugs are now dead, Alderson said, including six of the operation's 10 officers.

“We have some vets that are long dead because of the exposure they received, and that's just wrong,” Thompson said.

Government won't make effort to reach affected vets

The two congressmen faulted the government for a shoddy attempt to notify those who were exposed once they were identified.

Rehberg said he found it appalling that the government did the tests, then shirked its responsibility to help veterans.

In February, a US Government Accountability Office report stated that the Department of Defense and the Veterans Affairs needed to improve efforts to identify and notify individuals exposed to chemical and biological tests.

The report added that tens of thousands of military personnel and civilians have been exposed to such tests by the Department of Defense.

“Since 2003, DOD (Department of Defense) has stopped actively searching for individuals who were potentially exposed to chemical or biological substances during Project 112 tests, but did not provide a sound and documented basis for that decision,” the report stated. “In 2003, DOD reported it had identified 5,842 service members and estimated 350 civilians as having been potentially exposed during Project 112, and indicated that DOD would cease actively searching for additional individuals.”

The following year, the Department of Defense ruled that the recommendation to continue an active search for those exposed “had reached the point of diminishing returns, and reaffirmed its decision to cease active searches,” a decision that the Government Accountability Office said “was not supported by an objective analysis of the potential costs and benefits of continuing the effort.”

From 2003 on, other organizations, such as the Institute of Medicine, identified an additional 600 people who could have been exposed. “Until DOD provides a more objective analysis of the costs and benefits of actively searching for Project 112 participants, DOD’s efforts may continue to be questioned,” the report stated.

The Lake County Veterans Service Office confirmed to Lake County News that they have received inquiries about Project SHAD from local veterans who think they may have been affected.

For the vets involved, it's tough for them to get treatment once they confirm their involvement in the tests, because the Veterans Administration has refused to provide them with health benefits or compensation for their diseases, which is a reason for the bill, said Thompson.

Alderson said he and others involved in the testing have had problems with their medical records, portions of which have been known to disappear.

The bill instructs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs within 180 days of enactment to notify all veterans of potential exposure to the biological or chemical weapons used in Project 112 and Project SHAD.

HR 5954 would “establish a presumption of service connection,” said Thompson, which would mean that once a vet was identified, any health issues would be presumed service-related.

“It's our hope that once this happens we can get them that health care they need,” Thompson said. “They should not be denied and neglected any more”

Although the bill's previous version died in the Senate, Thompson and Rehberg said they have assurances from Congressman Bob Filner, chair of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, that he'll get a hearing for the bill quickly.

“I'm feeling cautiously optimistic that we'll be able to have some success this time,” Thompson said.

Vietnam Veterans of America has endorsed the legislation, the congressman noted.

Rehberg credited Thompson for taking the lead on the matter. “When Mike gets his teeth in your ankles, he's not going to let go.”

Thompson said the government's denial and refusal to take care of the affected veterans has gone on far too long – more than 40 years in some cases.

Alderson, who previously has testified on Project SHAD before the Senate Armed Services Committee – said Thompson has asked him to come and testify before Congress during the bill's first hearing, scheduled for June 12, before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs.

Barry credited Alderson for working to bring the project to light. “He's not in it for personal gain. He's looking after his people.”

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

Scott Fergusson wants to bring a revitalized economy to the county. Courtesy photo.


MIDDLETOWN – After traveling around the world as a Marine, Scott Fergusson made his home in Lake County, and he says that what he learned along the way will make him a good supervisor. {sidebar id=74}

Fergusson is one of six candidates seeking the District 1 supervisorial seat that Ed Robey will retire from at year's end.

Right after high school, Fergusson – who grew up in Occidental – enlisted in the Marine Corps, spending 10 years traveling around the world to places including Japan, Central America, Korea, Denmark, the Philippines and Guam.

“I believe in serving my country and my community,” he said.

After 10 years in the Marines Fergusson left the service. He came to Lake County nine years ago with wife, Linda. They fell in love with the area and decided to make their home here.

Time in the military prepared him for a leadership position like a supervisorial post, he said. He also learned to relate to people from diverse backgrounds.

A local businessman who owns a cutlery shop, Fergusson said he's always been interested in politics, which – along with his interest in community issues – led to his decision to run.

He'd also heard many local business owners complain about their lack of representation in local government. District 1, he said, is “pretty much treated like the stepchild of the county.”

Fergusson said he believes decisions should be made from the ground up, not from the top down. If elected, he said he would reach out more to community members through one-on-one meetings and open forums.

Lake County is a bedroom community with more housing than jobs, which Fergusson said he'd like to help change. He believes that programs like Mt. Konocti Facilitation can help build local business, but he said many people still don't know about those resources.

On the much-discussed topic of growth, Fergusson said the focus needs to be on creating jobs, with new home construction put on the back burner for now. “We have an awful lot of empty houses right now,” he said, adding that there are about 150 foreclosure in Hidden Valley alone.

When growth happens, Fergusson said he wants it to be well planned, and not see a lot of malls scattered around the area.

Not enough jobs forces more commuters over the hill to Sonoma County, he said, so creating jobs here needs to be a focus. “How we do that is going to be a struggle.”

One way of making the area more viable is rebuilding the county's tourism industry, starting with Middletown, he said.

Another issue for him is road safety. He pointed to a “ridiculous” amount of accidents on the Highway 29 corridor that cuts through the south county. Without proper planning for future growth, accidents will increase in number.

He also would like to see more programs for seniors and things for young people to do in the south county, and is concerned that programs for youth and at-risk teens are being affected by the state's budget crunch. Both seniors and children are close to his heart, he added.

Fergusson is interested in the county's water situation, and cited the county's lakes as among its best assets.

Robey has played an important part in negotiations with neighboring Yolo County over water rights, a role Fergusson said he would “absolutely” take on.

Why is he the best choice for supervisor amidst a crowded field?

He said he has the majority of local business owners endorsing him, and once again cited his military experience and leadership skills.

Fergusson added that he's easy going and gets along with everybody, is hardworking, loyal, a great listener and trustworthy. He added that he's received “outstanding, positive feedback” from community members during his campaign.

He's clear that he's a different candidate from Robey.

“I don't see any similarities, and I would hope nobody else would, either,” said Fergusson, who criticized Robey for not being in the community very much.

“I definitely want to be more involved,” he said.

Ultimately, running isn't about him, but about what he can do for District 1, Fergusson said. Whoever elected, he said, is just the middle person between the government and local residents.

Besides seeking elected office, Fergusson has another life-changing event to look forward to later this year. He and wife, Linda, are expecting their first child together on Nov. 26 after 11 years of marriage.

Between them, they have five children from previous marriages, but this will be their only little one at home.

How does he plan to balance a new baby, a business and the possibility of elected office?

“A very organized day planner,” he said.

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


LAKE COUNTY – Memorial Day weekend will see events around Lake County, as community members come out to celebrate in honor veterans.

Parades are planned in Lakeport on Saturday and Lower Lake on Sunday.

Lakeport’s Annual Memorial Day Parade will commence at 11 a.m. sharp on Main Street on Saturday, May 24.

The very warm and familiar voice of Paul Reading will be heard as parade announcer, according to Chamber President Kenny Parlet. Judges this year are Ted Mandrones, Piedmont Lumber Marketing Director; Chuck Holder, owner of Holder Ford Mercury; and Leslie Firth, owner of The Kitchen Gallery in Lakeport and president of the Lakeport Main Street Association.

Entering Main at Martin Street and traveling north to Clear Lake Avenue, the parade is anticipated to have more than 60 entries reflecting the theme “Celebrate America’s Heroes.” The 2008 winners of the Stars of Lake County Community Awards have been invited to be the grand marshals for the parade.

The parade is sanctioned by the California State Horsemen’s Association, which presents an opportunity for equestrians to earn points for the CSHA annual award. Kim Cipro of Hidden Valley Lake is the sanctioned CSHA judge for the parade.

The event is sponsored by Westamerica Bank, Holder Ford Mercury and the Lakeport Regional Chamber of Commerce and Piedmont Lumber and Nursery, who once again is providing the Judges Stage in front of the Lake County Museum as they have done for over 15 years.

The chamber requests members of the public honor the “No Parking” signs, which will be posted on Main Street from First Street to Fourth Street, calling for no parking during the hours of 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday. This area will allow unobstructed views of the parade for spectators.

The annual 4-H Pancake Breakfast at Natural High School on Main Street will be hosted again this year from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday by the Lakeport Kiwanis who also sponsor a two-day craft faire at the same location. Also at Natural High, the Early Lake Lions will have their hamburger barbecue.

On Sunday May 25th, the Lake County Corvette Club will have a Corvette Only Show on Park and 2nd Streets between 1st and 3rd Streets, next to Library Park.

Lower Lake holds its Lower Lake Daze Parade on beginning at noon on Sunday, May 25. Activities will take place in town all afternoon, ending at 4 p.m.

The Lower Lake Community Action Committee's plans include a petting zoo, food and craft vendors, face painting, kids games, pony rides, a barbecue, music during the afternoon and a raffle. Proceeds from the raffle will benefit community projects.

Following the parade, all activities are in the park behind the new firehouse. Call Lonne Sloan at 995-2515 for more information on the Lower Lake activities, or the Lakeport Chamber at 263-5092 for more on Saturday's events.


Nelson Hopper and his wife, Earlene. He'll offer a prayer to open the ceremony and dinner to honor local native veterans this Tuesday. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


LAKE COUNTY – A special event to honor the contributions of local tribal members in the armed forces will take place this week.

The California Tribal TANF Partnership will sponsor a Lake County Native American Veterans Ceremony and Dinner on Tuesday, May 27, from 4 p.m. to 7.m. at the Robinson Rancheria Resort and Casino Conference Center.

A group of local native veterans organized the gathering, which will include a spiritual ceremony, which they say is needed to honor and remember native “warrior” veterans who fought in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and who are currently in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Offering the event's opening prayer will be Nelson Hopper. At age 91, the Big Valley Rancheria elder is one of Lake County's oldest native veterans, and one of the last speakers of his tribe's language.

Hopper served in the U.S. Army during World War II, where he was wounded during the Battle of the Bulge. A highly decorated soldier, Hopper is a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2015.

He will be joined at the ceremony by other Pomo veterans who served in different conflicts, including Vietnam.

The presence of Native Americans in the U.S. military ranks has a long tradition.

James P. Collins of the National Archives and Records Administration wrote in a 2007 article that a unit of Delaware Indians was found among Revolutionary War service records. In addition, Collins reported that more than 1,000 Native Americans served during the War of 1812, and native units also appeared during the Mexican War of 1846 to 1848.

During World War I, an estimated 12,000 native soldiers enlisted, according to “Way of the Warrior,” A Public Broadcasting Documentary.

The Department of Defense reported that 44,500 Native Americans – more than 10 percent of the native population at the time – served in World War II.

Their valor and contributions to the war effort caused Maj. Lee Gilstrop to declare, “The Indian is the best damn soldier in the Army,” according to a Department of Defense history.

Estimates from military historians put as many as 15,000 natives serving during the Korean War, and numbers range widely – from 40,000 to 80,000 – for tribal members in Vietnam. Today, Native American soldiers are serving in the Iraq War as well as in Afghanistan.

The ceremony and dinner is limited and free to Native American veterans and their guest only.

For more information, contact Cecilia Dawson at 274-2313.

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


LAKE COUNTY – On Friday three county fire districts sent personnel to join in the effort to put out a wildland fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains, joining hundreds of other firefighters who already are on the scene.

The Summit Fire, which is burning in Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties, began early Thursday morning and has since scorched 3,200 acres and caused thousands of people to evacuate. Cal Fire reported that the blaze has burned 17 residences and 11 businesses and is only 25-percent contained.

Lake Fire Chief Ken Wells said he received a call at about 12:30 a.m. Friday requesting firefighters.

Wells explained that Cal Fire put in a request for assistance with the state Office of Emergency Services which, in turn, contacted the local dispatch center.

In all, Lakeport Fire Protection District sent one engine and four personnel, Kelseyville Fire provided a strike team leader trainee, an engine and three personnel came from Northshore Fire's Upper Lake station, and South Lake County Fire sent an engine and three firefighters, said Wells.

In addition, the Redwood Valley and Anderson Valley fire districts sent an engine and three personnel each to make up a full strike team, Wells said.

Everyone got on the road quickly, as they were needed by about 7 a.m., Wells said. The firefighters arrived a few minutes after 7 a.m. at a staging area in a Gilroy park.

They're among a reported 2,683 firefighters now on scene, according to Cal fire.

On Thursday, Cal Fire sent an engine strike team, three strike team crews, two bulldozer strike teams and additional personnel from the Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit to the fire, as Lake County News reported.

Cal Fire spokesman Eric Hoffman said on Friday that the local unit has since sent another strike team of bulldozers and a strike team of crews from Konocti Camp. A strike team from Humboldt County that was helping cover the local Cal Fire unit also was sent to Santa Cruz, he added.

Last year local firefighters were sent to battle big fires in Morgan Hill and Southern California. Wells said that with dry conditions the year has the potential for a bad fire season.

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


CLEARLAKE – A Clearlake resident has been sentenced to prison for failure to register as a sex offender.

On Wednesday, James Doyle Henson, 52, received a sentence of eight years in state prison from Judge Steven Hedstrom for failing to register as a sex offender, according to a report from Deputy District Attorney John DeChaine, who prosecuted the case.

In 1987, Henson was convicted in Sacramento County of committing a lewd or lascivious act on a child under the age of 14, requiring him to register, DeChaine reported. Prior to his sentencing date, Henson was held in custody on bail set in the amount of $100,000.

State authorities were not aware that Henson was residing in Lake County until April 2007, when he was discovered living in Clearlake, according to DeChaine. State law requires that certain convicted sex offenders, including Henson, register within five working days of changing residences.

DeChaine said that, despite Henson’s initial denials, the investigation – led by Detective Martin Snyder of the Clearlake Police Department – revealed that Henson was residing in Lake County since approximately December 2006 without having properly notified authorities. The investigation further revealed that Henson was not registered anywhere in California.

Henson’s failure to register is, according to DeChaine, arguably the most serious type of registration violation because his failure to comply with the law prohibited law enforcement from monitoring his whereabouts, a key safety component of the law.

On March 21 Henson pleaded no contest to failing to register as a sex offender, and he admitted that he had suffered a prior strike conviction and two prior prison terms, DeChaine reported. One prior prison term resulted from Henson’s 1997 felony conviction in Yolo County for being a felon in possession of a firearm. The second prior prison term arose from the 1987 felony conviction in Sacramento County that is the basis for his registration requirement.

Judge Hedstrom sentenced Henson to the maximum term of three years in prison for failing to register. However, because Henson admitted the prior strike conviction, his prison sentence of three years doubled to six years, DeChaine explained. Furthermore, because he admitted to suffering two prior prison terms, his six-year sentence was enhanced to a total of eight years.

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


My daughter loves everything sour. It doesn’t matter what it is, in her opinion everything is better sour.

And it probably comes as no surprise that she enjoys cooking, too. I probably encourage this by having a very well-stocked pantry. But this well-stocked pantry has spoiled my little girl to the point of it being absurd.

One evening my daughter said she wanted to cook dinner. Great, go ahead. After a few minutes of preparation time she comes out of the kitchen and asks if we can go to the grocery store. I asked why, and she said, “To get a kind of vinegar that we don’t have.”

I snapped back, half laughing, half screaming, “WE HAVE TWELVE DIFFERENT TYPES OF VINEGAR IN THE PANTRY! JUST USE WHAT WE HAVE!”

Oh my gosh, 12 isn’t a sufficient variety? But how many kids do you know who can even name three different kinds of vinegar, let alone think that “they’re just not the right one”?

Vinegar is usually reported as being made in one of two ways. The first and most desirable is the Orleans method, and is the method used in high-quality vinegars. A wine is exposed to a “Mother” that then proceeds to eat the alcohol and acidify the wine. This process takes weeks, months or even years.

The second way of making vinegar is aerating wine to cause oxidation, which produces a vinegar-tasting product (think of it as leaving a glass of wine out overnight and tasting it the next day that’s basically the action happening in this process).

Actually, there are many ways of making vinegar but it’s easier to mention the two biggest methods rather than nit pick all of the many ways.

In my opinion, every kitchen should have at least three types of vinegar. I won’t say which three because that’s a personal preference, but here are some ideas.

Rice wine vinegar is a staple in my kitchen just because of its versatility. It has a mellow, smoothness to it that can enhance salad dressings, pickles or sauces. Apple cider vinegar doesn’t have many gourmet varieties, and personally I think it’s because the mass-produced type you find in the grocery stores is great. It provides a sweet, apple taste to whatever you add it to. The third type of vinegar I would recommend is balsamic.

Balsamic vinegar has the unique trait that the older it is, the thicker and sweeter it becomes. Even young balsamic vinegars have a sweet molasses kind of taste to them and as they age they mellow, thicken, mature and become pretty complex. When you are in the mood for a really good balsamic, be ready to pay for it. There is a joke that if you have a very good bottle of balsamic vinegar in the kitchen and the house is on fire, what do you rescue first, family pictures or the balsamic?

Some Italian restaurants offer a dessert of small blocks of aged parmesan with a couple of drops of aged balsamic. It sounds a little odd, but it’s surprisingly very good. Good quality balsamic can be found all around the county, but my favorite I found at a local farmers market.

There are several other varieties of vinegar which I also enjoy. Again, I have about 12 in my cupboard at any given time.

When it comes to red wine vinegar, I like to have a little more depth of flavor so I reach for red raspberry vinegar. You don’t notice the raspberry notes when making a salad dressing but it’s still great to have on hand for many other uses.

Malt vinegar is a must for fish and chips and its unique flavor is something that I love but I don’t end up using it very often. And of course, the ubiquitous white distilled vinegar is on hand. It’s good for cleaning, but I don’t consider it a cooking ingredient.

Vinegar has been scientifically proven to be good for the heart, assists in losing weight, and has many other – if only anecdotal – treatments. It’s also been used for cleaning household surfaces, removing red lipstick from clothing (um, so I’ve heard), adds shine to hair, even soothes sore muscles. Some people like to treat jellyfish stings with vinegar as a way of neutralizing the stinging cells, but if you don’t know the species of jellyfish you could actually make the injury worse so I would avoid attempting this. Samurai used to drink a special concoction made with vinegar for strength and stamina. I have the recipe but, trust me, you don’t want it.

I’ve included a recipe for Pork Adobo, sometimes jokingly called “Vinegar soup.” Some of its instructions are a little odd, but the final product is well worth the wait. Some recipes call for several pans to be used in making, starting with broiling, then boiling, then searing ... Uff da!

I simplified the recipe, so I can’t really call it “authentic Philippine style,” but I prefer to use one pan so you don’t lose any flavor in all of the cooking. This recipe also works with chicken (dark meat only, white meat can’t handle the long cooking time) or beef (pot roast, oxtail, or shanks work best). Salt shouldn’t be necessary due to the use of soy sauce, which contains quite a lot of salt.

The finished dish is pronouncedly but not overly sour, full of garlic and pepper flavor.

Pork Adobo


1 ¼ pound boneless pork shoulder, cubed about 2 inches by 2 inches

1 cup water

½ cup vinegar (I like apple cider vinegar for this)

2 Tablespoons soy sauce

6 to 8 garlic cloves, peeled, minced or pressed through a garlic press

¼ teaspoon black pepper (if not freshly ground then increase to 1/3 teaspoon)

Your favorite cooking oil.

Brown/sear the pork cubes in your largest frying pan or sauce pan over high heat, in several batches if necessary; use a little bit of oil to prevent sticking. You are just searing the meat at this point, not cooking through; the meat should still be rare when you are done.

When you’ve seared the last portion of meat, return all the pork to the pan and add the water, vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and pepper, and stir, being sure to scrape any bits off of the bottom of the pan as you stir. Continue on high heat until it comes to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes or until the pork is tender.

Remove the pork from the pot/pan, and set aside. Increase the heat to a boil again and reduce the liquid by half (some recipes call for browning the meat again at this point but I feel it’s redundant). When the liquid is finished reducing, put the meat back in and return to a boil, long enough just to reheat the meat. Serve.

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.



LAKE COUNTY – Local veterans groups will hold commemorations this weekend in honor of service men and women who have served the United States during peace time or in war.

Memorial ceremonies will begin with a 9 a.m. event on Saturday at Kelseyville Cemetery. Also on Saturday, the United Veterans Council's Military Funeral Honors Team will participate in the Lakeport Memorial Day Parade, according to firing party commander Rich Feiro.

On Monday, Feiro reported that ceremonies will take place at all the county's cemeteries. At 7:45 a.m. the flag will be raised at Lakeport's Hartley Cemetery; and a 9 a.m. ceremony will take place at Lower Lake Cemetery followed by another ceremony at Veterans Bridge, also in Lower Lake.

An annual Memorial Day Wreath Ceremony with prayers and taps will be held at 9 a.m. at the Middletown Cemetery at 16357 Butts Canyon Road. David Neft will supply the music. Call 987-0511 for more information.

The Upper Lake Cemetery's services will start at 11 a.m. Monday, and the Hartley ceremony will take place at 1:30 p.m., according to Feiro. The day's final service, a retreat ceremony, will begin at 4:15 p.m. at Veterans Circle at Hartley Cemetery.

As part of the county's commemoration of its veterans, the Avenue of Flags will be flown at Hartley, Lower Lake and Upper Lake cemeteries on Memorial Day, according to Frank Parker of the United Veterans Council.

The Avenue of Flags Association officially formed in May 1976, according to information furnished by Parker. Its first flying took place on May 30, 1976, at Hartley Cemetery.

Parker said among the three participating cemeteries a total of 800 flags – which once decorated the caskets of veterans – will be flown. The avenue is flown twice a year – Memorial Day and Veterans Day – with veterans' families loaning the flags to the Avenue of Flags Association for the display.

The flags will go up at 7 a.m. and be taken down at 4 p.m., said Parker. Community members and groups are invited to take part.

“We'd like to have the public come out and give us a hand putting the flags up,” he said. “It's a lot of fun.”

An honor guard will stand by during the day to keep watch on the three avenues, Parker explained.

For more information or to volunteer contact the following Avenue of Flags organizers: Frank Parker, Upper Lake Cemetery, 274-9512; Dean Gotham, Hartley Cemetery, 350-1159; Joel Moore, Lower Lake Cemetery, 994-5342.

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




LAKEPORT – It likely will be next month before a Carmichael man will know if he's to stand trial in connection with a 2006 crash on the lake.

Just as the testimony of a key witness was getting under way in the preliminary hearing of 39-year-old Bismarck Dinius on Thursday afternoon, the judge called a halt to proceedings due to other scheduled business, which will result in a delay until June.

Judge Richard Martin and attorneys in the case had discussed earlier in the day the possibility that the hearing might need to be continued if it ran longer than scheduled.

Russell Perdock, a chief deputy with the Lake County Sheriff's Office, was called to the stand late in the day and gave testimony that appeared to contradict another sheriff's official before the hearing recessed.

Perdock's speedboat hit a sailboat Dinius was piloting on the night of April 29, 2006, which fatally injured 51-year-old Lynn Thornton of Willows, who died days later.

Dinius has been in court since Tuesday for the preliminary hearing to determine if he will stand trial for vehicle manslaughter involving a vessel and boating under the influence of alcohol relating to the crash.

Day three of testimony began with Lt. Charles Slabaugh of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office returning to the stand, where he had spent several hours on Wednesday.

During testimony Slabaugh indicated that Perdock had initially been considered a suspect in the case but soon after beginning his preliminary investigation Slabaugh determined that, despite not having interviewed Perdock, it was Dinius who was the responsible party, based on the information available to him.

Slabaugh testified that on June 13, 2006, he conducted his first and only face-to-face interview with Perdock, despite the fact that he had submitted a report of his conclusions on May 10 of the same year.

Under direct examination by Deputy District Attorney John Langan, Slabaugh indicated that after Wednesday's session he returned to his hotel and telephoned Lake County Sheriff's Deputy Lloyd Wells. Slabaugh said he asked Wells to examine the sailboat involved in the crash – the Beats Workin' II, owned by Mark Weber of Willows – which is still in the sheriff's possession.

Wells was asked to report on the number, location and mechanical condition of any and all interior cabin lights of Weber’s sailboat, Slabaugh explained.

Slabaugh testified that Wells reported a total of six cabin lights and described their locations. Slabaugh further indicated that Wells reported that all six light fixtures had individual on/off switches. Slabaugh said Wells did not test the current status of each light fixture's functionality.

This information was used Thursday in an effort to respond to questions regarding the position and functionality of switches located on the sailboat's control panel at the time of the collision, a topic discussed during Wednesday's testimony.

Defense attorney Victor Haltom asked Slabaugh why he had waited two years to examine the cabin light system, and why he hadn't done so during his initial investigation.

Slabaugh replied that he had initially determined that the status of the cabin lights had no bearing on the cause or possible prevention of the accident.

Following Slabaugh to the stand Thursday morning was sheriff's Sgt. James Beland, who testified that he was one of the first group of sheriff's deputies to arrive at the shoreline scene.

He and Sgt. Mike Morshed were on scene and controlling the gathering crowd, Beland explained. Both were aware that Sgt. Dennis Ostini, who supervises the sheriff's Boat Patrol division, was en route and would take charge of the situation upon his arrival.

Beland indicated that no unusual activity took place during his time on scene. He further testified that he had not spoken with Perdock beyond asking him, “Are you all right?”

At some point during the night of the crash Beland was directed to transport Perdock to Redbud Hospital for a blood draw to check for the presence of drugs or alcohol in his system.

Under questioning Beland indicated that no one from the the sheriff's office superior to himself had ordered him not to administer a field sobriety test to Perdock.

Despite Beland's suggestion to Ostini that Dinius may be intoxicated, he also was not administered a field sobriety test with a preliminary alcohol screening device.

Beland testified that he drove Perdock to Redbud Hospital. He was present during the blood draw and witnessed the phlebotomist place the vial in a certified Department of Justice envelope, which later was inserted into an evidence box and turned over to Beland.

During questioning by Haltom, Beland testified that he could not recall exactly where in his patrol car he placed the package containing the blood sample. He indicated that at no time was Perdock left alone in the vehicle unattended.

Beland testified that he and Perdock drove around for awhile and arrived at the sheriff's Lower Lake substation “about an hour” after leaving the hospital.

He was unable to recall or describe exactly where they drove nor why it took so long to travel such a short distance.

According to Beland there were no other persons in the patrol car and he had not generated a log indicating the time of arrival at Redbud nor a log of distance traveled before reaching the Lower Lake substation.

Beland testified that he had not discussed the incident with Perdock during the drive. He did indicate that he had driven Perdock somewhere for an extended period of time after depositing the blood sample at the Lower Lake substation but was unable to recall where or when he and Perdock parted company.

Following Beland's testimony the prosecution rested its case.

The witnesses Haltom called included Bill Chilcott, who examined the filaments on the boat's lights. He viewed both vessels three times, as well as the Department of Justice's reports, although he did not review the sheriff's reports, saying he did not want to be influenced.

He stated he microscopically examined three light structures from the sailboat given to him by the sheriff's office, with a District Attorney's Office representative present during the examination. The point was to determine if the lights were on at the time of failure. The question was, did the lights go out after the collision or had they been off previous to it?

By looking at the changes in the filament structure, he determined the bow was illuminated and the stern light was on. He did not testify about whether or not the mast lights were on.

Another defense witness, marine accident investigation consultant Wes Dodd, agreed with Chilcott's analysis of the lights. Dodd said he completely discounted photos of the boat's light breakers, which showed the switches on the “off” position, based on the condition of the light filaments.

Both Chilcott and Dodd pointed to the speed and velocity of Perdock's boat as being the cause of the crash. Dodd said he was amazed that Dinius was charged and Perdock was not, because he concluded that Perdock had violated numerous boating rules, including safe speed, not having a lookout and operating a vessel in a negligent manner.

Haltom called Perdock to the stand at the end of the day Thursday.

Statements Perdock made during his brief initial appearance on the stand contradicted Beland's testimony.

One of the contradictions involved statements Beland made about driving Perdock around for about an hour after leaving the hospital at 1:30 a.m. April 30, 2006.

Perdock acknowledged that Beland transported him to the hospital but did not mention being driven around for the hour or so Beland had testified to earlier in the day.

Haltom asked Perdock if he had discussed the case with Beland that night, and Perdock said he had not. Haltom then produced statements Perdock made in a previous disposition in which he had said he and Beland had discussed the incident.

Perdock's testimony had been under way for approximately six minutes before Judge Martin halted the hearing due to the courtroom being needed for other scheduled court business.

The case is due to return to court at 9 a.m. June 10.

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


UPPER LAKE – The Lake County Office of Emergency Services, in conjunction with its operational area cooperators, will conduct the second annual Mass Causality Incident training exercise this week.

The exercise begins at 3 p.m. Wednesday, May 28, and will conclude at 7 p.m., according to a report from Sgt. Gary Basor of the Lake County Sheriff's Emergency Services Branch.

The incident is being staged at the County Park on Highway 20 in Upper Lake.

The exercise will test Lake County's and the mutual aid partners' response to a hazardous materials / mass causality incident on a major artery of Lake County, where there may be a fire involved and multiple injuries and fatalities.

Although actual traffic on Highway 20 will not be affected, responders will coordinate the anticipated traffic congestion as if this were a real event. The fire, police and emergency medical service representatives will effectively carry out their simulated response. Agencies outside of Lake County will support the execution of this exercise.

The exercise will facilitate the training needed to insure that emergency responses for hazardous materials, mass decontamination, and medical services, are fully functional to protect the public, save lives, and property in the event of an actual incident.

Those planning on participating in the exercise include the following agencies and cooperators:

Kelseyville Fire Protection, Lakeport Fire Protection, Lake County Fire Protection District, South Lake Fire Protection District, Northshore Fire Association, Redbud Hospital, Sutter Lakeside Hospital, North Coast Emergency Medical Services, Lakeport Police Department, Lake County Sheriff’s Office, Lake County Health Services, Lake County Public Works, Lake County Parks and Recreation, Lake County Transit, Lake County Office of Education, Mendocino Public Health Services, Howard Hospital, Mendocino Coast Hospital, Ukiah Valley Medical Center, Ukiah City and Valley Fire Departments, Ukiah Ambulance, Redwood Valley Fire, Calpella Fire, Mendocino County Office of Emergency Services, local ham radio operators from both Lake and Mendocino County, Tribal Health, Hidden Valley Security, Ameri-Corps, American Red Cross, Last Mile Auto Salvage, REACH, CALSTAR, local multi-media organizations, Cal Fire, Caltrans, California Highway Patrol and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.


LAKE COUNTY – California's fire season already has begun, and firefighters from the Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit are on their way to help fight a blaze raging in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The Summit Fire began early Thursday morning and already has burned 3,000 acres, according to Cal Fire officials. Its cause is under investigation.

Cal Fire reported Thursday that a strike team consisting of 16 personnel and five engines, three strike teams of crews totaling 37 people, and a strike team of two bulldozers and three personnel were dispatched from the Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit to the fire, which is located in both Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.

A retinue of red Cal Fire trucks and personnel could be seen driving along Highway 20 toward Williams at about 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

Santa Cruz County spokesperson Dinah Phillips reported that as of Thursday night the Summit Fire had resulted in 336 mandatory and 1,400 voluntary evacuations, closed numerous roads, and resulted in downed trees and widespread power outages.

The fire, which Phillips said is moving toward the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, caused area schools to be closed Friday due to air quality concerns.

About a dozen people and 200 horses were being sheltered at area fairgrounds, Phillips added.

Santa Cruz County issued a proclamation of existence of a local emergency, with the proclamation sent to the governor and to the state Office of Emergency Services Thursday morning, according to Phillips.

Cal Fire reports that the fire is 15-percent contained. Phillips added that two smaller fires nearby were contained earlier.

Firefighting resources working to contain the scene include more than 500 firefighters, four fire crews, 65 engines, seven air tankers, three helicopters, 15 bulldozers and nine water tenders, according to Cal Fire. Approximately 500 homes and 20 businesses are currently threatened.

According to Cal Fire, its resources are coordinated on a statewide basis and can be moved at a moment’s notice to locations across the state.

In an initial response to an emergency, the agency reported that it uses the closest resources and backfills by moving personnel and equipment from unaffected areas of the state (move up and cover).

Cal Fire reported that, in anticipation of an early start to the fire season, the Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit made the decision to bring resources to match fuel and weather conditions. This includes seasonal employees such as firefighters to staff engines and staff the Sonoma Air Attack Base.

Since opening on May 14, Cal Fire reported that its aircraft have responded to local fires (Geysers and the “Tar” off St. Helena Road) as well as fire activity in neighboring counties.

The Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit currently has nine engines, four bulldozers and three fire crews available locally, and has placed orders for additional equipment, Cal Fire reported. The Sonoma Air Attack Base is currently reloading air tankers in support of the Summit Fire and others.

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


The preliminary hearing in the case of Bismarck Dinius continued Wednesday and will resume Thursday at the Lake County Courthouse in Lakeport. Photo by Harold LaBonte.




LAKEPORT – The second day of a preliminary hearing to determine if a Carmichael man will face trial for vehicular manslaughter and boating under the influence relating to a fatal 2006 boating collision continued in Lake County Superior Court Wednesday.

The testimony revealed some surprises, including one investigator's admission that he had based his conclusions largely on statements made by a sheriff's official involved in the crash and not on actual interviews with other witnesses.

Bismarck Dinius, 39, is facing the possibility of trial in connection with the April 29, 2006 boating collision involving a boat he was steering and a speedboat driven by Lake County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Russell Perdock. Lynn Thornton, 51, of Willows died as a result of the collision.

The hearing's second day began with defense attorney Victor Haltom's cross-examination of Sgt. Dennis Ostini, who supervises the sheriff's office Boat Patrol division and was on duty the night of the crash. Ostini spent several hours on the stand on Tuesday.

During the morning court session Ostini testified to details regarding the transport of both of the vessels involved in the April 2006 collision.

Ostini indicated that civilians who had responded to the crash scene brought both boats to shore. Perdock's powerboat, after being brought to the docks at Bayshore Marina, was transported via the owner’s trailer to the sheriff's boat barn located near Buckingham. Ostini indicated that Perdock's boat was under his observation from the time it was trailered and secured at the sheriff’s boat facility.

Under cross-examination Ostini answered questions that explained why he did not arrest either Perdock or Dinius at the shoreline scene despite a suggestion from Sgt. James Beland, who felt that Dinius was under the influence of alcohol. Ostini testified that he felt it better to rely on blood tests taken at the hospital and have the District Attorney's Office act on those results.

Other testimony during the day revealed that at the dockside the sailboat's owner, Mark Weber of Willows, pointed at Perdock and yelled that he was the one who should be arrested.

Prosecutor John Langan's main witness for the day was Lt. Charles Slabaugh, Sacramento County Sheriff’s Marine Services Unit investigator, who was brought in to work on the investigation.

Purported to be an authority on marine collision investigations and brought in at the request of the Lake County Sheriff's Office, Slabaugh testified that he had more than 27 years experience in law enforcement but had only investigated five boating collision cases and had reviewed a total of 20 to 25 other boating-related incidents.

Slabaugh offered testimony to the condition of both vessels. He had observed and described in detail the damage to each, which was detailed in his preliminary findings and in a followup report previously submitted into evidence.

He spent several hours on the stand before Haltom began questioning his recollection of specific details of reports allegedly provided to him by other local sheriff's officials as well as from at least two outside investigators.

When Haltom pressed him on details of his investigation, Slabaugh indicated that his understanding of the situation was that he was called on to investigate and provide a studied recreation of the collision, and submit a report and recommendation to the District Attorney's Office.

He also indicated that he was told by an unidentified individual within the Lake County Sheriff's Office that the agency would handle the personal interviews of those involved and the he should concentrate on the physical aspects of the investigation.

Haltom challenged Slabaugh on his expertise as a boating and waterway investigator before questioning him regarding the speed of Perdock's power boat and the status of the navigation lights on the sailboat just prior to the collision.

He also queried Slabaugh on specific details from Ostini’s preliminary report that included Perdock's initial declaration of the readouts of his dashboard gauges just moments before the crash.

Perdock told Ostini that his gauges were pointing straight up. Based on that statement, Slabaugh had estimated Perdock was traveling at about 40 miles per hour. However, pictures of the gauges supplied by the defense showed that if the gauges were pointing straight up the boat would have been traveling at about 60 miles per hour.

Slabaugh stated that the conclusions made in his reports to the District Attorney's Office and in earlier testimony were based on an interview with Russ Perdock. His conclusions didn't take into account any direct information from anyone on shore or in boats in the near vicinity of the collision, nor those aboard the sailboat. Slabbaugh also indicated that he made no effort to interview several of these potential witnesses.

He did, however, testify to receiving a copy of the reports made by Ostini and other sources but indicated that he did not consider all the information included within those reports while making his final conclusions.

A key point of contention in the case, and a reason cited for charging Dinius, is that the boat's lights reportedly were not on. During cross-examination Slabaugh indicated that a cabin light toggle switch was in the “on” position. When Haltom asked him if he brought this to the attention of the sheriff's office or investigated it further, Slabaugh said no. When asked why he didn't pursue the matter, Slabaugh said he couldn't recall.

Slabaugh returns to the stand for further examination by the defense at 9 a.m. Thursday, with Haltom planning on calling other defense witnesses as well.

Lawyers from both sides hope to conclude the preliminary examination Thursday afternoon. If they don't, the case may not return to court until as early as June 10.

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


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