Saturday, 20 July 2024

News

UPPER LAKE – A local marijuana advocate surrendered himself to authorities last week in order to begin serving a 10-year federal prison sentence.


Charles “Eddy” Lepp, 57, of Upper Lake turned himself in on July 6 to federal authorities in Lompoc, according to his wife, Linda Lepp.


In May Lepp was sentenced to two concurrent 10-year terms after having been convicted in September of 2008 of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute and cultivation of more than 1,000 marijuana plants, as Lake County News has reported.


A federal jury convicted Lepp of growing 24,784 marijuana plants on his 20-acre property in Upper Lake.


Lepp, who was indicted in 2004, has maintained his innocence. He has been a proponent of legalizing marijuana and is a Rastafarian minister who has alleged that authorities have violated his freedom of religion and his ministry.


He was the first person in California to be acquitted in a prosecution under 1996's Compassion Use Act, Proposition 215, which allowed patients to use medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation.


Linda Lepp said an appellate lawyer has been assigned to her husband's case, and the attorney has estimated that it will take two months to go through the materials and filing an appeal will take another six months. The case could be in court in June of 2010, Linda Lepp said.


Eddy Lepp is being held at the Federal Correctional Institution in Lompoc, which is a low security facility housing male inmates, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.


Now Linda Lepp and her husband's supporters are starting a push to get the attention of President Barack Obama.


“We have already sent over 7,000 letters to the president,” she said, but there's some concern that the messages were faxed to the wrong number, so they're starting over.


They're also responding to thousands of e-mail messages sent to Eddy Lepp's e-mail and working on his MySpace page, www.myspace.com/eddylepp , which Linda Lepp said has had 24,000 hits. They're also planning to post a Facebook page next week.


Linda Lepp said at some point in the future she'll be able to visit her husband. They married last September and then, in light of his conviction, Eddy Lepp had their marriage annulled. However, they remarried March 19.


She said she's received messages of support from all over the world. “It's pretty unreal, the support we're getting from well wishers.”


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

THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED WITH NEWS NUMBERS REGARDING THE TOTAL PLANTS ERADICATED.

 

LAKE COUNTY – On Tuesday local and federal law enforcement officials eradicated a massive illegal marijuana garden in the Mendocino National Forest, encountering armed suspects in the process.


The Lake County Sheriff's SWAT Team and detectives from the US Forest Service seized approximately 130,000 plants and five firearms – including a Tec 9 assault weapon with a makeshift silencer – according to sheriff's Capt. Rob Howe.


Howe said the raid took place at 7 a.m. Tuesday in the Lower Nye/Copper Butte area of the National Forest in Lake County.


Law enforcement personnel surrounded a tent located in the garden and began giving verbal commands, directing any occupants to exit the tent, Howe said.


Three suspects, identified as Hispanic male adults, immediately opened the tent and fled downhill, while one suspect, also described as a Hispanic male adult, remained in the tent and was taken into custody, according to Howe's report.


Deputies and agents found a 9 millimeter semi automatic handgun in a tent, Howe said.


At about 9:30 a.m., as they were walking the suspect out, Howe said detectives encountered two more suspects, described as Hispanic male adults, actively working in the garden, with one of the men holding a gun in his hand.


Howe said that as detectives approached the suspects the one holding the gun dropped it. Both then fled and the team wasn't able to capture them.


While it's early in the marijuana eradication season, Howe said this is the third marijuana cultivation operation so far this year in which sheriff's deputies have encountered armed suspects.


Howe noted, “We are very grateful these suspects have not pointed their weapons or fired at our personnel.”


Concerns over dangers about illegal marijuana growing operations on public and private lands led Sheriff Rod Mitchell to post a public safety message late last week on his Web site. The video presentation can be found in its entirety here: http://lakesheriff.com/weed_warning.asp .


The video explains that violence in connection with marijuana growing is increasing.


Last September, the county saw the first murder associated with a growing operation. In that case, the body of a Santa Rosa man was found in an illegal grow on Socrates Mine Road, where he had been shot to death, as Lake County News has reported.


The sheriff's office reported that 2009 is “already surpassing last year in seizures and violence.”


While eradicating a grow on Socrates Mine Road in June, deputies encountered two armed suspects who fled and evaded capture, according to the report.


In addition to locating firearms and armed growers, deputies have discovered booby traps, such as a rat trip outfitted with a shotgun shell, which they recreated and shot through a human-shaped target.


They've also found rat and mouse poison, litter and other environmental concerns in the grows.


Nearly all of the illegal grows are discovered and eradicated through the use of helicopters, which the county rents from private companies and pays for through a $275,000 Drug Enforcement Administration Grant.


Tuesday's raid brings this year's total for eradications to more than 285,000 plants and 15 arrests, based on various sheriff's reports.


That puts Lake County – which in recent years has led all of California's 58 counties in eradications of illegal marijuana – close to Mendocino County, which so far this year has netted close to 280,000 plants, made close to 60 arrests and seized around 50 firearms at more than 90 sites.


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

CLEARLAKE OAKS – Two people suffered major injuries and a third person was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol as the result of a Saturday collision between a car and a motorcycle.


Lynda Walker, 53, and Thomas Sperry, 50, both of Stockton, were hospitalized after the crash, which occurred on Highway 20 at Harvey Street in Clearlake Oaks at approximately 6:14 p.m. Saturday, as Lake County News has reported.


Alexandra Meagan Drew, 21, of Santa Rosa was driving her 2005 Honda Civic westbound on Highway 20 at 40 miles per hour, according to the California Highway Patrol.


Drew, who the CHP alleges was intoxicated at the time, let her vehicle drift onto the roadway's right shoulder, overcorrected and traveled across both traffic lanes while rotating counter clockwise.


Sperry and Walker were coming the opposite direction on Highway 20, riding a 2004 Harley Davidson motorcycle at 40 miles per hour, the CHP report stated.


Sperry, who was driving the motorcycle, hit the passenger side door of Drew's vehicle as it spun in front of him, according to the CHP report.


Both Sperry and Walker were ejected from the motorcycle. The CHP said Sperry suffered a compound fracture to his lower leg and Walker suffered major internal injuries.


CHP Officer Kory Reynolds arrested Drew at the scene about 45 minutes after the crash on a felony charge of driving under the influence of alcohol. Her booking sheet also showed a misdemeanor charge DUI charge, with bail set at $10,000. She posted bail later that day and was released.


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

LOWER LAKE – Lower Lake resident Victoria Brandon has been named to the California Invasive Species Advisory Committee (CISAC).


State Secretary of Agriculture AG Kawamura, who also chairs the committee, notified Brandon on Tuesday of her selection.


“As a result of the high caliber and qualifications of all the nominees, I can say with certainty that California will be well served by your expertise and diversity,” Kawamura wrote Brandon in her notification letter.


Kawamura explained that the committee was created to assist the Invasive Species Council of California in addressing the threat invasive species pose to the environment, food systems, human health and the state's economy.


Brandon and the rest of the committee members will make recommendations to the Invasive Species Council on the best way to address invasive species' threats.


“Both aquatic and terrestrial invasive species pose enormous threats to the environment and economy of Lake County, and to all of California,” Brandon said.


She noted that she's become very much aware of both the breadth and the severity of these hazards not only through work with the Sierra Club – she's chair of the Sierra Club Lake Group – but in service to the Cache Creek Watershed Forum, Chi Council for the Clear Lake Hitch, and Lake County Fish and Wildlife Advisory Committee.


Brandon said when Sierra Club California needed a representative to the newly formed committee, “the opportunity to bring this accumulated knowledge to bear was too tempting to resist.”


She added, “The breadth of experience and diverse viewpoints of CISAC members give the group the necessary tools to devise management strategies and educational outreach techniques required to cope with the dangers we face, and I look forward to playing a proactive, collaborative role in this process – and also to making sure that Lake County's particular concerns, such as exotic mollusks, are properly addressed.”


Brandon said she anticipates the committee's meetings will include discussion of the quagga mussel, which has started spreading in California, and which local officials and residents are working to keep out of Lake County's water bodies.


The committee is expected to meet for the first time at some point between mid-August and mid-September, according to Kawamura.


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

 

LAKEPORT – A special assessment to increase funding to support Lake County Vector Control's services and equipment upgrades has passed.


The results of the countywide balloting were announced Wednesday afternoon at a meeting of the Vector Control Board of Trustees, held at the district's headquarters in Lakeport.


The annual assessment is expected to bring in about $500,000 a year to the district, which currently has an annual budget of about $1.3 million.


Single family homes equivalents in Zone A – making up most of the county – will pay an average annual amount of $13.96, while single family homes in Zone B, located in more remote areas and including Bureau of Land Management and Mendocino National Forest lands, will be assessed $6.98 annually.


The maximum annual assessment is to be adjusted no more than 3 percent annually based on the Consumer Price Index for the San Francisco Bay Area.


Registrar of Voters Diane Fridley, who tabulated the ballots, issued a report stating that 14,494 ballots were received out of 42,784 mailed to county residents. That represents a ballot return rate of 33.8 percent.


In all, 14,193 valid ballots were processed, according to Fridley. The assessment value of all of those processed ballots is $186,074.75.


Of those, there were 8,956 valid “yes” votes, for a return rate of 63.10 percent unweighted, or 57.74 percent weighted by assessment.


There were 5,237 valid “No” votes, for an unweighted return rate of 36.8 percent or 42.3 percent weighted by assessment, according to Fridley. The assessed value of those no votes was $78,628.23.


The Vector Control board held a public hearing at the courthouse on June 30 as part of the Proposition 218 process, which covers assessment and rate hikes. The district took comment at that time from several area residents who questioned the need for the assessment and how the balloting was being conducted.


At the end of that meeting, the balloting – which had begun early in May – officially closed.


The public hearing was continued to Tuesday, but no community members were present to make statements or ask questions.


Trustee Chuck Leonard told District Manager Dr. Jamesina Scott that the district did a good job in presenting the assessment to the community.


Leonard said he hadn't expected the assessment to pass, which is why he had voted against spending the money on it.


Scott previously reported that the district had paid about $126,000 in consulting, printing and mailing fees in order to take the assessment to the community.


Following the report on the balloting results, the board unanimously approved a resolution confirming the engineer's report on the assessment and ordering levy of the assessment for the 2009-10 fiscal year.


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

LAKE COUNTY – The state's budget impasse is impacting state agencies that operate at the local level.


Late last month, with no state budget in sight, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger directed all state agencies to add a third furlough day each month for all state employees beginning July 1.


In December, Schwarzenegger had ordered two furlough days per month for employees as he tried to conserve the state's dwindling cash. Those furloughs started in February.


In response to the latest furlough order, Caltrans reported that their offices will be closed three Fridays per month. That went into effect on July 10.


Caltrans spokesman Phil Frisbie reported that highway construction projects will continue on furlough days and will not be impacted, but Caltrans highway maintenance staff will be furloughed on

these days.


Similar to weekends and holidays, staff will be on call to respond to emergency situations, he added.


“The furlough days are decreasing the number of hours our highway maintenance staff can work each month, which will reduce the amount of work they can accomplish,” he told Lake County News. “They will continue to prioritize their work load to ensure that the most important work is completed.”


State legislators' offices also are feeling the pinch.


David Miller, spokesman for Sen. Pat Wiggins, said that, effective July 1, all Senate staff had their vision and dental benefits reduced. In addition, all Senate staff earning $50,000 or more also had their pay reduced 5 percent via one furlough day per month.


How those furlough days might affect Senate staffs' workload isn't known yet; Miller said they won't being taking the furloughs until after the budget agreement is signed.


Miller said Wiggins already cut her own pay 5 percent, cut her per diem by 18 percent and gave up her car allowance.


He said Wiggins' offices are getting a steady volume of constituent visits and calls advocating one budget approach or another – for example, more cuts or more taxes. They're also getting requests for assistance. Many people also have called to thank Wiggins for giving up some of her financial benefits.


Miller said he expects few people will be happy with the budget agreement that eventually is passed and signed, so they'll likely have more calls then, too.


Andrew Bird, spokesman for Assemblyman Wes Chesbro's office, said the Assembly has approached the budget issues different than the Senate.


“The Assembly is not doing furlough days at this time,” Bird said.


The reason, he explained, is that, several months ago, the Assembly slashed its budget 10 percent.


Also maintaining regular working hours is the California Highway Patrol.


Jaime Coffee, a spokesperson for the CHP's Sacramento office, said that, due to the agency's “mission of public safety and the critical nature of every CHP employee,” it will maintain normal working hours, and that means remaining open during the furloughs on the first, second and third Friday of every month.


Uniform personnel are exempt from the state's furlough program, said Coffee, and there will be no reduction in patrol services or response time to public calls for service.


The CHP, Coffee added, is funded by the Motor Vehicle Account, not the state's general fund.


Still, nonuniform employees will adhere to the furlough directive, but schedules will be arranged so that it doesn't affect opening hours, Coffee said.


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

WASHINGTON – On the evening of Monday, July 20, Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA) will host a live town hall meeting via telephone and he is inviting every resident of the 1st Congressional District to join him.


The town hall will take place from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Pacific Time.


Participants can ask him questions about the issues that are important to them, and the congressman will respond live for everyone to hear.


“Although they don’t replace in person meetings, which I will continue to have, telephone town halls are a great way to bring residents from across Northern California together to share their concerns and opinions,” Thompson said.


“I look forward to responding to your questions about important issues such as the economy, health care, and climate change, and letting you know what Congress is doing to put our great country on the right track. Please take this opportunity to make your voice heard by calling in to participate,” he said.

 

Thompson previously held a telephone town hall in March. At that time, more than 9,100 people from around the district took part, as Lake County News has reported.

 

To join the call, dial 877-229-8493 and enter the passcode 13293.

MENDOCINO COUNTY – Several suspects wanted in connection with an alleged December 2008 armed robbery involving marijuana have been arrested.


The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office reported that James Boissiere, 37, of San Leandro; Joseph Lee Harrold, 33, of Ukiah; Deloran Reed Lawson, 19, of Hayward; and Elliott Merrill Marshall, 30, of Oakland, all have been taken into custody.


The four are alleged to have been involved in an armed robbery and kidnapping on Dec. 4, 2008.


A 45-year-old Talmage woman reported at the time that the suspects forced their way into her home at gunpoint, where two of the suspects demanded her marijuana, the sheriff's office reported.


The victim reportedly led them to a room where she gave them approximately one in a half pounds of processed marijuana. She then attempted to take the gun from the younger suspect, at which time a physical altercation took place and the suspect struck her on the head with the pistol frame. The suspect further struck the victim in the face which caused her facial cuts and lacerations.


The suspects then fled from the location on foot prior to the victim calling 911, according to the sheriff's report.


Mendocino County Sheriffs deputies, along with detectives and Ukiah Police officers, checked the area for the suspect with negative results.


A neighbor in the area did obtain a possible license plate number from the suspect vehicle, described as a Greenish Blue Mercedes Benz with a California License Plate of 5MWJ477.


The victim was transported via ambulance to Ukiah Valley Medical Center for treatment.


Based on their investigation, and with the help of the Oakland Police Department, Mendocino County Sheriff's office detectives identified the suspect.


On June 6, they arrested Harrold and booked him into the Mendocino County Jail where he is being held in lieu of $335,000 bail.


Boissiere was arrested on June 10 by Oakland Police Department. He's being held in a Bay Area jail pending transportation to the Mendocino County Jail.


Oakland Police also located and arrested Marshall on June 23. He was later was transferred to the Mendocino County Jail where he is currently being held in lieu of $335,000 bail.


The last of the group, Lawson, was arrested on July 8 by San Francisco Police for an unrelated case and booked into the San Francisco County Jail. He's also due to be transported to Mendocino County Jail upon the conclusion of the case in San Francisco.

MENDOCINO COUNTY – Authorities in Mendocino County are continuing to investigate the discovery of a body in a state park this weekend.


The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office reported that a body was discovered early Saturday morning at Hendy Woods State Park in Boonville.


The body has been identified as that of Salvadore Alfonso Aguilar, 20, of Fort Bragg.


On Saturday, the same day as Aguilar's body was discovered, Mendocino Sheriff's Dispatch received a phone call from one of his relatives, who stated that she had been contacted by another family member who told her that the victim had shot himself and friends took him to a park and dropped him off.


Detectives contacted the family member in Fort Bragg and learned the victim had been dropped off in the park by his girlfriend and two others.


The detectives were able to contact the girlfriend and the two males. After interviews detectives were able to determine that Aguilar had been working in a marijuana garden in a remote part of Fishrock Road, Yorkville.


Aguilar was said to be despondent over a breakup with his girlfriend. He had walked off when the other four subjects heard a gunshot and found him dead.


They carried the victim up to Fishrock Road where they were met and transported Aguilar to the area where he was found.


Detectives are attempting to identify the location of the marijuana garden crime scene and recover a firearm.


The case remains under investigation the victim's family has been notified.


The cause of death will be determined by autopsy.

LAKE COUNTY – For the first time this year West Nile Virus has been detected in Lake County.


On Wednesday, Lake County Vector Control received confirmation of a positive test result on a dead bird, according to District Manager Dr. Jamie Scott.


Scott said the positive finding was made on a dead crow collected in Lucerne on July 1.


“The holiday extended the time it took us to get the results,” said Scott.


Dead birds and tree squirrels are necropsied at the California Animal Health and Safety Laboratory laboratory at University of California, Davis, said Scott. Samples taken during the necropsies are forwarded to the UC Davis Center for Vectorborne Diseases for West Nile virus testing using the singleplex RT-PCR Taqman assay and confirmed with a second primer set.


So far this year, 22 dead birds had been reported around the county, but none had tested positive for West Nile Virus, which first appeared in Lake County in 2004, according to Vector Control records.


Vector Control keeps two sentinel chicken flocks – one in Upper Lake and a second near Anderson Marsh, between Lower Lake and Clearlake.


Those chickens have been sampled seven times this season – once every two weeks – for West Nile Virus antibodies, St. Louis encephalitis and Western equine encephalomyelitis, and have been clear on all counts, Vector Control reported.


In neighboring Yolo County, they've reported their first West Nile Virus positive chicken, said Scott. The only other West Nile Virus activity reported in neighboring areas were two dead birds founds in Colusa County.


As of Wednesday, West Nile Virus had been detected in 31 California counties this year, seven more than this time last year, according to the state's West Nile Virus Web site, www.westnile.ca.gov .


So far, no human cases of the virus have been reported in California, the state reported. Neither have horse cases been reported in 2009 thus far.


State records show there were 445 human West Nile cases last year, including 15 fatalities. The peak year for the virus in the state's human residents was 2005, with 880 cases and 19 deaths.


Equine cases numbered 32 in 2008, with 2004 being the peak year, with 540 cases, the state reported.


Scott said West Nile Virus has been particularly active is the Fresno area. “It's an unusual amount of activity for that part of the valley so early in the season,” she said.


Weather, water and temperatures conditions could account for fewer West Nile numbers in Lake County this year.


Cooler temperatures control virus activity, said Scott. Prime West Nile conditions include a combination of high mosquito numbers and very high temperatures.


Scott said cooler temperatures – specifically, nighttime temperatures cooler than 60 degrees – tend to kill West Nile Virus.


However, she cautioned that West Nile Virus is “still so new” to the United States, with this being the virus' 11th season here. While it's settling into the country's ecology, the only thing scientists have been able to identify as impacting the disease is temperature.


The lake's level is two feet below the 88-year average for this time of year, the district reported, which could affect other mosquito species.


“The low water has helped us out somewhat,” said Scott. She explained that mosquito species that hatch in flood water or shallow pools have been lighter in population this year.


However, the three mosquito species that carry West Nile Virus and are most prevalent locally – Culex tarsalis, Culex stigmatosoma and Culex erythrothorax – are “very opportunistic,” said Scotts.


“They will develop in any water standing for more than five days,” said Scott.


While some areas have no standing water due to lack of rain, irrigation is prevalent in other places, said Scott. The lake's weedy edges also provide good habitat for the mosquitoes.


Scott and a group of colleagues have just published a paper in the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association on a recently introduced mosquito species, Aedes japonicus japonicus. The mosquito, which carries West Nile Virus, is now in 20 states, but isn't in California, having come as far as Michigan since in appeared in the US in 1998.


Besides West Nile, the district is keeping an eye on other diseases as well.


It collected 530 ticks from 14 sample sites, and have shipped all of them to the California Department of Health Services, and will be forwarded to the Centers for Disease Control and Surveillance so they may be tested for Rickettsia 364D and other tick-borne diseases.


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

LAKEPORT – Fire officials once again were called to respond to several fires along Highway 29 in the north Lakeport area on Tuesday.


The three small brush fires were reported shortly before 6:30 p.m. on Highway 29 north of 11th Street, according to the California Highway Patrol.


Lakeport Fire Protection District responded and contained the fires, according to reports from the scene. Cal Fire reported that it did not send a response to the scene.


Over the last week several fires have occurred in that area, including three fires that burned 22 acres on July 8 and another fire on July 11, as Lake County News has reported.

LOWER LAKE – A California Highway Patrol sustained major injuries and a Lake County Sheriff's deputy were hurt when they were each hit in separate crashes that occurred early Monday morning.

 

The identities of the two law enforcement officers were not released.


The CHP reported that the first crash occurred at 12:21 a.m. at the entrance of the DNA Rock quarry north of Diener Drive on Highway 29.


Officer Adam Garcia reported that the CHP officer from the Clear Lake area office was conducting a drunk driving evaluation at the quarry's entrance.


At the same time, the deputy was stopped on southbound Highway 29 preparing to make a left turn into the quarry entrance with his rear emergency lights activated, Garcia said.


As the deputy sat along the highway 58-year-old Edward Choroski of Clearlake struck the rear of the sheriff’s patrol vehicle with his white 1997 Volvo, according to Garcia.


Garcia said the collision pushed the patrol vehicle into the highway's northbound traffic lane.


The CHP officer attempted to give medical aid to the deputy who was standing adjacent to the driver’s side door, Garcia said.


At that point, the Sheriff’s patrol vehicle was struck head-on by a 2001 Dodge Grand Caravan driven by 65-year-old Mary Gomez of Lakeport, according to Garcia.


Garcia said the second collision pushed the sheriff’s patrol vehicle into the CHP officer, throwing him off the roadway and into some nearby bushes.


Kelseyville Fire Protection District ambulance transported the deputy to Sutter Lakeside Hospital, where he was treated for minor to moderate injuries, Garcia said.


Garcia said the CHP officer sustained major non-life threatening injuries and was also taken to Sutter Lakeside for treatment.


Gomez and Choroski were not reported as being injured, Garcia said.


CHP Officer Josh Dye is investigating the collisions.


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

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