Monday, 15 July 2024


Lori Burke shot this view of the fire from the Clear Lake Riviera.


LOWER LAKE – State and local firefighters moved quickly to suppress a fire that broke out along Highway 29 near Lower Lake Monday afternoon.

The fire reached approximately 182 acres, Cal Fire reported late Monday evening. Earlier in the day, acreage estimates had reached 300 acres, but officials said that number was scaled back due to better mapping.

Cal Fire's Incident Command Center reported that the fire was dispatched at 2:18 p.m.

The fire necessitated shutting down a portion of Highway 29 near Diener and Manning Flat as firefighters worked to contain it.

California Highway Patrol Officer Adam Garcia said Point Lakeview at one point was being used as an alternate route. However, that road also was closed at about 3:16 p.m., with the fire reportedly cresting the ridge.

CHP reported shortly before 6 p.m. that Point Lakeview could be reopened. CHP reported that Highway 29 itself was reopened shortly after 9 p.m.

Cal Fire led the suppression effort, with five air tankers, three helicopters, 11 fire engines, six bulldozers and five hand crews, along with resources from local fire districts, including a five-engine strike team that was called for before shortly before 4 p.m.

Witnesses at the scene reported large Cal Fire air tankers were dropping retardant on the fire, with helicopters also making water drops.

The air tankers were released at 6:46 p.m., with the helicopters released by 7:30 p.m., according to reports from the scene.

Power lines were down at the scene, with some onscene reports indicating the possibility of a blown transformer.

Pacific Gas and Electric spokesperson Jana Morris said that 4,800 customers served by the company's Konocti power substation – serving areas including Kelseyville and Cobb – were out of power mid-afternoon.

The outage's cause, said Morris, appeared to be the downed power lines, but why the power lines had fallen was still being investigated.

She said at 2:35 p.m. PG&E received a call from a customer who reported a loud noise that they thought had come from a transformer, but Morris could not confirm Monday that a transformer had in fact blown.

All 4,800 customers had power restored to them by 5 p.m., Morris said. Cobb resident Roger Kinney reported that the power was off in Cobb about two hours.

Vehicles being routed onto Highway 175 to avoid the fire encountered a solo vehicle crash on Highway 175 near Cobb, which took place just after 4 p.m. and resulted in the vehicle and some nearby grass catching fire.

Cal Fire, which took the call, reported the fire was very small and quickly contained. The vehicle was destroyed. Minor injuries to the occupants were reported by CHP.

Officials with Cal Fire said late Monday that the 182-acre fire scene was still being mopped up. The downed power lines are believed to be a contributing factor, Cal Fire reported.

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Val Onellion of Clearlake photographed these two Cal Fire helicopters in the Diener Road area.



Phyllis Clement took this photo of the fire from across Clear Lake on Monday afternoon. Cal Fire and local firefighters were continuing to fight the fire, which initially was reported after 2 p.m., as Highway 29 was closed to through traffic.



The fire also could be seen in Clearlake, as shown in this photo by Cobb resident Brenda Crandall.



A view of the fire photographed from the front yard of James and Karin Green, who live in the Clear Lake Riviera.



Rick Hamilton captured this shot of Cal Fire putting out a small grass fire sparked by a vehicle crash on Highway 175 just after 4 p.m.




MIDDLETOWN – A crash near Middletown on Saturday evening resulted in major injuries for a man involved.

The California Highway Patrol reported that the crash, which appeared to only involve a single vehicle, was reported at around 5:05 p.m. on Butts Canyon Road at Oat Hill.

A male subject was ejected from his vehicle. The man, who did not speak English, was conscious but bleeding, according to the CHP.

Cal Fire emergency responders were directed to conduct an alcohol check on the man before he was life-flighted to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.

A CHP unit later was sent to the hospital to get a blood draw on the man.

No further information – including the man's identity – was available late Saturday.

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CLEARLAKE OAKS – An 81-year-old Clearlake Oaks man who reportedly was sitting on Highway 20 was hit and injured by a vehicle late Thursday.

Myrle Robinson suffered a broken left ankle and a head laceration following the crash, which happened around 10:30 p.m. Thursday on Highway 20 west of Highway 53, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Josh Dye.

Dye said CHP Officers Kory Reynolds and Steven Tanguay responded to a report of a collision between a pedestrian and a 2001 Chevy pickup. Sheriff's deputies also responded to the scene.

Their investigation, Dye said, revealed that 28-year-old Cheryl Nutting was driving her 2001 Chevy pickup eastbound on Highway 20 at about 50 to 55 miles per hour when she came upon Robinson, who was sitting in the roadway for an unknown reason.

Robinson was wearing dark clothing, so at first Nutting didn't see him, Dye said. When she got closer and saw Robinson, Nutting swerved to the right to avoid hitting the elderly man.

Dye said her pickup's rear wheels ran over Robinson's left leg, causing the ankle fracture. The collision also left Robinson with a head laceration.

The incident is still under investigation, said Dye, with the reason for Robinson being in the roadway still unknown.

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LAKE COUNTY – Lake County's jobless rate climbed in July, topping June's rate and showing a significant rise over the same time last year.

The county's preliminary July unemployment rate was 10.2 percent, up from the revised June rate of 9.5 percent and 1.9 percent above the year-ago, July 2007 rate of 8.3 percent, according to Dennis Mullins of the Employment Development Department's North Coast region office.

Mullins said that, at a 10.2 percent unemployment rate, Lake County ranked 47th among the State's 58 counties.

Some surrounding county rates included 10.5 percent for Colusa, 6.6 percent for Mendocino and 6.1 percent for Sonoma, according to Mullins.

Marin had the lowest rate in the state at 5.0 percent, said Mullins, and Imperial County had the highest with 23.3 percent. The comparable California and U.S. rates were 7.6 and 6.0 percent, respectively.

Mullins reported that total industry employment increased 380 (2.6 percent) between July 2007 and July 2008 ending the year-over period with 15,110 jobs.

Year-over job growth occurred in manufacturing; trade, transportation and utilities; information; private educational and health services; leisure and hospitality; and government.

Year-over job losses occurred in natural resources, mining and construction; professional and business services; and other services.

Farm and financial activities were industry sectors with no change over the year.

Mullins said government led industry gainers adding 220 jobs over the year. The private educational and health services sector was up 90 jobs and trade, transportation and utilities gained 70. Leisure and hospitality increased 20, and manufacturing and information were each up 10 jobs.

Professional and business services led decliners dropping 20 for the period, said Mullins, with natural resources, mining and construction, and other services each down 10 jobs.

Eight industry sectors gained jobs or held steady over the year, and three declined, according to Mullins.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement on the state's unemployment picture, saying the entire nation continues to suffer through a slow economy that is affecting jobs and families here in California, and he's working with legislators to include in the state budget an economic stimulus package.


“Construction and financial services continue to struggle in California, but I am encouraged about recent increases in housing purchases and that other job sectors – while they do not have the robust growth we want or expect in California – are holding steady,” Schwarzenegger said.


Fellow Marines and friends of Lance Corporal Ivan Wilson carried his body to his final resting place at the Lower Lake Cemetery on Saturday, August 16, 2008. Pictured are Corporal Robert Wilson, Lance Corporal David Volk, Lance Corporal Logan Benjamin, Lance Corporal Tyrell Ford, Lance Corporal Steven May and Corporal Kyle Harlan. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



CLEARLAKE – An emotional week for the community came to a quiet conclusion under a solitary oak tree in the Lower Lake Cemetery Saturday afternoon.

There, Lance Corporal Ivan Wilson, a 22-year-old Marine who died on July 21 of wounds he suffered in an explosion in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province, was laid to rest on Saturday.

Wilson's body was returned home Thursday to a carefully prepared welcome fit for the young hero.

A 2004 graduate of Clearlake Community School, Wilson – who enlisted in the Marines on Sept. 11, 2005 – was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, based in Twentynine Palms.

At his Saturday funeral, Wilson was remembered for his gifts, his struggles, his laughter, his triumphs – all of them thrown into sharper relief by the sudden ending of a young life filled with optimism for the future.

Hundreds of people – family and friends, and supporters of the military, including nearly 100 motorcycles, many of them Patriot Guard Riders – attended the day's solemnities.



Patriot Guard Riders members and other supporters of Ivan Wilson and his family stood outside of Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church on the morning of Wilson's funeral, held Saturday, August 16, 2008, in Clearlake. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


So many people came to the church that overflow rooms were prepared in order to accommodate the crowds. Outside of the church, Patriot Guard Rider members lined the sidewalk holding large American flags.

Law enforcement and fire officials were in attendance both to honor the fallen Marine and help create a safer environment during the day's solemnities. Also in attendance were Supervisors Jeff Smith and Rob Brown.

The Rev. Ron Serban, the priest of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Clearlake – where Ivan Wilson took catechism and attended church with his family – said by the time he took over the parish's leadership three years ago, Wilson already had begun his Marine Corps service.

Serban said while he didn't know the young Marine personally, his brave acts on the battlefield – including pulling a fellow Marine who was wounded from harm's way – showed that his life was in “a very positive transition.”

In talking with Ivan Wilson's mother, Denise, Serban said the question had arisen of why the young man had to die, and why a loving god hadn't spared him.

Serban called it a good, honest and fair question – and one more than 4,000 other mothers have asked in this current Middle East conflict.

But the day – a day “full of pain” – wasn't about politics or ideology, said Serban, who said tragedies are a test of faith, and put the emphasis on remembering the young man.

Denise Wilson read a heart-wrenching farewell letter to her eldest son – her “Sunny boy Ivan” – telling him how proud she was of him for what he achieved and how he persevered, never letting defeats stop him from moving forward.

She told the hundreds of people who came to honor him, “I want to thank all of you who have walked this journey with me.”

She added, “I love you all and, most of all, Ivan thanks you.”

Colin Wilson, Ivan Wilson's grandfather, remembered his grandson as a typical child and teenager – noisy, inquisitive, sometimes difficult, but most of all, lovable.

He said his grandson believed in America, which is why he volunteered to protect the freedoms the country's citizens enjoy. Colin Wilson wished his grandson well on his journey to join his fallen comrades.

Serban read the last letter Ivan Wilson wrote to his family – written a month and a half ago, but only making its way to his family two days before the service.

“I guess it's safe to say we're at our final destination,” were the letter's first words, with Ivan Wilson explaining, in a letter that took two days to write, about the camp where he and his fellow Marines were stationed. Surrounded by mountains, the southern Afghanistan camp lacked both water and electricity.

For Bonnie Lou Schreiner of Hidden Valley Lake, who attended the funeral, the day brought back the devastation of her own son's death in Iraq last year.

Schreiner's son shared with Ivan Wilson the same last name and the same branch of the service. Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Wilson, 28, died on June 20, 2007, during his third tour of Iraq.

Raised in Brentwood, Stephen Wilson went into the Marine Corps immediately after high school, and had 10 years in when he and another Marine died while attempting to disarm an explosive device.

The pain of her son's death, said Schreiner, is something that never goes away. And while she didn't know Ivan Wilson, she came to show her support of him and his family.

The final farewell

Following the service Wilson's body was transported to Lower Lake Cemetery. As the procession wound its way along Lakeshore Boulevard, people stood along the way holding American flags.



An estimated 100 motorcycle riders, many of them members of the Patriot Guard Riders, attended the funeral and rode in the procession on Saturday, August 16, 2008. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


Lakeport Fire and Lake County Fire Protection Districts used their ladder trucks to hoist a flag over the entrance to Lower Lake Cemetery, where Wilson was laid to rest.

At the graveside service – where the young Marine was laid to rest under an oak tree – the Marine Corps presented the Wilson family with a Purple Heart, awarded posthumously to Lance Corporal Ivan Wilson.

Seven of Wilson's friends from the Marine Corps made the trip to Lake County this week to act as his pallbearers.

Corporal Robert Wilson of Bluffton, Ind.; Lance Corporal David Volk of Roseville; Lance Corporal Logan Benjamin of Pleasant Hill, Ill.; Lance Corporal Tyrell Ford of Gridley; Lance Corporal Eric Broline of Colona, Ill.; Lance Corporal Steven May of Houston, Texas; and Corporal Kyle Harlan of Mt. Vernon, Ill., made the trip. On Saturday, they carried the casket to and from the services, with Broline acting as an extra man in the detail.



Fellow Marines and friends of Lance Corporal Ivan Wilson offer him a final salute during the graveside service at the Lower Lake Cemetery on Saturday, August 16, 2008. Pictured are Corporal Robert Wilson, Lance Corporal David Volk, Lance Corporal Logan Benjamin, Lance Corporal Tyrell Ford, Lance Corporal Steven May and Corporal Kyle Harlan. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


After a brief service led by Serban, which included a rifle volley and the playing of “Taps,” the Marines carried out the solemn flag ceremony, with a US flag given to Denise Wilson and one to Ivan Wilson's father, Christopher Wilson. 

Following the ceremony, the young Marines' emotions began to overflow. The young men hugged and comforted Denise Wilson; Corporal Robert Wilson bent down to hug her, and when he stood up, tears trailed off the brim of his dress cap.



From left, family friend Ginny Craven, Ivan Wilson's mother Denise Wilson and his sister Jackie Wilson during the graveside service at the Lower Lake Cemetery on Saturday, August 16, 2008. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


Nick Barrell, 21, who went to school with Ivan Wilson, wept as he knelt at the side of his friend's casket.

“He was a good friend of mine – still is,” he said, describing how they used to play cards and, on Sundays, played football.

Barrell said he had last spoken to Wilson after he returned home from his tour on Iraq, and before he left for his tour in Afghanistan.



Nick Barrell, 21 (right), a friend of Lance Corporal Ivan Wilson's, is comforted by Christopher Wilson, father of the fallen Marine, as he kneels beside Wilson's casket at the Lower Lake Cemetery on Saturday, August 16, 2008. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


“He told me that he loved his job,” he said.

Barrell said he had many good memories of Wilson, who he said was “top notch” in everything that he did.

That may have been why he was drawn to the Marines, where Barrell said Wilson “found his home.”

Many high school students have no idea of what they'll do after school, and neither did Wilson. But Barrell said he figured it out, got into the Marines and was moving forward.

“He's one of my heroes,” said Barrell, “and always will be.”

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Corporal Robert Wilson of Bluffton, Ind. embraces Denise Wilson, mother of his friend and fellow Marine Ivan Wilson, following the graveside service at the Lower Lake Cemetery on Saturday, August 16, 2008. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.




An American flag hung over the entrance to the Lower Lake Cemetery on Saturday, August 16, 2008, suspended from ladder engines sent to the ceremony by Lake County Fire Protection and Lakeport Fire Protection Districts. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



SONOMA COUNTY – The Sonoma County Coroner's Office is asking for the public's health in locating the family of a homeless man found dead on Wednesday.

Officials report that so far they've been unable to find the next of kin for 58-year-old Earl Douglas Hardisty, according to a report from Detective Sgt. Mitch Mana.

On Wednesday, police, fire and emergency officials in Petaluma were dispatched to a "homeless encampment" on Shasta Avenue in Petaluma where they found Hardisty dead, said Mana.

While the manner and cause of death Hardisty's death have yet to be determined, Mana said there does not appear to be any suspicious circumstances involved.

However, all attempts to locate Hardisty's family have so far been been unsuccessful, Mana reported.

Checks with area hospitals, health clinics, homeless shelters and kitchens, and the Orenda Center also have turned up no record whatsoever of Hardisty, said Mana. During prior documented law enforcement contacts Hardisty offered no emergency contact information.

Hardisty – also known by the nickname “Nine Dog” – is a white male, 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighing 165 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes. Mana said Hardisty has been known as being homeless in the Petaluma area since June of 2003, and maybe longer.

Anyone with information about next of kin, who the coroner's office wish to notify of Hardisty's death, are asked to contact Detective Mark Provost, 707-565-5070.


Ratepayer Judy Heeszel questions the board about use of company trucks and who drives them at the meeting on Saturday, August 16, 2008, as Bill Rett waits his turn to ask a question. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

CLEARLAKE OAKS – A Saturday night meeting to discuss a proposed rate hike in the Clearlake Oaks County Water District saw anger and frustration on the part of ratepayers and the launch of a possible recall effort of two board members.

Close to 100 ratepayers crowded into the Eastlake Grange on Highway 20 for the meeting, which ran more than two hours.

At times the tone of the meeting was tense, with some district customers shouting at board members, prompting board Vice President Mike Anisman to walk out.

That left board President Helen Locke and board members Harry Chase and Frank Toney to meet a quorum, since the fifth and longest-serving member of the board, Pat Shaver, did not attend.

The district initially proposed a 39.4-percent hate hike on both water and sewer rates, which district General Manager Darin McCosker said was initially believed necessary to stabilize the district's finances and make needed capital improvements, including upgrades to its High Valley tanks, as Lake County News has reported.

In the past few weeks, however, McCosker has developed two alternate rate hike proposals, one for 25 percent and another for 10 percent, which are now believed sufficient to help the district make ends meet. Ratepayers argued they hadn't been formally noticed about those options, and they asked for more information on them before a decision was made.

McCosker explained that the district's rates were currently among the lowest in the county, and that the proposed 39.4-percent increase would make the district the fifth-highest for water, with the sewer rate hike at the same amount likely to make the district's sewer rates amongst the most expensive.

He said rates haven't been raised in several years while, at the same time, the district dealt with a major sewage spill and cleanup in 2000, and had several large projects in the years since then.

Some financial measures he's proposing include reducing purchasing, paying bills on time to avoid penalties, completing complex projects in-house, a spending freeze which already is in effect and making adjustments to employee benefits.

The district takes its water from Clear Lake, paying $50 an acre foot to Yolo County for the water, said McCosker. That's not a bad price compared with some areas. “Raw water costs are astronomical throughout California,” he said.

McCosker said the district has two past-due audits with another audit coming due shortly. But his understanding of the district's financial shape is changing, and has developed more in recent months. In March, two months after he took over as general manager, he said he thought a 50-percent rate increase was necessary. But that belief has changed.

He also suggested easing into a number of capital improvements over the next few years with smaller rate increases.

The audits, and the ratepayers' concerns about the district's true budget picture, would be a recurring theme throughout the evening. Many people suggested the audits – which are required by state law –should be completed before a rate increase is considered.

As tempers flared, with people yelling at the board – sometimes several at once – Anisman became frustrated. “You don't have the right to speak to us like animals,” he told the audience.

When the yelling continued, Anisman picked up his things and walked out only a half-hour into the meeting, with several audience members immediately demanding he be removed from the board.

Many people wanted to know how the district got into its current situation. McCosker said it was not altogether unexpected, based on the result of its last audit for the 2004-05 fiscal year.

That audit, said McCosker, warned that the district's reserves, at $1.3 million in 1998, were down to $385,000 and the district needed to raise rates before the reserves were completely gone. Before McCosker took over as general manager in January, reserves were down to $13,000.

Locke said the district's former board as well as its previous general manager, Ellen Pearson, “were being too nice” in not raising rates.

During the course of the evening other ratepayer questions centered around why the district hadn't instituted a hiring freeze, water quality and chemical usage, having two staffers drive around to check meters (necessary, said McCosker, because it's quicker and the district still does meter reading with a meter book and not handheld processors, which would cost $20,000).

Within the first hour several people got up and left the meeting, frustrated over what they felt was a lack of forthright answers. Several people also didn't like having to submit written questions to the board.

Former board member Bob White, who failed to win reelection last November in the same election that saw Toney, Anisman and Locke elected, said he lost because he told people the truth about the district's situation.

He blamed the other board members on the previous board – including Chase and Shaver – for giving Pearson everything she wanted. White then went on to suggest both Chase and Shaver should be removed from the board.

“The past general manager took this water district down,” he said.

He also urged community members to give the new board a chance.

The board was roundly upbraided by town resident Mike Benjamin for its handling of the Saturday meeting. Benjamin, who has attended regular board meetings in recent months, read from the Brown Act, which explained how the public had a right to get up and ask questions during meetings rather than submit questions on cards.

“You have not allowed public testimony here at all tonight. You have only provided a lecture,” he said, getting a big round of applause.

Locke said during the meeting that the board was going to take its input gathered at the Saturday meeting and make a decision at its regular meeting this Wednesday.

Jim Burton, Clearlake Oaks' retired fire chief, suggested they call another special evening meeting and bring back more specifics on the three rate hike proposals. “You're going to have a lot of really ticked off people here if you try to pass this thing next Wednesday,” he said.

Benjamin returned to the microphone, stating the meeting was the most important the board has had in several years. He asked where Shaver was – Locke said Shaver had said she couldn't make it – and then asked if Anisman's leaving was an appropriate act.

One audience member yelled “Recall!” Benjamin then pulled out two copies of a petition for a notice of intention to circulate recall petitions on both Shaver and Anisman, and asked who would be interested in signing them, with several people indicating they were.

Toney asked who was going to step up and take those two spots on the board as Benjamin went to the back of the room and began collecting signatures.

Susan Burton urged the board to formulate a plan, which includes a completed audit, in order to move forward. She asked for them to show why the rates needed to go up and said then she would be willing to do her part and pay higher rates. Burton also asked them to consider night meetings to encourage more public participation.

“Let's get a plan, let's get an audit, let's get going,” he said.

Locke asked the crowd if they wanted another meeting to explore all of the rate options, which was answered with a definite “yes.”

The board's next regular meeting is at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 20, at the district office, 12952 E. Highway 20.

Benjamin said after the meeting he received enough signatures to get started on the notice of intention to circulate the recall petitions against Anisman and Shaver.

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Water board President Helen Locke and board member Harry Chase listen to public comment during the meeting on Saturday, August 16, 2008. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



CLEARLAKE – While a Clearlake man is being held in the Lake County Jail for violating his parole, police are investigating his possible connection to a bomb found at a trailer park early Friday morning.

Clearlake Police Lt. Mike Hermann said Donald Raymond Ferris, 47, was arrested Friday morning on felony parole violations.

Hermann called Ferris – a registered arsonist currently on parole – a “person of interest” in the case.

The makeshift bomb, composed of black powder, a fuse and various other materials, was found under a trailer in the Ponderosa Mobile Home Park on Highway 53 after midnight Friday morning, said Hermann.

It appeared someone had tried to ignite the bomb, with the homeowner spotting the flame on the fuse and going outside to put it out, said Hermann.

Hermann said police haven't determined who lit the bomb at this point or how long it had been under the trailer.

Both Lake County Fire Protection District and Clearlake Police responded to the scene at 12:43 a.m., Hermann said. Police closed down the area and evacuated part of the mobile home park.

Napa County Bomb Squad was called in to deal with the bomb, which Hermann said they moved to a safe location and detonated several hours later.

Hermann said Ferris was a past resident of the mobile home park, although the bomb wasn't found under the trailer in which he had lived.

When police contacted Ferris Friday morning, Hermann said they found in his home items they allege are consistent with those used to make the bomb, and which are being forwarded to the Department of Justice for analysis.

Ferris, who Hermann said police have had contact with before, was arrested at 8:30 a.m. and is being held without bail, according to jail records.

Hermann said the investigation into the incident is continuing.

Clearlake Police occasionally gets reports of homemade pipe bombs, although Hermann said it's been a while since one was last reported.

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CLEARLAKE – An 18-year-old man will find out next month when he'll stand trial for a fatal May stabbing.

Erik Michael McPherson is charged with murder in the stabbing death of 40-year-old Nicolai Chukreeff on the night of May 4.

McPherson was in court on Monday, where he was arraigned in preparation for a Sept. 15 court date, at which time his trial date will be set, said Deputy District Attorney John DeChaine.

On July 31 a preliminary hearing was held, and the judge ruled that McPherson would stand trial for Chukreeff's death, DeChaine said.

DeChaine said McPherson also is facing a special allegation of use of a weapon, in this case a knife.

McPherson is alleged to have stabbed Chukreeff, who was having drinks with friends at the Harbor Lite Resort, following an argument, according to initial police reports. Both of the men were in construction and may have known each other.

An autopsy report found that Chukreeff died of a single stab wound to the chest, as Lake County News has reported.

Police initially arrested McPherson on May 7 for a separate grand theft charge, which DeChaine said also is being prosecuted and will be set for a hearing on Sept. 15. A preliminary hearing hasn't yet been held on that charge, he added.

McPherson remains in the Lake County Jail, with total bail set at $510,000, according to jail records.

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Do you have an herb garden? If not, keep reading; if so, also keep reading while knowing that you better off than the other category.

My perennial herb garden is just outside my kitchen door. I put it in the very first week I moved into my home. It contains a large patch of chives, thyme, sage, rosemary, oregano and, just for the beauty and diversity, a bunch of milkweed plants.

I like having an extra large patch of chives since they die off during the winter, so in the summertime I use them like crazy. Not only can you use the leaves of the chive plant but the entire plant is edible, much like a small green onion. Asian cooks will take a small bundle of the whole plants, tie them in a knot, then batter and deep fry them. Trust me ... YUMMY!

The flower blossoms also are edible, giving a mild oniony yet beautiful bite to any salad. Just remember to add them after you toss in the dressing, otherwise they lose a lot of that beauty and look like something that you should fish out.

Thyme has got to be my favorite herb; there is something about that flavor that goes well with everything. Don’t believe me? Try taking a couple of melons, cut then into cubes, and toss in a bowl with a tablespoon of honey and a teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves, then serve chilled.

There are many different types of thyme, and what will work best in your kitchen all depends on what your tastes are. I grow two varieties, an English thyme and a silver thyme. The first one is green, and the second is variegated (green and white leaves); this way I can use them for different applications.

For instance, variegated thyme wouldn’t look good in a spaghetti sauce. You’d keep looking at these small white flecks in your food and feel like you should pick them out. Although TV chefs usually recommend striping the leaves from a sprig of thyme I rarely do. With the exception of recipes like the melon one above, I prefer to throw the entire sprig into a sauce or dish and then fish out the branch later when it’s done cooking.

Sage is available in many colors/varieties and loves our climate here in Lake County. Being an evergreen plant, it is available to us year-round. Where would our Thanksgiving turkey be without the flavor of sage? Sage is considered medicinal and/or magical by many cultures and religions. It was also considered by the ancient Greeks to have such protective qualities that they would be stunned if a man died while sage grew in his garden.

If you are looking to deer-proof your yard, then add some rosemary – deer hate it. One of my goals in life is to have my own organic farm, and one of the first things I would do is put up a rosemary hedge to keep out the deer naturally.

I love to cut long branches of rosemary and use them as skewers for meat, and I never make lamb without rosemary. When you plant rosemary, be sure to give it plenty of room because it can grow 5 feet high and wide, or if you have a small space just be sure to keep it trimmed. I use rosemary so much that its size isn’t a problem in my garden; it’s constantly trying to keep up with my demand for it. Rosemary has long been used to improve memory, and modern studies have added some credence to this belief.

My garden is organic, so I’ve learned to live with sharing my garden with plenty of moochers, a.k.a., pests. This year my rosemary plant is covered with caterpillars. No big deal, I just brush them off before I cook with them (the rosemary, not the caterpillars). Similarly, every year my tomatoes get a couple of hornworms, and instead of getting all upset, we name them and have fun watching them grow. My tomato plants are healthy enough to handle the infestation without worry.

I grow asclepias, a.k.a. milkweed or pleurisy root, in with my herbs because the addition of genetically diverse plants in a garden makes it healthier and reduces pest problems naturally. Asclepias are the sole food for monarch butterflies, and I like seeing the little critters flittering about the garden. The plants also attract hummingbirds, and it has been fun to watch the interaction of these assertive birds with my wife’s cats. Asclepias are toxic to humans, so although they are in my herb garden I don’t eat them.

Oregano is great in many cuisines. Not only does it work well in spaghetti sauce but also in guacamole and taco seasoning. There are many different varieties, so talk to your garden center staff about what kind you should grow. Sicilian oregano is purported to be one of the most flavorful varieties.

I used to grow other herbs in my herb garden, like savory and marjoram, but I found I didn’t use them enough to justify them taking up the space in my small garden. I grow annual herbs like parsley, dill and basil elsewhere in the garden.

The thing you have to understand if you do plant an herb garden is ... be patient and let it grow. Too many people plant an herb garden and start harvesting from it that very year. With annual plants like basil and parsley that’s fine, but slower growing perennials need a year to become established and really produce well for you. Rosemary plants will eventually become five feet tall, sage will become a couple of feet tall, chives will actually divide and multiply themselves into a small patch. If you start harvesting the very first year then you will be cheating yourself in the long run.

Basil is an annual herb, meaning it will completely die over the winter and will need to be replanted in the spring. A variety called “Genovese basil” has been named the best tasting basil by “The International Pesto Society” (boy, there is a club out there for everyone!), and that has been my variety of choice for years.

Basil is very fragile, so make sure to plant it when all chance of frost is gone. When using basil, try not to cut it until the very last second – anywhere stainless steel touches basil it will turn black in just a couple minutes. Some chefs recommend tearing basil by hand to avoid this unsightly reaction.

Let’s talk parsley. Never mind that “curly” parsley that you get on the side of your plate when you eat at the diner, flat-leafed Italian parsley is what you want. It has a much fuller flavor and is easier to chop to add to dishes. Parsley is a biennial, which means it will live for two years before it flowers and dies. If you have a pet rabbit, plant parsley as a treat for it. I planted an extra large patch of parsley to share with my daughter’s bunny, and it was a very happy bunny! You can put your bunny in the parsley patch and come back an hour later; trust me, it ain’t leaving voluntarily.

Men, you should also keep in mind that subconsciously – and even not so subconsciously – women think that a single man who can keep a plant alive would make a good husband/father, since it shows responsibility and care. As a result, a man with a garden is viewed as more attractive to women since he shows that he can take care of a living thing. Consequently, even if you aren’t a big cook, having an herb garden can benefit you. Just remember that the plants need to look healthy or the effect is lost.

For this following saltimbocca recipe veal is typically used, but my daughter refuses to eat veal (remember, petting zoo vegetarianism) so I changed it slightly. You can follow the same instructions using veal if you wish to stay traditional. Saltimbocca means “Jump in the mouth,” as if someone said, “I didn’t eat them all, they just jumped into my mouth!” This recipe alone is my main reason for growing sage. I buy prosciutto at the mega-market – just check in the specialty meats area by the deli.

Chicken Saltimbocca (Recipe serves 2)

2 chicken breasts

8 slices of Prosciutto

12 sage leaves

12 toothpicks (unflavored)

1/2 cup of flour

4 tablespoons butter

Lay the chicken breasts on a cutting board and split each of them horizontally so you end up with four identical but thin breast slices. Be very careful doing this; it helps if your knife is extra sharp. Using the smooth side of a meat mallet gently pound the chicken breast halves even thinner without going to the point where you are destroying them. Put two slices of prosciutto on top of each chicken breast and, using the waffle side of your meat mallet, gently pound the prosciutto into the chicken as if you are trying to meld them into one piece of meat. (If you don’t have a waffle-sided meat mallet, try using a couple of forks to stab the two meats together over and over again.)

Position three sage leaves on each breast on top of the prosciutto. Using the toothpicks, pin the sage to each breast.

Heat a non-stick pan to medium on the stovetop and add 2 tablespoons of the butter. Gently dredge each breast in flour as the pan heats, and then place one or two of the breast slices in the pan (depending on size of your pan). Cook for one minute on each side or until done. Add the rest of the butter as needed to cook remaining pieces.

Serve each person two slices but expect them to want more, so increase this recipe as needed. And be sure to remind dinner guests to remove the toothpicks themselves.

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 – A woman who is serving time in prison for killing her infant 22 years ago has been denied parole for the fourth time.

Leah Ann Jack, 42, will remain in the Central California Women’s Facility State Prison in Chowchilla following the denial of her parole at an Aug. 14 hearing held at the prison, Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff reported Friday.

The commissioners, said Hinchcliff, denied Jack's parole citing her lack of viable parole plans and insufficient participation in substance abuse treatment while in prison, which would cause her to still present an unreasonable risk to public safety.

Hinchcliff said he attended the hearing to argue against the release of Jack, who was convicted of second-degree murder and use of a deadly weapon for killing her 37-day-old baby.

The case's investigation reports indicated that on her 20th birthday – Aug. 5, 1986 – Jack, who was reportedly under the influence of cocaine and methamphetamine, drove the baby and her other two young children up to Hopland Grade west of Lakeport, Hinchcliff said.

On the grade, Jack laid the baby under her car and drove over it three times, then threw it over the side of the road where it was later found by investigators, according to Hinchcliff.

Jack also reportedly threatened her 4-year-old child, saying, “You’re next.” Hinchcliff said she then drove back to her home in Lakeport, and relatives reported the baby missing.

Investigators later discovered that Jack told an emergency medical technician that she killed the baby because it would not stop crying, Hinchcliff reported. Jack later told an investigator she was not sure why she had done it, but speculated it was because the baby had gotten on her nerves.

Hinchcliff said Jack also had told investigators that she had planned on killing the other two children, but did not do so. Her chronic use of illegal drugs appeared to be a factor that led to her killing the child.

Following her arrest, Jack was sent to Napa State Hospital for five months for an evaluation, said Hinchcliff. She was later returned to face charges after it was discovered that she was fabricating incompetency.

Stephen Hedstrom – who has since become Lake County Superior Judge in Department 4 – prosecuted the case. On March 10, 1987, Lake County Superior Court Judge Robert Crone – who has since retired – sentenced Jack to an indeterminate term of 16 years to life from, said Hinchcliff.

Hinchcliff said Jack first became eligible for parole on Dec. 7, 1996.

The Aug. 14 hearing was the fourth parole hearing at which Jack was denied parole. Hinchcliff also had attended the last hearing, held July 28, 2005.

Hinchcliff said Jack's next parole hearing will be held in two years.


CLEARLAKE OAKS – Citing a budget crunch and the need for capital improvements on equipment, the Clearlake Oaks County Water District plans to ask its customers to consider several rate hike options at a meeting this week.

The district is planning a hearing at the Eastlake Grange, 13010 E. Highway 20, at 7 p.m. Aug. 16 to present choices to the community and receive input from ratepayers.

Darin McCosker, general manager and chief water plant operator, said he's going to propose three options to his board and the 1,715 water customers and 1,630 sewer customers.

Those options include a 39.4-percent increase on sewer and water, which was the proposal the Saturday meeting originally was called to consider, along with 25-percent and 10-percent hikes.

The originally proposed 39.4-percent increase on both sewer and water would raise the base monthly single-family dwelling water rates from $23.79 to $28.59, and sewer rates from $31.83 to $44.19.

All of the proposals would do away with the current rule allowing water users to have a 200 cubic foot allowance included in the base rate, McCosker said.

In addition, he's proposing to adjust the rate structure for single-family mobile homes with no meter and have district employees contribute more to their health benefits.

McCosker also will suggest to the board that, next July, they should review their financial situation and if it's stabilized they can look at rolling back the rates.

The decision, said McCosker, is ultimately up to the board.

But the district is behind in audits for two years, an issue that has both community members and board member Frank Toney saying they want to see the district get its financial house in order before raising rates.

Clearlake Oaks residents Judy Barnes and Judy Heeszel, who have attended meetings to find out more about the situation, told Lake County News they felt audits needed to be completed before new rate were passed.

“There's a lot of unanswered questions about the budget,” Barnes said, with the lack of audits raising a red flag for her.

Putting in place a permanent rate increase without having a new budget ready doesn't make sense to Barnes, who has personally visited with McCosker to question him about the district's situation.

Heeszel, a retired teacher's aide, questioned some district hires at what she felt were extremely high wages and advocated for a thorough financial examination before taking action.

She said she's concerned about the impacts of climbing rates on the community's elderly members, living on small incomes.


New board confronted by budget problems 

McCosker took over in January as general manager from Ellen Pearson, who worked as auditor/secretary until the district let her go in March.

Along with a new district manager, three of the district's five-member board were newly elected last fall. Board President Helen Locke, Vice President Mike Anisman and Frank Toney joined directors Pat Shaver and Harry Chase.

The new members had sought board seats because they were concerned either about customer service or certain district rules.

Locke credits McCosker for doing away with the “voice mail hell” that customers used to encounter when calling in, which has since been replaced by district staff answering calls and returning calls quickly. Anisman said hundreds of calls previously had gone unanswered.

Anisman, Locke and Toney said they weren't prepared to find out the district was running deep in the red. Anisman said the last three to four budgets the district has produced have been in the negative.

“It's an awful situation,” Locke told Lake County News.

The district's current financial condition has been attributed to what McCosker called in one district meeting a “plethora of reasons” – from poor management to lack of communication.

Bigger issues for the district is crumbling, outdated infrastructure, and rates that haven't kept up with the needs for maintenance and an increasing list of state and federal regulations, board members and McCosker said.

Since taking over, McCosker has been trying to play catch up, a task that has left him clearly frustrated. However, he said he's determined to streamline costs – including a spending freeze he instituted – and make the financial operations of the district more transparent.

“I honestly was completely overwhelmed and didn't know how we would dig ourselves out of this hole,” McCosker said.

Pearson said the district was making ends meet when she was there, although she had asked the district board since June of 2005 for a rate increase, which didn't happen.

McCosker has brought bookkeeper Jana Saccato on board at the district. He said she's been trying to catch up on the district's ledger entries, which the previous bookkeeper wasn't making. Saccato's work, he said, has helped stabilize the financial picture.

Pearson said the district hadn't had an auditor/bookeeper since May of 2006, after a woman who held the position for six months and made a mess of the books left.

Poor budget management also resulted in more than $4,600 in overdraft charges on the district's accounts in 2007 and $6,200 in penalties from the Internal Revenue Service for not following procedures, said McCosker.

Anisman said the issue with the IRS was “the final straw” for him when it came to Pearson's job with the district.

He said Pearson went on vacation and a few days after she left the board received word from the bank that they had no money. They then found out the IRS was putting a lien on the checking account for failure to pay back taxes – taxes which the district is still working to pay.

“She never told anybody,” he said. “She left and went on vacation without telling anybody.”

Pearson said she did tell Shaver – the only board member who would talk to her – about the situation before leaving on vacation.

Those overdrafts and penalties were as a result of having no auditor/bookkeeper. She added that state water code prevents the general manager from also auditing the district's books.

McCosker said the district's finances are behind in audits which has resulted in fines. At its most recently meeting on July 16, the district board gave McCosker direction to come back with three bids from audit firms to complete the necessary audits. He'll take those bids to the board's Aug. 20 meeting.

It's hoped those audits also will give the district a clue to the source of its financial stresses. Board members like Toney also hope it will tell them what happened to $65,000 of $78,000 the Federal Emergency Management Agency gave the district for several projects. Pearson said that money was still in a district account when she left.

Looking at the district's finances over the last 10 years, McCosker said in 1998 the board decided to reduce rates 6.7 percent, then raise rates 0 percent on water for five years before a rate increase was enacted.

Pearson disputes that there were no rate increases in those years, saying that they were just very small, only about 2 to 3 percent.

In 1998, the district had $1.3 million in reserves, but negative budgets and borrowing against reserves did away with that cushion, McCosker said.

The rates that did follow were too small to help; McCosker said from 2002 to 2004 the district spent about $1.2 million on new canal crossings for sewer, a 200,000 gallon clearwell at the water plant, cleaned and inspected 17,000 feet of sewer mains, and repaired many leaks in the sewer system.

Before McCosker took over the district's management in January, the district's reserves were down to $13,000.

A small, 3-percent rate increase that was approved four years ago went into effect July 1, McCosker said.

But the most pressing issues facing the district is the budget shortfall, which McCosker said he can't do anything about unless rates go up.

“We are barely keeping our head above water right now,” he said, which is why the district needs at least a 10-percent increase, which will help pay for the expensive auditing process.

Views on solutions differ

While the board is in agreement that they're facing financial difficulties, the question of what to do next seems to have brought them to no consensus.

Toney said he wants to see the results of the audits, which are needed so the district can start the work of building a new budget. That needs to happen before going to a rate hike, he said.

He said of a hike, “I'm not for that, because we need to start cutting costs internally before we start laying this on the ratepayers.”

During a June meeting month Toney suggested a hiring freeze as well as a temporary halt on pay increases for the district's 15 employees, but received no support from fellow board members. He also said the district's benefit and salary packages are “overdone” and should be scaled back.

In making the original proposal for a 39.4-percent rate increase, McCosker was concerned about overcoming an estimated $250,000 deficit, a number which since has been reduced by about $100,000. However, McCosker cautions that without audits it's hard to know the district's true financial picture.

That original proposal also would fund a $450,000 capital improvement plan to update the system, said McCosker.

“We have $14 million worth of stuff that is getting older as we speak,” he said at a recent meeting.

Among the equipment concerns is the need to replace pipes and tanks, including the district's redwood storage tanks located in High Valley, which hold 200,000 gallons of water and could cost as much as $750,000 to replace. There also are needs for a water plant and capital improvements at the wastewater plant, said McCosker.

Toney said he believes the district should hold off on capital improvements and tank replacement projects until it gets its financial house in order. He also suggested the district pursue entrepreneurial opportunities, such as selling treated wastewater to farmers rather than having it pumped to The Geysers steamfield.

Anisman said he believes the rate hike is needed in order to do the significant upgrades the district needs – from new tanks to maintenance – which he compared to making the jump from DOS to a Vista computer operating system.

“The people I have heard from personally have all said, 'We need a raise',” said Anisman.

The rate hikes are necessary, and not a luxury item, said Anisman. If the ratepayers don't shoot the proposal down Aug. 16, it will likely go forward.

McCosker said Supervisor Denise Rushing helped get the district some budgetary relief by securing an agreement with the county to make an early, $80,000 payment from property taxes to the district, which Rushing urged instead of taking a loan. She's also suggested the district ask the county to pay its water bill to the district early.

“Denise Rushing has come through on her promise and moved mountains to get early payments,” he said.

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


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