Thursday, 26 January 2023

News

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Ginny Craven receives a flag and a certificate from Staff Sergeant Josh Bryant during a care package packing party last month. Photo by Ron Quick.

 

LAKE COUNTY – A local organization formed to help support US troops overseas has been nominated for a national award.


Kelseyville resident Ginny Craven, founder of Operation Tango Mike, was notified Tuesday that the group has been nominated for the Above and Beyond Effort Award Award in the Microsoft/USO Salute to the Troops Program.


Operation Tango Mike translates to “Thanks much” in military lingo. Craven formed the group to send troops much-needed support – both emotional and practical. On a monthly basis the group of dedicated volunteers packs dozens of care packages to send overseas.


It's the kind of effort that the Microsoft Above & Beyond Program was created to spotlight.


Microsoft and the United Service Organizations (USO) announced Sept. 18 that they were introducing the awards, meant to recognize “contributions of the military community of friends, family and other individuals who support U.S. troops and/or their families in 2007.”


Adriana Marino, Microsoft Above & Beyond Program coordinator, notified Craven Tuesday of the nomination, the day after the nomination period ended.


“Your extraordinary dedication in supporting our Armed forces is evident through your exemplification of its core values of courage, comfort, and selflessness,” Marino wrote in an e-mail message.


Marino told Craven that if Operation Tango Mike is selected as a finalist, the group's story will be shared with the public and included in an online vote to decide the award winner.

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The chosen winners will be invited, with airfare expenses paid, for the Above and Beyond Awards Gala at New York City's famed Rainbow Room on Nov. 12, according to Marino. The event will be held as a part of Microsoft and USO’s inaugural “Salute to Our Troops,” a private, complimentary performance of the 75th Celebration of the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular.”


Craven said Thursday that she doesn't know who submitted the nomination, which was both surprising and flattering.


“The nomination is a superb testament to the Lake County community,” she said. “Though I started Operation Tango Mike, it has grown into something very special and is sustained through donations and the good work of volunteers. Kudos to Lake County. Supporting our troops is the right thing to do and is a labor of love.”


She told Operation Tango Mike supporters in an e-mail message this week that the nomination “speaks volumes about what we can do when we put our minds to it.”


A panel of judges will narrow the nominations to finalists in each category, from which the awardees will be chosen through an online public vote at the Above and Beyond Web site, according to Microsoft.


The final nominees will be announced Oct. 22, at which time the public can visit the Above and Beyond Awards Web site and vote for the winners.


On Oct. 22, visit the Above and Beyond Web site at www.microsoft.com/industry/government/federal/AboveandBeyondAwards.mspx to see if Operation Tango Mike has made the finals and, if they have, to cast your vote in support of the group.


For more information about Operation Tango Mike, visit the group's Web site at http://operationtangomike.home.mchsi.com/wsb/html/view.cgi-home.html-.html.


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


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Evan Dills and one of his beloved vintage tractors. Photo by Greg Dills.




LAKEPORT – A new family event is coming to Lake County, and it’s a 17-year-old's enthusiasm for vintage tractors that has made it happen.


Evan Dills, a life-long resident of rural Scotts Valley, approached neighbors Mike and Stephanie Sutton with his idea for a vintage tractor show a few months ago. The Suttons welcomed the new endeavor, and thought it was a great addition to the activities that The Sutton Family Farm has introduced in recent years.


It’s no surprise that the family that brought Lake County’s first corn maze to the area would welcome the tractor show, to be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20.


Evan, and his dad, Greg, are real aficionados when it comes to antique farm equipment. The team has lovingly restored tractors, gas engines and several farm implements, with more projects in the works.


Anyone accompanying the pair on a ride down any country road, will soon hear, “Hey, Dad, did you see that tractor?” Evan, however, will rattle off the make and year like he was around when it was new. When it comes to vintage farm equipment, this young man knows what he’s talking about, and his enthusiasm is contagious.


If you own vintage tractors, antique farm implements, or old gas engines that you’d like to display, call Evan or Greg Dills at 263-1966 to participate. Help shine a spotlight on our agricultural heritage, and be part of this inaugural event.


This year, The Sutton Family Farm opened its corn maze to young and old alike on Oct. 1, and will continue until Oct. 31. Every Friday and Saturday night is “flash-light night,” which has become another popular feature of the corn maze.


Last weekend saw the first cart rides around the farm, in a cart pulled by a beautiful Dutch draft mare. More horse-drawn tours will be available on Oct. 27 and 28, from noon to 5 p.m.


Don’t forget to mark your calendar. On Oct. 20, along with the Giant Pumpkin Weigh-off starting at 10 a.m., Lake County will welcome the Vintage Tractor Show. Bring the family to see the display of these farming treasures, and witness some of these wonderful machines in action. While you’re at it, pick out a pumpkin, go for a cart ride, visit the gift shop, and see it you can find your way out of the corn maze.


The Sutton Family Farm, located at 2405 Scotts Valley Road, just outside Lakeport, is the perfect spot to take your family for a memorable outing. It’s the place where new traditions will soon become old family favorites.


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Samples of Safeway's exterior improvements on display at the Lakeport Community Development Department. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

 



LAKEPORT – Businesses in Lakeport’s Willow Tree Shopping Center on 11th Street have a new landlord – Safeway has purchased the property.


“We closed escrow and we are now the proud owners,” said Safeway spokesperson Espe Greenwood.


Lake County News obtained a copy of a certified letter Safeway sent to businesses dated Aug. 23 notifying them that as of Aug. 22 Safeway had taken ownership of the shopping center.


Safeway purchased the shopping center from Seagulls Unlimited, a Santa Cruz-based company which, according to Lake County Assessor’s Records, purchased the property in November of 2000.


Greenwood said negotiations took place all the way up to the last minute.


Safeway has been in that location since 1981, said Greenwood. The store employs 100 people.


The shopping center is divided into two parcels – 979 11th Street, an 8.4-acre parcel, and 1071 11th Street, which is 3.9 acres, according to Lake County Assessor Records. The transfer amounts for both properties totaled $16 million in 2000.


Terms of Lakeport’s Safeway purchase were not disclosed.


Safeway’s 2006 annual report noted that the corporation had 1,761 stores across California, the Western United States, the Chicago metropolitan area and the Mid-Atlantic region, along with Canada.


Of those 1,761 stores, the company owns 40 percent of them, the report states.


With the purchase of the Lakeport store, Safeway now owns both of its Lake County stores. The Clearlake Safeway store, located at 14922 Olympic Drive sits on a four-acre parcel that the company purchased in 1990, according to Lake County Assessor’s Records, with a transfer amount of $3,161,500.


The corporation’s decisions to buy real estate depends on a lot of factors, said Greenwood. She added that buying stores it leases isn’t necessarily a trend for Safeway.


In the case of Lakeport’s store, Greenwood said the company chose to buy for a lot of reasons, which she didn’t specify. “It’s very hard to say that any one thing stands out from the rest.”


MAJOR REMODEL PLANNED


Greenwood said Lakeport’s Safeway is slated for a remodel which will convert it to the company’s new “Lifestyle” store format.


The Lifestyle store will have “the bells and whistles,” said Greenwood, including an expanded wine section featuring local wines, a larger floral department which will feature bouquets and arrangements for special occasions, and an expanded bakery with a hearth oven.


The remodeled store also will include more energy efficient refrigerators and new lighting, with the company changing from fluorescent lights, said Greenwood.


All of those changes are meant to reduce the company’s environmental footprint, reduce costs and make Safeway more competitive, Greenwood added.


The remodel also will increase the size of the store from 40,342 to 46,982, according to plans submitted to the Lakeport Community Development Department. Greenwood added that most Safeway stores are in the 40,000 to 55,000 square foot range.


Greenwood said the company plans to invest more in its properties. Safeway conducted 276 Lifestyle remodels in 2006, according to its annual report.


The remodel plans include removing the parking along the front of the store and moving handicapped parking out into the first rows of the main parking area.


The front façade and the sides of the Safeway building will undergo significant changes, according to the plans submitted to the city, which were drawn up by Nadel Retail Architects of Sacramento.


The building's front overhang will be removed, and decorative touches including planters and a wooden trellis will be added. The two main entrances will remain in their current locations. An area also will be added for a pharmacy.


The plans are being reviewed right now, said Community Development Director Richard Knoll.


He said he believes the remodel will go to the Lakeport Planning Commission for approval in November or December.


“If everything went in a quick order they’ll probably be ready for a building permit in spring,” said Knoll.


TENANTS DISCUSS EXPECTED CHANGES


John Peterson, chief operating officer of Mendo-Lake Credit Union, told Lake County News that his company was notified of Safeway’s plans to purchase the complex during the first week of July.


The plans Safeway has submitted to the city’s Community Development Department include moving a portion of the shops between Safeway and Longs Drugs. Specifically, the shops that would be removed are leased by orthopedic hand surgeon Rebecca Jensen, Willow Tree Dental, Advance America and Bandbox Music.


Ron Benkelman, owner of Bandbox Music, said he has been in his location near Safeway since February of 1999. “This is the best location I’ve had in the county,” said Benkelman.


Bandbox Music has been in business in Lake County for 51 years altogether, said Benkelman, who purchased the business in 1990. During that time the business has had six locations. “This is by far the nicest.”


He said his business benefits from the foot traffic in that part of the shopping center.


Safeway is offering Benkelman the chance to move to another area of the shopping center, he said.


So far, Benkelman said he has been offered a spot near Longs, but nothing has been finalized. He also doesn’t know when Safeway will expect businesses to move under the new leases, and said merchants like him want to know that date.


Greenwood said Safeway will definitely be relocating some of its tenants. “It will be happening next year.”


Benkelman said the last owners treated the property badly and didn’t make an effort at upkeep, a statement with which Lynn Fegan, owner of Catfish Books, agreed.


The experience with Safeway as a landlord has so far been positive said Fegan, who added that she made out her first rent check to Safeway for the month of September.


Fegan, who has owned the store for 14 years, said Catfish Books has been in the same location for 27 years, since the shopping center was built.


She said last year her business was up 35 percent. However, with the change in ownership and the plans for demolishing one part of the shops, Fegan said she’s unsure of what the future will hold for her business.


The big question, she said, is will she be required to move or will Safeway choose to not renew her lease, causing her to close?


The other major change tenants expect is a raise in rent.


Benkelman said he is prevented by the terms of his lease from discussing his current rental rate, but said he expects it to rise to $15 per square foot per year, which for his 1,200 square foot shop would equal $1,500 a month, a price he said is much more in line with Pleasanton’s rates than Lake County’s.


“All change is for the good. All change is uncomfortable,” said Benkelman.


Greenwood said Safeway is committed to improve the shopping center. “We’ll definitely invest a lot of money in this property to make it nice.”


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


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Some of the materials found by agents inside the Lower Lake residence. Courtesy photo.



LOWER LAKE – Local law enforcement officials, aided by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), seized thousands of dollars of marijuana at a Lower Lake residence on Tuesday and arrested a man wanted on a federal warrant in Texas.


A report from Commander Richard Russell of the Lake County Narcotic Task Force said that the task force, DEA, Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, Lake County Sheriff's deputies and Lake County Probation officers went to the residence, located at 18331 Ponderosa Trail Road, at 9 a.m. Tuesday to attempt an open-field marijuana crop eradication.


As the agents approached the property they observed two vehicles leaving a residence on that property, Russell reported.


Agents contacted and detained four subjects. Two of them – Jack Stamper, 61, and Richard Bonnet, 50 – were determined to reside on the property and were in the process of cultivating and harvesting 927 marijuana plants, according to Russell.


Stamper and Bonnet were arrested for cultivation, possession for sale and transportation of marijuana, said Russell. Further investigation revealed that Jack Stamper was actually Larry Monk who was wanted on a federal warrant by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for weapons violations in Texas. Bonnet was found to be wanted on a no-bail warrant in Napa County for domestic violence.


Russell said agents obtained a search warrant for the residence, where they found approximately 40 pounds of processed marijuana bud in a safe along with $2,000 cash. Also seized inside the residence was a small amount of concentrated cannabis – “hash” – and $1,109 in cash.


Agents then searched the barn on the property, Russell reported, which revealed approximately 20 more pounds of processed marijuana.


CAMP officers subsequently eradicated 927 marijuana plants from the property, said Russell.


Additionally, agents found in the vehicle that Monk was driving approximately 3.5 pounds of marijuana that was heat-sealed and packaged for shipment via US mail.


Monk and Bonnet were transported to the Lake County Jail where they remain in custody pending local charges as well as the preexisting arrest warrant charges from other jurisdictions.


“It is becoming more prevalent every year for criminals from other areas of the state and country to move to Lake County to grow marijuana,” said Russell. “As this practice spreads, Lake County will see more violence associated with criminals using the state marijuana initiatives to commercially grow and sell large amounts of marijuana.”

 

 

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Officers eradicated 927 marijuana plants. Courtesy photo.

 

 

 

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Thousands of dollars in cash also were seized. Courtesy photo.

 

 

 

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A view of the property, located on Ponderosa Trail Road. Courtesy photo.

 

 

 

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LAKE COUNTY – The California Highway Patrol's Clear Lake office has announced it will conduct a sobriety checkpoint this Saturday, Oct. 20.


CHP Officer Adam Garcia reported that sobriety checkpoints will be staffed by CHP and allied agency officers who are trained in the detection of alcohol and/or drug impaired drivers.


Drug recognition experts, certified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, will be on site to provide on the spot assessments of drivers suspected of drug use, Garcia explaiend. The officers also will be equipped with state of the art handheld breath devices which provide an accurate measure of blood alcohol concentrations of suspected drunk drivers.


“Our goal is to ensure the safe passage of each and every motorist by targeting roads where there is a high frequency of drunk driving,” said CHP Commander Lt. Dane Hayward.


Hayward explained that a sobriety checkpoint is an effective tool for achieving this goal and is designed to augment existing patrol operations. By publicizing the checkpoint, he added, CHP believes it can deter motorists from drinking and driving.


“Traffic volume permitting, all vehicles will be checked and drivers who are under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, or unlicensed, can be expected to be arrested,” said Hayward. “Our objective is to send a clear message to those deciding to drive while impaired.”


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LUCERNE County officials have located an area near an old mercury mine along Highway 20 with elevated mercury levels, and are now conducting monitoring to watch the spot.


Tom Smythe of the county’s Water Resources Division said the area is immediately adjacent to the old Utopia Mine along the road shoulder outside of Lucerne.


The Utopia Mine was open for two years about the start of the 20th century, Smythe explained.


“We have a grant to do hot spot monitoring around the county for mercury to determine if there’s any mercury hot spots in the Clear Lake Watershed,” said Smythe.


That’s what led to the discovery of the higher mercury levels, he said.


One sample showed the presence of mercury at 17 parts per million in sediment, said Smythe, as compared to a normal mercury found in the lake’s upper arm, which measures about 1 part per million.


Smythe said the county is doing additional monitoring to try to determine how extensive the mercury is at that spot, and what it might be adding to the lake’s sediments.


“That testing is still ongoing,” said Smythe, and is located on the shoulder in the road cut.


The mine had two adits – or horizontal shafts – that came out on the shoreline, Smythe explained, and are located in Caltrans' right-of-way.


Smythe said it’s believed Caltrans plugged those shafts with concrete in the 1960s, although the agency hasn’t found the records to prove its involvement.


“We're pretty sure it was Caltrans,” said Smythe.


There is a total maximum daily load (TMDL) stakeholder group of which Caltrans is a member, said Smythe. The group looks at issues surrounding minerals affecting the lake's health. “We have been keeping this group apprised of what we've got.”

The ball may be in Caltrans’ court as far as mitigating the site, said Smythe.


On Sept. 10 the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board sent a letter to Caltrans saying that Caltrans needed to submit a plan within 90 days of the letter's date to explain what they will do to address the mercury levels.


Caltrans spokesman Phil Frisbie Jr. confirmed that Caltrans received the regional water board's letter.


“We are in the process right now of performing our own soil and water testing in that area,” said Frisbie.


As soon as Caltrans has samples back, it will formally respond to the regional water board, Frisbie said – hopefully within the 90-day window.


If the tests confirm the regional water board's findings, Caltrans will have to put measures in place in order to keep the mercury from going into the lake, said Frisbie.


Frisbie said he found information online that said the mine shut down in 1908.


FINDING NOT AN IMMEDIATE HEALTH CONCERN


Smythe said Water Resources is still investigating the area, which he said is not an immediate health concern.


The area's mercury levels are minor when compared to those found at the Sulphur Bank Mine, said Smythe.


“Overall I think it's a small source of mercury,” he said.


The Utopia Mine, one of numerous mercury mines that operated around Lake County at one point, may not even be the source of the mercury, said Smythe.


It could be that it's just another area that's naturally rich in mercury and cinnabar, Smythe suggested. Because of that, they took cinnabar samples for analysis.


The area that's giving off the mercury is “pretty small,” said Smythe. The outcropping he saw was less than one square foot in size. But mercury is toxic even in small amounts, he added.


Smythe said no similar sites with such elevated levels have been found.


Mercury is naturally occurring in Lake County. Smythe said other areas, like the east end of High Valley, also have high levels of mercury, which comes up in the region's volcanic soils.


In the Coast Range, said Smythe, mercury tends to be deposited in mineral springs and associated with geothermal fluids.


Some springs still actively deposit mercury; as examples, Smythe pointed to one near the Turkey Run Mine along Highway 20 and one near Wilbur Springs in Colusa County.


Along with mercury, geothermal springs along the border of Lake, Napa and Yolo counties also deposited gold, said Smythe.


“Geologically, that's what happens,” 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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Narsai David will be the wine auction's master of ceremonies. Courtesy photo.


 

KELSEYVILLE – The weekend is the eighth annual Lake County Wine Auction, an event that over the years has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for great local causes.


The auction takes place this Saturday, Oct. 20.


Presented by the Lake County Wine Alliance, the gala charity event starts at 5 p.m. on the green under the big tent at Buckingham Golf & Country Club, Kelseyville.


Narsai David, the food and wine editor for KCBS Radio in San Francisco, is this year's master of ceremonies, the Lake County Wine Alliance reported.


David is sought after as the host for innumerable charity fundraising functions. The Wine Alliance is honored to have his assistance this year to create greater awareness of the community groups that have been selected as beneficiaries.


For 16 years Narsai David owned Narsai’s, the internationally renowned restaurant in Kensington, with a wine list described by the New York Times as “one of the ten finest in the world.”


A former columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner, David also was the host of the nationally syndicated PBS television series Over Easy and co-host of Cook Off America.


In 2000 Narsai added “winemaker” to his resume with the release of his Narsai Cabernet Sauvignon from the Narsai and Venus David Vineyards in St. Helena. He continues to make celebrity chef appearances throughout the world.


Narsai David is president of the board of the Berkeley Community Fund, foundation board member and past president of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, president of the Assyrian Aid Society of America, and founding member of the San Francisco Hunger Awareness Project.


David’s past community and professional service includes serving as chairman of the Awards Committee for the Berkeley Community Fund, president of the board of the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association, host of the annual “Narsai Toast to the Arts,” host of the Alameda County Meals on Wheels Dinner, and honorary chair of the VNA Hospices Annual Wine Tasting Dinner.


McLaren serves as event auctioneer


This year’s Wine Auction will feature Archie McLaren as auctioneer. McLaren is the founder and chairman of the Central Coast Wine Classic, the prestigious and comprehensive food and wine event now in its twenty-third year in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. With revenues exceeding $1 million dollars, this Classic is one of America’s most successful charity wine auctions.


McLaren is no stranger to the world of fine cuisine and rare wine. He is the founding Bailli of the Central Coast Chapter of the Confrerie de la Chaine des Rotisseurs, a member of the Wine & Food Society of San Francisco, the San Francisco Chapter of Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, and the Marin County Chapter of the International Wine & Food Society. He is the former cellarmaster of the Avila Bay Wine Society and the former president of the Central Coast Wine Society.


Active in his local community, Archie has been chairman/executive director of both the San Luis Obispo Vintners & Growers Association and the Paso Robles Westside Grand Crew. He is one of only two Americans inducted into the Austrian Wine Brotherhood. Archie recently joined the Wine Committee of COPIA in Napa.


On San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Public Radio KCBX, Archie has hosted a fine wine program for twenty-three years, and has been a writer on fine wine for Adventures in Dining, the San Luis Obispo Telegram-Tribune, and Santa Barbara Magazine.


McLaren has received the annual Tourism Award from the San Luis Obispo Visitors & Convention Bureau. His civic activities include president of the board of the San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival and a member of the board of the San Luis Obispo Arts Council.


Archie McLaren’s auctioneering skills and wine knowledge is expected to bring high bids from guests at the Wine Auction.


Beneficiaries for this year's event


Five nonprofit organizations, five high schools and five senior centers have been selected as beneficiaries to receive proceeds from this year’s gala.


Recipients include Sponsoring Survivorship, the Adult Day Care/Respite Day Care Centers, Habitat for Humanity of Lake County, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Lake County, Lake County Community Radio/KPFZ, the fine arts programs at the five Lake County high schools, and the Meals on Wheels on programs at five senior centers.


Funds in excess of $530,000 have been contributed to community groups in Lake County from the proceeds of the first six auctions. The auction chair is Marie Beery, assisted by Linda Byrd, co-chair, both of Kelseyville. They are assisted by a large committee of volunteers who work throughout the year to create a successful charity event.


Congressman Mike Thompson will present a special Congressional resolution honoring Gerald Ployez, the first president of the Lake County Wine Alliance. Thompson is a founder and co-chair of the Congressional wine caucus and a strong supporter of the wine industry in Lake County.


Organizers and sponsors


Members of the Lake County Alliance board are Margaret Walker, president; Marie Beery, vice president; Pamela Shine-Duncan, secretary; Rob Roumiguiere, treasurer; Judy Luchsinger, Jim Fetzer, and Wilda Shock.


Premier sponsors this year include Lockheed Martin, Neasham Financial & Estate Planning, Kelseyville Lumber, Conser Land Surveying, Shannon Ridge Vineyards & Winery, Robinson Rancheria Resort & Casino, Bob Bartley Pumps, Kathy Fowler Dealerships, and Saw Shop Gallery Bistro.


Participating wineries include Big Valley Wines, Brassfield Estate Winery, Ceago Vinegarden, Cougar’s Leap Winery, Dusinberre Cellars, EdenCrest Vineyards & Winery, Gregory Graham Wines,

High Valley Vineyards, Langtry Estate & Vineyards, Moore Family Winery, Noggle Vineyards, Ployez Winery, Rosa d’Oro Vineyards, Roumiguiere Vineyards, Shannon Ridge Vineyards & Winery, Six Sigma Winery, Sol Rouge, Steele Wines, Tulip Hill Winery, Wildhurst Vineyards and Zoom Wines.


Participating restaurants and food purveyors are Angelina’s Bakery, Lakeport; Aromas, Culinary Arts Program, Yuba College, Clearlake; Blue Wing Saloon & Café, Upper Lake; Bruno’s Shop Smart, Lakeport; Carlos & Vinny’s, Lakeport; Foods Etc., Clearlake; Hardester’s Market, Middletown;

Ku-hu-gui Café, Konocti Vista Casino, Lakeport; Lindy’s Quality Catering, Lakeview Market & Deli, Lucerne; Marcie’s Brick Grill, Kelseyville; Park Place Restaurant, Lakeport; Ray’s Foods, Clearlake;

Riviera Hills Restaurant & Lounge, Kelseyville; Robinson Rancheria Grille, Nice; Rob Roy Golf Club, Cobb; Safeway Market, Lakeport; Saw Shop Gallery Bistro, Kelseyville; Sentry Market, Nice; Studebaker’s Deli & Coffee House, Kelseyville; WaterColor Restaurant, Soda Bay; Yerba Santa Goat Dairy, Scotts Valley; and Zino’s Ristorante & Inn, Soda Bay;


Auction information and how to get tickets


With 30 lots in the live auction, and more than 70 lots in the silent auction, the charity event is all about bidding often and bidding high. A feature every year is the original watercolor-on-silk painting created by local artist John R. Clarke. “Wine Colored Days” is another evocative piece of artwork that is certain to excite arts patrons.


Included in the live auction are numerous wine and travel packages, including destinations such as a Mexican Riviera cruise, a week in a Puerto Vallarta penthouse, a trout fishing expedition in Montana, a Lake Tahoe cabin, and a springtime visit to Atlanta. Closer to home, Ceago Vinegarden, the Tallman Hotel, Brassfield Estate Winery, and Wildhurst Vineyards are offering special activities which include their wines and food.


New this year, and of definite interest to true wine lovers, is a package from the Central Coast Wine Classic that includes tickets for the 2008 event and an unforgettable black-tie dinner at Hearst Castle, an event only available to sponsors and Wine Classic dignitaries.


Tickets to the black-tie optional event are $100 each. A limited quantity is available by calling the Wine Alliance, 866-279-WINE. The evening includes wine selections from 21 Lake County wineries, participation by 22 food purveyors, live and silent auctions, and music by Jim Williams & Friends.


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Drugs, guns and other materials seized Oct. 10 from Thomas McGann's Lakeport home. Photo courtesy of Lake County Narcotic Task Force.


 


LAKEPORT – A Lakeport man was arrested last week after the Lake County Narcotic Task Force served a search warrant on his home and seized marijuana and methamphetamines.


A report from Task Force Commander Richard Russell said on the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 10, agents from the Lake County Narcotic Task Force with assistance from the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, Lake County Probation Department, Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force and the Federal Bureau of Investigation served a search warrant at 2603 Hartley Road, Lakeport.


Agents contacted Thomas J. McGann, age 43, and Nicole M. Rosales, age 32, at the residence.


Task force agents had been investigating McGann’s illegal marijuana grow operation for approximately one month, according to Russell's report.


McGann was growing approximately 40 marijuana plants in his yard, which is less than 1,000 feet from Clear Lake High School, Russell reported. As there were no outward signs of the marijuana grow operation being for medical purposes a search warrant was authored and signed by a Lake County Superior Court Judge.


During the service of the search warrant agents located another 122 marijuana plants growing indoors in a portion of the garage which had been converted for the sole purpose of clandestine marijuana cultivation and processing, according to Russell.


More than 120 pounds of processed marijuana was seized from the location along with 28 various types of firearms, including a loaded .44 magnum revolver that McGann maintained on the headboard of his bed, and more than 2,000 rounds of ammunition, Russell's report stated.


Agents located approximately 10 grams of methamphetamine along with items which tend to prove sales of the drug in McGann’s bedroom, according to Russell. All of the marijuana gardens and the property were maintained under electronic audio and visual surveillance from within the residence.


Russell also reported that Lake County Animal Control was requested to remove the two large dogs McGann had roaming the property to protect his “cash crop.”


McGann claimed the marijuana was for medical purposes but was unable to produce any valid marijuana recommendations but his own, according to Russell. Numerous other Proposition 215 marijuana recommendations were located but were beyond the legal expiration date of one year.


Agents seized all of the above listed items of evidence except for six mature marijuana plants and 8 ounces of processed marijuana, according to the report. These are the amounts allowed by law under Senate Bill 420 and 11362.77. of the California Health and Safety Code.


McGann was arrested for cultivation of marijuana, possession for sale of marijuana, committing a felony while in possession of a firearm, possession for sale of methamphetamine, cultivating marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school, possession of a dangerous weapon, being armed with a firearm while under the influence of a controlled substance and other related offenses, Russell's report explained. He was booked at the Lake County jail prior to being released on bail.


Nicole Rosales, who does not reside at the suspect's residence, was released without charges.


“It has become common practice within Lake County and the surrounding areas for individuals to grow large amounts of marijuana for sale attempting to use the legal protection of the medical marijuana initiatives,” Russell stated in the report. “This has created a major problem for law enforcement and our local communities who now have to deal with the threat of violence and associated crimes involved with the overwhelming marijuana cultivation and sales industry.”


Russell added, “Without legislative changes regarding the growing and sale of marijuana this issue will continue. Violence associated with this illegal activity will rise and our already strained law enforcement resources will be further depleted.”

 


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This is the seventh installment in a seven-part series on the unsolved October 2002 murder of Barbara LaForge.


LAKE COUNTY – This past April Barbara LaForge's adopted mother, Christine Jones, began remodeling her Jacksonville, Fla., home. {sidebar id=15}


The house had been a haven for the young Barbara LaForge and her brother, Jack, after they found themselves largely forgotten by their own family.


Jones' daughter, Lisa Hatcher, said as her mother began opening closets and pulling out boxes, she made a discovery – after more than 20 years, diaries LaForge had written as a young woman came out into the light once again, filled with her poetry and her observations on life.


Written decades before her death, the diaries carried no hint of what would someday lead to her death. They did, however, reveal a young woman determined to be guarded about her heartaches and troubles, a trait she would carry into the last moments of her life.


That was exemplified in a poem titled “Me,” written when LaForge was between 18 and 20 years old. (See sidebar.)


FINDING A RESTING PLACE


Five years after her death, Barbara LaForge's story still has no official conclusion which, for those close to her, has translated into a lack of an emotional conclusion as well.


But there are other reasons for that.


For one, none of Barbara LaForge's friends or family – with the exception of her husband, Dan Hamblin – know the location of her final resting place.


According to her 1978 will, LaForge had asked to be cremated and buried near her father, Jack LaForge, at Oaklawn Cemetery in Jacksonville, Fla.


After authorities released her body back to Hamblin, he had her cremated. Hatcher said Chapel of the Lakes Mortuary recently confirmed to her that LaForge's remains had been returned to her husband.


Hamblin, however, has not communicated to LaForge's family where – or if – he laid her to rest.


Nor did he follow LaForge's own last wishes to be reunited with her father. A representative of Oaklawn Cemetery in Jacksonville, Fla., located a block from the St. Johns River, said that LaForge's ashes were not at the cemetery with the remains of Jack LaForge, whose suicide his young daughter witnessed.


Hamblin has not responded to requests for an interview from Lake County News about his wife's murder and the case so far.


ADVOCATING FOR THE VICTIM


During her last visit to Florida in 2001, LaForge told her adopted family that Hamblin had left her to return to his first wife, and also mentioned that her 1978 will – calling for her burial arrangements and splitting her estate between adopted parents, Christine and Gerald Jones, and her brother, Jack LaForge – remained in effect.


Although Hamblin later returned to LaForge, she never retracted her will, according to her family.


Jones and her family felt it important to advocate for LaForge while the murder investigation proceeded, so they went to court in March of 2003 to enforce the 1978 will in light of California law, which normally allows a spouse to inherit assets.


Lisa Hatcher said the family's concerns had mounted because of Hamblin's behavior, which they called “erratic.” That troubling behavior, in their view, included moving his girlfriend, Linda Mafrice, into the house with him shortly after the murder.


“We weren't after any of her property,” said Hatcher.


Court documents report that LaForge's belongings were valued at just over $76,000 at the time of her death; of that, just over $1,000 was in personal effects and $75,000 was the half interest in their home at 5232 Piner Court. The family disputed those amounts which were provided by Hamblin.


The family retained Steve Brookes, who also serves as Lakeport's city attorney, to represent them.


Jones' filings in the dispute over the estate yields the only written reference in a public record to a suspect in the LaForge's case.


In statements included in the court record, Jones said that Hamblin was a suspect in the murder and, until such time as the investigation cleared him, it would be inappropriate to allow him to control the estate of his murdered wife.


Hatcher said her mother eventually decided to stop the fight.


Most of the assets, said Brookes, were community property, and although Jones did have some rights under the old will, community property laws resulted in her having nothing to administer.


Brookes explained that the law says a person cannot benefit from the will of a person whose death they intentionally caused. However, with nothing developing in the investigation to preclude Hamblin from inheriting, Jones relinquished the effort.


“We agreed to be removed once there was no progress in the case,” Brookes said.

 

Jones was removed as executor, which allowed Hamblin to proceed in disbursing his wife's estate. In July of 2005 Hamblin filed papers officially closing the estate's administration.


MORE FAREWELLS


On May 21, 2004, Tom Gilliam, died at age 84, never knowing who killed his beloved stepdaughter. His wife, and Barbara's mother, Donna, had died in January 2002.


Tom Gilliam held two Silver Stars, the Bronze Star for Valor and had been a candidate for the Congressional Medal of Honor, said son, Tommy Gilliam. Yet, it was LaForge's death that caused him to fall apart.


“I think Barbara's death hurt him more deeply than anything else did,” said Gilliam, who said he thought the lack of closure had affected his father the most.


Tommy Gilliam said his father never shared with him who he thought killed LaForge. “I never really did get much from Dad.”


For Tommy Gilliam himself, he's not sure the murder will ever be solved, calling the case “still very wide open.”


After Barbara LaForge died, Tommy Gilliam said his stepsister, Leilani Prueitt, moved into Tom Gilliam's home with him, spending thousands of dollars of his father's money. By the time Tom Gilliam died, his son and the executor of his will said he had altered his will to leave Prueitt $30,000.


LOOSE ENDS AND CURIOUS STORIES


There are many more unanswered questions about the LaForge case. One is the hundreds of thousands of dollars in life insurance policies family said LaForge had on herself, to help pay off her home and benefit her husband in the case of her death.


Retired Police Chief Tom Engstrom said there were “at least a couple hundred thousand dollars” in life insurance policies, which the companies were refusing to pay out until the investigation was concluded.


LaForge's family in Jacksonville said there may have been as much as $400,000 in life insurance policies on LaForge, payable at her death.


In September 2005, two months after the official closure of LaForge's probate, Hamblin refinanced their home at 5232 Piner Court, with Linda Mafrice – who had become involved with Hamblin before LaForge's death – added as a co-borrower. The loan amount was $277,500.


That loan proved too much for the couple. This past April, the home that LaForge had loved was foreclosed on and Mafrice and Hamblin were forced to move. The home now sits empty, with a for sale sign out front.


RETIRED CHIEF OFFERS THEORY


Five years later, Engstrom, now retired from Lakeport Police says his perspective on the murder and who was responsible has not changed.


“I still believe it was not a random act of violence,” he said. “I think she was singled out. I think she was singled out by someone who knew her, by someone who knew what her schedule was, who was waiting for her.”


Engstrom also remains convinced that LaForge's murder was not connected to a series of commercial burglaries in the Lakeport in the previous weeks, and that the timing was merely coincidental.


“There weren't any signs of forced entry into the place and it seemed more to me that somebody was waiting inside for her rather than someone confront her outside and have her unlock the door,” he said. “It just seemed more like they were already in the place when she got there. I never was convinced that there was any kind of a robbery or a burglary that she walked in on. I just think someone was laying in wait for her.”


Engstrom said he felt it was well planned, and that only a small number of people had motive. “To me it seemed like there was small core of people that might have been responsible in concert or independently.”


He said he and his department took the case personally, a sentiment his successor, Lakeport Police Chief Kevin, told Lake County News he also shares.


“They tell you when you're in the police academy that you can't take it personally but in a small town it's hard not to take it personally," said Engstrom.


Engstrom said he and his department felt they owed to LaForge, her family and friends, and the community to bring the case to a close.


“I've asked myself many, many times what else we could have done,” he said, adding that he believes they did everything within their power yet still failed to get all the pieces they needed.


He said Lakeport hasn't had a murder since LaForge's. “That's why it's so devastating. It just doesn't happen everyday.”


As much as Engstrom wanted to stay to solve the murder, he said he has a lot of faith in Burke and his department.


Engstrom particularly praised Lt. Brad Rasmussen, 38, who has been with the department for 18 years.


“He's as honest as they come,” said Engstrom. “I nicknamed him one time 'Bulldog' because he's just so tenacious. He just stays after something; he won't give up. I always thought, if somebody's gonna solve this case, it's going to be Brad because he just won't quit until he gets it solved.”


A FRIEND'S NIGHTMARE


One of the people haunted most by LaForge's death is Gail Salituri, an artist whose gallery shared space with LaForge's frame shop. The two women worked together for nearly five years before LaForge was found in the shop, fatally shot.


“There has not been a day that has passed in the last five years when I have not thought about Barbara LaForge and this very unfortunate and gut-wrenching unsolved murder,” said Salituri.


“There are not enough descriptive words in the English language for me to be able to begin to

convey the all-consuming grief, frustration, anger and disbelief that this murder has brought to my psyche and our community. It has been a nightmare you can't awaken from and a question that holds few answers.”


She continued, “A life was stolen in a moment and a murderer walked free. It is quite disturbing that this occurred in such a small town as Lakeport.


“People often ask me if I know who did this, and to this day, I do not know. One can only speculate.


“Although I have not given up hope that this murder is solved, five years is a long time to remain patient. I continue to pray justice is one day served for Barbara.”


Salituri added, “Certainly I can empathize and relate to all victims of violent crimes at this time. How could I not?


SEEKING THE END OF THE STORY


She had taken a walkabout in Australia's outback, traveled alone to Spain, been abandoned by her mother, saw her biological father commit suicide, been placed in an orphanage when a young teenager, yet found love and acceptance in an adopted family.


Yet Barbara LaForge still had her smile and her optimism, she deeply loved her husband, was thoughtful and genuine to friends, family and strangers.


“She realized you can get over anything,” said Hatcher.


Family members remember her wicked sense of humor – Monty Python's Holy Grail was her favorite movie – her continual writing and drawing.


“She was one of a kind,” said Hatcher.


Hatcher and sister, Janeen Hawkins, both say LaForge was wonderful with children and wanted to be a mother, but her husband had children in his previous marriages and didn't want more.


Barbara LaForge's life was far from ordinary, and it reads like a novel. Right up to its violent end.


And, as it turns out, beyond.


Because Barbara LaForge's death has become the stuff of a mystery novel, an unanswered question amidst the fabric of Lakeport's everyday life. It is a frightening, unsolved crime, leaving many to wonder if her murderer still walks casually among them, wrapped so far in anonymity.


“I definitely do not feel like it's unsolvable,” Hatcher said of her sister's murder.


Her friends and loved ones continue to advocate for her, making sure she's not forgotten.


The frame shop remains open, owned by Salituri but run by her family members as part of the gallery.


“Barbara loved this place,” said Salituri, who keeps a picture of she and LaForge on the counter.


“Everybody wants an answer to this one,” said Engstrom. “Barbara will not be forgotten. That's for sure."


Solving the case, added Christine Jones, LaForge's adopted mother, “will put a dot at the send of the sentence.”


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


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Sgt. Jim Samples found 127 pounds of marijuana buds in black plastic bags, a 9 mm handgun and 9 mm cartridges during the search. Courtesy photo.


 


LAKE COUNTY – On Tuesday Lake County Sheriff's deputies arrested eight men on a variety of drug-related charges, with two of the men facing additional counts relating to a concealed firearm.


Lt. Cecil Brown of the Lake County Sheriff's Office reported Wednesday that Sgt. Jim Samples and Deputy Carla Hockett arrested the men after Samples spotted attempted a traffic stop on one of the two vehicles in which the men were riding.


Brown's report explained that at 10:35 p.m. Tuesday Samples was patrolling in a marked sheriff's car along Highway 20 when he saw a brown GMC pick up following a white GMC Suburban at an unsafe distance.


Samples followed the two vehicles, Brown reported, and as he did so the pickup increased its following distance. The Suburban then slowed to 40 miles per hour and began driving erratically.


Brown said Samples attempted to place his patrol car between the pickup and the Suburban so that he could make a traffic stop of the Suburban. As a result the pickup decreased its following distance and wouldn't allow Samples to get between the two vehicles. When Samples used emergency lights and his turn indicator the pickup moved out of his way.


Samples asked Lake County Central Dispatch to check license plate numbers of both vehicles, Brown said. Central Dispatch told Samples that both vehicles were registered to the same person.


Brown reported that Samples stopped the Suburban on Highway 20 in Clearlake Oaks, while the pickup continued west. Samples asked Deputy Carla Hockett to attempt to locate and stop the pickup.


After he had stopped the Suburban Samples contacted Carlos Eduardo Morales, 21, of Boonville and Israel Aburto Araiza, 21, of Boonville, the vehicle's two occupants, according to Brown's report.


Samples could smell a strong odor of marijuana inside the Suburban and the driver, Morales, was unlicensed, reported Brown.


As a result Samples detained the two men and searched the Suburban, and found 127 pounds of marijuana buds in black plastic bags, a 9 mm handgun and loose 9 mm cartridges, Brown reported.


Araiza later said that he unloaded the handgun as Samples spoke to Morales, said Brown. Samples also found a handheld radio.


Meanwhile, Deputy Hockett located and stopped the pickup on Highway 20 in Lucerne. She contacted Jose Fernandez Rodriguez, 24, of Santa Rosa; Felix Chaves Ramirez, 19, of Rancho Cordova; Jose De Mendoza, 36, of Rancho Cordova; Diego Cervantez Zavala, 28, of Rancho Cordova; Moises Farias Chavez, 30, of Rancho Cordova; and Arnulfo Chavez Ramirez, 28, of Rancho Cordova inside the pickup.


Hockett found additional handheld radios, which were tuned to the same frequency as the radio in the Suburban. She also found additional black plastic bags.

 

All eight men were arrested for possession of marijuana and conspiracy to commit a crime. 

 


Morales and Araiza also were charged with possession of a concealable firearm in a vehicle and possession of a firearm while committing a felony.


Except for Jose Rodriguez, all of the men remain in jail on immigration holds, according to jail records.

 

 

 

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The handgun and loose rounds found by Sgt. Samples. Courtesy photo.


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Ronald Craig was sentenced to four years, eight months in prison Monday. Lake County Jail photo.

 

LAKE COUNTY – A Kelseyville man has been sentenced to state prison for the molestation of two young girls.


Deputy District Attorney John DeChaine reported that on Monday Judge Arthur Mann sentenced Ronald Kenneth Craig, 66, to the upper term of four years and eight months in prison for sex crimes against the two girls, ages 6 and 14.


Mann imposed the maximum prison sentence after denying the defendant’s motion for probation, according to DeChaine.


DeChaine prosecuted the case, which was investigated by Detective Mike Curran of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.


Craig had pleaded guilty to two felony counts of child molestation on April 27, DeChaine reported.


With regard to the 6-year-old girl, DeChaine said Craig pleaded guilty to attempting to commit a lewd or lascivious act with a minor under the age of 14 years in violation of penal code sections 664/288(a).


Attempting to commit a lewd act with a child under the age of 14 – in this case, with a 6 year old – is categorized as a serious strike in California, DeChaine reported. As such, any future felony conviction can result in the doubling of the new sentence.


With regard to Craig’s 14 year old victim, Craig also had pleaded guilty to committing a lewd act with a 14 or 15 year old in violation of penal code section 288(c), according to DeChaine.


DeChaine said when a defendant is accused of certain sex crimes in different counties, Penal code section 784.7 permits the prosecution of those crimes in a single jurisdiction.


The crime involving the 14-year-old victim was committed in Sacramento County, DeChaine reported. However, the Lake County District Attorney’s Office successfully obtained approval from Sacramento to prosecute Craig in Lake County for the crime involving his 14-year-old victim.


Craig was arrested on Aug. 4, 2006, and was booked into the county jail, DeChaine said. Throughout the year-long prosecution of the case, Craig has been held in custody with bail set in the amount of $250,000.00.


Craig also had been charged with annoying or molesting a third victim, an 8-year-old boy, according to DeChaine. The charge involving the boy was a misdemeanor charge in violation of penal code section 647.6(a) and was dismissed as part of the negotiated plea.


Though dismissed, DeChaine said it was dismissed in a manner that permitted Judge Mann to consider the allegation involving the boy in determining the appropriate prison term.


All three children alleged that Craig offered or gave them small amounts of money in conjunction with of each offense, DeChaine said.


Family members of each of the victims provided emotional victim impact statements at the time of Craig's sentencing, according to DeChaine. Crystal Martin of the Victim Witness Division of the District Attorney’s Office works closely with victims of sexual assault and provided needed emotional support in the courtroom.


After hearing arguments from the attorneys, Judge Mann imposed the maximum sentence despite the fact that Craig had no prior criminal record, said DeChaine.


The court found that despite Craig having no prior record, he took advantage of a position of trust, and also found that the 6-year-old victim was particularly vulnerable, warranting the upper term sentence, DeChaine reported.


When Ronald Craig is released from prison, DeChaine said he will be required to register as a sex offender for the remainder of his life.


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LAKE COUNTY – Over the last month the sight of deer alongside roadways during the night hours has increased, and it's become a deadly situation for the animals.


The California Highway Patrol incident logs has reported numerous incidents of deer being hit by cars and killed as they cross roads at night.


Department of Fish and Game Warden Loren Freeman said the deer are migrating right now, looking for sources of water.


By the beginning of fall, said Freeman, a lot of the local creeks and other water sources used by deer had dried up.


Even with the recent rains, the US Geological Survey shows creeks are at extremely low levels.


With few options, the deer are drawn to the county's largest water source, Clear Lake, said Freeman.


“They do have to go once a day in order to get water,” he explained.


That means they must cross busy roads and highways.


Deer usually move at dusk or dawn, preferring to move under concealment of darkness and before bedding down. “That's the most volatile time,” said Freeman.


Freeman urged people to be more cautious when driving, especially at night, in order to avoid hitting the animals.


Another reason it's important to keep an eye out: the Department of Fish and Game says it's deer mating season, which can cause the deer to move more than usual, and be uncommonly aggressive.


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


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