Friday, 19 July 2024


LAKE COUNTY – State and local officials are urging In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program providers to begin a state-mandated reenrollment process by month's end to avoid being barred from receiving payment for their services.

On Tuesday, California Department of Social Services (CDSS) Director John Wagner urged all the IHSS providers to visit their county IHSS office to re-enroll.

The process is required by California's 2009 Budget Act passed by the Legislature. Wagner said the legislation included “a significant anti-fraud initiative” that had as one of its requirements a new IHSS provider enrollment process. State officials said the legislation is meant to “ensure the integrity of the program and protect client safety.”

Starting last Nov. 1, all new IHSS provider applicants were required to complete all four elements of a new process before being eligible to receive payment for services provided to IHSS recipients, the state reported.

Due to the large number of existing providers, state officials said the law allows any providers that were already working or applying to work prior to Nov. 1, 2009, through this June 30 to re-enroll in order to continue to receive payment from the IHSS program.

Tristan Brown, political director for California United Homecare Workers – the union that represents many IHSS workers, including those in Lake County – said the enrollment requirements are a concern for both clients and their providers alike.

“Providers have always had difficulties and concerns with the new anti-fraud enrollment measures because of the cost that have been associated with them,” he said, with the background checks costing $50 and higher depending on location.

He said those kinds of costs prove to be significant blocks for households already dealing with large medical costs, and also are limiting for clients because it potentially infringes on their caregiver choices.

“It can become a very intimate relationship, from a provider to a consumer,” he said, with clients wanting to have the freedom to choose who they want.

Brown suggested that the requirements were the product of “some overzealous district attorneys” and the Republican Caucus.

“We're not seeing this rampant fraud that they suspected,” he said, suggesting it was a “far-fetched idea” from the beginning, and a tactic to use IHSS as a bargaining chip to get other political concessions, which may become apparent in the upcoming budget process.

“It's a shame that our state's elderly and disabled are used in that fashion,” he said.

Steve Citron, manager of adult and housing services for the Lake County Department of Social Services, said the four-step process begins with providers filling out an enrollment form. They are then fingerprinted with the automated Livescan system.

From there, the prints are sent to the California Department of Justice, which then conducts a criminal background check on the individuals, he explained.

Citron said providers must then go through an orientation and sign another form – which the state said acknowledges the IHSS program requirements – to complete the process.

The California Department of Social Services reported that the level of enrollments under the new process has increased exponentially in recent months due to the action steps and outreach by the state, the counties, the public authorities and provider representative organizations.

As of June 9, approximately 330,000 providers have begun the reenrollment process, including more than 225,000 who have completed the process, including fingerprinting and a background check, according to the California Department of Social Services. Approximately 20,000 have taken no steps to re-enroll and risk losing their provider status.

In Lake County, 1,189 IHSS providers had completed the enrollment process as of June 9, according to numbers provided by the state. That number includes 941 existing IHSS providers and 248 who are new.

Approximately 360 local IHSS providers have pending enrollment status – 300 of which are current and 60 new providers, the state reported.

Under the process, eight local IHSS providers – six who already had been in the system and two others who were signing up for the first time – were deemed ineligible, according to the state.

Citron said Lake County's IHSS Public Authority started the reenrollment process for local providers last December, and has been sending out notices every month both to providers and service recipients alike reminding them of the state mandate.

Since then, the county has been doing about 200 reenrollments a month, Citron said.

As for completing the process, “I don't think it's going to be a problem in Lake County,” he added.

On Wednesday, the California Department of Social Services posted on its Web site a notice letter to counties extending the deadline for the reenrollments under certain circumstances.

If providers had started at least one of the four enrollment steps by the June 30 deadline that they will be allowed to complete the process by Dec. 31, the letter stated.

The reason for the extension appears to be one of workload. “Although the rate of enrollment completions has been rapidly increasing, the volume of provider enrollment forms, orientations, and criminal background checks are more than can be processed by June 30, 2010,” the letter explained.

What's still not entirely clear is the future of a state plan to fingerprint IHSS clients as well, which was contained in legislation the state passed last year, Citron said.


Noting that the plan “doesn't make a lot of sense,” Citron suggested it was “overkill” to prevent some kind of fraud that public authorities haven't seen.

The state put aside money and went out to bid for portable fingerprinting devices that could be taken to peoples' homes, Citron said.

The plan was going to require “a huge amount of money,” and the state Legislature has indicated that it doesn't plan to fund the fingerprinting program for the coming fiscal year, he said.

Last month, a Senate budget committee voted against spending $8.2 million this fiscal year to start that process, which is expected to cost $41.6 million over a seven-year contract, according to a May 10 Sacramento Bee report.

Because there is no funding for the fingerprinting devices and a great deal of uncertainty about the requirement, nobody has started fingerprinting clients, according to Citron.

“It doesn't make a lot of sense,” Citron concluded.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .

MENDOCINO COUNTY – A Fort Bragg man charged with killing another man who he accused of sexually molesting him received a nine-year prison sentence on Tuesday.

Judge Ronald Brown gave Aaron Joseph Vargas, 32, the sentence following a two-day sentencing hearing that concluded Tuesday, according to the Mendocino County District's Office.

Vargas had pleaded voluntary manslaughter with use of a gun on April 6. Officials reported that the maximum possible sentence was the middle term for both, totaling 10 years in state prison, with the minimum possible term was probation with state prison suspended.

In the case, which has drawn national attention, Vargas was accused of driving to the Fort Bragg home of Darrell and Elizabeth McNeill on Feb. 8, 2009, where he shot 63-year-old Darrell McNeill with a muzzle loader revolver, killing him.

Vargas then remained at the trailer for 40 minutes, to ensure Mr. McNeill died, and prevented Elizabeth McNeill from calling law enforcement for help, according to the district attorney's report. Law enforcement contacted Aaron Vargas later that evening at the home of his parents in Ft. Bragg where he was placed under arrest for murder.

The Mendocino County District Attorney's Office charged Vargas with first degree murder and the use of a gun, with a possible exposure of 50 years to life, and was charged with the false imprisonment of Elizabeth McNeill while he waited at the trailer for Darrell McNeil to die.

At a pre-trial conference on April 6 that preceded the trial scheduled for April 12, a plea agreement was reached between Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Norman and defense attorney Thomas Hudson to a charge of manslaughter with a gun, which allowed Vargas to argue for a grant of probation, and the prosecution to argue for a sentence of state prison if it was deemed appropriate, officials reported.

In allowing a plea to manslaughter rather than murder, the district attorney’s office considered numerous factors including the defendant’s lack of prior violent record, his high blood alcohol level on the night of the shooting, his disclosure of having been molested by the victim while the defendant was a child, and Vargas' strong support in the community.

Officials said all of these factors were considered when the prosecution agreed to allow the plea to manslaughter, and agreed not to ask for the maximum term of state prison for the manslaughter charge, but to request no more than the middle term sentence of 10 years for the manslaughter with a gun.

The two-day sentencing hearing, held Monday and Tuesday, included the testimony of the widow, Elizabeth McNeill, the defendant’s fiancée and family, and two psychiatrists who had examined him.

Vargas himself testified that he believed he was no longer a threat to the community, and would seek counseling if released.

Norman confronted him about failing to have any actual treatment program in place, and about being involved in a fight while in jail awaiting trial. At the end of the hearing she argued that she felt Vargas continued to present a danger to the community if released, as he was still engaging in violent behavior, and that the callous nature of the crime required that the sentence be the middle term of 10 years state prison.

Hudson argued that Vargas was prepared to start a term of probation, that he was receiving some counseling already in the jail, and that he had extensive support in the community if he were granted probation.

In fact, community members have been advocating on Vargas' behalf. After other molestation allegations against McNeill reportedly came to light, support has grown for Vargas' release, according to media reported.

At the end of the hearing, after a break, Judge Brown returned to the bench and read from a prepared multiple page ruling, stating that he believed that the plea agreement was appropriate in light of McNeill's molestation of Vargas, and the emotional issues Vargas was experiencing at the time of the offense.

Brown then proceeded to emphasize the importance of the legal system and the fact that the court could not condone the killing of a person by another person outside the process of the law.

He stated that, as a judge, he had sentenced persons convicted of child molestation to prison, and that the legal process provides people the opportunity to confront their accuser, and for the accuser to present a defense.

Brown noted that, by killing McNeill the night before Vargas was supposed to go to the police department with his fiancée to report the molests, he had denied all the victims their process of law.

In prosecuting molesters, many penalties are imposed, including public stigma, long criminal sentences and confrontation, Brown said.

He found that the callous nature of the criminal act, that Vargas stated on the night of the offense that he had “gut shot” the victim so he would suffer, and that he waited 40 minutes after shooting him, without allowing the widow to render aid, combined to justify the imposition of the six years state prison middle term for the crime.

Brown further found that the manner in which the gun was used – with only one shot – was somewhat mitigated, so he sentenced Vargas to three years in state prison, for a total of nine years state prison, with credits for the 16 months he has been incarcerated awaiting sentencing.


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LAKE COUNTY – After a warm and sunny weekend, cooler temperatures return as a low-pressure system moves towards the Pacific Coast Tuesday.

High temperatures climbed over the daytime average on Sunday, with many areas of the county reaching into the low 90s and cooling a few degrees Monday, according to the Western Weather Group.

Average daytime highs should reach the mid-80s, according to the Old Farmers' Almanac.

Daytime temperatures are expected to be much cooler Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service in Sacramento, with highs in Lakeport only expected to reach the mid- to low-70s with overnight lows in the mid-40s.

A low-pressure system is moving in to Pacific Northwest, but is expected to stay in far Northern California and Oregon, although some high-level clouds may move across Lake County skies on Wednesday, forecasters said.

Wednesday is forecast to be the coolest day of the week, with daytime highs barely reaching into the 70s, with overnight lows remaining in the mid-40s.

Temperatures are predicted to remain in the mid- to upper-70s throughout the weekend with sunny to mostly sunny skies.

For up-to-the-minute weather information, please visit the Lake County News homepage.

E-mail Terre Logsdon at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .

MIDDLETOWN – A crash that occurred late Friday near Middletown resulted in major injuries to a 3-year-old child.

The California Highway Patrol reported that the crash occurred at 11 p.m. Friday on Spruce Grove Road North south of Noble Ranch Road in clear conditions.

Ruben Gaona Cornejo, 21, of Santa Rosa was driving a 2004 Chevrolet pickup north on Spruce Grove Road approaching Noble Ranch Road at an unknown speed when, according to the CHP, his vehicle veered off the left side of the road and struck a power pole.

His 3-year-old daughter sustained severe head trauma and cuts as a result of the collision and was flown by air ambulance to Children's Hospital & Research Center of Oakland for treatment, according to the CHP.

Gaona Cornejo, along with his passenger, 18-year-old Brenda Cruz of Santa Rosa and a 3-week-old female, were not injured in the crash, the CHP reported.

Eyewitnesses at the scene had reported seeing two vehicles chasing each other before the pickup allegedly hit the pole. The CHP report noted the investigation into the crash is continuing.

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THE GEYSERS – A 3.2-magnitude earthquake shook The Geysers area early Monday morning.

The quake occurred at 4:39 a.m., and was centered one mile east of The Geysers, four miles southwest of Cobb and five miles west northwest of Anderson Springs, at a depth of 2.5 miles, according to the US Geological Survey.

The survey received 13 shake reports from 10 zip codes, with reports coming from Middletown, Calistoga, St. Helena, Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Cloverdale, Healdsburg and Windsor.

A 3.3-magnitude quake was reported near The Geysers on June 1, as Lake County News has reported.

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The van Pedro Sanchez's girlfriend and her friend fled in on Tuesday, June 15, 2010. Sanchez is alleged to have used a shovel-type instrument on the windshield, which hampered the womens' ability to drive and covered both with small shards of glass. Photo courtesy of the Glenn County Sheriff's Office.



HAMILTON CITY – A Glenn County woman rammed a man with her van on Tuesday in an effort to escape a violent physical attack on she and a friend, officials reported.

Deputies eventually arrested 43-year-old Pedro Sanchez of Hamilton City and booked him into the Glenn County Jail in Willows for investigation of inflicting corporal injury upon a spouse, threatening a crime which could result in great bodily injury, assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm and false imprisonment, according to Glenn County Sheriff Larry Jones.

Jones said his deputies were dispatched to a report of a large physical fight occurring at a home on County Road 24, just west of State Highway 45, south of Hamilton City.

Reports indicated a violent domestic situation was occurring with a suspect, later identified as Sanchez, discharging a firearm at two victims as they were attempting to flee the assault, Jones said.

Sanchez's significant other and 41-year-old Bridgette Dawn Walker, 41, both of whom had been residing at the address in the 8000 block of County Road 24, were able to flee the scene to Hamilton City were they awaited contact with the sheriff’s office, according to Jones.

Deputies, assisted by agents of the Glenn Inter-agency Narcotics Task Force, converged on the home in an effort to contain and locate Sanchez. Meanwhile, Jones met the two victims in Hamilton City.

Jones said the women were driving a Toyota van which had had its windshield on the driver’s side completely shattered by the impact of a shovel or similar type instrument. Both women were very upset, believing Sanchez had brandished a long gun, possibly a shotgun, and fired upon them as they were fleeing his attack.

Sanchez's girlfriend said she had gotten into a verbal argument with him and he held her against her will in their bedroom, threatening to disfigure her with a hammer if she attempted to leave him. Jones said she alleged that Sanchez became extremely violent throwing objects at her with one of the objects striking her behind the left ear, and he also took her cell phone.

The girlfriend claimed she needed to use the bathroom and used that to alert Walker before fleeing the house. Jones said Sanchez allegedly threw objects at them and stood in front of the driver’s side of the van, smashed out the windshield with impact of a shovel showering the occupants with shards of glass.

Walker told officials that she gunned the van and struck the suspect with the driver’s side front fender area, knocking him to the ground, in order to escape, Jones said.

Jones said both women stated they feared for their lives, and claimed that they saw Sanchez brandish a firearm and discharge it at them, although an initial inspection of the van found no projectile holes.

Though both women were slightly injured, they declined medical treatment and they declined the assistance of a domestic violence response team volunteer, Jones said.

Deputies found Sanchez near his home and requested an ambulance. Jones said a .22-caliber rifle was located; however the weapon’s involvement is yet to be determined. A metal claw hammer was located inside the victim’s bedroom.

Detectives from the Sheriff’s Major Crimes Unit were called out to take over the investigation. The victim was cleared by ambulance personnel and transported by Deputy Jon Owens to Glenn Medical Center for an evidentiary blood draw. Jones said Sanchez was then booked into the Glenn County Jail, with bail set at $210,000.

Detectives transported the victims to Willows for detailed statements. The van the victims had been in was towed and stored for evidence, Jones said.

Detective Greg Felton contacted the on-call Glenn County Superior Court Judge and obtained an emergency protective order and served the suspect in the jail. Jones said the victim was provided with domestic violence support information.

Additional investigation and witness interviews will be conducted, Jones said.

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Glenn County Sheriff

LAKE COUNTY – As part of the work of the official canvass for June 8's primary election, Lake County Registrar of Voters Diane Fridley will hold conduct a public manual tally of a portion of the ballots.

The count will be held on Wednesday, June 23, beginning at 9 a.m., at the Registrar of Voters Office, on the second floor in Room 209 at the Lake County Courthouse, 255 N. Forbes St., Lakeport.

Fridley reported that she and her staff will conduct a public manual tally of a minimum 1 percent of randomly selected precincts or 10 percent of randomly selected precincts if the votes cast in a contest or contests with a margin of victory is less than one half of one percent (0.5 county) tabulated by the county’s optical scan voting system.

The selection of the precincts to be included in the manual tally, and any additional random selection of precincts which may become necessary to comply with the escalation requirements of the 10 percent manual tally, will be randomly chosen on the same date prior to the manual tally, Fridley reported.

Fridley invited observers to view the manual tally of the ballots, but said they must not interfere with the election process.

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LUCERNE – A local man was flown to an area hospital on Monday afternoon after falling out of a tree.

The incident occurred in the 6300 block of Country Club Drive in Lucerne at around 5:30 p.m., and involved a 40-year-old victim, officials reported.

The man was up high in a tree trimming it when he fell out of it and onto a travel trailer about 25 feet below, according to Northshore Fire Chief Jim Robbins.

Firefighters responded with an ambulance and an engine, and reported that the man complained of numbness.

A REACH air ambulance landed at Lucerne Harbor Park just before 6 p.m. to transport the man to the hospital.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .

THE GEYSERS – Tuesday proved a notable day for earthquakes around the globe and locally.

A 3.7 magnitude earthquake was recorded at The Geysers at 2:39 p.m. Tuesday, the second quake above a magnitude of 3.0 in as many days.

As previously reported by Lake County News, a 3.2 temblor shook The Geysers early Monday morning.

The Tuesday quake was centered two miles east of The Geysers and four miles southwest of Cobb, at a depth of 2.49 miles, according to the US Geological Survey.

Mainly felt in Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Healdsburg, the quake was reported in 13 different zip codes – the furthest report to the survey was from Newport Beach, 447 miles to the south.

Around the globe, Indonesia's Geophysics and Meteorological Agency issued a local tsunami warning Tuesday after a 6.2 temblor, followed by a 7.0, struck near West Papua, according to the Australian-based Adelaide Now Web site, which reported that the Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center did not issue a "Pacific-wide" warning.


The US Geological Survey reported that hundreds of quakes continued to shake Baja and Southern California Tuesday, which has seen an increase in seismic activity over the past few months since the 7.2 magnitude temblor struck Baja on April 4, as previously reported by Lake County News.

Temblors that struck that region on Tuesday included a sizable 5.7 quake, according to the US Geological Survey.

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LAKE COUNTY – With the governor seeking to slash social services programs because of the state's serious budget problems, advocates are concerned about the future of programs that aid young adults making the transition from foster care to independent adulthood.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing to cut $80 million from the state's child welfare services, which local advocates reported would result in the loss of another $53.5 million.

Those kinds of cuts could hurt the Transitional Housing Program for Emancipated Foster/Probation Youth (THP-Plus).

Several years ago the California Department of Social Services conducted a state survey on youth housing issues for emancipated foster youth.

The agency's research found that 65 percent of the 4,355 youth who emancipated from foster care during the 2000-01 fiscal years were in need of safe and affordable housing.

In 2002, the state Legislature passed Assembly Bill 1119 to assist counties in their efforts to provide housing for this population, which resulted in the creation of the THP-Plus program, the California Department of Social Services reported. Another piece of legislation, Assembly Bill 824, passed in 2005, raised the age limit for participating in a THP-Plus program to age 24.

The state reported that 17 counties statewide – including Lake, which joined the program in 2008 – now participate in THP-Plus, with 100 housing programs established statewide to serve emancipated youth and foster children.

But this year, THP-Plus has been on the chopping block for the first time, with funding proposed to be eliminated altogether in the governor's January budget, according Patti Gorden, special projects coordinator with Redwood Children's Services Inc. in Lake and Mendocino counties.

Schwarzenegger's original cuts would have impacted 1,400 former foster youth living in the state's transitional housing program, Gorden said.

That proposal was pulled back, but Gorden said the THP-Plus program's future status still isn't certain.

Two local young people – part of the nearly one dozen in Lake and Mendocino counties who rely on the program – illustrate the program's importance and the safety net it offers, as well as its goal to help young people transition off of government funding.

One is Tamara Davidson, 18, who entered the program on March 1 with her new baby daughter, and Lawrence Lazaro of Ukiah, who turned 21 not long after he left the program this spring.

Davidson's mother died when she was 14, leaving behind five children.

Noting that she was “out of control,” Davidson said she went through “many, many” foster homes. She was released from foster care when she turned 18 last August, and afterward had been living around Hidden Valley Lake and Clearlake with her baby daughter, born in December.

The young mother had been “couch surfing” and sleeping in her car, and trying to get her diploma so she could get a job.

Then she came into the program. “They helped me right away, actually,” Davidson said.

Gorden said the program provides young people like Davidson and Lazaro with a certain amount of money each month for rent, food and utilities.

Over the 24 months of the program the young people are required to pay more of their own way, gradually removing their dependence on the program's resources. Deanna Hamel, THP-Plus coordinator for Redwood Children's Services, said the goal is to get the young people out on their own.

“I feel safer now,” Davidson said, who is thinking about studying to become a nurse.

In Lazaro's case, he entered the program at age 16, entering himself into foster care in Lake County, moving from his home in Willits.

He said his mother had been on welfare her entire life, and wasn't interested in moving up and out of the system.

Lazaro lived in dismal conditions, with seven families members occupying a rundown travel trailer in a Willits trailer park.

He didn't go to school – he stopped attending in the ninth grade and went on independent study – he had few clothes and he had watched as many young men his age went straight to jail.

Lazaro said his friends were mostly drug users; one of them told him one day “not to fall off of a cliff.”


Originally, he had called authorities for help for his mother, who was panhandling. “I really just wasn't in a good place at all” with his family, he said.

Lazaro ended up placing himself voluntarily into foster care, where he formed bonds with his foster families. He attended Upper Lake High School before transferring to Ukiah High.

At age 17, he got into the Transitional Housing Placement Program – or THPP – when he moved to Ukiah. When he turned 18, he went into THP-Plus, where he received additional help and mentoring so he could learn to live on his own, receiving job search and resume building techniques, and learning scheduling.

“They were teaching me to be independent,” he said.

Lazaro went on to get two different part-time jobs and has mentored at summer camps. He said he wants to get his associate's degree and become a case manager with Redwood Children's Services.

“I'm a really strong person now,” he said, adding, “It's really an amazing thing that happened.”

He even traveled to Sacramento earlier this year to speak to North Coast Assemblyman Wes Chesbro about preserving the THP-Plus program.

“I know I have a bright future because of the program,” he said.

“I think it would be horrible” if the program were cut, said Davidson.

THP-Plus program staff relate other stories of young people who, had it not been for the program, wouldn't have been able to finish school or otherwise have a safe place to call home.

“If they do away with this program, we have nowhere for these youth to go,” said Gorden.

Redwood Children's Services cites studies including one that showed that only 10.8 percent of youth who “age out” of the foster care system without continued support will complete high school, which is a number that's less than half the rate for their peers of the same age and race. In addition, only 2 percent of that group would ever graduate from college.

The John Burton Foundation for Children Without Homes reported that former foster youth were 2.8 times more likely to be arrested and 70 percent more likely to be incarcerated.

Advocates also point to a 2009 study conducted by the University of Washington's School of Social Work, which found that caring for young adults until the age of 21 will represent a return of $2.40 on every government dollar spent in California.

Gorden said there is a hopeful piece of news on the horizon in the form of AB 12, the California Fostering Connections Act.

AB 12 – which would begin no later than July 1, 2011 – would and extend foster youth support to the age of 21, according to the bill's language.

Introduced in October 2008 by Assembly members Jim Beall Jr. and Karen Bass, the two-year bill continues to work its way through the Legislature.

It's set to go before the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 22, according to the State Legislative Counsel.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .



LAKE COUNTY – The beautiful weekend weather saw more than just people out on the lake.

Lucerne photographer captured these two grebes dancing across the surface of Clear Lake near Lucerne on the evening of Saturday, June 12.

See more of Keas' photos at

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