Monday, 15 July 2024


LAKE COUNTY – As wildland fires continue to rage across the state – aided by unseasonably dry conditions and high winds – Cal Fire's local firefighters are once again leaving the county to provide assistance.

Cal Fire spokesperson Suzie Blankenship said Friday that personnel from the agency's Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit had been sent to fight the Humboldt Fire in Butte County.

Lakeport Fire officials said Friday that, so far, no local fire districts have sent personnel to combat that fire.

Late Friday, Cal Fire reported that nearly 6,000 structures – both homes and businesses – were threatened by the fire, which has so far burned just under 23,000 acres along Highway 32 and Humboldt Road on Stilson Canyon. It was only 20-percent contained on Friday night.

The dangerous conditions have caused residents to be evacuated from the southernmost portion of the town of Paradise; the communities of Butte Valley and Butte Creek Canyon also have been evacuated, according to Cal Fire.

Earlier in the week, the Pine Fire broke out near Cloverdale. Blankenship said an engine and a bulldozer from Middletown, two engines from the Kelseyville-Cobb Cal Fire station, three crews from Konocti Camp, and a helicopter and helicopter tender – both from Boggs Station – were on that fire, the cause of which is still under investigation.

“We were still committed to the Pine Fire when the Humboldt broke,” said Blankenship.

Some firefighting assistance that had been sent from other parts of the state was released early to respond to the Humboldt Fire while the Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit finished cleaning up at the Pine Fire, Blankenship said.

Since then, three “overhead” or supervisorial/logistical personnel, a strike team of Konocti Camp crews – including five engines and up to 18 firefighters – and some other incident command personnel from the unit have left for the Humboldt Fire, she said.

Some 2,842 firefighters – of which 1,094 are Cal Fire personnel – were on the Humboldt Fire Friday, Cal Fire reported. Costs to fight the fire so far have reached $1.2 million.

The Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit also has a strike team of five engines still committed at the Martin Fire in Santa Cruz County, said Blankenship. The Martin Fire has so far burned 600 acres and is 65-percent contained, Cal Fire reported.

Smoke from the Humboldt Fire could be seen making its way across Lake County's air basin in recent days, creating a haze and bringing with it a noticeable burning smell.

Bob Reynolds of the Lake County Air Quality Management District reported Friday that easterly winds had carried the smoke 60 miles to Lake County.

The smoke from the fire and existing weather with offshore flow causes the smoke to be trapped in a re-circulating path over Northern California and within the Lake County Air Basin, he explained.

The high sunlight input and moisture cause photochemical reactions in the air that further reduces visibility by forming secondary particles in addition to the smoke, according to Reynolds.

Unless weather patterns change, Reynolds said the smoke and haze over Lake County could continue for several more days.

In the Sacramento Valley, Reynolds said visibility has reportedly dropped to a quarter of a mile in some areas, and the heavy smoke conditions were raising health concerns.

Reynolds said that, despite the poor air quality, the pollution levels have not been high enough to be a health threat to Lake County's air quality. The measured levels are only about 65 percent of the allowed ambient air quality health standards.

Anyone who is especially sensitive to respiratory irritants or suffers breathing impairment should stay indoors and avoid unnecessary exercise, he said. If using air conditioners, place them on recirculation mode.

Reynolds urged people who are sensitive, who suffer from asthma or pulmonary disease, or have other health problems to consult their health care professional if they experience any health problems.

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


HIDDEN VALLEY LAKE – A solo-vehicle collision in Napa County late last week claimed the life of a local man.

James Curtis Powell, 48, of Hidden Valley Lake died when his pickup overturned and went down an embankment, according to a report from the California Highway Patrol's Napa office.

Powell was driving his 1996 Ford Ranger northbound on Knoxville Road north of Eastside Road, in a remote area in the region of Lake Berryessa, the CHP reported.

He was traveling between 35 and 40 miles per hour when, for an unknown reason, his pickup veered to the left, in a right curve, colliding with a concrete bridge wall, according to the report.

Powell's pickup went over the roadway edge and rolled onto its side about 20 feet down the embankment, the CHP reported.

CHP reported that witnesses found Powell unresponsive inside the pickup.

Because of the area's remoteness, locating the vehicle required the CHP to use a helicopter, which helped guide emergency personnel to Powell's truck.

Powell was pronounced dead at the scene, CHP reported.

The investigation into the collision is still under way. CHP said that it's unknown if drugs or alcohol may have been a contributing factor to the fatal crash.

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


LAKEPORT – A local man was arrested over the weekend on charges that he was responsible for several Mendocino County burglaries.

Elliott Thomas Brackett, 52, a transient from Upper Lake, was arrested on Saturday after he allegedly was found in possession of stolen property.

A report from the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office said the agency has been investigating a series of burglaries occurring at the Carousel Industrial Park storage sheds on N. State Street in Ukiah.

On June 6, Mendocino County Sheriff's deputies received information that Brackett had sold to a Ukiah music store some stolen property related to those burglaries, according to a report from Lt. Kurt Smallcomb.

Deputy Tom Davis reopened some unsolved cases and coordinated with Lake County law enforcement agencies in locating Brackett, Smallcomb reported.

Early on Saturday, Lakeport Police and Lake County Sheriff's deputies found Brackett in a tent on 11th Street, according to Smallcomb.

Davis responded to the location and a subsequent search of the tent found that Brackett allegedly was in possession of stolen property that is believed to be connected to the Carousel Industrial Park burglaries, the report stated.

Mendocino deputies arrested Brackett for two counts of possession stolen property and two counts of burglary, and is being held on $15,000 bail, according to booking records.

Lakeport Police Chief Kevin Burke said his department has had a few contacts with Brackett, including an arrest for possession of marijuana and another for having an open container of alcohol in a vehicle.

Last July Mendocino County deputies arrested Brackett and another man on suspicion of trying to sell methamphetamine in the parking lot at Hopland Sho-Kah-Wa Casino, as Lake County News has reported.

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


UPPER LAKE – A town hall meeting for the Upper Lake community is planned for June 18.

District 3 Supervisor Denise Rushing will host the meeting, which will take place from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Upper Lake High School cafeteria, 675 Clover Valley Road.

During the meeting's first hour, county officials and local coordinators will provide an update on local projects and issues.

Officials planning to attend include County Administrative Officer Kelly Cox, Deputy Redevelopment Director Eric Seely, Sheriff Rod Mitchell, Public Works Director Brent Siemer and Water Resources Deputy Director Pam Francis.

The second half of the meeting will include an open forum with a question-and-answer session moderated by Rushing. Community members will have the chance to discuss critical issues of concern to the Upper Lake community.

For additional information contact Rushing at 263-2368 or email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Judge Richard Martin handed down the decision to try Dinius on Wednesday. Photo by Harold LaBonte.


LAKEPORT – A judge has ruled that a Carmichael man will stand trial for manslaughter for a fatal April 2006 boating collision.

At the end of a preliminary hearing that wrapped up Wednesday, Judge Richard Martin ruled there was enough evidence to try Bismarck Dinius, 39, for vehicle manslaughter involving a vessel and boating under the influence of alcohol.

On the night of April 29, 2006, Dinius was steering the Beats Workin' II, a 27-foot sailboat owned by Willows resident Mark Weber, when the sailboat was hit by a 24-foot-long speedboat driven by Russell Perdock, a chief deputy with the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

Weber's fiancee, 51-year-old Lynn Thornton of Willows, was fatally injured and died days later.

The prosecution has alleged that the sailboat was under way without lights, which was reportedly a reason for charging Dinius with manslaughter.

The decision to try Dinius was based on evidence presented during a four-day preliminary hearing, which ran May 20 through May 22, and then was continued Wednesday.

During the May portion of the hearing, Dinius' attorney, Victor Haltom, presented experts who testified that the lights had been on, and who further alleged that Perdock was operating his speedboat at around 60 miles per hour.

Perdock was not charged in connection with the crash, resulting in considerable outrage in the sailing community, members of which have contacted Lake County News from around the globe to express their concerns about the case.

During the May 22 portion of the hearing, Perdock was on the stand for several minutes before proceedings were continued due to other business scheduled to take place in court that day.

On Wednesday defense attorney Victor Haltom of Sacramento picked up where he left off in his line of questioning, asking Perdock about his contact with sheriff's Sgt. James Beland on the night of the collision.

Last month, Beland had testified he transported Perdock to Redbud Community Hospital for a blood draw and later drove around with him for some time, but he couldn't remember where they went.

Haltom questioned Perdock on what they spoke about, with Perdock responding that he could not recall specific details, but adding he didn't believe it was about the crash.

Perdock also contradicted testimony given last month by Lt. Charles Slabaugh of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office, who was called in to lead the investigation because of Perdock's position within the local sheriff's office.

Slabaugh had testified that Perdock said his tachometer and speedometer were in a 12 o'clock position, which the defense had calculated put the boat's speed in the range of about 60 miles per hour.

Perdock suggested Slabaugh's memory was confused, saying he had made no such statements about the gauges' readings, which were closer to 9 o'clock positioning. He said the discrepancy might be explained by a simple typographical error in the report.

He also answered defense questions regarding his knowledge of the rules and regulations of Harbor and Navigation Regulations.

Regarding his speed, Perdock testified that while he could see two miles across the open water he was only able to see 10 feet directly in front of his boat. When asked if he felt he would have been able to stop his boat in such a short distance while going at the speed he claimed he was traveling, he responded, “No.”

Shortly afterward, Perdock concluded his testimony, and the defense moved on to call boat and marine service business owner Doug Jones and boat builder Malcolm Davey of Kelseyville.

Haltom also recalled Sheriff's Boat Patrol Sgt. Dennis Ostini, who testified to the location of where and how both boats had been stored soon after the incident.

In his closing statements, Deputy District Attorney John Langan argued that Dinius should be held for trial based on the specifics of law; he also said that Dinius had a previous DUI conviction within a seven-year period.

Dinius, an experienced sailor, should have been aware of the possible outcome of operating a vessel at night without required navigational lights, said Langan.

In his response to Langan's argument, Haltom asserted that Dinius was not the person ultimately at fault in the crash, and that “gross negligence belongs on the shoulders of Chief Deputy Russ Perdock.”

Pointing to Dinius, Haltom said, “The wrong man is sitting at this table.”

In handing down his decision to send Dinius to trial, Judge Martin agreed with Langan's argument that, based on his boating experience, Dinius was negligent in operating the boat without the lights off.

He also found the past DUI conviction relevant, because Dinius, he said, went boating after drinking “excessively.” Dinius allegedly had a blood alcohol level of 0.12 the night of the crash.

“I'm disappointed obviously,” Haltom said afterward. “We will let the evidence speak for itself at the trial. I think that at trial Bismarck will be acquitted and the jury will do the right thing.”



Defense attorney Victor Haltom was disappointed after the hearing. Photo by Harold LaBonte.


Dinius said he was very surprised that the case had led to this point, but he was prepared to move forward with the worst-case scenario of going to trial.

Martin scheduled Dinius to return to court for arraignment on the morning of July 28 in front of Judge Arthur Mann. At that point, a trial date may be set, possibly for the fall.

Elizabeth Larson contributed to this report.

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



Bismarck Dinius said he's prepared to face trial later this year. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



COBB – An overturned water truck resulted in no injuries and a minor traffic slowdown on Monday morning.

The Epidendio water truck was reported overturned on Highway 175 heading westbound toward Cobb at about 8:30 a.m., according to the California Highway Patrol and an eyewitness, Cobb resident Roger Kinney.

CHP Officer Adam Garcia said the truck had a flat tire. The driver pulled over, getting too close to the ditch, and the truck tipped over.

There was no injuries, said Garcia.

Kinney said as he passed through the area at around 10:15 a.m., traffic control was in effect, with about 10-minute delays, and the truck was being uprighted.

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


WASHINGTON – On Thursday, a House subcommittee held a hearing on Congressman Mike Thompson's bill to help veterans who were unknowingly tested with chemical and biological weapons in the 1960s and 70s.

The House Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs held a hearing on a Thompson-authored bill that would give these veterans health benefits and compensation for illnesses resulting from “Project 112” weapons tests.

Thompson hopes this hearing will ultimately push his bill toward consideration by the House, his office reported Thursday.

Project 112, which included ship-based Project SHAD, was conducted between 1963 and 1973 by the Department of Defense (DoD) and other federal agencies.

The DoD now admits that during these projects, unknowing military personnel were involved a number of chemical weapon tests such as VX nerve gas and Sarin nerve gas and were exposed to biological weapons such as E. Coli, Rabbit Fever and Q fever.

“First the government denied the tests existed,” Thompson said in a written statement. “Then they said the tests happened but were harmless. Now they admit dangerous substances were used on our military personnel, yet they still refuse to give them care for their illnesses. We can’t change the past, but we can begin to right this wrong by giving these men the proper health care and compensation they earned.”

HR 5954, introduced by Thompson (D-St. Helena) and Congressman Denny Rehberg (R-MT) in May, provides veterans of Project 112 a “Presumption of Service Connection.” This means the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) presumes the relationship between service and a health condition, making the veterans involved eligible for medical benefits and/or compensation for their conditions. For example, veterans exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War are already given a “Presumption of Service Connection.”

“I understand security classifications and the sensitivity of our operation,” said Jack B. Alderson, a retired Lt. Commander from the U.S. Navy Reserves and resident of Thompson’s district. “However, these were not volunteers but service personnel ordered to do a dangerous job and they did it, and did it well, now their nation needs to take care of them.”

In 1964, Alderson was the officer in charge of five U.S. Army light tug boats that were used to test chemical and biological weapons, as Lake County News has reported. The tug boats acted as sampling stations and targets for disseminated weapon clouds.

After the DoD admitted to Thompson that the tests did exist and included harmful agents, they released more than 6,000 names of military personnel used in the tests.

However, the GAO reported in February that the DoD had halted their efforts to disclose additional names and many veterans remain unaware that they were even involved. The Thompson-Rehberg legislation would require the DoD to hand over all the names to the VA, which must then notify the veterans.

The subcommittee didn't indicate on Thursday when a vote might take place. However, Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner has indicated support for the measure.

The Thompson-Rehberg legislation has been endorsed by the Vietnam Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and Paralyzed Veterans of America.


A pickup allegedly stolen out of Napa County was abandoned on Martin Street after a high speed pursuit Tuesday night. Photo by Harold LaBonte.




LAKEPORT – Officials were searching for a subject who led the California Highway Patrol, Lakeport Police and sheriff's deputies on a high-speed chase through downtown Lakeport Tuesday night.

The chase reached speeds of as high as 120 miles per hour, according to a CHP officer at the scene.

It ended on Martin Street when a woman and at least one other person – possibly another female – ditched a stolen pickup truck they were driving.

At about 9:30 p.m. the CHP was in pursuit of the woman on Highway 29 heading northbound toward Upper Lake. The pickup was speeding, which the CHP reported was the reason for trying to pull it over initially.

The woman reportedly was driving a late model white Dodge Ram pickup that had a First Choice Abbey Carpet sign on it, but did not belong to that company. CHP reported the vehicle was stolen out of Napa, and had license plates stolen out of Vallejo.

The pursuing CHP officer at one point reported objects were being thrown from the vehicle, and that the driver appeared to be preparing to veer into oncoming traffic on the highway. The officer put a request out to other law enforcement in the area to attempt to find the items thrown on the highway.

The pickup then got off of the highway and onto Park Way, and headed back into Lakeport along Lakeshore Boulevard. A call was put out for spike strips to be put out on Lakeshore at Rainbow, but the pursuit moved through the area too quickly.

The high-speed pursuit continued through downtown Lakeport and along Main Street, with Lakeport Police and Lake County Sheriff's deputies joining CHP in the attempt to stop the vehicle.

The chase ended on Martin Street near the car wash, where the pickup was abandoned and the pickup's occupants escaped on foot, officials reported.

The pickup was left with both front doors open, and had nearly hit a tree at the corner of Martin and Forbes, but was undamaged.

Officials were examining at least three women's handbags found in the pickup.

CHP was joined by Lakeport Police and Lake County Sheriff's deputies, who continued looking for the suspects late into the night.

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


From right to left, Rose Lynch, MegAnn Brierly, Krystina Riccio, Jennifer Harte, Cheyanne Horvath, Rachel Sutton, Jamie Ridgeay, Karen Castellanos, Raphael Roy-Labelle, Jacob Gill, Maddie Kucer and Nika Gibbs at the Hidden Valley Lake Country Club for a fundraising dinner and silent auction on Saturday, May 17. Photo by Terre Logsdon.



HIDDEN VALLEY LAKE – The first stamp in their new US passports may be from Japan, but for many of these Middletown Middle School students, this will be the first of many worldwide adventures.

Twelve Middletown Middle School students will leave in August as part of an ongoing exchange program with their sister city, Naka-cho – which means “Middletown” – and fly to Japan for eight days to gain a better understanding of a very different culture.

"The benefits of this program are numerous," said former Middletown Middle School Principal JoAnn Rodriguez. “This trip will open up their horizons … and whet their appetites for learning about other cultures.”

Rodriguez, now retired, received written correspondence from Naka-cho asking for a cultural exchange. After several years of writing back and forth, in 1994, the first delegation from Middletown Middle School was sent to Japan.

The next year, students and parents from Naka-cho came to Middletown – and they have alternated every year since.

“It gives the students a desire to learn and appreciate other cultures,” Rodriguez said, who explained that some students host a family from Japan one year – then stay with that same family the following year when they go.

In May, the Japan Club at Middletown Middle School hosted a dinner and silent auction at the Hidden Valley Lake Country Club to raise money for the trip.

Dan Morgan, Middletown Middle School current principal, explained that each of the students go through a very rigorous screening process in order to participate in the program. In the process they must demonstrate citizenship, and show they are maintaining a high grade point average and receiving recommendations from their teachers.

“This is an amazing group of kids and parents,” said Morgan. “They're all working very hard to make this happen.”

If you would like to assist the students in the Japan Club, please contact Kris Davis at 987-4160.

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


LAKEPORT – Authorities have not apprehended two suspects who led the California Highway Patrol on a high-speed pursuit along Highway 29 and through downtown Lakeport on Tuesday night.

The two suspects – believed to be women – ditched a stolen Dodge Ram pickup filled with stolen items in the area of Martin Street after the chase, as Lake County News reported Wednesday.

CHP Officer Adam Garcia said CHP Officer Mark Crutcher spotted the pickup speeding at about 9:30 p.m. while it was traveling northbound on Highway 29 near Argonaut Road, between Kelseyville and Lakeport.

When Crutcher attempted an enforcement stop on the pickup, the vehicle took off, said Garcia.

The pursuit continued northbound on Highway 29 until Park Way, where the pickup turned off and headed down to Lakeshore, continuing back into town, said Garcia.

CHP was joined by sheriff's deputies and Lakeport Police, who continued the pursuit down Main Street. The vehicle was finally abandoned on Martin near Hartley, said Garcia, with the two suspects escaping on foot.

Inside the vehicle investigators found a large amount of stolen credit cards and driver's licenses, said Garcia.

While there are no arrests in the case yet, Garcia said the investigation has yielded some good leads.

The pickup, said Garcia, was stolen out of Vallejo.

The vehicle also sported metallic First Choice Abbey Carpet signs on its sides. The owner of the Danville store told Lake County News that the signs had been stolen from him about a week ago. The business' phone number had been cut off the bottom of the signs.

Harold LaBonte contributed to this report.

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The Pine Fire near Cloverdale was clearly visible in Lake County Tuesday. Photo by G. Morgan.


LAKE COUNTY – Smoky skies in parts of Lake County Tuesday resulted from a wildland fire burning in Sonoma County.

Smoke from the Pine Fire, burning along Geysers Road east of Cloverdale, was being carried over the mountains and into Lake County Tuesday by strong winds, according to Cal Fire officials.

Those same winds, Cal Fire reported, had whipped the fire out of control after it started Tuesday morning, shortly after 10 a.m.

Cal Fire's Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit was fighting the fire, which had reached 700 acres by Tuesday night, and was reported to be 50-percent contained.

The Pine Fire was one of five active fires Cal Fire was working to contain around the state on Tuesday.

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


LAKE COUNTY – A bill signed Friday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger officially makes home winemaking competitions legal.

With the governor's signature, SB 607, an urgency measure introduced in May by North Coast Sen. Patricia Wiggins, goes into immediate effect.

Thanks to SB 607, individuals may now manufacture up to 200 gallons per household per calendar year for personal or family use without the need for a license or permit.

Wiggins introduced the bill after a state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control official said a provision in the state's business and professions code made it illegal for home winemakers to share their products with others – even at county fairs or at similar events that been held for decades, according to a statement from her office.

“Even though the provision banning home winemaker competitions had not been widely enforced in practice, the growing legions of home winemakers did not deserve to have an arcane section of state law hanging over them,” Wiggins, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on California’s Wine Industry, said in a written statement.

The bill's signing resolves the issue in time for the peak season of county fairs, Wiggins said, and in advance of what she called the “big daddy of home winemaker competitions,” the California State Fair.

Lake County is home to its own home winemakers festival, which will return for his sixth year this June 28 in downtown Kelseyville. The annual event is a benefit for Clear Lake Performing Arts.

Organizers had indicated they were continuing forward with plans for this year's festival, hoping Wiggins' bill would be in force before the event, which in fact came true.

Connel Murray of CLPA said the home winemakers festival is his group's largest annual fundraiser, attracting participants and visitors from all over Northern California.

The Lake County Fair, he said, also has a home winemaking competition, with no public tasting component, as the CLPA event does.

The event has grown each year, he said. Last year's event netted about $7,000, and they're hoping that this year's will break the $10,000 mark.

Proceeds go to such CLPA efforts as supporting its symphony orchestra.

Before Wiggins' bill adjusted the law to make the festivals legal, state law had defined a “winegrower” as “any person who has the facilities and equipment for the conversion of fruit into wine and is engaged in the production of wine, except for those persons who produce less than 200 gallons of wine per year for their personal consumption.” SB 607 expands the definition of a winegrower by removing that exception, her office reported.

The law also had allowed homemade beer to be entered into competitions without the need for a licesen or permit, according to Wiggins' office.

Stephen Chambers, executive director of the Western Fairs Association, said in a written statement that more than 50 fairs host home winemaker competitions.

“We realize that amateur wine competitions are a small piece of the puzzle, but they are, nonetheless, a piece that completes the picture for many fairs throughout the state,” Chambers said.

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