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Trauma & Drama
Photo by Janet Orsi
Murder, muddy waters, and murky politics top the year's local news stories
While most of us quietly went about our lives this year, the events in Sonoma County often took on biblical proportions. The raging, rain-swollen waters of the Russian River raged over its banks in back-to-back floods. The publicity surrounding the Richard Allen Davis murder trial spared the accused killer from his day of judgment. Sex scandals rocked a Catholic parish in Santa Rosa. And, last spring, violence rang out in a series of unrelated killings that saw even sunny, serene Sonoma Plaza erupt into a deadly shooting gallery.
Here is a look back:
Ex-Pomo Chief Loses Lawsuit
Jeff Wilson, the ousted Mak-ahmo Pomo chief who sought to create a $38 million casino-style resort south of Petaluma, loses his bid to regain control of his Cloverdale band after U.S. District Court Judge Spencer Williams rejects Wilson's lawsuit claiming that he is the tribe's rightful leader. Last August, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs ousted Wilson, saying that Wilson had no legal claim to his title and explaining that the agency had made "an administrative error" in recognizing Wilson in the first place. Wilson contested that ruling.
Mullins Takes over as D.A.
J. Michael Mullins assumes the responsibilities of district attorney for Sonoma County, inheriting a vastly different criminal landscape than did his predecessor, Gene Tunney, did when he was elected to the job 20 years ago. Mullins, the No. 2 attorney at the District Attorney's Office for the preceding 13 years and Tunney's hand-picked successor, won his office in June on a platform of experience. He promises to improve the domestic violence record of the District Attorney's Office, but runs afoul of local women's rights groups within six months for reneging on that promise.
Court Upholds Implant Ruling
The U.S. Supreme Court upholds a $7.3 million judgment against Dow Corning won by a Sebastopol woman who blamed the drug manufacturer for the painful effects of a silicone breast implant. The decision to reject an appeal from the corporate giant ends a six-year legal battle launched by Mariann Hopkins, 51, a former college secretary who had the implant procedure in 1976 after a double mastectomy for breast cancer. Her case became the first of its kind to reach the high court and led Dow Corning to reveal that it had withheld from the public incriminating studies that showed the implants were potentially harmful.
Migrants Shun Flood Relief
The big losers in the recent flood of may be local migrant families, many of whom are shunning relief services provided by the Red Cross and Salvation Army, as well as county, state, and federal agencies, according to officials at the state Migrant Education Office. "People are understandably apprehensive after the passage of Prop. 187 and statements made during the elections that if they seek state or federal help during their times of need there may be repercussions in terms of immigration," says David Grabill, directing attorney for the Santa Rosa-based California Rural legal Assistance, a non-profit advocacy organization. In the Guerneville area, hundreds of migrant families have been affected by heavy rains and flooding. Many of them work legally in the local vineyards, but are afraid to apply for assistance because one or two family members may be illegal immigrants.
Bowing Out Gracefully
Sipping coffee, nibbling on bagels and cream cheese, and peeling homegrown tangerines, a diverse collection of west county environmentalists, specialty farmers, progressives, educators, lawyers, writers, artists, real estate agents, a dusting of Russian River Republicans, and even a garbage man or two gathers at 5th District Supervisor Ernie Carpenter's Graton home as the popular local pol announces that he won't seek re-election at the end of his fourth term nor campaign for a statewide office. Instead, he's retiring from public life. As requested by their host, no would-be candidate declares at Ernie's home ("not under my roof"). Most of those assembled, middle-aged representatives of west county's progressive constituency, express fears of a split or fragmentation that may allow an unknown reactionary candidate to snatch away the seat. Those listening intently include a smattering of potential candidates: Eric Koenigshoefer, Santa Rosa attorney and former west county supervisor, whose tenure preceded Carpenter's election; Sebastopol City Councilwoman Anne Magnie; Mike Reilly, executive director of West County Community Services; and Heidi Gillen, field representative for 1st District Assemblyman Dan Hauser.
NWP Deal Moves Ahead
The Golden Gate Bridge District board of directors agrees to purchase the 140-mile Northwestern Pacific Railroad right-of-way, ending more than a decade of squabbling between Marin and Sonoma counties and the district. The $27 million deal, approved by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, will be paid for with federal funds that could otherwise be slashed in the next round of Capitol Hill budget cuts. The deal should bring the dream of light-rail transit to fruition, supporters say. Critics remain suspicious of the district's commitment to rail transit.
SOLO Is DOA
A chilling wind is blowing across the Santa Rosa Junior College campus. Five months after the federal Office of Civil Rights awarded $15,000 each to three SRJC students who lodged sex discrimination and sexual harassment complaints about a campus online service, the journalism professor who created the computer forum has shut it down and is facing a new challenge to his job. SRJC instructor Roger Karraker, faculty adviser to the student-run campus newspaper, Oak Leaf, has pulled the plug on SOLO (Super Oak Leaf Online), an electronic bulletin board system that last year became the center of a national debate about how freedom-of-speech laws apply to cyberspace.
Davis Trial May Stay
The deputy public defender representing accused murderer Richard Allen Davis says that he may withdraw a motion to move the trial out of the county. Barry Collins, attorney for the confessed killer of Polly Klaas, has indicated in papers filed this month that he wants prospective jurors to give a detailed account of their knowledge and views on the highly publicized 1993 kidnap-murder. In the past, Collins has insisted that his client cannot get a fair trial in Sonoma County. He planned to subpoena several witnesses, including local reporters, in the hope of proving that adverse reports about Davis could have prejudiced potential jurors.
Report Warns Fish Endangered
Wild steelhead in the Russian River are severely threatened with extinction, according to a confidential National Marine Fisheries Service report leaked to Washington Trout, an environmentalist group in Seattle. Federal wildlife authorities have recommended that the species, along with coho salmon, be listed as threatened or endangered because of habitat damage caused by logging, farming, gravel mining, overfishing, and increasing water diversions. The report indicates there is strong scientific evidence to support a move to protect the fish.
Photo by David Licht
River of despair: Last winter's floods, below, shattered lives and caused more than $31 million damage, making them the most costly disasters in the county's history.
Flood Damage Tops $31 million
White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta tours the Russian River area after President Bill Clinton declares the region a federal disaster area. The latest bout with Russian River floodwaters has caused more than $31 million in damages throughout the county, according to preliminary estimates by the Sonoma County Office of Emergency Services. The loss to owners of houses, apartments, mobile homes, vehicles, and other private property is set at $24.8 million. That includes about $6.5 million in damages to farm equipment and the county's soggy grape vineyards, which also are threatened by bacterial and fungal diseases. The loss to public property--including roads and bridges--is placed at $6.5 million. The January floods caused more than $51 million in damages in the county.
Supes OK Justice Funds
Faced with the specter of overcrowded jails and four impending murder trials, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors agrees to spend an extra $330,000 to alleviate conditions at the juvenile hall and beef up criminal investigations by the Public Defender's Office. Supervisor Tim Smith characterizes the county's criminal-justice system as "a runaway train." Law enforcement and court expenses in the cash-strapped county last year totaled $97 million, or 27 percent of the overall budget. The trial of confessed killer Richard Allen Davis, accused in the slaying of Polly Klaas, is expected to cost $1.2 million. It is slated to start June 19. No trial date has been set for Pelican Bay State Prison parolee Robert Walter Scully and Brenda Kay Moore, accused in the March 29 murder of Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Frank Trejo, or Joan Larae Carrafa, charged with the March 27 murder of an armored-truck guard in Sonoma.
Land Swap Foes Speak Out
About 60 opponents of a controversial plan to swap the 270-acre city-owned Lafferty Ranch atop Sonoma Mountain for nearby Moon Ranch--a former dude ranch owned by millionaire Peter Pfendler--flock to a town hall meeting to speak out against the deal. Three appraisals of Moon Ranch have put its value equal to or below the amount Pfendler claims he paid for it. Pfendler wants $1.6 million in addition to the city's pristine ridge-top ranch. Critics of the deal want the city either to put Lafferty Ranch on the open market or to create a park and grant public access to the rugged land.
Chinchilla Case Dismissed
Following months of negotiation, a groundbreaking case pitting a national animal-rights group against a Freestone chinchilla rancher concludes when charges are dismissed against the rancher before going to trial. Both the prosecutor and the defense claim victory in the case while animal-rights activists say that, despite their efforts, the chinchillas--the small, docile rodents whose soft coats make them favorites among furriers--were the biggest losers in the court battle. The case made headlines when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals accused ranch owner Jose LaCalle of "genital electrocution" of a chinchilla, after a PETA undercover agent captured the procedure on videotape, under the guise of wanting to learn more about the technique.
Photos by Janet Orsi
Fallen hero: More than 1,500 law enforcement officers turned out last March at LBC for a memorial service to slain Sheriff's Deputy Frank Trejo. His widow, above, is consoled by family members.
Deputy Gunned Down
At a memorial service that draws 1,500 law enforcement officers from around the state, Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Frank Trejo, 58, is remembered as a quiet, calming influence within the local law-enforcement community. In the end, he met a violent death the night of March 29 while trying to stop an armed robbery on Highway 12 outside of Santa Rosa that some say wouldn't have happened if Gov. Pete Wilson had signed a bill last year reforming the state's troubled parole system. That bill, passed by the state Legislature but vetoed by Wilson, would have required Department of Corrections guards to transport potentially dangerous inmates at the Pelican Bay State Prison near Crescent City--home to the most violent offenders in the state prison system--back to the county where the offenders will be paroled. State parolee Robert Walter Scully, Trejo's alleged killer, was released from the Pelican Bay facility just five days before the murder after serving just 12 years of a 27-year sentence for armed robbery and stabbing an inmate. He was classified as "a public safety concern," given the highest surveillance rating in the parole system, and ordered to report within 48 hours to a parole officer in San Diego. He never showed up.
Riggs Water Plan Riles Critics
Local conservationists blast an amendment to the federal Clean Water Act that would allow Santa Rosa to use wastewater to restore wetlands along Laguna de Santa Rosa and increase wastewater discharges into the Russian River. That amendment, approved by the House of Representatives and included at the request of Rep. Frank Riggs, R-Windsor, would make Santa Rosa exempt from Army Corps of Engineers regulations. It is part of a controversial reauthorization of the landmark environmental law that critics say will effectively gut the tough regulations.
Quake Study Shocker
A newly released seismic map of the Bay Area reveals that the Sonoma County Office of Emergency Services disaster headquarters, county administration offices, and all three of the county's major hospitals rest within a swath of land that will suffer extreme damage in the event of a major earthquake along the Rodgers Creek Fault. The study, released by the Association of Bay Area Governments, shows that the degree of damage will exceed previous estimates. It raises the specter that Memorial, Community, and the newly built Kaiser hospitals could be knocked out of commission by a big temblor.
Online Firm Sold
A Sebastopol-based map to the ether-worldly realm of the Internet has been purchased by the largest commercial computer network in the country. America Online announces it will pay $11 million ($2 million cash and $9 million in stock) to acquire the Global Network Navigator, an online publishing center that organizes Internet information for computer users. GNN was developed by O'Reilly and Associates of Sebastopol in 1993, and recorded some 2 million requests for information in December of last year. It is expected to become part of a new Internet access service to be launched by America Online later this year.
Davis Trial Begins
Jury selection opens in the trial of Richard Allen Davis, the confessed killer of Polly Klaas, with Judge Lawrence Antolini vowing to keep the media in check during the six months of proceedings. Already, the judge has made a series or rulings that will govern the presentation of evidence during the trial, but those decisions have not been made public and will remain secret until the actual trail begins, probably in October. The county has budgeted $1.23 million for the trial, nearly half of it expected to pay for Davis' defense, and another $300,000 for court security measures.
Four Newspapers Sold
The two oldest weekly newspapers in the county are locally owned again. They are among four community papers sold when the Walnut Creek-based Lesher Communications an-nounces it had severed ties with Sonoma County, selling off the Sebastopol Times and News, Russian River News, Healdsburg Tribune, and Windsor Times.
GOP Targets Woolsey
Rep. Lynn Woolsey lashes out angrily against Republican fundraisers for sending out a "wanted" poster listing 28 Democratic lawmakers, including Woolsey, for "siding with and abetting President Bill Clinton's big government, pro-tax, anti-tax, anti-family, anti-military agenda." Twenty-two of the 28 targeted are women, minorities, or Jewish, prompting critics to charge that the poster is racially motivated. Project 28, organized by the National Republican Congressional Committee and co-chaired by Rep. Bill Paxon, R-N.Y. The NRCC published the FBI-style poster depicting liberal Democrats who have voted against at least seven of 10 provisions of the Republican Contract with America. In a published statement, Paxon denies any wrongdoing.
Gingrich Visits Grove
House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Georgia, the leader of the nation's conservative Republican forces, lands at Sonoma County Airport for his visit to the annual encampment of politicos, industrialists, and intellectuals at the Bohemian Grove. Gingrich, a staunch supporter of government subsidies for tobacco companies and other corporations, flew into town aboard a jet owned by the United States Tobacco Sales & Marketing Co., manufacturers of smokeless tobacco products. At the club's gate, demonstrators protest so-called corporate welfare payments.
Land Swap Deadlock
Councilwoman Mary Stompe is expected to cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of a controversial land swap of Petaluma's Lafferty Ranch for Peter Pfendler's Moon Ranch if it comes to a vote in the next few weeks. She said that greater accessibility to the 381-acre Moon Ranch, a former dude ranch, helped her make the decision. Stompe announced last week that Pfendler has agreed to preserve Lafferty Ranch "in perpetuity" as open space. The other six council members are split 3-3 on the issue. The city hosts an open house at the ridge-top Lafferty Ranch, which is usually closed to the public.
Church Settles Sex Suit
Catholic Church leaders agree to pay $450,000 to a man who says he was sexually molested numerous times 14 years ago by a priest at St. Eugene's Cathedral in Santa Rosa. The man, now 28, will receive the settlement against Father Austin Peter Keegan, who is believed to be living in Tijuana, Mexico. He is one of two North Coast priests accused of sexually molesting two boys in unrelated incidents.
U.S. Electricar Cash Injection
After a stormy financial year, U.S. Electricar has announced a $2.3 million influx of cash. The investment should pump new life into the once sluggish electric-car manufacturing company. Meanwhile, company officials have negotiated an agreement to settle unpaid bills with its largest suppliers.
Pomo Bands Feud
One year after federal Bureau of Indian Affairs officials stripped ex-chief Jeffery Alan Wilson of his leadership of the Cloverdale Band of the Makhamo Pomos, a group of his followers--apparently with casino ambitions of their own--is trying to regain control of the tribe. The group, which held an unsanctioned election, is attempting to unseat Pomo elder John Santana, recognized by BIA officials as the legitimate leader of the band. It reportedly is led by Patricia Hermosilla, Santana's niece and a former Wilson supporter. Wilson, who had sought to build a Las Vegas-style casino one mile south of Petaluma, spent millions of dollars of investors' money on the failed project.
Aquifer Tests Falter
The early results are not terribly encouraging in the city's tests of a mechanism to store treated wastewater underground. A preliminary report on the test results, presented to the Santa Rosa Board of Public Utilities recently, finds that the geology in the test areas would limit the amount of subterranean storage available per well and require pressurized injection wells.
Parolee Bill Vetoed
For the second time in two years, Gov. Pete Wilson vetoes a bill that would require the state to escort dangerous felons who are released from Pelican Bay State Prison, near Crescent City, back to their home county. Wilson contended the bill, by Assemblyman Dan Hauser, was inflexible and "represented prison micromanagement at its worst." The governor did sign a companion measure by state Sen. Mike Thompson tightening the notification requirements when parolees fail to report to their parole officers within two days. Both bills were prompted by the killing of Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Frank Trejo, who was allegedly shot by Pelican Bay parolee Robert Scully five days after Scully left the prison.
A fistful of local restaurants are fined for underpaying their employees, following a series of investigations by federal labor officials. Payments are ordered for a total of 255 workers who were underpaid for overtime or paid less than minimum wage during regular shifts. Among the restaurants cited are Caffe Portofino, La Gare, John Ash & Co., Café Lolo, Equus, Narsi's Hofbrau, Mixx, Café des Croissants, Gary Chu's, Omelette Express, Musashi, and Ristorante Sienna. Fines ranged from over $24,000 for the China Room to just $100 assessed against J. J. North's Grand Buffet.
Facing the music: After lengthy delays and a turbulent jury selection process, a Sonoma County Superior Court judge rules that confessed killer Richard Allen Davis will stand trial next summer in San Jose.
Davis Trial Moves to San Jose
Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Lawrence J. Antolini orders the Richard Allen Davis murder trial moved to Santa Clara County. Antolini says the next court date will be Feb. 5 at 9 a.m. in Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose. Jury selection may not begin until the summer or even later. Reading from a prepared statement, Antolini said an analysis of a jury-selection survey conducted in four counties did not in his eyes show a significant difference between Santa Clara and San Diego counties on bias against Davis.
Supes Select Sutter
As expected, county supervisors vote unanimously to negotiate a lease agreement for the operation of Community Hospital with Sutter Health of Sacram-ento. Faced with a choice between two closely matched bids from Sutter and HCA/Columbia, the largest health-care corporation in the nation, the supervisors opted for the smaller, more local firm, even though the financial terms offered by Columbia were slightly better. Hospital trustee Nancy Dobbs is the lone dissenting voice on the dais. Noting that the process of seeking a corporate partner had "frustrated the public tremendously," she urges the supervisors to develop a contingency plan, just in case things don't work out with Sutter. The board's vote comes at the end of a second public hearing on the matter, during which most speakers again asked the supervisors to seek out an alternative to "affiliating" with a large corporate entity. Meanwhile, opponents garner enough petition signatures to put the issue on the November 1996 ballot.
Timmons Cases Settled
Nine of the ment who had accused Father Gary Timmons in a civil suit of molesting them while they were boys reach a settlement with the Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa, which will pay the men $830,000 and extend an apology. The settlement, reached out of court, also says the diocese "has resolved to redouble its efforts to prevent sexual misconduct by persons employed by or associated with the diocese." As the settlement is being reached, a state appeals court rules that the 1994 law that was being used to charge Timmons with molestations that occurred as far back as 1971 could not be applied retroactively. However, new charges are filed by local prosecutors, including one count involving a 13-year-old boy whom Timmons--a once popular priest at St. Eugene's Cathedral--took camping in Bodega Bay six years ago. Also prosecutors in Mendocino and Humboldt counties are weighing possible additional complaints against the 55-year-old priest.
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From the Dec. 28, 1995-Jan. 3, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent
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