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Home News Latest Lake County's top 10 stories for 2013

Lake County's top 10 stories for 2013

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LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – Lake County had a busy, news-filled 2013.

The year was filled with accomplishments, tragedies, struggles and hope.

Some stories had a resolution, others may see their final chapter told in 2014.

The following 10 stories are presented chronologically, placed in the order they occurred during the year.

Forrest Seagrave murder

KELSEYVILLE, Calif. – On the night of Friday, Jan. 18, a masked and armed suspect entered the Mt. Konocti Gas and Mart in Kelseyville where 33-year-old Forrest Seagrave had worked for several years.

During the robbery, Seagrave was mortally wounded, dying a short time later at Sutter Lakeside Hospital.

Jonathan Mota, 31, who had a long criminal record including a 2006 Clearlake bank robbery, was arrested about a week and a half later on weapons charges.

In the spring Mota was transferred to federal custody, and the US Attorney's Office took over the case, indicting him in June on use or possession of a firearm in a murder, use or possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, robbery affecting interstate commerce and felon in possession of a firearm.

In April, a black 2008 Toyota Tacoma pickup that investigators believed was linked to the murder was found down an embankment off the side of the Hopland Grade. The pickup had been reported stolen from the Kelseyville area on the day Seagrave was murdered.

The Kelseyville community rallied to hold town halls and form a Neighborhood Watch group in an effort to reclaim the town from what residents said was a noticeable increase in crime.

Mota remains in federal custody and his trial has been set for October 2014.

So far, court records don't indicate if the federal prosecutors will seek the death penalty.

Lakeside Heights landslide

In March, the hillside at the 29-home Lakeside Heights subdivision off of Hill Road began to sink.

Large cracks began to appear in homes lining Lancaster Drive, with one home falling into a hole and others losing floors or cracking in half.

The cause of the landslide remains under dispute. Homeowners believe it is caused by the county's public water system, while the county points to longstanding earth stability issues in the subdivision, whose original developers were prosecuted for grand theft and other charges.

Ultimately, seven homes were red-tagged, according to Community Development Director Rick Coel.

In October, 46 property owners filed a lawsuit against the county of Lake after the county's third-party liability administrator denied their tort claims in August.

The property owners are alleging inverse condemnation, dangerous condition of public property and negligence, and are seeking an unspecified amount of damages.

Two of the homes were demolished by a county-hired contractor in October. At the same time, the contractor tarped the slide area.

Coel said a third unit collapsed in November. That same month, a windstorm ripped up much of the tarping, which the county contractor has since repaired.

In December, Lake County Special Districts was notified by the state water board that it will receive a $215,300 grant to permanently relocate the sewer system.

Special Districts also previously had received $30,356 in grant funds from the State Water Resource Control Board for geotechnical and engineering costs for the project, bringing the actual total combined grant award to $245,656. Currently a temporary system, including a portable pumping station, are being used.

County Counsel Anita Grant confirmed that the county responded to the lawsuit in December. She said the suit is being handled through the third-party administrator and the California State Association of Counties Excess Insurance Authority.

Homeowners association President Randall Fitzgerald said homeowners are feeling a little more stability with the promise of the state grant to rebuild the sewer infrastructure, as well as work Pacific Gas and Electric did to underground utilities.

Higher education institutions establish greater presence in Lake County

In May, Mendocino College celebrated the grand opening of its Lake Center campus on Parallel Drive in Lakeport. The $15 million campus was funded by the 2006 Measure W bond.

In 2013, Mendocino College, along with the Yuba College Clear Lake Campus – completed late in 2012 and offering more services and classes to students thanks to its new state-of-the-art facilities – and Marymount California University continued efforts to expand higher education opportunities to Lake County residents.

In March, Marymount hosted a group of students at the Lucerne campus and welcomed the community in to get an update on their plans, which include the process of opening up the campus in 2014.

In June, Marymount named Michelle Scully, a local educator, executive director of its Lakeside Campus in Lucerne.

The facility also has been used as a training and conference venue for local groups, including teachers getting up to speed on the new Common Core Standards which are going into effect in 2014.

The university recently received accreditation for classes beginning in fall 2014. There are plans to offer professional development and certificate-level courses this coming spring.

Officials expect to have most of the county's portion of the renovations required to complete the hotel's transformation into a campus completed by this March. Likely to take longer is the addition of a new elevator to the eight-decade-old edifice.

Mikaela Lynch disappearance and discovery

Nine-year-old Mikaela Lynch of San Francisco disappeared on Mother's Day, May 12, from the yard of her family vacation home in Clearlake.

Over the next several days a massive search involving local, regional and state resources, as well as countless community members, mobilized to find the missing child.

The girl, who had autism, had been spotted in a security camera video running up the street toward Cache Creek. That's where her body would eventually be found on May 15.

The search for the girl not only illustrated the community's compassion, it also raised awareness about the unique challenges faced by families who have autistic children.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which is funded by the US Department of Justice, had a member of its Team Adam – former and retired law enforcement officers with knowledge and expertise relating to missing children – available to offer knowledge, suggestions and best practices in the search for Mikaela.

Bob Lowery, executive director of the organization’s missing children division, told Lake County News there have been an increasing number of cases nationwide involving children with autism wandering from their homes.

They have been known to walk great distances and hide from search teams, and also often head for water, Lowery said.

The child's family also started a foundation in her memory called Mikaela's Village, http://mlvillage.org/ .

Men arrested for large marijuana grow; teen girl

In May, Ryan Balletto and Patrick Pearmain were arrested in connection to a large marijuana growing operation near Clearlake Oaks.

In addition to large amounts of marijuana, sheriff's investigators also discovered a very large cache of weapons.

The investigation led to another discovery – that for a month the men had held captive a 15-year-old Southern California runaway, having sex with her, making her trim marijuana and at times keeping her in a metal toolbox as a punishment.

The Lake County District Attorney's Office charged the men for drugs, weapons and human trafficking, but in July the US Attorney's Office took over the case, charging them with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute more than 1,000 marijuana plants and using a 15-year-old girl in a drug operation.

Balletto and Pearmain remain in federal custody in Alameda County. They were in court earlier in early December for a status conference, with the case continued until February to give counsel time to adequately prepare.

Sheriff recall fails following no confidence vote, Brady list placement

In September, the Lake County Registrar of Voters reported that an effort to recall Sheriff Frank Rivero fell short of succeeding by about 1,500 signatures.

Rivero became the target of recall in the spring, after the District Attorney’s Office in February placed him on a “Brady list” of officers with credibility issues.

District Attorney Don Anderson concluded that Rivero had not told the truth about his actions during a February 2008 incident in which Rivero – then a sheriff's deputy – had shot at an unarmed man. The man was not injured.

Rivero attempted to have the records of his Brady placement sealed and filed a lawsuit against Anderson. However, a visiting judge in March ruled that the documents should be open and released them.

Weeks later, Supervisors Anthony Farrington and Rob Brown asked the board to consider a no confidence vote, citing – among other things – the Brady decision, as well as conflicts with the deputy and correctional officers' associations, wrongful employee terminations, the blacklisting of Lake County News, lack of communication, lawsuits, disagreements about a proposed Clearlake Oaks substation, and Rivero's poor treatment of his staff and other county employees.

The board did take action, voting unanimously that it had no confidence in Rivero's leadership. The supervisors also sent Rivero a letter asking that he resign. He refused.

The following month, Rivero abruptly cut off access to a shared records information management system to Lakeport Police and Lake County Probation. Lakeport Police later would sue and be granted a restraining order and a temporary injunction restoring access.

In May, Mendocino County Judge Richard Henderson ruled that the county was not required to pay for Rivero's attorney's fees past his placement on the Brady list. Rivero has since appealed to the First District Court of Appeal. A decision has not yet been reached.

In June, visiting retired Judge J. Michael Byrne also granted Lake County News attorney's fees in its lawsuit with Rivero over his blacklisting of the news organization. Byrne called Lake County News' suit “absolutely necessary” in order to resolve the First Amendment matter with Rivero, and ordered the county pay nearly $111,000 in fees to attorney Paul Boylan of Davis.

In July, Judge Andrew Blum dismissed a marijuana cultivation case against Kelseyville resident Frank Frazza, ruling that Rivero violated Frazza's Miranda rights at the time he was arrested in August 2012.

While he wasn't recalled, Rivero – now in his first term – will be up for reelection in 2014. He has indicated he will run for reelection, and retired Clearlake Police Chief Bob Chalk and Lake County Probation Assistant Chief Brian Martin already have declared they will challenge Rivero for the sheriff's job.

Konocti Harbor under sales contract; planning commission approves permit applications

Since it closed in November 2009, Konocti Harbor's hoped-for reopening has been a constant source of speculation among county residents and visitors alike.

For decades it had been the county's premier resort, and had helped bring business to other resorts as well as to restaurants, and contributed large amounts of transient occupancy tax to the county's coffers.

On Aug. 1, San Francisco-based Resort Equities signed a sales contract to purchase the resort from the convalescent trust fund for Local 38 of the United Association of Plumbers, Pipefitters and Journeymen, which has owned Konocti Harbor since 1959.

In September, Resort Equities filed permit applications with Lake County Community Development to cover its plans for the site, including extensive renovations, demolition of some older structures and new building.

Planning officials worked to expedite the permits to assist the firm in meeting its due diligence deadlines under the contract.

At a special Dec. 5 meeting of the Lake County Planning Commission, Resort Equities' permit applications were unanimously approved.

Based on Resort Equities' current plans, at full buildout, the 90-acre property – of which about 58 acres is developed – will have 164 timeshare or fractional ownership units, a new waterside bar and grill, greater shoreline pedestrian access, more parking, 275 boat slips, five piers and docks will be repaired, there will be an expanded system of piers and docks, and the amphitheater will be renovated.

Grant Sedgwick, president of Resort Equities, told Lake County News that the firm is still in the process of raising between $50 million and $70 million to modernize and upgrade the resort.

If all goes well, escrow will close the first or second week of March 2014, Sedgwick said.

Crash with deputy kills Clearlake woman

Early on the morning of Oct. 3, 26-year-old Gabriela Rivas Garcia was driving along Highway 29 on her way to her job at a local vineyard when she was hit by an SUV driven by Lake County Sheriff's Deputy Scott Lewis.

Lewis was responding from the Kelseyville area to Lower Lake, where a home invasion robbery had just taken place.

Just north of Diener Drive Lewis' patrol vehicle – a Chevy Tahoe SUV – crossed into the northbound lane and collided head-on with Garcia's car. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Lewis also was seriously injured, with a third driver, correctional officer Charles Eagleton of Lakeport, receiving minor injuries.

An immigrant from Mexico who had made her home in Clearlake, Garcia reportedly continued sending money home to her family. Community members helped raise money in order to send her body home to her family for burial.

As of the end of December, an attorney representing her family had filed public information requests with the county, but no tort claims had been filed, according to the Board of Supervisors Office.

District Attorney Don Anderson's office is conducting a joint investigation with the California Highway Patrol Northern Division's Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team, or MAIT, into the crash under the auspices of the county's critical incident protocol.

He said last week that he does not expect to receive MAIT's final report until sometime in March 2014.

That report will serve as a basis for Anderson's final decision as to whether or not Lewis has criminal liability in the case.

The November windstorm

On the night of Thursday, Nov. 21, and into Friday Nov. 22, a windstorm tore through Lake County, with the most serious damage occurring along the Northshore, particularly in Nice, as well as in Clearlake. Lakeport was unaffected.

A National Weather Service meteorologist told Lake County News that the storm was the result of the meeting of a high and a low pressure system, with Lake County right in the bull's eye.

Firefighters worked through the night in response to what longtime county resident and Northshore Fire Protection District Chief Jay Beristianos called an “unprecedented” event.

In a 51-hour period lasting from 12:01 a.m. Nov. 21 to 3:30 a.m. Nov. 23, Lake County Central Dispatch handled 1,660 calls regarding the storm, many of them to report downed trees and power lines, damage to homes and power outages.

The downed power lines also caused several fires along the Northshore and in Clearlake.

For some residents in the impacted areas, power was not restored until Sunday.

The highest wind speed was 78 miles per hour, recorded on Cow Mountain, while other areas of the county had sustained winds averaging 40 miles per hour, the National Weather Service reported.

County and city of Clearlake officials would declare local emergencies due to the damage.

County officials said Tuesday that the total damage for publicly and privately held property remains at close to $6 million.

Marijuana: Continuing battles

Marijuana – how to govern its use and growing it for medicinal purposes – remains a complex and divisive issue in the county.

In May the California Supreme Court issued a decision in the City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center Inc., which upheld the land use planning powers of local governments.

A month after that decision, Don Merrill – who had sued the county over the interim ordinance it implemented in July 2011 – dropped his lawsuit against the county. Early in December, a judge denied Merrill's request for attorney's fees.

As a result of the Riverside decision many jurisdictions – including the county of Lake – moved forward with implementing more stringent regulations.

The Board of Supervisors on Dec. 17 passed a new ordinance that prohibits outdoor grows in community growth boundaries, vacant parcels and on parcels under one acre outside of community growth boundaries. It limits the size of indoor grows to 100 square feet.

The county produced the new tightened restrictions citing issues including the environmental damage from the grows as well as the rise in crime and nuisance reports.

A newly formed group calling itself “Community Alliance to Ban Illegal Cannabis Cultivation” – a coalition of marijuana advocacy groups – has launched a signature gathering campaign to hold a referendum on the new ordinance.

They have until Jan. 15 to collect at least 2,115 valid signatures, according to the Lake County Registrar of Voters Office.

Email Elizabeth Larson at elarson@lakeconews.com . Follow her on Twitter, @ERLarson, or Lake County News, @LakeCoNews.

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lucernian1347
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written by lucernian1347, January 01, 2014
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