Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Mother, Young Daughters Believed Dead After State Route 96 Crash

Posted By on Tue, Mar 7, 2017 at 1:22 PM

A 30-year-old woman and her two young daughters remain missing and are presumed dead after the car they were in plunged approximately 500 feet down an embankment off State Route 96 north of Orleans on Sunday into the Klamath River.

Orleans resident Elizabeth Anne Palmer was driving her Toyota Yaris southbound at about 7:20 p.m. in snowy and rainy conditions with her 4-year-old and 18-month-old girls when she lost control of the car.

Passenger Jose Paredes Chavez, 41, of Orleans was able to escape the car and climb back up to the roadway, where he found a Caltrans employee who summoned help. Chavez suffered minor to moderate injuries.

“Due to the extreme weather and roadway conditions, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue, Trinity County Search and Rescue, CHP helicopter, and Coast Guard were unable to locate the vehicle and its remaining occupants,” the CHP press release states. “The disposition of Ms. Palmer and the children cannot be confirmed at this time.”

CHP Willow Creek is investigating the crash. Humboldt County Search and Rescue is handling the recovery efforts, which will begin when weather and river conditions permit.

"Due to the high water flows of the Klamath River and the adverse weather conditions, the CHP has not been able to safely begin any recovery operations of the vehicle or its occupants. When the river flows and weather conditions allow for a recovery effort to locate the vehicle, the CHP will coordinate those efforts with the assistance of Humboldt County Sheriff's Office. CHP will provide an update when a recovery effort is completed," an updated CHP release stated on Tuesday.

Read the full CHP release below:
On March 5, 2017 at approximately 7:20 P.M., 30 year old Elizabeth Anne Palmer of Orleans was driving her Toyota Yaris southbound on HWY 96, north of Orleans (MM 41). 41 year old Jose Paredes Chavez of Orleans was seated in the front passenger seat; a 4 year old and 18 month old were seated in the rear passenger area. For reasons still under investigation, Ms. Palmer lost control of her vehicle, drifted in a westerly direction off the roadway, continuing down an embankment (approximately 500’) into the Klamath River. It was dark and there was a mixture of snow and rain falling in the area.

Mr. Chavez was able to escape, climb back up to the roadway, and contact a CalTrans employee. Emergency services were requested at this time.

Emergency personnel from the Orleans Volunteer Fire Department, Willow Creek Volunteer Fire Department, Happy Camp Ambulance, Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, Trinity County Sheriff’s Office, California Highway Patrol (Willow Creek) and Hoopa Ambulance responded to the scene to provide emergency services.

Due to the extreme weather and roadway conditions, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue, Trinity County Search and Rescue, CHP helicopter, and Coast Guard were unable to locate the vehicle and its remaining occupants. The disposition of Ms. Palmer and the children cannot be confirmed at this time.

Mr. Chavez was transported to Mad River Community Hospital with minor to moderate injuries. A joint effort is currently underway in an attempt to locate the missing parties. CHP Willow Creek is handling the collision investigation. Humboldt County Search and Rescue is handling the recovery efforts.

Editor's note: This story was updated with information that recovery efforts have been delayed by weather and river conditions.
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Monday, March 6, 2017

More Rain Than Usual and More to Come

Posted By on Mon, Mar 6, 2017 at 2:19 PM

Hey, look, rain! - FILE
  • file
  • Hey, look, rain!
Snowy mountains. Rainy days. Flurries of hard-hitting hail. Unless you’re a fish, the weather continues to be bleak. The optimistic among us are calling it a return to an “old-fashioned Humboldt County winter” after years of drought but how accurate is that?

According to Matthew Kidwell, a meteorologist at Eureka’s National Weather Service office, the Eureka area has been drenched with 48.64 inches of rain since the start of 2017, which is fully 167 percent of normal. He adds that this is about 10 inches more than we experienced last year, which was also above normal.

If you think the chill has been more bitter than usual lately, you’re right. Kidwell says the average high temperature in January was about 3 degrees below normal and that overall we’re coasting below normal for this time of year.

Looking ahead, we have … rain. And more rain. Also, snow. It snowed down to 400 feet above sea level over the weekend, dusting even Crescent City and Willow Creek.

“There’s an increased probability for above normal rainfall and below normal temperatures,” says Kidwell, adding that the hail showers over the weekend caused a lot of accidents.

So bring the pets and plants inside, and be careful on the roads. The NWS would like to hear about your snowfall situation, as well. Check out its Facebook page for more information on how to report snowfall and check its website for the latest weather alerts.

  • NWS

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CHP Investigating Fatal Weekend Accidents

Posted By on Mon, Mar 6, 2017 at 11:41 AM

The California Highway Patrol is investigation two fatal accidents over the weekend, including the death of a man who was struck Saturday night on Redway Drive after apparently walking in front of a Peterbilt tank truck — the second Southern Humboldt pedestrian death in one week.

On Sunday evening, the 83-year-old female driver of a Toyota Camry died after being ejected from the car when it suddenly veered off U.S. Highway 101 in northern Mendocino County and down an embankment before hitting a culvert pipe that sent the vehicle airborne near Ryan Creed Road.

Neither of the victims has been identified. The woman in the Camry was from Phoenix, Arizona. The pedestrian was a 50-year-old Redway resident who became the second such fatality this week. On Feb. 25, 32-year-old Travis Rothwell was killed after being hit by a car as he ran across U.S. Highway 101 near the Garberville exit.

Read the full CHP press release on the March 4 incident below:
On March 4, 2017, at approximately 2017 hours, a 1994 Peterbilt tank truck driven by Leroy Thomas was traveling southbound on Redwood Drive, just north of Redway Drive. A pedestrian was walking northbound on Redwood Drive, within the northbound lane for vehicle travel. It was dark, rainy and the roadway was wet. For reasons still under investigation, the pedestrian continued walking in the roadway and the front of the Peterbilt collided with him. The pedestrian was thrown approximately 60 feet and came to rest on the west shoulder of Redwood Drive. The pedestrian sustained major injuries as a result of the collision. Redway Volunteer Fire Department, City Ambulance of Eureka and Humboldt County Sheriffs Deputies assisted CHP with medical aid and traffic control. The pedestrian was immediately transported to Jerold Phelps Community Hospital in Garberville by City Ambulance. He was later taken to Redwood Memorial Hospital in Fortuna. The driver of the Peterbilt was uninjured and evaluated for DUI, which did not appear to be a factor. The pedestrian succumbed to his injuries on March 5, 2017, at 0750 hours. Humboldt County Coroner case number 201701057.
The pedestrian's name is being withheld, pending next of kin notification by the Humboldt County Coroner. This incident remains under investigation by the Garberville CHP office.

Read the full CHP press release on the March 5 incident below:
On March 5, 2017, at approximately 1915 hours, a 2003 Toyota Camry was traveling northbound on US-101, just north of Ryan Creek Road, at a slow rate of speed. For reasons still under investigation, the driver suddenly veered towards the west and off of US-101, traveling down a steep embankment west of the roadway. The Toyota collided with a culvert pipe on the west embankment, launching the vehicle into the air. The driver appears to not have been wearing a seatbelt, and became ejected from the Toyota during the impact. The Toyota overturned on top of the driver, and then continued down the embankment. The driver was immediately given life saving medical efforts by several citizens who witnessed the collision, but to no avail. The driver was pronounced deceased at the scene at 1938 hours, by Willits Ambulance EMS personnel.

Caltrans assisted with traffic control during the vehicle recovery, along with the Little Lake Fire Department, and Mendocino County Sheriff Deputies. Alcohol does not appear to be a factor at this time. The driver's name is being withheld, pending next of kin notification by the Mendocino County Coroner. This incident remains under investigation by the Garberville CHP office.

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Uber Arrives on the North Coast as Company Crisis Continues

Posted By on Mon, Mar 6, 2017 at 8:46 AM

This is what Uber looks like.
  • This is what Uber looks like.
There’s a new transportation option in town, but it comes with some baggage.

Uber — the online ride sharing service that offers an alternative to taxi cabs — recently made its debut in transportation-starved Humboldt County. But Uber’s expansion comes in the midst of what can only be described as a rough six-week stretch for the company.

The Journal, having publicly advocated for more transportation options as a way to help curb Humboldt County’s impaired driving epidemic, was eager to take this new Uber thing for a local spin. For the uninitiated, Uber works like this: Customers download an app to their phone, which then connects them to a fleet of independent contractors driving around looking for fares. And because there’s little overhead for the company — drivers use their own cars and pay for their own insurance and gas — rates are generally cheaper than cab companies, which are in scarce supply in Humboldt County anyway. Some are also drawn to Uber because you enter your credit card information directly into the app, which means there’s no cash exchange in the car — you simply say thank you (give a tip if you wish) and go on your way.

So on a recent Wednesday, I downloaded the Uber app to give it a spin. I was looking for a ride from the Journal’s office in Old Town Eureka up to my home in McKinleyville. When I punched in my address, the GPS on my phone told me there was a driver about 11 minutes away. I wasn’t quite ready to leave, so I held off. About an hour later, ready to head home, I brought the app up on my phone. No drivers were available. Worried I’d missed my window, I waited. Five minutes passed. Then 10. Then 15. Finally, after about 20 minutes, the app let me know a driver was free and could be at the office in less than 10 minutes. I agreed, packed up my stuff and went outside on the lookout for a red Ford hybrid driven by “Piers.”

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Sunday, March 5, 2017

HumBug: O Hideous Little Bat

Posted By on Sun, Mar 5, 2017 at 3:00 PM

Black gnats on daisy. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Black gnats on daisy.

American poet Karl Shapiro begins his poem "The Fly" with the address, "O hideous little bat, the size of snot." No other group of animals is as reviled as flies. Annually, members of the order Diptera account for millions of human deaths through diseases they spread. The ones that pester, infect and disgust us are really only a small percentage of the 160,000 known species, which is only a small fraction of the estimated 1 million species, the majority of which are unobtrusive and unknown to us. Named for having two wings, unlike other winged insects which have four, the order Diptera is the most diverse in lifestyle. There seems to be a fly tailored to feed on anything organic, living or dead.

Fetid adder's tongue photobombed by a gnat, a moth fly, and a tiny wasp. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Fetid adder's tongue photobombed by a gnat, a moth fly, and a tiny wasp.
The other day, taking photos of fetid adder's tongue flowers (Scoliopus bigelovii), I got one shot with three insects in it. Even bugs photobomb us. Drawn by the flower's dank odor, there was a fungus gnat, a moth fly, and a tiny wasp (order Hymenoptera). From the look of it, the wasp may have been trying to prey on the gnat. So much of what goes on at this scale is unknown to us.
Moth fly, about 2 or 3 millimeters long. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Moth fly, about 2 or 3 millimeters long.
At 2 to 3 millimeters, moth flies look like tiny moths but are truly flies, also known as drain flies and sewer flies. While harmless, they are considered pests when they infest our homes.

Some fungus gnats are small and vaguely resemble mosquitoes, but feed on — you guessed it — fungus. Others, like the tiny, glistening black Bradysia, emerge from soil in potted plants to become household pests.
Fungus gnat, about 6 millimeters long. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Fungus gnat, about 6 millimeters long.
While researching them I was continually referred to the book Flies by Stephan A. Marshall so, despite it's heft (5 pounds 5.5 ounces) and hefty price tag ($88), I ordered a copy. It is a truly great book and a new favorite among my collection of entomological works.

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Saturday, March 4, 2017

PenAir Scales Back But Remains Confident in Portland Route

Posted By on Sat, Mar 4, 2017 at 12:03 PM

A graph looking at the total number of passengers by month on PenAir's almost year-old route to and from Portland. - SAM ARMANINO
  • Sam Armanino
  • A graph looking at the total number of passengers by month on PenAir's almost year-old route to and from Portland.

PenAir recently reduced the number of daily flights from the Arcata-Eureka Airport to Portland from three flights to two, but insists the change isn’t related to passenger interest in the route.

Missy Roberts, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing, said the changes will affect everyone looking to fly with PenAir. She said the changes are mainly due to two issues: a shortage of pilots and the lack of a close maintenance space.

“The impact could be minimal or the impact could be great,” Roberts said. “Depending on (customers’) down-line connections.”

Roberts said PenAir’s completion rates — the percentage of scheduled flights that are completed — dropped almost 25 percent, from 95.6 percent in 2016 to a 72 percent this year. Roberts said this is mostly due to a Federal Aviation Administration regulation that requires pilots to work more hours.

Emily Jacobs, program director of the Eureka-Arcata airport, said in an email to the Journal that PenAir was scheduled to land 950 flights and completed 859 from April of 2016 to February of this year, for a rate of about 90 percent.

But Roberts said a new regulation requiring pilots to work fewer hours has led to PenAir having fewer pilots available. Roberts said this isn’t just PenAir and a similar process is happening at pretty much every airline in the United States. “There are fewer pilots out than there are needed,” Roberts said.

PenAir has the same number of pilots as it started with, although the company has since added six new routes and Roberts said this stretches crews thin.

The other major problem that led to the decrease in completion rates was maintenance operations. Because the company is based out of Anchorage, Alaska, every time a plane needed a new part it had to ship it from Anchorage to a facility in Aurora, Oregon.

Roberts said the company’s on-time performance dropped from just about 66 percent to a little over 50 percent. PenAir’s controllable delay rate — which is excludes unavoidable weather delays — is about 81 percent on time.

But using the facility in Aurora for maintenance checks led to problems with completion rates because the company would need to fly the planes to the facility to be checked. If there was something wrong with the plane, even if just a light was out, it would need to ship the part and repair it in Aurora, a slow and inefficient process that severely dug into completion rates.

“Even though it’s 15 minutes away [by flight], it still takes time to preare the crew,” Roberts said.
The company will soon be operating a leased facility at the Portland airport and started shipping plane parts there about three months ago. Roberts said having a facility in Portland will allow routine checks to be a lot faster and help completion rates.

As of January, 9,186 people had flown from Arcata-Eureka to Portland on the new PenAir. But Roberts said she doesn’t expect the number of passengers to change with the new schedule, an indication that perhaps not all three daily flights were full leaving the local airport. But Roberts said she expects the market will continue to grow, and PenAir will grow with it.

PenAir began the new route with only two daily flights from Arcata-Eureka and Roberts said it was so excited by how successful the route was initially that it added the third flight. Roberts said, in hindsight, maybe the expansion was a mistake.

Editor's note: This story was updated from a previous version to correct an error regarding the new regulations referenced by Roberts. The Journal regrets the error.
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Friday, March 3, 2017

Supes to Discuss Threatened Public Defender Lawsuit Tuesday

Posted By on Fri, Mar 3, 2017 at 4:29 PM

  • Screenshot from the Lassen County Times digital archives
  • David Marcus
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors will convene in closed session Tuesday to discuss its newly hired public defender, whether he is qualified to hold his post and whether it should brave the threat of a lawsuit in order to keep him.

As we reported Wednesday, local attorney Patrik Griego sent the county a letter threatening litigation if it doesn’t prove that David Marcus is qualified to hold the position of public defender or remove him from it.

Marcus, who was appointed to the post Feb. 7 and started work Monday, has come under fire from members of the local defense bar who think the process used to hire him was tainted and are concerned about several aspects of Marcus’ resume. (Read more about this in past Journal coverage here.)

Now, Griego has raised the question of whether Marcus is legally qualified to hold the post. California Government Code Section 27701 holds that a person is not eligible to take the office of public defender unless he or she “has been a practicing attorney in all of the courts of the state for at least the year preceding” his or her appointment. As we’ve reported before, it’s not entirely clear what Marcus has been doing since leaving his position as Lassen County’s public defender in 2011. He has retained his active California bar license but has been living in Florida and apparently not practicing criminal law.

Despite numerous requests from the Journal, County Counsel Jeff Blanck has not returned calls seeking comment about Marcus’ qualifications or Griego’s threat. Griego declined to comment when contacted by the Journal today, but said earlier this week that if the county doesn’t show that Marcus is qualified or let him go, he intends to ask a Humboldt County judge to intercede and block the appointment.

Read more about Marcus and the threat of litigation in past Journal coverage here.

The issue appears on the supes' agenda as a conference with legal counsel regarding threatened litigation.
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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Wheetley Feted as Arcata Council Moves Forward With Appointment

Posted By on Thu, Mar 2, 2017 at 3:05 PM

  • City of Arcata
  • Wheetley
Now former Arcata Councilmember Mark Wheetley was sent off with a standing ovation and a proclamation honoring the volunteer soccer coach’s 12 years of elected public service at his last meeting on Wednesday.

Mayor Susan Ornelas read the accolades for the soon-to-be Fortuna city manager, which described Wheetley as an “easy to work with and level-headed councilmember” who acted as a “voice for families and a champion for Arcata youth.”

He was also lauded for his “deep knowledge of everything from CEQA to recreation” and for bringing “a thoughtful approach” to meeting Arcata’s needs during his time in office.

The council also voted to proceed with the application process recommended by staff to fill the remainder of Wheetley’s term, which runs 2018.

Wheetley said he always took his role on the council very seriously and thanked his fellow councilmembers — past and present — as well as the city’s residents.

“I am very honored to have been elected to four terms by the people of Arcata,” he said.

Wheetley also offered his appreciation to city staff, saying “all the great things that happen in Arcata are on the shoulders of the great staff we have here.”

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Eureka Rehabilitation and Wellness Center Fined $160,000 by State

Posted By on Wed, Mar 1, 2017 at 3:48 PM

David Brodsky with his mother, Marie White. - PHOTO BY LINDA STANSBERRY
  • Photo by Linda Stansberry
  • David Brodsky with his mother, Marie White.
Eureka Rehabilitation Center, one of the four skilled nursing facilities in Humboldt County owned by Brius Healthcare, was hit with eight fines yesterday at $20,000 each.
The facility, which was visited by state inspectors in December, has been dogged by allegations of understaffing and improper patient care. It was one of three facilities slated for closure last year as the Brius and its local administrative branch, Rockport Healthcare Services, negotiated for an increase in MediCal reimbursement rates with the region's distributor, Partnership Healthcare Services. Brius, a healthcare giant that has a virtual monopoly on skilled nursing care in Humboldt County, ended up closing only one of its facilities, Pacific Rehabilitation and Wellness Center.

The state's inspection seems to confirm that this facility was, despite the insistence of Brius representatives to the contrary, understaffed. The California Department of Public Health has not provided the Journal with a manifest of the incidents that led to the fines, but the incident codes associated with each penalty, as found on the website for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, reveal a pattern of poor patient care.

One $20,000 fine corresponds to a failure of the facility to provide the "necessary care for highest practicable well being," which means residents are not being cared for in accordance with a "comprehensive assessment and plan of care."

Another fine was levied due to the facility failing to meet federal guidelines for "sufficient staff to meet the needs of resident[s]." The facility was also found not to have "an appropriately functioning [Quality Assessment and Assurance] committee," according to the description of the violation code on the CMS website.

And Eureka Rehabilitation and Wellness Center was fined five separate times, at $20,000 each, under violation code F323, the statute that requires administrators "make sure that the nursing home area is free of dangers that cause accidents."

The son of a former patient at Eureka, David Brodsky, complained to the Journal last year that lack of adequate staff and an unsafe environment contributed to his mother's fall and her placement on hospice care in August 2016. He said he had spoke with the administration and lodged a complaint with the state, but the CDPH website says that none of the five fines for safety violations were associated with complaints, meaning that investigators may have independently found hazards at the facility unrelated to the complaints of Brodsky and others. The CDPH did substantiate five complaints at the facility in 2016 related to quality of patient care, violations of discharge and transfer rights and mental abuse.

Granada Rehabilitation and Wellness Center was also hit with state enforcement actions and has been asked to pay $4,000 for two separate incidents of failing to self-report abuse.

When the potential closures were first announced, the company blamed the high cost of bringing in registry nurses from out of the area for an alleged fiscal shortfall of $5 million. The company insisted that without a hike in reimbursements, it could not pay a competitive wage that would attract qualified staff in Humboldt County, where there is a shortage of nursing personnel. The company also blamed the region's marijuana industry for diverting staff away from its facilities.

On Sept. 8, Vincent Hambright, Rockport's CEO, told a group of worried seniors and their family members at Eureka Rehabilitation and Wellness Center that, should they have to leave the facility they had come to think of as home, the company would do  everything in its power to make them comfortable and see them properly accommodated. Advocates argued that the threat of closure was a venal power move by the company, one that would endanger the lives of hundreds of current and future patients who would have to travel hundreds of miles out of the area to find skilled nursing beds. Hambright insisted the company was suffering an unsustainable loss due to importing staff. When family members and patients insisted that the facility was understaffed despite this expense, citing conversations with overworked nursing assistants and problems with improper wound care, Hambright shot back that this was absolutely untrue.

But one former staff member at Eureka Rehabilitation and Wellness Center called its understaffing "a nightmare," and said patients were "covered in feces" and suffering falls, especially during the night. And the company's own financial records revealed that, collectively, the five Humboldt facilities sent close to $5 million back into the coffers of companies owned or associated with its owner, Los Angeles-based billionaire Shlomo Rechnitz.

According to research conducted by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, financial penalties do not seem to be a significant motivator for facilities to improve care. Many fines are whittled down to a smaller number in litigation or dismissed entirely. Medicaid covers the cost for skilled nursing facility chains to challenge fees in court, according to advocates, which creates a disincentive for the state to pursue litigation.

The NUHW's research revealed that in the past three years, the state dismissed $23,000 of the $60,000 in penalties levied against Brius holdings in Humboldt County. According to a report In 2014  the company that brought in $77 million in profits from its California facilities, according to a report filed with the California Attorney General's Office.

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Attorney to County: If New Public Defender is Qualified, Prove it or Face Lawsuit

Posted By on Wed, Mar 1, 2017 at 1:17 PM

  • Thinkstock
A local attorney is threatening legal action if the county of Humboldt doesn’t remove newly hired Public Defender David Marcus from his post or prove that he’s qualified to hold it.

After a controversial hiring process, the Board of Supervisors appointed Marcus to the post Feb. 7 and his first day on the job was Monday. But on Tuesday, local attorney Patrik Griego, of the firm Janssen and Malloy, hand delivered a letter to county counsel’s office alerting it to the fact that Marcus’ hire may have violated California Government Code Section 27701, which lays out the minimum qualifications for a public defender in the state.

The Journal emailed County Counsel Jeff Blanck about the code section as it relates to Marcus’ hire on Friday afternoon and then followed up with phone calls Friday, Monday and Tuesday but has so far received no response.

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