Saturday, November 12, 2016

UPDATED: Police Chief: Fortuna High School Narrowly Escaped 'Terrible Tragedy'

Posted By on Sat, Nov 12, 2016 at 7:23 PM

The Fortuna Police Department sent out a press release this evening stating that it has investigated additional reports of violent social media threats since Thursday and found them not to be credible.

Since officials thwarted two students’ alleged plans to set off numerous homemade chemical bombs during an all-school assembly Thursday, FPD has been working with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office on the case, according to a press release. Additionally, there will be a “strong law enforcement presence” at the school Monday as a precaution and to help “allay any fears that students, staff and parents may have following Thursday’s arrests.

See the full press release copied at the bottom of this post.

According to Police Chief Bill Dobberstein, three short hours is all that stood between Fortuna High School and tragedy.

Fortuna police announced last night that they had arrested two male 15-year-old students at the school who had been planning a “mass casualty event” to take place during an all-school rally on campus yesterday afternoon.

“It could have been a terrible tragedy if that rally would have taken place,” Dobberstein told the Journal this morning. “The whole school was going to be there for this thing.”

The police chief said word of the plot — which the suspects had been planning for some time — came to school administrators’ attention around noon yesterday. Dobberstein said one of the suspects in the case had apparently texted a friend, telling him or her to “basically stay out of the gym during the rally.” The friend then told another student, who told another student, who told his or her mother, who called another mother who ultimately called the school and made them aware of the warning, according to Dobberstein.

Fortuna High School Principal Clinton Duey was then able to trace the origins of the warning back to one of the suspects, and brought him into his office. Duey was able to get the other suspect's name, Dobberstein said, and brought him into the office as well, holding both suspects there while he called police.

Dobberstein said his department was notified of the situation at about 1:15 p.m. and responded immediately to the school. “It was literally about an hour before the school was scheduled to go to the rally,” Dobberstein said.

The chief said officers searched the students and, in one of their backpacks, found “several components for making some kind of toxic chemical gas explosion devices.” The students were missing a “key ingredient,” Dobberstein said, but police believe they had the missing chemical stashed somewhere on campus, based on witness statements and messages found on the suspects’ phones, tablets or computers. It appears the suspects were planning on making multiple explosive devices with a substance akin to homemade mustard gas, or sulfur mustard, a chemical agent that causes severe burning of the skin, eyes and respiratory system.

“Absolutely more than one,” the chief said. “They had enough material to definitely make more than one.”

Dobberstein said investigators will be serving search warrants today, including one to gain access to “electronic messaging devices” used by the suspects. But the chief said that based on what police have accessed thus far, it appears the suspects may have been planning a mass casualty event for some time and targeting “when there was going to be a large gathering of students and teachers in one place.”

So far, police don’t have any reason to believe anyone else was involved in the plot, Dobberstein said, but can’t rule out the possibility. Both suspects were arrested yesterday and booked into juvenile hall.

As to a motive for the thwarted attack, Dobberstein said many have been “thrown around, but we couldn’t say with certainty what the motive was at all.” The chief said he doesn’t believe either of the suspects had a lot of prior police contact, but otherwise wouldn’t comment on the boys. He also said it doesn't appear either of the suspects had access to other weapons.

Fortuna High School administrators didn't immediately respond to messages this morning.

The case remains under investigation by the Fortuna Police and the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office, and police ask anyone with information to contact the police department at 725-7550.

Dobberstein commended the response of students and parents who relayed information, and of administrators who quickly identified and detained the suspects.

See the full press release from FPD copied below:

Fortuna Police Investigate threat to Fortuna High School

On November 10, 2016 at about 1:15 PM the Fortuna Police Department responded to the Fortuna High School for a report of a threat to student safety.

Officers contacted two 15 year-old students that had been detained by high school staff. Officers learned the two juveniles were communicating with each other, planning a mass casualty event that was to take place at a rally at FUHS later in the afternoon. Officers located some components for making an explosive device, however incomplete, in the possession of one of the juveniles. Evidence and items located on the juveniles indicated the threat was very serious in nature.

The two juveniles were taken into police custody and later transported to Juvenile Hall. The Fortuna Police Department is working this investigation with investigators from the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office. This is a very active investigation with multiple locations being searched.

The Fortuna Police Department asks the public for any information and assistance in this case. Anyone with any information is asked to contact the Fortuna Police Department at (707) 725-7550.

From FPD Saturday:

Fortuna High School threats case update

The Fortuna Police Department is continuing our investigation on the threats reported to us on Thursday afternoon, involving two students who reportedly had the intention to commit an act, or acts of mass violence at Fortuna High School’s Pep Rally, scheduled for that afternoon.

Both individuals were arrested, and found to have items in their possession which lent credibility to those threats.

We have also become aware of further allegations of planned violence on social media by other individuals. These allegations and reports are being taken very seriously and have been followed up by investigating officers. These allegations have been found to not be credible.

However, our department continues to work closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Attorney’s office on this investigation.

As an added precaution, there will be a strong law enforcement presence at the High School on Monday to help allay any fears that students, staff and parents may have following Thursday’s arrests.

As more information becomes available to us as result of this investigation, we will provide pertinent facts to help dispel any unfounded rumors being circulated on social media and by other means.

We ask that citizens call the department, at 725-7550, with any information that they may have regarding Thursday’s incident, or any rumors regarding any threats to students or other citizens.

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Anger, Song and a Group Hug at Arcata's Anti-Trump Protest

Posted By on Sat, Nov 12, 2016 at 5:28 PM

Julie Shonkwiler, a Humboldt State University senior and psychology major, left, and Brianna Jensen, also a senior and psych major at HSU, held signs during an anti-Trump demonstration at the Arcata Plaza on Friday. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Julie Shonkwiler, a Humboldt State University senior and psychology major, left, and Brianna Jensen, also a senior and psych major at HSU, held signs during an anti-Trump demonstration at the Arcata Plaza on Friday.
More than 200 people gathered Friday afternoon to march from the Humboldt State University Campus down to the Arcata Plaza and back, decrying the election of Donald Trump as the nation's next president.

The protest remained peaceful throughout, as emotional participants chanted, yelled and sang. Once the march reached the Arcata Plaza, participants gathered around the McKinley statue as about a dozen speakers passed around a megaphone and took turns addressing the crowd, denouncing Trump and the American political system, and urging people to engage and make change.

Many of the participants were HSU and Arcata High School students, though a swath of the local non-student community also participated. As the crowd marched toward the Plaza, temporarily halting traffic on H Street, a Trump supporter found himself stranded in his pickup truck as the crowd passed. He applauded the protest and reminded participants that America is a democracy and that Trump will become president Jan. 20, no matter how many "Not My President" signs are waved. Some marchers jeered the man but the march passed without any real confrontation.

Once the protest returned to HSU, organizer Emily Lynn addressed the crowd, saying the protest took her from feeling helpless to empowered. "What I've learned today is that the people really are more powerful than our government," she said.

Local photographer Mark McKenna was on scene throughout the protest, which culminated in a group hug on the HSU campus, and shares the following slideshow. (Check out his photos from Thursday's protest in Eureka here.)

If you feel strongly one way or another about Trump's election, the Journal urges you to participate in our 45 for 45 dialogue, details of which can be found here.

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Friday, November 11, 2016

45 for 45: A Call for Letters

Posted By on Fri, Nov 11, 2016 at 3:21 PM

A pro-Trump counter protester at the Old Town gazebo on Thursday evening. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • A pro-Trump counter protester at the Old Town gazebo on Thursday evening.
Anger. Vindication. Fear. Hope. Despair. A flood of emotion has washed over the country in the wake of Donald J. Trump’s stunning Nov. 8 upset to become the president-elect following one of the most divisive presidential contests in generations. In the face of this historic event, and the turmoil that’s followed, we want to hear from you, Humboldt. Or, more accurately, we want the president-elect to hear from you. So we’re asking readers to send us letters of 45 words or less addressed to the incoming 45th president of the United States. Send submission to by 9 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 14.
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Eureka's Anti-Trump Protest 'Passionate but Peaceful'

Posted By on Fri, Nov 11, 2016 at 1:01 PM

Ernesto Najera holds a sign at Thursday night's protest.
  • Ernesto Najera holds a sign at Thursday night's protest.
A couple hundred people took to the streets of Eureka on Thursday night to decry the election of Donald J. Trump in a protest Police Capt. Steve Watson called "passionate but peaceful."

Protesters gathered at the Old Town Gazebo, marched up to the Humboldt County Courthouse and back over the course of a couple of hours. Watson said that at one point protesters flooded Fifth Street, and there were a couple of near misses with passing vehicles. A total of about seven officers were on hand to help control traffic and make sure things didn't get out of hand, Watson said, adding that there were ultimately no reports of vandalism or assaults. At one point, a few Trump supporters arrived in Old Town for a counter protest, Watson said, which escalated tensions briefly but ultimately led to dialogue between the two groups.

"This is democracy in action and we'll do everything we can — always — to protect people's constitutional rights to assemble and speak their piece," Watson said. "The one thing that we always ask is that they keep it peaceful. It's a passionate issue on both sides. The country is obviously divided and people feel deeply. But if we truly respect the democratic process, there has to be some attempt for unity."

Continue reading »

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Thursday, November 10, 2016

UPDATED: Brius Rescinds Cancellation of Partnership Contract, Halts Closure of Two Skilled Nursing Facilities

Posted By on Thu, Nov 10, 2016 at 4:59 PM

A recent protest in front of Partnership Healthcare. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • A recent protest in front of Partnership Healthcare.
UPDATE: Partnership Healthcare announced yesterday in a press release that Rockport had rescinded letters terminating its contract with the MediCal administrator, meaning that patients in the facilities, or entering the facilities via the hospital, will not have to have their coverage re-negotiated.

“We are happy that a larger closure was avoided and that our fragile members in these facilities will not be forced out of their home communities.” said Liz Gibboney, CEO of Partnership. “We will continue to put our members first and work to ensure they receive high-quality care.”

The press release adds that "PHC is exploring non-institutional long-term-care options for its members, including PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly), Home Health programs, and similar services."


Brius Healthcare announced today that two of the three skilled nursing facilities slated to close — Eureka and Seaview Rehabilitation and Wellness Centers — will remain open. In a statement emailed to local news outlets, Brius owner Shlomo Rechnitz said his company anticipates a continued financial loss due to staffing costs. To mitigate that loss, it "will be establishing a charity foundation in Humboldt County for the care and treatment of the elderly to directly fund these losses."

The Journal has reached out to Brius's spokesperson, Stefan Friedman, for more details on the foundation as it is not immediately clear whether Rechnitz will be directly funding it or setting up the foundation and soliciting donations from community members. We will update when there is more information.

The path to fiscal clarity for the facilities — which allege a $5 million loss due to staffing costs yet pays money back to Rechnitz in the form of lease agreements and other related party expenses — is even less clear as sources say Brius has also cancelled its agreement with Partnership Healthcare, the region's MediCal provider. The two entities have been negotiating over the reimbursement rate for the last five months, waging a bitter public relations war. Partnership has stated it is reimbursing the facilities at more than the state-mandated rate — and more than the state average — and encouraged Brius to "look internally" to address financial issues.

Robert Layne, spokesperson for Partnership, confirmed today that Brius has cancelled its contracts with Partnership for all five facilities, effective Dec. 23. MediCal patients entering the facilities from the hospital may have their entry delayed as their reimbursement is negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

Rechnitz's statement again put the onus on Partnership, saying, "We won’t be a part of patients being forced to move 300 miles away simply because the system fails to appropriately pay for their healthcare."

The Journal has also received confirmation and supporting documentation from the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform that Rockport Healthcare, the administrative company for Brius's Humboldt holdings, is recruiting patients and family members to bring suit against Partnership, although Layne said Partnership has not yet received notification of a lawsuit.

In a phonecall to the Journal, State Senator Mike McGuire said he appreciated “Rockport coming to the same reality” as those who fought to keep the facilities opened. But he also said the threat of closure was a manufactured crisis and “extortion.” McGuire he believed the entire situation was “grandstanding” meant to negotiate a higher rate.

“Bullying does not work in Humboldt County,” McGuire added. “We are going to continue to monitor the situation.”

Editor's Note: This blog has been updated from a previous version to clarify that patients currently in the facilities will not experience a change in their contracts. Incoming patients will have their contracts negotiated on an individual basis.


Today, we informed the California Department of Public Health that we are rescinding our closure plans for Seaview Rehabilitation and Wellness Center and Eureka Rehabilitation and Wellness Center, and will only move forward with our closure plans at Pacific Rehabilitation and Wellness Center.

As a result of this request, no patients will need to be transferred out of the community. All patients at Pacific Rehabilitation and Wellness Center will be offered relocation at our other four local skilled nursing facilities.

It is important to understand how we got here, and how we have arrived at this decision.

Last year, our five skilled nursing facilities in Humboldt County began experiencing significant financial losses due to the lack of available health care workers in Humboldt County and the lack of adequate reimbursement.

To help drive recruitment, we raised salaries in November 2015 and January 2016, but our losses only multiplied. Five months ago, we approached all community stakeholders to seek solutions to the desperate problems of a staffing shortage that has negatively impacted not only us, but local hospitals and other healthcare providers throughout Humboldt County.

After months of searching for solutions and because the outlook for 2017 was more dire than 2016, we made the difficult decision to file closure plans for three of our local facilities. Despite efforts of some local officials and a local union to disparage us, we took efforts to work with everyone to ensure a safe and orderly transfer of our patients.

In the months since announcing these closures we have continued to attempt to work with others to come up with a different way out. However, it has become clear that the critical participants are not willing to do anything to solve these serious problems. After speaking at length with the patients, families and staff throughout Humboldt County, we have decided that despite the enormous financial difficulty that we will sustain as a result, there is no way we can close these facilities.

We won’t be a part of patients being forced to move 300 miles away simply because the system fails to appropriately pay for their healthcare.

In addition, as these facilities will continue to lose money, we will be establishing a charity foundation in Humboldt County for the care and treatment of the elderly to directly fund these losses. We will be working with local stakeholders to determine how we can better care for our elderly and ensure that they have the necessary care and services locally.

We appreciate the stakeholders that worked with us throughout this difficult process, and look forward to our continued work throughout Humboldt County.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Ballot Measures: P and V Cruise in Final Report

Posted By on Tue, Nov 8, 2016 at 9:08 PM

Humboldt County voters faced a total of 18 measures on their ballots. - FILE
  • FILE
  • Humboldt County voters faced a total of 18 measures on their ballots.

With the final election night report posted, measures seeking to bring a true ward voting system to Eureka and put mobile home parks located within unincorporated areas of the county under rent control have won handily. Other items of note: Humboldt voters passed school bonds everywhere but Ferndale; tax measures were successful other than Measure U, which sought to impose a countywide .5 percent sales tax to finance road repairs; and the proposed consolidation of the county Auditor-Controller's office with that of the Treasurer-Tax Collector was soundly defeated.

Scroll down to see the final election night tallies, and check out the full report here.

With the second round of local returns, it looks like measures P and V are holding strong. Scroll down for updated results, with 14.9 percent of precincts now reporting.

Taxes, bonds, true wards, rent control and more taxes — Humboldt ballots were stacked with local measures this election.

With roughly 15 percent of the vote in and zero precincts reporting, ballot measures to switch Eureka to a true ward voting system and stabilize rents in county mobile home parks are passing. Local tax measures are fairing well — save for Measure U, the countywide sales tax for transportation funding, which is currently trailing. And local school bond measures are doing well early on, with the exception of Ferndale's, which is trailing narrowly.

Here's the full rundown:

Continue reading »

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2nd UPDATE: Allison, Arcata Incumbents Secure Wins in Final Report

Posted By on Tue, Nov 8, 2016 at 9:07 PM

Austin Allison. - SUBMITTED
  • Submitted
  • Austin Allison.

The final election night reported has been posted with 100 percent of Humboldt County precincts reporting, and not much has changed with local contested city council races.

Austin Allison has bested John Fullerton in Eureka's 4th Ward, the Arcata incumbents have held their seats, incumbent Ferndale Mayor Don Hindley has won himself another term and Frank Wilson and Susan Strahan have secured victories in Rio Dell.

Check the full report here.

With the third report posted and 37.8 percent of Humboldt County precincts reporting, Austin Allison continues to widen his lead over John Fullerton in the race to become Eureka’s next 4th Ward council member. Allison has widened his lead to about 550 votes, and leads by more than 10 percentage points — 54 to 44.

Up in Arcata, meanwhile, the three incumbents — Susan Ornelas, Michael Winkler and Paul Pitino — continue to hold seemingly insurmountable leads over challengers Daniel Murphy and Valerie Rose-Campbell, with Ornelas leading the way with 28.52 percent of the vote.

Incumbent Don Hindley is dominating challenger Steve Nunes in the Ferndale mayoral race, taking 72.2 percent of the vote to Nunes’ 25.85 percent.

Farther south, an interesting race is taking shape in Rio Dell, where three candidates — Frank Wilson, Susan Strahan and Bryan K. Richter — are vying for two seats. Currently Strahan leads the pack with 37.65 percent of the vote, followed by Wilson with 32.01 percent and Richter with 29.1 percent.

1st UPDATE: Austin Allison expanded his lead in the 4th Ward race for a Eureka City Council seat with 53.94 percent of the vote to John Fullerton’s 45.68 percent in the second round of election results.

Allison said he had his “fingers crossed” and wanted to thank everyone involved in his campaign.

“I’m just so thankful for the community taking the time to vote for me and supporting my platform,” he said.

Fullerton said he was also waiting to see more numbers, including outstanding absentee ballots, and noted his 30-year commitment to serving the community will not change regardless of the results.

“I will continue to do that in the future,” he said.

Fullerton added that he believes Allison has “a lot to learn” about the city and its communities.

“I will be glad to get him up to speed if he wants my help,” Fullerton said.

Meanwhile, numbers for the remaining races stayed the same.

Austin Allison took an early lead in the race to represent Eureka’s 4th ward with 50.94 percent of the vote over fellow contender John Fullerton’s 48.61 percent in the city’s only contested council race this election.

While the two candidates showed little in the way of major differences on the main issues facing the city at debates, the campaign took on a certain new guard versus old guard air when it came what they brought to the dais.

Fullerton — an accountant and 40-year resident of Eureka — touted his experience as a business owner with a track record of civic service, including his appointments to the Humboldt County Budget Oversight Committee and the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Eureka general plan. He also se
John Fullerton. - FACEBOOK
  • Facebook
  • John Fullerton.
rved as an elected member of the Eureka City Schools board.

In contrast, Allison highlighted his young age — he’s 25 — and relatively newness to the city, having moved to Eureka in 2009, with the St. Joseph Hospital cardiac monitor technician and his supporters saying he would bring a fresh perspective, new energy and a positive outlook to the role.

The seat is currently held by Councilmember Melinda Ciarabellini, who decided not to run for reelection. Eureka Faith Center co-pastor Heidi Messner ran unopposed for the city’s 2nd Ward seat.

Over in Arcata, incumbents Michael Winkler, Susan Ornelas and Paul Pitino are looking likely to remain in their seats, garnering 28.48 percent, 27.88 percent, and 24.06 percent of the vote, respectively, to challengers Daniel Murphy, at 9.68 percent, and Valerie Rose-Campbell, at 9.33 percent.

Blue Lake incumbent Adelene Jones was ahead in the race for the three open council seats with 44.44 percent of the vote, with write-in candidates Barbara Ricca at 20 percent, Deborah Ann Jacobsen at 6.67 percent and Summer Daugherty at 20.56 percent.

The race for Ferndale’s mayor had incumbent Don Hindley at 72.20 percent, ahead of challenger Steve Nunes with 25.85 percent.

Rio Dell has three candidates going after two open council seats. Incumbent Frank Wilson was at 32.29 percent of the vote compared to challengers Bryan K. Richter, at 27.80 percent, and Susan Strahan at 39.01percent.

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Down Ballot Roundup: Huffman, Wood Sailing; Prop 64 is Humboldt Approved

Posted By on Tue, Nov 8, 2016 at 8:54 PM

  • FILE

With the final election night tallies in, 59 percent of voters in Humboldt County supported legalizing recreational marijuana possession, cultivation, use and sales, following suit with the rest of the state.

Click here to see how all the state propositions fared.

With more than 40 percent of the vote in, California seems poised to legalize recreational marijuana. Proposition 64 holds 55.6 percent of the vote statewide, and has garnered almost 60 percent of the Humboldt County vote.

Propositions to restrict firearm and ammunition sales, ease criminal sentencing and tax cigarettes are also leaping out to commanding leads. Meanwhile, Proposition 62, which seeks to repeal the death penalty, is trailing by nearly 10 points.

And it’s perhaps no surprise that our North Coast state and federal representatives — Congressman Jared Huffman and Assemblyman Jim Wood — seem poised to coast to re-election, both capturing more than 70 percent of the vote thus far. Scroll down for a link to the Secretary of State’s website, which can keep you posted on the propositions.

While Trump and Clinton have dominated headlines and airwaves for months, California’s 17 propositions — including ones to abolish the death penalty and legalize recreational marijuana — have been relegated to almost an afterthought, as have local down ballot races.

Based on early returns, it looks like our local North Coast state and federal representatives — Assemblyman Jim Wood and Congressman Jared Huffman — will cruise to re-election. Meanwhile, Proposition 64 — which would legalize recreational marijuana — has an  early statewide lead. (Read past coverage Journal here, and arguments for and against here and here, respectively.)

With 17 percent of state precincts reporting, Proposition 64 is garnering 55.4 percent of the vote. That lead is even stronger in Humboldt County's early vote, with almost 60 percent voting in favor of recreational legalization.

With 17 percent of precincts reporting, Huffman has jumped out to a strong lead over Republican challenger  Dale Mensing, taking 77.5 percent of the vote to Mensing's 22.5. Wood, meanwhile, holds a similar lead, having taken 75 percent of the vote over Libertarian challenger Ken Anton with 20 percent of precincts reporting. Both Huffman and Wood's leads are slightly narrower in Humboldt County, based on early vote tallies.

For up to the moment returns on state propositions, check out the Secretary of State’s website here. And, we’ll keep you updated as we can.

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Posted By on Tue, Nov 8, 2016 at 3:03 PM

Emily Lynn leaves the Veteran’s Memorial Building after casting her first ballot in a presidential election. According to poll worker Byrd Lochtie, there has been a line out the door since the polls opened.
  • Emily Lynn leaves the Veteran’s Memorial Building after casting her first ballot in a presidential election. According to poll worker Byrd Lochtie, there has been a line out the door since the polls opened.
It’s a stressful day, we get it. You’re spending the afternoon hovered over some kind of screen, watching pundits breathlessly report the first round of exit polls. And, you may be feeling the anxiety rise in your gut because you haven’t voted yet. Or maybe you voted by mail weeks ago but find yourself suddenly sure the system really is rigged and your vote will never be counted.

If either of those hypotheticals apply to you, relax, we’ve got you covered.

Local polls will remain open until 8 p.m., so you’ve got some time. Don’t know where your polling location is? This link will take care of you. Don’t know what’s on the ballot? Click here. Don’t know what to make of all those propositions? Check in with the folks over at If you need some added motivation, check out local poll worker Juanita Claybon's picture below for a visual pep talk about how fabulous voting can be.

And if it’s just that vote-by-mail ballot that’s filling you with doubt, you can check its status online. Just visit the Humboldt County Elections Office website at Click the Vote by Mail link on the left and scroll down to the Vote-by-Mail Ballot Status section and follow the instructions.

If neither of those situations apply and you’re still fraught with doubt and worry, there’s not much we can do for you other than to say we touched base with Kelly Sanders, Humboldt County’s registrar of voters, and she reports all is going smooth at this point.

Sanders says her office has gotten a few reports of some failed devices at the polls, but has been able to swap them out with backups in short order. There have been some reports of longer-than-usual lines at some polling locations, but Sanders said that’s probably due to a higher-than-usual turnout, coupled with a mammoth two-page ballot. “It’s a lot to go through,” she said.

The county should have its first results posted shortly after the polls close, Sanders said, noting that her office has about 12,000 early vote and mail-in ballots ready to go.

That's the best we can do to set your mind at ease, other than to say it'll all be over soon. Check back with us through the night for updates on local results.
Election worker Juanita Claybon was dressed to the nines on election day in Eureka. Claybon said it was her second time working the polls and that it was a lot of fun. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Election worker Juanita Claybon was dressed to the nines on election day in Eureka. Claybon said it was her second time working the polls and that it was a lot of fun.

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Close Call Leaves Mills with Lessons Learned

Posted By on Tue, Nov 8, 2016 at 12:04 PM

Mills in cooler days. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Mills in cooler days.
Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills has a PSA for would-be wave-watchers: "When they say don't go out on the jetty, don't go out on the jetty."

Mills was driving along the north jetty with his wife last Saturday when he decided to walk out on the jetty and take pictures of the large waves sweeping in due to an upper-level storm system. The National Weather Advisory had warned of 19 to 22 foot waves over the weekend, and advised people to "stay safe ... by staying farther back from the surf and off of rocks and jetties." It's a frequent warning on the North Coast, and one that sometimes goes unheeded to deadly consequence.

On Facebook, Mills quipped about his foolhardiness, "Big waves 22'+ they say. Stay off the jetty they say. I am smarter, faster and stronger than them, I say. My cellphone now sits at the bottom of the ocean along with the skin from my arms and knees. If you are trying to call or text me...sorry. Call tomorrow. For now the laughing squid who has my phone may answer."

In a phone interview today, Mills said that as an experienced surfer, he thought, like many, that he could judge the speed and trajectory of the waves and stay out of their reach, but in just a short time, "the waves got gigantic."

In seconds one crashed down on top of him, throwing him onto the cement.

"It treated me like a little tiny rag doll," he told the Journal, comparing the impact of being pushed against the rocks to a cheesegrater. "It's cement, wood, cement wood, like a cheesegrater. So, I thought, I’m going to get on top of the wall. That was a mistake. It pushed me off into the rocks. I held on my with my upper body and the next one came in and took me out."

Mills said a smaller person would definitely have been swept out to sea and killed. He managed to make it safely back onto the beach and to the car where his wife was waiting, although his phone was lost and a favorite shirt bloodied. He called the experience "humbling" and urges others to learn from his experience.

"The real thing is, compared to the power of nature, we are insignificant," he said. "Lots of lessons to be learned for Chief Mills."

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