Friday, May 19, 2017

Lawson's Mom Announces $10K Reward, Issues Emotional Plea to Witnesses

Posted By on Fri, May 19, 2017 at 7:33 AM

Michelle Chermaine Lawson issues an emotional plea for anyone who may have information about her son's death to come forward. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Michelle Chermaine Lawson issues an emotional plea for anyone who may have information about her son's death to come forward.
The mother of slain Humboldt State University sophomore David Josiah Lawson stood on the campus quad yesterday afternoon and announced a $10,000 award for information leading to the arrest and conviction of her son’s killer and issued an impassioned plea for witnesses to come forward.

Flanked by family, Arcata Police Chief Tom Chapman and a couple of her son’s friends, Michelle Chermaine Lawson told the story of what she was doing when she received word her son had been fatally stabbed at an Arcata house party.

“On April 15, I received a phone call from my son’s cell phone at 3:36 in the morning,” she said. “I answered the phone by saying, ‘DJ, What’s wrong?’”

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Ocean View Cemetery Workers Accused of Golfing on Graves

Posted By on Thu, May 18, 2017 at 11:40 AM

Ocean View Cemetery - FILE
  • File
  • Ocean View Cemetery
A video of what appears to be maintenance workers golfing in the veteran's section of Ocean View Cemetery has stirred up some controversy.

The Newtons, a vlogging family whose YouTube channel features stories of dog rescues, vegetarian cooking and kids' Christmas hauls, all here in Humboldt County, uploaded the video on May 17. In it, two men can be seen carrying golf clubs. When the Newtons' car rounds the corner, the men hustle off a grassy knoll to a waiting maintenance truck.

Reached for comment, cemetery administrator Don McCombs gave the following statement:

"We are appalled, we are looking into it and we will take appropriate action up to and including terminating any employee involved at any time."

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

$5M Awarded for Last Chance Grade Studies

Posted By on Wed, May 17, 2017 at 4:03 PM

A tractor trailer passes one of the retaining walls on the grade. - PHOTO BY MARK MCKENNA
  • Photo by Mark McKenna
  • A tractor trailer passes one of the retaining walls on the grade.
The California Transportation Commission has allocated $5 million to fund the environmental and geotechnical studies needed to build an alternative route around Last Chance Grade, the long-failing portion of U.S. Highway 101 just south of Crescent City.

The offices of Congressman Jared Huffman and state Sen. Mike McGuire announced the development today, the first step in what is expected to be a lengthy planning and construction process that currently has an estimated completion date of 2039.

“I thank the California Transportation Commission for recognizing the importance of finding a long-term and durable solution for Last Chance Grade and for providing the much-needed support to move this process forward,” Huffman states in the release.

The 3-mile stretch of highway, which has shifted 50 feet since 1937, has been plagued by landslides since the first wagon road was cut there more than 120 years ago.

“Due in part to the support of the community, lawmakers, and stakeholder groups, Caltrans is now a step closer in the development of a long-term solution at Last Chance Grade,” Caltrans District 1 Director Matt Brady states in the announcement from Huffman’s office.

There are currently six proposed alternative routes for the vital link between Crescent City and points south, with price tags ranging from $300 million to $1 billion. Each one comes with its own set of major obstacles, including old growth redwoods, challenging terrain and sites of cultural significance to local tribes.

Read previous North Coast Journal coverage of the challenges facing the project here and here.

Read the full release from Congressman Jared Huffman's office below:
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) today announced that the California Transportation Commission (CTC) has awarded $5 million in funding for Last Chance Grade, the slide-prone stretch of U.S. Highway 101 between Klamath and Crescent City.

“Resolving the issues at Last Chance Grade is vital both for my constituents’ safety and to keep California’s far North Coast connected to the greater region,” said Rep. Huffman. “I thank the California Transportation Commission for recognizing the importance of finding a long-term and durable solution for Last Chance Grade and for providing the much-needed support to move this process forward.”

“Due in part to the support of the community, lawmakers, and stakeholder groups, Caltrans is now a step closer in the development of a long-term solution at Last Chance Grade,” said Caltrans District 1 Director, Matt Brady. “While this amount is not enough to complete all of the studies required, it is positive movement towards developing a project that meets everyone’s needs.”

Earlier this month, Rep. Huffman was joined by Assemblyman Jim Wood and Senator Mike McGuire in sending a letter to the CTC supporting Caltrans’ request for funding.

This letter was accompanied by dozens of additional support letters from local governments, tribes, environmental groups, landowners, businesses and transportation interests who rely on the integrity of this stretch of the highway.

The funding will allow Caltrans to begin conducting the necessary environmental and geotechnical investigations of potential alignments of the highway around Last Chance Grade. This is a critical step to protecting the safety and economy of Del Norte County and the people and commerce that travel U.S. Highway 101.

Read the release from state Sen. Mike McGuire's office below:
Sacramento, CA – The California Transportation Commission voted today to approve $5 million for initial environmental work related to the permanent solution for Last Chance Grade. Senator McGuire, Assemblymember Wood and Congressman Huffman have been fighting for these funds for the past many months.

“Advancing a permanent solution – moving the Last Chance Grade off of the coast and constructing an inland route – is a top priority to all of us,” Senator McGuire said. “This has been a team effort with Congressman Huffman, Assemblymember Wood and Caltrans to advance these funds which will kick off the process to evaluate alternative proposed routes for Last Chance Grade and we are excited that after decades of work, we are finally taking steps to make a permanent fix.”

Assemblymember Wood, Senator McGuire and Congressman Huffman have been working closely with Del Norte County Supervisors, Crescent City leaders and state transportation officials, and earlier this year hosted on-site meetings at the Last Chance Grade after portions of the highway collapsed, closing and damaging the road.

“It’s unacceptable that it has taken decades to get Del Norte County residents a safe and reliable highway, and it’s our top priority to get this permanent solution moving,” Senator McGuire said.

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Eureka Woman, 31, Dies in Jail

Posted By on Wed, May 17, 2017 at 2:08 PM

The Humboldt County Jail. - FILE
  • File
  • The Humboldt County Jail.
A 31-year-old Eureka woman died in custody at the Humboldt County jail Monday night after she was found not breathing in her cell during a security check.

Erica Ekker was housed alone in the maximum security female unit when she was discovered, according to a press release from the Humboldt County Sheriff''s Office. Medical staff performed medical aid until emergency responders arrived but Ekker was pronounced dead 15 minutes later.

Sheriff's office public information officer Stacy Hanson said Ekker had been in custody since May 3 after being arrested on suspicion of making criminal threats. The multi-agency Humboldt County Critical Incident Response Team is investigating Ekker's death.

Read the full sheriff's office release below:
On Monday, May 15, 2017 at about 2115 hours a Correctional Deputy in the Humboldt County Correctional Facility was conducting a security check of the maximum security female unit when she discovered an inmate, who was housed alone, in their cell that appeared to be not breathing. Facility medical staff and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) were immediately requested. Facility medical staff arrived on scene and along with Correctional staff began life saving measures. EMS arrived on scene and continued life saving measures but those measures were unsuccessful and the inmate was pronounced dead at 2130 hours by EMS on scene. The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office Coroner Division responded to the scene and took possession of the deceased. Notification of next of kin was completed by the Coroner’s Office. The inmate was identified as 31 year old Erica Ekker of Eureka. The Humboldt County Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) responded to the Correctional Facility and are currently conducting an investigation.

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Monday, May 15, 2017

One of Petrolia's Zebras Fatally Shot

Posted By on Mon, May 15, 2017 at 5:05 PM

  • Carrie Peyton Dahlberg
The Humboldt County Sheriff's Office is investigating the shooting of one of the three famed zebras that lives on Mattole Road near Petrolia.

Sheriff William Honsal said his office received a report of the shooting Saturday morning, saying it appears someone used a small caliber rifle to fatally shoot the zebra sometime during the preceding night. He said the animal's owner went out to the pasture Saturday morning to find the animal lying down and, upon closer inspection, found a single bullet hole.

"It is currently being investigated," Honsal said, urging anyone with information to call the sheriff's office at 445-7251 or the crime tip line at 268-2539.

The zebra — known as "Randy" — is one of three that have long delighted passersby on  the Lost Coast. According to our coverage in 2013, the animals were then owned by fashion designers based in Los Angeles but were being cared for by a father and son team, Luis Juarez Sr. and Jr., who made the drive from Ferndale several days a week to feed the animals and put them in at night. The animals reported came to the Lost Coast by way of a zebra ranch in Oroville.

Honsal said his office will issue a full press release in the morning. We'll update this post with more information as we receive it.
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Pilot of Airplane that Crashed in Eel River Identified

Posted By on Mon, May 15, 2017 at 4:16 PM

Rex Whitlow, with his wife, Tracy. - PHOTO BY HEIDI WALTERS
  • Photo by Heidi Walters
  • Rex Whitlow, with his wife, Tracy.
The remains of an ultra-light aircraft pilot that went down May 4 into the main fork of the Eel River have been recovered and identified as those of 61-year-old Rex Whitlow.

According to a press release from the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office, Whitlow's body was located at about 2 p.m. yesterday by family friends who were searching the area. For more, see the full press release below and see a past Journal story about McCann, which counted Whitlow as a lifelong resident, here.

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DA: Officers 'Acted Lawfully' in Fatal McKinleyville Standoff Shooting

Posted By on Mon, May 15, 2017 at 3:44 PM

Sheriff Mike Downey recounts the events of the standoff  at a press conference. - LINDA STANSBERRY
  • Linda Stansberry
  • Sheriff Mike Downey recounts the events of the standoff at a press conference.
District Attorney Maggie Fleming found officers “acted lawfully” when they fatally shot a McKinleyville man after a lengthy standoff at an apartment complex in August.

David Alan Fulton, 59, who had a history of mental health issues, was killed about 2 a.m. after emerging from his flame-engulfed apartment and firing rounds at SWAT team members, some 17 hours after law enforcement was first called to the scene.

The standoff saw the evacuation of surrounding neighborhoods and a backup SWAT team dispatched from Mendocino County. Crisis negotiators were unable to talk Fulton into surrendering. While the DA's release did not name the officers involved, the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office in August identified Humboldt County deputy James Mowrey as the officer who exchanged gunfire with Fulton shortly after 9 a.m. on Aug. 17.

The office identified those involved with the fatal encounter as Lt. Jason Caudillo, Sgt. Joseph Comer, deputy Ze Manuel Lima and deputy Corey Bender, all from the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, and Ukiah police officer Jason Chapman.

“Unfortunately, the peaceful end to the incident well-sought by law enforcement was prevented by Mr.
Fulton’s violent actions,” the District Attorney’s Office press release states. “District Attorney Maggie
Fleming contacted Mr. Fulton’s mother, expressed her deep regret for her loss and notified her of this decision.”

Read the full release below:
District Attorney Maggie Fleming has concluded her review of the fatal officer-involved shooting in McKinleyville on August 18, 2016.
On Wednesday, August 17, 2016, at about 9 a.m., the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) Communications Center received a 911 call from the area of 1770 Sutter Road, Redwood Creek Apartments, McKinleyville. The caller reported multiple gunshots within the apartment complex. Responding HCSO deputies learned that a disgruntled tenant, David Fulton, had fired a rifle across the interior parking lot at the manager’s office. Mr. Fulton was known to on-site management to have “long term mental health issues” and had telephoned numerous threats to them that morning. As HCSO deputies arrived, Mr. Fulton fired additional gunshots. One of the deputies returned fire. Mr. Fulton was not hit but retreated back inside his upstairs apartment. He remained there despite directions to exit the building from the law enforcement officers who surrounded the building. The officers learned Mr. Fulton’s female companion was also inside the apartment.

The HCSO set up a command post near the scene and secured a perimeter with the assistance of other agencies. HCSO Captain Thompson requested the assistance of the Humboldt County SWAT team. An additional SWAT team from Mendocino County was also summoned. SWAT team members began evacuating neighbors around 11 a.m. Crisis negotiators and Humboldt County mental health personnel were also on scene by 11 a.m.
Mental health personnel assisted and advised the crisis negotiation team who used a public address system to make numerous attempts to coax Mr. Fulton into coming out of his apartment and surrendering. He could be heard shouting unintelligibly, but he refused to come out. At about 1 a.m. – nearly 14 hours after law enforcement were called to the scene - Mr. Fulton fired additional shots. SWAT personnel used a light/sound distraction device to break out the front window. About 20 minutes later, Mr. Fulton’s female companion emerged from the apartment unharmed. Mr. Fulton fired more shots and the surrounding officers saw a fire growing inside the apartment. At about 2 a.m. Mr. Fulton emerged from the apartment as it became engulfed in flames, firing his rifle at the SWAT team members, striking their vehicle. They returned fire, killing him.

The Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) investigated the fatal shooting and the events leading up to it. (The CIRT team is composed of law enforcement personnel from other county law enforcement agencies and investigators from the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office.) In this case they were assisted by forensic scientists from the California Department of Justice and Humboldt County Fire/Arson Investigators. CIRT investigators conducted extensive recorded interviews of participants and observers of the incident and supervised the collection of physical evidence. Although the exact cause of the fire could not be determined the light/sound distraction device, electrical and natural gas appliances were all eliminated as causing the fire. The autopsy on Mr. Fulton revealed injuries from the fire and gunshot wounds consistent with the reports of the witnesses. Toxicological analyses showed he had taken two different prescription psychotropic drugs prior to the incident.

In the course of their duties, law enforcement officers may use deadly force in response to deadly force used or threatened against them. District Attorney Fleming’s review of the investigative reports on this case leads her to conclude the officers acted lawfully. Unfortunately, the peaceful end to the incident well-sought by law enforcement was prevented by Mr. Fulton’s violent actions. District Attorney Maggie Fleming contacted Mr. Fulton’s mother, expressed her deep regret for her loss and notified her of this decision.

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

UPDATED: More Parks for Eureka?

Posted By on Sun, May 14, 2017 at 8:20 AM

Harvey II, member of the Eureka-Kamisu Sister City Association, poses with the redwoods planted by Kamisu officials. - HOLLY HARVEY
  • Holly Harvey
  • Harvey II, member of the Eureka-Kamisu Sister City Association, poses with the redwoods planted by Kamisu officials.


Miles Slattery reached out to the Journal to clarify on a couple of points, first emphasizing that turning the landscaped areas into parks would not increase his staff’s workload. He also said there has been a miscommunication between the Kamisu City representatives and the Sister City Association.

“We were originally told they wanted to provide 100 trees by members of the Association,” said Slattery in an email. “However in discussion with Kamisu City representatives, this is not the case. We originally proposed around 40 trees to their representative. They felt that was too big of a project. After many back and forth emails discussing various options, they committed to a minimum of five trees depending on what the proposed pocket park will accommodate. We are working to see how many trees the proposed area will accommodate and will be working with them on securing the trees. They are planning on a late January early February 2018 visit to Eureka to plant the trees.”


Next Tuesday the Eureka City Council will vote on whether to create two more parks in the city — "pocket" parks designed to occupy existing landscaped areas. The tiny parks, one at Fourth and Q streets, and the other at Broadway and Fairfield, would serve a spectrum of needs.

The Fourth and Q streets location would become a small cherry blossom orchard, honoring Eureka's sister city, Kamisu, Japan. Kamisu, which has its own small redwood forest in honor of Eureka, offered to donate the 100 trees several years ago but, according to the Eureka-Kamisu Sister City Association, no appropriate location had been found. The 4,000 square foot triangle at Broadway and Fairfield Street would rechristened Coast Guard Park, commemorating Eureka's status as a Coast Guard City.

According to the language in the agenda item, "Eureka is one of only 21 cities designated by Congress as Coast Guard Cities, and the first of only three cities in California to receive the distinction."

Eureka Parks and Recreation Director Miles Slattery has said in the past that the current parks budget is inadequate to properly maintain existing properties, which include 600 acres of space spread across 13 parks, nine playgrounds and six ball fields, as well as all landscaped areas around city properties. So why would adding cherry trees and a sign honoring the Coast Guard be a boon rather than a burden for Parks and Rec?

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Locally Delicious Guidebook Drops

Posted By on Thu, May 11, 2017 at 4:55 PM

  • Local Food Guide cover

The mantra of "eat local," isn’t just hipster folly — it's a critically important act of resistance against the corporate takeover of our diets, our bodies and our health. A dollar spent on local, sustainably grown food supports family-owned farms, reduces petrol dependency, can reduce the chemical contamination of your food and reinvests your money in the North Coast economy. Still, whether it’s fighting the convenience of living five minutes from Safeway or not finding cash in the budget for the farmer’s market, the challenge of eating local is real.

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Kitchen Held For Trial in DUI Manslaughter Case

Posted By on Thu, May 11, 2017 at 1:48 PM

Marcia Kitchen's booking photo.
  • Marcia Kitchen's booking photo.
Humboldt County Superior Court Judge John Feeney ruled yesterday that there is sufficient evidence to hold Marci Kitchen to stand trial on manslaughter charges stemming from allegations that she was driving drunk when she hit and killed her daughter and another girl in July.

Kitchen was held to answer on charges of vehicular manslaughter and DUI causing death, as well as a special allegation that she fled the scene. Kitchen was arrested in September following a months-long investigation into the July 12 crash that left her daughter, 14-year-old Kiya Kitchen, and her friend, Faith Tsarnas, also 14, dead.

Feeney’s ruling came after two and a half days of seemingly gut-wrenching testimony from investigating officers and Kitchen’s son. Both the Times-Standard and Lost Coast Outpost covered the hearings daily.

Kitchen remains free after posting $750,000 bail.

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