Wednesday, April 4, 2018

UPDATE: Coroner's Office ID's Man Found in Trinity River

Posted By on Wed, Apr 4, 2018 at 1:44 PM

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UPDATE: The Humboldt County Sheriff's Office has positively identified the man as Russell Dean Graeber, 53, of Hoopa. His cause of death has been determined as freshwater drowning.

Previously (posted on Sept. 12, 2017):

The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office is looking for help in identifying a man whose body was found in the Trinity River near Hoopa on Monday but appears to have been in the water for one to three weeks.

The man, who is believed to be between 30 to 40 years old, does not match the description of anyone reported missing in or around the Trinity Valley area, according to a sheriff’s press release.

While there was no evidence of injury, an autopsy has been scheduled for later this week to determine a cause of death.

The man, who had short reddish-brown hair, a mustache and beard, was found wearing gray Avia brand shorts, a SKMEI brand wristwatch and Romeo boots. He was 6 feet tall.

Press releases from the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office:
On September 11, 2017, a male adult was found deceased in the Trinity River, Hoopa. The identity of the decedent is unknown at this time. Because of the condition of the body, fingerprints have not identified this decedent. It is estimated he was in the river for one to three weeks. No evidence of injury was seen. An autopsy is being scheduled for later this week to determine cause of death.
No known missing persons in the Trinity Valley match this decedent in either Humboldt or Trinity counties.
This decedent had short reddish brown hair and a well-kept short reddish brown moustache and beard. His age is estimated at 30 to forty years old. He is approximately 6’ 0” tall. His weight could not be estimated. When he was found, the decedent was wearing grey Avia brand short pants, and Romeo boots. He was wearing a SKMEI brand wristwatch.
Anyone with possible information regarding this investigation is encouraged to call Deputy Coroner Charles Van Buskirk at 707-268-3755.
The Humboldt County Coroner’s Office has identified the body found in the Trinity River last year in Hoopa.
On Sept. 11, 2017, at about 3:30 p.m., sheriff’s deputies responded to the Trinity River Bar, near the Hoopa Wildland Fire Department, for the report of a body found in the river. The decedent did not match any known missing persons in the Trinity Valley.
The Coroner’s Office has positively identified the body through DNA comparison as 53-year-old Russell Dean Graeber of Hoopa. Graeber’s cause of death has been determined as freshwater  drowning.
Anyone with information regarding this case is encouraged to call the Sheriff’s Office at (707) 445- 7251 or the Sheriff’s Office Crime Tip line at (707) 268- 2539.

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Saturday, September 30, 2017

No Apparent Link in Cases of Homeless Men Awaking to Flames

Posted By on Sat, Sep 30, 2017 at 11:37 AM

Arcata police are still trying to figure out who set the Sept. 16 fire at the Arcata Presbyterian Church and why. - THADEUS GREENSON
  • Thadeus Greenson
  • Arcata police are still trying to figure out who set the Sept. 16 fire at the Arcata Presbyterian Church and why.
The recent incidents set exactly one week apart in Arcata and Eureka appeared remarkably similar at first: Homeless men sleeping on the steps of a building waking up to flames. One was severely injured while the other managed to get out of his sleeping bag before getting burned.

Police department officials in the two cities say they immediately began investigating whether the cases were linked but evidence is showing key differences between the two. Most importantly, there was no sign of an accelerant or a broken container for a Molotov cocktail in the Sept. 23 fire at the Job Market building in Eureka near the jail, where the man escaped injury.

“I don't know if we will ever be able to conclusively 100 percent say it wasn't arson or targeted but the detective is leaning toward no at this time,” Eureka Police Chief Steve Watson said in an email to the Journal on Friday. “He did find and re-interview the man, who confirmed he didn't actually see what happened.”

Meanwhile, the 28-year-old Ohio man who was badly burned while sleeping on the steps of a historic Arcata church remains hospitalized.


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Friday, September 29, 2017

Few Answers in Death of 21-Year Old Omaha Resident

Posted By on Fri, Sep 29, 2017 at 12:07 PM

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Neither the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office nor the Garberville office of the California Highway Patrol has been willing to disclose details about the death of Drake Gammell, the 21 year old who was taken off life support Wednesday after being found with "major injuries" Sept. 24.

Gammell, who is from Omaha, Nebraska, was reported as being "down in the roadway" on the Avenue of the Giants about a mile north of Philipsville, in Southern Humboldt, shortly after 1 a.m. on Sept. 24. The driver of a vehicle at the scene, Chelsea Leanne Cookston, was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol but was released on her own recognizance later that morning. She has so far not been charged in the case, according to Humboldt County Superior Court records.

Neither the HCSO or the CHP would answer Journal questions about how Gammell sustained his injuries. An autopsy was conducted, and the sheriff's office's investigation is ongoing. Garberville CHP officer William Wonderlich said his agency's involvement was limited to arresting Cookston under suspicion of DUI.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Pride on the Plaza

Posted By on Tue, Sep 26, 2017 at 10:26 AM

The annual parade rebooted under Redwood Pride's banner. - PHOTO BY MARK LARSON
  • Photo by Mark Larson
  • The annual parade rebooted under Redwood Pride's banner.

Pride Week 2017 ended on Sunday with the Pride Parade around the Arcata Plaza, followed by a program of remembrance, music, drag lip-sync, scheduled speakers and open mic opportunities for anyone in attendance. Several vendors provided a wide mix of information, food and activities. See the slideshow below for highlights.

While the number of participants in the Pride Parade organized by the ersatz Redwood Pride group seemed to be lower in number than in the past, the day went by without any apparent counter-protest, despite the controversies surrounding last year's event in Eureka and the dissolution of the board of Humboldt Pride. Instead, there was only minor distraction from the loud cheers of football fans in the Sidelines bar.

Grand marshals for the parade were the Raven Project queer coffee house and the late Dave Robles. Remembrances of Robles, a prominent LGBTQ community member and PFLAG president, were offered by Jerryl Lynn Rubin and Linda Shapeero, including a replay of his radio DJ voice.


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Monday, September 25, 2017

Eureka Names Watson Police Chief

Posted By on Mon, Sep 25, 2017 at 5:31 PM

Pending City Council approval, former Capt. Steve Watson has been named the city's next police chief. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Pending City Council approval, former Capt. Steve Watson has been named the city's next police chief.

The city of Eureka announced this afternoon that it’s looking to drop the "interim" from interim Police Chief Steve Watson’s title.

In a press release, the city announced that City Manager Greg Sparks has offered Watson the position and the former captain has accepted. The hire will now go before the Eureka City Council on Oct. 17 for its approval.


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Alderpoint Shooting Leaves 1 Dead, 'Armed and Dangerous' Suspect Sought

Posted By on Mon, Sep 25, 2017 at 11:54 AM

A 2016 booking photo of Zachary Harrison. - COURTESY OF THE HUMBOLDT COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy of the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office
  • A 2016 booking photo of Zachary Harrison.
The Humboldt County Sheriff's Office is searching for a 27-year-old man in connection with a fatal shooting in Alderpoint on Saturday.

Officials said Zachary Cordell Harrison was last seen leaving the scene of the Sixth Street homicide just before 3 p.m. in a black Ford F250 with Oregon plates. He is considered armed and dangerous, according to the sheriff's office press release.

A witness and the victim, 58-year-old Robert James Holtsclaw, were stopped at a gate when Harrison reportedly fired one shot while standing next to the vehicle, according to the release. The witness ran to a nearby house to call for help. Holtsclaw died at the scene.

The shooting remains under investigation. Officials are urging anyone who spots Harrison to call 911.

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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Redwood Pride Starts Over in Arcata

Posted By on Sun, Sep 24, 2017 at 1:59 PM

Protesters carried signs in the 2016 Humboldt Pride march. - PHOTO BY MARK LARSON
  • Photo by Mark Larson
  • Protesters carried signs in the 2016 Humboldt Pride march.

On Friday, with 48 hours left to prepare for Humboldt County’s Pride festival on the Arcata Plaza, organizer Kate Trower had a head of newly dyed pink hair and a little time to talk on the phone. Last year's tumult and the dissolution of the Pride board of directors left the event with an uncertain future and much of Humboldt's LGBTQ community divided. "It's an interesting time to be planning and organizing,” she said. She wasn't kidding.

Dissatisfaction with the then board members of the nonprofit Humboldt Pride organization and its response to requests to become more inclusive of marginalized communities such as people of color, sober people, youth and disabled people, came to a head with a letter of protest from an anonymous group calling itself 32 Queers. Similar critiques and grievances were aired at a moderated forum at Humboldt State University. Tension ratcheted up on the cusp of last year's parade and festival with the vandalizing of Pride event posters and BB gun shots fired into the homes of two people associated with the local LGBTQ community — though Eureka Police established no connection between those shots and the rift, it rattled many. Then in October, shortly before a scheduled public meeting, the board of the Humboldt Pride voted to dissolve the decades old organization, prompting public outcry.

Trower is not in charge, she clarified, just one of a number of people working on this year’s event, which is temporarily operating under the LGBTQ Community Space Project’s nonprofit number to handle donations and other logistics. “It's kind of in absence of a group," said Trower. It’s unclear how long this structure will continue or what shape a separate organization might take. “More radical elements of the community want less structure," she said, adding that the word “collective” comes up a fair bit. But, she conceded, there are benefits to having a board and bylaws, too.

Even as it makes big changes, the event is in some ways returning to its origins as it returns to the plaza. Trower said it’s "going back to the roots of pride being political," not only in terms of the LGBTQ community coming together in solidarity but addressing its divides.
“Part of the schism we have in the community is the desire to cling to the solidarity part," she said, which sometimes means falling back on white privilege and ignoring struggles within the community, particularly those of marginalized queer people. Trower, who saw many of the same issues arise in national protests such as the Women’s March and Black Lives Matter, suggests the metaphor of the extra work it takes to build a ramp into a house instead of stairs and the rewards of getting everybody into the house.
The Redwood Veterans Honor Guard marching in the 2016 Pride parade. - PHOTO BY MARK LARSON
  • Photo by Mark Larson
  • The Redwood Veterans Honor Guard marching in the 2016 Pride parade.
As of Friday, not everything was nailed down for today’s event. "We’re still adding a few things," she said, adding that the group was hoping to get a kids’ zone together with help of the Girl Scouts. Of course there is a parade — from the Creamery Building to the plaza — but unlike previous Eureka festivals, the event is alcohol free and she described it as “more introspective” with a focus on “queer people of color and other marginalized communities, disabled and rural folks.” Echoing the events and discussions scheduled all week, there are a few LGBTQ vendors and about 17 informational booths for organizations and service providers catering to the LGBTQ community. And rather than a schedule focused on entertainment, there’s an open mic for everything from sharing opinions to performances and a handful of speakers.

Some of the changes have been met with resistance on social media. The Redwood Pride Facebook page is dense with comments debating everything from whether the color guard featuring uniformed LGBTQ veterans that has led the parade in past years is a symbol of military violence and oppression, and whether or not Samba da Alegria performances amount to cultural appropriation. (As of Friday, Trower said the color guard was scheduled to march but there was to be no formal samba performance.) Some members of the community who’ve been regulars at Pride in the past have also stated that they won’t be attending, as the event, after so much public controversy and so many personal disputes, no longer feels like a haven.

While Trower said she prefers not to comment on individuals, she gets it. There’s “a lot of baggage,” and “one of the things that’s perfectly valid right now is just knowing that you’re not emotionally ready to engage with the community."

As Redwood Pride wrestles with inclusion and exclusion, Trower said a basic question is “how to frame the idea of ‘safe space’ — safe for who and unsafe for who?" That, she said, includes minor issues “all the way up to very severe, very real trauma and triggering behavior."

She acknowledged that those are difficult, uncomfortable conversations with people who may be angry, rightfully or not, with a common goal or not. Some of those conversations are happening in the online comments she monitors seemingly round the clock. “It takes patience,” she said, taking a breath. “It requires empathy and compassion and not taking things personally."

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TL;DR: Five Reasons NOT to Try This at Home

Posted By on Sun, Sep 24, 2017 at 10:52 AM

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Busy week? We’ll help you catch up on the basics of this week's cover story, "Rio Dell's Hash Lab Murder Case," which takes a deep dive into hash lab explosion that rocked Rio Dell in November and spawned murder charges against all involved. You should really read the whole story here, but this will give you a quick primer on why butane hash oil extraction is inherently dangerous and how California's felony murder rule fits the alleged facts of this case.

1) It’s really dangerous: Butane hash oil extraction is an inherently volatile process. Used to make an ever expanding array of popular products — like oil, shatter, wax and honeycomb — the process uses butane gas to concentrate marijuana’s psychoactive properties to increase potency. It works like this: You take a long tube (usually plastic, metal or glass) filled with marijuana and push butane through it. The butane strips the THC from the plant matter, leaving behind a golden liquid. That liquid still contains butane, however, which must be evaporated off, usually in a two-step process involving hot water and a heating pad. But butane, once purged from its container, becomes a fugitive gas that’s heavier than air. In poorly ventilated spaces, the combustible gas will pool at the floor and build up until it escapes or hits an ignition source — anything from a pilot light to a spark of static electricity.

2) These labs don’t just burn, they explode: When the pooled gas hits the ignition source, there’s usually enough of it that an explosion results. In one such fire outside of Eureka last year, the blast was so strong that it lifted the roof off the walls and moved the structure off its foundation. In the case of the Rio Dell fire at the heart of this story, the blast was so strong it shook neighbors’ homes, rattling windows. And, if that weren’t bad enough, there’s also usually the hazard of stored butane in the lab, which, still in containers,  explodes when burned in the ensuing fire, causing subsequent blasts. This risk of subsequent blasts is so great that Humboldt Bay Fire has changed policy to prevent its firefighters from entering a burning lab unless they know someone is trapped inside.

3) You could be seriously hurt: This can’t be underscored enough. When these things blow up, they do damage and that includes to people. Initial reports from the scene in Rio Dell were that the three young men in the lab at the time of the explosion had burns covering 60 to 90 percent of their bodies. Neighbor Cindy Dobereiner said her husband and daughter ran over to help, finding one man whose “hair was burnt down into his head, his beard melted to his face.” They brought pitchers of water and a hose, and Dobereiner said her daughter tried douse one of the men to stop the burning. “She said, ‘Mom, I thought he had gloves on because when I poured water on him, the gloves just fell right off. But they weren’t gloves.’” In the Rio Dell case, Xavier Renner, a 21-year-old from San Diego, died due to secondary infections from the burns five weeks later in a U.C. Davis Medical Center burn unit.

4) You could destroy a neighborhood: Neighbors of the Rio Dell explosion say it turned the city into a war zone. A U.S. Army veteran who lives about a block away said the concussion from the initial blast was so strong it felt and sounded like someone had taken a battering ram to his door. Then, hundreds of subsequent pops and booms as butane cans blew in the fire sounded like gunfire. As they exploded, cans whizzed through the neighborhood or shot into the air, falling smoldering into neighbors’ yards and onto their roofs. Flames from the detached garage reached high into the air and neighbors say it was only a strong response from the Rio Dell Volunteer Fire Department that kept the fire from spreading to engulf neighboring structures and, possibly, the entire block. (Check out the video below.)


5) If someone dies, you can be charged with murder: Even after the explosion, the fire and the news weeks later that Renner had died, no one in Rio Dell seemed to expect the police to come knocking with murder warrants. But they did. All four people associated with the Rio Dell lab — Renner’s friends, Arron Mohr and Aaron Schisler, and the couple who rented them the garage, David and Tamara Paul — have been charged with Renner’s murder. While that may seem extreme to some, California law fits with the alleged facts under what’s called the felony murder rule. A legal doctrine, the felony murder rule holds that if Person A is knowingly committing a dangerous felony and Person B dies during the crime, Person A can be charged with Person B’s murder. In this case, prosecutors allege that Mohr and Schisler were engaged in manufacturing concentrated cannabis using a volatile solvent, a dangerous felony that caused Renner’s death. The Pauls, prosecutors allege, knew of the butane hash operation and thus were illegally allowing a place for the manufacturing of a controlled substance, causing Renner’s death. Some hope the prosecutions — which may be the first of their kind in California, as the Journal was unable to find any other reports of murder prosecutions stemming from hash lab explosions — will have a chilling effect in the industry, underscoring the high stakes of an inherently dangerous activity.

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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Synapsis Studio's Future up in the Air

Posted By on Sat, Sep 23, 2017 at 4:05 PM

An aerialist performing at the soon-to-be-vacated Synapsis Studio. - COURTESY OF LESLIE CASTELLANO
  • Courtesy of Leslie Castellano
  • An aerialist performing at the soon-to-be-vacated Synapsis Studio.

A couple of weeks ago, Synapsis Performance Collective, a group of artists, dancers and performers that has been renting a space at 47 W. Third St. in Eureka for the past 13 years, learned that in six weeks, its rent would be doubling from $1,065 to $2,200 per month as of Oct. 1. It's a substantial hike but maybe not out of nowhere when you consider the original rent was established between 2004 and 2006. As the letter from Synapsis' landlord Gross Family LLC states, "now it's time for this property to yield market rate for the family." That's a market rate that's gone up of late, given that the property is located in "extraction alley," but whether it's a case of cannabis gentrification is unclear.

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Redway Man Becomes County's 26th Traffic Death This year

Posted By on Sat, Sep 23, 2017 at 10:54 AM

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A 58-year-old Redway man was killed yesterday evening when his motorcycle collided with a Toyota truck making a three-point turn on Redwood Drive, sending him over a metal guard rail and down a 250-foot embankment.

Leo Durr was pronounced dead at the scene.

According to the California Highway Patrol, Durr was travelling southbound on Redwood Drive at an unknown speed when he came across a 2017 Toyota Tacoma that had attempted an unsuccessful U-turn. As the Toyota was backing up to make a three-point turn, Durr’s Honda motorcycle hit it from behind.

Durr is the 26th traffic related fatality in Humboldt County this year.

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