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In the News - Friday, FEBRUARY 22, 2008

—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)

 

Rain and snow

in weekend forecast

   With more than 15 inches of rainfall already recorded for the Three Rivers environs, “normal” never looked so good or anymore green with lots of sunshine, snow showers, and good air quality in between. And the weekend forecast calls for more of all of the above, and so do the Ides of March, according to the traditional Farmer’s Almanac, which has been publishing weather forecasts since 1792.
   In the meantime, be sure to get out and enjoy all that new snow that at elevations above 7,000 feet is piled up in an eight-foot, nicely layered snowpack. At the stake currently on the ground at Lodgepole in Sequoia National Park, rangers are reporting 78 inches of snow.
   That means a total of 129 inches for the season and one to two feet more of the white stuff possible by Monday.
   Recent snow survey data for locales like Round Meadow, Panther Gap, and Farewell Gap indicates that the current snowpack is averaging 120 percent of normal in the Kaweah drainage. The snowfall totals are similar to 2006, but the colder storms in the current season are furnishing more staying power to the deepening pack.
   Statewide, water stats are looking very good for the rapidly approaching spring and summer. Precipitation totals are at or above normal from Eureka (27.38 inches) to San Diego (6.07 inches) with Los Angeles (12.27 inches) a whopping 130 percent above normal.
   Nowhere in California is the disparity of a year ago on February 22 any greater than in Three Rivers. In February 2007, the local rainfall was 6.98 inches for the year-to-date. After this weekend’s next round of storminess, Kaweah Country could be looking at 18 inches of rainfall so in in 2008 or nearly three times the total of what had been recorded by this date in 2007.
  What a difference a year can make.

Rollover at Lake Kaweah;

DUI update

   When an errant driver suddenly veered off Sierra Drive and clipped the side of the eighth grade classroom at Three Rivers School during the late afternoon of Tuesday, Feb. 5, it was difficult to imagine how an accident like that could happen. But last week, when the CHP determined the driver Gilbert Villegas’s blood alcohol to be three times the legal limit, .24, the cause of the bizarre crash was obvious.

  “In a case like this, the vehicle is towed, the driver is taken into custody, cited, and then later released from jail,” said Officer Travis, the CHP public information officer in the Visalia office. “The arresting officer’s report is then forwarded from our office to the District Attorney. A case routinely takes about 30 days to go to court.”
   IN A SEPARATE accident that occurred Tuesday, Feb. 19, around 1:30 p.m. at Lake Kaweah, a Chevrolet pickup traveling eastbound left the roadway east of Horse Creek near the top of the passing lane. According to unconfirmed reports, the pickup struck some rocks and rolled over several times, landing off the roadway.
   According to Officer Travis, the cause of that accident is still being investigated and more information will be made public as it becomes available.

North Fork break-in

yields firearms

   Four firearms were among the items missing in a recent North Fork burglary, according to a report filed with the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department. Scott Kalloger, 43, who lives about six miles up North Fork Drive, told deputies that someone entered his residence Wednesday, Jan. 30, and stole a 12-gauge Mossburg shotgun, a Ruger 22-caliber rifle, a Browning 9mm pistol and a Freedom Arms 22-caliber handgun.
   The firearms and other property that were missing in the heist is valued at $2,100.
   The case is under investigation and may be linked to a recent spate of local break-ins.

3R student demonstrates

aerial imaging at Ag Expo

   Throughout the three-day run of the 41st World Ag Expo at Tulare (Feb. 12-14) that featured 1,600 exhibitors, the newest products in the industry, and more than 100,000 attendees roaming the show’s grounds, it was easy to miss as much as you were able to see in the frantic activity. But for those who checked out the student competition in Edison’s AgTAC Center, they caught a glimpse of the future and witnessed how new technology will play a role in the management of agriculture.
   The demonstrations by some very talented students — from Fresno State, UC Davis, and Cal Poly — were part of a competition sponsored by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineering that called for posters and documentation on how these future industry innovators might improve farming and its management.
   Nick Simonian, an industrial technology student in the master’s program at Fresno State, thinks digital imagery could do a great deal for farmers, especially when they need immediate data to make a decision that might be able to increase yields or make the critical difference if a farmer makes a profit or not.
   Nick, who was raised in Three Rivers and graduated from Woodlake High School, developed his project by combining some of the things he grew up doing in Three Rivers: flying model airplanes, shooting digital photos, and plotting GPS data. It sounds complicated but Nick says he can make it work, and someday there might even be a line of products based on what his project has already proven practical to do.

  “My project involved the use of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to gather digital data such as high-resolution still images and video as well as the GPS coordinates of the flight path,” Nick explained. “One of the uses for management is a map of the fields showing densities that might indicate problems with water, fertilizer, etc., that could easily be spotted from the air. Applications of fertilizers, for example, could be more efficient and less wasteful.”
   Nick also said that if crop damage occurs, the photos could serve as proof for insurance claims. Eventually, he said, he will map a scheduled flight plan on a computer program that will be available with a click of a mouse.

  “These autonomous flights would eliminate the need for human flight inputs and be more cost effective,” Nick said. “Imagine the implications for law enforcement and in all kinds of industrial applications.”
   Nick said he knows students who are working in the industrial tech field for companies like Frito Lay, Halliburton, and Raytheon, and the possibilities are limitless.
   When asked what he might end up doing and what will be the outcome of his research, he said: “I don’t know if a single product will come from my project but a craft capable of manual and autonomous flight would be very marketable. My goal is to make a prototype that can recover data with precise geographical reference.”

The verdict is in
Mock Trial season concludes

   A professional-looking team of Woodlake High School students spent several evenings this month in the Tulare County Superior Court. And they weren’t themselves.
   Mock Trial is like being in a play, sort of, where the students are assigned a character and they become that person. Then again, it’s like an athletic event, where they compete fiercely to earn points for their team and WIN.
   In contrast to an acting performance, however, the students don’t have a script to memorize. They are instead required to think on their feet and respond appropriately to the words and actions of other courtroom participants.
   And the teams don’t face off on a court, but in a court, and being on the bench in this competition is a good thing.
   Woodlake High’s Mock Trial team 2008 consisted of 21 students, 10 from Three Rivers. Kevin Skeen, a WHS teacher also from Three Rivers, is the coach.
   Here’s how it works: High school teams from throughout California are provided with the same case, then work through their respective county competitions in hopes of ultimately participating for the state (March 28-30, 2008, in Riverside) and national (May 8-10, 2008, in Wilmington, Del.) championships.   This year, members from competing high schools acted as defense and prosecution and provided witnesses and courtroom officials in the fictitious case of People v. Palmer, which dealt with an alleged revenge murder of a famous television producer and admissibility of Memory-Mapping as scientific evidence in the trial.
   Then, for three weeks this month, the schools compete in a real courtroom, with real judges and a jury. Teams consist of trial lawyers, pretrial lawyers, witnesses, bailiff, court recorder, journalist, court artist, and other support.

  “Our school is proving to be a serious rival to Tulare County’s top powerhouse teams,” said Coach Skeen. “It was a long, hard-fought trial with a packed courtroom, standing room only, which I’m happy to report was dominated by Woodlake High spectators.”
   In Round 1 this year, WHS outmaneuvered Exeter High, winning 52 points to their 48.
   In Round 2, Woodlake’s defense went up against Redwood High’s prosecution. Redwood, last year’s overall county champion (WHS was ranked third in 2007), bested WHS, 53 to 47.
   According to Coach Skeen: “Again, Woodlake High showed their mettle in the most crucial phase of the entire trial, the pretrial motion. The points earned in this phase are tripled in value and can often determine the winner of the competition.

  “I have to say, this was the most dynamic and difficult pretrial motion I have ever witnessed in Mock Trial, and Woodlake’s Ben Pfenninger deserves special recognition for an outstanding performance. The entire courtroom was literally on the edge of their seats due to the intensity of the judge’s questioning and the performances of both teams. Ben was grilled and challenged time and again by the judge, who seemed to be intent on getting one of the lawyers to crack and falter. But Ben held steady, argued with agility, and kept on his point, doing absolutely the best job I’ve ever witnessed.”
   In Round 3, Woodlake’s prosecution lost 48 to 52 to Fresno County’s top team’s defense, Buchanan (Clovis), which was filling in for an absent Tulare County team.
   By Round 4, things were looking rosy as the WHS defense went up against Orosi High’s prosecution and garnered the win, 52 to 48. Then WHS received the disappointing news that they wouldn’t be moving on to the next round.

  “Due to a quirky point-rating system, Orosi High, rather than Woodlake, advanced to the Semifinals,” explained Coach Skeen. “This system, called ‘power scoring,’ seeded Orosi High as the third ranked team, ahead of Woodlake at fifth place.”

  “Well, that’s the way it goes,” said Kevin philosophically. “Good sportsmanship is what high school competitions are all about, so the Woodlake Tigers will just return next season more determined than ever to be in the final four.”
   Tulare County schools participating in the 2008 Mock Trial were Dinuba, Exeter, Lindsay, Orosi, both Tulare high schools, and all four of Visalia’s.

Postal rates increase in May

   A year ago in May, the cost of a first-class stamp was raised from 39 cents to 41 cents. On May 12, 2008, the cost will increase another penny, to 42 cents.
   Looking back, in 1981, a first-class stamp cost 20 cents. The price has more than doubled in the last 27 years.
   Twenty-five years before 1981, in 1956, a stamp cost five cents and the postcard rate had just been doubled, to two cents.
   If looking for a good return on your stamp investment, now is the time to purchase the “Forever” stamp. Its price will go up at the same time, meaning those stamps can still be purchased for 41 cents but will remain good for first-class postage after the rate increase takes effect.
   The U.S. Postal Service has sold five billion Forever stamps since they were introduced last April, prior to the last price increase. The USPS plans to have an additional five billion in stock to meet the expected demand before the May price change.
   The charge for other services, such as advertising mail, periodicals (newspapers included), and packages will also change. Changes in the price for Priority Mail and Express Mail will be announced at a later date.
   While the charge for the first ounce of a first-class letter will rise, the price of each added ounce will remain at 17 cents, so a two-ounce letter will go up a penny to 59 cents.
   The cost to mail a postcard will also go up a penny, from 26 to 27 cents.
   In the past, raising postage rates was a long, complex process involving hearings before the independent Postal Regulatory Commission. However, under a new law regulating the post office that took effect in 2006, the USPS is allowed to increase rates with 45 days notice.





 
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