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In the News - Friday, June 13, 2008


—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)


Only in the June 13 print edition:

Three Rivers School Class of 2008:

Graduation portraits • Awards

plus Three Rivers grads in

Exeter High's Class of 2008

Driver in North Fork rollover
charged with DUI

   When temperatures heat up in the summer months so does the partying at several popular swimming holes on the Kaweah River. Last Thursday, some of that action led to a harrowing rollover accident on North Fork Drive.
   The chain of events that culminated in the late-afternoon accident on Thursday, June 5, actually began on Monday when a large group of youths reportedly from Exeter and Visalia started several fights with Three Rivers youths who were congregated at the popular Slicky swimming hole on the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River.
   According to witnesses of the Monday incident, the fighting started when some of the Three Rivers locals asked the visitors to refrain from throwing beer cans into the river. The out-of-town contingent took exception to being asked anything and started the ensuing mêlée with a head butt and a “sucker punch” assault on two of the Three Rivers youths.
   After several minutes of fighting, order was restored when nearby residents arrived on the scene and, in effect, swelled the numbers of the locals. The Valley youths left the area but not before hurling rocks and lots of trash-talking that included making threats against several Three Rivers residents.
   On Thursday, according to witnesses at the scene of the accident, the driver of the pickup truck, Michael Scott Bechtle, 19, of Exeter, and another male passenger were both identified as being involved in the Monday incident at Slicky.
   According to information in the CHP accident report, the rollover of the 2003 GMC Sierra pickup occurred when Bechtle, who was driving southbound on North Fork Drive in excess of 55 m.p.h., failed to negotiate a curve, started to lose control, and then made an unsafe turning movement that caused the vehicle to flip onto its roof and careen across the northbound lane of the roadway. The cause of the crash was the driver’s impairment due to intoxication.
   Miraculously, the driver and all four passengers crawled out of the wreckage of the truck and did not request any medical attention.   Within 15 minutes, a Tulare County fire unit from Lemon Cove was on the scene, having rotated up to cover Three Rivers.
   Units from Three Rivers were unavailable because at the time of the accident, they were assisting a fall victim at Cherry Falls, another popular swimming hole that is currently closed to public access, located six miles up the North Fork.
   During this time, while the accident scene was not secure, at least one passenger of the wrecked truck, identified as one of three minors involved, re-entered the vehicle and removed several items.    Approximately 30 minutes after the incident was reported, a CHP officer arrived and began the accident investigation.
   The 19-year-old driver was arrested and charged with driving under the influence (DUI) and making an unsafe turn. The passengers were released at the scene and not charged.

Rangers raid North Fork grow sites

   There are so many marijuana-growing sites being used in the expansive Kaweah watershed that during this time of year the clock is always ticking on the next bust. On Monday, June 9, when North Fork residents noticed the recurring buzzing of low-flying choppers, it wasn’t difficult to imagine what was happening.
   During Monday evening’s Three Rivers Town Hall meeting, J.D. Swed, Sequoia’s chief ranger, announced that earlier in the day park rangers had eradicated another pot-growing site, the second such operation in the month of June, and the third already during the 2008 growing season in the North Fork area of Sequoia National Park.  During the two previous raids, rangers removed more than 13,000 potted plants in nursery settings, according to Alexandra Picavet, parks’ public information officer.
   On Monday, a ranger-led task force removed more than 6,000 plants at a well-developed site that had obviously been used in previous years. These plants were at least three feet in height and maturing rapidly.
   With the male plants already removed, the budding, bushier plants could have been harvested in 30 to 60 days.
   But chalk up another big loss for the bad guys. In addition to the pot plants, rangers also removed two five-gallon propane canisters, several weapons, and the usual bags of herbicides and pesticides.
   There was also evidence that a bear had visited the growers’ camp. More than 1,500 pounds of trash and plant material were removed as part of the operation.

Crime control tops

Town Meeting agenda

   A packed house was on hand for the Monday, June 9, Three Rivers Town Hall meeting. Among the distinguished guests was Supervisor Allen Ishida who thanked Three Rivers for its overwhelming support in his recent re-election.
   Supervisor Ishida reported that some progress is being made on a new countywide ambulance service agreement. He said some details remained to be ironed out like how much rent private ambulance companies would pay to stage from county fire stations.
   Tulare County Sheriff Bill Wittman was in attendance to hear concerns that Three Rivers is not receiving adequate law-enforcement coverage. In his remarks, he stated that the county’s deputies are making progress against the serious gang problems in Ivanhoe and Earlimart, but admitted that his manpower resources are stretched thin when it comes to dispatching deputies to outlying communities like Three Rivers.
   The consensus of those in the audience who made comments is that trespassing is rampant and there is not enough being done to enforce the law. One frustrated resident who lives on North Fork Drive said he has been victimized numerous times and although he’s reported several incidents, nothing is being done to investigate the crimes or patrol the area.
   Other property owners said the situation at many river sites is out of control in part due to the closure of the North Fork’s BLM sites. In addition to trespassing, there are break-ins and burglaries, vandalism, littering, and a basic disrespect for the law and private property.
   Two recent incidents, which involved underage drinking, assaults, and making terrorist threats to property owners, were reported at the meeting. Apparently deputies have declined to make arrests or pursue charges against the perpetrators.

  “Underage drinking is a problem in all these outlying communities and it will not be tolerated,” said Supervisor Ishida. “The parents need know what these kids are doing and take some responsibility for their behavior.”
   Sheriff Wittman said, “I do not like what I am hearing,” and is getting the message loud and clear that something needs to be done. He said he will work on a plan that will rotate some more manpower to patrol Three Rivers during the busy summer season.
   A special Town Meeting is currently in the planning stages for the end of June. Sheriff Wittman plans to once again be in attendance; details will be announced.

CHP searching for

hit-and-run driver

   A CHP spokesperson said Wednesday that a large rearview mirror was recovered in Lemon Cove and a check of its serial numbers could lead to the arrest of the driver who struck bicyclist Roger Hildreth. Hildreth, 46, of Visalia, was pedaling eastbound on Highway 198 west of Avenue 324 in Lemon Cove on the afternoon of Friday, June 6, when he was struck by the rearview mirror of what he believes to be a large white Dodge king-cab pickup.
   The impact of the crash sent Hildreth flying forward ahead of another rider and onto the shoulder of the roadway. The driver of the pickup fled the scene and still has not come forward to take responsibility for the crash.
   Hildreth, an administrator at El Diamante High School in Visalia and alumnus of Woodlake High School, suffered a broken clavicle and numerous scrapes and bruises. The two cyclists were on the Highway 198 leg of a loop route through Dry Creek and Elderwood.

  “It’s surprising that the bicyclist was hit in a section of roadway where the shoulder is that wide,” said CHP Officer Harris. “We’re hoping the serial numbers off the mirror will lead us to the owner of the vehicle.”
   Officer Harris said they should have the results of the parts check soon. Anyone with information in the case may call the Visalia CHP office, 734-6767.

Public input sought

on highway signage

   The Sequoia Foothills Chamber of Commerce and the Three Rivers Village Foundation invite all Chamber member businesses and interested community members to attend a meeting regarding current and proposed sign regulations.
   The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 25, 7 p.m., at the office of the Sequoia Foothills Chamber of Commerce, 42268 Sierra Drive, Three Rivers.
   The Three Rivers Village Foundation has been working for some time on achieving a Scenic Highway designation for Highway 198. As part of this process, representatives have been coordinating with Tulare County officials to produce a corridor-protection plan.   During the past several months, the Village Foundation has learned some important information regarding business signage and will use this meeting to share two important updates with business owners.
   First, the Village Foundation will share information about current Tulare County sign ordinances and how they impact Three Rivers businesses. Some business owners may be surprised to learn that their signs may be in violation of existing ordinances.
   Second, the Village Foundation will solicit input on the proposed sign regulations for the Scenic Highway designation. This meeting will provide an opportunity for local merchants and residents to comment on this portion of the plan before it is finalized.
   All Chamber members are encouraged to attend this meeting to provide input, ask questions, and to work together with the Village Foundation to avoid potential conflicts later in this planning process.


THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
41841 Sierra Drive (Highway 198), Three Rivers, CA 93271
MAIL: P.O. Box 806, Three Rivers, CA 93271
(559) 561-3627 FAX: (559) 561-0118
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