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In the News - Friday, July 5, 2013





Two dead, two wounded

in Cobbleknoll shootout

   When April Stiltz, who lives across from Cobbleknoll, the popular swimming area adjacent to Western Holiday Lodge, heard a dozen or so gunshots ring out shortly before 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 27, she thought it was just target shooting.
“We hear shots all the time in Three Rivers so I didn’t have any reason to think this was anything different,” April said only moments after joining other EMS volunteers and a growing number of law officers at the incident command post in the Cobbleknoll parking lot.
    A half-hour after the shootout — reportedly due to a gang-versus-gang altercation — a makeshift crime scene was set up to sort out the events that had taken place along one of the most scenic and accessible stretches of the Kaweah River. Dozens of river swimmers come to Cobbleknoll daily during the summer where there is a series of swimming holes out of sight from busy Sierra Drive, about a quarter-mile away.
    The area is located just upriver from Lake Kaweah’s Slick Rock Recreation Area and managed by the U.S Army Corps of Engineers. It is open to the public and no day-use fee is charged. There is a parking lot, porta-pottie, trash can, and a cement path over the boulders that leads river-goers to well-worn footpaths that provide various points of access to the water.
     On this day, two of the river-goers remained lifeless at or near where they had been shot.  One bled out on a granite slab near the river, the other on the footpath that is above and parallel to the river. While EMS volunteers worked on a third wounded victim, several law-enforcement officers performed CPR on the two victims with mortal chest wounds.
    Deceased at the scene were Santos Valdavinos (also known as Santos Baldovinos Jr.), 28, from Delano and Samuel Talamantez, 20, from Farmersville. The other victim at the scene, a 17-year-old male from Tulare who was swimming in the river, was treated for a gunshot wound to the leg and then airlifted to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno.
    Pablo Gonzalez, 21, of Tipton was fleeing the area when he was shot. He was detained at a local hospital when he sought treatment for a gunshot wound in his arm.
    Another local resident, an ex-Marine of the Vietnam era, said he was at the river just before the violence erupted. He heard the shots from the parking area of the nearby Kaweah General Store and immediately made the 911 call.
    “I knew exactly what had happened at the river,” the man said, who asked not to be identified. “I was down there listening to all the trash-talking between gang members and the two groups of swimmers and left to go to the store.”
     The man also reported that he heard at least two distinct weapons. One was a handgun but the other was more like a lightweight .412 semi-automatic shotgun or what is commonly called a “scatter gun,” he said.
    Apparently, one of the combatants, Manuel Talamantez, 27, went to his vehicle to retrieve a weapon. He then approached a group of swimmers and opened fire, and the gunfight ensued.
    One law officer described the scene as right out of the wild, wild West. But this time there were women and children, even a five-month-old baby, that were so close to the gunfire that some were covered with blood spatter.
    After the shooting, witnesses reported that at least one vehicle, a late-model Jeep Cherokee left the scene, heading westbound on Highway 198. Woodlake and Exeter police officers stopped the vehicle in Lemon Cove without incident and arrested Manuel Talamantez, 27, and Christina Martinez, 29, both of Farmersville.
    Weapons and other evidence were found in the car linking the couple to the Cobbleknoll shootings. Two children, both 5 years old, were with the couple and placed in the custody of Child Welfare Services.
    Talamantez was booked into Tulare County Main Jail and charged with two counts of homicide, two counts of attempted homicide, and child endangerment. Martinez was booked as an accessory to murder.
    The next day it was business as usual at Cobbleknoll as swimmers streamed back and forth to the river. The telltale signs of the senseless tragedy are the paint marking the locations of the bodies, dried blood, and a memorial to one of the victims.

Three Rivers Gang Forum

Preventing gang violence in Three Rivers

Monday, July 8, 7 PM
Three Rivers Memorial Building

— With gang experts,
law enforcement agencies and
public lands representatives

Taking a proactive approach to
ensure that gangs do not become
entrenched in the community.

There are nearly 30,000 gangs (600 in California), with almost a million members, impacting towns, cities, and communities across the United States. Gangs conduct criminal activity in all 50 states and U.S. territories. Although most gang activity is concentrated in major urban areas, gangs also are proliferating in rural and suburban areas of the country as gang members flee increasing law enforcement pressure in urban areas or seek more lucrative drug markets. This proliferation in non-urban areas increasingly is accompanied by violence and is threatening society in general.

Bank of the Sierra ATM vandalized

   A thief or thieves stole an Allen Construction water truck early Saturday morning, June 29, from a construction yard adjacent to Three Rivers Mercantile, then crashed the five-ton vehicle into the automated-teller machine at the Three Rivers branch of Bank of the Sierra.
    Sheriff’s deputies responded to a burglar alarm at the bank that sounded shortly after 3 a.m. When they arrived on scene the truck was parked at the bank but the perpetrators had fled.
    No cash was accessed from the dismantled ATM. Property damage to the bank building and ATM is estimated to be $130,000.
    This is not the first ATM heist at the local bank branch. In December 2005, thieves cut into the bank’s ATM with a welding torch and removed the cash box with $17,000 inside.
    In that heist, the burglars were wearing hoodies and were not identified from the surveillance camera. No arrests in that case have been reported.
    Both cases remain under investigation by the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department.
    Anyone with information on these or any crimes is encouraged to call or text the anonymous tip line: 725-4194.

Fire restrictions increased in parks

   Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, along with the neighboring national forest lands, have instituted strict fire guidelines as of July 1 due to dry conditions and high fire danger.
    Here is what visitors to the nearby parks need to know:
    No wood or barbecue fires are permitted anywhere below 6,000 feet elevation. For a reference point, the 6,000-foot elevation level is reached along the Generals Highway in Sequoia between the Four Guardsmen and Giant Forest.
    So no fires of any kind are allowed at Hospital Rock Picnic Area, Potwisha and Buckeye Flat campgrounds, or anywhere in Cedar Grove.
    For backpackers, no wood or barbecue fires are allowed at any elevation. Gas or propane stoves are permitted.
    No smoking is allowed outside at any elevation except in campgrounds above 6,000 feet (i.e., Lodgepole), within an enclosed vehicle, and within 30 feet of existing fire-safe ashtrays provided at visitor centers and other visitor-use facilities within the parks.
    Even in areas where fires are permitted, dry conditions persist. Never leave a campfire or barbecue unattended, and before leaving the area or going to sleep, make sure every last coal is out cold.
    For more information, go to www.nps.gov/seki/fire/fireinfo/current.htm.

Sign up (photo caption)

   A new town entrance sign for Three Rivers was installed along Highway 198 near the Horse Creek Bridge on the morning of Saturday, June 29. The sign, a project of the Three Rivers Village Foundation, was created by Dave King of Three Rivers and his students at Visalia Adult School. To make room for the new sign, a previous sign at Slick Rock was removed. That sign was made more than 50 years ago by renowned Three Rivers artist Carroll Barnes and is now located at the Three Rivers Historical Museum.
    A ceremony to celebrate the completion of the town sign project will be held Thursday, July 11, at 9 a.m., at the Three Rivers Historical Museum. For more information or to
confirm attendance, call 280-5641.


Scott Smith
1950 ~ 2013

    Scott Smith, a resident of Three Rivers for more than 35 years, died Sunday, June 16, 2013,  at his home with his family. He was 63.
    Scott was born May 24, 1950, in San Luis Obispo to Ralph Smith Sr. and Dixie Smith. He was raised and educated in San Diego.
    Scott was a member of the U.S. Coast Guard from 1970 to 1974. During those four years, he was stationed in Alaska and the Great Lakes region. He was a rescue swimmer, a member of the elite group that saves people from treacherous waters.
    To join their ranks, candidates must endure physical and mental challenges that rival those facing any potential Army Ranger, Navy SEAL, or Air Force pararescueman. The Coast Guard’s rescue swimmers hoist or free-fall from a helicopter into dangerous waters to perform daring rescues.
    In 1977, Scott relocated to Three Rivers, where he owned and operated The Gateway Restaurant for two years. Then he began his general contracting business, which he continued for the next 30-plus years.
    In 1987, he married Irene, his life partner and business partner.
    In 2008, Scott and Irene opened Smith’s Gym and Racquetball Court on Pierce Drive in Three Rivers, which Scott built. He became an avid racquetball player, enjoying the daily competition and teaching friends how to play.
    Scott loved the mountains and enjoyed leading family and friends on hikes in the nearby Sierra Nevada Mountains, particularly in the Mineral King area.
    Another of Scott’s passions was golf. Through the game of golf, he established many close friendships with local golfers. In addition, Scott held the distinction of having the most qualifications for the Northern California Golf Association’s tournament in Monterey.
    Of all his achievements in life, however, he considered his greatest to be his family, wife Irene, his three daughters, and his grandchildren.
    Scott will be missed by many for his benevolent spirit and abundance of knowledge that he loved sharing and with which he helped others.
    Scott was preceded in death by his parents, Ralph and Dixie Smith.
    He is survived by his wife of 26 years, Irene; daughters Jessica Bouchte and husband Sean, Alexandra and Bill, and Chyna; and grandchildren Eli, Bodhi, Ryanne, Ryan, Nora, and Adam.
    A celebration of Scott’s life will be held at a later date. Condolences may be sent to Irene and the family at smithirener@att.net.

Saundra Sturdevant
1936 ~ 2013

    Saundra Gene Sturdevant of Three Rivers died Thursday, June 27, 2013, in Walnut Creek of a rare form of leukemia. She was 76.
    Saundra was born November 20, 1936, in Fayette, Mo., to Keith K. Pollack and Catherin L. Clayton. She was raised in various cities through the U.S. due to her father’s career in the Air Force.
    Saundra received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Kansas. She earned her Ph.D. in Modern Chinese History from the University of Chicago. Saundra completed her post-doctorate degree at the Center for Chinese Studies, University of California, Berkeley, and published the dissertation at Harvard University.
    She was a professor, journalist, documentary photographer, and activist. From 1981 to 1982, Saundra lived in Beijing and worked for the Foreign Languages Press. During her time there, she began her photography career while taking a solo, two-month train trip around China.
    For the past 18 years, she resided in Three Rivers. When she moved to town in 1995, she owned and operated the Organic Gardens Bed and Breakfast on Dinely Drive.
    Saundra is survived by her three sons, Howard Sturdevant, Winston Sturdevant, and John Sturdevant; and grandchildren Erik, Gabriel, Nathaniel, Sophia, Tina, Kimberly, Max, and Wren.



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