In the News - Friday, July 12, 2013
Sheriff vows more resources for Three Rivers
Town meeting attracts
packed house in wake
of deadly gang violence
Monday’s (July 8) special Town Hall meeting prompted by the gang violence at Cobbleknoll on June 27 that left two dead and two hospitalized had a standing-room-only audience at the Three Rivers Memorial Building. The attendees listened to and questioned an inter-agency panel of law officers and federal agency managers.
“I thought the meeting was productive, and I heard everyone’s concerns loud and clear,” Tulare County Sheriff Bill Wittman said on Wednesday. “We’re already beefing up our patrols here and we are going to be checking who’s at the river and where.”
Sheriff Wittman called the recent shoot-out “…a horrible thing” but he doesn’t think that this violence will become commonplace.
“This weekend, the gang unit will be out in force up here and we’ll also be cleaning up the graffiti on those beautiful river rocks,” Sheriff Wittman said. “We want to keep these areas safe for everyone who wants to go to the river.”
THE MEETING OPENED with the showing of two YouTube videos that were posted by Tulare County gangs. The first depicted members from Porterville flaunting an arsenal of automatic weapons.
The second video showed familiar gang symbols superimposed over the faces of rival gang members who had been apparently targeted for extinction. Some of these same gang symbols are showing up as graffiti on rocks near popular swimming holes from Lake Kaweah to the Kaweah drainage and into Sequoia National Park.
To help put this gang activity in a Three Rivers perspective, Sgt. Alan Knight, commander of the Sheriff’s Department’s Gang Violence Suppression Unit, gave an overview on the origin of gangs in Central Valley.
Sgt. Knight likened the roots of today’s California gang affiliations to the American Civil War.
“It’s the same ideology here with the north and the south,” Sgt. Knight related. “As luck would have it, they decided to draw the dividing line at Delano.”
Sgt. Knight explained that in the 1970s and for the next decade most of the activity was confined to the cities. But now there are a lot more members and the gangs are subdividing into the towns and the rural communities of the San Joaquin Valley.
“In Visalia, we are even seeing the neighborhood gangs dividing by streets,” Knight said. “To date, there are no known gangs in Three Rivers or validated gang members living here.”
But the problem, Knight said, is that members of a number of gangs from Fresno to L.A. are visiting Three Rivers regularly. When these cliques of gang members happen to end up at the same place, or swimming hole, there is the potential for violence.
“The tagging of numbers or gang symbols is their public address system,” explained another officer of the Tulare County gang unit. “The number 559 means that this is Central California territory [red paint denotes north allegiance; blue paint means south], and the number 13 indicates a southern gang’s presence while 14 is a northern gang affiliation.”
ONE ALLEGED SHOOTER, Manuel Anthony Talamantez of Farmersville, was apprehended in Lemon Cove after witnesses reported seeing the suspect flee Cobbleknoll. Talamantez, 27, is being held without bail at Bob Wiley Detention Center on murder charges.
Manuel’s brother, Samuel Talamantez, 19, also of Farmersville, who was pronounced dead at Cobbleknoll. He was buried at Visalia District Cemetery yesterday (July 11).
SGT. KNIGHT ALSO pointed out that just because a person looks the part of a gang member (shaved head, lots of ink, red or blue attire, and Hispanic), he may not be.
“We’re also seeing Asian gangs, mostly in Visalia, and there are Bloods and Crips in Tulare with members of white and black ethnicities,” Sgt. Knight said. “Not every kid you see is a gang member so don’t profile.”
According to Sgt. Knight’s database, there are somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 validated gang members in Tulare County. He called it a dynamic and ever-changing registry maintained by the gang unit.
KEVIN HENDRICKS, CHIEF ranger of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, reported that he has seen an increase in gang members frequenting the parks’ swimming and picnic areas.
“The NPS made the decision to be proactive so we are hitting them hard,” Hendricks said. “We have 35 law enforcement rangers from Ash Mountain to Grant Grove and River Rovers who are volunteers that help monitor the activities at the river.”
The volunteers are critical, Hendricks said, because they carry park radios and can alert rangers to trouble spots.
PHIL DEFFENBAUGH, GENERAL manager of Lake Kaweah, said that since the shootings he has had a crew at Cobbleknoll picking up trash and has contacted a graffiti removal outfit to schedule work there. Because of the lack of amenities, Cobbleknoll exists in a “gray area,” he said, and the policy on no alcohol at Slick Rock is not enforced at Cobbleknoll.
There are no law enforcement rangers at Lake Kaweah so USACE rangers do not routinely patrol Cobbleknoll, Phil said. Scott Doyle, Three Rivers resident deputy, said he has been checking the Cobbleknoll area frequently since the shootings.
LAST WEEK, DEPUTY Scott Doyle had a carload of suspected river trespassers on Kaweah River Drive handcuffed while he checked them out. No arrests were made but the group was given a clear message on where they could legally access the river.
SGT. KNIGHT SAID his informants are not talking about any reprisals over the Cobbleknoll shootings or warning of any impending takeover of Three Rivers. However, he cautioned, that doesn’t mean there won’t be an increase in local gang activity, especially during the summer months.
“Gang members are just like other visitors who come to Three Rivers to enjoy the beautiful scenery,” Knight said. “They buy gas, spend money in the local businesses, and want to enjoy the lake and the river. Don’t be afraid, and just go about your business. But if you see something, say something.”
To report suspicious activity, call the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office or use the anonymous tip lines: phone or text 725-4194 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The consensus following the town meeting was that it was educational and a wake-up call for Three Rivers residents. This dialogue will continue. Another meeting regarding gang violence is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 5, at 7 p.m., at the Three Rivers Memorial Building.
Warnings from an ex-gangster
There were a lot of questions and answers at the recent Town Hall meeting but one obvious question of concern to everyone that was not answered was: Is it safe to go to the river or other remote sites in and around Three Rivers? According to one local Three Rivers resident, who spent most of the first five decades of her life in the Bakersfield barrio and knows gang violence first hand, the answer to that question is an emphatic NO!
There is even a bigger threat to Three Rivers residents than anyone could imagine, and more violence is likely, she said.
And this is not fiction it is the true life account of Lucy. That’s not her real name but with what she has experienced in her 54 years she can ill afford to reveal her true identity.
Her son languishes in a California prison after being the shooter in a gang-related drive-by shooting, wounding five people.
“Thank God no one was killed,” Lucy painfully recalled. “He’s doing better now that he is involved in helping incarcerated Native Americans. He has found an inner peace and a way to survive in prison.”
Lucy walks her dog almost daily at the Kaweah River, and when she sees the gang members, she looks them in the eye and shows no disrespect. When they see her, they know she is one of their own who has the pain and suffering of the gang lifestyle etched indelibly into her appearance.
“I was down at Slick Rock earlier this week and noticed a group of gangsters chilling out by the river, drinking beer and smoking marijuana,” Lucy said. “I greeted them with the familiar ‘what’s up’ and asked them where they were from.”
These particular gang members told her they were from McFarland, most likely Surenos or “southerners.” Lucy said in the last several weeks she has talked to or observed gang members along the river from Fresno, Visalia, Tulare, Delano, and other locales.
“Right now, these gang-bangers in Three Rivers are lookin’ and bookin’,” Lucy said. “They are looking around seeing who is who, what’s the access to the properties, how many cops, who has dogs, alarms, and where and who are the easy pickings. When they see a score, they will go for it in a minute and then book back to where they came from.”
Lucy said the last thing that should happen is for this influx of gangsters to get comfortable here. As they do, they bring more gang members, which increases the odds of another explosion of violence.
“Don’t even go near the river right now unless you want trouble,” Lucy said. “These bangers are hopped up on meth, packing loaded weapons, and are a desperate lot.”
Lucy warns that Three Rivers needs to be extra vigilant now by securing homes and property and keeping an eye out for each other.
“If these gang members are ready to kill their own kind because they are from a different neighborhood, what do you think they might do to you?” Lucy warned. “Don’t be a fool and find yourself surrounded in a snake pit.”
BLM gathers input on Case Mountain land
At an informal workshop held Tuesday, July 9, at the Three Rivers Memorial Building, attendees were given the opportunity to view three specific alternative actions that might occur if and when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) acquires the South End property adjacent to the agency’s Case Mountain Recreation Area.
The South End property, a 59.19-acre parcel of former Craig Ranch land that abuts Skyline Drive and Salt Creek Road is being offered to the BLM as an add-on to their Case Mountain area, an 18,500-acre recreational haven that includes trails, mountains, waterfalls, and a portion of the Case Mountain Grove of giant sequoias. BLM officials, who described the acquisition as a “done deal” at a May 29 scoping meeting in Three Rivers, are proposing to improve the access to the area by developing facilities that would upgrade parking and management of the area.
The current access at the end of Skyline Drive becomes overcrowded, especially on weekends, and also encourages trespassers who frequently use trails that are on privately owned land adjacent to the BLM’s existing easement. The acquisition would create an opportunity to direct the majority of users to enter on the northeast end of the property near where Craig Ranch Road meets Salt Creek Road.
At Tuesday’s workshop, large-scale drawings were displayed that showed the development for a limited parking area near the current entrance and easement at Skyline Drive but without the proposed property acquisition (Alternative B) and a more extensive parking area and restrooms past the present gate near where Craig Ranch Road meets the Salt Creek Road with the acquisition of the 59.19-acre so-called South End property (Alternative C). Alternative A calls for no action, no land acquisition, and merely maintains the access as status quo.
“We want to hear what the public would like to see at Case Mountain,” said Gabriel Garcia, BLM field manager. “The purpose of these meetings in Three Rivers is to give those who use this area the most and our neighbors here the opportunity to be involved in the planning.”
Each of the proposed alternatives and the accompanying 16-page document can be reviewed on the BLM-Bakersfield Field Office’s website (www.ca.blm.gov/bakersfield). Written or emailed comments will be accepted until July 21.
Questions concerning the project should be directed to Peter DeWitt at (661) 391-6121 or email@example.com.
3R provides input regarding Salt Creek trails use
The BLM conducted a public workshop in Three Rivers on May 29 to provide the public with an opportunity to provide input concerning the opportunities, challenges, and potential solutions as they pertained to public access, the potential acquisition, and general resource management of the Salt Creek/Case Mountain recreation area.
The meeting was attended by 42 people — mostly from the local community. Of the feedback received at this meeting and via subsequent emails, the following summarizes the general themes expressed by those participating in the workshop:
Ancillary Facilities: The need to address area information, signage, and sanitation/trash issues resulting from public use.
BLM Management and Presence: The lack of any routine patrol by BLM personnel and law enforcement.
Conflicting Recreation Uses: The potential for unsafe conditions to exist due to the mix of trail use and unmanaged shooting sports.
Multiple Trail Uses/Users: The need to provide opportunities and management for hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian activities, but concern over increasing use as a result of third-party publicity.
Parking: The need to address parking at the terminus of Skyline Drive.
Partnerships and Funding: The opportunity to engage partners in management of the area, including friends’ groups or volunteers. In addition, the need to ensure funding for management potentially by the introduction of a fee or permit system to provide for a revenue steam and additional visitor controls.
BLM-Salt Creek plan alternatives
The following are brief summaries of the alternatives be considered for the Salt Creek area:
Alternative A – “No Action”
The BLM would not pursue the acquisition of 59 acres of private property adjacent to BLM-administered public lands at Case Mountain. No further action, including changes to existing public access, would occur.
Alternative B –
The BLM would not pursue the acquisition of 59 acres of private property adjacent to BLM-administered public lands at Case Mountain. The BLM would implement the following management, including actions and facility developments, to address safe, suitable public access and resource protection needs:
Construct a parking area from the current terminus of Skyline Drive. Signage identifying the public easement would be installed at the terminus of Skyline Drive and along the route.
Management of the private property is outside the extent of BLM administration, however, the BLM would work with the Craig Ranch private landowner to eliminate trespass routes.
Alternative C – “Acquisition”
The BLM would pursue and seek acquisition of approximately 59 acres of private property – a portion of the Craig Ranch - adjacent to BLM-administered public lands at Case Mountain. A turn-around would be constructed on Skyline Drive and a parking lot on Craig Ranch Road with vault toilets, information kiosk, and volunteer host campsite.
Hiking the Parks:
By Sarah Elliott
The weekend following Independence Day found us in the Mineral King area of Sequoia National Park. This is a place where the trails practically beg people to take them.
It wasn’t hard to convince us to undertake another marvelous Sierra adventure. On Saturday morning, we were packing our daypacks with lunch, water, and everything from sunscreen to rain jackets in an effort to be prepared for any weather the Sierra might throw our way: a pristine summer day when not a solitary cloud mars the horizon or, perhaps, the dreaded masses of thickening cumulus clouds that could bring explosions of thunder, detonations of lightning, and drenching rain.
Our destination for the day was Spring Lake, which meant climbing up and out of the Mineral King valley. This would be a strenuous day hike of about 15 miles round trip, some of it off-trail.
We started at the trailhead to Sawtooth Pass (and Monarch Lakes, Crystal Lake, and Timber Gap), slightly less than a mile beyond the Mineral King Ranger Station and at an elevation of 7,800 feet.
In just under a half-mile we passed the Timber Gap junction. At just over a mile, we reached Groundhog Flat, where the maintained trail crosses Monarch Creek.
We took an older, shorter, but unmaintained trail on the north end of the meadow that ascends rapidly along the flanks of Empire Mountain, which was piercing the sky in the early morning light. This is the easiest section of this trail to follow although it still requires some hoisting over rockslides and could result in scratched legs due to the underbrush.
As the path leaves the mountainside and enters a lush valley, it becomes more indistinct. We worked our way up the north side of the canyon then climbed a grassy slope that brought us level with the lower of the two Monarch Lakes. Before reaching the lake, we cut off onto the sandy shale that makes up the ridgeline of Sawtooth Peak (elevation 12,343 feet).
We stayed west of the various routes that take hikers to Sawtooth Pass, instead heading up the steep scree while aiming for the low point on the mountain between that pass and Empire Mountain. Once on top, it was a relief to contour across to the multi-colored ridge that includes Glacier Pass (elevation 11,120 feet).
There is no longer a maintained trail from Glacier Pass to Spring Lake, but there used to be. Some have attempted to create a ducked path, but it’s not necessary as the route is obvious, so not difficult for those with some off-trail experience.
The way off Glacier Pass begins in the chute that is to the right side of a rocky promontory. Veer right, or east, along the backside of the rugged pass. It looks treacherous but is not as long as hikers cling to the contour instead of trying to descend vertically off the ridge.
Once off the talus beneath Glacier Pass, the route easily traverses two meadow-covered hanging valleys along a pristine snowmelt creek. The striking escarpment of the Kaweah Peaks Ridge dominates the skyline while the strikingly beautiful Spring Lake cirque (elevation 10,060 feet) comes into view below.
Spring Lake is the third of a trio of lakes that stair-step down a steep granite gorge and form the headwaters of Cliff Creek. Columbine Lake, in the shadow of Sawtooth Peak, is the highest (elevation 10,970 feet) and largest in the chain. Cyclamen Lake, in the middle and about 400 feet higher than Spring Lake, is the smallest of the three.
While Columbine and Cyclamen are rock-bound, at Spring Lake clumps of foxtail pines dot the mountainsides and lakeshore.
Since it appeared that no thunderheads would be forming, which would make our return trip over Glacier Pass and the Sawtooth ridgeline a little risky, we spent a good part of the afternoon at the lake. The views from our sunny granite perch included the Cyclamen Lake outlet falls that debouch into Spring Lake; Hands and Knees Pass to the east; and the long switchbacks up Black Rock Pass to the north.
We returned the same way we came over Glacier Pass, but descended off the ridge to Monarch Lake, which was a city of tents on this holiday weekend. From here, we took the well-trod, zigzagging trail that gently descends the forested slopes back to Groundhog Flat and the Mineral King valley.
3R student attends specialized leadership camp
Claire Hamm, a junior at Woodlake High School, is currently in San Francisco as one of a select group of young scholars to attend the National Youth Leadership Forum on Medicine. Claire was selected for this opportunity due to her academic achievements, leadership potential, and because she plans to pursue a career in medicine.
The Leadership Forum, which began July 7 and continues through Tuesday, July 16, will introduce students to a variety of concepts in public health, medical ethics, research, and general practice. Students will visit medical schools and facilities, have one-on-one discussions with medical professionals, and be presented with a simulation of a patient’s case history for which they must diagnose and develop a treatment plan.
“Many people in the community donated to Claire’s tuition,” said her parents, Keith Hamm and Esther Zurcher of Three Rivers. “We are very grateful.”
Local organizations and individuals assisting Claire with the expenses involved in attending the Forum are the Three Rivers Lions Club, Three Rivers Woman’s Club, Tamara Dutro of TRU Salon, family members, and a generous donation from an anonymous contributor.