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In the News - Friday, August 9, 2013





3R paraglider pilot injured in crash

   Paragliding can be extremely addicting. Imagine hiking up a 2,000-foot mountain with your personal flying machine in a backpack and then jumping off into the wild blue to soar like a bird.
    On Tuesday, Aug. 6, that’s precisely what Clinton Johnson, 51, of Three Rivers was thinking about during his commute home from a job in Shaver Lake. He couldn’t even wait until he got home; he decided to stop at Lake Kaweah, unload his gear, and climb Tharp’s Peak, located on the south side of Lake Kaweah.
    Clint, an experienced paraglider pilot, knew there was plenty of late-afternoon air to fill his nylon wing so he launched shortly before 5:30 p.m. for what he hoped was going to be an extended, zigzagging ride to the flat, green basin below.
    But as he traversed back and forth (that’s how the canopy fills with air) a few feet out from his launch point he encountered a tricky thermal updraft that had him way too close to the rugged terrain. After less than five minutes in flight, Clint lost control and the wide parachute-like canopy came crashing down on the steep mountainside within a few hundred feet of the peak.
    “Fortunately, Clint had his cell phone with him and was able to call for help,” said Cal Johnson, Clint’s father, who was at the scene as rescuers hiked to the crash site. “He was just lucky to get a signal from where he was on that mountain.”
    An ambulance crew, with two other rescuers, was able to reach the crash site approximately 40 minutes after Clint reported the crash. He was examined at the scene then carried on a litter across a nearby drainage to a waiting EMS helicopter.
    The helicopter transported the crash victim to the trauma center at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno.
  “When he arrived at the hospital, he was really hurting,” said Cal. “He broke his back in two places, and he needed several stitches for a bump on the head.”
    Yesterday (August 8), the injured pilot was scheduled to undergo surgery. Cal said Clint’s injuries are extremely painful but the doctors are confident he can make a full recovery and will be walking within a week.
    Cal said Clint started paragliding five years ago while living in Spokane, Wash., and has never had a serious mishap or injury before this crash.
    “I think the flying he does up there is fantastic,” said Cal. “He’s been after me to go up with him in a tandem but I told him no way.”
    Clint has been spotted quite often in the sky above Three Rivers. Recently, he was in the air for 45 minutes as he soared from Tharp’s Peak back to Three Rivers and landed in a North Fork pasture.
    Record-breaking paragliding journey over Sequoia National Park— Dave Turner, who runs a paragliding school in Mammoth Lakes, recently completed a flight believed to be the first trans-Sierra crossing of its type. Turner flew east to west for over 60 miles from Owens Valley to the Central Valley.
    He soared over the Sierra’s crest and its fourteeners, looked down on the big ditch known as the Kern Canyon, waved at tourists on Moro Rock, glided over Three Rivers and Lake Kaweah, and eventually landed near an orange grove below Terminus Dam. To watch a six-and-a-half-minute video of Dave’s adventure, go to http://vimeo.com/69642110.

Motorist nearly crushed by rolling minivan

   It’s a knee-jerk reaction. We hop out of our vehicle in a parking lot, notice that it’s rolling backward, so quickly open the door and attempt to get a foot on the brake pedal.
    After seeing what happened to longtime Three Rivers resident Eileen Farrell last Friday afternoon, Aug. 2, outside of Three Rivers Drug, this plan of action is not advised. But what’s a driver to do since the alternative is letting the vehicle roll into another car or, worse yet, pedestrians?
    Eileen tried to save others or avoid certain property damage, but she could have been crushed to death for her efforts.
    “The doctor said it was a miracle that I wasn’t crushed and that my body literally stopped the van,” Eileen said Wednesday via her home telephone after a three-day stay at Kaweah Delta Medical Center. “I never felt such pain and weight pressing down on me.”
    Eileen never reached the brake pedal of her 1999 Pontiac Montana minivan in time so was pushed to the pavement with her mini-van ending up literally on top of her. She was trapped under the left front tire.
    Four local teens — McKenzie Kelly, Kaylin and Kristen Reeves, and Claire Hamm — dining at an outside table at Casa Mendoza came sprinting over to help. They pushed the vehicle off the stunned victim and set the parking brake.
    David Stanley, the pharmacist and owner of Three Rivers Drug, called 911 and helped Eileen into a chair in the shade. Paramedics soon arrived and examined her at the scene.
    Eileen said her blood pressure was low and she was obviously in shock. All she could remember thinking about was Andy, her beloved Bichon Frise dog.
  “I was thinking Andy must be really stressed out with all these people gathered around me,” Eileen recalled. “Fortunately, there was a Three Rivers angel who knew exactly what to do.”
    That angel turned out to be Ariana Bates who happened to be at the Village Shopping Center with her two kids grabbing a to-go order at Casa Mendoza. She witnessed the incident and came to Eileen’s aid.
    Ariana, who has a Bichon of her own, took Andy and cared for him while Eileen was in the hospital.
    Eileen wrote Wednesday in an email to her friends:
    “The long and short of it is no internal bleeding and the only broken bone was the small bone which connects the two ankle bones on the left foot. It was a clean break and did not require an operation. Instead, my leg which is still swollen, but getting better, is a real mess and in a boot which I will have to keep on my leg for at least five to six weeks.”
    For the dozens of rescuers and onlookers who were at the accident scene, it was a close encounter and definitely a miracle of the Three Rivers kind.

Town meeting poses public-safety solutions

   Following an emotionally charged July 8 town meeting in the aftermath of the Cobbleknoll gang-related shootings on June 27, cooler heads prevailed at the August 5 meeting. Another packed house at the Three Rivers Memorial Building listened to a panel of Tulare County Sheriff’s Department personnel who furnished updates on local patrols, gangs, ongoing investigations, and how the Three Rivers community can become more proactive in public safety.
    Increasing patrols— Sheriff Bill Wittman spoke first on behalf of the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department. He indicated that more officers have been assigned to Three Rivers since the Cobbleknoll incident.
  “We’ll do the best we can to keep the gang element out of this community,” he said. “And we’re going to remove all that graffiti.”
    Sheriff Wittman stated that it costs $120,000 annually to assign one full-time deputy to Three Rivers. A portion or all of the cost of an extra deputy could be funded by the community after the summer season if there is still a need.
    Wittman said there are grants available for rural communities to fund law enforcement.
  “We haven’t seen the extent of violence that we’re seeing today,” Sheriff Wittman said. “And it’s in the young people. They have no sense of life or death.”
    Gang expert— Sheriff Wittman introduced Lt. Mark Gist, the commander of the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department’s Gang Violence Suppression Unit.
  “We need you folks to be the best eyes possible and give us a good description of what you see and any possible suspects,” said Lt. Gist. “But don’t be obvious about it.”
    Lt. Gist said first and foremost play it safe. He said communication is the key and has played a huge role in the validation of more than 5,000 gang members in Tulare County.
    “I understand gangs,” he said. “I understand trends.”
    Crime updates— Lt. John Gonzalez reported on several ongoing investigations relative to recent burglaries and the attempt to steal the automated-teller machine at Bank of the Sierra.
  “Unfortunately, the keys were left in the equipment parked nearby and that prompted somebody to drive a water truck into the ATM,” Lt. Gonzalez said. “We don’t have any leads but the investigation is continuing,”
    Proactive in the community— Deputy Scott Doyle spoke next and said he is ready to start a graffiti-abatement program with the support of local volunteers. He said he will research what methods are appropriate to avoid contaminating the river and other natural resources.
    Deputy Doyle said graffiti abatement is also on the calendar for the annual Public Lands Day at Lake Kaweah, scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 28. It was also suggested that the BLM organize a Public Lands Day effort for the North Fork sites.
    There will be an organizational meeting for a Neighborhood Watch coming soon, Deputy Doyle announced. He said monthly meeting times for several neighborhoods will be posted in the Commonwealth.
    “These programs teach you firsthand how to have the best eyes and what to look for,” he explained. “They are very easy and low commitment.”
    There were lots of questions from the audience including “When was the last time a parking ticket was written for someone illegally parked on North Fork Drive?”
    “Today,” Deputy Doyle responded.
    Gangs on the move— The program opened with some slides of trash, drugs, and graffiti found at two of the closed BLM sites on the North Fork. The law-enforcement presence at Edison Beach and other local swimming holes have caused some gang members and others to head to more remote river spots on upper North Fork Drive.
    All the signage indicating where the sites are located and where closures are in effect have been removed. Steve Larson, assistant director of BLM’s Bakersfield office, said reinstalling the missing signage will be a priority.
    “We’re concerned about North Fork,” he said. “We are committed to working with the community to find some solutions.”
    Larson also said that there are no plans for reopening the sites. One caveat the agency has encountered is that the Paradise site, what had been the most visited of the three BLM-North Fork sites, was determined to be on private land.
    “Only the gate is on BLM land,” Larson announced. “Nothing else.”
    He, too, stressed the need for communication from the community.
    “We want you to call to say if things are looking bad up there.”
    This special meeting, and the one held in July, were sponsored (and paid for) by the Three Rivers Village Foundation. The group usually takes a summer hiatus, so these meeting were not in the group’s budget. Anyone wishing to join the Foundation or to donate to help offset expenses may call Lee Goldstein, 561-3204.
    The next Town Hall meeting is tentatively scheduled for Monday, Sept. 9.


A lot of lakes

By Sarah Elliott

   When selecting a hiking destination on the 800 miles of trails that meander through Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, it would be a rare occasion that the excursion didn’t include a body of water. That’s because strewn throughout the high country are lakes and ponds and puddles of snowmelt, nestled in glacial cirques beneath towering granite peaks.
    But this isn’t a seen-one, seen-them-all tale. Each lake is a new adventure due to the route, the weather, the season, and the flora and fauna encountered along the way.
    And depending on your mode of recreation once at the lake, each experience is in itself memorable. For John, he either catches his dinner or he doesn’t as he continues his perpetual trans-Sierra quest to catch the largest and wiliest trout.
    If a careful count were kept, it would show that over the last five years my evenings have been just a little more often fishless than not. —Arnold Gingrich, The Joys of Trout
    My pastime is temperature-dependent, both air and water, as I am drawn to swimming in these high-mountain pools, then lounging on a sun-drenched granite slab to raise my body temperature back up above the teeth-chattering stage. I enjoy the way the chilly water instantly relieves my tired, inflamed muscles, removes the trail dirt, and leaves me completely refreshed and rejuvenated.
    I love discovering how the water varies in degrees from almost bearable to cold to frigid to glacial icecap depending on location, and sometimes all in the same lake. And I never fail to feel some anxiety when venturing beyond the shoreline to where the water turns deep and black and seemingly bottomless, no matter how often I tell myself that there couldn’t possibly be anything down there stalking me.
    Our summer has consisted of several challenging day hikes in the Mineral King area of Sequoia National Park to lakes beyond the well-worn paths. These peaceful places are less visited than the trail-side destinations, providing solitude, pristine shoreline, and expansive views in exchange for the effort it takes to reach them... and return from them in the same day.
    There are many forms of beauty in these lakes. On a cloudless, sunny day, they can be a color of blue that defies description. They can be so calm that they resemble a polished mirror, reflecting a perfect image of the foxtail and lodgepole pines at water’s edge and the snow-white granitic peaks towering over the bowl.
    There are fields of flowers including wild onions, coneflowers, Jeffrey shooting stars, leopard lilies, columbine, and so many more. They are hardy yet so delicate, prolific yet rare.
    Take the time to listen and the only sounds will be the breeze in the treetops, birds unseen, the splash of a trout jumping for its supper, and the squawk of a pika, those adorable high-altitude haymakers that reside deep in the talus tunnels.
    And here’s a tip: Be careful what you say while sitting at a lakeshore. A private conversation can be heard on the opposite side of a lake as easily as if sitting across the kitchen table. Sound travels much more efficiently over water than land, and this amplification lets us know that people are at a lake before we even arrive.
    We have heard conversations not intended for our ears as I can imagine we’ve spilled a few secrets over our years of lake visits. Last weekend, we learned way more than we wanted to about what five backpackers a quarter-mile away think about disgraced politician Anthony Weiner’s most recent indiscretions.
    Part of the grandeur and allure of the Sierra includes the fact that a tranquil, glassy lake surface can change to waves and whitecaps in an instant, which we experienced a few weeks ago. The blue water turned gray and dark while thunder rumbled ominously. The water was marred by a raindrop, then another, and another.
    When at home, it isn’t important to pay close attention to the weather because we are insulated from the elements. But all senses are heightened when in the backcountry, miles from the trailhead, especially when a thunderstorm strikes.
    The downpour arrived, then left within minutes, only to reappear with pelting hail on our return hike down the mountain.
    This is an encounter not soon forgotten and, at the same time, it is just another day in the remote and wild High Sierra where life slows yet is never dull.

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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