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In the News - Friday, September 6, 2013




Several major incidents in

Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks

Silver City hiker lost in Paradise

How an afternoon jaunt turns into an all-nighter

  One of the perks of working at Silver City Resort for the summer is all the great hiking nearby. There is an infinite number of choices; destination to be determined by the hiker’s skill level and considerations like a few hours for a day hike or enough time off for multi-day trek.
   On Thursday, Aug. 29, Bryn Cole, 18, a Cuesta College (San Luis Obispo) student in her second season of working at Silver City, had an afternoon to herself, so why not bag Paradise Peak? The trailhead at 6,500 feet is a couple miles from the resort near Atwell Mill so planning for a few hours to hike the three miles to Paradise Ridge at 8,400 feet and then traversing the ridge to the peak seemed quite doable even with her post-1 p.m. departure.
   Bryn advised coworkers of her destination, grabbed a light jacket, pack, some bottled water, and trail food, then laced up her hiking boots and off she went.
   The hike up through the Atwell Grove of giant sequoias was steep at the beginning but uneventful.
    “I must have been on the ridge by four o’clock and easily found my way to Paradise Peak,” Bryn recalled. “I signed the register on the peak where I wrote something like ‘Wouldn’t have made it except for my adventurous spirit.’”
   After taking in the view and relishing in her accomplishment, Bryn started back the way she had come, or so she thought. The indistinct trail off the peak looked different from this vantage point and led Bryn zigzagging down the opposite side of the ridge.
  “It wasn’t long before I realized I was going in the wrong direction,” Bryn recalled. “I just wanted to find the trail so I could take that back up and over the ridge.”
   The indistinct network of game trails where water ran down the mountain during spring melt had Bryn going deeper and deeper into the overgrown forest until she came upon another scattered grove of giant sequoias. But there was no sign of the trail to Redwood Meadow or any trail back to Paradise Ridge.
   Bryn clung to hope that the trail was down there somewhere but it was starting to get dark.
  “I was really worried. I knew I was lost, and I had to think now how I was going to spend the night,” Bryn said. “My water was just about out, but I had plenty of food.”
   Bryn devised a makeshift shelter in a conjoined giant sequoia trunk and covered herself with ferns. No resident critters were around on this night but it was apparent there had been some occupants of the same hollowed-out cavity in the past.
   For drinking Bryn filled her bottle from a stagnant pool nearby.
  “I didn’t really sleep much but just listened to the sounds around me,” Bryn said. “I might have had a few catnaps.”
    By the time it was dark on the Silver City side of the mountain, Steve Bruno, one of Bryn’s coworkers sensed something was wrong. He headed up the ridge in the dark, joined by other staff members from Silver City including Michael Seaward, the resort’s manager.
   The search party reached the ridge and Paradise Peak in a little more than an hour and noticed Bryn had signed the register. The searchers decided to head back in the darkness and resume scouring the area at first light.
    “When it got light and a little warmer, I started back up the mountain,” Bryn said. “I found the trail sign on the ridge and what turned out to be my searcher’s footprints. I knew I was heading in the right direction.”
   In a few minutes Bryn could hear someone calling her name from the trail below. It was Aaron Cluck, a summer resident of Silver City, who had joined the others in the search.
   After the reuniting of the lost hiker with her searchers, everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief. Bryn had actually walked out to safety a little shaken and a lot more experienced.
   It only dipped down to about 50 degrees that night so Bryn said later that the conditions were perfect for a good outcome.
    “I must have walked 20 miles and for most of the time I really didn’t know where I was,” Bryn said. “As to my advice for other hikers: be familiar with the trails you take, don’t start late in the day, and never go hiking alone.”

Day hiker perishes on Mount Whitney

  A mountaineering rescue team for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks recovered the body of Yukio Kato on Monday, Sept. 2, from a steep cliff above the 13,000-foot elevation level and 200 feet below the Mount Whitney trail. Kato, 60, of Torrance had reached the summit of the 14,500-foot peak on Sunday, Sept. 1, during a day-hike and was en route back to Whitney Portal when he plunged 200 feet off a narrow portion of the trail approximately two trail miles below the summit.
   Park personnel arrived on scene via a helicopter shortly after the incident was reported and determined they would need more daylight of the following day to recover the victim’s body. Forest Service rangers walked Kato’s hiking companions — his wife and two daughters — back to Whitney Portal.
   One of Kato’s daughters reportedly told an investigator that her father had complained of feeling dizzy and being lightheaded immediately before the fatal fall.
   Sgt. Wright of the Tulare County Coroner’s Office said Kato’s death is one of several that have occurred recently at high elevation this summer. He reported that this has prompted the coroner to conduct a more in-depth investigation into what caused Kato’s fall.
    “In the past we might have simply attributed this death to the altitude but now we’re looking for more evidence,” Sgt. Wright said. “The investigation into the recent death on Sawtooth Peak in Mineral King [The Kaweah Commonwealth, “Missing Mineral King hiker died due to heart attack,” August 16, 2013] where the hiker’s fall was caused by a heart attack demonstrated there are other factors to consider.”
   Sgt. Wright said an autopsy and toxicology tests on Kato would help establish a baseline for what causes these sudden deaths at high elevation. That information would be available in two or three weeks and could be useful to other agencies and researchers who want to assess risk.

One dead in Cedar Grove solo-vehicle accident

  The adult son of a prominent Bismarck, N.D., family was killed during the Labor Day holiday weekend in a single-vehicle accident in the Cedar Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park. The sole fatality of the crash was Tom Wefald, 35, of Pacific Grove.
   Wefald is the son of Robert Wefald, retired North Dakota Supreme Court district judge and former attorney general, and Susan Wefald, former public service commissioner and the first woman to serve in that position. According to reports from the family, Wefald was one of three people riding in the bed of a pickup that failed to negotiate a curve on Highway 180, struck a tree.
   All three were ejected from the pickup when it hit a boulder, the family reported to the Bismarck Tribune. Tom died at the scene.
   The other two who had been in the pickup bed were seriously injured. The driver and a passenger sustained injuries that were not life-threatening. All were transported via ambulance or helicopter to a Fresno hospital.
   The accident was reported at about 2 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 31, by a passerby who came upon the accident scene. It is not known what time the accident actually occurred.
   A request for information from the local Park Service provided no additional information. It is unknown if impaired driving or excessive speed was a factor in the crash and whether the rest of the group were males and/or females.
    “The cause of the accident is under investigation,” said Dana Dierkes, Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks public affairs specialist.
   The make, model, and year of the pickup were not made available. And Dierkes was unaware of the destination of the group, where they were coming from, or why they were in the Cedar Grove area.
   Tom Wefald was an Eagle Scout and formerly a member of the North Dakota National Guard and Army Reserve who spent nine months in Bosnia during 1997 and 1998. He was currently a caddie for the Pebble Beach Resorts golf courses. In April, he had released a line of clothing for golfers called “Scratch Dresser.”

Car fire snarls traffic on Mineral King Road

  Sometime around noon on Labor Day (Monday, Sept. 2), a 1997 Toyota Camry descending the Mineral King Road erupted in flames about one mile above Lookout Point near the boundary of Sequoia National Park. As there is no cell phone service in the area, it took awhile for Sequoia National Park rangers and Tulare County Fire Department and Cal Fire personnel to arrive at the remote scene.

   Spot fires were ignited in the adjacent dry vegetation, which were doused with water drops via helicopter. More than 100 vehicles filled with holiday visitors who had spent the long weekend in Mineral King were delayed until the fire was completely out.

  Traffic was let through about 2 p.m. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Resident deputy schedules Neighborhood Watch meeting

  There are telltale signs of millions of eyes keeping watch in neighborhoods all across America. Now some of those eyes will be keeping watch in Three Rivers.
   At the August town meeting, Scott Doyle, Three Rivers resident deputy, told a packed house was that he was proactive on fighting crime. But he can only be effective with the help and support of the Three Rivers community.
    “I’ve had experience with Neighborhood Watch, and it works,” Deputy Doyle said. “It can be a real deterrent to crime.”
   So here is chance for everyone to get involved, and it won’t cost you or taxpayers a dime. The break-in, robbery, vandalism or violent crime that you prevent just might be one in which you were slated to be the victim.
   Begin your career as a crime fighter by attending the Friday, Sept. 13, meeting at 6 p.m. at the Three Rivers Arts Center on North Fork Drive. Deputy Doyle will explain how each neighborhood forms a chapter and is responsible for their own turf.
   It’s the antithesis to street gang warfare, and the good guy — that’s all of us — comes out the winner. Together we can stop crime before it happens.
   GRAFFITI CLEANUP— Also, volunteers are needed for a special graffiti clean-up crew scheduled for National Public Lands Day, Saturday Sept. 28. Deputy Doyle will be taking sign-ups for this effort at the meeting, too.
   If you can’t attend next Friday’s meeting and would like to get involved or for more information, call Deputy Doyle at 740-8894.

Tulare County Fire Department offering free smoke detectors

  Did you know? Most victims of fire die in the first five minutes, killed by smoke and fire gasses.
   Did you know? The presence of a working, properly maintained smoke detector increases the chance of someone surviving a fire by 50 percent.
   Tulare County Fire Department personnel have a goal to make the community of Three Rivers as fire safe as possible. To that end, TCFD has been awarded a federal grant for distributing a limited number of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in rural communities throughout the county.
   The detectors are available to families with low incomes, with special consideration given to households with adults over 65 or children younger than 14.
   The detector and installation are free. Three Rivers Station 14 personnel are currently contacting residents regarding detector installation, but they are asking for the community’s assistance. Anyone who needs a smoke alarm, or knows someone who does, is asked to contact the TCFD-Three Rivers station by calling 561-4362 or stopping in (South Fork at Sierra Drive).

Smoke/CO alarms: It’s the law

  By now, everyone is aware that smoke alarms are required by law in all residences. For the past two years, it has also been law that carbon monoxide detectors be installed in dwellings.
   As of July 1, 2011, California landlords and homeowners, including sellers of residential property, are required to install a carbon monoxide (CO) alarm (or a CO alarm combined with a smoke detector) that has been tested and certified in accordance with standards developed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL).
   This law addresses the problem of carbon monoxide poisoning, which is the leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States. Carbon monoxide is an odorless gas produced whenever any fuel is burned. It can enter the home from sources as seemingly innocent as a gas stove, furnace, or woodstove, usually due to leakage, backdrafting, or poor venting.
   Detectors must be installed in all dwelling units that contain a fossil fuel-burning heater, appliance, or fireplace or that have an attached garage.

Parks ease fire restrictions

  Based on the shorter days and gradually cooling temperatures, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are easing fire restrictions. This is not to say there aren’t some regulations still in effect because there are, due to continued drought conditions and dry vegetation that keep fire danger at high levels.
   Previous restrictions included no fires at all in lower-elevation campgrounds and during wilderness travel, no matter what the elevation. Now, wood fires or barbecues will be allowed in designated campgrounds only. Backpackers may not have a fire below 6,000 feet elevation (all other backcountry fire restrictions apply); gas or propane stoves may be used at all elevations.
   No smoking below 6,000 feet elevation is permitted except within a developed area, a campground, an enclosed vehicle, or a designated smoking area.

Playground equipment
installed at TRUS

   A long-awaited, much-needed, new play structure has been installed at Three Rivers Union School on the primary grades’ playground... and it didn’t cost the school anything. Grants and generous donations from community groups, school support groups, and a private family foundation paid for the equipment.

  Local members of the community prepared the site and installed the playground equipment.  

  The new playground was the vision of TRUS mom Amber Savastio and this year’s Eagle Club Booster president. When her daughter received injuries from a fall onto the old playground’s surface, she jumped into action and didn’t relent until the project was finalized on Wednesday, Aug. 28, with the official ribbon-cutting.

New preschool opens
in Three Rivers

  The youngest of Three Rivers residents have not had a local early-education option for more than a decade. But on Monday, Aug. 26, River Kids Preschool opened its doors. The center, which is held in the basement of Community Presbyterian Church (no religious affiliation), offers a Spanish-immersion program for children ages 2½ until they enter kindergarten.  

  Currently, the school’s enrollment is about 25 children and is growing each day. The instructors are Darcie Pena, who was raised in Three Rivers, and sisters Maria Reynoso and Mireya Reynoso, both of Exeter. The school’s directors are Heidi Schumacher and Erin Leedy.

  For information, call 561-3749 or email riverkidspreschool@gmail.


Joan Badiali
1927 ~ 2013

   Joan Badiali of Exeter died Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, in Visalia. She was 86.
   A gathering of family and friends will be held Saturday, Sept. 21, from 2 to 4 p.m., at the Badiali residence.
   Joan was born February 10, 1927, in San Diego to Jack and Jessie Durrant. She worked for nearly five decades in the banking industry while also assisting her husband, Robert, in their family-owned Badiali Firewood business for over 25 years.
   Joan volunteered for various charities over the years. She was the treasurer for the Exeter division of the Salvation Army for 44 years.
   As a child, Joan and her siblings enjoyed many joyous outings to Terminus Beach, often meeting up with Garry Kenwood (1929-2000) and his family members from Three Rivers.   As an adult, she traveled to Three Rivers often to visit her daughter, Janet; son-in-law, Van Bailey; and granddaughter Breeanna.
   Joan was preceded in death by her husband of 42 years, Robert (1919-2005), and her brother, Robert Durrant.
   She is survived by her daughters, Lynne Balaam Batchelder of Modesto, Janet Badiali Bailey of Three Rivers, and Joan Badiali Vehrs of Visalia; brothers Ivan Durrant and wife Karen of Exeter, John Durrant and wife Louie of San Diego; sisters Doris Durrant Ferree of Santee and Jess DeVito and husband William of San Diego; five grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; numerous nieces and nephews; and her companion of many years, Bill Herman of Three Rivers.

Saundra Sturdevant
1936 ~ 2013

   A memorial service for Saundra Sturdevant, 76, will be held Saturday, Sept. 21, 2 p.m., at the Friends Meeting House, 17208 Ave. 296, Visalia.
   Saundra, a resident of Three Rivers since 1995, moved here with her partner from the Bay Area to open Organic Gardens Bed and Breakfast. She died Thursday, June 27, 2013, from a fast-acting form of myeloid leukemia.
   While living in Three Rivers, Saundra became focused on the socio-political issues in the Central Valley, She founded the Migrant Photography Project, a nonprofit organization that documented over more than a decade migrant women’s labor and life in agribusiness in Tulare County.
   This project was a perfect commingling of her skill as a photographer and her life’s work of raising awareness on issues ranging from civil rights to preventing war to the dangers of industrial agriculture. Examples of her work and a full biography may be viewed at www.ssturdevantphotography.com.
   An obituary was published in the July 5, 2013, issue of The Kaweah Commonwealth.
Saundra is survived by her three sons, their wives, and eight grandchildren.

THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
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