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In the News - Friday, September 7, 2012





Fraud suspect arrested in 3R

  When Alex Hernandez visited Three Rivers in May 2011, he most likely couldn’t believe his fortuitous timing. He walked into the local Mexican restaurant at a time when it was going through some changes from Serrano’s to Casa Mendoza. After meeting Aurelia Mendoza, the restaurant’s friendly owner, he recounted later how it was love at first bite.
   Hernandez not only loved the food and the warm, friendly atmosphere of Casa Mendoza, but he also said he fell in love with the attractive, generous owner. At least that’s how this love story began, but now there’s been a tragic twist and the story doesn’t end with “happily ever after.”
  “Alex always treated me with the utmost respect, and we had happy times together,” said Aurelia. “I feel so embarrassed and humbled by all the things I said and did to convince everyone that this was what I wanted and that I had finally found happiness.”
Aurelia and Alex were married in a joyous family wedding in Washington state just two months after the couple met.
   Aurelia, who has been an enduring part of the local Mexican eatery since it opened a decade ago, is finding it difficult to understand what actually happened because she has since discovered that the Alex Hernandez she thought she knew is really Rey Martinez Lespier. He was arrested Friday, Aug. 10, at the Three Rivers home the couple shared.
   Merced police arrested Lespier, aka Alex Hernandez, on charges that he posed as an immigration lawyer and collected $3,000 in fees from at least one client for services that were never rendered. A Merced Police Department spokesperson said the case was an exception because so many of these crimes are never reported because the victims fear deportation.
  “When you report a crime, we do not care what your status is in this country,” said Lt. Tom Trindad of the Merced Police Department in an online news article. “All we care about is that you are a victim of a crime and need justice. Anyone who is a victim of crime should at least report the incident and do not need to fear law enforcement contacting ICE. In my almost 29-year law enforcement career, I have never asked a victim their legal status.”
   Allegedly, Lespier first became known to the Merced area when he began to advertise himself as a lawyer on a local Spanish-language radio station. According to the ad, Lespier could help people with their immigration status for a fee.
   The suspect’s office in central Merced, “America Legal Services,” has a posted eviction notice. The owner of the property said Lespier moved into the building in April but had not paid rent since.
   Detectives confiscated computers in Three Rivers that may contain more evidence as to the extent of Lespier’s fraud.
  “[Alex] called me earlier this week from jail and said his preliminary hearing was coming up and he would eventually get the charges dropped and clear his name,” Aurelia said. “He told me that he would totally understand if I never wanted to see him again and would respect my wishes.”
   For the would-be lawyer who spouted quantum physics and grandiose plans, there will be trouble ahead and perhaps a prison sentence.
  “I believe that if a person takes advantage of others he will get what’s coming to him,” Aurelia said. “I raised good kids, and through it all my friends have been such a comfort to me. I count my blessings everyday and thank God for my life in Three Rivers.”


Water on the wane: Eagle Lake, accessible via a 3.6-mile hiking trail from the Mineral King area of Sequoia National Park, is currently a series of small ponds due to lack of a significant snowpack during the winter of 2011-2012. Long-range forecasters are calling for a return to wetter and more normal conditions in 2012-2013.

TRUS trustee seats not on November ballot

Tax measure assigned a name

  Two seats will become available on the Three Rivers Union School board of trustees at the end of this year. Valerie Abanathie filed as an incumbent, but Kristina Roper Graber has decided to forego running for re-election.
   Jason Hawes, a Three Rivers business owner, will be appointed in lieu of election to the board as he was the only other candidate to file the necessary paperwork by the August deadline.
   Valerie and Jason, who owns and operates Lazy J Ranch Motel with his wife, Julie, and is a TRUS parent, will be sworn in at the December 2012 organizational board meeting. They will serve four-year terms.
   The TRUS parcel tax measure has been assigned a letter by the Tulare County Elections Department. It will now be known as Measure I. The text on the ballot will read as follows:
   To provide the highest quality of educational opportunities for students at Three Rivers School, the District shall levy a tax of $60.00 annually per parcel, so long as the Three Rivers School Board oversees expenditures and uses all proceeds to directly maintain and support strong student/teacher relationships; attract and retain qualified teachers; protect vital academic programs; expand library and technology resources; maintain classroom and school facilities; maintain the autonomy of a single school District.
   A two-thirds majority vote is necessary to pass Measure I, which will assist the cash-strapped school with much-needed funds and save it from impending closure or consolidation with another school district. A similar measure failed by mere percentage points in 2010.

USGS scientist receives national award

  Western Ecological Research Center (WERC) scientist Nate Stephenson was honored in June by the National Park Service with the Director’s Natural Resource Research award. Based at the WERC’s Sequoia and Kings Canyon Field Station at Ash Mountain, Nate was recognized for his research and long-term monitoring of western U.S. ecosystems.
   The national honor, which lauds resource stewards who go above and beyond in performance of their duties, resulted from nominations by employees from across the National Park System. This is Stephenson’s second nomination for the prestigious award. Nominees are chosen from an elite pool of submissions from each region for their achievements in the current year and throughout their career.
   Stephenson, who lives in Three Rivers, has been with the USGS since 1997. In that time, he has become an acknowledged expert in natural-resource management of Sierra Nevada ecosystems. In particular, the NPS applauded Stephenson’s contribution to the USGS Western Mountain Intiative, a global change research project that he and his colleagues established, focused on national parks in the mountainous western U.S.

Parks busy during holiday weekend

  On Saturday morning, Sept. 1, a 59-year-old male slipped and fell while climbing onto a ledge near the summit of North Palisade Peak (elevation 14,284 feet) in the northern portion of Kings Canyon National Park. The victim, who was accompanied by two companions, was not belayed and fell several hundred feet. He reportedly died upon impact.
   The two other climbers reported the accident to a second party that hiked out to report the incident. Rangers were notified of the accident that evening. The body of the deceased climber was recovered the next day.
   North Palisade is the highest peak in Kings Canyon National Park; it is officially the fourth highest peak in California. Rated Class 4 difficulty (involving short, steep sections where the use of a rope is recommended, and unroped falls could be fatal), North Palisade is also technically one of the most difficult among California’s 14ers (mountains over 14,000 feet elevation).
   Also during the three-day holiday weekend, a 43-year-old man hiking near Kearsarge Lakes in the backcountry of Kings Canyon NP injured his leg on a boulder. He had multiple lacerations with at least one penetrating to the bone. The man’s companion attempted to control the bleeding, but when his efforts failed, he called for help via cell phone.
   A backcountry ranger reached the victim on foot while a park medic was flown in via helicopter. The man was treated and evacuated by air to a hospital in Fresno.
   A 60-year-old woman also contacted a wilderness ranger at the LeConte Ranger Station, also in the backcountry of Kings Canyon, complaining of difficulty breathing. Upon evaluation, the ranger recommended that she be evacuated by air immediately.
   The woman was hesitant and initially declined helicopter transport. She changed her mind when her condition didn’t improve, and she was evacuated by helicopter to Grant Grove in the frontcountry of the park, where she was met by an ambulance and transported to a Fresno hospital.
   Also in Grant Grove, a 12-year-old girl was riding her bike down a hill in the Crystal Springs Campground when she lost control and ran into a sign. She suffered arm fractures, a facial wound, and a head injury. While she was being treated by first responders, her six-year-old brother was stung by a bee and had an anaphylactic reaction. Both were transported via ambulance to a Fresno hospital.

WHS implements programs

to improve academic achievement

By Holly Gallo

  After failing to meet federal accountability requirements for the last three years, Woodlake High School has begun to implement major direct and indirect strategies in order to improve the academic achievement of its students. According to principal Lisa Castillo, 2012 Academic Performance Index scores, aligned to the California High School Exit Exam, have shown an estimated 37-point improvement over last year’s scores.
   Among the teaching and administrative strategies being implemented are increased student accountability. Traditionally, student athletes have been required to maintain a 2.0 GPA and to be failing no more than one class per semester.
   Administrators noticed that by the end of the semester, students had fallen below this academic performance standard. At the end of the 2011 fall semester, 58 percent of student athletes had failed to maintain the required GPA and grades.
   The new strategy, piloted during the spring 2012 semester, is a schoolwide expectation of a 2.0 GPA and one or less failing classes. Rather than ascertaining eligibility once during a sport season, student athletes must maintain eligibility on a week-to-week basis throughout the semester. At the end of the spring semester, 97 percent of student athletes had maintained the academic standards.
   Furthermore, students now have the option to attend After School Content Tutorials, which is sustained from last year’s $250,000 Golden State YMCA After School Safety and   Enrichment for Teens grant. The Content Tutorials will offer English, physics, chemistry, integrated science/biology, social science, and math tutorials in addition to continuing to support the WHS Tiger Times school newspaper, which was cut from the curriculum in the spring of 2010 due to budget cuts.
  “It is our hope and desire that with collaboration with the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, and community members we can maintain [the Content Tutorials],” Castillo said.
   The school is also renovating their fitness center in part of the old Agricultural Mechanics workshop with $20,000 obtained from district renovation funds and volunteer labor hours from students, staff, coaches, and community members. When finished, the fitness center will host fitness workshops as part of the After School Content Tutorials.
  “We want to inspire athletes to be fit for games and to promote a healthy lifestyle for all students,” Castillo said.
   Additionally, the school will initiate a more proactive approach to state physical education tests by allowing students and staff to monitor progress on muscle strength, endurance, flexibility, aerobic strength, and Body Mass Index.
   Castillo reported that WHS staff is currently considering attaining the 21st Century ASSETs Grant, which would also help fund the after school tutoring and fitness services.
   On September 17, the school will also be starting a Response to Intervention program, wherein the last 33 minutes of the school days of a given week will be dedicated to content proficiency assessments of each class/subject as well as individual students. The program will allow the teaching staff to identify which students need help with their academic progress, and then meet and collaborate on modifications to instruction that will increase student achievement.
   The following week, teachers will implement changes to their teaching strategies by this case-by-case and more in-depth approach.
   Castillo stated that these changes come not only from a need to improve student academic performance, but also to “a mission to change student culture and encourage all students to have pride of character.”
   These new strategies may help to bring WHS out of Program Improvement (PI), which the school entered in the 2009-2010 school year. Schools enter PI after failing to meet Adequate Yearly Progress goals, aligned to CAHSEE scores, for two consecutive years in the same content area or indicator as per the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (reauthorized as the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001).
   Over the years, Woodlake has demonstrated a higher graduation rate and lower dropout rates than the county and state averages. It has also met its Academic Performance Index growth target schoolwide. While they’ve met these state accountability requirements, the No Child Left Behind Act requires that the school must meet target AYP growth not only schoolwide but also within recognized subgroups.
   English Learner and socioeconomically disadvantaged subgroups within the WHS student body, which in 2011 represented 36.3% and 97.8% of the student body, respectively, failed to meet growth targets last year.
   In 2011, 26.6% of English Learners achieved proficient and above in English/Language Arts, and 18.8% were proficient in Mathematics. While socioeconomically disadvantaged students met English/Language Arts targets, 40% were proficient in Mathematics.

‘Tis the season for students to plan for their future

  College Night— The Tulare County Office of Education’s 31st annual College Night will be held at the Visalia Convention Center on Tuesday, Sept. 11, beginning at 6 p.m. Representatives from more than 85 universities and colleges will be in attendance to answer questions about entrance requirements, tuition, and housing at their institutions.
High school juniors and seniors and their parents will be given access to the event at 6 p.m. Younger high school students and their parents will be admitted at 6:30 p.m., as in years past.
   Career Night— The 26th annual Woodlake High School Career Day will take place Friday, Oct. 19. The keynote speaker will be Leena Mendoza, a WHS alum who graduated in 1994. The event is sponsored by Woodlake Kiwanis, Woodlake Rotary, the Woodlake High School Foundation, as well as WHS students and faculty. Career Day will be divided into five career class periods.
   Administrators say that Career Day is “one of Woodlake High’s most important events. It provides an opportunity for students to interact with various professionals so they can get a better understanding of what career they plan to pursue.”


Class of ’73 – An introduction, a n admission, and a warning

  It’s back-to-school season, which inspires reflection by many of the school days of yesteryear. Inspired by the upcoming all-school Three Rivers Union School Reunion on Saturday, Oct. 6, Jay O’Connell will contribute a four-part weekly series on his memories of TRUS as part of the Class of 1973.

by Jay O'Connell

   Three Rivers is my hometown. Always will be. And while I often infer that I was both born and raised here, I was in fact born in Los Angeles.
   It wasn’t until 1965 that my family moved to this tiny village in the Sierra foothills. My parents had searched far and wide for a service station to buy, preferably somewhere in the country, away from the big city.
   Eventually they found the Mobil station in Three Rivers, with a small house right next door.  We moved into that house on my sixth birthday, and we had my birthday cake sitting on the floor of the living room. I guess the furniture had not arrived.
   So now everyone knows: I wasn’t actually born here. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I have only actually lived in Three Rivers for about 16 of my total years. You can do the math if you want to know the total, but yes, it’s over 50.
   I’ve lived back in Los Angeles now for over a quarter century (things always seem longer when measured in centuries). But still, I am a product of Three Rivers.
   I’m still sometimes befuddled by city folk. I’m astonished at the number of people all squeezed into one freeway. I get what Hank Jr. means when he says a country boy will survive.
   I must admit that I kind of like living in Los Angeles, although I reside in “the Valley” and seldom enjoy going “over the hill” into the city. Except maybe to Dodger Stadium.
   Let me tell you, the view of the San Gabriels from the top deck of the stadium at sunset rivals anything I’ve seen. And the downtown skyline as you exit the stadium, Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” heralding another victory, well, that’s unbeatable.
   But I digress. I still am a product of Three Rivers.
   The view I grew up with was of an elephant on a mountain. The team mascot I cheered for was an Eagle. And the song that droned in my head was — everybody sing along now:
   We are the Eagles. Mighty, mighty Eagles. Everywhere we gooooo-oh, people want to knoooow-oh….who we are. So we tell them. We are the Eagles... (and so on, ad naseum).
   As a product of Three Rivers, it naturally follows that I am a product of Three Rivers Union School. I attended kindergarten there. I graduated from eighth grade there. I did all the grade school stuff in between there. And while it’s been mumble-mumble years since I graduated (okay, it’s almost 40!), I still remember much of it vividly and fondly.
   What follows is a memoir of my years at Three Rivers School. This is not a history. I’ve written some history before. That involves research. And multiple sources. And fact checking. And objectivity. And organized thought and precise language and good grammar.
   This memoir will have none of that. And when I’ve written history, it has generally been about events and people from more than a hundred years ago. That means I don’t run the risk of offending people who are still alive.
   Let this be a warning right now: I’m going to offend some people who are still alive. Don’t know who yet, but it’s bound to happen.
   It will be inadvertent, I’m sure. I am not going to dwell on any negative memories. I will avoid them. I’m not going to make fun of anyone. Well, not too much anyway.
   But if you know anyone from the Class of ’73, you know that will be next to impossible. I will use real names of both students and teachers. Not changing the names to protect the innocent because in grade school, no one is innocent. (Again, if you knew the Class of ’73…)
   And, finally, this memoir will afford me the opportunity to write about one teacher who influenced me more than any other. One year at TRUS shaped me greatly and continues to be a big influence on me to this day. And I’ve always wanted to write about that year.
   But for now, it’s time to start kindergarten. It’s time for me to meet my new class and Mrs. Ripley.
   I came to Three Rivers as a kindergartner halfway through the school year. So I wasn’t quite an original class member, but pretty damn close.
   But if I wasn’t an original class member, my arrival was without a doubt the loudest. I started kindergarten in L.A., and I was terribly shy (pathologically shy is how I’ve sometimes described it). It took awhile for me to adjust to kindergarten. I think maybe by the time we moved, I had just made it to the point where I wouldn’t cry and scream every time my mother dropped me off.
   And now, in January 1965, I was going to be dropped off in a brand-new kindergarten class in a brand-new school in a brand-new town. It was a shy kid’s worst nightmare.
   Mrs. Ripley taught the combined kindergarten and first-grade classes in those days. The first grade that year was tiny, and I don’t mean their body size but their sheer lack of numbers. I think there were only about 10 of them: Jon Campbell, Jackie Harris, and Loretta Seruntine among the group.
   And when I pitched a massive fit, kicking Mrs. Ripley and making a beeline for the door, it was the first-graders who kept me from escaping. Fellow kindergartner Jody Hanggi probably helped as well; he was bigger than any of the first-graders, about the size of a fifth-grader if I remember correctly.
   I don’t know if I injured Mrs. Ripley when I kicked her. In my memory, she was really old, but not at all fragile. I think she probably took a pretty good punch.
   I know she could wield a whole world of hurt as this was back in the day when teachers could still hit kids. We were a class that deserved a good whack now and then... as will become quite evident in the next installment.


Donald Roberts
1949 ~ 2012

   Donald A. Roberts of Three Rivers died unexpectedly on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. He was 62.
   Don was born November 29, 1949, in Visalia to Lila (Criswell) Roberts and Jack Roberts.
   On October 29, 1969, at the age of 19, Don was inducted into the U.S. Army. He served as a helicopter mechanic in Vietnam from May 27, 1970, to April 25, 1971. After reporting to Fort Riley, Kan., he was in a helicopter crash and discharged on May 8, 1972, holding the rank of sergeant.
   Returning to Visalia, Don worked many years at the Visalia Co-Op Cotton Gin. In 1990, at age 40, he graduated from the Registered Nursing Program at College of the Sequoias in Visalia. He worked for 18 years as a registered nurse in the emergency room at Kaweah Delta Hospital and another five years in recovery. The past six years were spent at Tulare Regional Medical Center, where he was the RN nursing coordinator in the operating room.
   Don loved to play golf, garden, ride his motorcycle, and spend time with his children and grandchildren. He participated in many motorcycle charity runs, including Ride for Red, Bikers United for Kids, Pal’s Ride, JP Memorial, and the Poker Run.
   Don was preceded in death by his parents, Jack and Lila Roberts.
   He is survived by his wife, Cecei, of Three Rivers; son Derek Roberts, wife Stephanie, and their daughter, Alexis, of Visalia; daughter Meghan Roberts and her son, Psymon Johnson of Visalia; son Ryan Steele of Visalia and Three Rivers; daughter Hannah Roberts of Three Rivers; and his sister, Sharon Roberts, of Visalia.
   A viewing was held Thursday, Sept. 6, at Miller Memorial Chapel in Visalia. On Friday, Sept. 21, at 11 a.m., a memorial service will also be held at Miller Memorial Chapel, 1120 W. Goshen Ave., Visalia.
   In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations in Don’s name be made to “G for Kids” (www.gforkids.com or P.O. Box 1431; Visalia, CA 93279-1431).

Lee Frazier
1937 ~ 2012

   Allen Lee Frazier died Sunday, July 29, 2012, at his Three Rivers home. He was 75.
Lee was born July 19, 1937, in San Pedro. He graduated from San Pedro High School in 1955.
   Lee served in the U.S. Army. He worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 36 years before retiring in 1992.
   Upon his retirement, he and his wife, Linda, moved to Three Rivers, where they have resided for the last 19 years.
   In addition to his wife of 44 years, Linda, Lee is survived by his son, Mat, his wife, Diane, and grandsons Cole and Wyatt, all of Three Rivers.

Richard Walter
1954 ~ 2012

   Richard Erland Walter, a former resident of Three Rivers, died Monday, June 18, 2012. He was 58.
   A celebration of life will be held today (Friday, Sept. 7) at 7 p.m. at the Exeter Women’s Clubhouse, 201 N. Kaweah.
   Dick was born in Exeter to Don and Ella Walter. He always had a fascination with anything with a motor and was an accomplished aviator and car and motorcycle enthusiast.
   He also had an appreciation for wine, having learned the art of wine-making from his father. And nothing was safe around the Walter Ranch when Dick experimented with explosives.
   Dick’s skills as a landscape architect benefitted many in the Central Valley. Many have trees and shrubs that will now remind them of his generosity with those skills.
   In addition, Dick had an eye for design and would demolish entire homes to rebuild them in his own architectural style. Other talents included his culinary abilities and gunsmith.
   In 1994, Dick moved from his Three Rivers home. He worked for Cutler and Janelli Properties in Visalia until 2005 when he relocated to Sonora. While there, he became a skilled bladesmith and was active in historical reenactments. Due to his knowledge and interest in the Revolutionary and Indian wars, he bought and sold American Indian pieces and European trade items.
   For the past four years, Dick’s home was at Quyle Kilns in Murphys, where he taught blacksmith classes at the Quyle Forge. He was a member of the California Blacksmith Association.
   In June 2010, he was involved in a serious motorcycle accident, which left him dealing with chronic pain.
   Dick is survived by his sister, Jene Curell, and husband Ken; his nephew and niece, Grant and Grace Curell; uncle Robert Walter; aunt and uncle Helen and Don Pinkham; and cousins Cal Walter, Kay Walter Soares, Janet Pinkham Kuhn, Chuck Pinkham, and Marilyn Pinkham Alltucker.

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