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In the News - Friday, november 24, 2006

Suspect arraigned
in death of Rob Stone


   The plane crash that killed Battalion Chief Rob Stone and George “Sandy” Willett took another tragic turn with the arrest of Patrick Courtney of Tulare on Friday, Nov. 17. Courtney, 29, is charged with two counts of homicide and three counts of aggravated arson.
   Courtney, who was arraigned on the charges Monday, Nov. 20, is facing his third strike due to his conviction of two previous violent felonies. According to law-enforcement records, those convictions stem from an attempted murder in connection with a 1995 home burglary in Tulare.
   During his second appearance in court Tuesday, Courtney pled not guilty. If convicted, Courtney could face a maximum sentence of 50 years to life in prison.
   Stone and Willett were the only two onboard when their OV-10 observation aircraft crashed after hitting treetops while working from the air to direct ground crews to a fire that was reported to be burning in mountainous terrain northeast of Springville. Willett, a resident of Hanford, was the pilot.
   Ed Wristen, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) chief, said the deaths of Stone and Willett were extremely difficult for the CDF-Tulare Unit and the family and friends of the victims. The arrest, he said, will bring some measure of closure to the case.
   Chief Stone, 36, was raised in Three Rivers where his parents, Cliff and Ginny Stone, and two of his three siblings still reside. He was married with two young children.
   Rob was an 18-year veteran of CDF. At the time of his death, he was in charge of operations at the Porterville Air Attack Base.
Courtney, who stated he had spent the night in the area where Chief Stone spotted the fire activity, first came to the attention of authorities on September 4. He claimed he had been lost and set fires to keep warm and keep wild animals at bay.
   The Mountain Fire that Chief Stone responded to Wednesday, Sept. 6, was a separate blaze in the Bear Creek drainage in close proximity to the two other fires crews had extinguished. Reportedly, investigators found Courtney’s name carved on a tree nearby the flashpoint of that third blaze.
   Investigators claim to have evidence that the fire resulted from recklessness and shows a conscious disregard for possible consequences.
   A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 7, in a Porterville courtroom.

Tajikistani student thankful
for American experience


   Her name is Diana Zigangirova and in many ways she’s a typical 16-year-old teenager with hopes and dreams. She likes to eat pizza, hang out with friends, picnic, and go swimming. After high school she plans on attending college and becoming a journalist or a diplomat.
   What is exotic and unique about this teen with a Russian-sounding name is that she is a Muslim from Tajikistan. She also happens to be an exchange student on a mission, enrolled as a senior at Woodlake High School.
   Diana’s mission is to spend one year in the U.S. and experience life in a democratic society so she can share lessons learned with the people of her own country. As a part of doing that, Diana said, she has a responsibility to make interactive presentations to classmates, civic groups, community organizations, and anyone who is willing to listen and learn about Tajikistan.

  “It all started for me last year when I tried out for a Future Leaders Exchange program,” Diana said. “Each year, there are thousands who apply, but only 50 are selected.”
   Diana, who is fluent in four languages and is now taking Spanish, said she saw the opportunity as a means to visit America, a trip she said that is out of reach for most people in her country with a population of 7.5 million.
   The funding for Diana’s program was made possible by the Freedom Support Act and is furnished by the U.S. State Department. In light of current events and the future of Eurasian demographics as it relates to Soviet immigration, the program couldn’t be better timed.
   The Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX), as it is known officially, was created from the vision of now-former Senator Bill Bradley (D-New Jersey). The centerpiece of the legislation was based upon Bradley’s notion that the best way to foster lasting peace with Eurasia is to enable secondary students like Diana to experience America firsthand.
   Diana explains in her PowerPoint presentation that FLEX is designed for countries like her homeland that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. Tajikistan, a landlocked country located just north of Afghanistan, achieved its independence in 1992.

  “Democracy is relatively new to us,” Diana said. “We have had only one president since 1992, and he must be re-elected after each seven-year term.”
   Similar to Tulare County, Diana said Tajikistan has a valley region (about seven percent of the country), but is mostly mountains. The valley is good for growing cotton, and hydroelectric power is produced on the rivers that flow from towering mountains of more than 22,000 feet in elevation.
   Diana said people in her country rarely go to the mountains because roads are not developed and the terrain and climate are very harsh. Many of the citizens, she said, spend some of the short summer season at the “Tajik Sea,” which is actually a lake with a sandy beach near a hydroelectric station.
   Tajikistan is slightly smaller than the state of Wisconsin and has thousands of years of history, Diana related. Its people are 87 percent Muslim with the rest being largely Russian Orthodox Christian.
   Last August, when Diana first landed with her host family in Visalia, she was supposed to attend Redwood High School.

  “They already had a FLEX student there, so here I am at Woodlake,” said Diana. “The only bad thing is that I have to get up so early to travel far to school and by the end of the day I am very tired.”
   What she has enjoyed most about her experience is meeting so many nice people, especially her Visalia host family. She also has taken several trips while she has been here, including one in October to the Future Farmers of America (FFA) National Convention in Indianapolis. Among her favorite places to visit so far have been Los Angeles, Hollywood, and San Francisco.

  “In my country, our Thanksgiving is called Idi Kurbon,” said Diana. “Each family buys a lamb or cow for butchering if they can afford to do it. Then we use some for our own dinner but the rest we give away to relatives and neighbors. Sometimes we have a big dinner with many guests, but the day is more about sacrifice.”
   What she said has surprised her most about American people is how much community service and volunteer work that so many do. That is among the many things she has learned, she said, that she will be sure to take back home.

  “I am so thankful for my parents who encouraged me to become an exchange student and helped me study English,” said Diana. “I am thankful for the opportunity to come to America and, most of all, for my country and culture because that makes me who I am.”

RiverSong is newest

Three Rivers church

   It’s the spiritual foundation of any community… the churches. Rural communities such as Three Rivers have many strengths – a sense of community and mutual caring – which aid immensely in any given church’s mission, but there are challenges as well.
   There’s an ebb and flow of population, economy, and community life. And leadership in an unincorporated area can be hard to come by as it is only as good as the town’s volunteer base.
   So it is both the strengths and the challenges of rural living that make local churches an indispensable part of country life.
   Until recently, Three Rivers had six churches: Church at Kaweah, Community Presbyterian, First Baptist, Missionary Baptist, and St. Anthony Retreat and St. Clair’s Catholic Mission.
   As of last year, however, there’s a new church in town. RiverSong Church currently meets Sunday afternoons at the Three Rivers Arts Center.
   RiverSong is a member of the Foursquare Church, an evangelical Christian church that has been around since the 1920s. The church is “dedicated to the cause of interdenominational and worldwide evangelization,” with “Foursquare” referring to Jesus Christ as Savior, Healer, Baptizer, and King.
   Jeff Alexander of Visalia is RiverSong’s pastor. For more than 20 years, he has been a teacher at Christian schools, most recently at Visalia Christian Schools, teaching junior high and high school students.
   He and his wife, Darci, have five children, ranging in age from 26 to 11. Jeff, who has been teaching the Bible to adults for years, completed the International Foursquare Church requirements and training to become a licensed pastor.
   All that was left to do, then, was to find a congregation to which to minister.

  “We have friends in Three Rivers and have enjoyed visiting the area for years,” said Pastor Alexander. “Awhile back these friends said there was a need in the community for the kind of church we would like to do, so we went for it.”
   Currently, Pastor Jeff is working on building the congregation. Then he will undertake the project of locating the permanent structure on which to hang his steeple.

  “Considering the size of the community and its current growth, there is room for another church,” said Jeff. “Once we have sufficient membership and finances, we would buy or build a facility, but obviously, at this time, that is a very future event.”
   As with any church, the upcoming month is one of the busiest times of the year. At RiverSong, there is a Christmas event planned for Sundays, Dec. 10 and 17, from 4 to 8 p.m., at the Three Rivers Arts Center.
   Jeff invites all to attend and “experience Christmas in a whole new way” by taking a self-guided “Meditative Path Experiential” that will awaken all the senses.
   Everyone is welcome to attend RiverSong Church, which meets each Sunday at 4 p.m. A fellowship gathering precedes the service.
   For more information, the church’s email address is: riversongchurch@sbcglobal.net

Holiday treasures

found in small towns

   Mass-produced, the mall, and big-box stores have no place on any holiday-shopping list. Instead go for hand-created, unique, and from the heart. And here’s how:
   In Three Rivers this weekend, the Kaweah Artisans will hold their sixth annual “The Perfect Gift” boutique. On sale will be everything from clothing and jewelry and other accessories to body-care products and decorative art.
   On the first Saturday in December, George Smith, a longtime Three Rivers resident, will open the doors of his pottery and ceramics studio for his third annual Christmas Show and Sale and the community of Lemon Cove will host two holiday bazaars.
   The Lemon Cove Woman’s Club Holiday Bazaar starts at 11 a.m. with the sale of gift items made by local artisans and club members. A chicken casserole lunch with a lemon bisque dessert will be served at noon, followed by a card party.
   Lunch tickets are $10. The Lemon Cove Woman’s Club event will be held at their clubhouse, which is in the former Pogue Hotel on Highway 198 across from the post office.
   All funds raised by the club go to the preservation of this historic Tulare County structure.
   The Lemon Cove Holiday Bazaar at Sequoia Union School starts at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 2. A special preview is available Friday, Dec. 1, from noon to 5 p.m.
   A select group of local artisans will be showcasing their handcrafted holiday items, specializing in beaded ornaments, boutique Christmas trees, and soy-based candles. Both days there will be a Kids Kraft Table, free gift wrapping, and a masseuse.
   So while parents shop, get a massage, or enjoy a cup of coffee, the kids can paint an ornament, color, or make a gift for the grandparents. Homemade baked goods, hot chocolate, and hot apple cider will also be sold.
   The Lemon Cove Holiday Bazaar is sponsored by the Sequoia Union PTC (parent/teacher club) and all funds go to the school. Take Highway 198 to just past the Lemon Cove Fire Station and turn north on Avenue 324 (follow the signs).
   On Sunday, Dec. 3, is Exeter’s annual Country Craft Fair. Always a popular community event, the fair is hosted by the American Legion and will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Exeter Memorial Building (on Highway 65).
   More than 60 crafters come from around the San Joaquin Valley to sell a wide array of art and crafts. The American Legion, as always, will have a food concession and a variety of desserts available.
   To give the gift of goodwill this holiday season, attend the Community Blood Drive on Thursday, Dec. 7, and spend a day outside for the benefit of feathered friends during the seventh annual Christmas Bird Count in Sequoia on Sunday, Dec. 17.
   And then there’s the Christmas service that takes place in the ancient cathedral known as the Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park. A ceremony of song and sermon will be held at the base of the Nation’s Christmas Tree on Sunday, Dec. 10.
   For more information on the above opportunities, see the Kaweah Kalendar. And keep an eye on it every week, because new events and activities are always added.

 
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