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  Due to vacations and other diversions, updates on this website have been delayed. The site will be brought current on the News and Features, Weather, and Kaweah Kalendar pages as of Friday, Aug. 19. Stay tuned...

 

In the News - Friday, JULY 22, 2005

Lake Kaweah wreck

kills one

   Since the dam creating Lake Kaweah and its adjacent stretch of Highway 198 were completed in 1962, local motorists have learned that on any given summer evening, driving lakeside can be extremely dangerous. That's because the roadway is usually busy with boaters and swimmers who spend a day having fun in the sun, and by evening, are heading home, some too intoxicated to drive safely.
   When one of these drunk drivers attempts to negotiate the highway's demanding curves at a high rate of speed, that's like begging to become a statistic. Last Sunday, July 17, when a carload of Valley residents driven by a 21-year-old Stratford man did just that, a rollover wreck was the consequence of a series of bad choices.
   Bad choice number one— The driver, Miguel Bravo, climbed behind the wheel of a 1993 Ford Bronco after a day of partying at Slick Rock with family and friends.
   Bad choice number two— Two of the four passengers in the vehicle did not buckle their seatbelts.
   Bad choice number three— Bravo gunned the accelerator to speeds estimated by one passenger to be at least 85 m.p.h. as he came out of the passing lane on a westbound approach to the second boat ramp. In the left-hand curve before Kaweah Recreation Area, the driver lost control.

  “He was on the roadway, then off the road, then off and on again but the guardrail prevented the vehicle from going down the embankment,” said Greg Fox, the CHP officer who investigated the accident. “I couldn't say how many times the vehicle rolled but it landed on its wheels in the eastbound lane.”
   Two passengers, both seated in the backseat on the outside, were unbelted and ejected from the vehicle. A 35-year-old male, who was also the driver's uncle, landed down the north side embankment. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
   The other unbelted passenger, a 50-year-old male from Hanford, suffered major injuries. Two other passengers, who were wearing seatbelts, suffered only minor injuries.
   The survivors were all transported to Kaweah Delta Hospital. As of Wednesday, the driver remained in critical condition.
   After his release from the hospital, Officer Fox reported, Bravo will be charged with felony DUI (driving under the influence) and vehicular manslaughter.
   The wreck occurred at 7:20 p.m. Emergency workers closed Highway 198 in both directions for 90 minutes while the tragic scene was cleared.

Man rescued

from Sequoia river

   When Kaweah Country is sizzling with triple-digit temperatures, it's hard to resist a dip in the refreshingly cool water of the Kaweah River. But dangerous currents still remain a threat even in shallow water.
   Last Friday, July 15, at 12:30 p.m., another river drama unfolded at the alluring Indianhead pools near Sequoia National Park's Ash Mountain entrance station. The fortunate victim was a father who jumped in to save one of his children who was struggling to stay upright in a pool of water less than four feet deep.
   After getting the boy to safety, the father lost his footing and became overwhelmed by the current. The frantic wife summoned the help of rangers. By the time help arrived, other adult members of a group of tourists from San Diego had pulled the man out of the chilly water. The nearly-drowned man was breathing but unresponsive.
   Witnesses at the scene estimated the man had been under water for approximately three minutes. The victim was airlifted by helicopter to University Medical Center in Fresno where he recovered and was later released.

  “It was very scary,” said one family member. “One minute he was laughing and playing with his children and in the next minute he [the father] could have been gone forever.”
   Cold and swift water advisories remain in effect and all visitors are being warned to use extreme caution when near waterways. Currently, river-swimming and wading are not advised.

Missing hiker

found dead

   A hiker reported as overdue on Wednesday, July 13, became the subject of an intense search that didn't last very long and, unfortunately, didn't have a happy ending.
   Eric Rausch, 31, of Princeton, N.J., began his hike Monday with a friend on the Lakes Trail, which begins at Wolverton in Sequoia National Park. The friend turned back shortly after beginning, and Rausch continued alone and spent Monday night at Emerald Lake.
   On Tuesday, Rausch talked to the ranger on duty at the Pear Lake backcountry ranger station and discussed exploring the rugged high country region to the east, known as the Tableland.
   Since the area has no trails and Rausch did not have an area map or compass, the ranger advised him against taking this route. The next day, when Rausch did not meet his ride at the Wolverton trailhead, a search ensued, eventually utilizing a helicopter and about 25 National Park Service personnel.
   On Thursday morning, searchers found items floating in the upper reaches of the Kaweah River's Marble Fork that were believed to belong to the missing man. They found Rausch's body upstream shortly thereafter.
   The body was recovered and released to the Tulare County Coroner's Office. A cause of death has not yet been determined.
   Rausch's death is the sixth water or snow-related fatality in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks this year. In area's above 9,000 feet there is still snow to negotiate when hiking and all waterways are hazardous due to snowmelt.

Toddler retrieved

from swimming pool

   Emergency personnel in Woodlake responded to a call of a two-year-old boy who had fallen into a backyard swimming pool. Detective Adam Aguallo and Officer Joe Echavarria of the Woodlake Police Department, along with Engineer Anthony Perez of the Woodlake Fire Department, responded to the possible drowning in progress Wednesday, July 13, at 2 p.m.
   When they arrived at the residence near Castle Rock School, the boy had no heartbeat and was not breathing. The officers began CPR, and the boy began breathing on his own in about three minutes.
   After receiving normal results on CAT scans, the child was transferred from Kaweah Delta Hospital to Children's Hospital for observation since he had been deprived of oxygen for so long. He was released Thursday, July 14, and is expected to make a full recovery.

Local cell service

lowering the bar

   For more than a year now, ever since Cingular — the nation's largest cell provider whose jingle is “raising the bar” — acquired AT&T Wireless, for most Three Rivers cell-phone users, service has been sometimes hit, but mostly miss. Remember how they assured each cell user that digital wireless was superior to the former analog technology of AT&T?
   Cingular made the switch even more attractive by offering free flip color-screen phones with hip new ring tones just a download away. One by one, nearly every local customer migrated to Cingular.

  “What choice do we have when there is no competitor?” bemoaned one customer.
   Herein lies the problem. Three Rivers is too remote, the corporate representatives say, too isolated for the towers and service to be upgraded. That's the same line we've been hearing from cable-TV provider Charter Communications since they took over several years ago. While flatland Charter subscribers have high-speed Internet offered with their service, Three Rivers is fortunate to have a cable box with reception.

  “I've noticed that the Cingular service has really deteriorated in recent weeks, at least since school has been out for the summer,” said Valerie Abanathie, Three Rivers School business manager. “I went into the Cingular outlet in Visalia and complained, but it hasn't done any good.”
   Abanathie said she was told that company reps in Visalia are compiling a list of all the problems being experienced in the outlying areas. But when her husband complained to the corporate offices, they had no knowledge that any such list existed or was being compiled.
   The couple was told what seems to be the standard Cingular response no matter if you call Fresno, Texas, Georgia, or wherever: “If enough people complain, something will be done.”
   While service is poor, the new higher, multi-page, and very detailed bills continue to arrive like clockwork.
   One local subscriber, Paul Moore, suggests that every Three Rivers cell-phone user call the Cingular district office in Fresno (360-9005). That's a good place to voice a complaint, he said, by speaking to Doug Watkins, a corporate contact to whom he has spoken.
   The Abanathies suggest that Three Rivers start a phone chain directly to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by calling (888) 225-5322 in an attempt to make Cingular become more responsive to local customers.
   Be sure to use a landline, however, because if you make a cell call, the nifty high-tech color screen with all the bells and whistles will probably display “Call Failed” just as you finally negotiate your way through the automated choices and begin a conversation with a live person.

HR bill may have

local implications

   A bill currently before Congress may assist in an ongoing high-country dilemma that has pitted wildlife against automobiles.
H.R. 2567, called the “Antifreeze Bittering Act of 2005,” would amend the Federal Hazardous Substances Act to require engine coolant and antifreeze to contain a bittering agent. This has been deemed necessary because antifreeze has a naturally sweet taste that can be tempting to children and animals but is deadly if ingested.
   In the past couple of decades, yellow-bellied marmots have developed a taste for antifreeze. This has become a pressing problem in the Mineral King area of Sequoia National Park, where the rodents will chew through the hoses of parked automobiles to obtain the sweet-tasting fluid.
   Marmots tend to congregate in the valley's subalpine meadows in great numbers in the early summer. Because marmots have no natural enemies and they are protected within the national park, they have multiplied and become a dangerous nuisance in the remote area by disabling vehicles.
   The legislation, which is expected to be passed, will require any engine coolant or antifreeze that is manufactured after six months past the date of the bill's enactment to contain the required bittering agency.

Musicians come to

Three Rivers for master class

   Classical flutists from around the U.S. will arrive at St. Anthony Retreat in Three Rivers on Sunday, July 31, to attend a Master Class of boot-camp intensity taught by one of the nation's foremost flutists.
   The reference to boot-camp intensity is only a mild exaggeration. For four consecutive days, 12 hours each day, Master Class students — each of whom is already an accomplished musician — will be pushed to the limit, mentally and physically.
   Master flutist Tracy Harris, who herself has studied with legends and is teaching the class, describes a typical day: “Morning warm-up begins with tone studies, scales, arpeggios, singing, and vibrato exercises. Then we move on to master class where one by one over the four days each student will have at least three opportunities to perform solo. After lunch, there's ensemble playing with piano and harp, sight-reading technique, stage-presence practice, and then more individual performances. We go until 8:30 p.m., then do it again the next day.”
   Interestingly, the Yamaha Corporation, one of the world's best known producers of musical instruments, is contributing prizes to the top three students in this Master Class. Yamaha's participation is largely because of Tracy Harris. Worldwide, there are only a couple of handfuls of Yamaha Performing Artists on the flute and she is one of them. This is a real accomplishment and puts her in elite company as one of the best flutists on the planet.
   But this Master Class isn't one of those closed, private sessions for musicians only. All classes are open to the public for a nominal fee throughout the four days. What's more, there is a Finale Concert on Thursday, Aug. 4, at 8 p.m., featuring Tracy Harris's Wyndfall Trio, the three Yamaha prize-winners performing their solos, and a flute choir presentation from the entire Master Class. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $8 for children under 12.
   For more information, log on to: www.TracyHarrisFlute.com.
Bill Haxton of Three Rivers contributed this article.

WEED WARS:

Yellow star thistle

invades Three Rivers

   There's a new plant in the Kaweah River canyon… and it is not welcome!
   The noxious and invasive yellow star thistle (YST) has been discovered spreading in the heart of Three Rivers. Since its introduction to California in contaminated alfalfa seed in about 1850, it has grown to blanket about 15 million acres.
   Control of this spiny invader in our canyon is possible with early detection, aggressive treatment, and continued vigilance.
   A single YST plant can produce over 100,000 seeds, and an infested area can have 100 million seeds per acre. If not removed, a dozen plants can rapidly expand to millions of plants on thousands of acres and displace native species.
   Land heavily infested with YST becomes unusable for livestock grazing, wildlife, and recreation. YST causes a potentially fatal nervous disorder in horses called “chewing disease.”
   A native of Eurasia, YST seeds are dispersed by wind only a few feet, but long-distance leaps occur when seeds stick to animals or humans (or their stuff) for some very long rides (like to California via Chile).
   If you've been in yellow star thistle-contaminated country, watch out for hitchhikers on the way home.
   As the annual grassland dries, YST bolts and produces vibrant yellow flowers as it will into the summer.
   In Three Rivers, most plants have been found in the triangle formed by Highway 198, South Fork Road, and Old Three Rivers Road. It also occurs on lower Quail Run Drive (in South Fork Estates) and along Highway 198 near Skyline Drive.
   YST (Centaurea solstitialis) is similar in appearance to its close relative, tocalote (Centaurea melitensis), which is already a common weed locally. However, YST is gray-green, with winged stems as opposed to smooth, green stems.
   YST has spines on the flower heads that are at least a half-inch long, straw-colored, and stout, but tocalote spines are shorter, purplish, and flimsy.
   Aggressive treatments that reduce seed production can control an infestation in a few years. Cutting, weed-whacking, and pulling can be effective if done before flowering occurs and if plants are cut at the base below any leaves.
   Herbicides such as Transline (early in the growing season) or Roundup (later in the season; after bolting but before flowering) are also effective.
   More information on YST management can be found at:
                              http://wric.ucdavis.edu/yst/
   Most YST plants in Three Rivers are already setting seed, so it is getting too late to spray or cut this year.
   However, this is a crucial time to locate all of the occurrences of the plant in the canyon. This will allow for early treatment next year, when conditions are optimal for spraying or cutting.
   If you see YST in Three Rivers or would like additional information, call Joe Williams or Elizabeth Palmer at the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, 734-8732, extension 3.
  Athena Demetry, Melanie Baer-Keeley, Sylvia Haultain, and Scott Martens of the National Park Service; Joe Williams of the Natural Resources Conservation Service; and through his website, Joe DiTomaso all contributed to this article in an effort to educate the community about the yellow star thistle invasion in Three Rivers. They are currently working together to provide additional information on controlling YST and other noxious weeds.

NOTICE OF DEATH

   Holly Vasquez-Westmoreland died at her Three Rivers home on Tuesday, July 19, 2005. She was 77.
   Visitation will be at Evans-Miller Exeter Chapel on Sunday, July 24, from 3 to 5 p.m. A service will be held at Evans-Miller Exeter Chapel on Monday, July 25, at 10 a.m.

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