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Amgen tour, Giants among 2010’s top local stories

These 10 Journal reports generated high reader interest and feedback
By: Deric Rothe Journal editor
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Following are my choices for the top 10 local stories of 2010. They are in reverse order, saving the most prominent for last. Reader interest, and reader feedback, played a large role in the decision-making. No. 10 – Pitbull saga finally ends with bizarre reality TV twist: After four pitbulls attacked a Weimar teenager in Downtown Auburn in 2009, the court saga following the mauling dominated Journal headlines in early 2010. Judge Richard Couzens ruled Jan. 31 that the vicious dogs must be euthanized. If passersby did not come to the rescue, the victim, Jojo Kerschner, could have been killed. Ironically, after a heartfelt appeal by the dogs’ owner, one of the four pitbulls was released to reality TV star Tia Maria Torres. “Otis” was later featured on “Pitbulls and Parolees,” a cable show that pretty much trashed Auburn residents and officials. The dogs’ owner, Daniel Coverston, was forbidden from owning another dog within city or county limits for the next three years. No. 9 – Haitian orphan welcomed to town: Claire, a 7-year-old orphan, was rescued from earthquake-ravaged Haiti with the help of billionaire Ted Turner and his private jet. Claire was flown to Sacramento International Airport Jan. 21 causing a media frenzy, and then driven to her new home in Auburn. The child flew out of Port-au-Prince airport with adoptive parents Debbie and Scott Bryditzki. An international catastrophe, an Auburn couple wanting to help, and an internationally famous businessman combined to make a heartwarming positive story from the ashes of a devastating disaster. No. 8 – Valencia Club opened by entrepreneur: The tale of a homeless man, Travis Kevie, who opened up a vacant landmark Penryn bar after buying a six-pack from a convenience store across the street soon turned from a local story into a regional one and went national and international via the Internet and TV. Kevie’s four-day career as “owner” of the historic bar came to an end July 20 after the Valencia Club’s property manager and then the Placer County Sheriff’s Office learned through the Journal that the establishment had reopened. Kevie was jailed for a short period and then released. The storied Valencia Club legally reopened to the Nov. 17 with owners who are intent on retaining its timeless appeal. No. 7 – Giants win World Series, Auburn erupts: San Francisco Giants fans were euphoric Nov. 1 as the club won its first World Series championship since moving west more than 50 years ago. When the final out in the 3-1 win over the Texas Rangers was recorded, many longtime faithful residents leapt for joy. The years of agony turned to ecstasy. At Foothill Bowl in Auburn, “The whole bowling alley was going crazy,” said Randy Lozano of Cool. “Everybody was yelling and screaming and jumping up and down.” Fans like Leslie Maita called watching the playoffs and World Series “torture,” a phrase made popular by Giants announcer Duane Kuiper. Auburn Giants fan Steve Wardwell claimed every time he wore his lucky Giants hat to watch the game on TV, the Bay Area team won. Will Pedren of Auburn summed up his feelings the night the Giants clinched the World Series: “It was just unbelievable,” he said. “I never imagined in my wildest dreams they’d actually win. … the whole atmosphere, it was pretty awesome. “ No. 6 – Auburn lands Amgen: The Amgen Tour of California, the biggest bicycle race outside the Tour de France, pedaled through Auburn May 16. Thousands lined Auburn streets to watch the 2010 Amgen riders compete on the first day of the race. As the 124 racers whizzed through town, spectators clanged cowbells and let out loud cheers of support. Among the racers were Lance Armstrong and three-time Amgen Tour of California champion Levi Leipheimer. The Amgen excitement reached frenzied heights when The 2011 Amgen Tour of California host cities were announced in May. Stage 3 on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 will start in Auburn and end in Modesto. Mayor Bridget Powers made the cheerful announcement during a special ceremony at the newly completed Streetscape corner in Downtown Auburn. No. 5 – Pensions, hefty government salaries cause concern: The Journal published a series of stories on local government officials making extravagant salaries and collecting large pensions during a time of high unemployment, mandatory furloughs and layoffs. Rocklin City Manager Carlos Urrutia took in a gross salary of $385,691, according to city documents. He cashed out 344 hours of excess vacation time for $38,520, and 1,080 hours of unused sick time for another $120,931 to go along with his base salary of $230,053 plus benefits. After retiring, Urrutia came back to work for the city earning his pension plus part-time salary, a tactic called double-dipping that was justified by council members as a way to save money. Other Journal stories included 21 retired Placer County employees earning more than $100,000 per year in retirement, and Auburn-area school administrators such as Alfred “Bud” Nobili, who earns $170,785 a year plus benefits in retirement. Some residents. such as Brad and Tracy Kearns, were appalled that the Journal would pick on retired school administrators. Others, such as Walt Riley of Meadow Vista, said, “I think it’s immoral. They should be ashamed to take it.” No. 4 – Rock throwing incident: Jose Palomera, a church pastor from Sacramento, was critically injured when several teens threw rocks off the Canyon View overpass near Colfax onto the freeway. One boulder smashed into Palomera’s face, crushing his jaw and fracturing several bones in his cheek. The Placer County District Attorney’s Office took the assault extremely seriously, charging three Colfax teenagers as adults and with multiple felonies. Hunter Perez, 16, who is also known as Hunter Owens, Samuel Edward Quinlan, 16, and Sean Edwin Steele, 17, were ordered to serve 10 months in the Placer County Juvenile Detention Center as part of a plea deal reached with the District Attorney’s Office. Each teen pleaded no contest to three of the original eight felony counts: conspiracy to commit a crime, assault with a deadly weapon and assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury. The remaining counts were dismissed. The three now have a strike on their records as a result of the second count. Many residents thought charging the teens as adults was too harsh. Others thought the teens were let off lightly. No. 3 – Wal-Mart/Costco approved after battle in North Auburn: Placer County supervisors agreed 5-0 to deny an appeal by area homeowners, thus paving the way for a 155,000-square-foot Wal-Mart or Costco big-box store to be built off Luther Road and Highway 49. A group of 35 speakers, many from the newly formed Alliance for the Protection of Auburn Community Environment (APACE) objected to the big-box store during a meeting in September citing increased traffic, pollution, harmful effects on small businesses and Wal-Mart’s predatory business practices, as well as low pay and benefits for employees. Proponents for developer Jim Conkey such as Steve Cavolt, say the project will create 350 full- and part-time jobs and allow residents to shop for discounted items locally. It remains unknown whether a Costco or Wal-Mart is planned for the site and whether APACE can mount a successful court challenge to stop or delay construction. No. 2 – Galleria Mall fire: On Oct. 21 Alexander Piggee, a mentally disturbed young man, walked into the GameStop store in the Roseville Galleria Mall and allegedly told an employee he had a bomb and gun. Security personnel evacuated the mall and emergency responders from 30 agencies including Roseville Police and Fire, descended upon the shopping center. The details of exactly who did what and when have been sketchy, but what is known is a robot was deployed to search out Piggee’s backpack, which was thought to contain the bomb. In addition, a Westfield Galleria employee turned off the sprinklers for 71 minutes, during which time the “fire was allowed to continue to burn and grow unchecked,” Roseville Fire Capt. Stefan Moore said. The fire caused $55 million in damages and considerable embarrassment for emergency responders who found Piggee to be a less-than-capable terrorist without a gun or a bomb. No. 1 – Wise Canal a deadly place: Auburn’s Wise Canal was the site of six drownings in a roughly 18-month period. Many of the victims were homeless. All were under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. In December, a 50-year-old homeless man just three days out of the Placer County Jail perished in the icy waterway. Many homeless people, homeless advocates and area residents believe a serial killer is on the loose, a predator who pushes in stoned or drunk indigents. Responding to community concerns, Pacific Gas & Electric placed “life-saving grab cables” across Auburn’s Wise Canal. A fence was also installed on one side of the canal between Bell and Mt. Vernon roads. But even after the fence and grab cables were installed, another homeless man drowned in the same area. While the deaths in Auburn’s Wise Canal allegedly started in January 2009, in November 2010 an Auburn woman revealed that her son barely avoided becoming a seventh victim. Betty Starr said her son told her he was pushed into the Wise Canal in November 2008, while walking in the darkness at water’s edge on a path behind the Auburn Village Shopping Center near Highway 49 and New Airport Road. “Most people don’t make it out to tell about it but he did.” Kenny Minero, Starr’s son, died in 2009 of a drug overdose. But he told his mother and a nurse who treated him after his brush with death in the canal that he was lucky to be alive after an unknown assailant pushed him in. At 6-foot-3 and more than 200 pounds, Minero fought the icy current and survived, though his feet were badly injured. The Placer County Sheriff’s Office has investigated the deaths in the canal and concluded that while foul play couldn’t be completely ruled out, there were no signs of a struggle or attack on any of the bodies they have recovered.