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Murder dominates headlines in 2006

Home Depot approved, gas prices creep up and Acres of Hope opens its doors
By: Stephanie Breitbart, Journal Staff Writer
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2006 was a year filled with goodbyes and new beginnings, devastating fires, and landmark arrests and convictions. Nick Willick retired from the Auburn Police Department after 33 years and Valerie Harris took his place as the new chief of police. Sierra College welcomed Leo Chavez as its new president, replacing Kevin Ramirez who stepped down from the position. North Auburn’s Ralphs supermarket closed its doors, but Home Depot got the green light to build in North Auburn. Mario Garcia was convicted of Christie Wilson’s murder, and Paul Kovacich Jr. was arrested for suspicion of murdering of his wife Janet. Thirty people were arrested for driving under the unfluence after the Black & White Ball. The year brought weather extremes, as snow covered Auburn in the winter months, and the town felt record-high temperatures in the summer. The Ralston Fire destroyed 8,000 acres near Foresthill and Placer County teachers hit the streets with picket signs and bullhorns seeking a 5.56 percent salary increase. By the end of 2006 housing prices kept creeping up, and so did the price at the pump topping $3 a gallon. January: The start of the year brought a change to the Auburn Police Department, as Valerie Harris replaced Nick Willick as the new chief of police. Willick retired after nearly 33 years with the department. Due to monumental media attention, the murder case against Auburn’s Mario Garcia changed venues to Sacramento County. Eric Taylor McDavid of Foresthill was arrested by the FBI with two others for an alleged eco-terrorist plot to destroy government buildings, banks and a dam. February: Alain Grenier, former administrator for the Auburn Recreation District, was given a $115,000 settlement to sever his ties with the district. The Auburn Placer Performing Arts Center board approved purchasing the State Theater building in Downtown Auburn from JDR Partners for $805,000. February ended with an approved ordinance outlawing facilities that distribute medical marijuana within Auburn city limits. March: The disappearance of Christie Wilson, who was last seen at Thunder Valley Casino in October, was the focus of a “48 Hours Mystery” segment, which scrutinized the past of Mario Garcia, the man accused of her murder. Later this month more than 100 people gathered outside Auburn’s Historic Courthouse for a candlelight vigil for Christie Wilson. April: Former Auburn City Manager and Police Chief Nick Willick was the recipient of the 2006 Vernon Gould McCann Award for community service and heavy rains caused a 40-foot section of Foresthill Road to collapse near Drivers Flat Road. May: The Acres of Hope Renewal Center celebrated its grand opening with tours of the newly refurbished Applegate Inn. The center would soon become home to 40 women in need. At least five local Mexican restaurants temporarily closed on May 1 when a call for the nation’s immigrants not to go to work led to hundreds of thousands of Hispanic immigrants skipping jobs and classes. June: Placer High graduate Stewart Lee Shapton, 20, died after the car in which he was a passenger flew off a rural section of Bell Road. U.S. Congressman John Doolittle won 66 percent of the vote to defeat Auburn Mayor Mike Holmes in the primary election and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger kicked off his gubernational campaign at Recreation Park in Auburn. July: Timothy Brooks was sentenced to 16-years-to-life in prison for the road-rage stabbing death in 2005 of Newcastle developer Robert Ash in Tahoe City. In a report published by “Community College Week,” Sierra College was ranked the top California Community College for the number of associate degrees awarded. The 10th straight day of 100-degree heat put a strain on Auburn-area residents as July 24 posted a high of 106 degrees. August: After years of wrangling over environmental documentation and 10 years after the store was first proposed for the North Auburn location, Home Depot was given the green light from the Placer County Board of Supervisors. The median price for a single-family home in the Placer County Association of Realtors coverage area was $485,000. September: Paul Kovacich Jr. was arrested for suspicion of murder, nearly 24 years to the date that his wife Janet disappeared from her Skyridge home in Auburn. Around 1,200 firefighters fought the Ralston fire burning in the Tahoe National Forest near Foresthill. The fire, which consumed nearly 8,000 acres, is believed to be “human caused.” October: Ophir School celebrated its 150th birthday and President Bush appeared at a $2,000-a-person fundraiser for Rep. John Doolittle at the Serrano Country Club. After two years of negotiations, Auburn firefighters got a pay raise and Steve Fry’s 819-pound gourd earned him the $2,000 prize for the heftiest pumpkin and the largest grown in Placer County. November: Congressman John Doolittle was victorious over challenger Charlie Brown by 4 percent. A train derailed east of Auburn killing one person and injuring six others. Jurors found Mario Garcia guilty of murder in the first-degree for the killing of Christie Wilson. December: The month started of with the Festival of Lights parade, which featured 90 illuminated floats. Twenty-one-year-old Eileen Pelt of Auburn was stabbed to death by her boyfriend, David Paradiso, in the backset of a car driven by his mother. Former Placer County Supervisor Kirk Uhler was appointed and officially sworn in to serve the last two years of Ted Gaines’ term on the board of supervisors after Gaines won a seat in the California Assembly.