Times tough, but community comes through

By: Penne Usher Journal Correspondent
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It was a harrowing scene at the Gold Country Fairgrounds in Auburn as the Placer County SWAT team in full riot gear, Tased one man, used a pepper ball gun on another and sent a K-9 unit to subdue a third. Thankfully, for the hundreds gathered for the fourth annual Justine’s Fund fundraiser April 18, it was merely a demonstration using gear the fundraiser has helped pay for in the past. Don and Lynette Vanderschoot’s youngest daughter was killed by her ex-boyfriend Danny Bezemer and his friend Brandon Fernandez. She was 17 years old when her remains were found in a shallow grave in September 2003. The Vanderschoot family has chosen to turn their years of grief into action. Each year since their daughter was killed, they have hosted a benefit dinner in their daughter’s memory with the hopes of raising needed funds for local law enforcement. This year’s event raised more than $17,000 that will aid in the purchase of non-funded items for the Placer County Sheriff’s Department, the District Attorney’s Office, Chaplaincy, Sheriff’s Council and The Center for Victims of Violence and Crime. “We made about $3,000 less than last year,” said Lynette Vanderschoot. “But considering the economy we did rather well.” Volunteers, food donations and discounted drinks helped the fundraiser to be successful. “It was a community event and the community was truly involved,” said Don Vanderschoot. Raley’s Manager Rob Marr donated hundreds of dollars worth of food for the event. Pete and Troy Aroz of the Liquor Outlet came through with dishes, glasses and silverware. “They were all so awesome,” Don Vanderschoot said. A near sell-out crowd dined on roast chicken, salad and veggies, but only if they were some of the first in line. “We all go through life and have problems. This is a good one to have,” Don Vanderschoot said to the crowd after learning that the kitchen had ran out of some food. “We ran out of everything but meat. There was such an outpouring from the community this year. It was overwhelming to us.” The first three fundraisers brought in roughly $65,000. The money is dispersed through the Sheriff’s Council, which helped purchase non-funded items. Placer County Undersheriff Devon Bell said the fundraiser has helped the department purchase Tasers, ballistic shields and pepper ball guns, all items that were used during an afternoon SWAT demonstration. “We tried to showcase some of the things that the Sheriff’s Council provided,” Bell said. “The Honor Guard posted the colors in uniforms provided by the Sheriff’s Council. We wanted to show tangible examples that they’ve been able to provide for us.” Since the fundraiser began, monies have been donated to provide a brochure program to teenagers alerting them of the dangers of domestic violence, training for the District Attorney’s Office, ballistic shields and Tasers for the Sheriff’s Department and funds for the Chaplaincy program. Justine Vanderschoot was reported missing by her parents following a family Labor Day dinner in September 2003. After weeks of searching for the missing Maidu High School student, police arrested Fernandez and Bezemer on Sept. 17, 2003. FBI investigators questioned Fernandez, who eventually led them to a remote spot in Applegate where Justine Vanderschoot’s gravesite was found. Bezemer, 24, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, and is serving a prison sentence of 25 years to life, reportedly in San Quentin. Fernandez, 26, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for his part in Justine’s murder and is serving a prison sentence of 15 years to life in the Susanville penitentiary.