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Busy Months For Community
Budget issues, Park Fete and Night Out celebrations, career football win number 200 for coach Mark Loureiro, a new councilman for the city and some tragic deaths all made news during the second half of 2008. Following are some highlights from the front pages of The Times, July through December.


In a special session that lasted less than 15 minutes, Escalon City Council members on Monday approved the city's budget for fiscal year 2008-2009. Approved less than seven hours before the July 1 deadline for the start of the new fiscal year, the council passed the spending plan with a 5-0 vote.

Fireworks are on sale and local residents are gearing up for their Fourth of July celebrations this weekend ... but officials are urging extreme caution in light of the hundreds of California wildfires and the dry conditions that make the region ripe for flames.

By a 5-0 vote, members of the Escalon City Council on Wednesday approved the schematic design for the City of Escalon Civic Center and moved the project forward. Meeting in a special afternoon session at the Escalon library, council members got an overview of the project from City Manager Greg Greeson and then an explanation of the schematic plans from representative David Starck of SKW & Associates of Modesto, the architectural/engineering firm that put the floor plans together.

There were the usual complaints of loud, possibly illegal fireworks, around the community over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, but no real problems were reported in or around Escalon. In fact, given the dire predictions of fireworks-related fires, the city escaped unscathed.

Members of the Escalon Unified School District Board have made a couple more crucial appointments as they fill administrative posts for the coming school year. Alison Sharkey has been selected as Assistant Principal for El Portal Middle School and Scott Ferreira named as Principal for Van Allen Elementary and Vista High continuation school.

From crowning new royalty to having the bands play on late into the night, Park Fete 2008 offered something for everyone to enjoy. And, based on the huge turnout over the weekend, it appears that those that came went away happy.

A string of triple digit days saw local police and fire crews making random checks of elderly residents in the community, making sure they were coping with the heat. In every case, including a couple where people had air conditioning but refused to use it, there were no major problems brought on by the summer's first extended heat wave.

South San Joaquin Irrigation District is going green. Or, rather, it already has. A Friday morning dedication ceremony for the SSJID Solar Farm on Dodds Road drew a large crowd of dignitaries, local officials, interested residents and the media to a site adjacent to the Nick C. DeGroot water treatment plant. The solar farm, designed and implemented by SunTechnics Energy Systems, Inc. of Sacramento, was put in at a cost of more than $7.8 million and will provide an estimated 2,232,000 kilowatts of energy per year. It is the second largest non-utility solar project in the state.

He has more than two decades of service invested in the Stockton - San Joaquin library system and Bill Walker is happy to be here. Recently assigned to take over as head librarian for the Escalon Branch Library, Walker has embraced his new community and wants to invite residents to utilize the services available at the local branch.

Freshening up the high school with a new coat of paint, completing roofing work at a couple of sites and finishing some paving at Collegeville and Farmington are just a few of the projects winding down as officials gear up for the start of the new school year.


New self-contained breathing apparatus units have arrived for the Escalon Consolidated Fire Protection District, part of an Assistance to Firefighters Grant. "We applied for that in March 2007 and got awarded that one," Escalon Fire Chief Rick Mello said of the $116,858 grant. "We've spent the money ... we have 24 new breathing apparatus units, an individual mask for each fire department member, no more sharing."

Tragedy struck a Collegeville family, when a 13-year-old boy was shot and killed by his 17-year-old cousin on Wednesday evening, July 30. Tyler Wayne Hogg would have entered the eighth grade at El Portal Middle School in Escalon starting Monday, but his life was cut short by what his family believes was an accidental shooting at his home in the 12000 block of East Mariposa Road.

A sewer system nearing capacity and a decision not to expand that system at the current time has prompted Escalon City Council members to place a freeze on annexation requests. The council made the split decision - 3-2 in favor of the freeze - at its Aug. 4 meeting.

Marking its silver anniversary, the National Night Out observance was staged Tuesday, Aug. 5 in Escalon and in communities across the country. Escalon has joined in the annual event for more than a decade and this year featured eight different neighborhood gatherings around the city. In Escalon, the night is a busy one, with the contingent of police, fire, ambulance and city personnel moving in a caravan from one neighborhood spot to another, going Code 3 - lights and sirens - from place to place.

Just a few hours before Escalon residents joined together to 'take back the night' from crime and drugs in the annual National Night Out, a pair of thieves made off with narcotics in a brazen daytime robbery at a local business. The robbery at the Rite Aid store in the Escalon Center on Jackson Avenue occurred just before 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 5.

It's starting to look a lot like a Community Center ... and Escalon city officials are happy with the progress being made on renovations at the facility, with completion coming close. The more than $2 million project has been overseen by Titan Structures of Modesto as the lead contractor, with several subcontractors handling everything from concrete work to the plumbing, from electrical service to paving and renovating the kitchen.

More questions than answers remain as authorities - and family and friends - try to determine what prompted Joseph 'Joey' Pinasco to try to evade the California Highway Patrol early Sunday morning, Aug. 24. The evasive tactics grew into a chase and ultimately resulted in the death of Pinasco, 21, shot by CHP officers when he reportedly started to drive his truck directly at them.

Two new administrators are on the job in the Escalon Unified School District this year ... one making a move to a different post within the district and one accepting his first job with Escalon. David Lattig makes the move to serve as assistant principal at Escalon High School, moving from his post as Van Allen Elementary and Vista High principal. Taking Lattig's place in the dual principal post is Scott Ferreira.


Traffic was heavy through the region for the long Labor Day holiday weekend, with many people apparently taking advantage of the recent dip in gas prices to get one more brief summer trip in. Around Escalon, there were no reports of serious problems over the long holiday weekend, though police did make a handful of driving under the influence arrests and the fire department had a hectic Labor Day on Monday.

No formal "end of the water year" date was set, but South San Joaquin Irrigation District board members are looking at a likely end of September date to discontinue deliveries from the main canal.

Escalon's pedestrian crosswalks could be getting a facelift. The in-ground lighted crosswalks were installed several years ago on Jackson Avenue near Elizabeth, between Escalon Center and Big Boy Market, and along Escalon-Bellota Road in the vicinity of the Community Center across from the Heritage House senior citizen complex and Escalon High School. Concerns linger, however, over the fact that the in-ground lights do not attract enough attention from passing motorists to make them stop - and in some cases, not even slow down - so city officials have agreed to go back and review the system.

They didn't really get a good night's sleep but they did raise some money for those in need. Several dozen students from host Escalon High School and Edison High of Stockton made the area under a goalpost at Engel Field their home for the night on Friday, putting together makeshift shelters with cardboard boxes. They joined forces for the 'Kids in a Box' fundraiser to benefit the Haven of Peace shelter in French Camp.

When the scores were unveiled, Escalon was shown to be in pretty good shape. The state's API, Academic Performance Index, showed gains at nearly every school in the district and a marked improvement in a couple of core groups.

It's not an everyday occurrence ... but Escalon Police jumped at the chance to assist the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office in detaining an attempted murder suspect. "We got a call that an attempted murder suspect wanted to give himself up, he was in our city," Escalon Police Chief Doug Dunford said of the incident, which occurred Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 10. "We coordinated with them (LA County sheriff's deputies) and he turned himself in." Salvador Rodriguez, 19, was wanted in connection with an attempted murder that occurred at Magic Mountain.

Candles flickering in the chilly night air, Escalon residents turned out in droves Wednesday night, Sept. 17 for a vigil hosted at Community Center Park in honor of Joey Pinasco. The 21-year-old was killed on Aug. 24, shot by CHP officers following a pursuit. His family put on the candlelight vigil, offering the community one more chance to come together in his memory. "All of you who knew and loved Joey will agree that Joey was a compassionate, caring person, who loved life," his father, Joe Pinasco, read from a prepared statement to the crowd that filled the park. "He did not deserve this."

Everywhere you looked, there was shiny chrome, sunlight glinting off polished up headlights, people beaming with pride over their custom rides. Escalon's Main Street Park was turned in to a virtual candyland for classic car enthusiasts on Saturday, as more than 200 automobiles rolled into town for the annual Lion's Club Autumn Car Cruise.

An attempted robbery at an Escalon bank was foiled Wednesday when an alert bank employee heard the suspect outside and quickly locked the doors. Escalon Police said they received a 9-1-1 call from the bank just after 2:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 24.


Looking to use some state money before it was grabbed back, El Portal Middle School has put some new physical education equipment into service, designed to aid students in reaching increased levels of fitness. "A couple of years ago, when the state was rich, we got this money," explained physical education teacher Al Hobby. "We had about $30,000 to spend on physical education and we thought we'd try to spend it before they want it back."

Surrounded by her friends and in front of a huge hometown crowd, Madison Kisst was named Escalon's 2008 Homecoming Queen at halftime of Friday night's varsity football game.

Four candidates will do battle for two available four-year posts on the Escalon City Council in the November election and residents will get the chance to learn more about those candidates tonight, Wednesday, Oct. 15. A Candidates Forum, presented by the Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by Cromwell and Ney, is being hosted at the Escalon Library Ekholm community room starting at 7 p.m. Candidates include incumbent Gary Haskin, former councilman Matt Herrero, Jeff Laugero and David Webster.

Hundreds of local youngsters got some much-needed information on fire prevention and safety, with members of the Escalon Fire Department stopping by area schools to visit for Fire Prevention Week.

Injuries sustained in a vehicle accident early Thursday afternoon claimed the life of a Farmington man, who died after transport to a Modesto area hospital following the incident. The crash occurred shortly before 1:15 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 16 in the 2200 block of Jackson Avenue, according to Escalon Police. Billy Ray Lynn, 79, of Farmington died as a result of the crash.

Escalon residents may have noticed something Monday night into early Tuesday morning ... the lack of constant train whistles blowing as the freight and passenger trains rolled through. The switch was officially flipped on the new wayside horn system for Escalon at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, bringing to an end the era of train horns blowing in the community every few minutes.

By a 4-1 vote, Escalon City Council members agreed in special session Tuesday night, Oct. 21 to reject all bids received for the Civic Center project. "It was just too much, at this point, coming out of our reserves," City Manager Greg Greeson said, noting that the city would have to dip into their 'rainy day fund' to afford any of the bids received, as all came in over the money already set aside for the work.

With the arrival of some special visitors on Thursday, the family at Van Allen Elementary School got a little bit bigger. Named after a one time San Joaquin County Superintendent of Schools, descendants of Lawrence Cornelius Van Allen made a stop at the rural campus on Thursday afternoon to bring a portrait of their ancestor to hang in the school.

From classic cars to colorful artwork, fresh cooked pasta to the finest wine releases, the atmosphere was festive and the evening picture perfect for Escalon's annual Harvest Wine and Food Experience, offered on Main Street on Thursday.

From the planting of a tree in Farmington to poster contests at Dent, to a performance by the Peer Interaction Team at Escalon High School, Red Ribbon Week was marked with a variety of events, all focusing on a drug free life. Fifth grade students at Farmington Elementary did the ceremonial tree planting, with the tree serving as their gift to students they will leave behind on the rural campus when they head to El Portal Middle School next year.


David Yoshihara served his final day as assistant superintendent for the Escalon Unified School District on Friday, Oct. 31. He recently accepted a post with La Mesa Elementary in the San Diego school district and, in the wake of his leaving, his duties will be divided up among existing Escalon staff.

His team didn't let him down. His coaches were there, working alongside him. His community, including plenty of former players, came out to support him. And Escalon head football coach Mark Loureiro could finally smile and savor a sweet win, earning career victory number 200 as his Cougars came from behind to shock Modesto Christian, 40-21, on the gridiron at Engel Field on Friday night, Nov. 7.

With absentee and mail-in ballots still being counted, results are not final in the race for the Escalon City Council. Returns from the Nov. 4 election show newcomer Jeff Laugero maintaining a lead and incumbent Gary Haskin running second in the race for two council seats available in the four-way race.

A project anticipated in the community for years and completed over the course of several months came to fruition on Saturday, Nov. 15 with the cutting of the ceremonial ribbon in a morning ceremony at the Escalon Community Center.

Library hours in Escalon are being cut now and are likely to be scaled back in the new year also, as the City of Stockton looks to make up a budget deficit. All Stockton-San Joaquin County Public Library branches are being affected, as the libraries are operated by the City of Stockton and that's where the budget problems lie.

An Escalon man jailed on $275,000 bail was due in court Tuesday, Nov. 25 for arraignment on multiple charges, including a felony count of assault with a deadly weapon and being a member of a criminal street gang. Police reported the arrest of Ulyses Lino Garcia, 19, of Escalon on Wednesday, Nov. 19, following a four-day investigation into an assault that occurred in the 1100 block of La Mesa about 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 15.

Reading, writing and arithmetic may be staples in every school day but some Escalon elementary schools are expanding the curriculum to include creativity. Taking some time to focus on art and music - which in past years had also been part of the regular school day at the elementary level - students in Collegeville and Farmington are discovering their inner artists.

Defunct for the past couple of years, the 'Care Closet' at Escalon High School is now back in operation, helping meet some emergency needs of local students. Taking on the task is Nancy Bravard, who has been an English teacher at the high school for 10 years but this year also expanded her duties to include a Consumer Studies class - previously known as Home Economics- and is using space in her classroom for the project.

It was a Thanksgiving to remember, as roughly 400 dinners were served up at the Escalon Community Center on Thursday, Nov. 27.


Final vote totals were certified in late November by the San Joaquin County Registrar of Voters office and results show Jeff Laugero and Gary Haskin winning election to the two available four-year terms on the Escalon City Council. Both were sworn into office at the Monday night, Dec. 1 Escalon City Council meeting, taking the oath and then a seat on the dais. Also at the Monday night meeting, Walt Murken was tapped to serve as Mayor and Danny Fox named Mayor Pro Tem.

Twelve years of Monday night meetings, special sessions, budget hearings, ribbon cuttings, contract negotiations ... it has been quite a run for Escalon's Marty Van Houten. The four-term councilman, who did not seek reelection in November, was recognized at his final council meeting on Monday night, Dec. 1, saluted for his service to the city and its residents over the years.

They danced the day away at Escalon High on Wednesday, with the annual holiday gathering for students in the San Joaquin County Special Education programs hosted on the campus. Escalon Kiwanis, the student Key Club and the Friends Helping Friends group at the school joined forces to offer the special event.

For first grader Colton Panero, there were no second thoughts. He found a wallet; he gave it to his teacher. Simple as that. And the family that got it back is forever grateful to the honest young man. The wallet, a Spiderman wallet, caught Colton's eye outside his school on a recent day and, picking it up, he figured the best thing to do was give it to his teacher, Dent Elementary first grade teacher Jennifer Nelson. Opening the wallet, the teacher was amazed to find over $700 inside.

Holiday music, a festive tree, parade entries strung with lights ... there was plenty to look at and enjoy Saturday evening, Dec. 13 as local residents celebrated 'Christmas on Main' in the downtown area.

He may be only 10 years old, but Armando Mendieta is a young man on a mission. His mission: to raise funds for an upcoming trip to Washington, D.C. where he will take part in the People to People Youth Leadership Forum. A fifth grader at Farmington Elementary School, Armando was nominated for participation by his fourth grade teacher, Tina Harper.

There was the occasional screaming child, not sure what to make of the man with the big white beard and the bright red suit. But more often than not, youngsters jumped at the chance to sit on Santa's lap and bend his ear - even briefly - Friday night, Dec. 19 at the annual Farmington Community Christmas hosted at the firehouse.

With a few more local businesses falling victim to the economy, Escalon City Council members are going to take a close look at their own fiscal health. While the closures of Cindy's Restaurant and longtime favorite Groppetti's Deli over the past few weeks aren't directly responsible for the city budget review, City Manager Greg Greeson said the closures are just one more sign that times are tough everywhere and the city also has to be mindful of the dollars they have to spend.

Donations from community residents and two 'toy drops' by the U.S. Marine Corps helped make the holidays brighter for needy area residents. The annual Toys for Tots drive culminated with the distribution of toys on Monday morning, Dec. 22, just in time for Christmas. Escalon Fire Department Administrative Assistant Donna Fourre served as coordinator this year and said close to 200 local children benefited.

Two people were killed and two others arrested in a fatal accident late Saturday night, Dec. 27, on Lone Tree Road. The crash occurred just before midnight at the intersection of Carrolton and Lone Tree roads, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Taking a technological step forward, Escalon Unified School District is about to get connected. District Superintendent Dave Mantooth said the district will test its new 'Connect-ED' system on Friday, Jan. 2 and utilize the system on a regular basis beginning Monday, Jan. 5, the first day back from winter break.