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First Half Review: Top News Of 2019
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Students use guitar props to get into their performance, as fellow third graders hold up signs highlighting places across the country during the annual Patriotic Program at Dent Elementary. Marg Jackson/The Times

Graduation, high river flows, a new sheriff … all were news items that hit the front pages of The Escalon Times during the first half of the year. This week, we start our annual Year In Review by taking a look back at the top stories from January through June. Next week, July through December will be featured.



All the occupants got out of the vehicle safely – but a Saturday night, Dec. 29 crash along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks at Highway 120 and Plaza Avenue in Escalon did result in two arrests. Police Chief Mike Borges said officers received a call of a vehicle on the tracks on Saturday night, with the call coming in about 7:15 p.m.

Monday, Jan. 7, 2019 is a day that Patrick Withrow will remember for a long time. Not only did the lifelong area resident get sworn in as the new San Joaquin County Sheriff by his brother, he also had the chance to return the favor and swear his brother in to a new term as a Stanislaus County Supervisor.

“It was a great day for our family,” Withrow, an Escalon resident and the new county sheriff said.

The ceremony was hosted at the Sheriff’s Department offices in French Camp, with Terry Withrow administering the oath.

The first month of the year is slowly unwinding and it has become a very busy one in terms of local organizations hosting annual fundraising events. During January, there are three major fundraisers, each put on by a different group and supporting a different cause.

Citing what they say would be a disastrous decision for the region, the Oakdale and South San Joaquin Irrigation Districts have joined with other members of the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority (SJTA) in a lawsuit challenging the state’s right to arbitrarily increase flows in the Stanislaus and two other rivers. The injunction request was filed in Tuolumne County Superior Court on Thursday, Jan. 10 against the State Water Resources Control Board over its proposed Bay-Delta Phase 1 unimpaired flow proposal, adopted Dec. 12, 2018. The plaintiffs are OID, SSJID, the Turlock Irrigation District, and the City and County of San Francisco. The Modesto Irrigation District also filed a similar suit.

Located on the sidewalk outside the Escalon American Legion Post rooms on Second Street, the official receptacle for ‘retired U.S. flags’ has to be emptied on a regular basis. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Legion officials noted, as residents are using the post office-style box to put their torn, tattered and faded flags in to make sure they are retired properly. Post Adjutant Vince Giovaniello and Chaplain Casey Den Ouden most recently emptied the collection box on Saturday, Jan. 12, finding it full when they opened it up.

Freshman Representative Josh Harder (CA-10) has been appointed to serve on the House Committee on Agriculture for the 116th Congress, named to that committee this past week. The committee ensures federal policies empower American farmers and helps them meet 21st century needs, such as conservation, food safety, technological innovation, and keeping pace with an increasingly globalized economy. The committee also oversees a wide range of issues including agricultural research and development, renewable energy, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, rural development, crop insurance, international trade, futures market regulation, animal and plant health, bioterrorism, forestry and other vital issues for a thriving agricultural economy.

The Sac-Joaquin Section on Tuesday, Jan. 29 announced its latest group of Model Coaches and Escalon High School varsity baseball coach Greg Largent is among this year’s honorees. The Section named, in alphabetical order, Maureen Barnett (Rio Americano), Greg Largent (Escalon), Terry Logue (Bear River), Jill McPherson (Ripon), Marcy Tarr (Marysville) and Rick Wanlin (Rosemont) as the recipients of the 2018-19 Sac-Joaquin Section Model Coach honors.



A longtime local business has lost its liquor license, pulled following an investigation by the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. Emil’s Liquors on California Street had the license revoked, according to John Carr, an Information Officer for the ABC. The following information was released regarding the investigation and subsequent revocation: “On Tuesday, January 15, 2019, ABC Agents posted a Notice of Revocation at Emil’s Liquor & Sport Shop located at 1405 California Street in Escalon.

Approximately 300 students from 12 high schools in San Joaquin County – including Escalon – took part in the 38th Annual Academic Decathlon, held by the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE). The competition began with students engaging in speech and interview contests at the SJCOE on Jan. 26. On Feb. 2, the competition moved to Lathrop High School, where competitors showcased their knowledge of art, economics, literature, mathematics, music, science, and social science in a series of tests, culminating in the high-energy Super Quiz. Each year, all the decathlon events are tied together with a single theme. This year, the theme was The Sixties.

Friday night, Feb. 9 was a memorable one in Escalon – as the varsity basketball team topped rival Hilmar to win their Homecoming contest, recognized their senior players, cheerleaders and parents for Senior Night – and crowned Guillermo Alvarez as the 2019 Homecoming King. Alvarez was one of four King hopefuls introduced to a large crowd in the EHS gym at halftime of the varsity boys game. Others in the running were Jonathan Valeriano, Lucciano Dutra and Alex Jimenez.

Working the intersection of Highway 4 and Escalon-Bellota Road over the course of three days – about five hours each day – the end result was another $20,000 for the Firefighters Burn Institute. Volunteers with the Farmington Fire Department manned the intersection on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 8 through 10, collecting donations from passing motorists in their turnout boots.

The third grade classes at Dent Elementary put on their Patriotic Program for friends, family and fellow students over the course of a couple of days, this year on Thursday and Friday, Feb. 14 and 15. The presentation came just prior to the school observing the Presidents’ Day holiday on Monday, Feb. 18 and enjoying a week off from school.

But before classes were dismissed, the third graders donned costumes, sang songs, saluted the military, and provided a bit of a history lesson.

The Escalon Unified School District will be hosting a District planning meeting in the Escalon High School cafeteria  The meeting is open to all students, parents, and community stakeholders. Each year the district is required to review and update their Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP). To assist in developing the plan, EUSD is requesting community input and feedback about their schools, programs and operations as these areas relate to the eight key priority areas defined by the state. These priorities include parent involvement, student preparation and performance, school climate and student engagement.



Dozens of local residents turned out for a look at Escalon’s future, the large crowd gathering on Wednesday night, Feb. 27 in the city’s Community Center. Members of the Escalon City Council hosted the event, designed to get input from residents on the direction they want to see the city move in the future. Mayor Pro Tem Ed Alves suggested the ‘listening session’ and said he was very pleased with the turnout and feels it is something the council should do at least once, if not twice, a year.

Never mind that kids in their uniforms had to be on the field at 7:45 a.m.; never mind that the wind chill made it feel like Escalon should have been hosting an outdoor hockey game instead of baseball – the enthusiastic young athletes celebrated Opening Day of youth softball and baseball in style. From T-ball to the Majors, teams filed onto Hogan-Ennis Field with banners and in high spirits on Saturday, March 9. The skies were cloudy and the wind made its presence known, but the ballplayers were eager to cheer when their team was introduced and just as eager to hear the familiar words to start the season, “Play Ball!”

Escalon High School FFA member Austin Terra has been involved with FFA throughout high school and was recently elected to a regional post. He will be serving as the Central Region reporter, serving 23,000 FFA members in the region.

“We are so excited for Austin as both a school and as a community,” said Escalon ag teacher Isabella Leventini. “The FFA Central Region is the largest region in the state of California, serving over 23,000 members. For Austin to be serving those members is a huge honor and commitment.”

In a Monday night meeting, March 18, there were only a couple of items of business needing attention from the Escalon City Council. One item dealt with accepting a mitigated negative declaration for a new domestic water supply well. By approving the negative declaration, the council certified that there would be “no detrimental environmental effects” based on the development of the new well.

It will be on Roosevelt Avenue, near the site of a former well that was shut down.

Since the start of the Ag Day program that introduces El Portal eighth grade students to the agricultural offerings at Escalon High, membership in the school’s FFA chapter and ag classes has risen dramatically.

Students had the chance to learn about a number of ag classes and careers on Friday, March 22 as the high school FFA students showcased what they have to offer. Several presenters were also brought in to explain their roles in the agricultural industry. The Ag Day presentations started in the gym, with livestock/poultry, floral, ag mechanics, ag pest, milk quality/food science, light horse, vegetable, agronomy, MJC, and Delta College presentations. Students spent a few minutes at one presenter’s station, then rotated into another, spending the first hour at those presentations. Then it was off to a series of options in the ag complex at the high school, with students able to choose three presentations to attend. Those ranged from Morris Nursey to veterinary work, Holt Farm Power and Machinery, poultry and more.



Learning their lines, getting their blocking down, taking direction – members of the Escalon High School Drama Club are hard at work getting ready for their spring production.

“This cast is almost the same as the fall play with the addition of Jake Dietzel,” noted director and EHS teacher/Drama Club advisor Erin Headley. “I love the witty dialogue and the farcical nature of the play.”

Staging a two-act play by Pat Cook titled “You Can’t Get There From Here,” cast members include seniors Jake Dietzel, Travis Moore and Emme Altamirano; juniors Katie Beall, Nestor Flores, Shelby Strock and Angela Simoes; and sophomore April Strand.

A weekend report that came in as a possible drowning – but turned out to be a man swimming in the Stanislaus River near the McHenry Avenue bridge – has prompted a word of caution from local fire officials. Escalon Fire Department crews responded to the call shortly after 5:30 p.m. Saturday, April 6. Fire Chief Rick Mello said though the call was not a drowning, the river continues to run high, fast and cold, and should not be taken lightly.

With bright sunny skies and a bit of a breeze, conditions were picture perfect for spending a Saturday in service. And that is just what more than 100 Escalon residents did on April 13, donating time and some muscle to the annual Love Escalon project. Coordinator Brittany Doornenbal said there were a number of work sites this year, from the Van Allen Elementary School garden to the Escalon Animal Shelter, some private home yard work and efforts at the Escalon Library and Escalon Museum.

The air was a bit chilly with a breeze but the skies were blue and there were just a few puffy clouds – basically making perfect conditions for the Saturday morning egg hunt at El Portal Middle School. The annual pre-Easter event staged on April 20 for community youngsters drew in dozens of egg hunters, divided into four different age groups and each group directed to a specific area of the expansive grounds behind the school buildings on First Street.



Fundraising figures show more than $77,000 was raised in the 2019 Relay For Life staged at Oakdale High School on Saturday, April 27. The combined Oakdale-Escalon-Riverbank-Waterford event drew participants from those communities for the American Cancer Society’s signature fundraising event and the top earning team was Escalon’s Nuts For Life, with over $15,000 brought in. Second spot went to ConAgra, over $12,500 raised and the MASH 4144 team, sponsored by Oak Valley Hospital District, brought in nearly $7,900.

Forty-two San Joaquin County transportation leaders, elected officials, and regional advocates are in Washington, D.C. to meet with key leaders in the administration and Congress about specific policy issues and projects important to this region. The delegates are part of the annual San Joaquin One Voice effort coordinated by the San Joaquin Council of Governments (SJCOG).

A new art contest outreach by the South San Joaquin Irrigation District, designed to encourage water awareness in young students, has resulted in a big win for a Dent Elementary student.

Marissa Terry, a fifth grader, earned first place in her grade division and also took the grand prize. Her artwork is also being displayed on a number of SSJID vehicles.

Rain that arrived on Saturday afternoon, May 18 and intermittent rain that fell on Sunday, May 19 cut the ‘Fill The Boot’ drive in Escalon just a little short, but the donation totals were still on par with past years.

Money collected by firefighters in the effort is donated to the Firefighters Burn Institute in Sacramento, helping provide educational programs and a variety of services for burn victims.

Under bright sunny skies on Monday, May 27 the Escalon American Legion Post and American Legion Riders hosted a series of Memorial Day services throughout the region. Crowds were on hand for the ceremonies, designed to recognize those who have served this country and honor and remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice.



Thirteen years of school – from kindergarten to senior year – came to fruition for the graduating Class of 2019 at Escalon High School on Friday night, May 31. The seniors strolled in to Engel Field to the sounds of Pomp and Circumstance, were recognized for scholastic achievements, cheered their fellow classmates, listened to speeches and tossed their mortarboards into the night sky when the ceremony was done.

“It is an absolute honor to be standing in front of you,” said Senior Class President Sylvia Guevara. “Most of us have grown up with each since preschool. We have seen each other unfold from shy little freshmen to outgoing seniors.”

After spending 36 years delivering the mail, David Hanlon of Escalon can finally take a break. He officially retired from the USPS, working his last shift on Friday, May 31. A 1978 Escalon High graduate, he also served in the Army and continues to serve in the Army Reserves, though looking at leaving the service soon as well.

One veteran officer and one new on the job were involved in a June 5 shooting on Brennan Road in Escalon that resulted in the death of a 39-year-old man. Escalon officers were asked to respond to the scene in the 18000 block of Brennan about 7:45 p.m. last Wednesday, with the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department receiving a report of threats being made and their officers having an extended response time. Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Deputy Andrea Lopez said that “less than five minutes” after Escalon officers arrived on the scene, 39-year-old Matthew Freeseha also arrived at the location, driving a pick-up truck. He had made threats, Lopez added, to an ex-girlfriend and her children, threatening to ram his vehicle into the house or set it on fire.

With the recent arrival of 100-plus degree heat, the Escalon Community Pool has been a busy place.

Pool Director Amanda Smith said the facility is open for business and welcoming in kids and adults throughout the week. Swimming lessons just started on Monday, June 10 and run for two weeks each session, Monday through Thursday. Morning lessons start at 10:30 a.m. and afternoon lessons begin at 5 p.m.

The first positive mosquito samples for 2019 with confirmed West Nile Virus have been found in nearby Ripon and another in Tracy. San Joaquin County Mosquito and Vector Control District’s mosquito-borne disease surveillance program confirmed the WNV positive mosquito samples.

With more than 50 campers involved, from students to coaches, this year’s edition of the Great Valley Writing Camp was the largest one since the inaugural camp a few years back. Coordinator Sally Hale said 51 people took part this year and recently completed a two-week session, with the camp hosted on the campus of Dent Elementary School in Escalon.

Volunteers Eva Poovey, 10, at left, and Jo Armstrong, kneeling, get to work on weeding the Van Allen Elementary School garden, one of many Love Escalon projects featured on Saturday, April 13. Marg Jackson/The Times
Escalon FFA member Austin Terra has been elected to serve as the Central Region FFA reporter. Marg Jackson/The Times