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News At A Glance - Year In Review: January To June
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Changes in city leadership, a new emphasis on academics for local schools and plenty of community activities made headlines in The Escalon Times to start 2013. Here are some of the noteworthy items from January through June.



A New Year’s Day early morning call of a possible vehicle accident in the 25800 block of River Road in Escalon led authorities to the discovery of a body down the embankment near the Stanislaus River. “The victim has been identified as 23-year-old Lynette Lena Garza,” said Deputy Les Garcia, spokesman for the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department, noting that the victim was from Modesto.

Formally accepting a position with the San Joaquin County Office of Education, Ron Costa will be leaving his post as Escalon Unified School District Superintendent. No start date has been given for Costa’s tenure with the county, as he just accepted the post in late December and notified school officials here shortly after. Escalon school board members will discuss options for replacing Costa at their Tuesday, Jan. 15 session, which also could be when they accept his resignation.

Several months after initially digging up a well on Flood Road east of Linden and just north of Farmington, crews are back on the scene preparing for a new excavation. The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department had the case originally, but Sheriff-Coroner Steve Moore requested assistance from the FBI, turning the excavation over to the larger organization late in 2012. In a news conference Monday, officials said a new excavation site, close to the original, will be dug up in hopes of finding more remains of victims of the ‘speed freak’ killers. Loren Herzog and Wesley Shermantine were known by that moniker for what authorities termed a ‘methamphetamine-fueled’ spree over a period of time spanning portions of the 1980s and ‘90s, with the pair believed to have killed as many as 19 people.

This “happy new year” continues for one California Lottery player in Escalon who matched five of six numbers on their MEGA Millions ticket to earn a prize worth $572,376. A statement released by the California Lottery reports that the lucky ticket was sold at Mar-Val Main Street Market at 1900 McHenry Ave., Escalon. The Cougar faithful turned out for Homecoming festivities on Friday, Jan. 25. It was an epic battle between rival teams, as Riverbank’s Bruins roared back in the second half to take a hard-fought victory in Trans-Valley League action. Escalon’s Phillip Kimble was selected as the 2012-13 Winter Homecoming King and the senior received his crown during halftime festivities of the varsity basketball game.

Escalon Police reported that the United States Post Office mailbox located at First and Main streets in the city was taken and all contents were stolen over the recent Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. Escalon Police Chief Milt Medeiros said the last US Post Office pick-up from the box was on Saturday, Jan. 19 at 4:30 p.m. when the box had been bolted to the ground. It was noticed missing on and reported stolen on Tuesday, Jan. 22. The empty mail box was later recovered in Modesto below the Seventh Street Bridge on Jan. 22 and the lock had been drilled out.



Seeking to shore up the main canal, South San Joaquin Irrigation District has brought in crews to do just that, adding shotcrete to the walls of the canal that runs along Victory Avenue at the San Joaquin-Stanislaus County line. “That particular area was kind of vulnerable,” explained SSJID Engineering Department Director Sam Bologna. “Typically we don’t line our canals but that is our main canal; that’s the first drop when the water comes from Woodward Reservoir.”

Bringing home some hardware, gold, silver and bronze, the Escalon High School Academic Decathlon team picked up some honors as part of the annual countywide competition this year. The San Joaquin County Academic Decathlon was staged over two weekends, Jan. 26 and Feb. 2, with the awards ceremony hosted later, honors presented on Wednesday, Feb. 6. “Our Academic Decathlon team earned some recognition for Escalon High School,” said coach George Megenney. “We took home a total of seven medals in various categories.” Leading the way was one of the team’s many alternates, Maggie Casteel, who won two medals.

The San Joaquin Council of Governments, COG, recently announced the appointment of four new Board members and the appointment of Council Member Jeff Laugero, City of Escalon, as Vice Chair. Laugero, representing the City of Escalon on the COG, was appointed to serve as Vice Chair for the remaining 2013 Fiscal Year, through June 30, 2103.

It never ceases to amaze … the four-day holiday weekend Fill the Boot drive in Farmington raised close to $30,000 this year. “Every year I think it’s going to be tough,” admitted Farmington Fire Chief Conni Bailey. “The economy is down but people just give, we get repeat people every year.”

With 900 calls answered in 2012, it was a fairly busy year, averaging two-plus calls per day, but it was down from the 969 logged in 2011. “It’s not the lowest since I’ve been here,” said Escalon Fire Chief Rick Mello. “We’ve stayed between 900 and 1000 (calls annually) consistently.”

At a school usually making news for state championships in football or baseball, winning Section titles in golf and tennis, and hanging up league banners in the gym, the focus is shifting to put as much emphasis on scholastics. A new program aimed at recognizing scholastic achievement has seen dozens of students rewarded for the hard work, with new ‘Cougar Scholar’ T-shirts handed out, the chance for gift cards and merchandise, and the satisfaction of seeing the grade point average on the rise.

Taking eight Cougars to the Masters Meet in Stockton on Friday and Saturday, wrestling coaches saw three of them qualify to the State Meet. Bound for Bakersfield are Tyler Lawrence, Johnathon Costa and Dominic Freeseha.



With the goal of reaching out to area veterans, whether they needed help filling out paperwork or needed a medical referral, it was basically ‘one stop shopping’ for the vets on Thursday. The Department of Veterans Affairs mobile outreach clinic came from the VA Palo Alto Health Care System, making a stop in Escalon outside the American Legion Post on Second Street. Veterans from throughout the region, from Escalon, Riverbank, Oakdale and beyond were encouraged to attend.

Matthew Lima, a seventh grader at the Escalon middle school, will be heading to the California State Geography Bee to represent the community next month. He won at the local level, and then qualified for the state competition.

Working with the Escalon Police Department ever since he was a teenager, Sgt. Dusty Brookshire bid farewell to the department as he started a new assignment with the Walnut Creek Police Department.

You can go home again … especially if you never really left. Escalon Unified School District Superintendent Ron Costa – who had resigned the post to take a job with the San Joaquin County Office of Education – has now been retained by EUSD as its ‘new’ superintendent. The school board recently reviewed a group of 30 applicants for the superintendent’s job but voted to go back out and advertise the position again. Costa, who was still spending part of his time at Escalon while transitioning to county service, said some ‘miscommunication’ between himself and the county office prompted him to re-think his decision. The end result was an emergency board meeting on Friday afternoon, at which point Costa was offered, and accepted, the post he had recently resigned.

Students at all grade levels contributed to the recent EUSD art show, which took up residence in the old gym on the EHS campus for the past week. Classes got to come in and tour the show, as well as participate in a number of hands on art projects, from spin art to making necklaces, coloring to sculpture. Theme for this year was ‘Art Goes to the Circus’ and there were lots of clowns, circus animals and more featured in the artwork submitted by students.



With the presentation of an oversized check – worth $5,000 – Escalon High School teacher Kayla Kootstra is this year’s recipient of the Cortopassi Family Foundation Award. The award recognizes excellence in teaching and Kootstra was nominated by EHS Principal Dave Lattig.

If you didn’t see the prominently placed ‘Police Training In Progress’ signs stationed on the campus of Escalon High School on Friday, you might have been concerned about the number of gunshots echoing through the nearly empty campus. School district officials, working in cooperation with the Escalon Police Department and members of the Manteca Police Department SWAT team, conducted a full scale ‘active shooter’ drill on Friday morning, running multiple scenarios as part of a training exercise.

The Bureau of Reclamation, which operates New Melones Reservoir, and the Oakdale Irrigation District recently released information about flow increases in the Stanislaus River. OID and its sister district, South San Joaquin Irrigation District, began making releases from Goodwin Dam on April 10 to aid with “fish flows” in addition to the National Marine Fisheries Service Biological Opinion flows and regular irrigation release flows.

Mosquito populations will soon be escalating due to warmer temperatures and longer days. Historical surveillance and current counts are coinciding to see significant increases in mosquitoes within the next two to three weeks.

A collection of friendly volunteers stretched across Escalon on Saturday, April 27 for a Love Escalon event that bolstered the community. The group cleaned and painted a local school, organized a canned-food drive, cleaned and provided goods to the Escalon C.A.R.E. facility, aided library workers, brought baked goods to the Escalon Fire Department, assisted with a variety of project at nearby citizen senior complexes and wrote letters to members of the military. The event was made possible by over 70 gracious volunteers.



Three people were killed and a fourth was last reported on life support following a single car crash on Dodds Road, east of Escalon-Bellota. The accident occurred about 7:45 p.m. Sunday night, April 28, as a family was returning from a day at Woodward Reservoir, according to officials.

Dry conditions the last few months – after an early wet winter –have combined for plenty of fuel and a heightened likelihood of an early, active fire season in the Central Valley. Already, a strike team has been dispatched from San Joaquin County to aid in fires elsewhere, and the Escalon Fire Department had its first of the season vegetation fires in the past week.

In the interest of efficiency and with the ability to do some cross-training, the Escalon Recreation Department has moved from its former location within the police department facility at 2040 McHenry to Escalon City Hall at 2060 McHenry. Even though the move is just next door, the change means the doors are locked at the police department facility, with no lobby access. City residents needing to make contact with the police should check in at City Hall first, then will be directed to the proper person next door at the police station.

Though it isn’t due for several weeks yet, the framework is in place and progress is being made on the City of Escalon budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. The year begins on July 1, 2013 and runs through June 30, 2014.

If you ask her, she will tell you “others are more deserving” of the honor. But if you ask those around her, they will tell you Amber Dimas absolutely deserves the recognition she received as the Classified School Employee of the Years through the California Department of Education. Dimas was honored in the Office and Technical Support category, nominated by El Portal Middle School Principal Mark Vos.

Escalon City Manager John Abrew – who also serves as the city engineer and public works director – has officially submitted his resignation. The city staff and members of the Escalon City Council were notified by Abrew on Wednesday, May 15 that he will be leaving the city in mid-July.

The San Joaquin County Civil Grand Jury released a report on Wednesday, May 22, criticizing law enforcement communication with each other and calling for an increase in police staffing and jail space. The public safety report focused mostly on the larger departments of the sheriff’s office and Stockton Police Department, but did call for potential changes to staffing and use of technology among the eight-sworn officer department of Escalon.

With small American flags gracing the graves of veterans buried at Burwood Cemetery on River Road, a crowd gathered Monday morning for a brief Memorial Day ceremony, recognizing the service and sacrifice of our nation’s veterans. Hosted by the Escalon Gustafson-Thompson American Legion Post 263, there was a guest speaker, the laying of a wreath at the flagpole, a 21-gun salute and the playing of Taps. Post Chaplain Jay Davis also offered an invocation

By the time the first inning was over at Lodi’s Tony Zupo Field on Monday, Escalon was looking at a 3-0 deficit. Coming in to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V championship game as the visitors, Escalon battled back but almost every sharply hit ball found a Capital Christian glove and the Sacramento-area Cougars downed the Escalon Cougars by a 3-1 final to take the blue banner. Escalon was the three-time defending champion, looking for a fourth straight section crown, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

Many achievements and memories behind them, many more to come. It was a celebratory evening on Friday, May 31, with the Class of 2013 celebrating their accomplishments and officially becoming high school graduates. Cougars for the past four years, the Escalon High students will now move on, many to college, some to the military, others to jobs or technical and vocational training.



Summer is (almost) officially here – school is out, temperatures are approaching the century mark and the San Joaquin County Fair is fast approaching. Dates for this year’s fair are Wednesday, June 12 through Sunday, June 16 with the fair staged at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds in Stockton.

With summer in full swing – and temperatures soaring into the 100s over the past week – the Escalon community pool is a popular spot to be to beat the heat. Recreation Department spokesperson Bridget Gaines said the pool opened for business on Monday, June 3 and has seen brisk business so far.

More than five dozen elementary students have learned what it means to be a CHAMP. The youngsters attending the fifth year of “Champ Camp’ on the campus of Van Allen Elementary were put through the paces during the past week, focusing on physical health and well-being along with developing character. CHAMP stands for Consider others, Have respect, Always work hard, Maintain control and Prove yourself.

A three-alarm fire in the 29000 block of Vine had Escalon firefighters busy for several hours Friday afternoon, calling in mutual aid from Oakdale and Farmington. Escalon Consolidated Fire Protection District Chief Rick Mello said the first Escalon crews were dispatched at 2:43 p.m. on June 14 to a report of a structure fire on Vine Avenue. Crews arriving found an outbuilding, haystacks and rubbish on fire, with windy conditions adding to the problem.

Summer arrived just in time for the start of the Relay For Life of Escalon on Saturday, with temperatures that day peaking in the mid-90s. But the heat didn’t do anything to melt the enthusiasm and drive of the teams and participants that helped to raise nearly $41,000 in the fight against cancer.


Next week, a look at some of the top stories from the second half of the year, July through December.