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News In Review: Looking Back At 2014
0611 EHS 1
Members of the Class of 2014, Austin Martinez, left, and Frankie Bavaro wave to a friendly face in the crowd as they prepare for their high school graduation ceremony. Marg Jackson/The Times

Drought conditions, school renovations, community celebrations … all made the front pages of the Escalon Times during the year for 2014. This week, we start our annual ‘look back’ at the headlines and newsmakers of the past 12 months, with stories taken from the January through June issues.



The first snow survey readings of the winter conducted on Jan. 3 are the driest on record – tied with those from January of 2012, according to California’s Department of Water Resources (DWR). With a couple dry winters in a row, the lack of rain to this point in the winter raises concerns in the agriculture industry. That, according to Tom Orvis of the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau, who noted that the farmers he’s been in contact with are worried.

“The cattlemen (are concerned) because they don’t have any grass and are feeding hay, and the orchard guys because they are starting to think about when the irrigation districts will turn the water in (to the canals) or when they’ll have to turn the pumps on,” he said. “The dairymen are thinking the same thing with their winter forage and wonder if there will be enough water for their silage corn and alfalfa. They all see the mountains with no snowpack to speak of.”

Escalon city officials are anticipating the receipt of about $75,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant program funds for 2014-15 and residents can now apply for a share of those funds.

Money in the program is designed for assisting low- and moderate-income residents with obtaining decent housing and for expanding economic opportunity in the community.

Infrastructure, public facilities, housing rehabilitation and neighborhood revitalization are a few of the activities considered eligible for the CDBG funding.

Escalon will celebrate its Winter Homecoming with the crowning of a King at halftime of Friday night’s varsity basketball game against the Hughson Huskies.

Seniors in the running for King honors, in alphabetical order, are Lance Davis, son of Harry and Cindy Davis; Dominic Freeseha, son of Matt and Mary Freeseha; Ben Hood, son of Harold and Renelle Hood; Owen Pangilinan, son of Dan and Kelly Pangilinan; and Zachary Withrow, son of Patrick and Kathy Withrow. All five candidates have been involved in sports and a variety of extracurricular activities at Escalon High. (Davis was later crowned the King.)

San Joaquin County Sheriff’s officials have announced that they made a pair of arrests in the case regarding the $400,000 theft of walnuts from GoldRiver Orchards that occurred last October.

On Friday, Jan 17, Pedro Becerra, 36, and Mario Ojeda, 33, were booked into San Joaquin County Jail on charges of grand theft, conspiracy, auto theft, and an enhancement of committing a theft with a value over $150,000. Ojeda was also booked for a Stanislaus County auto theft warrant for taking a set of tanker trailers in Modesto and on an outstanding Oakdale Police Department warrant for DUI.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a California drought emergency on Friday, Jan. 17. The order was announced at a news conference at the governor’s San Francisco office. He called on California residents to cut their water use by 20 percent and directed state agencies to use less water. Brown said he would consider mandatory water-use restrictions if the weather situation doesn’t improve.



Bringing home some well-deserved honors, this year’s Escalon High Academic Decathletes garnered a total of 10 medals, earned in seven different categories, and also nabbed a team award for third place overall in the Small Schools Division.

“Escalon students brought home medals in music, literature, science, economics, essay writing, interview and speech,” said AcaDec advisor and EHS Spanish teacher George Megenney. “They did us proud.”

A ‘memorial ride day’ benefit for the family of Drew Eldredge is planned at one of his favorite spots to ride, Club Moto in Livermore.

The special event is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 15 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.; a rescheduled date from the original Feb. 8 gathering, postponed due to rain.

The day is designed to help raise money for the Eldredge family, with the 21-year-old’s funeral held this past weekend. The Escalon resident passed away on Monday, Feb. 3 from injuries sustained in a mid-January auto accident.

Escalon Unified School District will be hosting three public meetings to inform and consult with community residents regarding the major changes in how schools are funded and held accountable. The meetings are scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 13 for all elementary parents; Monday, Feb. 24 and Thursday, Feb. 27 for El Portal and Escalon High parents. Any and all sessions are also open to the general public.

Though their overall total is down from the past few years, the weekend Fill The Boot collection in Farmington still went well over $20,000 for the four-day drive.

Money collected by firefighters at the intersection of Highway 4 and Escalon-Bellota Road during the Presidents’ Day weekend holiday goes to the Firefighters Burn Institute for programs and services provided by that organization.

Police investigating a complaint of identification theft discovered the suspect had multiple IDs in her possession and also was in possession of narcotics.

The suspect, identified by Escalon Police as Krystle Mobley, 27, was arrested in the 1700 block of Carignane and faced felony arraignment on Friday, Feb. 14. At that time, she was remanded back to custody. According to the police report, Mobley – who was already on Probation – was found to have identifications of at least 10 people in her possession, ranging from Modesto to Morgan Hill to Escalon, and police also found her to be in possession of narcotics-controlled substance, and possession of paraphernalia.

Recycled tires have found new life in Escalon.

With 42,000 pounds of recycled tires recently put down as padding at Sanchez Park, the treated and colored bits of rubber will provide extra cushioning for youngsters at that park and several others around the community.

A half dozen parks have been outfitted with the new padding, with all the labor provided by Public Works crews and the materials purchased with grant money.

“We took out the wood chips and replaced them with the recycled tires,” said Public Works Department Maintenance Services Supervisor Juston Collins. “It was done with all city labor and we’ve tried to do it so they (parks) aren’t closed down to the public for very long.”

In a time of uncertain funding for agricultural programs, the Escalon FFA has gotten a bit of a boost. San Joaquin County farmer Donald Machado recently chose the Escalon Ag-FFA Boosters organization to receive a donation through the America’s Farmers Grow Communities campaign. Offered through Monsanto, the program provides funding for nonprofit organizations that impact rural communities.

“For the fourth consecutive year, eligible farmers across America registered for the chance to direct a $2,500 donation to a nonprofit organization in the communities where they live and work,” Monsanto Customer Advocacy Lead Linda Arnold wrote in a letter to the local Boosters. “Your organization was selected by Donald Machado as the $2,500 Grow Communities recipient in San Joaquin County.”



Historically abnormal, severe meteorological conditions plagued the state and Central Valley this winter, resulting in a dramatic increase in wood-burning curtailments during the 11th Check Before You Burn residential wood-burning season. During the season, which began Nov. 1, 2013 and ended Friday, Feb. 28, the incidence of wood-burning curtailments throughout the eight-county air basin was up 102 percent over last winter. Check Before You Burn requires wood-burning curtailments on days when levels of fine-particulate matter (PM2.5) are forecast to exceed the federal health standard. Wood-burning forecasts are issued daily for each county.

An unidentified man was struck and killed by a freight train early Monday morning, March 3 in the area of Harrold Avenue and Santa Fe between Escalon and Riverbank. Escalon fire and ambulance personnel were dispatched to the scene shortly before 1 a.m., with a report of a train vs. pedestrian accident.

The man, who officials said was killed instantly, was walking in between the rails just north of Harrold when the incident occurred.

Barring a deluge of biblical proportions water experts are anticipating the San Joaquin River at Vernalis could essentially be dry by July.

Forecasters working with the state believe that will be the case given current conditions including snow and rain from the storm now crossing California. That’s what South San Joaquin Irrigation District General Manager Jeff Shields has been told.

Dr. Seuss may have only written about Thing 1 and Thing 2 but there were lots of Things running around campuses in the Escalon Unified School District on Friday, March 7. That was the day set aside for the Read Across America day in the local schools, observing the birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as children’s author Dr. Seuss.

A multi-faceted, multi-million dollar renovation and upgrade for the Escalon Unified School District is under way.

Escalon High School is the first school site to be getting work done, currently in the demolition phase, said Escalon Unified School District Superintendent Ron Costa.

“They are doing six classrooms in the front of the school and the ag building,” Costa explained of construction crews. “They are taking it down to the studs, over the next two to four weeks they will be in demolition mode and taking things out, getting ready to start the rebuilding.”

Renovation of the half dozen classrooms in the front of the building, near the corner of Yosemite and Stanislaus, is due for completion June 6.

San Joaquin County Mosquito and Vector Control District (District) recently detected West Nile Virus (WNV) in a dead crow collected in the Tracy area, zip code 95376. This is the earliest find of WNV activity in San Joaquin County since it was detected in 2004.

In 2013, the first detection of WNV was found May 20 in mosquitoes.

A project to relocate a historic railroad monument and accompanying time capsule has been completed, with the monument moving just a little ways down the road.

Earlier this month a crew from the Escalon Public Works Department including Juston Collins, Sal Castillo and Jake Cook, assisted by P & L Concrete owner Jeff Francis, placed the Escalon Historical Society’s railroad monument near the end of the caboose in Main Street Park.

From a modest $3,500 the first year of Fill The Boot in 1999 to the $24,000 raised this year, Farmington Fire Department has contributed a total of more than $317,600 to the Firefighters Burn Institute over the years.

Two representatives from the organization stopped by the firehouse in Farmington for a dinner meeting March 18, bringing a plaque and their thanks, while taking back this year’s check from the four-day collection effort.

A grand jury in Fresno returned three separate indictments on Thursday, March 20 alleging offenses involving the sexual exploitation of minors, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

One of those indictments was handed up against an Escalon man.

Allen Kendrick, 47, of Escalon, was charged with one count of receiving and distributing child pornography from June 2013 through December 2013



Recently retired Modesto Police Chief Mike Harden has come out of retirement to serve as the interim Police Chief in Escalon. The city’s search for a permanent chief hit a snag when the candidate they chose for the job unexpectedly turned it down last month. So city council members sought to find a local, interim chief to serve for the next few months while they start the search process again.

In countless small towns across America, the standout athlete often dates the Homecoming Queen. This past week in Escalon … he ‘killed’ her.

Football player and wrestler Frankie Bavaro, taking on the role of the drunk driver in the Every 15 Minutes program, caused a crash that claimed the life of Homecoming Queen Taylor Busch. The crash also killed Clare Fitzgerald and left Bavaro’s fellow athlete Josh Redding paralyzed from the waist down. Nearly three dozen Escalon and Vista High students took part in the dramatic Every 15 Minutes presentation that played out at the high school on Thursday and Friday. Many were The Living Dead, students tapped out of class ‘every 15 minutes’ early Thursday morning by The Grim Reaper, signifying that someone is seriously injured or killed by a drunk driver in that timespan every day across the country. The 2014 program marked the sixth time Escalon High School has hosted an Every 15 Minutes program and it again sent ripples through the school and community.

They didn’t just Love Escalon this weekend.

They loved Farmington, they loved local senior citizens and they loved teachers throughout the Escalon Unified School District.

The effort to reach out to neighbors, serve the community and make a difference stretched well beyond the city limits on Saturday, with volunteers working to help those in need around the area.

Pastor Jim Davis of Trinity Church, which helps coordinate the work day and serves as headquarters before teams head out, said there were multiple projects planned. Some were done at the Farmington Elementary School, others were scheduled at the homes of Hospice patients, helping get their yards and homes into good shape, while the collection of groceries aided senior citizens and donations of school supplies benefited teachers. It was all part of the April 5 Love Escalon campaign.

Jenny Nahhas has MS. It does not have her.

That’s the first thing the Escalon resident and Escalon High alum will tell you – multiple sclerosis is something that she lives with, but she doesn’t let it control her life. Diagnosed with the potentially debilitating disease when she was just over 18 years old, she has been living with MS since 1993, the year she graduated. A dozen years of what she described as a ‘roller coaster’ existence stabilized in 2005 when she was entered into a double blind study and received a medication that basically “put my MS to sleep,” Nahhas said.

Though she is still fighting, the medication has helped tremendously and has allowed her to get back to more of a normal life, working, raising children and, now, continuing her involvement with the MS Walk in Modesto.

Hours of preparation.

An eternity of waiting.

Mere minutes of delight, as youngsters dashed into the fields surrounding El Portal Middle School for the annual Escalon Kiwanis and Key Club-sponsored Easter Egg Hunt.

Friday, April 25 saw the gathering of many Escalon High School Key Club members at the Saron Lutheran Church for a marathon egg-dyeing day, working to make sure there were plenty of colorful, decorated Easter eggs to hide on Saturday morning for the throng of eager children to dash and find.

Some 2,500 eggs were donated for the cause by SKS Enterprises and vats of color were used for dipping on Friday, the Key Club students using their first day of Spring Break to do some community service.

A series of breaks in the timing of rainfall and Mother Nature favoring the Central Sierra over the rest of the state when it came to late snowfall allowed the South San Joaquin Irrigation District to raise the level of Woodward Reservoir for recreational uses 11 days ahead of schedule.

The SSJID board originally planned to only raise the level at Woodward between May 1 and July 7 in a bid to conserve water. The lower level for the past month as well as after July 7 was projected to save at least 7,000 acre feet by reducing losses to evaporation and seepage.

The San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority (SJJPA) is seeking input on its Draft Business Plan from agencies, organizations, and members of the public. In order to assume administrative responsibilities of the San Joaquin intercity passenger rail service, the SJJPA must approve a Business Plan to be included and referenced as part of the Interagency Transfer Agreement (ITA) with the State of California. It is expected that the ITA will be completed and signed by Dec. 31, 2014.



Getting the chance to breathe in the ‘fresh’ country air, see an hours-old calf, watch a milking operation and tour a working dairy farm, kids from Snell’s School in Stockton recently made a visit to the John Bartelink Dairy on Van Allen Road.

It was the final tour in a recent spring series and Bartelink has hosted the dairy tours for years, bringing in students from Escalon, Stockton and beyond to get a glimpse of a working dairy farm in operation, so the youngsters can see where their milk comes from.

National Bike to Work Week is May 12-16 and this annual campaign seeks to encourage commuters to try biking (or walking) to work instead of driving, as a way to help local air quality while improving their health and saving money. The regional agency, Commute Connection, is organizing a county-wide prize drawing as well as several local events. By pledging to ride instead of drive one day during the week, commuters are eligible to win prizes as well as experience the rewards of a car-free commute.

From freshly grown brightly colored rainbow chard to handmade birdhouses and flowers for mom, Escalon’s EskiFest to showcase and support the FFA offered plenty and drew in a large crowd on Saturday. Festivities were staged on the campus of Escalon High School, with a wide variety of vendors on hand, a trolley running back and forth between the quad area of the school and the farm across Stanislaus Street, in addition to prize drawings, food, face painting, bovine bingo and more.

With flags flapping in the breeze and the honor guard standing at attention, ceremonies to remember those lost in service to their country were staged Monday morning at Burwood Cemetery in Escalon.

Off River Road between Riverbank and Escalon, the ceremony drew a large contingent of veterans, family members of service members, and the community, all gathering to pay their respects.

“One word,” keynote speaker Pastor Bruce Persenaire of Escalon Christian Reformed Church said of what he was thinking on Monday. “That word is sacrifice. That’s why we are here…we are here to remember those who sacrificed for our country.”

A fast-moving early afternoon fire at a home and shop in the 25000 block of East Mahon Avenue on May 22 caused extensive damage and gutted both buildings.

Fire crews got the call around 12:15 p.m., with fire at first appearing to be primarily in the tree tops of a row of trees surrounding the Jack Thomas property at 25626 East Mahon. Firefighters had almost succeeded in knocking down those flames when fire erupted out the upstairs windows of the two-story shop building.

Thomas, who said he had lived there for almost 60 years, noted that he had a variety of car parts, tools and equipment in the shop.

A trio of Escalon Unified School District personnel was honored at the Tuesday night, May 20 school board meeting – recognized for their selection as 2014 honorees in the Administrator of the Year Awards.

Presented by the Association of California School Administrators, Escalon Unified School District Superintendent Ron Costa said it is unprecedented to have three honorees from the same district. The three were presented with their awards from ACSA Region 7 by Costa at the board meeting. Honorees were Kelly Robinson Al Caton and Lisa Cheney.



San Joaquin County Mosquito and Vector Control District’s (District) mosquito-borne disease surveillance program confirmed West Nile virus (WNV) positive mosquitoes in zip code 95219 along the west side of I-5 in Stockton. These are the first WNV positive mosquitoes in 2014 following a WNV positive bird found in the Tracy reported on March 13, 2014.

From Vista High on Wednesday to El Portal on Thursday, and Escalon High School on Friday, graduations were in full force this past week in Escalon.

Ceremonies were staged for all, with plenty of speeches, memories, cheers, applause and looking back at the years gone by. All of which, students said, seemed to go faster than they anticipated.

Taking in only $6,381,227 in revenues with an estimated $9,715,142 in expenditures, the City of Escalon approved its projected 2014-2015 annual budget at its June 2 City Council meeting. The city plans to make up the balance of the funds to cover the projected expenses, over $3.3 million, from the reserves of relative funds. The $3 million deficit is somewhat misleading according to Finance Director and Interim City Manager Tammy Alcantor explaining that deficit revenues were covered in other funds from previous collections.

The San Joaquin AgFest kicked off at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds on June 17 and runs through Saturday, June 21. This new junior livestock show was born after a decision late last year by San Joaquin County Fair directors to cancel the traditional county fair for 2014 due to lowered attendance and revenues.

Teams are ready to go, activities have been planned and survivors have been invited … Escalon’s annual Relay For Life is on the schedule for this weekend, June 21 and 22.


Next week, a review of top stories from July through December.