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Year In Review Community Winds Way Through 2013
0710 SWIM 1
Lifeguard Hailey Metzler offers a smile and some encouraging words to young learner Dani Hagen, 3, as the two glide their way across the cool waters of the Escalon community pool. The summers four sessions of swimming lessons saw about 300 youngsters participate. Marg Jackson/The Times

As summer arrived, the community gathered for the annual Park Fete celebration, then enjoyed the start of another school year and looked forward to a busy fall and winter season. Following are some top headlines from the second half of the year from the pages of The Escalon Times, July through December.



Escalon Community Ambulance is now its own entity, no longer a partner of the Oak Valley Hospital District. Mike Pitassi, Escalon Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Chief, said that OVHD CEO John McCormick notified the ECA board at the end of August 2012 that OVHD wanted to separate. Pitassi reported that ECA officially became its own entity on July 1.

The annual Independence Day Celebration held on Sunday, June 30 by the Escalon Covenant Church brought out several people even though the sun was putting out the heat. The event started at 5 p.m. and although the heat of the day still lingered many people from the community came out to celebrate Independence Day early.

Coming in at just under $1.1 million, the Escalon Consolidated Fire Protection District budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year is due for adoption tonight, Wednesday, July 10. “We are at a total of 1,097,305 exactly, which is a little lower than last year,” explained Fire Chief Rick Mello. Last year, the budget came in at $1,137,875 and the lower figure this year comes as a result of not filling two vacant firefighter positions.

Paul Da Silva has an ace up his sleeve. The 38-year-old dairy farmer, longtime Escalon resident and now famed World Series of Poker money-winner admits the secret tactic that carried him to the illustrious final table, a seventh place finish and a $69,192 purse on June 29. The cow manager responsible for each animal on three facilities at Da Silva Dairy Farms milks about 2,500 cows a day from a stock of 5,000 and is constantly analyzing figures. He doesn’t count cards, he counts cows. “With the way the economy has been, the dairy business is a gamble in itself,” Da Silva said. “I work with numbers all the time and yes, I count cows. In poker I just count to make sure there are two cards in front of me, but I do have to deal with a lot of numbers, like at the dairy farm.”

A case dating back two years saw some closure on July 10, with the sentencing of an Escalon man in connection with the death of his girlfriend’s young son. Joe Anthony Correia received more than 17 years in prison in the sentence handed down by San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Terrence Van Oss. He had pleaded guilty in April in the death of 3-year-old Noah Morgan in July, 2011 but attempted to withdraw that plea when appearing for sentencing. The guilty plea earlier this year came with the guarantee of a lesser sentence than if Correia was convicted by a jury, which potentially could have brought a life sentence.

Put on by the Escalon Lions Club with major corporate sponsorship from Escalon Premier Brands, the annual Escalon Park Fete celebration played out under sunny skies and brought good-sized crowds to the community throughout the week. While the bulk of downtown activity was late Friday afternoon into Saturday night, there was also a variety of festivities scattered throughout the week to keep residents busy and entertained.

Application deadline for the Escalon City Manager post is fast approaching, with a Wednesday, July 31 date set. City Finance Director Tammy Alcantor said the city has received “eight or nine” applications so far for the position. Applications must be mailed in or hand-delivered, as electronic applications are not accepted. The city is looking for a new manager, with John Abrew recently leaving that post.

A spike strip put down by the California Highway Patrol at the main intersection in Escalon didn’t stop a wayward AC Transit bus there … but it did enough damage to the tires to force the bus off the roadway before Oakdale. The bus, stolen out of a terminal in San Francisco, ended up off Highway 120 near Cleveland Avenue a few miles west of Oakdale on Friday morning. The spike strip was put down near the main Highway 120-McHenry Avenue and Escalon-Bellota Road intersection. Traffic was held up as CHP units awaited the arrival of the bus, which traveled primarily at speeds of 55 to 60 mph on its journey from the Bay area to the Valley. When it was over, a San Francisco man was taken into custody and ultimately booked into San Joaquin County Jail on suspicion of grand theft, reckless driving and failure to yield.

The first human case of West Nile has now been confirmed in San Joaquin County for 2013. San Joaquin County Health Officer, Dr. Karen Furst, said that a 65-year-old male living in Stockton is the first human with West Nile Virus (WNV) infection in San Joaquin County this year. The man has been reported as an asymptomatic blood donor. Although for reporting purposes this does not meet the case definition for the California Department of Public Health to count as a case, it does indicate that there is currently active transmission of WNV to people in San Joaquin County. Last year, San Joaquin County’s first detection of WNV infection in a human was also diagnosed about the same time in July.



The South San Joaquin Irrigation District is considering replacing canals serving 72,000 acres of farmland in Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon with a pressurized delivery system controlled by computers that would arm ditch tenders with tablets and growers with smartphones. It would replicate the successfully pressurized system put in place in Division 9 south of Manteca and west of Ripon two years ago. It has allowed growers who had been using groundwater with high salinity levels that can ultimately render soil sterile to take water instead from the SSJID system.

Members of the Escalon Parks Foundation get together every month and are still focused on their goal of bringing the ‘Rail Town’ skate park to the community. It’s just taking longer than they had hoped. Foundation president Mike Roark said they are slowly inching toward the fundraising goal for the park and have enough now to move ahead with some design plans. The Foundation raised money this year through the sale of fireworks and also hosted a wine booth at Park Fete for the second year in a row.

More than two dozen people want to be Escalon’s next City Manager. A total of 25 applicants, including a couple from out of state, were turned in by the deadline and will be in the mix as city council members begin the search process in earnest to find a new chief officer for the community. Council members were slated to get their first look at the applicants as part of Monday night’s council meeting and are expected to discuss potential finalists, likely in closed session, soon.

A case of road rage turned in to an assault on a local letter carrier on Thursday, and now there is a reward being offered in connection with the incident. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service on Monday posted the announcement of up to a $50,000 reward “for information leading to the arrest and conviction” of the suspects in the case.

From discussing bike trails to listing shopping preferences, a handful of Escalon residents turned out for the Valley Vision Listening Session hosted Aug. 6 by the San Joaquin Council of Governments. The meeting, in the Ekholm Room of the Escalon Library, featured three representatives from the county and just over double that number of city residents. It gave those attending the chance to weigh in on a variety of regional transportation issues, as the county looks to develop a plan to meet those transportation and development needs in the future.

A decision just days before Escalon’s annual National Night Out observance saw an Escalon city transit bus pressed into service, providing the ride for a variety of city personnel and council members, while a handful of police officers and support staff joined in as well. Originally, officials had planned to scale back this year and not have a dedicated ‘caravan’ go to each stop, but agreed shortly before the Aug. 6 event to try and work out a way to visit all five neighborhood gatherings. First stop was at Saron Lutheran Church on North Street, where the big attraction this year was a huge water slide for youngsters.

San Joaquin County Public Health Services reported on Thursday that a case of West Nile Virus (WNV) resulted in the death of an 83 year-old woman from Stockton. The last reported WNV–related death in San Joaquin County was in 2007.

Temperatures that topped 100 degrees on Monday probably had students wishing they were taking a dip in the pool instead of plunging into a new school year, but classes resumed as scheduled for the Escalon Unified School District on Aug. 19.

With many families still struggling to make ends meet, a community dinner two times a month can help fill a basic need. Trinity Church is helping to fill that need, hosting the twice-monthly meals, serving up food for the body and soul on the third and last Wednesdays of the month. Some months, that means the third and fourth weeks, though there are months with that occasional fifth Wednesday. Regardless of the date, officials said there is food and fellowship for all, free of charge.

As firefighters continue to battle the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, local collections are gathering much needed items for them. The Oakdale Leader-Escalon Times-Riverbank News office at 122 S. Third Ave., Oakdale, is now a collection site for donated items, with a bin set up inside the office.



Weather permitting, closure of Highway 120 west of Escalon at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad crossing will begin on Monday, Sept. 9 and continue for three days. Detours will be in place as the railroad crossing in that area will be completely redone and new track installed.

A truck driver died as the result of injuries sustained in a crash and subsequent explosion and fire along Mariposa Road, near Dodds, on Saturday afternoon. The crash occurred about 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 7, with the huge plume of smoke visible for miles after the collision. Escalon Consolidated Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Terry Pinheiro said the fire department was getting calls prior to being toned out by the county dispatch center. “We started receiving calls at the station even before we were dispatched,” Pinheiro explained. “People at the (youth) football game at the high school saw it, somebody had dialed here just before the tones went off, saying there was an explosion and big column of smoke.”

Never one to back down from a challenge, Escalon’s Joann Van Vliet can now count herself among the experienced cyclists in the world. But she didn’t start out that way. The 51-year-old local resident joined in a Sea to Sea Bike Tour to help ‘end the cycle of poverty’ and rode cross country and into Canada to raise money and awareness. Van Vliet learned of the Sea to Sea trip through her church, Escalon Christian Reformed Church, and said she had heard about the cyclists in 2005 and 2008 before deciding to join them this year.

More entries than ever before, well over 300 classics cruised in to downtown Escalon on a hot, sunny early September Saturday for the 20th annual Escalon Lions Club Downtown Autumn Cruise. Proceeds from the annual car show benefit the Lions Club scholarship program for Escalon High School seniors, with thousands of dollars raised for the effort. Last year, more than $25,000 was earmarked for scholarships and the club is on track to raise at least that much again this year, if not more.

Four of this year’s foreign exchange students at Escalon High School hail from Germany, a fifth is from South Africa and all are looking forward to the new adventures that await them as American high school students. From Germany are Carla Hemming, Sarah Herth, Simon Mueller and Annalena Simson, with Linda Mbambo from South Africa. The five plan to spend the entire school year with host families in the local area, immersing themselves in the culture and learning all they can about America.

Seventy-five years ago in 1938, a new FFA chapter was chartered in Escalon, in conjunction with a brand new vocational agricultural course at Escalon High School. The first agriculture teacher, Paul Baranek, was followed by Ernest Tarrone, who joined as the Ag Advisor in 1943. Charter FFA membership consisted of 50 boys, with no girls yet allowed. The first slate of officers included Frank Adrian, Edwin Long, George Tamura, Peter San Julian, Clarence Sandall, and Paul Holsinger.

After reviewing a number of potential candidates – and interviewing several – for the post of Escalon City Manager, city council members did an about face and decided what they really want is a new police chief. So for now, there will be no search for a new City Manager, the council opting instead to put together the package to go out and seek a permanent leader for the police department. The city has been without a permanent Chief of Police for more than three years, working first with longtime interim Chief Jim Shaw and, more recently, with acting chief Milt Medeiros, who has held the post for more than a year.

On the heels of being awarded a ‘Silver’ distinction from U.S. World and News Report, Escalon High School has also seen its API score take a jump, up to 798. The Silver distinction recently presented to the school ranks it as being among the top 10 percent of high schools in the nation, said EHS Principal Dave Lattig.



Bright blue skies, a cool fall breeze and a football victory. It was a successful Homecoming for Escalon High School. The Cougars rattled off three football victories – freshman, JV and varsity – against longtime rival Hughson to cap a solid week of activities, and senior Taylor Busch was crowned the 2013 Homecoming Queen at halftime of the Friday night varsity contest. In class competitions, the juniors and freshmen tied for top honors in the floats, with the sophomores third and seniors fourth. Dr. John Bystrom rode in a place of honor in the parade as Grand Marshal and the seniors beat the juniors for the Powder Puff crown.

There was plenty to look at during the Saturday citywide yard sale event on Oct. 5. Dozens of locals set out their wares, doing some fall housecleaning, and offering up everything from clothing to toys, furniture to music CDs and movies. Some groups also use the citywide sale as a fundraiser, such as churches, community service organizations and school clubs. The weather was picture-perfect for a day of bargain hunting.

Today, Wednesday, Oct. 16 marks the official end of the irrigation season for the South San Joaquin Irrigation District. “They will have gotten their last drop of water by that day, or on that day,” said SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields of water customers. “We will literally shut the system off and water stops flowing at that point. Then it takes a couple of days to drain out.” Water levels in the SSJID canals will start dropping off over the next few days and though there are no major projects planned for the off season, Shields said the district employees will stay busy.

Kids in costume, kids carving pumpkins, parents perusing the various vendors that set up shop for the day. By all accounts, the Sunday in the Park festivities on Oct. 13 were a spooky success. It was a day to celebrate Halloween, as youngsters took part in a homemade costume contest and came to the city’s Main Street Park to carve or decorate pumpkins, which then were also judged for prizes.

The ads have been placed and the search has officially started for a new police chief for the City of Escalon. After spending the last couple of months reviewing potential applicants for the City Manager position that was initially advertised, Escalon City Council members reversed course in September and decided to look for a full-time permanent police chief. The position is being filled right now by interim chief Milt Medeiros, who said he is not interested in taking over on a permanent basis. But with the bulk of the city’s budget going toward public safety, council members agreed the money would be better spent administratively to seek a permanent police chief rather than a city manager.

Retiring earlier this year after serving more than a decade as San Joaquin County Administrator, Manuel Lopez has announced that he is seeking the fourth district supervisorial seat that will be vacated next year when current Supervisor Ken Vogel is termed out. Lopez, who served over 11 years as the County Administrator until his retirement, said that he sees many opportunities for San Joaquin County to take positive strides going forward, both in the near-term and for future generations. Lopez said he would bring “unparalleled experience to the supervisorial position” and make significant contributions to help the county as it recovers from the effects of the great recession. Escalon and Farmington are in District 4, currently represented by Vogel.

Kids and their parents are getting a first rate education through Escalon’s Charter School and its Gateway Academy. The home school program also offers regular ‘enrichment’ programs on the campus of Dent Elementary, a program that is optional for the students but one which many attend. “Gateway Academy is a local home school option for families to choose as their support as they home school their children when in the past they had to travel for any support,” said Gateway teacher Jennifer Driscoll. “I am completely available to my families and have developed close relationships with each. The personal connection, I believe, is key as to why people have embraced Gateway Academy.”

“Was it what we wanted? No. But how can you be upset with finishing second in the Section?” Those were the words used by Escalon girls golf Coach Rusty Fachner when talking about the Lady Cougars’ second place finish in the Division V Sac-Joaquin Section Golf Championships. It was a pretty incredible year for the Escalon linksters, as they won a league title, finished no lower than third place in any tournament they played in, had three all-league performers in Piper Rockwell, Molly Landon and Lauren Ballard, and culminated the year by taking second in the Sections.



Marking its 75th anniversary, members and supporters of Escalon FFA will gather for a special “Denim & Diamonds – A Celebration of 75 Years of Escalon FFA” on Saturday, Nov. 9 at the Robert J. Cabral Agricultural Center in Stockton. The Escalon Ag-FFA Boosters will be hosting the event.

Haylee Cook, Escalon High School senior, signed her Letter of Intent to play soccer with the William Jessup University Warriors in Rocklin, CA starting in August, 2014. Haylee will receive athletic and academic scholarships from the university.

Parishioners of Escalon Presbyterian Church learned a lot about the history of their church, their community and their congregation over the last few months. It was all designed to lead up to the 100-year celebration of the founding of the church, which culminated with a Centennial Celebration earlier this month at the city’s Community Center. The Saturday night dinner on Nov. 9 preceded a celebratory Sunday service on Nov. 10, marking 100 years in the community, with a history dating back to 1913.

With special activities over the last several days, the Escalon community and surrounding area paid special tribute to the region’s veterans, culminating with a parade and ceremonies on Monday, Nov. 11. At Escalon High School, a Friday afternoon assembly included recognition for local veterans, the introduction of students headed for the military after graduation, war and service recollections from retired military members and more. A flag folding ceremony was conducted by Escalon American Legion Post 263 members and an explanation was given for the school’s most distinguished honor presented at graduation, the Wendell Eliason Award.

Three sets of gondola-type dual trailers filled with 140,000 pounds of dried and hulled walnuts were surreptitiously taken from GoldRiver Orchards off Enterprise Road and Highway 120 in Escalon. Authorities believe the theft of the nuts, valued at $400,000, occurred sometime between 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 30 and 7 a.m. Thursday. Oct. 31. A week later, on Nov 8, detectives from the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department Rural Crime Task Force announced the recovery of the walnuts and trailers. “Right now investigators are following up all leads,” said San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Deputy Les Garcia. “There’s not a lot of detail.”

Operation Christmas Child is about to get started in full force. The Escalon Covenant Church, 1155 Escalon Ave., serves as the regional collection site and coordinating the effort again this year is Cheryl Degerman, who said the items collected help make the holidays brighter for children across the country and the world. National Collection Week runs from Monday, Nov. 18 through Monday, Nov. 25 and the ‘Relay Center’ for collection at Escalon Covenant will be open every day.

With just over a week to go before Thanksgiving, local organizations have started the holiday food drive season. At Escalon High School, the local FFA has been collecting canned and boxed goods, along with all the fixings for holiday dinners, since Friday, Nov. 1. The collection is wrapping up this week and ag teacher and FFA advisor Jennifer Terpstra said the effort will provide food baskets for the Thanksgiving holiday for many local families.

It was “the end of a good season” for Escalon’s cross country teams on Saturday, as they took on the Section meet in Folsom. Both the frosh/soph girls and the sophomore boys were section runner ups and took home medals.

Escalon’s search for a new Chief of Police has been slightly delayed, while the members of the city council consider various options. Acting City Manager Tammy Alcantor said the city received five applications for the post by the Nov. 15 deadline and had decided to “move forward with four interviews.” When contacted, however, one of the four ‘finalist’ applicants backed out and declined to pursue the position. That left just three candidates, said Alcantor. So the council is deciding now whether we will interview three or go back out for more (applicants), they are trying to decide that right now, which direction to go.

Down by a pair of touchdowns early, Escalon allowed just those two first quarter scores and battled back to break through for a touchdown of their own, but could not get the equalizer and fell 14-7 to Hilmar on Friday night. The loss in the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs ended Escalon’s season, the Cougars bowing out with a 7-5 mark, Hilmar moving on with its unbeaten streak (now 12-0) intact. “The kids played their hearts out,” Escalon head coach Mark Loureiro said of the 2013 Cougars.

Escalon’s varsity volleyball season came to an end on the road in action Tuesday night, Nov. 19. The girls, second place in the Trans-Valley League behind unbeaten Hilmar, took a 3-0 loss to Sonora in the quarterfinals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs. “Let me start off by saying I am very proud of all of my players,” said head coach Teresa Williamson. “They all have a lot of heart and drive for this game.” It was that combination of heart and drive, coupled with some outstanding talent, that got Escalon past Mariposa and Calaveras in the opening and quarterfinal rounds. Sonora, however, was hitting its stride when they welcomed Escalon to town and took the contest in three straight. Escalon fell 14-25, 12-25 and 10-25 and Sonora would go on to defeat Hilmar in the Section title game on Nov. 21.



The Escalon Ministerial Association is again accepting contributions to the Christmas Fund set up to help needy families in the community. Last year over $16,000 was raised for cash vouchers to give to those in need of purchasing groceries during the holidays so their family can enjoy a hot, healthy meal.

Escalon High School hosted its annual Holiday Dance for special day class and adult education students from throughout San Joaquin County on Dec. 4, inviting them in for music, food, visits with Santa and some good old-fashioned fun. Teacher Nancy Wright, in her first year at Escalon High, said the spring dance for special students is hosted at East Union in Manteca, while Escalon hosts the winter holiday dance. “Originally it was a Christmas formal so some of the kids still do dress up,” Wright said.

The Sac-Joaquin Section on Dec. 10 named Rusty Fachner (Escalon High School), Michael Gimenez (Whitney High School-Rocklin), Maria Hill (Valley Christian Academy-Roseville), Mike Johnson (Franklin High School-Elk Grove), Rhonda Mohr (Davis Sr. High School) and Mimi Scott (Colfax High School) as the recipients of the 2013-14 Sac-Joaquin Section Model Coach Award. To date, 80 coaches have been honored from 55 different schools.

After a lengthy ‘separation’ process that saw Escalon Community Ambulance and Oak Valley Hospital District part ways, all the systems are now in place for ECA to stand on its own. To that end, the ambulance service is once again seeking membership support from the community. “Prior active members received their renewal notices in the mail,” explained ECA Chief Mike Pitassi. “And a post card mailer went out to the ambulance district.” Those who join the community ambulance pay a family membership fee of $55 per year. Individual membership is $45.

After a one-year hiatus due to rainy weather in 2012, the Christmas on Main celebration returned to Escalon on Saturday, Dec. 14. The crowd came out, the holiday light parade featured plenty of colorful and well-lit entries and Santa Claus made an appearance, taking time out from his busy schedule to visit with children on the Main Street stage following the parade.

Sophomore Megan Mullins and freshman Rachel Swift know their stuff. And it paid off, as the two Escalon High School students recently took first place honors in the Delta-Cal Section FFA Speech Competition. “The Delta-Cal section consists of 17 schools in our area,” explained Escalon FFA Advisor and ag teacher Jennifer Terpstra, noting it covers an area including Manteca, Tracy, Lodi, Angels Camp, Calaveras, Linden and Ripon. Students competed on Dec. 11, with Mullins first in the Prepared Speech category and Swift tops in the FFA Creed contest.

Families lined up outside the Escalon firehouse on Coley Avenue early Saturday morning and the doors opened a half hour ahead of schedule for the annual Toys for Tots giveaway event. Coordinator Terry Pinheiro, a battalion chief with Escalon Fire Department, said the gifts were all ready to go and there wasn’t any reason to make families wait in the chilly air until 10 a.m., so the distribution started at 9:30 a.m. Along with holiday bags full of gifts, attendees were treated to cheese samples offered by local dairyman and Escalon American Legion Post 263 member Johan Bartelink, and there were candy canes for all the youngsters as well.