Valley News Staff
From the start of the new year when a snowstorm blanketed the area with the white stuff, to human trafficking and a local mayor finding himself in hot water, 2015 was a year full change and challenges for many and happy endings for others. As the hands of time move us into a new year, here is a look back at just some of the things that made the news in 2015.
Week of Jan. 9
A rare snowstorm that hit the valley on New Year’s Eve affected communities in varying degrees. Wildomar’s City Manager Gary Nordquist said he was woken in middle of the night on Dec. 31 from the fire department informing him of an influx of emergency calls pouring in from local residents stranded in cars as well as flooding.
A woman who was trapped on Ortega Highway, along with more than three dozen others during last week’s snow storm, said the experience was scary and preventable. Dyana Ferris, 46, of Temecula was trapped for more than 14 hours in her Lexus with nearly no fuel, no water and only two granola bars with freezing temperatures as snow slowly buried her car.
The City of Murrieta has the most employees at 356 and the largest population with just over 107,000 people according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but the best paid city official per resident actually comes from the region’s smallest city, Wildomar. With a projected population of 32,176, the city pays its City Manager Gary Nordquist just over $195,000 a year, which translates to a cost of $6.06 per resident.
Week of Jan. 16
Retired Murrieta Fire Chief Matt Shobert was recognized during a retirement reception held on Tuesday, Jan. 13 at the fire department headquarters on Juniper Street. During the informal ceremony preceding the reception, city leaders, community members and Shobert’s peers praised him for the level of service and care he provided the community during his tenure with the department.
More than a dozen people arrived to a vacant and flat piece of earth in Menifee to celebrate groundbreaking for the city’s first business park, a project that has been in the works for nearly a decade but has struggled to find its roots in the midst of a struggling economy.
A convicted felon who stole from a Temecula store and grappled with an employee who tried to detain her surrendered to authorities and began serving a 90-day jail sentence. Shimone Antoinette Henderson, 47, of San Diego pleaded guilty in October 2014 to misdemeanor theft for taking merchandise from the retail outlet in the 40600 block of Winchester Road.
Week of Jan. 23
Thousands of people turned out Saturday, Jan. 17 in Lake Elsinore in an attempt to break the world record for the most participants in a circuit training class. Nearly 2,000 people came out to the event, held at Lake Elsinore Storm Stadium and hosted by Your Fit City and Breaking Records for Charities. Unfortunately, organizers were 73 people short of breaking the record.
Nearly three dozen volunteers gathered at Calvary Murrieta on Saturday, Jan. 17 to raise awareness about human trafficking and how to stop it. The Day of Action campaign included the distribution of fliers in the Riverside metropolitan area, Lake Elsinore, Murrieta, Temecula and parts of the Coachella Valley. The notice detailed the consequences of sex and labor trafficking and how victims can get help.
A May 26 trial date was confirmed today for two people accused, along with a teenage boy, of killing a Wildomar man to prevent him from testifying in a criminal case. Anthony Albert Garcia, 34, and Summer Sharmaine Stephens, 40 — both of Wildomar — could face life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted in the Sept. 18, 2012, beating death of 42-year-old Steven Lawrence Markley.
Week of Jan. 30
Brandon Petrucci of Temecula is a self-admitted adrenaline junkie so when the 2006 Chaparral High School graduate heard from his father that he could ride in an authentic barnstormer biplane, he was quick to jump onboard. Brandon, who was confined to a wheelchair following a rollover vehicle accident that occurred when he was a junior at Chaparral, said that his father can be a bit of a prankster but was thrilled when his father’s promise came to fruition and he got to ride in the barnstormer biplane at the French Valley Airport.
A violation in rules during an Elks’ Hoop Shoot contest in Temecula left an 8-year-old girl disqualified from the competition. However, according to the director of the Elks National Foundation, the rule violation was not her or her family’s fault.
A man was killed and four others injured in an alleged DUI crash Saturday, Jan. 24 on a Murrieta freeway, according to reports. The driver, 18-year-old Calvin Alexander Cerda of Riverside, lost control of a 2004 Toyota Tacoma truck he was driving just before 4:30 a.m. after allegedly falling asleep at the wheel while drunk.
Week of Feb. 6
Rock the Oaks celebrated its 7th annual weekend benefit concert for Oak Grove Center for Education Treatment and the Arts on Jan. 30 and 31. Record crowds were in attendance, according to Gwyn Sanborn, orchestrator of the event. “Our acts were amazing this year,” stated Sanborn. “Every show, there was a standout performance. The Ranch Rockers band learned 25 new songs for the weekend, and they did an amazing job all the way around.”
Forty-one students at Vista Murrieta High School were asked to stay home from school due to a potential measles case reported by a school employee, according to a press release received by Valley News on Friday, Jan. 29. According to the release, Riverside County Public Health Officer, Dr. Cameron Kaiser said the students who would be excluded from class have not been vaccinated against measles or cannot show proof of proper protection against the illness.
A crash in Old Town Temecula sent three people to the hospital Friday, Jan. 30. The crash on Old Town Front Street near Moreno Road was reported at 5:53 p.m. Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Carpenter said two vehicles crashed head-on after one car allegedly hit the brakes and slid into oncoming traffic. Three people were taken by ground ambulance to local area hospitals for treatment of unknown injuries.
Week of Feb. 13
The 9th annual Charity for Charity Stars of the Valley was a sold out event attended by more than 350 people on Saturday, Feb. 7 at South Coast Winery in Temecula. Each year, the organization selects three people – an adult, a young adult and a child – as its beneficiaries and presents them with their wishes at a Golden Globes-styled event. It also honors community members with awards in eight categories.
Members of the Joint Powers Authority voted to declare a recent audit of Animal Friends of the Valleys incomplete and delay renewing the contract between the two agencies during a special meeting held on Thursday, Feb. 5. The move came following a county report that highlighted shortcomings in the way the nonprofit runs its business. AFV provides a full range of sheltering services to the cities of Lake Elsinore, Canyon Lake, Wildomar, Murrieta and Temecula. The audit was ordered by JPA Administrator Christopher Hans.
A man was hit by a car as he tried to catch his dog that broke free from its leash on Saturday, Feb. 7, according to police. According to the California Highway Patrol, the man was hit at 5:17 p.m. on Murrieta Hot Springs Road near Pourroy Ave. The man suffered minor injuries and was taken by ground ambulance to a local hospital.
Week of Feb. 20
Susan G. Komen Inland Empire Executive Director Katie Parker understands how a dog can help those who are going through a difficult time in their life. It was because of that understanding that the Susan G. Komen Inland Empire Paws for the Cure became a reality. “I have been a dog lover my entire life and really don’t remember ever a time that we have not had a dog or two as part of the family,” Parker said.
Reports offer upbeat outlook following Rancho’s purchase of Vail Lake lands
Temecula area water officials were breathing easier after a pair of recent reports indicated that last year’s $49.6 million Vail Lake land deal appears to be a sound financial investment. The reports from a pair of consulting firms, offered upbeat news regarding the district’s potential ability to recoup part of its purchase cost while providing a range of recreational uses. The 7,904 acres of property’s many attractions, located within 100 miles of nearly 20 million residents, “could be unique and offer very strong market appeal,” according to Rancho’s economics and feasibility consultant.
A 100-foot geyser shot up from a broken fire hydrant next to the Corner Bakery Café at the Promenade mall on Tuesday, Feb. 10 after a driver hit the hydrant and fled the scene. The incident happened shortly after 3 p.m. and the geyser lasted 15 to 20 minutes.
Week of Feb. 27
Jordi Toy was a typical Temecula 17-year-old girl and Rancho Christian High School senior when she was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia last September. Temecula residents responded to her illness on social media with prayers, assistance and support for Toy and her family. Toy was recently given a cancer-free diagnosis so to celebrate the good news and her 18th birthday, over 200 fans, friends and followers gathered at the Promenade Temecula in a flash mob to dance in her honor on Feb. 18.
Like any other parent, Daniel Clausen works hard to ensure his children receive the education they deserve, but a recently proposed change to school boundaries and a yet to be fulfilled promise of a new elementary school in Lake Elsinore has him concerned. A proposed zoning change would realign boundaries but keep the Alberhill Ranch Community zoned for Machado Elementary School, something which Clausen and a group of parents did not want.
Week of March 6
More than 150 participants, along with their dogs, came out in support of the event held at Town Square Park in Murrieta on Feb. 28, according to Susan G. Komen Inland Empire’s Development Manager Bruce Cripe. While attendance was lower than the previous year, Cripe still considered the event a successful one in the fight against cancer.
In the place of a name, Temecula officials have picked a pair of inspirational messages they say will “capture the intent” of the city’s $1.2 million special needs playground. That approach stemmed from scripture and a committee’s consensus, according to a city report and a council member’s remark at the playground’s recent dedication. The Feb. 25 event attracted hundreds of adults and noisy, scrambling children who celebrated the opening of a playground that has few rivals in the region.
Water levels at lakes and recreation areas throughout the state continue to drop as the historic drought experienced across the state extends its stranglehold on limited water supplies, but Lake Elsinore was faring comparatively well according to city officials. “Lake Elsinore has done relatively well during this historic drought as compared to many lakes and reservoirs throughout the state,” said city of Lake Elsinore Management Analyst Nicole Dailey.
A man and a woman surrendered to police and were arrested on March 3 following an apparent road rage incident they were involved in that left two people hospitalized with head injuries. The incident happened on northbound I-15 near Clinton Keith Road in Wildomar on March 2 shortly before 7 p.m. Gabriel Elijah Bowker, 20, of Grand Terrace was booked at the Southwest Detention Center on suspicion of attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon causing great bodily injury. His bail was set at $1 million. Guadalupe Bowker-Cadena, 29, of Fontana was also booked at the center on suspicion of attempted murder and being an accessory. Four people, including two children, were transported to Inland Valley Medical Center about 7 p.m. following the incident.
Week of March. 13
It was difficult to tell who enjoyed Friday and Saturday more, classic car owners or the spectators in attendance at the second annual city sponsored Temecula Rod Run in Old Town Temecula that brought an estimated 45,000 people to the historic city. More than 700 shiny, tricked out classic cars and trucks lined every block in Old Town delighting both old and young visitors, some as far away as Minnesota and Indiana.
A state investigation into Dr. Nasir Ahmed of All Creatures Animal Hospital in Murrieta has led to protests by community members following numerous complaints of the veterinarian’s treatment of their animals. Protests, organized by Murrieta resident and pig breeder Lana Piercy who owns Piercy’s Farms, were held on Jan. 21 and Jan. 24 by a small group of former customers and animal rights activists who said they want the veterinarian’s medical license revoked and his business closed.
A wave of people flooded the area surrounding the Lake Elsinore Diamond Stadium to deliver a potent blow to Type 1 diabetes in a JDRF 5K walk on the morning of Saturday, March 7. The event’s goal was to raise money for research development and generate a finer lifestyle for those encumbered by Type 1 diabetes. $85,441 was raised by the walk.
A mother was accused of renting her two daughters out for sex — one of them 14 years old, the other an adult. Antwana Muhammad, 39, along with her live-in boyfriend, Charles Smith, 32, are suspected of exploiting her biological daughter to perform commercial sex acts throughout Murrieta, the San Fernando Valley and other locations across Southern California. The pair was arrested and jailed for their alleged part in the scheme.
Week of March 20
The full cast of Circus Vargas performers dance in the circus ring during the show’s opening night in Temecula on March 12. The circus was in town at the Temecula Promenade through March 22.
Two Lake Elsinore women who started a Facebook group to help those in need, are now also feeding those who can’t afford to purchase their own meals. “It started with ‘Free for all – Lake Elsinore,’ which is a Facebook group,” Sarah Elman said. She co-founded the group, now operated by seven people, with Veronica Nathan. “The group is geared towards helping the community in any way we possibly can,” she said.
Murrieta City Council voted 5-0 on March 5 to display the national motto “In God We Trust” in city hall, a move that was applauded by some and discouraged by others. In a presentation on the considered agenda item, Izzy Murguia, a senior management analyst told the council that the action stemmed from a September 2014 workshop where city leaders discussed displaying the national motto.
Week of March 27
Hand-clapping, foot-stomping and barefoot dancing highlighted the annual weekend Temecula Bluegrass Festival with visitors and local residents thoroughly enjoying the Old Town event. Hundreds walked up and down old town’s streets stopping to enjoy the bluegrass musicians, playing in front of the stores. Children couldn’t help grabbing their parents’ hands to dance to the upbeat music.
William Gary Simpson, 22, of San Bernardino County pleaded guilty on Friday, March 20 to the first-degree murder of Saskia Burke, 18, of Murrieta. Simpson was immediately sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the December 2011 knife attack in which he also attempted to kill Burke’s father and boyfriend. But Burke’s mother, Catherine, who witnessed the murder, is anything but happy about the situation. She wanted to see Simpson get the death penalty for the crime she said tore her family apart.
More than 100 students at Margarita Middle School along with their parents converged upon Temecula Valley Unified School District offices in protest of the board’s recent decision to dismiss Principal Karen Hayes. Hayes has been on administrative leave since the board made the decision earlier in 2015, according to reports received by Valley News. The students began their protest at the school, walking two miles to the district offices located on Rancho Vista Road. Upon their arrival, the group began chanting “Hayes stays” and “I believe that Hayes should stay.”
Week of April 3
More than 20,000 people flocked to Lake Skinner for the first annual Temecula Valley Family Fair held the last weekend in March. With three main stage concerts, vendors, more than 20 rides and fair foods like funnel cakes and deep fried Oreos, fair CEO Shannon Karrigan said the event delivered all that was promised and more. “The families really enjoyed the event. There were lots of smiles and many family memories being made,” she said. “It is very exciting to see a positive response from the community.”
Kiersten Myers is like many middle school students in Southwest Riverside County. She’s preparing spring projects, studying hard for tests, but unlike fellow students, she was sponsored by Hewlett Packard and busy at work editing film project from her recent trip to Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. “My daughter isn’t one of those kids who is searching for what they want to do with their lives when they grow up,” said Kiersten’s father, Matthew Myers. “She’s already doing it.”
A rare open seat on the Temecula City Council will be filled by appointment, and hopefuls have until April 10 to submit applications that detail their availability, education, work experience and political aspirations. Mayor Jeff Comerchero set the tone for the 50-minute discussion by stating that the upcoming process “is a very serious matter for the future of our city.” The decision to appoint, as well as the use of a two-page form to evaluate applicants, dominated the March 24 council meeting.
A shooting threat posted to social media involving a Lake Elsinore high school earlier in the week resulted in the arrests of three students on Wednesday, March 25. The School Resource Officer at Lakeside High School was informed of the threat and the campus was placed on a lockdown that lasted about two-hours for student and staff safety.
Week of April 10
It was standing room only for Former Murrieta Mayor Harry Ramos at his State of the City address held at City Hall on the evening of March 31. With words, pictures, and emotional presentations, Ramos showed how he is making a difference for Murrieta, not by raising up his own deeds, but by applauding citizens who are helping to make the city a better place to live. With emphasis on safety, quality schools, location, and home prices, Ramos declared that Murrieta has each of the elements that make up a great quality of life.
Chances of landing a lunker in Lake Elsinore increased greatly with the first fish stocking in nearly two years. More than a half-ton of channel catfish and largemouth bass were delivered to the lake around noon on Friday, April 3, according to Lake Elsinore Director of Community Services Johnathan Skinner. “We got a little over 1,100 pounds of fish delivered (and) we did the stocking at La Laguna at the boat launch,” he said. “We haven’t done a fish stocking in about two years.”
Good Friday in Temecula was observed by a gathering of people, many who carried crosses, to commemorate Jesus Christ’s walk to Calvary, where he was crucified. According to event organizers, nearly 1,500 people gathered in the Temeku Cinemas parking lot, some bearing crosses they carried by hand, others with large wooden crosses carried over their shoulder, to journey together in an outward procession of their faith.
Week of April 17
Over 5,000 people attended this year’s Reality Rally event, in its fifth year of fundraising for Michelle’s Place Breast Cancer Resource Center. The 98 reality stars in attendance – from primetime to lesser known cable channels – all capture attention beyond their 15 minutes of fame. At the heart of it is a real issue, which was the theme of 2015’s event, looking to a future with no breast cancer. “We are all touched by cancer in some way,” stated Gillian Larson, “Survivor: Gabon” cast member, and founder of the event.
The city of Murrieta announced the selection of a new Fire Chief. Effective May 18, Scott Ferguson will fill the position for the city. Ferguson, who is currently the fire chief for the Santa Monica Fire Department where he has served since 2010, said he is looking forward to serving Murrieta and its residents.
Hospice of the Valleys hosted its annual volunteer appreciation luncheon at the Murrieta Public Library on Saturday, April 11. Each year during National Volunteer Week, April 12 -18, the 33-year-old Murrieta based nonprofit organization hosts a luncheon to thank its 60 volunteers who provide support and companionship to members in the community with life-threatening illnesses. This year’s luncheon had a western theme and barbecued food was served to volunteers and about 20 guests who came to laud them. Guests included Murrieta’s Mayor Harry Ramos, Councilman Rick Gibbs and Councilman Jonathan Ingram.
A Temecula house party came to an abrupt end as shots rang out just after 11:55 p.m. Friday, April 10. One male victim was injured by the alleged shooter. The incident occurred in the 30600 block of Pauba Road. Paramedics rushed the victim to a local trauma center for treatment of a single gunshot wound.
Week of April 24
Dorland Mountain Arts Colony board members and resident artists were preparing for the upcoming annual “Arts under the Oaks” celebration in hopes of continuing the rebuilding of the 10-acre artists retreat destroyed by fire a decade ago. The colony is currently the home of four resident artists who would be showing off their works along with entertainment and refreshments. Located eight miles south of Temecula on Highway 79 South, the unique artists’ hideaway offered free admission and was open to the public from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Murrieta Chamber of Commerce celebrated young movers and shakers throughout the Temecula Valley during the third annual 40 Under 40 event held on Thursday, April 16 at the Lake Elsinore Storm Diamond Club. Winners were nominated community members then selected for the awards by a committee made up chamber staff and CEOs from other area chambers of commerce.
The Temecula City Council sifted through a handful of high-profile community leaders before it tapped Michael McCracken, a parks commissioner for the past seven years, to fill a rare open seat on its dais. McCracken was the lone applicant whose name surfaced for a vote, and the unanimous decision came at the end of a nearly three-hour meeting that featured little debate or contentiousness.
An explosion at a Murrieta apartment on Wednesday, April 15 forced evacuations as firefighters extinguished the flames. According to Murrieta Fire Department spokesman Matt Corelli, firefighters responded to a reported explosion at Silverado Apartments at 25100 Vista Murrieta Road just before 4:30 p.m. The initial response teal was made up of 16 firefighters.
Week of May 1
“For Your Eyes Only,” a James Bond-themed fashion show, was held on Saturday, April 25 in the Grand Ballroom at the Pechanga Resort & Casino. It was presented by the Inland Valley Business and Community Foundation as a fundraiser for its Student Scholarship Program and was attended by over 400 people. The participation of nine fashion companies, almost 100 models and seven entertainers resulted in two fashion shows, one at 4 p.m. and another at 7 p.m., with different designers, models and entertainers in each.
Dark clouds and rainy weather didn’t put a damper on the seventh annual Special Games held at Great Oak High School on Saturday, April 25. Joy filled laughter and smiles were the theme of the day as the athletes made their way through the entrance to the school’s football field. Supporters, caregivers and spectators cheered in welcome for each athlete participating in the event.
Bev-Ray Camera Shop – an Old Town Temecula fixture since 1998 – announced it was closing following the recent death of its iconic owner. It would be hard to measure the depth of the hole left by the death of Morris “Murray” Gutman. Gutman was the last of his kind, a rare blend of artist, storyteller, merchant, mentor and mechanic. His closet-sized store was his world, one rich in personal service and full of love for youth and the art and science of photography. Its closure would create a vacuum for a broad swath of amateur and professional photographers.
Two women were taken into custody on the evening of Monday, April 27 following a high speed chase through three counties that ended in a foot pursuit in the DeLuz area of San Diego County. Suzanne Steinmeier, 34, and Michelle Rivera, 32, both of Fallbrook were placed under arrest and booked into the Vista Detention Facility. Steinmeier was charged with felony evading and misdemeanor resisting arrest. Rivera was charged with misdemeanor resisting arrest. Both women were wanted on felony warrants prior to the chase.
Week of May 8
Protesters from around Southern California put Murrieta back into the spotlight during a May Day protest geared towards immigration rights. Hundreds of protesters, many of whom were brought in on buses from around the region, stood outside of Murrieta’s City Hall just before noon on Friday, May 1. People on both sides of the issue stood outside the building located on Jefferson Street, chanting about their right to stay and for immigration while those with opposing views held up signs reading “Stop Illegal Immigration” and “Secure the Border.”
Cars lined Jefferson Avenue in Murrieta for the Oak Grove Center for Education and the Arts 11th annual Evening Under the Oaks on Saturday, May 2. The fundraising gala, held in support of the center’s new and much needed parking lot, was attended by almost 500 friends, fans and sponsors.
Water wasters were facing fines of up to $10,000, though homeowners need not worry, according to Meggan Valencia, public information officer with Rancho Water District. “It would actually be the water district that gets fined if we don’t meet the certain mandates that are being put out by the state board who is working with Governor (Jerry) Brown,” Valencia said. The fines would come from Brown’s new mandates in effort to help offset water usage during the ongoing drought.
Week of May 15
Nearly 1,000 people came out for the fifth annual American Heart Association’s Southwest Riverside Heart and Stroke Glow Walk at Lake Skinner on Saturday, May 9. At about 6 p.m., participants got ready for the walk by taking part in Zumba exercises and stretches as live music filled the background. Walkers hit the trails around the lake at 6:30 p.m. as the sun slowly went down behind the mountains to the west.
Murrieta City Council hosted a budget workshop meeting for the 2015/2016 fiscal year during its May 5 meeting. Finance Director Joy Canfield said she had budgeted for the reinstatement of 12 full-time positions as well as was projecting increased revenues to allow for vehicle replacements and the purchase of much needed technology items. Council heard an overview presented by Canfield that included past history of the budget and an update as to where the budget process is currently. The city lost about $14.8 million in revenue due to the great recession, she said.
A Lake Elsinore Police Department motorcycle officer was taken by ground ambulance to a local hospital following a crash on Tuesday, May 12. The crash involving a passenger vehicle and the officer was reported at about 9:40 a.m. at the intersection of Collier and Central avenues in Lake Elsinore. According to the California Highway Patrol, who was investigating the incident, the officer was taken to a local hospital for treatment of minor injuries.
A man allegedly attacked and injured three adults and an 18-month-old boy in Menifee early on Monday, May 11. The victims were assaulted while in a Mazda hatchback that was disabled on the northbound I-215, just south of Newport Road. Officers responded just before 1:20 a.m. to the vehicle that was pulled to the right shoulder of the freeway.
Week of May 22
Multiple police cars, fire trucks and ambulances, responded with lights and sirens on to Shivela Middle School in Murrieta on Monday, May 18 during a mock active shooter drill on campus. The drill was held after school hours and was meant to sound and feel like a real incident to help prepare first responders to save lives in the event of a true shooting incident, according to spokesman Matt Corelli with the Murrieta Fire Department.
Eric Seaman, 29, a California native and UH-1Y helicopter crew chief with HMLA-469, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing in Camp Pendleton was announced as one of eight who perished in a helicopter crash last week during a humanitarian mission in Nepal. Seaman, who had served since 2009, was survived by his wife Samantha, son Roman, 2, and daughter Riley, 1. Samantha Seaman said her husband was a great father and a great Marine in a televised interview that aired on CNN Sunday
A $250,000 plan aimed at reviving an aging business district could bring the first residents – as well as six- and eight-story buildings – to a 560-acre area that hugs Interstate 15 in Temecula. That area, which is split by Jefferson Avenue north of Rancho California Road, has drawn the attention of city officials for more than a decade. Its future has come into sharper focus over the past four years as the Uptown Jefferson Specific Plan has emerged from consultant studies and many planning and community meetings.
A Menifee man who allegedly attacked a family along a freeway shoulder, slashing an 18-month-old child, his mother and others without provocation, was charged with attempted murder, six other felonies and one misdemeanor. If convicted as currently charged, Nicolas Lopez Garcia, 44, faces a sentence of about 25 years to life in prison. He is being held at the Southwest Detention Center in Murrieta in lieu of $2 million bail.
Week of May 29
The city of Murrieta’s Local Field of Honor display, courtesy of the Murrieta Rotary Club, pays tribute to local service members who have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
Dozens gathered at the Temecula Duck Pond throughout the course of the day on Saturday, May 23, to protest genetically modified food producer Monsanto and advocate for better food labeling during the third annual March Against Monsanto.
Temecula residents Ric and Anne Van Der Linden have seen more ups than downs in their 25-years of marriage. In celebration of their silver anniversary the two decided to take their success story on the road, in a way they are most comfortable—from the seats of their tandem bicycle. “We’ve distance-biked on our tandem bike for many years, and often discussed riding across the United States,” Ric said. “We decided this would be the year for us to bike across the country.” Their tour begins on June 27 out of Oceanside to Temecula. On June 28, they set off, starting at the Main Street Bridge in Old Town Temecula at 8 a.m.
A motorcyclist in Lake Elsinore was killed early in the evening on May 24 when he crashed into a mailbox and was ejected from the vehicle. The rider was identified as Lafayette Coons III, 32, of San Jacinto. Officers responded and located the collision in the 32000 block of Machado Street. The preliminary investigation revealed a motorcyclist traveling at a high rate of speed lost control for unknown reasons, striking a brick mailbox.
The first quarter of 2015 saw an increase in assaults and robberies in cities and unincorporated areas served by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. According to sheriff’s officials, the overall Part I crime rate edged up 1.7 percent from early January to the end of March. Part I crimes are classified by the FBI as offenses that include murder, forcible rape, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, auto theft and larceny. Part I data are divided into two categories – violent crime and property crime.
Week of June 5
A local Cub Scout earned a distinctive honor for his explorations into the world of science. Dallas Bowden, 9, earned the Dr. Luis Walter Alvarez Supernova Award, named after a Nobel Prize-winning scientist and professor who measured the magnetic moment of a neutron. He had to complete multi-step process that involved crafting experiments, learning about various scientists and performing scientific demonstrations in front of his peers for the award.
What a difference five years makes. Unemployment hovered around 10 percent, many companies were on the ropes and development had slowed to a crawl the last time Temecula Mayor Jeff Comerchero briefed business and community leaders at his State of the City talk. Attendance was anemic during that annual presentation. Now business is booming, unemployment has plummeted to 4.7 percent and the economy has roared back to life, Comerchero reported. Even the attendance has surged at the breakfast event held at the Pechanga Resort & Casino by the Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce. “Today the picture is much brighter,” Comerchero told the capacity audience.
Ryan Jawad, 16, will be charged as an adult in the shooting death of Gage Seal, a 15-year-old freshman at Temecula Valley High School. The shooting occurred at a Lake Elsinore hotel in the 31000 block of Auto Center Drive just before 1 a.m. on Sunday, May 31. Jawad appeared with his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Whitney Ryan, before Superior Court Judge Mark Mandio on Tuesday, June 2 and asked for a continuance to determine the probate council for Jawad’s case.
Week of June 12
The Murrieta Creek Regional Trail was officially opened for use following ribbon cutting ceremonies held on Saturday, June 6 throughout the four cities served by the trail, which when completed will span a total of 14 miles Currently only interim trails are open while others continue to be constructed according to Murrieta Recreation Supervisor Colby Diuguid who oversees all of the city’s trails.
Southern California measures itself in seasons – fire, earthquakes, floods and mudslides. The city of Temecula, home to over 100,000 people, strives to be prepared to handle each and every possible emergency for the safety of its citizens. Assistant City Manager Greg Butler and Emergency Coordinator Roberto Cardenas are responsible for doing just that. In Temecula, all plans are modeled after a nationwide standard and the city contracts with CAL FIRE, CALEMA, and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
Three youths were arrested on Friday, June 5 for vandalizing a church in their neighborhood, causing more than $60,000 in damage. The vandalism occurred Monday night at the First Lutheran Church in the 600 block of Sumner Avenue. The suspects, who were not identified because they are minors, smashed numerous windows, then slipped a running garden hose through one of the windows and left it running for hours, causing extensive water damage.
Week of June 19
An unprecedented funeral service at Lake Elsinore’s Storm Stadium capped a days-long process of honoring a Murrieta Marine who died while rescuing earthquake victims in Nepal. The June 12 service, which attracted more than 1,000 people, came precisely one month after the death of Sgt. Eric M. Seaman. It was preceded and followed by a string of motorcades that covered 150 miles before and after the service and attracted hundreds of onlookers and scores of motorcycles and other vehicles.
The Temecula area is continuing to gain its financial footing in the aftermath of the “Great Recession,” industry leaders said at a regional economic forum. That continuing economic improvement, the speakers and panelists agreed, signals solid gains over last year and a major improvement over the past six years.
Week of June 26
The first day of summer was Sunday, June 21 and the weather was perfect for everyone to enjoy the Murrieta Father’s Day Car Show at the California Oaks Sports Park. Opening at 8 a.m., the annual event brought waves of families who strolled about with umbrellas, hats and sunscreen to protect themselves from the summer sun. Fathers of all ages came with their children to admire cars at the popular event which offered glimpses of the American family throughout the decades.
Menifee Mayor Scott Mann paid tribute to Councilman Wally Edgerton who passed away while still holding a seat on the city’s council in May. Mann pointed out a reserved seat for Edgerton in his honor and called for a moment of silence for Menifee’s first mayor who died on May 26 from complications of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a fatal illness first diagnosed in 2009. Following the moment of silence, Mann took the time to point out the city’s standing as the second fastest growing city in the county and sixth fastest growing city in the state.
Four top leaders from a swath of Southwest Riverside County fielded a unique metaphor as they cited their cities’ strengths and challenges at a wide-ranging forum last week. The session featured a Disneyland comparison of Southwest Riverside County that was offered up by Wildomar City Manager Gary Nordquist.
Week of July 3
Summerfest continued in Temecula, with the 15th annual Temecula Street Painting Festival. Town square filled with vendor tents, visitors, and artists gathered, many trying their hand at creating temporary 100-square-foot chalk masterpieces from June 26-28. One hundred twenty muralists descended upon the asphalt canvas of Main Street, around Town Square Park and fountain, to paint 84 large-scale murals with the theme, “My Favorite Memory.”
Tim LeBlanc is thankful that he doesn’t sleep well at night. The veteran’s insomnia proved to be a lifesaver, not just a medical issue, when early Monday morning he discovered his daughter’s bedroom window cracked and her missing from her room. LeBlanc’s 12-year-old daughter had been chatting online with Scott Stone, 26, of San Diego on social media sites called Omegle and Kik Messenger, when Stone convinced her to sneak out of the house at 2 a.m. on June 29 to meet him. Luckily, LeBlanc was up and checking to ensure the house was locked up for the night when he discovered her missing and was able to stop Stone from kidnapping her.
Thousands of people anchored a spot on the lawn at California Oaks Sports Park on June 27 to listen to the bands and prepare for the fireworks show in celebration of Murrieta’s 24th birthday. The annual birthday bash featured food and business vendors, a kid zone, entertainment and fireworks.
Murrieta resident, and Temecula business owner, Dawn Snow was arrested June 23 on charges of alleged misuse of funds at The Crossings at Carlsbad, the city-owned golf course. Snow, who owns Karli’s Boutique, and 1.99 Jewelry located at 41493 Margarita Road, often advertised “Flash Sales” and “Tax Free Tuesdays and Thursdays” for sales made with cash purchase – that she advertised through social media platforms. The costume jewelry store and boutique was reportedly emptied on June 23, with police activity on scene, and now sits closed and vacant.
The victim of a fatal hit and run crash in Temecula was identified as 24-year-old Alexander Fiala of Temecula, according to a Riverside County Coroner’s report. Fiala was riding his motorcycle when he was allegedly struck by Benjamin Liano on Saturday, June 28. He succumbed to his injuries shortly after midnight at Inland Valley Medical Center, where he was being treated following the collision.
Week of July 10
Members of the Temecula Valley Young Marines march down Front Street in Old Town carrying a massive American flag during Temecula’s 4th of July parade.
A $25,000 reward – the second of its kind to be approved by Temecula over the past two years – has been offered for key information in case of a 24-year-old man who was killed in the doorway of his apartment. The first reward – which is still active – was authorized after Old Town merchants and friends and fans of a slain musician pressed the city for such an action.
Week of July 17
Freshly detailed classic cars were parked on the green grass of Wildomar’s Marna O’Brien Park as the delicious smell of carnival style junk food and the sounds live music filled the air during the city’s seventh birthday celebration on Saturday, July 11. More than 200 people came out to the park on Palomar Street near Mission Trail for the 5 p.m. party that kicked off with a car show with 15 classics on display and a bounce house for the kids. The 24 square miles of Wildomar was officially incorporated making it a city on July 1, 2008.
Jenna Bush, a Marine Corps wife, counts herself lucky that her husband was present for each of their three children’s birth. “He was scheduled to be in training or deployed each time, but by the grace of God, each training or deployment was pushed back,” she said. Bush recalled her feelings leading up to the birth of each baby. “I remember thinking, ‘How am I going to do this alone?’” Those thoughts consumed her and led to the conception of The Yellow Ribbon Birth Project for the women she views as warriors.
The Murrieta City Council approved a resolution for the formation of a Murrieta Tourism Business Improvement District by a vote of 4-1 during its regular meeting on July 7. The Murrieta Chamber of Commerce and John Wang, owner of the Comfort Inn Suites in Murrieta, jointly initiated the effort to create the MTBID. Both hotel operators in the city signed the petition requesting the creation of the district and support for the MTBID was unanimous by the owners of the three hotels in the development process – Courtyard, Residence Inn and Hampton Inn.
A mulch fire that broke out in the early evening hours on Monday, July 13 was quickly extinguished by Riverside County Fire Department/Cal Fire firefighters. No one was injured in the blaze at Agriscape Inc. located off Borel Road in Murrieta, but thick, black smoke was visible from the Temecula Border Patrol Station on Interstate 15.
Week of July 24
People breakout their umbrellas in Old Town Temecula during a thunderstorm on Saturday, July 18 that drenched Southwest Riverside County. The storm, brought on as former hurricane Dolores moved north off the coastline. Record rainfall amounts for the month of July were recorded in San Diego and Los Angeles, according to weather.com, thanks to the storm which degenerated into post-tropical low roughly 300 miles west of the coast of Baja California, Mexico, on Saturday evening. In Temecula, 1.03 inches of rain fell over the two-day period. Murrieta recorded just under an inch at .98, Menifee scored 1.05 inches of precipitation and Wildomar measured 1.35 inches. A whopping 1.98 inches was recorded in Lake Elsinore.
The 2015 Special Olympics World Games took place on July 25 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the games’ Torch of Hope made a stop at Murrieta Town Hall on Friday, July 18. The Law Enforcement Torch Run is an integral part of the Special Olympic and is not only the physical run of the torch from Greece to its new location, but a fundraiser and public awareness vehicle. From its inception in 1981, the Torch Run has raised over $500 million dollars, funding community Special Olympics programming. Murrieta and its law enforcement personnel were included in the final leg of the torch’s journey.
Local businesses, citizens, international organizations and even a state politician gathered together at Ace’s Comedy Club in Murrieta on July 18 in support of 11-year old Eric Gray. The dinner/silent auction/comedy event was a fundraiser for Gray who is in need of an allergen-detecting service dog.
Week of July 31
The mystery surrounding a sexual harassment claim filed against Murrieta Mayor Harry Ramos continued to deepen as a new witness came forward refuting the claims. Esmeralda Sandoval was one of six people together for a period of time at the chamber event where the alleged harassment occurred. She claims that Kathleen Smith, who filed the claim against Ramos, “was flirtatious with Carlos (Bazan-Canabal) and Mayor Ramos.” During a press conference held in front of city hall on Thursday, July 23, a sometimes tearful Kathleen Smith accused Ramos of sexual harassment, describing the incident in graphic detail. She said the incident occurred during the Jan. 22 Chamber MEGA Mixer where she, Sandoval and Ramos were in attendance.
Life just got easier for some local veterans, thanks to Wheelchairs for Warriors, a project sponsored by All From the Heart. Three lucky veterans in need of power chairs were gifted one from the Temecula nonprofit in June, allowing them the mobility they desperately needed to complete their daily tasks. The 501(c)(3) was founded 12 years ago and serves disabled veterans throughout not just Temecula, but the entire Southern California area. To date, the Wheels for Warriors project has gifted 308 chairs, representing over $180,000 worth of recycled power chairs. All of the recipients had been denied by the Veterans Administration.
The Murrieta City Council unanimously approved the planned 46-acre CarMax Auto Superstore on Tuesday, July 21 promising to bring 250 jobs to the city and more than $500,000 in new sales tax revenues. City council gave its approval for a General Plan amendment opening the way for the large project that will be located off of Madison Avenue behind the Walmart Supercenter.
A supermarket in unincorporated Murrieta was evacuated following the report of a suspicious package to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday, July 28. The apparent threat was reported around 9:30 a.m. at the Albertson’s grocery store in the 39000 block of Winchester Road. Deputies, along with firefighters from Riverside County Fire Department station 83 located at the French Valley Airport, and the Riverside County Sheriff Department’s Bomb Squad responded to the scene.
Former Menifee City Councilman Thomas “Tom” Fuhrman pleaded guilty to felony and misdemeanor charges for hosting events on his ranch without a permit and unlawfully voting on a matter from which he should have recused himself. Fuhrman, 70, was arrested in October 2014 following a Riverside County District Attorney’s Office investigation into what the government characterized as years-long property violations by the defendant. He was charged with one felony and seven misdemeanor counts. Under the plea agreement with the D.A.’s office, Fuhrman admitted the felony conflict-of-interest charge, as well as two counts each of operating an unregistered business and improper use of authority. In exchange, prosecutors dropped the remaining charges.
Week of Aug. 7
Fire breathing performer “Arabian MK” blows a plume of fire into the air while I-15 Brew Festival guests look on.
We’ve all seen them, those tiny mechanical airplanes buzzing through the air taking photos and video from their cruising altitude of next to nothing at local parks, in neighborhoods and at other various places and events throughout the Temecula Valley. But what happens when something that was once the favored present under a fully decorated Christmas tree by little boys and girls around the world evolves and becomes a high flying, precision instrument that even adults love? Drones that were once considered super-secret spy equipment used by the military to snoop on its enemies have now become a commonplace sight and businesses are sprouting up all throughout Southern California and the nation utilizing the technology to turn a profit.
Earlier this week Murrieta Valley High School Principal Eric Mooney, Athletic Director Darin Mott and Coach George Wilson met with the Nighthawk football team to share the sad news that Nighthawk junior, Diego Villareal, took his own life on Sunday, Aug. 2. Villareal was a member of the Nighthawk football team and school and district administrators and counselors joined the team to talk with the student athletes about the loss of their teammate. Monday morning practice was cancelled and the team members were encouraged to spend the time together on campus. Mooney also called MVHS parents during the morning hours on the same day to inform them of Villareal’s passing.
Week of Aug. 14
Hope Barry, 3, who was diagnosed with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, delivers the first pitch during the Disability Awareness Night at The Diamond in Lake Elsinore on Aug. 8.
On Tuesday, Aug. 4 from 5.30-9 p.m. at Lake Elsinore’s McVicker Canyon Park, the city held its 32nd annual National Night Out event. Families and children of all ages attended the event to see multiple police units talk about their roles in the local community and eat at some of the local vendors. Many of the police units on display included K-9, ROVE (Riverside County Off-Highway Vehicle Enforcement), Code Enforcement, Mounted Posse, SWAT, Dive Team, Lake Patrol, SERT (Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team), Bomb Squad, and their Motors and The Explorer program.
Growth is good and business is booming in Murrieta, according to Bruce Coleman, economic development director for the city. Medical centers, hospitals, hotels, restaurants and retail facilities are all making their way to the city thanks to the efforts of the economic development staff and city officials who spent a lot of time and focus on enticing local, national and foreign investors to develop their businesses within the city.
One man was arrested on Thursday, Aug. 6, when deputies assigned to the Menifee Police Department Special Enforcement Team served four search warrants, related to the illegal cultivation of marijuana, at various locations in the community of Quail Valley, located in Menifee. Between the four locations, deputies eradicated approximately 650 marijuana plants at various stages of growth. The plants, would have yielded an estimated 1,200-1,800 pounds of processed marijuana with an estimated street value well over $1 million when fully grown.
Week of Aug. 21
A group of veterans were recognized at Atria Vintage Hills in Temecula during a ceremony commemorating the end of WWII. The ceremony, called Spirit of ’45, was held on Friday, Aug. 14 and featured several retired military speakers who recognized the sacrifice made by those who have served the United States in all branches of military service. The event also acknowledged the end of WWII when Japanese soldiers surrendered at noon, Japan Standard Time, on Aug. 14, 1945. The Japanese surrender came three years and eight months after the bombing at Pearl Harbor, just over a week after the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and six days after the Nagasaki was bombed. Veterans from all wars since were present at the ceremony including speakers Bruce Cripe, Master Sgt. Willie Smith both USMC (ret.) and Chief Kenneth Hendrick U.S. Navy (ret.).
Chuck Washington was showered with accolades as he made a triumphant return to Temecula City Hall following his appointment nearly six months ago as Riverside County’s newest supervisor. Washington enjoyed a hero’s homecoming as he was showered with proclamations and a pair of standing ovations. The city even included one of his favorite desserts, lemon bars, in a catered reception that was a highlight of a busy City Council meeting held Aug. 11.
The city of Murrieta is poised and on the verge of becoming a regional healthcare hub, according to Bruce Coleman, economic development director for the city. Coleman said it all began when Rancho Springs Medical Center came to the area bringing with it 24-hour emergency care, a nationally-ranked Weight-Loss Surgery Center of Excellence, Center for Wound Care, radiology services and more.
Week of Aug. 28
When most people hear the word reptile, their thoughts go immediately to childhood fears of venomous snakes, slimy frogs or even to a certain gecko peddling insurance on those pesky commercials which have become commonplace in recent years. But for students at Murrieta Mesa High School, those cold-blooded creatures are more than just a scary myth or spokes-reptile for an insurance company. They are intriguing and misunderstood creatures, according to Reptile Recon club founder Samantha Hershowitz.
Regional concerns that have been simmering for two and a half years are starting to boil over regarding the soaring costs of law enforcement services. The concerns have prompted the leaders of 17 cities throughout Riverside County to band together in hopes of finding a solution. The 17 cities that contract with the county Sheriff’s Department for police services have banded together behind a common strategy. City leaders are speaking out and pressing for greater involvement in the county’s cost assessment process. They are all keeping one alternative – tax increases or new fees – as a last resort.
Will and Matthew Dunn are both like any other teenage boys. They love the great outdoors and all of the activities being an outdoorsman offers so when the two had the chance to represent the Boy Scouts of America’s Tahquitz District at the 23rd World Jamboree, in Kirara-hama, Yamaguchi City and Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan, they jumped at the chance.
A Temecula resident was identified as the man involved in a stand-off at a local hotel on Monday, Aug. 24. According to Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, Edgar Baca, 29, was wanted for questioning regarding a call received on Friday, Aug. 21 by Temecula Police about a female minor who had been detained for shoplifting at the Temecula Walmart. Upon police officer’s arrival, the minor, who was determined to be a reported runaway, told officers that she was the victim of a false imprisonment and sexual assault by her adult boyfriend identified as Baca. Officers checked the parking lot for Baca, however, he had fled the area in his vehicle prior to officer’s arrival.
Week of Sep. 4
Temecula-based high flying, freestyle motocross team Metal Mulisha Fitz Army made it through another round of cuts to the semifinals on America’s Got Talent thanks to the judges exercising a wild card pick, keeping the team in the competition following elimination by viewers. Team member Jimmy Fitzpatrick took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to Valley News about Metal Mulisha Fitz Army, his experience on America’s Got Talent and how being a part of the show has affected his life to date.
Optional future recreational uses of the 7,000 acres surrounding Vail Lake, including the Vail Lake Resort, were being studied by the seven-member Rancho California Water District Board of Directors. Andrew Webster, chief engineer for the district, presented a 251-page detailed report to the board on Tuesday, Aug. 25 regarding the possible future uses for the property surrounding Vail Lake. The district recently purchased the property in a bankruptcy sale for more than $49 million. The land includes the Vail Lake Resort and the nearby Sundance Ranch property along Highway 79 between Temecula and Aguanga.
Riverside Superior Court granted a 90-day eviction extension to metal sculptor Ricardo Breceda who wass being forced to move his studio from the Vail Lake Resort. Breceda had occupied his studio and grounds at the Vail Lake resort since 2011 and was ordered by owners of the property, the Rancho California Water District, to vacate the property off of Highway 79 in June. When he refused to vacate the property a 30-day eviction notice was issued. Breceda said the 30 days he was allowed wasn’t enough time to move the thousands of tin sculptures, including some standing 12-feet high, from the property.
Week of Sep. 11
William Kries takes off in his pencil-themed “gravity racer” during the 4th annual Menifee Soap Box Derby.
A major push – complete with an array of 24 street signs, an all-hands press conference and beefed-up policing efforts – was detailed recently by Temecula and Wolf Creek subdivision leaders. The steps, which centered on the launch of a “renewed” neighborhood watch program, were unparalleled in recent memory in the fast-growing city that has regularly been ranked as one of the safest in the nation.
A pair of Lake Elsinore leaders rebuffed an advocacy group’s demands that the City Council reconsider its decision to host and help finance the upcoming Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. The demand by Advocates For Faith & Freedom was flatly rejected by Lake Elsinore’s city manager and the councilman whom the group claims should have bowed out of a recent discussion and vote because of personal ties to the organizers of the popular and profitable race. The advocates group describes itself as a nonprofit public interest law firm that is dedicated to protecting religious liberty in the courts.
Week of Sep. 18
Paloma Valley High School displays a giant, 850 pound flag, measuring 100 by 50 yards, prior to the start of Friday’s homecoming game against Riverside’s Martin Luther King High School to pay tribute to the victims on 9/11.
A trip to New York City, Taylor Swift concert tickets, a new laptop – these are just a few things an average teenager might ask for if they could have any wish granted. But for 18-year-old cancer patient Jasmine Lopez of Murrieta, the offer to have a wish granted by the Make-a-Wish Foundation brought something different to mind – a Norwalk 280 Juicing Machine. Eloquent, poised, and ambitious, Lopez isn’t a typical teen. With her optimistic spirit and bright smile, it’s not obvious that for the last two years, she has been fighting for her life.
Laughter and joking filled the air at the Temecula Duck Pond early in the morning hours on Saturday, Sept.12. The festivities felt like an early morning picnic to those in attendance rather than reflecting the seriousness of the reason for the gathering. But as the 80 plus active duty, veterans and their family members laced up their combat boots, it became evident the reason they were there was not just to have a good time, but to raise awareness of a cause near and dear to their hearts, the loss of 22 veterans a day to suicide. Founded by the Irreverent Warriors nonprofit organization earlier this year, the Silkies Hike, 22 with 22 for 22 (named for the short shorts that Marines wear while doing physical training, the distance they hike and the amount of weight carried on their backs) uses humor and camaraderie to bring veterans together. The organization hopes to heal the mental wounds from combat with therapeutic events and entertainment in order to reduce PTSD and suicide.
Week of Sep. 25
The hurlers Get Shamrocked Irish Music Festival in Murrieta. The special event drew thousands to Murrieta’s Town Square Sept. 18-20 for the third annual Irish music festival presented by Guinness and Jameson Irish Whiskey. The Friday night and Saturday venue brought an adult only crowd with the Guinness and whiskey vendors doing a good business. A dozen Celtic and Irish rock bands from as far away as Australia came to Murrieta to play for the crowds gathered around the Town Square Stage. The adult only days saw a strong Murrieta police presence to keep the crowds under control, but few incidents of over imbibing or unruliness were reported. Hard liquor drinks and Irish beer were sold at different vendors for $8 a drink.
Winding through a valley of vast estates and professional horse-training grounds on a smooth asphalt road that transitions into a climbing, dirt road, Green Acres Ranch, suddenly makes its appearance at the crest of a hill. For Margaret Rich, founder of Green Acres Interactive Therapy, this is home. While many surrounding ranches specialize only in horse-training and breeding, Green Acres claims something unique – therapeutic horseback riding and animal interaction. Through the GAIT program, Rich has been offering this exclusive form of therapy to disabled children for the past 10 years.
The city of Wildomar wasn’t taking any chances with this year’s El Niño that some forecasters are predicting to be more intense than the record setting event that occurred in the winter of 1997-98. Last week, the city hosted a class designed to prepare residents for the upcoming weather event featuring county emergency services professionals who discussed steps residents should take in order to be prepared. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is now calling for a 95 percent chance that El Niño will continue throughout the winter before gradually weakening in the spring. That fact coupled with the knowledge that Wildomar is prone to flooding, led city officials to host the meeting as part of its Community Emergency Response Team training, according to Mayor Pro Tem Bridgette Moore.
Week of Oct. 2
Thousands of students and administrators, along with representatives from Varsity Brands, gathered in the sunshine infused quad at Vista Murrieta High School this morning. But temperatures weren’t the only thing rising once Varsity Brands announced the school was the official winner of the title of America’s Most Spirited High School. The announcement was made during a 9 a.m. Pep Rally.
Imagine having the “World’s Largest Lobster Cooker” pumping out 400 lobsters every 12 minutes while thousands of people wait eagerly in line to sample the delectable delight that is Maine Lobster. That’s exactly what happened in Murrieta as residents and visitors alike converged on the city’s Town Square Park for the Murrieta Lobster Festival. Festival goers were able to enjoy a fresh lobster meal, live music, and good family fun during the first lobster fest ever to be held in the valley.
A painted purple school bus and lots of purple T-shirts were some symbols of “Because Nice Matters Week” that kicked off Sept. 21 in observation of Temecula Valley Unified School District’s (TVUSD) 5th annual program that’s observed district wide on the last full week of September each year. The week’s agenda varied throughout the district’s schools, but they each had ways to share the anti-bullying message and reinforce acts of kindness.
A Sun City woman was killed when she was struck by a car while walking in Menifee. Crystal Stevens, 41, was walking on McCall Road near Sherman Road in Menifee at about 11:40 p.m. Thursday night when she was hit by a sedan, according to the Riverside County Coroner’s Office. She was taken to Inland Valley Regional Medical Center in Murrieta where she was pronounced dead at 2:16 p.m. on Friday, the coroner said.
Week of Oct. 9
The money – literally hundreds and hundreds of dollars – had been accumulating for years, decorating the walls, ceilings and columns of the outdoor bar portion of The Bank Mexican Restaurant & Bar in Old Town Temecula. When restaurant owners Craig and Christy Puma wanted to refresh and repaint the outdoor bar they knew they had to do something with all of that money stapled to the walls and ceilings so they offered to donate the money to the Boys & Girls Club of Southwest County. The Pumas have been good supporters of the Boys & Girls Club for many years.
Chris Ruiz, a resident of Menifee, was killed last week when the C-130J he was a passenger on, crashed. The incident occurred on Friday, Oct. 2 shortly after midnight Afghan time. The plane was on approach at Jalalabad Airfield in Afghanistan when the accident occurred. Everyone aboard, six U.S. Airforce Airmen and five contractors – including Ruiz – perished in the incident, along with three people on the ground. Ruiz had served for many years first as a U.S. Marine and most recently as a civilian contractor in Afghanistan.
A woman who aided in the slaying of a Wildomar man during a confrontation in an abandoned shack was given a three-year sentence today, but was immediately released on parole after it was determined her jail time awaiting trial exceeded her prison commitment. Summer Sharmaine Stephens, 41, of Wildomar pleaded guilty in July to being an accessory to murder for the Sept. 18, 2012, death of 42-year-old Steven Lawrence Markley. In exchange for Stephens’ admission, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office dropped a murder charge with special circumstance allegations.
Week Oct. 16
The City of Lake Elsinore hosted its annual American Cancer Society Relay For Life event on Sat., Oct. 10 at Canyon Lake Middle School, celebrating the lives of over 50 cancer survivors, some of whom have been cancer free for over 20 years.
Wildomar Mayor Ben Benoit spoke to a packed house at City Hall during his 2015 State of the City address. Benoit held the crowd’s attention for just over 30 minutes as he presented the address which focused on the city’s past, present and future, saying that if there was any one thing to take away from the meeting it’s that the city is fiscally sound. The city currently operates on a $9 million general fund that is mostly provided by sales tax, property tax, licensing, fines and forfeitures.
Murrieta City Council voted to remove Mayor Harry Ramos from his position after a city investigation determined there might have been cause to believe that Ramos did engage in misconduct. The special Council meeting called at 1 p.m. Oct. 7 lasted less than 45 minutes with Ramos electing to leave the Council Chambers before the results of the private detective’s council-ordered investigation was to be discussed. Mayor Pro Tem Randon Lane took over the Mayor’s seat. Council voted 4-0 to remove Ramos from his seat and prohibit him from representing the city on any commissions, be given no committee assignments, and prohibit him from representing any city business.
Week of Oct. 23
A group of Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure participants take a picture of themselves in front of a breast cancer awareness themed City of Riverside Police car in Lake Elsinore on Oct. 18.
Hundreds of people packed themselves into Pins and Pockets on Thursday, Oct. 15 to hear Lake Elsinore Mayor Steve Manos talk about the direction the city is taking to improve its image as it looks to the future. Manos thanked residents of the city for allowing him to make a difference in the community. His goal he said was to encourage others to come to Lake Elsinore to raise their families, build their businesses and find a way to give back to their community.
Sixty-five exemplary classic car, hot rod and vintage car owners proudly drove off with their prize trophies sitting in their car seats at the conclusion of what sponsors say was “the best ever” Murrieta Rod Run held in Old Town Murrieta this past weekend. Murrieta Rod Run Co-President Cindy Helmstead of the Drifters Car Club, coordinating the event, said this year’s Rod Run was “the best ever” with the 425 show car spaces sold out more than a month before the event held Oct. 17-18.
Week Oct. 30
Murrieta’s Field of Honor will once again be a focal point for the community’s annual remembrance of the sacrifices made by brave men and women who chose to serve in the Armed Forces or in the public safety sector. Beginning on Saturday, Nov. 7, volunteers from The Rotary Club of Murrieta will set up the flags in perfect rows and columns for the emotion filled 7th annual Field of Honor. Located at Town Square Park in Murrieta, this week-long patriotic event pays honor and expresses thanks to those who have served, and those who continue to serve the citizens of the United States of America.
Rumors the Murrieta Equestrian Center would be closed by the city were dispelled by the City Council Oct. 21 when they granted its pasture tenant an extended 90-day lease until a new vision for the facility can be explored in January. Acting Mayor Randon Lane, prior to a city council workshop on the Murrieta Equestrian Center, told a crowded city council chambers the information given on Facebook in recent days that the city might close the center were completely false.
The Murrieta City Council, following the removal of Councilman Harry Ramos from his mayoral position, reassigned a number of committees and subcommittees to other council members with Councilman Randon Lane transitioning into the mayor’s slot until the end of the year. The removal resulted in the council making new assignments for the other council members. Lane, as interim mayor, now heads the committees and subcommittees Ramos once held. Councilman Rick Gibbs is now the Mayor Pro Tem and will stand in for Lane when he is away or unable to take the dais at council meetings or other city activities.
One man has been arrested in conjunction with a burglary and a string of fraud cases in Temecula, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department reported on Thursday, Oct. 22. According to a press release written by Sgt. Geoffrey Green, officers assigned to the Temecula Police Department’s Special Enforcement Team, were conducting follow-up investigations regarding a burglary and several fraud cases in the city of Temecula during the month of October.
Week of Nov. 6
Proving they were among the best of the best, 10 Equestrian Event riders and their mounts rode away from Galway Downs with the top awards Sunday Nov. 1. Their eyes are now focused on the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The riders and their horses in the five-day Equestrian Event at Temecula’s premier 280 Galway Downs showed how strong the partnership is between horse and man by competing in an equestrian triathlon. The events conducted all over the nation, will ultimately determine who will win a spot on the Olympic Equestrian venue.
Ron Roberts views the work done to finance and build the landmark Temecula library along Pauba Road as the crowning achievement of the 25 years he spent in city and county government. That library will now bear his name. Roberts’ name was also added to the city’s Wall of Honor. The action marked just the second time in Temecula’s 26-year history that a city facility has been named after someone during their lifetime.
Week of Nov. 13
Kent Pietsch performs a humorous aerobatic performance at the inaugural French Valley Airshow on Nov. 7.
Maddi Olson, 17, critically injured two years ago in a skateboard accident, made a special appearance at Murrieta’s Shivela Middle School giving the hundreds of students there these word of advice. “Please! Wear your safety helmet, so I feel that I did not fail you today.”
The teen, along with her mother and sister, for the first time since Maddi’s near fatal skateboard accident in San Clemente, wanted to tell their story so that other children and adults know the consequences of not wearing a safety helmet while riding any two-wheeled vehicle, be it a scooter, bicycle, skateboard or motorcycle.
When Jeff Stone served on the Temecula City Council, he would frequently describe the California Legislature as disconnected and dysfunctional. His freshman year in the state Senate hasn’t altered that stance. “It’s exactly the way I expected it,” Stone said in a recap of his first year on the statewide stage. “It’s extremely dysfunctional, extremely political.”
On Saturday, Nov. 7, a Lake Elsinore home invasion turned deadly when one of the suspects was shot and killed by the homeowner of the residence in question. At about 11:35 p.m., deputies from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Lake Elsinore Police Station were dispatched to the report of a home invasion robbery and shooting that had occurred on the 53000 block of Beales Street. Upon arrival, deputies learned that during a home invasion robbery several suspects had gained entry or were trying to gain entry into the residence when the homeowner confronted the suspects with a gun, at which time a gun battle ensued.
Week of Nov. 20
World War II Veteran Alvin Cordova rides his scooter down the parade route as part of Murrieta’s 13th annual Veterans Day Parade.
More than 100 veterans were memorialized during a ceremony held at Temecula’s Path of Honor on Saturday, Nov. 14. Under sunny skies, Path of Honor Scholarship Trust Executive Director Michael Bircumshaw read the 116 names of those for whom bricks were placed in honor of their service at the Temecula Duck Pond and Veteran’s Memorial.
Several hundred American War veterans gathered Veterans Day at Galway Downs to hear music from the top local musicians and bands honoring them for their service to the nation in the past and current wars. John Roberts, Temecula Rotarian and Manzanita Ranch director, spokesman for the special Veterans Day event, greeted all the men and women who served or who are now serving in our Nation’s armed forces calling them all “Heroes” that should always to be honored.
Week of Nov. 27
City of Murrieta firefighter Ryan Roufs, takes a donation from a motorist at a busy intersection on California Oaks Rd. in Murrieta during the “Fill the Boot” campaign to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association on Nov. 21. Shane Gibson photo.
A panel of school district personnel, businessmen and Murrieta city officials presented a picture of a growing, family oriented wealthy city welcoming new business and residents seeking a bright economic future at the Tuesday, Nov. 17 annual Murrieta Chamber of Commerce Economic Outlook. More than 100 invited guests attended the special event held at St. Martha’s Church that included a breakfast served by New Life Culinary Creations, power point presentations and an opportunity for chamber members, visiting guests and business entrepreneurs of all kinds to ask about the opportunities the City of Murrieta provides.
Murrieta Fire Chief Scott Ferguson and command staff outlined the Fire Departments urgent engine and equipment needs during a special workshop Tuesday, Nov. 17 with the Murrieta City Council. Although the department’s efficiency and response time rank high among other Inland Empire cities, many of the engines and light duty vehicles used by firefighters are rapidly aging and in need of replacement, according to a report made by the department’s staff.
Temecula council members last week closely scrutinized and then approved much of a $250,000 plan aimed at reviving an aging, 560-acre business district that hugs the west side of Interstate 15. The Uptown Jefferson Specific Plan, if it comes to fruition, could bring 10,000 or more residents to an area that currently has none. It could bring an influx of six- and eight-story buildings to a city that has few structures that size.
Week of Dec. 4
No criminal charges will be filed against Murrieta Councilman Harry Ramos, according to Ramos’ attorney. Paul Grech, who represented Ramos, said that the DA’s office found no basis for filing a case against the embattled former mayor. The decision was based on an internal investigation brought about following a citizen complaint that Ramos sexually assaulted her. A civil case in the incident was still pending.
Menifee Economic Development Director Jeff Wyman and his staff announced that 85 projects are in various stages of planning and development within the city of 80,000. Wyman, and his management analysts Gina Gonzales and Brian Oulman have little time for much else than charting the progress of these projects. What is even more challenging is the anticipation of even more projects coming to Menifee and what they call their target area in the next two to three years. With business booming, it is easy to see how Menifee is the second fastest growing city in Southwest Riverside County.
Local church targeted after offering housing to Syrian refugees
A local church was targeted after announcing it is offering to house Syrian refugees. Reverend Bill Freeman of Menifee United Church of Christ, located in Sun City, said the church has been a target of complaints since making the announcement on Friday, Nov. 20 that the church was offering to house those fleeing the conflict in their home country.
Murrieta celebrates the holiday season with Hometown Holiday Parade.
Week of Dec. 11
Christmas spirit shines in the Temecula Santa’s Electric Light Parade.
For Murrieta Firefighter Eric Ackerman, making the decision to go to Rwanda while working on his bachelor’s degree in psychology was one that would change his perspective on life forever.
“It wasn’t so much we had to go anywhere,” Ackerman said of the internship that he was required to complete in order to obtain his degree. Ackerman said in addition to a traditional internship, the school he attends, Liberty University, also offered up other options, including the missionary trip to Rwanda and several other locations. Ackerman said that he was resistant to the idea of going to a place overseas to complete the internship but once he began to warm up to the idea, he felt compelled to go. “I just felt pushed towards it,” he said.
The 12th annual Support Our Troops event, organized by All From The Heart, brought together volunteers, local businesses, military families and their many supporters at Quaid Temecula Harley Davidson on Saturday, Dec. 5. The highlight of the day was a brand new bicycle for each of the children in attendance. The special event included a flyby, an opening ceremony, a bounce house for the children, law enforcement and military vehicle displays, various booths featuring local business and great food. But the best part of the day’s festivities was a visit by Santa, who arrived on his customized Harley. Saturdays’ free event was a huge success according to the sponsors with over 500 people in attendance. Twenty-nine of the invited families were able to attend.
Week of Dec. 18
Holidays come to life at Menifee Christmas Tree lighting.
The storm activity that El Niño is expected to spawn this winter could pose a risk to bridges and roads throughout the Inland Empire, and despite efforts to mitigate problems before they occur, it’s doubtful “we can prevent” infrastructure failures, a state official said. “When the water starts moving swiftly through those arroyos, and we start seeing flash floods, infrastructure will be damaged,” California Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci said.
On Friday, Dec. 11, Temecula Elementary School launched its first annual “Books and Cookies with Santa,” a literacy event sponsored by PTA-Title One. The event tied together two sweet treats – holiday story time with Santa and cookies for all, with Christmas themed crafts also provided. Starting at 6 p.m., 200 children huddled around teachers in multiple rooms and listened to holiday-themed books as parents and family members looked on with smiles on their faces. After story time, the children put their creative gears to work and decorated colorful crafts, such as gingerbread puppets.
A petition and complaint have been filed with the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights against the country of Mexico and several entities including the Office of the President, the House of Representatives and the Senate on behalf of Carlos A. Bazan-Canabal, his partners and company. In the complaint, Bazan-Canabal, who was the first blogger in Mexico and founder of Yahoo Mexico, claims violation of his human rights and of those he represented in an affidavit he filed, fought, and won 2.7 billion U.S. dollars for against Yahoo Mexico and Yahoo Inc., among others.
Week of Dec. 25
A thief breaks into a storage unit and stole all of the holiday presents and leaving one organization wondering how they would provide for the families who are in need at Christmas. But to the relief of all involved, the town came together and pulls off a Christmas miracle, replacing all of the stolen goods and ultimately restoring faith in mankind might sound like the plot of a television movie, but was reality for the Temecula Pantry and Community Mission of Hope. Thankfully, Temecula showed it truly has heart as businesses and residents came out in droves bringing with it toys, food and gift cards to replace the stolen goods.
Members of the Murrieta Police Department K-9 unit gathered along with city officials and friends and family of Officer Travis Shows to honor the retirement of Maddy the Bloodhound from her illustrious career on the police force on Wednesday, Dec. 16. On behalf of the K-9 team, Officer Ryan Hollenweiger presented Officer Shows with a custom shadowbox showcasing nametags, police badges and photographs.
Running away from home is a teenager classic—it sends a message, provides a method of retaliation, and most of all, worries parents. But while the idea of running away is often idealized with visions of red knapsacks and goodbye sticky notes, the facts are haunting. “1 out of 3 children who run away will be in sex trafficked in the next 48 hours,” Opal Singleton, founder and president of Million Kids said. A 501(c)(3) public benefit nonprofit which fights human trafficking says that it isn’t just runaways who are at risk, it’s every day tweens and teens, too. In a world where “stranger danger” is more real than ever, Singleton is passionate about proactive prevention. All too often, anti-trafficking organizations raise awareness after the fact when the crime could have been prevented altogether through training and education.