Farewell 2011

The year in review from throughout Eastern Madera County

December 28, 2011 


The Madera County Office of Education decides to continue an unfinished study on the reconfiguration of Yosemite and Chawanakee school districts after it was noted that interdistrict transfers cost Yosemite $1.5 million.

Oakhurst Elementary School teacher Elaine Brown claims Bass Lake Joint Union Elementary School District is unresponsive to bullying after she was put on administrative leave following her actions to prevent alleged bullying amongst her students.

District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler begins his second term and District 2 Supervisor Frank Bigelow begins serving as chairman of the Madera County Board of Supervisors.

The Oakhurst community mourns the passing of four victims of carbon monoxide poisoning Jan. 16 -- Diana Montoya, 60, her granddaughters, Alexis Montoya, 10, Jayden Montoya, 8, and her son, Bruce John Frederick Hargett, 35.

The mountain community is shocked by the murder/suicide of a mother and daughter. The mother, Crystal Lynn Lewis, 23, allegedly killed her 5-year-old daughter, Marijane Lyn Lewis, sometime during the night Jan. 24, then walked 21/2 miles and jumped 200 feet to her death off the William Sells Jr. Bridge on Highway 49.

Yosemite High School claims their 21st mock trail win. The mock trial is an annual competition amongst Madera County high schools in which students simulate a trial with prosecution, defense and witnesses, in front of a judge.

The Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce honors Jim Elliott as Man of the Year, Karen White as Woman of the Year, Andrew's Electric as Business of the Year and Shawna Petrushkin as volunteer of the year.


Oakhurst Elementary School teacher Elaine Brown returns to her classroom after being put on administrative leave during an investigation whether or not she followed protocol during incidents of alleged bullying at the school.

Eastern Madera County is recognized by the American Cancer Society as the No. 2 area in the country for per capita fundraising for its annual Relay for Life event.

Judge Dale Blea is sworn in as Madera County's newest Superior Court Judge Jan. 28 by the Honorable Charles A. Wieland at Sierra Meadows Golf Course.

Joan Constable-Carpenter is named citizen of the year by the North Fork Boosters for her longtime involvement in the community.

Yosemite High School wins the 29th Academic Decathlon for the 18th consecutive year.

Blasting began on the Bass Lake dam seismic retrofit Feb. 8. The rock quarry was created next to the lake so rock could be used to stabilize the dam.

A bitter divorce resulted in the double murder of Bass Lake resident Sandy Williamson, 65, and her Fresno attorney Judith Soley, 65, by Sandy's estranged husband James Williamson. James followed the two to Ducey's where they went for lunch following courtroom proceedings at the Bass Lake courthouse. After killing the two women, he went to the house where he and Sandy used to live together and fatally shot himself.


Because of an uncertain state budget, Yosemite Unified School District begins the process of issuing preliminary layoff notices to certificated staff. The district board of trustees authorized Steve Raupp, district superintendent, to deliver notices to reduce 11 positions -- 10 teachers and one counselor.

More than 300 Mountain Area residents attend the ribbon cutting of the new $2.5 million VA clinic located off Highway 49 on Westlake Drive.

Mountain Area residents were forced to adjust to life without electricity after the area was hit by a severe snowstorm March 20, which downed trees and powerlines and left approximately 10,000 homes without power. Many residents were without power, heat and water for a week or more.


Robert Casaurang, owner of Native Hills Pride Inn in Knowles, is named Grand Marshal of the Raymond Parade. The parade celebrated its 25th year.

Facing a projected $12.3 million deficit for fiscal year 2011-2012, the Madera County Board of Supervisors declares a fiscal emergency March 29 and votes to cut the tentative budget by 19.1%, a move that will send 75 to 105 county employees to the unemployment line.

Yosemite Unified School District attorneys file a writ against Chawanakee Unified School District, which says Chawanakee is not in accordance with the Education Code in regards to interdistrict transfers.


Chawanakee Unified School District forms a charter high school, which does not require students to have interdistrict transfer requests. The charter school is managed by the board of trustees and operates on the same campus as Minarets High School.

The 12th annual Relay for Life, held in Ahwahnee, raises $88,500 in the fight against cancer for the American Cancer Society.

Oakhurst Elementary School opens a new 10,000 square foot, $3 million multipurpose room.


The Madera County Grand Jury found insufficient evidence against District Attorney Michael Keitz to remove him from office. The complaints that lead to the investigation were that Keitz hired a deputy district attorney because he was a friend, that his office lost case files and failed to meet filing dates.

A consulting firm makes recommendations to Madera County to cut $8.4 million from the budget over the next two years after reviewing the county's efficiency review of its 28 departments.

Quick response by 133 firefighters saves homes off Raymond Road (415) in Coarsegold.

Coarsegold Elementary School teachers are honored at a district board meeting for coming to the rescue of students in peril, including one special education student who unexpectedly stopped breathing and a student choking on candy while riding the bus.

The battle over school district boundaries, between Yosemite and Chawanakee Unified School districts, ends with boundaries remaining the same. The decision is made after countless meetings are held and a study on reconfiguring those districts has been concluded.


A jury awards $7.2 million to the family of John Haen, a bus driver for Sierra Pines Church who was killed April 17, 2009 in a Highway 99 accident.

Area residents help save a Coarsegold woman and her two young daughters escape from their vehicle before it caught fire following a head-on collision June 22 on Highway 41 north of Road 200.

Oakhurst Marine Toran "Chance" Gaal, 24, in critical condition at the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Md. after being hit by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan at the end of June. He is a 2005 Yosemite High School graduate.

Rima Runtzel, representing the Boys & Girls Club of Oakhurst, wins the race for honorary mayor of Oakhurst, raising more than $16,000 through special events and an online auction.

Local filmmakers Matt Sconce, Troy Ruff and Gary Sconce film their second movie, "The Park," in the Mountain Area.

An off-duty Cedar Valley Station 18 firefighter, Jim Greer, helps save the life of a 46-year-old man after he fell from a 50-foot waterfall on Lewis Creek. Greer's 12-year-old son Nicholas assists.


Fresno Flats volunteers George and Bea Walden named 2011 Mountain Heritage Days Parade grand marshals.

Nine area residents/employees are honored at District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler's Town Hall meeting by the supervisor, Congressman Jeff Denham and the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce for their heroic acts of bravery that helped save lives in the Mountain Area, including Jim Greer, Cedar Valley Station 18 firefighter, and son Nicholas Greer; Ponderosa Telephone employees Zack Taylor and Larry Perez; Coarsegold Elementary School employees Kristi Harrell and Mickie Smith; and Mariposa resident Bob Vannata.

Oakhurst Marine Toran "Chance" Gaal moved from the National Naval Medical Center in Maryland to a rehabilitation hospital in Palo Alto. Gaal lost both his legs in June from the explosion of an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.

Joe Alberta, 37, tribal community representative for the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians and a 2010 candidate for 5th District supervisor of Madera County, slips into a coma following a car accident Aug. 28 near Coarsegold.


Bureau of Indian Affairs gives the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians the greenlight for building an off-reservation casino off Highway 99. Gov. Brown must still give his permission before a casino can be built.

Three stabbings occur at the Oakhurst Community Park and area around the Oakhurst Library, two on Sept. 8 and another on Sept. 10. Park committee members and library managers look to hire private security.

Mountain Area residents gather Sept. 11 for "Patriot Day" at Sierra Telephone for the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission files a disability discrimination lawsuit Sept. 24 on behalf of former Oakhurst McDonald's employee Derrick Morgan, 29, stating he was unlawfully demoted as a supervisor because of his cerebral palsy and that his hours and pay were also so significantly reduced that he was forced to quit.

Chukchansi tribal members receive disenrollment letters from the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians and disenrollment hearings are held for 55 members, descendents of one of the tribe's original families, including a former tribal chairman and one of the world's last fluent Chukchansi language speakers.

Jeff Livingston is sentenced to two years in prison after being convicted of six counts of mail fraud and three counts of theft while working as general manager of Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino.


Fish Camp's Narrow Gauge Inn is sold to Aung Oo, a businessman from Rangoon, Burma.

More than 6,000 people attend the Chocolate & Wine Festival in the Oakhurst Community Park sponsored by the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce and local nonprofit Wild Wonderful Women.

Two 2011 Yosemite High School graduates, Dalton Mayn and Gregory Dick, are in critical but stable condition after striking a tree while driving near Yosemite High School. Mayn slipped into a coma and Dick suffered numerous broken bones.

Yosemite Unified School District refinances its bonds which should save taxpayers $1.2 million.

Madera County Sheriff's Department announces that they arrested a Madera Ranchos couple tied to a rash of burglaries in the Mountain Area that began in June.

Two women, including Coarsegold resident Karen Edie, were killed and a man was seriously injured in a head-on collision on Highway 41 in Coarsegold.

The city of Madera announces it will no longer pay utility bills for the Oakhurst Senior Center due to state budget cuts.

Oakhurst Chamber of Commerce executive director Kathy McCorry announces her retirement after 10 years of service, accepting the same position with the Mariposa chamber.

The first annual Yosemite International Jazz Festival is held including performers Spyra Gyra and Richard Elliott at Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino put on by the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce and 60 patron sponsors. The festival is a fundraiser to build a Cultural and Performing Arts Center in Oakhurst.


Plans underway for a new Holiday Inn hotel off Highway 41 in Oakhurst, set to open in 2012.

At the annual Angels Amongst Us awards dinner, sponsored by Mountain Bear Fan Club, Molly Nordstrom wins the Woman of the Year award; Bob Hunting, Man of the Year; Pacific Gas & Electric Company, Business of the Year; Oakhurst Healthcare and Wellness Centre, Group of the Year; and Paul and Carole Johnson, Couple of the Year.

Madera County Sheriff's Department reports that Eastern Madera County has been hit with 179 burglaries in five months.

Due to increased operating expenses, the board of directors of the Oakhurst Boys & Girls Club of Oakhurst raises club membership fees from $10 a year to $40 a month ($480 a year), effective Jan.1.

Chukchansi tribal members who received disenrollment letters in September receive notification that following their disenrollment hearings, tribal council voted that the 55 members are no longer members of the tribe. Those disenrolled are descendents of Jack Roan, who received one of the original Chukchansi allotments lands in the early 1900s from the U.S. government.

The Chukchansi Economic Development Authority, operator of Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino, does not pay interest due on casino bonds -- $105.2 million to be paid back in 2012 and another $200 million in 2013 -- and also seeks a restructuring of its debt.

Opposition to new rural fire fees (about $115 for a million people) from the state is voiced by residents, officials and politicians at District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler's Town Hall meeting.

A new Feb. 17 pre-preliminary court date is set for Harry Baker, 83, president of Sierra Telephone. Baker was arrested Oct. 5, 2009 by Fresno police on one count of lewd and lascivious acts with a 13-year-old girl that allegedly took place in Fresno in May 2007. Nov. 30 was the 29th court date for Baker since his first court date Oct. 14, 2009.


Federal agents swarm the offices of the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians to serve a federal search warrant. Authorities did not disclose why the warrant was served or why tribal documentation was seized.

Tribal members at the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians elect new tribal leaders, Dixie Jackson and Harrold Hammond, and reelect tribal council members Dora Jones and Morris Reid, Dec. 3 during tribal council elections. Those up for reelection that had been voting in favor of tribal dissenrollments at Chukchansi -- chairman Reggie Lewis and council member and treasurer Chance Alberta -- are not reelected.

The Boys and Girls Club of Oakhurst's Annual Christmas Tree Auction raises $25,000 for the club.

Interdistrict transfer battle continues in court between Chawanakee Unified School District and Yosemite Unified School District. Madera County Superior Court Judge James Oakley rules that a portion of the writ filed in April by Yosemite be granted, and that the issue be continued until Feb. 3.

Former Oakhurst resident Danny Henley, 53, was shot and killed after attempting to murder Oakhurst resident Derry Burnett Dec. 18 at Burnett's residence. The actions of Burnett were considered self defense by the Madera County Sheriff's Department.

Mid-year budget cuts announced by Gov. Jerry Brown -- $980 million statewide -- include a $248 million cut to school transportation. Local education officials say the cut is unfair to rural schools that rely more on busing to get students to and from school.

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