Wildland fires, record rainfall, unrest within the Yosemite Unified School District, allegations of abusive conduct by the Madera County District Attorney, and a $20 million water treatment project by Hillview were just a few of the big stories in Eastern Madera County last year.
The following are some of the stories that made headlines in the Sierra Star and on www.sierrastar.com during 2017.
☆ Yosemite High juniors Emily Anderson, 16, and Kelsey Montalto, 15, are back in Oakhurst after welcoming the New Year as members of the 255-piece Bands of America Honor Band that marched along Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena in the Jan. 2 televised Rose Parade. The band participates in the Rose Parade every four years.
☆ Tragedy strikes the Oakhurst community on Jan. 8 when Yosemite High School student Shania Faith Costella, 16, dies from injuries when she lost control of the SUV she was driving on a rainy night and the vehicle rolled down the embankment on Crane Valley Road (426) into China Creek. Shania’s 17-year-old sister Sahvannah survived the accident. Shania was the captain of her JV basketball team, participated on the track and field team and was a member of the YHS Cadet Corps. Shania had planned to join the US Navy upon graduation. School staff were assisted by Cornerstone Counseling to help students cope with the loss of their friend and classmate.
☆ For the first time in 27 years, there was no Drosche family member in Lori Blate’s Madera County Special Day Class housed on the Yosemite High campus. The Drosches (Ann and J.D.) adopted 17 disabled children and it is because of the children’s disabilities that the family developed a life-long relationship with Blate when they moved from Texas to Coarsegold in 1990. Ann calls Blate a “once in a lifetime teacher.”
☆ Jerry Riggs retires after serving more than 40 years with Madera County Fire Department Station 16 in Ahwahnee, including 20 years as its captain.
☆ Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler announces he has reconsidered his decision not to seek a fourth term, and will run for reelection in the 2018 June primary. Wheeler, who has served two years of his third four-year term, announced in November last year he would not seek a fourth term due to health issues.
☆ The Madera County Sheriff’s Office has asked for the public’s help to locate two alleged bank robbers who escaped with an undisclosed amount of money from Central Valley Community Bank in Oakhurst the afternoon of Jan. 6. The white 2014 Toyota Tacoma truck, used by the robbers and identified as stolen out of Fresno, was located that evening on Victoria Lane. No one was injured during the incident.
☆ After more than five years of drought, from Jan. 6 - 12, Bass Lake receives 9.02 inches of rain, alongside Mariposa (8.36), Oakhurst (6.75), Coarsegold (6.16), and YLP (4.41). A Pineapple Express or Pineapple Connection storm is expected next week to again bring heavy rainfall with warmer temperatures.
☆ After several years of delays, equipment will roll out Jan. 20 on more than $9 million for improvements to an aging county sewer system at Bass Lake. The sewer system, built in 1974, , serves more than 1,000 parcels and is the lake’s only municipal sewage system. To improve its efficiency and better handle increased demands during tourist season, it will undergo major upgrades on its wastewater treatment plant - located behind the Bass Lake courthouse - and the various lift stations and pumps around the lake.
☆ Clay Luthy, an Air Force veteran and 2000 Yosemite High graduate, receives recognition while working in Lowe’s customer service, with Charlotte, his service dog by his side. A customer he had never met was so impressed by the pair that she took a photo of the two, posting it on her Facebook page to share with friends, but it mushroomed into much more, receiving tens of thousands of hits in just a few hours.
☆ The Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians break ground Jan. 30 on a long-delayed gas station and retail service center at the northeast corner of Highway 41 and Lucky Lane in Coarsegold. “Chukchansi Crossing,” when completed as designed, will have 18 gasoline pumps, three fueling islands for buses and RVs, and two charging outlets for electric vehicles, as well as a car wash and retail center with plans for food service and a smoke shop.
☆ The last time the Boys & Girls Club of Oakhurst was represented at the Fresno County Youth of the Year event was in 2009. After competing against 20 other clubs, Steven Nguyen, 15, a Yosemite High freshman and B&GC member for seven years, is selected as one of six to move forward in the competition. As a finalist, he was interviewed by six judges, and spoke before an audience of 200 about his experience growing up in Oakhurst.
☆ Oak Creek Intermediate School remains under a “Do Not Drink” order after its water supply tested positive for the fecal bacteria E. Coli. The school’s kitchen has been closed since Jan. 13. Yosemite High School has acted as a replacement, with hopes the order could be withdrawn next week. Staff from the Madera County Environmental Health Department and State Water Resources Control Board said the most likely cause for the contamination was recent heavy rainfall, which could have pooled bacteria and flooded the system.
☆ After remaining closed for nearly a month when its water system tested positive for contamination of E. Coli, the kitchen at Oak Creek Intermediate reopens for business as usual.
☆ In a battle of wits, Yosemite High School triumphs for the 22nd time in 23 years as champions of the 35th Madera County Academic Decathlon held Feb. 5. Yosemite will advance to the state competition March 23-26. Seven schools competed in this 10-event competition answering questions on the topic World War II.
☆ Gary Walker is named the new tribal chairman of the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians Tribal Council for 2017. Other appointed tribal leaders include Elaine Bethel-Fink – vice tribal chairwoman, Katrina Guitierez – secretary, Edward Polkenhorn – council member, and Maryann McGovran, treasurer.
☆ Chloe DePledge, a junior at Glacier High School in Fresno is crowned the 2017 Madera County Poetry Out Loud champion Feb. 11. After placing second in the contest last year, DePledge competed against seven other students at the Madera County Arts Council office and will move on to the state finals in Sacramento March 12 - 13. She received $300 for her efforts. Carter Coleman, a sophomore at Glacier High participating in Poetry Out Loud for the first time, placed second and was awarded $200.
☆ The IRS warns of a tax scam involving aggressive and threatening phone calls by criminals impersonating IRS agents demanding personal information. During filing season, the IRS generally sees a surge in scam phone calls that threaten police arrest, deportation, and license revocation. “If you’re surprised to get a call from the IRS, it almost certainly isn’t the real IRS. We generally initially contact taxpayers by mail,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) reports they have become aware of over 10,000 victims who have collectively paid more than $54 million as a result of phone scams since Oct. 2013.
☆ The North Fork single-wide mobile home of Sarah Swiecki (better known as Sally), 86, burns down Feb. 25. Around 1:15 p.m., Cal Fire engines responded to emergency calls from Swiecki, who said the smoke initially rolled into her kitchen, quickly erupted and began consuming her near North Fork.
☆ Al and Robyn Flory are honored as Citizens of the Year by the North Fork Boosters Feb. 25 at the community’s Town Hall. The Florys have been active in the community for several decades. Robyn, a music and drama teacher at North Fork Elementary School for 30 years, will retire at the end of this school year. Robyn has also been with Sugar Pine, a musical group that has performed for 28 season at the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad. Al retired after 38 years with the U.S. Postal Service, serving in Burbank, Madera, Oakhurst, Bass Lake and Coarsegold.
☆ Sierra Star reporter Morgan Voorhis and editor Brian Wilkinson are recognized Feb. 25 for their work during a reception at the 28th Annual George F. Gruner Awards at the Fresno Art Museum. The competition recognized meritorious public service in addition to best news story, best sports story, best feature, best photo and best column or editorial, attracting 79 entries from 19 San Joaquin Valley newspapers.
☆ The Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce celebrates community service leaders and welcomes its new board of directors March 3 at Tenaya Lodge. Ron Colgate, who at 83 years old still volunteers in the Mountain Area after more than 40 years of service at Sierra Tel, was honored with the chamber’s prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award. Also honored during the evening were Laura Norman as 2016 Woman of the Year, Victor Weitzel as Man of the Year, and Brandon and Jessica Steele of Oakhurst’s Grocery Outlet Bargain Market as Business of the Year. Recently retired, Sierra Star publisher Betty Linn, is installed as the chamber’s 2017 president.
☆ A couple of Mountain Area stores, Raley’s and CVS, have been offering curbside service, much to the delight of active moms-on-the-go, busy professionals, and the elderly.
☆ Measure L, a proposed sales tax increase that would have added firefighters and sheriff’s deputies in Madera County along with new equipment and fire station improvements, is soundly rejected by voters 56% to 44% March 7. Measure L was designed to increase the sales tax in unincorporated areas of the county by 1% - from 7.75% to 8.75% - for 20 years and expire in 2037. It would have added some 25 firefighters and nine sheriff’s deputies with 80% of the estimated $171 million directed to the county’s fire department and 20% to its sheriff’s office.
☆ After friends and family of a 16-year-old Coarsegold girl said she was missing for more than two days, Jenna Borrayo is found deceased insider her vehicle in a pond in Indian Lakes by Madera County Sheriff deputies on March 10.
☆ On March 16, a bone fragment found at the construction site of Chukchansi Crossing at the corner of Highway 41 and Lucky Lane is determined to be human. Work on the fueling station owned by the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians is temporarily halted.
☆ Sally Moreno, a veteran of Central Valley prosecutor’s offices since 1996, announces on March 20 that she will challenge incumbent David Linn for the seat of Madera County District Attorney, with the primary election on June 5, 2018.
☆ After 50-plus years of teaching dance to children and adults in the Mountain Area, the Patti Law School of Dance closes its doors March 21. Law, known to many as Miss Patti, has rented a 1,000-square-foot room at the Golden Chain Theatre to operate her dance school for the past 20-plus years. In addition to her dance classes, she has served as the dance instructor and choreographer for the Grub Gulch Garter Girls & Guys, and the Grub Gulch Grannies.
☆ Gene and Vera Phillips of Raymond are named this year’s grand marshals for the annual Raymond Parade.
☆ Hillview Water Company awards a $2 million contract to Fresno’s Hobbs Construction to build an uranium, arsenic, iron and manganese water treatment plant on Crane Valley Road (426) for residents of Sierra Lakes.
☆ Yosemite High School students compete and medal at the state Academic Decathlon against nearly 600 decathletes from 67 schools throughout California. Decathletes competed in art, economics, essay, interview, literature, math, music, science, social science and speech.
☆ Craig Fetty, 29, and Tiffany Dambrino, 21, will stand trial for the alleged murder of fellow Ahwahnee resident Dennis Dolan, Judge Charles Wieland ruled after a preliminary hearing March 30 in the Bass Lake Division of Madera County Superior Court. During the hearing, detectives John Grayson and Jeff Noland of the Madera County Sheriff’s Office testified that on the night of Oct. 20, 2016, Fetty and Dambrino went on the hunt for methamphetamine, and the situation quickly turned deadly.
☆ The 2017 Madera County Academic Pentathlon culminates with the Super Quiz and awards ceremony on April 1, naming North Fork Elementary School this year’s eighth grade champion and Mountain Home School Charter the seventh grade champion. More than 200 students competed in the areas of essay, fine arts, literature, mathematics and social science.
☆ For her work in the Bass Lake community and Mountain Area, Theresa Wilson is selected as 2017 Woman of the Year by Assemblyman Frank Bigelow.
☆ On April 8, Oakhurst Community Park’s only fundraising event, the Elegant Auction, raises $45,000.
☆ The members of the Board of Trustees of the Bass Lake Joint Union Elementary School District announce the retirement of Glenn Reid as superintendent effective in August. Reid has served as the district’s superintendent since 2006, and has worked in the district since 1999.
☆ The defense rests in the case against George Taylor-Windsor, a 26-year-old man accused of murder for stabbing a woman to death inside a truck north of Oakhurst Taylor-Windsor testified that his actions were out of fear for his own life.
☆ The Sierra Star receives 14 awards in its division in the California Newspaper Publisher’s Association’s 2016 Better Newspapers Contest. The Star received three first and two second place awards, eight honorable mentions, and an Online General Excellence award for its website, www.sierrastar.com..
☆ George Taylor-Windsor, 26, is found guilty on all counts for a stabbing spree that killed a 23-year-old woman and left a man with life-threatening injuries inside a truck north of Oakhurst.
☆ The Yosemite Unified School District (YUSD) has a new superintendent, Dr. Cecelia Greenberg. Board of Trustees president Christine Wilder said a broad and impressive list of pertinent qualifications are the hallmark of Greenberg’s career, including her time as superintendent of the Coalinga-Huron Joint Unified School District, as well as chief academic officer of the Newark Unified School District.
☆ The 41st annual Yosemite High School Community Awards, 180 of them totaling nearly $116,000, are presented May 9 to 67 seniors at the school’s Performing Arts Center.
☆ On May 22, Minarets High School breaks ground for the school’s $11.2 million football stadium. Minarets Principal Daniel Ching said a large project like this will impact students for generations to come.
☆ Community awards totaling $115,000 are presented to 35 seniors at Minarets High School on May 24 in the school’s gymnasium. Four seniors - Molly Leeper, MaKinley Wright, Lluvia Moreno and Jodyn Samper - walked to the awards podium a total of 25 times to receive an award.
☆ After almost four decades in the newspaper business, the last 23 as publisher of the Sierra Star and Sierra Home Advertiser, Betty Linn announces her retirement, effective June 16.
☆ Hillview President/CEO Roger Forrester, and company Manager James Foster, along with state and county dignitaries, hold a ribbon cutting June 2 to herald the start of a long-awaited $20 million water treatment project. Forrester said that within a year, more than 3,300 Hillview customers can expect clear water that will meet all federal and state health standards.
☆ Yosemite High School Spanish and political science instructor Steve Browning is named the YHS Teacher of the Year during the school’s end of year awards rally June 1. Gabriela ‘Gabby’ Rivas, a YHS senior, is named Student of the Year for the class of 2017.
☆ Randy Seals, principal of Yosemite High School, is selected as the new superintendent of Bass Lake Joint Union Elementary School District, officials announced June 5. A lifelong resident of Madera County, Seals said he was excited about the opportunity to serve the district’s students, families, and staff.
☆ Carl and Nancy Veater start up the Chasing Shelby Foundation in honor of their daughter, Shelby, who died due to complications from Spina Bifida at age 19. The organization will raise money for Spina Bifida research.
☆ The Madera County Board of Supervisors approve a $294.6 million 2017-18 budget in record-breaking time - five hours - and without a single change to the proposed budget that was released June 13.
☆ Tenaya Lodge in Fish Camp plans to add 54 cabins on about 27 acres of private land adjacent to Highway 41 near the resort is approved by the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors. The property is currently zoned single family residential one acre, and will be rezoned to resort commercial.
☆ Ignited July 16, the Detwiler Fire that burned across Highway 49, east and south of Lake McClure in Mariposa County, consumes up to 2,500 acres in it’s first day. By the end, Detwiler had burned more than 80,000 acres, destroyed 63 homes and damaged 13 more. It also claimed 67 other structures, such as barns and sheds, damaged eight more, and destroyed one commercial structure. The projected containment date is Aug. 5, with the final projected cost to fight the blaze estimated at $60 million.
☆ Mike and Brenda Perreira are honored for their 13 years of service to the Madera County Sheriff Department’s Search & Rescue team. The Perreiras ran the basic SAR Academy for many years. On top of the basic academy, both served on the Mounted Team, the 4X4 Team, and were both team leaders to the sheriff's Operation Lost and Found (OLF) Program. OLF helps reunite people suffering from medical illness that affects their memory with loved ones when they wander from home.
☆ Timothy Fagden, 47, of Oakhurst is shot dead outside his home on Road 423 on Aug. 7 after an argument between himself and three Hispanic males over an illegal pot growing operation near his home. The suspects have never been apprehended.
☆ Yosemite Unified School District’s Board of Trustees meet Aug. 14, with several members of the public and YHS staff voicing criticisms of the board and the district’s new superintendent. Concerns included growing class sizes, that superintendent Dr. Cecelia Greenberg has ignored or remained silent with staff since she came on board July 1, that numerous longtime employees across the district have left with their positions - including principal of Yosemite High - still unfilled as the school year begins Thursday. Another issue brought up was the fact that teachers and classified staff, such as bus drivers, are still without contracts after two years of negotiations.
☆ Airbnb, the world’s leading community-driven hospitality company, has partnered with Madera County on a new tax agreement. The Madera County Board of Supervisors agreed to the arrangement in early August, and as of Oct. 1, Airbnb will begin collecting and remitting the 9% Transient Occupancy Tax and the 2% Tourism Business Improvement District taxes on all eligible bookings in the unincorporated areas of Madera County.
☆ Two large marijuana gardens in Eastern Madera County, with a total of 15,600 plants and a street value close to $20 million, are harvested by authorities Aug. 17. One garden near Miami Creek had 7,400 plants, and one near Lewis Creek had 8,200 plants, all in varying stages of growth. Both grows were on public land and although some growers have been apprehended this year, no arrests are made in these two cases.
☆ Two large fires, the Railroad (near Sugar Pine and Fish Camp started Aug. 29) and the Mission (in Cascadel Heights started Sept. 3). When finally contained several days later, the Railroad burned 12,407 acres, with 17 structures destroyed, including five homes and five historical structures. It forced evacuations of the Fish Camp and Sugar Pine areas, as well as Tenaya Lodge and the historic Narrow Gauge Inn. Eventually, Cedar Valley and Sierra Sky Ranch areas were evacuated, and Highway 41 was closed for almost a week. The fire was officially extinguished on Oct. 24. After burning 1,035 acres, destroying four structures and damaging four others, the Mission Fire was fully contained Sept. 13. This fire saw the use of a private converted 747 to douse flames.
☆ A big fundraising party and silent auction were held Sept. 9 to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Golden Chain Theatre. Mary Lou Finley was honored during the festivities when her grandson, Landon Weiszbrod, announced from this day forward the stage at the GCT would be called the Mary Lou Finley Stage for her 20 years of support and commitment to the GCT. Another long time supporter and 20 year manager of the bar, Jeri Barron, was honored by having the bar named after her - Jeri’s Place.
☆ Two additional fires were started on Sept. 3 in Mariposa. The Peak Fire burned more than 700 acres, destroying three structures and the Cathedral Fire burned five acres.
☆ The Tenaya Lodge re-opens on Sept. 10 after a 12-day shutdown due to the Railroad Fire. The property lost an estimated $1.6 million in overall revenue. Tenaya Lodge functioned as a firefighting staging area.
☆ Regina Carr officially begins her tenure as the new principal of Yosemite High School on Sept. 12. Carr formerly served as a vice principal at Madera High School. She replaces Randy Seals, who after four years as the principal of Yosemite High, took a position in June as the superintendent of Bass Lake Joint Unified School District following the retirement of Glenn Reid.
☆ The 21st annual Heritage Days is celebrated in Oakhurst on Sept. 16 at the Fresno Flats Historic Village and Park. This year’s theme: ‘Saving the Past for the Future.’
☆ The Mono Museum on North Fork is awarded a $605,000 great to help restore and upgrade the Sierra Mono Museum. The grant came from the Department of Housing and Urban Development Indian Block Grant Program.
☆ The long-awaited recommendation for the location of the new Oakhurst Community College Center (OCCC) is the current OCCC site, which consists of 2.73 acres and will eventually expand to 10 acres. The actual site will be decided early in the new year.
☆ Vern Black, 96, owner of the iconic Jones Store in Beasore Meadows, is honored in a celebration on Sept. 23. Jones, along with his wife of 60 years Lois, owned and operated the store for 30 years. Due to health issues Jones had not visited the store for two years. A former assistant commissioner of the California Highway Patrol, Jones was taken on a surprise helicopter flight over Bass Lake and the surrounding area by a CHP helicopter.
☆After decades of careful research and planning, after endless volunteer hours of fundraising and preparation, an ambitious dream is finally shaping into a reality. Progress, under the direction of area contractor Randy Papike, can actually be seen daily at the site of the future no-kill animal shelter, located on Highway 49 across from Wasuma Elementary School in Ahwahnee.
☆ An estimated 15-tons of debris is removed from a homeless encampment off Highway 41 just north of Oakhurst. The largest camp ever discovered in the Oakhurst area, it illustrates the homeless problem in the mountains.
☆ On Oct, 3, the board of trustees of the State Center Community College District postpones the final decision of the location of the new Oakhurst Community College site. After input from a number of community leaders, the board will put off a decision for 60 to 90 days, possibly longer.
☆ Hillview Water Company will be sold to California American Water, a subsidiary of American Water, the largest water company in the US. The former owner of Hillview Water Roger Forrester and his family have owned and operated Hillview for 56 years. The transition details will be reviewed by the California Public Utilities Commission and the State Water Board, a process that is expected to take six months to a year.
☆ A contentious school board meeting is held on Oct. 9 at Yosemite High. About 10 parents and staff lambasted Yosemite Unified School District trustees and newly hired Superintendent Dr. Cecilia Greenberg. The meeting was attended by more than 100 people. The parents and teachers/staff expressed concern over budget issues and a lack of transparency by the current school board.
☆ Oakhurst celebrates the 25th annual Fall Festival at Oakhurst Community Park on Oct. 13-14.
☆ On Oct. 25, 50 certified (teachers) and classified (custodians) meet to discuss the process involved in recalling members of the school board. Two weeks later YUSD board member Joe Smith announced he will retire from his position effective Jan. 1, 2018. Smith, in a letter to his fellow board members, cited recent medical issues and increased family responsibilities.
☆ Dr. Kevin Lazarcheff, owner of Oakhurst Veterinary Hospital is sworn in as president of the California Veterinary Medical Association. The CVMA is the largest state veterinary medical association in the United States with 7,200 members.
☆ YUSD announces there could be substantial budget cuts to district programs if funding sources are not found. The approved budget reflects $1.3 million in deficit spending. Steve Carnery, with the Madera County Office of Education told the board on Nov. 1, “You are in a fiscal crisis.” New YUSD Superintendent Dr. Cecelia Greenberg, hired by the YUSD board to serve the dual roles as superintendent and CBO stated “the district is able and has the ability to make the required cuts.”
☆ On Nov. 2, the Minarets Future Farmers of America (FFA) marketing team places third overall at the FFA National Convention in Indianapolis. Coached by Ag Science teacher Keeley Hall, the team members included Garret Alford, Ben Bellasario, and MHS grad Delaney Finnegan.
☆ The Sierra Star celebrates its 60th anniversary. The first edition of the Star was published on Nov. 7, 1957.
☆ Mountain area Korean War vets Bill Schlichting and Glenn York participate in the 14th Central Valley Honor Flight to Washington DC.
☆ More than 400 Mountain Area residents attend the Nov. 11 ribbon cutting, dedication, and unveiling of the new 15,000 pound granite veterans monument on the corner of Highway 41 and Road 415 in Coarsegold.
☆ Authorities arrest Alvin McDonald, 18, of North Fork in connection with a violent home invasion-robbery in the Bass Lake area on Nov. 20. A 77-year old woman was seriously injured following a beating. A second suspect, 23-year old Ray Coleman was arrested and charged on Nov. 22.
☆ The Madera Oversight Coalition, property owner Michael Urrutia and Vulcan Materials have reached a settlement agreement regarding the Austin Quarry project located in Madera County. The settlement will relieve potential impacts on a water fund, traffic caps, and air quality.
☆ The Madera County Board of Supervisors vote unanimously 5-0 to adopt a resolution to censure district attorney David Linn on Monday, Nov. 27, for alleged abusive misconduct. The resolution read in part “the board is profoundly disappointed by, and disapproving of the conduct of Linn.” Linn categorically denied all the allegations and said he’s being targeted by the supervisors because two of them, Brett Frazier and David Rogers, are under investigation by the DA’s office for potential wrongdoing.
☆ Yosemite High School, facing a severe budget shortfall is considering having athletic teams pay the cost of transportation to ‘non-league’ out of town games. This announcement has created concerns from coaches to parents. A number of teams, anticipating a transportation shortfall, have planned fund-raising activities such as bake sales.
☆ On Dec. 9, at the Honorable Edward P. Moffet Madera County Mock Trial Competition and after three days of heated courtroom battles, Yosemite High claims the championship. This advances the team to the state competition.
☆ With layoffs looming over their heads, many Yosemite Unified School District teachers and classified staff (maintenance, school bus drivers) are worried about their future in the district, while the district administration and trustees devise a plan to get out of, what has been called a financial crisis. According to YUSD Superintendent Cecelia Greenberg, the district is currently operating in a deficit spending mode, and is projecting a shortfall of half a million dollars in the 2018-2019 school year, and will be $2.3 million short of meeting the required 3% in reserve in 2019-2020.
☆ On Dec. 15, Erna Kubin-Clanin, owner of Erna’s Elderberry House Restaurant and Chateau Du Sureau announces the sell of the business to Bernard Rosenson, a Los Angeles-based restaurant and hospitality entrepreneur, who is familiar with the Oakhurst restaurant and the hotel, having visited several times.
☆ At the end of a full day of testimony Dec. 18, at Bass Lake Superior Court, Judge Charles A. Wieland deems Mary O’Keefe competent to stand trial for the murder of Bonnie Hale. According to the Madera County Sheriff’s Office, Hale, 76, was found unresponsive by her son the morning of Dec. 17, 2016 on the porch of her Road 225 home. Investigators said Hale had injuries indicating she had been in a fight. At the same time, deputies received a call to check O’Keefe, 64, who lived about a quarter mile away. Investigators said O’Keefe also had injuries, and she was booked into Madera County Jail on suspicion of murder. O’Keefe’s booking photo shows her with multiple scratches on her face.
☆ G’ma & Pappa’s Biker Apparel shop, co-owned by Lori Brown and Mitchell Riegelhuth, organizers of the G’ma and Pappa’s and Friends Second Annual Christmas Toy Give-a-Way, gives away 50 bright, shiny bicycles in Coarsegold Historic Village. With the help of a number of generous businesses and interested citizens, G’ma & Pappa’s went from giving away five bikes last year to 50 this year to lucky children. An additional 200 toys were given out by Santa after the bike raffle. All the bikes were donated to Riegelhuth and Brown by fiends and customers of their shop and customers of Silva Ford in Madera, where Riegelhuth works as the dealership’s fleet manager.
☆ In a move that caught many by surprise, the Coarsegold Medical Clinic announces it would close its doors on Dec. 29. A letter from founder Dr. A. P. Sidhu was posted at the clinic and sent to patients. The clinic first opened on July 1, 2014.
Prominent citizens who died in 2017
☆ Roy O. Bissett dies Jan. 16. He was a cattle rancher and logger before starting Bissett Construction, where he became a successful custom home builder in the Oakhurst area. In 1991, he changed the business name to Bissett Construction & Truss, after becoming involved in the Truss business. He was involved in the Sierra Mountaineer Days, and was a member of the Cattleman’s Association, the Lions Club and the Elks Lodge.
☆ Max Stauffer, longtime Mountain Area businessman, school trustee and tourism industry leader, dies March 10 in Chandler, Ariz., following a long fight with cancer. He was well known in the community, having served as director of the Mountain Area Ski School for 20 years (a program originated by his father in the late 50s), past president and 30-year board member of the Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau (now called Visit Yosemite/Madera County), and 22-year trustee of the Bass Lake Joint Union School District (formerly Oakhurst Elementary School District).
☆ Thomas E. Barnett dies May 23. An Ahwahnee resident for 46 years and a pharmacist for 50-plus years, he operated Star Pharmacy in Oakhurst during the 1970s, and later was manager of Vons Pharmacy for more than 10 years. He was a member of the Ahwahnee Hills Boys School Board, as well as the Wasuma Elementary School Board, a Kiwainis Club member for more than 30 years (serving as president in 1975), and a member of the Oakhurst Community Center Board.
☆ Roger Allen Schneider dies June 2. A Mountain Area resident for more than 40 years, he was founder and owner of Yosemite Brokerage.
☆ William Putnam dies Sept. 30. He managed Oakhurst’s Best Western Yosemite Gateway Inn in Oakhurst for 15 years.
☆ An active member of the Bass Lake community for more than 30 years, Jeannine Marie Cuadra Lynch Darnell, 85, dies Nov. 19, following a lengthy illness. She received many honors and awards, including the County Golden Apple from the Madera County Office of Education, Golden Chain Theatre, and Angel Amongst Us. During the years that her husband Don was the Madera County District 5 Supervisor, she was an advocate for county growth and programs.