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News Briefs

July 3, 2007

By Ananda Shorey

Concord man sentenced for murdering wife

A 23-year-old man was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison today for drowning his 36-year-old wife in the bathtub of the couple's Concord apartment last July.

Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge John Kennedy said that the evidence presented during the trial showed that Jaime Sanchez had subjected his wife, Latda Sanchez, to mental and physical abuse, that he had been unfaithful and that he caused her death intentionally and painfully when he drowned her July 21, 2006.

Kennedy said he believed the jury had reached a just verdict when they found Jaime Sanchez guilty of second-degree murder and imposed the statutory sentence, which is 15 years to life in prison.

"To me you're a monster," Mina Fitzpatrick, Latda Sanchez's younger sister, told Jaime Sanchez today. "It makes me sick to my stomach to look at you."

Fitzpatrick said that she and her family had to sit in court every day during the trial and listen to Jaime Sanchez make up lies and excuses for his actions and now she wanted him to sit in prison and think about what he did.

"My sister was a good person and all she wanted was to be loved and to have a family," Fitzpatrick said. "You cheated my sister out of her life. I want you to be locked up for the rest of yours."

Grandfather convicted for molesting granddaughters

A Santa Clara County grandfather's conviction for molesting two of his granddaughters was upheld by a federal appeals court in San Francisco today.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a claim by Russell Schroeder that evidence allowed at his state court trial violated the U.S. Constitution's ban on retroactive punishment.

Schroeder was convicted in Santa Clara County Superior Court in 2000 of committing four lewd acts on two granddaughters and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

The crimes took place in 1994, when the girls' mother left them with Schroeder overnight while she was away on a short trip.

During the trial, prosecutors introduced evidence that Schroeder had previously molested both his daughters, including the girls' mother, over a period of several years and had paid other young girls to take off their clothes.

The evidence was presented for the purpose of showing that Schroeder had a propensity for sexual misconduct with young girls.

The testimony was admitted under a 1996 state law that allows evidence of prior misconduct in sexual offense cases. In most types of cases, propensity evidence is not permitted at criminal trials.

Schroeder argued that allowing the prior evidence in his case violated the constitutional ban on retroactive punishment because the law went into effect two years after the 1994 incidents.

But three judges of the appeals court unanimously ruled that the conviction was valid because the law changed only the admissibility of evidence and not the burden of proof required of prosecutors.

Autopsy underway for Vallejo car crash victim

An autopsy is underway today on a person who died Monday in a fiery crash on Interstate Highway 80 involving an official vehicle registered to the city of Richmond, a California Highway Patrol officer said today.

Around 4:36 p.m., a white Ford Crown Victoria was observed weaving erratically on westbound freeway lanes near the mid-span of the Carquinez Bridge in Vallejo, according to the CHP.

Witnesses said the car swerved from the left lane and smashed into a guardrail before bursting into flames.

The driver was pronounced dead at the scene. Identifying details were not available this morning.

Initial reports indicated the Crown Victoria was a Richmond Fire Department vehicle, CHP Officer M.A. Williford said.

Alcohol is not considered a factor.

Investigators want anyone who witnessed the accident to contact the Solano area CHP office at (707) 551-4100.

Waste Management of Alameda County lockout begins

After several months of fruitless negotiations, Waste Management of Alameda County has locked out 500 garbage collectors throughout the East Bay.

Waste Management said in a statement that the lockout began at 5 p.m. Monday and willcontinue "until such time that the union comes to the table and the parties can agree on a new contract."

Teamsters Union Local 70, which represents the workers, scheduled a news conference for today to comment on the lockout.

Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums strongly criticized the lockout, saying in a statement that it "will put the health and safety of Oakland residents at risk, will seriously disrupt life for residents and businesses and will harm the locked out drivers and their families."

Dellums called on Waste Management to end the lockout and for both sides to negotiate in good faith.

Waste Management said it will deploy substitute workers to provide services to the communities it serves, which are Albany, Emeryville, Oakland, Hayward, Newark, Livermore, the Castro Valley Sanitary District, Oro Loma Sanitary District in parts of San Leandro and San Lorenzo, San Ramon and unincorporated Alameda County.

The company said drivers represented by Local 70 on average earn more than $75,000 a year in wages plus $16,500 in health and welfare benefits and $14,000 in pension contributions.

It says it has offered above-market increases in all those areas as well as a safety program designed to prevent serious accidents and fatalities.

Elie Wiesel's attacker pleads insanity

A 22-year-old New Jersey man told a San Francisco Superior Court judge this morning he was not guilty by reason of insanity of charges that he attacked and imprisoned Nobel laureate author Elie Wiesel.

The court plans to convene again July 11 so lawyers can discuss the appointment of mental health experts to evaluate the psychiatric status of the defendant, Eric Hunt, at the time of the alleged offenses, according to the San Francisco District Attorney's Office.

Hunt is facing felony charges of false imprisonment, battery, elder abuse, stalking and committing a hate crime in connection with the alleged Feb. 17 attack on Wiesel, a 78-year-old Holocaust survivor and author, in a San Francisco hotel. He remains in custody.

After the assault, Hunt allegedly bragged on a Web site for Holocaust deniers about attacking Wiesel. He was extradited from New Jersey earlier this month.

Police say Hunt accosted Wiesel in an elevator at the Argent Hotel, telling him he wanted an interview, before trying to drag him into his hotel room. Wiesel began yelling, and was able to escape.

Pacifica man's gunshot self-inflicted

Police investigators believe a shooting Monday night that left a 20-year-old Pacifica man dead was likely self-inflicted.

Police and fire units responded to a report of a gunshot victim at a home in the 500 block of Dolphin Drive around 11:10 p.m., and upon arrival, found the man deceased.

"Preliminary investigation indicates a probable self-inflicted gunshot wound," police reported in a prepared statement.

A San Mateo County coroner's office investigator confirmed this morning that the death is not being investigated as a homicide.

Police continue to investigate the case.

Criminal proceedings reinstated for assisted living facility assailant

Criminal proceedings were reinstated in Sonoma County Superior Court this morning against a man accused of slashing a woman in a Petaluma assisted living facility with a pruning saw in January.

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau reinstated proceedings against 53-year-old David John Cooper who has been found mentally competent to stand trial for assault.

Cooper has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. A preliminary hearing on the assault charges is scheduled for July 18.

Chief Deputy Public Defender Kathleen Pozzi has maintained the case is unusual because Cooper's competence "is determinate on the time of day.''

Petaluma police said Cooper allegedly assaulted a female resident and an employee of the Sunrise Assisted Living facility Jan. 30. The employee was treated at the hospital and released.

The resident, Suzanne Scott, 64, was admitted to Petaluma Valley Hospital with head injuries but returned to the facility.

Cooper also allegedly threw a wheelchair down a stairwell and threw the pruning saw at a police officer. He was subdued when he was shot with beanbags and a Taser.

Sonoma man pleads not guilty after brandishing firearm at a party

A Sonoma man pleaded not guilty in Sonoma County Superior Court this morning to assault and brandishing a firearm at a party Sunday morning.

Jesus Bernal, 22, was arrested by Petaluma police after the 4:20 a.m. incident on Lombardi Lane. Officer Patrick Gerke said Bernal was upset because he was not invited to a party.

Bernal allegedly showed a female friend a loaded .38 caliber handgun in the driveway of the residence, pointed it at her and told her to get his friend, Gerke said.

When the girl refused and ran into the house, Bernal forced his way through the front door, brandished the gun and demanded to see his friend, Gerke said. Bernal then argued with his friend and waved the gun around until his friend convinced him to leave, Gerke said.

Bernal left in his vehicle and police located it on S. McDowell Boulevard. Police found the gun in the trunk and Bernal was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon, brandishing a firearm and possession of a loaded handgun in public, Gerke said.

Judge Rene Chouteau set Bernal's bail at $70,000 and scheduled a bail hearing for Friday morning.

Gas leak capped near Children's Hospital in Oakland

Crews have capped a leak in a gas main a block away from Children's Hospital & Research Center in Oakland that prompted temporary evacuations of residents this morning.

Natural gas whistled from a damaged gas main for about 90 minutes in the area of the 5300 block of Dover Street before Pacific Gas and Electric Co. staff could stop the flow of gas, Oakland fire Capt. Melinda Drayton said.

There were no injuries reported. An Oakland Fire Department hazmat team was sent to test ambient air, Drayton said.

First reported at 8:27 a.m., the line was capped by 10:02 a.m., PG&E spokesman David Eisenhauer said.

Contractors working in the area dug in the wrong spot and pierced a 4-inch gas main, which led to the evacuation in the immediate vicinity, he said.

The location is one block away from the hospital but no patients were evacuated, the fire captain said.

Repairs to the main were underway, Eisenhauer said.

Sonoma County man killed in auto accident

The California Highway Patrol said a 24-year-old Sonoma County man died this morning when his four-door 1990 Acura went off Guerneville Road and struck an oak tree just west of Olivet Road.

The CHP said his name and place of residence will not be released until next of kin are notified.

CHP Officer Barbara Upham said witnesses saw the Acura driving west on Guerneville Road at about 50 mph when for no apparent reason the driver left the right side of the road and hit the tree around 9:13 a.m.

The Acura spun and the tree impacted the left front of the vehicle, Upham said. The man suffered blunt force trauma to the head and neck and was pronounced dead at the scene, Upham said.

There was no evidence of alcohol and the driver may have fallen asleep or suffered a medical emergency, Upham said. The driver was wearing a seatbelt, Upham said. Traffic was not impacted by the crash.

Upham said the fatality will not be included in Fourth of July holiday traffic death statistics because that count begins at 6 p.m. today. The crash, however, is a reminder to motorists to slow down, drive carefully and not drink and drive, she said.

Palo Alto building declared unsafe after fire

A two-story building in Palo Alto that was gutted during a four-alarm fire has been deemed unsafe and will have to be reinforced before local and federal arson investigators can get inside to work.

The suspicious fire at 310 University Ave. began Sunday at about 9:30 p.m. and took firefighters five hours to get under control. The second level offices were completely gutted and a Subway sandwich shop and Walgreen's pharmacy on the first floor also received major damage.

A private contractor was called today to assess the stability of the roofless building to determine what sort of support it needs to allow investigators in. It will take about two days before the building is accessible.

"We're kind of dead in the water,'' Palo Alto police agent Rich Bullerjahn said about the structural delays.

Estimates for structural damages are between $2 and $3 million.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives is aiding Palo Alto and Santa Clara County arson investigators with the investigation.

University Avenue will be closed for at least seven days between Waverley and Ramona Streets. Bryant Street between University and Hamilton Avenues will also be closed during the investigation.

Businesses along University Avenue are open to pedestrian traffic except for a few businesses immediately adjacent to the burned building.

Anyone with information regarding the fire is asked to contact Palo Alto police at (650) 329-2190.

Atherton revises construction permit approval process

Town officials in Atherton have begun to correct flaws in the residential construction permit approval process, according to a San Mateo County civil grand jury report released today.

"The Town has remedied, or is in the process of remedying, many of the deficiencies identified in the several investigations of the Building Department," the report, released this morning, stated.

Construction in Atherton, a residential community in southern San Mateo County with a population of about 7,200, has jumped in recent years to about 40 new homes each year, according to the grand jury.

In February, the grand jury issued an interim report criticizing town officials for not including the Menlo Park Fire Protection District in the approval process of permits for construction and alteration projects.

Fire District Chief Harold Schapelhouman at the time expressed concern that his office's lack of input creates a potential fire safety risk to both residents and firefighters.

The grand jury today noted that Atherton is now working with the Fire District in the permit review and approval process. In addition, the town has added new Building Department staff, bought a computerized permit tracking system, created new permit approval policies, and has ordered its zoning ordinance to be rewritten, according to the report.

"The full impact of misdeeds in the Building Department may not be known for years, but the effects are beginning to surface," the report said.

Copyright © 2007 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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