Bay Area News Briefs

Written by FCJ Editor. Posted in News


Published on March 05, 2008 with No Comments

By Caitlin Cassady

March 5, 2008

Man dies in hospital after his truck collides with J-Church line

A man in his 60s died at an area hospital Tuesday afternoon after the pickup truck he was driving collided with a San Francisco Municipal Railway J-Church line train near Dolores Park, police said.

The crash occurred in the area of 21st and Chattanooga streets at about 1:15 p.m. Initial reports indicate that a white newer model pickup truck was traveling eastbound on 21st Street and allegedly sped through a stop sign, striking the rear end of a J-Church line train, Sgt. Neville Gittens said.

The driver was taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead, according to Gittens.

The accident temporarily stopped light rail service on the J-Church line between the 16th and Church streets stop and San Jose and Ocean avenues stop, but service resumed at 4:05 p.m.

Shuttle buses will serve customers in the affected areas until service returns to normal, according to Muni spokesman Judson True.

No closure for Little Saigon controversy

After months of protests and a council meeting that lasted almost seven hours and featured approximately 350 speakers, the San Jose City Council early this morning essentially tried to make the controversial matter of the name for a Vietnamese business district in the city go away.

After the council unanimously rescinded its November 2007 designation of the mile-long stretch of Story Road between U.S. 101 and Senter Road as “Saigon Business District,” Councilman Kansen Chu tried twice to have the area named “Little Saigon” as thousands of the city’s Vietnamese-American residents have been clamoring for for months. However, a majority of the council refused to directly vote on the controversial name and used a parliamentary maneuver to effectively end discussion on the issue at approximately 1:45 a.m.

Councilman Sam Liccardo made a “substitute motion” that preempted Chu’s call for an up or down vote by the council on the Little Saigon name. After Liccardo’s motion passed, Chu tried again for an up or down vote on Little Saigon but Mayor Chuck Reed ruled him out of order.

Licarrdo’s motion acknowledged the extremely strong support for the Little Saigon name in the city’s Vietnamese community but said the council would not adopt any name until all “stakeholders” reached a consensus through a “process” that was not defined in the motion. The motion gave no deadline for when the process needed to be completed or when in the future the council would vote on a district name.

Chu, Vice Mayor Dave Cortese, and councilmen Pete Constant and Pierluigi Oliverio voted against the Liccardo motion. Constant warned that by not taking definitive action this morning the council is likely to face another long meeting at some point in the future over the Little Saigon name.

“If we don’t take final action tonight we’ll be right back here in three months,” Constant said.

Several of the council supporters of Liccardo’s motion voiced concern that the area’s business owners should not have the Little Saigon name imposed on them.

“Doing so tonight would be making the same mistake we made in November, which is acting without community consensus,” Reed said.

Chu and Constant both believe that community consensus exists around the Little Saigon name.

“I believe the public has already spoken,” Chu said.

“I’m very confident that what I saw was a significant number of people that were on the side of Little Saigon,” Constant said. “There is a consensus or an overwhelming majority.”

As the meeting wound down, Councilwoman Judy Chirco recognized that no one of either side of the naming issue was likely to be happy with how the process has played out.

“We mishandled this and for that I am very sorry,” Chirco told the audience.

Santa Clara City Council will place 49ers stadium measure on ballot

The Santa Clara City Council on Tuesday night approved placing on the November ballot a measure on whether to approve building a football stadium in the city for the San Francisco 49ers.

The issue will appear on the ballot as an advisory measure, not a binding measure. Placing the issue on the ballot as a binding measure would have required the completion of a California Environmental Quality Act review, which is not expected to be completed until 2009.

If the city were to wait for the quality review they would miss the opportunity of including the measure on the statewide and presidential election ballot.

The terms of condition between Santa Clara and the 49ers regarding the specifics of the stadium are still being negotiated and are expected to be finalized and presented to the council in June.

Santa Rosa murder case related to October kidnapping and torture case

The murder of a 24-year-old Santa Rosa man in a parking lot at Blind Beach on the Sonoma County coast Sunday is related to a kidnapping and torture case in Santa Rosa in October, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department said Tuesday afternoon. Both crimes are gang related, authorities said.

Lt. Robert Giordano said murder victim Vutha Au is the brother of Terry Au, who was allegedly kidnapped from his Santa Rosa home on Oct. 1 and tortured by three reputed members of the Asian Boyz gang.

Terry Au’s abductors allegedly burned him with cigarettes and demanded $5,000 from his family, authorities said. Giordano said the cases are related and Vutha Au’s murder appears to be gang retaliation.

Terry Au, 22, testified under the witness protection program at the preliminary hearing of the kidnapping for ransom defendants; Perry Khaoone, 23, his brother Pongsony Khaoone, 20, and 21-year-old Boonlak Phanchanh. Their trial is scheduled for May 16. Authorities have not said whether Vutha Au also was under witness protection.

The murder suspects are David Prak, 19, his brother Sarith Prak, 21, Preston Khaoone, 22, who is Perry and Pongsony’s brother, and 24-year-old Quentin Russell.

All four are charged with gang-related murder and killing a witness to prevent him from testifying, a count punishable by the death penalty or life in prison without parole. The Praks and Khaoone did not enter pleas in Sonoma County Superior Court on Tuesday and will return to court March 14.

Russell did not appear in Sonoma County Superior Court on Tuesday and will under go a mental health evaluation. That report is due Thursday.

Giordano said Vutha Au was forcibly kidnapped from his Santa Rosa home in the suspects’ vehicle not long before he was killed early Sunday morning. A State Parks ranger discovered his body around 1:15 a.m. An autopsy determined Au was shot nine times in the head, neck and torso from different angles.

The park ranger also gave the sheriff’s department a description of a vehicle that sped away from the murder scene. The Praks, Khaoone and Russell were stopped by a sheriff’s deputy on state Highway 116 at Crescent Avenue in Monte Rio. They were later arrested for conspiracy to commit murder and murder.

Giordano said Tuesday afternoon that a gun found Monday in brush along Highway 116 Monday is not believed to be the murder weapon.

The sheriff’s department also found Vutha Au’s silver 2006 Honda Accord Monday night in northwest Santa Rosa, Giordano said.

Health Commission approves budget cuts to health services

The San Francisco Health Commission on Tuesday approved budget cuts to city health services, in an effort to trim down the city’s estimated $233 million budget deficit.

The health commission convened Tuesday afternoon to take public comment and vote on more than $1.2 million in proposed reductions this year, affecting services at San Francisco General Hospital, home nursing and mental health clinics.

Dozens of nurses, other health care providers and administrative staff from city hospitals and clinics rallied outside the Grove Street hearing in protest of the proposed cuts.

The controversial cuts come on the heels of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s request that the Health Department reduce its general fund budget by $28 million over the remaining fiscal year and the upcoming fiscal year.

The health department, with a yearly budget of approximately $1.2 billion, has the largest general fund budget of any city agency.

Among the cuts approved Tuesday were reducing operating room hours for elective surgeries at San Francisco General Hospital, which is expected to increase wait times for the procedures, while prioritizing surgeries for trauma, emergencies, cancer, children and in-house patients, according to the Health Department. There will also be cuts of 15 percent at the administrative level of the department, spokeswoman Eileen Shields said.

Also approved were: a reduction in the operating hours of the hospital’s outpatient oral surgery clinic; the elimination of the city’s Chronic Care Public Health Nursing Program; and management restructuring at the city’s mental health clinics, which is not expected to impact service to clients, according to the Health Department.

A final approved cut was the closure of Buster’s Place, a Mission District center providing drop-in services, counseling and referrals for homeless residents.

The budget cuts will now be forwarded to the mayor’s office and the Board of Supervisors for approval.

Further reductions are to be considered in the coming weeks in order to attempt to meet the mayor’s target, according to Health Department officials.

Music teacher accused of molestation

A 63-year-old music teacher who worked at high schools in Moraga, Orinda and Lafayette has been accused of molesting three male students and investigators believe more victims could come forward, Contra Costa County Sheriff’s spokesman Jimmy Lee said Tuesday.

James Toland has been charge with 10 counts of molestation, according to the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office. He also faces charges of attempting to destroy evidence and distributing marijuana to a minor, Lee said.

Two of Toland’s alleged victims were 15-year-old boys and the third was a 16-year-old boy.

According to Lee, two of the victims said they were molested in January 2007 while the third said he was molested in the summer of 2007.

One victim alleged that Toland molested him more than 20 times, Lee said.

The alleged molestation, however, wasn’t reported to the sheriff’s office until January of this year, at which point sheriff’s detectives launched their investigation, Lee said.

So far it appears that all of the alleged incidents occurred at Toland’s house during private lessons, Lee said.

Toland was formally charged and arraigned in Contra Costa County Superior Court, but never taken into custody, Lee said. He remains free on bail.

Toland has been employed as a music teacher or music teacher assistant at a number of schools, including Campolindo High School in Moraga, Acalanes High School in Lafayette and Miramonte High School in Orinda, Lee said. He has also worked with choirs and given private music lessons to students at his home.

Given the number of students Toland has access to, investigators believe there could be additional victims. Anyone with information about the allegations is asked to call Detective V. Gwin at (925) 313-2621 or Sgt. M. Jackson at (925) 313-2620.

Berkeley shooting in area known for drug activity

A fatal shooting in Berkeley late Monday night occurred in an area known for illegal drug activity but investigators don’t yet know if the incident was drug-related, police spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Kusmiss said Tuesday.

Kusmiss said 25-year-old Ceron Burns of San Leandro was the victim of the shooting in front of a multi-unit apartment building at 1615 Russell Street near California Street about 11:30 p.m. Monday.

Kusmiss said police responded to the area after residents reported hearing gunshots fired.

She said officers found Burns lying next to a car that was parked in front of the apartment building.

Kusmiss said Burns was suffering from multiple gunshot wounds and was taken to Highland Hospital in Oakland, where he was pronounced dead at 12:04 a.m. Tuesday.

There’s no information about suspects or a motive for the shooting at this time, she said.

The incident occurred only seven blocks from an incident in the 1500 block of Harmon Street near California Street eight days earlier, at 11:50 p.m. Feb. 24, in which 29-year-old Brendon Terrell Jones of Berkeley was shot multiple times and killed.

But Kusmiss said there’s no indication at this time that the two shootings are related, although she said the investigation into the Russell Street incident is only in its early stages.

However, she said the 1500 block of Harmon Street also is known for drug activity.

Kusmiss said Berkeley police are asking for the public’s help in both investigations and people should call the homicide detail at 510-981-5741 or 510-981-5900 if they have information.

She said a $15,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction for the suspect or suspects responsible for killing Jones.

Kusmiss said Burns’ death is the third homicide in Berkeley so far this year.

She said there were five homicides in Berkeley last year but the first homicide didn’t occur until May 6.

Gasoline prices reach record high

The statewide average price for a gallon of gasoline has reached a record high, the American Automobile Association of Northern California announced Tuesday.

The average price throughout the state for one gallon of unleaded gas is $3.50, 1 cent more than the previous record for California, which was set in May of 2007, AAA reported Tuesday.

“We’re about 60 cents a gallon above where we were this time last year and last year was no bargain at the pump,” said Sean Comey, AAA of Northern California spokesman, in a prepared statement.

Prices in many Bay Area cities remain above the statewide average with the price for a gallon of gas in Oakland at $3.51; San Francisco, $3.64; San Jose, $3.52; and Santa Cruz, $3.51. The average price for a gallon of gas in Santa Rosa sits just under the statewide average at $3.49 and in Vallejo a gallon is averaging $3.47, according to AAA.

“We may not have seen the worst of it yet,” Comey said. “It’s particularly troubling from the consumer’s perspective that this is happening at this time of the year, when we often see prices that are relatively low.”

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