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2014 News In Review: Part II
Oakdale Police called out the Stanislaus County Sheriffs SWAT units to an East H Street residence to assist in the search for a shooting suspect who sent one man to the hospital on Sept. 27. The suspect was seen fleeing into the house, which resulted in a 12-hour standoff early that morning. - photo by RICHARD PALOMA/The Leader

As the summer hit full force, there was talk of drought, and the city continued to deal with budget issues. School resumed in August, locals brought home honors from the county and state fairs and eventually we hit the holiday season – kicking off with Halloween and continuing through the Christmas shopping season.

This week, we conclude our annual ‘Year in Review’ by taking a look at the months gone by, with stories from the second half of the year, July through December.



The Almond Board of California reported on Tuesday, July 1 that the state should expect a record harvest for this fall’s crop. Based on 860,000 bearing acres – nearly 900 orchards – in the state, the California Almond objective forecast for the 2014-2015 crop is 2.10 billion meat pounds, an all-time high. The previous high was last year, when the crop came in at 2.1 billion pounds.

Oakdale Police reported that units were kept busy responding to numerous call-to-call complaints about fireworks during the long Independence Day Holiday weekend, Friday, July 4 through Sunday, July 6. Police also were tied up providing traffic control assistance for a brush fire near the Oakdale Airport. Oakdale Police Sergeant Joe Johnson said calls of fireworks explosions, some coming in as gunshots, kept patrol officers busy on Friday, July 4.

Oakdale Police responded to a reported domestic disturbance where the wanted suspect from earlier in the day returned to Old Bluff Court on Thursday night, July 10 at 5 p.m. The incident resulted in the eventual arrest of one of the suspects for kidnapping and false imprisonment in addition to the previous domestic violence charges. Police shut down the street as they attempted to negotiate with Michael Starks, 31, who had locked himself in a house and refused to come out to meet with officers who were called to the scene. Once Starks came outside, he was still uncooperative and a Taser was deployed to safely take him into custody.

At a ceremony on July 15, Oakdale Joint Unified School District officials broke ground for the new 5000-square foot steel structure that will be the Central Kitchen. This was the first of a handful of projects spearheaded by the Facilities Committee.

The man wanted in connection with the rape of a teenaged girl was spotted and arrested on the grounds of Oakdale High School on Tuesday night, July 15. Antonio Ruiz Jr. was spotted by citizens in the area of the school just after 8 p.m., which resulted in a saturation of police units to the area to search for the 18-year old suspect. Ruiz had been identified by the victim as a suspect in an early morning July 13 rape and police had been seeking him since that time.

The Federal Aviation Administration San Francisco Airports District Office informed the City of Oakdale it had received complaints that the airport may be violating portions of its grants assurances sections as it applied to the condition and operation of the facility. In a letter obtained by The Leader, FAA Airport Compliance Specialist Robert Lee informed Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer that it had received a complaint about four violations of three separate grant assurance sections regarding economic nondiscrimination, operations and maintenance, and fee and rental structure.

Midway lights, great food bites, and daily concert nights were just some of the many highlights as the Stanislaus County Fair celebrated its 103rd year. Nearly 239,000 guests visited the Stanislaus County Fair during its 10-day run, a six percent increase from 2013 Fair. The Fair opened on Friday, July 11 and concluded its annual run on Sunday, July 20.



On Aug. 1, Oakdale City Clerk Kathy Teixeira’s office advised the ‘Yes on Measure Y Committee’ had no arguments in opposition filed with her office by the July 17 deadline. In addition, no rebuttals to the argument for the measure were filed by the July 29 deadline.

An ordinance designed to hold property owners to maintaining vacant and abandoned properties was amended on Monday, Aug. 4, to allow the city to fine the owner for failing to maintain the property. Funds acquired from the fines will be used for local abatement programs to assist in clean up. “All it takes is one (neglected property) to blight a block,” said City Attorney Tom Hallinan when presenting the amendment at the Oakdale City Council meeting. “It gives us another tool.”

A gang member wanted in connection with a July 14 shooting in Oakdale was arrested by the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday, Aug. 5. Authorities say he was also suspected in the hit-and-run death of Oakdale resident Blake Barry, 20, in Waterford in a case from December of last year. At 1:23 a.m. Tuesday morning, sheriff’s deputies spotted Jose Esquivias, 25, speeding in a car on South Ninth Street in Waterford and made a traffic stop on the vehicle. During their contact with the driver, Esquivias reportedly gave a false name before being recognized by a deputy at the scene.

After putting finishing touches on a fire contract to have the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District assume fire service for the City of Oakdale, the Oakdale City Council voted 5-0 Monday night to approve the handover, which is expected to become effective Sept. 1. The consolidation of the fire department has been a topic for several years, with the city using Stanislaus Consolidated command staff to manage the Oakdale City Fire Department.

The 2014-15 school year marked a critical turning point for Oakdale Joint Unified School District administrators, teachers and most importantly, students. Effective this school year all school sites adopted a new controversial math curriculum in keeping with the national Common Core State Standards. It’s an undertaking that was mandated statewide in August of 2010, with a timeline and transition period to enable educators and administrators appropriate time for training and adoption of a curriculum that best suits their district.

It was announced that the Oakdale High School Mustangs varsity football team would take the field at Levi’s Stadium against Valley Oak League foe, the Manteca Buffaloes, at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara to be played on Saturday, Oct. 11.

Emergency personnel responded to a fatal injury accident midafternoon Tuesday, Aug. 26 along Highway 108 near Lover’s Leap. Initial reports from the scene indicated one confirmed fatality in the crash that occurred about 2:30 p.m., with the Stanislaus County Coroner called to the scene, and two others listed as ‘critical’ when transported out. At least one victim was flown out via air ambulance and authorities reported victims had serious burns due to the crash and a vehicle fire, which also started an adjacent field fire.

A crowd of more than 450 attendees enjoyed the sights, sounds and tastes at the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce Taste of Oakdale event at the Gene Bianchi Community Center on Tuesday night, Aug. 26. Dishes and beverages from 19 booths were available for sampling featuring Oakdale catering, food, and beverage businesses.



Oakdale’s largest employer’s decision to contract to a foreign company affected the jobs of the city’s third largest employer, who as a result, had to cut over half of its workforce in the fall. The Ball Corporation facility located on West Greger Street, notified the City of Oakdale with a “Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification” that it planned to cut 159 local jobs on Oct. 24. Earlier in the year ConAgra Foods, and its Yosemite Avenue plant, contracted with the Ardaugh Group of Luxembourg and discontinued its contract with Ball.

Oakdale Police investigated an incident where two Oakdale High School students, girls, both 14, claimed to have ingested candy laced with an unknown substance causing them to become ill. The mother of one of the girls said she was notified by the school’s nurse that her daughter ate a piece of candy she received from a male student and was feeling dizzy, had blurred vision, and had difficulty walking. The other 14-year-old girl was taken to Oak Valley Hospital by her parents and police were notified.

The Stanislaus Civil Grand Jury made a formal request to the City of Oakdale for records pertaining to the operation and maintenance of Oakdale Municipal Airport according to a letter shared by Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer. Earlier this year the city was notified of a Federal Aviation Administration investigation regarding accusations it was violating portions of its grants assurances sections as it applied to the condition and operation of the facility.

At its Sept. 15 city council meeting, city officials had two airport items on its agenda including a long-term lease with Sierra West Airlines which was the focus of an economic discrimination accusation. The two items surrounding the airport brought passionate comments from members of the public.

After laying dormant for over four years, Oakdale’s Almond Pavilion was looking to make a revival with new ownership, management, and an interior renovation to bring it back to a premiere wedding, banquet, events, conference, and meeting venue in the city. The center was purchased when it was in a bank foreclosure by longtime peach and almond farmer Gino Masellis, forming Masellis Properties, LLC. The Almond Pavilion planned its Grand Opening to be on Saturday, Sept. 20.

Students of 30 classrooms districtwide were greeted by Chromebooks when they entered the school year and became acquainted with their newest classroom. OUSD added about 1000 devices districtwide this year beginning with grade levels three and above. The current school year was a ‘pilot’ year for the program, as funds only allowed for a roll out of one Chromebook cart per grade level for each school site.

In a move that aided the Oakdale Police Department with increased staffing in its communications center, Chief Lester Jenkins announced the city will provide dispatch services for the Newman Police Department. The Newman Police Department currently contracts with Stanislaus Regional 9-1-1 Communications Center for its dispatch services but approached Oakdale PD about providing the communication duties for their 13-member department that patrols the city of just over 10,000. Chief Jenkins stated that after speaking to experts in the law enforcement radio and communications fields, it was determined that it would be feasible to provide contracted dispatch services to Newman. The annual estimated cost for those dispatch and records services is approximately $186,000.

A late night shooting that sent one man to the hospital resulted in a 12-hour police standoff with SWAT officers at an East H Street residence on Saturday, Sept. 27. Oakdale Police were summoned to the 600 block of East F Street at 12:16 a.m. regarding a 24-year-old Oakdale man shot in the leg near the 7-11 convenience store. When police attempted to catch up to the suspect’s vehicle, it evaded him pulled into a driveway in the 800 block of East H Street. The male driver then exited the car and ran into the residence. During the standoff, police called out a woman from the residence and later, two small children also came out from the house. Police evacuated surrounding residences and SWAT made entry into the residence, including using teargas later but learned the suspect, Jorge Villegas, 25, had fled.



2014 Homecoming Queen and Princess were crowned during halftime of the varsity football game on Friday, Oct. 3. Sophomore Shayann Trent was named Princess and senior Jennifer Guzman took the Queen crown.

Airport Appreciation Day started at 9 a.m. on Oct. 4 and had people walking around from one end of the airport to the other to observe all that the event had to offer. There were over 100 youngsters between the ages of 8 and 17 that participated in the Young Eagles program. The program allowed the youth in the community to experience aviation starting from the ground up, leading to an airplane ride, courtesy of area pilots.

Oakdale’s notable ‘Friday Night Lights’ took on both a new and epic meaning as the Oakdale Mustangs hit the road for an away game at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara on Saturday, Oct 11. Two of the premier Valley Oak League contenders clashed as the Mustangs battled it out with the Manteca Buffaloes losing 42-21 in front of a crowd of 8,906 at the just-built stadium. Prior to kickoff, many fans tailgated at Levi’s Stadium, making a day out of the high school football game experience as many travelled from Oakdale.

For years Bill Martinelli was the face of Oakdale in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association in the 1960s and 1970s. Now that legacy took him to his induction into the Cowboy Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.

The most dramatic hit in the era of the modern day San Francisco Giants – a three-run, pennant clinching blast off the bat of journeyman Travis Ishikawa – landed in the hands of Oakdale’s Frank Burke on Tuesday, Oct. 14. Burke was in the right place at the right time to catch the three-run homer off the bat of Ishikawa sending the Giants to the World Series vs. the Kansas City Royals (which the Giants would win in seven games). In the coming days, Burke received a flurry of media attention and was given four World Series tickets to the Friday, Oct. 24 game at AT&T Park.

The proprietor of an Oakdale pizza restaurant that had just closed its doors was arrested on Monday, Oct. 20 for a sexual assault incident that occurred at the establishment in September. Jura Aghassi, 59, of Turlock, was booked into Stanislaus County Jail by Oakdale Police investigators after a month-long investigation into allegations by an adult female employee of a forced sexual assault at Jura’s Pizza on North Yosemite Avenue. Investigators said the incident was brought to their attention the day after the incident, which allegedly took place in the evening hours of Sept. 14.

California Fish and Game authorities confirmed the existence of a mountain lion prowling the area of Oakdale, east of the city limits. On Wednesday, Oct. 15, Cheryl Jericoff reported a mountain lion killed a goat from their herd on her east Oakdale property in the 9900 block of Dillwood, approximately two miles outside the city. Her husband had seen the mountain lion running from a grazing pasture they have for their goats.

Oakdale schools were busy as they made the most of a short schedule and Red Ribbon Week observation. Red Ribbon Week is hosted nationwide the last full week of October. Oakdale Joint Unified School District embraced the week by encouraging students to live a healthy drug free life, through daily messages, skits, theme days and rallies.

The most prominent figure in sports to retire this year not named Derek Jeter lives right here in Oakdale. Recently named “The Baddest Body in Sports” by ESPN The Magazine, Bushwacker, a 1750-pound bucking bull and three-time World Champion was literally put out to pasture after winning his third world title at the Professional Bull Riders World Finals in Las Vegas on Oct. 26.



With little fanfare and no public comment, the Oakdale Irrigation District raised the price of water for its 2,900 agricultural customers on Nov. 4. Later, board members moved to soften the financial impact of higher rates by supporting a proposal to help farmers pay for projects to improve irrigation efficiency. OID ag customers will pay a base water rate of $27 per acre, an increase from $19.50. For the first time, the new plan featured a tiered pricing structure that combines the base rate with a volumetric rate to reflect how much water farmers use.

Oakdale voters sent a message on Tuesday, Nov. 4 with a resounding “Yes” in approving Measure Y, the continuation of a local half-cent sales tax, passing it by a 70 to 30 percent margin. According to the Stanislaus County Clerk Recorders Office, 2,145 votes were cast in favor of the measure with only 927 opposing. The city gains approximately $1.5 million, or 16 percent, for its general fund coffers from the sales tax charge. Advocates argued that without it there could be drastic cuts to its already stringent public safety positions and other public services.

A Sconza Candy Company employee has filed federal charges against a local bakers union and her employer for a litany of rights violations regarding mandatory union membership and a subsequent suspension she received for not joining the union in a timely manner. With the help of National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys, Sconza employee Athena Manning filed the unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Wednesday, Nov. 5.

With the City of Oakdale required to do a self-evaluation of its Americans with Disabilities Act compliance and develop a formal transition plan, the Oakdale City Council on Monday, Nov. 17 unanimously approved an item for the city to address the changes necessary to implement accessibility in its buildings, parks and public rights-of-way. Public Works Executive Secretary Colleen Anderson advised the council that city staff has started the self-evaluation of facilities and also developed a grievance and compliant procedure as required by federal law.

At 107 years old, Socorro ‘Cora’ Garcia took center stage on Thursday as the Oak Valley Care Center in Oakdale hosted a birthday celebration in her honor. Her two surviving were among the family members gathering for the celebration. Some grandsons were in attendance as well and many of the Care Center residents and staff members joined in the festivities, with special live music courtesy of “Fred’s Band” and birthday treats provided.

A two-week project in Oakdale designed to improve the pavement and sidewalk areas of River Bluff Drive and connecting courts along the roadway has been completed, making the roadway a far better drive than before. According to Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer, the project was paid for with gas tax funds at a cost of $167,696. The project included the removal of 11 old sidewalk curb ramps that were replaced with new curb ramps that meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards. The street segments were resurfaced with special fiber seal technology that allowed the city to repave those streets at a fraction of the cost of a full street reconstruction project.



On Thursday, Dec. 4, Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District (SCFPD) firefighters were dispatched to the 13000 block of Horseshoe Road in Oakdale for a horse in a pond that needed rescuing. Upon arrival, SCFPD firefighters requested additional assistance from Modesto Fire Department and within about an hour, they rescued Sassy, the 24-year-old horse, from the cold water. The firefighters worked as a team to put a rope system together and used backboards as a ramp to get the horse over the 3- to 4-foot pond shelf. Once on dry land, Sassy was unable to stand so she was kept warm with blankets until a veterinarian arrived to provide medical care.

New blood was injected into the Oakdale City Council with the swearing in on Monday night, Dec. 8 of newcomers Cherilyn Bairos and J.R. McCarty, replacing journeyman council members Farrell Jackson and Michael Brennan.

Rains pounded the Central Valley and Bay Area relentlessly. Thursday’s Dec. 11 storm drenched the Northern San Joaquin Valley but dumped significantly less rain in the foothills and didn’t bury the Southern Sierra in snow as one might expected. The storm during a 24-hour period on Thursday dumped 3.36 inches of rain in Ripon, 1.98 inches in Manteca, 0.96 inches in Lathrop, 2.50 inches in Oakdale, 2.91 inches in Copperopolis and 1.09 inches in Sonora.

As the city recovers financially, along with the recent passage of Measure Y – the continuation of the half-cent sales tax – Oakdale city officials moved to bolster the ranks of its condensed police force by adding two police officer positions to the department. Police Chief Lester Jenkins told the city council at the Monday, Dec. 15 meeting that in 2008, the Police Department was at a staffing level of 28 full-time sworn police officers. Since that time, through attrition and budget cuts resulting in subsequent lay-offs of sworn positions, staffing levels steadily dropped as vacant positions were not backfilled. For the last three years, the department has been working with only 19 full-time sworn officers, struggling now with two officers off injured.

Senior water rights for the Oakdale Irrigation District were protected once again in a federal court decision. While the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday upheld a 2009 federal decision that called for reducing the amount of water pumped from the Delta in order to protect salmon and other species, it left intact a lower court ruling that said the federal government couldn’t use South San Joaquin or Oakdale Irrigation District water to pump up flows for fish. The ruling opens the door for water beyond the 600,000 acre feet the two districts share from New Melones Reservoir to be used to maintain fish flows.