Big, Big Boom in Midtown Eureka

Hank Sims / Wednesday, Feb. 25 @ 10:42 p.m. /

Yowzers!

We have no idea at the moment what’s with the giant explosion that rocked a wide swath of Eureka just now, and probably we never will. But it’s lighting up the Outpost’s Facebook page like no boom before it.

Facebook friend Talvi Fried has the most detailed report we’ve seen so far:

But many more are also chiming in.


BOOKED

Today: 12 felonies, 18 misdemeanors, 0 infractions

JUDGED

Humboldt County Superior Court Calendar: Today

CHP REPORTS

Myers Ave / Sr254 (Garberville office): Car Fire

Freshwater Rd / Foster Ln (Humboldt office): Trfc Collision-Unkn Inj

Mm199 / Middle Fork Gasquet Rd (Crescent City office): Mud/Dirt/Rock

ELSEWHERE

KINS: Talkshop 022715 – Lewis Quinby

Fern and Fog: Chez Cocktail Challenge

KINS: PM News 022715

Two Rivers Tribune: Burn Smart or Burn Hot

MORE →


Man Allegedly Brandishes Handgun at Mall

Kym Kemp / Wednesday, Feb. 25 @ 7:29 p.m. / Crime

In an incident uncomfortably reminiscent of Monday’s stabbing at the Bayshore Mall, a man was approached by mall security at Walmart a little before 5 p.m. today and asked to leave. The man responded by brandishing what was believed to be a handgun.

According to Officer Stan Harkness of the Eureka Police Department, the man, a transient, then fled into greenbelt. Officers searched the area but were unable to locate the individual.



Firefighters Quench Flaming Plastic Pot

Kym Kemp / Wednesday, Feb. 25 @ 5:22 p.m. / Fire!

Humboldt Bay Fire press release:

At 1:34 PM Wednesday, February 25, 2015 units from Humboldt Bay Fire responded to a reported structure fire with flames visible at 115 W. Clark Street [, Eureka.] The first arriving fire engine reported light smoke coming from the second floor of a two story, multifamily residential apartment building. The crew used a ladder to access a second story balcony where fire was visible at the wall. The crew extinguished the fire and checked for fire extension into the wall. The fire was found to be an exterior fire with no spread into the walls or structure. All other responding units were cancelled. The apartment was occupied at the time of the fire. There were no injuries to citizens, fire personnel, or pets.

Crews controlled the fire within five minutes. The fire was accidental, and the result of discarded smoking materials catching a plastic planting pot on fire that spread to the wall. Damages are estimated at $1,000.

Humboldt Bay Fire would like to remind the public to use caution with smoking materials. Always make sure they are completely out, and disposed on in a non-combustible refuse container. 



Eureka Residents Express Concern, Skepticism About Changes at Multiple Assistance Center

Ryan Burns / Wednesday, Feb. 25 @ 4:45 p.m. / Community , Government , Homelessness

Seated at table, from left: RCAA Executive Director Val Martinez, Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Director of Programs Barbara LaHaie and Eureka Police Captain Steve Watson.

A couple dozen local community members showed up this morning at Chapala Cafe in Old Town Eureka to discuss the upcoming changes at the Multiple Assistance Center, better known as the MAC, a homeless services facility operated by the nonprofit Redwood Community Action Agency (RCAA) in collaboration with the City of Eureka and Humboldt County’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

The 100-bed complex located near Target at the north end of Eureka is scheduled to be repurposed this summer. No longer will it function as a transitional housing facility serving homeless families; instead it will serve as an intake facility for chronically homeless individuals, many of whom have mental health and substance abuse issues.

These scheduled changed have sparked concern in the community — some on behalf of the families who will no longer be housed at the MAC and some over crime and safety issues with the new population.

Making some introductory comments, Charlotte McDonald, executive director of the business alliance Eureka Main Street, said the meeting was intended to explain the reasoning and methodology behind the transition — “so don’t grab your torches and pitchforks,” she quipped.

[Note: McDonald later contacted the Outpost to clarify: “I was explaining the importance of educating the community on the facts, and I was encouraged so many people were there because I don’t like the ‘grab your pitch forks mentality.’ … I wasn’t telling the members at the meeting not to….”]

The people tasked with making those explanations were RCAA Executive Director Val Martinez, DHHS Assistant Director of Programs Barbara LaHaie and Eureka Police Captain Steve Watson, who was on hand to discuss crime and safety concerns.

LaHaie started by saying that the latest research shows that Housing First models have proven to be more effective at solving homelessness while also being less expensive. (Salt Lake City, Utah, has been as especially successful proving ground for such research, as explained in this month’s cover story in Mother Jones.)

The MAC, LaHaie explained, will be used as an assessment center (Martinez dubbed it “triage”) for singles — a place to analyze their needs and set them up with permanent housing, with the vast majority of residents staying for no longer than 30 days.

Another motivation for the repurposing, according to Martinez, was a change in priorities from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which is also moving toward Housing First models (though not to the exclusion of transitional housing, as the Outpost addressed earlier this month.)

“I realize this is probably very alarming to some people,” Martinez said. But she insisted that her own commitment to families and children, as well as the commitment of RCAA and its board, remains steadfast. RCAA is collaborating with the county to develop a “mini-MAC,” Martinez said — a smaller location offering some of the services currently offered at the MAC, though she said the details (including a possible location) have yet to be determined.

Fourth District Humboldt County Supervisor Virginia Bass was in attendance, and she asked whether RCAA had reached out to local landlords. The county, she said, recently had vouchers for veterans to get housing but not enough landlords participated to meet the need. Bass also said she’s been contacted by local landlords asking how they can help with the MAC repurposing.

“Have them call us,” LaHaie said. And she added that the county has been knocking on doors and working with apartment managers to find more affordable housing.

Captain Watson chimed in with some big-picture validation. “The old models aren’t working; everyone knows that,” he said. “Running around clearing out the camps displacing people into different places and towns, only to have them come back … doesn’t solve anything long term.”

But many in attendance remained skeptical. When the panel started taking questions from the audience, a woman said, “I don’t understand why it has to be either/or.” Why, she wanted to know, does the MAC have to displace families in order to serve individuals? When the facility first opened it served both.

LaHaie said it’s rare for facilities to serve both those populations, since there are logistical and safety concerns mixing the two. Besides, she added, the people working on this transition believe it will wind up better serving both individuals and families.

A man with a white beard stood up at the back of the room and said he has a business next to the MAC and has concerns about the prospect of the MAC’s new clients. Things are already bad, he said. “Just the other day we had two people shooting up in the back alley,” he said. “I confronted them; I had a knife pulled on me.” The knife-wielder then stole things from his store, he said. 

This man suggested that more funding should be spent on educating the homeless, and he reiterated his displeasure over repurposing the MAC. “Sounds to me like a bunch of malarky,” he said. “You’re kicking families out to bring singles in?” 

LaHaie and Martinez tried to ease his concerns, telling him that there will still be strict supervision of MAC residents, just as there is now. Martinez added that there are homeless camps behind the MAC, and those folks often get mistaken for MAC residents.

Recently elected City Councilwoman Kim Bergel said that she, for one, is optimistic. She believes the new system will better serve those with mental illnesses, many of whom aren’t doing better because they simply can’t. “I am so looking forward to being a part of this and watching it grow in our city,” Bergel said. “I really believe it will be a great solution.”

Several women in attendance expressed more concerns for the families who will no longer be housed at the MAC. How exactly will services such as child care, parenting classes and domestic violence programs follow them to their new housing situations? they asked.

Some of those programs will be offered to families in their homes, LaHaie explained, while others will be provided out in the community.

Audience members kept peppering her and Martinez with questions. Child care is very hard to find for some people, they said. Section 8 housing has a huge waiting list. One particularly exasperated woman interrupted LaHaie mid-sentence. “We know what the problems are,” she said. “We’re concerned about honest solutions that are workable. … I’m just tired of hearing the same thing over and over and over.”

Remaining composed, LaHaie and Martinez said there are still issues that have yet to be fully figured out — sufficient child care, for example — “but any and all possible resources that can be brought to bear will be,” Martinez said.

“I think this is a great opportunity for all of us, and I think it’s been long in coming,” LaHaie added. “We’ve looked at effective models; we know that people do better when they’re housed.” People living in permanent housing tend to be healthier and more hopeful, she said, adding, “I believe that we’re going to have fantastic outcomes for both [singles and families]. … I anticipate we will have less homeless families.”

The meeting ended on an upbeat note, but as attendees filed out to the sidewalks of Old Town they could be heard murmuring in concerned tones.



Over 20 Firearms Stolen From Gun Safe in SoHum; Owner Offers $5,000 Reward For Return

Andrew Goff / Wednesday, Feb. 25 @ 4:33 p.m. / Crime

LoCO spoke with the victim in this case a bit ago. They are offering a $5,000 reward for the return of the guns in original condition. Call (707) 296-5017 if you have them. ;)

 Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office press release: 

On 02-25-2015, at approximately 8:44 a.m., Sheriff’s Deputies with the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office were dispatched to a driveway located in the 3500 block of  Briceland Thorne Rd., Redway, to investigate the report of a found gun safe.  

Upon the deputies arrival, it was determined the gun safe had recently been cut open and dumped in the driveway by unknown suspect(s). The deputies found paperwork inside the safe that led them to a shipping container that was stored in the 3300 block of Redwood Dr., Redway. At this location the deputies located the shipping container which has been converted into an office space. The deputies met with a victim who reported their shipping container was burglarized and a chain link fence that surrounds the property had also been cut open.  It is believed the burglary occurred sometime last night.  It was determined that approximately 20-30 firearms were stolen. The firearms consisted of handguns, deer rifles, and shotguns.  The exact number of firearms or descriptions is unknown at this time because a family member who has this information is out of town and could not be reached.  

The crime scene was processed for evidence and the investigation is ongoing.  At this time there is no suspect information.  Anyone with information for the Sheriffs Office regarding this case or related criminal activity is encouraged to call the Sheriffs Office at 707-445-7251 or the Sheriffs Office Crime Tip line at 707-268-2539.



Tip Leads to Handgun, Meth, Heroin, and Marijuana in Eureka Motel Room

Kym Kemp / Wednesday, Feb. 25 @ 1:41 p.m. / Crime

Eureka Police Department press release:

On 02/25/15 at about 8:18 a.m., Officers and Detectives with the Eureka Police Department’s Problem Oriented Policing Unit (POP) served a search warrant at the Pine Motel on the 2400 block of Broadway Street. The warrant was obtained after an officer received information about drug sales occurring in a room on the premises.

During a search of the room, detectives located a loaded semi-automatic handgun with its serial number removed and stolen property including an Apple iPad. Additionally, detectives found small quantities of methamphetamine, heroin, and marijuana packaged for sales.

Eureka resident Veronica Brooks, 29, was arrested on a misdemeanor warrant for threats. Eureka resident Anthony Watkins, 49, was arrested for possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell, possession of methamphetamine, felon in possession of a firearm, possession of stolen property, and probation violation. Brooks and Watkins were booked into the Humboldt County Correctional Facility.

Anyone with information regarding suspected drug sales in the city limits of Eureka is asked to call the POP office at (707) 441-4373.

 



Three Eureka Residents Indicted in Large Drug Trafficking Case Out of Georgia

Hank Sims / Wednesday, Feb. 25 @ 1:27 p.m. / Crime

Three Eureka residents have been arrested and charged in connection with a large-scale federal investigation out of the Macon, Ga. area. In total, 35 people nationwide were charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana and cocaine and money laundering in what federal investigators have dubbed “Operation Southern Postal Powder.”

The three local defendants — David Ray Fells, 33, Brandon Vitale, 24, and Shannon Miller, 22 — were arrested yesterday by the United States Marshals Service and arraigned this morning at the federal court in McKinleyville. From there the three were released on their own recognizance and ordered to appear in Macon on March 9.

The Eureka defendants are charged with only two of the seven counts listed in the federal grand jury indictment — conspiracy to distribute marijuana and money laundering. In court this morning, Judge Nandor Vadas, teleconferencing in from San Francisco, noted that the former charge carries a mandatory minimum of five years in prison, with a maximum sentence of up to 40 years.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office declined to provide much more detail about the operation. However, its name — as well as the press release below — suggests that it originated with the postal service. Previous federal court documents show that the United States Postal Inspection Service started investigating two of the suspects name in the current indictment — Thaddeus Bonds and Arteius Cotton, both of Georgia — in 2010.

Another of the defendants named in the current grand jury indictment — Traknovoise Simmons — was arrested last year with 23 pounds of marijuana, according to the Macon Telegraph.

Brandon Vitale, represented by local attorney Christina Allbright in court this morning, is a former Eureka High and Humboldt State University football player.

###

Press release from the United States Attorney’s Office, Middle District of Georgia, follows:

United States Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, Michael J. Moore, announced today that an indictment was returned by a grand jury sitting in the United States District Court in Macon, Georgia on February 11, 2015, which charged 35 defendants with drug trafficking and money laundering offenses. During “Operation Southern Postal Powder”,

Federal agents, assisted by state and local law enforcement officers, investigated a large scale drug organization based in Macon, Georgia. Over the course of the investigation, federal agents seized large amounts of cocaine and marijuana.

Penalties for the charges range from ten years up to life in prison without parole. Fines range from $500,000 to 10 million dollars. United States Attorney Michael Moore stated: “This operation is the essence of law  enforcement collaboration and teamwork to remove illegal drugs and to punish those who violate Federal narcotics laws.”

“The Postal Inspection Service is committed to preventing the US Mail from being used as a conduit for narcotic trafficking. We could not be successful without the collaborative efforts of our local, State, and Federal partners,” stated Assistant Inspector in Charge Barney D. Morris.

Daniel R. Salter, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division remarked that the indictment, “is a victory, not only for the multitude of law enforcement agencies who dismantled this organization, but for the citizens of Macon, Griffin and Atlanta, Georgia.” He further stated that “this effort would not have been successful without the mission-oriented cooperation between our federal, state and local law enforcement counterparts.”

“We would like this operation to serve as a strong message to individuals throughout the region that we will not stand for the destruction that drugs and related criminal activity bring to our communities, stated Veronica F. Hyman-Pillot, Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation.   “We will do everything within our power to assist our law enforcement partners with financially disrupting and dismantling drug trafficking organizations and stopping the violence and corruption they inflict upon society.”

A copy of the indictment is attached. The indictment is only an allegation of criminal conduct. Each person is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law.

The case was investigated by the US Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, and the Peach County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Charles Calhoun and Sonja Profit are prosecuting the case for the Government.

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