Local News

Bishop Man Arrested for Vandalizing Tri-County Fairgrounds

On January 2, 2020, the California Highway Patrol received a call about an individual who was vandalizing property at the Eastern Sierra Tri-County Fairgrounds. CHP Officer, Adam Otten arrived on to the scene, and saw signs of multiple break-ins around the property.

After inspecting the damage to the buildings, Officer Otten located the suspect’s backpack, bicycle, drug paraphernalia, and methamphetamine. The alleged vandal had abandoned his items, and was found hiding in a nearby bathroom at the Tri-County Fair.

At the same time the property crime was occurring, the highway patrolman was called to another emergency in the area, and had to leave the suspect in order to respond. When CHP returned to the scene, officers located the suspect hiding in the RV storage area of the fairgrounds.

After locating the individual, Otten observed signs that the homeless suspect was living in multiple trailers without the consent of the owners.

The suspect was identified as 29 year old male, Thomas Burkins. He was arrested on the charges of felony burglary, vandalism, possession of burglary tools, possession of methamphetamine, possession of drug paraphernalia, and violation of probation.

Burkins was previously arrested on similar charges relating to burglary, vandalism, and possession of drugs in the middle of December 2019.

New Year’s DUI Arrests Decrease Across State, but Increase in Bishop Area

The California Highway Patrol conducted its Maximum Enforcement Period (MEP) for the New Year in response one of the biggest binge-drinking holidays in the United States.

“For this New Year’s Day Maximum Enforcement Period (MEP), the CHP will be deploying all available personnel from 6:01 p.m. on Tuesday, December 31, 2019, to 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, January 1, 2020.  The CHP will focus on impaired drivers.” CHP said in a press release.

On a state-wide level, DUI arrest numbers drastically decreased, with a total of 491 people arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or other controlled substances. Last year, there were 1,140 arrests during the CHP MEP.

One major factor as to why there were far less arrests, is because the Maximum Enforcement Period lasted a much shorter duration. The 2019-2020 MEP went on for just thirty hours compared to the 2018-2019 period, which lasted for 102 hours.

DUI arrests this year for the Inland Division of the California Highway Patrol followed the trend of decreased arrests throughout the state. Last year, the CHP Inland Division arrested ninety-six people on suspicion of impaired driving, with three fatal traffic collisions occurring As for this MEP, there were a total of forty-one arrests with no fatal accidents occurring.

Although arrests were down state-wide for driving under the influence, that was not the case in the Bishop area. Bishop CHP arrested three people, whereas during the last New Year’s MEP, there were no drivers charged with operating a vehicle while impaired.

As for the Bridgeport Area CHP, two people were charged with DUI. During the previous year, three people were arrested for drinking and driving.

NIHD Board Member MC Hubbard Retires, District Seeks to Fill Vacancy

As 2020 nears, Northern Inyo Healthcare District is bidding a fond farewell to its current longest serving Board of Trustees member, MC Hubbard. After almost 14 years, Hubbard is retiring from her service to the residents of the Healthcare District’s Zone 5 region, covering southeast Bishop, Wilkerson, Big Pine, and Aberdeen.

NIHD’s Board of Trustees is in the process of accepting letters of interest from Zone 5 residents interested in being appointed to Hubbard’s position. The Board selected Trustees Robert Sharp and Jody Veenker to conduct interviews of candidates and then make a recommendation to the entire Board for final selection. That person will hold the Zone 5 seat until November 2020. At that point, he or she will need to formally run for election to complete the remaining two years of Hubbard’s term, slated to end in 2022.

NIHD Chief Executive Officer Kevin S. Flanigan, MD MBA, said to date, five people expressed an interest in the position. Of those five, at least two have submitted formal letters of interest to the Board.

For Hubbard, the decision to retire, as she likes to call it, from the NIHD Board is one that she has considered for a while. “Although I have learned a lot about healthcare and have certainly appreciated the time I have served, I have been on the board for more than 13 years,” Hubbard explains. “I decided it was time to allow someone else to serve on this essential Board of Directors.

Appointed to the Board in 2006, she had just retired from a long-term banking career. She says the chance to learn more about the inner workings of healthcare intrigued her. Hubbard quickly realized the size of the learning curve ahead of her, especially as NIHD began its move to construct a new two-story hospital.

The completion of the two-story hospital in 2013 serves as a milestone for all the Board members of the era, and Hubbard is no exception. Following voter approval of a needed bond measure, the Board stood alongside NIHD staff as they faced construction challenges and rigorous state seismic regulations. Hubbard said there were days where she wondered what she had gotten herself into with her appointment. She would go on to win election to her position three times.

“I admit there have been some wonderful accomplishments over the years, but the first thing that comes to mind is the completion of the hospital building,” she smiles. “It was quite an experience going from the construction phase to the final occupancy over the three-year process.”

As for a personal sense of accomplishment, Hubbard notes the Healthcare District is still considered a continually growing entity. “Healthcare is in an endless state of change, and I’m not sure everyone realizes how much change occurs every year. Plus, how much of that change is out of our control at the local level,” she said.

“Being part of the District during both the positive times and the challenging times, I think that where the real accomplishment rests, not just for the Trustees, but for everyone who works at the District. Every day in healthcare gives us another chance to make a difference in the lives of those we serve. We have to enjoy the good times and survive the bad to continue making that difference. If we lose sight of that, then we lose sight of those we serve.”

As for her fellow trustees, Hubbard wishes them well on their journey. “The other four board members are very caring, and certainly a group with diversified backgrounds. I am sure they will rise to the challenges facing healthcare districts going forward,” she said. “Each individual brings their strengths to the Board, and I am confident they will achieve positive things.”

As for her future, Hubbard intends to spend more time with her family, including her four great grandchildren. She will also stay busy as a trustee to the Slager Foundation and as a member of Bishop Sunrise Rotary.

Hubbard notes that through the years, she received a lot of support. “Thinking back, all I can say is what a ride it has been. I want to thank our community members and certainly the wonderful staff at NIHD,” she said. “It’s truly been a pleasure to work with all of them.”

Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra Prepares for Operation Mountain Freedom

Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra (DSES), in partnership with Mammoth Mountain Ski Area and the Inyo National Forest Service will welcome more than 50 active and veteran military personnel and their families. Participants have a myriad of disabilities, including Post Traumatic Stress, Traumatic Brain Injuries, Major Depressive Disorder, and amputations.

Beginning with a welcome dinner hosted by Mammoth Lakes Fire Department, the community of Mammoth Lakes will gather together to support our wounded warriors for a week of therapeutic recreation as part of Operation Mountain Freedom.

This event, which has been growing each year since 2007, was created in an effort to help our wounded warriors reintegrate into civilian life within the beauty, safety, and joy of the Sierra Nevada mountains. New this year, athletes will participate in sessions geared toward assimilating to civilian life including goal setting, successful transition and caregiver support.

Like all of DSES’s programs for military athletes, Operation Mountain Freedom often changes the lives of participants. For example, Julius, a retired Army Ranger who first came to Operation Mountain Freedom in 2016 learned to Alpine and Nordic ski as part of the program. Julius has since returned to several events to improve his skills and now competes across the country in Nordic and biathlon races. He and his fiancée, Katie, continue to support the program in many capacities like fundraising and mentoring both military and civilian athletes new to the world of adaptive sports. Julius and Katie are now so entwined in the DSES family that they are making the organization as part of their wedding celebrations which include a ceremony at the summit of Mammoth Mountain coinciding with Operation Mountain Freedom.

On Thursday, January 16, the Mammoth Lakes community is invited to come together to recognize all participants with a ceremonial Arch of Honor at 8:45am at the Gondola Building at Main Lodge.

Operation Mountain Freedom is supported by generous grants and contributions from The Bob Woodruff Foundation (BWF), National Football League (NFL), Disabled Sports USA (DSUSA), Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, and Steve and Dana Garcia.

For a complete schedule of events and more information about Operation Mountain Freedom, please contact Amanda Carlson at 760.934.0791 or email acarlson@disabledsportseasternsierra.org.

NIHD Prepares for Walk with a Doc Event

The next Walk with a Doc event, sponsored by the Northern Inyo Healthcare District, is set for Sunday, Dec. 22nd from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Walkers of all ages are invited to gather in front of the Rehabilitation Services Building in the Pioneer Lane parking lot on the Northern Inyo Healthcare District campus.

Dr. David Pomeranz, an emergency care provider at NIHD, will lead the 1.2-mile walk in the nearby Bishop Paiute Tribe’s Conservation Open Space Area (COSA). The walking path in the COSA is a dirt path

Participation is free and pre-registration is not required. Walkers will enjoy friendly conversation with Dr. Pomeranz, who will provide support and answer questions during the walk.
All walks are open to the community, so feel free to bring friends and family. Please wear comfortable walking shoes and bring a water bottle.

All walks are held monthly, please watch media for dates and times. For more information, call Barbara Laughon, NIHD Strategic Communications Specialist, at 760-873-5811 ext. 3415.
Walk with a Doc is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to encourage healthy physical activity in people of all ages and reverse the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle in order to improve the health and well-being of the country.

Bye-Bye Airbnb? County Moves to Regulate Non-Host Rentals

The Inyo County Board of Supervisors discussed short-term rental regulations at Tuesday’s meeting in Independence, CA.

A major talking point among the board pertained to problems with non-host short-term rentals, which supervisors identified as a major problem in an area already severely limited on available housing. Fifth District Supervisor, Matt Kingsley voiced his concerns about how non-host rentals can cause harm to neighborhoods. “The main issue we are dealing with today is making sure neighborhoods do not change too much. We have Amsterdam, Venice, and Darwin all struggling with the same issue [of eliminating affordable housing.]”

District Supervisor, Jeff Griffiths expressed similar concerns saying, “The number one concern should be affordable housing.”

Though the board appeared to disapprove of non-host rentals, short-term rentals with a host on the premise did not cause much ire. All of the supervisors were in favor of allowing what the county calls “R2” rentals, which require a host be on site.

One important component in the regulations discussed pertained to the definition of exactly what a host is defined as. Under the proposed ordinance, there must be a “designated representative which means a person or persons designated by the owner to represent them as a ‘host’ during the duration of a renters stay.” This means that host rentals must have either the owner of the property on site or a manager while travelers use the property.

While the Board of Supervisors appear close to making a final decision on the rental ordinance, Matt Kingsley spoke about the importance of issuing a moratorium, which would prohibit any new applications for non-host short-term rentals being filed. The south county area supervisor said, “A moratorium on new permits is important until we can come to a decision on this matter.”

Issuing a moratorium may be a bit more difficult than the supervisors envision. According to the Board of Supervisor’s legal counsel, the county must identify an “current or immediate threat” to surrounding areas. Lawyers for Inyo County said they were unable to identify a problem that would allow for a moratorium.

Eastern Sierra Resident Dies From Hantavirus

In late November, a resident living in Mono County died of a hantavirus infection. This is the first death that is a result of hantavirus in California this year, and the third confirmed case in Mono County in 2019.

The victim of the virus received treatment in Reno, Nevada where the individual succumbed to the viral strand of hantavirus known as sin nombre. According to medical research website, UpToDate, there are eleven pathogenic species that have been identified throughout the world, and they differ depending on which species of rodent is infected.

In this case, the sin nombre strand is common among deer mice, a wide spread rodent in both Inyo and Mono Counties. Dr. Tom Boo, the Mono County Public Health Officer said, “In Mono County, about 25% of all deer mice carry sin nombre, which is significantly higher than the average rate in the state.”

After it was determined that the Mono County resident died as a result of hantavirus, both state and county health department experts investigated the individual’s residence and place of employment, evidence was found that suggested mice were in and around the home. As for the victim’s place of work which is a school in Inyo County, investigators determined exposure at the location to be “unlikely because minimal signs of mice were found.” according to an official press release from the Mono County Health Department and Inyo County Health and Human Services Department.

According to the California Department of Public Health’s hantavirus statistical data base, there have been eighteen cases between 1980-2017, which is higher than all other fifty-seven counties in the state. In an email interview with KIBS, CDPH discussed why they believe there are more incidents in Mono County. “The rural nature of Mono County may contribute to the high number of human cases detected from that county.” the state agency said.

Elevation is another factor that comes into play when discussing hantavirus. The higher the altitude, the higher the chance deer mice carry the disease. “Elevation may play a role in the number of infected deer mice.” the department wrote. “From disease monitoring data collected by CDPH throughout California over many years, we have observed that the percentage of deer mice with antibodies to SNV [sin nombre virus] increases with increasing elevation. For example, the percentage of SNV-antibody positive deer mice may be less than 10% at sea level and as high as 35% above 10,000 feet elevation.”

The sin nombre pathogen of hantavirus can present itself in a number of ways. Transmission of the virus comes after an individual breathes in contaminated air usually found in an enclosed space. “About 1-5 weeks after exposure, symptoms develop. Early symptoms of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) include fever, headache, and muscle aches. Other possible early symptoms include dizziness, chills, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.” the CDPH said.

When these symptoms are identified, respiratory problems develop, which can lead to death. “After 2 to 7 days of these symptoms, patients develop breathing difficulties that range from cough and shortness of breath to severe respiratory failure. Approximately 36 percent of HPS patients die from the disease.”

The hantavirus has no cure, but there are steps that can be taken to prevent contraction of the virus. Exposure to the virus is typically in enclosed spaces and occurs when cleaning out small, confined deer mice-infested spaces where there is little air circulation, so it is important to allow air flow into a potentially contaminated area. “Before entering an enclosed area that may be infested with rodents, allow it to air out for at least 30 minutes. Also, avoid contact with all wild rodents, their droppings, and nesting materials.” The Department of Public Health said.

Edit: The article stated that the resident lived in Chalfant, CA. The article has been edited as the Mono County Department of Public Health say the information reported was inaccurate.

Death Valley Prepares for Annual Bird Count

Death Valley National Park invites the public to a fun day outdoors counting birds on Saturday, December 21. All skill levels are welcome for this opportunity to meet new people and learn about birds while contributing to a citizen-science effort continuing for over a hundred years.

The Christmas Bird Count will begin at 7 a.m. on Saturday, December 21 at Furnace Creek Golf Course parking lot in the Oasis at Death Valley. No experience is necessary! This is a great opportunity to learn about birds, get identification tips, and meet others interested in birding. Participants should dress in layers and wear sturdy shoes. Bring a hat, sunscreen, water, and snacks. Binoculars are recommended. Participants do not need to commit to the entire day, but must be there at 7 a.m. Contact Carol Fields at 760-786-3252 or carol_fields@nps.gov to sign up for the count.

This event is part of the nation-wide National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC). This year will be the 120th year of the national Christmas Bird Count, making it one of the longest-running citizen science events in the world. Death Valley National Park has been collecting CBC data since 1957. The data collected helps demonstrate the important role national parks serve for migratory and overwintering bird populations.

The data collected by CBC participants documents the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. When combined with other bird surveys, it provides a picture of how the continent’s bird populations have changed over the past 120 years. The long-term perspective made possible by the Christmas Bird Count is vital for conservationists. It helps guide strategies to protect birds and their habitat, and helps identify environmental issues with implications for people as well. Each year, the CBC mobilizes more than 70,000 volunteers in more than 2,400 locations. Results from past counts can be viewed at http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count.

Jorge Romero Espitia Officially Sentenced to 25 Years in Prison

PRESS RELEASE FROM THE MONO COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE:

On December 10, 2019, Mammoth Lakes resident Jorge Espitia was sentenced to 25 years in the state prison after being convicted of 12 felonies. Most of convictions were for sexual abuse of children and providing methamphetamine to children.

The Mono County District Attorney’s Office, in conjunction with the Mammoth Lakes Police Department, had been investigating Mr. Espitia for nearly two years before his arrest. There were rampant rumors that Mr. Espitia would invite children to his home, provide them methamphetamine, and ultimately sexually abuse them. Unfortunately, there was no corroborating evidence available at the time

Early this year, one brave victim came forward to the District Attorney’s Office and detailed the abuse he had suffered for years beginning at the age of 12 by Mr. Espitia. The investigation intensified and ultimately five victims were identified, two of whom were sexually abused, and all five minor victims were provided methamphetamine, most on multiple occasions. The investigation revealed likely additional victims, though there was not enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

Justice could not have been received for these victims without the bravery of the victims and the help of the community. One of the top priorities of the District Attorney is protecting children, especially from sexual abuse. If you know of sexual abuse against children, it is imperative you contact law enforcement immediately.

This case was investigated by the Mono County District Attorney and Mammoth Lakes Police Department and prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney David Anderson.

Laura Smith Elected as Bishop Mayor for Fourth Time

There’s a new mayor in town… sort of. Mayor Pro Tem, Laura Smith, who has previously served as the Bishop Mayor three times was unanimously voted in to the position Monday evening.

Smith has been on the Bishop City Council for nearly ten years. She is currently the longest tenured member of the council.

The retired registered nurse presented outgoing Mayor, Jim Ellis with a commemorative gavel containing the two previous dates he served as the Bishop Mayor.

After receiving the award, Ellis spoke to attendees about how much he enjoyed being the Mayor this past year. “It has been an honor to serve the people of Bishop, and I look forward to continue to serve the citizens of the city.” Ellis said.

As far as the position of mayor pro tem, Councilman, Chris Costello was nominated by his peers for the position. Costello, who is also a pastor in Bishop will serve as mayor pro tem for the first time after being appointed to serve in the city council last year.

Though unanimously approved by the City of Bishop, it appeared as though that was not going to be the case for Costello. Council-member Stephen Muchovej initially nominated Karen Schwartz for the position citing the fact that Costello was up for re-election next year. However, after some discussion between the board, Muchovej decided to change his stance and vote for Mr. Costello.