Community News

Furnace Creek Airport Runway is in Bad Shape

DEATH VALLEY, CA – The National Park Service warns pilots to be careful when landing or taking off at Furnace Creek Airport, due to numerous cracks and bumps in the runway. Repairs will be costly and are not likely to happen soon.

Furnace Creek Airport is located at 210 feet below sea level in Death Valley National Park. The runway pavement is very close to the water table. Ground movement and salt heaving, similar to frost heaving cold environments, have caused damage to the runway.
The airport remains open, but pilots have been warned about the poor condition of the runway by a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) advisory through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Stovepipe Wells Airport is in better condition and is an alternative for pilots flying into the park.

The National Park Service does not have a timeline for full repairs, which would include subsurface work, moisture barriers, and repaving. Repairs are estimated at $3 million.

Steve McWithey Obituary

Steve McWithey of Chalfant Valley passed away at home with his wife Julie and his loyal canine companion Rue Be Doo by his side on Friday, December 27, 2019 at the age of 55. Steve was born on March 7, 1964 and grew up in the Owens Valley. He graduated from Bishop Union High school.

After High school Steve worked in the roofing business and after learning the trade he obtained his contractors license and owned his own roofing company. Later, he took his roofing and general maintenance experience and was employed at High Country Lumber. He would eventually finish his career at Caltrans.

Steve enjoyed reading, fishing, golfing, camping and anything to do with science and astronomy- some family adventures were planned around eclipses. He was happiest when spending time with his children and his wife Julie-his sweetheart since grade school.

Steve packed a lot of life into the short years he was on this earth. His humor and kindness impacted all who met him. You couldn’t have a bad day if you spent time with him. He would find a way to make you laugh. Steve was always available to help anyone in need. He was a volunteer engineer on the Chalfant Valley Fire Department and loved being a part of the community.

His father Ben McWithey, his mother Paula Mcwithey and his brother Jim McWithey preceded him in death. He leaves behind his wife Julie McWithey, his two children Haley (Darin) Harding and Chase McWithey, His best friend Ray Hailey who was like a brother to him, his sister Louella (Hugh) Erfurth, his Stepmom Dawn (Bruce) Vidal, his uncle Glen McWithey and Aunt Judy Whitman, nieces Heather Peltier and Sarah (Justin) Campbell his cousins Cherie (Skip) Clark, and Sean McWithey and many other nieces, nephews, and cousins.

A Celebration of Steve’s Life will at 11:00am on Saturday January 18th at the Chalfant Valley Fire Department. Come and share stories with family and friends.

Chuck Schneider Obituary

After a valiant fight with cancer, Charles “Chuck” Schneider—adventurer, storyteller, gardener, cherished member of his community, and friend to all—went home to be with his Lord on January 5, 2020 at the age of 82. He is survived by his beloved wife of 57 years, Marge; his daughter, Kristin McBride and her husband, Kevin; his son, James and wife, Ann; and his five grandchildren: Amelia, Joshua, James, Jonah, and Abigail, all of whom he loved dearly.

Chuck had an appetite for adventure and sought to live life to its fullest. Born in San Francisco to Clara and Clifford, he began his unique and extraordinary path through life as a volunteer at the San Francisco Zoo, where he worked with the big cats and developed his love for animals. Later in his youth, Chuck spent his summers fighting forest fires with the Forestry Service. As he emerged into his adult years, Chuck began racing off road, which fulfilled his need for speed and landed him a cameo in National Geographic, and panning for gold in the streams and mines of Southern California. Throughout his life, Chuck never passed up an opportunity to tackle a challenge. This need to seek new opportunities led him to take up skiing in his 50’s and begin acting in Community Theater in his 70’s. Many will remember Chuck as the Wizard of Oz, the Judge in Chicago, or perhaps the most authentic Santa ever to grace the Sierra.

As a storyteller and public speaker, Chuck had no equal. He loved the poetry of Robert Service, and would often recite his poems, such as Cremation of Sam McGee, from heart—much to the delight of his listeners, especially his grandchildren. His church was blessed with many sermons that carried Chuck’s unique insights and his uncanny ability to make even the most challenging biblical texts accessible. And, his family, friends, and coworkers will forever fondly remember the many stories he told about all aspects of his life, turning even mundane events into captivating moments.

Chuck gardened, or more accurately, he grew tomatoes. In fact, he grew what became known as arguably the finest heirloom tomatoes in the Eastern Sierra. During the summer months, he could be found every afternoon in his garden tending his vines and most weekends at the Farmer’s Markets in Mammoth and Bishop. Even more than tending his garden, however, Chuck loved sharing his knowledge about gardening. If you broached the subject with him, you needed to be prepared for a long and animated conversation that normally ended in a handful of tomatoes to take home and an offer to help you start your own garden at the first available opportunity.

Those who work and live in Inyo and Mono counties would describe Chuck as a cherished member of and leader in the community. Chucked lived and worked in Bishop and Mammoth Lakes for 19 years. Chuck served Mammoth Lakes Lutheran Church in many capacities, from elder to greeter, speaker to coffee maker. As the family law facilitator for the Mono County Superior Court, Chuck did what he loved most: he helped people in need.

Finally, Chuck will perhaps be most remembered for his kindness, compassion, and ability to befriend just about anyone who crossed his path. From his service in the Navy, to his time as a student at Mt. San Antonio College (where he served as student body president) and Southwestern Law School, to his nine years as a Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff, to his 50 year career as a family lawyer, Chuck treated people with respect and dignity. He sought the good in people, even when the good was hidden from view. He met people where they were and avoided judgement. He reached out with care and people responded with deep gratitude and, in many cases, love. In sum, people were simply better for having known him.

His service will be held at Mammoth Lakes Lutheran Church on March 14, 2020 at 10:30 am, followed immediately by a celebration of his life and reception at Mammoth Lakes High School Multi-purpose Room.

Local Man Shoots and Kills Attempted Robbery Suspect

An attempted robbery was foiled by an Eastern Sierra resident Monday evening.

The Bishop Police Department received multiple 911 calls regarding a shooting involving several people at the Shell Gas Station on Wye Road in Bishop, CA.

When officers arrived on the scene, they discovered an adult male on the ground in the parking lot with multiple gunshots wounds. According to a press release from the Bishop Police Department, the individual died on the scene. “He [The male] was unable to speak. A handgun was nearby, and medics began life saving measures, but he died shortly thereafter.”

At this time, the Bishop Police Department is not releasing the identity of the male until next of kin is notified. However, Police Chief Ted Stec told KIBS/KBOV News that the deceased individual was a non-local.

It appears as though the perpetrator was a suspect in an attempted robbery. “The investigation thus far tends to show the decedent attempted to rob one of our local residents shortly after he parked and exited his vehicle at the Shell,” the Bishop Police Department press release says. “It is likely the decedent had been looking to target someone in the parking lot. The decedent shot the victim more than once. The victim, who had a concealed carry permit and was armed, returned fire. He then managed to enter his vehicle and move to a better location. The victim received serious wounds but was able to provide BPD with good details.”

The victim is currently undergoing treatment for multiple gunshot wounds. He was transferred to a hospital in Reno, Nevada, for further evaluation.

After discovering the deceased suspect, Bishop Police issued a BOLO for a white Ford Escape being driven by a female wearing a beanie after a witness described the car in which the deceased male attempted to get away.

Police Chief Stec told KIBS/KBOV News, “This is a tragic event that has unfolded in Bishop. However, there’s been a tremendous response from Bishop PD, and all of its law enforcement partners including Inyo County Sheriff’s Department, Mono County Sheriff’s Department, Mammoth Lakes PD, CHP, Bishop Fire Department, and Symons Ambulance. This is an active investigation, and we are working to find the at large suspect.”

Later in the evening, authorities located a crashed and unoccupied vehicle that matched the wittiness’s description on Jean Blanc Road near the Laws area. A CHP helicopter and a K9 unit from Ridgecrest PD assisted in locating the female suspect.

Around 2:00 am, the wanted suspect called 911 to turn herself in due to cold weather. “It’s too cold, I am going to freeze to death.” the suspect told the dispatcher during the call. The temperature at that time was 19 degrees.

The female has been identified as Brandee Sue Trujillo, age 46 of Oildale, CA. She was booked into the Inyo County Jail on charges relating to a fugitive running from justice.

The investigation is still ongoing. If anyone has relevant information about this incident, you are encouraged to contact the Bishop Police Department as soon as possible at 760-873-5866.

 

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.