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Woman apparently drowns in car while calling 911 for help

NEWS-LEDGER — MARCH 20, 2013 —

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

A West Sacramento woman called 911 as her car went into the river on the morning of March 13, but rescuers weren’t able to locate the sinking car until it was too late.

The woman was identified as Mussarat Parveen Chaudhary, 58.

According to various media reports, Chaudhary was driving her Toyota Camry back from a job at Cache Creek Casino Resort shortly after 8:10 a.m. She phoned her daughter to say the car’s brakes weren’t working properly. The call disconnected, but Chaudhary then called 911 to report – speaking Punjabi – that the car was in the river. Dispatchers scrambled to find a translator.

  The West Sacramento Fire Department reports that a rescue boat and fire crews joined the CHP and Yolo County sheriff’s department, responding to the Elkhorn area north of West Sacramento.

“In route, dispatch advised all units that the driver of the vehicle was talking to dispatch as the vehicle was sinking,” said a fire department press release.

Firefighters couldn’t see the car, but borrowed a private boat and started searching. Firefighters in “dry suits” also went into the river.

At about 10 a.m., with no sign of the victim’s car, the operation went from “rescue” mode to “recovery” mode. Fire crews left the scene while CHP and DART (the Drowning and Accident Rescue Team divers) kept looking.

“Ultimately, the vehicle was located and a body was recovered approximately six hours later and ¼ mile downstream by DART,” said the fire department.

Copyright News-Ledger 2013

Accused West Sac cop pleads ‘not guilty’

SERGIO ALVAREZ, accused West Sacramento Police Officer (booking photo, Yolo County Jail)

SERGIO ALVAREZ, accused West Sacramento Police Officer (booking photo, Yolo County Jail)


A former West Sacramento police officer pleaded “not guilty” Thursday to 35 counts of kidnapping and sexual offenses he allegedly committed while on patrol.

Sergio Alvarez, a 37-year old resident of the city, entered the plea in Yolo County Superior Court.

He was charged with rape and other offenses. Police spokesmen say that over a period of about a year, Alvarez assaulted a number of women he contacted while driving a patrol car on the “graveyard” shift in the West Capitol Avenue area.

The plea was made on Alvarez’s behalf by attorney Gabriel Quinnan.

Copyright News-Ledger 2013

School board election recap: comments from Castillo, Kirby-Gonzalez & mayor

SARAH KIRBY-GONZALEZ: Voters’ top choice to fill empty school board seat (News-Ledger photo)

Voters’ top choice to fill empty school board seat
(News-Ledger photo)


Teachers unions and school reform groups choose sides with their checkbooks in record-setting race —

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

West Sacramento voters last week elected a teacher to the school board —  after a record-setting campaign battle between the two top candidates.

Sarah Kirby-Gonzalez, a Southport resident who teaches in the Folsom-Cordova school district, was picked to fill the remaining 18 months or so of a school board term in the local Washington Unified School District. She received 2,794 votes, or 51.2 percent of the ballots cast in the all-mail election on March 5.

Following her was Francisco Castillo, a public affairs executive with the school reform group StudentsFirst.He pulled in 1,425 votes, or 26.1 percent of the vote.

Rounding out the field were Linh Nguyen, with 782 votes (14.3%), Katherine Gales with 258 votes (4.7%) and Nicholas Scott Turney, with 202 votes (3.7%).

5,520 ballots were cast, or 23.9 percent of local registered voters.

The race – even though it was for only a partial school board term – appeared to set some spending records. Castillo approached $60,000 in campaign contributions as the election neared, with notable contributions from charter school advocates and entities connected to StudentsFirst, a school reform group.

At the same time, Kirby-Gonzalez was approaching half that amount – with strong support from area teachers’ unions.

The campaign contribution numbers may go up further as campaigns finish reporting them after the election.

FRANCISCO CASTILLO Leading fundraiser in election, with a second-place finish (News-Ledger photo) (News-Ledger photo)

Leading fundraiser in election, with a second-place finish
(News-Ledger photo)
(News-Ledger photo)

“I think it’s time for us to rally around the candidate who won,” Castillo told the News-Ledger after the ballots were counted. “It’s time to congratulate Sarah, who ran a great campaign.”

“I’m going to continue to stay involved,” he added. “I want to start some kind of parent advocate network in West Sacramento. I want to talk to the business community and see if they will get more involved in education in West Sacramento. We don’t need to be a school board member to implement some of these ideas.”

Kirby-Gonzalez, the winner, will be sworn at Thursday’s board meeting by her father, Auburn city councilman Dr. Bill Kirby, who will visit for the occasion.

What will she try to accomplish from Day One?

“Right away, it’s just about working well with everybody, establishing relationships in town and on the board,” said Kirby-Gonzalez. “My first goal is to make connections.”

As far as policy:

“My biggest focus is always on curriculum, first and foremost,” she said.

The News-Ledger asked Castillo whether the public made its choice based on a perception of him as a “school reform” candidate and her as a “teachers’ union” candidate.

“I think voters made a choice, but this wasn’t about reform voices versus teachers’ unions,” Castillo answered.

“I think he’s right,” Kirby-Gonzalez said after being told of Castillo’s comment. “I talked to hundreds and hundreds of voters. None of them brought up StudentsFirst. We didn’t talk about the opponents, we just talked about us. They wanted to know why I was running.”

Mayor Christopher Cabaldon supported Castillo – as did various city council members, school board members and Yolo County Supervisor Michael McGowan. He agreed that the “teachers versus reformers” characterization didn’t fly among local voters, although similar school board election battles were occurring all over the country.

Mayor Christopher Cabaldon (News-Ledger file photo)

Mayor Christopher Cabaldon
(News-Ledger file photo)

“I think that (perception) was largely in the minds of mostly-outside pundits,” Cabaldon commented. “Within this community, it was a local election, with the candidates describing their qualifications and not attacking each other. We had a crop of good candidates step forward to run.”

Was Cabaldon shocked by the amount of money in this WUSD campaign?

“Yes and no,” he answered. “As mayor of our city, yes. To say it’s impressive is a vast understatement for a school board race in our community.”

But he said similar battles are now being raged around the country.

Though Castillo lost, Cabaldon said he had confidence in Kirby-Gonzalez.

“Sarah is a very good candidate and she will be a good board member,” he said.

This special election resulted from a citizen’s petition which the mayor had supported, while others decried the election’s cost. Citizens unhappy about how the school board had initially filled the vacant seat called for the election.

Cabaldon said he is pleased at the outcome, despite the fact that the candidate he supported didn’t win.

“The key was that the voters got to make the decision, and the community and district are all better off for having this discussion about the issues in our district,” said Cabaldon.

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Copyright News-Ledger 2013

Gas line error: ‘little danger,’ says FD


By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

A mistake by a PG&E work crew led to overpressurization of a business customer’s gas line in January.

The utility company filed a mandatory “non-compliance report” about the incident with the California Public Utilities Commission, but local fire officials told the News-Ledger the event didn’t appear to pose a serious danger to the public.

The event occurred on Jan. 15 at a distribution business on the 1300-block of Jefferson Boulevard, when a PG&E crew responded to the report of a gas smell and a leak.

“During the leak repair, an employee inadvertently shut in the relief valve” on the customer’s line, “allowing pressure to build up in the service pipe,” said the PG&E report. “Approximately 250 feet of 1-inch and ½-inch plastic service was overpressurized for approximately one minute, until the crew corrected the error and opened the valve to allow pressure relief.”

The line was rated for a maximum operating pressure of 60 psig (pounds per square inch gauge. An attached gauge maxed out at its 150 psig reading, “however, the pressure in the service may have reached as high as 650 psig, which was the operating pressure in the upstream transmission line,” said PG&E.

  After relieving the pressure, the crew took the equipment out of service for replacement. In the meantime, they provided portable compressed natural gas to the customer.

Fire Marshal Brian Johnson noted that the involved lines were fairly small, and the mishap occurred outdoors.

“It was a small distribution line,” he told the News-Ledger. “Less than one inch. With natural gas, it’s half as light as air, so it will go up into the atmosphere. It’s when it gets up in a building – a room or something – that’s when it gets dangerous.”

Fire Chief Al Terrell agreed, comparing it to a fatal gas line explosion in the Bay Area in 2010.

“From my point of view, it wasn’t as big an event as it may have seemed,” said Terrell. “Everything was well taken care of by the first responders, (city) public works and PG&E. It was nowhere near what happened in San Bruno.”

Copyright News-Ledger 2013