San Francisco Bay Area Thursday Morning Round up

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Leaders of School District Respond to Saratoga Teen Suicide

Leaders of a school district Wednesday responded to claims by the family of a 15-year-old Saratoga High School student who committed suicide last fall, saying the school acted appropriately and the girl had not sought counseling for bullying.

Administrators of the Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District said in a statement Wednesday that counseling records show Audrie Pott did not pursue counseling after the alleged sexual assault by three other students her family claims led to her suicide a week later.

Bullying also was not a subject of conversation when school employees met with Audrie's parents months prior to her death, district officials said. Audrie attempted suicide at her Saratoga home on Sept. 10 and died two days later.

Her family claims that three 16-year-old boys from Saratoga High sexually assaulted her and wrote messages on her body while she was unconscious at a Sept. 2 off-campus party, then took photos of her that they later distributed to students at the high school.

Pott family attorney Robert Allard said in a statement earlier Wednesday that he filed a claim against the district "primarily to preserve the family's rights to future legal action."

The family alleges that Audrie was bullied at the school months before her death, and that the school district was negligent because it failed to act when the family reported the bullying in the spring of 2012, Allard said.

In their response, district leaders said that after Audrie's suicide, some students reported to Saratoga High employees about an alleged assault on her at an off-campus party "and that some photographs were being shared among students."

The school then informed its campus resource officer who reported it to the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office and district officials "first learned of the allegations of sexual assault from law enforcement as that investigation was being launched."

"We have been unable to verify the extent to which any photographic images may have been shared on campus or on the Internet before or after her suicide that may have contributed to her feeling embarrassed or harassed," the district's statement read.

Saratoga's principal Paul Robinson announced Audrie's death -- without mentioning suicide -- on the school's public address system on Sept. 12 after receiving permission from the girl's stepmother Lisa Pott and "rather than let people hear about her passing by word of mouth," according to the district.

None of the boys was expelled due to the allegations because the school by law may only suspend or expel a student for acts "related to school activity or attendance."

District leaders said the alleged assault happened at "an unsupervised private party on a holiday weekend" and school districts cannot force students out "based solely on alleged behavior outside of school."

Two of the three boys were on the school football team and Robinson removed them from it since "participation in a sport is a privilege" and the district had the latitude to act, they said.

Bay Area Community Members Rally Behind Martinez Student Injured in Boston Bombings

Community members are rallying around a Martinez sixth-grader who was injured in the Boston Marathon bombings on Monday.

Aaron Hern, 11, was on the sidelines near the finish line to watch his mother run the race on Monday afternoon when the bombs exploded, hitting him with shrapnel.

According to Facebook messages posted by the boy's mother, Katherine Hern, and family friends, Aaron is in stable condition in an intensive care unit and was scheduled to undergo surgery Wednesday.

Hern said Tuesday that the family planned to stay in Boston for about a week for follow-up surgeries.

Meanwhile, community members in Martinez are scrambling to help in any way they can.

Roxanne Cole, the owner of restaurant and wine bar Roxx on Main, welcomed diners to the business for a fundraiser for the family during the lunch and dinner hours on Tuesday.

Employees at the restaurant, located at 627 Main St., worked for free on Tuesday, and other local businesses, including Chairs for Affairs, donated supplies, Cole said.

"If you know anything about Martinez, we're a very tight-knit community, and I wanted to do something to help," she said.

She said the event netted $4,500, with all proceeds going to help cover the family's transportation and housing expenses.

Cole said she would continue to hold the same fundraiser each Tuesday until the Hern family returns home.

Community members may also drop off donations at the restaurant until a donation fund is established, she said.

The public will have more chances to dine and donate to the Herns at a fundraiser at Mountain Mike's Pizza at 1160 Arnold Drive in Martinez Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The fundraiser will continue every day through Sunday.

Sunday through Wednesday, customers at Kinder's Meats and BBQ throughout Contra Costa County can donate 15 percent of each purchase to the Hern family.

At Martinez Junior High School, where Aaron is in the sixth grade, classes are working on projects to show their support for their injured classmate and his family, Principal Helen Rossi said.

South Bay Phone Service Restored After Vandals Cut Fiber Optic Cables

Phone service has been restored in the South Bay Wednesday after being disrupted Tuesday when vandals cut underground fiber optic cables south of San Jose.

AT&T is offering a $250,000 reward in the case, in which someone cut cables in two locations along Monterey Highway shortly before 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office.

The vandalism occurred minutes before someone shot a rifle at a PG&E transmission substation near Metcalf Road and Monterey Highway at about 1:46 a.m., according to the sheriff's office.

At about 3:45 a.m., PG&E notified the sheriff's office that someone had breached the substation's security fence, several transformers had been damaged and hazardous liquid had spilled, sheriff's office spokesman Deputy Kurtis Stenderup said.

"The damage was caused by multiple gunshots from a high-powered rifle," Stenderup said.

Matt Naumann, a spokesman for PG&E, said its crews worked to repair the substation Wednesday and are still assessing the extent of the damage.

"It's going to take a couple of weeks before we have everything back up there," Naumann said.

The shooting of the substation, which damaged oil tanks and other equipment, did not halt power to any PG&E customers, Naumann said.

AT&T spokesman George Ross confirmed that the severed cables were fixed by early Wednesday morning.

The Gilroy Police Department's landline phones were down for about 24 hours but were back up and running at about 3 a.m., police Sgt. Pedro Espinoza said.

In Morgan Hill, phone service disrupted by the cut cables was restored at 5 a.m., city spokeswoman Maureen Tobin said.

Ross said that 911 calls on cellphone and landline phones to the Gilroy area were disrupted for a couple of hours early Tuesday but that AT&T was able to reroute call lines through different fiber optic cables to reopen emergency calls.

Limited cellphone service in addition to 911 calls remained up for some phone users in Gilroy while landline calls remained shut down until all services were restored between 3:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, Ross said.

"It was affecting cellphone service," Ross said. "It's not like is was across the board down."

"You have different towers where you might be getting reception from your physical proximity," Ross said. "It wasn't unusual, but it was a significant cut."

He confirmed that someone had cut the fiber optic cables, beneath manhole covers, in two different places in the unincorporated area south of San Jose, one of them a line maintained by AT&T and the other by another phone carrier.

Service to Verizon customers was restored by about 6 a.m., Stenderup said.

Powell Street Gun Battle Suspects Appear in Court 

Four men accused of a frightening shooting during rush hour last Friday near the Powell Street BART station in San Francisco made their initial appearance in court Wednesday and were ordered held on $2 million bail.

The shooting was reported at 6:38 p.m. Friday and critically injured a 16-year-old boy who officers found after hearing gunshots coming from Hallidie Plaza, police said.

Authorities did not immediately have an update on the boy's condition Wednesday.

Police later on Friday used surveillance video in the area and descriptions provided by witnesses to arrest six men and recover a firearm believed to be used in the shooting.

However, only four were charged in San Francisco Superior Court.

The defendants, Alexander Love, 19, Damien Allen, 18, Derrick Miller, 19, and Alvin Tautolo, 20, face five felonies each -- attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, two counts of false imprisonment and participation in a street gang.

The four made their initial appearance in court Wednesday afternoon but declined to enter a plea and will return to court on Friday for the continued arraignment.

Each defendant was also ordered by Judge Jerome Benson to stay away from the victim if they post the $2 million bail.

Bicycle Barometer Slated to Go Up on San Francisco's Market Street

A bicycle barometer is slated to go up on San Francisco's Market Street next month to count the number of bicycles that travel through the city's arterial boulevard.

The measuring device will be built on the south side of Market Street between Ninth and 10th streets after the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board of directors unanimously approved a $20,000 donation from the SF Bicycle Coalition at Tuesday's board meeting.

The donated funds will go toward the roughly $70,000 total project cost for the building and installation of the machine.

The counter aims to encourage commuters and others to use bicycles as a mode of transportation by keeping track of ridership and noticeably displaying the number of riders.

The barometer would be the city's first and is estimated to tally as many as 1 million eastbound bicyclists that are projected to increasingly traverse on Market Street each year, according to Muni officials.

The latest annual bicycle volumes on the Market Street thoroughfare are recorded at about 600,000 riders, Muni officials said.

The barometer will stand 7.5 feet tall and 1.5 feet wide with a digital display counter that will tally the number of passing bicyclists through an embedded counter underneath the bike lane.

To build and install the counter, transit staff is working with the city's Department of Technology and the Department of Public Works.

Muni spokesman Paul Rose said the barometer is scheduled to be up and running by the end of May, however Muni officials are hoping the counter will be up before Bike to Work Day on May 9.

Italian Consulate Clerk in San Francisco Charged with Labor Extortion 

A onetime Italian consulate clerk and his Brazilian wife pleaded guilty in federal court in San Francisco Wednesday to a reduced misdemeanor charge related to their employment of a Brazilian woman as their servant in 2009.

Giuseppe Penzato, 56, and Kesia Penzato, 34, of San Francisco, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Edward Chen to a count of conspiring to possess an unauthorized identification document belonging to the unnamed woman.

They will be sentenced by Chen on May 8.

Under a plea agreement, the sentence will be five years of probation plus a restitution payment of $13,000 to the victim.

The Penzatos were originally charged with heavier felony counts of obtaining false labor by means of threats, force or restraint and conspiring to obtain false labor from the woman during the three months that she worked for them at a housekeeper in late 2009.

The felony counts, levied in a federal criminal complaint in 2011 and then a grand jury indictment in 2012, will be dropped as a result of the plea agreement.

Defense lawyers Josh Cohen and Gail Shifman declined to comment on the case outside of court.

U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Josh Eaton said, "We have no comment."

Giuseppe and Kesia Penzato were arrested on the original charges on June 24, 2011, and freed on $250,000 property bonds four days later.

At the time, Giuseppe Penzato worked as an administrative clerk for the Italian consulate in San Francisco.

A consulate representative said Wednesday he could not say whether Penzato still works there.

An affidavit filed with the 2011 criminal complaint alleged the couple paid the woman only $600 or $700 during the three months, confiscated her passport, withheld food from her and forced her to work 60 hours per week on childcare and housekeeping.

The affidavit by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Melissa Saurwein said the couple promised the woman she would work only 35 hours per week and be paid $1,500 per month in addition to being given room and board.

The document said Kesia Penzato had known the woman during their childhood in Brazil and enticed her to come to San Francisco to work for the couple while attending nursing school.

The woman had been employed as a community public health agent in Brazil.

In a court filing in 2011, the Penzatos said they "vehemently deny the charges" and alleged the housekeeper was "a scheming young woman" with a goal of living permanently in the United States."

Alameda County Officals Hold Ceremony for Oakland's Highland Hospital New Clinic Facility 

Alameda County officials held a dedication ceremony Wednesday for a new facility at Highland Hospital in Oakland that includes a "same day clinic" that will provide an alternative to emergency patients with urgent but non-acute conditions.

Board of Supervisors President Keith Carson said the three-story, 80,000-square-foot Highland Care Pavilion is the first phase of a $668 million project that also includes the construction of a new 9-story, 169-bed acute care tower and the demolition of the existing acute tower.

The entire project is slated to be completed in 2017.

County Administrator Susan Muranishi said that in addition to the same day clinic, the new pavilion on Highland's 14.4-acre campus will house 10 specialty clinics, including allergy, cardiology, chest, congestive heart failure, gastroenterology and liver, hematology and oncology, infusion, hepatitis C and rheumatology.

The new building also will have 175 parking spaces for patients, a new meeting space and a modern cafeteria, Muranishi said.

She said the same day clinic will take pressure off Highland's busy emergency services and is expected to shorten waiting times for patients who require emergency services.

Carson said that by developing the improvement project at Highland, which opened its door in 1927, Alameda County "is ensuring that this community will have a first-rate health care delivery system for decades to come for all county residents regardless of their ability to pay."

Alameda Health System chief executive Wright Lassiter III said the improvements mean "people who are suffering from serious maladies won't have to wait long to receive quality care."

Muranishi said the construction of the new pavilion, which will open in early May, "is a major milestone and a dream come true."

Carson said he's proud that Alameda County is improving its hospitals at a time when many other counties across the state are closing or contracting out their public hospitals.

Alameda County General Services Agency Director Aki Nakao said the improvement project has employed 2,200 construction workers for the past two years and those workers will remain employed until the project is completed.

Four Men  Charged in Fremont for Attack on Suspects Ex-Wife

Four men have been arrested and charged in connection with a brutal attack on one suspect's ex-wife in front of her Fremont home earlier this year.

Milpitas resident Rakesh Paul Singh, 54, allegedly hired three men to plan and carry out an attack on his 37-year-old ex-wife.

The attack was allegedly carried out by Morris Kurtz, 52, and 54-year-old Donald Harbaugh, both of San Jose, on Feb. 11, police said.

Around 9 a.m. that day, Singh's ex-wife was getting into her car in the 43700 block of Greenhills Way in Fremont when two men approached and attacked her from behind, according to police.

One of the men struck her in the face with a large wooden mallet while the other punched her in the back of the head.

The suspects fled the scene before officers could arrive.

The victim was transported to a hospital, where she received numerous stitches for major lacerations to her face, neck and ears, according to police.

Police spokeswoman Geneva Bosques said the suspects did not attempt to steal the woman's car or any of her property; their goal was to beat her.

An investigation into the assault led police to a car belonging to Kurtz.

Using surveillance and other resources, detectives were able to identify Harbaugh, a parolee who had served more than 20 years in prison for a kidnapping for ransom case, as the second suspect, according to police.

The investigation also revealed that a third suspect, identified as 27-year-old Ricardo Rivera of Sunnyvale, helped plan the attack.

Investigators also learned that Singh had ordered the attack on his ex-wife and asked his accomplices to "deface her," police said.

With the aid of SWAT teams, police served search and arrest warrants at the suspects' homes on April 3 and located evidence linking all four men to the February attack.

All four were arrested and later charged with assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated mayhem and conspiracy.

The suspects remain in custody in county jail, according to police.

San Francisco Bay Area Weather Report

Sunny skies are likely in the Bay Area this morning.

Highs are expected to be in the 60s, with winds up to 15 mph. Clear skies are likely this evening.

Lows are expected to be in the upper 40s, with southwest winds up to 15 mph.

Sunny skies are expected Friday morning.

Highs are likely to be in the lower 60s, with winds up to 15 mph.

 

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