San Francisco Bay Area Thursday Morning News Roundup

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Wyoming Man Pleaded Not Guilty in San Mateo Yacht Theft

A Wyoming man pleaded not guilty Wednesday afternoon in San Mateo County Superior Court to charges in connection with the theft of a yacht from the Sausalito Yacht Harbor Monday.

Two other people who were arrested in connection with the theft are not being charged and they were released earlier Wednesday from jail, San Mateo County Assistant District Attorney Al Serrato said.

Leslie Gardner, 63, pleaded not guilty to grand theft, receiving stolen property in excess of $3.2 million and vandalism, Serrato said.

He is being held in the San Mateo County jail under $1 million bail. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 18, Serrato said.

The San Mateo County District Attorney's Office decided Wednesday morning not to file charges against Dario Mora, 54, and Lisa Modawell, 56, both of Aptos, because Gardner told them he inherited the boat and there was no reason for Modawell and Mora to disbelieve him, Serrato said.

"We're viewing them as witnesses," Serrato said.

The prosecution believes it could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt Mora and Modawell knew the 82-foot sailing vessel "Darling" was stolen, Serrato said.

The couple, who are dating, met Gardner through a mutual friend three or four days ago in Santa Cruz, and a fourth person drove all three to Sausalito in a truck then left, Serrato said.

Although he is from Wyoming, Gardner has connections to people in the area, Serrato said.

The yacht ran aground in shallow water near Linda Mar Beach in Pacifica around 5:20 a.m. Monday.

Sausalito police received a call around 8 a.m. from the owner of the yacht who said it was stolen from the Sausalito Yacht Harbor, Sausalito police Sgt. Bill Fraass said.

Fraass said the yacht owner was watching the news about the beached vessel when he recognized it was his boat.

Family Mourns the Death of 17-Year-Old Girl Who was Struck by DUI Driver on Sloat

The father of a 17-year-old girl killed while she crossed a street Saturday near San Francisco's Stern Grove visited the spot Wednesday afternoon where his daughter was struck, just hours after the accused drunken driver was in court.

Accused of vehicular manslaughter and DUI, Kieran Brewer, 28, made his initial appearance in court Wednesday in connection with the death of Henren Chang, who was fatally struck as she crossed Sloat Boulevard at Vale Avenue at about 11:20 p.m.

A memorial for Chang, a Lowell High School junior who died on her 17th birthday, in the middle of the intersection was overflowing with at least two-dozen bouquets of flowers Wednesday afternoon.

"She had many sweet friends," Chang's father said Wednesday.

He reflected on her love of running for her high school track and cross-country teams, and how she would go jogging through the city.

He said he always told her to be careful while running and made her wear reflective gear.

Three friends dropped off a fresh set of flowers Wednesday afternoon, while her father reflected on how his daughter's death could have been prevented.

"It needs a clear signal," he said.

The portion of Sloat Boulevard where she was struck has been the site of other recent fatal collisions with pedestrians, including one in January 2010.

Her father said his family won't be able to recover from the loss, and he is figuring out how to tell his aging parents in Taiwan about their granddaughter's death.

As to the suspected drunken driver, Chang's father said, "I forgive that person. There can't be hatred."

Brewer's blood-alcohol content when he was booked into custody was .09, barely above the .08 limit, Deputy Public Defender Kwixuan Maloof said in court Wednesday.

However, prosecutors noted that the testing was done hours after the crash and that Brewer admitted to drinking prior to driving.

"The defendant's behavior was as inexcusable was it was predictable," Assistant District Attorney Nicole Joseph-Goteiner said.

She said Brewer was also going at least 10 mph above the speed limit on Sloat Boulevard when he struck Chang and that there were no skid marks indicating that he tried to stop before hitting her.

"He was a danger to the community when he got behind the wheel and started driving," Joseph-Goteiner said.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Jerome Benson ultimately decided to reduce Brewer's bail to $300,000 from the scheduled $800,000, calling that amount "probably excessive."

Police Discover Stabbing Victim in Almaden Valley Area of San Jose

Police discovered the victim of a fatal stabbing Wednesday afternoon in the Almaden Valley area of San Jose.

The victim, believed to be in his late teens or early 20s, was found suffering from stab wounds near Guadalupe Oak Grove Park at 3:53 p.m., police Sgt. Jason Dwyer said.

He was pronounced dead there.

Police have not identified any suspects or the motive for the killing.

The victim's identity has not been released pending notification of his family.

Police Expert William Bratton Said Fighting Oakland's Crime Problem Winnable 

Police expert William Bratton said Wednesday that he thinks fighting Oakland's crime problem is "a very winnable situation."

Bratton, 65, who has headed the police departments in New York, Los Angeles and Boston and is now acting as a consultant, told reporters at a news conference at police headquarters, "I think we have an opportunity to make some early gains" in Oakland.

The Oakland City Council voted at a marathon meeting in late January to add Bratton to a team of police experts headed by Robert Wasserman, the former chief of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Clinton, that's advising Police Chief Howard Jordan on fighting crime.

The city is paying $250,000 for the police experts' advice.

Many of the more than 100 speakers who addressed the City Council in January spoke strongly against hiring Bratton, alleging that he advocates aggressive police techniques including one commonly called "stop and frisk" that they believe result in racial profiling.

Bratton said Wednesday that the correct term for the technique he supports is "stop, question and frisk" because most stops of potential suspects end with questions and don't result in frisking people.

He said, "There's not a police department in America that would be effective without it," but cautioned that officers should use the technique constitutionally, compassionately and consistently in all neighborhoods.

Jordan, who previously has said Oakland police won't use "stop and frisk" techniques, stepped in and said, "This department doesn't condone bias-based policing" and officers only focus on stopping what he described as a small percentage of people who commit most of the crime in the city.

Bratton said he arrived in Oakland on Sunday and a police official immediately took him on a tour of the city that included stops at the sight of a murder that occurred at 28th and Myrtle streets at about 11 a.m. that day and a retaliatory shooting a mile away a short time later.

Bratton said he'd had a bad impression of Oakland based on what he's read in the news media over the years but after three days in the city he's "very impressed."

He said he and the other police experts will advise Jordan on reducing homicides, robberies and burglaries that he said "are plaguing the city."

Bratton said he will work with Oakland police on improving their use of a crime statistics program called Compstat that he helped develop when he was police chief in New York, calling the program "critical to success" and "the engine that pushes the city forward" in fighting crime.

49'ers Make Bid to Host the 2016 Super Bowl

The bid to host the 2016 Super Bowl at San Francisco 49ers' planned new stadium in Santa Clara is a regional effort and winning it would benefit the entire Bay Area, the mayors of San Francisco and San Jose said Wednesday.

With the unfinished $1.2 billion Santa Clara Stadium as a backdrop, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said the 49ers' offer to host the Super Bowl is a collaborative effort to get a huge cash infusion for area businesses.

The stadium, which is about 60 percent completed, is a finalist with the Miami Dolphins in South Florida as the site for the 50th Super Bowl in 2016, the winner to be selected on May 21 by NFL team owners.

Lee said that to win its bid with the NFL, the Bay Area needs its governments, transportation agencies, businesses and other regional organizations to show they are working together to make the Super Bowl event a success.

"We want that Super Bowl 50 very badly," Lee said.

"We can smell it. We think we have the greatest opportunity to work together for it, and not only to win that bid but to get ourselves a location for other Super Bowl hostings. We're looking at this long term."

"I've already turned the page on the '9ers building the stadium here," said Lee, referring to the 49ers leaving Candlestick Park in San Francisco, their home since 1971, for the new Santa Clara venue in 2014.

"In fact, I'm glad to actually see this is going as well as it is," Lee said.

"We made a commitment to the economy of the whole region."

"This is a regional project with regional benefits," Reed said. "San Jose stands to benefit, just like the rest of the region, but more importantly it's about the Bay Area economy."

"We have one of the largest, most important economies in the world," Reed said. "Bringing the Super Bowl here will be a regional effort with regional benefits."

Preliminary Hearing for Bicyclist Who is Charged with Manslaughter for Death of Pedestrian in Castro District

Video evidence is at the center of the case of a bicyclist who was in court Wednesday on felony vehicular manslaughter charges for striking and killing a pedestrian in San Francisco's Castro District last year.

The preliminary hearing began Wednesday for Chris Bucchere, 36, who prosecutors say ran a red light before striking 71-year-old Sutchi Hui at Castro and Market streets at about 8 a.m. on March 29, 2012.

Hui died at a hospital days later.

Surveillance video presented by Assistant District Attorney Omid Talai Wednesday showed Bucchere riding south on Castro Street through the intersection before striking Hui, who was in the crosswalk headed east on Market Street.

Three witnesses testified Wednesday that Bucchere ran the red light before entering the intersection and did not try to slow down before striking Hui.

One witness, Nathan Pollak, also said Bucchere ran several red lights and stop signs at other intersections with Castro Street moments before the collision.

Pollak said rather than slow down and stop when the light turned red at Castro and Market, Bucchere "crouched down" to accelerate through the intersection before striking Hui.

However, Ted Cassman, Bucchere's defense attorney, filed a motion to dismiss or reduce the charges against his client, arguing that the surveillance video shows he was already in the intersection when the light turned red.

Cassman also wrote that Hui and other pedestrians entered the crosswalk prior to having the "Walk" signal, which "severely limited Chris' ability to avoid the accident."

The motion will be considered by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Andrew Cheng, who will rule on it when the case returns to court this morning.

In the motion, Cassman described Bucchere as a family man with a wife and 6-year-old daughter.

He attended Stanford University, works as a software engineer and has a longstanding love for cycling, the attorney wrote.

"Chris has been on a bike almost from the day he was old enough to walk," Cassman wrote, saying he went on two or three long rides weekly and had "a consistent record of caution and safety," including teaching safety classes for other cyclists.

Alameda Police Chief Michael Noonan Announces He will Retire 

Alameda Police Chief Michael Noonan announced Wednesday that he will retire on June 1 after 27 years with the department.

City Manager John Russo has appointed Capt. Paul Rolleri to be interim Police Chief effective June 1.

Noonan will act in a consulting capacity to the city during the following six months to help in the transition to a new chief.

Noonan said in a statement, "The past 27 years with the Alameda Police Department has been the one of the greatest experiences of my life."

He said, "Having the opportunity to serve as Alameda's Chief of Police has been a dream-come-true. I have truly been blessed to work in a great community and have great co-workers within both the police department and other city departments."

In his retirement memo to Russo, Noonan said, "We have been through some difficult times together and I think we are stronger and better for having faced that adversity together. We have worked hard to be a transparent organization and gain the trust of this community."

Mayor Marie Gilmore said, "This is bittersweet. Chief Noonan has served our community well throughout his career."

Gilmore said, "He has led Alameda's Police Department with honor and professionalism. We will miss him, and we wish him all the best."

Russo said, "Mike has been a stellar police chief by any standard. It has been an honor to work with such a fine public servant."

San Francisco's Inner Parkside Neighborhood Ravaged by Sinkholes

After a water main break ravaged a section of San Francisco's Inner Parkside neighborhood last week, residents continue to deal with the aftermath, including sinkholes caving in under their homes.

At least four homes have been red-tagged, while at least two others have been yellow-tagged in the 2600 block of 15th Avenue and on the 400 block of Wawona Street after the water main break the morning of Feb. 27.

A 16-inch cast-iron pipe ruptured shortly after 2:30 a.m. on 15th Avenue just south of Wawona Street, sending water and mud down the hill and damaging 23 homes and 12 vehicles, according to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

One resident in a red-tagged home, who declined to give his name, was loading out furniture and belongings late Wednesday morning to move into a temporary home.

He said he and his wife and three children are not able to live in the home that he bought 13 years ago, but said he's thankful to not be homeless.

He anticipates his family will be displaced for at least a year after city officials told him underground survey work and repairs are expected for at least the next six months.

His home was one of the homes that was declared uninhabitable because of concerns about the stability of the foundation.

The massive flood of water opened up a large sinkhole in the street, which has since been repaired, according to SFPUC officials.

However, weakened soil conditions along the street have led to other sinkhole formations, many under people's homes, according to Steve Richie, head of the city water department.

A woman and her husband were working with repair crews late Wednesday morning at their yellow-tagged home on 15th Avenue.

She said she cannot go into parts of her home, such as the basement.

She said the lower levels of her house were destroyed, and a furnace damaged.

After the deluge of water, she said mud covered the basement and garage, and was now caked onto surfaces.

She described conditions as a "mess" and said she has been working with repair crews and city officials nonstop since last week.

Oakland Prosecutors Introduce Incriminating Evidence in Murder of Virginia Man

A prosecutor told jurors Wednesday that surveillance videos and witness accounts will prove that George Huggins is guilty of murdering a Virginia man in downtown Oakland in 2010 while the victim was visiting the Bay Area for a job interview at Google.

The victim, 45-year-old Jinghong Kang, was fatally shot in the 1900 block of Webster Street at about 11:30 p.m. on July 18, 2010.

In his opening statement in Huggins' trial, prosecutor Tim Wellman said Huggins, 26, and his former girlfriend, Althea Housley, 36, both of Oakland, targeted Kang and his friend Hai Huang as they stood next to Kang's rental car, because they "were vulnerable and were easy targets."

Wellman said Kang had flown to the Bay Area because he had a job interview at Google the next day and he had driven his rental car to downtown Oakland to have his teeth cleaned by Huang, a dental hygienist whom Kang had met at a church conference.

He said Huggins and Housley worked together as a team, with Huggins approaching male victims and Housley approaching female victims, and that was what they did when they walked up to Kang and Huang.

Wellman said Housley grabbed Huang by her hair and threw her to the ground and Huggins pointed a gun at Kang and demanded that he turn over his money.

Kang told Huggins all he had was $17, and he gave Huggins that amount but Huggins still fired three shots at him, striking Kang in his leg and his chest and killing him, Wellman said.

Housley and Huggins then fled, according to the prosecutor.

Oakland police obtained video footage of the suspects captured by surveillance cameras at nearby businesses and they were later arrested, Wellman said.

Housley initially told police that she wasn't involved but later admitted she was present.

However, she said that Huggins was the person who shot Kang and claimed she didn't know anyone would be shot, he said.

In addition to being charged with murdering Kang and attempting to rob him, Huggins is charged with two counts of robbery for allegedly robbing a man and woman, both 26 at the time, as they were sitting in a parked car in the 1700 block of Telegraph Avenue early the morning of June 21, 2010, several weeks before Kang's killing.

Wellman alleged that Huggins shot the male victim in the leg in the earlier robbery.

He said police ballistics experts have determined that the same .22-caliber handgun was used in both incidents.

Housley had faced a murder charge for allegedly being an accomplice in Kang's shooting, but on Feb. 20 she pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter and attempted robbery for that incident and to two counts of attempted robbery for the incident on Telegraph Avenue.

Wellman said she will testify against Huggins, and if her testimony is found to be truthful she will receive a sentence of 15 years and eight months in state prison.

Violent Sexual Predator Soon to Be Resident of Bay Point Neighborhood

Sheriff's deputies knocked on doors and distributed fliers in a Bay Point neighborhood Wednesday afternoon to inform residents and business owners that a violent sexual predator will soon be their neighbor.

Charles Christman, 69, who was convicted for assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer and on several charges of sex crimes against children, is set to be released from a state mental hospital on or by March 12, Contra Costa County sheriff's spokesman Jimmy Lee said.

The former Contra Costa resident has been ordered by a state judge to move into a home at 1975 Willow Pass Road in Bay Point upon his release from Coalinga State Hospital.

Lee said the convict, whom the state has deemed a "sexually violent predator," will be wearing a GPS monitor that allows the sheriff's office to track his location at all times.

He is also required to register with the sheriff's office every 90 days and is listed on the California Megan's Law database.

Christman's new home puts him a quarter-mile from Willow Cove Elementary School and in the middle of a residential neighborhood populated by families with young children.

Many residents and workers in the area said they were hearing about the convict's impending move-in for the first time Wednesday.

"I don't think it's cool that he's living here -- especially since there's a school right there," said Lissette Muela, an assistant manager at Tower Market, located across the street from the property where Christman is expected to live.

One man who lives near the school was in his front yard with his young daughter Wednesday afternoon when a sheriff's deputy arrived and handed him a flier informing him that the sex offender would be moving in nearby.

The deputy also provided some phone numbers to call in the event of any issues with Christman.

For the father of two, who declined to give his name, the news is another reminder to keep his children close.

"I never let my kids out on the street, they're always with us," he said. "These days, you have to keep your eye on your kids all the time."

Christman was convicted for crimes committed in the 1960s, 70s and 80s and was imprisoned before being committed to the state mental hospital, Lee said.

Man Pleads Not Guilty to Fatal Shooting in Bayview District 

A man accused of a fatal shooting on a busy intersection in San Francisco's Bayview District on Monday morning pleaded not guilty Wednesday to murder charges.

Cameron Williams, 22, also known as Charles Wilson, is suspected of gunning down Dominic Scott, also 22, at 8:24 a.m. Monday at Third Street and Palou Avenue.

Williams fled after the shooting but was arrested shortly afterward a few blocks away at Quesada Avenue and Keith Street, police said.

He pleaded not guilty Wednesday afternoon to murder and firearm charges and was ordered held on $2 million bail.

He will return to court on March 21 to set a preliminary hearing.

Assistant District Attorney Andrew Clark said Williams has a lengthy criminal record, including previous convictions for grand theft, receiving stolen property and carrying a concealed firearm.

Clark said outside of court that prosecutors will likely also file gang enhancements to the charges at a later date.

Bay Area Weather 

Showers, isolated thunderstorms and a chance of hail are forecast for the Bay Area this morning.

Highs are expected to be in the mid 50s, with winds around 5 mph.

Mostly cloudy skies and a chance of rain is likely this evening.

Lows are likely to be in the mid 40s, with northwest winds up to 10 mph.

Partly cloudy skies with a slight chance of showers are likely Friday morning, becoming sunny later in the day.

Highs are expected to be in the mid 50s, with winds up to 30 mph.

 

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