San Francisco Bay Area Tuesday Midday News Roundup

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Officials Say Last Major Milestone Has Been Reached for Bay Bridge

Work on the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge has "reached its  last major milestone" and "we can smell the finish line," Metropolitan  Transportation Commission Executive Director Steve Heminger said today.   

At a news briefing at a Caltrans office in Oakland near the Bay  Bridge, Heminger said with the recent successful completion of a complex  process called a "load transfer," the new $6.3 billion span remains on  schedule to open on Labor Day weekend next year.

Heminger said the transfer was a three-month process in which  workers lifted 35,200-ton bridge decks from the temporary steel trestles where they were assembled onto the tower and main suspension cable that  cradle and support the self-anchored suspension span, a 2,047-foot section of  bridge east of Yerba Buena Island.    

The weight of the bridge is now supported by a single,  one-mile-long cable that acts like a sling, he said. "The design of the new eastern span is unusual because the cables of traditional suspension bridges are anchored into the ground on either end, Heminger said. 

"The new bridge is supporting itself and is functioning as a self-anchored suspension bridge so there's a pretty big collective sigh of relief by the engineers," Heminger said.

He described the remaining tasks to be completed before the new span opens next year as "meat and potatoes work" such as roadwork, striping of lanes and mechanical and electrical work.

In completing the new span, "We're unwrapping a gift for our region that will last 100 years or more," he said.

Caltrans spokesman Bart Ney said the self-anchored suspension span is the longest span of its kind in the world and is the signature element of the new eastern portion of the bridge.    


CalTrain Back on Schedule After Early Morning Fatality on Tracks 

Caltrain service was back on schedule this morning after a train fatally struck a man on the tracks in Palo Alto earlier today, an agency spokeswoman said.

Trains departing just after 9 a.m. from stations in San Jose and San Francisco were on time and regular service was expected to resume for the remainder of the day, Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn said.

At about 5:35 a.m., northbound train No. 103 struck and killed a man at the Charleston Avenue crossing, Dunn said. A preliminary investigation indicated that the incident was a suicide, Dunn said.

No injuries were reported among the 55 passengers aboard the train who were later transferred to another train at East Meadow Drive.

Trains were single-tracked through Palo Alto at around 10 mph until 8:40 a.m., causing system-wide delays of up to an hour and a half during the morning commute, Dunn said.

The Santa Clara County medical examiner's office was working to identify the victim and make a final determination regarding the cause of death, a deputy said.  

The fatality is the 11th on the Caltrain right of way so far in  2012, five of which have been determined to be suicides, Dunn said.  There were 16 Caltrain-related fatalities in 2011.   


Two Separate Water Mains Break in Redwood City 

Two separate water mains broke this morning in Redwood City, flooding two homes and damaging an intersection, a city water department supervisor said.

The first rupture was reported when an 8-inch water main broke beneath the intersection of Brewster Avenue and Warren Street at about 2:40 a.m., said Xavier Mercado, acting public works supervisor for water. Water flowed into the basements of two homes, which were evacuated, Mercado said.

Redwood City firefighters responded and pumped out the water and residents were able to return to their homes within a couple of hours, he said.

A second rupture on a different 8-inch pipeline was detected in a residential neighborhood near Allerton and Standish streets at about 6:15  a.m., Mercado said.

No property was damaged and no evacuations were necessary, he said.

The intersection of Brewster Avenue and Warren Street remained closed as of 10 a.m. while public works crews made repairs to the pipe and to a portion of roadway that was damaged, Mercado said.    

The intersection was expected to reopen this afternoon.  

Water service to the area was slowed but not cut off, Mercado said. Full service was expected to be restored later today. A preliminary investigation indicated that the two ruptures, located about five blocks apart, did not appear to be related, Mercado said. Small earthquakes and changes in weather can often cause the soil around pipes to shift or become unstable, he said.    


Water Main Break Shuts Down Sevice to 25 San Jose Customers

A water main break this morning in East San Jose has shut down service to more than two dozen customers, a San Jose Water Company spokesman  said.

The 12-inch pipe burst around 8:10 a.m. on Story Road at Lyndale Avenue, spokesman John Tang said. Service was shut off, affecting 25 residents on Story Road between Lyndale Avenue and Stonehedge Way, according to a San Jose Water customer service representative.

Water service is expected to be restored by late this afternoon.

"We expect minimal impact," Tang said. "We are not seeing any damage from any flooding."

There is water in the area and crews are working quickly to repair the leak, he said. A woman answering the phone at the San Jose Foothill Family Community Clinic, located at 2880 Story Road, said around 9 a.m. that the water was spewing from the middle of the road near the Safeway on Story Road. 

She said she hadn't seen any flooding and that it's "not to the  point where it's scary."

The water main break is one of a handful throughout the city  today. A water company customer service representative said four other smaller breaks were also reported this morning, including at Woodhaven and Dale drives and Alum Rock Avenue and Edgemont Drive.     


6-inch Water Main in Pittsburgh Breaks Overnight

A water main broke in Pittsburg overnight, affecting service to more than a dozen homes, city officials said this morning. The 6-inch, cast-iron pipe broke around midnight on West 11th Street between York and Cutter streets, said Walter Pease, the city's director of water utilities. About 15 homes lost water service but were expected to be back in service by shortly after 9 a.m. once repairs to the pipe were completed, Pease said. No houses were damaged by flooding from the main break, which caused a hole about 3 feet deep in the roadway, according to Pease.    


Body Found in SF Bay was Pinole Man

The Marin County coroner's office has identified the body of a man found Sunday in San Francisco Bay as 24-year-old Salamon Mujadiddi of Pinole.

The U.S. Coast Guard recovered the body around 8 a.m. near Fort Baker. There was no identification on the body and no match to missing persons reports. A family member confirmed Mujadiddi was found Sunday but did not want to comment this morning on his death.    


San Jose Pastor Steps Down after Sex Offender Volunteers at Parish Festival

The Catholic Diocese of San Jose announced Monday that the pastor who allowed a registered sex offender to volunteer at an elementary school festival last month has stepped down from his position at St. Frances Cabrini Parish.

The Rev. Lieu Vu resigned from his position as pastor at the school and parish on Monday, according to the diocese.  The diocese also released a copy of a November 2010 letter that allowed convicted sex offender Mark Gurries to attend and volunteer at a festival on Oct. 6 at the school and parish at 15325 Woodard Road in an unincorporated area of Santa Clara County near San Jose.

The letter confirms that the Diocese of San Jose knew Gurries' legal status as a sex offender and allowed him to volunteer at the parish and in school activities as long as they did not involve regular, unsupervised contact with children, youth or vulnerable adults. State law only allows a registered sex offender onto school property around children if he or she can produce written permission from a  school administrator, according to the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office.

The diocese said in a statement that the letter was prepared by the Personnel Department of the Diocese of San Jose but was not authorized or approved by Bishop Patrick McGrath or his Vicars General. The author of the letter was redacted by the diocese.

Over the weekend, McGrath wrote a letter apologizing to parents and community members for the diocese allowing Gurries to volunteer at the festival.    

"Our policy is clear: no one who has been found guilty of sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult can be hired as an employee or allowed to volunteer in any activity that involves children, young people, or vulnerable adults," McGrath wrote. "I am deeply troubled and I apologize to you that this policy was not followed," he wrote.  

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) issued a statement today from the organization's outreach director Barbara Dorris  expressing relief about Vu's resignation but saying questions still remain. Vu "needlessly and deliberately put kids in harm's way," Dorris said. Noting that the letter allowing him to go on school property was written in 2010, she said "it is frightening to think of how many times that  letter could have been used to gain access to kids."

Dorris called on McGrath to clarify the original purpose of the letter and to disclose and denounce the church employee who wrote it.

"It's time for him to punish those who endanger kids, not just vaguely apologize for some alleged bureaucratic snafu," she said. Following Vu's resignation, McGrath appointed Reverend Monsignor  J. Patrick Browne as Administrator Pro Tempore of St. Frances Cabrini Parish, according to the diocese. Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith will be at the school on Nov. 27 from 2 to 6 p.m. to meet with parents and respond to their concerns, McGrath said.    


Stockton Man Pleads Guilty to 6 Bank Robberies

A 22-year-old Stockton man has pleaded guilty in federal court in Oakland to carrying out six bank robberies in the East Bay and Stockton in February and March. 

Jeremy Morton entered the plea at a hearing before U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken on Monday.

Morton will be sentenced by Wilken on Feb. 4 for the six counts of bank robbery. Each count carries a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison. U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said Morton admitted taking a total of $25,911 from the six banks. The amounts lost by each bank ranged from $800 to $9,037.

The sites robbed were a Bank of the West branch in Concord on Feb. 16; two Bank of the West outlets in Stockton on Feb. 24 and March 6; a Bank of the West branch in Oakland on March 12; a Citibank in San Leandro on March 24; and a Chase Bank branch in Livermore on March 26.

An affidavit filed in the case in April by FBI Special Agent Matthew Ernst said Morton was identified after the FBI circulated bank surveillance photos from the Concord heist among local law enforcement agencies.

Two state parole agents recognized Morton as a person who was on parole from a previous bank robbery conviction in Stockton, Ernst said in the affidavit. Morton had a distinctive tattoo with cursive writing on the side of his neck, the agent said.

Ernst wrote that in the Concord robbery, a teller reported that a man with a tattoo on his neck approached her and said in a low, deep voice, "I want $5,000." The man also placed a piece of paper on the counter containing the numbers $5,000 and said, "Hurry up." The teller was afraid for her safety and gave the man the $2,054  in her teller drawer. The robber was seen shortly afterwards getting into a car parked along the shoulder of Interstate Highway 680 nearby, according to  the affidavit. 


Police Say House Cleaner Stole From at Least Two Palo Alto Homes

A house cleaner was arrested this weekend for stealing jewelry from at least two Palo Alto homes where she worked and investigators say they suspect she may have stolen from others throughout the Peninsula, police said.

Police arrested Martha Quintero-Ramirez, 36, in Redwood City on Saturday on suspicion of burglary after catching her with stolen items from Palo Alto homes she cleaned, police said.

The investigation began when police responded to a home in the 700 block of Bryant Street after receiving reports of a burglary just after 8:40  a.m. Saturday.

The victim told police the theft occurred the previous morning when the home had been cleaned by two house cleaners, including a 20-year employee of the homeowner and a relatively newer employee, Quintero-Ramirez, who had been cleaning the home for less than two years. The victim also said a next-door neighbor's home had been cleaned by the same pair. The victim told police that after the home had been cleaned, she noticed that money hidden in her closet was missing, along with six pieces of jewelry and two bottles of prescription medications.

The victim called the neighbor, who checked and noticed that a wedding ring and antique watch were missing from their home. The two victims then contacted another Palo Alto resident who  employed the same house cleaners to alert them.  

That person reported that antique coins and jewelry had gone missing from their home within the past two months. 

Police said that their investigation led them to believe that Quintero-Ramirez was acting alone and that her partner had not known about the thefts or stolen anything herself. When police contacted Quintero-Ramirez on Saturday, they found a wedding ring from the second victim's home and a bracelet from the third victim's home, along with several other items of jewelry.

Quintero-Ramirez was booked into Santa Clara County Jail on suspicion of two felony counts of residential burglary.    

Police say that Quintero-Ramirez also cleaned homes in Mountain View, Los Altos, San Carlos, San Mateo and Redwood City and that she may have  been stealing from employers for more than a year. Police said that anyone who employed Quintero-Ramirez is encouraged to contact their local police department.    


PG&E Offers $10K Reward for Info in Employee's Kidnapping

PG&E is offering a reward for information that will help police track down two men who kidnapped a company contract worker in a Walnut Creek parking lot earlier this month, police and utility officials announced today.  

A $10,000 reward is available from PG&E for information about the two men who remain outstanding after abducting a 57-year-old woman around 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 7 as she was leaving work at the Shadelands Business Park, PG&E officials said.    

The woman was walking to her car in the business center's empty parking lot when the two men ran up to her and forced her into her own car before tying her up and blindfolding her, police said.

The suspects drove the woman to various locations to withdraw money from ATMs before they abandoned her in an isolated area in the Oakland Hills, according to police. 

The suspects got away in a smaller, older dark-colored pickup truck, possibly a Toyota, with a loud muffler, police said.

The woman freed herself and called 911. Oakland police responded and sought medical attention for the woman. Walnut Creek police then took over the investigation.  

Last week, police released photographs of one of the suspects captured at a drive-by bank ATM the day of the kidnapping.

Police said the man in the photos went by the name "Aubrey." The second suspect, whose photo was not released, went by the name "David."

Police emphasized that investigators do not know if these are the suspects' actual names.

The men were described as two white men in their early 20s. The first man, or "Aubrey," is about 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighs about 185 pounds with broad shoulders and short dark hair. He was last seen wearing a light colored T-shirt under a black zip-up collared shirt and jeans.

The other suspect, "David," was about 5 feet 9 inches tall with a slight build weighing about 150 pounds. He was last seen wearing a mask, a black hooded sweatshirt and jeans, police said. 

Anyone with information about the kidnapping is asked to call the Walnut Creek Police Department's investigations unit at (925) 943-5868 or (925) 943-5844.   


Salinas Pair Arrested Trying to Move Weapons Out of Home After Robbery

Two men were arrested Saturday after their house was robbed at gunpoint and they were caught by officers loading firearms into a car, police said.

The robbery was reported at about 3:40 p.m. Saturday in the 300 block of Williams Road, where two suspects armed with handguns entered the home and robbed six occupants of cash and property before fleeing the scene.

The suspects are still at large, according to police. Two men who also live at the home, Miguel Beltran, 26, and William Hernandez, 19, arrived after the robbery and witnesses started calling police  to report that the two men were loading firearms into a white car. Once officers reached the scene, they detained Beltran and Hernandez after seeing them walk away from the white vehicle.

When police looked into the car, they spied a rifle in plain view. During a search inside, they found a .30-caliber M1 carbine rifle, a 9mm pistol with a 30-round clip, multiple rounds of ammunition and a  military-grade flak jacket. 

Officers also recovered a pound of marijuana from inside the car, police said. Beltran and Hernandez were apparently trying to transport the guns and drugs to another location before they were arrested, police said.

They were booked into Monterey County Jail on suspicion of felony weapons and drugs charges.    


Masked Men Fire, Shot, While Trying to Rob SF Market

The Monterey County Sheriff's Office is looking for two masked gunmen who held up a Chualar market on Monday evening.

Deputies said the men entered the Amigo Market and Laundry at 24415 Grant St. around 6:15 p.m. wearing black clothes, ski masks and carrying handguns, according to the sheriff's office.    

The men told customers and employees to lie down and demanded money, but store employees were frightened and ran out from behind the counter, sheriff's officials said.   

The men then fled without having taken any money, though one suspect did fire his gun, striking a display shelf, according to the  sheriff's office. No one was injured in the incident.  

Sheriff's officials said the suspects are described as Hispanic men who are about 5 feet 5 inches tall and 5 feet 11 inches tall, respectively.



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