Friday Morning News Roundup
Police Fatally Shoot Carjacking Suspect In Financial District
San Francisco police fatally shot a carjacking suspect Thursday morning who opened fire at Good Samaritans trying to assist him when he crashed a stolen SUV early Thursday.
At about 4:55 a.m., a female victim in Richmond reported having her white Cadillac Escalade stolen by a male suspect, according to San Francisco police Sgt. Monica MacDonald.
The suspect got into the SUV and drove onto Interstate Highway 580 across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and then proceeded onto southbound U.S. Highway 101.
California Highway Patrol officers pursued the vehicle as it crossed the Golden Gate Bridge.
San Francisco police took over the pursuit with the assistance of the CHP once the driver entered the city. However, police lost sight of the SUV near Bush and Taylor streets in the city’s Financial District.
At about 5:55 a.m., 911 calls came in reporting that the white Escalade had overturned near the intersection of California and Battery streets and that two other vehicles were involved in the crash, police said.
MacDonald said several Good Samaritans tried to assist the male driver but he then began firing at them as he apparently tried to get out of the car.
The sergeant said one of the citizens who had tried to help the driver was struck in the chest by a fragment from either debris or a bullet.
The Good Samaritan’s injuries are not considered life threatening.
Police and emergency crews arrived at the scene and requested a less lethal, bean bag-type of weapon and ordered the suspect to put down his gun.
But before the officers could get the bean-bag weapon, the suspect turned his weapon on the officers.
Fearing for their lives and the lives of the public, several officers fired at the suspect, who was pronounced dead at the scene, MacDonald said.
MacDonald said the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, the city’s Office of Citizens Complaints, the SFPD homicide unit and its internal affairs unit are investigating the incident.
Judge Denies Bail For Man Accused Of Murdering His Wife
A judge on Thursday denied a bail motion for a locksmith who’s charged with murdering his wife at their home in Oakland’s Montclair district in July, saying there are questions about the man’s truthfulness and trustworthiness.
In refusing to set bail for Joseph Bontempo, 54, who’s charged in the death of Laurie Wolfe, his wife, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Paul Delucchi said, “We’ve got ourselves some real issues” about Bontempo’s veracity because there are indications that he cleaned up the crime scene and didn’t tell the truth about how Wolfe died.
Wolfe was found dead at the couple’s home in the 6700 block of Saroni Drive shortly after 6:30 p.m. on July 6.
Oakland police said Bontempo called them at that time to report that his wife had died after slipping on the stairs of their home.
However, police officers thought there were suspicious circumstances about Wolfe’s death and Bontempo was charged with murder on Aug. 12 after a pathologist said an autopsy showed that Wolfe died from blunt force trauma that wasn’t consistent with a fall.
Bontempo and Wolfe were partners for 20 years and were married for the past 12 years, according to Ed Swanson, one of Bontempo’s lawyers.
August Gugelmann, another attorney for Bontempo, said that bail should be set for Bontempo because he has strong ties to the Oakland community and he doesn’t have a record of violence.
Gugelmann presented character evidence from about 12 of Bontempo’s family members and friends, including his ex-wife, Heather Bontempo, who testified that Bontempo “always had a very good heart” and wouldn’t be a flight risk because “he loves this community.”
But prosecutor Sharon Carney said Bontempo shouldn’t get bail because Wolfe was killed in “a vicious attack,” as the evidence indicates that she suffered lacerations to the back of her head and bruises to her back that are inconsistent with his claim that she died by falling down the stairs.
Carney said she also thinks Bontempo is a flight risk because it’s unclear where he was during the five-week period between the time that Wolfe died and the time he was arrested and charged and he also bought a cellphone that couldn’t be traced by police.
Bontempo is scheduled to return to court on Oct. 6 to set a date for his preliminary hearing, which will determine if there’s enough evidence for him to be ordered to stand trial. The attorneys in the case said that hearing probably will be held in November or December.
Officials Urge Removal Of Eucalyptus From Berkeley, Oakland Hills
Shady eucalyptus trees growing in the East Bay hills could pose a serious fire danger and 12 area elected officials are advocating for federal funding to remove them.
A letter signed by the 12 politicians was delivered to the Federal Emergency Management Agency seeking funding to remove the trees from Claremont Canyon, an undeveloped area between Strawberry Canyon and state Highway 24 that straddles the University of California at Berkeley campus and the Oakland Hills.
The Claremont Canyon Conservancy distributed the letter and announced Wednesday it had been endorsed by Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, state Sen. Loni Hancock, state Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, Berkeley City Councilmembers Jesse Arreguin, Laurie Capitelli, Susan Wengraf and Gordon Wozniak and Oakland City Councilmembers Dan Kalb, Rebecca Kaplan, Larry Reid and Libby Schaff.
UC Berkeley, the East Bay Regional Park District and the city of Oakland have been seeking up to $5.6 million in federal funding to remove the trees in Claremont Canyon and elsewhere since 2005, FEMA officials said. The agency released a draft Environmental Impact Report on the project last year and is expected to release a final version soon.
The eucalyptus trees are an invasive species, planted in the late 19th and early 20th century by two Oakland businessmen as a source of lumber, according to the conservancy. But the trees proved unsuitable for lumber and have spread throughout the hills unabated.
The leaves and bark drape across one tree to another creating a canopy that can spread flames quickly. The trees also drop more dry material than other trees and the oily wood ignites easily, proponents of the plan argue.
The presence of eucalyptus has been cited as one reason that a massively destructive fire spread through the Oakland hills in 1991, killing 25 people, injuring 52 others, and destroying 3,354 houses and 456 apartments.
To remove them, the trees must be cut down and the stumps treated with pesticides immediately as they can sprout back quickly.
During public comment sessions last year, the plan proved controversial, with some advocating against cutting down any trees and objecting to the use of pesticides on the cut stumps.
Proponents argue that removing the eucalyptus will allow other native tree species such as oak and willow to repopulate the areas now dominated by eucalyptus. In fact, they say, some oak sprouts can be found under eucalyptus groves unable to thrive under their shade.
Corte Madera Doctor Pleads Not Guity To Road Rage Shooting In July
A Corte Madera man pleaded not guilty Thursday in Marin County Superior Court to felony charges in connection with a road rage shooting in July.
James Stephen Simon, 71, a physician with a practice in Novato, is charged with the attempted voluntary manslaughter of William Osenton, 69, of Tiburon and assault with a firearm, a .357-caliber pistol.
The complaint includes enhancements of use of a deadly weapon and inflicting great bodily injury.
Marin County District Attorney Ed Berberian said Simon faces a maximum prison term of 18 years if convicted of all charges and enhancements.
Simon posted $250,000 cash bail in court, his attorney Charles Dresow said.
The complaint alleges Simon shot Osenton twice in the torso “upon a sudden quarrel and heat of passion under the honest but unreasonable belief in the need to use deadly force.”
The shooting happened in the front driveway of Simon’s home in the 5000 block of Paradise Drive in Corte Madera on July 17 after a road rage incident.
The Central Marin Police Authority Police said both men were driving recklessly — braking and speeding up, for a mile or two on Paradise Drive. One of the men felt the other cut him off, Chief Todd Cusimano said.
Police said Simon drove into his garage and Osenton tried to drive in behind him, but Simon closed the garage door onto the hood of Osenton’s vehicle.
Dresow said Simon fired three shots, two striking the alleged victim.
“This is a clear case of self-defense,” Dresow said.
Simon gives physical exams to pilots who fly out of Gnoss Field in Novato, Dresow said.
The next court hearing is Oct. 15 regarding an order for Simon to stay away from the victim, Berberian said.
“I don’t anticipate a settlement. I think he will maintain a self-defense posture. I see this going to trial,” Berberian said.
Former Top Federal Executive Charged With Fraudulent Travel Claims
A former high-ranking federal executive who organized a notoriously lavish western conference in 2010 was indicted by a U.S. grand jury in San Francisco on Friday on charges of submitting fraudulent business-travel claims.
Jeffrey Neely, 59, of Gardnerville, Nev., was formerly buildings service commissioner and acting regional administrator for the U.S. General Services Administration’s Pacific Rim Region.
The GSA manages buildings and services for federal agencies. Its Pacific Rim division, also known as Region 9, is based in San Francisco and includes California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii and Pacific territories.
In October 2010, Neely organized an $823,000, four-day conference at the M Resort Spa Casino in Las Vegas for 300 employees of Region 9 and three other GSA regions in the western half of the United States.
The conference’s costs included commemorative coins, a $30,000 talent-show awards dinner, $44 breakfasts, semi-private parties, spacious suites for some officials, souvenir yearbooks for participants and $130,000 for eight pre-conference trips, including six to the M Resort, taken by GSA officials to plan the event.
An April 2012 report by GSA’s inspector general said the spending was “excessive and wasteful” and in some instances in violation of the agency’s own rules. It said Neely had instructed planners to make the event “‘over the top,’ bigger and better than previous conferences.”
The scandal led to a congressional hearing and the resignation of the GSA’s national administrator, Martha Johnson, and firing of two top deputies. Neely was put on administrative leave after the report was issued on April 2, 2012, and resigned the following month.
Neely was charged with three counts of making fraudulent claims for travel reimbursement and two counts of submitting false documents in connection with claims.
He is due to make an initial appearance on the charges before U.S. Magistrate Elizabeth Laporte in San Francisco on Oct. 20.
Each count carries a potential maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if Neely is convicted.
The allegedly fraudulent claims were for a night at the M Resort on March 11, 2010, at the time of one of the purported planning trips; for lodging in Cambria in San Luis Obispo County on June 25, 2010; and for roundtrip airfare between Guam and Saipan in February 2012.
The alleged false statements were given in documents Neely submitted to justify a business trip to Long Beach on June 25, 2010, and an extension of his stay in Las Vegas at the time of the conference in October 2010.
The indictment alleges Neely knew the claims and statements were “false, fictitious and fraudulent.”
DA’s Office Expresses Concerns Over Safety Of Carpooling Apps
The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office has sent letters to transportation network companies Lyft, Uber and Sidecar threatening legal action, officials said Thursday.
Among other issues, the letters targeted the companies’ new carpooling features, which match drivers with passengers traveling in similar directions across the city.
The move echoes a declaration by the California Public Utilities Commission earlier this month that the instant carpooling products are illegal.
“We value innovation and new modes of providing service to the public; however we need to make sure that the safety and well-being of consumers are adequately protected in the process,” District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement this afternoon.
Sunil Paul, the chief executive officer of the ride-sharing company Sidecar, received one of the letters from Gascón and took to the Sidecar website to urge users to fight back.
Paul urged users of all ridesharing companies to sign a petition on Change.org asking the California Public Utilities Commission and the state’s district attorney’s offices “to end their campaign to stop Sidecar Shared Rides, UberPool, and Lyft Line in California.”
Paul call the regulators “overzealous” and said that they are “acting under pressure from big taxi companies.”
Paul said shared rides are “safe and very affordable, cut down on traffic congestion and reduce pollution.”
Registered Sex Offender With Warrant Arrested After Masturbating On Bart
A registered sex offender was arrested earlier this week after allegedly masturbating in front of other passengers aboard a BART train near Walnut Creek, according to BART police.
A BART rider called police around 11:15 a.m. Monday and reported that a rider on a Pittsburg-bound train was masturbating, according to BART police Lt. Mike Hayes.
BART police stopped the train at the Walnut Creek station and the victim pointed out the suspect, whose name is not being released.
After detaining the man, officers determined that he had a warrant for his arrest for a parole violation and is a registered sex offender with a prior conviction for indecent exposure, Hayes said.
The man was arrested on the warrant and on suspicion of indecent exposure and was taken to county jail in Martinez.
High School Coach Arrested On Suspicion Of Lewd Act With Teen
A coach and school security officer was arrested this week on suspicion of a lewd act with a 15-year-old girl in South San Francisco in July, police said.
Mark Avery Turner, 38, was arrested Tuesday night after investigators corroborated statements made by the girl about the incident, according to police.
Turner has been employed for several years as a football coach and campus security officer at El Camino High School in South San Francisco, although the July incident did not occur during any school-sponsored event, police said.
Turner had also been coaching girls’ club basketball for several years in the Bay Area, police said.
South San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Alejandro Hogan issued a statement saying that Turner will not be returning as an employee of the district regardless of the outcome of the case.
“The emotional and physical safety of our students is the highest priority of our Board of Trustees and administration,” Hogan said. “The district is fully cooperating with the South San Francisco Police Department’s continuing investigation into this matter.”
Man Accidentally Shot In Foot By Friend Leads To Four Arrests In Home Invasion
A Scotts Valley man who went to a hospital with a gunshot wound to his foot last Friday was arrested after the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office learned his alleged accomplice in a robbery accidentally shot him, deputies said.
Santa Cruz sheriff’s deputies were dispatched last Friday to Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz on a report of a person there with a gunshot injury, according to sheriff’s Sgt. Kelly Kent.
Erik Vlach, 24, explained to deputies he received the wound to his foot from an unknown assailant but soon conceded that a friend, 19-year-old Jeremy Spencer, of Capitola, mistakenly shot him, Kent reported.
Sheriff’s detectives then tied Vlach and Spencer to a home invasion robbery in the 1500 block of 30th Avenue in the unincorporated county area of Live Oak that happened near the time of the shooting, deputies said.
The two men allegedly entered the home armed with handguns and wearing black t-shirts covering their faces and stole cash, marijuana, electronics and a rifle before fleeing, Kent said.
Deputies arrested Vlach and Spencer on suspicion of robbery, conspiracy, and burglary and Spencer also on assault with a deadly weapon, felon in possession of a firearm and negligent discharge of a firearm, deputies said.
They were booked into the county jail, where the bail for each was set at $100,000, according to Kent.
After an investigation, detectives found the property stolen from the home inside a nearby residence on the same block of 30th Avenue in Live Oak, where they arrested 19-year-old Brandon Husted on suspicion of possession of stolen property, conspiracy and a probation violation, deputies said.
Husted was booked into the county jail with a bail amount of $10,000.
A fourth suspect, 19-year-old Esteban Sanchez, of Live Oak, was also arrested on suspicion of possessing stolen property but was released on his own recognizance at the scene, Kent said.
Ex-Wife Of Former Police Official Sentenced In Identity Theft Scheme
The ex-wife of a Pacific Grove police commander was sentenced this week to prison for her part in criminal identity thefts she and her former husband committed while he was on the police force, according to the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office.
Judge Julie Culver sentenced Kristin Nyunt in Superior Court in Salinas to eight years and four months in prison, but Nyunt will be released after three years and eight months and serve the rest of the time under mandatory supervision, Deputy District Attorney Steve Somers said Wednesday.
Nyunt pleaded guilty in July of one count of residential burglary, two counts of forgery, five counts of identity theft and two counts of computer network fraud in a scheme involving her former husband and one-time veteran police officer John Nyunt, Somers said.
During its investigation of the case, the district attorney’s office reviewed tens of thousands of emails, text messages and financial documents and with the FBI interviewed dozens of witnesses and identity theft victims, Somers said.
According to prosecutors, while John Nyunt served as commander of the Pacific Grove Police Department, Kristen Nyunt obtained from her husband access to secure police email and online databases that she used to acquire people’s Social Security numbers, bank account numbers and other personal information to commit dozens of identity thefts.
The couple also started an unlicensed private investigation business and clients who hired them later became victims of identity thefts that John Nyunt covered up in his position as police commander, Somers reported.
At one point, John Nyunt threatened to harm Kristin Nyunt to prevent her from revealing their scheme, according to the district attorney’s office.
On April 24, John Nyunt pleaded guilty in Superior Court to one count of dissuading a person from reporting a crime by threats of violence, one count of being an accessory after the fact to theft and burglary and one count of being an accomplice to the burglary of a business, all felonies, prosecutors said.
He was sentenced to three years in state prison, according to the district attorney’s office.
Also on April 24, John Nyunt was charged in U.S. District Court in San Jose with one count of extortion and one count of wire fraud and he pleaded guilty to both charges on May 13, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In a plea bargain, John Nyunt agreed to be sentenced to two years in federal prison to run concurrently with his state court sentence, federal officials said.
Firefighter Injured After Ceiling Collapsed On Him During Apartment Fire
A San Jose firefighter was treated at a hospital and released Wednesday after a ceiling collapsed on him during a fire at an apartment building near San Jose City College, a department spokesman said.
City firefighters were dispatched at 2:35 p.m. Wednesday to a blaze at an apartment triplex in the 700 block of Concord Avenue at Moorpark Avenue, fire Capt. Mike Van Elgort said.
The fire had started inside a shed in the rear of the triplex, spread to a single-story unit in the back and later to a two-unit, two-story structure, Van Elgort said.
Fire crews discovered that power lines had fallen in the back of the complex and a power pole was on fire, so they ordered people evacuated from a couple of nearby homes as a precaution, he said.
A firefighter was injured when the ceiling of the burning two-story building fell on him. He was transported to a hospital where he was assessed, treated and released, Van Elgort said.
Fire crews knocked down the blaze at 4 p.m. but remained until 5 p.m. until the utility lines were reattached and power to them was restored, according to Van Elgort.
The cause of fire remains under investigation, he said.
Coast Guard Rescues Jet Ski Riders, Surfer On Wednesday
U.S. Coast Guard crews rescued two men on a disabled Jet Ski near Bodega Bay and a surfer at Ocean Beach in San Francisco on Wednesday.
Coast Guard Bodega Bay received a report around 4:05 p.m. Wednesday about two men drifting toward the surf zone on a disabled Jet Ski off of Mussel Point north of Bodega Bay.
The Coast Guard launched a 47-foot motor lifeboat from Bodega Bay and a rescue helicopter from Station San Francisco. The Sonoma County sheriff’s helicopter Henry-1 also responded to the rescue.
The lifeboat crew towed the Jet Ski and two men out of the surf zone, where 16- and 17-foot waves were crashing 300 feet from shore, Coast Guard officials said. Neither man was injured.
Coast Guard crews also responded with two motor lifeboat crews when a 24-year-old male surfer at Ocean Beach was reported missing by friends.
The surfer in a black wetsuit was spotted on top of Seal Rock, paddled toward one of the lifeboats and was taken aboard, according to the Coast Guard.
He was taken to Fort Baker, where Southern Marin Fire Protection District crews determined he suffered a broken finger and hypothermia and took him to California Pacific Medical Center, according to the Coast Guard.
The current weather system in the Bay Area has caused large swells, breaking surf and increased rip currents, Coast Guard officials said.