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Swastika Is Spray-Painted On Donald Trump’s Hollywood Walk Of Fame Star

By Veronica Rocha, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has been a polarizing figure in American politics, drawing both cheers and outrage for his comments about immigrants, Muslims and prisoners of war — among other topics.

For all the controversy, however, his polished star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame has remained largely unscathed.

Or at least that was the case until Friday, when someone spray-painted a black swastika in the center of Trump’s star. A photograph of the spray-painted star appeared on Reddit over the weekend.

The symbol didn’t stay on too long. Soon after the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce discovered the vandalism, it cleaned the star, said Leron Gubler, the chamber’s president and chief executive officer.

“The Hollywood Walk of Fame is an institution celebrating the positive contributions of the inductees,” Gubler said in a statement. “When people are unhappy with one of our honorees, we would hope that they would project their anger in more positive ways then (sic) to vandalize a California state landmark.”

Police reported the vandalism to the chamber Friday. Police have maintained a presence along the Walk of Fame and are overseeing the area, according to the chamber.

©2016 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Donald Trump star Hollywood Walk of Fame. Neelix via Wikimedia Commons

 

2nd Person Contracts Plague After Visiting Yosemite National Park

By Veronica Rocha, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

The California Department of Public Health is investigating a second case of plague likely contracted by a Georgia native on a recent visit to Yosemite National Park.

Tests are underway to confirm the person contracted the disease while vacationing in early August at the park, the Sierra National Forest and surrounding area.

The health department has contacted the park, the National Forest Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to examine areas where the person visited.

“The California Department of Public Health and Yosemite National Park were very proactive in their campaign to educate visitors about plague,” state Health Director Dr. Karen Smith said in a statement. “Warnings issued in California regarding plague were useful all the way across the country in Georgia. Those warnings helped the patient get the prompt medical attention necessary to recover from this illness.”

The latest case of plague comes nearly two weeks after health officials announced a child had contracted it while visiting the park with family in mid-July.

Health officials have closed two park campgrounds after evidence of the plague was found, and visitors are being notified.

The child, who lives in Los Angeles County, was camping with family at the Crane Flat Campground, where health officials found the plague in a California ground squirrel and in fleas. The campground was closed for four days and reopened Friday.

Several other squirrels and chipmunks were trapped and combed for fleas during an environmental survey of the campground. The fleas tested positive for plague.

The Tuolumne Meadows Campground closed at noon Monday after the plague was discovered in two dead golden-mantled ground squirrels. The campground is scheduled to reopen at noon Friday.

Rodent burrows at the campgrounds were dusted with a flea insecticide to kill any remnants of plague.

The risk that a human will contract the disease is low, health officials said. The infectious bacterial disease is carried by chipmunks, squirrels and other wild rodents and their fleas. After an infected rodent becomes sick and dies, its fleas carry the infection to people and other animals.

Symptoms of plague may include high fever, chills, nausea, weakness and swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpit or groin. If left untreated, it can be fatal.

In California, there have been 42 human cases of plague since 1970. Nine were fatal.

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Image: Direct florescent antibody image of yersinia pestis, the causative agent of bubonic plague, aka the black death. Photo courtesy Larry Stauffer, Oregon State Public Health Laboratory.

Bill Cosby Ordered To Give Deposition In Los Angeles Sex Abuse Lawsuit

By Veronica Rocha, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

A Los Angeles judge has ordered comedian Bill Cosby to give a deposition in a lawsuit by a woman who says she was molested as a 15-year-old at the Playboy Mansion in the 1970s.

LA County Superior Court Judge Craig D. Karlan ruled Wednesday that Cosby, 77, must be interviewed under oath Oct. 9 as part of a civil suit filed by Judy Huth. Huth will be deposed Oct. 15.

“We are pleased that we will now be able to move ahead without further delay on Ms. Huth’s case, and we look forward to taking Mr. Cosby’s deposition on Oct. 9, 2015,” Huth’s attorney, Gloria Allred, said in a statement.

The decision comes after a Pennsylvania judge last month released a 2005 deposition stemming from a sexual abuse case against Cosby. He said in the deposition that he obtained Quaaludes with the intent of giving them to women he wanted to have sex with and that he gave them to at least one woman.

The deposition was part of a 2005 and 2006 lawsuit filed by Andrea Constand, a former Temple University employee who alleges Cosby drugged and inappropriately touched her.
More than 45 women have accused “The Cosby Show” star of sexual misconduct dating back to the late 1960s.

Huth said she and a 16-year-old friend met the comedian at a San Marino park in 1974. Later, she said, Cosby gave her alcohol and led her to the Playboy Mansion, where the alleged attack occurred.

Huth says she suffered “psychological injuries and illnesses.”

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office declined to file charges against Cosby in December because the 40-year-old case exceeded the statute of limitations. “Therefore, prosecution today for any potential felony sex crime from 1974 would also be barred,” the D.A. said in a court document.

Photo: Actor Bill Cosby speaks at the National Action Network’s 20th annual Keepers of the Dream Awards gala in New York, in this file photo taken April 6, 2011. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Millions Of Trees Are Dying Because Of California Drought

By Veronica Rocha, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — At least 12 million trees have died in California’s national forests because of four years of extreme drought, scientists say.

An aerial survey of select areas in Southern California and the south Sierra Nevada in early April showed that millions of trees have died and were “most severely drought impacted,” said biologist Jeffrey Moore, acting regional aerial survey program manager for the U.S. Forest Service.

Officials believed the trees will continue to die as summer approaches.

“It is almost certain that millions more trees will die over the course of the upcoming summer as the drought situation continues and becomes ever more long term and as bark beetle populations continue to expand,” he said.

William Patzert, climatologist for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has told the Los Angeles Times that California’s dwindling snowpack and warmer temperatures pose an extreme fire danger in the state’s forests.

Warmer temperatures are rapidly drying out the state, he said. Traditionally by spring, the forest is green and lush due to a substantial rainy season. But four years of drought and warm temperatures have taken their toll.

“The national forest is stressed out,” Patzert said. “The absence of snowpack has endangered the national forest.”

Bark beetles are tiny brown insects that chew away at the pines, making them brittle. As the beetles invade forests, the trees suffer a quick death and become the perfect fuel for fire.

Stressed trees competing for limited resources also become more susceptible to the beetles, which best survive in diseased, injured and drought-stressed trees.

During the aerial survey, Moore and fellow researchers looked to detect and map the severity of tree damage in Southern California’s forests.

Using a digital aerial sketch-mapping system, researchers flew in a fixed-wing aircraft about 1,000 feet above ground level and surveyed more than 4.2 million acres of forest.

The areas monitored were the Cleveland, San Bernardino, Angeles, and Los Padres national forests. Some private lands and Pinnacles National Park in Central California were also surveyed.

About two million recently killed trees were mapped in Southern California during the survey, he said. Higher-elevation trees were not mapped because it’s too early to properly assess the damage, Moore added.

“The most heavily impacted area right now is the southern Sierras,” he said.

Pine trees, including the precedence, Ponderosa, jeffrey, coulter, and pinyon species, suffered the most death, Moore said. Pinyon, for instance, is most common in lower elevations and drier, harsher environments.

Fir and oak trees were also harmed from the drought.

But it’s not all bad news for the forests. The drought means more competition for water.

“In all but the worst areas, many trees will survive and with less competition for the limited supply of water, may well survive long term,” Moore said.

A more complete picture of the statewide tree mortality will begin in June and may not be completed until the fall, Moore said.

Photo: Cyndy Sims Parr via Flickr

Chance Of ‘Megadrought’ In U.S. Southwest Now 50 Percent, Study Concludes

By Veronica Rocha, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

The chance of a “megadrought” gripping the Southwest for more than 30 years has increased to 50 percent, scientists say, which means bad news for California’s already parched landscape.

The odds of a ten-year drought afflicting the southwestern U.S. have increased to 80 percent, according to a new study by Cornell University, the University of Arizona and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Whatever happens, California is likely to see prolonged drought and drier conditions, especially in the southern portion of the state, said Toby Ault, Cornell assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and lead author of the study, which will be published next month in the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate.

The current drought, he said, is a preview of what will “happen in the future in climate change.”

“I am not trying to say this is imminent,” he said, “but the risk is high.”

Nearly 82 percent of California is experiencing “extreme” drought — the fourth harshest on a five-level scale measured in a weekly U.S. Drought Monitor report. But roughly 58 percent of the state is facing worse, “exceptional” drought conditions.

Using climate model projections, researchers determined that prolonged drought would probably hit New Mexico and Arizona, as well as California. On the other hand, the chances for the same conditions affecting parts of Idaho, Washington and Montana may actually decrease.

Megadrought conditions may also strike Australia, southern Africa and the Amazon, the researchers said.

The risk for a decadelong drought like the 1930s Dust Bowl is even more alarming because researchers say such events occur “on average once or twice per century.”

According to researchers, the findings are important for governments to consider as they develop strategies for coping with the effects of climate change in densely populated areas where megadroughts — “worse than anything seen during the last 2,000 years” — would pose “unprecedented challenges” to water resources.

The severity of future droughts discussed in the report could also worsen as temperatures increase, which may be underestimated even with state-of-the-art global climate models, the scientists warned.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

2014 Warmest Year: California, World Set To Break Records

By Veronica Rocha, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

This year is on track to be the warmest year on record for California — and the entire planet — according to a new report. And in California, recent rainstorms didn’t make a dent in the drought.

Temperatures in California for the first 10 months of the year averaged 4.2 degrees above the state’s 20th century average, according to the report released Thursday by the National Climatic Data Center.

A new record for the warmest year in California history is a virtual certainty, the report said.

Average global temperatures for January through October, meanwhile, also surpassed records set in 1998 and 2010.

Meanwhile, California continues to struggle amid the drought.

Eric Luebehusen, a meterologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said in the latest U.S. Drought Map, released Thursday, that “the 2014-15 Water Year has afforded little — if any — drought relief to California.”

Rainfall in Central and Northern California over the last week fell short of normal rain totals, he said. The totals also “did nothing to offset the impacts of the ongoing three-year drought,” Luebehusen said.

As the water rain year began Oct. 1, California was off to an “abysmal start” with snowpack levels in the Sierra Nevada short of normal, he said.

In Southern California, Santa Ana winds have only intensified the region’s dry conditions.

Exceptional drought conditions — the most extreme classification — recently improved throughout California, experienced by 55.08 percent of the state compared with 58.41 percent previously, but rainfall totals continue to run below average.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Man Who Ordered ‘We Love ISIS’ Hat Arrested On Weapons Charges

By Veronica Rocha, Los Angeles Times (MCT)

Prosecutors have filed charges against a man they say ordered a “We Love ISIS” hat and proclaimed that “millions of Americans are going to die.”

David Diaz Sr., 54, of San Mateo, Calif., faces weapon charges after police and FBI investigators found two illegal assault rifles, a sawed-off shotgun, thousands of rounds of ammunition and high-capacity magazines inside his apartment, San Mateo District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said Thursday.

Diaz entered the Lids store in the Hillsdale Shopping Center in San Mateo and asked them to embroider “We Love ISIS” on a hat, Wagstaffe said.

The man allegedly asked the store clerk about her religious affiliation as well as personal information and then told her, “Millions of Americans are going to die because America can’t mind its … business.”

Prosecutors said Diaz told the clerk he was a member of Islamic State, also known as ISIS, and had beheaded 97 nuns.

She later alerted authorities, who said Diaz told them he wasn’t actually an ISIS member but a veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder

Diaz was held for a mental evaluation.

AFP Photo

Break In Weather Aids Fight Against Massive King Fire

By Veronica Rocha, Los Angeles Times

Firefighters battling the massive King fire in Northern California took advantage of favorable weather conditions this past weekend to make some progress against the blaze, with containment increasing to 17 percent overnight Sunday, officials reported.

However, shifting weather patterns early this week could generate winds similar to those that fanned the wildfire’s explosive growth last week, National Weather Service meteorologist Jason Clapp said.

The 82,000-acre fire, which has so far has destroyed at least ten homes and 22 other structures, has been burning largely out of control in the Eldorado National Forest for more than a week.

The fire, which started Sept. 13, is threatening an estimated 12,000 homes and 9,000 other “minor structures,” according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Nearly 3,000 people have been evacuated from the area.

High temperatures, low humidity and forests full of extremely dry trees — the result of serious drought conditions — have contributed to the fire’s severity, said Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff.

In the early stages, firefighters had trouble reaching the blaze, which began in a steep, rugged canyon of the South Fork of the American River just north of Pollock Pines.

The blaze quickly raced through the rugged canyon, consuming thirsty trees and brittle vegetation. Within hours, it turned into the second-largest wildfire in California so far this year, forcing the closure of California 50 as it moved north toward Tahoe National Forest.

A 37-year-old Pollock Pines, Calif., man suspected of setting the fire, Wayne Huntsman, was arrested in Placerville late Wednesday on suspicion of arson and is being held in lieu of $10-million bail.

Four firefighters have sustained minor injuries since the fire began, Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean said.

AFP Photo/Mike McMillan

Massive King Fire Sets Off Even Louder Alarms In California

By Veronica Rocha and Rosanna Xia, Los Angeles Times

In a summer of destructive blazes across Central and Northern California, the King fire — burning out of control in the forest east of Sacramento — has officials particularly alarmed.

The fire exploded in a matter of hours into the second-largest in California this year, forcing the closure of California 50 and moving north toward Tahoe National Forest.

The fire, believed to be arson, has produced a massive smoke plume the length of Colorado and is pushing embers across canyons, reservoirs and rivers, outracing the thousands of firefighters trying to control it.

The King fire is the latest in a series of major blazes to roar out of control in vegetation left tinder-dry by California’s three-year drought. On Monday, 150 structures were lost in the logging town of Weed, just west of Mount Shasta, when a wildfire swept through. A fire destroyed 30 homes a day earlier in Madera County.

“These times are unprecedented here in California with respect to fire behavior,” Unit Chief Mike Kaslin of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Thursday.

More than 4,000 firefighters have been assigned to battle the King fire. They have pumped more than 450,000 gallons of fire retardant from Sacramento, dropping 210,000 gallons Wednesday alone to battle the fast-moving blaze.

“We’re literally setting a world record with respect to retardant drops and use on this fire,” Kaslin said.

Extreme and erratic conditions forced a dozen firefighters to run for a safe zone, where they deployed their fire shelters to protect themselves from oncoming flames. All 12 were evacuated safely by helicopter, Kaslin said.

Authorities said they had arrested a Pollock Pines man suspected of setting the fire. Wayne Huntsman, 37, was arrested in Placerville and booked late Wednesday on suspicion of arson; he is being held in lieu of $10 million bail.

Officials did not elaborate on how they believe the fire was started, citing the ongoing investigation.

The fire, only 5 percent contained, grew overnight Wednesday from 27,930 to 71,000 acres across the Eldorado National Forest. More than 12,000 homes are under threat, and 3,000 people have been evacuated.

Officials said it was now costing $5 million a day to fight the fire.

Flames prompted the closure of over 8 miles of California 50, from Pollock Pines to Riverton, affecting travelers headed to Lake Tahoe from Sacramento. Some fire officials were concerned that the fire could reach as far north as Interstate 80, a major route from the San Francsico Bay Area to Nevada.

North Lake Tahoe fire officials said Thursday that there was no immediate threat to the Lake Tahoe Basin, but asked residents and visitors to have an evacuation plan.

In the early stages, firefighters had trouble reaching the blaze, which was burning in a steep, rugged canyon of the South Fork of the American River just north of Pollock Pines.

The blaze, which began Saturday, quickly raced through the rugged canyon, consuming thirsty trees and brittle vegetation that the drought had dried into kindle. Firefighters, hampered by darkness, changing wind directions and steep terrain, were unable to directly observe the blaze.

The drought has been drying out an area that was lush and unscorched for two decades — a possible reason the fire has been moving so rapidly, officials said. Flames are raging through parts of the Eldorado National Forest that haven’t seen a significant fire since the Cleveland fire in 1992, which burned about 22,500 acres.

With those conditions, the fire rapidly ran 15 miles north, scorching thousands of acres overnight.

“It grew so significantly that we had active spotting that was out ahead of the fire by approximately three miles,” moving into Placer County, Kaslin said.

The fire prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency Wednesday for El Dorado County. The Federal Emergency Management Agency granted a corresponding request for aid that can cover up to 75 percent of the state’s costs to fight the fire.

Fire season has slowly subsided in other parts of the country, officials said, and California fires are the primary focus now, with multiple local, state and federal agencies putting all available resources into the effort.

More than 66,000 firefighters are battling 10 major fires in California this week, and resources have been stretched across the state in an effort to contain more than 200 smaller fires a week and prevent outbreaks like the King fire, officials said.

The largest fire recorded in the state this year, the 125,788-acre Happy Camp Complex fire near the Oregon state line, has been burning since late Aug. 11.

“The threat has not gone away,” Kaslin said. “We are seeing some fire behavior here in September that we have not seen before and in a long time. … California still has a long way to go to get out of fire season 2014.”

Photo: Randall Benton/Sacramento Bee/MCT

Hurricane Norbert Sending High Surf, Possible Rain To California

By Veronica Rocha, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — The latest hurricane spinning off Baja California could bring rain and thunderstorms to the Southland over the coming days, as well as high surf and tides that could produce minor flooding, forecasters warned.

As Hurricane Norbert slowly moves north along the Baja Peninsula with sustained winds of 90 mph, it will bring with it a 20 percent to 40 percent chance of rain and thunderstorms this weekend in the mountains and deserts of Orange and Los Angeles counties, said Rich Thompson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Starting Friday, coastal areas, including Venice, Malibu, Long Beach, the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and Ventura beaches, will experience waves of 4 to 7 feet with maximum sets of 10 feet, Thompson said.

The surf won’t be nearly as dramatic as last week when Hurricane Marie, a Category 5 storm with sustained winds up to 157 mph, produced waves of more than 20 feet.

“Hurricane Norbert is definitely much weaker than Marie,” Thompson said.

Forecasters warned that dangerous rip currents would still develop along south-facing beaches, and the swells could also produce so-called sneaker waves, which appear suddenly and could wash beachgoers off steep-sloped shorelines.

Like Hurricane Marie, Norbert could cause some flooding Saturday through Monday during evening high tides, particularly along the low-lying south-facing beaches. The flooding, though, is expected to be minor, according to the weather service.

Still, Long Beach Fire Department crews have been reinforcing sand berms along the Long Beach Peninsula and installing plugs to the Naples-area seawall.

AFP Photo/Robyn Beck

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Chance Of ‘Megadrought’ In U.S. Southwest Now 50 Percent, Study Concludes

By Veronica Rocha, Los Angeles Times

The chance of a “megadrought” gripping the Southwest for more than 30 years has increased to 50 percent, scientists say, which means bad news for California’s already parched landscape.

The odds of a 10-year drought afflicting the southwestern United States have increased to 80 percent, according to a new study by Cornell University, the University of Arizona, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Whatever happens, California is likely to see prolonged drought and drier conditions, especially in the southern portion of the state, said Toby Ault, Cornell assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and lead author of the study, which will be published next month in the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate.

The current drought, he said, is a preview of what will “happen in the future in climate change.”

“I am not trying to say this is imminent,” he said, “but the risk is high.”

Nearly 82 percent of California is experiencing “extreme” drought — the fourth harshest on a five-level scale measured in weekly U.S. Drought Monitor reports. But roughly 58 percent of the state is facing worse, “exceptional” drought conditions.

Using climate model projections, researchers determined that prolonged drought would probably hit New Mexico and Arizona as well as California. On the other hand, the chances for the same conditions affecting parts of Idaho, Washington and Montana may actually decrease.

Megadrought conditions may also strike Australia, southern Africa, and the Amazon, the researchers said.

The risk for a decade-long drought like the 1930s Dust Bowl is even more alarming because researchers say such events occur “on average once or twice per century.”

According to researchers, the findings are important for governments to consider as they develop strategies for coping with the effects of climate change in densely populated areas where megadroughts — “worse than anything seen during the last 2,000 years” — would pose “unprecedented challenges” to water resources.

The severity of future droughts discussed in the report could also worsen as temperatures increase, which may be underestimated even with state-of-the-art global climate models, the scientists warned.

Photo via WikiCommons

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High Surf Continues Along Calif. Coast As Hurricane Marie Effect Wanes

By Veronica Rocha, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Strong waves with some swells reaching up to 15 feet are expected to continue Thursday, and may produce coastal flooding, forecasters say.

Monster waves sparked by Hurricane Marie have wreaked havoc on beach communities, flooding homes in Seal Beach and damaging boats and facilities in Avalon Harbor on Catalina Island.

At the Port of Long Beach, officials said waves up to 15 feet forced crews to halt operations at two terminals as the big surf combined with high morning tides.

Although surf on Thursday is not expected to be as extreme, waves along south-facing Southern California beaches will still be dangerous, even for experienced swimmers and surfers, said Dave Bruno, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

“It’s not a good day to go out in the water,” he said.

Waves will be between 6 and 10 feet with surf in some areas as high as 12 to 15 feet, producing strong rip currents. The large swells are expected to subside by the afternoon.

The higher-than-usual surf is expected to stick around until Friday, but dangerous rip currents will continue to create hazardous beach conditions until Saturday, forecasters warned.

Strong waves attracted hundreds of spectators and surfers to local beaches, putting many in the direct path of dangerous surf.

The Long Beach Fire Department reported that rescues were up by 400 percent Wednesday. And Los Angeles County lifeguards rescued about 70 people from Santa Monica, Will Rogers and Venice beaches, Capt. Kirk Thomas said. That was after 115 rescues the day before.

Even famed surfer Laird Hamilton jumped in the water Wednesday to rescue a stranded surfer.

AFP Photo/Jason Merritt

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Robin Williams Was In Early Stages Of Parkinson’s Disease, Wife Says

By Veronica Rocha, Los Angeles Times

Robin Williams, who was found dead from an apparent suicide earlier this week, was battling the “early stages” of Parkinson’s disease at the time, his wife said in statement Thursday.

Susan Schneider also said Williams’ sobriety was intact as “he struggled with his own battles of depression, anxiety as well as early stages of Parkinson’s Disease, which he was not yet ready to share publicly.”

“It is our hope in the wake of Robin’s tragic passing, that others will find the strength to seek the care and support they need to treat whatever battles they are facing so they may feel less afraid,” she stated.

Williams was found dead by his personal assistant Monday inside his home in the San Francisco Bay Area community of Tiburon. Authorities said it appeared the cause of death was “asphyxia due to hanging,” although toxicology reports for a final report will take weeks.

The full statement reads as follows:

“Robin spent so much of his life helping others. Whether he was entertaining millions on stage, film, or television, our troops on the frontlines, or comforting a sick child — Robin wanted us to laugh and to feel less afraid.

“Since his passing, all of us who loved Robin have found some solace in the tremendous outpouring of affection and admiration for him from the millions of people whose lives he touched. His greatest legacy, besides his three children, is the joy and happiness he offered to others, particularly to those fighting personal battles.

“Robin’s sobriety was intact and he was brave as he struggled with his own battles of depression, anxiety as well as early stages of Parkinson’s Disease, which he was not yet ready to share publicly.

“It is our hope in the wake of Robin’s tragic passing, that others will find the strength to seek the care and support they need to treat whatever battles they are facing so they may feel less afraid.”

AFP Photo/Tiziana Fabi

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Crippling California Drought Levels Off, Latest Map Shows

By Veronica Rocha, Los Angeles Times

After months of worsening drought across California, conditions appear to have leveled off, at least for now.

According to the latest assessment released Thursday, more than 80 percent of California continues to suffer extreme drought conditions — a figure that has remained unchanged now for roughly two weeks. Things had been on a steady march toward worse, pushing more than half of California to the most severe level of drought for the first time since the federal government began issuing regular drought reports in the late 1990s.

Despite recent thunderstorms, 58 percent of California continues to experience “exceptional” drought — the harshest on a five-level scale. Nearly 82 percent of the state, meanwhile, is experiencing “extreme” drought, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor map.

“It was seasonably dry along the West Coast, with measurable precipitation limited to parts of the Sierra Nevada and northeastern California,” according to Richard Tinker, who authored the latest map. “To wit, areas of dryness and drought remained unchanged.”

The state’s major reservoirs total 59 percent of the historical average, but are “still above the 41 percent of average recorded during the 1976-77 drought.”

Still, Tinker added that some reservoirs in the west-central parts of the state are below 1977 levels.

The report comes after a series of thunderstorms this week pummeled Northern California, where firefighters have been battling numerous wildfires burning in extremely dry terrain.

Thunderstorms brought lightning, which sparked dozens of fires, further stretching already thin fire resources.

Rain and hail fell in some parts of Northern California and eastern San Bernardino County, but forecasters said this week it was not enough to make a dent in the drought.

Photo via WikiCommons

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Lawyer Says Alleged Prostitute Had No Motive To Kill Google Executive

By Veronica Rocha, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — An attorney for an alleged high-priced escort accused of administering a fatal dose of heroin to a Google executive on his yacht said Wednesday that she had no motive to commit such a crime.

Attorney Lawrence Biggam said 26-year-old Alix Catherine Tichelman of Folsom had no reason to kill Forrest Hayes, who worked for Google, Sun Microsystems, and Apple, because he paid her well, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Tichelman pleaded not guilty Wednesday to manslaughter, destroying evidence, and several other charges related to administering and possessing heroin.

A Santa Cruz County Superior Court judge denied her request to be released on her own recognizance and declined to reduce her bail, currently set at $1.5 million, prosecutors said.

County prosecutor Rafael Vazquez told the Los Angeles Times that the charges filed against Tichelman reflected the evidence presented to him.

Investigators, he added, were still looking into the case and could still present new evidence.

“I have a responsibility to try my case in the courtroom,” he said.

As for what is being said about Tichelman “in the media,” Vazquez said, “That’s not evidence; what is evidence is what is being presented in a courtroom.”

Santa Cruz police Deputy Chief Steve Clark told The Times he did not believe Tichelman intended to kill Hayes and that administering heroin was likely “part of her routine.”

When she was arrested by officers who lured her to a Santa Cruz resort posing as a client, she reportedly had a needle loaded with heroin in her purse.

“This is the risk you take when you’re dealing with street-level drugs — you don’t know the purity or the potency or who made or where it’s been,” he said. “Certainly for her, she was a desperate heroin addict.

“You’d think she would know the dosage levels … (but) there’s nothing to suggest that she intended to kill him.”

The circumstances of Hayes’ death have prompted police in Georgia to re-examine the case of 53-year-old Dean Riopelle, who died in the presence of Tichelman in his suburban Atlanta home in 2013.
Riopelle, owner of the Masquerade nightclub,died of what was ruled an accidental heroin and alcohol overdose while Tichelman, whom he was dating, was in the shower, police in Milton, Ga., said.

Authorities allege Tichelman had an “ongoing prostitution relationship” with Hayes, whom she met one night in November on his yacht in a Santa Cruz harbor. Security video from the yacht purportedly shows Tichelman preparing a dose of heroin and injecting Hayes with it. He is then seen having a severe reaction to the dose, collapsing and losing consciousness.

Rather than trying to help Hayes or calling 911, police say, Tichelman packed up the drugs and needles and at one point stepped over his body to finish a glass of wine before leaving.

Police say she tried to wipe her fingerprints off the glass and closed the cabin’s blinds so no one could see inside.

Hayes’ body was found the next morning by the ship’s captain.

During interviews with police detectives, Tichelman boasted of having a clientele of more than 200 “wealthy and influential individuals,” Clark said.

AFP Photo / Andrew Burton

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Downtown L.A. Is Now Driest Since Rain Records Started In 1877

By Veronica Rocha, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Rainy seasons over the last two years were the driest in downtown Los Angeles since record-keeping began in 1877, and forecasters now say the El Nino that had been predicted to bring some relief may not materialize.

According to the National Weather Service, the 2012 to 2014 rainy seasons — which are measured every July 1 to June 30 — only brought 11.93 inches of rainfall, which is 17.93 inches below normal.

By comparison, the 1897 to 1899 seasons saw 12.65 inches of rain, or about 17.21 inches below normal for the period, according to the National Weather Service.

“It’s the worst drought we probably have seen in our lifetime,” said Eric Boldt, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

In fact, four of the driest rainy seasons have occurred in the last seven years, said Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge.

The drought, he said, started in 1999 and worsened over time. The last three years, however, have been the worst.

In June, nearly 80 percent of California was considered to be under “extreme” and “exceptional” drought conditions, the highest categories of dryness, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor map.

And any hopes for an El Nino weather pattern this rainy season are quickly fading, Patzert said.

“El Nino is wimping out,” he said.

Photo via WikiCommons

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Sandra Bullock Gets Emergency Protective Order After Home Break-In

By Veronica Rocha, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — An emergency protective order was issued Monday for actress Sandra Bullock after a man broke into her West Los Angeles home, police said.

The protective order is good for five days, after which Bullock must apply for a permanent restraining order with the Los Angeles County Superior Court, said officer Wendy Reyes of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Joshua James Corbett, 39, of Glendale, California, was arrested about 6:45 a.m. Sunday inside the Academy Award-winner’s home, said Los Angeles police Sergeant Albert Gonzalez.

The protective order means Corbett has to stay away from Bullock.

Police originally described him as a “hot prowler suspect” but have since booked him on suspicion of residential burglary.

While detectives are still investigating the case, Gonzalez said there is no indication Corbett stalked Bullock or has broken into her home in the past.

“By all accounts, this seems to be the first time he has broken into anybody’s home for that matter,” he said.

Police said it does not appear that Corbett stole anything from the Miss Congeniality star’s home.

Corbett was being held on $50,000 bail, police said.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr