‘One on One’: Of 2,000 KCSO candidates only 6 remain, Youngblood says

Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood was in the TBC Media studios Wednesday for “One on One with Robert Price,” talking about the challenges facing his cash- and personnel-strapped department.

• Youngblood addressed the difficulties that the department has had in the hiring process: From 2,000 applicants for 20 positions, the KCSO was able to identify only 15 suitable candidates — and now just six of them remain in the academy.

• The failure of the county’s 1-cent sales tax increase measure last November — it “went down in flames,” Youngblood acknowledged — has forced the department to maintain a dubious course, with raises still on hold and mandatory overtime shifts frequent. That state of affairs has hurt morale.

• Although they disagreed on many policy issues, Youngblood said, he admired and got along well with Gov. Jerry Brown. Youngblood isn’t sure what to expect from his successor, Gov. Gavin Newsom, who seems likely to push more liberal policies.

Organizers of memorial event invite vendors to sign up soon

Organizers of a memorial event in honor of innocent victims of gang violence scheduled for this spring are inviting organizations and businesses to sign up ahead of time to participate in the event.

The Innocent Victims of Gang Violence Awareness event, hosted by the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce and Leadership Bakersfield Class of 2019, is scheduled to run from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 11 at Lowell Park, 800 Fourth Street in central Bakersfield.

The event will include a resource fair and a memorial ceremony at 11 a.m. with a bench dedication and guest speakers.

Vendor set up time will begin at 9 a.m. and must be completed no later than 9:45 a.m. Vendors are encouraged to incorporate activities that are family friendly or educational.

Businesses, nonprofits and vendors that would like to participate must complete a registration form no later than May 3.

Sailor in iconic V-J Day Times Square kiss photo dies at 95

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The ecstatic sailor shown kissing a woman in Times Square celebrating the end of World War II died Sunday. George Mendonsa was 95.

Mendonsa fell and had a seizure at the assisted living facility in Middletown, Rhode Island, where he lived with his wife of 70 years, his daughter, Sharon Molleur, told The Providence Journal.

Mendonsa was shown kissing Greta Zimmer Friedman, a dental assistant in a nurse’s uniform, on Aug. 14, 1945 — known as V-J Day, the day Japan surrendered to the United States. People spilled into the New York City streets to celebrate the news.

Mendonsa planted a kiss on Friedman, whom he had never met.

An iconic photo of the kiss by Alfred Eisenstaedt was first published in Life magazine and is called “V-J Day in Times Square,” but is known to most as “The Kiss.”

It became one of the most famous photographs of the 20th century.

Another photographer, Victor Jorgensen, who was in the Navy, also captured the moment in a similar photo. The moment has been shared widely and is often seen on posters.

Several people later claimed to be the kissing couple, and it was years before Mendonsa and Friedman were confirmed to be the couple.

Mendonsa served on a destroyer during the war and was on leave when the end of the war was announced.

When he was honored at the Rhode Island State House in 2015, Mendonsa spoke about the kiss. He said Friedman reminded him of nurses on a hospital ship that he saw care for wounded sailors.

“I saw what those nurses did that day and now back in Times Square the war ends, a few drinks, so I grabbed the nurse,” Mendonsa said, WPRI-TV reported .

Friedman said in a 2005 interview with the Veterans History Project that it wasn’t her choice to be kissed.

“The guy just came over and kissed or grabbed,” she told the Library of Congress.

She added, “It was just somebody really celebrating. But it wasn’t a romantic event.”

Mendonsa died two days before his 96th birthday. The family has not yet made funeral arrangements.

Friedman fled Austria during the war as a 15-year-old girl. She died in 2016 at the age of 92 at a hospital in Richmond, Virginia, from complications of old age.

Firefighters respond to fire on Patton Way early Sunday

The Kern County Fire Department responded to a call at 1:44 a.m. Sunday for a house fire on the 5300 block of Patton Way.

The first to respond encountered a fire in the front bedroom of the home. The fire had already burned into the attic and through the roof.

Firefighters were able to quickly extinguish the flames and no injuries were reported. Nobody was in the home at the time of the fire.

ROBERT PRICE: Eighty years later, we’ve identified Matt Warren’s killer (we think)

The killer approached from the backyard.

He picked up an old pipe from the yard and quietly opened the back door — unlocked, as he knew it would be. There, in the kitchen, sat his victim, facing away, counting his money and checking tenant receipts. Mathias “Matt” Warren had been out collecting rent payments that morning.

The killer struck with a single, savage blow. He scooped up the cash and the paperwork, walked out of the house and tossed aside the murder weapon. A literal paper trail led toward Baker Street; the killer separated the money from the accounting papers as he walked, letting the documents and receipts — and one $5 bill — fall to the asphalt.

An employee of Warren’s, William Reed, found the victim the next morning in his bed. Had Warren managed to stand up and stagger to the spot where he was discovered, his skull crushed? Or did someone lift him there and half-drape a blanket over his body? Almost immediately, even before he spoke to the police, Reed dashed off a telegram to Warren’s son, who lived 270 miles north: “Come at once. Your father needs you.”

And Earl Warren, who in five years would be governor of California, flew home to Bakersfield to join the investigation into what remains the city’s most infamous unsolved murder: the May 1938 homicide of Matt Warren, father of this country’s most influential Supreme Court Chief Justice.

In dusty old folders, clues to a ghastly murder

Four, even five decades later, many in Bakersfield still knew the basic details of the crime, but it eventually faded from the city’s collective memory.

But Chris Livingston remembered it well enough to realize what he had, in all its vivid, macabre glory, when he spilled a dozen black-and-white photos from a folder onto the floor. They were crime scene photos, and a few were grisly.

Livingston is the director of the Walter Stiern Library Historical Research Center at Cal State Bakersfield, an archive that houses several historical caches, including academic projects, old clippings from The Californian and government documents. The center received one of its most intriguing (and vast) collections last June when the Kern County Superior Court handed over volumes and volumes of documents, from microfilm to dusty old folders. But the documents became jumbled in the two-day move, requiring Livingston and his associates to begin the painstaking task of sorting them. He was in the middle of that undertaking when the Warren photos spilled out.

The photos were labeled “Mat (sic) Warren Murder Pictures,” but the title didn’t immediately click. Livingston didn’t know what he was looking at until he found the typed transcript of Reed’s statement, given at Bakersfield Police Department headquarters to J.H. Dupes of the District Attorney’s office. Livingston’s antennae went up when he read Reed’s mention of having sent a wire to “Earl, his boy.” A subsequent reference confirmed this was Earl Warren, Kern County Union High School graduate, district attorney of Alameda County and Republican candidate for state attorney general. And eventual Supreme Court Justice.

Warren, as Bakersfield Police Chief Robert Powers would later say, “wept unabashedly” as investigators briefed him on the murder of his father. Then his men fanned out in search of the killer.

Massive investigation into an otherwise obscure life yields little 

Matt Warren, by all accounts a modest-living man made wealthy from shrewd real estate ventures, had been alone in his house at 707 Niles St. that evening, his wife having moved to Oakland to be near their daughter.

Matt Warren had lived a relatively obscure life. A native of Norway, he moved his family to Los Angeles and then Bakersfield, where he worked as a car inspector for the Southern Pacific Railroad. He had invested his savings in real estate, some of it in rental properties, and achieved as much success as one could probably hope to achieve in the difficult latter days of the Great Depression. But the notoriety of his son, later to become the only California politician to win three consecutive terms as governor, was the only reason anyone attached any meaningful importance to his demise.

After graduating from KCUHS (now Bakersfield High School), Earl Warren had moved on to the University of California, in Berkeley, and then seven miles down the road to Oakland and the Alameda County DA’s office, where he had achieved unusual success as a prosecuting attorney. He had also entered national politics as a member of the Republican National Committee.

His growing fame, along with the circumstances of the crime, quickly brought law enforcement officers and investigators from the Bay Area and Southern California to Bakersfield, along with an inevitable escort of newsmen. Reporter Ralph Kreiser, who with colleague Jim Day published stories in The Californian almost daily for months about the murder, wrote that at one time 22 investigators were engaged on the case. He didn’t include the five stenographers or the parade of a dozen or more visiting criminologists. At least seven different law enforcement or investigatory agencies are mentioned in the Superior Court archives on the Warren case: the Bakersfield Police Department, Kern County Sheriff’s Department, Kern County DA’s office, Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Identification, Alameda County medical examiner’s office and Alameda County DA’s office, led by Warren’s own chief investigator, Oscar Jahnsen.

Powers tried not to let it show, but the abundance of outside agencies and experts irritated the Bakersfield chief, who was theoretically in charge of the investigation. Practically speaking, though, the man running the show was Jahnsen. (Powers must have impressed Warren, however, because some years later, as governor, he appointed Powers to head a state agency.)

Even the discovery of the wreckage of TWA DC-2 — a commercial airliner missing for three months — smashed into the side of a Yosemite mountain, could not dislodge the murder case from its domination of front page headlines.

“The pressure for (us to solve) the killing was terrific,” Powers told The Californian’s Bill Bloecher in 1968. “It must be understood that Warren at that time had already gained considerable popularity among organized peace officers in the state and they were quick to rally and volunteer assistance.”

More than a dozen men were jailed for interrogation, as was common practice then, during the course of the investigation. Coverage included sensational headlines like “Mystery Killer Hunted in Warren Pipe Murder”; at one point The Californian published a photo of the “death chair,” with a drawing of the probable position of the victim when he was attacked. Several days in, Kreiser reported in The Californian that investigators had learned of a violent argument late on the night of the murder.

But investigators couldn’t come up with identifiable fingerprints on the murder weapon or anywhere in the house. The first murder conviction based on DNA evidence wouldn’t happen for another 49 years.

Powers told The Californian he was convinced the guilty man never was in custody or known; the murder could have been committed by one of Warren’s tenants, he said. Those tenants were aware that Warren probably had cash on hand, so robbery might easily have been the motive. “A man intent on killing would have gone there prepared,” Powers told The Californian in 1968. “I think it is reasonable that the killer went to the Warren premises, peered through the window, saw him going over accounts, handling money, and decided to rob him.”

Rumor of a deathbed confession 

Livingston, the CSUB archivist, came upon two reports in the Warren case file, both dated July 1944, that led him to another conclusion. District Attorney Tom Scott had told Dupes, his chief investigator, of a rumor he’d picked up at a barber shop: A real estate man named O.C. Watson had told Scott of his understanding that “Ed Regan made a confession prior to his death to the killing of Matt Warren,” Dupes wrote in his report.

Ed Regan had been Matt Warren’s primary rental-property handyman and to some extent a business partner. He may also have owed Warren money from a personal loan, although supporting paperwork was never discovered — an unusual oversight for Warren, considering his meticulous nature, had such a loan been made.

O.C. Watson told District Attorney Scott he’d heard this stunning nugget of information from the Rev. Phillip Dennis, a former minister. Dupes then called on Rev. Dennis, who denied having ever talked to Watson about the Warren case — but as Dupes was leaving, Dennis followed him out to the street and said, yes, perhaps he had had such a conversation. But if anyone had actually heard Regan’s confession, he said, it would have been the Rev. Barrett, pastor of the First Baptist Church.

When the Rev. Barrett returned from a vacation a few days later, Dupes visited him and asked about the alleged confession. Barrett said he had visited Regan four or five times a week during the last two months of Regan’s life and they had talked about many things — mostly Regan’s desire to get right with God, join the church and receive baptism — but the Warren case was not one of them. In his report, Dupes had noted that the entire Regan family, except for the patriarch, dying of throat cancer, were members of the Rev. Barrett’s church.

Might Barrett, we might speculate now, have simply wanted to spare the Regan family the humiliation of associated guilt? Dupes did not say if he had considered the possibility.

However, Jahnsen, Earl Warren’s chief investigator, was convinced Regan had been the killer. Regan had put on a display of bad theater at Warren’s funeral, bawling melodramatically, Jahnsen told a University of California researcher in a 1971 interview. He’d turned white as a sheet when Jahnsen had asked him to submit to fingerprinting and had quickly excused himself to wash his hands. Evidence at the scene and along that path of discarded paperwork had given Jahnsen the distinct impression that robbery hadn’t been the motive at all: The killer had left behind jewelry, a jarful of money and Warren’s pocketwatch, which was found on the bed next to Warren’s body as if someone had carefully arranged it there. Perhaps it was the paperwork — deeds, receipts and other financial documents that wouldn’t have been of much interest to a homicidal burglar — that motivated the killer. “Every paper (the killer took) was opened up … and examined,” Jahnsen said. “A fire had been started” and papers burned in a nearby yard.

Those indications pointed to Regan, Jahnsen said.

“You’ve persuaded me,” university researcher Alice King told Jahnsen at that point in the interview.

‘We almost had him’  

But homicide investigators from Los Angeles, who had independently reached the same conclusion, ruined the opportunity to nab the suspect, Jahnsen said. In an interrogation of Regan in a room at the El Tejon Hotel, they were overly aggressive: They “third-degreed” him, Jahnsen said, and Regan reacted by simply shutting down. In any case, Jahnsen said, Earl Warren didn’t believe in the value of “third-degree” admissions, questioning the truthfulness of coerced confessions. Ironically, this display of respect which Warren would demonstrate for a suspect’s rights two decades later as Supreme Court Chief Justice — vilifying him in the eyes of many conservatives — might have cost him the opportunity to apprehend his own father’s killer.

“We almost had him,” Jahnsen said. “… At one point he was almost to the point of telling.”

Alice King isn’t the only university researcher to have agreed with Jahnsen’s conclusions.

“I think he is the guy,” Livingston said of Regan. “To me, this kind of puts it to rest.”

Houchin Blood Bank holding Hearts for Dezi Blood Drive

Houchin Community Blood Bank is holding a Hearts For Dezi Blood Drive on Feb. 23.

The blood drive, held in honor of a child who was born in 2017 with a rare heart defect, will be held from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 11515 Bolthouse Dr. Dezmen “Dezi” Licea and his family will be around to meet donors between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Licea, known as Bakersfield’s Little Iron Man and the 2019 Children’s Miracle Network Ambassador, was born with Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return, or TAPVR. Only one in 20,000 babies are born with the defect.

Donors must be in good health, weigh at least 110 pounds and be 18 years of age or older. Younger teens can donate with parental consent. A photo ID with a date of birth is required.

For more information, call 323-4222.

Tejon Ranch announces second distribution center to relocate to commerce center

A yet-to-named company has agreed to lease 390,000 square feet of space at the Tejon Ranch Commerce Center. It is the second company in six months to relocate from Los Angeles to Tejon.

Tejon Ranch announced the lease for a new distribution center Thursday, saying the company will set up shop in a new 580,000-square-foot building the ranch is developing with Majestic Realty.

The company, which is remaining anonymous for competitive reasons, plans to begin operations at its new location in the fourth quarter of this year.

“It reinforces our location as a place where companies find great value in our compelling logistics model, our outstanding labor force, and where they have opportunity to grow and expand,” said Joseph Rentfro, vice president of real estate at Tejon Ranch Co.

Last year, L’Oreal USA announced that it would be setting up a distribution center at Tejon Ranch, bringing 155 full-time jobs to the region.

It is unclear how many jobs the new distribution center will create for the region.

Students create book highlighting people who make Bakersfield special

Bakersfield has traditionally had a bit of a perception problem.

Johnny Carson once called it “the armpit of California.” Others have complained about Bakersfield’s heat, it’s crime and drug issues. With that said, a team of eight local high-school students are looking to do their part to highlight some of the people that make Bakersfield interesting and unique.

Students who are part of the Jim Burke Education Foundation’s Ford Dream Builders program have created a book called “Greetings From Bakersfield” that features profiles on 36 people that have had a positive impact on Bakersfield.

The book is a project that the team did this year as part of the program, which aims to promote civic leadership and community service among high-school seniors. Students are tasked with doing a community service project each year.

“We wanted to fight the stigma that Bakersfield has,” said Liberty High student Jack Waite, who led the team. “We know there are amazing people in this town doing amazing things, and we wanted to show that off with our book. This is about highlighting the diversity, passion and interesting people that make our town great.”

The team came up with the idea for the project last summer and began actively planning the book in the fall. Waites said Aera Energy funded the project through a $500 donation.

Over the past few months, the students have been actively working on doing interviews, taking photos and, lastly, designing the book.

For the project, the students interviewed educators, business owners, political figures and more. While some of these people are well known, such as Mayor Karen Goh and Assemblyman Vince Fong, the majority of them are not public figures.

“We tried to focus on the uniqueness of the individuals, how they’ve contributed to the community,” Waite said. “We want to show how Bakersfield has helped them and how they’ve helped Bakersfield.”

Waite said he enjoyed the experience of interviewing people for the book and that it opened his eyes to the depth and diversity of Bakersfield.

“Growing up here, I didn’t really know what was going on in this town,” he said. “When I interviewed these people, I could feel how passionate they were for this community, and I could see what they were doing to try to make the community better. I took my town for granted, essentially, so I’m glad I was able to make these connections.”

Waite said the book was completed last week and will be showed off at a release event at the Kern County Museum next week. Through some grant funding, the team has ordered an initial printing of 100 copies of the 40-page book.

Waite said the Kern County Museum will sell the book, starting on Feb. 21. Proceeds will support the museum, which in return will fund additional printings of the book if there is demand for it.

“Now we have to wait to see if the community really likes it or not,” he said. “We’re satisfied with the book we created. We’re really proud of what we’ve done.”

Jennifer Vaughan, who served as an advisor for the team, said she’s really proud of the students’ efforts, especially given that they were also busy with school and extracurricular activities.

“This is an amazing group of kids. I’m really impressed by them,” she said. “They all stepped up and really supported each other. It’s been fun to see them realize that they can do a logistically complicated project like this.”

Vaughan said she believes the students produced a high-quality, professional book that she hopes will be educational for people who live in Bakersfield and those who don’t.

“I really hope that through this book, all of us who live here can realize how unique a place Bakersfield is,” she said. “We have such a big sense of community here. People care about each other. They care about their community. I hope the book helps people realize that and that they should be proud of where they live.”

ROBERT PRICE: Policymakers have neglected the valley, Newsom concedes

This may come as a shock to some, but Gov. Gavin Newsom knows where Bakersfield is. Not only that, he seems to appreciate the depth of its economic challenges.

Tuesday, in his first State of the State address, the newly elected Democratic governor of California expressed a determination to address those challenges.

Lip service or actual resolve? Check back later.

Newsom, citing ballooning cost overruns, told a joint session of the California legislature he was significantly downsizing the state’s commitment to High Speed Rail — with an asterisk.

That asterisk is California’s Central Valley: Newsom said he will continue to support construction of the Bakersfield-to-Merced phase that’s underway now. That link, he said, can play a major role in the San Joaquin Valley’s economic emergence.

That’s right: Newsom sees a bullet train running from Bakersfield to Merced and no farther. For the time being.

“I know that some critics will say this is a ‘train to nowhere,'” Newsom said. “But that’s wrong and offensive. The people of the Central Valley endure the worst air pollution in America as well as some of the longest commutes. And they have suffered too many years of neglect from policymakers here in Sacramento. They deserve better.”

Well, that’s certainly true. If ever a California governor has spoken truer words about that longstanding neglect, the moment eludes me now.

The bullet train, Newsom said, is one of the vehicles capable of getting us there.

“High-Speed Rail is much more than a train project,” Newsom said. “It’s about economic transformation and unlocking the enormous potential of the Valley.

 “We can align our economic and workforce development strategies, anchored by High-Speed Rail, and pair them with tools like opportunity zones, to form the backbone of a reinvigorated Central Valley economy.”

We’ll want to hear more about these opportunity zones, but Newsom’s words sound like a starting point for discussion about Kern County’s reliance on the two industries under assault in the Central Valley: agriculture and, especially, oil and gas. Economic diversification will be essential, given the obstacles those industries have been facing, for good or ill.

“Merced, Fresno, Bakersfield, and communities in between are more dynamic than many realize,” Newsom said. “The Valley may be known around the world for agriculture, but there is another story ready to be told.”

Precisely what that story might be, he didn’t say, and I’m not prepared to fill in the blanks. Nothing happens without a more educated workforce and that’s not an overnight fix.

Undaunted, Newsom has named his economic development director, Lenny Mendonca, the new chairman of the High-Speed Rail Authority, which will finish its Phase 1 environmental work.

“We’ll connect the revitalized Central Valley to other parts of the state, and continue to push for more federal funding and private dollars,” he said.

Newsom said the costs of simply walking away from the project are too high.

“Abandoning high-speed rail entirely means we will have wasted billions of dollars with nothing but broken promises and lawsuits to show for it,” he said. “And by the way, I am not interested in sending $3.5 billion in federal funding that was allocated to this project back to Donald Trump. Nor am I interested in repeating the same old mistakes.”

At the top of that list of mistakes is the succession of cost overruns that have eroded political and popular support for the project. To the end, Newsom has offered a new set of transparency measures he hopes will keep costs down and expectations high.

“We’re going to hold contractors and consultants accountable to explain how taxpayer dollars are spent – including change orders, cost overruns, even travel expenses,” he said. “It’s going online, for everybody to see.”

What I find interesting is that this most liberal of governors got more positive feedback from local Republican legislators and than from local Democrats.

His neighbor, Democrat TJ Cox of the the 21st Congressional District, took a dimmer view.

“… I believe that we must bring our rural and urban communities together to find transportation solutions that meet the needs of both – and this proposal fails to do that,” he said

Assemblyman Vince Fong, a Republican, criticized Newsom’s “attempt to recast” the project, “which now no longer resembles what was sold to voters in 2008. This is a complete bait-and-switch on all Californians and Central Valley residents.”

State Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, didn’t overtly criticize Newsom’s decision to scale back high speed rail,  choosing instead to remind constituents of voters’ original support for the project: “I respect the decision by California voters on the high-speed rail.”

Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, did not address Newsom’s comments on high speed rail at all, choosing instead to praise his mention of “clean water, workforce training, housing and ensuring the Valley receives its fair share of resources” and “accountability, transparency and efficiency” in government.

Newsom hasn’t stopped the bleeding, but the tourniquet is in place. He can ease the pain if his “opportunity zones” are meaningful tools. We’re eager to hear more.

PHOTO GALLERY: Sneak peek of this week’s World Ag Expo in Tulare

Brian Montgomery, integrated solutions manager at Fresno Equipment, stands next to a John Deere CP690. The machine picks cotton while tracking harvest volume with GPS data, then rolls it up into a round bale 7 ½ feet wide. It’s on display at this week’s World Ag Expo in Tulare.