Sheriff Youngblood addresses concerns about realistic BB guns for kids

The BB gun in the local sporting goods ad looked just like a 9mm Glock semi-automatic handgun — which has the potential to be quite lethal.

And when Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood saw it Wednesday, the uncanny resemblance of the air gun with the Glock 17 didn’t sit well with him.

The air pistol may not be a real gun, the sheriff said on a Facebook comment he posted Wednesday morning, but it could “get your kid in serious jeopardy.”

A strong supporter of the Second Amendment, Youngblood nonetheless isn’t shy about providing a lawman’s perspective for parents who might be considering purchasing a replica-style BB gun for their child.

“From a law enforcement standpoint, we see the danger,” Youngblood said.

“Obviously, it’s constructed to be an exact replica of the real thing,” he said. “It strikes me as not a great idea for parents to buy their children something like that.”

The tragedies that have occurred across the country as a result of confusion between real and the fake guns are the sort that leave families devastated — and police officers scarred for a lifetime. 

In one of the most well-known incidents, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot to death in Cleveland in 2014 by a rookie officer who saw a realistic toy gun and believed it to be a real threat. The youngster was drawing the toy gun from his waistband when he was shot.

According to a study by The Washington Post, done in conjunction with journalism students from American University, 86 people in the U.S. were shot and killed while carrying fake guns in 2015 and 2016. Four of those were children and 38 of the dead suffered from mental illness.

“Thirteen (guns) were replicas, two were toys, one was a starter pistol and one was a lighter,” the newspaper reported.

In recent years, lawmakers across the country have pushed for stricter regulations on the design of nonlethal guns. Legislators in California passed a law, effective in 2016, that requires toy guns to be visually distinguishable from real weapons. The toys must be painted a bright color, or be affixed with visible florescent strips.

But not all BB guns have these markings.

By 6 p.m. Wednesday, Youngblood’s post had more than 200 comments, those who were in complete agreement with his note of caution to others who suggested it smacked of government restriction.

The Californian asked readers on Facebook whether they would buy a replica BB handgun like the one pictured in the ad for a child or young adult.

“No way,” commented Tim Stonelake.

“Absolutely not!” echoed Keith Hall.

Teri Jones asked, “Why put this in a child’s hands?”

Timothy William commented that his son saw a similar ad and said he wanted one.

“I said no way,” he added. “It looks way too much like a real Glock. If you point that at a cop, or anyone with a gun, they would likely shoot because it looks really real.”

Sylvia Cariker harkened back to more innocent times. “Never! Ever!” she said. “Whatever happened to using two fingers and making shooting noises with your mouth?”

Youngblood suggested being an advocate for gun rights doesn’t mean abandoning one’s common sense.

“No one is stronger on the Second Amendment than me,” he said.

But manufacturing BB guns to look exactly like Glocks or other lethal handguns?

“That seems to be on the edge of absurdity to me.”

Nine arrested after ShotSpotter activation on Clyde Street

The Bakersfield Police Department made nine arrests after the city’s ShotSpotter system indicated two rounds had been fired from the backyard of a residence at the 100 block of Clyde Street, according to a news release.

The Kern County Sheriff Department assisted BPD with an airship that observed three subjects in the backyard where shots were fired from, the release said. Law enforcement observed one of the subjects concealed an item inside a clothes dryer in the yard before all three subjects entered the residence, according to the release.

Officers responded and observed a spent 9mm casing in the yard and found the object inside the dryer to be a loaded 9mm handgun, police said in the release.

The weapon was determined to be a stolen firearm out of Turlock and after three hours, police detained nine suspects from inside the residence, according to the release.

The release says the three suspects observed by the airship were Enrique Cruz, 36, Valdamar Correra, 25, and Ponciano Monje, 27, who were all arrested on suspicion of negligent discharge of a firearm and possession of stolen property.

The other six subjects from the residence were arrested on suspicion of delaying and obstructing an investigation. All nine were booked into the Kern County jail.

Spike in HIV cases spurs Clinica Sierra Vista to increase local education efforts

It was nearly four months ago that Joshua Morris arrived in Bakersfield from Chicago, but the landing pad he thought was waiting for him never materialized.

“I was living on the streets for a while,” Morris said. It was something he’d never had to do before. And for a 34-year-old who also happens to be HIV-positive, it was hardly ideal.

“Now I’m living on my own. I have two jobs,” he said Monday at the World AIDS Day Conference at Clinica Sierra Vista’s 34th Street Community Health Center north of downtown Bakersfield.

The annual event is an opportunity each December for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV and to remember those who have died from an AIDS-related illness, said Dr. Alexandra Franco, Clinica’s infectious disease specialist.

Monday was also a chance to rededicate attention, education and resources to a public health problem that is clearly not going away.

“Kern County had 152 new cases of HIV in 2017,” Franco said. “Those are 1990 numbers.”

The last time Kern’s HIV numbers spiked like this was 1991 and 1992. But the county’s total population was lower, so the rate of infections per 100,000 residents in 2017 was still 40 percent lower than it was during the epidemic years, according to statistics from the Kern County Department of Public health.

The county has some of the worst rates of sexually transmitted disease in the state, consistently ranking among the five worst counties for rates of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia. Nearly 10,000 new cases of STDs were diagnosed throughout the county in 2017, the health department reported.

“Risks for young people in our community are on the rise,” said Jennifer Kuhach, director of Clinica’s Infectious Disease Program.

Clinica, which provides healthcare services to thousands of people in the Central Valley who otherwise wouldn’t have access, is asking HIV patients for advice to help the healthcare provider better serve HIV patients.

“How can we do a better job?” she asked. “How can they find what they need?”

“We’re going to be there every step of the way to guide you through the process,” she promised patients.

HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, harms the immune system by destroying white blood cells that fight infection. This puts patients at risk for serious infections and certain cancers. AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, is the final stage of infection with HIV.

But both Kuhach and Franco say advancements in drug therapies means the death sentence that was once associated with HIV and AIDS is history.

“People with HIV are living normal, healthy lives,” Franco said.

But despite these positive changes, too many people are still misinformed about HIV — and the old stigmas remain.

Morris credits Clinica for immediately getting him on-track with his meds and following up with help regarding his unexpected homelessness.

The only reason he spoke publicly at Monday’s event, he said, was because he thinks he might provide courage and support to those who are afraid to come forward and seek help because of the cruelty still directed toward those infected with HIV and AIDS.

About 1 in 7 people who are positive for HIV don’t know that they are, so the most important thing we can do is help raise awareness for the disease and get tested, said Clinica CEO Brian Harris.

Get tested. It was a refrain that was repeated several times Monday.

“It is so important to know your status,” Harris said. “Everyone is at risk.”

BPD looking for suspect wanted for indecent exposure

The Bakersfield Police Department is asking for assistance in finding a suspect wanted for indecent exposure. 

The suspect is described as a black male with light complexion in his 20s, standing at about 6 feet tall with a slim build. He was seen wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and blue or purple shorts. 

The communications center received several calls from adult females reporting the suspect exposed himself to them while in their apartment complex parking lots from around 1 to 2 a.m. on Sunday in southwest Bakersfield. 

Anyone with information is asked to call Detective S. Luevano at (661) 326-3907 or BPD at (661) 327-7111.

ROBERT PRICE: Justifying the artificial Christmas tree languishing in my garage

The smart shopper, according to one commonly shared line of reasoning, hits the big-box store the day after Christmas and snatches up holiday bunting at drastically marked-down prices and then stashes it away for 11 months.

I always thought that approach was indicative of some sort of mild personality disorder akin to obsessive compulsiveness or hoarding.

But one year, maybe three or four day-after-Christmases ago, I was talked into investing in an artificial, made-in-China tree that purportedly assembles in minutes. I was not immediately convinced it was the right move, but the savings were so great, my persuasive friend said, it would be almost like making a profit at the store’s expense.

I wrestled the boxed tree into my back seat and brought it home. As I slid it into a nook in my garage attic above the foosball table I have ignored for years, just to the left of the sprinkler control box, I considered all the entirely valid justifications I might offer a skeptical traditionalist when I pull the thing out again next December.

No more treks to the tree lot to select a sappy, lopsided fir that will refuse to stand up straight in its base.

No more sprawling on the floor to dip my finger in the little metal basin to make sure the tree still has water.

No more worrying about whether I might inadvertently spill water out of the basin and onto the living room’s wood flooring, creating a water stain that will refresh my Christmas spirit every time I look at it for years to come.

No more worrying if the tree will dry up from lack of attention and spontaneously combust while I’m out of town at grandma’s house.

No more trails of pine needles out through the front door of the house, down the walkway and out onto the front curb come Jan. 2.

No more chopping the thing up to fit into the green-waste bin or hauling it to the parking lot over at the college to be recycled or mulched or whatever they do with brittle, abandoned Christmas trees.

It all seemed so clear to me now. Why didn’t I make the move to artificial years ago?

But now, 11 months have passed and it is post-Thanksgiving weekend, time to get busy and do holiday things again. By the time you read this, I will have slid my aluminum ladder over to the assorted-holidays section of my garage and paused to consider my options one more time.

One hundred percent plastic PVC, made by Chinese workers earning $3.15 an hour, eventually destined for the landfill?

Or a slightly leaning sap-bomb primed to explode like a Molotov cocktail if an open flame gets within 6 feet?

Do I support the increasingly vulnerable oil industry of Kern County by investing in a petroleum product made from the aforementioned polyvinyl chloride, the production of which emits carcinogenic dioxin, ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride?

Or support Oregon agriculture, which produces a crop, more limited in supply this year and therefore marginally more expensive, that may introduce mold, dust and traces of pollen into my already sterility-compromised home?

Ah, Christmas, that most wondrous time of the year.

I’m gonna need ambiance for this decision. Allow me to pause while I hit the play icon on this recording of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

OK, I’m back. What were we talking about? Oh, yes, environmental irresponsibility and social injustice vs. potential allergic reaction and the specter of fiery chaos.

I’m going to opt again for the live tree.

The tradition, the piney scent, the realistic imperfection, just keep outweighing the “insert branch J into slot J” assembly process of artificial.

I must admit my decision was influenced by my visit Wednesday to Frosty’s Forest, a tree lot at the corner of Coffee Road and Brimhall Road, almost in the shadow of a Westside Parkway overcrossing.

Mike Olson, who for the other 11 months of the year works as a firefighter, has been selling Christmas trees for 23 years, including 10 in this spot behind the Chevron station. I was pretty sure I had purchased a tree from him before, although I couldn’t be sure; I’m fickle when it comes to tree lots.

I interrupted him as he supervised workers trying to stabilize one of his lot’s huge, white canopies, which strong wind had shifted the previous night.

What, Mike, does Frosty have to offer that Chinese PVC does not?

He tried to appeal to the environmentalist in me. “Buying green is about as real as you’re gonna get,” he said.

But I’m cheap, I told him. An artificial tree will last for years. 

He shook his head in mild disgust and noted that past customers at his lot receive discount coupons in the mail right about this time of year.

That very evening I went home, checked the mail and found a Frosty’s postcard coupon addressed to me in my own handwriting. I knew I’d visited before, just not that recently.

It was almost like I was obligated now.

Which brings me to the actual topic of today’s column.

For sale: Artificial Christmas tree, new and never opened, made by earnest, hardworking Chinese citizens. No pine needles to clean up, no water levels to check, no standby fire extinguishers necessary. Make an offer.

PHOTO GALLERY: BCHS rolls to Central Section football championship

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Blessing Corner feeds the needy, veterans, senior citizens on Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving is a time for good food, camaraderie and lending a helping hand.

The Blessing Corner Ministries provided all three to those in need Thursday.

Located at 101 Union Avenue, Blessing Corner served meals to benefit the homeless and less fortunate on Thanksgiving Day from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The ministry also delivered meals to senior citizens and veterans in the community.

Event Coordinator Tasha Turner said that 425 meals had been served or delivered an hour into the event and that roughly 800 would be done by day’s end. The efforts were aided by about 70 volunteers, she said.

Turner, 28, said that Blessing Corner has been doing the holiday dinner for as long as she could remember.

“We know the need here,” she said. “We’ve been here for some time.”

Her mom, Pastor Bonnie Gillette Turner, said the gathering usually brings in far more people than Thursday’s turnout. She said the rainy and cold weather may have played a factor and that more groups and organizations than ever before are doing similar events throughout the city on Thanksgiving Day.

Bonnie Turner said the ministry began handing out turkeys in 1999, only to realize those in need didn’t have a place to cook them. She then began hosting the holiday dinner.

The church also hosts meals every Tuesday and Friday, and will have a similar dinner and donation event on Christmas Day.

“We have to help them,” Bonnie Turner said. “Thanksgiving is a day to give thanks. We want to accomplish that goal with this.”

Gonsalo Cervantes said him and his father realized Wednesday night their oven wasn’t working. His dad retrieved a flier for the Blessing Corner dinner from his truck, however, and they were able to enjoy a hot meal after all.

“It’s great they do it. It means so much,” he said. “We got a true dinner. We are really appreciative of that.”

Ramiro Urena had a full to-go plate on his way out the door, which was for his wife at home.

“It’s better than being alone,” he said. “Sitting with other people, being thankful for what we have. I’m thankful for it.”

Taft College has plenty to be thankful for after 24 years with TIL program

Taft College freshman Nekol Dummett had a plan to cook up something special for classmates and staff members for Thanksgiving this year.

With an early wake-up call last Friday, she, her peers and family members were on a mission to serve up two turkeys, a ham, a variety of side dishes and, of course, dessert.

Her parents encouraged her to make a feast of some sorts, but when the idea got into her head, she decided to make it the way she wanted. 

And the results were quite delicious.

One of Taft’s staff members “wanted us to be together right before Thanksgiving starts, so I was thinking about that,” Dummet said as she was getting ready for the gathering. 

But the confidence to organize an event and actually make various dishes came from the Transition to Independent Living Program.

TIL is a post-secondary educational experience for adults who have developmental/intellectual disabilities where they learn how to live independently, take care of themselves and navigate finances, cooking, housework and other activities.

“It makes me proud to think about her initiating that and following through,” said Director Aaron Markovits. “Students have great ideas, but to actually follow through is huge.”

It’s been 24 years of success in the Central Valley, and now TIL is getting ready to share its story on the international stage at the United Nations Office in Austria next year.

‘Living classrooms’

TIL opened in 1995 with funding from the Kern Regional Center. Though similar programs exist elsewhere, it is the only one found on a college campus and students actually live on-campus their first year, Markovits explained.

More than 300 students from all over the state have participated in the program, he said, and there are around 50 enrolled this year.

The transition to living on their own begins almost as soon as students arrive on campus and move into their dorms freshman year.

There are two approaches to learning: traditional classroom instruction and hands-on activities. Students take classes in personal advocacy, finance, health and interpersonal relationships, and then they apply what they learn in their dorm room, or their “living classroom.”

“Housekeeping, laundry, all the stuff you have to do to be successful,” said Markovits.

They are also introduced to the kitchen where they learn safety skills, how to use knives, different utensils, a stove and oven and various recipes. Students have a meal plan as freshmen so they are not too dependent on mastering cooking immediately.

By sophomore year, students move off-campus into rental housing and really get the independent living experience. The skills taught freshman year — cooking, housekeeping, laundry, budgeting — come into play with almost every activity they do.

Markovits said students are also utilizing the public transportation system in Taft when they go grocery shopping, head to the movies and plan their trips back home. Both years they also hold paid internships on-campus or at local businesses. 

“It’s rare that students with intellectual disabilities have the opportunity to participate in a program like this,” he said.

Though they’re only enrolled in the program for two years, results have been nothing short of astounding. Around 68 percent of students are living independently and around 75 percent are working, according to Markovits.

He believes numbers would be higher if the cost of living was not so expensive in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas, where many students hail from.

‘They’re brilliant in so many ways’

When students begin their cooking classes at TIL, instructor David Powell sees many have don’t have the necessary knife skills they need, and some are even afraid of the stove and oven.

“When they open up the oven, it’s like a big ol’ monster to them,” he explained.

But he starts off slowly with them, making sure they are comfortable as they progress through the kitchen.

First comes safety skills and learning how to use the microwave, stove, oven, dishwasher and other appliances. Then students begin identifying pots and pans and how certain utensils are used.

They then transition into baking so they can learn measurements and how to follow recipes before they take on cooking.

“As you work with them, the lightbulb comes on and instead of telling them where things are and what measurements to have, they have their measurements out and their recipe,” Powell said.

At the beginning of the semester students wrote down what recipes they would like to make and now they get to try their hands at one every Friday. Some of those have included pizza made from scratch, chicken Alfredo, orange chicken and mac and cheese.

This has been one of Dummett’s favorite aspects of the TIL Program — challenging herself creatively and seeing what she can do in the kitchen.

“Being able to be in here and learn how to make pizza, chicken Alfredo, I was very impressed with myself that I was able to make that,” she explained.

It’s just one of the successes seen among students over the years, explained Sheri Horn-Bunk, executive director of foundation and instructional advancement for the Taft College Foundation.

A few years ago, one of Horn-Bunk’s colleagues was having problems with her computer, and no one seemed to know what the issue was or how to fix it.

That is until one student — who had an internship with the informational technology department on campus — tried his hand at it.

“Did you know iTunes is loading every time you turn your computer on and it’s slowing everything down?” she recalled him saying.

Everyone was blown away that he found a solution so quickly, she said.

“They’re brilliant in so many ways.”

The international stage

With so much success over the years, it was only a matter of time before TIL received international recognition for helping individuals with disabilities achieve their dreams.

The Zero Project, an initiative of the Essl Foundation, focuses on the rights of persons with disabilities globally. In conjunction with the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, it has invited TIL to attend its annual conference at the United Nations Office in Vienna, Austria.

More than 600 participants from more than 70 countries will convene at the United Nations Office to discuss with world leaders, from all sectors of society, solutions and methodologies that represent concepts that work, according to a news release.

“Pakistan, Iran, India, Taft, we’re all going to be there,” Horn-Bunk said. “We get to present to a worldwide audience and share best practices … it’s about creating zero barriers around the world for people with disabilities.”

The TIL Program was selected as one of the top presenters in educational practices for this conference.

“Taft College is proud of the work that we do in the Transition to Independent Living program to support the advancement of persons with intellectual disabilities, and we are honored to be recognized in this way,” said Debra Daniels, superintendent/president of West Kern Community College District/Taft College, in a news release.

Though its name will be known around the world in just a few months, TIL staff say the work is never over. Intake billing technician Vicky Waugh explained each year the program is re-evaluated and is constantly evolving in order to make it better and stronger.

But perhaps this holiday season it has a few extra reasons to be thankful.

Bakersfield to hold grease collection event for remainder of holidays

The city of Bakersfield is reminding residents that disposing of used cooking oil and grease down residential drains can result in clogged pipes and backups.

To dissuade residents from doing so, the city is holding its 2019 grease collection event beginning Monday and ending Jan. 10.

Residents are asked to collected their used cooking oil and grease in sealed containers before dropping it off at one of two locations. There is no charge to dispose of grease during the event.

The locations are Wastewater Treatment Plant 3, located at 6901 McCutchen Rd., and North of the River Sanitation District main office, at 204 Universe Ave. They will be open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

For more information call the Wastewater Division at 661-326-3249.

2 injured in Valley Plaza mall shooting

Two people were injured and Valley Plaza was placed on lockdown Monday after reports of shots fired near the mall’s food court shortly after 6 p.m.

Employees and others said they heard gunshots following a commotion that one witness said involved a group of more than half a dozen people.

Bakersfield Police Department Chief Lyle Martin called the event “an isolated incident between two groups” and that the agency believed it was not part of an attempt to shoot up the mall. There was no word on whether the incident may have been gang-related.

A BPD news release issued after 8:30 p.m. said the victims, ages 15 and 20, were taken to a local hospital for treatment. Both suffered injuries that were not life-threatening, it added.

The department described the suspect as a black man wearing a gray, hooded sweatshirt. It said he fled the area after the shooting and that the investigation continues.

According to the news release, the suspect was involved in an altercation with one of the victims near the food court when the suspect “removed a firearm and fired multiple times, striking the victim.”

Tillys employee Adam Teasdale said he heard eight shots after an argument broke out involving perhaps eight people in their 20s and 30s. He said the incident escalated quickly.

A manager at another store in the mall said he counted just three shots from near the food court. He said police soon came by instructing him to get people out of the store safely.

“They told me to make sure everybody goes,” said the manager, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the news media.

A customer getting her hair done at MasterCuts said she heard four shots soon after she saw large numbers of people run in and out of the mall through an entrance near the Red Robin restaurant.

“All the electronic doors came down,” said the customer, Beth Ferguson. “It was pretty scary.”

A worker at another store said shoppers could be seen rushing out of the mall right after the shooting. She said employees called security and were told to close the store’s gates.

The mall’s management and security offices could not be reached for comment.

By 7 p.m., BPD was keeping witnesses inside the mall and letting people exit only if they did not have firsthand information about the incident.

Also Monday night, BPD blocked the rear part of a parking lot at the Carl’s Jr. near the mall.

An employee said the restaurant was briefly locked down. Shortly thereafter, people could be seen dining inside.

Chief Martin added he was “extremely proud” of the department’s response and thankful for the help from the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, which sent deputies to the mall “without being asked.”

The department will continue to look for those responsible and that “this will not be taken lightly,” he said.

Anyone with information about the incident was encouraged to call BPD Detective J. Diederich at 326-3558, or to call the department at 732-7111.