Man who collided with BPD patrol car turns himself in

The man who crashed into a Bakersfield Police patrol car turned himself in to authorities Wednesday.

Ignacio Diaz, 27, was booked at the Kern County Jail on a warrant for felony hit and run.

 On June 11, a BPD officer was driving a marked patrol car going west near the intersection of East Brundage Lane and Cottonwood Road. A black Chevrolet sport-utility car was heading north on Cottonwood, running a red light and colliding with the BPD patrol car.

The officer was taken to a local hospital for minor to moderate injuries. He has since been discharged from the hospital and is at home recovering, police said.

ROBERT PRICE: Once homeless, high and pregnant, she’s now hopeful, healthy and driven

Within the culture of methamphetamine and heroin addiction that festers on the poverty-wracked south side of Oildale are some heart-wrenching stories. I stumbled upon a few of them there last year peering into dank garages and illegal gambling parlors, trying to interview twitching junkies, menacing bouncers and solemn street preachers.

Today I want to update you on one of those stories.

Last December I wrote this vignette as part of a much longer piece about the tragic desperation and hopeful activism that defines a section of Bakersfield’s unincorporated neighbor immediately north of the Kern River:

Danielle, 27, is sitting at a picnic table outside Young’s Drive-in, a 1950s-era mom-and-pop burger joint on Oildale Drive. Danielle — not her real name — is high on meth and talking to her boyfriend, Bobby, in a speed-slur that defies comprehension. She is thin as a reed, except for the football-sized paunch that juts from her abdomen. She is five months pregnant.

Her mother, Ali, at times frantic with grief, at times resigned to her daughter’s circumstances, has just pulled away in her little Hyundai, having met Danielle and Bobby here just long enough to buy them burgers, french fries, fried zucchini and milkshakes.

This is Ali’s third trip of the week to south Oildale, having paid two nights ago for a medium-sized pepperoni at Santa Barbara Pizza & Chicken for Danielle to pick up later. The tattooed manager there knows Danielle’s mother well by now and his gentle demeanor speaks to his genuine empathy.

Ali has tried pleading, ignoring, screaming and recruiting others to help get through to Danielle. She has tried guilt, prayer and tough love. She has entertained but rejected the idea of a forced abduction or some kind of trickery. Now that Danielle is pregnant, Ali has taken another tack: the welfare of the baby. Doesn’t Danielle want a healthy child? 

Young’s Drive-in is exactly one block from an Omni Family Health Center — and a second Omni is close by, as are two medical offices run by Clinica Sierra Vista. Ali has assured Danielle that an appointment, even a walk-in visit, will be free or almost free of charge, and the doctors won’t judge her. So far it hasn’t worked; Danielle has previously promised she’d go, but in the end her fear that they’ll take away her drugs wins out.

At least Danielle is communicative. If this were a heroin jag instead of a meth binge, Ali wouldn’t have heard from her daughter at all. When days, sometimes weeks pass without requests for fast food or groceries, Ali knows.

So the dance continues. Maybe tomorrow night Ali will return and take Danielle grocery shopping at the 99 Cents Only store just west of Decatur Street. And then, in the parking lot afterward, she will plead or scream or try to reason with Danielle — or just give it a rest this time and go home and cry.

Danielle — real name Ashley Danielle Griffith, now 28 — was so wisp-thin from drug use she hadn’t realized she was pregnant until, she later realized, she was almost halfway into her third trimester. She gave birth just two days after my column, “Where We Live: The fight to save Oildale,” was published, believing right up until her water broke that she was only about five months’ pregnant.  

Her baby, whom she named Mason, saved her life.

On the day he was born, Ashley wrote last week in a Facebook post, “life as an adult started for me.”

“Mason was born Christmas morning at full term. He weighed 6 pounds, 14 ounces, and that is the biggest blessing considering I had zero prenatal (care),” Ashley wrote. “I was at (the) all-time lowest point of my life when I gave life to this little boy. No health insurance, not even an i.d., no place to live. The only thing I had was an addiction. A bad one. I had given up on myself, stopped taking care of myself.”

Ashley left the hospital without her baby. Kern County Child Protective Services, wisely and appropriately, took Mason from her side and placed him in foster care.

“I have no excuses,” Ashley wrote. “I was selfish. I’m an idiot.”

She saw only one path to redemption.

“I was broken, lost. So hurt, ashamed and just completely disgusted that I had let this happen … I did not know what to do. The only thing I knew I had to do was get my baby back.”

Ashley was eventually able to see her son twice a week, two hours each visit. The opportunity to hold her perpetually laughing, blue-eyed boy was all the motivation she needed to stay on course.

She enrolled in a 16-week parenting class, which she has now finished, and a six-month substance abuse program that she’ll soon graduate from. She continues to be drug tested three to five time a week.

She has full but conditional custody of Mason: She is subject to random, unannounced CPS home inspections.

“I’ve never worked for anything so hard in my life,” she wrote. “… I could just kick my own ass for not stepping up when I did find out I was pregnant. It still gets me down when I think about it. But one thing I can say is I am proud of the person I’ve become for my son. … I’m not where I want to be, but I’m not where I used to be.”

Drugs made her a selfish idiot. Motherhood snapped her out of it. Providence blessed her, despite everything, with a happy, healthy child. They have a chance now, both of them.

Ashley is doing what she needs to be doing, but she also must become the person she was meant to be, beyond the walls of her baby’s nursery. She needs an education, a career plan and a healthy amount of self-love.

Against what must have once seemed like insurmountable odds, she has started down that road. 

Ashley’s mother’s prayers, once so seemingly futile, are being answered after all.

Nelly announced as headliner to 2019 Kern County Fair

Internationally-recognized rapper Nelly will headline the 2019 Kern County Fair, fair organizers announced Monday.

Known for his early 2000’s hits “Ride wit Me” and “Country Grammar”, Nelly will perform at the Budweiser Pavilion on the opening night of the fair, which will take place from Sept. 18 to 29.

Other performers will include KC & The Sunshine Band, Tracy Byrd and Pablo Cruise.

“We are thrilled with this year’s line-up at the Budweiser Pavilion. Opening our fair with Nelly is going to be huge,” Fair CEO Mike Olcott said in a statement. “We have something for everyone and we hope the community will join us for our annual celebration.”

The fair’s theme this year will be “The Food – The Fun – The Fair!”

All concerts are free with the price of admission.

Other fair events will include a monster truck rally on Sept. 19, followed by rodeo events starting Sept. 26 through Sept. 29, including the popular “extreme rodeo.”

There will be some new attractions to the fair such as “Bugology” and a new frontier stage.

Man critically injured in single-car crash

A man was critically injured when his car flew off of East Truxtun Avenue at Beale Avenue and came to rest on the frontage road below the overpass Sunday afternoon, Bakersfield police said in a news release.

Police said the vehicle was heading east on Truxtun at about 2:15 p.m. as it approached Beale and left the roadway. The driver, the sole occupant, received major injuries. Speed appears to be a factor in the crash but it is unknown if alcohol or drugs were involved, police said.

With state’s help, Kern dairies turn cow manure into clean energy

Roy Dowd sniffed the air during a dairy tour he was leading last week on the edge of Bakersfield.

“That’s the smell of money,” joked the director of operations, maintenance and research at a Visalia company, California Bioenergy LLC, helping local dairies turn manure into a new revenue stream.

Don’t hold your nose: Methane from cow manure at local dairies has taken on new value as both a clean-burning fuel and a greenhouse gas to be harnessed.

Growing numbers of dairies are earning a percentage of sales from the electricity generated by combusting “biogas” produced on their property. Soon, some of the gas will be refined on site and injected for sale into natural gas pipelines.

The projects have attracted substantial public investment in expectation they will lead to cleaner air quality and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Besides being relatively clean-burning, methane is about 84 percent more potent at trapping heat, and therefore warming the planet, than carbon dioxide.

In some respects, though, California’s emerging biogas industry is not quite living up to expectations. The number of installations at dairies across the Central Valley would need to accelerate quickly if the state is to meet a major legislative deadline.

Also, for all its environmental benefits, turning dairy methane into electricity is not yet price-competitive without state and federal supports. That means state and federal subsidies may have to continue longer than planned if they are to remain financially viable.

Biomethane currently costs 13 to 14 cents per kilowatt-hour to produce, while photovoltaic solar costs only about 5 to 6 cents, said Rizaldo Aldas, a supervisor with the California Energy Commission’s Energy Research and Development Division. The state doesn’t intend to help make up the difference indefinitely, he said.

“Somehow the cost issues need to go down in order (for biogas operations) to be self-sustaining,” he said.

The situation is, to a large degree, a function of government support. State officials have spent years designing incentives to entice investment in biogas harvesting systems, which can cost several million dollars to build and millions more to form into cost-effective dairy clusters.

BIG INVESTMENTS

To date, the state Legislature has set aside at least $190 million to help pay for 60 digesters and about the same number of other dairy manure projects that reduce methane emissions without collecting the gas. An additional $99 million in project grants is expected to be awarded later this year.

There is some concern that these subsidies, part of an elaborate system of incentives paid for by businesses and consumers, might not be enough to meet a legislative deadline that statewide annual methane emissions come in 40 percent below 2013 levels by 2030.

Industry estimates are that the current level of state funding will produce about 100 dairy digesters within the next five years. To meet the state deadline, however, air quality officials figure there will need to be five times that many in place in just 11 years.

Methane-producing dairies are “on their way, but additional ongoing support, we think, is needed for this to continue,” said Floyd Vergara, chief of the industrial strategies division at the California Air Resources Board.

STATE SUPPORT

Subsidies employed to date have been a mixture of direct financial contributions and market support.

One way biogas operations make money is by earning state credits through methane collection and other manure management practices. These credits can be bought on an open market by companies required to buy them, mainly air polluters and sellers of petroleum fuels.

The state also supports biogas production by requiring investor-owned utilities to buy at least 90 megawatts of electricity from agricultural products including dairy biogas. This requirement, overseen by the state Public Utilities Commission, has produced 14 dairy biogas electricity contracts. Three operations in Kern have reached such agreements.

Dairies and the biogas developers they work with may additionally receive money directly from the state.

The agency that has awarded the most biogas grants, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, gave 64 projects a total of $114.3 million in 2015, 2017 and 2018. (No biogas grants were awarded in 2016.)

Those grants covered an average of a little more than one-third of the projects’ total costs. Nine of the projects were in Kern; they received an average of $2.1 million each.

SETTLEMENT CONCERNS

While the oil industry often bristles at its added costs under the incentives system, the loudest criticism of California biogas subsidies came after a legal settlement over the massive 2015-16 Aliso Canyon natural gas leak. Southern California Gas Co., among other concessions, agreed in February to pay $26.5 million toward capturing, treating and transporting dairy methane.

Environmentalists and people in the Los Angeles County neighborhood directly affected by the leak called the deal a geographically misplaced remedy that only fueled consolidation and growth of an industry they see as harming air and groundwater quality.

But state officials say the combination of benefits offered by biogas harvesting make it a uniquely attractive public investment.

As measured by mass, methane makes up about 9 percent of the greenhouse gases emitted in California, according to state estimates. More than half of that is believed to originate with dairies and livestock, with the rest coming from landfills, the oil and gas industry, and other sectors.

On top of the benefit of keeping it out of the atmosphere, regulators say, it is a renewable fuel that can be used in place of diesel, which causes considerably more pollution than methane.

CLEAN AND RENEWABLE

Using “biomethane” for transportation instead of diesel results in a 90 percent reductions in nitrogen oxides, the precursor to smog, and a near-complete removal of particulate emissions, said Dave Warner, deputy air pollution control officer with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

Methane as a use of transportation fuel “is probably the best use of that gas, actually, because it not only is very low-emitting, it also removes diesel emissions, which can be some of the most toxic emissions that are put into the air in the San Joaquin Valley,” Warner said.

Bakersfield-based Gazelle Transportation, a trucking company serving the local oil and gas industry, has received grant money from the air district that has helped it cover the cost of replacing seven diesel tractor-trailers with compressed natural gas trucks.

CEO Ron Lallo said he expects to spend state and federal biomethane credits to help pay to fuel the trucks. That should help the company become carbon-neutral within a few years, a goal he said is supported by some of his larger customers in the local oil industry.

There is a risk, he acknowledged, that prices could rise to the point that diesel would be more economical.

“It’s something we’re going into cautiously. We’re optimistic that there’s a sound business case with this,” he said before adding, “We’re super-excited with the contributions we’re making to clean the environment.”

Man identified in suspicious death in East Bakersfield

A man whose death was deemed suspicious by the Bakersfield Police Department has been identified by the Kern County Coroner.

Jon Martin Foit, 40, was found dead at around 10:31 p.m. Thursday at the 4300 Block of Bright Shadow Lane.

Foit’s father, Peter Foit, was murdered Oct. 15, 2016. Peter was found dead at 537 Pepper Drive at about 6:30 p.m. Coroner’s officials determined Foit’s death was caused by multiple gunshot wounds and it was deemed a homicide.

It is not clear if there is a connection between the two deaths.

The coroner will be determining the cause and manner of Jon Martin Foit’s death at a later date.

Local agencies leading new community effort to make Oildale parks cleaner, safer

Linda Stewart has lived across from McCray Park in Oildale for many years, but for much of that time, she has been hesitant to actually use the park.

Stewart said she frequently sees junior high and high school students doing drugs there. She’s seen obscene graffiti and drawings, as well as used needles and drug paraphernalia strewn around the park.

“It’s gotten progressively worse over the years,” she said. “The first time my granddaughter and I went over there, we had to be careful. There were things I didn’t want her to see. I would also take my dog to the park, but it got to the point where I couldn’t let her walk along the curb because there were needles there.”

To help improve park conditions, the Kern County Public Health Services Department has partnered with Supervisor Mike Maggard and the North of the River Recreation and Park District to lead a community effort to make the Oildale parks cleaner and safer.

“We want people to know that we’re here to help and we want to do what the community wants. We want them to be able to enjoy safe and healthy parks,” said Kern County Public Health Director Matt Constantine.

While the department has been involved in park improvements in other areas of the county in the past, Constantine said this is the first time they’ve focused specifically on Oildale.

Constantine said the department was informed by Maggard’s office a few months ago that he had received complaints regarding the community and park conditions.

The department then examined parks in the Oildale area and surveyed community members to see what the primary concerns are. From there, the department is focusing on five parks — McCray, North Beardsley, North Meadows, Sears and Standard.

Assistant Director Brynn Carrigan said she was shocked by what she saw and learned about what was happening at the parks.

“I was very surprised that we actually found used syringes on the ground (at McCray),” she said. “There are areas where people had been defecating and urinating in the park. We saw a lot of cigarette butts, drug paraphernalia around the play equipment.”

After collecting information at the parks, the department presented its findings to the NOR district and urged the district to partner with them.

After months of preparation, local agencies are ready to kick off a community effort to make Oildale parks safe again, starting with McCray Park. A celebration is planned for Saturday at the park, where community members can learn about how to get involved.

The event will include a press conference involving local agencies followed by family activities, free health screenings, food and more.

“We’re asking the community to come forward and be a partner with us, to play an active role,” Constantine said. “The hope is that together we can improve the conditions and address some of the issues.”

Constantine said the department has already partnered with waste disposal company Varner Brothers, which will install a container at the park where people can place used syringes. That’s expected to be installed this week.

“That’s not what we want. We don’t want needle kiosks in a park, but clearly from our first hand evaluation drug use is a big problem,” he said. “Hopefully this would be a short-term fix.”

Constantine said the department is looking at longer-term solutions such as lighting and surveillance cameras.

Carrigan said if more residents use the parks, it will go a long way in deterring illegal activity.

“If you have these neighbors using a park actively, you’re not going to see people using it as a hiding place where they can sit and do drugs,” she said. “That’s the number one solution to stopping drug use in the parks.”

Stewart said she’s very excited about the effort to improve McCray park. She said she’s reached out to 25 families making them aware of the effort, and most expressed an interest in helping out.

“I think the neighborhood is ready. They’re ready to take their park back,” she said. “We want a park where we don’t have to worry about bringing our kids. I don’t want to move. I want to stay right here and I want to be able to have my grandkids and great-grandkids come over and play in the park.”

Song about Bakersfield 3 victim hits ‘exactly’ the right notes

As the one-year anniversary of her daughter’s disappearance approached, Jane Parrent checked herself in to the intensive therapy workshop outside of Nashville, Tennessee.

She had been referred to the workshop by Phil McGraw, better known as Dr. Phil, after she and the other mothers of the Bakersfield 3 appeared on his show in January.

The Dr. Phil Show paid for the services provided by Onsite, which offers therapy for guests struggling to “break the cycles that hold them back,” according to the business’ website.

“I had my own little cabin,” Parrent said. “They take your phone from you. There’s no TV or radio. So nothing to distract you, and you just learn coping techniques and ways to handle stuff.”

For a week, Parrent participated in daylong therapy sessions she said prepared her to cope with the disappearance of her daughter, Baylee Despot, who went missing in April 2018 without a trace, and whose disappearance has been linked to the homicides of Micah Holsonbake and James Kulstad that have collectively come to become known as the Bakersfield 3.

“It was very intense. A lot of crying a lot of soul searching,” she said. “It was almost like I didn’t want to come home because I didn’t have the day-to-day nightmare to live with.”

But Parrent left the therapy sessions with more than just a new perspective. The workshop’s musical therapist Tyler Hayes – a professional musician who has written songs for Hilary Duff and Rob Thomas, the lead singer of Matchbox Twenty – composed a song about Despot. Parrent hopes the song brings comfort to parents of missing children.

“I cried when she sung it through the first time because it’s exactly my story. It’s exactly Baylee’s story,” Parrent said. “I listen to it a couple of times a day or more.”

Titled “One More Day (that girl of mine),” the song was composed during a morning therapy session and recorded later. Parrent received the song earlier this week and posted it online on Wednesday.

The song spread quickly on social media.

“Beautiful. Simply beautiful,” a woman identified as Laura Daniel Pixler wrote on Facebook.

Despot’s case, along with the cases of Holsonbake and Kulstad remain unsolved. As they wait for a resolution, the mothers of the Bakersfield 3 have advocated for numerous victim’s rights causes.

Parrent said she hoped the song could not only help inspire somebody with information on her daughter’s case to come forward, but also aid victims of crimes.

“I hope it helps other victim’s families and brings awareness for other people to talk because it’s a nightmare every day,” she said. “It’s horrible.”

The song can be found on the Bakersfield 3 Facebook page or on the Bakersfield 3 Soundcloud account.

Thousands of KHSD students hit the books this summer

Just because school is out for the regular academic year does not mean students are not hitting the books this summer.

Summer school is well underway across 18 comprehensive school sites along with five alternative education sites in the Kern High School District, said Erin Briscoe-Clarke, public information officer.

The summer semester began June 3, with Mira Monte, Kern Valley and Nueva Continuation high schools beginning June 4.

This year, there are 18,596 students enrolled in summer school in the district, which runs through July 12. Last year the district saw 16,994 students enrolled in summer school.

As far as what classes are available, “each school offers courses based on the needs of their students,” Briscoe-Clarke said. Many sites offer remedial courses in science, math and English and ones specifically dedicated to introducing incoming freshmen to high school.

At West High School, 995 students are taking advantage of summer school classes, said assistant principal of administration Fabian Buckner, about half of the school’s approximate 2,000 population. By taking those additional classes, many are avoiding the dreaded “summer slide,” a phenomenon that suggests students lose the skills they learned from the school year during the summer months.

“Any time we have students on campus, it’s better for us and them,” said incoming principal Megan Gregor. 

Courses that are available for students to take at West High School include advanced algebra, biology and history for English learners, science, physical education and health.

On Friday, students in the math mindset class were working in groups to find patterns in different shapes by using blocks. The course, aimed at incoming freshmen, focuses on mathematical concepts that will change how students view the subject and their success with it, Gregor explained.

Students who did not pass their introduction to physical science course have another chance at success by taking Nicole Rodriguez’s makeup class. One concept students learned about Friday was the difference between covalent and ionic bonds.

There is also an introduction to West High School class, called summer bridge, that teaches incoming freshmen the school’s value system.

Buckner explained Viking PRIDE consists of “participation, responsibility, integrity, determination and empathy.”

“We really are a Viking family here, and we strive to teach those lessons early on,” he added.

Each day students rotate between three teachers that share note taking skills and how best to prepare for the change from middle school to high school.

One teacher they see is Christina Davis, whose English class was busy working on comprehension analysis questions Friday.

“It’s exciting stuff they’re working on today,” she said, laughing.

West High students can learn a semester’s worth of skills and concepts in three weeks and earn five credits. If they choose to attend summer school for six weeks, they will earn 10 credits. There are also afternoon online classes available both semesters, so if a student chooses to take advantage of both a morning class and afternoon online class, they can earn a maximum of 20 credits. However, Gregor said most students do not choose to take on four total classes over the summer.

Teachers in the district also have “summer school” of their own, where they meet all throughout June to build curriculum for the following school year.

CSUB Food Pantry to continue helping food insecure students during the summer

Though the school year is over, hunger in the community is not. As a result, Cal State Bakersfield’s Food Pantry will continue being an option for students over the summer – whether they are enrolled in summer classes or not.

The pantry is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays and 2 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Summer hours, which began May 28, run through Aug. 23. 

Any CSUB student can come and use the pantry during the summer, not just those enrolled in summer courses. Food distributions will take place on the third Monday of the month. The Food Pantry will be in the Student Union lobby throughout June, July and August.