| Babysitter acquittal, drought's end top Reporter stories of the year
With 2017 coming to a close, The Reporter took a look back at the top stories of the year for Solano County, some of which will continue in 2018.
After four days of jury deliberations and a monthlong trial, Gina Bailey, 26, was acquitted in December in the death of 17-month-old Thor Thompson. She had been accused of fatally shaking and dropping Thor while he was in her care on Dec. 17, 2015, but was found not guilty of charges of murder and assault on a child causing death.
Thor suffered a fractured skull and was pronounced dead early the next day at the University of California, Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. Bailey was arrested Dec. 22, 2015, the same day she confessed to Fairfield police that she shook and dropped Thor.
During trial testimony though, Bailey denied harming the child, and her defense counsel argued their client gave a false confession because of her Intellectual Disability Disorder.
The defense also contended Thor’s hospitalization for pneumonia on Dec. 10 and 11, 2015 may have played a factor in his death, though his family claimed he was back to his normal self in the days leading up to Dec. 17.
Bailey learned she was pregnant shortly after she was arrested. She gave birth to the child while in custody.
Drought declared over
Gov. Jerry Brown declared California’s drought over April 7. Vacaville followed suit, officially declaring the drought over later that month.
The declaration came after a record-breaking winter of rainfall for Solano County. Vacaville received more than 45 inches of rainfall from July 2016 to April 2017. Normal rainfall for this period would be 24 inches.
A particularly wet period from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, 2017 dumped almost 30 inches of rain on the city, compared to 8.99 inches during that same period in 2016. The Vacaville City Council ended up adding $1.3 million to its budget to account for the costs of the subsequent flooding, fallen trees and damage to structures and creek banks. Those costs mostly included repairs, but also employee overtime, sandbags and rented equipment to remove debris.
The heavy rains also caused the Glory Hole spillway at Lake Berryessa to spill over for the first time in ten years, drawing spectators to watch the mesmerizing swirl.
In May, two employees of Vacaville-based ICON Aircraft Inc. died in a crash after they took their light sport, amphibious airplane on an “employee demonstration flight” from Nut Tree Airport to Lake Berryessa with a plan to “conduct water maneuvers.”
Jon Murray Karkow, 55, the pilot, was the man who led the plane’s design, and Cagri Sever, 41, the passenger, had recently joined ICON as an engineering leader.
A NTSB report, released in August, concluded that the probable cause of that accident was “the pilot’s failure to maintain clearance from terrain while maneuvering at a low altitude.”
Then in November, former Blue Jays and Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay died in a crash while flying his A5 in Florida.
Rolled out in 2014, the A5 is an amphibious aircraft meant to be treated like an ATV, a piece of weekend recreational gear with folding wings that can easily be towed on a trailer to a lake where it can take off from the water.
Napa’s Atlas Fire pushed into Solano County in October and burned 6,317 acres in Solano County including three homes.
Don Ryan, emergency services manager with the county’s Office of Emergency Services, explained that approximately $4.9 million worth of damages occurred within Solano County, which includes the three residences that were lost. He added that approximately $1.36 million worth of damages is combined with the county and the cities of Fairfield and Vallejo.
Overall, the fire, which started off Atlas Peak Road south of Lake Berryessa, burned 51,624 acres, damaged 90 structures and destroyed 481 in Napa and Solano Counties before it was contained.
Evacuation shelters for people opened at Solano Community College and Allan Witt Sports Center, and a large animal evacuation center opened at the Solano County Fairgrounds in Vallejo.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).
VPAT employees sentenced
Two former employees at the Vacaville Performing Arts Theatre were sentenced to serve prison time for possessing child pornography and will have to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives.
Donald Wade Jr., 36, was ordered to serve two years in state prison in August and Thomas McPike, 36, was sentenced to 16 months in April.
The two were arrested in July 2016 following an investigation by Vacaville police, who discovered Wade, a former part-time employee of VenueTech — a third-party company contracted by the city of Vacaville to manage the theatre — had more than 1,000 images of images of child pornography on his computer and electronic devices.
Police also found Wade in possession of video footage of teenage girls at the Ulatis Drive theater, which was filmed between 2012 and 2013. Wade also conducted a sex act using costumes at the theater.
McPike, a former full-time technical director, pleaded no contest to possessing child pornography. He allegedly destroyed his computer hard drive with an ax, according to police.
Both men were fired after VenueTech was made aware of Vacaville police’s investigation.
Will C. Wood High School broke ground on its own football stadium in April. The $16 million project was made possible by funds from Measure A, the $194 million school bond approved by voters in 2014.
The stadium and track areas are expected to finished by Feb. 1, while the “field house” area, the site of team dressing rooms and the concession stand, will be complete in late February or early March, according to a December update from Randall Barbour, project manager for Alten Construction.
Wildcat football games and graduations have been held at Zunino Stadium at rival Vacaville High School on West Monte Vista Avenue.
Wood’s Class of 2018 will be the first to have its June graduation ceremony at the Marshall Road campus.
California voters approved Proposition 64 in November 2016 to legalize marijuana for recreational use, which means that cities were busy in 2017 working out local regulations.
Vacaville chose to implement an Interim Urgency Ordinance in September, prohibiting all commercial, industrial and retail cannabis land uses and all outdoor cannabis cultivation. The initial 45-day period expired Nov. 10, so the city council extended the moratorium to the maximum allowed period of an additional 22 months and 15 days.
Under California law, the city cannot prohibit personal cultivation, but can regulate it.
The city’s legal staff are currently studying up on various land uses associated with cannabis, including personal cultivation, industrial, agricultural and commercial uses.
They will be presenting information on these various aspects, as well as taxation, banking and legal impacts, to the city council in 2018.
Likewise, in November the Solano County Board of Supervisors extended its own Interim Urgency Ordinance, banning commercial cannabis activity for a year.
Staff were directed to proceed with drafting an ordinance to permanently ban commercial marijuana activity in the unincorporated areas of the county.
Meanwhile, Dixon said yes to cannabis businesses in 2017, adopting zoning for these businesses and allowing two retail dispensaries in the city.
The city approved development agreements for two dispensaries: Dixon Wellness Collective at 1150 North First St. and Dixon Indoor Farming on Vaughn Road. The latter applicant plans to develop a “cannabis business park” at 855 and 725 Vaughn Road, in order to lease space to cultivators and manufacturers at a later date. So far, the applicant has only submitted plans for the dispensary.
Dixon has also approved an agreement with BEGK for a non-volatile cannabis manufacturing facility at 500 Industrial Way.
Fairfield Fire Bomber
The city of Fairfield was shaken awake in April by a series of fire bombings, including one that targeted the Fairfield Police Department.
Matthew Scott Jones, 39, was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, committing a hate crime, two counts of possessing a destructive device, possessing a destructive device with the intent to injure people, exploding a destructive device with the intent to commit murder and two counts of arson.
In a jailhouse interview, Jones told The Reporter he was under the influence of methamphetamine at the time, and that voices told him to carry out the attacks that were meant to “make a statement.”
He added, however, that he didn’t intend to hurt anyone.
Jones has pleaded not guilty to all charges and enhancements.
The first incident occurred around 10 p.m. April 27 at an apartment in the 2900 block of North Texas Street. The two victims were inside the residence at the time Jones allegedly threw the firebomb inside. Around 11 p.m., officers responded to a car fire on Thames Court and noticed similarities between the two incidents.
Then, in the early morning hours Friday, Jones allegedly placed another device in front of the lobby of the Fairfield Police Department.
Less than an hour later, officers located Jones driving his car in the 2900 block of North Texas Street.
While he was in custody, another incendiary device was located inside a warehouse in the 2400 block of Crocker Circle. It soon became apparent that the device was related to the other three, police said.
The Napa County’s bomb squad later rendered the device safe without further incident.
No injuries were reported.
Cop killer sentenced
A Fairfield man was sentenced in December to 21 years in prison for the 2016 gunshot slaying of an off-duty Richmond police officer.
Robert Vega, 32, shot and killed Augustine “Gus” Vegas, 58, in the early morning hours of Feb. 11, 2016, at Vegas’ Vallejo home.
Vega was convicted by a jury in October on charges of voluntary manslaughter as well as a gun enhancement.
Vegas was the father of Vega’s ex-girlfriend, Angel Vegas. Vega and Angel Vegas have a son together, who was 6 years old at the time of the shooting.
Cold case cracked
More than three decades after Vacaville teenager De Anna Lynn Johnson, 14, was murdered, Vacaville police announced in January that Marvin Ray Markle, 51, was arrested at Kern Valley State Prison on suspicion of murder and use of deadly weapon charges in the 1982 killing.
Markle was already serving an 80-year prison sentence for a 2001 homicide in Butte County.
Because Markle was 17 at the time of Johnson’s death, the case started in juvenile court, but was transferred to criminal court in July.
Markle has pleaded not guilty to all charges and special allegations.
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