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Mendocino County Today: August 25, 2012

TA DA! The County has announced a “Communication Plan Progress Report Available Online.” Natch, this masterwork is the expert labor of the inevitable consultants, a couple of local women paid, so far, $8,000, some $3,000 of which was lifted from the general fund. So far, nada, not even the “specific strategies” they promised.

(WE SUGGEST communications in English with Spanish sub-titles and, of course, a signer for the hearing impaired and perhaps braille communiques for the legally blind. We also suggest no words over two syllables and extra-large print.)

MORE THAN A THOUSAND firefighters continue to battle the North Pass Fire east of Covelo, which has now consumed some 20,000 acres. The blaze was started by a lightning strike last Saturday and has destroyed two outbuildings and injured three people. Calfire says as of late Friday afternoon the fast moving fire is 18% contained but at least 75 homes, 5 commercial properties and 80 outbuildings remain in danger.

ARMED ROBBERY IN POINT ARENA. A Magalia (Butte County) man and his son-in-law were booked into the Mendocino County Jail late Thursday afternoon when they were apprehended after they'd robbed, at gunpoint, the Redwood Credit Union of Point Arena of $50,000 cash. Fred Orlando, 55, of Magalia and Raymon Ojeda, 39, of Pico Rivera, are being held on $100,000 bail.

CAPTAIN KURT SMALLCOMB of the Sheriff's Department said one of bandits told detectives they'd targeted the credit union because it was located in a small, lightly patrolled town.

THE STICK-UP occurred a little after 1pm on Thursday when the pair entered the office and ordered employees at gunpoint to empty their cash drawers, threatening the office's clerks and several customers that they'd be hurt if they interfered in any way.

WITNESSES, taking note of the Jeep getaway vehicle, jotted down its license plate number.

SHERIFF'S DEPUTIES and CHP officers were quickly on-scene, and just as quickly determined that the robbers were not anywhere on Highway One. An unnamed Sheriff's deputy and CHP officer Terry Solomon, racing up Fish Rock Road, which leads east to Highway 128 and the Anderson Valley at Yorkville, spotted the fleeing Jeep as it stopped and Ojeda climbed out on the road where Solomon took him into custody.

ORLANDO, the older man, continued hurtling eastbound toward Anderson Valley where Sheriff's Deputy Luis Espinoza and Solomon caught up with the Jeep. It stopped, but Orlando at first refused to exit the vehicle, his hand on a loaded .38 “as if contemplating whether to open fire,” as Captain Smallcomb described Orlando's demeanor. Apparently concluding that it was better to surrender than shoot it out, Orlando gave up.

DR. DOUG ROSSOFF was killed Friday morning when he was struck by a dump truck at the intersection of East Gobbi Street and South Orchard Avenue, Ukiah. Rossoff was on his bicycle when he was hit by the truck at about 8am. He died at the scene. The accident remains under investigation.

ROSSOFF had recently resigned his job as the County's psychiatrist to take a position with the Veteran’s Administration. He was perhaps best known as the presiding therapist at the County Jail.

THE UKIAH WOMAN killed with her young daughter in a triple fatal crash near Hopland on Thursday has been identified as Mireya Ayala. A still unidentified male passenger with Ayala also died when Ayala unaccountably crossed into oncoming traffic on Highway 101 four miles south of Squaw Rock at Comminsky Station Road shortly before noon where she struck a Chevrolet Tahoe. Ayala's 4-year-old daughter, whose name has not been made available, was also badly injured in the crash.

AYALA'S Honda Civic struck the northbound Chevrolet Tahoe which was driven by Cloverdale resident Tennille Reyes. The Tahoe struck the driver side of the Honda, killing Ms. Ayala, her baby in a child safety seat behind her and the still unidentified man in Ms. Ayala's passenger seat. Ms. Ayala's 4-year-old daughter, who also was in a car seat, suffered major injuries and was airlifted to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.

MRS. REYES' 8-year-old son, John Reyes, was flown to Oakland Children's Hospital with moderate injuries, the CHP said, while Mrs. Reyes and her four-year-old daughter, Silvia, were taken to Ukiah Valley Medical Center for treatment.

JAMES BASSLER, father of the late Aaron Bassler, has sent the following Letter to the Editor to multiple area newspapers in response to the recent official report by the District Attorney’s office concerning the two murders Aaron Bassler committed followed by Aaron Bassler being shot and killed after a 30-day manhunt near Fort Bragg (

Letter To The Editor: As an extremely frustrated father and community member I feel the District Attorney’s report on the police shooting of Aaron Bassler shows clearly the need for change in the way our County government responds to issues relating to mental illness especially when public safety is a factor. I have no problem with the way the Sheriff handled Aaron’s apprehension. Among other things he conducted it with an understanding of the mental health issues and the trauma Aaron’s family was dealing with. This I believe helped prevent further loss of innocent life. In the end he did what he had to do.

My frustration comes from the County’s response to an emerging crisis. I believe these tragedies happened because of a near total lack of communication and understanding of  the connection between mental illness and public safety by our County. The DA’s report highlights some the problems. He independently makes his own diagnosis of Aaron’s illness based on his and jail staff perspective. He researches it no further than to ask Aaron’s mother what she knows, when the DA should know she had no access to Aaron’s mental health records because of privacy laws. The DA strongly believes Aaron’s “situational mental instability was primarily driven by alcohol and/or illicit drug abuse” and not mental illness. Any review of multiple Chinese Consulate incidents shows clearly that Aaron had bizarre and strongly held delusions. The DA did not investigate this. The investigation into Aaron’s mental health should have taken place much sooner and involved a broader perspective than just an overworked jail staff.

This report goes out of its way to blame the family and especially the mother. This is a little like the pot calling the kettle black. The DA seems to have no understanding about Aaron’s mental health or the dangers it posed. For different reasons, his mother was thinking the same way. I don’t believe she is a bad person any more than I think the DA is a bad person. What is bad is a system that lets her and jail staff make decisions without some help. None of Aaron’s doctors would ever talk to his mother about Aaron. Aaron didn’t even allow the doctor’s secretary to talk to her. The system did not help her at all. The DA also uses some footnotes to condemn the whole family through pure speculation of who knew what when. The truth is when I could see Aaron was becoming dangerous, I didn’t go door to door to the whole community or to every ex-relative 30 years removed and try to convince them of the problem, I went to those with the power to help --  County government. Through a letter to the County psychiatrist, jail medical staff, public defender, district attorney, and judge by different routes. The letter clearly stated my concerns about Aaron’s medical condition and safety, the family's safety and that of the community.

The DA’s speculation about who should be talking to who in both of the large families is again the pot calling the kettle black. Who didn’t communicate with whom in government? Where did the letters to the County Departments go? I admit that at the time, I had no idea how bad communication in government was and that allowed another tragedy to happen. First of all I thought my letter to the Sheriff’s jail medical staff informed them of my concerns about Aaron’s medical condition and dangerousness. He was in jail after two violent arrests. Also I had contact with multiple Law Enforcement Officers in the months leading up to the first shooting that informed me that Aaron was frequently observed in the Westport to Usal area acting suspiciously.  In the first encounter, two officers came to my door and told me Aaron was a suspect in the shooting of an elk. I assumed he must be suspected of owning a high power rifle to bring down something as large as an elk. The location was described as North of Westport and near Usal. A third Officer talked to me on two different occasions about Aaron’s trespassing and suspicious behavior, again giving me the Westport to Usal area as the location. The Government had all the information I had and surely much more; so I assumed if he wasn’t a suspect, then they had information or contact with him proving him to be somewhere else at the time. I should add that I knew Aaron had problems but it’s hard to believe your own son could commit such a terrible crime. I also heard conspiracy theories based on Sheriff Department speculation about cartel involvement. After all, cartel or not there is a lot of growing going on in the county however it’s organized; and Aaron would be an outcast among outlaws. He would be an easy fall guy to take a wrap. When his mother told me about dropping him off, she was not clear about the day she did it. It could have been after the shooting. My head was spinning and I missed a chance to make a difference. I’ll have to live with that.

The DA says this case is being used as a lightning rod to bring change. This is absolutely true. I would like to make a difference before the next similar case. I don’t know if I can change the mind of the DA, but looking into the future it seems to me blaming the family is an age-old reaction that provides no better outcomes for the future. A real investigation into why this happened would show that the same information was available to both government and the family, and we both failed. As a citizen and tax payer I see no future in trying to change the inner workings of a family especially if you treat them as the enemy. If government isn’t working well on mental health and public safety, in a democracy we can change that.

It should be obvious that we have a local government communication and collaboration problem with everyone working independently from everyone else. There is a lot of misunderstanding about what Laura’s Law does, but its greatest asset is that it brings communication and collaboration to local government, and that will provide better outcomes in similar cases.

Jim Bassler, Fort Bragg

One Comment

  1. Heather August 26, 2012

    Your facts regarding the Armed Robbery in PA was well written and accurate. I want to Thank our small community in providing the vehicle description and the plate numbers to the sheriff’s dispatch so quickly. I also want to thank our Members that were there in the Branch with me for remaining calm. We all did an amazing job and no one was injured.


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