YUCCA VALLEY MAN FACES LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE IN FATAL BURNING OF EX-GIRLFRIEND

A Yucca Valley man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend in 2011 by setting her on fire will face life without parole, and not the death penalty, if he is convicted at trial. Last week, Deputy District Attorney Kent Williams announced at a preliminary hearing for Hector Meza, 41, that the state will no longer seek the death penalty for Meza and his four co-defendants. Meza is accused of setting Maria Banuelos, 34, on fire October 22, 2011, at her apartment complex in Ontario. Banuelos died two days later of her burns. Meza was arrested during a traffic stop in Perris a few hours after Banuelos was set on fire. Hector Meza is being held at the West Valley Detention Center on charges of murder, torture, arson, and aggravated mayhem, with his bail set at $10 million. Meza’s next appearance in court will be August 15.

LANDERS MAN ARRESTED FOR THREATENING TO KILL WIFE

A Landers man was arrested Wednesday after he threatened his wife with a pellet gun. According to a Sheriff’s report, a witness reported about 4:45 p.m. that Gary Zumwalt, 61, of the 5600 block of Handley Road, was beating up his wife and threatening her with a pellet gun, and told her he was going to kill her. Zumwalt then took his wife into the house and moved a dresser in front of the door to keep her from leaving. Deputies use a public address system to ask Zumalt to come outside and when he did, Gary Zumwalt was arrested on suspicion of making terrorist threats, booked into the Morongo Basin Jail, with his bail set at $50,000.

SPECIAL DISTRICT BUDGET APPROVED, OVER LANDERS PROTEST

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Landers-area residents and agency officials protested a County Special District spending plan for a County-run water district, whose details were revealed publicly this past Friday. Reporter Dan Stork chronicles the back-and-forth…
Third District Supervisor James Ramos questioned County staffer Jeff Rigney closely about the capital projects budget for the Goat Mountain district. Rigney explained that the budget targets infrastructure improvements for the county-administered water district, also known as CSA 70 W-1. Improvements listed by Rigney included smart water meters, replacement of pressure reduction valves and service lines, and more. In response to Ramos’ questions, Rigney said that if the annexation of the district by the Bighorn-Desert View Water Agency succeeds, then the ratepayers of the district will still benefit from the money collected via the rate increases of recent years, and any funds not expended will carry over. Bighorn Board President Judy Corl-Lorono, speaking via the Joshua Tree teleconferencing link, characterized the spending plan as a deliberate, unjustified spending spree, which would drain the district’s reserves from over $1.2 million to under $60,000 in two years’ time. Big Horn General Manager Marina West weighed in: “The W-1 construction budget is unwarranted on many levels and overpriced.” She claimed that County Special Districts’ administration has a history of being unresponsive and of wasteful spending when a district leaves the County system. “This is exactly the behavior that’s been the common thread of annexations of water agencies and other CSDs…These other communities—Phelan and Helendale—went through hell to get out. Along the way, all their moneys were squandered.” Despite such impassioned pleas, the Supervisors passed the Special District budget as submitted by staff. In other business specific to a Morongo Basin community, the Supervisors approved formation of a new zone within Wonder Valley for road grading and maintenance, and authorized a tax election to fund operations of the zone.

SUPERVISORS APPROVE SIDEWALKS IN JOSHUA TREE, MULTI-USE BUILDING IN LUCERNE VALLEY

A new sidewalk in Joshua Tree and a multi-use building in Lucerne Valley are among local items included in the budget adopted by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday. The supervisors approved a one-time funding of $100,000 to construct sidewalks from the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor’s Center to the highway in Joshua Tree. In Lucerne Valley, a one-time funding request of $100,000 was approved to rehabilitate a multi-use sports facility that was previously operated by a homeowner’s association. The refurbished facility will be operated as a neighborhood park. The supervisors also approved $5 million to repair or replace bridges on the National Trails Highway, also known as Route 66.

COUNTY REVISES BUDGET ANNOUNCEMENT

On the day after the county supervisors passed its budget for the coming fiscal year, the county issued a press release revising some points of its initial announcement of the passage. The revision removes public safety cuts as an option in the event concessions by unions do not materialize, because the nature of any cuts would be a policy decision made by the Board of Supervisors if and when the need arises. The revision also nearly doubled—to over $117 million —the valuation of county assets that are beyond their useful life and for which there is no funding to replace them.

SUMMER IS ALMOST HERE, DON’T LEAVE KIDS IN THE CAR

The first day of summer is this Saturday, but we’ve already seen triple-digit heat here in the Morongo Basin, and more is on the way. Managing editor Tami Roleff urges residents to be extra careful—especially with children—in the summer heat.
Those at the greatest risk of heat-related illnesses are seniors and children. Health Department Public Information Officer Henry Varela stresses that leaving a child in a hot car, even for a short time, can be dangerous and can kill them. “Children’s body temperatures rise at three to five times that of an adult. Therefore, when it comes to children, they’re probably more at risk than anybody else.” According to Varela, in more than half of the cases where children have died from heat stroke in the U.S. in the past 15 years, the caregiver reported “forgetting” the child was even in the vehicle. “That’s why it’s always important for parents to be vigilant, no only when they’re driving in the car with their child and going somewhere, but also when you’re at home. Make sure your doors are locked so that your children can’t get in.” Varela adds that in the U.S., heat stroke is the leading cause of non-crash-related deaths in vehicles for children under age 14.

MORONGO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD CALLS SPECIAL MEETING TO EVALUATE SUPERINTENDANT

The Morongo Unified School District Board of Education has called a special meeting for today, June 19, at 5 pm. The meeting’s agenda is a closed session for the purpose of evaluating the performance of Superintendent Dr. Cecilia English. The meeting will take place at Joshua Tree Elementary School.

WARREN VALLEY WATERMASTER MEETS TONIGHT

The Warren Valley Basin Watermaster board of directors will meet at 6:00 tonight (Thursday June 19). On the agenda, the board will be asked to approve a budget for fiscal year 2014-15, and then adopt a code of ethics. The meeting will conclude with directors’ comments. Tonight’s meeting will be held at the Hi-Desert Water District office on Inca Trail and the highway in Yucca Valley.

TICKETS AVAILABLE FOR RIVETING DRAMA, A DOLL’S HOUSE, AT THEATRE 29

The riveting drama, “A Doll’s House,” is now playing weekends at Theatre 29. With show details and how to get tickets, here is reporter Sara Snyder…
Regular tickets are now available for the fourth production of the Theatre 29 season, the classic, “A Doll’s House,” a gripping drama by Henrik Ibsen. “A Doll’s House” is now running weekends through July 19. Performances will be held at 7:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights (except July 4th) with 2:30 Sunday matinees June 29, July 6 and July 13. Directed by Kurt Schauppner, “A Doll’s House” tells the story of Torvald who loves his wife, Nora, but secretly considers her a child and possession. When a secret comes back to haunt Nora, her life becomes a battleground between societal norms and her growing hunger for self-determination. Tickets are $8-$12 and may be ordered online at theatre29.org, or by calling the Theatre 29 Box Office at 760-361-4151.

FREE LUNCHES FOR STUDENTS OFFERRED IN YUCCA VALLEY AND TWENTYNINE PALMS

Morongo Basin students up to age 18 can receive a free lunch in Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms. The free lunch program begins Monday, June 23, and runs through Friday, August 1. Lunches will include a sandwich or pita, fresh fruit, vegetable, and milk. The free lunches will be available at the Family Health Clinics in Yucca Valley (58375 29 Palms Hwy.) and Twentynine Palms (72724 29 Palms Hwy.) between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. In addition, youth activities and entertainment will also be provided. The program is a partnership between the Hi-Desert Medical Center, the Morongo Unified School District, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program. For more information, call Donna Stice at 760-365-9305.

FREE MOVIE IN LUCKIE PARK IN TWENTYNINE PALMS TONIGHT: “ENDERS GAME”

The free “Movies in Luckie Park” series continues tonight in Twentynine Palms. Reporter Taylor Thacker invites you to kick back on the cool grass and watch “Enders Game”…
The City of Twentynine Palms Recreation Department presents their free event, Movies in Luckie Park, with “Ender’s Game” playing on Thursday, June 19. In this movie, the Earth was ravaged by the Formics, an alien race seemingly determined to destroy humanity. Seventy years later, the people of Earth remain banded together to prevent their own annihilation from this technologically superior alien species. Ender Wiggin, a quiet but brilliant boy, may become the savior of the human race. He will be tested and honed into an empathetic killer who begins to despise what he does as he learns to fight in hopes of saving Earth and his family. Come to Luckie Park to see what happens to Ender. This movie will be playing at approximately 8:30 p.m. at the north side of the racquetball courts in Luckie Park. Bring chairs, blankets, friends and family.