Aug. 10--I have some updates on my recent rants.
Kern High School District and the autistic girl
KHSD is doubling down on its position that a severely mentally disabled girl wasn't harmed when she was possibly sexually assaulted in a bathroom at Independence High School in 2009 because she's so low-functioning.
Self-Insured Schools of California (SISC), the district's insurance company, filed its notice of appeal on Friday.
A Kern County jury awarded the girl's family $1.5 million in May, finding that the district had not properly protected the girl and she had suffered great harm.
The girl and a similarly disabled teen boy were found in the bathroom naked from the waist down with the boy pressing up against the girl from behind.
There were a number of troubling aspects to how the attorney for SISC/KHSD, Leonard Herr conducted the case.
Among them was his apparent refusal of a settlement offer for $225,000 proposed by Kern County Superior Court Judge Charles Brehemer in March. The family accepted but the district declined.
There is some confusion now as to whether KHSD trustees were told about the settlement proposal.
Despite the fact that SISC hires and pays for the attorney, California law states that KHSD is the client and, as such, district trustees should have been apprised of the settlement.
That may not have been the case, however.
"I am deeply grieved that the taxpayers have lost millions of dollars that SISC chose not to settle for $225,000," said KHSD board president Chad Vegas at the board's meeting last Monday, implying that he and fellow board members knew nothing about it.
SISC Director Robert Kretzmer told me in late July that he had been opposed to the settlement. But Herr sent an email saying no such settlement proposal was made.
I asked for clarification but Kretzmer declined further comment.
At Monday's meeting, Vegas also apologized to the father of the girl for, among other things, Herr having her followed and videotaped in 2013 to supposedly show that she wasn't emotionally damaged.
"I am sickened and angry, I about jumped out of my own skin yesterday when I read that in the paper and found out it was true," Vegas said.
Someone in KHSD obviously had to give SISC or Herr information about the girl's schedule for the investigators to follow her, Vegas said. If he knew who it was (and they didn't have tenure protection), he'd fire them, he said.
I asked Kretzmer who gave up that info, but, again, he declined to comment.
Though Vegas spoke about his personal disgust for how this case was handled, he was careful to put the mess at arm's length, saying SISC hires the attorney, not KHSD, and SISC is overseen by the Kern County Superintendent of Schools.
"You might want to address them," he told the girl's father.
Wow, way to buck up and take responsibility.
If KHSD really doesn't like how SISC handled this case, fire it. Lots of other insurance companies are out there.
Either way, the girl's father and his attorney, Ralph Wegis, told me they would be addressing the Kern County Board of Education (which oversees the Superintendent of Schools) at its Tuesday evening meeting (see infobox).
While I'm somewhat heartened to know trustees are as appalled as I am about how this case was handled, I believe the public deserves more.
"These children are still not being protected," the father said. "They're still being discriminated against."
The larger issue here is whether KHSD is willing to invest the time, effort, training, communication and outreach it will need to make sure something like this never happens again and that disabled children are valued as much as regular kids.
No one has mentioned a word about that.
If I were Jim Trino's family and friends, I'd be upset, too. I probably wouldn't blather about it all over Facebook, but that's just me.
After all, Trino and his buddies have been setting off illegal fireworks and homemade bombs on July 4th for years, decades even, according to Trino himself in an interview with KERO Channel 23.
Why would they ever think they'd get hooked up for it?
This year, though, Trino and three of his buds were severely burned when acetylene-filled balloons apparently went kablooey in their faces and they had to be taken to burn centers.
That's pretty hard for authorities to ignore. Though the Kern County Fire Department did its best for the better part of a month until Channel 23 reporter Mike Hart got the story.
Within days of Hart's story, the Sheriff's Office arrested Trino and Julian Elizondo, who owns the property out on Stockdale Highway where all the illegal merrymaking allegedly went on.
The reports of massive amounts of illegal fireworks and homemade bombs were bad enough considering Elizondo and Trino are both well into their 40s and both have felony records. But that wasn't all.
Shortly after the fire department responded to the blast on July 4th, another call came in about 11:15 p.m. on a burning vehicle not a mile away at Nord and Tiata avenues.
It was a truck with illegal fireworks in the bed that were "shooting off in all directions," according to an incident report.
Turns out, the truck is registered to Elizondo, said Ray Pruitt, sheriff's spokesman.
"After the explosion, Elizondo, or Elizondo and some others, put spent fireworks and unspent fireworks into the bed of the truck," Pruitt said. "They drove it to another location and parked it, abandoned it, basically to get the fireworks off the property."
Whaddaya know but the recently discharged, still hot, fireworks lit the unspent ones and -- boom, boom, boom.
After the fire was put out and arson investigators were called, someone moved the truck back to Elizondo's property, Pruitt said.
And yet, a couple of Trino's Facebook friends publicly posted that this whole sordid affair was A) common behavior for most Bakersfield men B) just bum luck and C) somehow mine and/or Hart's fault (see infobox).
This is a prime example of why we must ban all personal fireworks.
The legal stuff just gives scofflaws cover to take it up a notch with the illegal stuff. And why shouldn't they when it's typically treated with a shrug?
Until someone goes to the burn center, that is.
Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry. Her column runs Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or email [email protected]
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