A federal jury sent mixed signals in a Fresno police fatal shooting case, Fresno drivers got rewarded for being good drivers and the draining of Shaver Lake has exposed a long-unseen part of the lake's history.
Here are the top stories of the past week, along with selected comments posted by readers at fresnobee.com.
What happened: A federal jury found that Fresno police Sgt. Mike Palomino used excessive and unreasonable force when he shot and killed Steven Anthony Vargas, who was unarmed but high on drugs in October 2009. The same jury, however, cleared Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer of any role in the shooting and was unable to reach any verdict on a wrongful-death claim that included Dyer, Palomino and the city.
What it means: The mixed verdict's complexity led U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii to scrap his original plan to move into the trial's second phase to determine how much the Vargas family was owed. Ishii ordered jurors back on Jan. 18, giving the city and Vargas family time to digest the verdict -- and negotiate a possible settlement.
What readers said:
"It wasn't until after the event and the autopsy was performed that they found PCP in his system. All the police officer knew is that a guy in an SUV jumped a curb and hit a van. The officer seemed to not go through all of the steps of escalation before he decided to EMPTY HIS MAGAZINE into a person sitting in a car (which means that all of the bullets that hit the suspect would probably have had to hit him in the torso and head. The jury found it excessive. I am no fan of druggies or gang members in any way whatsoever, but just as the jury decided, the force used was excessive."
"Well let's see .. Vargas was high on PCP, jumped the curb with his car repeatedly ramming it into another vehicle, a witness told the officer (whether it was true or not) that Vargas had a gun, so that left the officer to play the What will this moron do next? game. If I was a cop I'd be a bit edgy under those circumstances too."
"This is what we get when we allow our police department to run rampant without checks and balances, and without a police auditor/civilian review committee in place. We do away with a police auditor to save money. Hmmm, let see how much we really save."
What happened: Fresno police traffic officers handed out $50 gas cards to drivers they saw using safe motoring skills. The $10,000 used for the program came from Allstate because the number of fatal traffic collisions in Fresno has dropped 47% over the past eight years.
What it means: Some drivers were startled to be pulled over but then glad when they found out why.
What readers said:
"My dad is a retired (big city) cop and he thinks this is a really bad idea. I'm going to bet that even the PoPo who pull you over to congratulate you on your excellent driving will agree. These men and women put their lives on the line every time they make a traffic stop. It's a risk they take to keep crazy folk off the road in order to keep us safe ... but to stop a person in order to give them a surprise $50 gas card? That's taking chances with officers' lives for political/publicity purposes."
"Business (as represented by Allstate) knows what good teachers and good parents have always known: rewarding desired behavior is often a more efficient management tool than punishing undesirable behavior (though both can be necessary when the undesirable behavior has strong rewards of its own)."
"I used to live in Dallas. Putting on a turn signal was a sign for the other drivers to speed up so you couldn't change lanes."
Lake bed revealed
What happened: The draining of Shaver Lake has exposed a segment of Fresno County history to sunlight for the first time in decades.
The county's newest "tourist attraction" is the 50-foot-tall, 300-foot-long, rock-fill dam built in 1893 by the Fresno Flume and Irrigation Co. for its lumber mill operation.
What it means: Shaver Lake will remain completely drained this winter while contractors hired by lake operator Southern California Edison place a protective liner along bottom sections of the dam's concrete surface to guard against erosion and leakage.
What readers said:
"I was curious enough to venture up and see the dry lake. It's something that won't happen again for another hundred years or more, and, being an outdoors-kinda-gal that's hiked all around the lake for years, I found it facinating!"
"What gives with SCE by not at least allowing an archaeological team to photo document the site? SCE is not showing any sense of the community's need to document, for future generations, the history that sits at the bottom to their lake."
Catching Up is compiled by Bee editors. Go to fresnobee.com/catchingup/ to comment or learn more about these stories.