News Briefs


One of two people killed in I-5 crash identified

Kings County officials released the name of one of the two people killed Sunday afternoon in a collision on Interstate 5 near Avenal.

Officials said Mariana Fraga, 26, of San Francisco was a passenger in a 2000 Volkswagen that was traveling north on Interstate 5 and was struck by a vehicle traveling south that drifted across the median and into oncoming traffic.

The name of the driver of the car, a 35-year-old Newport Beach woman, was being withheld Monday, pending notification of family, said Tom Edmonds, chief deputy coroner for Kings County.

California Highway Patrol officers said Blanca Grande, 23, was driving a 1995 Ford south on Interstate 5 near Quebec Avenue about 4 p.m. Sunday when her vehicle drifted across the center divider, where it collided with the Volkswagen carrying Fraga and the other woman who died.

Fraga and the Volkswagen driver were pronounced dead at the scene.

Grande and a passenger in her vehicle, 36-year-old Jose Quintanilla, were taken to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno for treatment of major injuries.

Woman, boy in fatal Madera Co. crash ID'd

The Madera County Sheriff's Department on Monday identified the victims of a Sunday morning crash in Madera County as Martha Alicia Meza, 33, and Jose DeJesus Vasques Meza, 11, of Chowchilla.

The accident occurred when the SUV they were riding in flipped over on Road 16, south of Avenue 17. The California Highway Patrol said the two were riding in a 1993 Chevrolet Blazer driven by Javier Vasquez, 40, of Chowchilla about 9:30 a.m. when the vehicle's left rear tire failed.

Officers said Vasquez then lost control of the SUV. The two were killed instantly.

Vasquez and a passenger, 7-year-old Javier M. Vasquez, suffered major injuries and were taken to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno. A fourth passenger, Jesus Vasquez, 60, suffered only minor injuries.


Damon Dyer pleads guilty to 12 drug charges

Damon Dyer, the nephew of Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer, has pleaded guilty to 12 drug charges and will be sentenced next month.

Damon Dyer was scheduled to appear in Fresno County Superior Court on Monday, but the hearing was canceled after he agreed to plead guilty to the charges Wednesday.

Dyer, 27, was arrested in March by Clovis police after a 11/2-month investigation using a confidential informant. He was charged with eight crimes, including selling drugs. He faced four additional charges stemming from an arrest in November.

In the end, he pleaded guilty to four counts of selling or transporting a controlled substance, one count of possessing a controlled substance with the intent to sell, two counts of the unlawful possession of a controlled substance, one count of possessing a controlled substance, one count of the unauthorized possession of a hypodermic needle, one count of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, one count of being under the influence of a controlled substance, and one count of possessing marijuana.

Defendant charged in teen's slaying sentenced

One of four defendants who was charged with the murder of 16-year-old Courtney Rice was sentenced Monday to 16 years and eight months in prison in Fresno County Superior Court.

In February, a jury convicted Albert Vargas, 25, of attempted forcible rape and imprisonment, but acquitted him of first-degree murder. But the jury could not reach a decision on whether he was guilty of second-degree murder.

Prosecutors dropped plans for a retrial after Vargas agreed to plead no contest to voluntary manslaughter.

Prosecutors to work with Hawk to return property

A Kings County judge told county prosecutors and the attorney representing Dave Hawk to work out a plan to return items seized from Hawk's home.

Hawk, 49, of Lemoore is accused of tax evasion, embezzlement and perjury for what authorities say are his efforts to remove money from the trust funds of his three children. He faces trial on those charges in July.

Dave Hawk is a suspect in the disappearance and presumed death of Debbie Hawk, his former wife, but officials haven't filed any charges against him related to her disappearance.

Hawk's attorney, Mark Cole- man, said Hawk was seeking the return of items such as family albums and yearbooks that were taken during searches conducted by law enforcement at his home in 2006.

Hawk is scheduled to return to court for a pretrial hearing on the matter in June, Coleman said.

Two pot dispensers ordered to pay $8.89 million

Modesto residents Luke Scar- mazzo and Ricardo Ruiz Montes, convicted on federal drug charges, were on Monday ordered by U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger to pay about $8.89 million to the U.S. government. The government had already seized about $300,000 in cash from the two men, taken from homes and safe deposit boxes belonging to them.

Montes and Scarmazzo operated a medical marijuana dispensary known as the California Healthcare Collective that was raided by law enforcement officials in September 2006. A federal court jury convicted the two of manufacturing marijuana and distributing the drug, as well as operating a continuing criminal enterprise, a felony charge that carries a mandatory 20-year minimum prison term, with the possibility of life behind bars.

The money the men must pay the government -- as well as cash already seized -- represents what government prosecutors said was gross proceeds from the dispensary.