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Pictured: Off Highway Vehicle used by Ventura County Sheriff’s Office in Aug. 26 rescue. Photo submitted. 

by Kimberly Rivers

Off-road rescue near Lockwood Valley

On the morning of Aug. 26 Ventura County Sheriff’s officers responded to a 911 call from a family member of an offr-oad motorcycle rider reporting his bike had broken down and he was stranded in a remote area on Halfmoon Trail. The trail, located in the Los Padres National Forest, is considered very challenging. 

Rescuers found the bike and followed shoe print tracks to Sunset Campground as temperatures reached over 90 degrees. The deputy found boots and protective gear left on the ground, with sock prints in the dirt. Additional resources were called in and a deputy out of the Lockwood Valley office located the rider on Piru Creek Trail. He was dehydrated but otherwise in good condition and was able to hike out a short ways to get a ride in a sheriff’s office off-highway vehicle. 

National forests closed due to fire danger

The National Forest Service has announced the closure of all national forest areas in the Pacific Southwest Region due to extreme fire risk. The area has been at a rating of National Wildfire Preparedness Level 5 since July 14, 2021, indicating the highest level of wildland fire activity. 

The temporary closure is in effect through Sept. 17. 

Certain forest access is exempted from the closure including those with specific Forest Service permits, those with special use authorization, and those with a non-special-use written authorization for non-recreational activities. 

Camarillo man charged with stealing $1 million

Ventura County District Attorney Erik Nasarenko has filed charges against Steven Franklin Gordon on several counts of grand theft, forgery, identity theft and credit card fraud. 

Nasarenko alleges that Gordon, in his capacity as an insurance agent, stole over $1 million from three clients through unauthorized withdrawals on their annuities and value of life insurance policies. 

Gordon was arrested on Aug. 26, 2021, posted bail, was released and is scheduled for arraignment on Sept. 9 in Courtroom 12 of Ventura County Superior Court. 

The California Department of Insurance participated in the investigation and states there could be more victims. Anyone with additional information is asked to contact the CDI investigator Randy Vickrey at 661-253-7530. 

Music teacher gets 15 years for child pornography

The United States Department of Justice has announced that John Zeretzke, 62 of Ventura, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for producing child pornography. 

Zeretzke, a music teacher in Ventura County, founded the Ojai-based nonprofit Flutes Across the World in 2009, which had a mission of connecting American children to children in other parts of the world through music. In what would be called the “tainted flute case,” the investigation uncovered that Zeretzke would ejaculate on the flutes that would be given to children. He also used the Internet to connect with minors and the current charges are a result of Zeretzke pleading guilty to coercing a female minor outside of California to produce pornography between December 2016 and February 2017. 

In court documents included with the sentencing, prosecutors stated Zeretzke “preyed on young, impoverished girls in Third World countries and used his Flutes Across the World program as means to contact and sometimes take advantage of those girls.” 

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Catharine A. Richmond, with the Violent and Organized Crime Section, and is part of Project Safe Childhood, an ongoing initiative of the U.S. Department of Justice. 

Local groups join environment justice rally in Sacramento

On Aug. 30, the Parents Against Santa Susana Field Lab (PASSFL) and the Social Justice Fund for Ventura County participated in a protest, with dozens of organizations and groups at the state capital demanding the California Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Toxic Substances Control act immediately to clean up various contaminated sites across the state, including the contamination from rocket fuel testing and a partial nuclear meltdown at the Santa Susana Field Lab in Simi Valley. 

“We were promised a comprehensive cleanup of the radioactive and chemical waste site near our homes would be completed by 2017. The soil cleanup hasn’t even begun,” said Melissa Bumstead, a Simi Valley resident and founder of PASSFL. Her daughter and other children in the area have been diagnosed with rare forms of cancer. “DTSC and CalEPA are refusing to follow science and protect the health of vulnerable communities.”