Kenneth Walter Freitas will be arraigned Monday at 8:30 a.m. in the courtroom of San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge John Trice on a single charge of vehicular manslaughter.
Freitas, the 33-year-old son of longtime county tax collector, treasurer, and public administrator Frank Freitas, drove through a Grover Beach crosswalk Sept. 7, 2002, striking teen-ager Sarah Scruggs and a friend. Scruggs, 17, died four days later of her injuries.
The defendant will hear the charge against him and enter a plea in Department 9 where Trice, a former county district attorney and the newest appointment to the local bench, presides.
An Arroyo Grande resident, Freitas has a checkered driving record including at least 19 traffic citations since 1988, and a pair of road-rage incidents in 1998 and 1999, both of which occurred in this county.
The road-rage cases were filed as felonies by district attorney deputies, but all charges were later reduced to misdemeanors.
In the Scruggs case, District Attorney Gerald Shea decided that a potential conflict of interest existed because of the Freitas connection to local government power circles, and referred the case to the state attorney general.
That referral, however, came only after the case had resided for six months on the desk of Deputy District Attorney Lee Cogan, whose task is to assign cases for prosecution.
The Attorney General subsequently decided not to pursue action against Freitas.
In the ensuing public uproar over the lack of charges against Freitas, both the district attorney and the county grand jury received more than 600 letters from county residents.
Following the state’s decision not to involve itself in the Freitas case, District Attorney Shea, in an unprecedented move, decided to file the criminal charge against Freitas only hours before the statute of limitation ran out on the alleged crime.
And the county grand jury is investigating the actions of the district attorney in his handling of the case.
The prosecutor for the case will not be assigned until Monday, said a district attorney spokeswoman.
Feds bust former Poly prof for child porn
Federal agents, arrested Safwat Moustafa on Tuesday, Sept. 23, the former chairman of Cal Poly’s Mechanical Engineering department, on two counts of possession of child pornography.
After a federal grand jury in Los Angeles issued an indictment against Moustafa, FBI agents arrested him at his Grover Beach home without incident. If convicted of the charges, Moustafa faces up to 10 years in federal prison.
According to the U.S. attorney’s office, computer technician David Langer was repairing Moustafa’s school laptop in February 2001 and discovered more than 10 child pornography images.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rod Castro-Silva said there was a four- to five-month lag between the time when Cal Poly administrators found out about the first 10 images in February and when the local sheriff’s department was notified in July by a third party.
Castro-Silva could not comment on whether the U.S. Attorney’s office was conducting an investigation into the delay.
After obtaining search warrants to Moustafa’s other school computers, Cal Poly police and the FBI found more than 50 images of naked boys and girls on one laptop. Some of the children were preschool age.
Moustafa didn’t enter a plea when he appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Willard McEwen Jr. in Santa Barbara on Tuesday. Moustafa was released on $200,000 bail and is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Oct. 13.
Distress call prompts evacuation
The “distraught person” who prompted the evacuation of Atascadero High School and the cancellation of numerous sports events Sept. 16 is a San Luis Obispo police officer.
Atascadero Police Lt. John Couch said dispatchers received a distress call shortly after 3 p.m. and responded to a residence located about two bocks from the high school.
Couch said officers arrived at the scene with the knowledge that a man in the house was threatening suicide. Additionally, weapons were kept in the house, and two children, ages 4 and 5, were also reported to be inside.
Based on the information provided by Atascadero police, the school’s resource officer contacted principal Kim Spinks with the recommendation that the southwest side of the campus be cleared.
The day’s classes ended at 2:20 p.m., but hundreds of youngsters
were involved in athletic activities and after-school projects. Teachers,
most still in their classrooms, were informed via an intercom to remain
inside until the threat was assessed, said Spinks.
According to Couch, officers made telephone contact with the person, who was identified as Greg Gallo, and engaged in a “low key” conversation throughout the incident. Couch said police confirmed that weapons were in the house, “but weapons did not play into it [the incident],” he said.
When Gallo emerged after about 20 minutes, he and the children were taken to the police station where, Couch said, “it was determined that no crime had occurred.”
Couch said Gallo told investigators he would seek counseling “on his own.”
Spinks said that, coincidentally, an emergency “lockdown drill”
had been conducted at the school the morning of the incident.
Controversy is rallying round a flag proposed in San Luis Obispo’s open space zone.
The local American Legion wants to embed a monumental red, white, and blue banner in the greenbelt at the southern edge of the city, hoisting up questions about whether the American flag should be allowed to fly above city regulations.
Members of the Architectural Review Commission (ARC) delayed making a decision last week about whether or not to waive adopted guidelines to allow an illuminated billboard-size American flag on a 50-foot flagpole.
The American Legion is targeting the grassy hilltop next to KSBY studios for what it calls “a noble and patriotic endeavor” that would “enhance the beauty of our city.” The brightly lit flag “would be the first thing you see coming into town, and the last thing you see as you leave, going both north and south,” says Bob Bryn, past commander of the local Legion post.
Cal Poly architecture professor Bruno Giberti urged the Architectural Review Commission to deny the request, saying, “Giant flags are an imposition on the landscape and the people of this city.”
Cynthia Boche of San Luis Obispo also asked for a “no” vote.
“Ever more ostentatious displays of the American flag will no more demonstrate or induce true patriotism than those products touted in all the spam e-mail will really ‘increase your manhood’: Please do not allow the American Legion to clutter up our rural fringe with what is, essentially, a billboard for a product that many of us are not very happy with lately,” she said.
The ARC will consider the issue again on Monday, Oct. 20, to give the American Legion time to negotiate with KSBY for a space for the flagpole in their parking lot, which is zoned for office use. City regulations allow a 35-foot non-illuminated flagpole on that site.
Senior planner Pam Ricci said comments may be e-mailed to her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or made by telephone at 781-7170.
KCBX needs a little help from its friends
A tired economy is having an adverse effect on SLO County’s public radio station KCBX.
Frank Lanzone, general manager, said the station’s biggest summer fund-raiser fell short about $127,000, and the current pledge drive has to make up the difference. The Central Coast Wine Classic usually nets them $300,000.
“It’s been kind of an ‘Oh my God’ situation, but rewarding at the same time, because people have been coming forward to help out,” Lanzone said.
Adding to the company’s problems, Lanzone said the station’s main transmitter on the Cuesta Grade failed on Sept. 22. The station is currently broadcasting on limited power and the signal is not reaching parts of Cambria and Atascadero.
“It happened on the first day of the pledge drive,” he said.
Lanzone said National Public Radio and Public Radio International are considering granting the company a hardship waiver that would ease the financial burden. Also, Wine Classic sponsors The Cliffs Resort, Got You Cover’d, and the Avila Beach Resort are looking into easing the bills the station owes them for the fund-raiser.
Lanzone said he is confident the station will make it through the storm.
“It’s giving us an opportunity to see how great people are that live here. When you need them, they come to help,” he said.
To reach the station or to make a pledge, call 549-8855 or check out their web site at www.kcbx.org. ³
This week’s What’s News was compiled by News Editor Daniel
Blackburn, Staff Writer Matt McBride, and contributing writer Kathy Johnston.