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What the County's Talking About This Week 

Patient dies; county, city dispute custody

A woman taken into custody in San Luis Obispo on April 22 has died.

According to police reports and the Tribune, Suzanne Vonslomski was found in her car on April 22 in an allegedly unresponsive state. A San Luis Obispo police officer later reported that after getting the 40-year-old woman to speak, he handcuffed her - which police protocol requires - before taking her to the county's mental health facility on Johnson Avenue in San Luis Obispo.

Once there, Vonslomski allegedly began to struggle with staff - officials say they don't know whether the handcuffs were on or off at that point - was given a sedative, and promptly fell into an unresponsive state. Mental health professionals performed CPR and Vonslomski was rushed to French Hospital Medical Center.

She died there last week. Hospital and county officials have not released the exact date or time she died, citing patient confidentially laws.

Capt. Dan Blanke with the San Luis Obispo Police Department has confirmed that an in-house investigation of the officer who detained Vonslomski has cleared the individual of wrongdoing.

What hasn't been decided is who was responsible for the woman when she died.

Since police had not arrested Vonslomski when they took her to the county's mental health facilities, the SLOPD says she was never technically in their custody.

And since Vonslomski had not been admitted as a patient when she was given the sedative, officials with County Mental Health say she wasn't in their custody either.

County Mental Health estimates an investigation in Vonslomski's death will be completed next week.

-Abraham Hyatt

Guards break up riot at CMC

Prison guards were forced to quell a riot of about 100 inmates May 16 at the California Men's Colony. The incident, which lasted about 20 minutes, was under control by 10:30 a.m. said Lt. Shelly Thompson, CMC spokeswoman.

Thompson said a fight broke out between blacks and Hispanics in the outside yard. While guards went to subdue the riot, further fighting broke out inside the facility.

Guards used pepper spray and direct-impact projectiles, which Thompson described as similar to a handball shot out of a gun.

"We haven't had anything like this recently. To have something of this magnitude is rare," said Thompson. "Anytime you get 100 inmates rioting, it's a big deal."

CMC officials are investigating the cause of the riot. According to the CMC web site, there are 6,612 inmates at the facility, which has a design capacity of 3,884. Thompson added that at no point was there ever a threat to the safety of the public.

-John Peabody


Flu outbreak shuts down parts of ASH

An influenza outbreak at Atascadero State Hospital (ASH) has forced hospital officials
to close down parts of the facility. Of the 34 housing units at the hospital, 11 have been
shut down, said public relations officer Barrie Hafler.

Hafler said that the outbreak is of Influenza A, which inflicts the upper respiratory system. Symptoms are cough, cold, and fever. Spreading occurs more easily in confined spaces and when people are in sustained close proximity.

Hafler said there are 64 infected patients.
The hospital houses 1,320 patients. In an effort to limit the spreading of the virus, staff closed down the units that house the infected. This means that meals are brought to the patients and their movement is limited, but they are not locked in rooms.

Hafler said when there are no new cases in a 48-hour period, officials will be able to declare and end to the outbreak. Staff discovered the first case on May 5 and identified the "outbreak" on May 13. ASH officials are also restricting patients from attending court appearances until the outbreak is under control.

"It means more vigilance on staff and patients alike," said Hafler.

-John Peabody


Pam Heatherington resigns as ECOSLO director

After close to five years as executive director for the Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo (ECOSLO), Pam Marshall Heatherington is stepping down from the position in order to spend more time dealing with family and personal matters. She will, however, retain a position on the board of directors.

Mike Zelina, who's been a volunteer and board member for ECOSLO since 2002, will be acting as interim director for the nonprofit group until a new director is found. But Zelina knows that finding a replacement won't be easy.

"Pam has been such an amazing person for ECOSLO," he said. "She's really put her heart and soul into the organization."

Miranda Leonard, ECOSLO's environmental education coordinator, also spoke highly of her friend and former administrator.

"Pam's been an incredible asset to the environmental community of San Luis Obispo for more than the last five years, and were very grateful for everything she's done," Leonard said. They're considering splitting the job into two separate positions, she added, because "Pam was doing a lot more than any mortal person could."

Heatherington took a leave of absence in early April to be with her parents in Prescott, Ariz. - a responsibility that proved far more demanding than she'd originally expected.

"We understand that sustainability isn't just an environmental thing," Zelina said. "It's a personal thing, too."

Founded in 1971 as a recycling center, ECOSLO is the longest-running nonprofit environmental organization in the county.

-Jeff Hornaday


New housing development coming to SLO

Alan Little, a South County homebuilder, is currently designing homes that he plans to build on a $7.3 million plot of land formerly owned by the Madonna family. Little closed escrow on the property off San Luis Drive in March and plans to build 17 custom and pre-built homes. Little said he expects construction to start in the fall.

-John Peabody



Ross store coming to Five Cities

Bargain hunters in South County will be delighted to learn that a Ross Dress for Less is coming to Pismo Beach, joining the legions of discount box stores - including Marshalls, Wal-Mart and Kmart - that flank Highway 101 in Arroyo Grande.

Ross Store No. 1012 is scheduled to open in the Oak Park Shopping Center in September, next to Longs Drugs and Orchard Supply Hardware, said Adam Verdin, project manager for NKT Commercial, based in San Luis Obispo. Construction crews are currently inside doing demolition work on the building, and they are moving ahead of schedule, Verdin reported.

NKT acquired the building at 829 Oak Park from Ralph's Grocery Company last August. County tax records indicate a sales price of about $3.7 million.

NKT is also negotiating with other national tenants to share the commercial space with Ross, but Verdin was not at liberty to comment on widespread rumors that a Big 5 Sporting Goods is moving in. ³

-Jeff Hornaday



This week's news was compiled and reported on by staff writers Abraham Hyatt, John Peabody, and Jeff Hornaday. Managing Editor King Harris contributed.

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