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What the County's Talking About This Week 

Bank robbers strike Central Coast

The robbery of Mid-State Bank and Trust at 899 West Grand Ave. in Grover Beach on Tuesday was the latest in a string of Central Coast bank robberies - the second in less than a week and the fourth since early April. A young Hispanic man robbed the South County bank shortly before 3 p.m. and was last seen running west on Grand Avenue.

Anyone with information as to the identity and whereabouts of the suspect should contact the FBI at 934-2444 or the Grover Beach Police Department at 473-4511.

Another robbery took place on Thursday, May 5, at the Santa Maria branch of Santa Barbara Bank and Trust at 1500 S. Broadway. The suspect, who remains at large, was described as a white or light-skinned Hispanic male, about 5-foot-8-inches tall, 18-24 years old. He was last seen fleeing the bank on foot, but officials believe they recovered all the stolen money in a parking lot behind the bank.

The FBI is conducting a joint investigation with the Santa Maria Police Department, which can be reached at 928-3781.

A masked man with a black handgun held up the Los Padres Bank at the Laguna Village Shopping Center in San Luis Obispo on April 5 and escaped by foot. On April 28 the Citibank in Atascadero was also knocked off, and that suspect got away in a dark red Camaro or Firebird.

While this is an unusually high volume of bank robberies - compared to just one in SLO County last year - none of these crimes appear to be related. In 2000, there was a string of 14 bank robberies in the county.

-Jeff Hornaday


Riding shotgun in Oceano

Three men were arrested after one allegedly fired a sawed-off shotgun in an Oceano bar on May 8. The three Santa Maria men, Tiburcio Torres Ortega, 22, Julio Martinez Cabreda, 28, and Angel Rodriguez Espinoza, 35, were at the Carambola Amigo Bar when an altercation occurred.

After a disagreement over a spilled beer and a woman, the three suspects left the bar and returned with a sawed-off shotgun, said Commander Martin Basti of the SLO County Sheriff's Department. Torres Ortega fired a single shot at 11:48 p.m. A tussle ensued and the trio fled the scene, leaving a two-inch hole in the ceiling.

Witnesses were able to partially identify the license plate before the three fled. No one was injured by the shot fired.

Police officers from Grover Beach, Arroyo Grande, and Guadalupe responded to the scene while Sheriff's deputies from Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo arrested the three suspects. A loaded sawed-off shotgun was found in the suspect's white Honda Civic. The three were arrested for conspiracy to commit attempted murder, and because the shotgun was shorter than the allowed 26 inches they were also charged with possessing an illegal firearm.

-John Peabody


Morro Bay bans medical marijuana dispensaries

On May 9, the Morro Bay City Council adopted an emergency interim ordinance prohibiting medical marijuana dispensaries. The ordinance comes weeks after the San Luis Obispo Superior Court acquitted Robert Marshall, a Morro Bay caregiver who was arrested for distributing medical marijuana to his two patients.

The cities of Pismo Beach, Grover Beach, San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, and Paso Robles have also temporarily banned medical marijuana dispensaries.

The intent of the 45-day ban is to allow more time for the Supreme Court to clarify the legality of distributing medical marijuana.

-John Peabody


As the sewer turns

In the latest wave of seeping sewage, the voters of Los Osos now have two special ballot initiatives to look forward to in the fall. The Clerk's office announced earlier this week that they had verified enough signatures to move forward with an election to move the sewer.

Al Barrow, president of C.A.S.E. (Citizens for an Affordable and Safe Environment), was the driving force behind this initiative. Barrow also announced last week his candidacy for the CSD. If the recall initiative meets with voter approval, three members of the CSD could lose their seats. The recall and move-the-sewer votes will take place together in a special election this fall.

It is unclear how much support Barrow - who represents a fringe wing of the anti-sewer coalition - will garner from his constituency.

Julie Tacker, one of two anti-sewer directors on the CSD board, has said, "There are other candidates coming forward who will have my support."

Meanwhile, in light of a very gloomy new report regarding the saltwater intrusion and over-consumption of water in Los Osos, Director Gordon Hensley is beginning to think the recall might not be such a bad thing for him.

"It would take a huge headache off my plate," he said half-jokingly, "if the community were to relieve me of this position."

-Jeff Hornaday

Waterslides reopen with new ride, more chlorine

The Mustang Waterslides at Lopez Lake, which closed early last summer after an intestinal parasite was found in its water, has reopened with a clean bill of health.

On Sept. 1 last year, the county's health department asked the park to close after receiving reports of illness from people who'd recently visited the slides. In the weeks that followed, officials confirmed more than two dozen cases of cryptosporidium - a parasite that causes a "diarrheal disease," according to the health department - and received reports of more than 300 other potential cases.

Sean O'Carroll, general manager at the waterslides, said after they closed their doors last summer, they blasted the water in the pools with an extremely high level of chlorine. Then they cleaned. And cleaned. And cleaned.

"All the faucets, all the doorknobs, all the handrails, all that kind of stuff," he said.

O'Carroll said that this summer, they're keeping the chlorine at a higher-than-usual level. And they're repeating that chlorine blast once every week. "The worst possible thing would be if it happened again. We're doing everything we can," he said.

O'Carroll said he's happy the slides are open and he's excited about a new addition at the park. During the Memorial Day weekend, O'Carroll is introducing a new ride: Stampede. He described it as looking like a 40-foot-tall skateboard half-pipe.

"You drop down 40 feet in an inner tube, then go up 40 feet, and go backwards," he said, laughing. "It's quite a ride."

-Abraham Hyatt



In Jeff Hornaday's tongue-in-cheek news brief last week called "Alice B. Toklas' adventures in E.R. land," it was mentioned that some nurses, after eating tainted brownies, ended up passed out in Sierra Vista's hospital emergency room while others stayed on duty smiling.

We'd like to make it clear that while one nurse did briefly visit emergency, none ever passed out. As for smiling, that's one of the things Sierra Vista nurses do best when
treating patients. ³


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

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