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Updated: 6 weeks 2 days ago

Popular Torrey Pines High School athletic trainer may be reinstated

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 12:40

By Karen Billing

Torrey Pines High School parents were recently successful in lobbying for the reinstatement of their athletic trainer Christina Scherr. The San Dieguito Union High School District contracts out for its school athletic trainers and Scherr had been released by contractor Rehab United over the summer. Parents spoke out in support of Scherr, whom they believed to be a valuable and trusted member of the athletic program.

At the Sept. 4 San Dieguito Union High School District board meeting, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Eric Dill reported that the district had worked with Rehab United to offer Scherr her position back.

Dill said that on Sept. 3 he met with parent members of the Torrey Pines High School and La Costa Canyon Foundations, Torrey Pines High School Principal David Jaffe, several coaches, and Bryan Hill, the owner of Rehab United.

“It was an opportunity for Mr. Hill to hear directly the concerns the parents had. The conversation was very lively,” Dill said.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Dill met with Jaffe and Hill, and Hill indicated that after hearing the parents’ voices he was open to reinstating Scherr.

“Our head football coach Ron Gladnick was adamant in his support for Christina. Parents whose children had been treated by Christina over the years inundated the trustees, the district and the school with supportive emails,” said parent Tim Pickwell. “For now it appears that our concerns have been addressed and a well-respected member of the Falcon athletic community is going to be rehired. We’re very pleased.”

According to Dill, the district and Rehab United are still working on some contract details and possibly removing some items from the contract that had been of concern to the parents.

The funds to pay the trainers come from the Torrey Pines High School Foundation boosters and the district outsources the trainer contracts. One big parental concern was that the district has never informed them that athletic trainers are contractually obligated to refer injured athletes to Rehab United.

The athletic trainer contract with Rehab United includes an item on referrals, reading “in the event an injury screen or referral to physical therapy is necessary or advisable, the athletic trainer certified independent contractor will support Rehab United and refer students to the nearest Rehab United facility.”

The contract states that Rehab United will pay the trainer 15 percent for referrals of certain services.

At the San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) board’s August meeting, parent Carrie Pickwell said she would be appalled if anyone handed her a business card at the school.

“It is highly unethical,” she said.

At the August meeting, Dill said parents should be able to go and seek any treatment for their children as they deem appropriate and that they district always suggests treatment begins with the family’s personal physician.

SDUHSD Trustee Amy Herman said the referrals shouldn’t be so prescripted and perhaps some disclosure was warranted.

“The whole experience did educate many of us to the nuts-and-bolts of how athletic trainers are hired and managed in the district,” Tim Pickwell said.

Pickwell suggested that the district convene a meeting with athletic directors, trainers, coaches and assess the best way to deliver athletic training services, study how other districts do it and whether SDUHSD’s contracts should be adjusted.

Dill said that it is a good idea because the level of service has changed since they began the athletic trainer program, including the scope of services, the size of the athletic programs and a dramatic increase in the number of athletes they were serving.

He said the district would take a fresh look at the program, much like it is doing with the enrollment at the academies.

Several parents said they were told not to attend the Sept. 4 SDUHSD board meeting to discuss the Scherr issue as a resolution was close.

During public comment, Mo Muir, a candidate for the SDUHSD board, said she was glad the district met with parents but she felt it would’ve been more appropriate to have had a larger forum, such as a community meeting, where more parents could attend. She reiterated the need for the district to continue looking into the athletic trainer contracts.

Del Mar property crime down in first six months of 2014

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 11:38

By City News Service

Violent crime in San Diego County decreased by 1 percent and property crimes by 13 percent in the first six months of this year, compared to the same period in 2013, according to statistics released Sept. 11 by the San Diego Association of Governments.

A total of 5,400 violent crimes — including homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault — were reported through June. The annualized rate of 3.43 per 1,000 residents is down from 3.45 in mid-2013, according to SANDAG.

Sixteen of the 19 local jurisdictions experienced decreases in property crime, ranging from a 3 percent decline in La Mesa to a 37 percent drop in Del Mar. At this time last year, property crime had spiked by 5 percent compared to mid-year 2012.

“There are many theories as to why we are experiencing historic drops in crime,’’ SANDAG criminal justice research Director Cynthia Burke said. “The local law enforcement officials we’ve talked to attribute some of the decreases in property crime to factors such as proactive supervision of ex-offenders, the use of forensic technology to identify serial criminals, and cross-jurisdictional sharing of intelligence to combat crime trends.’’

She said 38 homicides were recorded in the first six months of this year in San Diego County, compared to 41 in the same period last year — totals far lower than many other large metropolitan areas.

But the number of rapes climbed 20 percent from last year — to 376 cases through June, Burke said. She said rape figures fluctuate from year to year, so the hike doesn’t yet appear to be a trend.

Auto theft, once highly prevalent in the county, fell by 12 percent from the first six months of last year. SANDAG reported that just over 5,000 vehicles were taken through June.

The number of domestic violence cases in the county climbed 4 percent to around 8,300, a total that is still down 2 percent from 2010.

SANDAG, the regional planning organization, has been compiling crime data in the county for 34 years. The information helps local political leaders with policy-making decisions, according to the agency.

Del Mar Library to celebrate 100th anniversary with special event

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 11:35

The community is invited to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the Del Mar Library from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Nov. 1. Photo by Kristina Houck

By Kristina Houck

The San Diego County Library system celebrated its centennial last year. Now, Del Mar is marking its 100-year milestone.

The Del Mar Library opened in 1914 in a strip mall that is now Del Mar Plaza. That same year, just a few blocks away, St. James Catholic Church began serving parishioners, which once included Bing Crosby, Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball and Jimmy Durante.

The two institutions eventually came together when the library found its permanent home in the former church building at 1309 Camino del Mar in 1996.

“It was definitely an undertaking by the community,” recalled Gretchen Schmidt, who served as branch manager of the Del Mar Library for more than 15 years before retiring after the start of 2014. “They really wanted to have a nice library. They loved this building and they really wanted to have it belong to the city.”

After the church relocated to Solana Beach, the building was sold and became a restaurant in 1966. A few decades later it was home to an insurance company before the city purchased it in 1993 to house the library, which, at the time, was located in the portable that is now City Hall Annex.

The new Del Mar Library officially opened in October 1996.

“It’s a beautiful building,” said Jacqueline Winterer, who served on the Del Mar City Council for four years, from 1988 to 1992, and as mayor in 1992. One of the reasons she ran for council was so she could help find a permanent home for the library, she said. “It has even more significance to me because one of my daughter’s was baptized there.”

The library has undergone a few more transformations through the years, yet the original church lights hang from the ceiling.

“We saved this historical building,” said Pat Freeman, president of Friends of the Del Mar Library. “It’s right downtown and it fits the community.”

There used to be an open patio on the south side of the building. When the building’s roof needed to be replaced, library officials decided to also enclose the patio.

Since the project was completed in 2009, the Community Room has been used for a variety of activities, from baby yoga and Zumba classes, to bridge and Friends of the Del Mar Library meetings.

The library was also refurbished in the last two years. The library installed a new service desk, a laptop bar, mobile shelving units and new carpet. It also purchased new chairs and tables for the roughly 5,000-square-foot branch.

The renovation project was a joint effort between the county, city and the Friends of the Del Mar Library.

“It’s because of the Friends that we have this building and that we’ve made changes to this building,” said Freeman, who has been with the group since its inception in 1982. “And the Friends represents community support.”

A new branch manager has also come on board within the last year.

Having worked for the San Diego County Library for 15 years, Polly Cipparrone was appointed branch manager of Del Mar Library after Schmidt retired in January.

She said she is looking forward to continuing the branch’s relationship with its customers and growing the library programs.

“A lot of it is building on the legacy of all the things that Gretchen put in place,” said Cipparrone. Through the branch’s relationship with the Del Mar Foundation, she noted the two institutions launched a new book club over the summer.

“I’d like to keep those strong bonds and just find new ways to re-imagine relationships.”

Entering its 100th year, the Del Mar Library stood as strong as ever.

In the 2013-14 fiscal year, the local branch had the second highest per capita circulation in the San Diego County Library system — 33 branches and two bookmobiles. The branch’s 80,172 visitors checked out 166,396 items, including digital books.

“The Del Mar Library has been many things over the last 100 years, but never has it gone forgotten,” said San Diego County Library Director José Aponte. “On the site of an old church, and former restaurant this dynamic library is open, accessible and remodeled for success. With a little help from our partners in the city, community, and most importantly our Del Mar Library Friends, the library has been reroofed, expanded and, most recently, redesigned for customer satisfaction. We embrace our continued reputation as bona fide signature building and library sanctuary at heart of this dynamic city with a view.”

The community is invited to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the Del Mar Library from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Nov. 1. The event will feature a noon concert and an appearance from Sparkles the Clown. San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts, Del Mar Mayor Lee Haydu and County Library Deputy Director Donna Ohr will be among those in attendance.

For more about the Del Mar Branch Library, visit

For more about the Friends of Del Mar Library, visit

New rabbi brings unique experience to Chabad of Carmel Valley

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 11:32

Rabbi Mendel Polichenco

By Kristina Houck

For more than 20 years, Rabbi Mendel Polichenco has served the people of Mexico. Recently selected as the new rabbi of Chabad of Carmel Valley, he will now serve people on the San Diego side of the border.

“I’ve traveled all over Latin America and Europe, so I understand the philosophy of Chabads. It’s the largest Jewish organization in the world,” Polichenco said. “We want to bring a lot of growth to the community.”

The synagogue has already seen growth.

About 15 people attended the first Friday Shabbat services Polichenco led several weeks ago. By the next week, the number had grown to 40, which more than doubled to 100 people the following week.

“We’re growing very nicely,” Polichenco said. “That’s our goal — to grow and get people involved.”

Born in Argentina, Polichenco knew he wanted to be a rabbi at a very young age.

He began attending a Jewish day school when he was 3 years old. His father, a rabbi, founded the school.

“There were many Jewish day schools in Buenos Aires and he didn’t like any of them, so he started his own,” Polichenco recalled.

When he was 13, Polichenco started attending yeshiva, a Jewish high school. His father also established the school.

“This is an age where you decide if you’re going to be a rabbi or not,” he said. “The training starts at 13.”

After high school, Polichenco earned his bachelor’s degree in rabbinical studies from the Rabbinical College of America in New Jersey in 1990. He was ordained three years later at Kfar Chabad in Israel.

Soon after he was ordained, Polichenco became the rabbi for the Jewish Community of Tijuana, making him the first official representative of the Chabad movement in Mexico.

A few months later, he married Nechama Dina. Today, he and his wife of 20 years have five children, ages 16, 14, 11, 7 and 3.

“We have a very vibrant community in Tijuana,” said Polichenco, who later went on to receive a master’s degree in organizational development at Ibero Americana University in México in 2001.

As rabbi, Polichenco founded the first and only Jewish Day School in the state of Baja in 1997, which remained open for seven years. He also opened a mikve, a Kosher restaurant, bakery and catering service, which is still operating today.

In Tijuana, Polichenco led daily services, special holiday programs and an adult education program. He also organized and directed an overnight summer camp and bar and bat mitzvah groups.

Polichenco expanded his activities in Baja by founding and directing Chabad Without Borders. This program established Chabad branches in Cabo San Lucas and La Paz.

In 2004, he also founded and directed Chabad in Chula Vista. Polichenco currently oversees the Chabad branches in Mexico and Chula Vista, in addition to Carmel Valley.

“I enjoy teaching and seeing people apply their knowledge in their day-to-day life,” Polichenco said. “Lessons are always practical. They can improve your life on a daily basis.”

As the new rabbi of Chabad of Carmel Valley, Polichenco wants to grow the community. He also hopes to eventually build a facility. Currently, the local Chabad rents a space at San Diego Jewish Academy for its services.

“The mission is to educate and to give passion for Judaism,” he said. “Our goal is to also have a physical location.”

Polichenco invited the community to Chabad of Carmel Valley for Shabbat services and upcoming High Holiday services.

Shabbat services are held at San Diego Jewish Academy’s Ulam room, located at 11860 Carmel Creek Road at 6:30 p.m. on Fridays and 10 a.m. Saturdays.

“I would like to be a resource for the community,” he added. “I’m available.”

For more information, visit

Accomplished impressionist painter to hold exhibit in Solana Beach

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 11:30

Solana Beach artist John Modesitt

By Kristina Houck

From the coast of California to the mountains of Montana, John Modesitt’s paintings showcase scenic surroundings from across the United States and around the world. Much of his work features the quaint villages of France, where the longtime Solana Beach painter lives part-time.

“There’s still an old feeling of the Old World era,” said Modesitt, an impressionist painter who has lived with his wife in Solana Beach for more than 20 years. “The smells, the sounds, the birds, the wind, the trees — you get all those ingredients together and it makes a beautiful symphony of nature. That’s what inspires me. It’s so quaint.”

Modesitt developed his love of Impressionism at an early age. Although his father worked as a nuclear physicist, he was passionate about art and had a poster collection of French impressionist paintings, which fascinated Modesitt as a young child.

Modesitt went on to spend decades studying Impressionism, a 19th-century art movement that originated with a group of Paris-based artists.

“Painting in an impressionist style actually expresses the emotional impact you have when you’re there,” Modesitt said. “So when somebody looks at my work, they get the feeling of what it’s like to be there.”

Modesitt began studying art at Santa Barbara City College under painter Robert Frame. By the early 1980s, he moved to the East Coast to learn about the work of renowned impressionist painters featured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Art Institute of Chicago.

One of his paintings

Since then, Modesitt’s work has also been displayed on walls across the world. His paintings have been featured at the Butler Institute of American Art Museum, the New Britain Museum of American Art, and the auction rooms of Christie’s in New York, London and Paris.

Currently, Modesitt’s paintings are displayed in the Waterhouse Gallery in Santa Barbara. His work will also be featured in an upcoming exhibit at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum.

But Modesitt’s favorite time of year is when he welcomes the public to view his work at his studio, which is located in his Solana Beach home.

In September, Modesitt is holding a weeklong exhibit, his first since the three-day show he held in February.

“The best thing about this show is people get to visit my studio, they get to see works in progress, they get to see all my materials and they get to ask questions,” Modesitt said. “And I get to meet new people, which is really nice.”

His latest exhibit will feature California and Montana landscapes, but much of it will feature the quaint villages of France he is most inspired by. He spent about three weeks in May painting along the shores of Loire, the longest river in France, where he captured springtime in the European country.

“I want people to fall in love with the places they see on my canvases,” he said. “They’re going to want to go there.”

Modesitt’s latest exhibit will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 13-19 at his home.

If you are interested in viewing the collection, call Modesitt at 858-232-8906 or email him at For more information about Modesitt and his art, visit

Patriot Profiles: He served honorably and he died, and we were there to bury him.

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 10:00

Cpl. John Gabino at Miramar National Cemetery. Photo by Jeanne McKinney

This column presents “Patriot Profiles” to provide readers insight into the lives of our country’s heroes.

By Jeanne McKinney

In Miramar National Cemetery, each white tombstone has a priceless story. For their country, their families, their passion for liberty, service men and women slumber, far from calls to action and shielded from evil threats. Under a cloudless sky, an American flag waves over the meticulously manicured lawn; its stars and stripes a stark reminder of the price paid by those bonded briefly in war, and now timelessly in peace.

Two Army Honor Guardsmen in crisp dress blues were there an hour early, practicing as they do before every funeral. A car ceremoniously made its way to Shelter B, carrying a deceased 2nd Lieutenant who served in World War II. With solemnity, Cpl. John Gabino and Officer Candidate Eduard Cruz carried the remains from the car, to be placed before a small gathering of family and friends. Cpl. Gabino raised the bugle and the familiar sound of “Taps” pierced the reverent aura. Cpl. Gabino and OC Cruz then folded the flag with precise movements to be presented to the white-haired widow in a wheelchair. She leaned over, kissing it gently, as gratitude was expressed verbally.

Cpl. John Gabino and OC Eduard Cruz carry Flag and Veteran remains at Miramar National Cemetery. (Gabino carries flag). Photo by Jeanne McKinney

In three-and-a-half years, Cpl. Gabino has repeated simple and elaborate funeral details nearly 1,100 times as an active-duty Army National Guardsman belonging to the Honor Guard. He travels constantly, along with arranging, scheduling and following up with cemeteries, mortuaries and families to give due honor and respect to all military members who have earned an honorable discharge.

For this 23-year-old with Mexican-American heritage, who has lived his whole life in San Diego, a desire to serve began in high school.

“To me, it’s a moral obligation as a male to join the military once you turn 18 — something you have to do to serve your country for a little bit,” Gabino said. He had a brother who joined before him. “I didn’t want to be that older person that says, ‘Oh, I was going to join, but this happened and that happened and I didn’t.

“I joined the Army National Guard, thinking I was joining the army,” laughs Gabino. No regrets as Gabino tackled regular Army basic training and schooling to be a combat engineer. “I’m an expert on demolition and blowing things up. I can do route clearance, mine sweeping … I look for Improvised Explosive Devices and bombs.”

Cpl. John Gabino in annual training. Courtesy California Army National Guard

Gabino is with Detachment 1 Bravo Company of the 578th Brigade Engineer Battalion based in National City. “We train for going overseas, natural disasters, fires, earthquakes, riots — for everything that can happen in California and [foreign] wars,” Gabino said. Readiness is every day 24/7, being prepared for any call.

“I can’t deny whatever my superiors ask of me because I’m on active orders. You go in like a regular job; you come out like a regular job. You just wear the uniform.”

As one of 10 California Honor Guard teams, Gabino’s Team Five does several services a day. There are two National Cemeteries in San Diego, but the Army Honor Guard does service anywhere. “We’ve done it on a beach, in a house, in a backyard.”

At any time or day they jump through hoops to accommodate. He emphasizes, “Honors are free of charge — they [the families] don’t have to pay anything.” They just have to call, send a picture, dog tags, a DD214 active-duty release form or something to identify that person served. From there, Gabino promises, “We’ll handle everything.”*

Battalion training and unit preparedness is one side of Gabino’s life, but his main job is assuring that veterans receive thanks.

“To be able to do this is an honor. We don’t know his story, we don’t know if his buddy died next to him. They know — all I can do is my best to provide the best funeral I can, even if I don’t know this guy. The family is going to be there — we’re going to be the last ones they see in uniform honoring their deceased,” Gabino said. “Us giving them flags show their grandfather, father, dad, uncle did a great thing for his country. He served honorably and he died and we were there to bury him.”

Cpl. John Gabino and OC Eduard Cruz fold the Flag at funeral service at Miramar National Cemetery. Photo by Jeanne McKinney

Services for Active-Duty KIAs (killed in action) are intense, according to Gabino. “The family is with us while we go pick up the body at the airport and that’s the first time the family sees them. As soon as they [the plane] comes down, we bring it out, put it in the church truck for the family to have a couple minutes with them. The family bitterly cries, in a lot of pain. That’s when it really hits you.”

Services for KIAs include an eight-man rifle firing party and six soldiers folding the flag, still as a post, using hands only.

“The Honor Guard is not for everybody,” Gabino said. “We have a lot of people that volunteer for it, but they come and go. Some people — they do them, but eventually it starts getting to them and they get out. You have to learn to put aside your emotions for a bit.”

Emotions took a front seat when a member of his unit died in a motorcycle accident. “All my fellow soldiers were there and I was in charge of that service, so I did the best I could. We’re all family, so we took it pretty hard when he died.”

Describing military life so far, “Sometimes it’s pretty, sometimes it’s not, sometimes it can be dirty and sometimes it’s clean. You make the best of it.”

Gabino did more than make the best of it, earning first place at the Battalion level two years in a row in the Army’s Best Warrior Competition. This year a grueling hike up the infamous “Stairway to Heaven” in Mission Trails wearing full battle rattle was on the table. Representing his Battalion in the Brigade competition, he was also tested on weapon skills, policies, regulations, current events, land navigation — all under the scrutiny of his “Superiors’ Superiors.”

Lugging a heavy rucksack, wearing a helmet, bullet-proof vest, boots, carrying a weapon in 115-degree desert heat while racing the clock, or hiking up a 45-degree, mile-high slope with the same gear is easier than managing life.

“I want to be good at my job, but I want to be prepared for the future, so I keep studying, which is draining.” (Gabino attends school full time.) He strives to be fit, which also taps reserves. Then there’s family, relationships … ”Trying to be good at everything — it gets very hard,” Gabino said.

“To me, it’s worth it. It’s worth being there at attention for an hour or 30 minutes, not moving a muscle — standing there in the sun or wherever to be able to provide [what] I can do for that person for all their service — to be able to be there for them no matter what day it is or what time.”

Cpl. Gabino dubs the Army National Guard as “that kick that helped me start my life — ‘Hey you know what — you better get your stuff straight.’  You’re in the military now. Better work hard for what you want. It helps you think of what you want to accomplish and it helps you get there,” over 1,100 times and growing.

Del Mar Foundation hosts ‘Celebrate Community’ event

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 15:20
Tensia Trejo, Tom McGreal and DMF board member Robin Crabtree were celebrating birthdays ◄ Back Next ► Picture 1 of 9

The Del Mar Foundation held its second “Celebrate Community” event Sept. 7 at the Del Mar Powerhouse. This event is the Del Mar Foundation’s way of thanking its volunteers and donors for the support they have given the Foundation this past year. El Pollo Loco catered the food at the event.

Photos by McKenzie Images. For photos online, visit

Barbecue fun for Solana Beach Civic and Historical Society

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 15:17
◄ Back Next ► Picture 1 of 11

The Solana Beach Civic and Historical Society held a festive end-of-summer barbecue Sept. 5 at the Fletcher Cove Community Center.

Photos by McKenzie Images.

Solana Highlands Elementary hosts Back-to-School Night

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 15:06
Principal Matthew Frumovitz, Solana Beach School District Superintendent Nancy Lynch ◄ Back Next ► Picture 1 of 9

Solana Highlands Elementary held its Back-to-School Night on Sept. 3. Students in grades 1-3 and their parents gathered at the event to learn more about the upcoming school year.

Photos by McKenzie Images.

Summer Twilight Concerts

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 15:03
Sully and the Blue Eyed Soul Band ◄ Back Next ► Picture 1 of 14

Summer Twilight Concerts continued on Sept. 7 with a lineup of Sully and the Blue Eyed Soul Band, with opening act The Ken Garcia Band, held at Powerhouse Park, Del Mar.

Photos by McKenzie Images.

Solana Ranch School hosts ‘welcome back’ ice cream social

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 14:19
Solana Ranch school ice cream social ◄ Back Next ► Picture 1 of 23

Solana Ranch Elementary School in Pacific Highlands Ranch held a “welcome back” ice cream social for students and their families on Sept. 5.

Photos by Karen Billing and McKenzie Images.

Food, music, dancing at annual Greek Festival

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 14:15
Seta Havluckiyan, Susan Marsh ◄ Back Next ► Picture 1 of 16

Thousands flocked to the annual Cardiff Greek Festival on Sept. 6-7, a 36-year tradition in North County, held on the grounds of Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church. The crowds enjoyed the sights, sounds, aromas and hospitality of the Mediterranean, and especially the delicious homemade Greek cuisine and cookies. Visit

Photos by McKenzie Images.

3rd annual Super Tasty 5K in Solana Beach

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 14:12
Von, Alexis, Sean and Anisa Kasi ◄ Back Next ► Picture 1 of 13

At least 20 restaurants took part in the third annual Super Tasty 5K on Sept. 6 in Solana Beach. The event is a fundraiser for Promises2Kids, a San Diego nonprofit working for children in foster care. The event is planned with organizers of the Giro di San Diego Gran Fondo, a two-day celebration of cycling, held Sept. 6 and 7 at Fletcher Cove in Solana Beach.  For more about Promises2Kids, visit

Photos by McKenzie Images. For photos online, visit

Red Circle Foundation hosts ‘Black Tie Bravery Gala’

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 14:07
Sausan Snow and John Nell ◄ Back Next ► Picture 1 of 19

The Red Circle Foundation hosted its second “Black Tie Bravery Gala” on Sept. 6 at the Birch Aquarium, La Jolla, taking guests back to 1945 for a celebration in honor of “The Greatest Generation.” Honorary Gala Chairman was former Navy SEAL Mike Ritland, and the emcee was Pat Brown, chief weather anchor for ABC Channel 10 News in San Diego.  For more information, please visit

Photos by McKenzie Images. For photos online, visit

Suspected drunken driver hits ambulance near Del Mar

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 09:36

By City News Service

A suspected drunken driver was arrested early Sept. 9 after rear-ending an ambulance on Interstate 5 near Del Mar, causing minor injuries, authorities said.

A person in the ambulance called for help about 1:25 a.m. after being struck by the other vehicle in the northbound freeway lanes approaching Via De La Valle, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The suspected drunken driver’s vehicle caught fire after the crash, and firefighters extinguished the blaze, according to the CHP and the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.

A fire dispatcher said three people were taken to hospitals following the crash, but citing federal privacy laws, he did not say how many of the injured people had been in which vehicle.

Del Mar resident perseveres to win his division in a 100-mile ultra-marathon

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 09:24

Del Mar’s Mark Backes was still smiling at mile 45 of the Leadville Trail 100 in Colorado, cresting Hope Pass at 12,600 feet. Courtesy photo

By Karen Billing

It took grit, determination and a lot of Fig Newtons for 50-year-old Mark Backes of Del Mar to win his division in the Leadville Trail 100, a 100-mile ultra-marathon through the Colorado Rockies.

Backes ran the 100-mile “race across the sky” in 22 hours and 51 minutes on an extreme out and back course up to an altitude of 12,600 feet that 330 participants did not finish this year.

“A 100-miler has always been a part of what I wanted to do, to test me as a person, to see how far I could go and push myself to see what my limits were. I wanted to find them,” Backes said. “People think I’m a little nuts. But it helps me with my daily life when I achieve such crazy goals. I see everyday things ahead of me and I think ‘I’ve got this,’ life is so much easier.”

Backes grew up in a family of nine kids in Chula Vista and for his mother, running was one way to tame her extremely hyper son. She encouraged him to go outside and use up some of his overflowing energy running the canyons and it worked.

By the fourth grade, excelling at running was a way to stand out among his highly accomplished siblings. That year when they did the Presidential Physical Fitness Test, students were challenged to see how many 110-yard laps they could run (one 100-meter lap on a track) in a set amount of time. Backes did 18.

“It was an unbelievable number, not that I planned to do it,” Backes said. “Once people started recognizing me as a runner it made me want to do it more. It spurred me on.”

He made it to the Junior Olympics that year and placed third in Southern California and started doing track and field through city meets until the sixth grade.

He ran some cross country in junior high, but only ran a little in high school as he was plagued by injuries. As a sophomore he was badly hurt in a car accident and wasn’t able to compete and lost his confidence. He started to get his edge back right before his senior year, but the day before school started he broke his tibia and fibula while backpacking and missed his last high school season.

After a few tough years at UC Santa Barbara, running became a way to help him get his life back on track. He got his motor going again and transferred to Long Beach State to run on the cross country team.

He hasn’t stopped moving ever since, becoming a long distance specialist and taking on about a marathon a year.

In 2007, he qualified for the Boston Marathon and ran the historic race in what many considered to be the worst weather to hit the event in its 117 years, a Nor’Easter storm with torrential rains and heavy winds.

“It was a tough year to have the full experience but I did it,” Backes said.

He had aimed for a 2:50 but ran a 2:54 and was determined to return. He came back in 2008 and heartbreakingly missed his goal time by six seconds. Finally, in 2009, he accomplished his goal, crossing the finish in 2:48.49.

In 2010, Backes’ close friend and former business partner recruited him to join him on a 50-mile ultra-marathon to commemorate his 50th birthday. Backes accepted the challenge, running with his friend in the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run outside of Sacramento. The culture was so much different from what he had experienced at road races, he especially loved how the race brought together all kinds of different people who were all just the same amount of crazy.

Before Leadville, Backes had hoped to make it into the 2014 Western States Endurance Run, a 100-mile race that he considers the Super Bowl of ultras — the race uses a lottery system and only 217 athletes are selected to compete.

He didn’t make it in the lottery so he chose to enter Leadville, considered one of the hardest 100-milers out there. Leadville starts at 10,200 feet, going up and down the Rocky Mountains, summiting Hope Pass twice at 12,600 feet. He registered for Leadville on New Years Eve, plying himself with coffee to stay up past midnight when registration opened.

Once registered, he started training like “a rabid dog,” running three times during the weekdays about 20 to 30 miles total and then weekends of 20 to 25 milers and 30 to 35 milers back to back to get used to running on tired legs. He would head out armed for his long, long runs with change to buy Gatorades from convenience stores along his route.

He tackled climbs of Torrey Pines and Mount Soledad and trained with another San Diego Leadville runner, 32-year-old Nolan Hansen, who “kicked his butt” on some “gnarly hills” in East County, such as the challenging, hot Mount Woodson trails between Poway and Ramona.

He got so crazy with his training that two and a half months out he purchased an altitude training tent to sleep in.

“That was magic, it helped so much in acclimating to the high altitude,” he said, admitting his wife Mardel might have thought differently.

He was dedicated and vigilant in his training and didn’t realize what great shape he was in until he began his taper, easing back on the mileage in the weeks leading up to the race,

“During the taper was when the magic started to happen, I started to feel how strong I was,” Backes said.

Backes traveled to Leadville six days before the Aug. 16 race to get used to the altitude. During a shake-out four-mile run on one of his first days in town, a hip injury that had bothered him during training flared up and hurt so badly he had to walk the last three miles. His head was understandably spinning — the 100-mile race of his life was days away and he couldn’t even run four miles.

The next day he went out again and ran a careful six miles and started to feel better. He felt like a “gajillion bucks” on his last eight-mile run before the race.

“I had never felt so good or so strong. I was so ready to go I was chomping at the bit,” Backes said.

Backes’ brother Frank was his one-man crew at the aid stations of the race. With some 800 athletes, there are just as many people waiting at the aid stations so it can be a nightmare finding your crew, especially during the nighttime hours. Frank had rigged up a 26-foot pole with a flag and flashing lights that Backes could see from a half-mile away so it was always easy to find him. Frank was loaded down with 24 32-ounce Gatorades, energy bars and Fig Newtons to sustain his brother along the way.

Backes said he felt a little nervous at the 4 a.m. start line as it hit him just how many people he had told he would run the race in under 24 hours — perhaps it was too lofty a goal?

But he thought of his wife Mardel, a cancer survivor. He would run for her. And he kept returning to the words that been implanted in his brain from the race founder Ken Chlouber: “You’re better than you think you are, you can do more than you think you can.”

“No one else in the race mattered. From the time the gun went off I was just possessed,” said Backes, who launched off with a head-lamp affixed to his head to light his way.

He was careful about going out too fast and he ran at a conversational ultra-marathon pace, talking to everyone. When he hit mile 25 at the last aid station before they headed over Hope’s Pass, he started to realize how hard the race was. He crossed through a muddy, stinky river and started the ascent with dirty, mucky shoes, trying to keep himself in the zone even as several people were passing him. He took the backside of the pass just as slow because it was so rocky and steep and he knew if he tripped just one time, the race could be over.

Gatorades were guzzled and tray after tray of Fig Newtons consumed.

At 45 miles, he started to see all world-class race leaders run by as they had reached the turn-around point. And he started to get discouraged seeing all the people who had passed him as well, not to mention his hip was starting to jar him.

“It took forever to get to the turn-around,” he said, but once there he changed out of his mucky shoes and had to get weighed.

Athletes are weighed at the start of the race and if at any point during the 100 miles they have lost more than 7 percent of their body weight, they are pulled off the course. Backes weighed in a little bit over what he had at the start.

He took six Tylenols for his hip, having been warned by the race doctor against the effects of ibuprofen on the kidneys during a race of this kind at this altitude.

He had never been beyond 50 miles in a race before and he started to think this is where the race really began. He made it back up Hope’s Pass and was able to start passing people.

After 60 miles, athletes are allowed to use pacers. He picked up his first pacer, who would take him through mile 87. A second pacer would take him from mile 87 to the finish.

At this point they were running in the dark, it was about 6 p.m. His pacer was extremely well-prepared and together they picked up over an hour of time.

“We were flying,” Backes said of their 8:45 and 8:15 miles, which he said 70 miles into a race is pretty good. “We were just gobbling up the course at this juncture.”

At about mile 75, they came to a large group of spectators at the aid station playing music and offering encouragement. It was the middle of the night and without even thinking, Backes popped an ibuprofen that someone offered him and charged on to mile 87.

After 87 miles he had consumed 21 32-ounce Gatorades and had only peed twice. At about mile 95, he started to really hurt and was having trouble taking in oxygen.

The last five miles seemed to stretch on forever, but soon he could see the finish line all lit up in the 3 a.m. darkness of Leadville. Backes ran as fast as he could so that the 22- hour mark wouldn’t click into 23, remembering that Boston Marathon heartbreak, nearly taking a header tripping over the timing strip. He was sucking in air so hard that his throat was raw but he was thrilled that he had accomplished what he had set out to do and with time to spare.

His elation turned to concern when he stepped on the scales and saw he had gained seven pounds and looking down noticed that his legs had swollen to more than twice their normal size. He still hadn’t peed and was having trouble breathing — the medical tent doctor diagnosed him with High Altitude Pulminary Syndrome. The ibuprofen had effectively shut down his kidneys and he was so full of fluid that he couldn’t breathe.

The doctor monitored him over the next eight hours until the award ceremony as his fluids drained, allowing him to stand on the podium for the first time since he was a fourth grader to collect his first place medal. Nothing could have kept him off that medal stand.

“It was such a thrill to stand on that podium and have run the race of my life. It was really overall an amazing thing,” said Backes, noting that now the only thing left to do was just win that Western States lottery — the athletes for the 2015 race are picked Dec. 6.

“If I do get picked, I hope I’m blessed to be able to train like I did for this race,” Backes said. “And maybe, just maybe, I can have another magic day.”

Pedestrian killed by Coaster train

Mon, 09/08/2014 - 11:58

By City News Service

Authorities released the name Sept. 8 of a 49-year-old man who was fatally struck over the weekend by a passenger train near Torrey Pines State Beach.

Michael North of Del Mar was walking between the rails south of the intersection of Carmel Valley Road and North Torrey Pines Road when the northbound Amtrak locomotive approached from behind shortly before 11:30 a.m. Sept. 7, according to sheriff’s officials and the county Medical Examiner’s Office.

“The train operator activated its horn and emergency braking system but was unable to stop before striking the victim,” Deputy Dawn Morabe said.

North died at the scene.

The train conductor told investigators North had been walking with two companions who safely moved out of the way.

Rail service in the area was delayed about two hours, according to transit officials.

Carmel Valley student publishes novel ‘Don’t Mistake the Ashes for Dust’

Mon, 09/08/2014 - 10:00

Lily Nilipour with her book, “Don’t Mistake the Ashes for Dust.” Courtesy photo

By Karen Billing

Many people spend months, even years, to write a novel. Carmel Valley teenager Lily Nilipour was able to craft a 50,000-word novel in one month last year.

Her novel, “Don’t Mistake the Ashes for Dust,” offers insights into life as an adolescent and is available online at

In the past Lily, a 15-year-old sophomore at Torrey Pines High School, wrote a lot of fantasy but this book was her first departure into a new genre. She outgrew the dragons and has gone more into reality.

Lily has been writing for as long as she can remember.

“It started out as a hobby but in sixth grade I had a really good teacher and she inspired me to continue to write — that’s when I began to have a true passion for writing,” Lily said.

That special teacher for Lily was Julia Hinton at Torrey Hills Elementary School and from that point on Lily spent every bit of her few spare moments of time writing stories and poems.

Last year a friend told her about a program as part of National Novel Writing Month. If young authors could pen 50,000 words in the month of November, as a reward they would get two free copies of their published works.

“I just wanted to see if I could reach such a big amount of pages and words,” Lily said.

The “NaNoWriMo” program helps students with support from fellow writers, track their progress and develop a schedule for work — for Lily that meant a goal to reach 2,000 words a day.

Despite a packed schedule, Lily was able to accomplish the challenge and then went through the editing process, designed a book cover and published the book through CreateSpace. The book was published in June.

“It was really rewarding when it was published and to see it in my hand,” Lily said. “It was really cool.”

Lily describes her book’s tone as “mellow and melancholy.” She left the main character ambiguous, without a name or identity — the plot follows what happens after she meets a unique girl at school, the girl who reminds her of ashes.

“The feeling that emits from her, it’s like that nostalgic feeling you get when you see the sunset over the ocean, and the light just glistens perfectly on the rippling water. It makes you feel tired, satisfied and wistful,” wrote Lily. “You feel like you could just be carried away by the lightest wind like a feather or a particle of dust. That’s what I mean when I say she reminded me of ashes.”

One review on Amazon cites the reader’s favorite paragraph of Lily’s 50,000 words:

“Because when you cannot see the light halfway into a dark tunnel, the shortest way out is behind you, where you entered,” Lily wrote. “And, though heading back to the start will grant you reassuring light and color that you are used to, that light and color will get you nowhere.”

Lily’s favorite subject in school is English and she recently joined the staff of the school’s award-winning newspaper, The Falconer. She also stays busy playing the piano and playing on the school tennis team.

“Hopefully I will find the time to work on another novel,” Lily said.

“Don’t Mistake the Ashes for Dust” is available on To learn more about this year’s National Novel Writing Month program, visit

Pedestrian hit by Coaster train

Sun, 09/07/2014 - 12:51

By City News Service

San Diego Fire-Rescue (SDFRD) reports a pedestrian was hit by the Coaster train at Torrey Pines near Carmel Valley Road and Via Aprilia earlier today, Sept. 7.

An SDFRD dispatcher said they were notified by a North County Transit District (NCTD) dispatcher that a pedestrian was hit on the tracks in Torrey Pines. Coaster and Amtrak service is currently delayed, according to NCTD.

Solana Beach Library offers citizenship course

Sun, 09/07/2014 - 01:00

An eight-week citizenship course begins at the Solana Beach Library on Wednesday, Sept. 17. Classes will meet from 4-5:30 p.m. Wednesdays, and 10-11:30 a.m. Saturdays, ending Saturday, Nov. 8.

No preregistration will be taken, but attendance at the first class is required.

Limited copies of the required text will be available through the library; other texts will be for sale at $40. Also, story time and activities will be offered for students’ children.

The course is sponsored by the North County Immigration and Citizenship Center. The library is at 157 Stevens Ave.; call 858-755-1404.