Southern California -- this just in

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Homeless celebrate 'Christmas in July' with snow in downtown L.A.

July 11, 2012 |  1:20 pm

Dalia Gutierrez, 23, quit her job to live at Hope Gardens Family Center, a transitional housing complex that administers a program that helped her get back custody of her daughter.

Having lived at the center for about a year, Gutierrez wanted Wednesday to be different from the rest of the year. After all, it was her daughter’s birthday.

She was one of more than 100 people who arrived Wednesday morning to attend Union Rescue Mission’s “Christmas in July,” an annual event held in downtown L.A. that invites homeless families to celebrate the holiday spirit with snow, Santa Claus and presents.

“I came just for the experience, so she can get the experience doing something else,” said Gutierrez, who doesn’t normally go to these events.

About 10:30 a.m., children and teens flooded the lot behind Union Rescue Mission’s downtown shelter, racing to a penned-off area filled with mounds of snow.

Josesito Lopez, recent World Boxing Council Silver Belt welterweight champion, kicked off the event with the first snowball pitch aimed at a photo of his future opponent Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.

“I was an underdog in the fight. Nobody expected me to win,” Lopez said to the kids. “Just work hard and anything can come true.”

Minutes later, a swarm of children rushed in, laughing and smiling as they balled up mounds of snow in the 82-degree weather.

“The goal is to bring summer and snow to kids who may not ever see it,” said Alexander Cornejo, manager of Union Rescue Mission’s volunteer department, as he got smacked with a large snowball. “Right now they can forget about their situation and [be] in La La Land.”

In a white tank, black shorts, and Ugg-like boots, Zoey Dawson, 13, left the pit half-soaked with melted snow. Her friend followed her out with a snowball in tow.

“You don’t have to sit there in the shelter and worry about things. You can just go out there and have fun with your friends,” said Zoey, who lives at the shelter with her mom.

The event also featured a Santa Claus wearing a half-suit with shorts and Nike sandals; there was face painting, balloons, carnival games and free food.

Sporting a Tinkerbell-inspired face paint mask, Sharesse Perry, 23, played the ring toss at a booth. She had brought her 1-year-old daughter, Nabaeh, who sat comfortably in her stroller.

“This event brings the family together,” said Perry, who has been staying at Hope Gardens Family Center. “So it doesn’t matter where you’re from … you can still come here and everyone is still family.”


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Southern California -- this just in

19-year-old hiker dies of heat stroke in San Diego County

A 19-year-old Escondido woman has died of apparent heat stroke after hiking in a remote area near Julian, the San Diego County medical examiner said Wednesday.

Lynn Thu Tran collapsed Monday while hiking near Cedar Creek Falls.

She was airlifted to Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, where she was pronounced dead.

Her death was not announced by the medical examiner until Wednesday.


Stranded hiker saves rescuer hit by chopper blades

Bail reduced for ex-county appraiser in criminal probe

San Bernardino bankruptcy: Pension debt still a problem for cities

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Two newborn girls surrendered to L.A. County hospitals

Newborn girls surrendered to L.A. County hospitalsTwo newborn girls were safely relinquished to hospitals in Los Angeles County in separate incidents earlier this week and will be put up for adoption, authorities announced Wednesday.

The babies were surrendered within hours of each other Monday, one in Lancaster and the other in Pomona. They are in protective custody and will be placed with families approved for adoption, officials said. They were the third and fourth newborns to be relinquished in Los Angeles County this year under "Safe Surrender" rules, officials said.

State law allows women to hand over newborns, within 72 hours of birth, to hospitals or fire stations without danger of being prosecuted, as long as the child has not been abused or neglected. In Los Angeles County, people can call 1-877-BABY-SAFE to find the nearest “Safe Surrender” site.

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Bail reduced for ex-county appraiser in criminal probe

Scott Schenter's bail reducedA Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Wednesday reduced the bail amount for Scott Schenter, a former county appraiser accused of falsifying documents and unlawfully lowering property values by $172 million on multimillion-dollar homes and businesses.

Schenter's bail was reduced from $1.5 million to $100,000. Schenter was arrested in May and is facing 60 felony counts for falsifying records; he is at the center of a criminal probe involving the L.A. County Assessor's Office.

Dressed in blue prison clothes, he sat quietly with his head down as the judge made the ruling. John Powers, the public defender who is representing Schenter, said his client may not make bail this week.

Schenter, 49, secured campaign contributions from the owners for Assessor John Noguez, authorities say. He resigned in lieu of termination in January 2011 after a supervisor discovered his alleged misconduct.

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Stranded hiker saves rescuer hit by chopper blades

Jeremy Kilburn rescues rescuer
U.S. Air Force doctor Jeremy Kilburn suffered a painful broken leg in a hiking accident last week in a Northern California forest and needed medical care and evacuation. But he quickly turned from the rescued to the rescuer.

Kilburn is credited with helping to save the life of a California Highway Patrol paramedic who had helicoptered in to aid him. The officer, Tony Stanley, was accidentally hit in the head by the aircraft’s rotor blades, knocking him unconscious and causing severe bleeding.

Kilburn, with the help of a friend, hobbled more than 50 yards to the copter, where he inserted a breathing tube into Stanley’s throat and administered oxygen. He directed another person to keep pressure on the officer’s skull wound. Both injured men were then flown out from the Shasta-Trinity National Forest to a Redding hospital.

At a news conference Wednesday from Nellis Air Force Base outside of Las Vegas, where he is stationed, Kilburn said he has yet to see Stanley again, but looks forward to thanking him for coptering in to rescue him. “Nothing would make me happier. It would be one of the highlights of my life,” the critical care pulmonologist said.

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UC Davis student can sue over pepper spray, court rules

A federal appeals court decided Wednesday that police from UC Davis and the city of Davis may be held liable for shooting pepper spray that injured a student in the eye, causing him to lose an athletic scholarship and drop out of college.

Timothy C. Nelson, who underwent several surgeries after being hit in the eye with a pepperball, was among about 1,000 people attending a party in April 2004 to celebrate UC Davis’ annual Picnic Day. The police tried to break up the party because the street was congested, partygoers had parked illegally and some minors were drinking alcohol, the court said.

Students testified in depositions that they were awaiting instructions from police when the pepper spray was fired.

“The students were disturbed by the presence of the police in full riot gear, and some of Nelson’s female companions began to cry,” the court said. “Although there were scattered bottles being thrown throughout the complex … officers testified that no one from Nelson’s group threw bottles at the police."

Police said they warned the partygoers to disperse before firing the pepper spray but the students testified they did not hear the warnings.

“At various times they called out to the police, asking the officers to inform them what they wanted the students to do, and repeatedly raised their hands to show their willingness to comply,” the court said.

Wednesday’s decision upheld a district court judge’s ruling that the police in the case should not receive legal immunity.


Scientology seeks to respect privacy of Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes

-- Maura Dolan

San Bernardino bankruptcy: Pension debt still a problem for cities

Discuss at 1 p.m.: How many other California cities face bankruptcy risk?

San Bernardino's bankruptcy vote is just another grim reminder that local governments across the state are scrambling to rein in labor costs that keep spiraling upward. A primary driver is the climbing costs of pension pacts negotiated when times were good, city leaders say.

Sacramento City Manager John Shirey said his city is "still not out of the woods" on pension debt but has made considerable strides in recent months to whittle down its labor costs.

New contracts with three of the city's four largest unions closed a $15.7-million hole in the budget that started July 1, Shirey said. But its police union has been a holdout, Shirey said. In coming months the city plans to negotiate reductions in spending on retiree healthcare.

 Discuss at 1 p.m.: How many other California cities face bankruptcy risk?

"We certainly don't need to consider bankruptcy,'' Shirey said. "But pension debt is still a serious issue here because CalPERS costs are still going up." That is primarily because of poor market returns, higher benefits for police and fire unions, and the greater longevity of retirees, Shirey said.

"We made the same mistake that everyone else did with high cost police and fire plans,'' he said.

CalPERS, the state's pension giant, recently lowered the assumed rate of return on Sacramento's retirement trusts, a move that will add "a few million" in added costs for the next two years, Shirey said.

PHOTOS: California cities in bankruptcy

"Every time they do that, it's just millions of dollars of costs to us and every other employer. So I can't say we're out of the woods on pension debt."

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Protest planned on opening night of circus at Staples Center