Press "Enter" to skip to content

Mendocino County Today: Wednesday 6/19/24

Thistle | Warming | Pride Cleanup | Still Open | Point Fire | Wildfire Activity | Local Events | Flemming Announces | AVUSD Construction | Willits Offline | Adoption Event | Bigfoot History | Quick Verdict | Family Day | Duel Exhibition | Daisies | Mendo Bound | Tall Redwood | Decommission Delay | John Shandel | Winery Kill | Yesterday's Catch | Cockburn Headstone | Willie Mays | Tough Guy | Online Blowhards | Big Words | War Machine | Prez Race | Peace Terms | Buck It | NYT Lead Stories | Water Carriers

Oleander and Thistle, Lake Mendocino (Jeff Goll)

DRY WEATHER is expected for the foreseeable future. Interior temperatures begin a slow warming trend today through the work week with temperatures approaching 100 degrees in some interior valley locations Friday into Saturday. (NWS)

STEPHEN DUNLAP (Fort Bragg): A cooler 45F with clear skies on the coast this Humpday morning. Our forecast calls for light wind into the weekend. Saturday should be the warmest day this week. As you can seen from the coast satellite shot the fog is just offshore.


On Saturday, June 15, Mendocino County flew its Pride Flag with a joyful display of unity and community. Pride organizers hosted a celebratory march through downtown Ukiah, starting at Black Oak Coffee and terminating in Alex Thomas Plaza. Along the way, some participants stopped at the courthouse to paint the front steps on State Street with a rainbow display that adorned the façade of the courthouse right up to the courthouse entry doors.

The marchers painted their display with tempera paint, creating a huge mess that had to be scrubbed off the steps at great public expense. Much of the paint was in powder form that adhered to the soles of shoes and tracked inside the courthouse. As a result, the court closed the front entrance to the courthouse for the entire day while the paint was removed. All public entry into the building was diverted to one entrance on Perkins Street, creating delays at the screening station and frustration for all court visitors including jurors and citizens seeking court services. County and court maintenance crews spent the entire day vacuuming and power washing the paint off the steps. The final cost of cleanup is estimated at more than $5,000 and will be paid by the State of California from taxpayer funds. 

Defacement of public property is unlawful, even if its purpose is a noble one – to raise awareness of and respect for our LGBTQ+ community members. Vandalizing a public building is not consistent with the goals or spirit of the event. The public has a right to expect that future events will not result in a recurrence of this unfortunate situation.

KIRK VODOPALS (Navarro): Confirmed Tuesday morning that the mouth of the mighty Navarro is indeed flowing out to the Pacific. This seems very late based on my twenty years of observations. Congrats Mother Nature, you don’t seem to need the omnipotent assistance from the likes of Philbrick and Beacon…. until next year, perhaps.

ELI MADDOCK: The Navarro mouth was manually breached, much earlier than nature this season… Could it be that a deeper channel was formed? Maybe a straighter trajectory? I may never know…


Containment on the Point Fire has inched up to 50% amid calming winds and rising humidity, according to Cal Fire.

With the Point and Sites fires, more acres have burned in the last three days within Cal Fire’s Sonoma-Lake-Napa unit than in the previous three years combined, according to fire officials. A total of 11,209 acres have so far burned, almost triple the 4,442 acres involved in fires from 2021-23.


by Jack Lee

Wildfire activity has taken off across California over the past few days. And data shows that the number of acres burned this year to date in California is the fourth largest in area from 1996 to 2024.

That’s according to the National Interagency Coordination Center, which coordinates resources for wildfires throughout the United States and compiles statistics. Over 61,000 acres have burned so far this year in California, according to a report released Tuesday morning.

The number of acres burned this year is well ahead of normal, and among the highest in the past three decades, data shows.

The Point Fire started Sunday in Sonoma County and scorched over 1,200 acres as of Tuesday morning. The Post Fire ignited Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles County and is over 15,000 acres in size according to the latest update — the state’s biggest wildfire so far this year. The fire is just 24% contained as of Tuesday morning.

It’s impossible to extrapolate exactly how the rest of California’s fire season will play out based on spring and early summer fires, but experts point to the inevitable: California’s landscape will only continue to dry out through the summer and fall.

“The bad news is I think that the back half of this season is going to be much more active, with a lot more concerning level of wildfire activity in a lot of areas, than the first half,” said UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain during a presentation Monday.

Data from Cal Fire, another major source of wildfire data for California, shows that the acres burned this year is more than four times higher than the average over the past five years.

Recent weather has encouraged fire activity, with dry conditions priming vegetation for blazes and gusty winds fanning flames. While forecasters expected a delayed start to California’s fire season, they generally can’t predict fire ignition.

It’s been more than a decade since so many acres have burned by this time of year, when over 75,000 acres burned in 2013. Wildfires burned more than 600,000 that year, according to Cal Fire, including the devastating Rim Fire that burned 257,314 acres and spread into Yosemite National Park.

Fires earlier in the season tend to be smaller. But that’s not the case as conditions dry out amid hotter temperatures, said Issac Sanchez, deputy chief of communications for Cal Fire.

“One of the things we always have an eye on towards the future is what’s coming up toward the end of summer, when August and September rolls around and those Santa Anas are right behind it,” Sanchez said.

(SF Chronicle)


LINWOOD PETERS: As a journalist, it's never easy announcing heart breaking news to an audience who you know is going to have a hard time hearing it.  SF Giants announcer Dave Fleming was a consummate pro in delivering the sad news to listeners yesterday afternoon during the Giants vs. Cubs game on our local Giant radio affiliate KUNK (formerly KMFB) Mendocino.  I hope your Giants fan readers can access this soundbite.  True fans of number 24 may want to grab a Kleenex. Or two.


Portables arrived, parking lot finished and demo in the office


Dear Customers,

I regret to say that due to recent incidents, WillitsOnline is no longer able to continue as a service provider business in Mendocino County. No further payments are expected or required, all services are canceled effective immediately.

A competitor, with whom we previously had good faith negotiations with concerning a potential merger, illegally secured access to our confidential trade secrets and customer contact data, and used this information to transmit false and misleading messages directly to our subscribers, claiming we are going out of business and that everyone should switch to this competitor before it was too late. It is unfortunate that despite the message being wholly untrue, has manifested the desired effect and has caused a crisis of confidence in our subscribers, leading directly to a cascade of customer losses which has now made the business unable to continue, while this competitor benefits financially from its dishonest and unethical actions.

As a public statement of fact, I, as the owner of the company, have been medically and mentally incapacitated at various levels and seeking to make business changes for the benefit of my health and the future stability of the service, and have kept the true details from everyone, including my formerly trusted staff. I have invested 22 years of my life in fostering this business and have tolerated all manner of embezzlement, theft, sabotage, dishonesty, pettiness and more. The issues now, however, with the catastrophic loss of subscribers, is simply more than I and the business of WillitsOnline are able to effectively address and recover from, and for this I am truly sorry.

To be clear, there will be a process to investigate and address the incident and ensure that all due justice is metered out to the responsible parties, and that any customer injury is duly addressed. Beyond that statement however, it is premature and inappropriate to provide further details or speculate about pending or planned future actions.

I wish to thank you for enabling me to have done something for the past 22 years that has truly been enjoyable, challenging, rewarding and the fulfillment of my teenage dreams. For those who have been there to see my evolution and to know the back story, and who supported me, thank you too.

Mike Ireton
Owner, Founder, President
Tiedye Networks, Willits Online, Your Town Online
May 5, 2002 – June 16, 2024

JULIE BEARDSLEY: My show “It’s a New Day” will be on at 9:00 AM. Interviewing John O’Connor who wrote “The Secret History of Bigfoot - Field Notes on a North American Monster”.

91.5, 90.7, 88.1 


A Mendocino County jury returned from its deliberations Tuesday afternoon in less than thirty minutes to announce it had found the trial defendant guilty as charged.

John Hill

Defendant John Hill, age 36, generally of the Ukiah area, was found guilty of three misdemeanor counts of annoying or molesting a child under the age of 18 years.

The three separate counts involved victims aged 13 years, 13 years, and 15 years.

After the jury was excused, the defendant was also found to have violated his parole in light of the jury verdicts and the evidence heard during the trial by the trial judge. That the defendant was subject to state parole supervision at the time of the March crimes was not information shared with the jury during the course of the trial.

The parties agreed to -- and the court ordered -- a sentencing hearing on the three misdemeanor convictions and the parole violation to be held this Friday, June 21st, at 10 o’clock in the morning in Department H of the downtown Ukiah courthouse.

Defendant Hill – and any other defendant convicted of this charge -- is required now going forward to register with law enforcement in any city or county where the offender resides as a sex offender for ten years following conviction

Also, now going forward, defendant Hill – and any other defendant previously convicted of this charge -- may be prosecuted at the felony-level and sentenced to state prison if again convicted of the same offense any time in the future.

The law enforcement agency that investigated the underlying offense back in March of this year was the Ukiah Police Department.

The DA's Bureau of Investigations supported the trial effort by interfacing with the families and providing pretrial and trial victim/witness support.

The prosecutor who presented the People’s evidence to the jury and argued for the verdicts that were returned was District Attorney David Eyster.

Finally, DA Eyster makes special mention and extends a hearty thanks to the three victims who each demonstrated courage and strength of character, came to court, and willingly testified against the perpetrator.

Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Keith Faulder presided over the two-day trial. Judge Faulder will be the sentencing judge on Friday.


This Thursday is Family Day at Xa Kako Dile (Fortunate Farm) in Caspar from 2-4p. The event is put on by the Mendocino County Herb Guild Coast Branch and is free to the public. All ages welcome as we create plant prayer flags, learn some herbal first aid and plant a few seeds . . . Light refreshments will be available. Come join us!

Fortunate Farm


The art scene in Willits is set to be invigorated with a compelling dual exhibition showcasing the works of two distinguished artists, Robert Louis Permenter and Patsy Brixie, at the Willits Center for the Arts. The event promises to be a vibrant celebration of unique artistic philosophies and creative expression.

Robert Louis Permenter: A Mississippi native, Robert Louis Permenter has found solace and inspiration in Mendocino County after serving in the military. His art, described as his best therapy, is a testament to his belief that "A picture says a thousand words, but art speaks volumes." Robert's approach to painting is deeply therapeutic, a personal sanctuary for his soul and mind. Drawing inspiration from Pablo Picasso's adage, "It takes four years to draw like Raphael, but it takes a lifetime to paint like a child," Robert's work embodies a childlike purity and authenticity. "In the same place where my art thrives, my spirit resides," Robert reflects, underscoring the profound connection between his environment and his creative output.

Patsy Brixie's: art is a spontaneous outpouring of creativity, driven by an intrinsic need to create. Her process, described as gravity-driven, is both reflective and light-hungry. Patsy works without the constraints of time, place, or subject matter, allowing her artistic instincts to guide her. "My love of strong lines and sculpture is the backbone that supports the flow of color," she explains. Patsy's art is not created to make a point, seek explanation, or gain acceptance; it simply exists to be enjoyed. Her work is a celebration of form and color, inviting viewers to engage with it on a purely aesthetic level.

Join Us: The Art Center is open Weekends 11AM until 5PM. Meet the Artists, Saturday, June 29 between 6 and 9 PM. Willits Center for the Arts, 71 E Commercial St, Willits, CA 95490 This dual exhibition offers a unique opportunity to experience the contrasting yet complementary styles of Robert Louis Permenter and Patsy Brixie. Visitors will be able to immerse themselves in the therapeutic and spontaneous worlds created by these two talented artists. We invite art enthusiasts and the local community to come and support this extraordinary show. Thank you for your continued support of the arts in our community.

For more information, please contact Gary Martin, or the Willits Center for the Arts at

Daisies, Wilderness Drive (Jeff Goll)



Hope to start a 3 day visit to Mendocino in a couple of minutes! A friend is driving and covering core costs until our cash infusion later this month! It’s been years since I’ve soaked in a hot spring! Oy! -

Namaste from The City,

David Svehla

San Francisco

THIS REDWOOD is in a hidden spot near Ukiah. We climbed to the top to take some drought stress data. 370' to the top. I made it to about 350'.


by Alicia Hamann, Executive Director, Friends of the Eel River

On Thursday, June 6 the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) informed federal regulators that it would like a 6-month extension to submit its Final License Surrender Application and plan to decommission two Eel River dams that block access to hundreds of miles of prime salmon habitat. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) was expecting the utility to file its Draft Surrender Application plan this month, with a final version due in January 2025. PG&E now says it will fail to meet that deadline and instead file its draft plan in January 2025 followed by the final version in late July 2025.

In announcing the delay, PG&E expressed support for the still vague proposal for the New Eel-Russian Facility and stated that its six-month delay was to allow proponents of that proposal to have more time to work out the details. The proposal would build a dam-free diversion facility to continue transfer of some Eel River water to the Russian River. As proposed, the diversion facility would be constructed concurrently with dam removal and managed by the newly formed Eel Russian Project Authority. PG&E is working with the proponents of the New Eel-Russian Facility1 to develop an agreement for the diversion facility’s construction “that aligns with PG&E’s Surrender Application and Decommissioning Plan.”

The Eel River was once one of the most productive salmon producing rivers in the state with runs of up to a million fish in good years supporting robust tribal, recreational, and commercial fisheries. But a number of factors have degraded habitat and reduced populations to a fraction of their historic numbers, resulting in the listing of many native fish populations as Threatened or Endangered. Experts agree that dam removal would be beneficial in efforts to recover Chinook salmon and steelhead.

“The Eel River’s native fish don’t have time to spare, and Eel River residents have waited long enough to see the justice that is dam removal,” said Alicia Hamann, Executive Director for Friends of the Eel River.

“We understand that PG&E hopes a short delay now will prevent a longer delay later in the decommissioning process. We are wary, however, that PG&E and the proponents appear to be departing from their previous position that arrangements for a potential continued diversion will not delay Eel River dam removal."

“The health of the Eel River has been degraded by the Potter Valley project for far too long. It’s surprising that even with the critical seismic safety issues at Scott Dam, that PG&E and the proponents of continued Eel River diversions are willing to request delays despite the risk to safety and ongoing impacts to the river,” said Scott Harding of American Whitewater.

Samantha Kannry is director of TRIB Research and an expert on salmon and steelhead in the Eel River watershed. Kannry notes that “while this delay seems minor, it is already years into the decommissioning process, and likely not the last proposed delay. The delays and extensions in these protracted bureaucratic processes have a way of accumulating and resulting in significant losses of precious time for the recovery of imperiled native fishes.”

Because the Eel River dams continue to create harmful conditions for the Eel River’s native fish, even a six-month delay can mean significant impacts to an entire year-class of fish. Especially when operated to maximize summertime irrigation supplies to the Russian River, Scott Dam’s unnaturally warm releases create nearly-lethal temperatures for juvenile steelhead in the Eel River between the dams. Cape Horn Dam has a faulty fish ladder that clogs with sediment under high flows and acts as a pinch point in salmon migration creating a hotspot for predators.

About the Eel River Dams:

Situated 20 miles northeast of Ukiah on the Eel River, the Potter Valley Project includes two dams on the Eel River, a diversion tunnel that redirects water from the Eel River watershed to the East Branch of the Russian River, and a powerhouse. The project's owner, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), has allowed its federal hydropower license to lapse and is currently working with federal regulators to surrender the license and remove the Project’s facilities.

Many of the Project’s facilities, including Scott and Cape Horn Dams are over a hundred years old. Due to equipment failures in 2021, PG&E has permanently halted hydropower operations. Furthermore, water storage in Lake Pillsbury, the reservoir created by Scott Dam, has been reduced by more than 25% as an emergency measure to address seismic safety concerns.

Scott Dam entirely blocks fish passage to the prime cold-water habitats in the Eel River headwaters, while the smaller Cape Horn diversion dam has an outdated fish ladder that requires upgrades to comply with current environmental standards.

Removing the Eel River dams would transform the Eel into California’s longest free-flowing river, opening up nearly 300 miles of cold-water habitat for salmon and steelhead. Conservation and commercial fishing groups have long advocated for restoring the Eel River to its natural state. In 2023, American Rivers designated the Eel as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers, citing the Potter Valley Project dams as major threats to the survival of Chinook salmon, steelhead, and Pacific lamprey.

( The proponents of the NERF are Sonoma County Water Agency, Mendocino County Inland Water and Power Commission, Humboldt County, Round Valley Indian Tribes, California Trout, Trout Unlimited, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife.)


by Bruce Anderson (2000)

Behind the serene vistas of the Northcoast's wine country exists a highly mechanized, chemically-dependent, industrial production process as hazardous to the people who make wine as any West Virginia coal mine is to the men who bring the coal up out of the earth. And the wine business, genteel appearances aside, can be as ruthless as any coal company.

Williams & Selyem Winery is hardly noticeable in the splendor of its natural setting on Westside Road, nearly 20 miles of proudly announced wineries housed in large, expensive structures designed to grab attention amid meticulously maintained vineyards. Now crowded with wine tourists, the old country two lanes meander from prosperous Healdsburg in the north to less prosperous Forestville to the southwest. Near the Forestville end of Westside Road sits an unprepossessing cluster of shed-like structures stuck back off the road with nothing but its street address -- 6575 -- to alert the passerby of its presence. The passerby would be surprised to learn that there's a five-year waiting list for the wine produced in these modest circumstances, some of the best wine in the world knowledgeable people say. There's no tasting room at 6575, no la di da trappings of any kind. Just the goods, quality pinot since 1981, a pedigree considered almost ancient in a business bulging with wealthy novices.

It's difficult to reconcile the beauty of 6575's area of Westside Road with what happened there the afternoon of January 7th, 1999. That afternoon a vivid, much admired young man somehow suffocated to death in a wine tank.

His name was Taylor Atkins. He was 20 years old. His friends had all kinds of nicknames for their easy going, 6' 7" buddy: "Moon Boy," "Big Tay," "Stick Man," "Tay Bob Dude Babe," and they miss him terribly.

These days, looking east out across the vineyards at Mount St. Helena, squeezed between the roadbed and a burbling little stream, Taylor Atkins' family and friends maintain a tiny shrine with Taylor's merry face the photo-centerpiece of a white cross surrounded by an irreverent collection of Taylor-related artifacts -- toy cars, a bottle of Lagunitas Brewing Company Beer, a reggae bumper sticker, a quarter moon pendant.

Taylor's death continues to reverberate in West Sonoma County. He was an unusually popular young man, "the kind of kid who made you happy just to see him coming," one of his high school teachers says. "Not a mean bone in his body."

When Taylor died so suddenly and so unreasonably, the entire community felt his loss, and felt it keenly. More than a year later, even people outside his family have a difficult time talking about Taylor without choking up.

"There was a peacefulness, a kindness about him," Cheryl Bonacorso says about the gentle young giant who worked in her daycare center for four years, "Taylor was special. Children just adored him."

At Taylor's crowded memorial service, attended by several hundred people from all over Sonoma County, some of the most affecting moments were those when children, unbidden, appeared at the podium and tried to say how much they missed him.

Taylor Atkins should not have died the way he did, and his mother and father should not have had to endure the many little deaths they've suffered since his death. The winery says it was Taylor's own fault he died on the job; that's not true but in Sonoma County the wine industry decides what's true and not true.

In its starkest expression, this is how Taylor Atkins' death was described by the Sonoma County District Attorney's office:

"On January 7, 1999, the victim, Taylor J. Atkins, an employee for seven months of the William Selyem Winery located at 6575 Westside Road, Healdsburg, was asphyxiated when he climbed into a 1500 gallon wine tank, a confined permit space, that had been devoid of oxygen by placing nitrogen gas into the tank during the bottling process. Williams Selyem Winery failed to provide adequate training to any exposed employees regarding the presence, location, and health hazards associated with any confined spaces or permit-required confined spaces; and the 1500-gallon wine tank which was inerted with nitrogen gas during the bottling process was not posted with danger signs to alert any exposed employee of the existence, location, and danger posed by the permit confined space."

Nobody can say for a fact what happened, but everybody can say for a fact that it should not have happened.

A little more than a year ago, on a day that began as one of the happiest in the Atkins' family history, the day that 20-year-old Taylor and his older brother, 22-year-old Arron had just bought the little run down house twenty feet from their parent's front door, "a shack, really," their mother, Cristine Atkins calls it, "definitely a fixer-upper," Charles Atkins, the boys' father adds.

But the afternoon of that hopeful, happy day, Taylor Atkins died, and the joy escaped their ridgetop Forestville neighborhood and all the neighborhoods around like the air from a burst balloon.

Christine Atkins is a tall, stately woman in her early forties. Charles Atkins is soft spoken and prematurely gray man also in his early forties. The Atkins home is festooned with pictures of their children at their various ages, making the visitor aware at a glance that the purpose of this family is family. Charles Atkins smiles as he attributes Taylor's memorable height, 6'7" to his wife's family. "Her dad was real tall too," he says, motioning towards Cristine, who adds, "We're all tall on our side."

Mrs. Atkins is a housewife. Mr. Atkins is a skilled craftsman. He works not far from his home building custom kitchen counter tops. Arron, who was practically an extension of his younger brother, is a construction worker. Chelsea is a senior at nearby El Molino High School.

"We heard the sirens," Cristine Atkins begins, not reluctantly but her grief audible as she describes the day that has devastated them ever since. "We'd just gotten home from the store where we'd gone to buy things for Taylor's and Arron's celebration of buying the place next door. Arron said someone had called from the winery; that Taylor had fallen in a tank and was unconscious…"

The Atkins rushed down the hill, through the redwoods, across the old bridge over the Russian River, frantically north to William & Selyem Winery on Westside Road, only minutes from their home.

At the winery, Taylor was dead, his long body covered by a sheet. The worst that could happen had happened.

"We had appointment at the bank to sign the papers on the house next door Taylor and Arron were buying," Cristine Atkins recalls. "I picked Taylor up at the winery at noon because he needed to get the money for the closing costs out of the bank. I dropped him back at work at 12:35, and at 3 he was dead."

Nobody wanted Taylor to die, but Williams & Selyem Winery didn't waste much time grieving. They acted immediately to protect themselves.

Jean Arnold, the company's president at the time, made it clear to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat's Mary Callahan that Williams Selyem emphasized safety first. In Callahan's story called "Winery Worker Found Dead" in the Press Democrat of January 9th 1999, Ms. Arnold is quoted as saying, "The gases are odorless and colorless that you use. That's why you use so much training."

Earlier in Callahan's account of Taylor's death, Ms. Arnold has apparently informed the writer that training in the hazards of the bustling production plant is a constant emphasis: "It was unknown Friday exactly why he went inside the wine production tank despite ongoing training in the hazards of the gases used in bottling wine, including nitrogen, which is injected into the tanks to prevent oxygen from spoiling the wine."

There was no safety training program at Williams & Selyem until the winery's Los Angeles lawyer discovered one a week after Taylor's death, and even that conjured program was conceded by the lawyer, a man named Groveman, to be informal and undocumented, conducted, perhaps, perhaps not, after work in "tailgate" seminars at the back end of a pick-up truck.

Attorney Groveman even went so far as to say that Ross Cobb, Williams & Selyem's young enologist, was the winery's "safety officer," which was still news to Cobb a year after Taylor's death. In a report by a Sonoma County District Attorney's investigator by the name of Loden in November of 1999, Loden asked Cobb if he was the winery's safety officer.

"Cobb said no. I told Cobb another employee indicated he was the safety officer. Cobb said he didn't know why anyone would refer to him in that capacity."

The winery's lawyer claims, with an incriminating vagueness, "At the beginning of August 1998, as part of his job training, the supervisor, Cabral, demonstrated the step by step procedure for cleaning the tank at issue from the outside. The employee was told that all work on the tank was to be done from the outside."

At Williams & Selyem, a 9-person operation, there wasn't anything like the "repeated training, entry prohibitions, repeated warnings about confined space hazards and repeated training on the hazards of the gases sufficient to alert any exposed employee….." claimed by the winery's attorney.

In the same document, after asserting a training program where there was none, a fact unanimously confirmed by the testimony of the winery's own employees to Cal-OSHA inspectors, Groveman blames Taylor for his own death.

"The employee ignored his training. He violated (sic) due to his overconfidence related to height (6 ft 5 inches) and the small height of the tanks (5 feet, 1 inch). It is very likely that his overconfidence was increased by the presence of marijuana and codeine in his blood."

Marijuana is not known to make people suicidal. No one smoked marijuana at work. Taylor had not smoked marijuana the day of his death. Marijuana can be detected in the bloodstream up to 30 days after it is inhaled. The autopsy report's mention of codeine in Taylor's blood is disputed inside the lab where the analysis was performed.

As for the allegation that Taylor's height, carelessly put two inches under his true height of 6' 7" by attorney Groveman, would have enabled him to enter the tank with his head out of it, OSHA inspector Don Cavales notes, "This is a highly biased and erroneous assumption. The tank was raised by two hydraulic jacks ….. uplifting one side at least a foot. The deceased could not possibly stand up straight inside the tank, nor be confident about his height to tower over the manhole opening."

But Williams & Selyem insists that Taylor Atkins made a stupid mistake and paid for his heedlessness with his life.

Although there was no safety program, or safety devices, or visual safety warnings on the tanks, or safety equipment at Williams & Selyem, it can be assumed that Taylor had often been warned of the hazards of his work place. The dangers of the tanks are implicit in the job. It's impossible to work at a winery and not know that climbing into a tank can cost you your life.

"All of a sudden," Taylor's father, Charles Atkins remembers, "and within a week of Taylor's death, just after the memorial service, Taylor went from being this guy they adored to an idiot because 'We trained him, we told him. It's all Taylor's fault. He ignored his training. His height made him over-confident. He had marijuana in his blood.' "

Cristine Atkins can't contain her outrage at both the cynical manipulation of the facts of her son's death and how the wine people all ran for cover.

"After the memorial we haven't seen any of those people. None of them."

Mrs. Atkins says people associated with the winery that she and her family had known "clear back to when Taylor was a baby" now refuse to talk to her.

To admit to the facts of Taylor Atkins' death would be to accept responsibility for it, and that seems to worry the man who owns Williams & Selyem more than the possibility of someone else dying at his winery.

Williams & Selyem Winery was founded in 1981 by two men who still live in the area, Burt Williams and Ed Selyem. In February of 1998 Williams and Selyem sold their modest enterprise for the immodest sum of almost $10 million to a very wealthy, well-connected New York man by the name of John Dyson.

Dyson has functioned as deputy mayor for finance and economic development for the mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani. When he isn't managing New York's money Dyson has plenty of his own to keep a gimlet eye on. The wine-related part of the Dyson fortune consists of Millbrook Vineyards and Winery in New York's Hudson Valley; in California he owns vineyards in the Central Valley near Gilroy and Hollister, collectively known as Pebble Ridge Vineyards. Dyson also owns a vineyard and winery in Tuscany, a prize acquisition envied by all the heavy hitters in an industry teeming with acquisitive, envious parvenus. Dyson is also somewhat famous as the man who created the famous I (heart) New York at a time Gotham seemed particularly unlovable.

It's safe to say the guy isn't likely to be picking up his groceries at the local food bank any time soon.

When Dyson snagged the prestigious Williams & Selyem Winery in early 1998, Williams & Selyem's product was described in a consensus industry opinion by one vinous voluptuary as "Pinot Noir at its most seductive and opulent."

Taylor Atkins was hired by John Dyson's Williams & Selyem Winery only a few months before he died there. Burt Williams was still serving as a consultant to the winery he'd co-founded, Jean Arnold was hired by Dyson as the winery's president, Robert "Bob" Cabral was brought in to make the famous pinot, Ross Cobb was hired on as enologist. The adult children of the successful winery's founding fathers worked in the office and helped out with whatever needed doing. Although a New York big wig owned the place, Williams & Selyem was still a 9-person mom and pop operation run like a mom and pop operation is run -- non-bureaucratically.

The Atkins are the least mercenary parents imaginable considering the magnitude of their loss against the powerhouse resources of the winery's owner, John Dyson. The Atkins want two things: They want the winery to admit that its carelessness caused their son's death, and they want basic safety devices put in place that would make it impossible for anybody else to suffocate in a wine tank.

John Dyson has acted like the Atkins want his Tuscany villa.

"Yes, Mr. Dyson called to say he was sorry," Christine says, "but then he said things like this happen all the time, and he talked about how some workers at a flour mill back east had died. Talk about not getting it! Taylor would not have died if Dyson had invested just a few dollars in safety equipment at his winery."

Debbie Sternberg, a close, long-time friend of the Atkins family, who is a prize-winning amateur winemaker and also happens to work as an occupational safety specialist, says that she's "amazed" at the lack of in-place safety procedures and devices at not only Williams Selyem but most small wineries.

"Here you have an invisible, odorless substance that can immobilize your lungs with one breath and not even a two dollar warning sign on the tank? It's unbelievable! No, it's unacceptable. There should be signs, and bells and whistles, double locks, double personnel -- the works. It should be impossible for a six foot seven inch 20-year-old in perfect health to fall unconscious into a four-foot tank through a 20-inch open hatch at its top."

A month after Taylor's death, Cal-OSHA, announced it was proposing fines against Williams & Selyem amounting to $6,400.

"Citation 1" was called a "General citation" for the winery's not having "either fixed ladders or permanent ramps or stairways to its tanks. A portable ladder was used to access the top of the bottling tank each time the manhole cover is opened for cleaning and each time the nitrogen gas line is attached to the manhole cover."

Cal-OSHA says this one will cost the winery $200.

A second "General" violation, which would seem to be much more serious, was also assessed against Williams & Selyem by Cal-OSHA at the price of a speeding ticket.

"Before an employee enters the space, the internal atmosphere shall be tested with a calibrated direct-reading instrument, for the following conditions in the order given: a. Oxygen content, b. Flammable gases and vapors, and c. Potential air contaminants."

In other words, is there air to breathe in the tank you are about to enter?

Two hundred dollars for not having visual means of assessing the oxygen in the confined space you're about to enter is like driving a hundred miles an hour without headlights on a very dark night.

The "General" fine proposed by Cal-OSHA is explained further: "Bottling/Cellar Area -- Employer has no available direct reading instrument to test the internal atmosphere inside the tank prior to any entry by any exposed employee."

Taylor Atkins was indeed driving blind, driving fast, driving in the dark.

And these are the "General" or less serious OSHA findings. Now for the serious violations:

"The employer did not provide training so that all employees whose work is regulated by this section acquire the understanding, knowledge, and skill necessary for the safe performance of the duties assigned utter the permit-required confined space program."

Of course. But an oxygen gauge is right in your face, as is a simple warning sign on the tank, or an alarm bell, or double locks which would require two persons to unlock, and any or all of the above and Taylor Atkins would still be with us.

Williams & Selyem, however, through its then-president, Jean Arnold, immediately told the Press Democrat that training is an integral part of the winery's work site procedures, and that Taylor's death was an accident he himself had caused.

The first "Serious" violation is fleshed out by Cal-OSHA in this one-sentence, sub-paragraph: "Bottling/Cellar Area -- Employer failed to provide adequate training to any exposed employee regarding the presence, location, and health hazards associated with any confined spaces or permit-required confined spaces."

And the second "Serious" violation: "If the workplace contains permit spaces, the employer shall inform exposed employees by posting danger signs or by any other equally effective means of the existence and location of and the danger posed by the permit spaces."

Appended is Cal-OSHA's description of the specific lethal conditions that killed Taylor Atkins at Williams & Selyem Winery:

"The 1500 gallon wine tank which was inserted with nitrogen gas during the bottling process, was not posted with danger signs to alert any exposed employee of the existence, location, and danger present in the permit confined space."

Mr. Dyson and his Los Angeles lawyers are appealing Cal OSHA's findings at the penny ante fines that go with them. Although Dyson has no evidence beyond his own claims that Taylor was fully trained to beware the dangers of an unusually dangerous place of work, he says the violations should be downgraded from Serious to General, a semantic argument they'll present Friday the 21st of April in Santa Rosa before an administrative law judge.

Dyson's lawyer will say what he's already said in his curt appeal for a hearing, that the mythical training was in place, that Taylor had been safety trained and that the winery was in full compliance with the law. It didn't need to post signs, or install oxygen gauges, or alarm bells, or two-person locks. Taylor had been informed by "equally effective means, had violated his training and the company rules and acted out of over-confidence."

Certainly Taylor had been warned about the hazards presented by the tanks. Those warnings are assumed as part of the job at any winery large or small. Moreover, Taylor was an extraordinarily cautious young man, the kind of kid who went straight to his guide book before he took so much as a nibble after a day in the woods picking mushrooms. He was no dare devil.

"Taylor was the kind of guy you could loan your car to and you'd know you'd get it back in one piece," as a close friend from high school assessed Taylor's reputation for prudence and reliability.

This was a young man who didn't take chances. He was ultra-cautious, conservative even. Taylor Atkins would not have suffocated in a wine tank if it had so much as occurred to him that it wasn't safe. And he certainly wouldn't have died in the bottling tank if the winery had fail-safe warnings and devices in place.

Taylor's aunt, Ruthe Anderson, says bluntly, "Look. We all have days where our minds are somewhere else. If you work around things that can kill you if you zone out even for a second, the work site has to be foolproof as it's possible to make it. No matter what happened to Taylor to make him suffocate in that tank, it didn't have to happen. It could have been prevented. there shouldn't be any loopholes in the wine process. None."

Ruthe Anderson's assessment of her nephew's unnecessary and wholly preventable death is shared by Atkins family friend Debbie Sternberg, the in-home winemaker and occupational safety worker.

"I remember talking with Taylor at a community party here in Forestville a couple of months after he'd started working at Williams & Selyem. I asked him about his safety training, about what is called 'donning and doffing' or the taking on and off of a respirator while you're working around the tanks. Taylor told me he didn't go near the tanks, that he hadn't been formally trained about anything except how to drive a forklift. But his saying he didn't go near the tanks at least meant he knew they could be dangerous, but I was always worried about him."

It was about two in the afternoon on January 7th, a Thursday, when the Williams & Selyem crew had finished bottling for the day. Just after the bottling line rattled to a halt, Robert Cabral, the winemaker, left the winery to take wine samples into Santa Rosa. Taylor, another young man named Justin Ennis, and the winery's enologist, Ross Cobb, himself a young man of 27, were cleaning up the bottling area. Cabral, Ross and Ennis had all been hired when John Dyson took over Williams & Selyem a year before. They all had previous winery experience.

Justin Ennis and Taylor were the junior men at the winery. The two of them did whatever relatively unskilled work needed doing.

Ennis had dropped a spanner, a stainless steel, screw-like part resembling an over-sized wingnut into the bottling tank on Wednesday, the day before Taylor died. The spanner secured the tank's top hatch. The tank was filled with wine when the spanner fell into it. Cabral decided to leave it there until the tank was empty the next day rather than attempt to fish it out. A replacement was devised to secure the hatch until the tank was drained and the part could be safely retrieved.

Don Cavales, the OSHA inspector who investigated Taylor's death, was told by Ennis: "I told Taylor, Ross and Bob about it and said someone has to fish it out during cleaning." Ennis went on to inform the inspector that if he, Ennis, were assigned to clean the tank he would have "fished" the part out with a piece of wire, implying that he not only knew that no one was to enter a tank but would not himself have violated the winery's unwritten but firm never-enter-the-tank rule.

At 2:30 in the afternoon the next day, bottling completed, Ennis was told by Ross to clean barrels in back of the bottling shed. At that time Ross apparently also instructed Taylor to set up the hoses to steam clean the now empty bottling tank with the spanner resting on its floor, not that he has said he mentioned the spanner to Taylor or directed him to "fish" it out. Ross then went to the winery's bathroom where he remained for 10 to 15 minutes.

In the confused, fatal interlude between 2:30 and 3pm, Taylor Atkins died in the bottling tank.

When Ross Cobb emerged from the bathroom 10 to 15 minutes later, he began looking for Taylor. Persons working in the office adjacent to the bottling and tank area recall Taylor coming into the office looking for Ross, and they recall Ross coming into the office looking for Taylor

Some time between 2:30 and 2:45, it can be surmised that Taylor, unaware that the tank had not been purged of its lethal load of invisible, odorless nitrogen, opened the tank's hatch, perhaps leaned his long upper torso into the tank to retrieve the displaced wingnut resting on its floor, was overcome by the nitrogen released into his face by the opened hatch, and fell head first, irretrievably unconscious, into the tank. The spanner was later found outside the tank where, staff says, they believe Taylor had tossed it just before he succumbed to the nitrogen fumes inside the tank.

Taylor's mother says that she has heard from at least one person close to winemaker Cabral that the nitrogen was not only still hooked up to the bottling tank, but that it had mistakenly been left on.

"It was just an accident, I was told," Mrs. Atkins says. "The gas was left on but nobody knew why. The man who told me said I just had to get over it. But Ross should have told Taylor not to start cleaning until he got back. Taylor was in the tank a minimum of 20-25 minutes before he was found."

Dustin Ennis told Cal-OSHA inspector Don Cavales that he finished the tasks assigned to him by Ross Cobb "at approximately 2:40 -2:45pm and opened the back roll-up door so I was able to move out some kegs and a barrel that needed to be washed. At that time Ross Cobb was cleaning the bottling line and asked me if I had seen Taylor. I told him I had not. I then proceeded to clean the kegs and barrels. Ross then for a second time asked if I had seen Taylor yet. I told him no. After I finished with the cleaning of the kegs and barrel, I put them away. Then I proceeded towards the bottling line looking for Ross to ask him what he wanted me to do next. He wasn't there, but as I was walking toward the bottling line Ross came running around the corner from up by the tanks and yelled at me that he found Taylor passed out in the tank. This was at about 3:00pm."

Kirk Hubbard works in the winery's office. Hubbard's wife Debbie also works in the office. Hubbard, alerted by Ross that he'd just found Taylor unconscious in the tank, ran to the tank, took a deep breath, and jumped down into it, lifting Taylor feet first, with Ross and Ennis pulling Taylor from above, up and out of the tank.

Hubbard, a large man himself at 6'3", was not affected by whatever nitrogen fumes remained in the tank, which means that the nitrogen had harmlessly dissipated into the air through the tank's top hatch opened by Taylor by the time Hubbard jumped into the tank to pull Taylor out.

Did Ross Cobb find the nitrogen on when he discovered Taylor in the tank? Nobody in an official position to ask, has asked.

It's clear that Taylor was not made aware of the status of the wine tank before he was directed to start cleaning it by Ross Cobb, who was then out of the area for ten to fifteen minutes, leaving Taylor by himself to prepare to clean the bottling tank by hooking up the hoses.

Under the old regime at Williams & Selyem, when Williams and Selyem themselves ran the show, it was the winemaker's responsibility to check the tanks before they were cleaned And the inviolable rule of the winery's founders was that no one entered a tank for any reason. But under the Dyson management of Williams & Selyem, the winemaker, Bob Cabral, left the premises to run errands as soon as the bottling was over for the day, leaving the young enologist, Cobb, in charge.

The first Cal-OSHA inspector assigned to investigate Taylor's death, Mike Byrne, minced no words in his summary of safety conditions at Williams & Selyem. Writing 4 days after the tragedy, Byrne declared, "In my opinion, Williams Selyem Winery was a small, family-owned and operated winery that employed a limited number of family and friends in the production of their products, fine pinot noir and cabernet wines. They had neither the safety technology, training of all employees nor safety equipment to safeguard the employees who worked for them. Their training concerning confined permit spaces of prior employees, including relatives and part-time workers, was simply to emphasize, 'do not ever enter wine vats.' "

The informality continued under the new ownership of John Dyson, remote from his latest acquisition at his home base in the Hudson Valley of New York.

Byrne's colleague, Don Cavales, sums up Dyson's after-the-fact safety program this way: "Williams & Selyem Winery presented a box of safety and training materials to the Santa Rosa Cal OSHA office after this incident. None of it concerned the issue of the hazard to employees working in confined permit spaces."

The Atkins aren't cynical people; or they weren't cynical people before their son died at his job in heedless circumstances.

"The day Taylor died," Cristine Atkins insists, "right at the winery, Ross grabbed my hand and said, 'I'm sorry, but we told him to never go into the tank.' It was like they were trying to cover themselves from the minute we got there. That's what I felt. Ross didn't have to say that to me. It wasn't necessary. It wasn't right."

Things still haven't gotten right for the Atkins.

Charles Atkins tries hard to keep the outrage from his voice. "We don't want to sue anyone," he says, "but how else can this winery and all the other little wineries who shortcut safety, be made to assume responsibility for the people who work for them? 17 or 18 lawyers have told us we don't have a suit -- that we can't sue the employer if the employer is covered by Workmen's Comp. And we've been hassled by Workmen's Comp because there were traces of marijuana in Taylor's blood. We've finally found a guy who will at least go after the winery's Workmen's Comp carrier."

"I don't get it," an outraged Cristine Atkins declares. "Confined space is confined space. The law is the law. Bob Cabral claims he'd taught Taylor to use respirators, but they didn't even haverespirators at the winery, and you have to be fitted to a respirator anyway. They're lying about everything."

Jean Arnold has since left her job as Williams & Selyem's president. Cristine Atkins says that Ms. Arnold suggested to her that she approach owner John Dyson "informally" for compensation for Taylor's death.

"She told me that Dyson wasn't ' a warm man but he was a fair man,' Mrs. Atkins says indignantly. "I told her I wasn't asking him for anything. If he wants to offer money he should be doing it because he feels bad, not because he thinks he can make it all go away."

Another close friend of the Atkins family, Cheryl Bonocorso, worries about the Atkins a lot more than she worries about the other awful consequences of Taylor Atkins' death.

"This is what I know: It's killing the family," Mrs. Bonocorso says, anguish audible in her own voice. "It hurts me as their friend to see them in this much pain because it goes on and on. It's eating them up. Why hasn't the industry come to the family and asked, 'What can we do for you? They cared for Taylor. But they can't do what's in their hearts. I still think it was an accident waiting to happen. I think the winery was innocently negligent, if there is such a thing. They weren't paying attention to their own business; the whole industry isn't paying attention. I knew Taylor. He worked for me for four years. He was not a risk taker. The real tragedy that is ongoing with this family is the winery's failure to assume responsibility so it won't happen again. That's what the family wants. They don't want to sue anybody.'

For year after Taylor's death, the Atkins and their friends peppered Sonoma County's District Attorney, Mike Mullins, with calls and letters insisting that the DA at least investigate the possibility that Williams & Selyem's criminal negligence had been responsible for Taylor's death. Mullins' office ducked the case, waiting until just before the statute of limitations on criminal charges against the winery would expire to conduct a last-minute, hurry-up, one-man investigation. As hurried as it was, the reluctant investigation confirmed the earlier findings and conclusions of Cal-OSHA -- no safety training, no safety warnings, no safety devices existed at Williams Selyem.

But what did the DA do? He issued this mealy-mouthed press release the day before the statute of limitations was up on a possible criminal prosecution of Williams & Selyem:

"Sonoma County District Attorney J. Michael Mullins announced today he will seek OSHA reform in winery safety and training rules after weaknesses in existing rules resulted in a decision not to file criminal charges in a winery worker death case. The decision not to file charges comes on the one-year anniversary of the death of winery worker Taylor Atkins who became asphyxiated after entering a nitrogen laden wine tank at the Williams & Selyem Winery on January 7, 1999.

"After an initial investigation was conducted by Cal-OSHA an intensive follow- up review was completed by the District Attorney's office to examine whether involuntary manslaughter and Labor Code charges would be filed against the winery and its winemaker, Robert Cabral. Ultimately, the District Attorney concluded that existing OSHA regulations did not provide clear enough directives to small wineries regarding training and warning notices.

'The real crime is that a fine young man lost his life when stricter worker protections could have been in place which might have prevented this tragedy,' said J. Michael Mullins, Sonoma County District Attorney. 'I call on state legislators and safety regulators to do more to protect against the treacherous dangers posed by confined work spaces,' Mullins added."

The rule isn't clear enough?

"If the workplace contains permit spaces, the employer shall inform exposed employees by posting danger signs or by any other equally effective means of the existence and location of and the danger present in the permit confined space." (Cal-OSHA)

DA Mullins evasions were just as implausible as the winery's. The laws governing confined space safety are clear and utterly unambiguous.

Legislative remedies?

The wine industry owns the Northcoast's legislative bodies right down to its school boards.

Cal-OSHA's work site rules are adequate, but Cal-OSHA, in the employer-dominated economy we live in, has no real enforcement power.


Prone at the feet of King Grape. The wineries spend literal millions every year in advertising with media from the San Francisco Bay Area north to the Oregon border, and most Northcoast media bombard its readers with free industry advertising with endless stories about the industry's self-alleged glamour, but few stories about its realities.

Community watchdog groups?

"We tried a couple," Charles Atkins says. "They told us they'd bring it up at their next meetings and that was the last we heard from them."

A year to the day after Taylor's death, Charles and Cristine Atkins, their daughter Chelsea and their son Arron, and close friends had gathered at Williams & Selyem's gate to remember Taylor. There were perhaps 25 persons gathered in a solemn cluster at the head of the winery's driveway. Waiting for them behind the gate stood an armed guard.

"We'd only decided to do it the night before," Mrs. Atkins says. "It wasn't advertised. They couldn't have known for sure that we were coming. It was the anniversary of Taylor's death. Do you think they could have put something out there to remember him? A wreath? A bouquet? No. They put an armed guard!"

As if the armed guard wasn't a large enough insult, a middle-aged woman whose name tag on her blouse identified her as the manager of the nearby Hop Kiln's tasting room, bustled up to the Atkins and their friends and, in an authoritative voice announced, "You know it was really his own fault, and he did have marijuana in his bloodstream."

The Press Democrat refused to print a memorial notice on the anniversary of Taylor's death.

"They said they needed proof that the winery had been cited by Cal-OSHA for safety violations," a disgusted Cristine Atkins says, adding, "As if it wasn't a matter of public record."

And in a Press Democrat article by Chris Smith about DA Mullins' perfunctory last minute investigation and implausibly evasive decision to close the case to criminal prosecution, Smith felt it necessary to mention that marijuana had been detected in Taylor's blood, raising that irrelevant canard in a typical tip of the journalo-hat to the wine industry.

And on it goes. An unending but across-the-board evasion of responsibility for the preventable death of a memorable young man.

Friday in Santa Rosa the Atkins will listen to lawyers argue the semantics of their son's death as a multi-millionaire tries to persuade a judge to call Cal-OSHA's violation "General" rather than "Serious." John Dyson is afraid if "Serious" means serious, he killed Taylor Atkins.

Mr. Dyson's lawyer will say that the winery had done everything it could have done to prevent Taylor from dying in its bottling tank. The winery had trained Taylor and warned Taylor and scared Taylor away from the tank that killed him, but for some reason the boy climbed on into the nitrogen anyway. "And, much as I hate to say it, your honor, because we know how sad it is for the family," the LA lawyer will say because Mr. Dyson has paid him a lot of money to libel the dead and drive however much pain into his parents so long as his boss escapes responsibility, "there was marijuana in the young man's blood."

A judge nobody knows or is likely to see again will nod solemnly and announce that he's "taking the matter under advisement," although there isn't a judge between Paso Robles and Portland who would dare take on the wine business, and in a few weeks Charles and Cristine Atkins will receive a letter from the judge saying that "based on the facts as presented" he has determined that "Serious" means "General" and that their son died because he made a mistake.

By the time all the lies and the evasions and the insults are over, if they ever are over, the Atkins might owe John Dyson money.

What Charles & Cristine Atkins Want

  • Safety regulations need to be the same for all wineries, regardless of size and number of employees. All wineries comply.
  • Safety training regarding all equipment used in the wine industry including proper instruction on confined space regardless of an entry/no entry policy be documented in written form by employer and employee. Signed by both, dated, and the time.
  • Safety and danger signage on all inside and outside tanks warning of danger of gasses that can cause harm or death to employees. Old tanks must be brought up to code or become obsolete.
  • All wineries should be required to use safety reading devices to let employees know if it is safe to be near or enter tanks, lock out, tag out lights, buzzers, safety harnesses and respirators mandatory.
  • Mandatory buddy system for cleaning around and in tanks.
  • Built in signage for all new tanks being produced by the manufacturer that requires confined space training. It should be a non-option policy.
  • Regular but unannounced OSHA inspections before another injury or death occurs.

CATCH OF THE DAY, Tuesday, June 18

Allen, Anderson, Butler, Delaguila

BRANDIE ALLEN-MCGRAW, Eureka/Ukiah. Under influence.

AMANDA ANDERSON, Ukiah. Domestic violence court order violation.

TOMBIAS BUTLER, Kelseyville/Ukiah. Probation revocation.

EDGAR DELAGUILA, Willits. Domestic battery, probation revocation.

Hayes, Luscko, Painter, Welton

LAURIE HAYES, Covelo. Battery with serious injury, vandalism, probation revocation.

COURTNEY LUSCKO-HAMILTON, Ukiah. Narcotics for sale, paraphernalia, evidence destruction.

PATRICK PAINTER JR., Ukiah. Suspended license, failure to appear, probation revocation.

BIANCA WELTON, Eureka/Ukiah. Failure to appear.

(photo by Ellen Taylor)


by Hillal Italie

Willie Mays, the electrifying “Say Hey Kid” whose singular combination of talent, drive and exuberance made him one of baseball’s greatest and most beloved players, has died. He was 93.

Mays' family and the San Francisco Giants jointly announced Tuesday night he had died earlier in the afternoon in the Bay Area.

“My father has passed away peacefully and among loved ones,” son Michael Mays said in a statement released by the club. “I want to thank you all from the bottom of my broken heart for the unwavering love you have shown him over the years. You have been his life’s blood.”

The center fielder, who began his professional career in the Negro Leagues in 1948, was baseball’s oldest living Hall of Famer. He was voted into the Hall in 1979, his first year of eligibility, and in 1999 followed only Babe Ruth on The Sporting News’ list of the game’s top stars. The Giants retired his uniform number, 24, and set their AT&T Park in San Francisco on Willie Mays Plaza.

Mays died two days before a game between the Giants and St. Louis Cardinals to honor the Negro Leagues at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama.

“All of Major League Baseball is in mourning today as we are gathered at the very ballpark where a career and a legacy like no other began,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said. “Willie Mays took his all-around brilliance from the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League to the historic Giants franchise. From coast to coast … Willie inspired generations of players and fans as the game grew and truly earned its place as our National Pastime.”

Few were so blessed with each of the five essential qualities for a superstar -- hitting for average, hitting for power, speed, fielding and throwing. Fewer so joyously exerted those qualities -- whether launching home runs; dashing around the bases, loose-fitting cap flying off his head; or chasing down fly balls in center field and finishing the job with his trademark basket catch.

Over 23 major league seasons, virtually all with the New York/San Francisco Giants but also including one in the Negro Leagues, Mays batted .301, hit 660 home runs, totaled 3,293 hits, scored more than 2,000 runs and won 12 Gold Glove. He was Rookie of the Year in 1951, twice was named the Most Valuable Player and finished in the top 10 for the MVP 10 other times. His lightning sprint and over-the-shoulder grab of an apparent extra base hit in the 1954 World Series remains the most celebrated defensive play in baseball history.

“When I played ball, I tried to make sure everybody enjoyed what I was doing,” Mays told NPR in 2010. “I made the clubhouse guy fit me a cap that when I ran, the wind gets up in the bottom and it flies right off. People love that kind of stuff.”

For millions in the 1950s and ’60s and after, the smiling ball player with the friendly, high-pitched voice was a signature athlete and showman during an era when baseball was still the signature pastime. Awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2015, Mays left his fans with countless memories. But a single feat served to capture his magic -- one so untoppable it was simply called “The Catch.”

In Game 1 of the 1954 World Series, the then-New York Giants hosted the Cleveland Indians, who had won 111 games in the regular season and were strong favorites in the postseason. The score was 2-2 in the top of the eighth inning. Cleveland’s Vic Wertz faced reliever Don Liddle with none out, Larry Doby on second and Al Rosen on first.

With the count 1-2, Wertz smashed a fastball to deep center field. In an average park, with an average center fielder, Wertz would have homered, or at least had an easy triple. But the center field wall in the eccentrically shaped Polo Grounds was more than 450 feet away. And there was nothing close to average about the skills of Willie Mays.

Decades of taped replays have not diminished the astonishment of watching Mays race toward the wall, his back to home plate; reach out his glove and haul in the drive. What followed was also extraordinary: Mays managed to turn around while still moving forward, heave the ball to the infield and prevent Doby from scoring even as Mays spun to the ground. Mays himself would proudly point out that “the throw” was as important as “the catch.”

“Soon as it got hit, I knew I’d catch the ball,” Mays told biographer James S. Hirsch, whose book came out in 2010.

“All the time I’m running back, I’m thinking, ‘Willie, you’ve got to get this ball back to the infield.’”

“The Catch” was seen and heard by millions through radio and the then-emerging medium of television, and Mays became one of the first Black athletes with mass media appeal. He was a guest star on “The Donna Reed Show,” “Bewitched” and other sitcoms. He inspired a handful of songs and was named first in Terry Cashman’s 1980s novelty hit, “Talkin’ Baseball (Willie, Mickey & The Duke),” a tribute in part to the brief era when New York had three future Hall of Famers in center: Mays, Mantle of the Yankees and Snider of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The Giants went on to sweep the Indians, with many citing Mays’ play as the turning point. The impact was so powerful that 63 years later, in 2017, baseball named the World Series Most Valuable Player after him even though it was his only moment of postseason greatness. He appeared in three other World Series, in 1951 and 1962 for the Giants and 1973 for the Mets, batting just .239 with no home runs in the four series. (His one postseason homer was in the 1971 National League playoffs, when the Giants lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates).

But “The Catch” and his achievements during the regular season were greatness enough. Yankees and Dodgers fans may have fiercely challenged Mays’ eminence, but Mantle and Snider did not. At a 1995 baseball writers dinner in Manhattan, with all three at the dais, Mantle raised the eternal question: Which of the three was better?

“We don’t mean being second, do we, Duke?” he added.

Between 1954 and 1966, Mays drove in 100 or more runs 10 times, scored 100 or more 12 times, hit 40 or more homers six times, more than 50 homers twice and led the league in stolen bases four times. His numbers might have been bigger. He missed most of 1952 and all of 1953 because of military service, quite possibly costing him the chance to overtake Ruth’s career home run record of 714, an honor that first went to Henry Aaron; then Mays’ godson, Barry Bonds. He likely would have won more Gold Gloves if the award had been established before 1956. He insisted he would have led the league in steals more often had he tried.

“I am beyond devastated and overcome with emotion. I have no words to describe what you mean to me,” Bonds wrote on Instagram.

Mays was fortunate in escaping serious injury and avoiding major scandal, but he endured personal and professional troubles. His first marriage, to Marghuerite Wendell, ended in divorce. He was often short of money in the pre-free agent era, and he received less for endorsements than did Mantle and other white athletes. He was subject to racist insults and his insistence that he was an entertainer, not a spokesman, led to his being chastised by Jackie Robinson and others for not contributing more to the civil rights movement. He didn’t care for some of his managers and didn’t always appreciate a fellow idol, notably Aaron, his greatest contemporary.

“When Henry began to soar up the home-run chart, Willie was loathe to give even a partial nod to Henry’s ability, choosing instead to blame his own performance on his home turf, (San Francisco’s) Candlestick Park, saying it was a lousy park in which to hit homers and this was the reason for Henry’s onrush,” Aaron biographer Howard Bryant wrote in 2010.

Admirers of Aaron, who died in 2021, would contend that only his quiet demeanor and geographical distance from major media centers -- Aaron played in Atlanta and Milwaukee -- kept him from being ranked the same as, or even better than Mays. But much of the baseball world placed Mays above all. He was the game’s highest-paid player for 11 seasons (according to the Society for American Baseball Research) and often batted first in All-Star games, because he was Willie Mays. From center field, he called pitches and positioned other fielders. He boasted that he relied on his own instincts, not those of any coach, when deciding whether to try for an extra base.

Sports writer Barney Kremenko has often been credited with nicknaming him “The Say Hey Kid,” referring to Mays’ spirited way of greeting his teammates. Moments on and off the field sealed the public’s affection. In 1965, Mays defused a horrifying brawl after teammate Juan Marichal clubbed Los Angeles Dodgers catcher John Roseboro with a bat. Mays led a bloodied Roseboro away and sat with him on the clubhouse bench of the Dodgers, the Giants’ hated rivals.

Years earlier, when living in Manhattan, he endeared himself to young fans by playing in neighborhood stickball games.

“I used to have maybe 10 kids come to my window,” he said in 2011 while visiting the area of the old Polo Grounds. “Every morning, they’d come at 9 o’clock. They’d knock on my window, get me up. And I had to be out at 9:30. So they’d give me a chance to go shower. They’d give me a chance to eat breakfast. But I had to be out there at 9:30, because that’s when they wanted to play. So I played with them for about maybe an hour.”

He was born in Westfield, Alabama, in 1931, the son of a Negro League player who wanted Willie to do the same, playing catch with him and letting him sit in the dugout. Young Mays was so gifted an athlete that childhood friends swore that basketball, not baseball, was his best sport.

By high school he was playing for the Birmingham Black Barons, and late in life would receive an additional 10 hits to his career total, 3,293, when Negro League statistics were recognized in 2024 by Major League Baseball. With Robinson breaking the major league’s color barrier in 1947, Mays’ ascension became inevitable. The Giants signed him after he graduated from high school (he had to skip his senior prom) and sent him to its minor league affiliate in Trenton, New Jersey. He began the 1951 season with Minneapolis, a Triple-A club. After 35 games, he was batting a head-turning .477 and was labeled by one scout as “the best prospect in America.” Giants Manager Leo Durocher saw no reason to wait and demanded that Mays, barely 20 at the time, join his team’s starting lineup.

Durocher managed Mays from 1951-55 and became a father figure -- the surly but astute leader who nurtured and sometimes pampered the young phenom. As Durocher liked to tell it, and Mays never disputed, Mays struggled in his first few games and was ready to go back to the minors.

“In the minors I’m hitting .477, killing everybody. And I came to the majors, I couldn’t hit. I was playing the outfield very, very well, throwing out everybody, but I just couldn’t get a hit,” Mays told the Academy of Achievement, a Washington-based leadership center, in 1996. “And I started crying, and Leo came to me and he says, ‘You’re my center fielder; it doesn’t make any difference what you do. You just go home, come back and play tomorrow.’ I think that really, really turned me around.”

Mays finished 1951 batting .272 with 20 home runs, good enough to be named the league’s top rookie. He might have been a legend that first season. The Giants were 13 games behind Brooklyn on Aug. 11, but rallied and tied the Dodgers, then won a best-of-3 playoff series with one of baseball’s most storied homers: Bobby Thomson’s shot in the bottom of the ninth off Ralph Branca.

Mays was the on-deck batter.

“I was concentrating on Branca, what he was throwing, what he might throw me,” Mays told The New York Times in 2010. “When he hit the home run, I didn’t even move.

“I remember all the guys running by me, running to home plate, and I’m saying, ‘What’s going on here?’ I was thinking, ‘I got to hit!‘”

His military service the next two years stalled his career, but not his development. Mays was assigned as a batting instructor for his unit’s baseball team and, at the suggestion of one pupil, began catching fly balls by holding out his glove face up, around his belly, like a basket. Mays adopted the new approach in part because it enabled him to throw more quickly.

He returned full time in 1954, hit 41 homers and a league-leading .345. He was only 34 when he hit his 500th career homer, in 1965, but managed just 160 over the next eight years. Early in the 1972 season, with Mays struggling and the Giants looking to cut costs, the team stunned Mays and others by trading its marquee player to the New York Mets, returning him to the city where he had started out in the majors.

Mays’ debut with his new team could not have been better scripted: He hit a go-ahead home run in the fifth inning against the visiting Giants, and helped the Mets win 5-4. But he deteriorated badly over the next two seasons, even falling down on occasion in the field. Many cited him as example of a star who stayed too long.

In retirement, he mentored Bonds and defended him against allegations of using steroids. Mays himself was in trouble when Commissioner Bowie Kuhn banned him from the game, in 1979, for doing promotional work at the Bally’s Park Place Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. (Kuhn’s successor, Peter Ueberroth, reinstated Mays and fellow casino promoter Mantle in 1985).

But tributes were more common and they came from everywhere -- show business, sports, the White House. In the 1979 movie “Manhattan,” Woody Allen’s character cites Mays as among his reasons for living. When Obama learned he was a distant cousin of political rival and former Vice President Dick Cheney, he lamented that he wasn’t related to someone “cool,” like Mays.

Asked about career highlights, Mays inevitably mentioned “The Catch,” but also cherished hitting four home runs in a game against the Braves; falling over a canvas fence to make a catch in the minors; and running into a fence in Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field while chasing a bases-loaded drive, knocking himself out, but still holding on to the ball.

Most of the time, he was happy just being on the field, especially when the sun went down.

“I mean, you had the lights out there and all you do is go out there, and you’re out there by yourself in center field,” he told the achievement academy. “And, I just felt that it was such a beautiful game that I just wanted to play it forever, you know.”


'I was born in New York, and moved later to Bayonne. It was a rough town, blue-collar, with a lot of mob influence. Each part of town had its own tough guy. Through the years, I ended up fighting three of them, and beat them all. You had to earn your way there, you might say. Nobody gave you anything. If they had a title, 'Toughest Guy In Bayonne,' it would have been me.'

— Chuck Wepner


You should realize that what people say on internet sites is in no way indicative of what they’re likely to do out in the real world where there are considerations and consequences. Many people claim they’d do things that, in fact, they would never do, and are just letting off steam. No one knows what they’d actually do in extreme or threatening circumstances until those circumstances arise. They can, however, make trouble for themselves and others by making rash statements that they will never act on.

William Faulkner: Hemingway, he has no courage, has never crawled out on a limb. He has never been known to use a word that might cause the reader to check with a dictionary to see if it is properly used.

Ernest Hemingway: Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use. Remember, anybody who pulls his erudition or education on you hasn’t any.



The US war machine rolls on, financed by US taxpayer funds in violation of US laws. The genocide of the Gazan Palestinians continues, greased by denials of genocide from the Biden Administration. The IDF and settlers continue their small scale murder of Palestinians in the West Bank To the east, Genocide Joe has arranged a 10-year slaughter of Ukrainians and Russians by stealing the investment income of Russia's frozen funds - a violation of international law. President Biden, apparently satisfied with the ammo sparing state of the Gazan starvation, is now turning his attention to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Expect him to exacerbate conditions there. Of course, Iran will be an issue. And Taiwan is heating up, as are North Korea and Yemen. Stoltenberg of NATO is talking about using nucs.

The US made the Israeli/Palestine horror by kicking the can down the road for 80 years in its unwavering support of Israeli occupiers. The Ukraine upheaval only took 10 years of US CIA, State Department, and Pentagon interference. These wars are caused by our warmongers. They are unnecessary. It does not benefit America or make America safe. It provides profits for defense contractors and plutocrats, fuels inflation, and deprives Americans of the services that they pay for. We and the world can see our leaders' lies, empire building, and outright theft.

Why do we allow ourselves to be limited to a choice of President to an ancient hawk or an old grifter? Why do we accept this slog to WWIII?

Protest! Write and call your representatives. Take to the streets. Join organizations that oppose the bloody world domination intended by our rulers. (John Sakowitz listed some good ones in his recent AVA letter.) Make peace through cooperation, not annihilation.

Joan Vivaldo



Russia has offered its most concrete public proposal for ending the war. But Kyiv and Washington have different plans.

by Aaron Maté

Ahead of an international Ukraine “peace summit” in Switzerland to which he was not invited, Russian President Vladimir Putin laid out his most concrete public proposal to date for ending the war.

Ukraine, Putin said in a June 14th speech to Russian foreign ministry officials, should withdraw all its forces from Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia, regions that Russia has claimed to annex despite not fully controlling. The Russian leader also called on Kyiv to renounce its bid to join NATO and commit to permanent neutrality, as its founding constitution previously enshrined, and to never acquire nuclear weapons. If Ukraine were to accept those terms, Putin said, “our side will follow an order to cease fire and start negotiations... expeditiously.”

For Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and his Western sponsors, Putin’s offer is a non-starter.…


Netanyahu Criticizes the U.S. For Holding Up Some Weapons Deliveries

U.S. Pier for Gaza Aid Is Failing, and Could Be Dismantled Early

Nvidia Becomes Most Valuable Public Company, Topping Microsoft

California Joins Growing National Effort to Ban Smartphone Use in Schools

Remembering Willie Mays as Both Untouchable and Human

Maiden Water Carriers of Ghana (sculpture by Komnan Ohene)


  1. George Hollister June 19, 2024

    When I came to Comptche in 1961, as a seven year old, soccer was the sport played in my past, and nothing else. All the talk at the Comptche School was about Willie Mays, the Giants, and baseball. Mays was a big deal, and there was nothing bigger in life than going to Candle Stick and seeing Willie hit a home run. Nothing.

  2. Me June 19, 2024

    There are security cams at the courthouse, right? Hopefully the mess makers can be identified and pay back the money they wasted.

    • Joseph Turri June 19, 2024

      California Penal Code [CPC] §§594(a)(1)-(3) – Vandalism – California makes it illegal to deface, damage, or destroy property that is not your own. Pull up the video and make them pay for the clean-up..

      • John McKenzie June 19, 2024

        MendoFever ran a story on the 17th with some really good photos of the perpetrators in action.

  3. Call It As I See It June 19, 2024

    As a life long Dodger fan, I grew up 12 miles from Chavez Ravine. My dad would come home from work, we would decide on the moment to go take in a game. We would head to the game and purchase the $3 reserve seating, wow times have changed. With Dodger Dog in hand I witnessed the likes of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and yes, the great Willie Mays. Two players always grabbed the attention of the of the Dodger faithful, Pete Rose and Willie Mays. Rose drew their attention for different, he was kind of like Darth Vader. They loved to boo him but admired his talent. The other, Willie Mays. You couldn’t help but realize he was possibly the greatest player ever. But most importantly a true gentleman. What a combination! When you thought of the Giants, Willie Mays sprung to the fore front and for good reason. The Sey Hey Kid, will truly be missed. Thanks for the memories, Willie.

    • Chuck Dunbar June 19, 2024

      Notable memories of Willie Mays from one obituary today:

      “He had an open manner, friendly, vivacious, irrepressible,” the baseball writer Leonard Koppett said of the young Mays. “Whatever his private insecurities, he projected a feeling that playing ball, for its own sake, was the most wonderful thing in the world.”

      “ Willie could do everything from the day he joined the Giants,” Leo Durocher, his manager during most of his years at the Polo Grounds, said when Mays was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1979, his first year of eligibility. “He never had to be taught a thing. The only other player who could do it all was Joe DiMaggio.” But even DiMaggio bowed to Mays. “Willie Mays is the closest to being perfect I’ve ever seen,” he said.
      NY TIMES, 6/19/24

  4. Stephen Rosenthal June 19, 2024

    Great article by Bruce about Williams-Selyem. I wish I had read it before giving that winery a bunch of my $$$ back in the day. Makes me sick to my stomach that I did.

  5. John Sakowicz June 19, 2024

    I feel a little bit older today. R.I.P. Willie Mays.

    • MAGA Marmon June 19, 2024

      Willie Mays and then Willie McCovey, I loved going to Candlestick when baseball was good.

      MAGA Marmon

  6. jetfuel June 20, 2024

    Hey Alicia Hamann, Executive Director, Friends of the Eel River!

    You lazy ass nut job, you probably ride a desk for a career in some fat cushioned seat having no practical experience living on or near the rivers you and your “friends” talk of.
    Granted maybe I’m wrong about you and your group of suckiling non-profit do nothings but, willing to wager my side.

    You blather hyperbole and lies in your letters. Enough is enough!

    Talking of warm running waters from the dam, how about a dry river during late summer months. How will this support your millions of fish ? Trash fish actually, is the way local indigenous describe Salmon. There will never be huge fish runs with the offshore fishing fleets and low flows to DRY that were common before the dams were built.

    Talking about folks living alongside the river wanting the dams gone, that is a load of crap. I know for sure as myself and many others have been graciously thanked through the years after spending hot days pulling water from those very water resources that you want to get rid of, putting it on roofs and properties while fires burn close.

    Seismic talk is a nothing argument. Every dam built in this once great California has the same or worse seismological rating.

    Spend your time arguing and advocating for a new fish ladder on the Cape Horn. Your a boring regressive who has no business, family or future ties to our communities here. If you did you would know the infrastructure existing currently could support a modern powerhouse with latest GenTech that would churn multiple times the electricity generated by the decommissioned one.
    Also that a modern fish ladder with a water cooling system could easily be installed at Scott Dam.

    Alicia Hamann I’m afraid you might just be stuck. Try to expand your brain or move on and let younger life loving entrepreneurs get involved. There is a way forward. A much better way forward that doesn’t require removal of the hugely important dam structures. Lake Pillsbury is an amazing place full of wildlife, fish and other important resources for all of humankind.

    There never was nor will there ever be a huge population of Salmon or Steelhead in the Eel.
    Your groups argument is not based in common sense. You are just plain wrong and you know it. You lie to protect YOUR way of life.

    • Bruce Anderson June 20, 2024

      If I’d caught this before you began heaping on the personal insults in an otherwise coherent argument, I woulda killed the whole thing. Jeez, dude, what’s the point?

  7. jetfuel June 20, 2024

    My sincere apology for offending your sensibility, editor.
    I am a but a dunce living in the physical trying to practice common sense.
    I will refrain from commenting on personal attributes.
    I stand behind everything that I said until proven otherwise.

  8. Bruce Anderson June 20, 2024

    Not my sensibility, Mr. J. Gratuitous insults detract from your argument.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *