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Francine Orr 

Desert Sunflowers bloom in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park in San Diego County on March 11, 2017. No "super bloom" is expected this year, after a very dry winter. 

COS, school district and city officials meet

HANFORD — Where you would normally see a professor and students on a Monday night, a classroom at the College of the Sequoias Hanford Educational Center was taken over by city and school officials.

Members of the Hanford City Council, College of the Sequoias Board of Trustees and Hanford Joint Union High School District Board of Trustees held a joint meeting Monday to give updates on what each entity has been doing for the past year.

Here are some of the highlights from the annual joint meeting:

Hanford Joint Union High School District

HJUHSD Superintendent Bill Fishbough gave a quick update on the newly completed agricultural farm, saying there are already a few animals being housed at the farm and students are getting ready for the Kings County Fair.

“We’re really proud of it — proud of all the features that are there and proud of the fact that the ag community stepped-up with about 10 percent of our building costs in donations to help get it off the ground and get it running,” Fishbough said.

Renee Creech, director of business at the district, then gave an update on planned construction at Sierra Pacific High School.

Creech said the district is currently in the design phase for an administration/library building and pool. She said the building will offer new amenities to students, including a larger library with more room for them to collaborate.

The planned pool will cover a lot of bases, Creech said, including being the correct size for both high school and college competitions, and having a shallow end for physical education.

Creech said the district hopes to go out to bid for the project by September.

City of Hanford

Hanford Fire Department Chief Chris Ekk gave an update on the construction of Fire Station No. 3 at 12th Avenue and Woodland Drive, which had its groundbreaking in January. City Manager Darrel Pyle said the city hopes the project will be complete by the end of the year.

Police Chief Parker Sever talked about the department’s active shooter preparedness, especially at schools.

“I don’t really think school shootings are the normal, [but] I think it’s something we need to be concerned about,” Sever said. “We always need to keep it in perspective.”

Sever said the department takes threats seriously, but assured that schools are some of the safest places for kids to be.

He said school resource officers are a presence at some of the schools and provide students with what is known as “ALICE” training, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. He said officers have also worked with schools on emergency response plans and emergency drills.

Sever said the training helps instill a “warrior mindset” where students know what to do instead of freezing up and doing nothing when an unexpected event happens.

“What happens when you freeze is that you allow somebody else to take control of the situation and you,” Sever said. “And unfortunately, what we see is those people do not have the best intentions for you.”

College of the Sequoias

Kristin Robinson, provost of the COS Hanford Educational Center, said in the fall of 2010 the center opened and had just under 400 students. Now, the center serves over 2,500 students.

The center has two public safety programs: the police academy and the firefighter academy. She said around one-third of the school’s students attend one of the programs that are happening throughout the year at different times.

“This campus is busy every day of the week,” Robinson said, adding the programs are growing.

The programs and classes seem to be growing in general, with Robinson saying the school has increased the number of science classes offered and there are plenty of students in the industrial maintenance and electrical training programs.

A career development center is in the works on campus to allow students to participate in career exploration and connect with employers, Robinson said. The student pavilion outside has also been completed and so has The Avenue, a place where students can get food.

COS President Stan Carrizosa said the school is also making headway with having full-time faculty at the center. He said once the center has a handful of full-time faculty, then the academic culture on that campus changes and it’s a great feat to accomplish.

“That’s a big deal for us,” Carrizosa said. “We’re building that continuity now and that’s just continuing to make the campus stronger.”

Wendy's open after remodel

HANFORD — After a little less than six weeks, the Wendy’s in Hanford re-opened Feb. 15 after remodeling its location.

Kris Stuebner, a spokesman for Wendy’s franchise in the Valley, said the remodel was Wendy’s way of bringing its new image to the store.

The company has plans to remodel 60 percent of its locations in the same manner by 2020. Stuebner said the Porterville location has already been remodeled as well.

The remodeling of the exterior, dining area and part of the kitchen area went smoothly Stuebner said.

Chelsea Shannon / Chelsea Shannon, The Sentinel  

It took a little under six weeks to remodel the Wendy's off of Lacey Boulevard.

“The store is going great,” he said. “It was like we never missed a beat.”

General Manager Alex Luna said the dining area is more spacious and open in design. He also pointed out they have a new 70-inch TV and a lounge-like area with comfy chairs and a fireplace.

Airyon Smith said she worked at this location before the remodel and one thing she appreciated were the new tools employees have to make their job easier. She pointed out that they no longer have numbers on receipts. The store now has a small TV that displays customers’ names and whether the order is ready.

Chelsea Shannon / Chelsea Shannon, The Sentinel 

A group of young adults hang out by the fireplace in Wendy's.

The location needed to close entirely during the remodel due to food safety concerns from construction. Recently, Wendy’s in Hanford made the county’s “Food Safety Silver Star” list.

Stuebner said the remodel was not a setback for most employees. All but one stayed and during the remodel, most were able to work at other Wendy’s locations in the area. 

Some employees went to Visalia, Selma and Tulare locations. Luna also worked at the Porterville location and a couple of the Fresno ones. He said most employees stayed closer to Hanford, and some decided to do temporary unemployment instead of working at another location.

Stuebner and Luna said they hired 20 employees to complement the current staff.

The Hanford location has been doing well since reopening. Stuebner said despite the fact that they have not advertised the reopening, old customers are coming in because they are excited about seeing the remodel and are just happy they are open again.

Luna said that they have seen a more consistent flow of business throughout the day since the re-opening. He said before the remodel, they would have their standard lunch rush and a slow-down between 2 and 5 p.m.

Stuebner said there is the possibility of more locations in Tulare and Kings counties but cannot disclose more information.

Stuebner is the executive director of administration and marketing at JEM Restaurant Management Corporation. One of JEM’s clients is Peninsula Foods L.P. which is the company that franchises Wendy’s here in the Valley.

Photos: The remodeled Wendy's on Lacey

Chelsea Shannon / Chelsea Shannon, The Sentinel  

It took a little under six weeks to remodel the Wendy's off of Lacey Boulevard.

Avenal teen arrested for school shooting threat

AVENAL — A 17-year-old student was arrested after making shooting threats against Avenal High School, Avenal Police Department officials said.

Though the threat turned out to be a hoax, it did not make the situation any less real for police.

On Sunday night, Avenal High School administration contacted Avenal police after they received word that a student posted a picture with a firearm on social media, Police Chief Rusty Stivers said.

Stivers said the picture warned students not to go to school the next day because it was going to be “like Florida;” referencing the recent school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.

After school officials contacted the police department, Stivers said officers immediately began investigating and located where the 17-year-old male student lived.

Stivers said a search warrant was obtained to enter the residence and members of the Central Valley Regional SWAT Team assisted in recovering the weapon that was pictured in the social media post.

The gun that was pictured ended up being an airsoft gun and Stivers said no other weapons were found in the home. He also said the student told police the post was a hoax and he had no intention of carrying-out any type of shooting at the school.

With no other suspects, Stivers said the student was booked into the Kings County Juvenile Center and school resumed the next morning with no further incidents.

As a police chief, Stivers said he urges parents to monitor the social media accounts and electronic devices of their children and know what they are saying and doing online.

He said schools are and should be the safest places for students and it’s unfortunate that recent events have caused some people to feel uneasy about going to school.

Stivers also warned students not to posts threats that are hoaxes or jokes because they are taken seriously by law enforcement and stay on criminal records.

“This can ruin people’s lives forever,” Stivers said.

Local sex traffickers sentenced in superior court

TULARE — Quinton Brown and Gerald Turner have been sentenced to multiple felony charges of sex trafficking of a minor, Tulare County Sheriff’s officials said.

On Monday, deputies said both Brown and Turner appeared in Tulare County Superior Court and were sentenced after entering guilty pleas in Tulare County Superior Court on Jan. 16.

In July 2017, officials said Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed 54 felony charges against Brown, Turner and Mia McNeil, following a six-month investigation by the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, Human Trafficking Task Force and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s Regional Human Trafficking Task Force.

The criminal complaint alleged that Brown lured victims from the Central Valley and trafficked them throughout the state, deputies said. It also alleged that Turner trafficked minors in the Central Valley, and that McNeil fraudulently procured luxury vehicles and apartments used to facilitate the trafficking.

Authorities said the victims, including eight minors, were sold for commercial sex throughout the Central Valley, Bay Area and Los Angeles.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, officials said Brown was sentenced to serve a 28-year sentence, and Turner was sentenced to serve an 11-year sentence. Both defendants are to serve their time in a California State Institution and are required to register as sex offenders.

Authorities said the third defendant, McNeil, failed to appear and a warrant for her arrest was issued in the amount of $200,000.

Anyone with information is encouraged to call the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department at 733-6218 or send anonymous information by sending a text or email to or call 725-4194.

Victims and survivors of human trafficking are encouraged to call any police department or the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at (888) 373-7888.