ESCALON, Calif. (AP) - Authorities in California are trying to crack the case of a nut thief who made off with 140,000 pounds of walnuts.
The theft, estimated at nearly $400,000, occurred Sunday in the small Central Valley town of Escalon. Investigators say it was one of the biggest to hit the booming industry. Last month, about 12,000 pounds of walnuts worth $50,000 were stolen from a trailer parked on Highway 99 north of Sacramento.
This time several truckloads of walnuts were taken from the facility. Authorities say rising prices - about $2 per pound - is what appears to be driving the recent walnut thefts.
No arrests have yet been made.
Walnuts are California's fourth-leading agricultural export. China remains the world's leading producer of walnuts.
LOS ANGELES (AP) - A reputed prison gang leader who was on probation in California has been captured in Missouri.
Forty-five-year-old Albert "Spanky" Amaya is jailed in Missouri's Pettis County while awaiting extradition. No attorney is listed for him in online Missouri court records.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Amays was sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison in 2008 after he was convicted of extortion, his third felony conviction. But he was released in June after a voter-approved measure allowed "three strikes" inmates to seek re-sentencing.
The San Bernardino County district attorney's office placed him on GPS monitoring while seeking to send him back to prison. Authorities allege he was a crew chief for the Mexican Mafia prison gang and fled after cutting the GPS device.
LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — The oil production technique known as fracking has been occurring on offshore platforms and man-made islands off some of Southern California's most populous coastal communities.
Interviews and drilling records obtained by The Associated Press show fracking has occurred at least 200 times over the past two decades in waters off Long Beach, Seal Beach and Huntington Beach.
Though there is no evidence offshore hydraulic fracturing has led to any spills or chemical leaks, the practice occurs with little state or federal oversight of the operations
The state agency that leases lands and waters to oil companies says officials found new instances of fracking after searching records as part of a review after the AP reported this summer about fracking in federal waters of California.
BURBANK, Calif. (AP) — Officials say up to five people have died after a car spun out and burst into flames early Saturday morning in Burbank, Calif., trapping people inside.
There was one survivor found about 50 yards from the burning Nissan when police arrived on the scene around 4 a.m. Sergeant Darin Ryburn says the 18-year-old woman was taken to Los Angeles County Medical Center. Fire Battalion Chief Ron Barone said paramedics reported smelling alcohol on her breath. It's unclear how she ended up outside the vehicle.
Ryburn says speed appears to be a factor in the crash.
The flames from the fire spread to nearby trees and brush and Barone says they were doused within moments of firefighter's arriving.
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Throughout central California, a water war is quietly being fought underground.
Farmers, residents and urban water districts have seen their wells go dry because the water table has fallen so low. Those who can afford it have been drilling deeper wells that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Experts say groundwater supplies have been strained by growing city populations and hundreds of square miles of new orchards and vineyards.
Exacerbating the problem is a second consecutive dry year, as well as cutbacks of surface water shipped to farms and cities from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Climate change is putting additional pressure on aquifers.
Experts worry groundwater is becoming unaffordable — and that overuse could cause serious land subsidence, damaging infrastructure such as roads.
JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — A man wanted in the 1984 killing of a Joplin woman has been arrested in San Diego, California.
Joplin police say FBI agents arrested 64-year-old Paul Moses on Friday on a federal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution in the killing of 62-year-old Frances Ramsey.
The Joplin Globe reports that a felony murder warrant for Moses had been on the books since shortly after Ramsey's killing. Her body was found August 11th, 1984 in an unoccupied duplex that was being remodeled.
Authorities said Moses is being held in San Diego pending extradition proceedings to bring him to Missouri. No attorney is listed for him in online court records.
Moses was described in court records in 1984 as a 35-year-old transient.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A jury has found a 79-year-old former photographer guilty in the decades-old killings of four California women.
After deliberating for less than eight hours, the Marin County Superior Court jury on Tuesday found Joseph Naso guilty of killing two young prostitutes in the 1970s and two others in the 1990s.
Naso acted as his own attorney in the two-month trial in which prosecutors presented DNA and other compelling evidence against him. Marin County deputy public defender Pedro Oliveros assisted Naso and confirmed the Reno, Nev., resident was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder.
The four victims all had alliterative initials in their names. The same jury will reconvene Sept. 4 for the penalty phase of the trial. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - The California Supreme Court has refused to stop gay marriages in the state.
In a brief ruling Wednesday, the high court tossed out a legal challenge by supporters of Proposition 8, the ballot measure passed by voters that banned same-sex marriages in California.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June left in place a trial judge's order striking down the ballot measure as unconstitutional. On June 28, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered county clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Prop 8 supporters had asked the state Supreme Court to stop the weddings, arguing that the federal court action applied narrowly and only to the two couples who filed the federal lawsuit challenging the ban.
With little comment, a unanimous state Supreme Court allowed gay marriages to continue.
VISALIA, Calif. (AP) - A California man is being praised for his honesty after he turned in $6,900 in cash he found near a Department of Motor Vehicles office in the Central Valley.
The money eventually was returned to its rightful owner.
Forty-six-year-old Breck Reeves told the Fresno Bee he spotted an envelope on the ground Aug. 6 while going to the Visalia DMV. Inside was a stack of $100 bills totaling $6,900.
Reeves says he might have kept the money if it had been $20 or so, but this was too much. He turned in the money at the DMV, and Visalia police eventually tracked down its rightful owner, 69-year-old retired farmworker Guadalupe Salazar.
Salazar had taken the money out of the bank to buy his son a new car. The envelope apparently fell out of Salazar's car when he opened the door.
Salazar plans to take the Reeves to dinner.
BEAUMONT, Calif. (AP) — A rapidly spreading wildfire chewed through a rugged Southern California mountain range on Thursday, destroying more than two dozen homes, threatening more than 500 other residences and forcing some 1,800 people to flee.
Six people were injured, while more than 1,400 firefighters and nine helicopters battled the flames as they pushed eastward along the San Jacinto Mountains, a desert range 90 miles east of Los Angeles, Cal Fire Riverside Chief John R. Hawkins said.
A man near the origin of the fire suffered serious burns, Hawkins said. Five firefighters were also injured, including two who suffered heat exhaustion. Officials did not have details to release on the other three.
After surveying badly charred areas, many of which burned amid the fire's out-of-control growth in the hours after it broke out, officials said 26 homes and one commercial building were destroyed and two other structures were damaged.
Hawkins said the wind-fed fire that sparked at 2:05 p.m. Wednesday is one of the "most rapidly spreading, dangerous fires that I've seen" in his 50 years as a firefighter.
The fire was estimated at nearly 22 square miles Thursday, with 20 percent containment, but it was growing, causing concern that the direction could change in the area, which is known as a wind tunnel.
"The conditions at the front right now are very dangerous," Hawkins said.
Authorities still have not determined what caused the fire.
Evacuation orders were issued in five towns. Flames were marching toward the hardscrabble town of Cabazon, where hundreds scrambled to leave in the pre-dawn hours Thursday as the mountain ridge behind their homes glowed red.
Many returned after sunrise to pack up more belongings and watch the flickering line of fire snaking along the brown, scrubby mountains.
Linda Walls, 62, sat with her family in lawn chairs and watched fire crews scrambling to douse the flames marching toward her modest home less than a quarter mile away. An American flag flapped in the gusty wind that kicked up the fire. She wiped her brow, feeling the scorching heat.
Gray and pink-tinted clouds billowed across the otherwise crystal blue sky. Neighbors could be heard coughing as they filled the beds of pickup trucks with motocross bikes, boxes of clothing, toys and packaged food.
"It seems to be taking off now," she said as sirens whirred by. "All you see are the firemen inside the blaze."
At the end of her street, a group of ostriches paced in their cages as the hill above them burned. A firefighter rushing by said they would do what they can to protect them. Nearby another pen was filled with goats.
In the nearby town of Banning, Lili Arroyo, 83, left with only her pet cockatiel, Tootsie, in its cage and a bag of important papers from her home, which was rebuilt after being destroyed in a 2006 wildfire.
"The smoke was so bad you couldn't see," said Arroyo, who lives in the town of Banning. "There were embers and ash coming down all over the sky. The smoke was really thick. I was starting not to be able to breathe."
Evacuation orders covered an RV resort called the Silent Valley Club, the rural communities of Poppet Flats, Twin Pines, Edna Valley and Vista Grande, portions of the city of Cabazon along Interstate 10, and a camping area known as Black Mountain.
A veteran of many evacuations, Dana Wright, 43, wiped away a tear as she entered a shelter at a Beaumont school and went with her family to watch TV news. She had no idea whether her Poppet Flats home of 11 years had survived. Friends said a nearby home had burned.
She and her husband hoped to find a way back up into the mountains. "I just want to look to see if we have a house," she said.
Most of Southern California's severe wildfires are associated with Santa Ana winds caused by high pressure over the West that sends a clockwise flow of air rushing down into the region.
This week's fire, however, was being fanned by a counter-clockwise flow around a low pressure area over northwest California.
It was the second major wildfire in the San Jacinto Mountains this summer. A blaze that erupted in mid-July spread over 43 square miles on peaks above Palm Springs, burned seven homes and forced 6,000 people out of Idyllwild and neighboring towns.
The latest fire also burned in the footprint of the notorious Esperanza Fire, a 2006, wind-driven inferno that overran a U.S. Forest Service engine crew. All five crew members died. A man was convicted of setting the fire and sentenced to death.
After touring the area, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who lives in Riverside County, said 165,000 acres have burned in California this year and climate change is setting conditions for more disastrous blazes, while budget cuts are limiting resources to fight them.
"Unless we take action, things are only going to get worse," she said.
A different blaze, a 60-acre wildfire, near Wrightwood in the San Gabriel Mountains forced evacuations of about 75 homes in several mountain communities Thursday afternoon.
The fire broke out around noon, and firefighters struggled to beat back flames in steep terrain. Homes along several winding mountain roads were being evacuated.
Wrightwood is a mountain community popular with skiers located about 40 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles.
Associated Press writer John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed to this report.