Latest Northern California news, sports, business and entertainment


Officials: Big Sur blaze now 74 percent contained

BIG SUR, Calif. (AP) — Officials say a late fall wildfire in Northern California is now nearly three quarters fully contained.

U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Lynn Olson says the Pfeiffer Fire in Los Padres National Forest as of Wednesday has now consumed 843 acres and is about 74 percent contained.

Olson says the fire could be fully contained as early as Thursday evening.

She says the blaze has destroyed some 22 structures, about 13 of those are homes.

U.S. Forest Service Spokeswoman Kathleen Phelps says nearly 900 firefighters have assisted in battling fire as the forest service has spent nearly $1 million to fight it.


Man pleads not guilty in deadly California fire

REDDING, Calif. (AP) — A former firefighter has pleaded not guilty to murder and arson in connection with a wildfire that killed one person and destroyed dozens of homes in rural Northern California.

Zane Wallace Peterson of Happy Valley, Calif., entered the plea during his arraignment in Shasta County Superior Court on Wednesday.

Prosecutors say the 29-year-old started two fires that turned into the massive Clover Fire in Shasta County in September. The blaze charred nearly 13 square miles, and destroyed 68 homes and 128 other structures.

It also claimed the life of 56-year-old Brian Henry, whose body was found in a mobile home ravaged by fire.

Peterson is also accused of starting six other fires since September and faces hundreds of other arson-related charges.

He is being held on $3 million bail and is due back in court Jan. 2.


Store owner who sold winning ticket to receive $1M

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — The owner of an eclectic, unassuming strip mall gift shop in Silicon Valley has earned $1 million for selling one of two winning tickets in the near-record $636 million Mega Millions drawing.

Jenny's Gifts and Kids Wear owner Thuy Nguyen says people are now calling his shop, "lucky Buddha."

Like Nguyen, most of his customers are immigrants from Vietnam or other Asian countries.

The former hairstylist who emigrated from Vietnam in the early 1990s said he expects a boost in business — not that he needs it — after selling a winning ticket for the second-largest lottery prize in U.S. history.

On Wednesday, the parking lot outside his store was crowded with more than a dozen television news vans.

The person who bought the winning ticket from Nguyen had not yet come forward.


Health exchange fixing mailed eligibility notices

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The agency that runs California's health insurance exchange is scrambling to correct a technical problem that left blank spaces in eligibility notices mailed to nearly 114,000 households, leading to consumer confusion just days ahead of the application deadline.

A Covered California spokeswoman said Wednesday that the botched notices were mailed between Nov. 22 and Dec. 7. They went to people who had signed up under the state's rollout of the federal Affordable Care Act and were deemed eligible for coverage.

In some cases, the notices said the applicant was eligible for coverage but not eligible for something else that was unspecified, with only a blank space at the end of the sentence.

The forms also omitted tax credit amounts and whether the person was eligible for Medicaid.


Girl's body found in Sierra creek; 2 arrested

SIERRA NATIONAL FOREST, Calif. (AP) — Two men are under arrest on suspicion of child cruelty after authorities found the body of a 17-year-old girl in a stream in the Sierra National Forest.

The Madera County Sheriff's Office says search and rescue crews found the body of Tara Maguire of Simi Valley late Monday near the Rock Creek Campground.

Deputies responded to a call for help from a stranded motorist Monday, and were told by 20-year old Scott Mason and 18-year-old Jacob Banaga that Maguire had been missing for about 24 hours.

Authorities say both men acknowledged being on a multi-day methamphetamine binge, and search crews quickly found Maguire's body in a nearby creek.

Investigators are still determining how she died.

Both men are being held in Madera County Jail.


Richmond man convicted in gang rape of lesbian

(Information in the following story is from: Contra Costa Times,

MARTINEZ, Calif. (AP) — A 36-year-old man has been convicted of orchestrating the gang rape of a Northern California woman who was targeted in part because she is a lesbian.

The Contra Costa Times reported Wednesday that jurors deliberated for about eight hours before finding Richmond resident Humberto Salvador guilty of rape in concert, kidnapping and other charges.

The jury's verdicts included hate crime enhancements because of the role the victim's sexual orientation played in the attack on a Richmond street five years ago.

The victim, now 33, testified earlier this month that during the assault Salvador kept asking if she liked men.

She also said that he encouraged two teenagers who were with him to rape her as well before they left her naked and bleeding in the carport of an abandoned building.


Gov. convenes drought task force to help prepare

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown is convening a task force to help determine whether a statewide drought declaration is warranted.

The governor on Wednesday asked staff from state water, agriculture and emergency services agencies to meet every week to help strengthen drought preparations and advise him on next steps.

While a drought has not been declared, 2014 is expected to be the third straight year with low rainfall.

Reservoirs are currently at low levels, and the State Water Project in November said its initial allocation would be just 5 percent of requested deliveries in 2014.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other state lawmakers have asked Brown and President Barack Obama to declare a drought emergency.


California city moves closer to foreclosure plan

RICHMOND, Calif. (AP) — A Northern California city hit hard by the housing crisis took another step toward using its powers of eminent domain to stave off foreclosures.

The Richmond City Council voted 4-2 on Tuesday to develop rules for the program, which would seize private mortgages in danger of default and then lower the amount homeowners owe. The city hasn't formally adopted the plan. The council is one vote short of the five votes needed for approval.

On Tuesday, the council agreed to prioritize neighborhoods hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis. It also instructed city staff to ask banks to voluntarily cut the principal on mortgages.

Opponents argue the eminent domain plan would disrupt the country's mortgage industry.


5 firms seek bids for next high-speed rail section

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California's High-Speed Rail Authority says five construction teams have submitted qualifications that could allow them to bid on the second, 60-mile phase of the rail project.

Rail Authority CEO Jeff Morales announced the applications Wednesday from five U.S.-based consortiums. If their qualifications are approved, the firms could bid to perform engineering and construction work on the leg between Fresno and Bakersfield.

The contract is expected to be worth $1.5 billion to $2 billion, depending on the bids.

The bullet train project has hit a series of legal and regulatory setbacks in recent weeks, but officials say they hope to break ground in early 2014.

Among the potential bidders released Wednesday is Tutor Perini-Zachry-Parsons, which won the nearly $1 billion design-build contract for the first 28-mile leg of the project.


Scientists applaud California's fracking efforts

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A group of 21 scientists is applauding California's efforts to allow the fracking of its shale oil reserves, arguing the process is a safe way to improve the economy and reduce foreign oil dependence.

The letter sent Wednesday to Gov. Jerry Brown comes after California adopted regulations requiring oil companies to test groundwater and disclose chemicals used in fracking.

The group said the strict new rules, which become permanent in 2015, will ensure fracking is done responsibly.

The scientists include Stephen Holditch, a petroleum engineering professor emeritus at Texas A&M University, and Richard Muller, a physics professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

The letter follows one by top U.S. scientists urging a fracking moratorium, saying the process increases pollution and runs counter to California's greenhouse gas reduction efforts.


Husband of Patty Hearst dies at 68

(Information in the following story is from: San Francisco Chronicle,

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Bernard L. Shaw, who was Patty Hearst Shaw's husband and Hearst Corp.'s vice president for corporate security, has died at the age of 68.

Shaw's death Tuesday in Garrison, N.Y., was confirmed Wednesday in a statement by Hearst President and CEO Steven R. Swartz.

Shaw was born in San Francisco and was a city police officer for 15 years.

But he was perhaps better known for his relationship with William Randolph Hearst's granddaughter. She made headlines in the 1970s for her kidnapping by a left-wing group and her later imprisonment for bank robbery.

The couple were married in 1979, after Patty Hearst's release from a 22-month prison sentence.

Bernard Shaw worked at Hearst Corp. for three decades.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports he is survived by his wife, four children and one granddaughter.