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Diablo's Week in Review March 21-28 2009

Tears, farewell to four fallen Oakland police officers; a Livermore woman charged in death of 23-month-old girl; federal court to decide on Wal-Mart gender discrimination lawsuit.

Tears, farewell and (we hope) time to heal: Friday was a day of mourning and rememberance in the East Bay--and throughout the Bay Area--as 21,000 people gathered at the Oakland stadium complex and the Oracle Arena for the services of four Oakland police officers killed this past week in the line of duty. The mourners at the Arena included the officers' family and friends, the entire 815-member Oakland police force, and police from all around the country.  Also in attendance were elected officials: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, Attorney General Jerry Brown, and Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums. (Of these officials, only Dellums did not speak at the request of two of the officers' families.)

Mourners paid  tribute to: Sgt. Mark Dunakin, 40 of Tracy who grew up in Pleasanton and is a 1987 graduate of Foothill High School; Officer John Hege, 41, of Concord and a 1990 St. Mary's College graduate; Sgt. Erv Romans, 43, of Danville; and Sgt. Dan Sakai, 35 of Castro Valley and a UC Berkeley graduate.  The four were mortally wounded in two separate gun battles in East Oakland March 21 that started with a routine traffic stop at MacArthur Boulevard near 74th Avenue. Their killer was Lovelle Mixon, a parolee wanted on a no-bail warrant for a parole violation. Police this week publicly linked Mixon to a December 2007 homicide and to the February 5 rape of a 12-year-old girl.

Among the more moving stories to emerge this week from this tragic incident: More than 1,000 people held candles and listened to inspirational songs at a vigil Tuesday evening at the the MacArthur Boulevard site of the deadly traffic stop; Traffic Officer Hege was an organ donor, and his organs were used to save four lives; Cisco Systems CEO personally donated $50,000 to the Oakland Police memorial fund; People in Danville and in Pleasanton paid special tribute to their hometown heroes; Oakland recreation centers showed TV broadcasts of the funeral, which were broadcast live on local TV and radio stations. Officers from 15 area police departments patrolled Oakland's streets so that Oakland officers could say good-bye to their fallen colleagues.

One woman charged, another investigated in separate deaths of two young Livermore children: A 54-year-old woman was charged this week in connection with the death of a 23-month-old girl, who was the granddaughter of the woman’s fiancé. Evidence suggests the girl had suffered long-term abuse. A 24-year-old woman is being questioned in connection with the March 19 death of her two-month-old son whom police found unconscious in a Spruce Street apartment. The boy died several hours at the hospital, and the cause of his death his pending.

Court to decide on Wal-Mart gender discrimination lawsuit: An 11-judge federal appeals court panel heard arguments on whether 1.5 million former and current female Wal-Mart employees can join in the largest class-action lawsuit in history. The suit originated in the East Bay with three of the named plaintiffs coming from Concord, Livermore, and Pittsburg and their attorneys working for the Berkeley-based Impact Fund. The suit alleges that the retail giant systematically paid female employees less than men and favored men for promotions. This appeals court won’t rule on the gender discrimination allegations but on the suit’s class-action status.

Gambler son, accused of killing parents, was deep in debt: Ernie Scherer III, 30, stood to gain an inheritance of at least $1.3 million from the deaths of his parents, Ernie Scherer Jr, a Republican activist and former San Ramon Valley School Board trustee, and Charlene Abendroth. Scherer III could face the death penalty in the March 2008 stabbing death of his parents their Castlewood home in Pleasanton, Investigators say he owed his parents $616,000 for a five-bedroom home he bought in Orange County to share with his wife and toddler son. The failure of this high-stakes gambler to secure a loan to pay back his father immediately preceded the murder.

Baby couldn’t wait: The fifth child of a 33-year-old Pittsburg woman decided to make his world premiere Tuesday as his uncle was trying to rush mom to Martinez’s County Hospital. With mom in full labor, the uncle decided to pull onto the shoulder of Highway 4 near Morello Avenue. The baby boy popped out before paramedics arrived, but he and mom were later reported to be doing fine at the hospital.

Federal stimulus money going to Caldecott Tunnel expansion: The Metropolitan Transportation Commission will use  $197 million in economic stimulus money to begin building the tunnel’s fourth bore, a project delayed by the state’s budget projects. Construction could begin in October.

Candles and pit bulls factors in destruction of San Ramon home: Fire officials are investigating whether candles, used to light a two-story Molinda Court home that had no electricity, sparked a fire that destroyed the home early Tuesday. Several pets, including one snake, one lizard, and two cats were killed in the fire. But it was other pets—several pit bulls—that prevented firefighters from immediately entering the house to douse the flames. Total damage was estimated to be nearly $500,000.

Remains of missing woman found—buried under junk in her own home: Relatives finally found the remains of an Oakland woman whose children reported her missing several years ago. They were found buried beneath debris in the second floor of her own 47th Street home which was reportedly filled floor to ceiling with hoarded items. 

Dog bite kills elderly woman: An 80-year-old woman died Thursday after being bitten on the hand by a dog while walking her own in her Alameda neighborhood. The bite, which she received Saturday while feeding the dog a biscuit, apparently became infected, and she was rushed to the hospital Monday.

Former Pleasanton resident charged in $40 million Ponzi scheme: The U.S. Attorney’s Office has charged Anthony Vassallo, 29, in connection with a massive investment fraud scheme. Vassallo, a 1997 Foothill High graduated who until recently lived in Folsom, was accused of working with Kenneth Kenitzer, 66, of Pleasanton to bilk 150 investors of more than $40 million through a company Vassallo headed. Vassallo met many of the investors through church; the two men reportedly were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Kenitzer is still under investigation.

Teen arrested in Pleasanton tire slashing rampage: A 17-year-old boy told police he had been drinking the night he randomly punched holes in the tires of 27 vehicles in a Pleasanton neighborhood. The boy was arrested in the rampage, which caused $6,075 in damages. The boy’s sentence is likely to include restitution.