Motorcyclist killed in Escondido crash is ID’d

Authorities released the name of a 53-year-old man killed last week in a motorcycle crash on an Escondido freeway onramp. Chris Wickersham of Escondido was riding on the connector from West Citracado Parkway to northbound Interstate 15 when a sedan rear-ended his motorcycle shortly after 6 p.m. on Dec. 28, according to the Medical Examiner's Office. He was wearing a helmet but suffered severe head wounds when he tumbled onto the roadway, the agency reported. Medics took him to a hospital and he died about 3 1/2 hours after the crash. It was unclear if the driver of the sedan will face charges in connection with the fatality. [email protected] Continue Reading

Escondido alum takes over UC Riverside basketball team

Justin Bell was one of Paul Baldwin’s star players. “I always felt Justin would be a head coach at the college level,” said Baldwin, the longtime boys basketball coach at Escondido High. “He’s smart, savvy and dedicated.” An All-San Diego Section pick for the Cougars after the 2001-02 season, Bell played at Saddleback College and UC Riverside. After graduation, he worked for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors before becoming an assistant coach at Concord De La Salle High and Concordia-Irvine, helping the Eagles to an NAIA national championship in 2011-12. In 2012, he returned to UC Riverside as an assistant on Dennis Cutts’ staff and later was named associate head coach of the Highlanders. Tuesday, Bell was named interim head coach at UCR when Cutts was let go after posting a 50-87 record. “I’m extremely excited about this opportunity,” Bell said. “I’m excited for our players.” Two of those players — DJ Sylvester (Morse) and James Jackson (Monte Vista/Cuyamaca College) — have San Diego ties. Both are in the Highlanders’ rotation with Sylvester averaging 5.7 points and 2.2 rebounds and Jackson 2.0 points and 2.2 rebounds. UCR was 5-9 entering its Big West Conference opener Wednesday against Cal State Fullerton. The Highlanders play UC Santa Barbara on Saturday. UCR Athletic Director Tamica Smith Jones said, “We are confident Coach Bell and the remaining coaches on the staff are equipped and committed to leading our young men toward peak academic and athletic performance throughout this period of transition.” Transition is the key word as Smith Jones said she plans a national search for a head coach with NCAA Division I experience. “I need to block out all the distractions and focus on the team,” said Bell, who has a wife and a 2-year-old daughter. “I got into coaching because I’m passionate about the sport and helping kids. “I Continue Reading

Estrada’s in Escondido closes after a half-century

Even as their retirement party was being held in the parking lot, Estrada’s Mexican restaurant owners Guillermo and Lilly Estrada were busy doing what they have for decades — moving like furious blurs in the kitchen preparing meals for an overflow crowd. After 54 years in business inside the same non-descript building on Quince Street just south of Second Avenue in Escondido, Estrada’s final day in business was Friday. The couple is retiring, ending an era of serving “the gold-standard Mexican food in the North County,” said Escondido attorney and longtime customer Ken Lounsbery. Dozens of longtime customers filled the place Friday for one last chance to eat what many said has been the best Mexican food in town for a half-century. “We’ve been coming here for 54 years and they’re probably responsible for 40 pounds I’m wearing,” said Arlene Shuster, who along with her husband, Bob, own Shuster Oil right across the street. “I can’t resist their chili rellenos,” she said. “They are the best anywhere. We’ve been all over and whenever I go to another Mexican restaurant, even in other states, I always order chili rellenos to compare. Nothing has ever compared.” “They have the best salsa in town,” added Bob Shuster. “You’ve got to try it.” The business was purchased in 1953 by Guillermo Estrada’s father when it was a bakery. A couple years later, Avelino Estrada and his wife Maria took control and turned the business into a Mexican restaurant. Guillermo Estrada, 64, Avenlino’s brother, has been cooking in the restaurant for more than three decades and has been working there in some capacity since he was 10 years old. He took control of the restaurant after his brother died. He said it’s time to rest. “We’re retiring after all this time. It’s been coming on. We’re pretty beat, pretty tired. We spend 14 to 16 Continue Reading

New Escondido movie theaters still on hold

More than two years ago, at the request of the corporation that owned the Westfield North County shopping mall in Escondido, city planners fast-tracked a proposed 10-screen movie theater complex in the northern parking lot of the shopping center. Plans were to have the theaters built by Christmas 2016. But since then, nothing has happened and the city has been given little explanation as to why. Meanwhile, the Westfield Corp. this month was purchased for $16 billion by French commercial real estate giant Unibail-Rodamco. Westfield, based in Australia, owns 32 upscale malls in the United States and Britain. Other Westfield holdings in San Diego County are UTC in University City, Horton Plaza downtown, Mission Valley, and Plaza Bonita in National City. What the ownership change might mean to the theater plans or for the future of the North County mall are unknown. Escondido City Manager Jeff Epp said he met with Westfield representatives a few weeks ago and they assured him nothing would change at the shopping center. As for the theaters, Epp said Westfield officials say the plans have not been abandoned. “Every time I talk to them they say they are still on track and still working on the details,” Epp said. A year ago, a Westfield spokeswoman said theater construction plans had been delayed but were still active. Calls to Westfield’s Los Angeles headquarters were not returned. The theaters would be contained in a 57,000-square-foot building near Nordstrom, Forever 21 and the dining court. The plans approved by the city include screening rooms of various sizes, including two that seat up to 194 people. Seating will consist of leather recliners and would be arranged in a stadium-style format. Escondido currently has one movie complex. [email protected]; 760/529-4931; Twitter: @jharryjones Continue Reading

Escondido toddler found wandering reunited with parents

A toddler who was wandering outside in his pajamas in an Escondido neighborhood late Wednesday night was reunited with his family about three hours later, police said. The boy, believed to be between 1 and 2 years old, was seen around 11 p.m. along North Escondido Boulevard near West Lincoln Avenue, Escondido police said. Officers knocked on doors throughout the neighborhood but were unable to find his parents. They took the child and the person who found him to the police department and put out for the public's help to locate the child's parents. Officers went back to the neighborhood about 2 a.m. to drop off the person who found the boy. When they were there, police spotted family members looking for the toddler and the family was reunited. Police said the family had awakened in the middle of the night and realized the child was missing. pauline.repard[email protected] Twitter: @pdrepard Continue Reading

Open house at Escondido Veterans Memorial Building

An open house will be held at the Escondido Veterans Memorial Building on Oct. 7 to introduce the community to the various nonprofit veteran and military support groups that gather in the building throughout the year. Community members can meet representatives from groups that serve local veterans and military families, such as the American Legion Post 149 and its Auxiliary, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1513 and its Auxiliary, Disabled American Veterans, American Legion Riders, Sons of the American Legion and Blue Star Mothers of American Chapter CA9 of North County, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Attendees can also meet local and county politicians, police and firefighters, and K9 Guardians. Local author RJ Belle will sign copies of her book "After: The Battle Has Just Begun." The Red Cross Blood Bank will be there for folks who wish to donate blood. Free snacks of lemonade, cookies, popcorn and ice cream will be served. The open house is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 230 E. Park Ave. in Escondido. The Veterans Memorial Building is available for community members to rent. Call (760) 745-1159 or visit Continue Reading

New EUSD board president has deep roots in Escondido schools

Escondido native Doug Paulson graduated from the area’s schools, teaches in the city’s high school district, and now heads the school board for Escondido’s elementary school district. Paulson, elected to an open seat last year, was selected by his fellow board members to lead the board on Dec. 14. “My first year in office has been very productive,” said Paulson, 54. “We have a very good, well-functioning board. I’m very happy with some of the processes that we’ve put in motion.” The district is establishing a new GATE program, which could offer supplemental art and music instruction for high-achieving students, or science and math lessons, such as coding or robotics. And it has hired a consultant to review its special education program and make recommendations for improvements, he said. “That is going to give us valuable information for improving services to our most vulnerable students,” he said. Starting next school year, the district will have one-to-one Apple devices for students in every school through a contract with Apple that provides for continual updates and replacement of the devices every three years, Paulson said. Escondido Union is also considering expanding its bilingual Spanish-English programs to more schools. In those classes, native English and Spanish speakers learn both languages together. And it’s working to enhance instruction for students learning English as a second language. “The district has made a commitment to improving outcomes for English-language learners, and are seeing very good results,” he said. Things weren’t running as smoothly a year ago when Paulson was elected. Then the district was grappling with declining enrollment and dealing with the aftermath of a bruising legal battle. Paulson replaced former trustee Jose Fragozo, who was forced to resign in August 2016 after pleading guilty to felony voter fraud. Fragozo’s tenure on the Continue Reading

Development fees to rise dramatically in Escondido

Fees charged to developers of new housing and commercial projects in Escondido will rise significantly in coming years. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be generated by the increased fees to pay for such things as road and drainage improvements, parks, public safety and many other municipal responsibilities. One example: For new commercial building, traffic-impact fees will increase from $1.72 per square foot to somewhere between $9 and $45 per square foot. The increases will bring the developer fees closer to what other North County cities charge, though Escondido’s will still rank among the lowest. For instance, under the new fee structure, the cumulative fees to build a single-family house in Escondido will equal $31,546, compared to $57,182 in Carlsbad, $51,618 in Oceanside, $48,339 in San Marcos and $34,170 in Vista, according to a Building Industry Association study. The new fees, approved last week by the City Council, are expected to pay for 82 percent of needed improvements made necessary to offset the impacts of the projects. Right now, because Escondido has collected far less fees in an effort to encourage new construction in the city, only 39 percent of infrastructure costs have been collected. The remaining 18 percent of costs are expected to be obtained through various other funding mechanisms, such as matching grants. “If we do not change our fees, we’re only collecting upwards of $96 million to try and tackle a $246 million price tag,” Assistant City Manager Jay Petrek told the council at a recent public hearing. “You can see how far out of whack we are with where our current fees are and where are needs are going to be.” The first full review in a decade of the fee structure was made recently, leading to the changes, Petrek said. During a Dec. 6 hearing, the council was told by developers that one of the reasons they like the city so much is because of the low fees. Gil Miltenberger, a vice president of Continue Reading

Escondido High food drive raises more than 18,000 cans

For weeks, a mountain of cans piled up in John Williamson’s classroom at Escondido High School. Over the past decade, Williamson, known as “Coach Willie” on campus, held the record for collecting cans for the Associated Student Body’s holiday food drive for the Salvation Army. This year, they had set the bar high, aiming for 9,700 containers of corn, beans and other staples. They brought in nearly double that, raising a grand total of 18,869 cans. And this year, to his delight, Williamson came in second place, falling a few hundred short of his rival, special education teacher Sherri Hurst. Williamson and his students gathered 8,430 cans, while Hurst and her kids brought in 8,670. “It’s really turned into what I always wanted it to be,” said Williamson, who teaches math and coaches football and golf. “I wanted to have someone compete with me. She’s one of the ones that stepped up, and started competing, and it’s started to bring everyone along. It’s been a lot of fun.” Williamson’s commitment to the food drive stemmed from his childhood, when his own family turned to community food banks when their budget was tight. “I knew when I got older, and I was in a better place, that I wanted to give back,” he said. “I knew they were there for my family when we needed it.” His role in the school food drive started slowly. The first year, his class turned in seven or eight cans, he said. “It was kind of embarrassing, so I wanted to step it up a little bit,” he said. He began drumming up support early in the semester, sharing his story with students and talking to parents at back-to-school night. Instead of birthday presents, he asks friends and family for canned food or grocery gift cards. “It’s grown into a thing where it’s pretty much running itself now,” he said. “It’s pretty awesome. I have kids that are former students, Continue Reading

Escondido ‘bomb house’ containing largest stash of homemade explosives in U.S. is burned down

Authorities on Thursday torched a house on the outskirts of San Diego packed with the largest stash of homemade explosives and bomb-making material ever discovered in the U.S. Using remotely controlled explosive devices, demolition crews ignited a high-temperature blaze they hoped would incinerate the house in Escondido, Calif., without causing any explosions. Crews set up a 16-foot wall covered in fireproof gel around the home, and neighbors within a 250-yard radius were told to leave by Wednesday. Local police also went door-to-door to make sure no one was still home. Neighbors living farther away were provided instructions on how to create "shelter in place" by closing windows and doors, the Los Angeles Times reported. "It will burn very hotly, very quickly," Jan Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, told The Associated Press. "We want everybody to do this job safely and go home to their family." The fire was expected to burn at nearly 2,000 degrees. The house had been rented by George Jakubec, 54, a Serbian immigrant and software consultant, who was arrested on Nov. 18 on charges of making bombs and robbing three banks. Jakubec was busted after a gardener working in his backyard was injured in an explosion. Police said they found stockpiles of explosive material, including the same types of chemicals used by suicide bombers in Afghanistan and Iraq. The explosive chemicals included Pentaerythritol tetranitrate, or PETN, which was used by shoe bomber Richard Reid in 2001 and as well as the failed attempts to blow up cargo planes last month. Bomb squad experts also found jars full of Hexamethylene triperoxide diamine, or HMDT, which can explode if stepped on, and several grenades, detonators and other deadly material.  Neal Langerman, a chemical expert for Advanced Chemical Safety, told Fox News that Jakubec could have taken out the entire neighborhood with the stockpile. Jakubec's lawyers had asked to Continue Reading