The Riverside County Coroner has identified the hiker who died in Joshua Tree National Park while hiking in 120-degree temperatures as Benjamin Whittier, 20, of Yucaipa. Whittier’s companion called for help at 7 p.m. Saturday to say that Whittier was unconscious and in need of immediate assistance in the Turkey Flats area of the park. Rescuers located Whittier and his companion near the base of Pinto Mountain about 11:30 and began CPR, but Benjamin Whittier was pronounced deceased about midnight.

Joshua Tree National Park officials remind residents to hike in the early morning hours and avoid the heat of the day; carry more water than you think you’ll need, and be vigilant in extreme heat conditions.


The public response to the Yucca Valley Planning Commission’s previous meeting led to a different looking meeting last night. Reporter Joshua King has the details…

The primary focus of last night’s meeting of the Yucca Valley Planning Commission was to cover four native plant permits that were pending approval.

The Planning Commission has tried a new approach in response to the alleged improper handling of permits, spending the majority of the meeting going over each active permit and ensuring that all proper materials have been attached. Each permit had photographs of the Joshua trees and other native plants for removal attached, as well as thorough explanations for each plant up for removal.

The floor was also open for public comments following each native plant permit review, and town attorney Thomas Jex was presented for consultation.

Public comments yielded a response from former Planning Commissioner Tim Humphreville who was upset with the “extremist groups” for their “bogus” studies and “bogus” science, referring to the Center for Biological Diversity petition to protect the western Joshua tree. He stated that 65% of the western Joshua tree habitat is already protected, and further protections will harm development for the town.

Christina Sanchez, a resident of the Morongo Basin, rebutted with evidence showing more permits approved by the Planning Commission that violate their own native plant code.


The Sheriff’s Department is asking for the public’s help in identifying two suspects who vandalized Yucca Valley High School last week. A school employee called deputies to report that about 12:45 a.m. on September 1, three male suspects entered the school campus and started breaking windows and damaging numerous classrooms and buildings during the next two hours. Damages are estimated to be in excess of $18,000. Detectives identified one of the suspects as a 17-year-old juvenile and went to his home in the 7500 block of Church Street September 2 with a search warrant. There they located evidence linking the boy to the crime. The boy, who was not identified due to his age, was arrested on suspicion of burglary and felony vandalism, and booked into the Juvenile Detention Facility. Detectives are asking for the public’s help in identifying the two suspects who were with the 17-year-old. If you have any information, call the Sheriff’s Department at 760-366-4175 or 888-78-CRIME.

The Sheriff’s Department is asking for the public’s help in identifying this man who is suspected of vandalizing Yucca Valley High School during the night of September 1. Courtesy photo
The Sheriff’s Department is asking for the public’s help in identifying this man who is suspected of vandalizing Yucca Valley High School during the night of September 1. Courtesy photo


The Morongo Unified School District Board of Trustees tackled a lengthy agenda of topics at last night’s regular meeting, including continued discussions on a proposed project to install internet towers at all district school sites. After some discussion, the board voted unanimously to begin the $1.3 million project by announcing a call for bids from area LTE providers to partner with the school district. Reporter Andrew Dieleman has more from the meeting…

The Morongo Unified School District Board of Trustees. Top row from left to right: President Hillary Slotta, Trustee John Cole, and Trustee Chris Proudfoot. Middle row from left to right: Trustee Karalee Hargove, Assistant Superintendent Amy Woods, and Assistant Superintendent Mike Ghelber. Bottom row: Superintendent Tom Baumgarten. Trustee Kerri Condley was also in attendance.

The MUSD Board of Trustees also held a discussion and public hearing on the current draft of the District’s 2020-2021 Learning Continuity Plan, presented by Assistant Superintendent Amy Woods, which outlines the district’s detailed plan for moving forward with education models, meal programs, student learning loss, student mental health, and much more during the COVID-19 pandemic. The board unanimously approved the document, which will now go back to the county for additional review.

Superintendent Tom Baumgarten then presented the District’s Unaudited Actuals, a comparison of the district budget vs actual expenditures for the 2019-2020 school year. Baumgarten reported overall positive figures, but warned that the current school year is being supported by additional state funding and that future changes or budget cuts may be needed to balance the budget for the 2021-2022 school year based on possible changes in state funding.

MUSD Assistant Superintendent Amy Woods (left) and Superintendent Tom Baumgarten (right) presenting the 2020-2021 Learning Continuity Plan and 2019-2020 Unaudited Actuals for the District.

The board also continued reviewing student achievement plans from the principals of Condor Elementary School, Yucca Valley Elementary School, and Twentynine Palms High School, as well as ACCE Academy and the PLUS Program. The plans for all sites have also been modified from previous years to use the district’s new distance learning and independent study programs to help students reach education goals for subjects including English language arts, mathematics, health and wellness, professional development, and attendance goals.

The Principals of Condor Elementary, Yucca Valley Elementary, and Twentynine Palms High School, as well as ACCE Academy and the PLUS Program, presenting student achievement plans to the Board.

In open session, the board approved the purchase of a new $40,000 public address system for Condor Elementary School, with the amendment that the District will seek bids for installation of the new system. The board also approved the memorandum of understanding with the California School Employees Association, recognized eight teachers from Joshua Tree Elementary School for being selected to receive a total of $2,000 in gift cards from the Sheriff’s Employees’ Benefit Association to put towards classroom expenses, and applauded all district food service workers for successfully surpassing one million free meals distributed to students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lastly, the board answered questions from Morongo Teachers Association President Kojo McCallum on current challenges facing teachers through the distance learning program, including reported difficulties taking student attendance on Canvas, teacher training, the completion of attendance logs, and the need for teachers to physically visit school sites to provide live signatures on certain documents.


The Morongo Basin Sheriff’s Station took possession Thursday of a new 2020 Jeep Wrangler to enforce off-highway vehicle regulations over Labor Day weekend. From Friday through Monday, Sheriff’s deputies responded to 13 calls from residents of illegal OHV activity, and made 38 OHV patrols based on previous complaints of illegal OHV activity All together, deputies made 70 individual contacts with the public. They recovered one vehicle that had been abandoned and stripped in the desert; made one arrest for possession of narcotics; conducted one investigation of cruelty to animals; and issued nine traffic citations.

To report illegal OHV activity, call the Sheriff’s Department at 760-366-4175.