Category Archives: Local News

MORONGO VALLEY MAN ARRESTED, ACCUSED OF DISTRIBUTING CHILD PORNOGRAPHY

A Morongo Valley man was arrested Wednesday (February 24) following a tip that he was distributing child pornography online. An electronic service provider notified the deputies in the Crimes Against Children detail that videos of child pornography were being distributed online. Investigators learned the online account belonged to Sean Merker, 50. On Wednesday, detectives contacted Merker at his home in the 49200 block of Tamarisk Drive in Morongo Valley. At the conclusion of the interview, Sean Merker was arrested on suspicion of distribution of child porn, booked into the Central Detention Center, with his bail set at $25,000. Merker was released on a bail bond just before 6 p.m. Wednesday.

PANDEMIC FUELING INCREASE OF VISITORS TO JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK

With the on-going pandemic, many people are avoiding long-distance travel. So you’d think that the number of visitors to Joshua Tree National Park would go down. Hilary Sloane says that’s not the case…

Joshua Tree National Park. Tami Roleff photo

Joshua Tree National Park’s off season is during the summer months, but last summer, visitation was up 11% from June to October, and the number of visitors was up 20% last November. A park spokeswoman implied that Californians staying closer to home during the pandemic may be why the number of visitors to Joshua Tree National Park increased last year.

March and April are traditionally the busiest times of the year at Joshua Tree National Park. Based on increased visitation last year during what was typically the slow season, the park expects even more visitors this spring.

The park did not consider data from spring or winter 2020 to exclude months when the park was closed or under a stay at home order. Americans avoiding long distant travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, may explain why the park is experiencing higher than expected visitation. Visitation data was compared to 2018.

COUPLE FOUND SQUATTING IN A JOHNSON VALLEY HOME

Two people were arrested Wednesday (February 24), accused of breaking into a home in Johnson Valley. Deputies were called to the 51800 block of Ocotillo Road in Johnson Valley about 11:40 a.m. Wednesday for a report of a burglary. When deputies arrived, they contacted Daniel Haverty, 24, of Landers, and Sataira Mason, 34, of Morongo Valley. Deputies say Haverty and Mason forced entry into the home through the back door and were squatting there. They also broke into several other structures on the property as well and caused damage estimated at about $1500. The owner of the property said Haverty and Mason did not have permission to be on his property. Daniel Haverty and Sataira Mason were arrested for investigation of burglary, booked into the Morongo Basin Jail, with their bail set at $75,000 each.

MORONGO VALLEY CSD TO REOPEN PARK, GIVES BACK-PAY TO FIRE CHIEF

The Morongo Valley Community Services District board of directors discussed several topics at last night’s special meeting, including reopening Covington Park. After extensive discussion, the board voted unanimously to reopen the park and the CSD offices to the public, but only after hand sanitizer dispensers required by the CDC can be purchased and installed. Reporter Andrew Dieleman has more from the meeting…

At last night’s meeting, the board also voted unanimously to pay more than $27,000 in back pay to district Director of Operations and Fire Chief Gary Yearsley. After a closed-session meeting where the discussion took place, Vice President Christina Brook reported that the $27,711.25 (less one partial payment already made to Yearsley by the district) would be paid to Yearsley for additional services rendered, including unified command services during the 2020 Apple fire, an unspecified medical situation, and unpaid duty-officer coverage.

The board also discussed a possible Brown Act violation that occurred when a portion of the board’s February 17 closed-session meeting was broadcast to the public. After detailed discussion on the district’s options and recommendations from legal counsel, the board voted 4-1 (Director Johnny Tolbert voting no) to review the possible evidence of a Brown Act violation and turn over all documentation to the district attorney for an investigation and a final determination.

STATE SAYS SOME COUNTIES CAN START UP OUTDOOR SPORTS

The state says most counties can once again start up most outdoor sports immediately, but with a few key rules. Youth sports competitions can resume next week in parts of California and could be back for a vast majority of the state by the end of March, under a plan announced Thursday by public health officials that clears the way for abbreviated spring versions of high school football, field hockey, gymnastics and water polo. Under the new rules, a county’s overall tier designation doesn’t matter. The one metric being used for sports competitions is per capita cases. All outdoor sports are allowed — with safety protocols — once a county reaches a level of 14 cases or lower for every 100,000 people. San Bernardino County is at 15.2. While both Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms High School Football Coaches say they are ready to go, the final decision is still up to the County of San Bernardino and the Morongo Unified School District.

There are 27 counties that meet that standard and can resume competition, they are virtually all in Northern California and include three of the four largest San Francisco Bay Area counties as well as many of the state’s most rural counties. The new rules impose lots of limitations, including banning indoor activities like team dinners and film study and prohibiting athletes from sharing equipment. Coaches and players not in games must wear masks, and fans should be limited to immediate family members. Most burdensome of all, the rules require weekly virus testing for all coaches and athletes in close-contact sports in counties with a per capita rate above 7 cases.