The city and county of Napa will split a $5 million payment to the father and the grandparents of 3-year-old Kayleigh Slusher, whose death in January 2014 resulted in murder convictions of the child’s mother and the mother’s boyfriend.
Kayleigh’s father, Jason Slusher, and her grandparents, Robin and Benny Slusher, sued the city and county in federal court in May 2015. They alleged that the Napa Police Department and county Child Welfare Services personnel did not properly investigate allegations that Kayleigh was abused, neglected, and in danger due to the methamphetamine use and conduct of her mother, Sara Lynn Krueger, and Krueger’s boyfriend, Ryan Scott Warner.
Haddad and Sherwin, the attorneys for the Slushers, issued a news release saying that the $5 million settlement was the largest tied to wrongful death suit in the history of the city and county.
The release quoted U.S. District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong who wrote in an early opinion of the case: “The horrific murder of Kayleigh likely could have been prevented had the police officers and social workers involved in this case performed their jobs with any semblance of competence.”
The $5 million settlement agreement was signed in early December, but not announced until Wednesday morning by the city.
The lawsuit contended that police officers were dispatched to the child’s east Napa apartment five times in the months leading up to Kayleigh’s death. The final three visits occurred in the child’s final two weeks of life.
“If the police and social workers had done their jobs, Kayleigh would still be here,” Robin Slusher said in her attorney’s news release.
Police ultimately found Kayleigh’s body tucked in bed on Feb. 1, 2014. Warner said in police interviews that Kayleigh’s body was placed into a plastic bag, folded up into a red duffel bag and put in a freezer prior to being tucked in the bed.
She died from complications caused by child abuse and neglect, according to court testimony during the murder trial. She suffered multiple blunt impact injuries to the head, torso and extremities.
Krueger and Warner were found guilty in 2017 of murdering Kayleigh in 2014. Both are serving life sentences.
In announcing the financial settlement, the city said it maintains that its officers conducted proper investigations based on their training.
In a separate news release, Napa County said it maintains that Child Welfare Services followed state law when responding to the complaint of abuse or neglect, but decided it was best to settle the case.
The lawsuit said that Napa police Officer Garrett Wade was dispatched to visit the apartment where Kayleigh lived in January 2014. He was advised that Warner had an outstanding warrant for his arrest and Kayleigh was in danger, according to the lawsuit. Wade, a mandated reporter, did not investigate further, report suspected child abuse or serve a warrant, according to the lawsuit.
Later that month, Wade was again dispatched to the east Napa apartment after the child’s grandmother, Robin Slusher, said Kayleigh was in the presence of illegal drug use, being denied food and possibly abused, according to the lawsuit.
Wade and Officer Dominic DeGuilio visited the apartment and found that Kayleigh’s face was bruised and she appeared sick, malnourished and distressed. Her mother said she had the flu and took her into the bathroom. She asked the officers to leave and they left, according to the lawsuit.
Wade told Robin Slusher that he would “keep an eye on the apartment,” but did not return before Kayleigh’s death, according to the lawsuit.
Robin Slusher contacted county Child Welfare Services to report that Kreuger and Warner were using drugs, intentionally depriving Kayleigh of food and there was a warrant out for Warner’s arrest. Employees Nancy Lefler-Panela and Rocio Diaz-Lara, who are both mandated reporters, called Robin Slusher back to say that Child Welfare Services could not do anything.
The settlement agreement with Napa police specifies 11 actions the department has taken or will take in the future, related to training and responding to incidents of child abuse or neglect.
Since February 2014 — a month after Kayleigh died — Napa police said it has updated child abuse and neglect policies to ensure that all reports of such activity are investigated, reported to the county Child Welfare Services and the District Attorney. A written report must be completed before the end of the officer’s shift.
Child abuse policies will again be revised this month, and best practices will be incorporated, according to the agreement.
Officers have received additional training in prevention, investigation and reporting of child abuse and neglect, as well as children who are exposed to drugs and domestic violence.
The department has committed to train police 911 dispatchers in child abuse and neglect. Dispatchers and officers will be trained to identify risk factors for child abuse, such as living conditions, looking for previous events at the child’s home address, histories of domestic violence or child abuse with family members, Chief Robert Plummer said in an interview.
Officers will be required to sign a form acknowledging that they understand they must report child abuse and neglect, according to the settlement.
“Kayleigh Slusher’s death was a terrible tragedy,” the city’s statement read. “The City and County of Napa have committed to doing everything in their power to prevent and protect other children from suffering child abuse and neglect.”
In its statement, Napa County said “the County’s commitment to the needs of other such vulnerable children remained a priority, and continues to be carried out by CWS’s employees who engage daily in countless interactions with families in distress — economic, physical or mental challenges, addition, educational — and who tirelessly work alongside these families to achieve positive outcomes.”
Julia Sherwin, an attorney for the Slusher family, said Wednesday that Kayleigh’s family found the settlement to be one that respected their loss, and the reforms were especially important to them.
Kayleigh’s father, Jason Slusher, wrote Wednesday that he still cries whenever he tries to talk about Kayleigh’s death. The day she was born was the best day of his life and the pain can be overwhelming, he wrote in a statement.
“I feel like Kayleigh was the only right thing that happened in my life. Her death is the worst thing I can imagine ever happening,” Slusher wrote.
Roy Stone was 73 years old when he first met his brother.
Stone, the owner of Stone’s Sports Bar in River Park Shopping Center, was adopted by a Napa family at a young age. His late mother, who had a drinking problem and spent bouts of her life incarcerated, told him that she had two younger sons.
Stone tried finding his brothers years ago after his mother gave him a few potential last names, but nothing panned out.
“I just kind of said, ‘To heck with it, I don’t need that anyway,’” he said. “And here I am.”
Then Dana Barth, Jr., Stone’s cousin, took a DNA test through 23andme. Barth said he had lots of cousins, but an unfamiliar name popped up — Earl Boehm.
Barth searched Boehm’s name in Facebook and found he had a mutual friend with an Earl Boehm in Flagstaff, Arizona. Barth learned that Boehm had ties to Northern California and reached out to him.
Boehm, who is now 71, turned out to be Stone’s brother. Cousin Barth tried to coordinate a meetup last year, but it didn’t work out. This year, the brothers were able to connect at a Christmas party and toy drive at Stone’s Sports Bar.
“They’re both wonderful human beings,” Barth said. “I counted that as my biggest Christmas present.”
For Stone, the idea of meeting his brother made him nervous years ago. Now, Stone said he was excited to meet Boehm on Dec. 22.
“I’m still savoring that,” he said.
It’s unclear whether the pair are full- or half-brothers, but Stone said they look alike. The resemblance was even stronger between Boehm and one of Stone’s cousins.
Stone hopes to continue communicating with his brother, who is often hiking and out of reach. He said it may be hard to visit him often because Stone tries to spend as much time as possible with his grandchildren, but he looks forward to having one of his brothers in his life.
“I feel exhilarated that I do have a brother and I got to talk to him,” Stone said.
ST. HELENA — A pivotal mayoral election, an ambitious analysis of the city’s aging facilities, the closure of a few beloved St. Helena institutions, and the tragic death of a local mental health professional, wife and mother were among the stories that dominated the pages of the St. Helena Star in 2018.
Here are the top 10 St. Helena news stories of 2018, as voted by the Star’s staff and editorial board.
1. Ellsworth defeats Galbraith for mayor
The mayoral campaign between incumbent Alan Galbraith and City Councilmember Geoff Ellsworth was a study in contrasts worthy of Spock and McCoy: Harvard-educated attorney with a mastery of technical details versus the St. Helena native son who had gained a passionate local following for his big-picture critiques of the effects of winery tourism on the town’s quality of life.
The campaign revisited some of the same issues raised in last year’s unsuccessful recall campaign against Galbraith, such as fiscal management and the fairness of the new water rates. Ellsworth vastly outspent Galbraith, with an October filing showing more than $36,000 in expenses and $39,800 in outstanding debts for the Ellsworth campaign, compared with just over $19,000 in campaign expenses for Galbraith.
Galbraith led by 16 votes on election night, but Ellsworth gained ground as more ballots were counted, ultimately defeating Galbraith by 59 votes.
With Galbraith and his ally Peter White off the council, replaced by Anna Chouteau and a yet-to-be-appointed councilmember, St. Helena’s city politics are sure to take on a different flavor in 2019.
2. Terra, Cindy’s close
St. Helena lost two of its favorite restaurants in 2018, a year that saw a wave of restaurant closures throughout Upvalley.
The Michelin-starred Terra closed in June, with co-owners Lissa Doumani citing difficulty in finding staff given the high cost of housing in the area. She said the local housing shortage had gotten even worse after the 2017 wildfires, and one cook was commuting 62 miles from Danville in the East Bay.
Her concerns were echoed by the owners of other restaurants that called it quits in 2018, from Redd in Yountville to Brannan’s in Calistoga.
Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen closed in July after owner Cindy Pawlcyn and her business partner Sean Knight sold the building to restaurateur and winemaker Joel Gott.
“Sometimes things just come up out of the blue and you have to act,” Pawlcyn told the Star, explaining that Gott made her an offer she couldn’t pass up.
Gott plans to use the former Cindy’s kitchen to prepare food for Gott’s Roadside and a new convenience store at the Napa Valley Petroleum gas station.
St. Helena also lost The Big Dipper this year. Once a local favorite at its former location on Oak Avenue, the ice cream shop never found its footing on Main Street and closed in April after 40 years in business under several owners.
3. SHAPE Committee studies city facilities
Everybody knew that City Hall was run-down, a few public buildings on Railroad Avenue were underused, and the Adams Street property was vacant. But nobody had ever put those facts together and evaluated the city’s options in a comprehensive way.
Nobody, that is, until the St. Helena Asset Planning Engagement (SHAPE) Committee came along and spent dozens of hours over seven months analyzing the city’s finances and facilities, from Scout Hall to the little Head Start building at Crane Park.
The council-appointed committee toyed with some provocative ideas, such as moving City Hall offices into the library and building a hotel on Adams Street. But after the committee released its 117-page report in May, the council endorsed the more conservative option of rebuilding City Hall on its current site as part of a multi-use facility.
Consultants are helping the city ponder its next steps, and the council is scheduled to take further action early this year.
4. Housing study warns of shrinking middle class
Housing consultant Erica Sklar issued a report in June using statistics to paint a stark portrait of St. Helena’s dwindling middle class.
The increasing cost of housing and the scarcity of developable land within the city limits are producing a town full of haves, have-nots, and not too many people in between, according to Sklar’s study.
The stats offered a bleak outlook for local workers. St. Helena’s median home price of $1.09 million is too expensive for 70 percent of the city’s residents. A home of that price would require an income of $215,000, far beyond the city’s median income of $86,041.
Workers who can’t afford to live in town are commuting in and out, creating more traffic and making it harder for businesses to hire qualified workers.
5. St. Helena mom killed in Pathway Home shooting
St. Helena resident Jennifer Golick and two of her colleagues were killed on March 9 at The Pathway Home in Yountville by a gunman who’d been kicked out of the program that helped returning veterans readjust to civilian life.
Golick, 42, was a therapist who had devoted her career to helping soldiers cope with post-traumatic stress. In the days after the shooting, St. Helenans learned that she’d also been a mother, wife, friend, runner, San Francisco Giants fan, animal lover, and outspoken advocate for adolescent mental health.
More than 200 people participated in a candlelight vigil in her memory. Muir Wood Adolescent and Family Services formed a scholarship in her name, one of the only rays of light to emerge from the year’s saddest story.
6. SHFD hires full-time firefighters
Two years after St. Helena’s firefighters became full-time employees, the fire department took another step away from its volunteer model in 2018 by hiring two full-time firefighters, Nick Solakian and Martin Macias.
It was becoming harder for the department to depend on quasi-volunteers to drop whatever they were doing and run to the firehouse on a moment’s notice, a model that had worked for 107 years. More calls for service and a limited number of qualified drivers also contributed to the decision.
The hirings could nudge the city further in the direction of a fully professional department. The transition would be expensive, but it might be inevitable.
7. St. Helena Catholic School closes
The St. Helena Catholic School closed in June, citing declining enrollment, an increasing number of students relying on tuition assistance, and a lack of wealthy donors who’d helped keep the school afloat for 55 years.
When the closure was announced in January, parents were initially shell-shocked. But soon they banded together in an all-hands-on-deck effort to save the school, forming committees, raising money, and putting extra effort into the school’s annual Seafood Extravaganza to compensate for another fundraiser that had been cancelled due to the 2017 wildfires.
Parents thought they had a chance to keep the school alive, but church officials announced in March that the closure was going ahead as planned. The last four eighth-graders graduated in June.
8. General Plan update nears finish line
City officials made real progress in 2018 toward finishing St. Helena’s next General Plan, a process that had been stuck in neutral ever since the council tabled the plan in 2010.
With the help of consultants, the city issued an updated General Plan and a draft environmental impact report in October. Public comments and the city’s responses will be incorporated into a final environmental impact report for another round of public hearings and possible adoption in early 2019.
9. City tries to help downtown businesses
The proliferation of empty storefronts was a sign that not all was well in downtown St. Helena.
The city hired a consultant that made various suggestions about how to help downtown retailers. Most of the recommendations were incorporated into a Downtown Economic Strategy aimed at supporting the city’s economic base without sacrificing its quality of life.
St. Helena Jingle All the Way, a collaboration between the city at the Chamber of Commerce, brought an ice rink to Lyman Park. The City Council streamlined the permitting process for businesses and started allowing pop-ups, the first steps toward overcoming a widespread perception that St. Helena’s city government has been unfriendly to business.
10. Dillon survives election challenge
District 3 Supervisor Diane Dillon fended off a challenge from grapegrower Cio Perez during a June election dominated by Measure C.
Perez supported Measure C, which would have strengthened stream setbacks and limited the removal of oak woodlands. Dillon stayed neutral on the measure.
Dillon won and Measure C lost, but the battle over vineyard development continues.
Three in 10 online shoppers surveyed last year said they’ve had packages stolen from them.
That’s according to a survey (bit.ly/2ijUUyy) of 1,000 Americans conducted by Shorr, a distributor of packaging products and services. The survey also found that roughly eight in 10 respondents had packages delivered as frequently as up to five times per month.
And though more people are shopping with the rise of delivery services such as Amazon Prime, law enforcement rarely has enough leads to catch so-called “porch pirates” who cruise the streets in search of unclaimed packages.
Package thefts are probably underreported, said Oscar Ortiz, head of the American Canyon Police Department. His department handled about a half dozen package thefts in 2018, he said.
The Napa Police Department reported 31 porch thefts from Nov. 1 to Dec. 28, up from 23 thefts during the same time period last year.
The Calistoga Police Department did not receive any reports of porch thefts all year, and the St. Helena Police Department said it had received one such report in December.
As package thefts have become more widely reported, consumers have learned to track their packages, make sure they’re home for delivery or have their packages delivered to P.O. boxes or stores that may hold onto deliveries until shoppers can pick them up, Ortiz said.
“As the thieves get smarter, the consumer gets smarter,” he said.
Drivers have learned to hide packages out of sight and watch for people who may be trailing their truck to swoop up just-delivered packages.
Home surveillance systems have become more affordable than they used to be, Ortiz said. More people have started to use security cameras in recent years, but some thieves have learned to cover their face when approaching a residence.
Still, such technology can be helpful because it gives law enforcement a place to start. Officers and victims can share photos of the thief on social media in hopes of identifying that person, he said.
It’s a common misconception that stealing packages or mail comes with a hefty punishment, Ortiz said. Thieves caught with stolen packages are ticketed, unless the value of the stolen items is greater than $950 — the threshold for a felony theft charge in California.
“They’re thinking, ‘What’s my risk and what’s my reward?’” Ortiz said. “They’re looking for a way to support their drug habit … they’ll take the risk.”
But don’t abandon all hope. There are ways to deter thefts.
Here are some tips from Calistoga Police Department Officer Samantha Arlen:
Request a signature
Some senders may automatically require a signature, but shoppers may be able to request a signature at the time of checkout or at the post office. If neither of those tips apply, shoppers should track their package, find out which carrier is responsible for the delivery and request a signature from the carrier upon drop-off.
Track your package
Shoppers often get an email from the merchant when their online order has shipped. This email usually has tracking details inside and customers can follow their package’s to their doorstep. Customers can view an estimated time and date of delivery.
Talk to your neighbors and work together to prevent package theft. Have a neighbor grab a package from your porch if you expect a delivery while you’re at work or on vacation.
Don’t ship to your home
Many retailers allow customers to pick up their package from a store branch. Shoppers may be able to select this option at checkout.
Invest in a home security system
Arlen uses and recommends a doorbell camera such as the one made by Ring. The unit can be easily installed near a front door, and the battery is rechargeable and lasts about three months.
A speaker is built into the unit, which allows users to communicate with anyone at the door via a smartphone app. Users get notifications when someone rings the doorbell and whenever there is movement in the frame.