The Super Bowl party was supposed to be a fun gathering, a chance for Michael Patland’s family and friends to meet up at his Browns Valley home, celebrate the game, and even toss around a football.
“I always loved that tradition and wanted to bring all my friends together,” for the event, Michael said.
It was Feb. 2, 2020, and the guests included Michael's younger brother, Kevin Patland.
Just 23 years old, Kevin was a wine business student at Sonoma State.
“He looked so happy,” at the party, Michael recalled.
This is the memory that Michael, now 28, wants to hang onto. Because that was the last time he talked to Kevin.
Just after 7 p.m. that evening, driving his Chevrolet Camaro, Kevin left the party at Michael’s house.
The two brothers hugged goodbye. “I said, ‘See you soon,’ and he was off,” recalled Michael.
Just minutes later, Kevin was turning left from Woodlawn Drive toward the eastbound lane of Browns Valley Road as an Infiniti G37s driven by Napan Gary Lindstrom was speeding west on Browns Valley Road.
In a moment that would change both families’ lives forever, Lindstrom’s car collided violently with Kevin’s.
Lindstrom was going over 85 mph, investigators determined. A screening test showed his blood alcohol content to be .14%.
Within minutes of the crash, Michael rushed to the corner, only to find a horrific scene.
“Glass was strewn all over the pavement,” he recalled. “Then I saw the blood. There was blood everywhere.”
Lindstrom, then age 31, had minor injuries, according to the collision report. A passenger in Lindstrom’s car, Iris Dora Villalobos, suffered a broken wrist and other significant injuries.
Kevin was rushed by ambulance to Queen of the Valley Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
It’s like a nightmare that you can’t wake up from, Michael wrote in a victim impact statement.
“I feel numb, and I still do,” he said.
The weeks and months after the accident were no different.
There was so much to process during an already unbearable time. A funeral. Designing a headstone and what would be written on it.
In the past, his parents took to the lead on such family matters, but not in this case.
“As strong as my parents are, it was one of those times I realized I had to step up and try and take care of them,” said Michael during an interview in early September. “It’s a role reversal that I wouldn’t wish on any son.”
In the aftermath of the crash, there were legal issues to contend with. Lindstrom was arrested. His charges included gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and driving under the influence causing injury.
The family chose to participate in the legal process, he said. That includes his parents Henry and Olga Patland, and Felix, Kevin’s fraternal twin.
It wasn’t easy.
“It’s very understandable why someone would leave this in the hands of the justice system and walk away and focus on healing and moving on,” Michael said.
However, “That was something that was never an option for us. We owed it to Kevin. If there was anything we could do to get justice for him, we had to do it.”
The Patland family sued Lindstrom for wrongful death and negligence. That case was settled.
Villalobos sued Michael Patland’s estate and his parents, for negligence. She claimed that Kevin had been drinking. However, Michael said he believes that Kevin had only one beer, “at the beginning” of the party.
Villalobos also sued Lindstrom for negligence.
In July, Lindstrom plead “no contest” to charges including gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and driving under the influence causing injury.
Come Oct. 15, 20 months after his brother’s death, Michael and his family face yet another hurdle in their grieving process. On that date Lindstrom will be sentenced in Napa Superior Court to anything from probation to more than 10 years in prison and as much as $20,000 in fines.
An attorney for Lindstrom could not be immediately reached to comment on this story.
Patland family members and friends will attend the sentencing, said Michael.
“I would like to see a sentence that accurately reflects the seriousness of his crime and the impact that it had on our family,” Michael said. “I would want a sentence that would make someone else think twice before doing what he did.”
There is also a chance Lindstrom could be sentenced to probation.
“That would be an absolute travesty,” said Michael. “That would make a joke out of our loss.”
Michael explained why he was going public about such a traumatic loss.
He’s speaking out to make people think twice about drinking and driving, said Michael. “People need to understand how this seemingly small series of decisions can rip a family apart. They need to know before they causally go out and have a few drinks and then a few more and then get into a car that they’re not just putting themselves at risk but the people around them.”
“I don’t want Kevin’s story to get buried as a statistic,” said Michael. “Those numbers are big enough. I want people to understand what happened.”
When asked if he thinks Lindstrom’s sentencing would bring him any sense of closure, Michael demurred.
“I honestly don’t know,” he said.
“If it would, then I would have expected to feel something in that direction when he agreed to the plea. Frankly I don’t know what closure would feel like. I don’t want to close the book on my brother.”
At the time of his death, Kevin was at a turning point in his life, said Michael. “And that’s really one of the things that makes this even harder for me is that he was on the precipice of discovering what kind of man he was going to be. He was growing up. I saw he was becoming more ambitious. He was going above and beyond with his certificate program. He was actively trying to learn and better himself.”
In fact, Kevin was about to finish his degree at Sonoma State. After he passed away, the school awarded him a posthumous diploma.
“We need to remember him and try and do right by him,” Michael said. “He’ll always be a part of this family.”
WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats unveiled a pared back elections bill Tuesday in hopes of kick-starting their stalled push to counteract new laws in Republican states that could make it more difficult to cast a ballot.
But the new compromise legislation is likely doomed to fail in the 50-50 Senate, facing the same lockstep Republican opposition that scuttled their previous attempts to pass an even more sweeping bill. The GOP blasted the earlier measure as "unnecessary" and a "partisan power grab."
Republican-controlled legislatures enacted restrictions over the past year in the name of election security that will make it harder to vote and could make the administration of the elections more subject to partisan interference. Texas, which already has some of the country's strictest voting rules, recently adopted a law that will further limit the ability to cast a ballot, empower party poll watchers and create new criminal penalties for those who run afoul of the rules — even if inadvertently.
The spate of new voting laws — many inspired by former President Donald Trump's false claims of a stolen election — ratcheted up pressure on Democrats in Congress to pass legislation that could counteract the GOP push. Trump's claims of election fraud were widely rejected in the courts, by state officials who certified the results and by his own attorney general.
"We have seen unprecedented attacks on our democracy in states across the country. These attacks demand an immediate federal response," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., the lead sponsor of the new bill.
The revised legislation was negotiated for weeks by a group of Democratic senators and includes many of the same provisions as the previous bill, known as the For the People Act.
It would establish national rules for running elections, limit partisanship in the drawing of congressional districts and force the disclosure of many anonymous donors who spend big to influence elections, according to a summary obtained by The Associated Press.
But it also includes a number of changes sought by West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, the chamber's most conservative Democrat. That includes provisions that would limit, but not prohibit, state voter ID requirements, as well as the elimination of a proposed overhaul of the Federal Election Commission, which was intended to alleviate partisan gridlock at the election watchdog agency.
The new measure also dumps language that would have created a public financing system for federal elections. It would instead establish a more limited financing system for House candidates that states could opt to participate in.
Other provisions are aimed at alleviating concerns from local elections officials, who worried that that original bill would have been too difficult to implement. Some new additions are aimed at insulating nonpartisan election officials, who may be subject to greater partisan pressure under some of the new state laws.
White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday that the administration was "encouraged by the momentum" and said President Joe Biden would "continue to work with Congress" to pass the bill.
Despite the changes, Republicans are expected to uniformly oppose the measure, which they say amounts to a federal takeover of elections. That leaves Democrats well short of the 60 votes needed to advance the bill unless they change the Senate's filibuster rules, which Manchin and other moderates have ruled out.
Manchin has said Congress shouldn't pass voting legislation unless it is bipartisan. He shopped the revised bill to some Republican senators in recent weeks, seeking their support. But there are no indications of any signing on.
Manchin told reporters Tuesday that the new bill "makes more sense, it's more practical, more reasonable," but said he "didn't have anything to say" about making changes to the filibuster.
"Now we have to sit down and work with our Republican colleagues," he said.
"I'm headed to do that right now," Klobuchar said before walking on to the Senate floor.
But moments later, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell threw cold water on the bill, calling it "a solution in search of a problem" that "we will not be supporting."
"Let me say for the umpteenth time," the Kentucky Republican said. "There is no rational basis for the federal government taking over how we conduct elections."
Owners of Aetna Springs suffered a setback in their quest to create a luxury campground resort with upscale lodging tents in Napa County's rural Pope Valley.
Alchemy Resorts in late 2018 bought 3,100 acres in Pope Valley east of Napa Valley. The 672-acre, historic, former Aetna Springs resort was only part of the $22 million deal for 50 parcels.
As it turns out, the first proposal to emerge from all of this isn’t for the land with the now-vacant Aetna Springs buildings. Rather, it is for Turkey Hill about three miles away. The idea is to create a resort with 40 lodging tents, perhaps expanding to 80.
But the venture as proposed needs the help of the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District to navigate county zoning that prioritizes agriculture. Aetna Springs ownership offered a deal that would bring money to the cash-strapped district.
On Monday, a divided Open Space District Board of Directors declined to pursue the private-public partnership, though it took no official vote.
"I feel it is only fair to you to make it clear this project is not a priority in my eyes for the district," Director Karen Bower-Turjanis told David Wickline of the Aetna Springs ownership.
Wickline said he first brought up the Turkey Hill idea to former Open Space District General Manager John Woodbury in 2018. He more recently presented papers to the district that fleshed out his ideas.
Running the resort operation would be Six Senses. Among the company’s resorts are Six Senses Zil Pasyon on the private island of Felicite in the Seychelles archipelago, Six Senses Kaplankaya on Turkey’s Aegean coastline, Six Senses Fuji and Sixth Senses Zighy Bay in Oman.
Sixth Senses Aetna Springs is proposed to be added to that list. Papers submitted to the district described a resort with tents that include family suites, a cabin with lounge and dining, sauna, hot plunge, cold plunge, labyrinth, star gazing huts, and fitness circuits.
Napa County zoning doesn't allow private interests to create this type of campsite on private land, district reports said. The county has long stressed protecting agriculture. Part of Turkey Hill has been used for grazing.
That’s where the Open Space District might come in. The district can open campgrounds on its own lands with the approval of the county Planning Commission.
The Aetna Springs group proposes to donate 100 acres at Turkey Hill to the Open Space District. The Open Space District would then lease the land back to Aetna Springs for 99 years for 1% of the resort's lodging revenues.
Aetna Springs would guarantee rent of $1 million over the first 10 years. It foresees the venture generating $20 million for Napa County in 10 years in transient occupancy and sales taxes, said papers presented to the district.
It would also place conservation easements on 100 acres near the Cleary Reserve and 730 acres at Lake Luciana near the district’s Spanish Valley property. Wickline said that will allow better access to existing open space, better trails and better public enjoyment of the area.
"What animates me is the opportunity we have to create something really quite special out here in Pope Valley," Wickline said.
Woodbury and Wickline talked about the idea off-and-on for a couple of years.
"I think you all know I'm very willing to be creative, and I've been very motivated from the beginning to find ways to fund this district in a permanent, sustainable way," Woodbury told the District Board of Directors on Monday.
But Woodbury didn't think the Aetna Springs group offered enough conservation benefits. Some areas to be preserved from development are flood plains and steep hills. Aetna Springs hasn't reduced the overall number of possible building sites and developable parcels, he said.
Open Space District General Manager Chris Cahill offered several points for the Board of Directors to consider. Among them was whether the Turkey Hill proposal fits the spirit of the district's ability to have campgrounds on rural, county lands.
"I arrive at a question, what is a campground?" Cahill said. "And is the thing that's being proposed on Turkey Hill, the thing that's described in Mr. Wickline's submittal, a campground?"
Several residents spoke against the Turkey Hill proposal. Elaine de Man said undertaking such a venture would cost the district support in its attempts to pass a county open space sales tax.
"I am afraid you will lose all that local goodwill and support when the voters find out you are even considering partnering with a luxury resort developer who appears to have found a way to chip away at the protections offered by ag watershed by dangling a few little carrots in front of your noses," she said.
Resident Eve Kahn said the luxury campground proposal is inconsistent with land uses in the agricultural watershed and open space zones.
"Please refrain from any further discussions on a development partnership that would put the district in financial jeopardy and, more importantly, in jeopardy of violating the public trust," she said.
District directors Brent Randol and Nancy Heliotes appeared willing to at least let Wickline further develop his ideas.
"There's a 50% chance this probably won't even get through at county level," Randol said "But I kind of feel we owe it to Mr. Wickline — it's his capital; it's his risk — to run the process."
But directors Bower-Turjanis, Tony Norris and Barry Christian showed no immediate interest in pursuing the matter.
Whether Wickline can still find a way to make a Turkey Hill resort a reality remains to be seen. The Napa Valley Register asked him that question after the meeting.
"I have no idea," he said.