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Posted: Monday, December 13, 2004 10:00 pm

Crash victim remains critical; suspect arraigned

A Lodi woman remained hospitalized in critical condition Monday, five days after the car in which she was riding as a passenger was struck by an alleged car thief.

After the accident on Highway 88 near Liberty Road, Christina Marie Mendez, 20, was flown by medical helicopter to the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, where she remains.

The other driver, Gerardo Ponce, 28, of Galt, was arraigned in court Friday, where he pleaded innocent to the charges against him, according to court records. Bail was set at $270,000 and he is scheduled to return to court Thursday.

Shortly after the crash, California Highway Patrol officers said Ponce was driving a stolen Ford Explorer when he veered over the center line and collided head-on with a Toyota Corolla being driven by Terry Louise Lawrence, 39, of Clements.

Ponce then allegedly tried to carjack a witness who stopped to help, but other witnesses detained him until officers arrived, the CHP said.

Ponce is charged with two felony counts of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and one felony count each of carjacking, possession of stolen property, and hit-and-run causing death or injury. He also faces a misdemeanor charge of driving with a suspended license.

Former businessman remains jailed on $1 million

A former Lodi businessman appeared Monday before the judge who last week issued a $1 million warrant for his arrest.

Juan Diaz, 43, remains jailed and will return to court Friday, where attorneys will discuss the amount of restitution he owes an insurance company, San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Eual Blansett said.

Diaz was arrested Thursday, a day after title company employees saw a News-Sentinel article detailing a judge's order that Diaz not sell his 10-acre cherry orchard.

The order was to remain in effect until Diaz and prosecutors could agree on how much he owes in restitution after pleading guilty to workers compensation fraud.

The former General Mills employee pleaded guilty last month to one count of fraud, and Blansett said the insurance company wants nearly $111,000.

Diaz disputed that amount and, due to the judge's schedule and the fact that Diaz was heading to Mexico to care for his ailing mother, a restitution hearing was scheduled for February. When Judge George J. Abdallah Jr. learned that Diaz had just sold his South Cherokee Lane market, the judge told Diaz not to sell his orchard, Blansett said.

However, escrow on the Lower Sacramento Road property was set to close last Friday. That proceeding has been put on hold, Blansett said.

Threats suspect jailedwithout bail

A Galt man accused of brandishing a gun and making threats in a Lodi bar was arraigned in court Monday and is being held without bail in the San Joaquin County Jail.

Salvador Rodriguez, 25, is charged with assault with a firearm, making criminal threats and exhibiting a firearm, according to court records.

He was arrested Friday, after the Lodi Police SWAT team served a warrant at his Galt home and recovered the gun, Sgt. Chris Piombo said at the time.

Rodriguez allegedly pulled out a gun and made threats at Gary's Uptown Restaurant and Bar, 1800 S. Cherokee Lane, after a dispute.

His fiancee said Monday that another bar patron had previously assaulted Rodriguez, then again confronted him when the couple began to leave the bar.

Rodriguez's fiancee, who declined to give her name, said he's never before had guns and that his court record only consists of a drunken driving conviction -- for which he is undergoing alcohol treatment and counseling.

Elderly man in good condition after Friday collision

An elderly Lodi man who was thrown from his car in a Friday vehicle accident was listed in good condition Monday at Lodi Memorial Hospital.

Theodore Hyske, 77, was driving west on Tokay Street when he was struck by a driver who allegedly ran a red light on Ham Lane, police and witnesses said.

Hyske, whose 1955 Buick Century was made before seat belts were required, was thrown from his car and he landed in the intersection, inches away from where the other car stopped.

Linda Heinitz, 55, of Lodi, had minor complaints of knee pain but was not hospitalized, Lodi Police said at the time. Hyske, however, was taken by ambulance to the hospital.

County to offer flu clinicfor high-risk Lodians

Hundreds turned out, with open arms, to Lodi Memorial Hospital's flu clinic Friday for people in high-risk groups. The county will offer its first flu clinics of the season in Lodi, to be held Fridays for high-risk people, from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m. at 300 W. Oak St.

People high at risk include infants from six to 23 months of age or over age 65; pregnant women; caregivers of infants under six months of age; people with chronic illnesses; such as heart disease; diabetes or asthma; and health care workers or caretakers who are in direct contact with high-risk people.

For more information on the flu or influenza vaccine, go to http://www.sjgov.org/oes/flu.htm or call 469-8200 for recorded information.

Special meeting this morning

The Lodi City Council will hold a special meeting this morning to make council member appointments to fill vacancies, expiring terms and reassignments on various boards, commissions and committees.

That portion of the meeting is open to the public.

Also in open session, the council is expected to discuss the idea of a budget committee, proposed by Mayor John Beckman.

If approved, such a committee could help tackle the city's budget challenges for the upcoming fiscal year. It runs from July 2005 to June 2006.

Following the meeting, council members will meet behind closed doors to discuss the city manager position. Blair King, the current assistant city manager in Milpitas, was offered the job over the weekend. However, the labor contract has yet to be discussed.

Council is holding a conference with the labor negotiator today.

The meeting begins at 7 a.m. in Carnegie Forum, 305 W. Pine St.

Animal shelter open house planned

The Lodi Animal Shelter is hosting a holiday open house Saturday. Tours and refreshments will be available.

The city's shelter is located at 1345 W. Kettleman Lane.

Poochigian aide will greet public on Thursday

Ann Jordan, district director for State Sen. Chuck Poochigian, R-Fresno, will be available to the public from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday at Carnegie Forum, 305 W. Pine St., Lodi. For more information, call 599-8540.

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Should graduations return to the Grape Bowl?

Lodi Unified leaders are moving Lodi and Tokay high school graduations from the Grape Bowl to the Spanos Center at UOP in Stockton. They cite limited seating, costs and unpredictable weather at the Grape Bowl. But others say graduations at the Grape Bowl are an important Lodi tradition, and one reason many supported renovating the stadium. What do you think?

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