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Posted: Monday, August 16, 2004 10:00 pm

Vandals create slippery situation at theater

Dozens of gallons of canola oil spilled out of a storage closet at the Stadium 12 Theaters on School Street on Sunday night after vandals reportedly broke in and punctured containers with sharp objects.

The five-gallon canola oil containers were being stored in a closet just outside one of the theaters when the incident occurred. Carpets just outside the theater were blocked off with caution signs on Monday afternoon, and an oily substance was seen draining into a sewer behind the building earlier in the day.

Theater management declined comment, and representatives from its parent company, North American Cinemas, Inc., said they could not "confirm or deny" that the incident took place. A witness, who wished to remain unidentified, said an unknown number of suspects punctured approximately 18 of the containers while the theater was still screening films Sunday night.

Curt Juran, Lodi's assistant streets superintendent, said his office had cleaned up an oil spill in an alley between School and Sacramento streets near Oak Street on Monday. He said environmental compliance officers were called in to look at another spill behind the theater.

It's not clear whether the substance behind the theater was canola oil. Dumping anything but cool water into city drains would be a violation of stormwater regulations, Juran said.

Suspect in 15-year-old auto theft arraigned

A Lodi man accused of stealing a brand-new truck 15 years ago was arraigned Friday on one count each of auto theft and possession of stolen property.

Ed Laughton, 71, was appointed a public defender and did not enter a plea to the charges, according to court records.

Laughton was arrested July 23 after Lodi police detectives found a 1989 truck in his storage shed. The custom-built truck, that was reported stolen that same year, had 1,054 original miles on it.

He will return to court Sept. 2.

Hutchins Street Square Foundation elects chairman

John Ledbetter, partner and chief financial officer of Vino Farms, Inc., has been elected chairman of the Hutchins Street Square Foundation Board of Directors for 2004-05. He replaces Dennis Bennett, who has held the post since 1981, and is only third chairman in the organization's history.

With the departure of founding Director Charlene Lange, Dennis Bennett decided it was time for him to pass the torch as well.

"This has been the single most rewarding community service I've ever been involved with," Bennett said in a press release issued Monday.

"But I really do believe that great ideas can be developed when new people are involved. The time is right for John to take over - he's been on the board since '94 and has more than capable hands to carry this group forward into the future."

Ledbetter, who served as the foundation's vice chairman for many years, honored Bennett's diligent service to Lodi.

He spent six years in the U.S. Navy and graduated from California State University, Fresno with a degree in ag business/ag economics.

Prior to joining Vino Farms, a company started by his father in the early '70s, Ledbetter was with the Farm Credit System serving as the Fresno branch manager of the Production Credit Association.

Jeffrey Kirst, president of Tokay Development, has taken over as vice chairman. He joined the Foundation in 1992.

Daphne Felde and Julia Gillespie were re-elected as treasurer and secretary, respectively.

Man pleads not guilty to child molestation

A Lodi man pleaded not guilty Thursday to child molestation charges that could make him ineligible for probation.

Dwayne Pekarek, 48, is charged with three felony counts and enhancements that, if proven true, would require him to serve time in state prison.

He is accused of befriending a neighbor's granddaughter, then molesting her when she was about 12 or 13, prosecutors said.

Pekarek entered his plea Thursday and will return to court Sept. 17, according to San Joaquin County Court records.

Man sought for allegedly brandishing shotgun

Galt police officers were searching Monday for a man who allegedly brandished a shotgun at his brother in part of an ongoing dispute.

The man, identified by Records Supervisor Jennifer Gross as Brian McDaniel, 23, jumped over a fence and escaped from police.

Nobody was injured in the incident at a residence near New Hope Road and First Street, and officers retrieved the gun.

Police have been called to the residence several times in the past few days, Gross said, but none of the other incidents involved firearms.

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