It was one of those hot and lazy summer Saturdays in Lodi about 25 years ago, July 2, 1994 — a weekend full of fun and anticipation of the July 4th holiday ahead. Backyard swim parties and other festivities were already underway.

Bob and Else Romanek were out of town on a two-day vacation to Michigan, leaving at home their two daughters, Katie, 12, and Elizabeth, 16, along with one of the girls’ 12-year old friends who was spending the night. But a knock at the door of the Romanek home turned what would have been a fun-filled weekend into a nightmare.

A stranger appeared at the front door asking about the “for sale” sign in the front lawn, pretending interest in buying the place. He managed to talk his way into the house, then held all three girls at knifepoint. Steven Reese Cochran, 25, spent hours in the home terrorizing and assaulting two of the three young girls. He would eventually tie up Elizabeth and their friend, then escape with Katie as hostage, stealing the family car.

A massive manhunt would ensue. Officers from more than 20 law enforcement agencies and the FBI teamed up with the Polly Klaas Foundation and hundreds of local volunteers to search for Katie and her abductor. It was a frantic time. News coverage was practically non-stop. The Romanek’s stolen car was later discovered along Highway 26 near the hamlet of Bellota, east of Stockton, which proved to be a lucky break. Searchers focused on that area and soon spotted and arrested Cochran. Katie was found an hour later, traumatized but physically unharmed. Rescuers scooped her up and she was finally safe.

The ordeal lasted less than 24 hours, but the trauma lasts a lifetime. Cochran pled insanity, but a judge would later find him sane. A pre-plea agreement stipulated that a finding of sanity would automatically turn Cochran’s plea to guilty. He was sentenced to 106 years in prison. But Cochran is now eligible for parole, and a hearing is scheduled for April 14 at the Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad. The hearing is not open to the public and although invited, it is unknown if any of the victims will appear to contest his release. Hard to imagine him being set free, but this is The New California, after all.

BEING COOL: How did you ring in the New Year? Well, Phillip and Katie Jay, both teachers at LUSD, just finished their new backyard pool on Locust Street and got it filled with water. So on New Year’s Day their four boys christened the new pool by — you guessed it—taking the “polar plunge” in water that must have been in the low fifties. Did mom and dad also jump in? Nope. Someone had to video it. At least that’s their excuse.

BY THE NUMBERS: The rankings are in and they’re not pretty. State Sen. John Moorlach recently released his annual report on the financial health of California cities, ranking each one of them according to what he calls their financial soundness. It mainly focuses on each city’s “unrestricted net position” (UNP), basically the difference between assets and liabilities. It’s kind of like the net equity of a business. Some cities have a positive number, but most in California don’t. So how does Lodi rank? We came in 426th out of 482. Not at the bottom, but close. How can this be? All the numbers are positive until you factor in pension and other post-employment benefit (OPEB) liabilities, both huge negative numbers. Holy financial statements! Does this mean Lodi is broke? No. Does it mean the city can’t pay its bills? Nope. The city’s general fund has about a $10 million reserve. It means that if the city had to liquidate and pay off all its liabilities, including the ones from PERS, it couldn’t. It would be a little short — about $117 million short. What does the city have to say about all this?

“If all of (the city’s) liabilities were accelerated to current, yes, we could not pay all of our (PERS liabilities) and all of our operations costs,” City Manager Steve Schwabauer admits. “But of course that will not happen,” he emphasizes. “Almost all of the negative UNP is long-term liabilities we will pay over many years. They are not fully funded today and certainly should be,” he says.

HELP WANTED: As reported earlier, the Guardian Angels are in town with a new chapter and they have been patrolling downtown and other areas, such as the Village Coffee Shop on Victor and 99. Restaurant owner Raleigh Morrow says the red-bereted squad has been very effective in keeping members of the unwelcome crowd from breaking into cars in his parking lot, and giving customers an extra feeling of safety. However, the Angels are looking for more new members, says Morrow. The Angels are not a vigilante group, far from it. So if it sounds like your cup of tea — or coffee, as the case may be — then the Angels want you. You can contact them at lodi.angels@gmail.com or (209) 232-5156. … The “Take Back Lodi” group organizes on Facebook but mobilizes in person to clean up the clutter and garbage left behind by the homeless when they are rousted from a location. The volunteer group is always in need of those free dump vouchers Waste Management sends out every January, good for a free trip to the dump station on East Turner Road. If you aren’t planning to use yours, they would like it. Call us curious, but one wonders why either the city or Waste Management doesn’t just comp the whole thing.

THIS ‘N THAT: Tom and Carmela Hoffman are celebrating their 12th year in the winemaking business. They own Heritage Oak Winery, way out in the boonies, north of Victor along the river on land that has been in Tom’s family for five generations. They make great small-batch wines. … Stan Helmle reports fellow pilot Dennis Holbrook was recently presented with the Wright Brothers Award by the FAA for 50 years in aviation. Dennis is one of the pilots who flies the “missing man” formation over local cemeteries on Memorial Day. He was also a Navy pilot for 20 years with 600 carrier landings on his resume. He later spent 20 years as a commercial airline pilot. Stan says you qualify for the award if you can manage to log 50 years of flying without having the FAA chew your hiney.

REMEMBRANCE: We note the passing of Carol Marvel, who died recently at age 97. Stanford grad. Musician. Hall of Fame inductee. Very accomplished and energetic. Carol loved Lodi and dedicated a good part of her life to serving the city. She was a charter member of the Lodi Arts Commission and worked for the city for about 14 years as a library assistant and deputy city clerk. She was an avid gym-goer and sports enthusiast, too. Carol recalled paying 50-cents admission to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for a day at the 1932 Olympic Games. She played flute in the Lodi Community Band and was a trustee of the Hill House Museum and on the All-Veterans Plaza Foundation Board. Many of her contributions to Lodi, too numerous to list here, were acknowledged in 2008 when she was inducted into the Lodi Hall of Fame. Linda Tremble remembers working with Carol in the city clerk’s office: “We would set up ‘Election Central’ (at city hall) ... It was overwhelming with all the calls and the hundreds of pages of voters listed on the old green bar paper. … Carol remained calm and poised as she assisted with the calls.” Carol was gentle spirit who will be missed my many.

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Steve is a former newspaper publisher and lifelong Lodian whose column appears most Tuesdays in the News-Sentinel. Write to Steve at aboutlodi@gmail.com.

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