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New CG branding campaign to be revealed for council

CASA GRANDE — A new branding campaign for the city capitalizing on its connection to neon will be unveiled at Monday’s City Council study session.

The campaign designed by Dog Cat Mouse Media for the Greater Casa Grande Chamber of Commerce features the words Casa Grande in colorful rounded letters reminiscent of a neon sign.

The campaign includes a “passport” that visitors can pick up at the chamber and use to collect stamps from various local attractions, businesses and parks. Visitors can collect four different circular stamps that feature the words, “Park It!,” “Love It!,” “Live It!” or “Work It!”

The Neon Sign Park opened downtown within the past year.

A refreshed visitors’ website is included in the campaign along with neon-colored business cards for community leaders such as Mayor Craig McFarland, chamber President Renee Louzon-Benn and the director of the Casa Grande Main Street program to hand out.

The consultant also suggests new welcome signage with the new neon logo be placed around town and painting street curbs different colors to signify different districts within the town.

The study session will start at 6 p.m. on Monday in the council chambers at 510 E. Florence Blvd.

At its regular session, the council will consider approving a contract with Smartworks Plus to rehire City Manager Larry Rains on March 30. Rains plans to retire from the city on March 20. Under state law, it is more beneficial to Rains to retire than to continue working directly for the city.

Under the contract from Smartworks Plus, Rains would be able to continue to work for the city at a lower pay rate and draw on his retirement benefits.

The benefit to the city would be that it gets to keep an experienced administrator who is working on a number of complex projects at a lower salary. The city also avoids the expense and delay of trying to find a new city manager to replace Rains.

Rains’ annual salary under the Smartworks Contract would be $151,352.66. His current salary is $195,484. The city would also not have to pay Rains’ health care benefits and would pay a smaller amount to the state’s retirement system.

The council will also consider at its regular 7 p.m. meeting:

  • The nearly $30,000 purchase of software from Vertosoft Workiva RNW to help generate the city’s annual financial report.
  • The purchase of a $400,000 sewer cleaner from AZ Wastewater Industries.
  • Approving a nearly $90,000 contract with Hatch Company for maintenance on a number of instruments at the city’s wastewater plant.
  • A more than $1.1 million bid from Cactus Asphalt to reconstruct the pavement in the Western Manor/Caspita Y Grande area.
  • Approving the annexation of 3.52 acres north of the Cornman Road alignment and west of the Henness Road alignment into the city. The parcel is part of the larger plot of land slated for the Dreamport Villages theme park, which has not moved forward since it was announced.
  • Designating three signs in the city as local historic landmarks, including the Jewel’s Desert Sands sign on North Pinal Avenue, the Johnston’s Grocery/Sofia’s sign on North Picacho Street and the Casa Grande Valley Newspapers Inc. sign on Second Street.

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Storytelling through sand entertains, captivates audiences
 mstaude  / 

SIGNAL PEAK — Joe Castillo is a storyteller and an artist. When he’s on-stage, he hopes to tell a tale that captivates the audience both visually and emotionally, illustrating his story with a series of images in sand.

Castillo, whose sand art storytelling show earned him a spot as a finalist on Season 7 of “America’s Got Talent,” will perform his routine, Sand Stories, on Feb. 9 in the Pence Center at Central Arizona College, 8470 N. Overfield Road.

“For this show I do vignettes from around the world, weaving in stories in the sand,” he said. “There’s music. The show opens with Elton John’s ‘Circle of Life.’”

Castillo’s stories are often devotional, patriotic or inspirational and he tailors each show for his audience.

“His performances include brilliant artwork with projectors to display the artist’s progress. He uses the sand-table to create art that illustrates the story as he’s telling it in real time,” said Michael Armendariz, director of the Pence Center.

Castillo began using sand storytelling as a form of performance art about 10 years ago. Since then, he has performed Sand Stories in 45 states, 27 countries and in front of Pope Francis, he said.

Art has been a central part of his life since childhood.

“I grew up surrounded by art and culture,” he said. “My first food was a crayon.”

As a toddler, he experimented with art and later, as a teen, he developed a passion for storytelling and attended the Ringling School of Art.

“I spent some time trying to figure out how to make a living as an artist,” he said. “I tried a few other forms of performance art where I could create artwork fast and on-the-fly.”

After a few years as a struggling artist, he founded an advertising agency.

“I spent 20 years in advertising and it was exhausting,” he said. “I had my own agency with 13 employees.”

He sold his agency after 20 years in the industry and changed careers, enrolling in seminary school and becoming a pastor.

“I had a church in Kentucky and would try to incorporate art into my sermons to help people remember the sermons. I’d do some sort of art, either with spray paint, acrylic on canvas and other ways. We had a grand time but after a while, we began to run out of ideas,” he said.


Joe Castillo’s stories and art are often devotional, patriotic or inspirational.

He began combining storytelling and sand art in his sermons and said it had a huge impact on his congregation.

“I began experimenting with images,” he said. “My first sand art performance was an Easter service I did in which I told the Passion of the Christ story in sand in church.”

Castillo now works as a motivational speaker and performance artist, creating live art with his Sand Stories routine. He is the author of three books and several articles. He and his wife, Cindy, have four grown children and six grandchildren. They live in Atlanta.

His show at CAC, he said, is meant to entertain and inspire audiences.

“I think people will like it,” he said. “It’s an entertaining show.”

The 70-minute show begins at 3 p.m. Tickets are $10 and may be purchased online by visiting the eventsatcac.com website.

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Convicted AJ killers will receive new sentences due to youth
 jheadley  / 

FLORENCE — Two men convicted of killing an Apache Junction woman in 1994 will get a chance to get out of prison someday.

Freddie Crespin, 41, and Barry Bjorgo, 41, were just 16 when they, accompanied by two other teens, murdered Betty Janecke in an Apache Junction home. Crespin pleaded guilty to the murder on March 16, 1998, and was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Bjorgo was sentenced to prison in November 1999.

Neither man would ever have been released from prison based on their lifetime sentences.

The case of Miller v. Alabama heard before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 eventually propelled cases like Crespin’s and Bjorgo’s into a resentencing situation.

In June 2013, the high court made a landmark decision in Miller v. Alabama that declared that minors could not be sentenced to life imprisonment.

Through the many years he’s been in prison, attorneys for Crespin have filed appeals with the Arizona Court of Appeals and Arizona Supreme Court based on his young age at the time of the homicide.

Arizona courts turned down appeals in his case in 2014 and 2015.

However, as Crespin was just 16 at the time of the homicide, the Supreme Court decision conflicted with his Sept. 29, 1998, life sentence on constitutional grounds, saying it violates his Eighth Amendment rights.

“For a crime he committed when he was 16 years old, Mr. Crespin entered into a plea agreement in order to avoid death by lethal injection,” a petition for post-conviction relief filed by attorney Molly Brizgys on behalf of the Arizona Justice Project in April 5, 2017, reads. “Despite Mr. Crespin’s age, the State had sought the death penalty against Crespin for the murder of his co-defendant’s mother. After almost three years of pretrial incarceration and five different lawyers, Crespin pleaded guilty to first-degree murder.”

He was then sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole by Judge Boyd T. Johnson.

The petition continues, “The record is clear that the sentencing judge failed completely to consider whether Mr. Crespin was one of those ‘rarest of children’ whose offense reflected ‘irreparable corruption’ — as required by the Eighth Amendment.”

Crespin spent the first nine years of his life in solitary confinement, according to court records.

The petition details the appeals filed on his behalf in December 2014 in the Arizona Court of Appeals and in January 2015 with the Arizona Supreme Court.

A stay was issued after a federal Writ of Habeas Corpus was filed in June 2015, freezing the case until the Supreme Court could make a decision.

The Arizona Supreme Court denied reviewing the case. However, in October 2016 a federal magistrate judge recommended that the U.S. District Court grant Crespin a new sentencing hearing.

As the life sentence is considered by the U.S. Supreme Court to be a “cruel and unusual punishment” because Crespin was a juvenile at the time and not considered a suspect with “irreparable corruption,” he was granted a chance at a new sentence.

The Arizona Justice Project petition said Crespin’s crime did not represent “permanent corruption” but instead it was a matter of “transient immaturity.” The petition stated that “juveniles are different” because “a teenager’s brain is still under construction.”

The petition also states that “children are different” when it comes to sentencing for crimes.

Crespin was accused of killing Betty Janecke on Aug. 31, 1995, along with three other teens, Bjorgo (her son), Dustin Allen and Ryan Torbert.

They killed her in her bedroom.

Crespin and Torbert were arrested on Sept. 1, 1995, driving Janecke’s stolen car in Monterey County, California, while Bjorgo and Allen were quickly arrested for the homicide in Apache Junction.

Torbert told police that Crespin and Bjorgo killed her and he “chickened out” and went into the living room. Torbert told police he heard her yelling and screaming for about two minutes, then Crespin and Bjorgo came out of the room with “blood all over them.”

“Freddy (Crespin) told Ryan (Torbert) that he struck Mrs. Janecke with a weight while Barry (Bjorgo) strangled her with a belt. During this time Dustin (Allen) was holding her feet,” court records state.

“After this occurred Barry (Bjorgo) left the house. A few minutes later they heard noises coming from Mrs. Janecke’s room. Freddie (Crespin) then took a knife into the bedroom. Freddie (Crespin) later told Ryan (Torbert) that he ‘put a pillow over her face ... and just jabbed the knife straight down ... four times.’ They waited for Barry (Bjorgo), because the plan was to get the body and put it in the back of the car and go bury it somewhere,” court records read.

Bjorgo and Crespin were convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole for the homicide and remain in Arizona prisons to this day.

Crespin is held at Lewis Prison and considered to be a moderate risk prisoner by the Arizona Department of Corrections. In 2008, he was classified as a high risk prisoner.

Bjorgo is held inside the Winslow Prison and is classified as a high risk prisoner by DOC.

Allen was convicted and sentenced for aggravated assault in June 1996 and served more than five years in an Arizona prison, being released on Feb. 11, 2002.

There is no Arizona prison record available for Torbert.

The resentencing hearing dates for Bjorgo and Crespin in Pinal County have not yet been determined. Bjorgo is scheduled to appear March 25 for a status hearing before Pinal County Superior Court Judge Kevin White while Crespin’s next hearing is April 1 before Pinal County Superior Court Judge Delia Neal.

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Pinal board declines to make exception for sky lanterns
 mcowling  / 

FLORENCE — It appears the last sky lantern festival has been held in unincorporated Pinal County.

The festivals, in which thousands of paper lanterns are lit and sail off into the night sky, was a topic of discussion at Wednesday’s meeting of the Pinal County Board of Supervisors.

Supervisor Pete Rios, D-Dudleyville, and Deputy County Manager Himanshu Patel noted the 2018 International Fire Code the board recently approved prohibits “untethered sky lanterns.” But Patel added the county could take steps to amend the code or make exceptions if the board wished.

None of the supervisors made a motion for an exception, and Supervisors Chairman Anthony Smith, R-Maricopa, said, “We’ll let it stand as written. …

“I really like these types of events,” Smith said, but “is it the right fit for Pinal County and the fairgrounds? Based on the comments I’ve received, I don’t think it’s a good fit.”

Such festivals have been annual events at the Pinal Fairgrounds and Event Center at Eleven Mile Corner for the last several years. Even with the county’s prohibition, cities and towns still have the option of holding their own festivals, Patel said. One is scheduled for Saturday just over the county line at Schnepf Farms near Queen Creek.

Spencer Humiston, owner of a company that puts on the festivals, told the board, “I feel sad about it; I enjoyed working with the fairgrounds. I hope we can still work something out.”

Supervisor Todd House, R-Apache Junction, said he saw “a fireball” sailing near his house in June of last year, followed it and found it had landed and started a brush fire. He said he put out the fire and took the lantern to a fire department the next day.

However, if the company organizing these events had the knowledge to do them safely and had insurance, House said he would be open to listening to a proposal.

Pinal Lantern Fest not popular with neighbor

ELEVEN MILE CORNER — Pinal County Fairgrounds’ Facebook page is replete with beautiful pictures of dark skies lit up with thousands of lanterns sailing away Saturday night.

Rose Robertson found her farm littered with lanterns after the last festival in early November. She told the board Wednesday she had asked in prior years to be included in the conversations leading up to the events but never had been. She said she once called Humiston, who told her never to dial his number again and hung up. She said lanterns littering her property cost her in several different ways.

Humiston told the board in the last five years his company has released a half million sky lanterns. Almost everywhere he does a festival, the 2018 International Fire Code, or the 2015 code — which also prohibits the lanterns — is in force. He said last year his company sent off 150,000 lanterns without a single fire incident.

“Anytime you do anything you run a risk,” Humiston said, but he added his company doesn’t hold events in areas at a high risk of fire or in high winds. The lanterns may travel between a quarter mile and a half mile before burning out and falling, and “by 5 p.m. the next day, I feel confident we’ve picked up 99%” of them, he said.