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Trial in CG quadruple murder delayed as defense seeks more time
 jheadley  / 

FLORENCE — One of the co-defendants in a Casa Grande quadruple homicide will have more time before he is tried.

The trial of Rodney Ortiz had been set for Jan. 22, but on Monday defense and prosecution attorneys didn’t think they would be ready by then and asked for a vacated trial date.

A new trial date will be determined in about six weeks when a status hearing is held.

Ortiz is accused of killing two men and two women on the morning of Oct. 5, 2017, at a housing complex on West 13th Street in Casa Grande.

Ortiz is charged along with Alec Perez and will be tried separately.

One of the victims, 29-year-old Crysta Proctor, was married to Perez, and police reports show the couple had a history of domestic violence. During an altercation in September 2017, police reported Perez had threatened to kill his wife.

The other victims were identified as Connie Carrera, 31; Jose Martin Aguilera, 27; and Justin Allen Yates, 32.

Prosecutors said they will be seeking the death penalty against Ortiz and Perez.

Defense attorneys Monday said they are not sure how long their investigation will take in this potential capital murder case.

“We are still trying to retrieve documents and identify experts,” defense attorney James Soslowsky said. “At this point, I can tell you that we’re not going to be ready by Jan. 22. We are going to need a significant amount of time. We talked about coming back here in another six weeks and try to set some realistic date.”

Patrick Johnson with the Pinal County Attorney’s Office said the state would not object to moving the trial back.

“We ask to come back in six weeks and set a trial date at that point,” Johnson told Pinal County Superior Court Judge Patrick Gard. “We will give the defense plenty of time to respond.”

Gard set the next status hearing in the case for 3:30 p.m. Sept. 30.

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A beginner's guide to monsoon season

PHOENIX — The monsoon thunderstorms have finally arrived after a delayed start to the season, and with them comes the familiar (or if you’re new in town, terrifying and apocalyptic) dust storms also called haboobs. These fast-moving leviathan walls of dust can quickly transform the streets into a scene ripped from a Mad Max movie, make you regret yesterday’s car wash and may even spread the nasty fungal infection known as valley fever.

Whether you’re a new transplant or a long-time resident of Arizona, you may wonder how haboobs got their name (or vociferously defend calling them dust storms), what causes them or how you can steer clear of their dusty wrath.

Here are some of those answers:


Michael Wilson/Flickr  

Monsoon season brings winds from the south and accompanying storms – rain and dust.

The first step in getting weather akin to Mars is wind and moisture the monsoon season brings. Monsoon, an Arabic word, describes a seasonal shift in wind patterns and not the rains that accompany them. In early summer, winds shift from the west or northwest to a southern origin. Despite colloquial use, “monsoon” refers to this seasonal wind shift, not the thunderstorms that occur when warm, moisture-laden air is brought up from the gulfs of California and Mexico. Once this air hits the higher elevations in Arizona, it cools and brings with it the familiar heavy rains, winds and hail.


Jasper Nance/Flickr  

A microburst can have winds up to 100 mph.

When a thunderstorm begins, cooler, sinking air can create a microburst, which produces winds of up to 100 mph – about the wind speed of an F1 tornado. Once this column of cool air hits the ground, it expands outward in all directions the way water from the tap hits your sink. This is called outflow. The combination of microbursts and outflow kicks up dirt and creates the expanding wall of dust, sometimes half a mile high, seen in a haboob.

Valley fever fears

user bored-now/Flickr  

Valley fever can lead to years of lung infections for some people. 

This isn’t a condition of intense love of the Phoenix area. Soil in the Southwest is home to a fungus, Coccidioides, whose spores, when inhaled, cause a malady called coccidioidomycosis. Instead of trying to pronounce this, we call it valley fever. When the spores colonize the lungs of certain people, the infection causes flu-like symptoms, muscle and joint aches, rashes and shortness of breath. Most people get better within a few weeks, but some need antifungal medication. A small percentage of infections will result in years of lung infections or, in extremely rare cases, neurological damage.

What does this have to do with haboobs? Because the fungus lives in the soil, exposure to dust increases the likelihood you’ll inhale the spores. Although it’s not clear haboobs kick up more spores than does everyday wind and construction or agriculture activity, the thought of a fungus farm in your lungs should dissuade you from breathing any dust if you can avoid it.

Driving dangers

Road Travel America/Flickr  

Dust storms pose driving hazards as well as health hazards.

Haboobs, dust storms and dust channels along highways are all dangerous for drivers. The dust can appear with little warning and envelope a roadway instantly, reducing visibility to nearly nothing.

The Arizona Department of Transportation recommends drivers caught in any dusty maelstrom – or preferably before entering it – check their surroundings for other traffic and then pull completely off the road as soon as possible. Keep your seat belt on, turn off your lights, including your emergency flashers, put the car in park and take your foot off the brake. Other drivers, also unable to see, may mistakenly follow your lights, like a moth is attracted to a flame, with catastrophic results.

What’s in a name?

Alan Stark/Flickr  

Haboobs got their name from an Arabic word for a similar weather patter in Sudan.

Haboob or dust storm? The term haboob derives from the Arabic language and comes from a weather phenomenon in Sudan, where the capital, Khartoum, is frequently hit by huge walls of dust.

Arizona scientists in the 1970s observed that the Valley’s more intense dust storms bore a strong resemblance to their cousins abroad and began to refer to the local version as haboobs. Not every Valley resident was pleased, however.

Not all dust storms are haboobs, but all haboobs are dust storms. Dust storms can be caused by surface winds, keeping them much lower to the ground, while haboobs are caused by thunderstorm cells, which lift debris high enough in the air to earn the title of haboob.

After a particularly large duster hit Phoenix in 2011, the New York Times reported that national news media usage of haboob stirred up controversy in Arizona. Many locals insisted dust storm was the appropriate nomenclature for Arizona, while haboob should be reserved for the overseas phenomenon. Others defended the appropriate word, comparing it to other Arabic words present in English, such as algebra and coffee. The monsoon pattern that triggers haboobs also derives its name from the Arabic “mausim,” which means season.

Dusty weather

Jan Willem Broekema/Flickr  

Dust devils are swirling dust storms that can look like small tornadoes.

Haboobs are not the only dust formations found in south-central Arizona. Our dry soil conditions, gusty winds and open spaces give birth to other devilish – and sometimes deadly – dust patterns.

Dust devils are swirling plumes of dust that can resemble miniature tornadoes, with much lower wind speeds. In Arabic, these dust devils are called “djinn,” sharing their name with – and possibly inspiring – the mythical character better known as the genie. It’s not clear whether dust devils grant any wishes, but their typically weak winds and diminished stature means they rarely pose danger to people. Still, avoid driving through one if you can.

Dust channels, the deadly cousins of haboobs, are localized dust storms that strike suddenly and move quickly. It’s much harder to predict dust channels than haboobs and, as a result, they’re much more dangerous for drivers. ADOT is rolling out sensors along susceptible roadways, such as a particularly dusty stretch of Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson, to better detect dust channels and promptly warn motorists.

Sexting consequences, predators, sex traffickers are a few of the concerns kids face online
 mstaude  / 

CASA GRANDE — With phones, laptops, tablets and other mobile devices, plenty of area kids are online, playing games, doing homework, watching movies and communicating with each other.

And while kids and teens are embracing mobile- and internet-based technologies, predators and those wishing to exploit them are embracing them too, using many popular games and apps that appeal to young people to find potential victims, Stacey Heard of the Pinal County Attorney’s Office warned attendees during a special presentation Thursday.

“We live in a new age,” Heard said. “The days of kids passing notes to one another in class to communicate are long over. Young people today are connecting through social media, gaming and even dating apps. And predators know it.”

A high percentage of young people who eventually become victims of sexting or other exploitation are contacted directly by predators through gaming chat features or social media, Heard said as she spoke about digital dangers as part of the Casa Grande Alliance’s Community Speaker Series.

“We need to teach kids to not respond to messages from people they don’t know and to turn on their privacy settings when on social media,” she said.

“So many kids today are finding popularity through likes and follows, which makes it easier for predators to find them. Predators and sex traffickers are online using social media to find those kids who look like they need a friend.”

Kids can also be exploited by sexting or digitally sharing sexually explicit images and videos, Heard said.

“I hear from principals and others that sexting is a big problem in Pinal County,” she said. “Sexting is one way kids are becoming victims.”

In a 2014 survey among teens who admitted to sexting, 40% of girls said they sent images as a joke and 34% said they did so to feel sexy. But 12% of girls said they sent images because they felt pressured.

Among the boys who received sexting images, the survey found that 17% of teens admitted to sharing explicit images and 55% said they shared an image with more than one person.

About 70% of teen boys and girls admitted to sexting while in a romantic relationship.

“There are also social implications to sexting,” Heard said. “It can ruin friendships and reputations and leads to the exploitation of women and teen girls.”

Receiving unwanted explicit videos and images is believed to be linked to behavioral problems and substance abuse among teens, Heard said.

In Arizona, it is illegal to transmit or display sexually explicit images of a minor, she said.

Because the technology changes quickly, parents and guardians of children and teens should be aware of the dangers and vigilant about online safety.

But internet-based crimes don’t only happen to children. Plenty of adults also become victims of exploitation and scams, Heard said.

“Creepers hide in the shadows on the internet,” she said.

The Community Speaker Series features a series of presentations from experts in various fields throughout Pinal County.

Upcoming presentations in the series at the alliance office include:

  • Wednesday, Aug. 14, at 11 a.m. featuring Claire Lounge from Prevent Child Abuse Arizona talking about how childhood trauma can affect later adult health and well-being.
  • Thursday, Aug. 22, at 3 p.m., Alexa Morgenroth, from Morgenroth Peer Coaching, talking about how to help young adults navigate their emotions and prepare for the future.

For more information, call the Casa Grande Alliance at 836-5022 or visit the office at 280 W. McMurray Blvd.

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Community comes together to install new Curiel Primary furniture
 mvasquez  / 

ELOY — Eloy community members gathered at Curiel Primary School on Saturday morning to assemble nearly 180 desks and chairs for the students.

"How awesome is this," Eloy Elementary School District Superintendent Ruby James said of seeing the community come together. "We have teachers, parents, the fire department and Robson Ranch people are here and we're all working it out."

New furniture that had been ordered arrived after classes started in July, creating a crunch to assemble it on a weekend.

Students from Santa Cruz Valley Union High School and Eloy Junior High School also helped in assembling the desks and chairs as the football players and wrestlers removed the old desks and chairs from the classrooms and brought in the new ones.

"Eloy parents I cannot say enough about, not just the parents but the community and the students," James said.

Also helping was City Councilman Jose Garcia, who is also a teacher at the junior high and who spread the word to the fire district and the police department.

"I came out here because I knew the school district needed help," he said. "Fire made it out here and I think they built like 50 desks all together. One of the things we lack is staff to put all these things together so to have parents and older siblings come out to help, this is great."

Garcia also added that it was great to see so many people give up their Saturday morning to help because there might have been something they all would have rather been doing.

"They gave that time up to be here because they know there's a need and they care about the kids," he said.

Eloy Fire District Battalion Chief Derrick Ethington added that his crew came out to give back the community because the people do a lot for them.

Ethington noted that assembling the desks and chairs was not a difficult task for them.

"It's kind of what we do. If we have a problem we figure out how to get it done," he said. "It's kind of a firefighter thing — we have a project in front of us and it usually comes together because the personalities involved get things done."

Ethington added that he hopes once other people and organizations hear about this event, they'll want to come out and help with future events.

"The more people that are involved and helping with the schools and the kids, the better the outcome all around," he said.

James expressed her gratitude to the group once all the classrooms were filled with the new furniture.

"I want to say thank you on behalf of the Curiel Coyotes," she said. "Thank you for coming through for me. You guys see the magnitude of work, I couldn't have done this without you. The students when they get here on Monday, they're going to break some, but that's OK, we'll fix them. I have a nice little shop going for repairs."

During the Eloy Elementary School District's monthly board meeting, Curiel principal Abigale Tarango expressed her gratitude for all those involved in assembling the desks and chairs.

"The kid's are ecstatic about them," Tarango said. "They just absolutely love them and the space in there is such a difference instead of those big old desks that we used to have."