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Joint investigation nabs 15 alleged cartel smugglers in Pinal
 jheadley  / 

CASA GRANDE — The joint efforts of the U.S. Border Patrol, Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office have resulted in the arrest of 15 Mexican nationals while they allegedly were smuggling hundreds of pounds of marijuana last week.

A joint law enforcement investigation in Pinal County’s Sonoran Desert was going on in the early morning hours of Oct. 22. Investigators know that cartel smugglers often use the Interstate 8 corridor to get their drugs from Mexico into Arizona.

At 5:30 a.m. “a vehicle was observed driving slowly on the Central Arizona Project canal near Midway Road in Pinal County,” a PCSO probable cause statement reads. “As law enforcement observed the vehicle, a subject was observed hanging out of the vehicle. The vehicle stopped and several subjects were observed getting into the vehicle from the desert. The group was observed loading large square packs into the vehicle, which through my training and experience was believed to be bulk marijuana.”

Investigators watched the SUV turn around and travel back toward Midway Road with all lights off. It traveled north on Midway Road past I-8 when a marked Border Patrol unit began following it. The agent activated emergency lights but the SUV continued north.

Investigators deployed spike strips and flattened the SUV’s tires.

“All subjects bailed from the vehicle in east and west directions,” court records state.

Inside the now-abandoned vehicle were 12 bundles of marijuana with a combined weight of more than 259 pounds.

Air and ground units were deployed, a perimeter was established and six men were arrested in the area and booked into the Pinal County jail.

Arrested were Dimas Ruelas Rivera, 40, Juan Atondo Saucedo, 19, Jesus Diaz Villanueva, 20, Mario Hernandez Sanchez, 35, Emiliano Barraza Laurian, 24, and Silverio Zavala Fernandez, 32.

Each was initially charged with assisting a criminal syndicate, conspiracy, two counts of possession of marijuana for sale and illegal control of enterprise.

Since their arrests, their information has disappeared from the Pinal County Adult Detention Center database, meaning they were bonded out or transferred to another facility.

Arrested on similar charges the following day were Marco Alvarez Esparza, 44, Edgar Lima Baltazar, 21, Edgar Neris Llanes, 25, Vistor Ramirez Rios, 20, Gamaliel Torres Castorens, 33, Jefferson Lopez Elvir, 26, Saul Apodaca Sainz, 26, Nicolas Borquez Lopez, 36, and Juan Esparza Hernandez, 28.

All of these men were also booked into the Pinal County Adult Detention Center but are no longer listed in the database.

All of the 15 men arrested are listed as Mexican citizens and were in the United States without proper documentation, according to court records. Records do not indicate when they are scheduled to appear in court.

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World War II-era bomber flyover planned during CG Veterans Day Parade
 mstaude  / 

CASA GRANDE — As spectators gather to honor military veterans at the annual Casa Grande Veterans Day Parade on Saturday, a modified B-24 bomber will fly over the event as a special salute to those who served.

David Snider, a member of the parade committee, said the B-24 Privateer is “a truly spectacular and special aircraft.”

“It’s the only remaining operational aircraft of its kind,” he said.

The parade committee has been working with Dave Goss and his daughter Lindsey Goss of GossHawk Unlimited to arrange the flyover.

“The Gosses have been responsible for the restoration and maintenance of the plane since it arrived (in Casa Grande in 2010),” Snider said.

The Privateer is owned by 4Y LLC and its president Mark Shoen and stored at a GossHawk hangar at Casa Grande Municipal Airport.

“Together with Joe Shoen, chairman of the board for U-Haul — and Mark’s brother — they share a decades-long appreciation of history, the prowess of American manufacturing and America’s military. They want to keep all aspects of the PB4Y-2 Privateer alive,” Snider said.

During the parade, the plane will be flown by Woody Grantham, a 4Y firebomber pilot.

Casa Grande generally holds its annual Veterans Day observance on the first Saturday in November. Most other communities in Pinal County will host their celebrations the following weekend.

This year’s Casa Grande parade begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday and honors each of the five branches of the military. The 100-year anniversary of the American Legion and the anniversary of the end of World War I will also be commemorated.

Parade judges and guest speakers will be stationed in front of Casa Grande City Hall.

Staging for the parade is on Brown Avenue south of Florence Boulevard. The parade will proceed along Florence Boulevard to Florence Street, then turn south to Second Street. The procession will disburse once it’s past the Veterans of Foreign Wars building.

The flyover is set for 10 a.m. The Privateer will fly over Florence Boulevard from the east to west.

“The flyover has been our signature kickoff signal for the last 12 parades,” Snider said.

Parade flyovers are generally performed by members of the Arizona Antique Aircraft Association. This year, the parade committee will honor Terry Emig and other AAAA pilots who have performed flyovers at previous parades and events.

“The annual Veterans Day Parade and annual Memorial Day ceremonies have been the beneficiaries of special flyovers, as performed by the volunteers of the Arizona Antique Aircraft Association under the leadership of area resident Terry Emig,” Snider said.

The Privateer to be used in Saturday’s flyover was built in 1945, during a time when the U.S. Navy was ramping up its use of land-based patrol planes for World War II, Snider said.

“With the increased need for land-based planes with longer ranges, particularly for Arctic and other northern wintertime operations, the Navy acquired Army B-24s and re-designated them PB4Y-1s,” Snider said. “The purpose of these aircraft necessitated several changes to meet Navy patrol-bomber needs.”

The planes were modified with a longer nose, top turret and waist-powered turrets and the changes evolved into the PB4Y-2 Privateer model, which became mainstays of the naval squadrons in the post-war period, Snider said.

“After World War II, Privateers were used as hurricane hunters and played a large role in the reserve squadrons, helping to keep up training for thousands of naval reservists,” Snider said.

Some of the planes were called into service in 1950 for operations in Korea.

In 1945, nine P4-Ys, including the Privateer to be used in Saturday’s flyover, were transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard. In 1958, it was marked for disposal at the Naval Air Station in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. It was sold to Ace Smelting Company and used as an aerial tanker for many years. The motors were replaced, according to Snider.

It was sold at auction in 2006 and underwent “a comprehensive inspection, maintenance, repair and conversion effort,” Snider said. “All of those tasks were successfully completed and approved by the FAA for flight operations. The fire suppression tanks were removed to restore fuselage interior space and bomb bay doors were refitted for the first time in over 50 years.”

It’s now used by Shoen “to keep the heritage alive and to support and honor veterans,” Snider said. “Therefore, the Privateer is routinely seen at military airshows in the Southwest.”

The plane is the only known airworthy example of the naval variant of the B-24 heavy bomber of its era.

Parade winners will be announced in Peart Park before the opening ceremonies for the eighth annual Ride for the Warrior entertainment event.

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Boys & Girls Clubs debuts 'Dancing for our Stars' fundraiser
 mstaude  / 

CASA GRANDE — Ten local celebrities will be paired with professional dance instructors for a new event that aims to raise money for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Casa Grande Valley.

The fundraiser, dubbed “Dancing for our Stars,” is styled after the popular ABC show of the same name. In the competition-style event, local teams consisting of a “celebrity” and a dance instructor will practice their dance moves for six months.

The teams will face off in a dancing competition in April when they’ll vie to be named the best dance duo and biggest fundraisers.

The general public can participate in the event by paying $10 to cast a vote for their favorite dancing duo. The event's website is www.dancingforourstars.net.

“This fundraiser will become the signature fundraiser,” said Jarrett Croft, director of development for Boys & Girls Clubs of the Casa Grande Valley.

While there are a few spots left to be filled, the organization announced the celebrity and professional dance teams during a special kickoff event on Friday at the Paramount Theatre.

Dancing teams announced are:

  • Celebrity dancer Angela Doerr of Abbott Nutrition with a yet-to-be-named professional dancer.
  • Celebrity dancer Bobbi Jeen Olson of Western Trading Post with professional dancer Kyle Taylor of The Studio.
  • Celebrity dancer Christian Price, mayor of Maricopa, with professional dancer Marsha Hindman of The Studio.
  • Celebrity dancer Craig McFarland, mayor of Casa Grande, with professional dancer Corrie Lemberg of The Studio.
  • Celebrity dancer Evelyn Casuga, a retired Arizona Public Service Co. executive, with professional dancer Demorea Epps of The Studio.
  • Celebrity dancer Dr. Jeff Mitchell, a dentist, with professional dancer Chelsea Stubblefield with The Studio.
  • Celebrity dancer JoEtta Gonzales, superintendent of Casa Grande Elementary School District, with professional dancer Daniel Kent, owner and dance teacher at The Studio.
  • Celebrity dancer Paula Lambert, owner of New Horizon Realty, with professional dancer Alexander McQueen with The Studio.
  • Celebrity dancer Scott Lehman, owner of Premiere Auto Center, with a yet-to-be-named professional dancer.

After six months of training, the dance teams will strut their stuff on stage in a show April 25 at the Pence Center at Central Arizona College.

The “Dancing for Our Stars” fundraiser is a new event for Boys & Girls Clubs of the Casa Grande Valley. It replaces the annual dinner, which generally netted about $50,000 for the organization.

“Our goal is to raise $100,000 with this new event,” Croft said.

Boys & Girls Clubs of the Casa Grande Valley has traditionally hosted two major fundraisers each year — the annual gala dinner in the fall and a golf tournament in the spring.

The annual golf tournament will be shifted to the fall, and the new signature dance competition fundraiser show will held in the spring.

Croft said the event also unites the communities of the Casa Grande Valley with Maricopa in an activity that celebrates young people.

“After all, the youth at the Boys & Girls Clubs are our stars,” he said.

The organization opened in 1998 with about 50 children enrolled. It now serves about 4,056 children each year at its five clubs throughout Casa Grande and in Arizona City.

New report questions adequacy of groundwater supply for growing Arizona, Pinal

TUCSON (AP) — A new report by an Arizona State University think tank says it’s questionable whether Arizona can find enough water to replenish aquifers for pumping to new homes in fast-growing suburban areas without access to Colorado River water.

The Kyl Center for Water Policy report also suggests that the state revamp a landmark 1980 setting current policy on groundwater management, the Arizona Daily Star reported.

The report warns that some suburbs of Tucson and Phoenix, as well as growing Pinal County communities, will struggle to find enough water to keep growing without damaging underground aquifers by overpumping groundwater.

According to the report, the result could be land subsidence, including ground fissures, lower water quality and even the possibility of wells drying up.

And it said there’s a prospect of further hiked water rates for homeowners and financial problems for a three-county agency responsible for finding renewable water supplies for development in suburban areas and in Pinal County located between the two metro areas.

The report suggests that the landmark 1980 Groundwater Management Act is environmentally unsustainable and requires an overhaul.

Under the law, new homes can be built in the three counties only if renewable supplies can be found to compensate for the water pumped to serve them.

“Failure to find solutions to these problems could have devastating consequences down the road. Taking action to address them is the only way to protect Arizona’s water supplies for its current and future citizens,” the report said.

While the replenishment district contends there’s plenty of water potentially available for future development, the report says the availability is questionable.

Environmentalists and others contend the district’s practices have encouraged unsustainable urban sprawl, but report co-author Kathleen Ferris said the district isn’t to blame because it has followed state law.

“The problem is that the statutes are too lenient,” said Ferris, a former state Department of Water Resources director.

The district declined to comment on the report but said in a statement that it has fulfilled its legal duties effectively, “demonstrating fiscal responsibility while securing a robust water supply portfolio that will be available through the mid-2030s.”

University of Arizona law professor Robert Glennon, who has written two books about water supply issues, said the new report’s authors “convincingly demonstrate that it’s a broken system that will cause great economic and personal hardship if the Legislature and DWR don’t act to implement their recommendations.”

Southern Arizona Home Builders Association President David Godlewski said the groundwater replenishment district and Arizona’s economy are undeniably linked and that “everything in our power must be done, including acquisitions of additional water resources, to protect and enhance it.”