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Suspect arrested in incident that injured CG officer
  • Updated

CASA GRANDE – Casa Grande Police have a man in custody after one of the department’s off-duty officers was seriously injured while trying to stop a car burglary on Sunday.

Charges in the case are pending against Dominick Alford, 25, said Casa Grande Police spokesman Thomas Anderson.

The officer was leaving Lowe’s Home Improvement Center, 1436 E. Florence Blvd., around 3:15 p.m. on Sunday when he spotted a man, later identified as Alford, allegedly attempting to burglarize or steal the officer’s vehicle, Anderson said.

The department is not releasing the officer’s name at the request of his family. The Eloy Police Department identified the officer as a detective within the department and said in a Facebook post that he was “severely injured.” PinalCentral is honoring the family request at this time and will not identify the injured detective. The name has been removed from an earlier story.

The officer confronted Alford and attempted to detain him. Alford allegedly was able to get away from the officer, get into his own vehicle and started to drive away. Anderson said the officer was dragged by Alford’s vehicle for several hundred feet at a high rate of speed. The officer was able to separate himself from Alford’s vehicle near the Pottebaum Avenue entrance to the parking lot.

The officer had significant injuries to his head and torso and was transported to a Phoenix hospital, Anderson said. The officer is in stable condition and is expected to spend several days in the hospital recovering.

Witnesses were able to provide officers with a description of the suspect who was driving a 2003 Acura MDX SUV, Anderson said. The department requested the help of Arizona Department of Public Safety troopers and Pinal County Sheriff’s deputies in the case.

After working the crime scene all night officers arrested Alford at his home around 10 a.m. on Monday in the 1400 block of East 10th Place in Casa Grande.

“On behalf of our city, agency and the officer who was injured, I want to personally thank the Department of Public Safety, Pinal County Sheriff’s Office and the Pinal County Attorney’s Office for their immediate response to our request for assistance,” Casa Grande Police Chief Mark McCrory said. “This was a rapidly evolving investigation and the combined effort of the four agencies involved resulted in the successful capture of the suspect.”

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Pinal neighborhood fights hunger with free pantry movement
  • Updated

ORACLE — Standing side by side in the midday sun, two women sort through a box filled with peanut butter, bread, rice and all kinds of canned goods.

“Here’s some cat food,” Elvia Schwenke says.

“Oh, yay!” Laura Stiltner replies as she stacks the items into eight old school lockers that sit outside the Oracle Community Center. “Take what you need. Leave what you can,” an adjacent sign reads.

The metal lockers have been converted into little pantries that serve one big purpose: to fight food insecurity in the unincorporated community of about 4,000 north of Tucson.

“We started seeing a lot of families that were out of work, the kids being home all the time,” said Stiltner, who with Schwenke serves on the community center’s board. “It was kind of motivation to say: We’ve got to do something to help people that just need food and basics right now.

“It makes you feel good inside to know you’re helping people.”

Travis Robertson/Cronkite News  

Oracle Community Center board member Elvia Schwenke sorts food on Feb. 26, 2021, for the Little Free Pantry in Oracle, Ariz. Oracle launched the project in September as a part of the Little Free Pantry movement, one of several efforts worldwide in which people donate food and goods and house them in a neighborhood space to be used by anyone who needs help.

Oracle launched the project in September as a part of the Little Free Pantry movement, one of several efforts worldwide in which people donate food and goods and house them in a neighborhood space to be used by anyone who needs help.

Tina Acosta, 56, who works for the Oracle Fire District, first heard about the movement on the radio, before COVID-19. Once she saw the impact of the pandemic on her neighbors, she shared the idea with others, including Stiltner, who “took the ball and ran with it.”

The community center provided a space and has done most of the work filling and maintaining the pantry.

“We have homeless just like every community, or people who may have a roof over their heads but they still need help,” Acosta said. “I just hope that it catches on, because it’s such a great resource. It’s not any one particular organization or affiliation. It’s just people trying to help people.”

Before the pandemic was declared last March, food insecurity across the country had fallen to its lowest levels in 20 years, according to Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States. But COVID-19 likely reversed those gains.

The organization projects that more than 50 million people — 17 million of them children — experienced food insecurity in 2020. In 2019, the numbers were 35 million and 11 million.

Food insecurity occurs when people can’t access enough nutritious food to live active, healthy lives. It can be found in big cities and small towns alike.

Travis Robertson/Cronkite News  

Cori Runyon, an Arizona State University graduate student who started a pantry in south Tucson in 2017, places supplies inside her pantry on Feb. 26, 2021. Runyon says food donations have increased since the pandemic began.

Oracle is in Pinal County, which is projected to see a 27% spike in the number of food-insecure residents from 2018 to 2020, an increase of almost 15,000 people, according to Feeding America. Across Arizona, 260,000 people were considered food insecure last year, an increase of 28% from 2018.

Community members had a big part in building the Oracle Pantry. The Fire District donated the lockers, which had been sitting in storage, and local artists decorated them. Volunteer handymen built a roof to protect the lockers during hot summers. And once javelina started figuring out how to get food from the bottom row of lockers, food products were moved to the top row to keep the critters out.

Donations for the pantry also are community-driven. At first, Acosta and the center staff kept the lockers filled. Over time, other residents started contributing, even adding such items as handmade beanies to keep heads warm during winter.

To restock the pantry, the center periodically holds Fill the Truck drives, such as one held earlier in March at the Dollar General in Oracle.

“Of course you’re hoping that the community is coming through and seeing that they’re empty and filling the void,” Acosta said.

Travis Robertson/Cronkite News 

The Little Free Pantry in Oracle, Arizona, seen here on Feb. 26, 2021, is stocked by donations from the community center and residents. Oracle launched the project in September as a part of the Little Free Pantry movement, one of several efforts worldwide in which people donate food and goods and house them in a neighborhood space to be used by anyone who needs help.

The community aspect is part of what inspired Jessica McClard to pilot the Little Free Pantry movement in 2016 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Years earlier, McClard needed government food assistance to get by, and she still remembers the stigma she felt whenever she used the bright yellow vouchers.

“I really did feel ashamed,” she said.

Wanting to help others, and inspired by the Little Free Library concept — a neighborhood book-sharing movement — McClard started the first Little Free Pantry near her church.

Thanks to news media attention and the internet, the idea soon took off. Five years later, a map on McClard’s website shows 1,800 Little Free Pantries across the U.S., a number the pandemic has further increased, she said.

“For a long time, food insecurity could remain largely hidden at the margins,” McClard said. “Now there are so many people that because of COVID-19 have been impacted economically and are now experiencing food insecurity.”

An added benefit of the neighborhood pantries is they provide a socially distanced way to help people safely during the pandemic.

“We knew that a lot of the avenues that people traditionally used to volunteer, whether it be through a food bank or pantry or some other type of organization, were really struggling with the loss of volunteers,” McClard said. “This was a place where people could go and do something for their neighbors and still … be somewhat protected from the virus.”

Cori Runyon, an Arizona State University graduate student, started a pantry in south Tucson in 2017 as part of a mentorship program focused on social justice. She aims to provide essential goods that people might not get at a food bank, including feminine hygiene products and toilet paper.

Over the past year, Runyon has seen an increase in food donations from individuals and organizations like Food Not Bombs, a group providing free vegan and vegetarian food.

“They’ve had such an influx in donations of food that they’re trying to get it out to other projects that are getting food out there,” she said.

The south Tucson pantry, tucked between a barbershop and the office of a civil rights group, is a wooden box painted bright blue with a sign welcoming people in English and Spanish. At one point, those using the pantry covered the doors with thank you messages, Runyon said.

“They all express a lot of appreciation,” she said. “Lots of positive feedback from the community.”

When it comes to addressing food insecurity, Runyon believes her pantry has made an impact, even if that’s providing a small snack to someone who would otherwise have nothing.

“I don’t think it’s having a grand scale effect or data-changing,” she said. “But it’s just a little thing that can help someone here and there.

“I’d encourage other people to start food pantries in their own neighborhoods. There doesn’t need to be one organization that’s in charge of all this. … Every community should step up to care for its own less-privileged community members.”

Multigenerational homes are on the table for CG planning meeting
  • Updated

CASA GRANDE — Multigenerational homes including suites within the residences to be equipped with a secondary kitchen will be on the table during Thursday’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.

According to the agenda, there will be a public hearing and consideration of requests for Lennar Arizona LLC for a major amendment to the McCartney Ranch Planned Area Development zone.

The zoning for McCartney Ranch in this area is for single-family homes on individual lots,” says the agenda. “Though Lennar’s intent is to develop single-family homes, one of their home plans contains a suite with its own kitchen accommodations, designed to provide accessory living space for a different generation of the family.”

City of Casa Grande  

Multigenerational homes will be on the table during Thursday’s Planning anwd Zoning meeting.

However, the city code regards two kitchens within a space as potentially a two-family household. This amendment would allow the single-family dwellings to have a second kitchen so long as the suite is not rented and unrestricted interconnectivity between the suite and the rest of the house remains.

Conditions include that the Next Gen Suite cannot be separately rented.

During the meeting, there will also be a request by the city for some zoning text amendments relating to marijuana uses.

The text amendments revise the regulations that were adopted in 2011 and expand them to address both medical marijuana and adult use marijuana including cultivation facilities, infusion facilities and testing facilities.

“The proposed zoning code text amendments do not modify the zone districts in which marijuana uses may be located,” says a staff report. “Dispensaries continue to be allowed as a Permitted Use within the Marijuana Dispensary Overlay Zone as well as within the I-1 and I-2 zone districts.”

The meeting will also include a public hearing and consideration of requests by Iplan Consulting on behalf of Century Communities for a housing product and conditional use permit.

According to the agenda, this latest request is by Century Communities for housing product approval to introduce five floor plans of a 40-foot-wide series, each with three elevations.

During the meeting, the commission will also hold a public hearing by Richmond American Homes for a conditional use permit for a model homes sales complex consisting of three model homes ranging from 1,812 to 1,862 square feet.

The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. on Thursday in City Hall’s council chambers. The meeting will be streamed online on the City’s Channel 11.

top story
Cook wants allowance for state lawmakers tripled
  • Updated

PHOENIX — State lawmakers are moving to more than triple their expense allowance.

The proposal being pushed by Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, would tie the reimbursement for out-county legislators to the rate the General Services Administration allows for federal employees. That rate, based on location and time of year, is $203 a night for Phoenix during the winter for lodging, including $151 for lodging and the balance for meals and incidentals

Compare that to the $60 a night now permitted under state law for what is supposed to be a 100-day session each year.

But Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, a supporter of the move, said it’s even worse than that.

He pointed out that legislators who live in Maricopa County get $35 a day just to drive to and from their own homes and for their incidental expenses, whatever they are.

“These guys get to go home and have dinner every night at their house,’’ he said.

But that’s not an option for a legislator from Tucson or Lake Havasu — or Globe.

“So where would I stay on 25 bucks?’’ he asked, the differential between in-county and out-county allowances. And that doesn’t even count the cost of food.

Cook represents Legislative District 8, which includes Florence, Coolidge and parts of Casa Grande and Eloy in Pinal County, as well as southern Gila County.

But HB 2053, to be considered Wednesday in the Senate Appropriations Committee, isn’t just about providing financial relief to out-county legislators.

Gowan’s proposal would entitle those who live in Maricopa County — and who get to go home each night — to that $53 a day for the meals and incidentals, more than double what they get now.

That may help pick up some support from the in-county legislators who make up the majority.

But adding them into the mix could doom the entire measure.

That’s just what happened two years ago when lawmakers tried to set the out-county per diem at $190 — and $92.50 for in-county legislators. It was vetoed by Gov. Doug Ducey.

In his veto message, the governor said he had no problem with the raise for the lawmakers from the other 14 counties.

“Arizona is the sixth largest state in terms of land area,’’ Ducey wrote. “So for rural legislators and those representing areas outside of Maricopa County, there is a strong case to be made for ensuring we are appropriately recognizing what is required for them to be here at the state Capitol in Phoenix during session.’’

But the governor made it clear he was not interested in boosting the daily allowance collected by lawmakers who live in Maricopa County, the ones who can go home every night and have no need for local lodging.

Cook said the distinction is fair.

“All things being equal, these people have to come down, find a place to live, rent a place or get a hotel room or whatever, and it still doesn’t cover the cost of doing that stuff,’’ he said. “In other words, I guess you’ve got to be independently wealthy or in business or something, or have an (outside) income you spend to come down here and do this.’’

And that, Cook said, can mean that the legislature is not reflective of Arizona as a whole — or the districts from which they come.

“We don’t have the ability to have, really, someone come down and represent those districts,’’ he said.

In his own case, Cook said he’s “fortunate.’’

He said in the 1950s his in-laws bought a home in Mesa. When they didn’t need it, it went to his brother-in-law. And eventually Cook and his wife bought it from them.

That provides him a place to stay during the session — and a place to cook meals — without needing a hotel and without having to go to restaurants.

Without that, Cook said, he would be faced with a choice: Make the daily drive from Globe or spend the money to find local accommodations. And that, he said, is the choice that many rural lawmakers now have.

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said there’s another option.

‘‘If the voters would consider a raise from the $24,000, maybe there wouldn’t be this push for per diem,’’ she said.

But as Fann noted, legislative pay can be adjusted only if voters approve.

The last time that happened was in 1998. Since then, voters rejected taking that to $36,000 a year. And even when it was pared to $30,000 it also went down to defeat.