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Potential plan calls for fire station to replace old CG auditorium
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CASA GRANDE — The Casa Grande Fire Department told the City Council during a study session that building replacement stations is overdue and one potential site is where the old high school auditorium sits next to City Hall.

According to the presentation, Station 501 is 70 years old, Station 502 is 25 years old while Station 503, which is currently closed, was a high school modular building donated to the city in 1980.

“The current and past growth of the city has rendered the locations of fire stations inefficient for emergency response, increasing response times and creating real time life-safety issues for the citizens of the community as well as fire department personnel,” the presentation said.

During the presentation, Fire Chief Dave Kean gave the council options to consider such as continuing to provide the same level of service with increasing response times or using Decann software to determine recommended locations, improve unit availability and response times, and plan for future station locations as city growth dictates.

According to the presentation, initial estimates say new stations would cost approximately $6.4 million each.

Kean said 70% of calls are between Cottonwood Lane and Jimmie Kerr Boulevard.

Kean said using city-owned property in the downtown area would be desirable.

“The natural choice is to build 501 here, on this City Hall campus, and basically turn this area into a City Hall campus,” Kean said.

“I know there’s a lot of strong feelings, people have strong feelings and emotions regarding the auditorium over here,” Kean said. “That auditorium is tough, I get it, people went to high school here and there are some people who are attached to that building.”

However, Kean told the council that the department sees opportunity to turn the auditorium space into the Fire Department headquarters with Station 501.

“It’s a great spot for it,” Kean said.

“While we as a city can be proud of Station 4 (on East McCartney Road), that is something for the department and city to be proud of, but our lack of attention, and I’m not pointing a finger at anybody, but today it’s our responsibility — this council,” Councilman Bob Huddleston said.

“Our lack of attention to Station 1 and Station 3 — shame on us. We shouldn’t haven’t let them get this far,” said Huddleston, who retired as Casa Grande’s police chief.

Back in December, Kean said that Station 503 on Piper Avenue at Casa Grande Municipal Airport had to move its crew to Station 504 due to bad conditions including termites and mice.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, I don’t think anybody likes to have mice and rodents and stuff running across you while you’re sleeping in your bed,” Kean said. “Even tough firefighters don’t like that.”

During the presentation, Kean shared that the department is on track to exceed response numbers from last year. Estimates believe that there will be over 12,000 responses this year.

“With all the permits being issued for houses and all the new businesses going on, it has caused us a tremendous increase in fire prevention inspections,” Kean said.

In 2019, there were 400 new building inspections while in 2020 there were 1,005. According to the presentation, it is forecast to be even busier with the next phase of Lucid Motors.

However, Kean also had good news to report to the council.

He said the department received a notification from the Insurance Services Office that the city’s Public Protection Classification has been raised from a Class 3 to a Class 2.

A Class 2 rating places the Casa Grande Fire Department in the top 4% of fire departments in the country.

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Children's book by Pinal author aims to inspire hope
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ELOY -- With her new children’s book “It All Started in Africa,” Suzanne Bowman Williams hopes to educate children about African American history while inspiring them to make good choices.

“This book is really about hope,” Williams said.

Williams is a former elementary school teacher from Oceanside, California. In writing “It All Started in Africa,” she tells the true story of her family’s ancestry, beginning in Africa and ending with the escape from slavery of her ancestors, Henry and Sallie.

The book is an interactive experience that “takes children on a journey through generations of African Americans over the course of history,” a description of the book on Amazon.com says.

Williams includes discussion questions at the end of the book to get children thinking about the characters, history and their own lives.

“Some of the questions are ‘What dangerous choice did Henry and Sallie make?’ and ‘What choices do you want to make for your descendants?’” Williams said. “The questions and the story give children a better understanding of African American history.”

The book is illustrated by Williams’ granddaughter, Evelynn Jeanette, a high school senior in Southern California.

“She was 13 when we started working on this book together,” Williams said. “Completing the book took a long time.”

Williams was teaching fifth grade in California more than 30 years ago when she wanted to create a special presentation for her class during African American History Month (February).

“I found so many wonderful books in the library about Black history, but I couldn’t find quite what I was looking for, so I Xeroxed some pages and created a scrapbook. I included photos of my (ancestors), who had escaped slavery, and wove it into the presentation. The kids enjoyed it,” she said.

Williams gave the presentation often as a teacher but didn’t consider turning it into a book until she retired, moved to Eloy and joined a writers group.

“They were very instrumental in helping me turn this into a book,” Williams said.

To complete the book, Williams wrote a poetic narrative to tell the story. Last year, with a completed rough draft, she visited a few public schools in Casa Grande to present the book.

In telling the story of her ancestors, she hopes children learn about choices they can make to better the future for themselves and their descendants.

“My grandmother escaped Kentucky to Ohio and learned to read,” Williams said. “Her children were educated and became professionals. I have gratitude for the choices she made and feel a responsibility to bring her story forward so that others can learn from it. This book is about Black history but it’s also about valuing hope no matter what your present situation is.”

Once children return to schools, she hopes to make classroom visits to read the book and engage with students.

“I present the story in a way that children learn that they have the power to make choices to make life better,” she said. “Young kids don’t always think about the future and they don’t always think about how the choices they make impact their descendants. But they can make choices and be a catalyst for change and by doing that, they can change their family’s future.”

“It All Started in Africa” is a hardcover book available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble online. It’s published by Lucid Books.

Williams is working on a website about the book.

Teachers who would like to arrange for Williams to make a classroom visit may contact her by email at northstarpassages@gmail.com.

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Volkmer supports lawmakers changing course on crime policies
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PHOENIX — State lawmakers took the first steps Wednesday to reversing decades of tough-on-crime policies.

Without a single dissent, members of the House Committee on Criminal Justice Reform voted to restore some of the discretion taken away from judges more than four decades ago to determine what is an appropriate sentence.

HB 2673 does not scrap all of the mandatory sentencing laws.

In order to divert from the code, a judge would need to find that a mandatory sentence would be an injustice to the defendant, that it is not necessary to protect the public, and that the person was not convicted of a serious or dangerous offense. And judges would have to explain their decision on the record.

But lawmakers did not stop there. Committee members also approved:

  • Barring the state from denying certain licenses to people solely because they were convicted of drug offenses;
  • Curbing the ability of prosecutors to “stack’’ charges from multiple offenses committed at the same time to get an enhanced sentence;
  • Ensuring that female prisoners have access to hygiene products;
  • Establishing an independent office of “ombudsman’’ who would have oversight over the Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry.

Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, who crafted that last one, said that in particular is crucial to making changes in the prison system.

“This is the beginning of reform,’’ he said. “We can’t fix something if we don’t know what to fix.’’

But the major shift goes to the issue of sentencing reform.

The state’s policies on incarceration date back to 1978 when lawmakers voted to impose mandatory prison terms for certain crimes.

And in 1993 they approved the “truth in sentencing’’ law which says criminals must serve at least 75% of their term before being eligible for release. That followed complaints that even when judges were imposing longer terms that inmates were getting out after serving only a fraction.

The measure also picked up support from Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer.

He told lawmakers that, officially, he is neutral on the measure.

“But I can tell you, this is good governance,’’ Volkmer said.

He acknowledged that the legislation does remove power from prosecutors in his office to bring charges and seek certain sentences.

“However, I can tell you there are individual cases in which people will come forward when an injustice occurred, a person got more time than they reasonably should have,’’ Volkmer continued. “It’s not common, but it does happen.’’

Giving more discretion to judges to deal with those circumstances, he said, helps prevent that from happening.

Freshman Rep. Joel John, R-Arlington, said he became interested in the issue after meeting a constituent who had served two years in prison “for some petty crimes he committed because he became addicted to painkillers from injuries he sustained on the job.’’ After release, John told colleagues, this man couldn’t find a job and ended up working on a farm for him.

“He was subjected to the mandatory minimum sentences,’’ John said.

“And there were people that spent less time in prison than he did for more serious offenses,’’ the lawmaker continued. “That didn’t seem right to me.’’

John said he sees no reason why a judge, who has met the defendant and examined the circumstances, should be precluded from imposing a sentence that appears more appropriate.

There’s also a financial component to all of this.

The latest figures show more than 37,700 people in the care of the prison system. And the agency’s current budget now exceeds $1.2 billion a year, more than 10% of every dollar to run state government.

“It’s a justice issue, if we save some money that we can reinvest in making the community safe,’’ said Molly Gill, representing Families Against Mandatory Minimums. But Gill, a former prosecutor, said the focus should be on doing what’s right.

“Frankly, I got sick of sending people to prison who didn’t need to be there, and putting people there who didn’t need to be there that long,’’ she said.’’

Not everyone is pleased with the change.

Steve Twist who was the assistant state attorney general during much of the time that lawmakers were tightening up sentencing laws, sent a letter to lawmakers expressing his opposition. He wrote that it would return Arizona to the days of indeterminate sentencing “which result in great disparity, inequality and injustice.’’

“That system was rejected by a bipartisan overwhelming consensus in 1977 and we should not return to the mistakes of the past,’’ Twist said.

That did not impress Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Laveen.

“We live in 2021,’’ he said. “And the people of Arizona have consistently come to us, individually and as a group, and asked us to move forward on criminal justice reform.’’

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk did not appear at the hearing. But entered her own statement into the record in opposition.

“Arizona adopted sentencing ranges to promote uniformity,’’ she wrote. “This bill takes us back to the days when who you are, where you live, and who your sentencing judge is will determine your sentence.’’

And Polk said if lawmakers are concerned about the sentences imposed the answer is to revisit the sentencing framework that judges have to work within, not giving them more discretion.

HB 2319 deals with the problems some released inmates have with getting a job. It says that, with only a handful of exceptions, the conviction of a drug offense cannot be a barrier to getting a state license.

“We know that employment is the key to breaking free of the cycle’’ of people winding up back behind bars,’’ said Dianne McCallister representing the Opportunity Solutions Project. But she said ex-offenders are faced with multiple hurdles to getting a job.

“But Arizona’s regulations should not be one of them,’’ McCallister said. She said there are many jobs that require state licensing, like working as a cosmetologist or at a pest-control firm, where a drug offense should not be a barrier.

There are limits. For example, it still would not allow someone with a criminal record to get a certificate as a teacher, be in certain health profession jobs, or be certified as a peace officer.

The issue of HB 2318 is designed to address situations where prosecutors “stack’’ multiple charges from a single event.

Arizona law always has allowed enhanced sentences for those who are repeat offenders. But what happens, said Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, is that prosecutors combine multiple separate offenses committed on separate occasions into a single trial and then use that seek longer sentences for someone as a repeat offender.

His legislation would preclude that from happening.

Toma got a similar proposal through the legislature in 2019 only to have it vetoed by Gov. Doug Ducey. He said the language in this one is more of a compromise.

The measures approved by the panel still need to be debated by the full House.

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Family mourns teen killed in CG motorcycle accident
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CASA GRANDE — A local family is mourning the death of a son and brother after a fatal motorcycle accident in Casa Grande.

According to Casa Grande Police, at around 5:20 p.m. on Jan. 22, Daniel Brownmiller, 18, was leaving a gas station at Pinal Avenue and Rodeo Road on his motorcycle. He was headed east when a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction attempted to turn into the Rodeo Estates neighborhood. He was unable to stop in time and crashed into the other vehicle. He died at the scene of the accident.

“We were out riding bikes,” said his father, Jeremiah Brownmiller, who was traveling behind Daniel when the accident happened. Brownmiller was following Daniel back to his mother’s house in Coolidge after visiting with him in Casa Grande. He didn’t like Daniel riding his motorcycle back in the dark. “He did everything he could to stop,” he said. Both of them were wearing helmets when the accident happened.

Brownmiller said his son was “turning into an outstanding young man.”

“He was very happy. He loved God and Jesus. He was a hard worker. He had a smile that brightened the whole world,” Brownmiller said.

He said that Daniel had changed since he turned 18 in October. He seemed happier. He was working hard at his job before he had to quit due to some health concerns he had and the pandemic. He liked playing basketball with his brothers and playing video games.

Daniel also liked to help others, Brownmiller said. He was always helping neighbors with their yards, volunteering at food banks and enjoyed helping one older neighbor who had trouble seeing.

“He was turning into such a giving young man,” Brownmiller said. “He was always busy.”

Daniel had talked about joining the military and was thinking of becoming a mechanic in the armed forces, he said.

He enjoyed working on vehicles, Brownmiller said. Daniel had recently purchased a used Mustang, a used truck, a used quad and the used motorcycle he was riding.

Daniel was constantly working on them, Brownmiller said. He liked to tinker with the vehicles and he was good at it. When he wasn’t working on his vehicles, he would work on his mother’s car. He also liked calling up his dad for advice and working with him on the vehicles.

“It was a dream come true for me,” Brownmiller said.

The two had just fixed the engine on the quad and were working to fine-tune it and had been working on the carburetors on the motorcycle. They had replaced the back end of the Mustang a few weeks before and were planning to put in a new transmission.

Daniel also had a great sense of humor, Brownmiller said.

Daniel called him one day when he was working on his truck.

“He told me, ‘Hey Dad, I got the truck started and the good news is that the fire department was able to put out the fire,’” Brownmiller said. “I said ‘What fire!’”

Daniel hadn’t tightened down one of the fuel lines in the engine when he was working on it and it had spilled gasoline on the engine when he tried to start it, Brownmiller said. He found the line and tightened it down properly but didn’t realize there was gasoline on the engine. When he tried starting the engine again, the fuel caught fire. The fire department quickly put out the fire.

Like some men his age, Daniel also liked to race, Brownmiller said.

“I spoke to him about it, like I speak to all my kids,” Brownmiller said. “I told him slow down, enjoy the ride.”

Brownmiller said he does not fault the other driver and has no hard feelings toward him. It was a tragic accident, he said.

The family is trying to raise money for Daniel’s celebration of life on GoFundMe. So far the family has raised nearly $5,000 of their $7,000 goal. The family’s GoFundMe page can be found here: https://gofund.me/e760e014.