An accident involving a bicyclist crash April 27 resulted in traffic backing up on State Route 179 for more than a mile.

The gridlock caused one fire station responding to ask for help because due to difficulty getting through the congestion on the newly constructed single-lane highway.

Sedona_FireSedona Fire District Public Information Officer Gary Johnson said the gridlock was caused by motorists not pulling to the edge of the roadway to let emergency crews pass.

He said some drivers either failed to pull into bike lanes or did not leave enough room from the vehicle in front of them to maneuver.

Johnson also said the hard curbs installed during the State Route 179 project prevented a few motorists from pulling off to the side of the road.

When the State Route 179 project started a few years ago, the fire district had concerns, including the roundabouts slowing response times and not having enough room to safely pass waiting vehicles.

Johnson said because of these issues, emergency crews need to adjust accordingly.

Johnson said time will tell when the road is completed whether it will improve or negatively impact response times from emergency vehicles.

“Once it became apparent the crew was to be delayed, they reached Station No. 4 [and asked] them to respond,” he said.

He said traffic was forced to stop because the injured cyclist was lying in the middle of the road with serious injuries.

Johnson said in this instance, roadway construction in-progress was not the problem because the work at the accident location had already been finished.

Johnson said emergencies on this roadway are a little challenging.

“When you deal with construction, there are some difficulties from time to time, but that is what you expect,” he said.

He added Arizona Depart-ment of Transportation employees worked with them and have tried to be proactive during emergency responses.

ADOT State Route 179 Project Manager Carl Burkhalter said the April 27 gridlock had nothing to do with construction, adding crews shut down the road to deal with the injured cyclist.

“Anytime there is an accident, they close down the road,” Burkhalter said, mentioning emergency crews do the same thing on interstates.

He added ADOT crews do what they can to accommodate emergency crews.

Several police officers and a few members of the public implored the Sedona City Council on Tuesday, April 27, to do the right thing and hire back the two police sergeants who were terminated April 9 to save the city about $240,000.

Sedona City Manager Tim ErnsterCity Manager Tim Ernster said this is his decision to make, not the council’s.

Jackie McQuaid, a Sedona patrol officer, told council how important Walt Spokes and Dave Zanot were to the department, and she questioned why their pay was the primary reason the two sergeants were terminated.

“They made a difference in this community,” she said, adding the department has been told there is a possibility two more officers could be on the chopping block.

Spokes also questioned how the terminations were done.

Ernster said the two sergeants were given 90-day severance packages from the city and the terminated employees will also keep their insurance through the end of the year at no additional cost.

Carl Wiseman, a 30-year Sedona resident, said he is terribly disappointed in the city’s decision to terminate the two sergeants.

John Stair, a representative from the police union, traveled from Phoenix to tell the council it has the authority to make things right and to give the jobs back to the sergeants.

Zanot, who worked for the Sedona Police Department for more than 21 years, said what happened to him and Spokes opposed the city values they worked for in serving the community.

“The City Council has a [chance] to make this right,” he said. “One day everything I did for the city and what they did for me is being questioned. I just hope and pray that you realize a terrible wrong was done.”

SPD Sgt. Kevin Ahern said he and his officers now fear for their jobs.

“Let’s bring our people back,” he said, and some decisions the department is making will come back to bite the city.

Interim Police Chief Jim Driscoll said the police department needed to come up with a savings of $240,000, and he was faced with terminating the two sergeants or letting four patrol officers go. The other option was terminating three patrol officers and a dispatcher.

He said the goal with the terminations was to keep the same number of officers on the streets. The department still has four sergeants on the force.

Driscoll added the ratio of one sergeant for every three officers was way too high, and the current ratio of one sergeant for every five officers is just right.

In a press release, Ernster stated both terminated sergeants are fully vested and eligible to retire within the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System.

Zanot had 21.5 years of law enforcement service, and Spokes was a police officer for 22 years, the last 19 in Sedona.

In a fact sheet the city provided, it stated the first priority for reductions in the police department was to maintain officer levels  and feet on the street, and retain individuals with particular skill sets and training to provide the highest level of public safety in Sedona.

It also stated the proposed police department budget represents 20 percent of the city’s operating costs, higher than any other city department, and the number of officers in the last four years has not decreased.

Sedona City Manager Tim Ernster and Interim Sedona Police Chief Jim Driscoll will visit Corona, Calif., on Sunday, May 2, to meet with the community and city staff to gauge their thoughts on a police captain Sedona is interested in hiring to be its police chief.

raymondcotaOn Friday, April 23, the city of Sedona selected Raymond Cota as its preferred choice for the Sedona Police Department police chief position.

Cota, when reached by phone Monday, April 26, said he is extremely fortunate to be the front runner for the Sedona police chief position.

He said Sedona is an exciting and vibrant community, and added he is excited to have this opportunity.

Cota said he enjoyed meeting the public, city officials and members of the police department during his visit to Sedona last week.

“I am looking forward to getting through the final process,” Cota said.

He said the Corona and Sedona police departments are similar in how officers react and interact with the community.

“I think it will be similar to what I am used to,” he said, adding he has been looking into communities with police chief openings.

Cota said he visited Sedona several years ago and returned a few weeks ago to see if Sedona was still the same type of city he remembered.

The police captain said he has been watching the status of the immigration bill Gov. Jan Brewer signed last week. He said there needs to be a lot of interpretation on what it means to law enforcement.

“It certainly is something that is important to the entire community,” Cota said.

Ernster said the city was fortunate to have four strong candidates compete in the final interview process.

He said after comments were reviewed from interviews with an administrative panel, a community “Blue Ribbon Panel,” a staff lunch and a public meet and greet, a clear preference emerged.

Cota has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, and his career includes supervising, managing and commanding all functions of a police department.

Cota earned a bachelor’s in public administration from the University of La Verne in California and completed public administration graduate studies at California State University, San Bernardino.

He is also a graduate of the FBI National Academy, the Department of Justice Drug Unit Commanders Academy and the Los Angeles Police Department West Point Leadership Program.

His community involvement includes board membership for service organizations such as YMCA and Kiwanis.

As a founding board member of the Corona Police At Risk Children Angel Foundation and Corona Police Activities League, he established numerous relationships within the community to gain monetary support and volunteer assistance for nonprofit youth service organizations.

Cota said if he is offered and accepts the Sedona police chief position, he anticipates starting the job in about two months.

The Flagstaff Police Department found assistant city editor of the Arizona Daily Sun newspaper, reported missing April 19, in Sacramento, Calif.

Timothy Lawrence Hendricks, aka Larry Hendricks, was last seenlarry_hendricks by his wife on April 19, leaving their east Flagstaff home.

Hendricks left his home at approximately 8 a.m., for the Arizona Daily Sun newsroom, but never arrived and has not been seen or heard from since.

Police had no indication of his whereabouts, according to Lt. Ken Koch, until he was contact by police in California on Tuesday, April 27. Police gave no indication why Hendricks disappeared and remained out of contact for a full week.

Hendricks’ family has been notified of his location and status.

For additional information, please contact Koch at 214-2538.

bike_crashA lone bicycle accident caused major traffic delays on State Route 179 on Tuesday, April 27.

At 11:07, a 59-year-old man lost control of his bicycle and crashed in the roadway along the bifurcated portion of northbound State Route 179 between mileposts 309 and 310, according to Gary Johnson, Sedona Fire District’s public information officer.

The area was formerly known as “the roller coaster” before the recent road construction bifurcated, widened and leveled the roadway, Johnson said.

The man, who was not wearing a helmet, suffered potential life-threatening injuries. He was airlifted by Native Air to Flagstaff Medical Center, Johnson said.

As I stood at the Verde Lynx bus stop on Mingus Avenue where it meets Main Street in Cottonwood, a man in a baseball cap, his curly dark hair sticking out from underneath, leaned against a nearby wall munching on chips from a bag he bought at the gas station.

reporters_notebook_cmykThere were three of us waiting for a ride into Sedona to begin our work day. The schedule promised to have us in Uptown three minutes before 8 a.m., the start of work for most people.

The driver, Jack Bartolini, greeted everyone who came on board, most by name. Regulars showed him their monthly pass, others dropped $2 in the fare meter, which looks much the same as the one on the city buses I used to ride to and from work in Fort Wayne, Ind., back in the late 1960s.

This one didn’t make the “clink, clink, clink” sound like the old ones, but then the ride was only a dime or quarter, depending on whether you were a child or an adult.

Several of the passengers knew each other. They rode the Lynx every day together, and conversations continued throughout the trip.

One man sat in the front seat and talked with Bartolini about the weather and world events, a conversation they had shared on a previous day. A woman in the seat next to me took the opportunity to apply her makeup, and a man in the back read a book.

As I leaned against the window in the fabric seat, with a seat belt — every seat had one — I sipped my coffee, watched the Verde Valley roll by and even crossed my legs, something not recommended when driving. In fact, none of what I did is possible when driving.

In the distance, five hot-air balloons were making their way into the sky, as they do most days, but it was nice to just watch them. Bartolini was taking care of the driving and watching the traffic.

Seven of us rode the bus on its second run of the day to Sedona; Bartolini said it is much more crowded at the 6 a.m. run.

“That’s when a lot of the people who have service jobs in Sedona need to get to work,” Bartolini said.

lynx-system-map-logowebA Verde Lynx leaves Garrison Park in Cottonwood every hour and 15 minutes Monday through Saturday beginning at 6 a.m. The last bus leaves at 4 p.m. The returns begin at 6:45 a.m. at the Sedona Municipal Parking lot and the last Lynx leaves there at 6:15 p.m. The Verde Lynx conducts eight round trips per day connecting Cottonwood, West Sedona and Uptown.

According to the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority — of which the Verde Lynx is a member — service between Cottonwood and Sedona, which began expanded commuter service in November, has seen consistent monthly increases in ridership and is transporting as many as 95 passengers on some weekdays.

The first stop after leaving Cottonwood was in West Sedona at Upper Red Rock Loop Road where the youngest of the passengers got off to go to classes at Sedona Red Rock High School. The other passengers wished him well with, “Study hard,” and “Have a great day.”

Bartolini picked up a passenger at Foothills Drive, dropped two off at Stutz Bearcat and another at Sunset Drive. The man who got on at Foothills got off at Soldier Pass Road. From there we went to Tlaquepaque and then the Poco Diablo Resort where Bartolini turned around and headed to Uptown, but first stopped to pick up a passenger at the Hillside Sedona shops and galleries.

He dropped me off at 7:57 a.m. [the promised time] at the Lynx stop on Jordan Road near Mesquite Avenue, ½-block from the Sedona Red Rock News office, where I work as the feature writer.

This was the first time I’d taken a bus to work in 40 years. The ride was enjoyable and relaxed, with only one challenge. After so many years of driving to and from work, I felt a little naked not being behind the wheel. Next time I’ll have to bring my knitting so my hands have something to keep them busy.

Economically, for me, riding the Verde Lynx the 22 miles into Uptown is a savings even at $2 one way. My car gets about 22 miles per gallon, so at $3.85 per gallon for gasoline, I saved about $1.85. That’s enough for coffee.

By the way, I rode the Verde Lynx incognito to experience what it was like but Bartolini recognized me about halfway through the trip. I interviewed his wife, Beth Bartolini, a few months ago for my “At Random” column.

Less than five residents showed up to meet the Sedona Police Department police chief candidates in the City Council Chambers on Wednesday, April 21.

policechiefopenhouse2Two of the six finalists pulled their names from consideration for the position prior to the event, said Human Resources Director Tori Ward.

Casa Grande Deputy Chief Don Daniel and Ronald Everett, the police chief for the New Braunfels Police Department in Texas, withdrew.

The remaining candidates — Corona Police Department Capt. Raymond Cota from California; Franklin Township, N.J., Police Chief Craig Novick; Salt River Pima/Maricopa Indian Community Capt. Richard Clore; and Paul Barrows, a captain with the West Des Moines Police Department in Iowa — met with two five-member focus groups Thursday, April 22.

City Manager Tim Ernster said the hope is for one candidate to emerge as a front runner by Thursday night. City officials would then visit the city or town where the candidate now works to talk to that community.

policechiefopenhouse1Ernster said the meet and greet was arranged so the community could talk to the candidates, and mentioned there are a lot of different players in this process.

Sandy Moriarty, one of the few residents who attended the meet and greet, said she came to meet the candidates because she wants to know who could be working for the city.

She said the only criteria she has is for the new police chief to do a good job, adding what Sedona does not want is another Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Cottonwood Police Department Chief Jody Fanning attended to get a glimpse of the candidates, saying it is important to get to know them since the two departments often work together. Fanning said he had a working relationship with former Sedona Police Chief Joe Vernier.

policechiefopenhouse0Former Vice Mayor Judith Keane said she attended the open house because the position is an extremely important one for the community, and she wanted to see for herself what the candidates bring to the table.

Ward said she was a little disappointed with the turnout, and she was hoping for about 50 people to show up at some time during the two-hour open house.

Ward said the two focus groups consisted of community members, including Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jennifer Wesselhoff, Sedona-Oak Creek School District Superintendent Mike Aylstock and other public officials including Vernier, Interim Police Chief Jim Driscoll, Ernster and Assistant City Manager Alison Zelms.

Ward said the plan was for the two focus groups to meet at the end of Thursday to compare notes to help Ernster come to a decision.

Each of the eight employees the city of Sedona laid off April 9 could now be suffering financially since most of them have mortgages or rent, auto payments, utility bills and other monthly payments.

sgt_walt_spokesWalt Spokes, a police sergeant, received his walking papers after working with the Sedona Police Department for 19 years.

He said what upsets him is he and fellow officers were lied to when most city employees knew cuts were coming.

“We were told that we were going to be OK,” he said. “That obviously was a complete lie.”

Interim Police Chief Jim Driscoll said he told staff there probably would be no layoffs because the department could look at other items to cut. However, he added, employees were told there was no guarantee.

Now, Spokes wonders if he and his wife will be able to remain in Sedona, where home prices are more expensive than most locations in the Verde Valley.

Spokes was called by Driscoll at 6 a.m., April 9, requesting he come in an hour early so the two could speak. After being assured he was not in any trouble, he walked into the police chief’s office and was immediately terminated for what he said was directly related to his high salary.

“It was devastating,” he said, adding he expected more from the city he has called home and worked with for the past two decades.

Assistant City Manager Alison Zelms said the city looked at ways to decrease its budget with the least impact to services. She added the City Manager’s Office and the department heads made the cuts based on a variety of factors, including performance reviews and the impact to the community,

“I made a commitment to this community,” he said. “My law enforcement career is over with.”

Spokes said it is going to take him a long time to come to grips with what happened, mentioning he has trouble talking about the situation with acquaintances because of his emotions.

Spokes said he likely will have to put his Sedona home up for sale because it is now unaffordable. He added now is the worst time to do so because he will not receive what it’s worth due to the current housing market.

Spokes was going to fund or help fund his son’s college education and no longer thinks he will be able to do this either.

Plans of taking children to Idaho for a camping trip this summer, which he has done numerous times, also will not happen. He added he was going to take some time off to travel with the Sedona Chemistry Club, which he now cannot afford.

The former police sergeant said he thought his position with the police department was secure, partly because of the management degree he earned that allowed him to be promoted several years ago.

Spokes said he will be OK for a few months because of vacation time he built up, but knows he must find a job, and added he cannot be selective.

He said the financial plight of his family could get much worse in a few days since his wife, a third-grade teacher for the Sedona-Oak Creek School District, could receive her walking papers, too.

Spokes planned to retire in five years, and estimates his termination cost him close to $500,000. Since he fell one year short of the 20 years to be vested, he is in a much tougher situation.

“We would have a hard time to stay in Sedona,” he said. “I can’t afford to live without it.”

Although Spokes is appealing his termination, he said his days working in law enforcement are over because of his age and the on-the-job injuries he received in 2002. “Being a police officer is who I am,” Spokes said. “Sedona has been a good life, and I am sorry it is going to end.”

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