Cases put spotlight on local law enforcement agencies; Plumas County can be proud

Three cases in the news this week put Plumas County’s law enforcement in the spotlight: the People magazine coverage of the Keddie murders; the one-year anniversary of the rescue of an abused child; and the parole hearing for a convicted murderer. And all three cases shine favorably on our local agencies.

Let’s begin with the Keddie murders that have gone unsolved for 35 years. When Sheriff Greg Hagwood took office he used his new position to renew the investigation. He had known the victims as a high school student and he, along with the rest of the community, remained haunted by the brutality of the crime. People magazine spent months working on its story and television show, exposing the decades-old slayings to an entirely new audience of viewers. Hagwood, who has received many requests for in-depth stories and television shows, chose People because of the wide audience it could capture. He doesn’t plan to do more because of limited resources and knowing that People has cast a wide net for new information on the case.

And it’s precisely because of those limited resources that not all of the responses to Hagwood’s investigation into the Keddie murders have been positive. “Some people say, ‘Let it go; it’s a waste of time,’” Hagwood said. “But for those children who grew up without a mother or their siblings, time doesn’t toll on that pain.” We like his response. So often crimes occur and go unsolved. People move on with their lives. But the victims’ friends and families face lives that are forever altered; forever filled with questions. We applaud the sheriff’s philosophy and his efforts.

The second case, the rescue of the abused and battered 9-year-old girl, is fresher. One year ago on Dec. 11, she was rescued from a locked car by the sheriff’s office and social services. Their response undoubtedly saved her life. Social Services Director Elliot Smart said he reminded his staff of that fact as the anniversary approached and told them that every year as Christmas nears they will remember that they saved a life. His department of Child Protective Services continues to oversee the child’s wellbeing. They should be applauded for their efforts then and now.

Unfortunately her two younger siblings weren’t saved; their bodies were found in a storage unit in Redding. The children’s aunt, Tami Joy Huntsman, and her companion, Gonzalo Curiel, were arrested on a host of charges including murder. Because the abuse occurred in Salinas, the accused will be prosecuted in Monterey County. Prosecutors there have lauded Plumas County — from the sheriff to the district attorney to child protective services — for their work on this case. It’s difficult not to speculate that if Plumas County Sheriff’s personnel and child protection workers had responded to the child welfare calls in Monterey County, something could have been done sooner to protect the children.

And finally, there is the parole hearing for Darrell Welch who is serving a 34-years to life sentence for the murder of 30-year-old Stephen Kordalewski on May 16, 1991. District Attorney David Hollister has committed to attending hearings such as this one scheduled for Dec. 21 as they occur across the state. “I make an effort to attend every ‘lifer’ hearing,” said Hollister. “I recognize the importance of those hearings for the surviving family members and the community.”

In all of these cases what shines is our local officials’ work. They exemplify a commitment to serving this community, pursuing justice and ensuring that victims aren’t forgotten.