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Blueberry season is in full swing

COQUILLE — Blueberry season has begun, and Coos County U-pick farms are flooded with locals and tourists seeking out the sweet treasures straight from the bush.

Hazen’s Riverside Blueberry Farm in Coquille opened up its farm last Thursday, and has seen a constant flow of visitors coming to berry pick.

Nicholas Johnson / NICHOLAS A. JOHNSON The World 

Valerie Caskey gets down on the ground to find the best blueberries at Hazen’s Riverside Blueberry Farm in Coquille. 

“I think this is our 16th season,” blueberry farm owner Wally Hazen said. “We originally bought the property as horse property and the berries were all extra, but we’ve been working with it to develop a pretty good U-pick system.”

Blueberry season usually lasts anywhere between three-to-five weeks each summer. According to Hazen, his plants are producing a very high yield of blueberries this year, and he believes that the season could last as long as six weeks.  

“I do think this season will last a little longer, it could go five to six. What may change that is if the weather turns warm. When the weather gets warmer it causes the berries to ripen really quickly," Hazen said. 

Many people find the berry picking to be fun and even therapeutic. Some even have different methods of picking to ensure they find the type of berries that they like to eat, whether that small tart berries or plump sweet berries.

“I look for the nice big, fat juicy blueberries,” Lori Shanks said.

One woman, Valerie Caskey, who was out picking said she likes to roll the berries gently in her hands and if they easily come off the branch she knows they are ready.

Nicholas Johnson / NICHOLAS A. JOHNSON The World 

Blueberry season started at Hazen’s Riverside Blueberry Farm in Coquille last Thursday, and is expected to continue for the next month or so. 

“If you just roll them in your hand and they come off easily then they’re ready to go. I could be making that up. Every bush has a different flavor so I taste all of them and find a bush with a flavor I like,” Caskey said.

Hazen says the best way to eat the berries is in a handful of about four or five at a time, so that you can really get all the flavor of the berries.

“A lot of people eat them one at a time, but you really need to eat about four or five at once to get that blend of the tart and sweet,” Hazen said.

All of Hazen’s blueberries are distributed locally in the Coos County area. He even provides the Coos Bay School District with fresh blueberries for its lunch program.

“The kids are getting local, fresh, blueberries. We have wholesale places out going into Coquille and to day-ship into Coos Bay. Sixteen years ago we were hauling a lot of our berries up to Salem to the processor. It was just a lot of work, so we’ve since developed a pretty good U-pick program. I sell everything in this area now. Nothing goes to Roseburg or Salem anymore,” Hazen said.

After daring rescue, entire Thai soccer team out of cave

MAE SAI, Thailand — A daring rescue mission in the treacherous confines of a flooded cave in northern Thailand has saved all 12 boys and their soccer coach who were trapped deep within the labyrinth, ending a grueling 18-day ordeal that claimed the life of an experienced volunteer diver and riveted people around the world.

Thailand's Navy SEALs, who were central to the rescue effort, said on their Facebook page that the remaining four boys and their 25-year-old coach were all brought out safely Tuesday. Eight of the boys were rescued by a team of Thai and international divers on Sunday and Monday.

"We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what. All the thirteen Wild Boars are now out of the cave," the SEALs said, referring to the name of the boys' soccer team. "Everyone is safe."

They said they were waiting for a medic and three SEALs who had stayed with the boys in their dark refuge deep inside the cave complex to come out.

Cheers erupted at a local government office where dozens of volunteers and journalists were awaiting news of whether the intricate and high-risk rescue mission had succeeded. Helicopters taking the boys to a hospital roared overhead.

People on the street cheered and clapped when ambulances ferrying the boys arrived at the hospital in Chiang Rai city.

Payap Maiming, 40, who helped provide food and necessities to rescue workers and journalists, said a "miracle" had happened.

"I'm happy for Thais all over the country, for the people of Mae Sai, and actually just everyone in the world because every news channel has presented this story and this is what we have been waiting for," she said. Mae Sai is the district where the cave is located, in the northern part of Chiang Rai province, near the border with Myanmar.

"It's really a miracle," Payap said. "It's hope and faith that has brought us this success."

The plight of the boys and their coach has captivated Thailand and much of the world — from the heart-sinking news that they were missing to the first flickering video of the huddle of anxious yet smiling boys when they were found 10 days later by a pair of British divers. They were trapped in the Tham Luan Nang Non cave on June 23, when they were exploring it after a soccer practice and it became flooded by monsoon rains.

Each of the boys, ages 11 to 16 and with no diving experience, was guided out by a pair of divers in three days of intricate and high-stakes operations. The route, in some places just a crawl space, had oxygen canisters positioned at regular intervals to refresh each team's air supply.

Highlighting the dangers, a former Thai navy SEAL died Friday while replenishing the canisters.

Cave diving experts had warned it was potentially too risky to dive the youngsters out.

But Thai officials, acutely aware that the boys could be trapped for months by monsoon rains that would swell waters in the cave system, seized a window of opportunity provided by relatively mild weather. A massive water pumping effort also made the winding cave more navigable. The confidence of the diving team, and expertise specific to the cave, grew after its first successful mission.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, speaking before the final rescue was completed, said the boys were given an anti-anxiety medication to help with their perilous removal from the cave.

Asked at a weekly press conference Tuesday in Bangkok if the boys had been sedated, Prayuth said: "Who would chloroform them? If they're chloroformed, how could they come out? It's called anxiolytic, something to make them not excited, not stressed."

Prayuth said the Tham Luan Nang Non cave would be closed for some time to make it safe for visitors.

The eight boys brought out by divers on Sunday and Monday were doing well and were in good spirits, a senior health official said. There were given a treat Tuesday: bread with chocolate spread that they'd requested.

Jedsada Chokdumrongsuk, permanent secretary at the Public Health Ministry, said the first four boys rescued were able to eat normal food, though they couldn't yet take the spicy dishes favored by many Thais.

Two of the boys possibly have a lung infection but all eight are generally "healthy and smiling," he said.

"The kids are footballers so they have high immune systems," Jedsada said. "Everyone is in high spirits and are happy to get out. But we will have a psychiatrist to evaluate them."

It could be at least seven days before they can be released from the hospital, Jedsada told a news conference.

Family members have seen at least some of the boys from behind a glass isolation barrier.

It was clear doctors were taking a cautious approach. Jedsada said they were uncertain what type of infections the boys could face "because we have never experienced this kind of issue from a deep cave."

If medical tests show no dangers, after another two days, parents will be able to enter the isolation area dressed in sterilized clothing and staying 2 yards away from the boys, said Tosthep Bunthong, a public health official.

Ben Curtis 

Serena Williams of the United States returns the ball to Italy's Camila Giorgi, during their women's singles quarterfinals match at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, in London, Tuesday July 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

UPDATED: Former North Bend High School Principal Bill Lucero fights back
Former NBHS principal threatens to sue the district for his job back

NORTH BEND — North Bend Middle School Vice Principal Bill Lucero is fighting back against the North Bend School District and the Oregon Department of Education.

He is not only calling for the initial investigation by the Oregon Department of Education to be put in question, but is also shining a light on the district for using him as a scapegoat.

His attorneys, Roland Iparraguirre and Shannon Rickard, sent a letter to the North Bend School District demanding Lucero’s job back at the high school, as well as damages paid.

Bill Lucero's letter to North Bend School District

“There was no lawful basis for removing Mr. Lucero as NBHS principal, and Mr. Lucero wishes to remain principal at NBHS,” read the June 12 letter. “We are currently evaluating any and all claims against the District for damages under state and federal law.”

According to the letter, those damages include economic and non-economic damages where Lucero “has suffered, among other things, severe emotional distress, mental anguish, the effects of stress on his mental and physical health, damage to his relationships, and damage to his reputation.”

“We are prepared to pursue all claims,” the letter promised, adding that “should litigation become necessary, we will seek attorneys’ fees and costs.”

In a Tuesday morning statement, Iparraguirre made clear that their focus is on the North Bend School District's treatment of Lucero, along with concern over ODE's investigation.

"We take no issue with the ACLU because they are simply advocating for their client the way advocates are supposed to," he said. "We can't fault an advocate. It was the district, with all the information they had, that decided to sacrifice Mr. Lucero's reputation and profession, and ODE's troubling investigation. . . In our experience, ODE has demonstrated an inability to conduct fair and unbiased investigations."

The ODE investigation

The letter illustrated how the district failed to stand up for Lucero during the course of ODE’s investigation, which revealed serious accusations from a teacher who compared same-sex marriage to bestiality, discrimination against LGBTQ students, and at least one student who was forced to read the Bible for punishment.

“We are carefully reviewing and analyzing the District’s actions in response to the ACLU and ODE,” the letter stated. “It is important to note, at the outset, that we are deeply troubled by the District’s actions. The more documents we review and analyze, the more concern we have that the District’s actions were unlawful and have significantly and irreparably harmed Mr. Lucero.”

According to the letter, the District was aware that ODE allegedly “conducted an unfair, incomplete, and biased investigation motivated by political outcomes instead of a search for the truth.”

“When given the opportunity to set the record straight and to challenge the allegations, the District chose to unlawfully sacrifice Mr. Lucero in an attempt to give the District a free pass on allegations of its own unlawful actions,” the letter said. “By signing a written settlement agreement to remove Mr. Lucero as NBHS principal, the District punished Mr. Lucero without just cause and without due process.”

Not only that, but the letter pointed out that the district should have also known the accusations made by the ACLU of Oregon “were false, inaccurate, and misleading.”

According to the letter, when the ACLU of Oregon communicated with the District, it allegedly informed them that because Lucero admitted to violating Oregon law in regards to using the Bible as punishment, it would result in “the automatic withholding, probably without return, of the about $32 million of its $38 million budget. They (District) just have to lose on the proselytization law to lose all of their state funding.”

The settlements were signed the same day.

It was the ACLU of Oregon’s settlement that resulted in Lucero’s demotion, five years of ODE oversight at the district, and included the district to work with the ACLU on creating new policies to avoid future discrimination, among other settlement agreements.

Forced to stay silent

Lucero’s attorneys wrote in the letter that the district and its attorneys “worked in concert with each other to violate Mr. Lucero’s rights in an effort to protect the District.”

Compounding that was “directives from District staff, District attorneys, and Brad Bixler (District HR Director/Communications Specialist) prohibiting him from defending himself publicly,” the letter stated.

After working in the district for 31 years, “the District unlawfully exchanged Mr. Lucero’s reputation, profession, and health, for protection against its own misdeeds, all while pretending that the District and its attorneys were representing Mr. Lucero’s interest,” the letter stated, adding that this was made worse when the district repeatedly told Lucero “not to say anything to defend himself.”

In fact The World had reached out to Lucero on numerous occasions for comment, but he was unable to provide any sort of statement.

“By entering into the settlements with the ACLU to punish only Mr. Lucero, and then claiming its pleasure with that outcome, the District essentially confirmed the accusations against Mr. Lucero, thus irreparably and permanently damaging him,” the letter read.

Of course, even as the June 12 letter stated, Lucero never denied having a student read the Bible.

His attorney’s obtained a statement from Student 3, who said, “I was pulled out of the hallway for using foul language and yelling. My mother was called and came to the school. I was taken to Mr. Lucero’s office to discuss my behavior. I was asked to read a verse from the Bible that had to do with the slip of your tongue and how words affect people. This incident in no way was ever about my sexuality.”

The World interviewed a previous student who also alleged to being forced to read the Bible for punishment and then encountered a current student during the student-led walkout against Lucero’s demotion who said he also had to read the same verse about “the slip of your tongue.”

Even though Lucero has confirmed Student 3’s account to ODE, “Nonetheless, on August 23, 2017, the attorney for the District incorrectly asserted to ODE that Mr. Lucero denied this accusation, thereby damaging Mr. Lucero’s credibility with ODE and further damaging Mr. Lucero’s reputation.”

“The principal’s son”

One of the most concerning accusations made by Lucero’s attorneys is that even though his son was implicated in ODE’s investigation, he was allegedly never interviewed.

The letter names Brody Lucero, who was accused by former NBHS student Hailey Smith of yelling homophobic slurs at her and Liv Funk before driving close to them.

After the district investigated, Bill Lucero was instructed to speak with his son.

“Mr. Lucero complied . . . and spoke with Brody Lucero, who adamantly denied this incident ever happened,” the letter stated. “Many months later, after the District failed to respond to (Hailey) Smith’s complaint in a timely manner, ODE performed its own investigation. . . .

“ODE interviewed Olivia Funk and (Hailey) Smith, but surprisingly, made no request to speak with Brody Lucero. How ODE made factual findings about this incident without bothering to interview Body Lucero is baffling and, is a move that certainly foreclosed any opportunity for the ODE investigator to assess the credibility of all parties involved.”

Iparraguirre and Rickard instructed the District to respond within two weeks or else litigation would begin. The World has asked if there has been any action taken either way, but is still waiting on an answer.

They also requested a copy of Lucero’s personnel file, including performance evaluations while he worked as principal at NBHS, and copies of the district’s files on the ACLU accusations and ODE’s investigation, both against Lucero and the district.

“It will be interesting, however, to evaluate whether the District appropriately followed its own process, policies, and protocols,” the letter read.

The World has reached out to the district, the ACLU of Oregon, and ODE for comment. Though the ACLU of Oregon and ODE are working on statements, there has been no response from the district.

In addition, The World requested from the District what Lucero's salary is following his demotion. When the district refused to provide that salary information, which is funded by taxpayers, The World filed a Freedom of Information Act request.

That FOIA is expected to be filled by Tuesday, July 10.

Trump taps Kavanaugh

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump chose Brett Kavanaugh, a politically connected conservative judge, for the Supreme Court Monday night, setting up a ferocious confirmation battle with Democrats as he seeks to shift the nation's highest court further to the right.

A favorite of the Republican legal establishment in Washington, Kavanaugh, 53, is a former law clerk for retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Like Trump's first nominee last year, Justice Neil Gorsuch, Kavanaugh would be a young addition who could help remake the court for decades to come with rulings that could restrict abortion, expand gun rights and roll back key parts of Obamacare.

"There is no one in America more qualified for this position and no one more deserving," said Trump in his prime-time televised address from the White House, calling Kavanaugh "one of the sharpest legal minds of our time."

With Kavanaugh, Trump is replacing a swing vote on the nine-member court with a staunch conservative. Kavanaugh, who serves on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, is expected to be less receptive to abortion and gay rights than Kennedy was. He also has taken an expansive view of executive power and has favored limits on investigating the president.

Speaking at the White House, Kavanaugh pledged to preserve the Constitution and said that "a judge must be independent and must interpret the law, not make the law. A judge must interpret the Constitution as written."

A senior White House official said Trump made his decision on the nomination Sunday evening, then phoned Kavanaugh to inform him. The official said Trump decided on Kavanaugh because of his large body of jurisprudence cited by other courts, describing him as a judge that other judges read.

Top contenders had included federal appeals judges Raymond Kethledge, Amy Coney Barrett and Thomas Hardiman.

Some conservatives have expressed concerns about Kavanaugh, questioning his commitment to social issues like abortion and noting his time serving under President George W. Bush as evidence he is a more establishment choice. But his supporters have cited his experience and wide range of legal opinions.

With Democrats determined to vigorously oppose Trump's choice, the Senate confirmation battle is expected to dominate the months leading up to November's midterm elections. Senate Republicans hold only a 51-49 majority, leaving them hardly any margin if Democrats hold the line. Democratic senators running for re-election in states Trump carried in 2016 will face pressure to back his nominee.

Some Republican senators favored other options. Rand Paul of Kentucky had expressed concerns but tweeted that he looked forward to meeting with Kavanaugh "with an open mind."

Democrats and liberal advocacy groups quickly lined up in opposition. Signaling the fight ahead on abortion rights, Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement: "There's no way to sugarcoat it: With this nomination, the constitutional right to access safe, legal abortion in this country is on the line.

Democrats have turned their attention to pressuring two Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, to oppose any nominee who threatens Roe v. Wade. The two have supported access to abortion services.

Kavanaugh is likely to be more conservative than Justice Kennedy on a range of social issues. At the top of that list is abortion. A more conservative majority could be more willing to uphold state restrictions on abortion, if not overturn the 45-year-old landmark Roe v. Wade decision that established a woman's constitutional right.

Kennedy's replacement also could be more willing to allow states to carry out executions and could support undoing earlier court holdings in the areas of racial discrimination in housing and the workplace. Kennedy provided a decisive vote in 2015 on an important fair housing case.

Kavanaugh's many written opinions provide insight into his thinking and also will be fodder for Senate Democrats who will seek to block his confirmation. He has written roughly 300 opinions as a judge, authored several law journal articles, regularly taught law school classes and spoken frequently in public.

Kavanaugh's views on presidential power and abortion are expected to draw particular attention in his confirmation hearing. Drawing on his experience working on the Clinton investigation and then in the Bush White House, he wrote in a 2009 law review article that he favored exempting presidents from facing both civil suits and criminal investigations, including indictment, while in office. That view has particular relevance as special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign played any role in a foreign interference plot.