A Lennox school board member is under fire for reportedly pulling strings to allow her daughter to participate in her high school commencement ceremony even though she did not earn nearly enough credits to walk the stage this past weekend.
Julian Ruiz is an English speaker who doesn't know a word of Spanish or any other foreign language. Yet when the 7-year-old entered kindergarten in Torrance three years ago, he was classified as an English learner - a student not fluent in English. His mother says he is trapped in the school district's English Language Development program, giving him a label he doesn't deserve.
The Lennox electorate effectively fired the two incumbents — Marisol Cruz and Sonia Saldana — who were part of the three-member majority that brought about much controversial change.
In the latest twist of a saga that has roiled on all year, the embattled superintendent of the Lennox School District has written a letter accusing two school board members — once her two closest supporters — of overstepping their authority by trying to make personnel decisions over her objections and without the authority of the board majority.
Principal claims he was harassed by two school board members who demanded to be taken to Disneyland in the same bus as the students on grad nite.
Melanie Perez wishes she could have played the saxophone. Octavio Reyes would have liked to take a computer science class. Both students at San Pedro High School say they can't sign up for these electives because, at some point in their school careers, they were stuck having to take remedial classes for English learners - even though both speak English fluently and have performed reasonably well on English tests.
East Bay Press Club, Light feature, 3rd place, 2002
For love of his life, Fremont man risked everything: He met her during Vietnam War — and couldn’t let go
FREMONT — You can’t talk sense into a young man in love.
But John Kangas was more than just smitten by the woman from the Philippines he met during the Vietnam War. He was hypnotized.
So obsessed was Kangas with finding and marrying Cristita Sampaga that –after serving his time in the war — he re-enlisted. It didn’t matter that the young Marine didn’t know where she lived. And it didn’t matter that she was completely unaware of his intentions.
More than three decades later, Kangas, now 59, recalls how he hurdled obstacle after obstacle in an attempt to find, court and marry the woman who, as they celebrate Valentine’s Day today, has been his wife for 32 years. He sneaked on planes, criss-crossed the Pacific, disobeyed orders and even cheated death.
But it was worth it, he says. Today, the couple lives in a home on Mildred Drive. They have four children, two of whom still live at home, and are raising five grandchildren. This is the story of how they were married, as they remember it.
It started as an epiphany in 1963. Kangas, having returned from duty in Vietnam, was in his barracks in Jacksonville, Fla. In the middle of a bitter divorce, he had just hung up the phone after talking to his lawyer. “I knew I wanted to get married again,” he recalls. “So I thought: ‘What qualities am I looking for?'”
Lying in his bunk, Kangas waxed thoughtful and conjured an answer: Honesty. But his ideas didn’t stop there.
“Then I get this flashback,” he recalls. “I’m in the Philippines, in this restaurant. I had had a date to meet her at noon there. She didn’t show up
until one. So I asked her, ‘What happened?'”
At the time, he didn’t like her answer: She had been on a date with another man. It didn’t matter that they were only friends — her answer still grated him. Now, lying on his bunk, Kangas realized why: He loved her.
Thus began a six-month odyssey to find her.
His first move was to return to Vietnam.
The Marines thought it was odd, but Kangas went back and resumed his duty as an electrician aboard a bomber.
During his first week of “rest and relaxation,” Kangas didn’t relax. He went back to the Philippines.
He booked a hotel in Sampaga’s hometown of Olongapo and called a taxi. When the driver inquired about Kangas’ destination, the young man uttered a name, not a place, and offered the driver a 20-peso bill — worth well more than the price of a typical cab drive.
“It’s yours if you find her,” Kangas said.
The driver nodded and drove slowly through the streets with his window down, talking to passers-by and shop owners, gathering clues.
Within 30 minutes, the driver found her home, a dwelling with no electricity or running water.
“There wasn’t even a door,” Kangas recalls.
The driver left Kangas in the taxi and approached the home. Sampaga appeared in the doorway. They spoke for a few minutes, then the driver returned to the taxi and brought Kangas to the doorway.
Kangas looked at her, and slipped the driver the money.
She looked at him, and invited him in.
“I had both an engagement ring and wedding ring in my pocket,” recalls Kangas, who didn’t waste much time. After engaging in small talk for a while, he proposed.
“He told me: ‘I want to get married again,'” she remembers. “I say: ‘Who’s the lucky girl?’
“He say: ‘You!'”
She said yes, but recalls that she never really expected the wedding to happen.
“I was already engaged with an American, but he never came back,” she says. “I don’t trust Americans. When I got (Kangas’) ring, I took it to the pawn shop.”
Still, they spent what both remember as a wonderful week together. When it ended, Kangas returned to the war and Sampaga thought him gone forever.
Little did she know.
Kangas’ second Vietnam tour ended in 1966. Still desperate to marry the skeptical Sampaga, he requested an extension. This time, however, he was turned down. He later learned he likely would have died with his crew had the extension been granted.
Still determined to see Sampaga, to convince her to marry him, Kangas sought a passport and visa so he could visit her in the Philippines. But more problems arose. To get the passport, he needed to travel to Hawaii. To get the visa, he needed to travel to Japan.
His only chance was during a month-long furlough before he returned to the States. He used 18 days of it running errands on the Pacific Ocean — retrieving his passport and visa — and spent the remaining 12 days with Sampaga.
This time, they made plans to be married — as soon as he could finalize his divorce.
When he left, she again assumed he would not return.
Kangas, however, was determined. By 1967, the divorce was final. Now, he needed to get to the Philippines, so they could get married. But there were no flights to the Philippines. The closest Kangas could get was Hawaii.
Once there, he met some members of a Philippine navy crew on their way to Guam. They learned of his plight and offered him a seat aboard their plane. In Guam, he got word of a plane that was leaving the next day for the Philippines, where he wasn’t allowed.
“The pilot had flown it there to wash it,” he says. “It was a VIP plane.”
In the Philippines, Kangas talked his way past an officer who tried to stop him but missed a ride he had lined up to take him to Sampaga’s home. Finally, after hopping into the side car of a motorcycle taxi, Kangas reached his destination, exhausted.
But Sampaga was not there. She had moved to a nearby city to work, her father told Kangas.
“She didn’t believe you were coming,” her father said.
Kangas gave her father a $20 bill, this time in American money, to find her.
“He left that night, about midnight. At about eight the next morning, he was back with her,” Kangas remembers.
Soon after, they were married in an open field by the town’s mayor.
“We fed 2,000 people,” Kangas says. “We danced all night.”
Once again, though, Kangas returned home alone.
In 1968, the couple had been married almost a year when the red tape was finally cut. But a big problem remained: getting word to her and getting her here. Her family had no phone, so Kangas could communicate with his wife only through letters.
Once in awhile, she would go into town to call Kangas, who was living in Southern California, about 30 miles south of Los Angeles. But just before she flew to Los Angeles, Kangas moved from the barracks into an apartment, and was unable to tell her his new phone number. In the end, Kangas drove to LAX. “I couldn’t find her,” he recalled.
So he called the barracks. “Did she call?” he asked the officer. “You could say that,” the officer answered. “She’s at the main gate.”
“Somehow,” Kangas recalls, “she figured out how to catch a bus to the barracks. She made it to the main gate of the base. Meanwhile, I’m in L.A. International.”
He drove the 30 miles to the gate, where she stood waiting. After a five-year struggle, they were together at last. Eventually, they settled in Fremont, where Kangas landed a job as an engineer and they started a family.
“I promised the mayor (who married them) we would have 12 kids,” Kangas says over the voices of two of his grandchildren. “We got almost halfway there.”
On April 2, they will celebrate their 33rd anniversary.
(Oregon Newspaper Association, Spot news, 3rd place, 2001. Also appeared in The Seattle Times.)
Giving a Lift Brings Vet Down
Favor to hitchhiker proves costly to cancer patient
Possessions stolen: Suspect takes off with man’s truck and U-haul containing $30,000 worth of items.
He had never heard of Roseburg before, but he will remember it now, to the end of his numbered days.
Forty-nine-year-old Thomas Carver hadn’t picked up a hitchhiker in 15 years, but this one seemed different.
“I saw truth in his eyes,” he says of a young hitchhiker standing on a northbound Interstate 5 exit in Shasta, Calif.
So he stopped.
The hitchhiker, who looked to be in his mid-20s, hopped into Carver’s white 1992 Ford F250 truck, which pulled a U-haul carrying all his possessions. Carver then continued his trip from Buckeye, Ariz. to a new home in Buckley, Wash. Thursday.
By Friday afternoon, all Carver’s possessions have been stolen for more than 12 hours. The Vietnam veteran sits in a room at the Super 8 motel in Roseburg, chain-smoking and bewildered.
“What you see is what I own,” he says, holding out his hands.
Now, all Carver owns is a T-shirt, a pair of blue jeans, some credit cards and $250 cash.
“That’s what blows me away,” Carver says. “He went into my blue jeans to get the cash, but he left all that money. Maybe we’re talking about some kind of gentleman bandit.”
After taking Carver up on his offer to get a double room, the young man who called himself Robert Keller simply waited for Carver to fall asleep before stealing his keys and a $100 bill from his jeans Thursday night.
When Carver awoke at around 4 a.m., he said he knew something was wrong. The bed next to him was empty – and still made.
“I ran outside to look for my truck, and it was gone,” the former hunting guide and contractor said.
So was the trailer, which carried about $30,000 worth of uninsured possessions, including three rifles, three handguns, a shotgun and the mount of a four-horned goat’s head, Carver said.
Carver said he sleeps a lot because of his terminal lymphoma cancer.
Doctors in Phoenix recently told Carver he had one year to live. Carver said he was on his way from Arizona to Washington for better cancer treatment.
“The waiting rooms in Phoenix are overwhelmed,” he said.
Carver said he was poisoned by Agent Orange while serving as Navy flight mechanic in the Vietnam War. He got so sick, he said, that he couldn’t work as either a hunting guide or contractor.
“I lost my business; I lost everything,” he said. “Now I lost the last bit of stuff I own. I had to walk two miles up the street just to get a comb and toothbrush.”
According to a police report, the hitchhiker is white, about 5 feet 7 inches, weighs 170 to 180 pounds, has short brown hair, large brown eyes and is missing a right incisor. He has tattoos of a long, thin cross on his right forearm and peace sign on the web of his left hand.
The hitchhiker said he was headed to Olympia for a disability check but would eventually return to Modesto, Calif. Carver said the man seemed very familiar with Roseburg.
“We seemed to have so much in common,” said Carver, whose eyes were red because his cancer medication had been stolen.
Despite the tattoos, Carver said the hitchhiker’s clean-cut appearance and honest-looking face caused him to stop.
“Because I was a hunter and a guide, I thought I could trust my instincts,” he said. “Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid.”
Early Saturday, a cab dropped him off at the Greyhound station, where he planned to catch a bus to Tacoma to meet his brother.