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10 gas-station gifts that don't totally suck

Ventura County Star Top Stories - December 20, 2014 - 9:15am

Malls and big stores this time of year are the worst, and by this stage in the game it’s a little too late to trust internet gifts arriving by Christmas Day, but you CAN piece together a respectable Christmas on the road trip home for the holidays.

Here are 10 ideas for adults, college kids, and the little ones you can pick up at gas stations that’ll make you look like a hero this Christmas.

For the adults:

Craft beer growlers (or bottles/cans) from Sunoco
Yeah, Sunoco is in the good beer business big time. Over 40 Sunoco “APlus” stores in New York state and areas of Charleston, SC have a rotating collection of craft beers on tap for growler fills and a steady mix of craft beer cans and bottles. For info on which stores, check out Sunoco's "beer exchange."

Heated travel mug
Ok, honestly, pretty much any cool travel mug, even if it’s not heated, will do the trick, and every gas station on the planet seems to at least have a couple mugs floating around. Pick the coolest one. If you go to a legit truck stop like Flying J or TA/Petro you can score the fancier heated mugs.

SiriusXM
For only $50 (after a $50 Visa gift card rebate) you can hook your ma or pa up with a SiriusXM Satellite Radio Receiver Kit from Travel Centers of America/Petro. Just don’t be a jerk and make them pay for the first year or two of service. Not cool.

All sorts of Bluetooth gadgets
Almost all gas stations have a little kiosk of gadgetry these days, and any sort of charging/power station/mobile thingy is appreciated by most, but if you want to take it to the next level choose from some Bluetooth gas station options like Plantronics wireless ear buds (from Pilot Flying J) or a Bluetooth Jukebox with fancy lights from Travel Centers of America/Petro.

A 46-inch television
Yeah, you read that correctly. Travel Centers of America/Petro’s December ad has a 46” HD LED TV for $399.97. Is it going to be the best TV on the market? Hell no. Will it still impress your old man when you walk in with a big ass TV? Yes.

For the college kids:

Gas cards
Want your kid to come home and visit more? Make sure his or her tank is full! Plus, no college kid wants to spent their party money on something as boring as gasoline.

Snack food
Ok, this sounds lame, but when I was in college I enjoyed stocking up on dorm room snacks whenever I went home. I assume kids these days are the same way. (If you really want to be the cool aunt or uncle, pretty sure a college kid wouldn’t mind some of that beer we talked about above — if they’re 21 or older, of course)

For the kids:

Remote-controlled helicopter
Oddly enough, both major truck-stop-style gas stations, Flying J and TA/Pretro, carry multiple versions of different remote control helicopters at prices ranging from $35 to $90. That’s a gift the adults might commandeer from the kids if you’re not careful.

Toy trucks
Sure, you can probably find a toy car or two at the gas station, but you’ll definitely find toy semis at the big truck stops. Assuming the kids are already getting some toy cars, be different and come home with 18-wheelers for the kiddos. 

Dolls/stuffed animals
Got a little princess to buy for? Don’t worry, the gas stations have a pretty decent selection of stuffed bears and dolls. TA/Petro even has Disney Frozen Anna Sparkle dolls and other items from your favorite Disney movies.

So there you go, fellow procrastinators. Hit the highway for the holiday trip home and use Roadtrippers to find the perfect gas station for all your holiday gift needs.

Obama Says Sony 'Made a Mistake' Pulling Film

Wall Street Journal U.S. News - December 20, 2014 - 5:21am
President Obama criticized Sony Pictures for pulling a movie in response to a hack attack U.S. officials blame on North Korea, saying it sets a bad precedent.

U.S. Levels New Sanctions on Crimea

Wall Street Journal U.S. News - December 20, 2014 - 2:46am
The U.S. expanded its Russia sanctions to include a motorcycle group favored by Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as individuals and entities linked to the pro-Russian separatist movement in Ukraine.

Bailouts Approach Final Reckoning

Wall Street Journal U.S. News - December 20, 2014 - 1:43am
The U.S. government closed a chapter in financial-crisis history when it sold its remaining shares of Ally Financial and shuttered its auto-bailout program, ending the last major pieces of a $426 billion rescue package.

Thousand Oaks police tell of tense situation

Ventura County Star - Local News - December 20, 2014 - 1:39am

Thousand Oaks police released more information Friday about an incident the day before in which they used a stun device to take a man into custody.

The incident began at 5:45 p.m. Thursday, when police responded to a report of a domestic dispute and disturbance in the 700 block of Hodencamp Road.

While gathering information at the scene, an officer found an agitated man standing in an open garage, according to authorities. The officer soon saw the man had a gun, which had been hidden, police said, and additional officers responded.

Police said the man in the garage remained armed with a handgun and a bow and arrow and refused to drop the weapons, repeatedly yelling for officers to kill him. Fearing the man would enter the house or adjoining residences, officers said they fired bean-bag rounds in an unsuccessful attempt to disarm him.

Officers said they also used crisis-intervention techniques to try to get the man to drop the weapons and calm down.

Police said the situation was defused when the 49-year-old Thousand Oaks resident stepped out of the garage. At that point, officers used an electric device to stun him and take him into custody, police said, arresting him on weapons allegations. Police said the man also faced a mandatory mental health evaluation.

The immediate investigation found he had two loaded handguns within reach, police said.

Thousand Oaks police tell of tense situation

Ventura County Star Top Stories - December 20, 2014 - 1:39am

Thousand Oaks police released more information Friday about an incident the day before in which they used a stun device to take a man into custody.

The incident began at 5:45 p.m. Thursday, when police responded to a report of a domestic dispute and disturbance in the 700 block of Hodencamp Road.

While gathering information at the scene, an officer found an agitated man standing in an open garage, according to authorities. The officer soon saw the man had a gun, which had been hidden, police said, and additional officers responded.

Police said the man in the garage remained armed with a handgun and a bow and arrow and refused to drop the weapons, repeatedly yelling for officers to kill him. Fearing the man would enter the house or adjoining residences, officers said they fired bean-bag rounds in an unsuccessful attempt to disarm him.

Officers said they also used crisis-intervention techniques to try to get the man to drop the weapons and calm down.

Police said the situation was defused when the 49-year-old Thousand Oaks resident stepped out of the garage. At that point, officers used an electric device to stun him and take him into custody, police said, arresting him on weapons allegations. Police said the man also faced a mandatory mental health evaluation.

The immediate investigation found he had two loaded handguns within reach, police said.

Mountain lion captured in Newbury Park

Ventura County Star - Local News - December 19, 2014 - 10:21pm

A mountain lion was captured Friday night in Newbury Park after authorities closed a thoroughfare so a sighting of the big cat could be investigated.

Two California Department of Fish and Wildlife wardens responded about 5 p.m. when a mountain lion was spotted near Lynn and Ventu Park roads. To accommodate the response, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office began conducting traffic control at 6:50 p.m. Eastbound traffic on Lynn Road at Ventu Park was blocked.

The mountain lion was a 14-month-old female “who found her way into a trailer park and was hiding under one of the trailers,” said Janice Mackey, public information officer for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Mackey said the 75-pound cat was trying to find a territory for herself. With wildcats in the area hemmed in by highways and development, each one has difficulty finding its own space, leading to problems. In addition, with cats from outside the area unable to get in and local cats unable to get out, there are issues with inbreeding.

“She was trying to find her own space, took a wrong turn and ended up there,” Mackey said.

The animal was also acting scared, Mackey said.

The cat was identified as a mountain lion from the Santa Monica Mountains by an ear tag that had been placed by the National Park Service, an agency that helped with Friday’s investigation.

The cat was captured about 8:30 p.m. and released in an undisclosed location, Mackey said.

The mountain lion had been seen earlier in the day in the area, and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said there had been numerous mountain lion sightings over the past few days.

Mountain lion captured in Newbury Park

Ventura County Star Top Stories - December 19, 2014 - 10:21pm

A mountain lion was captured Friday night in Newbury Park after authorities closed a thoroughfare so a sighting of the big cat could be investigated.

Two California Department of Fish and Wildlife wardens responded about 5 p.m. when a mountain lion was spotted near Lynn and Ventu Park roads. To accommodate the response, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office began conducting traffic control at 6:50 p.m. Eastbound traffic on Lynn Road at Ventu Park was blocked.

The mountain lion was a 14-month-old female “who found her way into a trailer park and was hiding under one of the trailers,” said Janice Mackey, public information officer for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Mackey said the 75-pound cat was trying to find a territory for herself. With wildcats in the area hemmed in by highways and development, each one has difficulty finding its own space, leading to problems. In addition, with cats from outside the area unable to get in and local cats unable to get out, there are issues with inbreeding.

“She was trying to find her own space, took a wrong turn and ended up there,” Mackey said.

The animal was also acting scared, Mackey said.

The cat was identified as a mountain lion from the Santa Monica Mountains by an ear tag that had been placed by the National Park Service, an agency that helped with Friday’s investigation.

The cat was captured about 8:30 p.m. and released in an undisclosed location, Mackey said.

The mountain lion had been seen earlier in the day in the area, and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said there had been numerous mountain lion sightings over the past few days.

Gift event gives kids a different look at police

Ventura County Star - Local News - December 19, 2014 - 9:47pm

It’s been a rough week for Senior Officer Bakari Myers and other members of the Oxnard Police Department on the front lines of responding to a rash of fatal shootings in the city.

But on Friday, Myers got to take a break from crime-fighting to do something he really enjoys: making kids smile.

Myers, along with several other department employees, civilian volunteers and teens with the department’s Explorer post descended on Cesar Chavez School in Oxnard’s La Colonia neighborhood to distribute new toys to hundreds of children from low-income families in the area. The giveaway, an annual event, took place just a block from where a man was shot to death Tuesday in what was believed to have been a gang-related incident.

“This is something that as a child you don’t need to be thinking about. You shouldn’t be thinking about murders and shootings,” Myers said. “The fact that you can come here with your family and your brothers and sisters and receive a toy from the Police Department, I think that’s great. It shows us in a positive light. We’re not always out there just for the enforcement. ... We want children to know they shouldn’t be afraid of police officers.”

The department collects toys and donations for the giveaway from local businesses and residents, Sgt. Humberto Jimenez said. He said the event has been a tradition for at least 15 years.

Although the giveaway began well after 5 p.m. Friday, parents had begun lining up outside the school with their children more than an hour earlier, eager to get a good place in line. Families were selected by 11 elementary schools, based on need. Ten families from each school received a voucher to attend the giveaway. Cesar Chavez Principal Brasilia Perez said the selection took into account income, living conditions and the size of the families.

Among those waiting in line was Ramona Molina, 62, who grabbed the first spot along with her three grandchildren, ages 4, 7 and 1. Molina said without the giveaway, the children wouldn’t get any gifts for Christmas.

“The rent is very high. Everything’s expensive,” she said in Spanish. “Thank God they give us this help so the kids can be happy with their presents.”

Martha Arteaga, 31, attended with her five children ranging from 2 to 9 years old. She said with such a large family and different school schedules for her children, it’s become impractical for her to work, and her husband’s income as an irrigation technician isn’t enough to buy Christmas presents.

“I really needed it this year,” she said of the giveaway.

Once inside the school, each child age 14 and under got to select a toy from among several tables lined with games, dolls, toy cars, trains and other items. Some children, such as Ricardo Mendoza, 10, approached the tables warily, but left with a smile as they clutched their toy.

Ricardo’s mother, Marta Mendoza, explained that her son was afraid of police officers because until Friday, he’d only seen them arresting people either in real life or on television shows.

“This is a nice thing for him to see,” she said.

Gift event gives kids a different look at police

Ventura County Star Top Stories - December 19, 2014 - 9:47pm

It’s been a rough week for Senior Officer Bakari Myers and other members of the Oxnard Police Department on the front lines of responding to a rash of fatal shootings in the city.

But on Friday, Myers got to take a break from crime-fighting to do something he really enjoys: making kids smile.

Myers, along with several other department employees, civilian volunteers and teens with the department’s Explorer post descended on Cesar Chavez School in Oxnard’s La Colonia neighborhood to distribute new toys to hundreds of children from low-income families in the area. The giveaway, an annual event, took place just a block from where a man was shot to death Tuesday in what was believed to have been a gang-related incident.

“This is something that as a child you don’t need to be thinking about. You shouldn’t be thinking about murders and shootings,” Myers said. “The fact that you can come here with your family and your brothers and sisters and receive a toy from the Police Department, I think that’s great. It shows us in a positive light. We’re not always out there just for the enforcement. ... We want children to know they shouldn’t be afraid of police officers.”

The department collects toys and donations for the giveaway from local businesses and residents, Sgt. Humberto Jimenez said. He said the event has been a tradition for at least 15 years.

Although the giveaway began well after 5 p.m. Friday, parents had begun lining up outside the school with their children more than an hour earlier, eager to get a good place in line. Families were selected by 11 elementary schools, based on need. Ten families from each school received a voucher to attend the giveaway. Cesar Chavez Principal Brasilia Perez said the selection took into account income, living conditions and the size of the families.

Among those waiting in line was Ramona Molina, 62, who grabbed the first spot along with her three grandchildren, ages 4, 7 and 1. Molina said without the giveaway, the children wouldn’t get any gifts for Christmas.

“The rent is very high. Everything’s expensive,” she said in Spanish. “Thank God they give us this help so the kids can be happy with their presents.”

Martha Arteaga, 31, attended with her five children ranging from 2 to 9 years old. She said with such a large family and different school schedules for her children, it’s become impractical for her to work, and her husband’s income as an irrigation technician isn’t enough to buy Christmas presents.

“I really needed it this year,” she said of the giveaway.

Once inside the school, each child age 14 and under got to select a toy from among several tables lined with games, dolls, toy cars, trains and other items. Some children, such as Ricardo Mendoza, 10, approached the tables warily, but left with a smile as they clutched their toy.

Ricardo’s mother, Marta Mendoza, explained that her son was afraid of police officers because until Friday, he’d only seen them arresting people either in real life or on television shows.

“This is a nice thing for him to see,” she said.

High surf advisory goes into effect Saturday

Ventura County Star - Local News - December 19, 2014 - 9:32pm

From staff reports

A high-surf advisory was issued for Ventura County beaches starting Saturday morning, according to the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

A large northwest swell was expected to reach northern coastal waters late Friday and continue building overnight. Waves from 6 feet to 8 feet with sets up to 10 feet were expected Saturday morning on west-facing beaches from Ventura to Point Mugu, the agency said.

The high surf is expected to persist into late Sunday afternoon. Higher than normal tide was expected to reach 6.3 feet at 7:25 a.m. Saturday and reach 6.5 feet at 8 a.m. Sunday. Strong rip currents and minor tidal overflow during high tide were also in the forecast.

The incoming swell is coming from a storm up north developing off the Gulf of Alaska, said David Gomberg, a meteorologist with the agency.

"Our highest surf events come from the west," Gomberg said.

The swell coming from the north will have the biggest effect on coasts north of Point Conception, with waves there expected from 15 feet to 20 feet.

"The swell has a difficult time making the turn around Point Conception," so the surf here won't be as high, Gomberg said.

The advisory will go into effect 4 a.m. Saturday and continue until 6 p.m. Sunday.

High surf advisory goes into effect Saturday

Ventura County Star Top Stories - December 19, 2014 - 9:21pm

A high surf advisory will go into effect for Ventura County beaches Saturday morning, according to the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

A large northwest swell was expected to reach northern coastal waters late Friday and continue building overnight. Waves from 6 feet to 8 feet with sets up to 10 feet were expected Saturday morning on west-facing beaches from Ventura to Point Mugu, the weather agency said.

The surf is expected to persist into late Sunday afternoon. Higher than normal tide was expected to reach 6.3 feet at 7:25 a.m. Saturday then reach 6.5 feet at 8 a.m. Sunday. Strong rip currents and minor tidal overflow during high tide were also in the forecast, the agency said.

The incoming swell is coming from a storm up north developing off the Gulf of Alaska, said David Gomberg, a meteorologist with the weather service.

“Our highest surf events come from the west,” Gomberg said.

The swell coming from the north will have the biggest impact on coasts north of Point Conception with waves expected from 15 feet to 20 feet.

“The swell has a difficult time making the turn around Point Conception,” Gomberg said.

The advisory will go into effect 4 a.m. Saturday and continue until 6 p.m. Sunday.

Talk of ‘El D.M.V.’ as Licensing Expands to Cover Undocumented Immigrants in California

New York Times - California News - December 19, 2014 - 9:00pm
About 1.4 million people who are in the country illegally are expected to apply for driver’s licenses in California, and many are scrambling to prepare.

A Reluctant Farewell to an Unlikely Mechanical Friend

New York Times - California News - December 19, 2014 - 9:00pm
Too old to be nice, too young to be vintage and not rare enough to be cool, a beat-up Subaru becomes a character in a human drama.

County fire crews help with Agoura Hills blaze

Ventura County Star Top Stories - December 19, 2014 - 8:35pm

The Ventura County Fire Department was assisting the Los Angeles County Fire Department with a two-story structure fire Friday in Agoura Hills, officials said.

The blaze was reported at 8:11 p.m. in the 30600 block of Mainmast Drive.

The fire was reported knocked down at 8:30 p.m.

Man accused of selling heroin in Simi Valley

Ventura County Star - Local News - December 19, 2014 - 7:27pm

A North Hollywood man was arrested Thursday in connection with selling heroin in Simi Valley, officials said.

Ezequiel Elizalde, 29, was arrested by officers in Simi Valley police’s special problems section stopped him near Highway 118 and Yosemite Avenue. Elizalde was found to be in possession of 2.5 ounces of heroin, police said.

A search warrant was served on the North Hollywood man’s house and an additional 1.5 ounces of heroin was found. Detectives also found 2.5 ounces of Methamphetamine, 6 grams of cocaine, and over $1,200 in suspected drug money. Other evidence of narcotics sales was found. The total value of the drugs found in Elizalde’s possession was estimated at $15,000, authorities said

The arrest marks the end of a monthlong investigation into the sales of heroin in Simi Valley and the San Fernando Valley by the police department’s special operations unit. Elizalde was arrested in connection with transportation and possession for sale of controlled substances. He was being held in county jail in lieu of a $250,000 bond. He is scheduled to appear in court Monday, officials said.

Man accused of selling heroin in Simi Valley

Ventura County Star Top Stories - December 19, 2014 - 7:27pm

A North Hollywood man was arrested Thursday in connection with selling heroin in Simi Valley, officials said.

Ezequiel Elizalde, 29, was arrested by officers in Simi Valley police’s special problems section stopped him near Highway 118 and Yosemite Avenue. Elizalde was found to be in possession of 2.5 ounces of heroin, police said.

A search warrant was served on the North Hollywood man’s house and an additional 1.5 ounces of heroin was found. Detectives also found 2.5 ounces of Methamphetamine, 6 grams of cocaine, and over $1,200 in suspected drug money. Other evidence of narcotics sales was found. The total value of the drugs found in Elizalde’s possession was estimated at $15,000, authorities said

The arrest marks the end of a monthlong investigation into the sales of heroin in Simi Valley and the San Fernando Valley by the police department’s special operations unit. Elizalde was arrested in connection with transportation and possession for sale of controlled substances. He was being held in county jail in lieu of a $250,000 bond. He is scheduled to appear in court Monday, officials said.

Two Fed Dissenters Air Opposing Views

Wall Street Journal U.S. News - December 19, 2014 - 7:24pm
The presidents of the Minneapolis and Philadelphia regional Fed banks both dissented for different reasons at the central bank’s policy meeting Wednesday and on Friday elaborated on their dovish and hawkish rationale.

Car Safety Gear Cuts Traffic Deaths

Wall Street Journal U.S. News - December 19, 2014 - 7:13pm
Deaths in U.S. car crashes have fallen by about a quarter in the last decade, new federal data show, as safety features in newer models have powered a drop in fatalities even as auto-safety recalls have surged.

Five local hospitals face federal payment cuts

Ventura County Star - Local News - December 19, 2014 - 7:00pm

Five Ventura County hospitals face financial penalties because the federal government says they exceeded new standards for infection rates and patient safety measures.

More than 720 hospitals in the nation — about one of five of the eligible facilities — will see their Medicare payments reduced 1 percent in the 2015 fiscal year as a result of an Affordable Care Act program aimed at improving care and protecting patients.

Hospitals in Ventura County facing the pay reduction include Ventura County Medical Center in Ventura, St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Oxnard, Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, and Simi Valley Hospital. The penalties against VCMC also affect funding to county-run Santa Paula Hospital.

Among California’s approximately 300 eligible hospitals, more than 75 face penalties.

The penalties come from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Hospital-Acquired Condition Reduction Program. Hospitals were assessed on catheter infections, bed sores, blood clots, patient falls and other measures.

Federal officials say the program is aimed at enhancing patient safety. The penalties are expected to total more than $300 million nationwide.

Hospital officials at Ventura County Medical Center said they learned of the penalties when a reporter asked about the issue Friday. They defended the hospital’s efforts to prevent infections. They talked about exploring the possibility of asking the government to recalculate the assessment.

“I was surprised, which is why we’re going to talk to CMS to find out exactly how it was calculated and to find out exactly what data was utilized,” said Susan Scott, chief nurse executive at VCMC.

In a score based on patient safety and infections linked to care, hospitals were rated on a scale of 1 to 10. The lowest scores represented the best performance. Hospitals in the highest quarter, with scores of 7 or higher, face penalties.

VCMC’s score of 9.675 was the worst in Ventura County. Hospital officials said they’ve done well in other patient safety assessments. They said they have reduced how often and how long they use equipment such as urinary catheters and central lines that can be linked to infections.

The reduced use may have hurt urinary catheter or central line scores because relatively few patients were involved, said Dr. Rick Rutherford, medical directory of quality at VCMC.

“A single infection has a big impact on the rate,” he said, emphasizing the hospital’s support of federal efforts to improve patient safety.

Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center, which also faces a cut in Medicare payment, was graded at 7.7. Simi Valley Hospital received a score of 7.2. St. John’s Regional Medical Center was at 7.05.

Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura and St. John’s Pleasant Valley Hospital in Camarillo avoided the penalties. Community Memorial received a score of 3.075 and the Camarillo hospital was at 4.425.

The scores were based on data from 2011 through 2013. Officials at several penalized hospitals said improvements made this year are not reflected.

Megan Maloney, spokeswoman for Dignity Health, noted that St. John’s Regional reduced its number of urinary tract infections linked to catheters by 85 percent in the past year. She said bloodstream infections linked to central lines fell by 30 percent.

“Our community can be assured that safety, quality and service is and will continue to be above expectation,” she said in a statement.

Officials at associations representing hospitals called for changes in the new program. Individual facilities issued statements emphasizing the importance of patient safety.

“We are on a mission to eliminate hospital-acquired conditions by training and educating all of our staff (at all levels) on a daily basis to be 100 percent compliant with all prevention policies and procedures,” said Alicia Gonzalez, spokeswoman for Simi Valley Hospital.

Lisa McGiffert is director of the Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project. She praised the penalties, suggesting the pay cuts will bring better care.

“The hospitals being penalized will pay a little more attention to the errors and the infections that are occurring and step up their efforts to prevent them,” she said.

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