The most-read stories on The Union Democrat website in 2018 involved tragedy — fire, flood and a doctor on trial for manslaughter — as well as the auction of cars and a story that appeared in 2017 about a Groveland man’s father whose life story was featured in a best-selling book.

Here’s the list of the 10 most-read stories with updates on what has happened since the stories were published:

Reports from ground zero of the most destructive days of the weeks-long Donnell Fire stirred emotions and memories for generations of people and descendants of early visitors who first stopped at the fishing and hunting mecca called Dardanelle Resort since it opened in the 1920s.

Forest Service investigators have not released a cause of the fire, which cost at least $36 million to fight. It was declared contained Nov. 28.



A limited number of firefighters made a stand that August afternoon at Kennedy Meadows Resort & Pack Station, which had been evacuated. Members of three engine crews and about 15 employees wrapped Kennedy Meadows Resort, a cabin that dates to the 1880s, in silver reflective material.

There were 277 personnel assigned to the Donnell Fire as of 11 a.m. Aug. 6 and that was not near enough, Manny Madrigal with Donnell Fire incident command and the Central Coast Interagency Incident Management Team said in a phone interview.

The fire started at 5:49 p.m. Aug. 1, blew up the weekend of Aug. 4 and 5 and destroyed 135 structures, including more than 50 buildings, cabins and other residences, and the unused, historic Dardanelle Bridge that used to carry Highway 108 over the Middle Fork Stanislaus River.

Diana Chappell, an off-duty firefighter from Oregon who owned a cabin her grandpa built in the late 1930s in the Dardanelle area, was at Kennedy Meadows during the multi-day effort to keep the Donnell Fire from reaching the historic resort and pack station.

“I'm still up here with the owner and staff,” Chappell said in a text message Aug. 9. “We have Cal Fire here still for structure protection. The expectation is we will see the fire approach sometime in the next couple days. And my cabin miraculously made it at the top of its hill.”

Jimbo the cook who lives out there was still preparing meals for firefighters and resort staff, including wranglers there to watch over more than 170 mules and horses.

Testimony in the trial of Dr. Danny Anderson began on July 6 and three weeks later the long-time Sonora internist was convicted of three counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, reckless driving, hit and run and obstructing a police investigation for causing an Oct. 21, 2016, triple-fatal accident on J-59.

In the months since, Anderson has been described as a caring doctor who went to the scene and tried to save the lives of 16-year-old Trista Hoffman and her mother Tina who were in a car that swerved to avoid a head-on collision with Anderson’s car and then crashed head-on with another car. A passenger in that car died as well.

But others have talked about the negligent driving of the doctor and lamented the fact that justice in this case has been so slow. Anderson has not been sentenced.

A week-long stand to save historic Kennedy Meadows Pack Station & Resort from the out-of-control Donnell Fire was successful as the red flag-heated blaze grew to more than 37 square miles with just 5 percent containment.

Firefighters and heavy equipment operators and staff and owners at Kennedy Meadows checked hose lays and water sourcing from the Middle Fork Stanislaus River that flows through the resort property.

Kennedy Meadows is one of the oldest businesses in Tuolumne County, and it’s known to generations of visitors as a gateway to the high, remote, scenic Central Sierra on both sides of Sonora Pass and Highway 108, and since the 1960s, as gateway to the Emigrant Wilderness.

It is a statement about the success and popularity of “Beneath a Scarlet Sky,” written by Mark Sullivan that this story made the top 10 more than a year after it was published. Probably says a lot about Google as well, as so many people found the story after reading the book that spent months at the No. 1 spot on the Amazon.

The book is based on the story of Pino Lella, who as a teenager led dozens of Jews to safety across treacherous trails in the Alps during World War II. His son, Michael Lella of Groveland, said the book has changed all of their lives.

At the time the story was written, the book had been optioned for a movie by a top Hollywood producer. Now, Lella said, because of the sweep of the story it will likely be a miniseries, either on Netflix or Amazon. and will begin production in Europe sometime next year.

Michael Lella said his 92-year-old dad said of Holland, “His ears stick out, mine don’t,” but the three men had a wonderful three-day visit.

A former Sonora High School wrestling coach, John Honesto, has still not been found after his car was found buried in sand and debris a half-mile from a washed-out section of Highway 132 on March 22.

Honesto, 67, of La Grange near Don Pedro reservoir, was employed as a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officer in Stockton before retirement, and then worked as an assistant wrestling coach at Sonora High School and as a substitute teacher in Tuolumne and Mariposa counties. The search for Honesto continues, the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office said.

His daughter, Nathalie Honesto, 27, said the family had hoped to have news in September when the water reached its lowest point in Lake McClure.

“It's been a heartbreaking season for us,” she said. “at this point it's unlikely. We are still getting phone calls and community members that he is still in our thoughts. It’s incredibly touching and we are so grateful for our community.”

The family plans to host a memorial in the La Grange area on March 23, one year and one day after the accident.

Also missing in the March 22 storm was Carol Brown, 72, of Catheys Valley, who left her home on a side-by-side utility vehicle to check on her horses. Her husband found the vehicle about 30 minutes later on its side in a seasonal creek that normally was three-to-four feet wide. The storm created a raging river, 150 feet wide choked with debris.

Groveland suffered some of the worst flooding in the March 22 storm. A river of water flowed through the main part of town, while road closures due to a possible dam failure down the hill in Moccasin left some residents stranded for hours.

The Tuolumne County Sheriff Search and Rescue team helped rescue a couple who had taken refuge on top of a chicken coop after their home and driveway were flooded.

“Literally the whole downtown was a ripper about three to four feet high,” said Doug Edwards, owner of the Hotel Charlotte and Groveland Hotel. “It was apocalyptic.”

Extensive damage to Mary Laveroni Community Park prompted cancellation of the 17th Annual Where the Hell is Groveland Car Show that was scheduled June 10, but the park was repaired in time for a festival in September.

Pete Kampa, general manager for Groveland Community Services District, said storm damage for Groveland CSD was about $1.3 million, along with $400,000 in unrepaired damage from 2017-18 storms.

Local, state and utility officials said total damage estimates, including Hetch Hetchy infrastructure, Tuolumne County infrastructure, and Caltrans roads in Tuolumne and Mariposa counties, exceeded $74 million, nearly double preliminary estimates.

That total included $3.2 million in damage to the state fish hatchery at Moccasin Creek, which lies downstream from the compromised Hetch Hetchy Water & Power’s Mocassin Dam, and $21 million in storm damage at Moccasin Dam and Reservoir.

The dealership on Mono Way had been closed for almost a year when suddenly there was activity on the lot. Cars were moved around and people — in addition to the always present security guard — were inside.

A reporter for The Union Democrat found Hazel Tria and her crew preparing all the stuff left behind for auction, including a full parts inventory and 40 vehicles.

The auction would be July 12. That day passed and no auction. People called the newspaper asking about. The auction company said it was postponed. No more info. Postponed again. Finally in mid-August the auction company announced there would be no auction. The owner of the Lodi Chrysler dealership had bought the assets and would open on Oct. 1.

Leonard Harrington, owner of the two businesses, said this week that business is good. About 60 cars were sold in each of the past three months and the business is profitable. He expects that number to rise to 80 by the second quarter of the new year.

“The team is bringing a good attitude and that’s going to spill over into customer service,” he said.

Many people in the courtroom on Sept. 7 were surprised when Tuolumne County Superior Court Judge Donald Segerstrom ordered Danny Anderson jailed. Anderson’s attorney Mark Coleman said he expected Anderson would remain on electronic monitoring.

But the judge said Anderson faced spending most of the rest of his life in jail and was guilty of an impulsive and reckless act that led to the death of three people.

The probability of “another impulsive and reckless act has dramatically increased,” Segerstrom said.

Anderson has been in court a few times since, wearing a black and white striped jail uniform and looking drawn and haggard.

Anderson faces a maximum sentence of 10 years and four months in prison. A probation report has recommended the maximum sentence.

Dozens of Tuolumne County Sheriff’s deputies, SWAT members and California Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control officers raided Rosalinda’s Gentlemen's Club and arrested 10 people, but not the owner of the property — Rosalinda SanMartin.

Travelers on Highway 108 saw machine gun-toting officers and dozens law enforcement vehicles as the raid unfolded. To many, the raid was long in coming. Then-Tuolumne County Sheriff Jim Mele said it was finally time that strip club — which hailed “Girls! Girls! Girls!” to incoming travelers — was closed down.

One day later, code compliance condemned the building. Less than two weeks later, most of the motel was torched and part of the main nightclub burned. About two weeks after that, SanMartin turned herself into the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office.

A preliminary hearing in the Tuolumne County Superior Court revealed that the five executives of the operation were Martin; her daughter, Marlinda Beth Russo, 47; and residents of the property Raymond Jeffrey Bowman, Richard Lewis Bennett, and Sabrina Wood.

Many charges against them (except for Sabrina Wood who failed to appear) were dropped after the preliminary hearing, but they will still face charges related to drug sales and possession charges.

The next court date for Bennett, Bowman, Russo and SanMartin is Jan. 7, Tuolumne County Deputy District Attorney Cassandra Jenecke said. A trial is set for Feb. 6.

Toni Arken of Homelink Real Estate, the listing agent for the property, said the asking price is $669,988.

Two offers have been made but Arken declined to identify who made them. No offers have been accepted, she said.

The property is owned by Aponte Property Management, a company which shares SanMartin’s middle name.

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