Charges filed in explosion case
In a startling and nearly unprecedented indictment, District Attorney Mike Ramsey charged Washington state contracting company Northern Lights Mechanical Inc. and two of its corporate officers with criminal negligence in connection to a fatal gas tank explosion that rocked South Chico in February 2001.

Northern Lights General Manager Howard Jacobsen, 71, of Linwood, Wash., and Safety Officer Robert Derrick, 52, of Lakewood, Wash., were arraigned in Butte County Superior Court May 1 on six felony counts of violating California worker safety laws.

The charges allege the two men knowingly failed to follow basic safety procedures when a gasoline tank that was being cleaned out exploded on Feb 13, 2001. The incident claimed the life of 37-year-old Empire, Cal., resident Jack Nickerson, who worked for Nothern Lights and was inside the tank, and severely burned Randy Barclay, 49, of Durham. Barclay was an employee of Chico Drain Oil. A joint investigation by local and state fire agencies, local law enforcement and state agencies determined that the accident could have been avoided by clearing explosive fumes from the tank and using properly electrically grounded equipment, Ramsey said.

The company has already been slapped with 28 citations and fined almost $245,000 by California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal-OSHA). A civil suit filed by Barclay has yet to be settled. If the charges stick, each defendant could serve more than six years in prison, and pay fines up to $250,000 each. The corporation faces a fine of up to $9 million.

HBO tells viewers the party’s in Chico
Chico, a town forever battling its “party” image, gained another dubious distinction this week: mention in an HBO documentary exposing ecstasy addiction.

The America Undercover series, which airs Sundays at 10 p.m., released an episode April 28 titled “Small Town Ecstasy.” The documentary was based on the story of a 40-year-old father of three from Calaveras County. HBO followed him and his family around as he became addicted to ecstasy and went so far as to provide it to his 18-, 15-, and 13-year-old children. During the footage of the father and children partying all throughout the Bay Area and Northern California, his oldest son mentions that he and his friends are going to Chico for Halloween. Following this is about 15 minutes of footage from downtown Chico on Halloween 2000. Shots of Chico range from the Downtown Park Plaza to various liquor stores and apartment complexes, while the teenage boys consume LSD and party through the night.

The documentary itself was an unexpected success for HBO, as it was merely looking for an example of the effects of ecstasy when it stumbled upon the father whose family became the feature’s main subject.

NPR vice president stumps for studio shift
Defining National Public Radio by what it isn’t, Jay Kernis, an NPR senior vice president for programming, told an audience in Chico State University’s Bell Memorial Union April 28, “You will not hear WWF wrestling, you will not hear Britney Spears, and you will not hear Howard Stern on NPR.”

But, more important, Kernis said, you won’t hear anything at all if people don’t lend their financial support to NPR and the local push to get KCHO, which carries NPR programming, into a new studio. The fund-raising drive, which officially kicked off April 28, is called "Moving Up!" and its goal is to raise the $470,000 necessary to switch from analog studios to a fully digital studio. The station also hopes to move out of the basement of the Meriam Library and acquire roomier digs at 35 Main St., in a building recently acquired by Chico State’s University Foundation.