TOP STORIES OF 2019: Homicides, QAnon conspiracy rock Nevada County
It’s rare to have one murder in Nevada County in any given year. But 2019 saw three — a double homicide in May and a domestic violence incident turned deadly in October.
Grass Valley also made headlines — national ones — when an online conspiracy involving former FBI Director James Comey and possible terrorism grew widespread enough that Grass Valley Charter School officials were forced to cancel an annual fundraiser.
The story had a sweet ending, however, when local law enforcement chiefs banded together for a doughnut-eating challenge.
These are the top five public safety stories for 2019.
1. Man facing homicide charges in shooting of couple
Grass Valley resident Michael Pocock is facing two counts of murder in connection with the May 20 shootings of 25-year-old Rabecca Mershon and 39-year-old David Dominguez.
Pocock was in court in mid-December for a preliminary hearing into the evidence against him, in which a forensic pathologist testified that both victims were killed by multiple gunshot wounds.
Dominguez was found outside on the property in the 500 block of Glenwood Road. Mershon was found face-down inside the basement of a home where the couple was “camping out.”
During the hearing, an investigator testified Pocock expressed remorse, saying he would regret the shooting for the rest of his life. Pocock is set to enter a plea on the charges Jan. 13.
2. Husband charged with murder after wife dies
A Grass Valley man suspected of repeatedly punching his wife in the face and head was charged with murder after she lapsed into a coma and died.
Dennis Michael Daly, 72, was initially charged with spousal abuse in connection with the assault against his wife, Stacey Sokol Daly, 63. Daly, who had been released from custody on a $25,000 bond, was re-booked Oct. 31 on a no-bail warrant for attempted murder. He was set to enter a plea Nov. 7, but that was deferred after prosecutors amended his charge to murder.
Grass Valley police had responded to the Daly residence several times on Oct. 30, initially for a third-party report of domestic violence. Stacey Daly was reluctant to talk to police but called later that night to report her husband was drunk and had struck her numerous times in the head and face with a closed fist, police said. Dennis Daly was arrested and served with an emergency protective order, but his wife reportedly refused medical treatment.
Stacey Daly sought treatment the next day, but left against medical advice. After officers returned to her home on a welfare check, she was flown to Mercy San Juan Medical Center. She died Nov. 2.
3. Blue Marble Jubilee canceled by conspiracy
In May, Grass Valley Charter School canceled its annual Blue Marble Jubilee, citing online threats that local police called not credible.
Online conspiracy theorists pointed to a tweet by former FBI Director James Comey, claiming a link to the May 11 Blue Marble Jubilee and questioning whether the annual event faced threat of attack.
The tweet led people across the country to contact the South Auburn Street school. Authorities determined the threat was unfounded and posed no threat but school officials and event organizers opted to cancel the event “out of an abundance of caution.”
Wendy Willoughby, president of the Grass Valley Charter School Foundation, said expenses for the fundraiser total around $10,000. The Blue Marble Jubilee, which was to have occurred for the third time, usually makes between $20,000 and $25,000.
Grass Valley Police Department, Nevada City Police Department, and Nevada County Sheriff’s Office personnel then went head to head for a challenge of the doughnut kind, raising at least $11,355 for the foundation through a GoFundMe.com account.
“I’ll tell you what’s not a conspiracy,” Nevada City Police Chief Chad Ellis said in a video posted to the GoFundMe page. “The fact that I like doughnuts.”
4. Lt. Chad Ellis named Nevada City police chief
Nevada City named a new police chief in March, promoting one of its own. Lt. Chad Ellis was promoted to police chief, taking over the position after a nine-month stint by Interim Police Chief James Leal. Ellis was sworn in April 24. Ellis noted he worked his way up through the ranks and has a lot of institutional knowledge about the department he would be leading.
Ellis, a Bear River High School graduate, was hired by Nevada City in February 2008 and was recognized as officer of the year in 2009. He became a field training officer and range master for the department and then became the first Nevada City Police detective, a new position shared between the Grass Valley and Nevada City police departments.
After three years as a detective, Ellis was promoted to sergeant and was tasked with the supervision of employees on patrol, computer systems management, scheduling and the agency’s training regimen. In 2015, Ellis was honored by the Nevada County Law Enforcement and Fire Protection Council, receiving the Public Safety Commitment Award. He was promoted to lieutenant in 2018.
5. Remains linked to woman reported missing in 1973
On Feb. 27, 1973, Joanne Dolly Burmer left Colfax with some friends, who dropped her off at Excelsior Point Road on Highway 20.
Burmer planned to snowshoe in to see her boyfriend Robert Brownlee, who was staying in a trailer some three miles down the road.
Burmer was reported missing nine days later after she failed to return. Despite the official investigation, and one made by a detective agency hired by Burmer’s mother, no trace of the 25-year-old was found.
In 1993, Chuck Millar found a skull fragment off Chalk Bluff Road and turned it over to the Sheriff’s Office. But the skull fragment did not yield its secrets and languished in storage.
In March 2017, Nevada County Sheriff’s Lt. Bob Jakobs reviewed the unidentified remains file and realized the skull fragment had never been entered into the state or national databases for unidentified remains or submitted for DNA testing. It was sent to the state Department of Justice’s DNA laboratory to extract a viable DNA profile and Jakobs finally got an answer two years later — the skull fragment belonged to Burmer.
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.
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