Running with bulls under the fair lights

Throughout the cantons of Guanacaste, Costa Rica, the end of the year brings parties across the northernmost province. Semi-trucks, carrying parts to rides and booths, make their way into the small towns where surfboards are carried on the sides of motorcycles and it’s not uncommon for horses grazing on the roadside to stop traffic.

Drawing locals from surrounding communities and tourists on vacation alike, the festivals go on for around seven days in each of the towns with vendors and rides bringing visitors to the grounds nightly.

Each night, the excitement at the center of these parties is the bull riding, which is held under the lights.

Though in Costa Rica, the practice differs from traditional bullfighting or American cowboy competitions, the influence of Spanish colonizers is continued by local young men during each night of the towns’ parties.

Rows of sunglasses, masks, light-up swords and necklaces are all on display and for sale at pop-up shops and the smell of meat cooking on open grills makes even full stomachs think they need to eat.

Among the rusted mechanical rides, which light up and clank in the night, one large wooden structure surrounded by seating is erected in each of the towns, just for this event.

In the weeks leading up, men from the neighborhood assemble the large arena in fields or town squares. From just a few large beams in the ground, the shape transforms daily until it takes its final form. The gaps on the outside of the structure are covered with tarp and thin plastic to prevent those who haven’t paid from watching the spectacle. The rows of seating are steep above the circular wooden corral where the action takes place. The bull, its riders and the ballsy runners have this whole circle, about 100-feet in diameter, for the night. Viewers on the ground level are separated from the action by a tall fence, tiered for easy climbing.When the announcer finally calls out to the crowd, the wooden surround seating is nearly filled to capacity.

It’s doubtful that there is a number appointed by a fire marshall for the capacity and the bottom row viewers position themselves atop of the corral with their legs dangling over the edge. It’s twice the price of admission to be in the bleachers than it is to be on the ground, where you have access to the climb the corral. While paying the equivalent of less than four dollars for the lower section, I wondered why anyone would want to see this from farther away, let alone pay double.“Wrap your legs like this,” an older man sitting along the corral next to me says while demonstrating how to keep balance seated seven feet in the air.

My straddling position, with one foot on either side of the coral makes me feel safe, but becomes more uncomfortable having to turn to look over my shoulder.

The man brings both his legs to the front so that he is facing completely forward. He bends his knees slightly and tucks his feet underneath a lower beam with the tip of his boot flexed up for stability.He says that he wouldn’t be jumping in the ring this evening but that he used to when he was younger.

The local boys, most appearing to be between their late teenage years and earlier thirties, pace along the outside of the ring in anticipation.

“If you don’t want, you are never in danger,” one of them says in broken English. He means that with one bull in the ring and many targets, one can manage to stay away from the animal at all times.“Danger” is a subjective term during the event.

The animals are released from a pin into a ring with a rider on top. Under the lights and in a fit of rage, the 1000 plus pounds of beast bucks around the ring, trying to shed the extra weight. The riders, who I’m told are professionals that travel to the events, wear face gear and other pads. Once the rider is thrown off or decides to climb off on their own, they duck under the safety of the corral, then it’s time for the locals to earn their adrenaline.If the boys see that the bull is coming for them, they quickly climb up the wooden barrier out of the horn’s reach. This is what the man means when he says, “never in danger.” Hanging a few inches above the animal on a rickety wooden fence.However, the pride and excitement in the evening builds from those brave few who get close to the animal and taunt the great beast. Once it’s riderless, the animal sometimes moves to the middle of the ring, takes in the noise and searches for a new target. The locals taunt the bull, clapping and jumping in front of the animal to start a chase. Many of the chases end with the taunter sliding, at full speed, under the corral and away from danger. If the bull comes to the perimeter, the onlookers lift their legs and grab on to the fence tightly.

Racking along the length of the wooden beams, the animal continues looking for another waving target. From above, the boys taunt the bull by swinging their legs down and kicking it as it runs by.The outsiders also join in and slap the bull from the safety between the slots.

When the animals’ focus turns in my direction, due to spectators next to me heckling, I begin to think that paying another four dollars for the security of my life might have been a good idea.

Unlike traditional bullfighting, I’m told that the animal isn’t killed. Once the bull is tired, cowboys on horses ride in to lasso the animals and take them out of the ring so that a fresh beast can enter.Gory injuries can obviously happen, but with many people running to distract the animal, it seems they rarely do. Bruises from stomping are seemingly more common and a team of paramedics constantly survey the action to help an injured runner.Some of the young men, those jumping around and calling the bulls’ attention show bravery, some tripping over their feet and shoving others, show that alcohol may have influenced their decision to enter the ring.

It’s rumored that cash bets float between the runners, but otherwise they to risk their health strictly for the pride and tradition.

With high fives and back slaps exchanged after every near encounters with the creature, it’s obvious that many of the men have grown up dashing around in these rings for their entire lives and will continue to until they are older and slower.

Then they will take their place on the corral to cheer on the younger generation.


Resurrecting Super Smash Bros. 64

Across the state of Oregon, groups are making their way to Salem on a rainy morning. Some are from universities and greater metropolitan areas around the state. One group even makes the four hour drive with five people in a sedan, loaded down with energy drinks and controllers. Through Facebook these individuals have connected and planned to meet at a regular looking house in a neighborhood of the state’s capitol.

In a garage lined with six televisions paired with six Nintendo 64s, they follow specific rules in a double elimination tournament to determine who is the best Super Smash Bros. player in the state. This is the Oregon Smash Community, a small, but dedicated group in the network around the country that still plays the oldest game of the Smash series competitively.

With billions of consumer dollars pouring in annually, the video game industry has evolved to a world of voice activated consoles, professional players treated as celebrities and graphics cards that blur the line between the virtual world and reality. So why would this clunky fighting game from the late 90’s still be played across North America? Why is the average game cartridge sold for upwards of $50 on eBay? And why haven’t players, who have spent hours learning combos and game mechanics, moved on to more popular games like League of Legends, Counter-Strike, and Overwatch?


Kevin Poteracke

Super Smash Bros. is a platform fighting game released in 1999 for Nintendo 64. Drawing stages, items and music from different popular Nintendo games, the character selection is also comprised of company’s all stars. Some of these most notable franchise faces include Mario, Pikachu and Link.

Smash 64, like other fighting games, allows players to choose their character and a map before beginning the round. After that, the object of the game is fairly simply. Using combos on the classic trident shape controller, the goal is to hit your opponents and raise their damage percentage. The higher the percent a player has, the farther they fly when they get hit, ultimately resulting in them flying off the map and losing life stocks.

Simple, familiar and user friendly. The popularity of the classic N64 game greenlighted follow-up sequels including Melee (2001 Gamecube), Brawl (2008 Wii) and Smash 4 (2014 Wii U). Melee has enjoyed the most popularity in competitive play and some prize purses have grown over $30,000 at major tournaments.

Smash 64 has been included at these tournaments, but the entrant numbers are staggeringly lower than its Gamecube successor. Genesis 3, a large gathering for players held earlier this year in San Jose, saw 1,828 entrants for Melee but only 238 for 64. Pure 64 players are rare, but the few scattered around the country hold onto the original game and are determined to grow its competitive scene in America.

For many young adults, the N64 is more than plastic and wires. It’s a connection to a colorful childhood. There were almost 300 N64 games released in North America through the end of the nostalgic 90’s to 2002. Young adults in their 20’s remember Saturday morning cartoons that were interwoven with commercials for the latest games, and how troubleshooting the device was as simple as removing the controller plug or game cartridge and blowing on it — a myth that was later debunked but still seemed to do the trick at the time.

“I think there are untold masses of people who would play this game once it hits prominence.”

Having played the game within the week it was released, Chris Studstill will tell you that his total logged time of Smash 64 is around 18,000 hours. Studstill has picked up and put down the game a few times in his life, but last year, it ultimately influenced him to relocate to Baltimore, where there is one of the most competitive Smash 64 scenes in America.

The 31-year-old says that his average day involves waking up, making calls about Smash 64, smoking a cigarette, going to work as a cook and spending the rest of his time thinking about the game. He is a purist in the sense of Smash 64 players, and doesn’t believe that the rest of the series compares to the original. Even after camping out in front of a GameStop for the release of Melee in 2001, he would call the it,”the most disappointing failure of a game in my life.”

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Genesis 3 by Preston Kwan

Computer emulators allow players to connect online and play each other. However, due to the lag and unnaturalness of these substitutes, preferred play is still in-person. Studstill’s move to Baltimore was also to be closer to a business partner whom he’d met online. One who is equally as passionate about Smash 64 and has a knack for organizing brackets and events which solves the problem of physical distance.  

David Shears was trained in Smash 64. through countless hours of playing with his brother and friends. In later years, Shears emerged as the unofficial top player around the Virginia Tech campus. He says during the dorm days he would play against neighbors or if he stumbled into a party where there was a console, he would challenge whoever would pick up a controller.

After graduation, he moved to Baltimore to work as a software engineer. In a new city, but eager to continue finding competition, Shears posted Craigslist ads that offered strangers $20 if they came to his house and beat him in Smash.

“A lot of people thought I was a Craigslist maniac and wanted to meet them at Starbucks before, so I did that.” About 20 people took him up on the ads and but none were able to win the prize money. However, word got out about locals playing 64 and Shears had unintentionally begun, what he calls, the first Smash scene.

“When there’s a big tournament, I’m usually there running it.”

He grew from hosting Craigslist matches to organizing some of the weeklies for Nintendo 64. As Smash 64 began to grow as a side event at Melee tournaments, officials looked to Shears to organize brackets because he had the most experience in putting them together. Even today, at any major tournaments you can expect to see Shears running back and forth across the floor.


Japanese version of Smash 64 by Eric Ghelfi

A degree in numbers and programming has been beneficial in Shears’s side career in Smash. He has tracked the number of entrants at tournaments. He has also written in-depth about the sustainability of 64 and the place it has in competitive Smash. “…64 was a novelty for nostalgia. But with the growth it created itself in 2015, it caught some attention to become a hallmark of all of Smash.”

Studstill and Shears’s stories about first playing Smash resonate with many other players who are flooded with feels when they pick up the trident shaped controller. However, not everyone played the games according to the chronological order that they were released.

“The moment I played a couple sessions of my first games ever, I was like ‘this is the most fun thing I’ve ever done.”

Justin Hallett is a soft spoken 18-year-old with long dark hair. He’s known on the internet as Wizzrobe (Wizzy) and says that he will cut his locks when someone donates him a couple million dollars. Like many other kids his age, he spends a large portion of every day playing video games. Except that most other teenagers haven’t been able to turn their pastime of gaming into their job. Wizzy signed a deal with Cognitive Gaming two years ago, making him a professional gamer before he had graduated high school. Now he has over 11,000 followers on the popular streaming website: Twitch. Whether he’s training for Smash or just playing a round of Mario Party with his friends, people go to his channel to watch and chime in the chatroom.

One of the first games that Wizzy remembers ever playing is Super Mario Brothers on Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). An interesting experience, considering that NES came out 13 years before Wizzy was born.

Aside from being one of the youngest top tier players, Wizzy is also known as one of the few professionals who can compete as a threat across different Smash games. It’s not uncommon to see his name atop various leaderboards at big tournaments.

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Wizzrobe at Genesis 3 picture by Preston Kwan

Wizzy’s pro deal covers most of his travel expenses including flights and accommodations but it doesn’t mean he’s completely used to the attention that he gets from his gaming skills. “There were so many fans,” he said talking about Super Smash Con last year, “at least 100 kids that came up to me! That’s not counting the more famous people.”  For Nintendo enthusiasts, Super Smash Con is a place to see some of the best players compete and how the communities surrounding the games have evolved, as it is one of the few tournaments where all four official Smash games are played.

Some Smash players dislike the other games in the series that aren’t their main discipline. Studstill would go as far as to say, “I don’t acknowledge the concept of all Smash games. That’s like saying that all the ‘Die Hard’ movies are the same. I guess it’s fine…When you’re at dinner conversation with idiots.”

Wizzrobe’s outlook on the series, as a whole, is more positive. Perhaps, his versatility and appreciation of the entire Smash series comes from playing the games out of chronological order and therefore never building a “classic nostalgia.”

Regardless of opinions for one game or another, all three of the players are gearing up for Super Smash Con 2016. They will be among the throngs of the Nintendo enthusiasts who on August 11th, will flock to Virginia, for the action packed weekend.  Last year, the total attendance was over 1,000 with 154 entrants in the Smash 64 bracket. Canadian player SuPeRbOoMfAn walked away with the prize of $2354 and Wizzrobe finished 4th in the event.

With the sample numbers from Shears’s tournaments, he and Studstill remain positive that Smash 64 can continue to grow at these events. The prominence of young players like Wizzrobe competing in 64 could prove as evidence to Shears’s growing numbers theory. But if analytics don’t sway the average gamer to pick up an N64 controller, maybe Studstill’s testament to the game can, “I played it everyday for ten years,” he said, “some people just don’t play it for the right reasons.”

The Gentleman of the Ridge

If you were to ask “The Gentleman” where he feels happiest, you might expect him to answer standing over his opponent with a referee holding his arm up. Or perhaps, if you knew his personal film preference, you’d think him to say on the couch watching a Disney movie. A good guess, considering that’s where he can be found most nights until the early morning hours.  But the real peace of mind Jason Powell the second hopes to find, once he hangs up his gloves, is somewhere far up along the Oregon coast with his mother and two sisters.

They say that when you step into the ring you forget about everything.  In the blink of an eye your shot can be gone. Fighters dedicate the months before the bell rings to thinking about those few moments of battle, training their instincts to take over and allow them to leave the octagon victorious.  

Four years ago, Powell stepped into his first ring at the Butte County fairgrounds arena in Gridley, California.  The short-ceilinged structure, most often utilized for 4H competitions has openings along the backside instead of windows, providing patrons in the upper bleachers space to lean out and drag a cigarette without losing their seat.

Powell entered this building accompanied by his teammates and coach to his walkout song, “A Country Boy Can Survive.”

Hank Williams Jr. echoed through the small stadium with the scent of spilled light beer mixed with sweat from the other fights that lead up to Powell’s debut.

Screenshot_2016-03-07-12-11-28-1.pngWhile the spectators stood up from their collapsable folding chairs and bleachers to greet him, an official checked his gloves and hair which had been dyed for the occasion, one side black, the other blonde. The multi-colored amateur would be locked in the cage with Deniko Sisk for only one round.  Seconds after touching gloves, Jason threw a roundhouse kick towards Sisk’s head. It missed, but he quickly followed up to put Sisk on the ground and made it a grappling match before the crowd had settled back into their seats. Tangled, the contestants would rise only once more before the fight ended.  A quick succession of punches landed on Sisk’s face before the referee called the match and pulled Powell off of his opponent.

The moments after the fight felt surreal as it was also his first milestone on the path towards his longtime dream, holding a Ultimate Fighting Championship title.

After one of his amateur fights a friend was joking about how kind he was to his opponents after beating them senselessly and gave him his nickname.  The Gentleman is the anomaly in a sport that thrives on masochism.  Even with Conor McGregor, an Irish hothead, being his favorite fighter, Powell doesn’t taunt his opponents and always gives them respect. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable in my own skin talking shit,” he says, “I love McGregor and his style, but that’s just not me.”

Returning to The Ridge, the small hill community punctuated by the Feather River and Butte Creek was ideal, Powell says. Today, he splits the days of the week between El Dorado Hills and his grandpa’s house in Paradise. The commute to Urban Sprawl Fitness outside of Sacramento is a small price to pay, in order to stay with his family member and in the town which supports his career. However, the Gentleman’s story has had its share of turns to bring him to where he is today. It’s not been without a few stumbles that Jason Powell now stands tall.


Powell’s first love was football.  For over a decade he played the sport between snaps and also excelled at wrestling.   The interest in mixed martial arts started after he’d been into other sports but quickly turned to his obsession at the end of junior high.  Reflecting on the exact moment his young mind separated WWE from professional fighting, Powell says, “I watched one Frank Shamrock video and that was it.”  The day after he turned 16, Powell would go to the local gym where he began training for the cage. Sometimes these sessions even came after a long day of classes and football practice.

Jason was born in Paradise but grew up about 50 miles away in Willows, a town even smaller in population.  It wouldn’t be until his senior year of high school that he would transfer back to finish out his football and wrestling careers as a Bobcat.

“It gives me motivation to make the town proud.”

Fast forward to 2016 and you wouldn’t have thought that Powell was meant for anything other than the ring.  With a model-esque smile next to his family at Disneyland Jason might  garner a hundred likes on social media, and one might think of him as a pretty boy but at closer examination his body bears the undeniable marks of a fighter. Underneath a cap that has his fighting name in neat cursive, he sports a mullet so dirty Joe Dirt would shudder. Determining which fold is which in Jason’s ears is difficult, as they all seem to blend together from the unmeasurable amount of times they’ve been grabbed by opponents. On his bicep there’s a tattoo that reads “CMF,”  an acronym created by Paradise athletes in the early 2000’s whose double meaning of Crazy Mountain Folk, and Crazy Mother Fucker, has been tabooed by local school administration to this day.

In a small town serious about its competitive sports programs, the few athletes that reach a higher level of play can be idolized. As much became apparent when in 2011 Jeff Maehl began playing for the Oregon Ducks.  As the football team’s ranking rose and the skinny receiver pulled in more catches on national television, sweatshirts and basketball shorts displaying the yellow O became the most common articles of clothing worn at Paradise High school.

His quiet demeanor and soft spoken voice don’t stop Powell from making a point to respond to all the comments and tweets that he gets. “This town support is insane. Like, my picture is up at the Fastrip where I go to get gas,” he laughs. As a small town celebrity, living and training in Butte County he carries no resentment towards some that might not have had anything to do with him if he wasn’t fighting. “I love every bit of support I get, whether they make us seem like we are closer than we were before, in high school or whatever,” he says, “If you support me and cheer me on, I won’t turn my back on you.”IMG_20160306_211148

Jason is arguably the most loved athlete from Paradise to not play football. He is one of the few fighters that can personally sell out 100 tickets to a fight.  Almost any picture of him in the ring receives hundreds of likes and after any given fight his phone is constantly blowing up with congratulations.

While the support and belts that Powell has rightfully earned are glamorous and enjoyed, it’s been not without sacrifice that he’s gained this recognition.  Once a date is set for Jason to fight, he begins the long training process of a fight camp.  This consists of splitting his time to train at Freestyle Fitness and Americana Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Chico as well as crashing in El Dorado Hills three days a week to train with MMAGOLD, a Sacramento based team now  boasting 60 fighters.

I don’t live a typical 22-year-old life.”

In the months out from a fight, Powell can weigh as much as 161 pounds but in order to fight in the featherweight class, he must be below 145 at weigh-ins. To achieve this, his training regimen and dietary habits have to be very carefully crafted and executed. Asleep at 2am awake at 10am. He eats only two turkey and cheddar wrap a day one at 2pm and the other at 10pm with only one Nature Valley Bar and a bag of almonds in between. In the early stages of a fight camp, Jason is also allowed one “cheat day” on which he says he can always be found at Mountain Mike’s eating a whole pepperoni, sausage and bacon pizza himself with a near gallon of Mt. Dew to wash it down.  When he is a few weeks out from his fight and trying to slim down, its 3 oz of ground turkey, 2 oz of cucumber and one packet of plain oatmeal with honey…five times a day.

In the summer of 2013, Jason and his cousin Brandon Waltz signed with MMAGOLD, which their friend Benito Lopez had joined only a few months earlier.  Now part of an official team with flashy gear and outside sponsors, the Butte County natives moved into an apartment in Fair Oaks to be closer to their gym and coach at the beginning of the new year.  All enjoying successful careers and being under the same roof, one would expect the young men to be having the time of their lives. Jason however felt quite the opposite.

“The beginning of 2014 is when my life went to shit.”

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Jason and Lopez

After spending his life in rural areas with wildlife and scenery, the shift to a more urban town made him depressed.

“I always get homesick and hated Sac,” he says.  To add to the discomfort in a strange land, Jason’s girlfriend of three years broke up with him the week after he’d moved into his apartment.  Also, his mother told him that she was moving from Willows to the Oregon coast.  Now instead of being an hour and a half away from his mother and two sisters, they were almost 8 hours apart. Suddenly, the support system that made Jason successful had crumbled and even with two of his closest friends nearby, he couldn’t have felt more alone.

While days spent in the apartment and gym passed unremarkably except for their isolation, the most important fight in Jason’s career was quickly approaching. His professional debut fighting on a Bellator ticket. The fighting league broadcasted nationally on Spike TV has had tickets featuring well known competitors like Tito Ortiz and Rampage Jackson.  It also was a perfect opportunity to show how far he had come since his first knockout at the Gridley fairgrounds.

Almost 100 of Jason’s friends and fans had purchased tickets to the event and made the trip to the Reno Events Center.  While in staging and warming up for his biggest fight yet, he later admitted to have been thinking about his ex and everything else except for the match.  Even when he entered the octagon and stared Sinjen “The Saint” Smith in the eyes, Jason’s thoughts were elsewhere.

His distractions became apparent, as only 1:52 into the fight, he was caught in an armbar and forced into submission.  A mistake that to this day, he shakes his head about.

The loss was the wake up call that Jason needed to break his haze of depression.

“My training was just going through the motions with a broken heart,” he says. Despite losing his first professional fight ever, the taste of fighting on a big ticket had proven to be what was necessary to build Powell back up. “ I felt like I had let my fans down, but I wasn’t intimidated at all by the level of competition,” he reflects remembering the bright lights and announcer calling his name, “The cameras in my face, I loved that.”  It was clear that even in the most depressed months of his life and dealing with the first loss of his career, Jason knew that the dream he’d chased since junior high was alive and needed to once again be the focus of his life.  

Though, he rebounded after his loss and won back to back fights in September and December, Powell didn’t fight a single match in 2015.  On one ticket his opponent backed out and failed physicals forced Powell to pull himself from a different bout only weeks later.

“There was blood in my piss,” Powell said, “ I had to drop the fight, but it went away shortly after a couple of months.”  While he was still receiving funds to train from sponsors, without ticket money, Jason told his coach that it wouldn’t be enough to support him and that he needed to find a job. Jason took the opportunity to be with the women he missed most, his mom and sisters, and moved to Lincoln City, Oregon. Screenshot_2016-03-07-12-12-30-1In the coastal town, dubbed “Kite City” for its strong winds, he continued to stay in shape while working at a North Face outlet store.  The Gentleman, who had spent his last few years supporting himself by beating opponents in the octagon, was finding brief contentment in selling jackets to tourists. “I’ve always loved Oregon,” Powell says, “The cold beaches up there are my favorite and one day when I’m done fighting, I’m going to live there again.”

Even though he was finally reunited with the most supportive women in his life and enjoying the simplicity of retail work, the cage in California once again called.  Powell says that moving to Lincoln City was the final piece of coming to terms with the darkness that had haunted him a year before.  “I saw my family was happy up there.  They had good jobs and were enjoying life.”  With saved up funds from working and his piss blood-free, Jason returned to the town on the ridge.

Since that night in Reno almost two years before, Jason’s career is back on a familiar track.  He now stands at a record of (8-1); (3-1) since becoming a professional.

Late this past January his most recent bout in Sacramento against Sergio Quinones proved sensational.  Quinones is an experienced fighter who has been in the cage since 2007, when Powell was still a freshman in high school. Fans of the Gentlemen flocked to the McClellan Conference Center wearing shirt tuxedo’s and MMAGOLD gear to support their local fighter.

Despite having been in more than three times as many fights as Jason, The Gentleman used his wrestling experience as well as combination strikes to hold his own.  The match was called in the second round after Powell shook Quinones with a straight left that put him on his knees. Following the blow, Jason mounted his opponent who was now bleeding from below his eye.  It was a short amount of time and flurry of punches before the referee called the match and Jason climbed the fence to acknowledge the crowd.  With Quinones blood smeared on the side of his head, he blew kisses to his fans, all traces of the depressed young man had disappeared and The Gentleman was back on top.

Today, he is in the middle of another fight camp, closing in on a bout against Bakersfield fighter, Ryan Reneau. Until May 7th, Powell’s training involves watching the clock for his next meal and traveling to Sacramento to workout, the only thing concerning to him is the next time he will enter the ring.  While the lifelong dream of becoming a UFC champion might be years off, Jason Powell is well on his way and continues to chase his goal with the ultimate patience and discipline of a true gentleman.

Paradise Man Shot in Controversial Incident Claims He Wasn’t Driving

Within view of a flower memorial that stands where a life was lost, over 100 community members lined the corner of Pearson and Black Olive Drive in Paradise, California Saturday afternoon. They were there to express anger against the ruling of Butte County District Attorney, Mike Ramsey, on a police shooting that occurred just before Thanksgiving this year.

On Thursday, Ramsey ruled that Paradise Police officer, Patrick Feaster, would not be criminally charged after “accidentally” shooting Andrew Thomas, 26, in the neck while trying to escape his overturned vehicle.

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Image courtesy of Lucid Aerials

Feaster began pursuit after Thomas and his estranged wife Darien Ehorn left a Paradise sports bar, the Canteena, just before midnight on Thanksgiving eve.  Radical driving and disregard for stoplights caused Feaster to suspect them of driving under the influence and approach the vehicle with his weapon drawn.

Footage from the dash-cam shows Feaster chasing the Toyota 4runner and follow the two until they hit a meridian and flipped. Ehorn, 23, was ejected from the vehicle and pronounced dead on the scene.  Her husband tried to climb out of the rolled truck window, before he was shot in the neck.


Image by author

While audio from the clip reveals that Feaster called in the crash, he makes no mention of shots fired.  Ramsey stated that the officer didn’t say anything about the shooting until 11 minutes after backup had arrived on the scene.

Through a Facebook event, friends of those involved as well as community members upset with the decision, organized to meet at the Paradise Community Park.   This location is not only across the street from where the accident occurred, but also within 100 feet of the Paradise Police Station.

Long time town resident and friend of Thomas, Joshua Turner, organized the event and said it was, “amazing and inspiring how many people came out to support.”

“Fire Feaster” and “Justice for Andrew,” were written on signs and chanted among the group that turned out to protest. They were supported by numerous honks from cars passing by before parading up Black Olive Drive to be directly in front of the police station.

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A sign placed on the front door of the police station. Image by Lucid Aerials.

Nathan Ramsay, not related to the DA, was one of the many personally affected by the incident and was present on Saturday afternoon. A friend of Thomas and Ehorn, Nathan was at the Canteena with the two before they left. He said that they had plans to come back to his house later that night.

He also went on to say that he had visited Andrew recently at Enloe Hospital.  His friend could be paralyzed for the rest of his life but remains in stable condition. “He swears he wasn’t the one driving,” Ramsay said, “People have their judgments against Andrew, but they are going off of what they are seeing online and not what they know.”

Thomas could face charges of drunken vehicular manslaughter depending on whether or not he was behind the wheel.

Currently, Officer Feaster is on administrative leave but an internal investigation is being conducted. Some residents of the town are calling for immediate removal of his badge.

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Protestors moving up Black Olive Drive

Once the video was released, along with Ramsey’s ruling, social media exploded with angry reactions from Paradise residents.  An online petition that was started on Friday, calls for the firing of Officer Feaster and has already received over 1600 signatures.

“I’ve lived on the Ridge for a long time, we don’t have a bad police force, but this is a bad cop,” says Deb, owner of Da Coffee Pot in Magalia.  While standing on the side of the busy road she held a sign questioning what would happen if a citizen had been the one to pull the trigger. “He didn’t even check on the girl in the video.  We can’t allow this behavior in our town or in this country.”

The internal investigation on the matter is expected to be resolved within a few weeks, but until then the community is demanding justice on the nationwide relevant subject of police accountability which has unfortunately, come to the small and quiet town of Paradise.


Try To Get It Together

Good morning all,

I’ve been pretty unmotivated and slightly depressed since  my cross country career ended a few weeks ago.  The result of our team not performing up the standard we knew we could, has made hibernating through my finals and even the holidays seemed quite appealing. I’m aware that compared to others my sadness is quite benign, but still crawling out of the cold hole known as my room has become increasingly difficult.  Maybe you’re kicking ass and going headstrong into the holidays or maybe you’re like me and struggling to get it in gear. Either way here’s some shit to help.

The search for motivation finally came to an end after a long night of listening to “Eye of the Tiger” for nearly three hours in bed.  Though the anthem still makes me want to break into one armed push-ups, it’s somewhat hokey lines helped me realize there’s all sorts of stuff to get fired up about and purse.

Today we draw inspiration from two sources which can hopefully help us realize how achievable our tasks remaining in the day, week and term are.


“Undaunted I knew the game was mine to win. Just like in life all of my successes depend on me. I’m the man who has the ball.” -Kenny Powers

The All American Anti-hero, Kenny Powers, has been at the highest of points fame and dragged down on the furthest depths of scum, we normal people never knew existed.  I rewatched the entire first season of Eastbound and Down on my flight back from North Carolina and found it more relevant than before.  Though I’m not nearly as debaucherous as Mr. Powers, his struggle to athletic prominence is actually intense, even in its fictitious world.  Kenny does very awful things, but throughout his life he’s driven to do whatever it takes to get back on top.  If you haven’t seen Eastbound and Down and don’t mind drugs, nudity or vulgar language go watch it.

The other self-help advice that’s been in the back of my mind is an old colloquial expression, “Shit or get off the pot.” Wikipedia says this is a vulgar derivative of the old New England term ,” fish or cut bait.” Seeing as how I haven’t been fishing in months and share a one bathroom house with three other men on high fiber diets, the new age adjustment seems more fitting. To me, this phrase doesn’t just mean prioritizing a task or decision you’ve been sitting on because you’re lazy, but also to be sure about yourself. I feel like it’s normal for people around my age to be unsure of commitment or action, but staying stagnant can just hold a person in a cyclical schedule of waiting and biding time.

Kenny Powers doesn’t hold back, nor dwell on an opportunity in front of him.  Shit or get off the pot.

 Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to be happy where you are in life as well as comfortable, but the paradigm is that staying to comfortable leads to the the cycle previously stated.

In conclusion, I hope these small reminders can help you overcome tasks present in your life because I read somewhere that the holidays are actually a very sad time for people feeling left out of the joy they see on t.v.  I”l break my funk of writer’s block and lack of motivation but remember, “don’t lose your grip on dreams of the past, you must fight just to keep them alive.”

Teen’s Toyota Recovered

Toyotas account for a large make-up of the vehicles on The Ridge.  Specifically, earlier generation pick-ups which can be easily modified and lifted for off-roading can be found coming down from the hills and even on most drives through town.  Being that there are many around and handed down, 80’s toyotas are a popular first vehicle among teenagers in the area.

Bryson Palade returned to the upper parking lot of Paradise High School after going for lunch on Tuesday, September 8th.  After leaving the Taco Truck on Clark Road, the junior parked his truck in the upper lot near the school office. (rework*When Palade’s second half of classes had ended, he came back to the lot before football practice, but upon seeing the space his 1988 Toyota pickup had previously occupied, the truck was nowhere to be found).


Bryson worked construction as well as at Savemart in order to earn money and modify the truck that he’d had since before he could legally drive.  He’d nicknamed the two seater “Phyllis” and put every penny earned from the multiple jobs into modifications that include engine repair as well as a new paint job that him and his father had completed in their backyard. To see all of the hard work and investment that were attached to the 27 year old vehicle disappear in a matter of hours was a hell of its own.

“At first I thought one of my friends had moved it,” said Bryson, “They were kind of laughing so I wasn’t too worried, but then they all started leaving and I realized it was actually gone.”

The reality of the situation shocked Bryson but he knew that he had to act quickly if he ever wanted to be reunited with his truck in one piece.  Since it’s more difficult to identify an axle than an entire body, thieves commonly chop down stolen vehicles and sell the parts individually, instead of flipping it entirely.

Fortunately, Paradise High School had recently updated their campus surveillance equipment and had the entire incident recorded.  The footage revealed two middle age caucasian men in a green Chevy Tahoe pulling into the space next to Bryson’s truck.

At 1:08 PM, the bell sent hundreds of students to their classroom and Bryson followed them as he always had, to his architectural design and engineering course.  Not ten minutes after he had left his vehicle the suspects arrived and wasted no time abducting Phyllis.

The scene unfolded, not unlike a crime film, on the screen before Bryson and office officials. It took just 28 seconds for the Tahoe pull into the lot and drop off one man who had no problem entering the locked vehicle and starting the engine. 28 seconds from the time the suspects showed up to when they left with the truck on Maxwell Drive.

As soon as Bryson saw the video he told all his family members and friends about the suspect’s description.  His mom posted a notice on Facebook of her son’s truck and asked for everyone to keep their eyes out.  The original post received hundreds of shares and different users chimed in about their support.  A few variations of the notice were also posted and one even told anyone who saw thFullSizeRender (2)e truck to give the thieves “Mountain justice before calling Paradise Police Department.”

Seeing everyone show their support made Bryson more optimistic, but the Palades didn’t just wait online for the thieves to show up.  Thinking that it might have been taken off road, Bryson and some his relatives in the town took to the hills to try and recover Phyllis themselves.  

With his father, Palade traversed down any dirt road they could think of in search of the truck. “We were going down all sorts of roads and trails looking for any parts or people that would have information,” Bryson recalls, “One guy had his truck stuck on Jordan Hill road and kinda sketched us out at first.”

Jordan Hill has been the location of several incidents in the past, but fortunately the stuck traveler meant the search party no harm. “My dad gave him a Hostess apple pie and he seemed thankful.  Said he hadn’t eaten in two days and told us he’d for sure keep a look out for my truck.”

Playing the waiting game while searching the woods and checking social media proved painful for Bryson.  All he could think about was his homebuilt Phyllis laying eviscerated in a chop shop.  “Kids at school told me how they’d heard of this before in Paradise and that the person never saw their truck again.  Same type of truck.  Same crime,” he said ,”The office told me it was the first vehicle stolen in from the school in seven years though, so I don’t know.”


The next afternoon, one of Palade’s cousins saw a Tahoe that matched the description of the suspect’s vehicle.  He reportedly called the police and his family members while keeping an eye on the car.  The cousin’s intuition proved to be correct and owner of the vehicle was a middle aged woman who said that she’d loaned it to her husband and his brother the day of the incident.  She didn’t ask them what they were doing with it, but they seemed, “Up to no good.”  

After confirming that the woman’s husband was the driver in the operation, the police had him call his younger brother and try to get him confess to the crime. Once they had heard enough evidence, the officer jumped into the conversation and told the suspect to drop off the truck somewhere then tell them where it was.

* All the suspect’s names are being withheld as each case is still being handled.*

Palade said that the cops had run the suspect’s name through their database and found that he was recently on parole after being jailed for stealing cars. “The police knew he’d probably only get a slap on the wrist in court and they wanted to make sure I got it back in one piece,” Bryson said.

That evening Bryson, his father and his uncle drive in a convoy with police officers down Centerville Road off of Nimshew.  As the road went on Bryson grew nervous but held onto hope that his truck would be around every next corner.  He also held a replacement truck battery. The phone call that the police received just an hour earlier told them what road Phyllis was on and that he would be taking the car’s battery so that, “It wouldn’t get stolen again.”

Sure enough, a few more minutes of driving revealed Bryson’s Toyota standing on four wheels and in one piece. Instant relief arrived the moment his truck fired up and he was able to take it home.  Though it had been just over 24 hours of searching, the time spent away from his truck seemed eternal, as Bryson could only imagine the pieces he’d put together by hand being sent off to different parts of the country.

A quick inspection of the truck showed that Bryson’s nightmares might have come true, had fortune not fallen into his hands.  Surrounding the truck in the woods were pieces of other cars that had been dismembered with varying tones of rust, indicating that the area had been used to chop vehicles for awhile now. The driveline was dented like it had been stuck somewhere and the brand new paint job which Palade had recently applied himself needed to be completely redone.  The suspect had actually started taking apart the interior as the stereo and some dashboard panels had been removed but were fortunately still in the cab.

“All I could think about was finding it with it’s doors off or something.  I’m happy to have it back, but it sucks I have to put time back into things I already did.”  The entire Palade clan is thankful for everyone who shared their post or kept their eyes out, but Bryson wants to make sure he never has to go through separation with Phyllis again, “ I’ve made some security adjustments to it so I don’t think she’ll be getting stolen anytime soon.”