Award-winning stories

Driven to Learn

‘Alvaro Bonilla’s days start early and end late. By the time he arrives for his first class of the day at San Jose State University, he has already been up for more than four hours. He leaves his house at 7 a.m. to start his long commute – carpooling to Morgan Hill with his wife who works at a preschool. She drops him at a bus stop and he takes the Valley Transit Authority Route 68 bus to the southernmost light rail station. The Santa Teresa line drops him in downtown San Jose and he walks a few blocks to the campus. He has an hour to study in the library before his first class.’

  • Published in the Weekend Pinnacle on April 11, 2008, the story won the 2008 second-quarter Mainstreet Media Group creativity award and 2008 grand prize in the feature category.

Just the beginning

‘After more than a year of working on a plan for downtown Hollister, and a $190,000 price tag, RBF staff has left the city of Hollister with a few catalyst projects and a slew of economic development strategies. But the work is hardly over.

“There is not a silver bullet and every community wants a silver bullet,” said Jason Jones, an urban designer and planner with RBF consulting, the company hired by the Hollister Downtown Association a year ago. “You have to look at it as a multi-faceted approach.”‘

  • Published in the Weekend Pinnacle on March 5, 2008, the piece included an audio-visual slideshow made with software programs downloaded in the newsroom for free. The piece won Mainstreet Media Group’s Creativity Awards 2008 third-quarter for general creativity 2008.

Family was trying to get help for Pentagon shooting suspect

‘John Patrick Bedell’s family was well aware the 36-year-old Hollister resident had been suffering from mental illness and attempted for years to get help for him before he shot two Pentagon officers Thursday and died from return gunfire.

“The family was working with their son on mental issues,” San Benito County Sheriff Curtis Hill said at a 12:30 p.m. news conference at the board of supervisors chambers.’

  • First published online at the Hollister Freelance website on March 5, 2010, this story was one of several online breaking news pieces that received second place for online breaking news from the 2010 California Newspaper Publishers Association Better Newspaper Contest for a weekly in its category.

The American Dream Lost

‘Angie Painter and her husband, Vernon, bought their home on Clearview Drive 37 years ago.

“It was the third house up there,” Painter said. “There were orchards all around.”

She and her husband raised a son there and in 2006, they refinanced their home through the New Century Title Co. in Campbell.

Yvonne Landa purchased her Milpitas home from her parents in 1976. She lived there with two developmentally disabled sisters, and paid the mortgage with her own disability check and money she received as conservator for her sisters until 2004 when she started struggling financially.

Gerald Finney and his wife purchased their San Jose home in 1984. They worked together on the home, improving it each year. In 1992, their daughter was born and Finney discovered his wife had breast cancer. His wife died in the dining room of their home in May 1996. Since then, he has cared for his daughter on his own, but financial problems in 2004 put him in danger of losing his home.

Finney, Landa and Painter have never met but they have one thing in common – Wesley Fort.’

  • Published Oct. 10, 2008 in the Weekend Pinnacle as the second piece in a two-part series, the stories won second place for best investigative report in the 2009 California Newspaper Publishers Association Better Newspaper Contest. The piece also won the Mainstreet Media Group Creativity Award fourth-quarter 2008 community impact/investigative category.

Give Me Shelter

“Cindy Parr has shoulder-length blond hair and deep blue eyes. When she talks, her voice has the raspiness of someone who smokes, but who has also done harder drugs in the past. She is not shy when talking about her past and she is optimistic about her future. Parr struggled with drug addiction, including addiction to methamphetamines, for 20 years. She’s been sober for two years.”

A place to call home

“Last winter Robert Gaxiola was on his way up from rock bottom when a police officer found him sleeping in his truck.

“I’d just gotten a job,” Gaxiola said. “The police officer woke me up and said it was against the law to sleep in my truck.”

Instead of hauling him in for the night, the officer told him about the San Benito County Homeless Shelter. He headed out to Southside Road where the migrant camp doubles as a shelter for the homeless from the day after Thanksgiving to March 15.”

  • Published in the Weekend Pinnacle Nov. 9, 2007 and Dec. 14, 2007, the stories helped the Homeless Coalition to raise $50,000 to keep the temporary shelter open for the winter season. The stories received the 2007 Mainstreet Media Group fourth quarter Creativity Award Community Impact category and the 2007 grand prize in the same category. The series received second place for public service coverage in the 2008 California Newspaper Publishers Association Better Newspaper Contest 2008 third-quarter for weeklies in its circulation category.

Jon Robbins: A Complex Personality

Editor’s note: The untimely, violent death of a son or daughter is perhaps the worst emotional trauma a family can suffer. But when the circumstances of that death are unclear, when no closure is afforded, and when answers remain shrouded, the grief begins to take on a life of its own.

When the body of 33-year-old Jon Robbins was discovered in the bedroom of his Gilroy home on Sept. 29, 2002 – a bullet hole in his right temple – it marked the beginning of an investigation that by some accounts was dramatically flawed – so much so that is has given rise to a body of evidence that suggests the official ruling of suicide may have masked more ominous facts in the case.

What follows is a story – broken into nine parts over three weeks – that Pinnacle city editor Dennis Taylor and Gilroy reporter Melissa Flores spent four months researching. It constitutes interviews with more than a dozen sources intimately familiar with Jon Robbins, his death and the investigation that followed.

Gilroy man’s death shrouded in doubt

Suicide rarely spur of the moment

Investigator calls GPD analysis flawed

Lack of investigation

Four years later, family still copes with loss

Suspicion swirls around family friend

  • Published over a three-week period in the Weekend Pinnacle, starting on July 23, 2006, the stories won first place in the California Newspaper Publisher Association Better Newspaper Contest for weeklies in its circulation category.

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