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News from southern California

California tribal official dies in Denver

DENVER – Police are investigating the death of a 41-year-old tribal council member from southern California who died early Sept. 1 following an altercation with the security staff of a gentleman’s club in Denver, a police official said.

Gabriel Pico, an elected tribal council member of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians in Temecula, Calif., was in town for the Democratic National Convention, according to a statement issued by the tribe. Pico died of a heart attack, the statement said, but police said they were still trying to determine the cause of death.

“We are unsure if he died from the altercation or of another reason,” Denver Police spokesman Sonny Jackson said Sept. 4. He said police were waiting for the results of an autopsy conducted by the Denver Office of the Medical Examiner in conjunction with a police “assault investigation.”

Jackson said police did not know what had led to the altercation in front of the Diamond Cabaret and Steakhouse in downtown Denver late Sept. 1 that landed Pico in a local hospital, where he died a day later. He said Pico was found unconscious at the scene.

Pico was elected to his first term on the Pechanga seven-person council in July, according to the tribe’s statement. He leaves behind three daughters, two sons and a grandson.

“This is a big loss for our tribe. Though Gabe had only been in office for a few weeks, it was evident that he was a tremendous asset to the council and the tribe,” said Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro. “He will be missed dearly.”

Tribe opens modern fire station

PALA, Calif. – A fire department at a southern California reservation that started with two firefighters 30 years ago has evolved into a high-tech force as it opened a new fire station to house its now 30-member crew.

The Pala Band of Mission Indians in San Diego County opened a nearly 25,000-square-foot fire station July 26, said Pala Fire Chief Anthony Ravago. The six-year chief and Pala tribal member said the station consists of two stories, each dedicated to administrative and operational purposes. It has six bays, 19 bedrooms and 10 restrooms. And the jewel of the station, he added, is a family room where the families of the crew can visit comfortably.

“I think they were amazed and in awe when they saw it, especially the family room. I don’t know anybody else that has that,” Ravago said of the firefighters from other agencies that have viewed the station.

The station is also equipped with a training area, including a tower from which to rapel.

The Pala Fire Department is responsible for almost 21 square miles of reservation land where about 650 tribal members live. Some 15 major structures, including a casino and 2,000-seat entertainment venue, exist in the reservation’s 13,000 acres, Ravago said.

The department also has mutual aid agreements with the surrounding fire departments.

Southern California casino ranks best

CABAZON, Calif. – A Riverside County casino achieved the highest job satisfaction rating among 27 Native gaming organizations in a survey conducted last year, the casino’s officials said Aug. 6.

The Morongo Casino Resort and Spa, operated by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, scored a 73 percent favorable rating – three percentage points above the national gaming average – in a survey of 37,000 tribal gaming employees nationwide, said Spence Johnston, a spokesperson for the casino. The survey was conducted by management consulting giant HR Solutions Inc. of Chicago.

“It is a tremendous honor to receive this type of recognition in the industry,” said General Manager Sean Sullivan in a press release.

The casino’s approximately 3,000 employees service 310 rooms, a 150,000-square-foot casino floor and nine restaurants and lounges, Johnston said.

Sullivan said the cooperative effort, positive reinforcement, great leadership, competitive salaries and perks positioned the casino to top the survey.