Remnants of a wild weekend in the foothills:
ON THE RAMPAGE -- Tracy Whalen figured the 2,000-pound male buffalo might take the bait after it jumped a fence Sunday in the Calaveras County community of Rail Road Flat. She threw apples toward the beast, hoping it would follow the fruit and go away.
Instead, it turned and charged the 38-year-old, knocking her to the ground and using its horns to shred her upper left leg into hamburger. She is hospitalized, with roughly 100 stitches or staples in the leg and facing skin graft surgeries in the future. She suffered a shoulder injury as well.
The buffalo, one among dozens on the ranch owned by millionaire gun collector Dale Buller, 79, has escaped several times over the past week or so. Sgt. Laurie Murray of Calaveras County Animal Control said her officers have responded to numerous complaints, though Sunday's incident marked the first time anyone had been charged or injured by one of the animals.
"That buffalo's been out quite a bit in one week's time," Murray said.
Each of the other times, Buller's ranch hands managed to return the animal by the time officers arrived. Not this time, though.
Buller's ranch is just across the street from Whalen's residence. When Whalen's 12-year-old daughter told her the animal was loose again, "I called 911 -- for the buffalo, not myself," Whalen said. Ultimately, she became the victim and now faces a lengthy recovery.
"Nobody needs to go through this," said Luella Thompson, Whalen's mother.
"This man (Buller) has been told so many times to keep his animals inside his fence," Whalen said.
Monday, the animal escaped again, wandering onto a schoolyard, Murray said. Classes were in session, so the teachers kept students inside until the animal left and Buller's ranch hands again directed it home.
Buller could not be reached for comment. And according to county officials, Buller doesn't appear to be a believer in Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People."
A Calaveras County Superior Court clerk said Buller is scheduled for trial in October on weapons charges. And he has been involved in numerous civil complaints, including small-claims cases, as plaintiff and defendant. Sheriff's deputies who have responded to calls claim that he has been verbally abusive with them.
MINING LAW -- Friday evening, Sonora's Darvis Lee Jr. went exploring in an old mine on a mountain north of town and tumbled 100 feet into a sooty, black hole.
In retrospect, he's the first -- OK, so he's not the first -- to tell you that entering an abandoned, probably unstable Gold Rush-era mine ranks pretty low on the common sense meter.
"I can't stress enough to people not to be interested in going into these mines," Lee said after the fact.
He'd gone up on the mountain with a friend who didn't see him enter what is known locally as the Leo Mine. It's on federal Bureau of Land Management property. There is a gate across the road.
"Someone had cut the lock," Lee said. "It was open." He trespassed anyway.
About 20 feet into the mine opening, Lee suddenly found nothing beneath his feet -- nothing, that is, except air. As old cliches go, that last step really was a doozy.
Lee said he lost his Maglite flashlight and hit three ledges during his descent. Each impact hurt a little bit more than the previous one. A pool of mucky cold water finally broke his fall.
"I was trapped, cold and in the water," said Lee, 34.
He began yelling for help. Saturday morning, his friend figured out what had happened. The friend told Lee he'd go for help and to stay put, as if Lee had any other options. His back and legs were sore -- bruised and scraped, though not broken. He wasn't going anywhere without help.
The Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department summoned members of its search-and-rescue unit, who quickly realized they were ill-equipped to extract Lee from his predicament. They summoned a unit from Los Angeles -- one that specializes in mine and other close-quarter rescues. They hoisted him from the mine at 5 a.m. Sunday, ending his 32-hour ordeal.
It struck me as unusual that they'd bring in a unit from Los Angeles when they have mine rescue experts right there in Sonora. Among them is Dan Brennan, who lives only about a mile from the mine. Another, retired sheriff's Lt. Jim Scruggs, lives a few miles away, near Columbia.
They once were part of a knowledgeable, experienced six-member team. But they can't respond even though Brennan is co-author of the mine rescue manual the state uses in training. Because of budget cuts several years ago, the sheriff's search-and-rescue team allowed its mine rescue certification to expire. The certification, granted by the state's Office of Emergency Services, must be renewed annually. The costs of keeping the rescuers trained and the equipment updated outweighed the benefits, because there had been so few incidents involving mine or cave rescues.
In the 1920s, a team of state geologists tried to chart the area and found some 26,000 shafts, vents or other mining- related orifices between Sonora and Columbia alone. Many have been sealed, and vegetation hides others.
Still, the shafts are there, and those familiar with the Mother Lode are surprised there haven't been more incidents similar to Lee's, or worse.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2383.