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Efforts to prevent military and veteran suicides

 December 9, 2022 at 5:00 AM PST

Good Morning, I’m Debbie Cruz….it’s Friday, December 9th.

Continued efforts are underway to prevent military and veteran suicides. More on that next. But first... let’s do the headlines….


The latest numbers show flu and COVID-19 cases are continuing to increase as we approach winter.

13 San Diegans have died from flu this season with more than 15-thousand cases reported.

COVID-19 cases are also increasing.

The county’s deputy public health officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser says the region is still averaging one COVID death per day.

“We expect to move into the cdc’s yellow tier or medium tier likely this week because our hospital and case counts all point that way.”

With the increase, Kaiser says people need to be taking precautions, like staying up to date on vaccines.


For the fourth week in a row, the strike continues between the University of California and thousands of Academic Student Employees and Graduate Student Researchers.

A published report says some instructors are planning to withhold grades in solidarity with the strikers as the semester ends.

After almost a week, talks between the University of California and academic workers started again THURSDAY.


The San Diego County Registrar of Voters yesterday certified the results of the November 8th


The voter participation rate was 54-percent.

There were nearly two-million registered voters in the county, but only about one-million-43-thousand ballots were cast.

Of those, nearly 90-percent were mail-in ballots.

To see the final results, head to w-w-w-dot-kpbs-dot-org-slash-elections.


From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now. Stay with me for more of the local news you need.


Students at S-D-S-U say they’re disappointed by a decision not to charge three former Aztec football players for an alleged gang rape off campus.

A legal expert talked to KPBS’s Alexander Nguyen about what may have led to the D-A’s decision.

Eliana Satkins was disappointed when she heard the news. “It's, like, really concerning because it kind of gave us all loss of trust and hope in the school and also just how the whole system works, especially as a girl on this campus. It's scary.” The S-D-S-U student hopes the decision won’t deter assault victims from speaking out. Other students on campus say clearly the DA has evidence something happened and questioned why no charges were filed. Former prosecutor Mark Deniz says it’s not that simple. He says what matters is *how* the evidence can support every aspect of the case. “If it falters in that one spot, it's almost like a cook. If they don't have an ingredient, they can't cook it.” Meanwhile … the young woman’s attorney says he will press on with the civil suit where the burden of proof is lower. AN/KPBS


The Pentagon is finishing a review of its policies regarding suicide.

Though the number of military suicides declined slightly last year, it remains a major problem, and the armed services are trying to address it in a number of new ways.

From San Diego, Steve Walsh reports for the American Homefront Project.

“If you put your hand out, he’ll lick your hand.” Judy Beckett, runs Cornerstone Equine Therapy Center outside San Diego. She’s worked with the Navy for more than a decade. She says horses have almost a meditative power with sailors working through PTSD or a military sexual trauma. “There's an intangible that nobody really knows why, but when you're with them, you literally don't think of anything else. And you can't.” She says one former client called her a year after he completed therapy. He told her that he considered killing himself. She asked him what stopped him? He told her it was her horse - Rebel - which he rode during the program. “He said that dude has saved my life so many times. And he said Judy. I just thought about him and how good I felt and how he changed my life and he goes. It just stopped me. It stopped me. And that's what it's about. Sorry” These days, most of her calls are from Navy commanders searching for new ideas to increase resiliency among their sailors. More than 500 military personnel die by suicide each year, though the number dropped slightly last year. This summer a Pentagon Committee visited bases around the country including Alaska, where there have been several suicides. Despite the scrutiny, another four suicides took place in November at the Navy’s Regional Maintenance Center in Norfolk, Virginia. Earlier in the year, in nearby Newport News, seven suicides were reported on the USS George Washington. After visiting the ship, Master Chief Russell Smith told Congress that he once struggled with suicidal thoughts. “Suicide is a massive problem for us, because it’s the one thing we can prevent absolutely by getting inside people’s headspace and connecting to them.” “A person who dies by suicide could look like your neighbor. They could be the, you know, the person next door. It doesn't have to be somebody who seems to be losing their mind and is in constant crisis. Researcher Jenny D’Olympia is Director of Military Veteran Psychology at William James College in Massachusetts. She says the services should prepare everyone to better handle dark moments - to stow away personal firearms, which factor into a majority of military suicides. And not just focus on people having mental health crises. “I think what we have to do is focus our efforts on the other people, like preparing them to be aware that you could have this fleeting thought and because you have easy access to a highly lethal means, you could take action that you can't take back.” Teri Caserta’s son Brandon killed himself four years ago, by walking into a helicopter blade at his base in Norfolk. After Brandon’s death, his parents found six suicide notes where he detailed bullying and hazing at his command. “We were looking through his phone and we noticed he was texting a lot of people in his command and talking them out of dying by suicide. That's how we, and why we, came up with the Brandon Act.” She and her husband lobbied to pass legislation that took effect this year, which requires a mental health evaluation for those who report suicidal thoughts. It also allows sailor and soldiers to go outside the chain of command for mental health care - similar to sexual assaults. She says the services need to do more to protect junior sailors before they struggle. “In my opinion, this panel that they’re putting together and now this report that they’re putting together. It’s not going to be accurate…They’re not looking at the real issue. The real issue is toxic leadership and abuse of power.” The panel is scheduled to report to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin this month, then send a report to Congress by February. In San Diego, I’m Steve Walsh.

This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans.

Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Bob Woodruff Foundation.


Scientists at San Diego’s Scripps Research have identified antibodies that could stop the very complex virus that gives people AIDS.

KPBS sci-tech reporter Thomas Fudge tells us about the first clinical trial of a possible H-I-V vaccine.

The decades-long search for an HIV vaccine has not yet succeeded because HIV has many different strains and that makes it a very hard target for a vaccine. Bill Schief, a professor of immunology at Scripps Research, says an effective vaccine needs to mobilize a very specific kind of antibody to actually stop the virus. “We think a vaccine has to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV, to protect against the hundreds of thousands or millions of HIV variants that are in humans around the world right now” Schief is co-author of a paper in Nature about the clinical trial and the research around it. He says it has proven that the strategy for creating a vaccine is on the right path. Scripps’ antigen, the precursor to a vaccine, elicited the correct immune response in 97 percent of the human test subjects. Thomas Fudge, KPBS news. 


Latina Equal Pay Day is a reminder that women’s paychecks still fall short of their male counterparts… and Latinas fare even worse in the workplace.

KPBS reporter Kitty Alvarado says local leaders gathered yesterday to take action against the wage gap.

Today is Latina equal pay day Cheers Latina Equal Pay Day is the symbolic day marking the additional time a Latina needs to work to earn the same annual salary as her white male counterpart. Local leaders stood in front of the county administration building  to say enough is enough … There is no economy without latinas … and we’re not going anywhere County Supervisor Nora Vargas said  policy makers have a responsibility to create change, Because based on the current rate of progress Latinas are not going to reach the equal pay with with non Latino men for another 200 years Mayor Todd Gloria not only pledged to make the city’s workforce more equitable –  he challenged every employer in San Diego to do the same. KA KPBS News.


Coming up.... We have some weekend arts events worth checking out. We’ll have that and more, just after the break.


With the votes in the November election officially certified, Chula Vista Mayor-elect John McCann said he will stand in solidarity with his fellow mayors in other South Bay cities.

KPBS reporter Gustavo Solis has more.

McCann defeated Amar Campa-Najjar by four percentage points - or about 2,700 total votes. McCann noted that Chula Vista and other South Bay cities have not always gotten their fair share of regional investment. This is particularly true when it comes to infrastructure projects. He wants to work with the other newly elected mayors to change that reality. “Many times, we have been lacking in the support but I hope to work with both the National City and Imperial Beach new mayors to be able to have a united front to be able to get quality infrastructure to the South Bay.” Campa-Najjar waited until after the Registrar of Voters final certification on Thursday to concede the election. In a statement, he thanked his supporters and said he’s committed to serving the community. Also in Chula Vista, deceased City Attorney candidate Simon Silva defeated Dan Smith. Because Silva is unable to serve his term, Chula Vista taxpayers will now have to spend up to $2 million on a special election. The special election will take place in either the spring or fall of 2023. Gustavo Solis KPBS News

We heard a little from San Diego stuntman, Fernando Jay Huerto earlier in the week.

He’s featured in the Sony PlayStation game ‘God of War Ragnarok’.

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando and Huerto discuss his mo-cap or motion captive work for the popular video game.

November 9th was a big day for Fernando Jay Huerto. FERNANDO JAY HUERTO: It's one of the biggest days of my career. God of War Ragnarök released today. And Huerto is in the game. FERNANDO JAY HUERTO: Yep this is one of my scenes, yep that’s me. OMG That is me… But unlike the five million other people who bought the game, Huerto wasn’t just killing random victims. FERNANDO JAY HUERTO: I get to kill me in a way, because I'm doing the reactions to all the hits. I’m a lot of the characters. I'm killing myself here, killing myself there. This is so weird to think about. Game play Huerto gets to kill himself repeatedly thanks to the magic of mocap or motion capture. FERNANDO JAY HUERTO: I'm taking hits from and I'm just doing eight hours of different reactions, like getting slashed, getting my head lopped off, getting my body split in half. Mocap is the state of the art tool that allows visual effects artists to create characters like Gollum and Rocket Raccoon in movies. Or to employ a stuntman like Huerto to create action for a video game. FERNANDO JAY HUERTO: So they put this suit on you that has reflective markers or LED lights, depending on the system, and it records the performers’ movements and the programmers and the animators and directors, so they can put it into the scene in the game… it's just me just trying to figure out: how am I going to sell this animation? It's problem solving. How do I sell this hit that's over the top or it's not realistic. No physics. You just have to use your imagination and then let the animators take it from there." "God of War Ragnarök" is an action-adventure game developed by Santa Monica Studio for Sony PlayStation. It became PlayStation's fastest selling game. Huerto got to work on it through his friend and fellow stunt performer Eric Jacobus, who did the mocap stunts for Kratos, the main protagonist. As an avid gamer, Huerto loved doing the mocap and then playing the game. FERNANDO JAY HUERTO: OMG  it’s coming up. Ye that was it. That’s my scene. My other scene… I remember doing that, we stacked mats and then pulled Eric over the mat.. On location you might have to perform a stunt without mats and have to land on concrete…FERNANDO JAY HUERTO: But doing stunts in motion capture is heaven. You don't have to hide pads. They could be right there and the software is not going to capture that. It's only going to capture what's reflected on the markers that are on your suit. So I could hit the ground all day for eight hours a day and I'm still fine and I'm not banged up for the next day of work. In addition to mocap work, Huerto has done pre-vis or pre-visualization, which is mapping out scenes in a movie prior to filming. He even worked on Jordan Peele's "Get Out" and "Us, films that are outside the action genre. FERNANDO JAY HUERTO: Those two films had a lot of violent moments. So that's where our stunt team came in, so we would choreograph and shoot for the pre-vis of the violent sections of those films. Stunt work also took him to China to perform at Universal Studios Beijing, a theme park where he worked on a show inspired by the "How to Train Your Dragon" movie. Huerto also makes his own films, which gives him the most personal satisfaction. One of those was a fan film about the DC character Harley Quinn. I’m the one holding the baseball bat so I get to talk. FERNANDO JAY HUERTO: I'm an action filmmaker. I know Harley's ability: she has super strength from Poison Ivy; she does gymnastics; and she has a bag of tricks. So she could totally fight and we could do a martial arts style Harley Quinn fight in the vein of 'Batman V, Superman,' the Ben Affleck Batman fight in the warehouse fight. We could do something that. And he did. It’s garnered more than 14 million views on Youtube. And with God of War Ragnarok, Huerto has likely been killed at least 14 million times … and that should make any stunt person happy. FERNANDO JAY HUERTO: Yeah, oh that is awesome, side flip out of it. Beth Accomando, KPBS News.

Watch for Beth’s Evening Edition story tonight to see Fernando Jay Huerto in action.


And before you go… we have some weekend arts events worth checking out… thanks to KPBS arts producer and editor, Julia Dixon Evans.

This weekend is the latest installment in Project BLANK's Salty Series. 

Tomorrow's performance is called "Machine Music," curated by Project BLANK’s tech supervisor, sound artist and musician Joe Cantrell. 

He told KPBS the concert would feature some sort of machine or mechanical production as the main source of the sound.

“A lot of times with performances, you try to highlight the human in this sort of interaction, and here we're doing sort of the opposite. We're highlighting the machine." 

The concert also features performances by four musicians, including Michelle Lou [LOO].We just heard sounds by her a moment ago.

The performances start at 8 p-m tomorrow at Bread and Salt in Logan Heights.

And if you want to get in the holiday spirit… ‘Noel, Noel’ is a new production this year.It is a mixture of narrated and performed storytelling and holiday music.

It's performed by several local choirs and the San Diego Symphony. 

The performances are at 7 tonight and tomorrow, and 5 p-m on Sunday at The Rady’s Shell on the bayfront, so bring a jacket.

You can find more details about the arts events mentioned, and more, at kpbs-dot-org-slash-arts.


That’s it for the podcast today. This podcast was produced by KPBS editor Joe Guerin and Producer Emilyn Mohebbi. As always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Debbie Cruz. Thanks for listening and have a great weekend.

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The Pentagon is finishing a review of its policies regarding suicide, and although the number of military suicides declined slightly last year, it remains a major problem. In other news, a legal expert talked to KPBS about what may have led to the San Diego County District Attorney’s decision to not charge three former Aztec football players for an alleged gang rape off campus. Plus, we have some weekend arts events worth checking out.