Home > crime > Café Operator arrested for violating shut-down notice

Café Operator arrested for violating shut-down notice

[Press Release from the Humboldt County DA’s Office]

A prolonged attempt to get a local café operator to comply with food safety regulations and water quality laws culminated in the arrest of Fernbridge Café operator Steve Sterbeck. Humboldt County District Attorney Investigators arrested Sterbeck on March 31, 2011.

“The impetus for the arrest was Sterbeck’s continued refusal to comply with the Health and Safety Code, which effectively put every one of his customers at risk for serious illness,” explained Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos.  “It is unfortunate we had to resort to extreme measures, but Sterbeck gave us no other options.”

A series of attempts  since 2009 by  the County to assist Sterbeck in addressing water quality issues met with little success, and after a March 18, 2011 test confirmed high levels of coliform and E coli bacteria in the Café’s water, both of which can cause severe illness and death to humans, officials were forced to react.

On March 18, 2011, the Humboldt County Division of Environmental Health served a “Notice of Suspension of Food Facility Permit” on Sterbeck, and he was advised by county officials to immediately close the restaurant.

On March 31, 2011, the Café was still open and serving food to the public, in direct violation of the suspension notice and numerous health and safety statutes.  Violating these statutes is considered a criminal act and violators face fines and/or imprisonment of up to six months in county jail.

“Sterbeck’s continued operation was exposing the public to grave and imminent danger and had to be addressed,” Gallegos added.

Sterbeck was booked into Humboldt County Correctional Facility, but was later released by the jail.  No charges have been filed against Sterbeck, pending an ongoing investigation.

Deputy District Attorney Christa McKimmy specializes in environmental and consumer protection prosecution and is evaluating the case for further action.

  1. Ernest Coli
    April 1, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    Nice place. Too bad the owner didn’t care enough about his customers to do the right thing.

  2. SNaFU
    April 1, 2011 at 11:16 pm

    I’ll bet freshly groomed Marijuana cookies served à la carte would be overlooked~!

  3. Anonymous
    April 2, 2011 at 12:40 am

    The Waddington (General) Store in Grizzly Bluff was shut down due to similar public health concerns in the early 1960’s. A piece of our lives becomes history and we move on.

  4. Goldie
    April 2, 2011 at 6:26 am

    How does a business owner address water quality? What was it that he did not do?

  5. Mark Sailors
    April 2, 2011 at 6:47 am

    But the owner of the Icenter ran an Indian food restaurant for MONTHS after he was found to be operating without a licenses and having no sink or restroom.

    I wonder why one took months, close to a year, and the other only as few days?

  6. Plain Jane
    April 2, 2011 at 7:09 am

    Probably because e. coli is life threatening, Mark. If it’s in your water, it’s in your food. Is Fernbridge on well water?

  7. Plain Jane
    April 2, 2011 at 7:11 am

    Additionally, the Indian “restaurant” was just serving take out food from another restaurant, not preparing it.

  8. FurtureResident
    April 2, 2011 at 7:29 am

    This is a no brainer: I for one a fun loving advocate of the cannabis industry have to side with the gov. on this one. What’s up with this Sterbeck guy? How unlike other Californians in that part of the woods!

  9. Decline To State
    April 2, 2011 at 7:34 am

    Wow, this amazing. I’m with PJ, where’s this bacteria coming from and what are the actual levels of coliform and E coli?

    It will be interesting to hear Sterbeck’s side of the story. I can’t imagine a restaurant owner endangering his customers like that. I’ve always imagined his crowd to be loyal and local…not people you’d purposely put in harm’s way.

  10. Omnomnonimous
    April 2, 2011 at 7:34 am

    Ironically the only thing I’ve ever purchased there was a bottle of water.

  11. Plain Jane
    April 2, 2011 at 7:50 am

    “Violating these statutes is considered a criminal act and violators face fines and/or imprisonment of up to six months in county jail.”

    What would be the charge and penalty if one of his customers had been infected with E. coli and died after being cited?

  12. Plain Jane
    April 2, 2011 at 7:51 am

    *after Sterbeck was cited

  13. Goldie
    April 2, 2011 at 8:02 am

    How does e. coli get into only one person’s water?

  14. Plain Jane
    April 2, 2011 at 8:03 am

    Depends on the water source, Goldie. If he has a well that is contaminated by a septic tank or cow manure, he could be the only one affected. Hopefully everyone else in the area gets their water tested too and not just the restaurant.

  15. Not an Expert
    April 2, 2011 at 8:08 am

    who needs those stinking laws!

  16. Goldie
    April 2, 2011 at 8:16 am

    Thanks, Jane.

  17. April 2, 2011 at 8:19 am

    You’ll notice these efforts started in 2009 so the violations have been known for awhile. Sounds like he just didn’t want to play ball.

  18. anonymous
    April 2, 2011 at 8:21 am

    With all the heavy rains I have driven by quite a few
    low lying areas that smell like sewage. Alton and
    Carlotta come to mind. If you’re on a well sometimes
    these things intermingle.

  19. Anonymous
    April 2, 2011 at 8:25 am

    Guess e.coli is only acceptable when its for sale in Blue Lake.

  20. Connie Sewer
    April 2, 2011 at 8:54 am

    freshly groomed Marijuana cookies?

    I always insist on freshly groomed MJ cookies… no dreadthreads or stems sticking out for me!

  21. "HENCHMAN OF JUSTICE"
    April 2, 2011 at 8:58 am

    Everyday is a new violation or incident; then, when sales receipts are pulled, everyday turns into how many customers per day were served in violation of a suspension order. How did the guy figure no one was watching?

    Question: what was the water supply? A well?

    Jeffrey Lytle
    McKinleyville – 5th District

  22. Carla Baku
    April 2, 2011 at 9:56 am

    And just what did the powers-that-be do to warn off an unsuspecting public while they waited for Sterbeck to stop playing Russian roulette with the people’s lives?

    I’m as appalled by the health and safety officials as I am by Sterbeck. Under such circumstances, signs should be posted on the establishment entrance, warning people of the danger. In San Diego County, public health has an A-B-C designation. EVERY restaurant is required to post their letter designation. If you are walking into an eatery that doesn’t have the “A” sign in the window, you are making an informed choice.

  23. Plain Jane
    April 2, 2011 at 10:20 am

    That’s a good question, Carla. Hopefully there will be information coming as to whether or not they posted a notice that they shut him down, essentially an “F” I suppose.

  24. 69er
    April 2, 2011 at 11:40 am

    Regardless of the outcome it is a shame because it was a quaint and unique place to get a bite to eat. The real shame in it though is the supposed stupidity of the man for not cleaning up his act.

  25. Anonymous
    April 2, 2011 at 11:44 am

    And just what did the powers-that-be do to warn off an unsuspecting public while they waited for Sterbeck to stop playing Russian roulette with the people’s lives?

    You can expect government to hide the truth from the people. It’s our journalists who have failed. They don’t have the guts to publish health code violations regarding restaurants. If you want a popular blog, that’s what you do. Go down to the courthouse, get those public documents, and begin web publishing them.

  26. Coda 4jr
    April 2, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    “If you are walking into an eatery that doesn’t have the “A” sign in the window, you are making an informed choice.”

    I used to get take out lunch almost daily from a steam table Chinese place that never posted higher than a C. The space was sold and reopened as an art gallery. I stopped in shortly after the gallery opened and the new owner gave startling, graphic details of the filthy condition of the Chinese kitchen.

    Did you ever eat there, he asked me. Oh, no, I said. Never.

  27. Give 'em a break
    April 2, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    I know Steve, a very nice and upstanding citizen. I was also shocked today to see this in the paper when I know how much work he’s been putting into the market and how much more active its been in the last few years. I remember hearing a few weeks ago when I saw him last that he had cleared everything up and it was all good so I would be interested in hearing the full detailed story as it comes out. Hang in there Steve!

  28. Anonymous
    April 2, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    Nah the progs have convicted him. The only breaks are for dope growers, thieves and murderers. Throw in some rapists and wife beaters too. Just down with ranchers, food growers and those evil corps.

    Derek Bowman has an Apb out o him for attempt murder. Let’s see that disappear too

  29. tra
    April 2, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    Anonymous 8:00,

    You are hallucinating. Lie down before you hit your head on something and compound the damage. When (if) you are lucid again, seek professional help.

  30. Coda 4jr
    April 2, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    “But the owner of the Icenter ran an Indian food restaurant for MONTHS after he was found to be operating without a licenses and having no sink or restroom.”

    Still, Mark, I was kicked out for bringing my dog into iCenter with me once (there was no good place outside to tie her up). The owner said that bacteria could transfer from her to the dope!

  31. 69er
    April 2, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    things_people_pass_around.wmv (6829KB)

  32. 69er
    April 2, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    My bad, didn’t work….

  33. Mark Sailors
    April 3, 2011 at 7:35 am

    Coda 4jr says:
    April 2, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    ““But the owner of the Icenter ran an Indian food restaurant for MONTHS after he was found to be operating without a licenses and having no sink or restroom.”

    Still, Mark, I was kicked out for bringing my dog into iCenter with me once (there was no good place outside to tie her up). The owner said that bacteria could transfer from her to the dope!”

    Unless it was a service dog, they can legals keep your dog outside, however, if it was a service dog it can legally go with you anywhere. I had it out with the owner over that issue once already. I took them copies of the service dog law, and they now allow service dogs inside.

  34. Mark Sailors
    April 3, 2011 at 7:36 am

    That should have said “legally” not “legals”…no coffee yet….

  35. Coda 4jr
    April 3, 2011 at 10:22 am

    My dog is a service dog. I told them and offered to show them my service dog card, but they kicked us out anyway.

  36. High Finance
    April 3, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    “Service” dog could mean almost anything.

    One teacher insisted on bringing her “Service Dog” to school because he relieved her stress. She even had a doctor’s note saying it was necessary !

  37. Walt
    April 3, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    Do the same “docs” who sell prescriptions for pot sell prescriptions for dogs? I think I need one. . .

  38. Mark Sailors
    April 3, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    “Coda 4jr says:
    April 3, 2011 at 10:22 am

    My dog is a service dog. I told them and offered to show them my service dog card, but they kicked us out anyway.”

    If that was recently then file charges, as he was made aware that it is unlawful to deny access to a service dog. Under the ADA, a service dog can be for many issues, but it must be trained to mitigate a disability. It can not “passively’ relieve stress.

    Psychiatric Service Dogs…

    …are service dogs individually trained to perform tasks which mitigate the psychiatric disabilities of their disabled partners.

    There has been some confusion and some heated debate about psychiatric service dogs (PSDs). First let’s clarify the difference between a therapy dog and a psychiatric service dog. A therapy dog is an individual’s pet which has been trained, tested, registered and insured to work in hospital, nursing home, school, and other institutional settings. The therapy dog and his partner visit to cheer patients, to educate the community, to counter grief and stress, and generally be good canine ambassadors within the community. The canine partner of Delta Society Pet Partners is an example of a therapy dog. Most therapy dog partners are volunteers, but some states recognize professional therapy dogs partnered with therapists and other mental health professionals. Therapy dogs are not service dogs.

    Under U.S. law, persons with therapy dogs are NOT granted the right to enter businesses with their dogs which do not permit pets. They do not get to fly in the cabins of aircraft because they are therapy dogs, nor do they get to live in “no pets” housing because they are therapy dogs.

    Dogs used for emotional support, that are not task-trained, are called emotional support animals. They are not service dogs.

    “The Department is proposing new regulatory text in § 35.104 to formalize its position on emotional support or comfort animals, which is that ‘‘[a]nimals whose sole function is to provide emotional support, comfort, therapy, companionship, therapeutic benefits, or promote emotional wellbeing are not service animals.’’ The Department wishes to underscore that the exclusion of emotional support animals from ADA coverage does not mean that persons with psychiatric, cognitive, or mental disabilities cannot use service animals. The Department proposes specific regulatory text in § 35.104 to make this clear: ‘‘[t]he term service animal includes individually trained animals that do work or perform tasks for the benefit of individuals with disabilities, including psychiatric, cognitive, and mental disabilities.’’ This language simply clarifies the Department’s longstanding position.”

    http://www.ada.gov/NPRM2008/t2NPRM_federalreg.pdf

    http://www.ada.gov/qasrvc.htm
    http://www.ada.gov/svcanimb.htm

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