In 1969, when I got back from Vietnam and went to work for the family business, it had a very small staff. I was the sports editor and also covered the school board, the police, fire and sheriff’s beats.
One early December morning, I got a phone call from the Sonoma police dispatcher that there was something dramatic happening at the Cheese Factory. It was dark and starting to drizzle out, but I got dressed and drove down to the Plaza. The streets on the north side were blocked, so I parked behind City Hall and walked across the lawn toward what was obviously some kind of confrontation.
Spotlights were focused on the front of the Cheese Factory and local cops aimed shotguns and rifles from behind their cars. I heard, then saw, Pete Viviani, the owner of the Cheese Factory, shouting “Jorge, Jorge!” over and over.
Sonoma Police Chief Gene Cartwright, who was a good cop and a great guy (and kept a potentially ugly scene from becoming deadly), gave me a quick briefing on the situation, but asked me to stay well behind his officers in case shooting started.
The next day, I wrote down what happened. The story was published in the Dec. 13, 1973, issue of the I-T. It went the closest thing to viral (before the days of the Internet). Frank Bartholomew, who was the head of United Press International and lived in Sonoma (and owned Buena Vista Winery), sent the story to his San Francisco bureau and it was sent all over the world, and republished all or in part by many daily newspapers. Frank changed some things and embellished a little, but it was still my story.
In 1974 my original story won first place news-writing awards in state competition and at the San Francisco Press Club.
Here is that story:
Pickled pair, shotgun blasts and tear gas
Two men, one a baker’s assistant and the other a cheese maker, got pickled Monday night and wound up sandwiched between city police and sheriff’s deputies in a four-hour siege of the Sonoma Cheese Factory on Spain Street.
A 34-year-old cheese factory employee, and a 36-year-old employee of the Sonoma French Bakery, who share a small apartment above the cheese factory, apparently had quite a party for themselves Monday night and on into the early morning hours Tuesday.
They were spotted in the store sales room at 3:45 a.m. Tuesday by city patrolman Bob Wieworka. According to Wieworka’s report, the two appeared to be having an argument. Suspecting a possible burglary attempt, Wierworka called for assistance from the Sheriff’s substation in Agua Caliente. Upon the deputy’s arrival, both lawmen checked the side and back of the building. At some point, while the two officers were checking the exterior, one of the suspects left the sales room, and then the second man left.
A garbage man making his early morning pickup in the back of the building came out front and reported that he had seen a man with a gun inside.
A deputy soon spotted one of the men upstairs with a shotgun in his hands. A few minutes later the man came downstairs toward the front of the building brandishing a double-barreled shotgun. At this point the lawmen backed off to talk over the situation.