Tahoe City man struggled to pay rent, thought of as and#8216;good guy’
June 18, 2009
TAHOE CITY and#8212; When deputies, police lights and excitement faded Wednesday, friends and acquaintances of Tahoe City resident John McKnight were left wondering what happened on Lake Forest Road.
McKnight, 61 and#8212; arrested Wednesday after allegedly posting an anti-Semitic sign and waving a handgun while threatening residents of the neighborhood east of Tahoe City and#8212; had lived in the area for at least 35 years, at least 20 at his cabin at 2854 Lake Forest Road.
Neighbor and friend Mickey Contreras described McKnight as the kind of guy who would help out when Contreras and#8212; confined to a walker due to a spinal affliction and#8212; fell.
and#8220;To tell you the truth, man all I had to do was get him on the phone and he’d be right over to pick me up,and#8221; said Contreras, whose cabin stands feet from McKnight’s. and#8220;All I can do is praise the man. If I needed food he’d go to 7-Eleven for me and#8212; he was a good guy.and#8221;
Contreras said McKnight, allegedly intoxicated at the time of the incident, wasn’t a heavy drinker and had never spoken about a resentment or hatred toward Jewish people.
Robert Smith, who owns the home McKnight rented in Lake Forest, said he was several months behind on rent and had last approached him about the situation two to three weeks ago.
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and#8220;I put the pressure on him and asked him what he would do if he still couldn’t pay the rent,and#8221; Smith said. Then, mimicking McKnight’s motion, Smith held up his thumb and forefinger extended from his fist and pointed his finger to his head. and#8220;I didn’t know what he was going to do; I didn’t want him to do that.and#8221;
Smith said it was the second time McKnight had made such a threat and#8212; this time with an ominous message.
and#8220;He said I’d be the one to clean up if he blew his brains out,and#8221; Smith said.
In retrospect, Smith said he should maybe have notified the authorities, but dismissed the statements as frustrations from McKnight about being out of work.
and#8220;It’s a shame,and#8221; Smith said. and#8220;But you never know what somebody’s going to do when they can’t put bread on the table.and#8221;
Contreras said his friend didn’t have problems feeding himself, but knew he had been out of work or had sporadic work, at best.
McKnight, a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, Smith and Contreras said, is a skilled and talented machinist and mechanically inclined. But, both said he’d been out of work for a long time, Smith said.
and#8220;John and I had been through this before,and#8221; Smith said. and#8220;He’d go through months where he didn’t have work, but he’d always pay rent as soon as he started again. Whenever he had work he’d pay, so I hadn’t started the eviction process. I had enough to deal with.and#8221;
Smith said most of the residents of the four-cabin area he owns at the Lake Forest address have difficulty making rent.
and#8220;He kept telling me there was work coming, though, and I trusted John,and#8221; Smith said.
Both men said they were shocked at McKnight’s actions Wednesday, when witness reports state McKnight threatened to and#8220;kill everyone in Lake Forest.and#8221;
Smith said McKnight lived in the one-bedroom home by himself, and, to his knowledge, rarely had visitors and didn’t have much family.
Contreras said he only knew of a sister McKnight had in Southern California, but didn’t know how to get in touch with her. He said McKnight knew many people in Lake Forest and the Tahoe City area through his work over the years as a carpenter and sheet rock finisher.
Tim Baker, another worker in the Lake Forest area, said he’d seen McKnight’s gold Ford pickup numerous times over the years in the neighborhood and knew the man was out of work.
The female neighbor who originally reported McKnight to police declined comment on this story.
Reports of Tahoe City resident John McKnight waving a gun in the air and posting an anti-Semitic sign in front of the 2854 Lake Forest Road cabin came in at 3:48 p.m. Wednesday. The sign, written in teal lettering on a brown piece of cardboard, read and#8220;Kill all Jews.and#8221;
Officers from the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, California Highway Patrol and rangers from the California State Parks surrounded the area and began a manhunt for McKnight, who managed to flee in his gold Ford pickup.
At about 4:45 p.m., McKnight was pulled over east of Truckee on Interstate 80 at the Highway 267 interchange. He was arrested on two felony charges and#8212; making criminal threats and assault with a deadly weapon and#8212; and three misdemeanors and#8212; DUI, possession of a concealed weapon and possession of a loaded weapon.
He is currently awaiting transfer to Placer County’s detention facility, where he sits on $106,316.25 bail, according to officials at Nevada County’s Wayne Brown detention facility in Roseville, Calif.
He is set to be arraigned 1 p.m. Friday in Auburn, Calif., and since the felonies were committed in Placer County, he’ll be charged with all of the crimes there.
If you know of someone struggling or in need of mental health care, Placer County’s website suggests calling Sierra Family Services at (530) 581-4054.