Tuesday, February 9 , 2016, 11:17 pm | Fair 54º

Paula Lopez Returns to KEYT Newscast, Opens Up About Disappearance

TV anchor, who confirms medical issues had taken a toll, defends the law enforcement response and expresses gratitude for the 'unbelievable' support

KEYT News’ Paula Lopez returns to the anchor desk for Monday night’s television broadcasts, six weeks after her daylong disappearance became the focus of media attention and an extensive search by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.
KEYT News’ Paula Lopez returns to the anchor desk for Monday night’s television broadcasts, six weeks after her daylong disappearance became the focus of media attention and an extensive search by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.  (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

By Gina Potthoff, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @ginapotthoff |

A combination of working too much while neglecting medical issues — including pneumonia and dehydration — caused the deterioration of KEYT News anchor Paula Lopez’s health six weeks ago, according to the beloved local television personality.

In the first interview since her brief disappearance that launched an all-out search, Lopez on Monday opened up to Noozhawk about the circumstances surrounding the “medical condition” cited by her family, authorities and KEYT officials as what caused concern when she was reported missing on the morning of Feb. 27 and then returned home safely eight hours later.

Monday also marked Lopez’s long-anticipated return to the airwaves of the Central Coast’s ABC affiliate station, as she resumed her co-anchor duties alongside CJ Ward during the 6:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts.

Although she was mum on details during the broadcast, Lopez appeared to easily fall back into a natural flow with her news team, extending her thanks to viewers and colleagues.

“I’m extremely happy to be back today,” Lopez said earlier Monday, a wide grin forming on her face before more seriously addressing the response time of law enforcement when she had been reported missing after a mere 30 minutes.

Given the nature of her job, and that of her husband of 22 years, Superior Court Judge Frank Ochoa, Lopez said law enforcement officers are frequently patrolling in the foothills near her home west of Santa Barbara.

Lopez said that as recently as last weekend, additional patrols were sent to the couple’s Goleta home because of “threats” made to the family.

Although threats were not a factor in her disappearance, Lopez said, the response time was probably influenced because of that history.

“The public really doesn’t know the number of times our family has been under threat,” said Lopez, a 48-year-old mother of three. “I’m so grateful that the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department responded the way they did. … I’m really sorry to hear that they’ve been criticized for their response time. I’m also thankful that they have respected my family.”

Lopez said she had been out sick from work with pneumonia the week before her disappearance. Lopez, who said she is also diabetic, anchored the newscast during the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 24 — even though she felt ill and had been told by officials to take it easy — and then anchored once more that Monday before going home sick.

“There was a medical convergence of circumstances that I had neglected for a long time. … I’m not going to go into my medical conditions,” she said, noting that February is a big month for TV ratings. “Everybody really pulls together for that. My body just gave out.”

She confirmed information released by her family, explaining that medical issues prevented her from being able to speak during the disappearance.

Lopez said she is still adjusting to being part of the news, instead of merely reporting it, and has been extremely grateful for the “unbelievable” support she’s received from people around the world — many of whom she doesn’t even know.

Lopez is also grateful to her family at KEYT, which was purchased by Missouri-based News-Press & Gazette Co. last September, for allowing her to have time off to recharge while the station is in the middle of revamping its coverage and facilities.

On Monday, Lopez was busy getting caught up to speed on the long list of “exciting changes” that have been taking place in her absence, including last week’s switch to high-definition, the reopening of a Santa Maria bureau, replacement of all field equipment, refurbishment of the news set, and moves toward better accommodating mobile and online viewers.

KEYT News Director Jim Lemon said the station is glad to have Lopez back.

“First, we’re happy that Paula’s better,” he said Monday. “Second, we want to have our best people. It’s a big time of change for Channel 3.”

Lopez echoed Lemon’s enthusiasm, saying she wants to jump right back in.

“It’s really an exciting time for us and, I hope, the community,” she said. “I feel that I had a great break. I’ll be eternally grateful.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

» on 04.09.13 @ 10:32 AM

Wow, that’s what I call In Depth. Consistent with channel 3.

» on 04.09.13 @ 10:52 AM

Dehydration??  Really?

» on 04.09.13 @ 11:40 AM

I know the same now as I did before- PR spin at a 1000 rpm.

» on 04.09.13 @ 12:28 PM

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department refused to search for my chronically ill husband when he became disoriented and went missing. A sheriff’s deputy drove to my home in Buellton and said the sheriff’s department didn’t have time to look for my husband, who was missing and at risk for harming himself. My sons and I found him in a local restaurant with his head split open after he became unconscious and fell down. The same sheriff who refused to look for him stood by to see my husband laying in a pool of blood. He was taken by ambulance and needed staples to close his head wound. Why didn’t we receive the same help that Paula Lopez did? Is Paula interested in doing an investigative report on how other people are treated when they have emergencies?

» on 04.09.13 @ 12:48 PM

Wow lying to the public on TV.

What a gem of a journalist… not.

Fire her. She is neither good at her work or good looking.

» on 04.09.13 @ 03:07 PM

We love you Paula and hopefully so will those who expressed a little negativity during your absence. I have known you and your husband for years and laugh when I think of how you both have been mis-judged based upon others prejudices and attitude and not reality. What other people think of me is not any part of my business comes to my mind and I am happy you have been practicing that and that you are my friends. If others knew all you both have been through in the last couple of weeks they would of course be more sympathetic and how brave you are not to share the burdens you bear being in public view 24/7.

» on 04.09.13 @ 05:19 PM

@someguyinsb - LOL!! It always impresses me when some moron spews vitreolic behind the cloak of anonymity. We used to call those people “flame baiters” because they would post something asinine and then disappear when the ‘flame war’ started between other posters.

Get a life fella. Request a little courage along with it so you express your opinions up front without being fearful. Or maybe go back to L.A. with broadcasts from your slick TV personalities there.

Locals love Paula! YOU however can easily be replaced.

» on 04.09.13 @ 06:17 PM

I’m not going to comment on Paula or the search, but for those who think that dehydration is “minor” or “no big deal” need to do some research. It CAN be very serious, especially when other health issues are involved ....

» on 04.09.13 @ 11:59 PM

I don’t believe that there was ever any “explanation” needed.  We do not live her life, and it is truly none of our business as to why she was gone.  All the matters is that she is well now, looks FABULOUS, and is back to doing what she loves. 

Any one who is upset about the treatment from the Sheriff department should take that up with County——File something.. make some noise, and stomp your feet.  Don’t hide behind a message board, and criticize someone you do not know personally.  That’s just the easy way to complain, and not be heard.

Wishing Paula all the best!

» on 04.10.13 @ 07:50 PM

And how would someguy know she is lying?

» on 04.11.13 @ 12:36 AM

I have always been a Paula Lopez fan and her business is her business.  It is not her fault that she is a well-known figure and she is married to an influential judge in Santa Barbara.  If ordinary folks feel they don’t get preferential treatment from the police and other authorities then it is because they are ordinary folks. That is not necessarily right or fair but it is what it is.  Anonymous posters should not hide behind their computer keyboards and make sarcastic and hateful comments.  I am surprised Noozhawk does not do more to moderate some of the more egregious and negative personal comments that are posted.  I have written before that there are far too many racist and hateful comments that have been directed towards certain people because they happen to be “Mexican” or “Mexican-American” and as long as posters continue with their bigoted remarks I will continue to challenge their uniformed posts and call them out. If Noozhawk doesn’t monitor and respond to these racists then I will.

» on 04.14.13 @ 09:43 PM

Oh, please.  Don’t make me puke.
Dehydration doesn’t make you hard to find for ten hours.  Alcoholism is a difficult disease to deal with, no doubt. A 28-day dry-out (hmmm…how many days was she out?) can work wonders.
Back to brilliantly reading from a teleprompter and calling it journalism.  Zzzzzzzzzz.

As for her dozing-on-the-bench incredible D.A. tool of a husband…the sooner we vote him and his Mistress Dudley and her Den of Damsels out of office, along with Cam Sanchez and the rest of the CYA law enforcement hierarchy (listen up, Mayor Schneider, or you will be on the next boxcar outta town too), the sooner SB will be a place of EQUALITY UNDER THE LAW.  Until then…stay out of the way of Tudor, Beutel, Waldman, and their corrupt ilk.

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