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Fire, Crashes, Great-White Sharks Among Noozhawk’s Top Stories of 2012

Reporting on October's wildfire near Painted Cave easily comes in at No. 1 on the list of the 12 most-read stories

An aerial tanker drops a load of retardant on the Lookout Fire, which charred 44 acres and threatened homes in Painted Cave on Oct. 17, 2012.

An aerial tanker drops a load of retardant on the Lookout Fire, which charred 44 acres and threatened homes in Painted Cave on Oct. 17, 2012.  (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

By Gina Potthoff, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @ginapotthoff |

Click here for a gallery of photos from Noozhawk’s Top Stories of 2012.

As readers take stock of 2012 and how the year has shaped their lives, we at Noozhawk have also taken time to reflect on the events you, the readers, have cared the most about.

Stories ranging from the tragedies of fatal traffic, hiking or surfing accidents to the more lighthearted celebration of a celebrity wedding captivated readers throughout the year.

In one of many advantages to being an online news organization, Noozhawk has compiled a list of the top 12 most-read stories of 2012 based on the number of page views each received.

They are listed in order of popularity.

1. Lookout Fire (Painted Cave); Oct. 17

Far and away the most-read Noozhawk story of 2012 was the Lookout Fire, which menaced the Painted Cave community above Santa Barbara.

Firefighters attack flames from the Lookout Fire that were threatening homes in the Painted Cave area. Residents said it was a “miracle” their homes were spared. (Alissa Sears photo)
Firefighters attack flames from the Lookout Fire that were threatening homes in the Painted Cave area. Residents said it was a “miracle” their homes were spared. (Alissa Sears photo)

The story, which was updated continuously during the day, received more than 11,000 reads, nearly double the audience for any other story during the year.

The community breathed a collective sigh of relief when 100 homes and their residents were spared from the devastation of the blaze, which grew to more than 40 acres in rugged terrain near San Marcos Pass.

The Oct. 17 fire, which was reported at 8 a.m. in an area above the remote mountaintop enclave, forced the evacuation of 100 homes before it was declared fully contained a day later.

Luckily, no structural damage or serious injuries were reported as fire crews attacked the steep terrain above Highway 154 from the ground and sky.

Painted Cave residents called the containment a “miracle” because the expected gusty winds never materialized to fuel the fire.

Authorities, who have not released a fire cause, were touted as heroes by nearby residents.

“What struck me more than anything was the truly remarkable work of our firefighters and community coming together to effectively address a fire that could have so quickly gone out of control,” resident Alissa Sears told Noozhawk after containment.

Sears, whose family has lived in Painted Cave since 1984, said the fire was the closest call the community has ever had.

2. Romero Hiker Fatality Identified; Sept. 14

Noozhawk readers took special interest in a 36-year-old hiker who was found dead Sept. 14 on the Romero Canyon Trail above Montecito, more than an hour after making a 9-1-1 call for help.

Nicole Ruth Peters, center, an avid spear fisher, died Sept. 14 on the Romero Canyon Trail above Montecito. (Spearboard.com photo)
Nicole Ruth Peters, center, an avid spear fisher, died Sept. 14 on the Romero Canyon Trail above Montecito. (Spearboard.com photo)

Nicole Ruth Peters called authorities that Friday afternoon to say she was suffering chest pains. By the time paramedics reached Peters via helicopter about 2:15 p.m., she was dead, with her three dogs by her side, approximately two miles from the top of the trail off East Camino Cielo.

The incident shocked the community, and Noozhawk received several reports detailing the aviation unit’s widening fault lines between sheriff’s and fire personnel.

Peters, who was the director of brand operations for Deckers Outdoor Corp., was an avid spear fisher, wind surfer and mountain biker.

“She really exemplified living life to the fullest — every moment and every breath,” a friend posted on Spearboard.com. “God speed, Nicole. Dive in the most beautiful waters. I will always cherish your memory.”

3. Fatal Shark Attack; Oct. 23

Central Coast residents were unnerved by a fatal shark attack in October, nearly two years to the day after the area’s last similar tragic incident.

At sign at Ocean Beach park west of Lompoc in October warns that Surf Beach is closed due to a fatal shark attack. Authorities say the beach could reopen as soon as Wednesday. (Michael Brewer photo)
At sign at Ocean Beach park west of Lompoc in October warns that Surf Beach is closed due to a fatal shark attack. (Michael Brewer photo)

A 39-year-old Orcutt man died Oct. 23 after he was attacked and bitten in the upper torso by a great white shark while surfing at Surf Beach near Vandenberg Air Force Base west of Lompoc, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.

Francisco Javier Solorio Jr. was declared dead shortly after the incident, which was reported just before 11 a.m. by another surfer who was in the area.

A great white shark also was responsible for an attack that killed a UCSB student in the same location two years ago almost to the day.

That death was Santa Barbara County’s first mainland fatal shark attack.

4. Dos Pueblos Grad Sam Wopat Dies; March 25

Santa Barbara mourned the sudden loss of a young 2010 Dos Pueblos High School graduate early last year when Samantha “Sam” Wopat died following a medical emergency at her residence on March 25.

Sam Wopat
Sam Wopat (Stanford University Athletics photo)

Wopat, who was a 19-year-old sophomore member on the women’s volleyball team at Stanford University, died at Stanford Hospital, surrounded by family, friends and teammates after being hospitalized the day before.

The 6-foot-1 volleyball player joined Stanford’s team in 2010, along with her twin sister, Carly.

Wopat is survived by her parents, Ron and Kathy Wopat of Santa Barbara, sister, Carly, and two younger brothers, Jackson and Eli.

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Sam Wopat,” said Bob Bowlsby, the Jaquish & Kenninger Director of Athletics at Stanford. “She was an integral member of the Stanford athletics family and a tremendous student and athlete. On behalf of our administration, coaches and students, I extend my condolences to Sam’s siblings, parents, relatives and friends.”

5. Pedestrian Killed on Highway 101 in Santa Barbara; Nov. 3

The story of a local 26-year-old homeless woman and her dog being struck while walking on southbound Highway 101 near the Milpas Street off-ramp in November seemed to affect readers, as well as the drivers of the multiple vehicles that struck her.

Santa Barbara fire Capt. Chris Mailes said several vehicles hit the woman, who was later identified as Hannah Stromberg, and at least four drivers pulled over afterward.

“We had lots of very upset people who were involved with the accident ...” he told Noozhawk. “We stayed on scene for an extended period taking care of the emotional trauma of the people hitting someone on the freeway.”

6. Drew Barrymore’s Montecito Wedding; June 2

Actress Drew Barrymore drew thousands of Noozhawk readers and a mob of paparazzi when she tied the knot with art consultant Will Kopelman on June 2 at her Montecito home.

California Highway Patrol officers were parked in Barrymore’s driveway just off the 400 block of Hot Springs Road on the Saturday afternoon to keep the busy roadway clear.

News reports said guests included Cameron Diaz, Barrymore’s close friend and co-star of Charlie’s Angels, Reese Witherspoon, and Barrymore’s business partner and Charlie’s Angels producer, Nancy Juvonen, and her husband, comedian Jimmy Fallon.

The marriage to Kopelman, 33, was the third for Barrymore, 37, who was reported to be pregnant with the couple’s first child.

7. Car-Surfing Fatalities; June 6

Readers continue to follow the saga of the fatal car-surfing accident that claimed the life of a 26-year-old Santa Barbara woman and seriously injured another in June.

Lanie Tyrone Richardson is escorted from court after a hearing. He is charged with murder in the car-surfing fatality of Allison Meadows, 26, of Santa Barbara. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)
Lanie Tyrone Richardson is escorted from court after a hearing. He is charged with murder in the car-surfing fatality of Allison Meadows, 26, of Santa Barbara. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

The story began in the early morning hours of June 6, when 28-year-old Lanie Tyrone Richardson allegedly was under the influence and behind the wheel of an SUV while two women were riding on the hood.

With the vehicle traveling above 70 mph, according to California Highway Patrol estimates, both Allison Meadows, 26, and her friend, Lindsay Keeber, 25, were ejected onto East Valley Road.

Meadows died of major head injuries, and Keeber was seriously injured.

Richardson, who has previous DUI convictions, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, manslaughter while intoxicated with gross negligence, causing great bodily injury to another person with prior DUI convictions, and driving with a license that has been suspended or revoked due to DUI.

Richardson remains in custody at the Santa Barbara County Jail, with bail set at $1 million. He is due in court again on Jan. 24 to set a trial date.

8. Two Pedestrians Killed on Highway 154; Dec. 21

Two local women who were struck and killed on Highway 154 on Dec. 21 after trying to retrieve a loose dog captivated readers as the most recent incident on the 2012 list.

The victims — identified later as Sara Ornelas, 54, of Santa Barbara and Barbara Romero, 49, of Lompoc — had driven over San Marcos Pass from Santa Barbara en route to the Chumash Indian Reservation in Santa Ynez when they pulled over near the entrance to Rancho San Marcos Golf Course at about 11:45 p.m., according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.

A small dog that was with them jumped out of the car and ran into the roadway, where it was struck and killed by a vehicle, authorities said.

One of the women ran into the road in pursuit of the dog, and was also struck. The second woman went to the aid of her companion. She was then struck multiple times, authorities said. Both women were declared dead at the scene.

Two drivers stopped at the scene and were not cited, the California Highway Patrol said.

Martin Macarena, 48, of San Luis Obispo, was later located at the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez, and was arrested on suspicion of felony hit-and-run causing injuries, the CHP said.

9. Westmont Professor Alex Moore Dies; May 9

The positive impression left by Alex Moore, a Westmont College assistant professor of kinesiology, was evident earlier last year as the college community and Noozhawk readers mourned his passing.

Alex Moore
Alex Moore (Westmont College photo)

Moore, a 31-year-old Wheaton College alumnus, died May 9 from complications following surgery for Crohn’s disease, a gastrointestinal malady.

He is survived by his wife of four years, Westmont women’s basketball coach Kirsten Moore, and the couple’s first child, who was due last July.

Moore joined the Westmont faculty in 2011, and taught a wide range of classes, including anatomy, tennis, physiology, biochemistry lab and Fit for Life, a freshman wellness class.

“The Westmont community has been devastated by the news, and we lift our thoughts and prayers for Alex, Kirsten and their families,” Westmont President Gayle Beebe said.

10. Police Seek Help Finding Biting Dog’s Owner: July 16

Perhaps in an effort to help, readers took interest in a July story in which Santa Barbara police sought assistance to identify a dog owner wanted after a 5-year-old girl suffered a bite to her face.

Police released a photo to get help identifying the woman, who allegedly provided the girl’s father with false information after his daughter was attacked — but not seriously injured — by the woman’s red chow mix about 8 p.m. July 5 at a charity event at 909 State St., according to police.

Thanks to community support, police later identified the dog owner as 57-year-old Jean Frances Snyder.

Police Sgt. Riley Harwood said the department’s Animal Control Unit is now continuing with a criminal investigation against Snyder, who faces charges of concealing information about the dog’s location with the intent to prevent the quarantine of the animal and failure to provide animal bite information, both misdemeanors.

11. Body Found on Isla Vista Beach; Nov. 9

A body discovered on a Friday morning in November on an Isla Vista beach concerned many readers, who later learned that the deceased was 21-year-old UCSB student David Propp.

Investigators recover the body of David Propp, 21, which was found in November on an Isla Vista beach. (Beth Farnsworth / KEYT News photo)
Investigators recover the body of David Propp, 21, which was found in November on an Isla Vista beach. (Beth Farnsworth / KEYT News photo)

Propp, who suffered facial and head injuries consistent with a fall, was found at 8:42 a.m. by Isla Vista Foot Patrol station personnel and County Fire responding to report of a body on the beach at the 6500 block of Del Playa Road.

12. Dramatic Rescue on Highway 101 Near Buellton; Jan. 12

A traffic-stopping, fatal accident involving a big rig and a small SUV carrying a family of three on Highway 101 in January marks the 12th most-viewed Noozhawk news item of 2012.

The Jan. 12 fatal accident blocked traffic for several hours in both directions of Highway 101 south of the Santa Rosa Road exit south of Buellton.

The driver of an 18-wheeler truck was killed when he collided shortly after 3 p.m. with a passenger vehicle, according to Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. Kenneth Murray.

When emergency responders arrived, the truck was engulfed in flames and in the bottom of a creek, leaking 50 to 60 gallons of fuel from its tank into the creek bed.

At the same time firefighters contained the blaze and fuel, the car teetered on a bridge above the creek bed with three people inside, who were removed with help from Smitty’s Towing and a U.S. Navy Seabees construction battalion crane, Murray said.

A 38-year-old woman, a 10-year-old girl and a 10-month-old infant suffered moderate injuries and were transported to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

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.




comments powered by Disqus

» on 01.01.13 @ 11:52 AM

Well, a lot of deaths among your top stories…

How about the terrible police beating by Officer Tudor perpetrated on Tony DeNunzio. He could have been most any of us. And what of the most awful parts is that Tudor’s actions were supported by the district attorney and the police chief. This was a shameful incident for Santa Barbara.

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