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Just before dawn Jan. 31, a suspected drunken driver entered the northbound lanes of Highway 101 in Santa Barbara. Big mistake. Instead of traveling north, he began driving south — against traffic. Not long afterward, all hell broke loose.
The wrong-way driver — identified by authorities as Joe Scozzaro, 70, of Santa Barbara — caused a five-vehicle collision just north of the Pueblo Street offramp. Three people, including Scozarro, suffered major injuries in the wreck, with two more receiving minor injuries. It’s a miracle no one was killed.
According to the California Highway Patrol, Scozzaro was driving his venerable Volkswagen Vanagon south in the northbound lanes just before 6 a.m. as Yesenia Vidal, 23, of Goleta, was entering the freeway at Mission Street in her Nissan Altima. Swerving to avoid a collision, Vidal crashed into the right guardrail.
Within seconds, the CHP said, Scozzaro smashed head-on into an Acura Integra driven by David Nguyen, 22, of Garden Grove. The tangled mess blocked most of the freeway and was quickly run into by a Chevy Silverado driven by Wayne Mantooth, 48, of Norwalk. Next, a Ford F-150 driven by Sergio Figueroa, 53, of Santa Barbara, slammed into the disabled vehicles. By then, darkness had retreated, averting more chaos.
The CHP said Scozzaro, who was first reported driving the wrong way near the Las Positas Road exit, was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. It was not known where he entered the freeway. The collision remains under investigation.
Two alleged gang members have been arrested as suspects in a Feb. 3 stabbing in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara. The victim, apparently a member of a rival gang, was knifed in the back during the brazen midday altercation in the first block of West Carrillo Street.
Santa Barbara police Sgt. Riley Harwood said officers responded around 1 p.m. after receiving multiple reports of a fight. All four combatants had fled the scene, but there were plenty of witnesses to point out where they went and what they looked like.
The two suspects were corralled at the intersection of Carrillo and State streets, while the victim and a companion were tracked down in the 900 block of Anacapa Street. The victim, a 31-year-old man whose name has not been released, was treated for a nonlife-threatening stab wound.
Harwood said Javier Hernandez III of Oxnard and Juan Jose Vasquez of Goleta, both 18, were arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and booked into Santa Barbara County Jail. Bail for each was set at $30,000.
According to Harwood, the incident started at Paseo Nuevo when the victim and his buddy were confronted by a group that included the two suspects. Gang signs were flashed, gang names were called and ... welcome to Santa Barbara.
The investigation is continuing, Harwood said, and additional suspects may be identified.
Coincidentally, the stabbing took place just a few yards from where 15-year-old Angel “Nacho” Linares was murdered in 2007 — by a 14-year-old Santa Barbara Junior High School student — in a gang-fueled brawl.
Flamboyant Santa Barbara DUI lawyer Darryl Genis, known for taking on high-profile cases and trying them in and out of court, may have some free time on his hands as a result of a State Bar Court ruling.
As our Giana Magnoli first reported Feb. 4, Judge Richard Honn has recommended that Genis be suspended for 90 days, placed on probation and ordered to attend anger-management counseling.
Genis had been accused of violating the State Bar Rules of Professional Conduct by ignoring court orders, making a false and malicious State Bar complaint, and committing an act of moral turpitude. The latter two counts were dismissed by Honn.
According to Honn’s decision, which was signed Feb. 3, Genis’ lack of remorse “significantly aggravated” the results. His recommendations will be forwarded to the state Supreme Court.
True to his aggressive and argumentative reputation, Genis vows to appeal his punishment.
“In the end, I believe that I will be fully exonerated,” he said.
After an emotion-packed hearing Feb. 5, Martin “Leo” Maguire was sentenced to the maximum nine years in state prison for the gruesome DUI crash that nearly cost the lives of two Canadian tourists and certainly altered their future forever.
The 52-year-old Montecito resident will have to serve at least seven years before he’s eligible for parole. He’s also liable for an undetermined amount of restitution to his victims.
Maguire was arrested May 29, 2013, after he drove his Toyota 4Runner into Jim and Ellen Atwood, who were riding their motorcycle on Old Coast Highway next to Montecito Country Club. To say the Orangeville, Ontario, couple was severely injured is an understatement. In fact, the impact sheared off their left legs. Were it not for two good Samaritans who happened to be passing the scene at the exact moment they were needed most, the Atwoods almost certainly would have bled to death.
In October, Maguire pleaded guilty to charges of driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol and special allegations of causing great bodily injury. At his sentencing in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, his history of driving under the influence was mentioned repeatedly.
As our Gina Potthoff reported, the drama of the day was heightened by the presence of Maguire’s victims, who are still learning to live with prosthetic legs as they try to recover from their catastrophic injuries. The Atwoods had flown back to Santa Barbara with family and friends, including Marnee and Bill Paterson, who were riding their own motorcycle just a few yards ahead on that fateful afternoon and were able to swerve out of the way of Maguire’s truck as it crossed the center line into their lane.
Seated in her wheelchair in the front row, Ellen Atwood, 59, tearfully recounted the dream vacation she and her husband had been on with the Patersons, and the nightmare that ended it.
“Our legs are gone,” she said. “Our lives will never be the same. As you stand on your two legs to listen to your sentence, I want you to understand I will never be able to do that. We can’t even go to our home. We will never ride again.”
Several surgeries, exhaustive rehabilitation and more than $1 million in hospital bills were just the beginning of their struggle, she said.
Jim Atwood, 64, said it’s still hard to believe the tragic story.
“Every day I face the mental anguish of the unknown,” he said. “You have taken so much from us with your selfish act.”
Although Maguire showed little emotion, his attorney, Christine Voss, said he has been sober and in a recovery outpatient treatment program for drugs and alcohol since Dec. 9.
“I cannot ever forgive myself,” Maguire said when it was his turn to address the court. “I’m trapped forever in my mental prison. I realize that nothing is able to fix, resolve or undo my actions ... I’m sorry. I really am.”
Before handing down his sentence, Judge John Dobroth said it was a cautionary tale for those who ignore the consequences of drinking and driving.
“In the end, he had the choice to get in the car, and he got in the car ...,” Dobroth said. “One of the effects (of drug use) is you lose judgment, and ... the ability to say, ‘I shouldn’t be getting in the car.’”
As the handcuffed Maguire was led out of court, his mother cried out for mercy and for Dobroth to keep her son from prison.
“I’m afraid there’s nothing you’re going to be able to do to change the fact that he did something horrible,” Dobroth said.
Back in Santa Barbara to attend the sentencing of the DUI driver who nearly killed them, Ellen and Jim Atwood and their friends, Marnee and Bill Paterson, sat down with our Gina Potthoff in an exclusive interview about the crash, their recovery and a future now devoid of certainty.
Instead of bitterness and self-pity, Gina found a remarkable resilience, strength and abiding gratitude — a steely defiance of the circumstances that are trying to beat them.
“We’ve had some ups and downs,” Ellen acknowledged, but “we knew that we had lots to live for.”
Both Atwoods are sporting prosthetics in place of the left legs they lost in the head-on collision. Jim was hospitalized for three months, and Ellen for six. Along the way, she almost died of an infection and she still has only partial control and feeling in her left arm. The couple must endure exhaustive rehabilitation near their home in Orangeville, Ontario, about 50 miles northwest of Toronto.
Before the wreck, Ellen, 59, was employed by a Canadian grocery store chain, and Jim, 64, was within a year or two from retirement from a Chrysler plant. Now, neither can work, and their medical bills have soared past $1 million.
But their return visit to Santa Barbara was important to them on so many levels. For their own sake, they needed to see the scene of the crash on Old Coast Highway near Montecito Country Club.
“We had to do it,” Ellen said of visiting the site. “It was something we wanted to do. Just to see, because your memory is not clear.”
Perhaps most of all, they wanted to come back to thank the first responders, medical professionals and strangers who had opened their hearts and arms to two severely injured, shell-shocked tourists so far from home. Throughout the interview, their gratitude for the many acts of kindness — including those of good Samaritans William Barbaree and Nick McGilvray, who are credited with saving their lives on the side of the road — was never far from the surface.
“It was truly incredible how we were treated,” Ellen said.
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Walking Dead zombies prank New York City. Clever.
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— Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter: @noozhawk, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.