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Two high school seniors from Torrance were among three people killed in a horrific crash early on April 21 when their car rolled over on Highway 101 in Santa Barbara and was slammed into by another motorist. A fourth person suffered major injuries in the wreck, while the driver of the second vehicle was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.
According to the California Highway Patrol, a 2005 Mazda sedan was traveling south on the freeway about 12:45 a.m. when, for unknown reasons, it veered to the right and struck a guardrail just past the Castillo Street onramp. The car boomeranged off the railing and flipped onto its roof, skidding across the roadway toward the center divider.
Moments later, a 2013 Ford Mustang smashed into the car.
The three passengers in the Mazda — Jessica Lee Leffew and Danielle Nicole Murillo, both 17 and seniors at North High School in Torrance, and Brian Adonay Lopez, 20, of Los Angeles — were killed. The Mazda’s driver — Erick Hoel August, 20, of Los Angeles — suffered massive injuries and is reportedly clinging to life at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.
The driver of the Mustang, Kimberly Ann Kreis, 52, of Santa Barbara, was treated at the scene for minor injuries, then arrested on suspicion of DUI.
All southbound lanes were closed for more than 12 hours as authorities conducted a painstaking investigation and documentation of the scene. The badly damaged cars were not hauled away until early in the afternoon, and the freeway was reopened around 1:30 p.m.
Executive editor Tom Bolton’s story pulled in nearly 23,000 readers, helped in part by traffic from the Torrance Daily Breeze, where our old friend and Noozhawk’s very first reporter, Rob Kuznia, covers the education beat.
While we shared our photos and early information with the Daily Breeze, Rob and his colleague, Carly Dryden, quickly assembled a feature on Leffew and Murillo, BFFs who were heading home with their boyfriends from a concert near Santa Margarita in San Luis Obispo County. Lopez was Leffew’s boyfriend and August was Murillo’s.
“Cheryl (Danielle’s mother) talked to her around 10,” said her heartbroken father, Manuel Murillo. “They were tired, but they were coming home.”
He said he and his ex-wife were waiting to hear from their daughter, but she never showed up and calls to her phone went unanswered. Then the police arrived later that morning.
Manuel Murillo said the family’s prayers are with August, even as they try to come to grips with the enormity of their loss.
Murillo was planning to attend El Camino College in Torrance and then a university to become a forensic psychologist. Leffew was planning to study nursing at the Southern California Regional Occupation Center in Torrance.
Meanwhile, our Lara Cooper began checking into the background of Kreis, who most likely was in the wrong place at the wrong time ... but was still allegedly driving while impaired.
Kreis was booked into Santa Barbara County Jail but subsequently was released on $100,000 bail. So far, the CHP has not released any details on her condition at the time of her arrest.
Her court records, on the other hand, reveal a history of substance abuse that dates back decades and includes felony possession of methamphetamine and numerous failed drug tests. At one point, she was sentenced to state prison although it’s not clear how much time she served.
During a 1997 hearing in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, Kreis’ father, Ray Anderson of Westlake Village, testified that he and his wife had taken their daughter to rehab more than 15 years before to help her deal with substance abuse.
“Kim has lost at least a minimum of 10 years of her life to her addictions,” he told the court.
After each program, he said at the time, his daughter had relapsed.
A few Noozhawk readers have taken us to task for reporting on Kreis’ criminal past, apparently reasoning that it’s immaterial to a tragedy that probably could not have been avoided under any circumstances. While I don’t have a problem with the criticism, I also don’t recall similar denunciation of our reporting on the background of Raymond Morua, the aide to Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, who has pleaded guilty to the December DUI and hit-and-run death of 27-year-old Mallory Dies. Odd, that.
Uber and LYFT are shaking up Santa Barbara’s traditional cab culture, but not everyone is welcoming the arrival of the trendy, new ride-sharing services. Locals seem to be sold, however, even if taxi companies are none too thrilled.
The ride-sharing services use cell phones, apps and maps to connect riders with the closest drivers. Our Gina Potthoff found that passengers pay a flat or pre-determined rate, touted as cheaper than regular cabs, and the fare can be split on multiple credit cards, the only form of payment accepted. No running meters or tips are involved.
As you can imagine, cabbies are not idling by. The City of Santa Barbara and the Police Department have been deluged with complaints about the upstarts not following the rules. Taxi company representatives say it’s not fair that their rivals are governed by different regulations, and that cab drivers must have expensive permits and meters in their vehicles when Uber and LYFT do not.
“I’m all for free enterprise,” said Sue Morris, operations director of Santa Barbara Yellow Cab. “But why would anyone who works with a taxi company go through paying so much when they can just go out there and basically work for free?”
Hours before the fatal rollover crash on Highway 101 in Santa Barbara, a rollover wreck near El Capitán State Beach injured at least one person the evening of April 20, the California Highway Patrol reported.
The CHP said the driver of a Chrysler PT Cruiser traveling west on Highway 101 lost control and flipped the vehicle into the southbound fast lane west of Goleta. No other details were available, and the cause of the crash is under investigation.
The bicycle that Santa Barbara police initially thought was stolen from the scene of a bike wreck was, in fact, delivered to the victim’s workplace by a good Samaritan. The man and his wheels have since been reunited.
Nathaniel Preston, 25, of Lompoc, was riding his road bike in the 1300 block of State Street on April 16 when he was struck by a car pulling over into the bike lane. As emergency personnel were tending to him, his bike just up and disappeared.
Officers checked with nearby businesses, including a bike store a few doors away, but it was nowhere to be found.
“While the guy was lying on the ground, someone walked off with it,” Sgt. Riley Harwood told Noozhawk.
The next day, Officer Jaycee Hunter said the “theft” actually was a “a big misunderstanding.” A bystander, he said, had taken the bicycle to Seagrass Restaurant, 30 E. Ortega St., whose owner made sure it was returned to Preston.
Preston, who was wearing a helmet, was taken to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital with minor injuries.
The driver of the sedan, Patricia Lynn Masterson, 67, of Sherman Oaks, was cited for unsafe turning movements, Harwood said.
The Santa Barbara City Council has affirmed its backing of a gang injunction as a way to deter and defuse gang activity and tensions. The 5-2 vote on April 22 shot down a bid by two council members to withdraw the civil suit before it goes to trial next month in Santa Barbara County Superior Court.
First filed in 2011, the gang injunction case was intended to restrict alleged gang members from certain activities. The original list of 30 names already has been culled to 27 and Hart says the final list could be fewer than half.
Judge Colleen Sterne will hear arguments in the case May 5.
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In case you didn’t get enough of the April 15 “blood moon”: A time-lapse total lunar eclipse.
(Andrew Walker video)
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— Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter: @noozhawk, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.