Over about 45 minutes during the lunch hour Friday, the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office held a ceremony to celebrate a group of people for their courage, including one woman who testified against her abuser, and two men who helped save the lives of a bleeding couple in the roadway after they were struck by a drugged driver.
Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley handed out several awards during the event, which commemorated National Crime Victims' Rights Week, April 6-12.
Victims of crime speaking up and having the courage to testify during an oftentimes daunting court process are at the heart of a functioning justice system, Dudley said.
"They have made the courageous journey from victim to survivor, and in some cases, becoming advocates themselves," Dudley said of the victims the office has seen walk through its doors.
The Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office has had a Victim's Witness Unit since 1978, and Victim-Witness Assistance Program Director Megan Rheinschild walked through the programs that the office has taken on to help serve victims over the decades.
Rheinschild presented a Victim Service Award to Santa Barbara County sheriff's Detective Ray Gamboa, who helped earn the trust of victims in the Mark Alan Phelps case. Phelps was convicted and sentenced to 26 years in prison.
A Citizen of Courage Award was given to Cora Boden, who went to Santa Maria police and told them she had been sexually abused while living on the streets of Santa Maria.
Kevin Duffy, the prosecutor who nominated Boden, said the young woman was his "hero," and commended her courage to speak out against Felix Nicolas, who has raped and molested at least seven other young girls, Duffy said, and is now facing a sentence of more than 200 years in prison.
"She not only courageously came forward and disclosed the graphic details of what had happened to her, she stuck with the process for three years," the time it took Nicolas to get to trial, Duffy said.
Boden was also key to ensuring her sister cooperated and testified herself, even after Nicolas hired a hit man to kill her and her sister.
"I'm glad I can stand up and show other victims it's not as bad as it seems, and when it's done it's the greatest feeling," she said.
Former Army Ranger Nick McGilvray and Cottage Hospital surgery tech William Barbaree were honored with a Good Samaritans Award from the office for their role in saving the lives of Canadian motorcyclist Jim and Ellen Atwood, who were struck by a driver who was on prescription drugs at the time of the crash.
McGilvray and Barbaree helped staunch the bleeding of the Atwoods, who both lost limbs in the crash, saving their lives.
"It was quite a shock to go from the grocery store to see something like that," McGilvray told the audience.
Both said that having the other at the scene helped them respond to both of the victims.
Dudley also honored Noozhawk and Executive Editor Tom Bolton in a surprise award for his coverage of Tibor Karsai's release into Santa Barbara County.
The District Attorney's Office fought to prevent Karsai's release back into the county last year after he served his 26-year prison sentence for forcible rape.
Bolton interviewed the mother of the person that the DA's Office thought was Karsai's first victim, a young woman who later committed suicide. Bolton met with her for several hours, and wrote her story and her reaction to learning that Karsai would be returning to the county.
Another woman read the story, an earlier victim of Karsai's that the DA's Office did not know about, and came forward asking to tell her story — but only to Bolton, Dudley said.
Dudley said Bolton helped the healing process of one crime victim's family member as well as helping another victim come forward.
"The two ladies that came forward, they're the ones who deserve awards," Bolton said. "I do think telling these stories is important to society. It always sounds kind of Pollyannish to say that the media is an important part of democracy, but I really believe that and it's part of what guides me everyday."