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Tuesday, November 20 , 2018, 9:04 am | Fog/Mist 51º


Bill Macfadyen: Paula Lopez Story Has Any Number of Elements of Intrigue

NoozWeek's Top 5 includes a joyful sendoff for Daisy Love Merrick, a defense of firearms jobs, a 2-year-old burned in a car fire, and a still-mysterious shooting death

It’s March 1. Did the world end?

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What were you reading on Noozhawk this past week?

1. Search Suspended for Missing KEYT News Anchor Paula Lopez

It turns out there’s a far more powerful pull for readership than great white sharks, and her name is Paula Lopez.

Paula Lopez (Rochelle Rose / Noozhawk file photo)
Paula Lopez (Rochelle Rose / Noozhawk file photo)

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not making light of Paula’s personal situation. But this column tracks the traffic for Noozhawk’s top stories of the week, and our coverage of the KEYT News anchor’s disappearance and safe return was — by far — the top story of the week. In fact, our nearly 22,000 readers on Feb. 27 were second only to the record-setting 2011 tsunami for a non-wildfire news day.

We spend a lot of time deep in the data of Noozhawk’s site analytics, and the reader response to Paula’s plight was as fascinating as it was extraordinary.

The deluge began as soon as Noozhawk broke the news at midafternoon and it did not taper off — not after our Gina Potthoff reported that the search had been suspended, or after she reported that Paula had been safely reunited with her family, or after she reported that there would be no further details released that night. With scant official explanation in our final update of the day, traffic remained quite high until well after midnight.

It’s fair to say that Paula Lopez is “the face” of local news on the South Coast, and the community is understandably protective of her. Relatives of the ninth-generation Santa Barbaran are legion and she and her husband, Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Frank Ochoa, are not just a power couple but a visible one at charity events. Besides that, the 48-year-old mother of three is down to earth, charming and poised. As a fellow journalist, I respect her as a reporter. As a friend, she could not be more gracious.

While she’s spent most of her career in her hometown, her brief time working in Los Angeles expanded her professional network. I’m not surprised that colleagues would jump on her story, not just as a news event but out of concern for her well-being — even as I’m just as certain there was a whiff of cynicism in the motives of a few. That media interest whipped it into a national story, although it had minimal effect on our traffic, about 95 percent of which was local.

It will take a while for executive editor Tom Bolton, business development vice president Kim Clark and me to think through our traffic analysis for this story. In the meantime, we at Noozhawk join Paula’s family and our friends at KEYT in giving thanks that she’s safe, and we wish her a quick and thorough recovery.

2. Life of Daisy Love Merrick Celebrated with Laughter and Songs, As Well As Tears

Daisy Love Merrick (Merrick family photo)
Daisy Love Merrick (Merrick family photo)

Daisy Love Merrick lost her years-long battle with cancer Feb. 16. Hundreds of people packed the Feb. 23 memorial, and the service was as much a celebration as it was a mourning for the remarkable little 8-year-old girl.

The daughter of Kate and Britt Merrick, the charismatic pastor of fast-growing Reality Church, Daisy was diagnosed with a Wilms’ tumor in 2009. The ups and downs of her courageous struggle with the type of kidney cancer were chronicled on the Pray for Daisy website, which became the center of a universe of devoted prayer warriors who adopted the cheerful blonde’s battle as their own.

Before God brought her back to her heavenly home, Daisy touched the lives of thousands of people from around the world. It was that mission that well-wishers paid tribute to at Santa Barbara City College’s Sports Pavilion, where Reality Church holds Sunday services.

The family requested that people “wear what you feel best in; sandy feet and boardshorts, tutu and snorkel mask, or the prettiest dress in your closet.” Laughing with tears in their eyes, Daisy’s fans celebrated her cheerfulness, courage and faith as a global audience followed along with the webcast of what was a joy-filled memorial.

Click here to watch Britt Merrick’s Feb. 10 sermon about his daughter, “When Sparrows Fall.” Click here for Noozhawk photojournalist Valorie Smith’s gallery from Daisy’s memorial service.

3. Michelle Malkin: Obama, Democrats Launch Assault on U.S. Firearms Jobs

Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin pulls no punches against the left’s hook so it’s no surprise that her Feb. 24 commentary went toe to toe to with President Barack Obama over his boasts of support for U.S. manufacturing jobs.

As Obama sounds a clarion call for manufacturing to lead the United States out of economic stagnation and chronic unemployment, she says he’s actually waging war on productive sectors like firearms and ammunition manufacturers. A range of gun-control measures supported by the White House and Democratic leaders like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo are taking direct aim at these companies.

According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, firearms and ammunition companies have created almost 27,000 well-paying jobs over the past two years alone, with the industry employing nearly 100,000 people in the United States and an additional 110,000-plus jobs in supplier and ancillary industries. In all, the NSSF says, the industry contributes almost $32 billion in total economic activity and is responsible for more than $2 billion in taxes. That’s some stimulus, and Malkin says it all goes away if what she calls the “gun-grabbers” get their way.

Noozhawk readers leaped into the fray on both sides of the issue, unleashing a fusillade that included references to psychopaths, jack-booted Nazis, fantasy tin solders and ... puppies. Click here to fire off your own opinions on the matter.

4. Two-Year-Old Seriously Injured in Car Fire Sent to Burn Center

A 2-year-old Santa Barbara girl who suffered second- and third-degree burns to her face in a Feb. 25 car fire is now being treated at an Orange County burn center. The incident is still under investigation by Santa Barbara police and fire officials.

Police Sgt. Riley Harwood, an SBPD spokesman, said the child had been left alone in a minivan parked in the 1300 block of Santa Teresita Drive in upper San Roque when the vehicle somehow caught fire. The girl’s mother, identified as 29-year-old Viviana Judith Wink, apparently had been at a nearby home, where she worked as a caretaker, and returned to find the van in flames. Smoke from the blaze was visible for miles.

Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the fire, although Harwood said it looks to be accidental. He said Wink could face criminal prosecution for leaving her daughter alone in a motor vehicle, as well as child endangerment charges. No decision has been on whether charges will be filed, he added.

After being rushed to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, the girl was transferred to the Grossman Burn Center in Santa Ana. An update on her condition was not immediately available.

5. Bill Macfadyen: Shooting Death Near Santa Barbara High School Shrouded in Mystery

Kelly Mitchell Hunt
Kelly Mitchell Hunt

Santa Barbara police are being very tight-lipped about the shooting death of a Ventura man who was gunned down Feb. 19 near Santa Barbara High School.

SBPD identified the victim as 21-year-old Kelly Mitchell Hunt, but detectives have thus far declined to reveal any more details of their investigation, including whether they believe the slaying was gang-related. No arrests have been made.

The shooting took place around 7:15 p.m. Feb. 19 in the 1000 block of Olive Street, in a rainy downpour. Hunt was shot multiple times and he was taken to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Police Sgt. Riley Harwood said Hunt was not known to frequent Santa Barbara. Anyone who believes they saw him or who knows of his activities in Santa Barbara in the days preceding his death is asked to contact Detective Brian Larson at 805.897.2345 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Anonymous tips can be made to 805.897.2386.

This is the second week in Noozhawk’s top five list for the story, which was last week’s top story.

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— Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), follow him on Twitter: @noozhawk, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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