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Bill Macfadyen: Deputy’s Shooting of Alleged Gang Member Wakes Up a Sleepy Neighborhood

Best of Noozhawk 10.12.12 examines county Fire Department helicopter dispatch logs, chases a rollover and a hit-and-run, and accepts ADMHS Director Ann Detrick's resignation

What were you reading on Noozhawk this past week?

1. Chaotic Scene as Deputies Critically Wound Man with Gun Near San Marcos High

Shouts, screams, fights and gunshots pierced the middle-of-the-night solitude of a quiet neighborhood near San Marcos High School on Oct. 6. The chaos prompted numerous 9-1-1 calls from residents as the melee spread along the 4700 block of Andrita Street, a block off Turnpike Road south of Hollister Avenue.

Responding almost immediately to the scene, Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies were confronted by a man they say threatened them with a handgun. More shots were fired but the deputies got their guy. The suspect was taken to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital with non-life-threatening gunshot wounds and then arrested.

A day later, the suspect — identified as alleged gang member Gerardo Martinez, 25, of Goleta — was charged with assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer with a semiautomatic handgun, and a criminal gang enhancement. Bail was set at $300,000.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton was the first journalist on the scene that Saturday morning. Witnesses described the bedlam that erupted after a slow-moving car drove up to the house where the shooting occurred.

A neighbor, Doug Williams, said there was “yelling and screaming and baseball bats being taken to a car down there, smashing the windows, the door panels. Lots of screaming, and then fights breaking out ... Chasing guys, guys running down the street, little fights breaking out. Guys jumping in their cars, speeding away.”

“And then, all of a sudden, small-arms fire going off, about 15 shots,” he said.

In the aftermath of the shooting, deputies conducted an intense search of the area, deploying the sheriff’s SWAT team and a county Air Support helicopter, in an attempt to locate other possible suspects or victims. A reverse-notification 9-1-1 call was made to the neighborhood, asking residents to remain indoors during the search.

The Sheriff’s Department is continuing to investigate the officer-involved shooting as well as the events that preceded it. No other arrests have been made but several people were detained for questioning.

2. Safety, Reliability of County Fire Department Helicopters Challenged After Hiker’s Death

For nearly a month, Noozhawk reporter Lara Cooper has been investigating the emergency response to the frantic 9-1-1 calls made by a hiker in severe distress on the Romero Canyon Trail above Montecito. The 36-year-old woman died before rescuers could reach her, and there were pieces of the heartbreaking story that didn’t seem to fit.

Nicole Peters
Nicole Peters

Nicole Peters, 36, of Santa Barbara, was hiking with her three dogs on Sept. 14 when she became incapacitated from either dehydration or a heart attack. At 12:52 p.m., she called 9-1-1 for help and told the dispatcher that she couldn’t move her arms or legs. She said she was about two miles below East Camino Cielo. The sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team was paged and five minutes later a county Fire Department helicopter was requested. The logs show that Helicopter 308 was dispatched four minutes later at 1:01 p.m.

But 20 minutes later, at 1:19 p.m., the dispatch records note that the chopper was “unable to respond due to communication failure.” At 1:33 p.m., Helicopter 308 was reported to again be en route, from the Santa Ynez Airport.

Tragically, at 1:42 p.m., the dispatcher reported that there was only silence on Peters’ end of the call but for the sound of her dogs barking.

“Patient appears to have possibly gone unconscious,” the report states. “For the last 45 mins., the patient has been grunting, screaming and thrashing around. Nothing heard at this point.”

At 2:08 p.m., 26 minutes later, the helicopter arrived overhead. A paramedic was lowered to the trail, but Peters was dead.

Commercial airline flights to LAX from Santa Barbara take about 40 minutes. The Santa Ynez Airport is roughly 30 miles from the Romero Canyon Trail — just about a straight shot right along the ridgeline. With Helicopter 308 getting off to such an erratic start, we wanted to know more about the cause of its 67-minute timeframe and the aircraft’s maintenance.

Just as Lara was closing in on key details, we received an anonymous letter from a group calling itself “Concerned Professional Firefighters.” The letter outlined a litany of complaints and challenges related to the county Fire Department’s aviation unit, and specifically Helicopter 308.

But the group trained the bulk of its ire on the shotgun wedding of the Fire and Sheriff’s departments’ air fleets. The agencies officially consolidated their aviation units July 1 in a move that was intended to reduce the overall cost of their operations by sharing maintenance and cross-training pilots — an estimated savings of nearly $300,000 a year. The unit is now under the authority of Sheriff Bill Brown, but both Brown and county Fire Chief Michael Dyer are responsible for the administration of the agreement.

According to the firefighters group, the marriage is already on the rocks with squabbling among the in-laws.

The letter asserts that joint training has not been completed as required by a county Memorandum of Understanding with the two agencies, and the two Fire Department aircraft — Helicopters 308 and 309 — have not received the same level of service as the sheriff’s aircraft. The letter also claims Sheriff’s Department mechanics refuse to work on Fire Department helicopters.

County officials dispute the allegations. In an Oct. 10 conference call with Noozhawk, County CEO Chandra Wallar, Undersheriff Jim Peterson and Deputy Fire Chief Chris Hahn dismissed the complaints as “expected transition issues,” in Wallar’s words.

“If (the pilots) thought something was unsafe, they wouldn’t be flying,” added Hahn. “The pilots have a lot of experience and they’re not going to put themselves or the public at risk.”

The public may not be at risk, but a woman is dead and an emergency helicopter’s false start could not have helped the situation.

Noozhawk is seeking more information on Helicopter 308’s Sept. 14 equipment failure. We’ve made a California Public Records Act request for the maintenance logs and reports that document the servicing of the Fire Department’s aircraft, as well as mechanical failures and repairs on Helicopter 308 since July 1. The Sheriff’s Department has until Oct. 24 to respond to Noozhawk’s request.

3. Driver Passes Out, Rolls Vehicle on State Street

A 29-year-old Santa Barbara man who was driving himself to the hospital after a construction accident passed out behind the wheel of his Toyota 4-Runner on Oct. 8 and rolled the vehicle on Alamar Avenue near State Street.

The man, whose identity was not released by police, was struck in the face with a board on a San Roque job site. Realizing he needed emergency room treatment for the laceration, he was driving himself to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital when he lost consciousness, drove up an embankment and tipped over.

Firefighters and paramedics extricated the man from the vehicle and transported him the rest of the way to the hospital.

4. Man Critically Injured When Knocked from Motorized Bicycle

A 65-year-old Santa Barbara man riding a motorized bicycle suffered “life-threatening” injuries when he was struck by a Toyota Sequoia driven by a 16-year-old boy on Oct. 4. The collision occurred on Hollister Avenue when the teenager turned on to Auhay Drive.

The driver, who left the scene but was located a short while later, was not taken into custody, said California Highway Patrol Officer James Richards, who added that alcohol or cell phone use are not believed to be factors in the crash. Any charges filed against the boy would be up to the District Attorney’s Office, he said.

The victim’s name has not been released. The teen’s name has been withheld because he is a minor.

5. ADMHS Director Ann Detrick Announces Resignation

Ann Detrick, the embattled director of the beleaguered county Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services, announced her resignation Oct. 10 after five years on the job.

Throughout her tenure, Detrick’s department has been beset with financial challenges, staff reductions and budget cuts. She recently came under fire from the Board of Supervisors over her handling of the ADMHS budget. Results of an independent audit of the department are expected later this month.

“Serving in this role on behalf of the people of Santa Barbara County has been an honor and privilege,” Detrick said in a statement. “For almost five years, I have been strongly dedicated to the department and its mission. For me, it is time to change direction and pursue work in another setting where my focus can be more evenly divided between programmatic and fiscal priorities. I also want to get more balance in my professional and personal life.”

                                                                  •        •        •

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