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Bill Macfadyen: According to This Exit Poll, the Biggest Story of the Week ... Wasn’t

Best of Noozhawk 11.09.12 includes a tragic freeway death, a Cold Springs Canyon brush fire, election predictions, a Montecito standoff and an amazing rescue

What were you reading on Noozhawk this past week?

1. Female Pedestrian, Dog Killed on Freeway in Santa Barbara

A 26-year-old woman and a dog were killed just before midnight Nov. 3 after being struck by multiple vehicles on southbound Highway 101 near the Milpas Street offramp in Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara fire Capt. Chris Mailes said several vehicles hit the woman and at least four drivers pulled over afterward.

“We had lots of very upset people who were involved with the accident ...” he told Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton. “We stayed on scene for an extended period taking care of the emotional trauma of the people hitting someone on the freeway.”

The victim was later identified as Hannah Stromberg, who was described as a “local transient” by Santa Barbara County sheriff’s Sgt. Mark Williams.

2. Crews Halt Cold Springs Canyon Blaze at 3 Acres

The towering plume of smoke was an ominous sign in the mountains above Montecito just before noon on Nov. 6. Memories and fears came rushing back for many survivors of the devastating Tea Fire that ignited nearly four years before in roughly the same vicinity. More than 200 homes were destroyed in that wildfire.

This time, one big difference was the absence of wind, which enabled firefighters to quickly gain the upper hand as the flames burned along the trail in Cold Springs Canyon.

Although the Montecito Fire Protection District ordered the mandatory evacuation of neighborhoods above East Mountain Drive between Cold Springs Road and Park Lane West, the fire was contained at just three acres and never became much of a threat.

Crews and equipment from the Montecito, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara County and Carpinteria-Summerland fire departments and the U.S. Forest Service were deployed, along with five helicopters, two air tankers, and one air-attack plane.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation but authorities are calling it “suspicious.” A tip line has been established at 805.686.5061.

Mark Shields
Mark Shields

3. Mark Shields: Presidential Election Predictions You Can Bank On

Noozhawk syndicated columnist Mark Shields is one of the nation’s pre-eminent political writers. A veteran of now 12 presidential elections, he made a few predictions in his last column before the votes were cast — something he’s done for the last several campaigns.

Shields hedged his bets aplenty in this year’s column and did not come right out and predict who actually would win the election on Nov. 6. Nevertheless, astute followers were able to detect who his choice was and, sure enough, he wasn’t wrong.

4. Standoff Finally Ends with Suicidal Man in Montecito

A 43-year-old Oxnard man was taken into custody Oct. 5 after an hours-long standoff while he threatened to kill himself with a pair of knives.

The tense scene on South Jameson Lane in Montecito. (Harry Rabin photo)
The tense scene on South Jameson Lane in Montecito. (Harry Rabin photo)

Just before 9 a.m., Paul Robinette was discovered holding knives to his throat as he paced along South Jameson Lane near San Ysidro Road in Montecito. Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies converged on the scene, as did my friend, Harry Rabin, who lives nearby and who provided dramatic photos and video of the incident.

Nearly four hours later, deputies used a “flash-bang” device to distract Robinette, who dropped his weapons at the noise and was quickly subdued. He was taken to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital for examination and treatment.

5. Dad Speaks Out About Finding His Son at Crash Site Off Gibraltar Road

Parents know the panic that can set in when their children are “off the grid,” even for a short while. So I can well relate to my friend, Dave Dwelley, who woke up early Nov. 3 to discover his teenage son had not come home the night before.

Dave Dwelley
Dave Dwelley

He and his wife exhausted all of their options trying to find the always-responsible 17-year-old, a senior in the Dos Pueblos High Engineering Academy. And then inspiration struck. Rather than just calling his son’s unanswered iPhone, Dwelley contacted AT&T and had the company ping the GPS coordinates.

The location was unexpected: Gibraltar Road in the mountains above Santa Barbara, but actually not far from Dwelley’s parents’ home. Dwelley got there as quickly as he could, peered over the side of the road and eventually spotted the mangled metal of what he knew was his son’s 1995 Ford Mustang convertible. Fearing the worst, he scrambled down the steep mountainside to the crash site, about 200 feet below the road. No son.

He shouted for him and, incredibly, got an answer back. There, sitting on a rock about 100 feet away, was his son — sunburned, dehydrated and disoriented, but coherent, Dwelley told Noozhawk reporter Giana Magnoli.

“It’s a little rough when you look out off the cliff and see what you know is your kid’s car and it’s clearly in a bad way,” he said. “Then you get down there and he’s not there, and you call his name and he answers. It’s almost like you’re about to go into the depths of despair — but didn’t.”

The teenager had somehow driven his car off the road Friday night. Disoriented from a skull fracture, he managed to get out of the wreckage, stumbled off and eventually fell asleep in cold, damp temperatures that dipped to the low 50s.

His dad found him 18 hours later and a massive rescue was launched by the Santa Barbara, Montecito and Santa Barbara County fire departments, the U.S. Forest Service and American Medical Response. He was airlifted to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, where he underwent surgery but is expected to make a full recovery.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation but Dwelley said no alcohol or drugs were involved. He speculates that his son — who told him he was just taking “the scenic route” to the Dos Pueblos football game at Santa Barbara High — was driving too fast for the conditions on the unfamiliar road.

One thing is certain: A father’s quick thinking and decisive actions brought about a happy ending. Well done, Dad.

                                                                  •        •        •

By now, some of you might be wondering whether I’ve forgotten the Nov. 6 election. As much as I might like to, I haven’t. Curiously, none of Noozhawk’s election stories cracked our Top 10 stories of the week, and only two — Rep. Lois Capps vs. Abel Maldonado (she won) and the Santa Barbara Unified School District’s parcel taxes (they passed) — made the Top 20.

We thought that odd but concluded that the intense interest in the presidential election may have drawn readers to TV, where they likely followed local results on the crawl at the bottom of the screen. It’s just a theory but it seems to explain the heavy readership our politics coverage received the morning after Election Day.

Regardless, the Noozhawk team — Tom Bolton, Michelle Nelson, Lara Cooper, Giana Magnoli, Gina Potthoff and Gaby Slabiak — did a tremendous job, continuously updating our election stories and results well into the early morning hours. They win my popular vote.

                                                                  •        •        •

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