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Thursday, January 17 , 2019, 7:56 pm | Fog/Mist 58º


Bill Macfadyen: Highway 154 Deaths Linked by Tragic Chain of Events

Noozhawk's Top 5 chases a bank robber, gets a 'no comment' from Mark Melchiori, searches for a missing plane, and tracks Santa from the North Pole

What were you reading on Noozhawk this past week?

1. Victims’ Identities, Circumstances of Deaths Released in Highway 154 Collision Involving Loose Dog

Two local women and a dog were struck and killed on Highway 154 in a tragic series of events late on the night of Dec. 21. A San Luis Obispo man later was arrested on suspicion of felony hit and run causing injuries.

According to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, Sara Ornelas, 54, of Santa Barbara, and Barbara Romero, 49, of Lompoc, were driving to Santa Ynez when they pulled over near Rancho San Marcos Golf Course.

While they were parked along the shoulder, sheriff’s Lt. Butch Arnoldi said, a small dog jumped out of the car and ran into the roadway, where it was struck and killed by a vehicle. He said one of the women ran after the dog and also was struck. The second woman went to help her companion and was in turn hit by multiple vehicles, he said. Both women died at the scene.

Two of the motorists involved in the collisions stopped immediately, but the California Highway Patrol said a third driver — identified as Martin Macarena, 48, of San Luis Obispo — fled the scene. Macarena was tracked down and arrested at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez.

The incident remains under investigation but the CHP said alcohol and drugs do not appear to be factors.

2. Gunman Robs Chase Bank in Downtown Santa Barbara

On one of the busiest shopping days of the year in downtown Santa Barbara, a gunman walked into Chase Bank, 1302 State St., at 2 p.m. Dec. 22, pointed his weapon at a teller and made off with an undisclosed amount of cash. Santa Barbara police and the FBI are investigating. 

3. Melchiori Invokes 5th Amendment at Bankruptcy Hearing

Mark Melchiori, the beleaguered president of Melchiori Construction Co., refused to answer questions at a recent bankruptcy hearing, invoking his Fifth Amendment rights numerous times during the proceedings.

Attorney Josh Lynn told Noozhawk that his client was asked about his assets and property, but he said he advised him not to answer questions since the Sheriff’s Department has opened a criminal investigation.

“What choice do I have, even though Mark would want to talk about all of it?” Lynn asked.

Melchiori filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in October. The next bankruptcy hearing will be in January.

4. Heavy Snow Could Delay Search for Plane Indefinitely

A plane piloted by a Solvang man disappeared en route to Mammoth Lakes on Dec. 17 but search crews were unable to locate the aircraft after more than a week of hunting. Heavy snow and high winds in Yosemite National Park forced authorities to call off the search until spring.

Nicol Wilson had flown his propeller-driven Mooney M20F out of Santa Ynez Airport, bound for Mammoth Yosemite Airport. Around midday on Dec. 17, the plane disappeared over Yosemite’s North Dome, near Tioga Pass Road.

After an unsuccessful 10-day search, authorities announced Dec. 27 that they were suspending operations as a result of worsening conditions in the area, which has an elevation of more than 7,500 feet.

“Over five feet of new snow has accumulated at the higher elevations of the park, including the search area,” Yosemite ranger Kari Cobb said. “Additionally, strong winds have created extremely hazardous search conditions.”

Cobb said the search would resume in the spring.

5. Follow Santa’s Flight Tonight With NORAD Radar Tracking

Since 1955, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and its predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD), have been tracking Santa Claus’ annual Christmas Eve flight from the North Pole. With the Internet, the task has gotten a whole lot easier.

Hundreds of locals were following Santa’s progress on Noozhawk throughout the night of Dec. 24. What we couldn’t determine through our Google Analytics was whether those site visitors were parents running out of time to get everything else wrapped or assembled before Santa and his reindeer landed on the roof, or if they were expectant kids trying to figure out when they needed to pretend to be asleep.

Merry Christmas!

                                                                  •        •        •

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