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Bill Macfadyen: Horrific Crash Captivates Community as Details Emerge About 3 Victims

NoozWeek’s Top 5 views a ‘Golden State Killer’ murder through the eyes of victim’s daughter, finds dead men in a car and the County Jail, and hits a head-on collision on Highway 154

No words necessary. Click to view larger
No words necessary. (Zack Warburg / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara County’s world-class athletes are making us proud down at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero.

Santa Maria swimmer Josh Prenot was the first to earn a medal — a silver in the 200-meter breaststroke — but he’s unlikely to be the last. Our Barry Punzal has the latest over at Noozhawk Sports.

Closer to home, Noozhawk had an Olympian surge in readership this past week, with 127,227 people racing to our news, according to our Google Analytics. Here’s my take on your top stories:

1. 3 People Killed in High-Speed Crash on Mesa in Santa Barbara

It’s just about all anyone’s been talking about for three days.

Just before 9 p.m. Aug. 9, a violent high-speed crash took the lives of three people — and may yet take a fourth — on Cliff Drive near La Marina Drive in Santa Barbara’s Mesa neighborhood.

According to Santa Barbara police Sgt. Riley Harwood, a 1997 Lexus sedan was racing eastbound on the straight, wide street when the driver lost control and the car slammed into a curb, a utility pole, a water line and a tree, finally landing in thick shrubbery in the front yard of an unsuspecting homeowner.

What was left of the crumpled-up vehicle looked like it had gone through an industrial trash compactor.

“There are indications the vehicle went airborne into the tree and shrubs,” Lt. Ed Olsen told our Brooke Holland at the scene that night. “There is no indication of the cause, other than speed.”

The dead victims were identified Aug. 11 as Angel Luis Flores, the 24-year-old driver, and Daniella Diane “Dani” Hearn, 19, and Benjamin Samuel Rubio, 28, who were sitting in the back seat.

Harwood said the front-seat passenger, 29-year-old Michael James Mendoza, survived the crash. He remains in critical condition at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

All four are from Santa Barbara.

Investigators are still trying to determine whether alcohol or drugs were involved in the crash, Harwood said.

Angel Flores Click to view larger
Angel Flores
Ben Rubio Click to view larger
Ben Rubio
Dani Hearn Click to view larger
Dani Hearn

Within seconds of the collision, neighbors poured out of their houses, but there was little they could do except direct emergency personnel to the wreckage, which was off the street and behind a tree.

“All I heard was a loud noise and thump,” La Marina resident Jennifer Newell told Brooke.

Another neighbor said she didn’t hear any brakes or skidding.

Brooke spent most of Aug. 11 talking to grief-stricken friends of the victims.

“At this point, everyone is still shocked about this whole terrible incident,” said Angie Cupp’salazar, who had known Hearn for five years, and Flores and Rubio for three.

“All of them were young, vibrant and full of life. My heart goes out to the families, and may they all rest in peace.”

Hearn, the mother of a year-old son named Lukas, was all set for the upcoming fall semester at Santa Barbara City College, and had participated in the Single Parents Arriving Ready for College summer bridge program, an SBCC spokeswoman confirmed.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Hearn’s family with her cremation and funeral expenses. Click here to make an online donation. A separate fund has been established for Hearn’s son. Click here to make an online donation for the child.

Rubio, Hearn’s boyfriend, was a 2006 graduate of Bishop Diego High School and a former SBCC student.

“He loved soccer,” Bishop Diego High alumni relations director Rachael Manzo told Noozhawk. “We are praying for his family. We are in mourning and sad about losing him.”

Friends have established a GoFundMe page to help with Rubio’s funeral and memorial expenses. Click here to make an online donation.

Flores graduated from Ernest Righetti High School in Orcutt in 2010, according to a longtime friend, Darric Newman, 24, of Santa Maria.

“I’ve known him since elementary school,” he said. “He has always been a nice guy to be around. He has a little boy, and his girlfriend is pregnant and almost due with a little girl.”

A GoFundMe page also has been set up for Flores’ family. Click here to make an online donation.

2. Deceased Santa Barbara Man Found in Car in Goleta Parking Lot

A passerby called 9-1-1 after noticing an unresponsive man inside a car parked outside Walgreens in Goleta on Aug. 7.

It was the right thing to do, but it was too late: The 33-year-old Santa Barbara man was already dead.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said a customer discovered the man around 5 p.m. in the drug store parking lot at 5900 Calle Real. First responders arrived a few minutes later, but the car guy was pronounced dead at that scene.

Foul play is not suspected, Hoover said, but the sheriff’s Coroner’s Office is investigating the cause and manner of death.

The dead man’s identity has not been disclosed.

(Debra Dee video)

3. Goleta Teen’s Rebellion 35 Years Ago May Have Saved Her from ‘Golden State Killer’

Earlier this summer, the FBI offered a $50,000 reward in an effort to solve an ice-cold cold case that includes two double-murders in Goleta nearly 40 years ago.

Cheri Domingo and Greg Sanchez were killed in Domingo’s Goleta home on July 27, 1981. Their murders remain unsolved. Click to view larger
Cheri Domingo and Greg Sanchez were killed in Domingo’s Goleta home on July 27, 1981. Their murders remain unsolved. (Domingo family photo)

The suspect in the true-life murder mystery — known variously as the “East Area Rapist,” the “Golden State Killer” or the “Original Night Stalker” — is linked by the FBI to 12 homicides, 45 rapes and more than 120 residential burglaries up and down California from 1976 to 1986, when the crimes just stopped and he was never heard from again.

Not long after Noozhawk published the reward news, we received an email from a woman in Texas, who, it turns out, is the daughter of one of the Goleta victims. Naturally, our Tom Bolton emailed her back, and they set up a time to talk.

The result of that mutual outreach is Tom’s excellent account of the local Golden State Killer case and its frustrating twists and turns, along with a now-50-year-old woman’s autobiographical details that personalize the terror of the times — and its long aftermath.

Debbi Domingo was not quite 16 years old when her mother, Cheri Domingo, and her mother’s boyfriend, Greg Sanchez, were killed in a savage attack in the Domingos’ Goleta home on Toltec Way, a block east of San Jose Creek and the University Circle Open Space.

Domingo herself was not living in the house at the time of the killings — in the early morning hours of July 27, 1981 — because of a quarrel that had ended with the teenager moving in with friends in Santa Barbara two weeks before. She never saw her mom alive again.

The devastation knocked the wind out of Domingo, who described for Tom a long, dark period of drug addiction and poor choices.

Three of the several composite portraits of the Golden State Killer, who also was known as the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker as he terrorized California from 1976 to 1986 before vanishing. Click to view larger
Three of the several composite portraits of the Golden State Killer, who also was known as the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker as he terrorized California from 1976 to 1986 before vanishing.

“With her death, and the tragic way she died, her murder really hit home to me that bad things do happen to good people, and we are not promised a future,” she recalled. “So I stuffed all of that away for a long time, and kind of just went through the motions of grieving.

“Stuffing that really backfired. It took me a long time to rediscover God, to rediscover myself.”

Today, Domingo is a happily married mother and grandmother working for the State of Texas, and a devout Christian who gives God the glory for turning her life around.

Over the last five years, she has been increasingly committed to helping solve her mother’s murder and raising public awareness about the Golden State Killer. She’s grateful for the tenacity of Sheriff’s Department cold-case investigators Gary Kitzmann and Jeff Klapakis

“I’m very hopeful right now, especially now that FBI has jumped in and their national campaign,” Domingo said. “I think there’s a good chance he can be identified.

“People know stuff, and they don’t know they know it.”

If you have any tips about the Golden State Killer case, call Kitzmann at 805.681.4100, or the sheriff’s tip line at 805.681.4171.

Impact zone. (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)
Impact zone. (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)

4. Major-Injury Crash Shuts Down Highway 154 Near Santa Barbara​

A head-on crash on Highway 154 in the foothills above Santa Barbara left one motorist trapped in the wreckage with major injuries the afternoon of Aug. 5.

Traffic on the two-lane roadway was backed up for miles in both directions while emergency crews freed the man and cleaned up the mess.

According to Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni, a station wagon and an RV collided head-on about 12:20 p.m. north of San Antonio Creek Road, near the Los Padres National Forest sign.

He said the car’s driver was extricated and then transported by American Medical Response ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. The two people in the RV were not hurt.

No identities were released and no further details were available. The California Highway Patrol is investigating the cause of the collision.

5. Man Dies in Sheriff Custody at Santa Barbara County Jail

Authorities are investigating the case of a 56-year-old Santa Barbara man who was found dead in a Santa Barbara County Jail cell on Aug. 4 — less than an hour after his arrival.

According to sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelly Hoover, Santa Barbara police arrested Joel Huerta about 12:30 a.m. after responding to a 9-1-1 call in the 500 block of East De la Guerra Street.

She said officers suspected Huerta was under the influence of drugs and took him into custody.

“Due to his level of impairment,” she added, he was restrained and taken to County Jail.

“Upon his arrival (at 12:50 a.m.), jail medical staff attempted to assess Huerta, but he refused to answer any questions,” Hoover said.

He was placed in a cell for observation and had his restraints removed, but she said he became unresponsive almost immediately.

Jail custody deputies, medical staff and county Fire Department paramedics were unable to revive Huerta, and he was pronounced dead at 1:30 a.m., Hoover said.

An autopsy is being conducted to determine a cause of death, and both the police and sheriff’s departments are conducting internal investigations.

                                                                 •        •        •

Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Motorcyclist Killed in Highway 101 Crash in Summerland; Freeway Closure Causes Massive Traffic Jam.

                                                                 •        •        •

Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

This is safe for work, but let me tell you, these hotties are real foxes: Photographer Captures Foxy Faces in Gorgeous Portrait Series.

                                                                 •        •        •

Watch It

We’re not talking a runaway bride here, but it looks like she may have lost a member of her wedding party.

(Annette Burgess video)

                                                                  •        •        •

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— Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at [email protected], follow him on Twitter: @noozhawk, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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