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Monday, December 17 , 2018, 4:40 am | Overcast 55º


Bill Macfadyen: Credit-Card Skimming Scam Foiled at the Pumps in Goleta

NoozWeek’s Top 5 jumps back into Reimagine: Santa Barbara, would like to imagine downtown without a stabbing but must imagine it without Staples, and finds the remains of a long missing man

Van Click to view larger
Suspected skim scam shattered thanks to savvy spectator. (Urban Hikers / Noozhawk photo)

After a nearly seven-month interruption, Noozhawk has resumed our Reimagine: Santa Barbara project exploring the challenges, opportunities and future of downtown Santa Barbara.

The catastrophic impacts from the Thomas Fire and the deadly Montecito flash flooding, mud and debris flows reverberated throughout Santa Barbara County, and certainly were felt in our small organization.

Although we were committed to helping identify solutions to the multilevel State Street dilemma, our community was grappling with monumental disasters and unprecedented loss, and we had no choice but to follow the news. So we did, as did our readers.

But the intervening months have not been kind to downtown Santa Barbara, and it’s time to pick up where we left off. Our readers hungrily followed, with one of our new stories in our Top 5 list and the other two in the Top 10.

Over the next couple of weeks, our reporters will complete the sidetracked segment involving current issues, including other business districts around Santa Barbara and the county, before turning their attention to San Luis Obispo and Boulder, Colo., whose thriving downtowns might have ideas worth considering here.

We expect our project will lead to a larger community-wide discussion and reimagination about what the future of Santa Barbara could be, and we’re excited to see where that path takes us.

Following our current path, Noozhawk attracted an audience of 106,998 readers over the past week, according to our Google Analytics. Here is my take — i.e., my opinion — on your Top 5 stories. Thanks for reading.

1. 2 Jailed for Allegedly Trying to Install ‘Skimming’ Device at Goleta Gas Station

An alert customer reported seeing two men tampering with a pump at a Goleta gas station, and the tip led to the arrest of a couple of suspected credit-card thieves.

According to Santa Barbara County sheriff’s Sgt. Daniel Calderon, a witness called 9-1-1 at about 4:45 p.m. June 23 to report the suspicious activity at the Valero station at 5661 Calle Real.

He said the witness told the dispatcher that two men looked to be trying to attach a credit-card reader at one of the gas pumps.

“The subjects were seen driving away in a U-Haul rental van that had the license plate removed, the U-Haul serial number covered with tape, and the side and rear windows covered with brown paper,” Calderon said.

Sheriff’s deputies spotted the vehicle on Highway 101 a short while later and flipped their lights. The driver exited the freeway and pulled in to a parking lot of an industrial complex in the 6400 block of Calle Real, not far from the California Highway Patrol station off Los Carneros Road.

“Because the deputies could not clearly see inside the cargo van, the rear windows were shattered out using a 40-mm impact sponge round,” Calderon said. “The vehicle was then cleared and no other persons were found inside.”

What was found inside, he said, were several devices used for “skimming,” i.e. the illegal collection of data off the magnetic strip on credit cards.

Calderon said Harutyun Shahinyan, 24, of Los Angeles, and Carlos Lemus, 30, of Port Orchard, Wash., were booked into County Jail on suspicion of possessing a scanning device with intent to defraud, credit card fraud, and fraud in connection with access devices.

Both men were being held without bail.

2. Man Stabbed in Downtown Santa Barbara Altercation

Ambulance Click to view larger
Welcome to Santa Barbara. (Urban Hikers / Noozhawk photo)

A transient was stabbed during an altercation on a bus bench in downtown Santa Barbara the evening of June 24, but no suspects have been identified.

Santa Barbara police Sgt. Rashun Drayton said the incident was reported just before 8:30 p.m. in the 400 block of State Street, between Gutierrez and Haley streets.

Emergency personnel responded to the scene and Drayton said they found a male transient with stab wounds. The victim was taken by American Medical Response ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, but his identity and details of his medical condition were not available.

Drayton said the stabbing followed an altercation at an MTD bus stop bench. The investigation is ongoing and no suspects have been identified, he added.

3. State Street Remains a Key Focus as Santa Barbara Fights Back from Twin Disasters

Downtown Click to view larger
Everything must go. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Having been sidetracked by death and destruction for the last seven months, Team Noozhawk returned to State Street in downtown Santa Barbara to find ... more of the same challenges from the last few years.

Vacancies and vagrants are everywhere, the pungent smell of urine permeates the air around many benches and bushes, frustrated businesses scoff — and worse — at the mention of the city’s heavily advertised “accelerated” permitting process, perpetual street work and lane closures make driving an adventure, and city officials try their best to satsify all comers without satisfying many at all.

And yet, there are reasons for optimism. I guess one would be that we’re essentially in the same place we were late last fall — in spite of the economic and emotional blows from the Thomas Fire and the Montectito flash flooding and debris flows. That’s something, right?

Click here for Noozhawk’s complete Reimagine: Santa Barbara series.

4. Investigation Underway After Discovery of Dead Man Along Highway 101 West of Goleta

The remains of a Santa Barbara man who had disappeared in March were found down a secluded embankment between Calle Real and Highway 101 in western Goleta.

Brenden Lewis Click to view larger
Brenden Lewis vanished in March. (Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department photo)

According to sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelly Hoover, the remains of 24-year-old Brenden Milo Lewis were discovered about 10 a.m. June 22. Autopsy results are pending, she said.

Lewis’ family and friends told our Tom Bolton that he had vanished in March, and that he had been reported as missing. Authorities would say nothing more, however.

“Due to the ongoing investigation, no additional details will be released at this time,” Hoover said.

Originally from Kansas, Lewis was a wide receiver on the Santa Barbara City College football team in 2014, catching three touchdown passes as a Vaquero. He also was no stranger to Noozhawk’s crime logs, having previously been arrested as one of several suspects in a series of 2015 armed robberies in Isla Vista.

Anyone with information regarding the case is asked to contact the Sheriff’s Department at 805.681.4150. Click here to leave an anonymous tip.

5. Staples Appears to Be Leaving Downtown Santa Barbara Location

Staples Click to view larger
Un-Stapled. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Staples has been a staple of the downtown Santa Barbara retail scene for almost as long as I can remember. Its time may be short, however, as “The Office Superstore” apparently has not renewed its lease, and a commercial real estate company is actively shopping the 17,000-square-foot building.

Steve Brown, a principal and founding partner of Radius Commercial Real Estate & Investments, told our Josh Molina that the lease expires Aug. 31 for the Staples place at 410 State St.

“They haven’t renewed it,” he said of the paperwork. “It seems as though they are pulling out of there.”

Staples did not respond to Noozhawk’s calls and emails requesting comment.

Brown declined to speculate but noted that a similar office supplies retailer, a home goods store, a sporting goods outlet or even a grocery store would make a good tenant for the site, which includes more than 75 parking spaces.

With chronic panhandling — and stories like No. 2 above — the 400 block of State Street has become a bit dicey. Staples also has been under increasing pressure from the Easy Button-efficiency of the Internet.

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We’re Hiring

Kim Clark, Noozhawk’s business development vice president, is searching for an experienced, detail-oriented marketing assistant to join the sales team. Click here for the job description on Noozhawk’s LinkedIn profile. Kim can be contacted at [email protected].

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Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Driver Arrested on Suspicion of DUI After 2 Killed, 3 Injured As Vehicle Plunges Off Gibraltar Road.

                                                                 •        •        •

Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

I have a quandary; I like them all: The Science Behind Baking the Most Delicious Cookie Ever.

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Best of Bill’s Instagram

@casadorinda was, and still is, the scene of triumph and tragedy. I was there this past week, as you can see in my Instagram feed.

                                                                 •        •        •

Watch It

She looks like she’s having about 5 tons of fun.

(CCTV+ video)

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How You Can Help Noozhawk

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

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