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Bill Macfadyen: Readers Keep Coming Back to Discovery of Dead Body in Park

What else is in NoozWeek’s Top 5? A fatal bike wreck on Highway 154, Haggen calls it quits, sharks!, and a mystery woman mystery


There were 98,466 people who read Noozhawk this past week, at least four of whom I know have used their words to hurt Donald Trump’s feelings.

Here’s my take on your Top 5 stories:

1. Man’s Body Found in Stevens Park in Santa Barbara

A woman taking a walk in Stevens Park discovered a body early on the morning of Sept. 20, but Santa Barbara police aren’t sure what to make of it.

Sgt. Riley Harwood told our Tom Bolton that the middle-aged dead man was believed to be homeless.

“We have an idea of who it might be, but no positive identification has been made,” he said.

Harwood said detectives were handling the case as a “suspicious death” because it wasn’t​ immediately apparent whether it was the result of natural causes or foul play.

“It’s our practice to investigate as if it’s a crime scene until we know otherwise,” he explained.

The quiet, secluded park, which is accessed from Canon Drive in San Roque and stretches below the Foothill Road bridge west of San Roque Road, was closed while authorities investigated.

2. Bicyclist Killed in Vehicle Collision Near Lake Cachuma

A cyclist was struck by an SUV and killed as he rode his bike on Highway 154 near Lake Cachuma on Sept. 18. The incident ignited an intense debate in our comments section about the safety — and wisdom — of bikes and vehicles sharing the windy, mostly two-lane, high-speed highway through the Santa Ynez Valley.

According to the California Highway Patrol, 52-year-old Reyes Cabrera of Lompoc was riding east on the highway when a Toyota 4Runner collided with him as the driver was attempting to pass from behind.

Cabrera was pronounced dead at the scene of the 9 a.m. crash. The SUV driver, identified as Mikhail Panko, 30, of Santa Maria, was not injured, the CHP said.

A 15-mile stretch of the highway was closed between Highway 246 east of Santa Ynez and Paradise Road west of San Marcos Pass while CHP investigators gathered information and evidence.

The cause of the wreck has not been determined.

Cabrera’s family and friends have set up a Go Fund Me page to collect donations for funeral and burial costs.

Running on empty. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk file photo)
Running on empty. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk file photo)

3. Haggen Grocery Chain Officially Leaving Santa Barbara County

The hapless Haggen grocery chain’s ambitious expansion may not be on par with New Coke when it comes to poor business planning, but — hoo-boy! — it has to have left its executives with a flat, bitter taste.

To no one’s surprise, least of all Santa Barbara County shoppers, the Bellingham, Wash.-based company announced Sept. 24 that it is pulling the plug on its whole “Pacific Southwest” experiment.

The 18-store Pacific Northwest chain mushroomed to 164 locations just a few months ago after acquiring 146 additional stores from AB Acquisition LLC and Safeway Inc., the entity created when Safeway, which owns Vons, merged with Albertsons.

A half-dozen of the stores were in Santa Barbara County.

Haggen already had filed for bankruptcy protection last month while also filing a $1 billion lawsuit against Albertsons, claiming Albertsons sabotaged its entrance into new markets by providing false retail data for pricing, taking store inventory and other alleged misdeeds.

The local operation was beset by layoffs, including those of more than a dozen employees with developmental disabilities, and a cacophony of customer complaints.

Perhaps the biggest question now is what will happen to the local locations, none of which is probably big enough for a Target.

Meanwhile, to the handful of my “fans” irked that Paula Lopez is a recurring character in my weekly musings, you have Haggen to thank for knocking down last week’s column to No. 6 on our readers’ choice list. In less than nine hours, the Haggen story came out of nowhere to finish in third place this week.

You’re welcome. But it looks like I won anyway.

Sign of the times. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)
Sign of the times. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

4. Shark Sighting Advisory Signs Posted at Santa Barbara’s East Beach

A standup-paddle boarder spotted a shark about 220 yards off Santa Barbara’s East Beach the morning of Sept. 17, close enough to shore for authorities to post shark advisory signs as a precaution.

Tony Sholl, aquatics supervisor for the Parks & Recreation Department, said the shark was estimated to be 8 to 10 feet long, but the witness wasn’t able to identify the make and model.

“A shark was sighted in the area closer to shore than normal,” he said. “Just swim at your own risk.”

Last month, sharks were seen off Campus Point near UC Santa Barbara and off Jalama Beach County Park.

But the most dramatic encounter was one actually videotaped by Mark McCracken, who was fishing from his kayak Sept. 21, about a half-mile off Gaviota State Park.

In an Instagram post, the 33-year-old Santa Maria resident said he was trolling for bonito when a “​super-agressive” hammerhead shark “started ramming and biting” his kayak.

“I had to hit him over 20 times before he finally gave me some space, but still stalked me a for a half-mile all the way back to shore,” wrote McCracken, who captured the confrontation on a head-mounted GoPro camera. (Scroll down the page for the full video.)

“Even after I was on shore, he paced back and forth in about 3 feet of water like he was just waiting for me to come back out. Pretty bizarre and crazy experience.”

Whether it’s the result of much warmer-than-usual ocean temperatures in the mid-70s or just greater awareness, there does seem to be more shark activity in local waters these days.

Whatever the reason, shark headlines are pure click bait for Noozhawk, so we’re not complaining.

(Mark McCracken video)

5. Missing Ohio Woman Located by Santa Maria Police​

An Ohio woman who disappeared under “suspicious circumstances” in Santa Maria turned up under — apparently — just as mysterious circumstances a day and a half later.

What happened to Brianna Holton? (Holton family photo)
What happened to Brianna Holton? (Holton family photo)

According to Santa Maria police, 22-year-old Brianna Holton of Marietta, Ohio, was visiting family in Santa Maria and had gone to a party in the area of Colorado Street and Newlove Drive the night of Sept. 17. The neighborhood of tidy single-family homes is just east of South Miller Street south of East Battles Road. 

Police said Holton was last seen leaving the party about 2 a.m. Sept. 18. Detectives located her about 3 p.m. the next day.

No additional details were released, including information about her condition, but police said the investigation is continuing.

And that’s all we know.

                                                                 •        •        •

As a copy editor, this is a must-read. Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week, from my peripatetic tour of the World Wide Web: Harvard Linguist Points Out 58 Most Commonly Misused Words and Phrases.

                                                                 •        •        •

My column can be a yawner. This will keep you awake. HT to my good friend, Clyde Osterhaus Thayer.

(Zoo Fun video)

                                                                  •        •        •

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

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