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Bill Macfadyen: Dead Man Hanging Not What You Expect to Find on the Trail

NoozWeek’s Top 5 takes turn for the worse with a head-on skateboard crash, a fatal wreck on Highway 154, heroin overdoses, and good old Dario Pini

There were 106,724 people who read​ Noozhawk this past week.

I’m afraid this is a dark one so, if you want a feel-good story, you can’t lose with American Pharoah.

This is my take on your oil-free Top Five:

1. Dead Man Found Hanging From Tree Near Goleta

A More Mesa resident out for an evening stroll June 4 discovered a dead man hanging from a tree off South Patterson Avenue near Goleta.

According to Santa Barbara County sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelly Hoover, the gruesome discovery was reported at 7:15 p.m. in a wooded area of a trail that runs along Atascadero Creek.

She said the incident appeared to be a suicide.

The man’s name was being withheld, and Hoover said the sheriff’s Coroner’s Office is investigating the circumstances of his death.

» Click here for free suicide prevention resources that are available 24 hours a day.

2. Skateboarder Critically Injured in Head-On Crash with Car on Gibraltar Road

During the 1976 Winter Olympics, my childhood buddies and I were so inspired by the exploits of Austrian downhill skier Franz Klammer — and let’s be honest, American Cindy Nelson — that we figured out a way to strap skateboards to our feet, donned football helmets and knee pads, and raced each other down the steepest streets in our neighborhood.

It was a really stupid thing to do, and not just because of the road rash we acquired. But we were young teenagers.

Still, even we were smart enough to have kids acting as spotters in case a car happened to drive onto our paved course.

A Santa Barbara thrill-seeker who is old enough to know better apparently wasn’t as smart as we were back then, and she’s lucky to be alive now.

According to Santa Barbara County fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni, the 27-year-old woman was riding her skateboard down Gibraltar Road, in the mountains above Santa Barbara, about 7:40 p.m. June 7.

Just south of East Camino Cielo, he said, the victim “was skateboarding down the road, went around a hairpin turn, and hit a car head-on.”

The woman suffered major head injuries and was taken by an American Medical Response ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

Authorities did not disclose the woman’s name, but KEYT News identified her as Tara Tate.

The unsuspecting driver of the vehicle — actually a two-ton Toyota Tacoma pickup — was not injured. Physically, at least.

Authorities say a seat belt made all the difference in who survived this crash near San Marcos Pass. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)
Authorities say a seat belt made all the difference in who survived this crash near San Marcos Pass. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

3. One Dead, 2 Hurt in Highway 154 Crash Near Painted Cave

A Camarillo man was killed the evening of June 9 in a pickup truck crash on rain-slicked Highway 154 on the Santa Barbara side of San Marcos Pass.

Two family members survived the wreck, and authorities say he might have, too — had he been wearing a seat belt.

County fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni said the driver of a westbound Toyota Tundra lost control on a curve about 7:20 p.m. just east of Painted Cave Road. The vehicle ran off the road, down an embankment and slammed into an oak tree.

“The force of the impact, coupled with the fact that the 57-year-old rear passenger was not wearing his seat belt, resulted in that passenger being partially ejected from a side window and suffering fatal injuries,” California Highway Patrol Officer John Gutierrez said.

“Had the rear passenger been wearing his seat belt, it would have likely saved his life.”

The dead man was identified as Benito Cheng.

The driver, Rusty Flores, 66, and front passenger, Jovita Flores, 68, also of Camarillo, were both transported to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and treated for moderate injuries. 

The CHP said alcohol and drugs were not factors in the crash.

4. 3 Overdose Deaths Reported In Santa Barbara County; Authorities Link 2, Ponder Possible Heroin Use

A spate of fatal drug overdoses has spurred speculation that a particularly bad batch of heroin may be making the rounds in Santa Barbara County.

Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said June 7 that three people had died in a four-day period in the North County, with two of the deaths almost certainly linked.

On June 3, a 32-year-old Solvang man was found dead in a local hotel room. Four days later, a 31-year-old mother of two collapsed and died in a field not far from Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.

“Although investigators were not able to conclusively establish that heroin was involved in her death, she was believed to be present ... when the 32-year-old man passed away in the Solvang hotel room,” Hoover said of the woman.

On June 4, meanwhile, a 27-year-old Lompoc man was found dead from a suspected heroin overdose.

So, what’s the deal?

The sheriff’s Coroner’s Office is investigating the three deaths, and Hoover said law enforcement is working with the county Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services “to ensure that we are engaging our communities with information that will assist in preventing additional heroin overdoses and deaths.”

While Hoover said the names of the three victims were not being released because of the ongoing investigation, sources confirmed for Noozhawk that the dead woman was Erin Mcnerney of Santa Ynez.

Detectives investigating Mcnerney’s death later arrested her 46-year-old husband on suspicion of child endangerment and being under the influence of a controlled substance. Hoover said narcotics and drug paraphernalia were found at the couple’s home in the presence of their two sons.

The boys, ages 5 and 4, were taken into the care of county Child Welfare Services.

The Fiesta Inn & Suites. Who said anything about amenities? (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)
The Fiesta Inn & Suites. Who said anything about amenities? (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

5. Santa Barbara Orders State Street Motel Owner to Clean Up, Complete Construction Work

Santa Barbara landlord Dario Pini may not fully deserve his notorious reputation, but he sure doesn’t seem to do anything more than half-assed.

The latest in a long line of examples is his Fiesta Inn & Suites at 1816 State St. For well more than a year, the 26-room motel has been cloaked with scaffolding and surrounded by construction fencing covered in graffiti.

Exasperated at the absence of progress at the construction site, and catching heat from neighbors, city officials have given Pini six months to finish the job and ordered him to clean up the mess.

Deputy City Attorney John Doimas said the property was yellow-tagged in April 2014, meaning the place is uninhabitable while the work is going on. Or not going on.

Pini’s attorney, Larry Powell, did not respond to Noozhawk’s request for comment.

The motel is one of several properties that Pini has been ordered to repair and upgrade around Santa Barbara. The city sued him in 2012, alleging that many of his dwellings are “public nuisances” that threaten the community’s safety.

“Official city records indicate that hundreds of city administrative code enforcement actions have been opened as a result of municipal code violations occurring at Pini’s real properties over the last three decades,” the lawsuit stated.​

                                                                 •        •        •

Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week, from my peripatetic tour of the World Wide Web: Typo Corrected on Ernie Pyle Statue.

I know, I know. Does anyone even know who Ernie Pyle is these days? Not only was he a two-r correspondent during World War II, he was a full-fledged American hero.

Also a journalist.

                                                                 •        •        •

Clinical psychologist Meg Jay does the math for today’s twenty-somethings. If you have one, or three, this is well worth your time. HT to my friend, Mike Mayfield.

(TED 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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