Friday, March 24 , 2017, 6:01 am | Fair 46º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Bill Macfadyen: Deaths of 2 High School Seniors Shake More Than Their Campuses

NoozWeek’s Top 5 grapples with how and why Connor O’Keefe and Fili Hernandez died, opens The Little Door, salutes 8 women’s work, and locks down Washington School

In a span of about 24 hours, two young men tragically and unexpectedly lost their lives last weekend in our community. Our hearts and prayers go out to their families and friends.

It’s not unusual for readers to sometimes lash out at the media for news coverage of such sensitive incidents, so I wasn’t surprised to be on the receiving end of several phone calls doing just that. Emotions are raw and none of us can truly prepare for such shocking circumstances.

This isn’t about Noozhawk, but I do understand if grief, bewilderment and even anger are directed our way. We can take it.

What I find increasingly disappointing is the idiotic braying from the herd of jackasses that haunts Noozhawk’s story comments. The ignorant assumptions, armchair psychology and outright bullshit they feel they have to spew is shameful and pathetic. It was on full display with our coverage of these two incidents.

Comments are a necessary evil in cyberspace, and I’m not going to pull them. Just being a jackass doesn’t automatically disqualify one from commenting on our site, although maybe it should. I’ll think about that.

In the meantime, I’m asking readers to continue to help Noozhawk’s very small staff of professional journalists to police the section. A number of you did this past week, and I’m grateful.

I’m also grateful to all of you who contributed to our Hearken reader engagement platform. Managing editor Giana Magnoli and I are planning to introduce it late next week as a way to help develop more insightful questions, leads and sources while we’re considering story ideas and projects — rather than only after their publication.

My hope is that we can elevate the tone and seriousness of our community discussions, and shift the attention away from those who — as my friend, Bob DeLaurentis, says — “treat the Internet like a bathroom wall.” We all deserve better.

If you’d like to contribute to this cause, please contact me at either [email protected] or 805.456.7195. Checks can be mailed to Noozhawk, P.O. Box 101, Santa Barbara 93102. Contributions to Noozhawk are not tax-deductible.

But enough of the March madness, which comes in the midst of March Madness. Noozhawk had 117,454 readers this past week, according to our Google Analytics.

Here’s my take on your top stories:

1. Pedestrian Struck, Killed by Amtrak Passenger Train in Montecito

A Santa Barbara High School senior was struck and killed by an Amtrak passenger train as he walked on the railroad tracks near his Montecito home the afternoon of March 11.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said 18-year-old Connor O’Keefe was hit by the northbound train near Fernald Point Lane about 1:30 p.m.

Santa Barbara High School senior Connor O’Keefe was a popular student at the Multimedia Arts and Design (MAD) Academy and a key player on the Dons’ Channel League champion water polo team. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara High School senior Connor O’Keefe was a popular student at the Multimedia Arts and Design (MAD) Academy and a key player on the Dons’ Channel League champion water polo team. (GoFundMe photo)

“The train engineer observed the subject on the tracks and activated the horn, whistle and braking system, but the subject did not respond and was struck by the train,” she said.

Hoover said the Coroner’s Office will determine an official cause and manner of death after toxicology and lab results are complete.

O’Keefe was a key member of the Santa Barbara High water polo team that won the Channel League championship last fall, before the Dons’ early elimination from the CIF playoffs.

“He played hurt for the second half of the season, knowing we needed him even if it was at 50 percent,” water polo coach Mark Walsh told our Barry Punzal. “He truly only cared about the team and his teammates.

“He was a great friend to many and good teammate to all. Connor was a selfless player who always competed with his contagious smile.”

Grief counselors converged on the campus March 13 to help stunned classmates and faculty. Compassion centers were set up in the Alumni Room and at the Multimedia Arts and Design (MAD) Academy, where O’Keefe was a student.

“Connor’s passing brings with it a sadness as our school community deals with the emotional impact of this loss,” Principal John Becchio wrote on the school’s Facebook page.

“... In times like this it is important that we stay together as a community and communicate with one another about any needs that we might have.”

A public memorial service will be held at noon March 18 at The Marjorie Luke Theatre, at 721 E. Cota St. on the campus of Santa Barbara Junior High School. Doors open at 11:30 a.m.

Friends of the O’Keefe family have established a GoFundMe page to assist with related expenses. Click here to make an online donation.

Hundreds of candles cast a wam glow at a March 14 Carpinteria High School campus vigil held in memory of Fili Hernandez, an 18-year-old senior who fell to his death from the Carpinteria bluffs over the weekend. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)
Hundreds of candles cast a wam glow at a March 14 Carpinteria High School campus vigil held in memory of Fili Hernandez, an 18-year-old senior who fell to his death from the Carpinteria bluffs over the weekend. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

2. Sheriff’s Department Investigating Fatal Cliff Fall in Carpinteria

A Carpinteria High School senior apparently fell to his death from the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve on March 12. His lifeless body was discovered the next morning, on the beach below a cliff east of the harbor seal preserve and rookery.

Fili Hernandez was a popular senior at Carpinteria High School. (GoFundMe photo)
Fili Hernandez was a popular senior at Carpinteria High School. (GoFundMe photo)

Sheriff’s Lt. Rob Plastino said 18-year-old Filiberto “Fili” Hernandez had been reported missing by his mother on March 12. Early the next day, a search party of family and friends found him and called 9-1-1.

Emergency personnel pronounced Hernandez dead at the scene, but few other details were released. Plastino said the Coroner’s Office is investigating the cause and circumstances of the death.

Hundreds of relatives, friends, classmates, faculty and residents of the close-knit Carpinteria community packed the high school’s amphitheater for a candlelight memorial ceremony March 14.

The popular Hernandez had lived in Carpinteria nearly all of his life, and friends recounted stories and memories about kindergarten, youth sports, video games, rock concerts and Game of Thrones.

“I’m going to miss those childhood days,” one friend said. “He was my first best friend. He was a special person. We talked about graduating high school and walking across the stage together.”

Visibly moved by the outpouring of love and support, Hernandez’s heartbroken mother expressed her gratitude.

“It’s pure joy to grow up in Carpinteria,” she said. “This is an amazing group. To live in a community like this — this support is beyond my wildest dreams. Fili would be honored — he is honored. Our love goes out to all of you.”

Grief counselors have been on campus all week, and were at the vigil, as well. Jamie Persoon, the Carpinteria Unified School District’s administrator-in-charge, said counseling would be available on an ongoing basis.

“The thoughts of the entire school district, and indeed the whole community of Carpinteria, are with Filiberto’s family,” she said. “We stand ready to support them in the coming days and weeks ahead.”

Funeral services are pending with McDermott-Crockett & Associates Mortuary, but friends of the Hernandez family have established a GoFundMe page to assist with related expenses. Click here to make an online donation.

The Little Door hopes you’ll walk this way. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)
The Little Door hopes you’ll walk this way. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

3. BizHawk: The Little Door Wants to Create Romantic Vibes in Downtown Santa Barbara

Seeing a window of opportunity in downtown Santa Barbara, The Little Door has become the latest restaurant to open at 129 E. Anapamu St., right across the street from the majestic Santa Barbara County Courthouse and its popular Sunken Garden.

As our Sam Goldman reported, the high-end eatery features a French Mediterranean menu overseen by local chef Jean Paul LuVanVi, and also offers wines, cocktails and specialty cakes.

Owner Emma Recher is a cousin of the co-founders of The Little Door in West Hollywood, and she hopes her piece of paradise eventually can match the rave reviews and loyal following that its sister restaurant has built up over the past 20 years.

I’ve never understood why the East Anapamu Street location has had so much trouble keeping tenants. It’s a bright and airy cottage, and it provides a lovely and sweeping view of some of Santa Barbara’s most venerable traditions.

Of course, at a block and a half from State Street, it is off the beaten path, and many tourists are approaching the courthouse through the Anacapa Street archway and only gazing out at the Sunken Garden from the top of the back steps. So I guess I’ve answered my own question.

But best wishes to Recher. I’m happy to check it out — and see if it merits a coveted #bestofbillrecommendation.

The Little Door is open for dinner from 4:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and a half-hour later on Friday and Saturday. It’s closed Sundays.

Brava to BRAVO power players, from left, Lyla Krock, Kristen Miller, Kris White, Marine Schumann, Anne Pazier, Reneé Grubb, Anna Lopez-Carr and Cam Gittler. (Kim Clark / Noozhawk photo)
Brava to BRAVO power players, from left, Lyla Krock, Kristen Miller, Kris White, Marine Schumann, Anne Pazier, Reneé Grubb, Anna Lopez-Carr and Cam Gittler. (Kim Clark / Noozhawk photo)

4. 8 Santa Barbara Women Recognized at Annual BRAVO Awards

The National Association of Women Business Owners-Santa Barbara honored eight of our community’s most entrepreneurial and inspiring women at a March 9 luncheon at the Hyatt Centric Santa Barbara overlooking East Beach, including my close friends, Kristen Miller and Reneé Grubb.

Miller, president and CEO of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce, was named Public Policy Leader of the Year, and Grubb, co-founder of Village Properties, was recognized as Philanthropic Champion for her visionary leadership of the Teacher’s Fund. Both brought daughters with them to share in the acclaim and gratitude.

The third annual BRAVO Awards also honored Anna Lopez-Carr, co-founder of Le Sorelle, as Member of the Year; Anne Pazier of Santa Barbara Gift Baskets as Woman Business Owner of the Year; Marine Schumann, co-founder and general manager of Brighten Solar, as Entrepreneur to Watch; and Kris White, retired director of Computers for Families, as Education Advocate of the Year.

Cam Gittler, president and license partner of Engel & Völkers, received the Lifetime Achievement Award, and San Marcos High School student Lyla Krock received the Rising Star Award.

Congratulations also are in order for Kim Clark, a Noozhawk partner and our business development vice president. Kim is NAWBO-SB’s immediate past board president and her leadership has been instrumental in the success of the BRAVO Awards.

5. Santa Barbara Police Arrest Ventura Man After Hit-Run Collision, Search in Mesa Neighborhood

Washington School in Santa Barbara was placed on a brief lockdown March 14 after a suspect in a nearby hit-and-run collision ran through the Mesa campus. No students were hurt in the incident, which lasted about a half-hour.

According to Santa Barbara police Sgt. Joshua Morton, two suspects were seen running from the scene of a hit-and-run collision at a condominium complex at 222 Meigs Road. One suspect lit out toward La Mesa Park across the street but the other ran across the school grounds.

The park stranger eluded capture but officers eventually located the school intruder, who was arrested without incident. Morton said the man “was determined to be under the influence of a controlled substance at the time of contact.”

The 10 a.m. condo collision actually was a case of the alleged perpetrators crashing their car into one of the units at the complex. There were no injuries, but police said the vehicle had been reported stolen in Ventura.

Morton identified the arrested man as Nathan Christopher Stevens, 34, of Ventura. He was booked into Santa Barbara County Jail on charges of vehicle theft, prowling, felon in possession of ammunition, possession of stolen property and possession of burglary tools. Bail was set at $50,000.

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Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? 1 Dead, 1 Critically Injured in Crash on Highway 101 in Montecito.

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Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

Aleppo. Enough said.

                                                                 •        •        •

Watch It

Penne meatballs from scratch. Scratch paper, that is.

(yelldesign 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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