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Bill Macfadyen: Despite Valiant Effort by Rescuers, Great White Shark Attack Claims Victim

Best of Noozhawk 10.26.12 adds another chapter to the Melchiori Construction saga, settles on a wrong-way crash victim's payment, goes offline, and scares up another Isla Vista freak show

What were you reading on Noozhawk this past week?

1. Shark Attack Victim Identified as 39-Year-Old Orcutt Surfer

A blissful morning of surfing turned to tragedy Oct. 23 after a great white shark fatally injured an Orcutt man off Surf Beach, west of Lompoc.

Francisco Solorio Jr., 39, was surfing with a companion when the shark attacked, biting him in his upper torso and leaving teeth marks more than a foot wide in his surfboard. Solorio’s friend witnessed the attack, swam over to rescue him and began administering first aid when he got him to shore, about 500 yards north of Ocean Beach County Park. Another witness called 9-1-1.

Firefighters from nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base were the first to reach the scene, and took over the medical response, but Solorio died of his wounds.

The attack, later attributed to a shark 15 to 16 feet in length, came two years and one day after another fatal attack at the same location. On Oct. 22, 2010, Lucas Ransom, 19, of Romoland in Riverside County, was boogie boarding about 100 yards from shore when a great white shark pulled him under the water. Friends and other witnesses rushed him to the beach, but he suffered a massive leg wound and died of his injuries at the scene.

Solorio, described by his family as an avid surfer since age 10, graduated from Righetti High School in Santa Maria and Allan Hancock College. He is survived by his wife, Kasey, and two daughters, Monique and Frankie, along with his parents, Consuelo and Francisco Solorio; a brother, Roque; and sisters Rosy Logan, Marina Kagawa and Patricia Solorio.

A Rosary service was held Oct. 26 in Santa Maria and a celebration of his life will be held Oct. 27 in Nipomo. On Oct. 28, a private “paddle out” will be held at Jalama Beach.

A memorial account has been set up for funeral expenses and to establish a benefit fund for Solorio’s daughters. Donations may be sent to the “Francisco Solorio Memorial Fund #9502-342252” c/o Rabobank, 519 E. Main St., Santa Maria 93454.

2. Former VP Sues Melchiori Construction Co. Over Borrowed 401(k) Money

What a difference a bankruptcy filing makes. For months, even as Melchiori Construction Co. unraveled around her, vice president Jean Mollenkopf stuck to the company line and soldiered on. Within hours of the beleaguered firm’s Oct. 16 bankruptcy filing, she put the hammer down and made a statement of her own: a lawsuit alleging breach of contract over a $50,000 loan she made to the company from her 401(k) account.

The lawsuit, which also was filed on Oct. 16, names Melchiori Construction and its president, Mark Melchiori, as defendants.

Mollenkopf told Noozhawk reporter Lara Cooper that she was among five employees who were asked by Melchiori to lend him and the company money to help meet payroll. She said her money came out of her company 401(k) and she has a May 2011 promissory note that describes the loan “for use funding Melchiori Construction Co.‘s operational expenses.”

According to Mollenkopf, the employees were to be repaid when payments came in from a $5.8 million jury award stemming from a lawsuit over the Chapala One luxury condominium project in downtown Santa Barbara. She said the payments came in, but her loan — and similar loans by former project managers Stuart Kendall and Scott Miners — were not repaid.

Melchiori’s stepmother, Linda, has filed her own breach of contract lawsuit over a $100,000 loan she made to prop up the company founded by her late husband, Ugo Melchiori, who died in 2009. In that lawsuit, Linda Melchiori alleges that her stepson’s divorce from his wife, Heather, earlier this year was a scheme to hide assets from creditors his company owes.

Mollenkopf made a similar accusation.

Noting that she and the other employees were told they would be paid no later than mid-October, she said “we now know that was so the divorce could be finalized — personal assets transferred to Heather J. Melchiori — and bankruptcy filed, leaving us unpaid.”

“We worked long and hard to help make Melchiori Construction Co. a success,” she said. “We do not deserve to lose our retirement funds.”

Melchiori did not respond to Noozhawk’s request for comment.

3. County, Sheriff’s Department Settle with Family of Victim in Wrong-Way Crash

The family of a young man killed in a 2009 collision with a wrong-way driver on Highway 101 in Goleta has received a $4.8 million settlement from Santa Barbara County and the Sheriff’s Department.

Marcos Arredondo, 18, and Macrina Ocampo, 58, both of Goleta, died the night of Nov. 8, 2009, after the car Arredondo was driving was struck head-on by a vehicle driven by Richard Rodriguez, then 20, of Tustin. The collision, in the southbound lanes of the freeway east of Storke Road, left Arredondo’s teenage sisters, Yessika and Karina, with permanent injuries. The Arredondos’ parents, who were traveling in a second car just ahead of their son’s, witnessed the fiery crash.

Tests determined that Rodriguez had a blood-alcohol content of .22, almost three times the legal limit, as well as cocaine and marijuana in his system. He was convicted of driving under the influence and traveling the wrong way on the freeway, sentenced to 13 years in prison and ordered to pay restitution to the victims’ families.

The Arredondos later sued the county and the Sheriff’s Department, and filed a separate civil lawsuit against Rodriguez. In the suit against the county, the family alleged that the Sheriff’s Department was negligent in training deputies on how to handle wrong-way drivers, and that the lack of training led to the deaths of their son and Ocampo, a longtime family friend.

According to the lawsuit, Deputy Jeremy Rogers responded to the report of a wrong-way driver and merged slowly into the freeway’s slow lane at Storke Road, directly in front of the Arredondos’ two vehicles. The suit said Rogers failed to signal or activate his flashing lights or siren and that Arredondo’s father, Jose, was forced to change lanes, putting his son’s trailing car directly in Rodriguez’s path.

In a statement to Noozhawk, Sheriff Bill Brown said Rogers had been driving slowly to locate Rodriguez, and activated his lights as soon as he saw him. He said the deputy did not violate department policy, and that the settlement does not admit wrongdoing on the part of the department or the county.

“The real cause of this heartbreaking criminal event was Richard Rodriguez, whose reckless behavior in using illegal drugs, drinking alcohol to excess, and then driving the wrong way on the freeway is the real cause of this tragedy,” Brown said.

4. Cox Customers Hit by Outage of Television, Internet Services

Cox Communications customers across the South Coast found themselves without Internet and television service Oct. 21, during an outage that lasted at least four hours in some neighborhoods in Goleta and Santa Barbara. Without providing a reason for the blackout, a company spokeswoman said she didn’t know how many customers were affected, other than to say: “It’s a lot.”

5. Planning Under Way to Control Isla Vista Halloween

Halloween may fall on a Wednesday this year but Isla Vista’s notorious annual bacchanalia is still expected to attract 30,000 young and foolish revelers doing their best to party where they’re not wanted.

In what has become a tradition in itself, local authorities are prepared to roll out a massive show of force to keep the peace throughout the week. With the full support of UC Santa Barbara and the City of Goleta, the coordinated response includes the Goleta Police Department, the Sheriff’s Department, UCSB police, the California Highway Patrol, the county Fire Department and American Medical Response.

More than 200 arrests were made during last year’s Halloween hedonism in Isla Vista.

                                                                  •        •        •

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