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Local News

Bill Macfadyen: Happy New Year! We’ve Got Good News, and Bad News

NoozWeek’s Top 5 leads with the exclusive on a tragic car crash in Santa Maria, watches it snow, finds a lost GoPro, eliminates a suspect, and serves up a Sonos sound bite

Before we get to the first Best of Bill of 2015, I’d like to take a moment to express my gratitude for 2014, the most successful and exciting year in Noozhawk’s young history.

By every measure, Noozhawk demolished all previous company records, in site readership and traffic, in sales, in revenue, in profitability. 2014 was a remarkable year, and I’m enormously proud of our team, which I believe will not be outworked.

Noozhawk’s 4.5 million readers in 2014 were 1.1 million more than the previous year, a 32-percent increase. We had just under 2 million unique visitors, a 42-percent jump. And our pageviews were up 26 percent, to 8.7 million.

We started the year with very ambitious sales and revenue goals, and blew them away. Pretty much everything we make goes right back into the business, which has enabled us to expand our full-time professional news coverage to all of Santa Barbara County while adding a steadily growing number of features and sections.

Of course, we’ve got even more planned for 2015, with a site redesign at the top of our to-do list as well as a higher-profile presence in the communities we are privileged and proud to serve.

Meanwhile, our Hawks Club membership has nearly tripled, and we’re looking to add several new exclusive benefits for these vitally important fans and supporters. We always have room for more members, so click here to join.

On behalf of my partners, Kim Clark and Tom Bolton; on behalf of Noozhawks Michelle Nelson, Giana Magnoli, Lara Cooper, Josh Molina, Gina Potthoff, Janene Scully, Doreen Stevenson, Frankie Victoria, Zack Warburg, Melissa Walker and Rochelle Rose; on behalf of our columnists, contributors and the Urban Hikers, Peter Hartmann and Stacey Wright; on behalf of our advertisers and sponsors; and on behalf of our investors, thank you very much for your enthusiasm and for your stalwart support.

We’re looking forward to an even more successful 2015, and we wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous new year.

                                                                 •        •        •

There were 89,796 people who read Noozhawk this past week. What’s my take on your top stories? I’m glad you asked.

A fiery SUV crash on Highway 101 near Donovan Road left a passenger dead and two other occupants with severe injuries. The driver was arrested on suspicion of felony DUI. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)
A fiery SUV crash on Highway 101 near Donovan Road left a passenger dead and two other occupants with severe injuries. The driver was arrested on suspicion of felony DUI. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

1. Santa Maria Woman Killed, 2 Injured in Fiery Highway 101 Crash

A young woman apparently was burned alive in a horrifying crash on Highway 101 in Santa Maria the evening of Dec. 28. The driver of the vehicle was arrested on suspicion of felony driving under the influence.

Friends remember Ashley Kerr as a vibrant young woman with a big heart. (Tiffany McCoy Photography photo)
Friends remember Ashley Kerr as a vibrant young woman with a big heart. (Tiffany McCoy Photography photo)

As Noozhawk first reported, the wreck happened about 5:20 p.m. when a 1999 Chevy Blazer pulling a boat trailer struck a guardrail and careered off the freeway south of Donovan Road.

California Highway Patrol Officer Rob Miller told our Janene Scully that the SUV hit two trees, then a sound wall and a third tree, before bursting into flames.

Ashley Kerr, 25, of Santa Maria, was trapped in the backseat and was declared dead at the scene, authorities said. She suffered major head trauma and burns, the CHP said.

The driver, Travis Dashek, 22, of Santa Maria, and a second passenger, Kurt Hixenbaugh, 21, managed to get out of the vehicle, but Miller said both were taken to Marian Regional Medical Center with major injuries. Dashek underwent surgery for a lacerated spleen and Hixenbaugh was hospitalized with broken vertebrae, the CHP said.

Authorities say a witness reported that the Blazer had been driving erratically just before the crash.

“It is suspected that alcohol and drugs were a contributing factor for this collision,” the CHP said in a statement reporting Dashek’s arrest on suspicion of felony DUI.

CHP Officer Craig Carrier said additional charges may be filed.

Our story — double-teamed by Janene and executive editor Tom Bolton — got more than 16,000 reads within 24 hours of its posting, which went live on Noozhawk about a half-hour after the crash was called in. The story’s three-day traffic surge propelled it to No. 7 on our list of the Top 14 stories of 2014.

News of Kerr’s death spread quickly. Within hours, Adrienne Sophie Roy, a student at CSU Channel Islands in Camarillo, had started a GoFundMe site to provide financial assistance to the family of her “best friend.”

“She had a big heart and was always there for me ...,” Roy wrote on the site. “She had so many aspirations and goals; she was a talented model, makeup artist, and had so many plans. Her family needs as much as help as possible. Thank you and please keep them in your prayers through this tragedy.”

To date, the effort has raised more than $3,100 toward the $5,000 goal. Click here to make an online donation.

Kerr, a 2008 graduate of Delta High School in Santa Maria, was a pharmacy technician at Costco in Goleta.

A memorial celebration is planned for 11 a.m. Sunday at Waller Park’s Lakeside Terrace, 3107 Orcutt Road in Santa Maria.

It’s been snow cold in New Cuyama. (Greg Nuckols photo / Santa Barbara County Fire Department)
It’s been snow cold in New Cuyama. (Greg Nuckols photo / Santa Barbara County Fire Department)

2. Snow Is Prelude to Frosty New Year’s in Santa Barbara County

It seems like only yesterday that I was basking in nearly 90-degree bliss. So what’s with the snow? I thought winter was for elsewhere.

New Cuyama didn’t get my memo, however, as a dusting of snow fell on the remote community in far northeastern Santa Barbara County on Dec. 30. Flurries also were reported in the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Sub-freezing temperatures were in the New Year’s Eve forecast for many areas and will continue through the weekend.

Next week, though, they’re expected to climb back into the 70s — and my comfort zone.

The Van Dyk family — Matt, Tara, Faith and Shane — at Haskell’s Beach with their wayward GoPro camera. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)
The Van Dyk family — Matt, Tara, Faith and Shane — at Haskell’s Beach with their wayward GoPro camera. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

3. Goleta Family Tracks Down Treasured GoPro Camera Lost at Sea

Matt Van Dyk was surfing with his 8-year-old son, Shane, at Haskell’s Beach in Goleta last year on Mother’s Day. Hopeful of capturing some cool action shots from the waves, he attached his GoPro camera to Shane’s surfboard.

In hindsight, it wasn’t such a good idea, he told our Josh Molina. On Shane’s first wave, the $300 camera was knocked into the water.

Although Van Dyk immediately waded in and searched the surf for an hour, he came up empty. The Van Dyks didn’t expect to ever see the camera again, or the memory card that contained dozens of special family photos and videos. Shane was crestfallen, and took it personally.

On a whim last week, Van Dyk’​s wife, Tara, decided to check the Santa Barbara Swap on Facebook. She told Josh she was stunned to find a post for a GoPro found in an Ellwood Beach tidepool just a few miles east of Haskell’s.

It turns out that Sarah Avila-Battle and her family were beachcombing below the Ellwood bluffs on Dec. 23 when they discovered the camera partially buried in sand in a tidepool. She took it home, where her husband disassembled it, cleaned up what he could and put it in a bag of rice to dry.

A few days later she plugged in the memory card but got nothing. So she posted her find on Facebook, and the connection was made.

“I was thrilled to be able to get it home,” Avila-Battle told Josh. “I’ve lost valuable items, and being a mom of four I know how it is to purchase an item I’ve saved for. It’s always the right thing to do to try your best to return a found item ...

“When the Van Dyk family came to retrieve it, their son’s disbelief at seeing it again was all the thanks I needed.”

It took the Van Dyks a while to get the memory card to boot up, but eventually it did and revealed all — including two 17-minute video clips of the camera’s tumultuous underwater journey to Ellwood Beach.

Van Dyk said he was thrilled for his son.

“When it was lost, I told him not to worry about it, that it was just a piece of plastic,” he said. “But this has been on Shane’s mind for eight months. What are the chances you’d ever find it?”

Another night, another fatal wreck in Santa Maria. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)
Another night, another fatal wreck in Santa Maria. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

4. Man Killed After Fleeing Wreck on Highway 101 in Santa Maria

A 20-year-old Santa Maria man fleeing authorities was killed late on New Year’s Eve after he wrecked his car on Highway 101 and was struck by several vehicles while trying to run across the freeway.

According to the California Highway Patrol, Santa Maria police tried to stop a 1995 Cadillac sedan for alleged traffic violations on Betteravia Road west of Miller Street. Rather than pull over, the CHP said, the driver raced away, getting on the northbound freeway with officers in close pursuit.

The CHP said the chase reached speeds of 100 mph before police backed off for safety reasons at Donovan Road.

The driver continued on and crashed while trying to exit the freeway at Broadway near the Santa Maria River bridge. The CHP said the suspect got out of the car and ran across the freeway, but was struck by several vehicles on the southbound side.

The suspect, later identified as Romeio Castillo, was pronounced dead at the scene. There were no other injuries in the incident.

Sonos is still fine-tuning the timing of its headquarters move to 614 Chapala St., the former home of Samy’s Camera. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)
Sonos is still fine-tuning the timing of its headquarters move to 614 Chapala St., the former home of Samy’s Camera. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

5. Remodeling Delays Put Crimp in Sonos Plans to Move, Expand in Downtown Santa Barbara

Homegrown Sonos has been on quite a growth tear over the last few years. Determined to remain in downtown Santa Barbara rather than relocate to a Goleta office park, the wireless audio manufacturer has made it work by snapping up larger spaces as they’ve come available.

But those ambitious expansion plans have been slowed by construction delays that have pushed back the move-in schedule by a few months, company spokesman Eric Nielsen told our Gina Potthoff.

When Sonos’ urban campus is all done, employees will occupy 419 State St., formerly the headquarters of Territory Ahead, and 614 Chapala St., the former home of Samy’s Camera, which moved to 530 State St. last year. Teams already have moved in to new digs at 600 Chapala St. and 25 E. Mason St.

                                                                 •        •        •

While many school districts wring their hands over a “digital divide,” there’s an ever larger gap growing in tech education that deserves far, far more attention than it’s getting. Hopscotch is determined to help.

(Fast Company 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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