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Bill Macfadyen: In Santa Barbara and in Texas, Harold Simmons Gave as Good as He Got

NoozWeek's Top 5 follows another pedestrian fatality and a spectacular — and mysterious — Porsche wreck, explores a dry Lake Cachuma, then counts to 13

What were you reading on Noozhawk this week?

1. Montecito Billionaire Harold Simmons Dies at 82

Billionaire businessman Harold Simmons may have earned fame and fortune in his native Texas, but he was a longtime Montecito resident who gave generously to local causes. He died Dec. 28 in Dallas at age 82.

After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, Simmons parlayed a drugstore purchase into an empire of pharmacies that he ultimately sold for $50 million in Eckerd stock. The sale helped him finance subsequent major investments in publicly traded companies that included chemicals, energy, metals, timber and even radioactive waste.

Simmons was a major donor to Republican candidates and causes, but philanthropy — not politics — is where he made his mark. He and his wife, Annette, gave away a reported $500 million to charity, with health care and higher education at the top of their to-do list.

In Santa Barbara, the Westmont College neighbors donated $1 million to the school’s “Bright Hope for Tomorrow” campaign, which helped provide funding for the Adams Center for the Visual Arts, Winter Hall for Science and Mathematics, athletic fields, a new observatory and other master plan improvements. They gave $500,000 to Unity Shoppe and they recently gave $100,000 to Casa Esperanza, the beleaguered homeless shelter on Santa Barbara’s Lower Eastside.

Westmont President Gayle Beebe called Simmons “a wonderful friend of ours and of Westmont’s.”

“He always had his priorities in the right place,” Beebe told Noozhawk. “He was a staunch defender of personal property rights, loved God and was a great American.”

The cause of death was not disclosed but Annette Simmons said her husband had been hospitalized for two weeks.

2. Jogger Fatally Injured in Santa Ynez Valley

Flowers, candles and a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball are among the items at a makeshift memorial to Ryuta Yamaguchi, a Santa Ynez jogger who was struck by a vehicle and killed Dec. 27. (Dave Bemis photo)
Flowers, candles and a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball are among the items at a makeshift memorial to Ryuta Yamaguchi, a Santa Ynez jogger who was struck by a vehicle and killed Dec. 27. (Dave Bemis photo)

A 45-year-old Santa Ynez man was fatally injured Dec. 27 when he was hit by a Ford minivan while jogging on North Refugio Road at Deer Trail Lane.

According to the California Highway Patrol, the victim — officially identified Jan. 2 as Ryuta Yamaguchi — was struck shortly after 6:30 a.m.

“For reasons still under investigation, (the jogger) was struck by the Ford as both entered the intersection,” CHP Officer John Ortega said.

Yamaguchi was transported to Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The van’s driver, whom authorities identified as Grace Cota, 89, of Solvang, was not arrested, and Ortega said intoxication did not appear to be a factor. The crash remains under investigation. 

Southern California Edison crews were out in force Dec. 28 to make repairs along the East Valley Road crash course. (Colin Macfadyen / Noozhawk photo)
Southern California Edison crews were out in force Dec. 28 to make repairs along the East Valley Road crash course. (Colin Macfadyen / Noozhawk photo)

3. Porsche Wreck Closes Second Stretch of East Valley Road in Montecito

The driver of a Porsche Cayenne apparently lost control while racing west on East Valley Road in Montecito early on Dec. 28, crashing into five large oak trees and severing a power pole before finally sliding to a stop east of Sheffield Drive.

Called to the scene about 1:30 a.m., Montecito firefighters found the vehicle on its side, with wreckage strewn 300 feet along the road. What they didn’t find was any sign of the driver, who somehow managed to make a clean getaway. Or so he thought.

It took about two seconds for authorities to figure out who owned the $100,000 car, and the California Highway Patrol quickly identified the suspected driver as Bryan Joseph Coleman, 18, of Carpinteria. He apparently was the lone occupant, according to the CHP.

Although Coleman wasn’t immediately arrested, CHP Officer Kevin Taulbee said investigators were preparing a complaint to submit to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.

The wreck knocked out electricity and phone service in the neighborhood and closed the roadway for two days as Southern California Edison crews replaced the power pole.

The crash site near the Romero Creek Bridge is in the vicinity of a deadly 2012 car-surfing incident that killed one woman and seriously injured another.

Meanwhile, a day earlier and about a mile to the west, a minivan slammed into a power pole near Park Lane, forcing the closure of East Valley Road there so crews could make repairs.

Taulbee said the driver — Sharon Clark, 70, of Santa Barbara — was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. There were no injuries in the crash, but three dogs in the minivan were taken by Santa Barbara County Animal Services.

As Lake Cachuma reveals its dry side, all sorts of hidden treasures are emerging, including this 1930s-era concrete bridge. (Urban Hikers photo)
As Lake Cachuma reveals its dry side, all sorts of hidden treasures are emerging, including this 1930s-era concrete bridge. (Urban Hikers photo)

4. Drought’s Persistence Reveals More of Lake Cachuma’s Hidden Past Life

Anyone traveling Highway 154 through the Santa Ynez Valley has noticed Lake Cachuma drying up before our eyes. Urban Hikers Peter Hartmann and Stacey Wright have been watching the same thing and decided to see if they could get a closer look. Thanks to the Santa Barbara County Parks Department, Park Ranger Jeff Bozarth recently treated them to a tour of the shrinking reservoir.

What they found was a fascinating landscape featuring far more than dry, cracked clay. Ghostly, long-submerged vegetation and marooned, forlorn-looking artificial reefs dotted the exposed lake bed. They wandered among the ruins of an old rancho, walked the clamshell-encrusted pavement of an abandoned roadway and encountered a 1930s-era concrete bridge that was in surprisingly good shape.

Animal tracks crisscrossed the receding lake bed, and they even stumbled on a mountain lion’s share of table scraps. Fortunately for them, the big cat was nowhere to be seen in the reeds.

Peter and Stacey are outstanding photographers and their pictures tell a terrific story, too. Click here for their photo gallery.

2013 was a trying year for KEYT News anchorwoman Paula Lopez, but she put her tribulations behind her and was back anchoring the Channel 3 news by year's end. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)
2013 was a trying year for KEYT News anchorwoman Paula Lopez, but she put her tribulations behind her and was back anchoring the Channel 3 news by year’s end. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

5. Paula Lopez, White Fire, Elephant Bar, Mallory Dies Top Noozhawk Stories of 2013

Noozhawk’s traffic continued to set records in 2013, with unique visitors up 37 percent from 2012, to more than 1.3 million, and our page views jumping 58 percent, to more than 6.8 million. Total visits for the year exceeded 3.3 million, a 44 percent increase.

A whole lot of work by our intrepid staff went into those numbers, but we got some help from several stories that seized the attention of our readers, who — in many cases — couldn’t get enough of our coverage.

The Top 13 of 2013:

1. The Paula Lopez Saga

2. White Fire Menaces Paradise Road Area

3. Elephant Bar Closes at Santa Barbara Airport

4. The Paula Lopez Saga

5. Mallory Dies Killed by Alleged DUI/Hit-and-Run Driver

6. Mallory Dies Killed by Alleged DUI/Hit-and-Run Driver

7. The Paula Lopez Saga

8. The Paula Lopez Saga

9. Scuba Diver from Oregon Drowns at Padaro Beach

10. Canadian Couple Severely Hurt in Alleged DUI Crash

11. Motorcyclist Killed in Carrillo Hill Crash

12. Mallory Dies Killed by Alleged DUI/Hit-and-Run Driver

13. Actor Paul Walker's Death Felt in Santa Barbara

                                                                         •        •

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                                                                         •        •

Alaskan malamutes have lovely singing voices, but sometimes the youngest ones need a little encouragement. HT to my friend and Noozhawk contributing writer Randy Weiss for the link.

(patkandiurin 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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