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Bill Macfadyen: High-Speed Pursuit Ends Up Chasing a Rainbow Crew of Alleged Thieves

NoozWeek’s Top 5 includes a lawsuit over a Trader Joe’s crash, reopens the way to Franceschi Park, gets an embezzlement guilty plea, and is floored by a Granada Building transaction

Stop right there. Click to view larger
Stop right there. (Alys Martinez / KEYT News photo)

It must have been spring break or something because Noozhawk’s traffic sure took a hit this past week, with our Google Analytics reporting “only” 99,210 readers.

On the other hand, we’ve already topped more than 1 million pageviews for March — the third straight month for that milestone of stories read.

Speaking of spring break, the new baseball season begins April 3, when the Los Angeles Dodgers embark on their quest for an inexcusably long-overdue World Series championship. I mean, come on, the Chicago Cubs, the Boston Red Sox and the San Francisco giants have all won titles more recently than the Dodgers.

It’s no less lame an excuse, but I just wasn’t able to put the finishing touches on Noozhawk’s Hearken project this past week. I’m sorry about that, but it looks like what we’re now calling Noozhawk Asks will make its debut on April 4. Stay tuned.

While you eagerly wait for that next week, here’s my take on your top stories this week:

1. 4 Suspects Arrested at Gaviota After Highway 101 Pursuit From Ventura

Authorities used spike strips to end an hour-long high-speed chase on northbound Highway 101 west of Goleta on March 28. The 80-mile race began in Camarillo and came to its shredded-tire conclusion in the shadow of the Gaviota Tunnel, where the car’s four occupants were taken into custody.

Damon Hooker (Ventura County Sheriff’s Department photo)
Damon Hooker (Ventura County Sheriff’s Department photo)
Kyrie Grayson (Ventura County Sheriff’s Department photo)
Kyrie Grayson (Ventura County Sheriff’s Department photo)

According to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, the suspects were not just out for a joy ride, but are believed to be members of a statewide ring of retail thieves known as “the Rainbow Crew.”

The ring is believed responsible for more than $1 million in stolen merchandise from throughout California, authorities say.

California Highway Patrol Officer Jonathan Gutierrez said Ventura County deputies first tried to stop the white Honda Civic about 11 a.m. near Flynn Road in Camarillo Ranch, suspecting the car was connected to a burglary earlier that morning.

He said the woman driver reached speeds of up to 120 mph, frequently passing traffic on the freeway’s right shoulder and along the center divider as she sped up the coast.

A clean getaway was never a possibility, however, as a Ventura County sheriff’s helicopter was following the convoy from the air the entire time.

Once traffic conditions allowed, the CHP deployed spike strips on the freeway at Winchester Canyon west of Goleta and again at El Capitán State Beach, Gutierrez said.

Shakia Vanderbilt (Ventura County Sheriff’s Department photo)
Shakia Vanderbilt (Ventura County Sheriff’s Department photo)
Precious Pittman (Ventura County Sheriff’s Department photo)
Precious Pittman (Ventura County Sheriff’s Department photo)

The second rollout did the trick. With two of its tires shredded, the car finally came to a stop just beyond the northbound rest area, right before the tunnel.

The driver got out and made a run for it across the freeway, Gutierrez said, but she fell down a ravine on the other side and was captured.

Her three companions remained in the vehicle and were arrested without incident.

Authorities say stolen merchandise with store tags was found in the car’s back seat and trunk.

This suspected Rainbow coalition was identified as Kyrie Grayson, 23, of San Francisco, who reportedly was the driver; Damon Hooker, 21, of Union City; Precious Pittman, 22, of San Francisco; and Shakia Vanderbilt, 23, of the Bay Area.

Grayson and Hooker were booked into Ventura County Jail on four counts of conspiracy, three counts of burglary and possession of burglary tools, officials said. Grayson had the bonus charge of evading a police officer.

Pittman and Vanderbilt were booked on charges of conspiracy and possession of burglary tools.

Bail was set at $250,000 each.

“The four are suspected of numerous commercial burglaries in Thousand Oaks, as well as in Los Angeles County,” Ventura County Senior Deputy Tim Lohman told the Ventura County Star.

The Star reported March 29 that Thousand Oaks police initially began investigating this particular quartet after a March 1 theft. Authorities quickly linked them to five other heists that day between Camarillo and Glendale. Investigators later discovered they were part of the alleged statewide band.

“The Rainbow Crew is believed to regularly travel up and down the coast committing numerous burglaries and strong-armed robberies at various retail stores,” the VCSD said.

It is not yet known if the ring is linked to any thefts in Santa Barbara County.

A 2016 crash at Trader Joe’s in Goleta is still leaving wreckage behind. (Mike McGee / Noozhawk file photo)
A 2016 crash at Trader Joe’s in Goleta is still leaving wreckage behind. (Mike McGee / Noozhawk file photo)

2. Man Hit By Car at Goleta Trader Joe’s Sues Driver, Shopping Center

A lawsuit has been filed by a man who was seriously injured last year when he was struck by a car that was crashing through the front door of Trader Joe’s in Goleta. The lawsuit names the driver, the grocery store and the shopping center as defendants.

Authorities say Berl Golomb, 85, of Santa Barbara, was trying to park his Toyota Prius but instead drove “at a high rate of speed into the front entrance of the store,” at 5768 Calle Real in the Calle Real Shopping Center.

The Oct. 8, 2016, collision injured three people: Matthew Quirk, who was hospitalized with major injuries, and two children who were treated at the scene for cuts and bruises.

Santa Barbara County sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said traffic investigators determined that no crime had occurred.

Quirk and his wife, Erin, are suing Golomb, Trader Joe’s, Cal Real Properties, and its parent company, The Towbes Group, seeking damages for negligence and “loss of consortium.”

According to the lawsuit, Quirk was walking past the store when the collision’s impact sent him “crashing through the glass front doors to the interior.” The wreck caused “significant personal injuries,” the complaint says, including damage to his nervous system.

The suit alleges there was a “lack of adequate vehicle barriers in place to protect against errant vehicles intruding into the pedestrian path of travel in pedestrian-only areas.” It also says the defendants should have known that.

The complaint asks for medical and incidental expenses and lost earnings for Quirk, an associate professor in the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education at UC Santa Barbara, and loss of consortium for Erin Quirk.

A case-management conference is scheduled for July 7 in Superior Court.

Walk this way. (Urban Hikers photo)
Walk this way. (Urban Hikers photo)

3. Fence, Locked Gate Open Up Easement Controversy in Franceschi Park Neighborhood

Simmering tensions over a locked gate blocking use of a public easement to Santa Barbara’s Franceschi Park may not have been resolved, but city officials have ordered the homeowners to remove the lock and reopen the passageway.

As Noozhawk’s Urban Hikers first reported March 26, the owners of a property bordering the municipal park recently erected fencing and a locked gate across the historic easement at the eastern end of Mira Vista Avenue.

The walkway is a popular neighborhood shortcut into the park, which offers a sweeping view of the coastline from high atop the Riviera.

The obstruction has been a growing irritation among residents, who complained to the city, the Riviera Association and Noozhawk. I don’t mean to tell tales out of school, but the city acted within hours of our story posting.

Jill Zachary, director of the Parks & Recreation Department, said officials concluded the fence and locked gate are an encroachment on the public easement and ordered that the lock be removed.

She told the Urban Hikers that the city would continue to monitor the situation to ensure the easement remains open.

Although Urban Hikers Peter Hartmann and Stacey Wright made numerous attempts to reach the homeowners for comment, they’ve not yet heard back from them.

4. Woman Gets Jail Time for Embezzling from Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital Medical Staff

A former Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital medical staff services supervisor will be sentenced to jail time and probation after pleading guilty to embezzling nearly $225,000 from a doctors’ association.

Pamela Cochran-Escalante, 63, of Carpinteria, was charged last year with grand theft, forgery, making false entries and aggravated white collar crime. In a deal with prosecutors, she pleaded guilty to only grand theft and forgery while the rest of the counts were dropped.

“Between Dec. 1, 2009, and Aug. 31, 2016, I embezzled $224,982.08 from the member doctors of the medical staff of Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital” by altering books and records, and forging signatures on checks, the plea states.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Brian Cota said Cochran-Escalante paid full restitution.

She is to be sentenced April 7, and is expected to get 270 days in County Jail, three years of probation and 100 hours of community service. In addition, she must write a letter of apology to her victims.

There’s also the matter of back taxes. Cochran-Escalante must file amended tax returns for 2009 through 2016, and pay the balance due.

A recent investment opportunity came up at the Granada Building in downtown Santa Barbara. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)
A recent investment opportunity came up at the Granada Building in downtown Santa Barbara. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

5. BizHawk: Middle Four Floors of Granada Theatre Tower Sold to Local Investor

A local investor has acquired four floors of Santa Barbara’s skyscraper, the downtown Granada Building at 1216 State St.

According to Greg Bartholomew, a partner in Hayes Commercial Group, floors three through six of the eight-story building had been on the market for $10.5 million.

Terms of the sale were not disclosed but Bartholomew said it was lower than the asking price. The deal also included part of the rooftop and roof-level storage.

The identities of the buyer and the seller also were not disclosed.

Partnervest, Peritus Asset Management and Raymond James Financial currently occupy much of the commercial space. A law firm recently moved out.

The historic building is home to The Granada Theatre, and its top two floors are separately owned private penthouses.

                                                                 •        •        •

Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Couple, Child Found Murdered in Home; Authorities Say Killings Likely ‘Not a Random Attack’.

                                                                 •        •        •

Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

This crime Brie is over: 10 Arrested in Fancy Wine and Cheese Heist.

                                                                  •        •        •

Watch It

Dude. These are gnarly times and we’re all just running around being nonunified. These bros should come to the Santa Barbara City Council hangout place to make the case for a larger-than-life Paul Walker statue in Santa Barbara, where he, you know, lived. HT to my friend, Michel Brewer.

(Chad Chad 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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