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Bill Macfadyen: Highway 154 Collision Claims First Fatalities of 2017

NoozWeek’s Top 5 catches up with the survivor of another Highway 154 crash, says goodbye to Connor O’Keefe and searches for a missing driver — before I have the last word

Yes, the outcome was as bad as it looks. Click to view larger
Yes, the outcome was as bad as it looks. (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)

There were 126,834 very instinctual people who read Noozhawk this past week, according to our Google Analytics.

Here’s my take on your top stories:

1. 2 People Killed, 2 Injured in Crash on Highway 154

A Santa Maria couple died in a collision on rain-slicked Highway 154 on March 21 after their car spun out of control and was hit by an oncoming pickup truck. They were the first fatalities on the highway in 2017.

According to the California Highway Patrol, the driver of an eastbound Honda Civic apparently lost control east of Painted Cave Road above Santa Barbara about 2:35 p.m. The car slid sideways into the westbound lane where it was hit by a Dodge Ram pickup and then slammed into the mountain.

Declared dead at the scene were the two occupants of the Civic: driver Ashley Lynn Aparicio, 34, of Santa Maria, and her boyfriend, Rodolfo Jesus “Rudy” Jimenez, 23.

The pickup driver, Michael Franken, 54, and his passenger, Lisa Franken, 62, both of Canyon Lake in Riverside County, were injured in the wreck.

The Frankens were transported by American Medical Response ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital with moderate injuries, authorities said.

The CHP is investigating the cause of the crash, and it is not known if alcohol or drugs were factors, Officer Jonathan Gutierrez said.

Family and friends of Aparicio and Jimenez started a GoFundMe page to raise money for the couple’s funeral expenses and for Aparicio’s 14-year-old son. Click here to make an online donation.

Brad Asolas’ daughter maintains a bedside vigil during his recovery from a near-fatal head-on collision last year on Highway 154 in the Santa Ynez Valley. (Asolas family photo)
Brad Asolas’ daughter maintains a bedside vigil during his recovery from a near-fatal head-on collision last year on Highway 154 in the Santa Ynez Valley. (Asolas family photo)

2. Man Fights for Normal Life After Being Critically Injured in Highway 154 Crash

Brad Asolas was a little over halfway through his morning commute to Santa Maria from his Camarillo home last May 18, when an oncoming car crossed into his lane on Highway 154 west of Live Oak Campground and demolished him.

Brad Asolas in a recent photo with one of his grandchildren. “My life is forever ruined because she chose to drink and drive,” he says of the woman charged in the head-on collision that nearly took his life. (Asolas family photo)
Brad Asolas in a recent photo with one of his grandchildren. “My life is forever ruined because she chose to drink and drive,” he says of the woman charged in the head-on collision that nearly took his life. (Asolas family photo)

Asolas’ small Ford C-Max hybrid was destroyed in the collision, and he very nearly lost his life. Within moments of the impact, he had a heart attack.

Among his injuries were a shattered pelvis and femur; broken humerus and ulna; fractured ribs; injured spine; and internal bleeding from lacerations to his spleen, pancreas and liver.

During his “recovery,” he suffered a pulmonary embolism that made its way to a lung. Other complications have included a bleeding ulcer and fluid in his lungs. He lives with a defibrillator in his chest because doctors say surgery to repair his heart is too risky for his weakened body.

Now 57, Asolas spent more than a month at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and in a rehabilitation facility.

“A good portion of that time, they were trying to keep me alive,” he told our Janene Scully in an exclusive interview when reached at his suburban Phoenix home.

“It was pretty horrific for my wife and my family being told I wasn’t going to make it,” he said.

After he was discharged from the hospital, Asolas and his wife, Sandy, moved back to Arizona to be closer to their children and grandchildren.

Between his fragile convalescence and the nearly continuous doctors’ visits, he is unable to work with any regularity. Even family time with his grandkids is severely taxing.

“All of a sudden, I’m like some old man,” he said. “It sucks.”

Indeed it does, but the rest of Asolas’ story is downright infuriating.

Authorities say the driver of the 2016 Mercedes S550 that struck him had a blood-alcohol content of .34 percent — four times the legal limit — when tested after the 6:20 a.m. collision.

Prosecutors charged the suspect — longtime soap opera actress Jensen Buchanan, 54, of Los Angeles, whose most recent work was on The Young and the Restless — with felony driving with a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent or greater and felony driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury, along with additional counts of having a blood-alcohol level exceeding .15 percent and causing great bodily injury.

Back in October, Buchanan pleaded not guilty to the charges.

But at a recent court appearance, as Janene reported, her attorneys maintained that her lack of a prior criminal history should result in probation rather than prison time. Yeah, take a sip of that and let it swirl around on your tongue.

Buchanan is due back before Superior Court Judge Gustavo Lavayen on April 5.

“My life is forever ruined because she chose to drink and drive,” Asolas, the actual victim, told Janene.

“It just sucks my life is forever changed, and she can go on living life however she chooses,” he said.

Connor O’Keefe R.I.P. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)
Connor O’Keefe R.I.P. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

3. Hundreds Celebrate Life of Connor O’Keefe, Santa Barbara High Student Killed by Train

A standing-room only crowd filled The Marjorie Luke Theatre at Santa Barbara Junior High School on March 18 for a community memorial celebrating the short life of Connor O’Keefe.

O’Keefe, an 18-year-old Santa Barbara High School senior, was struck and killed by a train as he walked on the railroad tracks near his Montecito home the afternoon of March 11.

“Your tragic and untimely death has bonded this community, bonded our family and friends — made us stronger and more aware of our relationships with people,” said O’Keefe’s father, Dan.

At Santa Barbara High, O’Keefe was a student in the Multimedia Arts & Design (MAD) Academy, a passionate photographer and a key member of the Dons’ Channel League champion water polo team.

The Santa Barbara County Coroner’s Office is investigating O’Keefe’s death.

Missing an important piece of this puzzle. (Urban Hikers / Noozhawk photo)
Missing an important piece of this puzzle. (Urban Hikers / Noozhawk photo)

4. Driver Flees After 2-Vehicle Crash on Highway 101 in Santa Barbara

A collision on Highway 101 sent two vehicles careering up an embankment in Santa Barbara the morning of March 19. One of the vehicles, a sedan, rolled over on its roof and caught fire.

Santa Barbara Fire Battalion Chief Robert Mercado said firefighters quickly extinguished the flames in the 8 a.m. wreck off the northbound freeway near Las Positas Road.

The three occupants of the second vehicle, a pickup truck, were not injured.

The driver of the sedan was ... well, we don’t what happened to that driver. Before emergency crews had even arrived, he or she had hightailed it out of there.

The California Highway Patrol was investigating the cause of the crash — and the disappearing act.

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

The silent majority sure spoke up after my column last week. Thank you to the several hundred Noozhawk readers who called me, emailed me, snail-mailed me and stopped me on the street to thank me for my comments about our story comments. I’m humbled, and I’m especially gratified by the checks for our Hearken project. Again, thank you.

I said my piece, and I’m really not interested in wasting any more of my time — or yours — on people who are incapable of conducting themselves with fundamental civil filters.

Noozhawk has around 18,000 readers a day, the readers who comment make up a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of them, and those are monopolized by fewer than a couple of dozen people. I just don’t accept that this is the best we can do, and you have my word that Noozhawk will find a better way to interact with our readers and our community.

We think our Hearken reader engagement platform is one of those ways. If you’d like to contribute toward it, 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.

And it will launch next week. I apologize for the delay, but we fell behind finishing up some other projects this week.

                                                                 •        •        •

Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Santa Barbara Man Accused of Raping Unconscious Woman.

                                                                 •        •        •

Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

The good news is I still have a couple of things to look forward to: The Best Times of Your Life.

                                                                 •        •        •

Watch It

#willyoumarryme?

(johnbcrist 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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