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Local News

Bill Macfadyen: DUI Suspect a One-Woman Wrecking Crew Barreling Down Hollister Avenue

As LION roars, NoozWeek’s Top 5 pulls a body from Santa Barbara harbor, ‘goes there’ with State Street vagrants, feels an earthquake, and gives me the last word

The end of the line — a long line of wreckage, that is. Click to view larger
The end of the line — a long line of wreckage, that is. (Zack Warburg / Noozhawk photo)

As mentioned last week, I’m in Chicago for the annual Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers conference. Noozhawk is a founding member of LION, and this conference in particular is an exciting milestone for how far we’ve both come.

Noozhawk was launched 10 years ago, and LION’s first roar came four years later. Our pioneering paths have a lot in common, so I’m quite proud at how things have turned out for each of us.

With more than 18,000 readers a day and 1 million-plus pageviews a month, Noozhawk is the source for online local news in Santa Barbara County. I would add that we’re also the most objective and unbiased — which is especially important in this day and age.

LION, meanwhile, has grown to more than 180 independent, professional news websites around the country — of all shapes and sizes. Some are lone journalists, a handful have operations that are bigger than Noozhawk’s.

Most of us are for-profit endeavors, but 1-in-5 is a nonprofit. We’re in urban areas, suburban communities and deep in the country, and we hail from 41 states.

This conference at Columbia College Chicago has more than 200 people in attendance, our largest gathering ever. Almost half are first-time attendees. Optimism fills the air.

It’s gratifying to have mingling among us high-profile representatives of our many sponsors, including Facebook, the Knight Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Poynter, the Center for Cooperative Media and the Democracy Fund, to name a few.

You need to care about this, and about the continued growth and vibrancy of Noozhawk, because the era of Fossil Media is reaching its expiration date. Not all dinosaurs will die at once, but meaningful local journalism is shifting to a new model and Noozhawk and LION are in that vanguard.

Kim Clark — one of my business partners, Noozhawk’s business development vice president and a LION board member — and I are picking up even more ideas to strengthen our company, develop our audience and engage our community. Fortunately, also here to help figure out how to implement it all is Travis Smith, president of Hop Studios, our web development partner. It’s a bit like drinking from a fire hose but, man, does it taste good.

But enough about us. Let’s talk about you, and the Top 5 stories that 128,263 of you were reading on Noozhawk this past week, according to our Google Analytics.

Here’s my take:

1. Driver Arrested on DUI, Hit-Run Charges after Multiple Crashes on Hollister Avenue in Goleta

Stop-and-go traffic isn’t all that unusual on Hollister Avenue in Goleta, especially around Storke Road. Crash-and-go, that’s another story.

Renee Romero won’t be saving any money by switching to Geico. Click to view larger
Renee Romero won’t be saving any money by switching to Geico. (Santa Barbara County Jail photo)

9-1-1 operators were kept busy the afternoon of Oct. 23 with calls reporting a Chevy Silverado pickup truck recklessly driving westbound on Hollister, beginning around South La Patera Lane across from the Santa Barbara Airport.

“The female driver ... hit a vehicle at a stop light at Los Carneros Way,” said Kelly Hoover, spokeswoman for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department. “She left the scene and kept driving westbound on Hollister Avenue.”

Somehow the woman — later identified as Renee Romero, 30, of Solvang — sailed through the usually congested Hollister-Storke intersection without hitting anything. Or anyone.

A block beyond, at Glen Annie Road, she allegedly ran into an electrical box along the street and two more vehicles that were in her way.

“Romero then kept driving, and at Pacific Oaks (Road) and Hollister hit yet another vehicle,” Hoover said.

Still not done, Romero allegedly continued on until her badly damaged pickup broke down at Entrance Road, near the 7-Eleven. A sheriff’s motorcycle officer quickly apprehended her.

Hoover said Romero was arrested on felony charges of driving under the influence, hit and run and reckless driving. After a visit to the hospital for treatment of minor injuries, she was booked into County Jail.

It’s a rental. Click to view larger
It’s a rental. (Katherine McFadden photo)

In all, the rolling rampage, first reported at 2:30 p.m., traveled about three miles and left in its wake four badly damaged vehicles, battered utility equipment and several traumatized crash victims.

Authorities say the driver of the car Romero hit at the Pacific Oaks Road intersection was taken to the hospital with minor injuries, but no one else appeared to be physically hurt.

Katherine McFadden of Bosque Farms, N.M., was the driver of the first car. She was stopped at the traffic light at Los Carneros Way when her rented sedan was rear-ended.

“She hit the car hard,” she told me in an email. “No brakes were involved. Then she backed up, pulling off the bumper, and continued, quickly accelerating around my car, going through the still red light, leaving car parts in the intersection.”

McFadden, who is from the side of my family that insists on misspelling our name, was in Santa Barbara to visit relatives. Her daughter-in-law and grandchildren, ages 9 and 7, were with her in the car. Thankfully, no one was injured.

“I hope that Ms. Romero will get the help she needs to turn away from destruction to a positive life,” McFadden said, with graciousness. “Right now she has a lot of people angry with her, myself included. She could have killed my family.

“She did a horrible thing. I think she must be feeling beat up and very low. But I do know God loves her and has a purpose for her. I hope she will someday see this.”

2. Body of Man Discovered in Santa Barbara Harbor

Waiting for the coroner. Click to view larger
Waiting for the coroner. (John Palminteri / KEYT News photo)

A Santa Barbara man was found dead in the water off the Sea Landing walkway in the Santa Barbara harbor, apparently the victim of an accidental drowning.

The body of 78-year-old Jose Santos Garcia was pulled from shallow water near West Beach about 7:45 a.m. Oct. 23.

Santa Barbara police Sgt. Todd Johnson said foul play was not suspected, and the Santa Barbara County Coroner’s Office confirmed that initial finding.

“His death was determined to be an accidental drowning,” coroner’s spokeswoman Kelly Hoover told our Tom Bolton on Oct. 25.

Johnson said it was apparent that Garcia had been dead for some time.

3. Homelessness, Aggressive and Nuisance Behaviors Hard to Hide on State Street

Cristian Sagastume, owner of Wolf’s Head Trading Co. at 432 State St. in downtown Santa Barbara, provided the City of Santa Barbara with evidence that the sidewalk out front has been used as a urinal. The city’s response surprised him. Click to view larger
Cristian Sagastume, owner of Wolf’s Head Trading Co. at 432 State St. in downtown Santa Barbara, provided the City of Santa Barbara with evidence that the sidewalk out front has been used as a urinal. The city’s response surprised him. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Downtown Santa Barbara has a homeless problem. Most citizens — and I suspect all tourists — get that, even if not everyone wishes to admit it.

If only the solutions were so easy to identify.

As part of Noozhawk’s Reimagine: Santa Barbara series, we asked our Josh Molina to check into the increasing flashpoint for frustrated downtown business owners, employees and property landlords. Their responses filled several notebooks, and Josh didn’t even write down the expletives.

I walk several blocks of State Street almost every day, and each and every one of the complaints Josh recorded were ones I’ve heard multiple times before from people I encounter. Much of the behavior they describe I’ve witnessed myself.

But homelessness is not a black-and-white issue. If it were, it might have been solved long before now.

First, there are the truly homeless, those destitute poor souls whose misfortune landed them on the street. I think most of us, even some of Noozhawk’s famously “kind-hearted” commenters, would agree that we should do what we can to assist them — whether that be in the form of housing, work programs or simple charity.

Then there are the truly homeless who have mental wellness issues and/or addictions of some kind. Again, I think the general reaction is the same, but now we’re dealing with an institutional response that often is not up to the task.

Finally, there are the vagrants who are essentially thugs, dressed down to instill apprehension — the better to successfully demand money from people whose only wish is to be allowed to go about their business unimpeded and unaccosted in what we expect to be a civilized society in a world-class city.

Stir in enough of the third party, and all distinctions are erased. Perhaps more than anything else, I think we’ve reached such a point. That’s a shame.

My friend, Mike Martz, a commercial real estate broker and partner at Hayes Commercial Group, is of the opinion that the city waited too long to respond.

“Our political leaders have chosen to mostly ignore the issue until it reached a breaking point,” he told Josh. “This breaking point happened with the confluence of retailers closing stores and leaving our market, and business and property owners pulling together to amplify the issue with the public and the city.”

It’s not all doom among the gloom. The City of Santa Barbara has instituted several new initiatives, including more cops on the downtown beat, police volunteers and a contingent of Downtown Ambassadors. Officials insist homelessness is declining, although the evidence appears rather flimsy.

It’s clear from our traffic numbers, however, that Noozhawk’s Reimagine: Santa Barbara project has struck a chord with our readers. We still have a number of stories to publish before we turn our attention to crowd-sourced solutions through Noozhawk Asks, but I’m confident our readers are up to the challenge and will make a critical difference.

We can wait for that, but not much longer.

4. Earthquake Measuring 4.3 Rattles Santa Barbara County

Santa Barbara County got a bit of a jolt Oct. 26 when a 4.3-magnitude earthquake stirred to life in the ocean off Point Conception.

The U.S. Geological Survey logged the epicenter at 16 miles southwest of Lompoc, at a depth of about 6 miles.

There were no reports of injuries, damage or tsunami sightings.

I didn’t feel a thing in Chicago at the LION conference, but a couple of my fellow publishers subscribe to Noozhawk’s text alerts and their cell phones buzzed at the same time mine did. You can’t buy that kind of publicity, but that’s how we roll.

Click here to receive free breaking news text alerts to your cell phone.

5. Bill Macfadyen: Malibu Woman Didn’t Stand a Chance in Collision with Highway 101 Palm Tree

After a bit of a break, death and destruction were back in the news — and in a big way last week.

As a reminder, my columns are simply a compilation of the five stories that generated the most site traffic in the previous seven days. You guys may look at Noozhawk and think, “If it bleeds, it leads.” We know from our analytics, however, that “if it bleeds, you read.”

It’s human nature to be drawn to drama and inconvenience, but we do get strong readership on most of the stories that Team Noozhawk reports. If I had the time and energy to do a Top 10 list, you’d see a much more balanced representation.

Thanks for reading all of what Noozhawk covers.

                                                                  •        •        •

Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Woman’s Body Found at Shooting Area in Mountains Above Santa Barbara.

                                                                 •        •        •

Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

Mr. Octurner, aka Mike Eliason, was a hit at Dodger Stadium on Oct. 25, even if his doppelgänger went 0-for-5 at the plate in Game Two. Click to view larger
Mr. Octurner, aka Mike Eliason, was a hit at Dodger Stadium on Oct. 25, even if his doppelgänger went 0-for-5 at the plate in Game Two. (Eliason family photo)

I was going to skip any mention of the World Series because, well, I hate to lose. But I love the lengths that my friend, Mike Eliason, will go for a good picture — even if he’s not the one taking it: Meet the Dodgers Fan in a Justin Turner Costume at World Series Game 2.

                                                                  •        •        •

Watch It

With baseball season winding down, I’ll have no excuse to avoid home improvement chores for the next few months. My wife probably should watch this before asking me to do something.

(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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Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

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