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Friday, February 15 , 2019, 2:20 pm | Light Rain Fog/Mist 54º


Bill Macfadyen: Public’s Interest Still Strong 2 Weeks After Crash That Killed Ismael ‘EZ’ Gil

NoozWeek’s Top 5 turns up another rollover with a surprise twist, scoops ICE, finally sees Dr. Julio Diaz convicted, and nets Salty Dog Seafood as catch of the day

The son died, the father survived.
The son died, the father survived. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)


As NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s credibility continues to deflate, 95,667 people were reading Noozhawk this past week. Here’s my irreversible take on your top stories:

1. CHP Identifies Goleta Man Who Died in Fatal Highway Collision

Ismael “​EZ” Gil was driving his dad to a doctor’s appointment Aug. 26 when a series of tragic occurrences ended his life.

As the two men drove east on Highway 101, Gil, 44, of Goleta, apparently suffered a medical incident near the Los Carneros Road entrance ramp.

EZ Gil: Son, brother, uncle and vintage car buff. (Gil family photo)
EZ Gil: Son, brother, uncle and vintage car buff. (Gil family photo)

According to California Highway Patrol Officer Jonathan Gutierrez, Gil’s beloved 1963 Volkswagen Beetle swerved into another vehicle then careered down a steep embankment and overturned.

Gil was pronounced dead at the scene. His father, Daniel, was taken to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital with minor injuries.

The two people in the second car also suffered minor injuries but they declined treatment, Gutierrez said.

Gil, an assistant production manager at UC Santa Barbara, was described by his family as passionate about restoring vintage cars. The Beetle he died in was considered his baby.

He is survived by his parents, Juanita and Daniel; sisters Maricruz, Irma, Gloria and Veronica; brothers Mario, Cesar and Daniel; and an extensive clan of Gils in the Santa Barbara area.

A funeral Mass was held Sept. 1 at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Santa Barbara.

The CHP is investigating the cause of the crash, but Gutierrez said alcohol or drugs do not appear to be factors.

Santa Barbara Fire Battalion Chief Robert Mercado considers himself flat-out lucky. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)
Santa Barbara Fire Battalion Chief Robert Mercado considers himself flat-out lucky. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

2. Vehicle Rollover on Highway 101 Turns Tables on Santa Barbara Fire Battalion Chief

Santa Barbara Fire Battalion Chief Robert Mercado was on his way home from his overnight shift the morning of Aug. 29 when his SBFD command vehicle lost a tire tread, went out of control and rolled over on Highway 101 on the Gaviota coast.

Santa Barbara Fire Battalion Chief Robert Mercado: Literally, a first responder. (LinkedIn photo)
Santa Barbara Fire Battalion Chief Robert Mercado: Literally, a first responder. (LinkedIn photo)

In his job, Mercado is accustomed to responding to wrecks like his, but this was the first time he’d been in one.

“It felt like I’d run over something,” he told our Tom Bolton, who called him afterward at his Buellton home. “I looked in my rear-view mirror and saw rubber flying up in the air. Then I started to fishtail and couldn’t control the vehicle.”

Save for minor cuts to his hands, Mercado somehow was uninjured.

The roof of his Ford Excursion was completely caved in, however, and he initially was trapped in the wreckage with his foot stuck beneath the dashboard.

“I couldn’t get myself out of there,” he said. “I was essentially hanging upside down in my seat belt.”

Mercado finally freed himself and managed to crawl out the back window. Minutes later, Santa Barbara County firefighters from nearby Station 18 arrived on the scene.

The California Highway Patrol is investigating the cause of the crash.

3. ICE Sweep Nets 20 Arrests in Santa Barbara County​

Just when I thought ICE had melted into irrelevance, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials announced that a whopping 20 foreign nationals had been arrested in a sweep of Santa Barbara County late last month.

According to an Aug. 31 ICE statement, the collars were part of a week-long Southern California operation ferreting out “criminals and individuals who pose a threat to public safety.”

In all, 240 people were arrested in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

“The majority (56 percent) had criminal records that included felony convictions for serious or violent offenses, such as child sex crimes, weapons charges and drug violations,” the statement said.

“The remaining arrestees had past convictions for significant or multiple misdemeanors.”

Of course, an illegal immigrant from Mexico with a prior criminal history is one of two men charged in the savage, July 24 murder of Marilyn Pharis, 64, of Santa Maria. 

Only a cynic would suspect the raid and the public outrage over Pharis’​ murder are linked. Call me cynical.

4. Santa Barbara Doctor Found Guilty on 79 Counts of Overprescribing

Julio Diaz, a disgraced former Santa Barbara physician charged in a sweeping federal drug case helped along by Noozhawk’s reporting, was convicted on 79 counts related to overprescribing painkillers and other medicine.

Julio Diaz has written his last prescription. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk file photo)
Julio Diaz has written his last prescription. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk file photo)

Eleven of Diaz’s patients died of overdoses.

Diaz, a Goleta resident who ran a family medical clinic in the 500 block of North Milpas Street, was arrested in early 2012 during a raid by Drug Enforcement Administration agents. An affidavit accused him of prescribing “profound” doses of drugs — including strong painkillers such as OxyContin, fentanyl and Dilaudid — to patients.

In addition to the 11 drug-related patient deaths, he was linked to more than 400 drug-related emergency room visits in a two-year period.

Diaz pleaded guilty in January 2014 but a federal judge later allowed him to withdraw the plea because he apparently had not been properly advised by his attorney at the time.

After a 2½-week trial in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, a jury on Aug. 28 found him guilty on all 79 counts. His new attorney, Kate Corrigan of Corrigan Welbourn Stokke in Newport Beach, already has vowed to appeal.

Diaz is to be sentenced Dec. 14, and prosecutor Ann Wolf of the U.S. Attorney’s Office is confident the 67-year-old will not outlive his punishment.

Noozhawk broke the story of Diaz’s arrest in 2012. Prior to the bust, multiple sources — including pharmacists, emergency-room doctors, families and law enforcement —insisted that he had continuously overprescribed pain medication.

Click here for the complete series index to Noozhawk’s Prescription for Abuse series, a special project exploring the misuse and abuse of prescription medications in Santa Barbara County.

The six-week investigative series, published in the fall of 2011, was the result of a partnership with USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, which awarded Noozhawk a California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowship to undertake the project.

Meanwhile, UCLA Bruins fans should recognize the name of Cormac Carney, the federal judge who presided over Diaz’s trial. The All-American wide receiver at one time was UCLA’s all-time leading receiver and helped the Bruins beat Michigan in the 1983 Rose Bowl

How about an 8 Clap for some measure of justice for the stadium-sized crowd of Diaz’s victims?

The women behind Salty Girl Seafood include, from left, co-founder Laura Johnson, chief information officer Gina Auriemma and co-founder Norah Eddy. (Salty Girl Seafood photo)
The women behind Salty Girl Seafood include, from left, co-founder Laura Johnson, chief information officer Gina Auriemma and co-founder Norah Eddy. (Salty Girl Seafood photo)

5. Salty Girl Seafood Startup Finds Footing in Santa Barbara Retail Market

Salty Girl Seafood has come a long way since UC Santa Barbara alums Norah Eddy and Laura Johnson founded the company just last year.

After winning more than $40,000 in awards as finalists in UCSB’s Technology Management Program New Venture Competition, they cast the net on their idea for sustainable, traceable seafood, and the software to source products directly from fishermen to chefs.

Our Gina Potthoff first met the dynamic duo at the Goleta Entrepreneurial Magnet, and has been keeping an eye on them ever since. She thought an update would be in order now that a new Salty Girl Seafood line is being sold in local grocery stores.

The retail entry — pre-packaged, marinated and seasoned, ready-to-cook fish — quickly eclipsed the company’​s original restaurant roadmap, which has been parked temporarily while the new line takes off.

“We let the ‘why’ direct the operation,” Eddy told Gina. “We’ve been very lucky. The community has been great. They wanted to be a part of it.”

Salty Girl Seafood lemon pepper and garlic salmon, sweet and smoky teriyaki black cod, and garlic chili-rub rockfish are available at Gladden & Sons Produce in Goleta, Isabella Gourmet Foods in Santa Barbara and New Frontiers Natural Marketplace in Solvang.

                                                                 •        •        •

Dog years, in pictures. Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week, from my peripatetic tour of the World Wide Web: Pictures of Dogs Taken Over a 12-Year Span.

                                                                 •        •        •

Pool party! 

(Tim Basso 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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