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Local News

Bill Macfadyen: Judge Gives Jensen Buchanan the Easier Way Out in Head-On DUI Crash

While NoozWeek’s Top 5 follows a brutal Montecito assault, an unfortunate Westside shooting and a sidewalk spin, what we really want to know is ... what’s the deal with Bellosguardo?

No need to weep for Jensen Buchanan after the day she had in court. Click to view larger
No need to weep for Jensen Buchanan after the day she had in court. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Noozhawk turns 10 years old on Oct. 16, and we’re marking the occasion by launching our most ambitious project to date.

Reimagine: Santa Barbara, a partnership with Shared Mission Santa Barbara and KEYT News, is an in-depth look at downtown Santa Barbara, which has had a few challenges recently, as I know you know.

We’ll be tracing the history of downtown; explaining many of the contemporary issues, both good and bad; exploring thriving downtowns in other communities to see if ideas there are worth trying here; and using our Community West Bank-sponsored Noozhawk Asks platform to have you help us identify community priorities for the district — now and in the future.

It’s a massive undertaking but it’s the timeliest of topics. I’m very excited about what our team has been working on, the impressive roster of sponsors who are supporting the series and, most important, the expectations I have for your engagement and participation.

On this occasion of our milestone anniversary, I want to thank you for all you’ve done to make Noozhawk Santa Barbara County’s No. 1 source for online local news. I’m very proud of what our team has accomplished in this last decade, but it’s the community support that has made it all possible. To our readers, to our advertisers, to our sponsors, to our Hawks Club members and to our investors, thank you.

I’m also grateful to my business partners, Tom Bolton and Kim Clark, who make my job easier even as I often make theirs harder. They are the ones most responsible for our success.

Most important, thank you to my beautiful wife, Missy. I marvel at her remarkable patience and tolerance during this 10-year pioneering endeavor, and the South Coast Beacon debacle before it, and wonder ... why? She must be waiting to see how the story ends. I love you, Babe.

On behalf of Team Noozhawk, thank you again for all you’ve done for us. It’s our privilege to cover and serve this community we love and respect as much as you do.

Now, back to my regularly scheduled snark. Noozhawk had 138,113 readers this past week, according to our Google Analytics. This is my take on your Top 5 stories.

1. Actress Jensen Buchanan Gets Jail Time for DUI Crash That Caused Severe Injuries

At 6:20 a.m. on May 18, 2016, Jensen Buchanan was driving east on Highway 154 — fully loaded with a staggering blood-alcohol level of .34 percent, more than four times the legal limit.

Near the entrance to Live Oak Camp by Rancho San Marcos Golf Course, her Mercedes-Benz S550 drifted across the center line and slammed into an oncoming Ford compact car driven by Bradley Asolas, who was on his way to work in Santa Maria.

The collision left Asolas with critical injuries that included broken ribs, a shattered pelvis, a fractured spine, a crushed femur, a collapsed lung, and a lacerated liver, spleen and kidney. As a bonus, he suffered a massive heart attack that doctors blamed on the crash impact.

Asolas spent the next 34 days in Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and at a rehabilitation facility, quite a lot of it on life support.

Buchanan, a soap opera actress from Los Angeles, initially entered a plea of not guilty last year.

In August, however, she reversed herself and pleaded guilty after Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge James Voysey indicated he was considering a sentence of one year in County Jail and five years of felony probation, instead of the six-year prison term sought by prosecutors.

At the time, Voysey said he wanted to hear from the victim before making his final decision at an Oct. 6 sentencing hearing.

Asolas and his wife, Sandy, dutifully traveled to Santa Maria from their home in Arizona to make their appearance in Voysey’s courtroom. They needn’t have bothered.

“Even though I didn’t die that day, in a very real sense she took away my life, because now I am going to die sooner than I probably would have,” said Asolas, now 57.

He no longer can work, he walks with a cane and uses a scooter, and he relies on opioid medications to keep the pain at bay. The Asolases are selling the two-story house they own because climbing the stairs is nearly impossible.

“I’m like an old man,” he said.

Sandy Asolas asked Voysey to sentence Buchanan to prison, describing how the crash has affected them, their children, their grandchildren and their friends.

“I touch his heart in the middle of the night to make sure he’s breathing,” she said of her husband.

Deputy District Attorney Jon Kawashima again argued for prison time, noting the catastrophic results of Buchanan’s choice to get behind the wheel of her car in spite of her impairment.

“It requires terrible decisions, terrible consequences, and that’s what we have here,” he said.

But Josh Lynn, one of Buchanan’s attorneys, said his 57-year-old client has “changed her life” as a result of the crash, and has been sober for all 16 months since.

“The circumstance after this accident was one I have just never seen on either side that I have been on — a defendant doing what she has done,” he said, obsequiously.

“And it’s not because she had money or because she was well-known.”

Uh, huh.

Lynn also managed to work in the fact that Buchanan’s insurance company had paid Asolas $5 million to settle its part in the case. Thanks for the news flash, Josh. Isn’t that why we all have auto insurance?

Just think, but for the grace of God and Joyce Dudley, this guy could have been Santa Barbara County’s district attorney.

Buchanan also spoke, but this is my opinion column and I don’t give a rat’s ass about a drunken driver’s feelings. Our Janene Scully is paid to be objective, however, and you can read her story for the complete account.

Besides, Buchanan’s not going to prison and will be out of jail in — at most — 365 days. Because of Voysey’s farcical leniency, it actually will be a lot sooner than that — something like six months. Drivers beware.

It’s just a hunch, but I’m guessing we’ve not heard the last from her. Lucky us.

2. Santa Barbara Man Jailed on Rape, Kidnapping, Attempted-Murder Charges in Alleged Montecito Assault

A Montecito woman is recovering from physical and emotional wounds she suffered in a brutal attack in her home the morning of Oct. 6. Her alleged assailant was arrested and charged with a host of felonies — including rape, kidnapping and attempted murder.

We’re all thinking it: Did you cut yourself shaving? Click to view larger
We’re all thinking it: Did you cut yourself shaving? (Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department photo)

According to Santa Barbara County sheriff’s Lt. Kevin Huddle, the suspect broke into the house earlier that morning, but neighbors called 9-1-1 just before 7:30 a.m. after hearing a woman screaming for help and subsequently seeing her being chased by a crazed man with a knife.

“The victim was eventually able to escape from the house and flagged down an uninvolved vehicle driving down the roadway,” Huddle said.

The motorist drove her to a nearby fire station, and she later was taken to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital with undisclosed injuries.

Authorities say they are withholding her identity and address due to the nature of the assault.

When deputies arrived on the scene, they found a man outside the house, and they detained him while they tried to figure out what was going on. Once they did, they arrested him.

Huddle said Barret Paul Murphy, 49, was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, kidnapping, rape by force, assault with intent for sexual assault, oral copulation, assault with a deadly weapon, burglary and domestic violence inflicting injury.

He was booked into County Jail, with bail set at $1 million.

3. Fatal Shooting on Santa Barbara’s Westside Believed to Be Suicide

Rough day on Santa Barbara’s Westside. Click to view larger
Rough day on Santa Barbara’s Westside. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

A shotgun blast got the attention of residents in a quiet Westside neighborhood in Santa Barbara on Oct. 11.

Neighbors called 9-1-1 about 12:45 p.m., and a small army of emergency personnel quickly arrived in the 700 block of West Anapamu Street, just off San Andres Street a block west of West Carrillo Street.

According to Santa Barbara police spokesman Anthony Wagner, responding officers found a dead man in the backyard of a home there.

He said it appeared the man had killed himself with a shotgun, which was recovered at the scene. There were no other injuries in the incident.

The man’s identity is being withheld, and the circumstances are under investigation.

Click here for suicide prevention resources and information that are available 24/7.

4. After 3 Years, Bellosguardo Estate in Santa Barbara Still in IRS Limbo

No one’s home. Click to view larger
No one’s home. (Noozhawk file photo)

Bellosguardo, which sits atop what is perhaps the best oceanfront property in Santa Barbara, has been shrouded in mystery for decades. That’s unlikely to change any time soon.

The 23-acre estate of the late Huguette Clark, a kind-hearted but eccentric and reclusive heiress, has been unoccupied for forever. Clark died in New York City in 2011 at the age of 104.

For years and years and years before her death, the mansion at 1407 E. Cabrillo Blvd. was kept in tip-top condition — just in case she happened to pop in for a visit that never came.

After her death, competing wills set off a legal battle that ended — sort of — in a settlement awarding the Santa Barbara property, Clark’s $1.7 million doll collection and about $4.5 million in cash to the newly formed Bellosguardo Foundation.

Mayor Helene Schneider nominated a 19-member board of directors in 2014, but the board has had little to do so far. The fate of the estate is in the hands of the Internal Revenue Service, which is deciding whether to waive unpaid gift tax penalties. For the time being, the property is managed by the New York County Public Administrator’s Office.

That’s not to say the foundation has been sitting idly by. The most recent financial statements filed with the IRS show foundation president Jeremy Lindaman was paid a salary of $110,000 in 2014 and $80,000 in 2015 — for approximately 10 hours of work a week.

I know what you’re thinking: How can I get a job like that?

Well, Lindaman may have had one advantage you don’t. He is, after all, Schneider’s longtime and very close ... political consultant, although she maintains she had nothing to do with his hiring by the foundation.

But don’t be deterred if you think your résumé is too thin compared to his. Lindaman, whose work history appears to be limited to political campaigns, has no evident experience running a foundation, or a nonprofit organization, or a museum, or a cultural institution of any kind.

Foundation board members contacted by our Giana Magnoli were of little help when asked about the situation.

“I have no idea how he even got in the picture,” said James Hurley, a foundation board member and retired partner at venerable Price, Postel & Parma LLP, California’s oldest law firm.

Hurley, who represented Clark for years, said Lindaman’s hiring wasn’t a board decision, although the widespread confusion about such a basic board responsibility does not inspire much confidence in its future.

For his part, Lindaman seems unperturbed as he juggles all of his foundation leadership responsibilities while running the campaign of mayoral candidate Bendy White.

“I’m the president of the foundation and we are, you know, doing recruiting of potential donors and interfacing with New York, and hopefully setting everything up for a successful transfer of the property,” he told Giana.

As I said, shrouded in mystery.

5. 5 Injured as Pickup Ends Up on Downtown Santa Barbara Sidewalk

Stay in your lane, you dolt. Sidewalks are for pedestrians only. Click to view larger
Stay in your lane, you dolt. Sidewalks are for pedestrians only. (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)

A pickup truck plowed into four people walking on the sidewalk in front of Carlitos Café y Cantina in downtown Santa Barbara on Oct. 7. All four were taken to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital for treatment of their injuries.

John Dalton: Anyone have the phone number for Jensen Buchanan’s lawyer? Click to view larger
John Dalton: Anyone have the phone number for Jensen Buchanan’s lawyer? (Santa Barbara Police Department photo)

The wreck occurred around 12:40 p.m. when the northbound Toyota Tacoma veered onto the sidewalk in front of the restaurant at 1324 State St., knocking over a couple of utility poles — and the pedestrians — before striking and scraping along the side of the restaurant.

The truck traveled nearly 30 yards before coming to a stop.

Santa Barbara Police Department spokesman Anthony Wagner said the driver — John Dalton, 53, of Santa Barbara — was arrested and booked into County Jail on suspicion of felony DUI involving drugs.

American Medical Response ambulances transported all four victims to the hospital, but Santa Barbara fire Battalion Chief Mike De Ponce said their injuries were believed to be minor.

Dalton also was taken to the hospital for treatment of undisclosed injuries before he was carted off to jail.

No one was hurt on the Carlitos patio.

                                                                  •        •        •

Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Shopper Suffers Major Injuries after Car Drives into Goleta Trader Joe’s.

                                                                 •        •        •

Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

Amid the multitude of heartbreaking stories from the monstrous infernos that left so much of Sonoma County in ashes, here’s one with a happy ending: Safari West Owner Had ‘A Thousand Souls’ to Save from Wildfire.

                                                                  •        •        •

Watch It

When you’ve got a whale of an appetite, synchronized swimming can be ruthlessly cunning.

(GoPro 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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