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Bill Macfadyen: Community’s Embrace of Mallory Dies a Heartfelt Outpouring of Compassion

As DUI suspect Raymond Morura awaits hearing, NoozWeek's Top 5 also watches Dumb and Dumber and hunts a mountain lion

What were you reading on Noozhawk this week?

1. Aide to Rep. Lois Capps Arrested for Alleged DUI in Injury Hit-and-Run

By all accounts, Mallory Dies was a smart, generous, beautiful and fun-loving soul, a UC Santa Barbara grad with a bright future ahead of her. Like so many twenty-somethings here, she was determined to put off that future for just a few years longer so she could enjoy the Santa Barbara experience before "real life" started.

Mallory Rae Dies died Dec. 11 at age 27.
Mallory Rae Dies died Dec. 11 at age 27.

Just after midnight on Dec. 6, her hopes, her dreams, her future came to an abrupt and tragic end when she was run over by an allegedly drunken driver racing down the street.

Horrified witnesses frantically called 9-1-1 on their cell phones and rushed to Dies' side in the 500 block of Anacapa Street. According to Santa Barbara police, however, they were stunned to observe the driver slow to a stop, peer out the window at the carnage he caused, and then speed off.

Sgt. Riley Harwood said several witnesses chased the car two blocks to where Anacapa dead-ends at Highway 101, where they pleaded with the man to surrender. Instead, Harwood said, he made a U-turn, tore back to Gutierrez Street, and then to State Street headed toward the waterfront. The speeding driver lost control trying to turn west onto Cabrillo Boulevard and struck a palm tree.

Taken into custody at the second crash site was Raymond Victor Morua, 32, of Santa Barbara, a district representative for Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara.

Harwood said Morua blew a breath sample with a blood-alcohol content of .17, more than twice the legal limit at which a driver is presumed to be drunk. Police investigators later said he had started drinking several hours earlier at the Santa Barbara Independent's holiday party at a downtown nightclub.

He was arrested for felony DUI, felony hit and run, and a misdemeanor DUI charge for hitting the palm tree.

Poking around in Morua's past, our Lara Cooper easily discovered a criminal record that is sure to be explored in future litigation. Frankly, it's astonishing that he even had a driver's license, given his two DUI convictions in 2006, along with a guilty plea to hit-and-run and driving on a suspended license that same year. Lara also found a curious Santa Barbara County conviction for grand theft by embezzlement.

In a July 2012 interview with Noozhawk, Morua acknowledged to Lara that he had turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism after his deployment with the Army’s 1st Armored Division in the Iraq War. 

Given his history, some might wonder how a job candidate with that kind of baggage managed to score a highly visible position in a federal lawmaker's office in the first place. Capps apparently wondered that herself. On Dec. 9, her spokesman announced that Morua had been summarily fired from the post for which she had hired him only the year before.

Capps' man declined to go into the specifics of his boss' due diligence, but Washington customs and standards are foreign to most Americans anyway. If no one ever bothered to find out whether Obamacare was anything more than a lovely picture of Rock Ridge gleaming in the sun, can we truly be surprised that no one thought to run a background check for a $37,000-a-year government job?

Meanwhile, for five long days, the 27-year-old Dies fought for her life at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. A CaringBridge web page was launched to keep family, friends and a vast universe of complete strangers current on her condition. Plans for a fundraiser were quickly made. But the initial optimism that she would pull through gradually turned to the heartbreaking realization that her tomorrow would never come.

On the morning of Dec. 11, her grief-stricken parents made the decision to take their only daughter off life support. She died at 3:15 p.m.

With Dies' death, District Attorney Joyce Dudley announced that Morua would now be charged with a “Watson murder.”

Derived from the 1981 state Supreme Court decision in People v. Watson, the case established that, in some circumstances, an individual who kills someone while driving under the influence can be charged with murder and/or manslaughter.

Typically, defendants convicted in serious DUI cases must sign a statement noting the risks of driving while intoxicated, and acknowledging they can be charged with murder in future DUI cases that result in death.

Morua was scheduled to be arraigned Dec. 13 in Superior Court, but the case has been continued.

Noozhawk's traffic on these stories has been intense, firmly holding five of the top six positions in our Google Analytics over the last seven days. In all, there were 103,987 people who read Noozhawk this past week. By comparison, last week there were 68,408.

2. Two Students Arrested in Santa Barbara Home Invasion

I'm just gonna say it: Any plot involving ski masks and a replica Uzi submachine gun is a bad idea. No matter what, it doesn't end well.

Ryan Larson
Ryan Larson
Toby Minehan
Toby Minehan

Two witless college students (may have) learned that lesson the hard way after they were arrested on a slew of felony charges stemming from a Nov. 26 home invasion at an apartment near Santa Barbara City College. They were lucky they got away, however briefly.

According to Santa Barbara police, the two 19-year-old suspects — later identified as Ryan Larson of Santa Barbara and Toby Minehan of Carpinteria — went to the apartment in the 100 block of Oceano Avenue to beat up one of the residents, who apparently was in a relationship with Minehan's ex-girlfriend.

Sgt. Riley Harwood said four people were home at the time: the two roommates and the girlfriend of one of them, all 19, as well as a 21-year-old neighbor.

"One of the 19-year-old male victims was beaten repeatedly by the unmasked perpetrator while the other male victims were held at bay by the masked gunman, and the female victim remained locked in a bedroom," Harwood said.

He said Minehan repeatedly punched one of the victims while "clenching a roll of quarters wrapped in duct tape to increase the severity of the blows." He added that Larson pointed the replica gun at the victim and threatened to kill him. The suspects then fled the scene.

Reports of the assault didn't reach police until the next day, Harwood said, because the victims initially feared retaliation. Once they came forward, however, it didn't take long for authorities to figure out who they liked for the crime.

Larson was arrested Dec. 3 while in class at SBCC and Minehan turned himself in the next day. Minehan had been attending school in San Luis Obispo, but it's not clear whether it was Cal Poly or Cuesta College.

Minehan was charged with burglary, false imprisonment, intimidating a witness by force or threat of violence, conspiracy, and assault with a deadly weapon.

Larson was charged with burglary, false imprisonment, intimidating a witness by force or threat of violence, conspiracy, and brandishing a replica firearm. At Larson's house, Harwood said, police found a ski mask and a replica Uzi that they believe were used in the attack. Told you so.

Both men were booked into County Jail on $100,000 bail each. It looks as if graduation may have to wait.

Emergency personnel wheel a suspect to an ambulance the night of Dec. 6 after the man allegedly attacked a police officer on Santa Barbara's Westside and then was shot numerous times. (Urban Hikers photo)
Emergency personnel wheel a suspect to an ambulance the night of Dec. 6 after the man allegedly attacked a police officer on Santa Barbara's Westside and then was shot numerous times. (Urban Hikers photo)

3. Suspect Shot by Police on Santa Barbara’s Westside

A suspect who brandished "a large, thick shard of glass" was shot by a police officer the night of Dec. 6 after he allegedly attacked the officer with the makeshift weapon on Santa Barbara's Westside.

Sgt. Riley Harwood said officers responded to the 1200 block of San Andres Street just before midnight, following multiple 9-1-1 calls reporting a weapon-wielding man. Soon after they arrived, he said, the suspect took a swipe at the officer with the shard and subsequently was shot multiple times.

The suspect, identified as Andrew Scott Furst, 26, of Santa Barbara, was taken into custody and transported to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. His wounds were not thought to be life-threatening.

There were no other injuries in the incident.

Enter Santa Barbara's North La Cumbre Road neighborhood at your own risk: There may be a mountain lion on the prowl. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)
Enter Santa Barbara's North La Cumbre Road neighborhood at your own risk: There may be a mountain lion on the prowl. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

4. Mountain Lion May Be Culprit in Fatal Attack on Pet Goats in Santa Barbara

Something got Roxanne Reginato's goats, and authorities say it may have been a mountain lion.

R.I. P. Briggs and Stratton, who have mowed their last blade of grass, apparently at the jaws and paws of a mountain lion. (Reginato family photo)
R.I. P. Briggs and Stratton, who have mowed their last blade of grass, apparently at the jaws and paws of a mountain lion. (Reginato family photo)

A longtime resident of North La Cumbre Road in Santa Barbara, Reginato awoke a couple of weeks ago to find her pet pygmy goats, Briggs and Stratton, dead in their pen with "large puncture wounds" around their necks.

State Department of Fish and Wildlife officials said Dec. 9 that they couldn't determine just what had attacked Reginato's animals. Nonetheless, they gave her a depredation permit to kill a mountain lion if she sees one on her property.

Now, I'm all for hunting and protecting property rights, but is that response really justifiable? If you're going to take down a mountain lion, your best bet is a high-powered weapon. Is it really safe to discharge one in a semi-rural neighborhood just two blocks north of State Street? If so, I'd sure like permission to dove-hunt in my own yard; there's ample room for safe shotgun fire against those tasty little seed predators.

But I digress. 

Like just about anywhere else in and around the foothills, bobcats and coyotes aren't unusual sights. A mountain lion is another story, Reginato told our Lara Cooper.

She expressed dismay that more outreach hadn't been done by the wildlife agencies that investigated the attack, and has erected her own sign out by the road to warn her neighbors and others.

"These were our pets," she said, adding that she would have put the goats away more securely if she had known a large predator was prowling the area.

Authorities are still investigating how and why this sedan rolled over on Highway 154 below Windy Gap on Dec. 6. The driver was killed in the wreck. (David Sadecki / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)
Authorities are still investigating how and why this sedan rolled over on Highway 154 below Windy Gap on Dec. 6. The driver was killed in the wreck. (David Sadecki / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

5. Highway 154 Open Again After Fatal Accident

A Santa Barbara woman was killed just after dawn Dec. 6 in a rollover crash on Highway 154 just below Windy Gap. The single-vehicle wreck shut down the highway for much of that Friday morning.

Santa Barbara County fire Capt. David Sadecki said the car's driver and lone occupant, Keri Dee Savala of Santa Barbara, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Authorities say the car flipped for unknown reasons north of San Antonio Creek Road around 5:30 a.m. The cause remains under investigation.

                                                                         •        •

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                                                                         •        •

After a week like we've had, how about some Christmas magic to refresh our spirits? HT to my friend, Eric Greenspan, for the link.

(WestJet 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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