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Monday, November 19 , 2018, 5:22 pm | Fair 63º

 
 
 
 

Bill Macfadyen: Microburst Inflicts Maximum Damage As It Storms Through Santa Barbara

NoozWeek’s Top 5 follows up on 2 severely injured, storm-related casualties, tracks a Lompoc kidnapping survivor’s 3-state odd-ysey, and radios a last call for a fallen firefighter

Some trunk in the trunk at the Santa Barbara Harbor. Click to view larger
Some trunk in the trunk at the Santa Barbara Harbor. (Urban Hikers / Noozhawk photo)

Now the Dodgers are just mocking me. The best team in baseball playing like the worst — for two weeks now.

For once, I’m grateful to the Dodgers’ selfish ownership for keeping the team off television and out of sight of loyal fans. I was at the Sept. 6 debacle and, trust me, they’re just awful. I mean, first half-UCLA awful.

You can count on Noozhawk to play like a champion, though. According to our Google Analytics, we had 151,980 readers in a wild week for news. Here’s my take on your top stories:

1. Numerous Boats Swamped as Powerful Thunderstorm Slams Santa Barbara Harbor Area

An astonishingly powerful, fast-moving thunderstorm — accompanied by winds in excess of 80 mph — unleashed its fury on Santa Barbara’s waterfront Sept. 3.

Characterized as a “microburst” by the National Weather Service, the sudden squall swamped boats and watercraft in the Santa Barbara Harbor, dumping dozens of people in the water. It toppled trees and snapped utility poles, and it sent large patio umbrellas spiraling through the air at Arroyo Burro Beach Park and in the heart of the marina.

Then, just like that, it was gone.

Harbor Patrol Officer Ryan Kelly told our Tom Bolton that he was patrolling in a 33-foot boat just outside the harbor entrance at about 2:40 p.m. when the storm opened its can of whoop ass.

“We saw the rain approaching, and there were probably about 10 seconds of rain mixed with hail,” he said. “Then the winds picked up and it got really gusty and spun the boat around. It was ... like white-out conditions.

“By the time we could see again, there were lots of people in the water — from stand-up paddle boards, to kayaks and sailboats.”

Kelly and his crew, quickly joined by an armada of private boats, set about collecting everyone treading water.

“We just basically went into rescue mode,” he said.

Heavy winds and rain were reported in parts of Goleta and Montecito, and train traffic was halted until the tracks could be cleared of fallen limbs.

The hot, humid weather and thunderstorms were remnants of the deadly Tropical Storm Lidia, which slammed Cabo San Lucas before moving up Baja California.

HT to The New York Times’ Mike McPhate for including Tom’s story in the Sept. 5 California Report. We appreciate the love.

2. Dos Pueblos Student Seriously Injured in ‘Microburst’ Storm in Santa Barbara

Alyssa Nuño was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Click to view larger
Alyssa Nuño was in the wrong place at the wrong time. (GoFundMe photo)

The unusual microburst seriously injured a Dos Pueblos High School student who was caught in the crossfire of wind-propelled boats and kayaks on Santa Barbara’s West Beach during the Sept. 3 squall.

Alyssa Nuño, a 16-year-old junior in the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy, was at the beach with her family when the storm hit. As everyone scattered amid the 80 mph chaos, Alyssa ran toward the Sea Landing area.

She later was found crushed under a small boat, suffering from numerous broken bones. She was rushed by American Medical Response ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, then airlifted to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

Her mom, Sandra Alamillo-Nuño, told our Tom Bolton that her daughter underwent surgeries to repair a broken wrist and fractured collar bone.

“She had her breathing tube removed on Tuesday,” she said. “She did great breathing on her own and started talking a few hours later.”

Unfortunately, a follow-up surgery for facial fractures had to be postponed after it was discovered Alyssa had a loss of vision in her right eye. A CT scan was ordered to determine if her optic nerve was being compressed.

“For now we are at a standstill to see what the next plan is,” Alamillo-Nuño said. “So lots of prayers that a miracle can happen overnight and our baby can come back 100 percent.”

A GoFundMe page established to assist the family with medical and other expenses had collected more than $34,000 as of Sept. 8. Click here to make an online donation.

3. Kidnapped Lompoc Woman and Suspect Spotted in Arizona

She’s out of his league. Click to view larger
She’s out of his league. (Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department photos)

One of the odder criminal cases we’ve covered ended safely with a Lompoc kidnapping victim unharmed in Nevada and the lunatic who allegedly abducted her in custody.

According to Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department officials, 55-year-old Virginia Paris was carjacked and kidnapped in Solvang the afternoon of Sept. 1 while on her way home from work. The suspect in the case: her crazy ex-boyfriend, 52-year-old Joe Hetzel of Lompoc.

After Hetzel allegedly forced himself into Paris’ car, she was able to text “help” to a co-worker, who called 9-1-1. A sheriff’s deputy called her cellphone, only to hear her say she was in trouble — before it sounded as if someone wrested away the phone, sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said.

The car was last seen in Camarillo later that night.

Early the next morning, Hetzel and his captive showed up at a Starbucks in Goodyear, Ariz., a Phoenix suburb. Authorities say Paris asked a customer for help but Hetzel grabbed her and forced her back to the car.

Hoover said a witness tried to follow them but was thwarted when the suspect ran a red light while speeding away. She added that Paris threw something out the passenger window, which turned out to be her car registration.

The morning of Sept. 4, the two checked out of a hotel in Valle, Ariz., a tiny town northwest of Flagstaff on the way to Grand Canyon National Park. Hoover said Paris told a clerk she had been taken against her will and that they may be headed to Las Vegas.

Authorities just missed them.

“The investigation reveals during the kidnap the victim lived in constant fear of the suspect, and anytime the couple was in a public setting, the suspect kept physical control of the victim,” Hoover said.

Hetzel allowed Paris to call her family the night of Sept. 4, and she told a relative that she was somewhere near Henderson, Nev. Later that night, Hoover said, Paris promised Hetzel she would not try to escape if he would allow her to get them a hotel room.

He fell for it.

While he was parking the car, Paris told the staff of the Railroad Pass Hotel & Casino what was going on. Hotel security took her to a safe room and called Henderson police. Once again, Hetzel eluded capture, however.

Paris was reunited with her family as the search intensified for her abductor. A few hours later, Paris’ car was found abandoned in Mesquite, Nev., on the Arizona border about 100 miles away, but somehow authorities caught wind that their fugitive may be headed back to Las Vegas.

The evening of Sept. 5, Las Vegas police traced a vehicle that had been reported stolen in Mesquite to the parking lot of a dive bar named Dotty’s Lounge. Hetzel was inside, and officers took him into custody about 6 p.m., Hoover said.

I’m picturing the guy sitting alone at the end of the bar, nursing ice cubes in an otherwise empty tumbler after polishing off all of the peanuts and pretzels he could get his hands on. He’s bleary eyed and ripe after four days with neither sleep nor shower, and he knows the jig is up.

Near the door, a slot machine is rhythmically announcing it’s successfully robbing someone else’s dreams, one nickel at a time. As Hetzel broods on his lifetime of mistakes and bad choices, he’s startled by the gravely voice of Capt. Jim Brass, who had boldly sat down on the bar stool next to him ...

Wait. Is this my column or an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation?!

Anyhoo. Hoover said the Sheriff’s Department is seeking to extradite Hetzel back to Santa Barbara County, where a host of felony charges awaits. Of course, Arizona and Nevada have their own issues with him, too.

Hoover credited the successful outcome of the case to the work of numerous law enforcement agencies in three states and the active assistance of the public.

Witnesses “listened, got involved and called their local law enforcement,” she noted.

Equally deserving of praise and thanksgiving is Paris’ own conduct. Throughout a very stressful, dangerous and grueling ordeal, while cooped up with a mentally unstable under-achiever with a long history of batshit-crazy behavior, she kept her cool and mostly kept Hetzel calm — all while looking for opportunities to make her break. That’s impressive.

4. Man Critically Injured by High-Voltage Power Line in Santa Barbara

Unfinished business. Click to view larger
Unfinished business. (Urban Hikers / Noozhawk photo)

A Santa Barbara man suffered severe burns when he unwittingly stumbled on a downed high-voltage power line on the Lower Westside.

According to Santa Barbara fire Capt. Steve Berman, a large branch fell from a tree that had been damaged in the Sept. 3 microburst, blocking the 700 block of San Pascual Street just after midnight Sept. 5. The branch pulled down a 16,000-volt line, knocked out power to the neighborhood, smashed several parked vehicles and sparked a tree fire.

Tony Easbey is down, but not out. He could still use your help, though. Click to view larger
Tony Easbey is down, but not out. He could still use your help, though. (GoFundMe photo)

Because of the live wire, firefighters had to move cautiously until Southern California Edison crews could deactivate it. As they were assessing the situation, they noticed a couple dragging an injured man in the dark.

The victim — a passerby later identified as 25-year-old Tony Easbey — had suffered major burn injuries from contact with the power line when the branch fell on him. He was taken immediately to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, then transferred to the Grossman Burn Center in West Hills.

“Anytime you get hit by one of those, you’re not going to be in good shape,” Berman told Noozhawk.

Easbey’s family has started a GoFundMe page to help with his medical expenses, which are expected to include multiple surgeries and skin grafts. Click here to make an online donation.

Appearing to be in relatively good spirits if not good shape, Easbey has been communicating with well-wishers through Facebook.

His rescuers, Santa Barbara City College student Amanda Schneiderman, 22, and her boyfriend, Shaun Siemer, 31, live nearby.

“It was an immediate reaction,” Schneiderman told our Brooke Holland in describing their response.

“It was a situation when there was no time to think about fear or your own well-being. Someone was in trouble, and something needed to be done immediately.”

The same tree had trapped a couple and their dog in a car during the microburst. Coincidentally, Schneiderman and Siemer are the ones who freed them.

The damaged tree was leaning in the direction of a nearby apartment building, propped up only by a lone palm tree. After putting out the fire, Berman said firefighters evacuated the building and then cut down the rest of the tree.

5. U.S. Forest Service Battalion Chief from Santa Maria Dies in Vehicle Crash

Pacific Christian Center in Orcutt was packed with family, friends and firefighters paying tribute and their last respects to Los Padres National Forest fire Battalion Chief Gary Helming, a 22-year U.S. Forest Service veteran, husband and father of three. Click to view larger
Pacific Christian Center in Orcutt was packed with family, friends and firefighters paying tribute and their last respects to Los Padres National Forest fire Battalion Chief Gary Helming, a 22-year U.S. Forest Service veteran, husband and father of three. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A Santa Maria-based Los Padres National Forest fire battalion chief was killed in an Aug. 31 head-on collision on Highway 41 south of Kettleman City. He was returning home from the frontlines of a wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park.

Gary Helming, 47, of Pismo Beach, was driving south on the highway about 8:25 a.m. when a northbound driver — identified as Antonio Avalos, 25, of Santa Maria — lost control of his vehicle.

Battalion Chief Gary Helming, who died in a head-on collision Aug. 31, was described as having “a passion for his family, he had a passion for helping his fellow man, and a passion for public service.” Click to view larger
Battalion Chief Gary Helming, who died in a head-on collision Aug. 31, was described as having “a passion for his family, he had a passion for helping his fellow man, and a passion for public service.” (U.S. Forest Service photo)

The California Highway Patrol said a tire of Avalos’ pickup truck apparently went flat, causing it to swerve into Helming’s lane. The collision of the two Ford F-350s left Helming pinned inside his cab.

He was pronounced dead at the scene, the CHP said.

Avalos was airlifted to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, where he was hospitalized with major injuries.

The cause of the crash is under investigation.

A 22-year veteran of the U.S. Forest Service, Helming was assigned to the Santa Lucia Ranger District, which includes northern Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo County. He also worked for the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service.

At the time of his death, Helming was on his way back from the Railroad Fire burning near Fish Camp in the Sierra National Forest, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Andrew Madsen said. The fire broke out Aug. 29 and has since grown to more than 11,600 acres.

Helming is survived by his wife, Andrea, and their three children, 9-year-old Riley and 9-month-old twin daughters Nalani and Walker.

Family, friends and firefighters packed the Pacific Christian Center in Orcutt for an inspiring Sept. 6 memorial service.

A somber yet impressive procession of U.S. Forest Service fire trucks heads down Highway 101 through Nipomo on Sept. 6, en route to the memorial service for fire Battalion Chief Gary Helming in Orcutt.
A somber yet impressive procession of U.S. Forest Service fire trucks heads down Highway 101 through Nipomo on Sept. 6, en route to the memorial service for fire Battalion Chief Gary Helming in Orcutt. (Joe Johnston / San Luis Obispo Tribune photo)

“Gary ... had a passion for his family, he had a passion for helping his fellow man, and a passion for public service,” said Tony Tooke, chief of the U.S. Forest Service in Washington, D.C.

“It takes a special type of person to serve as a wildland firefighter. Within the wildland firefighting community, Gary was enormously respected. He was respected for his professionalism, his experience.”

Standing on a box, Riley Helming confidently read a poem about fathers.

“I will remember all he taught me, I’m hurt but won’t be sad,” he read. “Because he’ll send me down the answers. And he’ll always be my dad.”

After the service, an interagency honor guard conducted a last bell ceremony, which was followed by the Los Padres Communications Center fire dispatcher making a final radio call for “Battalion 31,” Helming’s radio sign.

The dispatcher received only silence in response.

“This is the last call for fallen firefighter Gary Helming,” the dispatcher radioed as those in attendance blinked back tears. “We would like to thank you for your dedicated service and your continuous sacrifices made for the community. Los Padres Dispatch acknowledges fallen firefighter Gary Helming.

“Gary Helming, Battalion 31, is out of service. Godspeed and farewell.”

Friends have started a GoFundMe page to help Helming’s family, and have raised more than $85,000 as of Sept. 8. Click here to make an online donation.

Donations also can be made to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation.

Cards and other condolences for the family can be sent to the Santa Lucia Ranger District, Attention: Helming Family, 1616 Carlotti Drive, Santa Maria 93454.

                                                                  •        •        •

Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Shark Bites Freediver in Foot at Refugio State Beach.

                                                                 •        •        •

Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

Give class-action lawyers an inch and they’ll try to take a mile. The Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals bites back: Appeals Court Tosses One Of The Most Absurd Class-Action Cases Of All Time.

                                                                  •        •        •

Watch It

This shoplifting suspect had a little too much wiggle room.

(Video Leak Police 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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