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Bill Macfadyen: Paula Lopez Lawsuit News Fuels a New Round of Readership for the New Year

NoozWeek’s Top 5 turns up a dead body, chases a knucklehead around the South Coast, is struck by dramatic lightning pictures, and discovers the drought isn’t going anywhere

We know how it turns out, we just don’t know when it will end.
We know how it turns out, we just don’t know when it will end. (Zack Warburg / Noozhawk file photo)

Noozhawk’s Outdoors section hit the trail last week and, despite inclement weather, readers have quickly followed.

Ray Ford, perhaps Santa Barbara County’s premier outdoors writer, has joined an already formidable team that includes popular backcountry hiking guru Dan McCaslin and my friend, Capt. David Bacon, who helms the very best fishing charterboat in the Santa Barbara Channel.

Other regulars include astronomer Dennis Mammana and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Carrie Wilson.

We welcome additional stories and photos, and if you’re interested in contributing to the section, contact executive editor Tom Bolton at [email protected]. If you’d like to advertise in the section or sponsor a feature, click here to contact Kim Clark, our business development vice president.

See you in the Outdoors.

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While the San Diego Chargers were copying the Rams and bolting for Los Angeles, and cribbing their new logo from the Dodgers, 114,484 readers were visiting Noozhawk this past week, according to our Google Analytics.

Here’s my take on your top five stories:

1. Paula Lopez Ochoa Wrongful-Termination Lawsuit Against KEYT Dismissed

The Paula Lopez story has been tragic, intriguing and downright bizarre. It’s also gotten cringeworthy and predictable, and it’s dragged on at least a couple of chapters too long.

As everyone within a hundred miles of here knows, the former KEYT/KCOY News anchorwoman and wife of then-Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Frank Ochoa went oddly missing one day in 2013, setting off a curious and rather extensive search.

She turned up OK, later admitted she’s an alcoholic, still later got herself arrested on a public-intoxication charge and then signed a “last-chance agreement” with her employer to shape up or ship out.

The night of Sept. 6, 2015, she was arrested in Goleta on suspicion of driving under the influence and assaulting a police officer after an extraordinary and excruciating episode that also involved an allegation of driving the wrong way on Highway 101.

That was the last, last straw for NPG of California, parent company of KEYT and KCOY, and she was terminated.

Months later, Lopez pleaded no contest to DUI, refusing a chemical test, delaying a peace officer and battery on a peace officer. She served 50 days in the county’s electronic-monitoring program before being placed on probation.

The story could have ended there, but we all knew it wouldn’t.

To no one’s surprise, last fall she filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit against the station, alleging she was fired based on her “sex, disability and Hispanic race/ancestry.”

As our Giana Magnoli first reported Jan. 6, the suit has been dismissed. According to Superior Court documents, Lopez’s attorney, Janean Daniels, on Dec. 2 filed a request to dismiss the case “with prejudice,” i.e. permanently.

Daniels did not respond to Giana’s request for comment, but Mark Danielson, general manager of NPG of California, told her that “the matter has been resolved.” He declined to say whether the case was dropped or a settlement was reached.

We may never know how the lawsuit turned out, and, frankly, so long as she’s getting the help she needs, I couldn’t care less. But I’m still guessing we’ve not heard the last of Paula Lopez.

2. Homeless Man Found Dead in Vehicle on Santa Barbara’s Mesa

A woman knocked on the door of Santa Barbara Fire Station 6, at 1802 Cliff Drive on the Mesa, on Jan. 7 to report that her companion was having a medical problem.

Firefighters rushed outside to her minivan to help but determined that the man had died, according to Santa Barbara police.

Lt. Kenneth Kushner told Noozhawk that the victim — a homeless man whose identity has not been disclosed — apparently died of natural causes. Foul play is not suspected, he said.

(Zack Warburg / Noozhawk video)

3. High-Speed Chase Spans Santa Barbara County’s South Coast

For nearly an hour late on the night of Jan. 5, the driver of a stolen car led authorities on a frenetic chase around the South Coast. Amazingly, no one was hit or hurt in the joy ride that reached speeds of 95 mph and involved passes through densely populated neighborhoods.

Busted II. (Santa Barbara County Jail photo)
Busted II. (Santa Barbara County Jail photo)
Busted. (Santa Barbara County Jail photo)
Busted. (Santa Barbara County Jail photo)

The driver and his two passengers were taken into custody just before midnight when a law enforcement vehicle maneuvered the getaway car into a collision on an Old Town Goleta side street.

As our Tom Bolton first reported, the chase started just before 11 p.m. on Winchester Canyon Road in western Goleta when Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies tried to stop a white Toyota Camry that had been reported stolen.

The car raced east on Highway 101 through Santa Barbara, left the freeway for a jaunt through the Lower Eastside and part of the Riviera, then returned to the freeway and sped toward Carpinteria.

The driver reversed course at the Padaro Lane overcrossing in Summerland, at which point California Highway Patrol units and a county helicopter joined the pursuit.

The caravan booked it back through Santa Barbara and Goleta and out along the Gaviota coast before turning around again near the Tajiguas Landfill, about 15 miles west of Goleta.

The chase went back to Goleta, and the fugitive took the Fairview Avenue exit ramp and headed into Old Town. On Kinman Avenue, a block west of South Kellogg Avenue, authorities were able to bump the car into a spin and a stop.

The driver — identified by the CHP as Andrew Mario Calzada, 21, of Santa Barbara — was arrested on suspicion of auto theft, possession of stolen property, disobeying a police officer, driving under the influence and being under the influence of a controlled substance.

A passenger — identified as Isabelle Estella Varela, 18, of Goleta — was arrested on suspicion of auto theft, possession of stolen property and being under the influence of a controlled substance.

The other passenger was detained briefly then released without being charged.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said Calzada and Varela were booked into County Jail, with bail set at $75,000 and $25,000, respectively.

Strike one. (Garrett Gerstenberger photo /
Strike one. (Garrett Gerstenberger photo /

4. Thunderstorms Put On a Striking Light Show Over Santa Barbara County

Fast and furiously, a winter thunderstorm raced through Santa Barbara County the night of Jan. 7, providing locals with an electrifying view of the heavens that we rarely see.

The spectacular light show hit the South Coast around 7 p.m., and photographers — wielding all devices — were quick to capture the shock and awe.

After a brief downpour, the storm had moved on within a half-hour. Most areas of the county recorded little more than a half-inch of rain.

Click here for a related gallery of storm photos from Noozhawk readers.

Bradbury Dam, still looking way too much on the dry side. (Santa Barbara County photo){
Bradbury Dam, still looking way too much on the dry side. (Santa Barbara County photo)

5. Santa Barbara County Still a Long Way from Drought Relief Despite Wetter Winter

With a steady stream of storms rolling through Santa Barbara County, green weeds and bountiful fruit trees, and water actually running in local creeks, California’s long, stubborn and devastating drought is ... not over.

Not even close.

As our Sam Goldman reported Jan. 6, even though the county has edged slightly above normal rainfall levels for this time of winter, we’re still mired in California’s dark-red “exceptional drought” region.

And, according to my friend, Tom Fayram, deputy director for water resources at the county Public Works Department, we’re going to need many more — consecutive — seasons of above-average rainfall to get us out of it.

“It’s really important that we get a base amount of rainfall on our watersheds before we really get any runoff,” he told Sam. “Particularly runoff in the Santa Ynez River, which is what we need to define relief in our drought situation.”

Fayram said 12 to 15 inches of water on the ground are needed to trigger inflow into Lake Cachuma, the South Coast’s main source of surface water, which has shriveled to a pond primarily fed by imported water from the State Water Project.

So far, Bradbury Dam has recorded a little more than 5 inches of rain.

Pray for more.

                                                                 •        •        •

Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Freak Accident Blamed in Santa Barbara Parking Lot Death.

                                                                 •        •        •

Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

I’m gonna sleep on this: How to Get Rid of Your Alarm and Still Wake Up on Time.

                                                                 •        •        •

Watch It

From walk-on to walk-off hero. Congratulations to Hunter Renfrow and the national champion Clemson Tigers. #ALLIN

(CampusInsiders 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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