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Bill Macfadyen: Train Trestle Fatality a Split-Second Tragedy, and a Traffic Spike

NoozWeek’s Top 5 delivers a smashup mashup, a Montecito motorcycle crash, 2 Isla Vista cliff falls, and ‘Gatorboy’ — but it’s really all about us

Noozhawk turned 7 years old on Oct. 16, and there are quite a few people who made that possible: Our families, our friends, our advertisers, our sponsors, our Hawks Club members, our investors, our staff, our contributors, our web development team, our vendors, our fellow members of the Local Independent Online News Publishers Association, and ... you.

It’s a total team effort, and we’re grateful for your support.

I often say that Noozhawk is the hardest we’ve ever worked in our lives, but it’s by far the most fun we’ve ever had. We’re energized by the opportunity to be pioneers.

We also want you to know that we feel your enthusiasm for us. If you’d like to do more, I would ask you to join our Hawks Club. For as little as a dollar a week, you can help us continue to expand our news coverage throughout Santa Barbara County. Click here to make a PayPal contribution, or click here to email me for arrangements for a credit-card charge.

On behalf of my partners, Tom Bolton and Kim Clark, and all of Team Noozhawk, thank you for seven terrific years. We’re excited about our future.

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There were 95,702 people who read Noozhawk this past week. What’s my take on your top stories? I’m glad you asked.

1. One Killed, 2 Injured When Pedestrians Struck by Train on Trestle Near Gaviota

A UC Santa Barbara visiting scholar from China was killed Oct. 11 when she and three companions were caught on a railroad trestle by an Amtrak passenger train on the Gaviota coast. Two of her friends were injured.

Mingyue Yuan, 26, was among a group of four people taking pictures while standing on the bridge at Vista Point, near Arroyo Hondo. According to Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Mike Eliason, the group was surprised by the southbound train about 6 p.m. and scrambled to get off the trestle. They didn’t make it.

Eliason said Yuan was knocked from the trestle and declared dead at the scene.

A man with Yuan suffered major injuries and was airlifted to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital by a Calstar helicopter. Another woman suffered moderate injuries, and was taken to the hospital by an American Medical Response ambulance.

The fourth person, a man, was not injured.

The identities of Yuan’s companions have been withheld, but UCSB said two of them were also visiting researchers.

Yuan had been working in the lab of Carla D’Antonio and Tom Dudley for about two weeks, according to UCSB public affairs director George Foulsham.

D’Antonio is a professor in the Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology Department and the Schuyler professor of environmental studies. Dudley is an associate research biologist with the Marine Science Institute

“Mingyue Yuan had in her short time here made a very strong contribution to the spirit and energy of our lab,” D’Antonio and Dudley wrote in a statement. 

“She was very excited to be getting started on a research project and to build new friendships and collaborations in the United States. She was a vibrant person who had an amazing effect on those who met her as she was so positive and joyful. We are devastated by this tragic loss.”

As soon as we posted Tom Bolton’s story that evening, readers sent Noozhawk on an epic run, piling up just shy of 29,000 site visits in 5½ hours. Reddit was responsible for an impressive share of that traffic, thank you very much.

Meanwhile, at each end of the Union Pacific Railroad trestle, which bridges a deep coastal canyon, No Trespassing signs warn of the dangers. A few days later, while Tom was at the scene to check out the lay of the land, he noticed a man standing on the trestle ... taking a picture.

Boundaries, Dude. Boundaries. (Huynh family photo)
Boundaries, Dude. Boundaries. (Huynh family photo)

2. Local Family’s Parked Cars a Magnet for Errant Drivers

Some of our very best story tips come from readers, but I did a double-take at the one we received from Don Huynh.

Huynh and his family live in the 500 block of North San Marcos Road, a quiet neighborhood of single-family homes in unincorporated Santa Barbara County between Calle Real and Cathedral Oaks Road.

Three times in the last 12 years, motorists have plowed into the family’s vehicles parked in front of their house — twice on the street and once in their driveway. While most of us strive to be defensive drivers, I guess it’s a good thing he’s a defensive parker. His cars apparently are the only protection he has for his house!

The latest incident happened earlier this month. Huynh’s son walked out the front door to go to school one morning and found a Toyota Camry that had crashed into the family’s Prius, knocking it into their Honda Accord. The Prius was totaled.

According to our Gina Potthoff, whom we sent to investigate, there were no skid marks ... and no driver.

“We didn’t even hear it,” Huynh said of the overnight collision.

Now highly experienced in the field of homegrown crash investigation, he called the California Highway Patrol to file a report.

Let’s go out on a limb here and suggest it was a case of impaired driving. It wouldn’t be the first time. In 2011, a truck struck a neighbor’s car with such force that it hurtled into Huynh’s wife’s Toyota 4Runner, totaling it.

Huynh ran outside to see if anyone was hurt, but the driver ran away. He conveniently turned himself into authorities the following day.

Nine years before that wreck, the same 4Runner was hit by a van driver.

“People are driving by like this is a freeway,” said Huynh’s wife’s, Paula Heu. “This street is not straight at all. They really need to put speed bumps or something.” 

The CHP is investigating the latest crash, and it’s a good bet the missing driver will be apprehended.

Here’s hoping something can be done for the Huynhs — and their neighbors — before anyone gets hurt.

That left a mark. (Urban Hikers photo)
That left a mark. (Urban Hikers photo)

3. Motorcyclist Suffers Major Injuries in Montecito Crash

A motorcycle and a vehicle collided in the intersection of East Valley and San Ysidro roads in Montecito’s Upper Village the morning of Oct. 13. The motorcyclist lost.

According to Montecito Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Todd Edwards, the victim was transported to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital with major injuries.

“We packaged him and treated him on scene and loaded him up pretty quick,” he told our Lara Cooper.

The California Highway Patrol is investigating the crash, and further details were not immediately available.

4. Second College-Age Man Injured in Fall at Isla Vista Cliffs

A group of people on an after-midnight stroll on the beach Oct. 12 came across a young man who had apparently fallen from the cliffs above. Was the location ...

a) Normandy?

b) Malibu?

c) Carpinteria?

d) Isla Vista?

Yeah, that was too easy. If Carpinteria has the World’s Safest Beach, Isla Vista certainly has one of the most dangerous — if only because of all the college-age young people who rain down from above.

Twice last week, two men fell from the bluffs along Del Playa Drive. In the aforementioned incident, authorities say the victim was found unconscious with major head injuries consistent with a fall. He was transported to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and listed in critical condition.

A night earlier, another man suffered serious injuries after plunging 35 feet from a balcony.

In case you didn’t know, last week was the first full week of fall quarter classes at UC Santa Barbara, which is home to Shuji Nakamura, the 2014 Nobel Prize laureate for Physics.

What a croc. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)
What a croc. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

5. After Some Wrangling, Santa Barbara Council Votes Against ‘Gatorboy’ Mural

The Santa Barbara City Council is often swamped with meaty issues, like whether to file a lawsuit to block the Highway 101 widening project. But a sometimes under-appreciated purpose of the council is for its elected representatives to act as a final arbiter of the public’s disagreements with municipal agencies.

Enter “Gatorboy,” a 12-foot mural depicting a boy riding an alligator while brandishing a steaming coffee cup. The monochromatic artwork was commissioned earlier this year by the owners of Cajun Kitchen, and painted by Curt Crashaw on a blank wall behind the restaurant at 901 Chapala St.

“It felt like the perfect place that this image could go on was the back parking lot, with a blank, plain, ugly wall,” said Juan Jimenez, co-owner of the eatery, which is open daily for breakfast and lunch.

But all is not well down in the bayou, and a complaint was filed with the city over the mural’s “inappropriateness.” The case made its way to the Historic Landmarks Commission, which wrestled with the design before finding it not consistent with guidelines for permanent art within the El Pueblo Viejo Landmark District, within which Cajun Kitchen is located.

The commission granted temporary approval, though, allowing the mural to be displayed for a year before it must be painted over.

Jimenez appealed the decision to the City Council. Although council members sank their teeth into the cause, they found the taste not to their liking and unanimously sided with the commission.

Councilwoman Cathy Murillo said she was partial to the mural, but concluded it didn’t meet the guidelines.

“Outside of the boundary, I would fight for Gatorboy, too,” she said at the Oct. 14 council meeting.

During the public comment period, our Gina Potthoff reported, Gerardo Ayala, chairman of the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission, suggested that the council consider redefining what constitutes public space under commission guidelines to stave off a repeat performance.

Although noting that the guidelines are clear, Councilman Dale Francisco said he’s open to discussing an update of the rules.

                                                                 •        •        •

Want to know what Hawk Territory looks like? Watch.

(Christopher Schmidt 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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