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Paula Lopez, White Fire, Elephant Bar, Mallory Dies Top Noozhawk Stories of 2013

Alcohol and DUI played dark roles in many of the most-read stories of the last year

As is so often the case, a look back at Noozhawk's most-read stories of the year is a rather grim undertaking.

To be sure, 2013 had its share of good news and positive stories in Santa Barbara County, but bad news and tragedies of varying proportions dominated among Noozhawk's fast-growing readership.

And with the revelry of New Year's Eve nearly upon us, it's probably wise to re-read Noozhawk's top stories as a sort of cautionary tale, because an unavoidable fact is that alcohol played a key role in too many of them.

Here, from highest to lowest, are Noozhawk's 13 most read stories of 2013:

The Paula Lopez Saga (#1, #4, #7, #8)

Alcohol apparently was at the heart of KEYT News anchorwoman Paula Lopez's troubles in 2013 — from her odd disappearance early in the year to lengthy absences from the newsroom to her arrest last summer for public intoxication.

Her saga accounted for an unprecedented four of Noozhawk's most-read stories.

The Santa Barbara area is home to many celebrities, most of them transplants, but Lopez is a hometown girl through and through. She's beloved by many, both for her on-air work and for her frequent support of community organizations.

Her family traces its lineage back to the early Spanish settlers of the area, she attended local schools, including Santa Barbara High School and UC Santa Barbara, and to many she is the face of Santa Barbara's television station.

Truth is, most of us are fond of Lopez, and feel we know her, even those who've never met her.

It's no surprise, then, that the frantic-if-brief search for her after she went missing Feb. 27 drew a large number of readers to the Noozhawk website.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department launched an all-out search for Lopez, 48, who had last been seen about 10 a.m. that day. She returned home safely late that afternoon.

Sheriff's officials were mum about the reasons for her disappearance, and her family would say only that it was related to a "medical condition."

It turned out that the condition, which Lopez eventually addressed publicly, was alcoholism, for which she sought treatment, but not before being arrested in July for public intoxication.

Through the year, there were long periods when Lopez was absent from KEYT's newscasts, but today she is back at the anchor desk, sporting a new hair style and her familiar broad smile.

(Noozhawk's top story about Paula Lopez received 26,852 page views; stories combined had a total of 64,923 page views.)

An air tanker drops a load of retardant on the White Fire, which broke out on Memorial Day in the Paradise Road area along the Santa Ynez River. (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

White Fire Menaces Paradise Road Area (#2)

The wind-whipped White Fire, which broke out on Memorial Day and forced the evacuation of thousands of residents and campers, charred 1,984 acres in the Paradise Road area along the Santa Ynez River before being contained several days later.

The blaze in Los Padres National Forest drew its name after being sparked by an errant barbecue at the White Rock day-use area.

Nearby residents were quickly evacuated, including those at Los Prietos Boys Camp, but were allowed back into their homes the next evening.

There were no injuries in the wildfire, which cost about $2.89 million in firefighting efforts, according to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

A U.S. Forest Service Hotshots barracks at the Los Prietos Ranger Station compound was damaged and two vehicles were burned, but no other property damage was reported.

(Noozhawk's story about the White Fire received 21,917 page views.)

The former home of the Elephant Bar Restaurant at the Santa Barbara Airport stands empty. City officials are searching for a new tenant. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

Elephant Bar Closes at Santa Barbara Airport (#3)

Goleta’s Elephant Bar Restaurant closed Aug. 21 after 30 years at its location near the Santa Barbara Airport following repeated years of financial losses.

The restaurant at 521 Firestone Road vacated the space it rented from the airport and did not renew its lease, which ended Sept. 30.

Airport director Karen Ramsdell told Noozhawk that a number of inquiries came in regarding the space, and staff sought outside real estate broker services to find a suitable replacement.

As of year's end, no replacement tenant had been announced.

(Noozhawk's story about the Elephant Bar closing received 19,276 page views.)

Mallory Dies' father, Matt Dies, speaks during a memorial service for his daughter, who was fatally injured when she was struck by an allegedly drunken hit-and-run driver Dec. 6 in downtown Santa Barbara. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Mallory Dies Killed by Alleged DUI/Hit-and-Run Driver (#5, #6, #12)

Stories regarding the hit-and-run accident that ultimately claimed the life of 27-year-old Mallory Rae Dies accounted for three of Noozhawk's 13 most-read stories of the year.

Dies was fatally injured just after midnight Dec. 6, when she was struck by an alleged drunken driver while crossing the 500 block of Anacapa Street in downtown Santa Barbara.

Mallory Rae Dies

Raymond Victor Morua, 32, of Santa Barbara, at the time an aide to Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, was arrested a short time later after allegedly fleeing the scene.

Dies suffered major head and other injuries, and died five days later at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital after being taken off life support.

Morua, who originally was charged with felony DUI and hit-and-run charges, is now facing murder charges in the case, and is due back in court on Jan. 15. He was fired from Capps' staff after the crash.

Police said Morua had been drinking for several hours at a private party downtown, and his blood-alcohol level was 0.17 percent, more than twice the limit at which a driver is considered drunk under state law.

Hundreds of people turned out for an ocean-front memorial service for Dies, a UCSB graduate who worked at Tonic Nightclub in Santa Barbara.

(Noozhawk's top story about Mallory Dies received 15,662 page views; stories had combined a total of 38,571 page views.)

Scuba Diver from Oregon Drowns at Padaro Beach (#9)

A 49-year-old Oregon man died Aug. 3 while scuba diving at Padaro Beach in Carpinteria.

William Frank Grgurich of Portland was pulled from the water shortly before noon, and was declared dead at the scene.

Grgurich was found floating in the water and was brought to the shore by several beachgoers.

Witnesses at the scene said Grgurich had no obvious injuries, although he was bleeding from the nose and ear. They also said his scuba gear appeared new.

Chase Blossom of Santa Barbara told Noozhawk he was walking along the beach with his girlfriend and their dogs when two women alerted them to something floating in the surf.

Blossom, who had been visiting his grandparents on Padaro Lane, said he and others discerned that it was a diver, and waded into the surf to pull the man to shore.

(Noozhawk's story about the diver who drowned received 8,996 page views.)

Santa Barbara police officers investigate the scene of an accident near Montecito that severely injured a Canadian couple who were on a motorcycle tour. Martin Maguire, 51, of Montecito, in white shirt, faces up to nine years in prison after pleading guilty to charges related to the crash. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

Canadian Couple Severely Hurt in Alleged DUI Crash (#10)

A Canadian couple enjoying a motorcycle tour of California were severely injured May 29 when they were struck head-on by an SUV driven by an alleged DUI driver near Montecito Country Club.

James Atwood, 63, and his wife, Ellen, 59, from Orangeville in Ontario, Canada, each lost a leg and suffered other major injuries in the collision in the 800 block of Old Coast Highway.

The crash occurred as the pair followed another couple from Ontario on a motorcycle westbound on the roadway.

When the Toyota 4Runner SUV crossed over the center line, the first motorcycle was able to swerve out of the way, but the vehicle slammed into the Atwoods.

Two Good Samaritans are credited with saving the Atwoods' lives by providing initial medical treatment at the scene.

The driver of the SUV — Martin Maguire, 51, of Montecito — was arrested on felony DUI charges, said Santa Barbara police, who added that the suspect appeared to be under the influence of several substances.

Maguire pleaded guilty in October to driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol and special allegations of causing great bodily injury.

He faces up to nine years in prison when he returns to court Jan. 8 for sentencing.

After extensive treatment at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, the Atwoods returned home to Canada, where they are continuing their lengthy recuperation.

(Noozhawk's story about the accident involving the Atwoods received 8,690 page views.)

Santa Barbara police Sgt. Mike McGrew stands near a memorial to Khalid Hurst, who was killed Aug. 17 in a motorcycle crash on Miramonte Drive. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

Motorcyclist Killed in Carrillo Hill Crash (#11)

A former star high school athlete was killed Aug. 17 when he lost control of his motorcycle and crashed while heading up Miramonte Drive.

Khalid Hurst, 36, of Santa Barbara was declared dead at the scene of the accident, which was reported at about 9:30 p.m. on Miramonte near the intersection of Carrillo Street.

The bike scraped along the left sidewalk curb, ejecting Hurst and a female passenger, and continued another 50 feet up the hill, coming to rest on the sidewalk, police said.

Hurst, a 1995 Santa Barbara High School graduate who was a standout football player, was not wearing a helmet and suffered major head trauma in the wreck, police said.

His female passenger, whose name was not released, was taken to the hospital. Police said the woman was wearing Hurst's helmet, which may have saved her life.

Police said Hurst had been drinking prior to the accident.

The coroner's report on his death indicated that his blood-alcohol content was 0.276 percent, more than three times the level at which a driver is considered drunk under state law, according to Kelly Hoover, a spokeswoman for the county Sheriff's Department.

(Noozhawk's story about the death of Khalid Hurst received 8,660 page views.)

Shelby Sim of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce poses with actor Paul Walker, who was killed in a fiery, high-speed crash Nov. 30 in Santa Clarita. (Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce photo)

Actor Paul Walker's Death Felt in Santa Barbara (#13)

When Fast & Furious star Paul Walker died Nov. 30 in a fiery crash in Santa Clarita, his death was felt in Santa Barbara, where he had a home.

Walker, 40, was killed along with a friend when the Porsche Carrera GT they were riding in slammed into a light pole and burst into flames.

Walker, who was a passenger in the friend's car, was in Santa Clarita to attend a charity event for his organization, Reach Out Worldwide. Both men died in the wreck.

Social media in Santa Barbara lit up with tributes to the Mesa resident as news of his death began to spread.

The Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce posted a photo on its Facebook page of Walker posing with his honorary membership plaque.

Homeless activist Ken Williams credited Walker and his business partner, Brandon Birtell, with caring for and assisting those less fortunate. Walker was a featured guest at a 2009 Casa Esperanza benefit.

(Noozhawk's story about the local reaction to actor Paul Walker's death received 7,695 page views.)

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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