From Noozhawk’s very first week back in 2007, our reporting on K-12 education has been one of our most popular topics.

That initial story was about the Santa Barbara Unified School District board, which at the time had not been covered professionally with any regularity for more than a year. Readers took notice.

Of course, the Santa Barbara school district has been a mainstay on our site — to the consternation of the school board at times — but our reporting is necessary, for the trustees, for Noozhawk and, most important, for you.

That goes for the other public school districts our staff covers throughout Santa Barbara County.

But public education is not the only choice that parents have, and our Private & Independent School Guide is an important resource for families considering options for their children.

Our year-round guide, which relaunches each autumn, helps parents compare the academics, curricula and philosophies of our vibrant local private and independent schools; navigate the admissions and financing process; and assess the unique opportunities that often are more tailored to individual student achievement.

Noozhawk’s 2023 guide is out now, and one of its first articles is contributing writer Karin Hill’s feature, “Local Alumni Come Full Circle to Work at Their Former Schools.” There are more stories to come.

Click here for Noozhawk’s 2023 Private & Independent School Guide.

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According to our WordPress analytics, Noozhawk had an audience of 139,011 readers this past week.

What follows is my recap of the Top Five stories you were reading during that period. As a reminder, this is my opinion column.

As you’re about to see, it was a rather dark and bleak week. At least our typically glorious fall weather has returned to brighten — and heat — things up a bit.

1. Woman Dies After Falling Off Cliff Near Arroyo Burro Beach in Santa Barbara

A woman who fell to her death from a cliff at the Douglas Family Preserve the evening of Oct. 3 has been identified as a 57-year-old Santa Barbara resident.

As our Tom Bolton reported, the Santa Barbara County sheriff’s Coroner’s Bureau identified the woman as Micki Tara Hegewald.

Santa Barbara firefighters, police and other emergency personnel responded just before 7 p.m. to the sand below the bluff, about 300 yards east of Arroyo Burro Beach.

The woman was unresponsive, and she was pronounced dead after lifesaving efforts were unsuccessful.

Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Raquel Zick said the cause and circumstances of Hegewald’s death are pending.

An eyewitness who had been watching the sun set told Tom that Hegewald had been “standing precariously at the edge” of the cliff.

She said Hegewald made eye contact with her, then simply stepped forward and “disappeared” from sight as she shouted “No!”

The witness was understandably “quite shaken” by the incident.

Information on funeral services was not available.

2. Civil Lawsuit Accuses Orcutt Financial Adviser of Defrauding Clients of More Than $1 Million

Wealth Enhancement Group in Old Town Orcutt.
Changes are underway at Wealth Enhancement Group’s Old Town Orcutt office. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A Santa Maria Valley business leader has been sued by her former employer for allegedly misappropriating more than $1 million from clients while acting as their financial adviser.

As our Janene Scully was first to report, Julie Darrah is the sole defendant in the lawsuit filed by Plymouth, Minnesota-based Wealth Enhancement Group, which acquired the Central Coast company she co-founded, Vivid Financial Management, two years ago.

Darrah, a 50-year-old Lompoc native, worked out of WEG’s office at 340 E. Clark Ave. in Old Town Orcutt.

The 63-page civil complaint contends that she cultivated a “reputation as a wealthy community patron” while deceiving clients and colleagues.

The filing accuses Darrah of exploiting vulnerable clients and concealing her actions by forming close relationships with them, “gaining their trust by incrementally inserting herself into their lives as ‘the daughter they never had’.”

The lawsuit seeks damages; rescission of the 2021 purchase agreement for Vivid; restitution; disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, well in excess of $1 million; attorneys’ fees; and more.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis by attorneys from Ballard Spahr LLP in Minnesota and Goodwin Proctor LLP in California.

Reached by telephone Oct. 3, Darrah told Janene she was declining to comment about the allegations on the advice of her own attorneys.

Darrah was placed on leave in July and terminated for cause last month.

3. Man Arrested After Shot Fired from Apartment Into Santa Barbara Business

Ready for anything. (Peter Hartmann / Noozhawk photo)
Ready for anything. (Peter Hartmann / Noozhawk photo)

A 29-year-old Santa Barbara man — apparently an ex-con — was arrested Sept. 30 after a gunshot was heard in the 300 block of East Haley Street and a spent shell casing later was found in a nearby business.

As our Tom Bolton reported, Santa Barbara police got the call about the gunshot just after 11:30 a.m.

Cmdr. Kasi Corbett told Tom that the caller reported hearing the shot about an hour earlier, but called it in after finding the empty cartridge of an undisclosed caliber.

She said officers — including SWAT — converged on the block, and investigators determined that the shot had been fired from a nearby upstairs apartment.

No one was injured in the incident, but Corbett said police arrested Adan Abrajan on suspicion of being a felon in possession of ammunition and brass knuckles.

Corbett said more charges were possible, and I’m curious whether something involving a gun might be one of them.

“Ammunition” on its own is largely inert so it couldn’t fire itself, but it’s against the law for a felon to have a firearm. It’s quite the conundrum.

Abrajan was booked into Santa Barbara County Jail on $35,000 bail.

4. Fundraiser Started for Family of Woman Found Dead Near Lompoc

The death of 32-year-old Jazmine Montague has been labeled as suspicious after her body was found along Harris Grade Road near Lompoc last week. (GoFundMe photo)
Jazmine Montague: Rest in peace. (GoFundMe photo)

While Santa Barbara County sheriff’s detectives are continuing their investigation into the “suspicious” death of a 32-year-old Lompoc woman, a GoFundMe account has been established to help her family with funeral expenses.

As our Janene Scully reported, the body of Jazmine Diane Montague was discovered the evening of Sept. 26 in the 4700 block of Harris Grade Road, about 3½ miles north of Lompoc.

Authorities have declared Montague’s death “suspicious,” but detectives have not released any details about the cause or circumstances of how she ended up along the side of the road.

According to a GoFundMe post, Montague was “a devoted daughter, granddaughter, sister & mother who tragically left behind three beautiful children.”

“She touched the lives of everyone she met with her infectious smile, warm heart, unwavering love and comical sense of humor,” wrote De’Vika Stalling, the account organizer and a family friend.

As of Oct. 6, the site had raised more than $8,000. Click here to make an online donation.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact sheriff’s detectives at 805.681.4150. Click here to leave an anonymous tip, or call 805.681.4171.

5. BizHawk: Rebranded Montecito Pavilions Grocery Store Debuts on Coast Village Road

Pavilions in Montecito.
Pavilions is giving the old Montecito Vons a fresh start — thank goodness. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Pavilions celebrated its grand rebranding and remodeling of the old Montecito Vons at 1040 Coast Village Road last week — and not a moment too soon.

As our Josh Molina reported, Pavilions is a division of Albertsons, which acquired Vons in Southern California several years ago.

The Pavilions brand emphasizes organic food, specialty wines, and expanded amenities and options, including fresh choices across various departments.

I haven’t been in to see the finished remodeling project, but what I saw during the transition was a huge improvement.

The old store was just vile, and I hope Pavilions will keep the dirty bare feet and dogs outside the market and will restock its shelves overnight when the store is closed, not during the day.

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Good Reads

Here are six more stories that are well worth your time:

» Most Community Colleges Aren’t Producing Enough Transfer Students; How are Santa Barbara County’s Colleges Doing? — Staff writer Rebecca Caraway opens the books on the student transfer rates at Santa Barbara City and Allan Hancock colleges.

» Two Community Colleges Unveil Plan to Offer Bachelor’s Degree Programs — North County editor Janene Scully does her homework on an innovative and ambitious proposal by Hancock and Cuesta colleges.

» Santa Barbara Wants Restaurants to Go Through Standard Permitting Process for Outdoor Dining — It’s a good thing that staff writer Josh Molina has a strong stomach, given Santa Barbara’s ongoing indigestion with restaurants.

» Goleta Council Delays Decision on Old Town Plan to Reduce Road Lanes, Add Angled Parking — Hold on. Staff writer Serena Guentz parks in Old Town Goleta while the City Council decides what to do, or not do.

» Heat Wave Heading Into Santa Barbara County This Week — It’s hot, but Serena keeps her cool while reporting on this week’s sweltering heat.

» Tom Bolton: Noozhawk Sports Editor Barry Punzal Handing Reins to Diego Sandoval — Executive editor Tom Bolton explains some lineup changes among our Sports staff.  

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Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Woman Killed by Vehicle in Montecito in Apparent Homicide.

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Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

Well, this sure adds up: California’s Math Misadventure Is About to Go National.

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Best of Bill’s Instagram

Two perennial favorites — my grandson, Nico, and my dog, @sadiethealaskanmalamute — are in my Instagram feed again. Along with tacos.

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Watch It

Fashionably late, or just “vintage”?

YouTube video
(Holderness Family Laughs video)

Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at, and follow him on Instagram: @bill.macfadyen. The opinions expressed are his own.