Benny Schurmer was a theater arts major at Santa Barbara City College. (Schurmer family photo)
Benny Schurmer was a theater arts major at Santa Barbara City College. (Schurmer family photo)

Noozhawk will be 16 years old next month, we’ve had some turnover and there are more changes afoot.

It’s all part of our evolution and growth, which is ever more important as Santa Barbara County’s news sources continue to disappear around us. Not that we’re complaining.

Looking ahead to our anniversary — which is Oct. 16, by the way — I thought it would be helpful to introduce our staff members to give you a fuller picture of the people behind Noozhawk and why your support is so critical to our success.

I put staff writer Josh Molina in the leadoff spot even though he’s more like our cleanup hitter. Click here for Josh’s Q&A.

And if you like what we’re doing and want to support our work financially, we would be grateful to have you as a member of our Hawks Club. Any amount is appreciated.

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According to our WordPress analytics, Noozhawk had an audience of 137,861 readers this past week.

What follows is my recap of the Top Five most-read stories during that period.

And this is where I remind you that this is my opinion column, not a news story.

1. Man Dies After Late-Night Fall from Cliffs in Isla Vista

A 19-year-old Santa Barbara City College student died the night of Sept. 2 after falling from the bluffs in Isla Vista.

As our Tom Bolton reported, emergency personnel were dispatched around 10:45 the 6700 block of Del Playa Drive, where witnesses said a man had fallen over the cliff.

Santa Barbara County fire Capt. Scott Safechuck told Tom the victim was located on the beach about 40 feet below, and passersby were administering CPR when first responders arrived.

Sadly, he was pronounced dead at the scene, Safechuck said.

On Sept. 5, our Rebecca Caraway reported that the county sheriff’s Coroner’s Bureau had identified the man as Benjamin Scott “Benny” Schurmer of Ojai.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Raquel Zick said the circumstances of Schurmer’s fall and death are under investigation.

According to SBCC, Schurmer was a second-year theater arts major.

“Benny Schurmer will be tremendously missed on our campus and by his family and friends in Ojai,” Theater Arts Department co-chairwoman Katie Laris said in a statement.

“Without exaggeration, he was one of the most positive, warm, kind and talented people I’ve ever met.”

She said Schurmer played the lead in a one-act play in the spring and had a major role in an upcoming production of “Emma.”

Schurmer is survived by his parents, Katie and Glenn Schurmer of Ojai, and siblings Emily, Bryan and Charlie.

Funeral services are pending, but a candlelight vigil was held Sept. 7 at Ojai’s Nordhoff High School, where Schurmer, a 2022 graduate, was active in the drama program and played on the golf team.

GoFundMe account has been established to help his family with expenses and had raised nearly $63,000 as of Sept. 8. Click here to make an online donation.

2. Clouds, Chance of Showers in Santa Barbara County This Weekend; Sunny Skies on Labor Day

Now this is what’s called “overcast.” (Serena Guentz / Noozhawk photo)

The headline says it all, the National Weather Service forecast was pretty accurate, and Labor Day has come and gone. There’s not much more for me to say.

Except this: Daytime high temperatures are expected to be in the 80s this weekend on Santa Barbara County’s South Coast and in the Santa Maria Valley, with highs near 100 in the Santa Ynez Valley and in the upper 70s in Lompoc.

I love September weather.

3. Investigators Reportedly Find Deadly 2019 Conception Dive Boat Fire Started in Plastic Trash Can

Searching for clues in the deadly Conception dive boat disaster. (KTLA News file photo)

A confidential report reviewed by the Los Angeles Times has concluded that the deadly 2019 Conception dive boat fire off Santa Cruz Island started in a plastic trash bin on the main deck.

The Santa Barbara-based vessel with 39 people aboard was anchored at Platt’s Harbor, on the island’s east side, on Sept. 2 on the last day of a three-day scuba diving excursion for the Labor Day weekend.

In the pre-dawn hours, flames ignited on the main deck, quickly engulfing the 75-foot, wooden-hulled boat and trapping the 33 passengers and one crew member who had been asleep below deck.

All 34 perished in the horrific fire, with the Santa Barbara County sheriff’s Coroner’s Bureau determining that the victims all died of smoke inhalation.

The boat’s captain, Jerry Boylan, and four other crew members were sleeping on the top deck but escaped the burning vessel and survived.

As our Tom Bolton reported, according to the Times, investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives conducted extensive research — including building a full-scale mock-up of the Conception’s middle deck — to pinpoint the fire’s point of origin and cause.

The Times said burn tests concluded that the fire sparked in a 23-gallon Rubbermaid Slim Jim trash bin that had been placed beneath the stairs of the main deck.

The fire’s cause has not been determined, the newspaper said.

The chilling findings have added further complexity to the already mysterious circumstances surrounding California’s deadliest maritime disaster.

Earlier investigations had indicated that the fire may have started where a tangled web of lithium batteries had been charging.

The ATF has declined to comment on the leaked report, citing ongoing criminal and civil court proceedings.

Boylan, a 69-year-old Santa Barbara resident, is facing 34 counts of manslaughter in the case. He has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to be tried in federal court next month.

4. Proposed 44-Room Hotel Gets Positive Review for Site Near Santa Barbara’s Amtrak Station

A hotel project proposed for 17-21 W. Montecito St. would be built on the property currently occupied by Ducati Santa Barbara. The site is the former home of the old Caesar’s Auto Supply and a former Harley-Davidson dealership. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)
Ducati Santa Barbara at 17 W. Montecito St. would have to vroom away if plans for a new hotel come through. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

A proposed three-story hotel featuring 44 rooms and a rooftop deck drew mostly positive reactions from the Santa Barbara Historic Landmarks Commission at a recent conceptual review of the project.

As our Josh Molina reported, the site — located at 17-21 W. Montecito St. between Highway 101 and the Amtrak station, and just east of the famed Moreton Bay Fig Tree — is not zoned for housing, presenting a unique challenge for developers.

Architect Clay Aurell, a co-founder and partner with AB Design Studios, took the lead on the project, which includes a 44-space underground garage for valet parking.

To build the hotel, the developer would have to demolish several historic buildings with deep community ties, including the old Caesar’s Auto Supply and a former Harley-Davidson shop that dates back decades.

Ducati Santa Barbara currently occupies one of the buildings.

The commission’s discussion mainly centered on the rooftop deck, with varying opinions on its necessity.

Some commissioners questioned the noise and exhaust fumes from the nearby freeway, while others believed it could become a popular gathering spot.

The project remains in the concept review phase, and it still needs to go before the Planning Commission, whose unelected panjandrums will no doubt have plenty to say about housing over hotels.

5. Police Investigating Stabbing on Santa Barbara’s Eastside

Police are investigating after a man was stabbed on Saturday near Milpas and Ortega streets on Santa Barbara's Eastside.
Wakeup call on Santa Barbara’s Eastside. (Peter Hartmann / Noozhawk photo)

An early morning — and by early morning, I mean 7 a.m. — stabbing on Santa Barbara’s Eastside put one man in the hospital on Sept. 2 and Santa Barbara police on the lookout for a suspect or suspects.

As our Tom Bolton reported, police Sgt. Ethan Ragsdale said officers and emergency crews were dispatched to the intersection of North Milpas and East Ortega streets, near the Alpha Resource Center Thrift Store at 700 N. Milpas St.

Upon arrival, Ragsdale said, they found a man with a single stab wound to the chest.

The man was transported by an American Medical Response ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, where he was said to be in stable condition.

The man’s identity was not disclosed.

Ragsdale said investigators learned that the man was stabbed during some kind of a verbal altercation with at least one other individual.

He added that officers believe the stabbing was not related to gang activity.

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Good Reads

Check out these six stories before you go:

» Four-Story Apartment Project Proposed for West Carrillo Street Near Downtown Santa Barbara — Staff writer Josh Molina has the latest on an apartment complex proposed for the West Carrillo Street “Gateway to Downtown Santa Barbara.”

» Santa Barbara Housing Authority’s New Vera Cruz Village Gives Residents a Place to Call Home — Staff writer Rebecca Caraway is on hand for the opening of the new Vera Cruz Village on East Cota Street across from Antioch University Santa Barbara. I randomly met one of the new residents the next day, and his genuine gratitude, hopefulness and determination were infectious.

» Fatal Honda Point Naval Disaster Not Forgotten; Santa Barbara County Events to Mark 100th Anniversary — North County editor Janene Scully previews the centennial remembrances planned for the anniversary of the deadly 1923 Disaster at Honda Point.

» Vandenberg Space Force Base Conducts Test Launch of Unarmed Minuteman III Missile — Janene stands by for a thunderous test launch of a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile from Vandenberg Space Force Base.

» Beach-Roaming Wheelchairs, High School Aquarium Exhibits Among Coastal Projects Getting Funds — Rebecca follows the funding for a number of well-deserving organizations and projects approved by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. I wonder where all that Coastal Resources Mitigation Fund money comes from?

» Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table Hall of Fame: An Accident Started Greg Patton on His Road to Coaching, Success — Legendary tennis coach Greg Patton is one of seven members of the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table Hall of Fame’s Class of 2023. We have a delightful profile written by the guy who knows him like only a brother can, our own sports columnist Mark Patton.

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Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Pedestrian Dies After Being Struck by Big-Rig on Highway 101 Near Goleta.

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Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

This life after death would be a cool project for the Santa Barbara Cemetery, or even Los Alamos Cemetery, my future home: Volunteers Work to Bring Historic Fort Worth Cemetery Back to Life with QR Codes.

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Best of Bill’s Instagram

My Instagram feed goes heavy into equipment this week, with a face full of spider webs.

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Watch It

It’s Week One of the NFL season, which means the return of my favorite football feature, the ManningCast. If only I had known about these tryouts ahead of time.

YouTube video
(Omaha Productions 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.