Highway 101 crash
Death and destruction on the Gaviota coast. (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)

Longtime readers know these Best of Bill columns are a recap of Noozhawk’s Top 5 stories of the previous week. We all want to read good news, but more often than not, our most-read reporting is anything but that.

I’m afraid that’s what you’re getting this week. All I can say is I’m sorry.

According to our Google Analytics, Noozhawk had an audience of 123,882 readers over the last seven days.

What follows is my take on what you were reading most. As a reminder, this is my opinion column, not a news story.

1. 2 Killed, 4 Critically Injured in 6-Vehicle Collision on Highway 101 Near El Capitán State Beach

With colossally tragic timing, a six-vehicle collision on Highway 101 on the Gaviota coast left two people dead, four critically injured and tens of thousands of motorists — and Santa Ynez Valley residents — in a sprawling, hours-long traffic jam the morning of July 15.

As our Giana Magnoli was first to report, the wreck occurred at 7:55 a.m. in the southbound lanes of the highway near El Capitán State Beach, eight miles west of Goleta.

According to California Highway Patrol Officer Shannan Sams, a 29-year-old Santa Maria man was driving a Ford Expedition northbound in the right lane when he apparently lost control of the SUV, crossed the left lane and the unpaved center median, and hit the side of a southbound Ford F-450 pickup truck.

Sams said the Expedition went airborne into a Dodge Grand Caravan, all but demolishing it, before colliding with a Honda Accord, rolling onto its side and skidding across the roadway and onto the shoulder.

A Chevy Bolt plowed into the Expedition while trying to avoid it, he said, and a Toyota Tundra pickup truck ran into debris from the wreckage.

Two of the Expedition’s passengers were pronounced dead at the scene by Santa Barbara County firefighters, while the driver and two other passengers were transported by American Medical Response ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, two of them with major injuries and the other with moderate injuries.

The minivan driver also was rushed to the hospital with major injuries. Emergency personnel at the scene treated three people in the Honda for minor injuries.

No identities were released, pending the CHP investigation and notification of families.

The carnage blocked the southbound lanes for four hours while the victims were tended to, the CHP investigated and the debris was cleared.

Southbound traffic was turned around and rerouted north and diverted to Highways 246 and 154. A friend of mine told me it took him two hours to backtrack from El Capitán Canyon, through Solvang and over San Marcos Pass to Santa Barbara — in complete gridlock.

I passed by the scene on my way to Refugio Canyon around 11 a.m., and it was gruesome. The skid marks across the northbound lanes led directly to the minivan.

The highway was reopened shortly after 1 p.m., although the detour crawl through the Santa Ynez Valley continued for a couple of hours more.

2. Woman Struck, Killed While Trying to Run Across Highway 101 in Santa Barbara

Highway 101 fatality

A trio’s fateful decision ends in tragedy on Highway 101 in downtown Santa Barbara. (Peter Hartmann / Noozhawk photo)

A Temecula woman trying to run across Highway 101 in downtown Santa Barbara in the early morning hours of July 11 only made it halfway. As her two companions looked on in horror, she was struck and killed by an SUV just beyond the center divider.

Nicole Harris-Byrne

Nicole Harris-Byrne, 23, of Temecula, was a recent college graduate and had been married less than a year. (Byrne family photo)

As our Giana Magnoli first reported, three people in their 20s — all from out of the area — were heading to the downtown bar district around 12:50 a.m. when they made the ill-fated decision to cross the freeway on foot, instead of taking the nearby State Street underpass.

California Highway Patrol Officer Shannan Sams told Giana that the trio had made it across the freeway’s three southbound lanes west of Garden Street.

“It looks like all three had climbed over the center divider wall and were going across the northbound lanes,” he said.

One of the pedestrians — later identified as 23-year-old Nicole Marie Harris-Byrne — was hit by a GMC Yukon in the left-hand lane on the northbound side, authorities say.

Santa Barbara fire Capt. Jeremy Denton said her companions, who were not hurt, witnessed the collision, dragged Harris-Byrne to the shoulder and attempted to perform CPR on her until emergency crews arrived.

Denton said she was pronounced dead at the scene.

The Yukon driver immediately pulled over, authorities say. The CHP is investigating the crash.

A GoFundMe account was established to help Harris-Byrne’s family with funeral expenses. According to the organizer, Maddy Byrne of Lake Elsinore, Harris-Byrne and her husband, Josh Byrne, were married last November and are recent college graduates.

As of July 16, nearly $20,000 had been raised. Click here to make an online donation.

3. Police Investigating Suspicious Deaths of Couple in Santa Barbara

A 9-1-1 call about a possible “double suicide” sent Santa Barbara police to a residence on Arbolado Road on the Riviera the evening of July 9. Once there, they found an elderly couple dead inside the house.

As our Janene Scully reported, police Lt. Kenneth Kushner said detectives have opened a suspicious-death investigation.

“There is no current threat to community safety in connection to this incident,” he added.

Kushner said the identities of the couple are being withheld pending notification of family.

Rest in peace.

Click here for suicide prevention information and resources that are available 24/7.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available around the clock at 800.273.8255, as is the county’s 24/7 Behavioral Wellness Access Line at 888.868.1649.

4. Unique Geologic Phenomenon Sparks Small Fire West of Arroyo Burro Beach

Arroyo Burro Beach fire

Santa Barbara’s version of Mount Shasta. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

A local phenomenon known as the “Hope Ranch Volcano” made an appearance July 10, igniting a small brush fire west of Arroyo Burro Beach.

Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Mike Eliason told our Janene Scully that firefighters were dispatched about 11:20 a.m. to the hillside between Arroyo Burro and Hope Ranch beaches.

The small blaze threatened no structures and was quickly contained, although it kicked up a thick column of black smoke.

So, what happened?

“The temperamental geological phenomenon known as the Hope Ranch Volcano awoke Saturday morning, starting a small but smoky vegetation fire,” Eliason said.

It’s not an actual volcano.

Rather than steam generated by molten magma from deep within the earth, it’s the result of oil shale trapped in sedimentary rocks closer to the surface. As pressure heats up, the shale combusts spontaneously and, once exposed to oxygen through fissures, begins to smolder. Eventually, whatever’s up top catches fire.

Until next time.

5. SBCC Superintendent/President Utpal Goswami Resigns, Effective Immediately

Utpal Goswami

Santa Barbara City College President/Superintendent Utpal Goswami: 16 months and done. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk file photo)

The revolving door to the office of the Santa Barbara City College superintendent/president spun out its latest victim July 12 when Utpal Goswami abruptly resigned, effective immediately. He had been in the job all of 16 months.

As our Giana Magnoli first reported, Goswami tendered his resignation following a special Board of Trustees meeting, which included a closed session discussion of a “public employee discipline/dismissal/release.”

The board accepted his offer on a 5-1-1 vote, with chairman Peter Haslund and trustees Jonathan Abboud, Marsha Croninger, Robert Miller and Kate Parker in favor; trustee Veronica Gallardo in dissent; and Anna Everett abstaining.

SBCC spokesman Victor Bryant said Goswami would “continue as a consultant for the next month when requested to assist in the transition and will be paid a portion of the remaining time on his initial employment contract.”

At the time, it was announced that Kathleen Scott, a member of the College Planning Council, would serve as acting superintendent/president until the trustees appointed an interim leader.

Two days later, the board announced it had chosen Helen Benjamin for the interim job. Benajamin, you surely remember, served as interim superintendent/president way back in 2019 after Superintendent/President Anthony Beebe stepped down for health reasons. Beebe had held the post for three years.

Goswami was gracious with his departing words, even if they were woefully short on specifics.

“I am leaving, as when I came in, inspired by the words that drive SBCC … ‘As a public community college dedicated to the success of each student …,’” he said, “and I implore you to keep that ideal at the center of everything that you do.”

Time will tell if this had anything to do with it, but SBCC’s Academic Senate also met July 14, when it was to consider a vote of no confidence in Goswami and trustees Gallardo, Haslund, Miller and Parker. The quintet had opposed the group’s demands for mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for all students and staff.

Given Goswami’s departure, however, the Academic Senate delayed its vote and decided instead to consider a vote of no confidence in more, or even all, of the trustees.

“It got bigger, not smaller,” Robin Goodnough, an Academic Senate member and English as a Second Language professor, said of the faculty’s list of grievances.

As our Brooke Holland reported, the Academic Senate will take the next couple of weeks to compile a comprehensive list of its complaints encompassing “years of inadequate board responses to the campus community members, specifically faculty, students and staff,” in the words of Academic Senate president Raeanne Napoleon.

About the only thing we know for sure? Fall classes start Aug. 23.

•        •        •

Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Health Officer Order Closes Hair Salons, Gyms, Malls for Santa Barbara County.

•        •        •

Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

Dogged determination, or a determined dog: Missing South Carolina Dog Returns Home on Her Own and Rings Doorbell to Be Let In.

•        •        •

Best of Bill’s Instagram

It wasn’t eloquent, but @sadiethealaskanmalamute finally had something to say. I caught it in my Instagram feed.

•        •        •

Watch It

Well, here’s a different take on the robot dance.

YouTube video

(Boston Dynamics video)

•        •        •

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— Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at wmacfadyen@noozhawk.com, follow him on Instagram: @bill.macfadyen, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

Bill Macfadyen

William M. Macfadyen, Noozhawk Publisher

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