Cate School
Servons. (Jade Martinez-Pogue / Noozhawk photo)

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According to our Google Analytics, Noozhawk had an audience of 103,825 readers this past week. What follows is my own take on the Top 5 stories you were reading during that period.

And by “my own take,” I mean my opinion column. I have quite a few things to say in this week’s Best of Bill column, which I write in my civic capacity as Noozhawk’s publisher.

Whether you agree or disagree, your responses are always welcome on Noozhawk. Click here to leave me one.

1. Investigation Into Cate School Finds Decades of Alleged Sexual Misconduct by Teachers, Staff

A damning, 37-page independent report details a torrent of sexual abuse of Cate School students by faculty at the prestigious Carpinteria boarding school over a period stretching back more than 50 years.

As our Jade Martinez-Pogue reported, the school hired Berkeley-based Oppenheimer Investigations Group LLP to dig into accounts of faculty sexual misconduct after former students came forward to report alleged incidents.

The investigation was announced in October 2020, nearly eight months after the private high school fired vocal music director Da’Jon James, who had been accused of sexual misconduct in 2019 and counseled by the school about his behavior in the interim, according to the Oppenheimer report.

James was arrested last July in Colorado following allegations of sexual assault committed on female students at his new school, the private K-12 Dawson School in Lafayette, north of Denver.

Noozhawk previously reported that the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department had launched its own investigation of the school at 1960 Cate Mesa Road last April. That inquiry was begun after “mandated reporters outside of the school” spoke on behalf of sexual-assault survivors, which at the time included current and former students.

The sheriff’s report has since been submitted to the District Attorney’s Office for review, Lt. Robert Minter told Jade.

According to the Oppenheimer report, investigators reviewed any alleged sexual misconduct and harassment between Cate faculty and students, whether Cate administrators knew about such conduct and, if so, how the school responded.

In addition to James, six other individuals were named in the report: Andy Campbell, Robert Kusel, Martin Lowenstein, Scott McLeod, David Mochel and Kirk Phelps. All were teachers and/or administrators, and McLeod was Cate’s headmaster for 18 years between 1975 and 1993.

Ten other faculty members were investigated as part of the report but their names were withheld. One of them taught at the school as long ago as the 1960s.

According to Oppenheimer investigators, the decision to name or not name individuals was based on the severity of the misconduct, whether there was a pattern of misconduct with multiple students, whether the conduct involved physical or emotional coercion or grooming behavior, the number of reports made about the individual, the presence of independent corroborating evidence, and ongoing current risk to Cate students or students elsewhere.

You can click here for the full report, but it is appalling to read.

The responses by many of the named individuals are sophomoric and risible — or would be but for the fact these adult alleged predators were preying on impressionable adolescents living away from home, probably for the first time.

As a parent of two Cate alumni myself, I found the comments from school officials to be particularly lame and insulting.

“Unearthing the traumatic events experienced by community members is devastating for all of us, most of all for the survivors,” Cate trustees said in a statement. “In response to this report, we ask that each of us act with the grace, compassion and consideration of privacy that reflects the school’s spirit of care toward all of our community members.

“Social media’s anonymity and public nature can be particularly harmful in its insensitivities to those we are trying hardest to protect — our students, past and present.”

Really? Social media? That’s what they’re concerned about? Where is the justice for those they had the responsibility to protect all those years?!

And then there’s Assistant Headmaster Jay Dorion who, when asked why James was kept around for so long after he was reported, acknowledged the awkwardness of hindsight.

“I know what it looks like now,” he told investigators. “It looks like that to me now, and I fully understand the progression.”

In hindsight, Dorion probably should have stopped right there. But he didn’t.

“Part of what we were trying to do is work with a new faculty member and one that we felt had great promise, and trying to parse out the intention around his contact with students …,” he continued moronically.

“In the moment, I felt we were trying to be very responsive to their concerns, and to a young man who seemed like he was really trying.”

Again, who has the higher priority here?

I wonder how many parents paying upward of $70,000 a year for a Cate education would be as accommodating about “a young man who seemed like he was really trying.” And didn’t their children also have “great promise” when they entrusted them to Cate’s care?

It’s not clear just what Cate plans to do with the Oppenheimer report, but a thorough house cleaning with a tanker truck load of disinfectant would be a good place to start.

Not surprisingly, Headmaster Ben Williams and other school officials did not respond to Jade’s requests for comment.

To its credit, the school says it has established a fund to assist alumni and former students “desiring reimbursement for therapy related to sexual abuse” during their time at Cate. It also arranged for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) to run a hotline.

Alumni, parents and current students and faculty have established the Cate Organizing Team to try to ensure accountability and help prevent future abuse.

2. 4 People Injured, 2 Critically, in Crash on Highway 101 Near Buellton

Highway 101 crash

A Highway 101 crash injured four people when the car slammed into a tree along the side of the roadway north of Buellton. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

A late-night crash on Highway 101 north of the Highway 154 interchange in the Santa Ynez Valley injured four people, two of them critically.

As our Tom Bolton first reported, the Aug. 30 wreck was called in around 11 p.m. in the Woodchopper Hill area, about two miles north of where Highway 154 intersects with the freeway at Zaca Station Road north of Buellton.

Santa Barbara County fire Capt. Daniel Bertucelli said a sedan slammed into a roadside tree after the driver lost control of the car.

He said two of the vehicle’s occupants suffered major injuries, another had moderate injuries and the fourth had minor injuries.

All four were transported by American Medical Response ambulances to local hospitals. No identities were released and their medical conditions were not disclosed.

The California Highway Patrol is investigating the circumstances and cause of the single-vehicle crash.

3. Deputies Arrest Santa Maria Man in Attempted Rape in Goleta Parking Lot

A 28-year-old Santa Maria man was arrested as a suspect in a Dec. 30 attempted rape in the parking lot of a Goleta grocery store. The survivor was able to fight off the attacker before Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies arrived.

As our Jade Martinez-Pogue reported, deputies converged on the Albertsons parking lot at 5801 Calle Real after witnesses spotted the assault around 10 p.m.

Sheriff’s Lt. Robert Minter said the man’s target fought back, forcing him to run away.

Deputies established a perimeter around the area and commenced a search with the help of a K-9 team. Minter said they quickly located the suspect behind the market — naked and hiding under a trash dumpster.

And it was cold, too. That ignominious ending must have been quite the ego deflator.

Minter identified the suspect as Miguel Angel Hernandez-Garcia and said he was arrested and booked in County Jail on suspicion of attempted rape.

Bail was set at $1 million, and he was still jailed as of Jan. 7.

4. COVID-19 Testing Confusion Roils Santa Barbara Unified School District

Earl Warren Showgrounds

Just you wait. (Peter Hartmann / Noozhawk photo)

Chaos and confusion have been hallmarks of the nearly 3-year-old coronavirus crisis. And then there’s the Santa Barbara Unified School District.

As our Josh Molina reported, the district wanted all of its students to be tested for COVID-19 before classes resumed Jan. 3 after the winter break.

Instead of clearly articulating just what was expected, the district communicated exceedingly mixed messages, which led to decidedly mixed results.

In various iterations, the district called the testing “completely voluntary,” “highly recommended” and “requested.”

What’s more, its three high schools — Dos Pueblos, San Marcos and Santa Barbara — all distributed at-home testing kits differently.

Students and families who didn’t get the message about the kits before the break instead descended on Earl Warren Showgrounds over the weekend to get tested at the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department’s popup center.

That didn’t go so well, with very long lines of would-be test-takers lined up for hours.

And hours.

And hours.

Several parents told me they went back multiple times before they decided to just take the queue and wait. One mom called it “a three-ring circus run by incompetent clowns.”

At least it wasn’t raining.

Superintendent Hilda Maldonado said 17,000 tests had been distributed as of Jan. 2.

5. Driver Injured in Single-Vehicle Crash on Hollister Avenue in Goleta

Hollister Avenue crash

A Hollister Avenue crash injured the driver when the car slammed into a wall along the side of the street in Goleta. (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)

A BMW driver suffered minor injuries the afternoon of Jan. 2 when the car jumped the center median in the 6400 block of Hollister Avenue, crossed the two westbound lanes and ran into a wall at the Willow Springs Apartments complex just west of Aero Camino.

As our Tom Bolton reported, county fire Capt. Daniel Bertucelli said the driver, whose identity was not disclosed, was transported by American Medical Response ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

The Sheriff’s Department is investigating the circumstances and cause of the wreck.

•        •        •

Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? At Least 1 Dead, 3 Wounded in Shooting on Santa Barbara’s Lower Eastside.

•        •        •

Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

As with the Kristen Smart case, amateur sleuths strike again: Father and Son Help Crack Unsolved 1969 Bank Robbery.

•        •        •

Best of Bill’s Instagram

I don’t know what the rest of 2022 portends, but I’m sure eating well in its early days. It’s in my Instagram feed.

•        •        •

Americans Held Hostage: Day 130

Tuned in, and tone daft.

Have you heard the news? @SecBlinken is now on @Spotify! Check out his latest recommended playlist, listen to some tunes from around the world, and follow the Secretary here:

— Department of State (@StateDept) January 2, 2022

•        •        •

Watch It

Our Josh Molina interviewed me for his podcast, Santa Barbara Talks with Josh Molina. He was gracious enough to feign interest all the way to the end.

YouTube video

(Santa Barbara Talks with Josh Molina video)

•        •        •

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

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