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Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story

The following article was posted on December 27th, 2012, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 13, Issue 42 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 42

Busy is an understatement

This year was jam-packed with headline-worthy news

BY AMY ASMAN

January 2012 was a foreboding month: KCOY/KKFX cut its staff of reporters, producers, and videographers to the bone; two local homeless shelters abruptly closed their doors; and a Santa Maria police officer shot and killed one of his brothers in blue.

It’s no wonder, then, that the year that followed included some of the biggest shakeups in recent memory. The death of SMPD officer Albert Covarrubias, Jr., was the first in a string of officer-involved shootings in Santa Barbara County. The demise of Lompoc Housing and Community Development Corporation triggered audits of all different shapes and sizes. And don’t forget—it was an election year, too.

So, take a deep breath, and relive with the Sun the year that was. The good news is things are looking up for 2013.

Contact Managing Editor Amy Asman at aasman@santamariasun.com.


Patino wins big:
On Nov. 6, voters elected longtime Santa Maria City Council member Alice Patino (center) as mayor. She’s the city’s first female mayor. Other big election news included the eventual election of Terri Zuniga to City Council and the upset of Joni Gray—Santa Barbara County’s 4th District Supervisor for 14 years—by Santa Maria farmer Peter Adam.
PHOTO BY ALLEN ACHTERBERG

What’s up in Lompoc?
In early November, the Sun printed a cover story looking into some questionable goings-on at the Lompoc penitentiary, including the alleged suicide of federal correctional officer Ryan Vargas (pictured), who was found dead outside of the prison on Feb. 10. Prison officials and the Santa Barbara County Coroner’s Office ruled his death a suicide by a self-inflicted gunshot, but the Vargas family has numerous questions about the official story. The FBI is still investigating his death.
PHOTO COURTESY OF HERB VARGAS


Thank you, soldiers:
Hundreds of military veterans attended the first-ever Stand Down Santa Barbara County event at the Santa Maria Fairpark on Oct. 13. Volunteers served food, passed out supplies, and helped veterans sign up for various free and low-cost services. Pictured are volunteers setting up a tent.
PHOTO BY ALLEN ACHTERBERG

Boats are the new mules:
Panga boats, including this one discovered on a desolate beach a few miles north of Piedras Blancas, became the new favorite vehicle for smuggling marijuana—and people—farther and farther north up the California coast. As of December, the U.S. Border Patrol reported 64 panga sightings off Southern California in fiscal year 2012, versus 57 sightings in fiscal year 2011. The boats have been found up the coast as far as San Francisco.
PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER


Gay marriage in the spotlight:
Proposition 8, the bill that constitutionally defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman, continued to make its way through the courts this year. In June, a three-judge panel representing California’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal district judge’s 2010 ruling that the statewide ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. As of press time, the U.S. Supreme Court had yet to announce whether it would review the case.
FILE PHOTO

New digs:
On May 22, doctors, nurses, and other Marian Regional Medical Center staff members started moving patients into the new hospital, which features new imaging and X-ray equipment, robotic surgical systems, a 21-bed newborn intensive care unit, and more.


Things fall apart:
Santa Maria Police Chief Danny Macagni held a press conference on Jan. 28, telling reporters the on-duty shooting death of officer Albert Covarrubias, Jr., by his friend and fellow officer Matthew Kline, had been unavoidable. The shooting was the first of eight officer-involved shootings in Santa Barbara County this year. Covarrubias’ death spurred multiple investigations and lawsuits, culminating in Macagni’s retirement.

Shuttered shelter:
Lompoc Housing and Community Development Corporation (LHCDC) shuttered the Bridgehouse homeless shelter in mid-January with very short notice to its residents. The decision kicked off a year of drama for the nonprofit, which went bankrupt in 2011, and the various agencies that funded it: All of LHCDC’s properties were either foreclosed upon or sold. The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors ordered auditor-controller Bob Geis to conduct an audit of the nonprofit. As of press time, officials were still sifting through the mess LHCDC left behind.
PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER


Bad news:
Cowles California Media Company, parent company of KCOY/KKFX, laid off nearly a dozen of its Santa Maria-based employees on Jan. 12, including meteorologist Jim Byrne (pictured). The news affiliate then started broadcasting news from its main office in Salinas. Byrne sued Cowles for breach of contract in the spring, and the parties settled their dispute in October.
PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER