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A look back at the top stories of 2020 throughout our area

2020 was an unforgettable year filled with major news events, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the year comes to a close, we take a closer look at the top local headlines from 2020.

2020 brings major developments in Conception dive boat fire investigation

The new year brought new lawsuits in the Conception dive boat fire investigation. On Jan. 13, lawyers representing families of several victims announced a federal lawsuit against the owner of the boat, Truth Aquatics. 34 people died in the early morning fire on Labor Day 2019.

2020 would prove to be a major year for the investigation and for those grieving. On the one year anniversary of the fire in September, local leaders unveiled a permanent seaside memorial in Santa Barbara.

In October, the NTSB released its findings and probable cause for the fire. Investigators cited inadequate safety procedures and the lack of a night watch. In December, the captain of the boat was indicted on federal manslaughter charges.

Kobe Bryant killed in helicopter crash while traveling to Ventura County

The NTSB found itself in charge of another high-profile investigation in late January when a helicopter carrying NBA legend Kobe Bryant crashed in Calabasas while headed to Ventura County. Fans flocked to Mamba Sports Academy in Newbury Park to remember the superstar. Bryant was active in the community. He had also visited the South Coast over the years while hosting a youth basketball camp at UCSB.

COVID-19 pandemic changes life as we know it

By the end of February, it became clear the coronavirus was serious. On March 6, the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed locally in Ventura County. San Luis Obispo County confirmed its first case more than a week later on March 14. Santa Barbara County confirmed its first case the next day on March 15.

One of the largest outbreaks was at the Lompoc Federal prison, prompting protests from family members of inmates.

Business owners were hit hard. Restaurants, shops, and hotels were shuttered when Governor Gavin Newsom issued a stay-at-home order in March. Once bustling tourist towns turned into ghost towns.

In May, things changed. Restaurants and other businesses were allowed to reopen for the first time with restrictions. It provided much-needed relief for many small business owners, but it didn't last forever. Cases began surging in July and then again after Halloween. At first, Governor Newsom issued an evening curfew across the state, but then later released plans for a new regional stay-at-home order which almost immediately impacted the Tri-County area.

While life as we knew it disappeared, the COVID crisis also brought out the best in the community. A San Marcos High School student and a group of Gen Z teens formed Zoomers to Boomers, a free grocery delivery service for seniors. It started small, but ended up expanding nationally.

Communities up and down the coast join Black Lives Matter movement

In May, the focus shifted from COVID to the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Communities up and down the coast rallied for police reform. The demonstrations remained largely peaceful, however, one evening ended with damage at the Santa Maria Town Center Mall.

In another protest, law enforcement used tear gas to disperse a crowd in San Luis Obispo. In Santa Barbara, a mural created in Floyd's honor was vandalized, but quickly restored.

One July protest in San Luis Obispo would eventually go on to make national headlines after the demonstration ended up on Highway 101. The organizer, Tianna Arata, was later arrested, prompting more protests. The case later went to court. In December, a San Luis Obispo County judge removed District Attorney Dan Dow from prosecuting the case, saying he had a conflict of interest.

Search warrants served in Kristin Smart disappearance

Kristin Smart

In late May, the community marked 24 years since Kristin Smart disappeared. The Cal Poly freshman vanished after walking to her dorm room in 1996. 2020 saw some of the largest developments in the case in years. In February and again in April, search warrants were served in San Luis Obispo County, Washington State, and at the home of Paul Flores in San Pedro. He was the last person to see Smart. Flores was briefly questioned, and some items were taken for evidence.

Sheriff's deputies ambushed, manhunt ensues in Paso Robles

On June 10, a terrifying wake up call in Paso Robles. Two San Luis Obispo County sheriff's deputies were ambushed downtown. One was shot and seriously hurt. The gunman was quickly linked to a deadly shooting at the nearby Amtrak station. The shootings led to a city-wide manhunt and several possible sightings which prompted shelter-in-place orders for those who lived in the area. The gunman was eventually killed in a shootout with police the next day. Several more officers were injured in the gun battle, but all of them recovered.

Avila Fire burns dangerously close to homes, beach resorts

In mid-June, the Central Coast got a taste of fire season when the Avila Fire broke out in Shell Beach. The flames spread quickly and burned more than 400 acres. Firefighters issued evacuations and shut down Highway 101 as the fire burned dangerously close to homes and popular beach resorts. Incredibly, only one structure was damaged. Investigators later said the fire was started intentionally.

One year later, investigators determine Cave Fire was started intentionally

On Nov. 25, exactly one year after the Cave Fire broke out in the mountains above Santa Barbara, investigators determined the fire was also started intentionally.

Metal monolith appears on Atascadero hiking trail

Just when we thought 2020 couldn't get any stranger, a monolith popped up on Dec. 2 in Atascadero. The next day, vandals tore it down, but the creators quickly made a new one. The group behind the strange metal object wanted to create a symbol of resiliency and coming together during a year when it's never been more important.

What were the stories that stayed with you this year? Let us know on social media.

2020 Year in Review
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Lindsay Zuchelli

Lindsay Zuchelli is the Executive Producer at News Channel 3-12. To learn more about Lindsay, click here.


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