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A lookback at the top stories of 2019 throughout our area

As we countdown to the new year, we're taking a look back at the major news events of 2019.

Here's a look at 20 of the top local stories as we head into 2020.

Sergio's, Shaw's burn down in apparent arson

Just days into 2019, two Santa Maria Valley institutions went up in flames. Shaw's Steakhouse and Sergio's furniture store burned down in an early morning fire on January 3.

Investigators would later determine it was arson. Sergio's relocated to the Santa Maria mall while the owner of Shaw's Steakhouse had plans to rebuild.

February storm tests county's preparedness

Santa Barbara County's creeks and debris basins were put to the test as a strong storm hit the south coast in early February. Creeks overflowed and evacuations were ordered in the Montecito area with the deadly 2018 mudslide still fresh in everyone's memory. At least one home was damaged and Highway 101 was shut down in both directions briefly due to mud and flooding, but the area got away mostly unscathed.

Highway 154 was closed for a prolonged period of time after a culvert was clogged near the entrance to Lake Cachuma.

Rams fall to Patriots in Super Bowl 53

We were there as the Los Angeles Rams electrified the central and south coasts with a run to the Super Bowl. Our own Mike Klan and Dave Alley were at Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta. The Rams ended up losing to the New England Patriots, 13-3 in a night that won't soon be forgotten.

Tragedy strikes in Santa Maria mobile court

On June 21, five people died in a fire and shooting at Casa Grande Estates in Santa Maria. Police say a 64-year-old man shot two neighbors over an ongoing dispute before setting his home on fire with his wife and son inside. At the time, police said the gunman was being evicted from the mobile park.

Lompoc struggles with budget shortfall

Lompoc's budget woes came to a head in June when the city council passed a budget with more than $3 million in cuts. That included leaving several police officer jobs unfilled; a move that faced criticism amid fears of a spike in crime.

Pence visits Vandenberg

A Vice Presidential visit at Vandenberg Air Force Base was the big story on July 10. Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence touched down at the base to talk about space operations and forming the United States space force.

An attempted kidnapping in Buellton raises questions

A bizarre attempted kidnapping case in Buellton grabbed headlines on August 15. A 56-year-old man was accused of trying to take a two-year-old child from a shopping cart in the Albertsons off Highway 246. He pleaded not guilty and has repeatedly insisted he is innocent.

Cannabis legalization faces support, backlash

The battle over cannabis raged on across Santa Barbara County with supervisors hearing from both sides of the debate. Community members voiced concerns about the odor and possible criminal activity, while supporters said it would bring money to the local economy. In August the industry got a boost when Santa Barbara's first recreational cannabis dispensary opened its doors.

No injuries in cargo plane crash landing

Tragedy averted at the Santa Barbara Airport August 25, when a C-130 cargo plane crash landed. Seven people were on board when the plane landed on its belly and tipped to one side. Miraculously no one was hurt.

34 perish in California's worst modern maritime disaster

34 people were killed off the coast of Santa Cruz Island on Labor Day when a fire broke out on the Conception dive boat, owned by Truth Aquatics. Five crew members survived. Investigators still haven't pinpointed the cause and say the investigation could take more than a year. But questions have arisen about the lack of a roving night watchmen and whether or not new standards should be made for the charging of lithium ion batteries.

Lompoc sees rise in homicides

Police were tasked with investigating a rash of homicides in Lompoc. One high-profile murder was the killing of 22-year-old soldier Marlon Brumfield. He was shot and killed on September 8 while on leave from Germany and visiting family.

Member of country musician's road crew dies in crash

On September 18 a member of country star Josh Turner's road crew was killed in a tour bus crash on Highway 46 east in Shandon. The bus had left from Vina Robles amphitheatre after Turner's concert. CHP investigators said the bus went off the highway and eventually fell off a 50-foot cliff.

Oceano Dunes in the spotlight once again

It was a deadly year at the Oceano Dunes where six people were killed in off-roading crashes. In May, a man was arrested after sheriff's deputies said he shot at multiple people during a fight at the dunes. The battle over pollution at the dunes also took center stage. California State Parks decided to fence off 48 acres to meet air pollution requirements, potentially cutting camping in half.

Tragedy at home of Tarzan actor

On October 15, Tarzan actor Ron Ely's Hope Ranch home turned into a crime scene. His son was shot and killed by sheriff's deputies after they say he stabbed and killed his mother.

Target opens in Goleta, Santa Barbara

Shoppers rejoiced in mid-October as the first target opened in Goleta. The full-sized store gave consumers more options to buy clothing, groceries, and furniture. Other businesses in Storke Plaza were also hoping to cash in on the extra foot traffic. The Goleta Target comes months after the City of Santa Barbara's first target opened in April.

A deadly year on Highway 154

Safety on Highway 154 was once again called into question after a Solvang woman and her two young children were killed in a fiery crash on September 25. Investigators allege that a Santa Barbara man intentionally drove into oncoming traffic near the Cold Spring Bridge. He survived and faces three counts of murder.

Santa Barbara Zoo sees loss of multiple animals

It was a year of goodbyes at the Santa Barbara Zoo. Little Mac, the zoo's 48-year-old Asian elephant, died September 26, marking the end of the elephant program there. Less than two months later, on December 5, the zoo said goodbye to its 21-year-old male African lion, Chadwick. Earlier in the year, the zoo also lost its 21-year-old snow leopard - the oldest one in the world - and a five-year-old white-handed gibbon.

Real Fire scorches the hills above El Capitan

We got a taste of fire season on October 18. When the Real Fire broke out along Highway 101 near El Capitan State Beach. The fire grew quickly during strong winds, but was eventually contained to about 420 acres.

Success for local high school football teams

We were on the road November 1 for the Battle of the Shield. Saint Joseph's High School hosted cross street rival Righetti for a league championship in the last game of the regular season. The Knights ended up taking home the title and shield before going on a deep playoff run.

In Ventura County, Pacifica High School became the County's first public school to win a State football championship after a victory over Oakland-McClymonds at the CIF Division 2-A State championship bowl.

Cave Fire comes too close for comfort

Just days before the Thanksgiving holiday, flames broke out in the mountains above Santa Barbara and Goleta. What would later be called the Cave Fire went on to burn more than 3,100 acres. Charring the hillsides along Highway 154 and triggering new concerns about mudslides heading into the wet winter months. Miraculously, no homes were destroyed despite multiple close calls in the mountain communities.

What stories stayed with you?

Throughout 2019, there's been no shortage of news stories in our area. From the shocking and heartbreaking to the inspiring and uplifting, what was your favorite story of the year? Let us know in the comments.

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