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2020 in review on the Central Coast

2020 year in review

2020 was an eventful year- from the COVID-19 pandemic, to murder investigations and graduate student strikes.

These are some of the top stories locally and those showing how the Central Coast has been part of larger national stories..


Palma High School and Diocese of Monterey sued for alleged sexual assault: Attorneys from Jeff Anderson & Associates announced that Palma High School and the Diocese of Monterey are being sued for an alleged clergy sexual assault by Fr. Gerald Funcheon in the mid-80s. The lawsuit claims the school also employed other sexually abusive clergy.

State minimum wage increases: California's minimum wage went up by a dollar at the beginning of the year. The state is expected to reach its cap of $15 per hour in 2023.

Muslim community gets support from locals during Iran tensions: The United States killed the head of Iran's elite Quids military force, Qassem Soleimani, in a Baghdad airstrike, but the local Muslim community told KION that they felt support from the community as events unfolded. The event also led to an anti-war rally in Santa Cruz.

California firefighters help to battle Australian brush fires: Millions of acres burned in Australia during their brush fires at the beginning of the year, and California firefighters went to assist them.

Santa Cruz County woman charged for allegedly throwing blood at senators: A Santa Cruz County woman opposed to mandatory childhood vaccinations faced two felony charges for allegedly flinging a cup of menstrual blood at state senators.

Grad student strike continues at UC Santa Cruz: Hundreds of graduate student instructors and teaching assistants refused to submit grades as part of a strike to demand a cost-of-living adjustment.

Hollister council member censured: Hollister City Council members voted to hand down a censure of City Councilmember Rolan Resendiz after claims that he made inappropriate comments about other council members.

Central Coast prepares after first reports of coronavirus: Coronavirus was first reported to the WHO at the end of 2019, and by January 2020, Central Coast health professionals, even though the risk was considered low. At that point, the virus had infected hundreds of people and killed 17 people in China.

CHP arrests suspect in Prunedale projectile attacks: After multiple incidents that spanned months involving projectiles hitting vehicles around Highway 101 in the Prunedale area, Charles Lafferty was booked on multiple charges, including ten counts of throwing a substance at a vehicle and assault with a deadly weapon. Investigators believe he used a slingshot to hit vehicles with glass marbles.

Santa Cruz decriminalizes magic mushrooms: The Santa Cruz City Council passed a resolution decriminalizing the use, possession and cultivation of psychoactive plants.


First Central Coast coronavirus cases reported: The first two coronavirus cases were reported in San Benito County in early February. The two patients were a husband and wife, and the husband had recently traveled to Wuhan, China.

Badger and coyote spotted traveling together bring comparison to Disney movies: The Peninsula Open Space Trust shared what it said was a first of its kind video showing a coyote and badger traveling together in the Santa Cruz Mountains. They went together through a culvert under a highway in the southern part of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Sexual assault exams return to Santa Cruz County: For more than two years, survivors of sexual assault had to leave the county for an exam, but the board of supervisors approved a facility so they could get the exam in-county.

54 UC Santa Cruz grad student TAs receive letters of dismissal: Graduate student teaching assistants were informed that they were out of a job during a strike in which they withheld grades.


Trial begins for Charles Holifield: Holifield charged for the 1998 rape and murder of 13-year-old Christina Williams in 2017. Eight witnesses were called to the stand of the first day of trial, including Williams' parents.

Voters hit the polls on Super Tuesday: The Monterey County Board of Elections said more people were registered to vote by that point than the 2016 election.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declares state of emergency: Newsom said the measure was intended to get supplies to battle COVID-19 quickly. At that point, the first couple deaths were reported in California.

Bulk buying begins: Household items began running low when people began to fear that they would not be able to leave their homes. Stores began placing limits on items to avoid people clearing the shelves.

First COVID-19 case reported in Santa Cruz County: Health officials said the Santa Cruz County resident had recently traveled from San Francisco to Mexico on a Grand Princess cruise ship.

COVID-19 patients quarantined at Asilomar: 12 COVID-19 patients who had been passengers on a Grand Princess cruise ship were quarantined at Asilomar. After the announcement, Pacific Grove residents shared concerns about the virus spreading. Later, the number grew to 21.

Monterey County schools close: Monterey County announced that all public schools and extracurricular activities would be closed and canceled for the rest of the month.

Six Bay Area counties issue shelter in place orders: The counties expected to close all non-essential services until at least April 7. The counties included Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Mateo, San Francisco and Santa Clara.

Santa Cruz County issues shelter in place: Several hours after six Bay Area counties announced shelter in place orders, Santa Cruz County issued its own. It was the first on the Central Coast to do so.

San Benito County issues shelter in place: Officials said residents would only be able to leave their homes for essential services and activities.

Monterey County issues shelter in place: At the same time, the county confirmed its first two positive cases.

First Central Coast COVID-19 related death: A man in his 60s was the first known person to die of causes related to COVID-19. The San Benito County resident had recently traveled to Thailand and had underlying health conditions.

Gov. Newsom issues statewide stay at home order: Newsom announced that he was issuing an order for people to only leave their homes for essential services and activities along with guidelines outlining what would be allowed.

Holifield found guilty: Charles Holifield was found guilty of the 1998 rape and murder of Christina Williams in Seaside. Her skeletal remains were found in a remote part of Fort Ord seven months after she went missing while walking her dog.


Schools close for remainder of the school year: In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, Newsom announced that public schools would continue with distance learning for the rest of the school year.

Department of Public Health recommends face coverings: The CDPH recommended that Californians should wear them when conducting essential activities outside their homes.

Easter Sunday goes virtual: During the initial shelter in place orders, churches were open online-only, meaning Easter services had to be held virtually.

Santa Cruz County face covering order: In Santa Cruz County, face coverings were no longer just recommended.

Concours d'Elegance canceled: The annual Pebble Beach event was one of many major Central Coast events canceled due to the pandemic. The California Rodeo Salinas was another example.

San Benito County issues face covering order: The order was similar to one issued in Santa Cruz County.

Monterey County issues face covering order: Also similar to the others on the Central Coast.

Body of baby found at Marina dump: The body of an infant was found at the Monterey Regional Waste Management District. The identity of the child, how she died and how her body ended up there were all unknown. The child was found by a worker.


Some California businesses allowed to reopen: In May, new guidelines were released allowing retailers, manufacturers and warehouses to reopen with modifications.

Fire season begins: Fire season began in mid-May, and Newsom announced that the state was preparing to spend millions of dollars on more fire preparation and suppression, even in the midst of a pandemic.

Surfer killed in shark attack near Santa Cruz County beach: Surfer Ben Kelly was killed by a Great White Shark near Sand Dollar Beach.

Four arrested in connection to kidnapping and murder of Tushar Atre: The Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office arrested four people in connection to the kidnapping and murder of Santa Cruz businessman Tushar Atre. Two of the men worked for Atre's cannabis manufacturing company.

Tara Reade's credentials called into question: Tara Reade entered the spotlight when she accused then-presidential candidate Joe Biden of sexual assault, but she was under investigation in Monterey County for allegedly claiming she graduated from a university she did not attend. She acted as a witness for domestic violence cases in Monterey County courts for more than a decade.

Protests erupt following death of George Floyd: Protests broke out around the Central Coast in response to the death of George Floyd while he was in Minneapolis police custody. At the same time, local law enforcement agencies spoke about how "policing must do better."


Sgt. Damon Gutziller killed in Ben Lomond ambush: When deputies with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office responded to a report of guns and bomb making materials inside a van, they ended up at a home in Ben Lomond, where investigators said they were ambushed with gunfire and multiple explosive devices. Gutzwiller was killed and another deputy was injured. The suspect, Steven Carrillo, was arrested later after investigators said he tried to get away through carjackings.

Monterey County man accused of shooting SLO Deputy in the face in Paso Robles: Mason Lira, a Monterey-area man, was accused of killing one person and shooting a San Luis Obispo County deputy in the face. He is also accused of shooting at the Paso Robles police station. After evading capture, Lira was eventually killed in an exchange of gunfire with law enforcement.

Carrillo charged for murder of federal officer in Oakland: Carrillo, the man accused of killing Sgt. Gutzwiller, was later charged by the FBI for the murder of Protective Security Officer Pat Underwood in Oakland shortly before the incident in Ben Lomond. Investigators also presented evidence that Carrillo may be linked to the "Boogaloo" movement.

Statewide face covering order issued: Instead of counties deciding individually whether to implement one, California issued an order and guidance to apply to the whole state.

Salinas Mayor Joe Gunter dies suddenly: Salinas' mayor died after his cancer returned. He died at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital at the age of 73.


Salinas protesters call for investigation into disappearance of Vanessa Guillen: Salinas residents joined the call for a congressional investigation into the disappearance of Vanessa Guillen from Fort Hood in April.

Video of man making racist remarks against Asian family in Carmel Valley goes viral: A video of a man heard saying racist remarks against an Asian family at a Carmel Valley restaurant sparked outrage and got the attention of celebrities, such as Chrissy Teigen. The man, a tech CEO from the Bay Area, later resigned from his position.

#GilroyStrong one year later: The Gilroy community took time to remember the victims of a shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in July 2019. Three people, two of them children, were killed when a gunman opened fire.

Mysterious seed packages show up on Central Coast: People across the country received packages containing mysterious seeds that were believed to be coming from China, and some of them were reported in Santa Cruz County.


River Fire: The River Fire in Monterey County was first reported on Aug. 16 after a dry lightning storm. Cal Fire said it was fully contained by Sept. 4, but it burned 48,088 acres, damaged 13 structures and destroyed 20 structures. The majority of the trails at Toro Park were destroyed, and the park is closed until further notice.

CZU Lightning Complex: The CZU Lightning Complex Fires were reported in Santa Cruz and San Mateo Counties on the same day as the River Fire after a dry lightning storm. The fires burned 86,509 acres by the time the complex was considered fully contained by Cal Fire on Sept. 22. 1,490 structures were destroyed and another 140 were damaged. Most of those were in Santa Cruz County. One civilian died in the area around Last Chance Road. California's oldest state park, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, had major damage due to the fires, including the loss of much of its infrastructure. Many of the redwoods survived.

Carmel Fire: The Carmel Fire was reported on Aug. 18 in Carmel Valley. Cal Fire said it was fully contained on Sept. 4 and that it was caused by a vehicle. It burned 6,905 acres, damaged 7 structures and destroyed 73 structures.

Dolan Fire: The Dolan Fire was reported on Aug. 18 in the Big Sur area, and though the cause is listed as unknown, a man found near the origin of the area is facing arson charges. It has burned 124,924 acres and officials said it will remain at 98% containment until there is enough rainfall. The Big Sur Condor Sanctuary suffered damage as a result of the fire.

Salinas students use Taco Bell for internet access: A photo circulating on social media showing two Salinas elementary school students using the WiFi at Taco Bell to complete their schoolwork ignited a debate locally and beyond about how to address the digital divide and make sure students have access to the internet.


Conception boat fire victims remembered one year later: The victims of a deadly boat fire, including 6 Santa Cruz County residents, were honored on the one year anniversary of a boat fire that killed a total of 34 people off the coast of Santa Barbara County.

Sales of new gas-powered cars to end by 2035: Gov. Gavin Newsom announced an initiative to end the sales of new gasoline-powered cars and trucks by 2035 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. People would still be allowed to own gas-powered cars and sell them on the used car market.

Watsonville man arrested in connection to 2004 murder: A Watsonville resident, 46-year-old Raul Mata, was arrested in Watsonville in connection to the 2004 murder of his stepdaughter in Miami, FL. He died of self-inflicted injuries while in custody.


Dick Bruhn building sold to Taylor Fresh Foods: The Dick Bruhn building in Oldtown Salinas sat empty after a large fire tore through it in February 2016, but in October, it was sold to Taylor Fresh Foods. Reports suggest that the building will be turned into a mixed-use complex.

Watsonville man arrested in connection to wife's murder: 24-year-old Brenda Becerra's was found in Santa Cruz several hours after her husband, 47-year-old Cesar Hernandez, dropped their children off at a family member's house. He was named as a suspect in her murder, and he was later arrested after re-entering the U.S. from Mexico, according to police.

NTSB finds deviation from safety requirements ahead of boat fire: After an investigation, the NTSB was not able to determine the origin or cause of a fire on the Conception that killed 34 people, but the board shared findings showing that there had been deviation from safety requirements.


General election: COVID-19 led to an unusual election. Some of the results took longer because of changes in how people chose to vote.

Gilroy couple accused of "enslaving" man: A Gilroy couple faced human trafficking charges after they were accused of locking a man in their liquor store, forcing him to work 15 hour shifts every day and making him sleep in a storage room.

Overnight stay at home order issued for purple tier counties: The state issued a limited stay at home order that did not allow non-essential work and gatherings between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.


Charges dropped against former suspect in deadly crash: The charges against the initial suspect in a crash that killed 38-year-old Rosie Figueroa were dropped when DNA indicated that he was the passenger at the time of the crash, not the driver.

Newsom announces regional stay at home order: Gov. Newsom announced that the state would be split into five regions, and a region would be subject to a stay at home order if ICU capacity dropped below 15%. Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito County are all under stay at home orders.

Vaccines arrive on the Central Coast: Both Pfizer and Moderna received emergency use authorization from the FDA for their COVID-19 vaccines, and health officials are now administering vaccines.

California News / Monterey County / San Benito County / Santa Cruz County / Top Stories

Avery Johnson

Avery Johnson is the Digital Content Director at KION News Channel 5/46.


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