Friday, September 5, 2008

Goleta teen found dead


BY COLBY FRAZIER
DAILY SOUND STAFF WRITER

The body of a 14-year-old Goleta girl who had been missing since Monday night was discovered yesterday in the brush along Highway 101. California Highway Patrol officials said the investigation is being considered a hit-and-run collision.
Authorities confirmed the body was that of Christina Veloz-Payne at 5 p.m., about five hours after a Caltrans landscaping contractor discovered her body along the right shoulder of the highway, between a guardrail and the perimeter fence for Calle Real.


Friends of the missing girl, who gathered at the scene on Calle Real between Mendocino Road and Plumas Avenue, told the Daily Sound people regularly cross the freeway there, possibly to cut the distance between nearby Dos Pueblos High School and the Camino Real Marketplace.
“Everybody goes across the freeway to go to DP,” said Judi Rojo, the grandmother of several of Christina’s friends, who also lives around the corner from the victim’s house on San Milano Drive. “I’m sure she was crossing the freeway. That’s how they get back and forth.”
Sgt. Matthew Dawson, a highway patrol spokesman, said the girl’s body had been thrust into the brush in such a way that he highly doubted someone put her there.
“That didn’t happen,” he said. “She went into the bushes at an angle which is consistent with forward motion and a lot of forward motion.”
Dawson said the girl suffered several broken bones, including a badly broken leg — signs he said are consistent with being struck by a vehicle.
The investigation was initially headed up by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, but was eventually turned over to the highway patrol.
The deceased girl’s mother, Patricia Payne, broke into tears and clasped her hands to her face while speaking with Sheriff Bill Brown at the scene.
She could be heard pleading with detectives to tell her if the body was her daughters.
Dawson said the person who struck Christina may not have known what happened, or failed to discover what had been hit because the body was flung so deep into the brush.
“It should be noted that it is not known if the driver of the vehicle knew they had struck a person or if they returned to the scene initially and found nothing there,” he said.
Christina was reported missing on Tuesday. Sheriff’s department officials said the girl was last seen by friends just prior to Goleta’s Labor Day fireworks show at Girsh Park.
Yvonne Munoz, one of Rojo’s granddaughters who knew Christina well, said she was one of the last people to see Christina alive.
Munoz told the Daily Sound she was with Christina at Girsh Park when she insisted she needed to walk the roughly 2.1 miles to her home.
“She just kept saying she’s got to go, she’s got to go,” Munoz said before breaking into tears. “She just started walking.”
Munoz said Christina did not explain why she was so adamant about walking home, though Rojo speculated it was because the girl’s cell phone was out of batteries, and she wanted to charge it.
“She never spent a day without calling everybody,” Rojo said.
Rojo said her granddaughters, who live in Ventura, became friends with Christina in that city. She said the girl lived there with her father prior to his death, and afterwards moved to Goleta to live with her mother, who happened to live around the corner from Rojo.
As a result, Rojo said Christina was able to remain close friends with her granddaughters.
According to Dawson, the highway patrol rarely hears about people illegally crossing the highway where the body was found, though it isn’t unheard of. He said it’s more common for people to take a shortcut by crawling through a drainage ditch beneath the highway that is located just north of where the girl’s body was found.
Rojo, who has lived in the neighborhood for decades, insisted accidents have happened on the highway before, and in the past, local officials have discussed the possibility of building a footbridge over the high-speed roadway.
“Every time something happens they’re going to put a walkway over the [highway] and then nothing happens,” she said.
A Caltrans spokesman said he had no knowledge of such discussions, nor did an official in the Santa Barbara County Public Works Department.
However, Rosemarie Gaglione, a capital improvement program manager for the City of Goleta, said the city intends to conduct studies in the near future on the feasibility of constructing a full-fledged traffic overpass in the area. But she stressed the city’s interest in such a study is not due to safety concerns, but rather on improving traffic circulation in the area.
“This is the first I’ve heard about that kind of behavior going on,” Gaglione said.
Santa Barbara School Districts spokeswoman Barbara Keyani said Dos Pueblos High School Principal Mark Swanitz told her yesterday that he has never heard of students crossing the highway to visit the Camino Real Marketplace.
Keyani said the half-hour lunch hour at the school is too short to permit students to cross the highway and train tracks twice and make it back in time for class.
Goleta Mayor Michael Bennett said in a statement he was “deeply saddened” to hear of Christina’s death.
“This is tragic news for our community and our hearts go out to Christina’s family and friends,” he said. “A loss such as this — no matter the circumstances — is devastating.”
Highway patrol officials urge anyone with information about the circumstances of Christina’s death to contact Officer Martin Sanchez at 967-1234.

3 comments:

storke said...

This is very sad... my heart goes out to the relatives.

A footbridge has many times been discussed, for example, in the process that led to the Camino Real Marketplace itself. It is pretty shocking that our elected officials have dropped the ball completely; indeed a fair amount of the mitigation money went to widening the northbound onramp from Storke to 101 to 2 lanes.

Further, a bus system was promised when the Marketplace was approved. Where is that?

Anonymous said...

WE WANT THE FOOTBRIDGE!

Anonymous said...

Our heart goes to you Patricia & family your Friend Edgar Loza & Fam. Iris Vargas