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Popular teacher, double shooting, hospital sale, mall fall, among top stories

The top online stories in The Times-Advocate in 2018 ranged from a community’s caring for one of its most beloved teachers, to a deadly double shooting on Grand Avenue, to the sale of Palomar Hospital, to the election of a new mayor.

Although one might expect that the same stories that stirred our internet readers’ interest in 2018 was pretty much the same as roused the interest of our dead trees’ edition, one can never tell for sure. So, in this report all we are claiming to know is what our online readers found the most compelling for the year now ending.

The top story for 2018 “Popular teacher wants to move on after firing,” when chronicled the life after employment for the beloved Darwin Bree, who gave 50 years of his life to teaching kids at Orange Glen High School. The story, which ran, June 7, described how after Bree received an impersonal termination letter telling him that his services were no longer desired as a substitute teacher, said, “It’s like a knife in my heart.” 

Follow up stories relayed how the high school district, reacting to a firestorm of criticism from the community, followed up with Bree and, while not reinstating him, did take out any negative references from his file. Later the whole community celebrated his retirement at a fete at Swami’s. Mr. Bree felt the love from dozens of old students and associates. 

The second most read story of 2018 was “Two shot, one dead during Saturday morning shooting on Grand Ave,” which relayed the story of a shooting on September 22 that took place on the sidewalk outside of a popular watering hole, Pounders, in which two men were shot, one of whom died. The extreme irony was that the man who died was accidentally shot by his brother, who was trying to kill someone else. As would be disclosed in the fifth most read story (“Murder suspect had been deported six times”) the shooter,  Manuel Eliseo Martinez, 32, was well known to immigration authorities.

The third most read story was “Serious injury accident, Lincoln Harding” which was printed on October 17 and recounted how “On 10/16/18 at 3:23 p.m., Escondido Police and Escondido Fire responded to a vehicle collision at Harding St. and Lincoln Ave. Upon arrival, units reported one of the vehicles had rolled over and both vehicles had caught fire. The occupants were moved to safety while the Fire Department extinguished the flames. All of the involved occupants were transported to Palomar Medical Center for injuries. One of the vehicles, a 1972 Volkswagen, was occupied by a 19-year-old male driver and a 20-year-old female passenger. The female passenger was transported to PMC with significant life-threatening injuries.”

The fourth most read online story was “Last year for iconic tree?” which ran December 16, and showed what might be the last holiday season when the Christmas tree at the top of the old hospital would be seen all over town, as it has done for decades.  The old building will be demolished eventually to make way for residential housing.

The sixth most read story for the year was “Old Hospital sold for 18 million, homes commercial to replace” which ran February 13, and revealed that the nine story tower that has been the tallest building and most recognizable landmark in the city would be torn down. The hospital, which had closed in 2015 when the new Palomar Medical Center opened, was sold by Palomar Health to Integral Communities for $18 million. 

The seventh most read article was “Man falls from 2nd story floor at Westfield North County”  which ran February 1. It told how a man who was reported as a suspicious person at the Apple store became agitated and ran, falling across the second story railing onto the first floor. Authorities determined he had committed no crime and he was taken to the hospital for treatment—still conscious.

The eighth most read story was “McNamara takes lead in contest with Mayor Abed,” with the startling development that Abed, who had been leading since election night, was slowly losing ground and then being superseded as provisional ballots and mail in ballots were counted over the course of two weeks. Suddenly the city’s political landscape underwent a tremendous earthquake!

The ninth most read story was “Deputy shoots Escondido man after he discharges gun on fairgrounds,” which recounted an incident that took place September 3 in Del Mar. The man, who tried to buy tickets to that evening’s Ice Cube concert, became enraged and pulled out a semi-automatic handgun, which he fired.  A deputy returned fire and shot Daniel Elizarraras of Escondido four times, who survived and was arrested. He was arraigned at Scripps Memorial hospital on September 17, when the court traveled to his location.

The tenth most read story was “Fatal traffic collision, Valley Parkway,” which was drawn from an Escondido Police Department bulletin on April 7 that reported:  “On April 6, 2018 at about 11:29 PM, Escondido Police Dispatch received a report of a two-vehicle head-on collision on Valley Parkway north of Beven Drive. Police Officers and Fire Department Medics responded to the area within minutes. The two vehicles involved were each occupied by adult male drivers only, no passengers. The two vehicles involved were a 2005 Honda Accord and a 1996 Toyota Tacoma. The driver of the 2005 Honda Accord, a 36-year-old male, was transported to Palomar Medical Center and treated for non-life threatening injuries. The driver of the 1996 Toyota Tacoma died at the scene of the collision. The deceased was 57 years old.”

The 11th most read article was “Escondido family in horrendous minivan accident in Utah: 12-year-old boy dies” which relayed the tragic story of the Speer family, whose 12-year old  boy Alex died on July 30 when the minivan they had been traveling in drove off I-15 and rolled. 

The 12th most read story of 2018 was “Escondido senior care facility named in lawsuit.” This reported how a lawsuit filed against Oakmont of Escondido Hills alleged that one of its residents was subjected to years of pain and suffering due to neglect. The law firm of Garcia, Artigliere & Medby June 21 filed the lawsuit against Oakmont of Escondido Hills for elder abuse, and negligent hiring and supervision. As of this writing the case has not gone to trial.

The 13th most read story for 2018 was “Suspect wanted for commercial armed robbery” which ran February 5. It reported how “Investigators from the San Marcos Sheriff’s Station are asking for the public’s help in identifying and locating a suspect wanted for a commercial armed robbery of a donut shop in San Marcos. . . . The suspect pointed a black semi-automatic handgun at the employee and demanded money from the cash register.”

The 14th most read article was “Wedekings a city landmark closes for good,” a sour ending to a sweet love affair between the iconic bakery, known for its gingerbread style architecture, and its customers for half a century. This story ran November 8.

The 15th most read story was “Homegoods to open Escondido store March 4,” a grand opening that attracted an immense crowd to the popular retail operation. 

The 16th most popular story was “OGHS alumni assn forms recruits members,” which ran July 31 and reported “Orange Glen High School Alumni Association has formed, begun meeting and is taking steps to become an official non-profit 501(c)3.”

The 17th most read story was “Escondido woman chosen San Diego Idol winner” which ran August 30. It told the inspirational story of Erica Champagne, who was chosen to audition for “America Idol.” She told the Times-Advocate: “I had the incredible honor to audition for American Idol this morning! ABC News chose me as their ‘San Diego Idol’ winner!”

The 18th most read story was “Escondido police make arrest in cold case homicide.” The story, which ran April 23, related how police were able to finally arrest a man who on November 13, 1986 stabbed 75-year-old Richard Finney to death in his Mission Avenue apartment. The suspect was identified using technologies that didn’t exist 30 years before. The suspect was Nathan Eugene Mathis, a 62-year-old resident of Ontario, California. Mathis is being held on $3 million bail and is scheduled to appear in court on January 7, 2019.

The 19th most read story was “Death of Escondido mom who disappeared under investigation.” This story ran December 12.  For several days the family of Christie Donehue, 43, pleaded for the assistance of the public to find her after she left her home Thursday afternoon, November 29, supposedly for a doctor’s appointment in Oceanside. She never arrived at the appointment and posters with her face went up all over North County. Police found her body two weeks later. The death was ruled a suicide by the Medical Examiner.

The 20th most read story was “SR 78 affected by suicidal subject Friday” which ran January 26.A man climbed over the safety railing and fencing on the Nordahl Road overpass in San Marcos.  The male positioned himself over the eastbound lanes on a thin ledge on the side of the overpass.   He was talked down by two crisis negotiators. But not before holding up traffic for more than hours. 

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