OC's Top Happenings in 2013

A fire pit in Newport Beach. (Photo credit Nisha Gutierrez-Jaime)
A fire pit in Newport Beach. (Photo credit Nisha Gutierrez-Jaime)

A fired Los Angeles police officer's vengeance-driven rampage throughout Southern California, starting with the murder of a couple in Irvine, was among the top Orange County events in the news in 2013.

Other issues and events that topped the news in Orange County in 2013 included the county hiring a new chief executive and the vindication of a Saudi princess accused of human trafficking, but perhaps Christopher Dorner's violent vendetta topped them all for drama as he killed himself in a Big Bear cabin during a shootout with law enforcement broadcast live on television.

The six-day manhunt for Dorner started in February in Irvine with him gunning down the daughter and future son-in-law of an ex-police captain who represented him at a hearing that resulted in his firing from the Los Angeles Police Department.

In a 6,000-word manifesto posted on Facebook, Dorner vowed to kill LAPD officers and their families.

As police scoured Southern California for him, Dorner got into a shootout with police in Corona, killed a Riverside officer, and then exchanged gunfire again with police as he was cornered in a Big Bear cabin, which burned down around the suspect.

Later in February, 20-year-old Ali Syed went on his own rampage, starting with the fatal shooting of a 20-year-old woman in his Ladera Ranch home. Syed then got into his family's SUV and fled to the Tustin and Santa Ana area, where he started a carjacking and shooting spree that led to the death of two men.

As police closed in on Syed, he took his life with a shotgun. In an odd twist, his mother, Sarwat Syed, was acquitted in September of a hit-and-run charge stemming from a crash in Irvine that seriously injured a 4-year-old girl and two others.

A change on the Irvine City Council led to a radical departure from the original vision of the Orange County Great Park, starting with a January shakeup of the board overseeing the park. By November, Irvine council members narrowly approved a plan to develop about half of the park, which planners originally envisioned would be a Central Park on the West Coast.

In April, Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren's 27-year-old son, Matthew, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his Mission Viejo home. The grief-stricken pastor, a best-selling author and who delivered the invocation at President Barack Obama's first inauguration, took months off before returning in July.

On the last day of March -- Easter Sunday -- two teenagers became lost in Trabuco Canyon, touching off an intensive, four-day search that led to the rescue of Kyndall Jack and her friend, Nic Cendoya.

What at first appeared to be a good news story, soon soured when Cendoya was arrested for having methamphetamine in the car he drove up to the mountain before become lost.

It touched off a sometimes turbulent debate among Orange County supervisors over the wisdom of resurrecting a law that would allow officials to seek payback for the costs related to rescues when a law is broken.

Cendoya in July accepted a plea deal that allowed him to enter a drug- treatment program with a chance to get his conviction cleared from his record eventually. A couple of men involved in the search for the teens were seriously injured.

Another hot debate that raged through much of the year was over fire pits at Southland beaches. Newport Beach officials sparked the debate as they sought a ban on fire rings.

In July, South Coast Air Quality Management District board members narrowly approved restrictions on fire pits on Southland beaches.

Also in July, a Santa Ana-based federal judge signed off on a $1.6- billion settlement of a class-action lawsuit against Toyota over runaway vehicle issues. Attorneys said it was believed to be the largest settlement of its kind in the country's history in terms of dollars and number of consumers affected.

In May, Orange County supervisors promoted Mike Giancola from the county's waste chief to its CEO. The hiring of the three-and-a-half decade county worker came nearly a year after the county's top administrator resigned because of fallout from the prosecution of a former county executive on sex charges.

In June, Southern California Edison announced it would retire two reactors at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station that had been idled since January 2012 when a small leak was discovered in a relatively new steam generator.

Also, in June, Catherine Kieu was given a life sentence with a chance for parole for slashing off her estranged husband's penis and mutilating it in a garbage disposal in 2011.

A bitter tax dispute between the county and the state that cost the county about $148 million and spilled over into the courts was resolved in October with legislation introduced by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva. County officials weren't thrilled with the outcome, but were relieved that it at least helped them avoid deep cuts in services and layoffs this year.

When voters in November 2012 rejected abolishing the death penalty, several capital cases that were on hold went before juries in 2013.

Jurors this year recommended the death penalty for Jason Balcom, convicted of raping and murdering a pregnant newlywed in her Costa Mesa apartment in 1988, and Waymon Livingston, who raped four women, murdering one of them, was sent to death row in April.

Jurors in June could not reach a verdict in the penalty phase in the trial of Richard Raymond Ramirez who was convicted -- for a second time -- of raping and murdering a young woman outside a Garden Grove bar nearly 30 years ago.

In July, Meshael Alayban, a Saudi princess, was charged with human trafficking, but the case against her fell apart by September when prosecutors acknowledged they did not have enough evidence to prove her accuser's claims that she was kept against her will.

Alayban hired some of the county's top attorneys, who gathered a great deal of evidence across the world that contradicted their client's accuser.

Another court case that drew a great deal of attention this year involved two Irvine attorneys accused of framing a PTA leader at their son's school.

Jill Easter pleaded guilty in October -- just days before her estranged husband Kent Easter went before a jury -- to false imprisonment and was sentenced to 120 days in jail and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service. Jill Easter began serving her term Friday.

Jurors deadlocked 11-1 in favor of convicting Kent Easter in November of planting drugs in PTA volunteer Kelli Peters' car. A retrial date was set for February. The Easters allegedly were upset with the way Peters ran an after- school program.

This month, the trial began for two former Fullerton police officers accused of killing transient Kelly Thomas in Fullerton in July 2011. Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has personally taken the lead in the trial, which is expected to conclude with closing arguments at the beginning of January.

--City News Service


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