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SCS New Year in Review 2021

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By Melissa Hartman mhartman@santacruzsentinel.com SANTA CRUZ » The COVID-19 pan- demic forever changed the lives of senior citizens, particularly those residing in skilled nursing and residential care facilities across the U.S., Santa Cruz County was not immune to this. "It's been a rough two years for them," Deputy Health Officer Dr. David Ghilarducci said this week. "A bulk of our deaths have been in this group just because of their age, medical condition and the fact that they are in a congregate living facil- ity … it puts them at a higher risk." In 2021, the Sentinel reported not only the trauma caused by the deadly virus but also on the al- leged misuse of scant resources that may have aided in the deaths of seniors — even as vaccines to fight the virus were becoming more widespread. From contraction to vaccination Though the first COVID-19 death reported in Santa Cruz County dates to March 28, 2020, it was six months later that nurs- ing homes and assisted living communities began experienc- ing devastating outbreaks. Senti- nel records show that by October, skilled nursing and residential care residents were dying nearly every day; some days there were two to three deaths. The last two months of 2020 marched on brutally with more than 60 locals dead by Dec. 15 due to both the disease and, of- tentimes, significant health con- ditions. The county's coronavi- rus data dashboard has since been updated by epidemiologists to reflect 20 additional deaths by that time. Murmurs of understaffing and a lack of COVID-19 safety proto- col at some of these facilities began to grow. The first lawsuit was filed agains t a facility responsible for car- ing for the vulnerable population — Watsonville Post Acute Center. PANDEMIC Senior living facilities battle COVID-19 SURFING YOUNG FACES HIGHS AND LOWS IN 2021 SHMUEL THALER — SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL Late aernoon sunlight illuminates professional surfer Nat Young as he tames a powerful wave on May 13 at Steamer Lane, his home surf break, in Santa Cruz during a few days off from traveling to competitions. It was a year of highs and lows for Young, in and out the water. He battled through the death of his mother, Rosie, in February and welcomed the birth of his daughter, Rocky Rose Young, a month later. Professionally, Young, 30, is returning to the World Surf League's Championship Tour. He finished 10th overall in the four-event Challenger Series season with 12,100 points and advanc ed. Young paid tribute to his mom in a post on Instagram aer he officially secured a '22 CT spot. "A story about a kid whose mother showed him what it looked like to never give up no matter the circum- stances or setbacks that may come along the way. Thank you mom." By Jessica A. York jyork@santacruzsentinel.com APTOS » Among at least a dozen homicide cases investigated across Santa Cruz County in 2021, the on-campus fatal stabbing of a 17-year-old Aptos High School student prompted intense com- munity conversations, veered the public's attention toward school safety concerns. The student, whose identity has not been publicly released but was identified by family members as "Gerardo," was killed around 2:30 p.m. Aug. 31 outside his school's gymnasium. Two teenagers, at the time 14 and 17 years old, were ar- rested immediately afterward on suspicion of involvement in the homicide. Due to the defendants' age, the teens' identities have not been re- leased publicly and their case was assigned to closed juvenile pro- ceedings. Both defendants were described by law en forcement as gang members and face related charges, but only the younger of the two was charged with mur- der. While the courts are legally barred from treating a 14-year- old as an adult, the older of the two was eligible, at the discretion of a Santa Cruz County Superior Court judge to face adult charges. That boy has been charged with two assault-related charges and gang enhancements, while the second suspected assailant, a 14-year-old boy, is charged with murder and gang enhancements. A civil wrongful death claim was filed Dec. 28 against the Pa- jaro Valley Unified School District on behalf of Gerardo's parents. Soon after Gerardo's death, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart began to shine a light on the fact that leaders of Aptos High's parent school district, the Pajaro Valley Unified School Dis- trict, had voted to dissolve a long- standing school resource officer program more than a year ear- lier. The move, accompanied by new on-campus mental health re- SCHOOL CAMPUS Stabbing of teen le community reeling By Jessica A. York jyork@santacruzsentinel.com SANTA CRUZ » In Santa Cruz County and nationwide, the coro- navirus pandemic has slowed criminal trials and general pro- ceedings alike to a backlogged crawl for nearly two years. One long-standing local mur- der trial with far-reaching impli- cations, however, finally reached its conclusion in 2021. Adrian "A.J." Gonzalez, now 22, pleaded guilty in April to murdering his 8-year-old neigh- bor, Madyson "Maddy" Middle- ton. Two weeks later, he was sen- tenced to the maximum penalty allowed by law for a juvenile of- fender younger than 16 — he was 15 at the time of his crime. On top of the more than five years he al- ready had served in jail, Gonza- lez is facing at least another three years detention, through his 25th birthday, at a Division of Juvenile Justice faci lity. The term could be extended, as determined by the state. However, efforts are under- way to shutter the state youth de- tention program by 2023. Gonzalez avoided the poten- tial penalty of two consecutive life sentences in prison for his crimes due to a state law passed in the years after Maddy's 2015 killing in a Santa Cruz apartment complex. His case was among the early test cases caught in shifting legal grounds after the passage of state juvenile reform laws. Shortly after Gonzalez's July 26, 2015 ar- rest, the Santa Cruz County Dis- trict Attorney's Office brought the case into the adult court system. At the time, Gonzalez was fewer than three months from turning 16 as a Santa Cruz High School freshman. In 2016, the voter-approved Proposition 57 retroactively re- quired a Santa Cruz Coun ty Supe- rior Court judge to hold a transfer hearing on whether or not Gon- zalez's case was eligible for court proceedings — a test the case passed. Then, in 2018, state law- makers approved Senate Bill 1391, an amendment to Prop. 57 that barred courts from trying mi- nors younger than the age of 16 as adults. After appeals failed in February and SB 1391 was upheld, Gonzalez pleaded guilty to six fel- ony counts including murder, kid- napping, sexual penetration, two counts of lewd and lascivious be- COURT AJ Gonzalez pleads guilty to murder SHMUEL THALER — SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL Adrian "AJ" Gonzalez is seated during his sentencing for the murder of Madyson Middleton as a video of Maddie plays on a computer screen in the courtroom. By Jim Seimas jseimas@santacruzsentinel.com One of Santa Cruz County's most successful calendar years in recent sports history almost didn't happen. The ongoing CO- VID-19 pandemic nearly robbed us of 2021. But the county eventually reached a degree of safety under the old Blueprint for a Safer Econ- omy framework, and sports slowly returned. Local officials designed a schedule for county high schools to compete amongst each other, cramming nine months worth of competition into three mini sea- sons that jam-packed spring and early summer. The first competition took place on the football field March 11, with Scotts Valley taking on St. Francis at Santa Cruz High. No fans were allowed, concession stands were closed, and coaches were masked. As the season played out, two chaperones per player eventually made their way to contests. Professional events slowly re- turned as well, with new safety measures in place, and fans still restricted. There were plenty of outdoor activities deemed safe by the state and county health departments, and biking, hiking and surfing were among them. Though the World Surf League canceled nu- merous competitions before re- turning this fall, the locals con- tinued to challenge themselves against the big winter swells that pelted the coast. The county produced dozens of magnificent feats in '21, and it's no surprise that surfing was among the sports that dominated headlines. The following is a recap of some of the most memorable feats of the year: Peter Mel's epic wave Santa Cruz big wave surfer Pe- ter Mel, 51, called the barrel he caught at Mavericks on Jan. 8 the "wave of his life." Footage of his epic ride was uploaded to You- Tube, it took more than the surf- ing world by storm. As of Thurs- day, it had 900,648 views. Footage was also submitted to Red Bull Big Wave Awards Show, SPORTS STORIES OF THE YEAR Pandemic didn't limit massive accomplishments GONZALEZ » PAGE 2 COVID » PAGE 2 STABBING » PAGE 2 SPORTS » PAGE 2 MATT YORK - THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Tyler Gilbert, right, celebrates aer his no-hitter in an MLB game against the San Diego Padres with catcher Daulton Varsho on Aug. 14 in Phoenix. It was Gilbert's first career start. The Diamondbacks won 7-0. YEAR IN REVIEW » santacruzsentinel.com Friday, December 31, 2021 » MORE AT FACEBOOK.COM/SCSENTINEL AND TWITTER.COM/SCSENTINEL S1

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