Redondo Beach year in review: murders shock city
In late February the Redondo Beach Police Department began investigating a string of tragedies in the city that started with the shooting of 45-year-old Margaret Goldberg, also known as Peggy Duffy. She was found dead from multiple gunshot wounds after police were called to her home because of a phone call from a concerned family member. Police said she was in the middle of an “ugly” divorce and her ex husband, Russell Scott Goldberg, 49, was immediately identified as the main suspect. He fled the area and was located in Beaver County, Utah on Interstate 15 later in the day. He was pursued by police and was found dead in his car from a self-inflicted gun shot after a barricade situation developed.
Vicki and Courtney Bergman
Police were called to the home of 19-year-old Courtney Bergman and her mother Vicki Bergman, 59, after they were found dead in their home on Rockefeller Lane by one of Vicki Bergman’s co-workers. Police arrived and determined the two had been victims of foul play. According to the police, the suspect used a knife to kill the women by cutting their throats. Later in the day, RBPD identified Courtney’s boyfriend, Jonathan Chacon, 23, of Redondo Beach, as the main suspect and warned the public that he was armed and dangerous. He was quickly located in Rosarito Beach, Mexico after using a credit card to check into a hotel room. Because of Redondo’s sister city relationship with Rosarito, he was being transported back to the United States the next morning. Chacon was booked for allegedly killing the pair. He was arraigned at the Torrance court house in early March and pled not guilty. The trial is expected to unfold in 2013.
In June, Terie Colecchi, 49, the big-hearted bouncer at Pats II Cocktails was sweeping cigarette butts away from the front door of the bar, preparing to close for the night.
Kristen, one of two bartenders working the evening shift, said she realized something was wrong when she and her co-worker heard a commotion outside. Karen, the other bartender, ran outside and, she said, saw Colecchi on the ground with one man standing over his body throwing punches, while the other kicked him repeatedly in the head. The same men had attempted to enter the bar just minutes before, Karen said. Both women requested that their last names be withheld.
Karen ran inside immediately and shouted for someone to call 911.
Earlier, she had seen Colecchi turn the two men away at the door.
“I could just tell by their body movement that something wasn’t right,” Karen said. “I went back to the bar and looked at the monitor and could see the fight. I ran outside and saw Terie on the ground unconscious.”
Karen pushed the man who was on top of Colecchi and started screaming. Kristen dropped what she was doing and ran outside.
“What the f— did you do to him?” Kristen yelled at the two men.
According to Kristen, the men took a step back from Colecchi. “Everyone was in shock,” she said.
Then the men ran to a white Audi and drove off. Kirsten shouted the license plate over and over again until Karen wrote it on a napkin.
“I looked at Terie and just panicked,” Karen said. “He was laid out and there was blood everywhere. It felt like it took forever for the paramedics to get there– but then again, minutes like that feel like forever.”
Kristen knelt down and held Colecchi’s head and attempted to stop the bleeding with a white towel from the bar that quickly turned red. “I remember saying, ‘Terie hang on, hang on, hang on…’”
When the paramedics arrived, Colecchi’s face was unrecognizable. According to Kristen, the paramedics tried to save him for 20 minutes and eventually moved him to a local hospital where he died from blunt force trauma.
Francisco “Frank” Cobarruivas Jr., 35 turned himself in to the RBPD without incident and was booked on suspicion of murder. Rene Anthony Avina, 23, the second suspect wanted for Colecchi’s death, also turned himself in to police, in cooperation with his attorney.
A whale of a year
The beginning of 2012 brought a new kind of whale sighting to the Santa Monica Bay. In January a whale spotter at Point Vicente Interpretive Center spotted a pod of killer whales. Alisa Schulman-Janiger, the Director and Coordinator of the ACS/LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project and the California Killer Whale Project, was immediately called to the scene. Local Redondo Beach marina operations manager Craig Stanton fired up the whale watching boat, the Voyager, and sped towards the whales.
They soon found out why the whales were making an appearance in the bay— they had gained for a taste of gray whale meat, and gray whales were migrating closer to the shore than ever before. Orcas aren’t often spotted locally, but during mid-winter gray whales are often spotted on their 10,000 to 14,000-mile migration from Alaska to Baja California.
While the boat was in route, people watching from the Interpretive Center got quite an eyeful. Five killer whales, including two juvenile calves, were getting a lesson in hunting.
To the people on shore, it looked like an attack. “They were splashing and harassing the gray whale,” said Schulman-Janiger. “It seemed to go on forever for the poor observers [at the PVIC viewing platform].”
After five minutes, the orcas continued on their northward path to Malibu, likely with more hunting lessons along the way. The gray whale appeared to be physically unscathed but hid in a bed of kelp for 20 minutes before continuing south.
In May, the same group of killer whales teamed up in the same spot and cornered a mother and killed her calf. It was the first time in 28 years that a killer whale was spotted killing another whale in the bay. For researchers, it was a pivotal yet bittersweet moment.
“I’m a little conflicted,” said Schulman-Janiger. “I don’t like the idea of killer whales attacking grays, and I want to see the killer whales and the gray whale calves. It was just horrible to watch the mother struggle so valiantly to save her calf. On the other hand we had observers who can record and study the event.”
The orca group known as “the friendly seven,” have been seen frequently in the area since the first sighting in January and are known to bring other pods along. They are known to interact with boaters and usually only feed on sea lions, harbor seals and dolphins.
SEA Lab tragedy
In early February the Redondo Beach’s LA Conservation Corps SEA Lab got a call that some of their fish were swimming erratically. Program Director Brent Scheiwe reacted immediately by shutting down the water intake pumps and scrambled to find the source of contamination. Soon almost everybody who worked and volunteered at the sea life education center were on hand to save the thousands of creatures under their watch. Within hours, half of the fish at the facility were dead.
“We are all saddened by what happened,” said Scheiwe. “Some people have dogs, but the staff here– we have fish.” It was soon discovered that the reason for the contamination was high chlorine levels and after a few days a compression coupling was located in one of the water intake pipes leaking common household bleach into the piping. Despite everybody’s best efforts, fish were netted up, bagged and sent to the trash. All 7,000 juvenile white sea bass from the White Sea Bass Restoration Program were lost.
The program rebounded from the tragedy, and in October a new batch of 5,500 sea bass was released into King Harbor Marina. By May, because of donations from aquariums in the South Bay and surrounding areas, more than 250 new fish and animals were added to the SEA Lab family and the program was back in full swing. “We are still a little sad for the loss,” Scheiwe said. “But we’ve been building on the positives and we’re excited for the new animals, and the staff is excited to learn new things.”
Four sailors lost at sea
Under gloomy, gray skies, the usually rowdy maritime crowd celebrating the end of the annual 124-mile Newport Beach-to-Ensenada regatta spent a moment of silence on Sunday, April 28 to remember four lost sailors who vanished during the race.
The four crewmen — Joseph Stewart, 64, William Johnson, 57, Kevin Rudolph, 53, and Theo Mavromatis, 49 — were aboard the Aegean, a 37-foot Hunter 376 sailboat that went missing 15 miles south of San Diego around 1:30 a.m. on Saturday. Their deaths marked the event’s first fatalities in its 65-year history.
Around the time of the incident, the image of the Aegean vanished from an online boat-tracking system, which prompted a Coast Guard search.
Eric Lamb of Vessel Assist, a private marine assistance service, and his partner discovered wreckage by accident at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday. The wreckage spanned over three miles.
“I’ve never run across a situation quite as bad as this as far as destruction is concerned,” Lamb said.
Race officials had few explanations for what may have happened to the boat. Because of the conditions of the bodies, early speculations were that the Aegean met misfortune while sailing through shipping lanes, colliding with a large freighter. However, no vessel was ever identified and the investigation is ongoing.
“Nobody on this crew was a schmuck. They all knew what was going on,” said Michael Patton, who was supposed to be the fifth crewmember for the race and decided last minute to stay on land. “They had all been down that course before, it was the same course we always ran. Plus, conditions-wise, it was almost identical to last year when we won. All I can say is they were a professional crew with all the right equipment and did all the right things but something when terribly wrong and it wasn’t their fault.”
Dignitaries visit RUHS
Former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent Redondo Beach into a tizzy when they came to town to attend their nephew’s graduation at Redondo Union High School in June. The president was the surprise special guest speaker of the evening. In his speech, he urged the students to not be afraid of failure.
“Get out and live your dreams,” Clinton said.
The Clintons also attended a fundraiser for the Redondo Beach Education Foundation that sold out in 20 minutes.
Redondo Beach Police Department Chief Joe Leonardi, dressed in his suit and tie, road a rusty beach cruiser to track down a suspected bike thief in early July, eventually arresting the fleeing man and providing a superhero-like story for the police department to laugh about for years to come.
“The guy dropped the bike and his backpack and ran down the side of an apartment building,” said Leonardi, who identified the suspect while on patrol in a cruiser.
The chief realized he could no longer follow the man by car, so he ditched the vehicle and in a split decision, picked up the bike the suspect had ditched, along with a dropped backpack, lock and wallet, and continued the pursuit.
“The fastest way to go after him was to go on his bike,” said Leonardi. “So I got on the bike and rode after him.”
He continued up the road searching for the man until he came upon another abandoned police car. Officer Steve Sabosky was on the suspect’s trail when he saw the chief biking up the hill in his suit.
“Afterward, Sabosky said that when he saw that he just couldn’t process what he was looking at,” said Leonardi. “The first thing that popped into his head was, ‘Why is the chief out exercising during his lunch on a bike, and why is he in a suit?’”
Leonardi said that when he jumped onto the bike, the first thing he thought, because of the black bike, wide handlebars and large black basket on the front of the bike, was that he felt like the Wicked Witch of the West.
“Since then, people have been sending me YouTube videos of her as a joke,” said Leonardi. “There’s a lot of good-natured ribbing around the department.”
Editor’s note: Additional 2012 year in review articles will be published over the next week.
In this article: RBPD police chief chases suspect by bike
In this article: Bill Clinton speaks at Redondo Union High School graduation
In this article: Redondo Beach sailboat destroyed, four believed dead
In this article: Chlorine bleach contamination kills half of Sea Lab’s sea life
In this article: Killer whales spotted off Los Angeles coast
In this article: Bartenders remember bouncer’s final moments