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December 28, 2011 (San Diego’s East County)—At year’s end, we reflect on the loss of several prominent residents of San Diego’s inland regions, as well as some less prominent individuals whose tragic deaths tugged at our heartstrings or sparked controversies.

Austin Taylor Bice:
Disappearance of San Diego State University student Austin Taylor Bice in Madrid prompted a manhunt across the European continent.  In Spain as a foreign exchange student, Bice disappeared after a night out with friends and was last seen near a Spanish night club. Students at SDSU held a candlelight vigil in hopes of his safe return.  But when Spanish police drained a river, Bice’s body was found. “The San Diego State campus is saddened by this tragic news,” SDSU president Stephen Weber said.
Anton Botter:  Director of the Lakeside Chamber of Commerce from 2004 to 2010, Botter also served on Lakeside’splanning group. He owned and operated Anton’s Tree Service in Lakeside for over 30 years.  A resident of San Diego County for nearly his entire life, he passed away on July 1 after a brief illness.

Thomas Duffy:
The Honorable Thomas Graham Duffy passed away May 23 at his home.  “Known for his keen sense of wit, long time East County resident Thomas Duffy will be fondly remembered as an attorney, former El Cajon City Attorney, San Diego Municipal Court Judge, and later San Diego Superior Court Judge,” said Mark Raftery, former president of Foothills Bar Association. While on the bench, Duffy was elected by all judges in San Diego County to serve as the Presiding Judge instrumental in unifying the Municipal and Superior Courts.

Dale Fetherling:
Dale Fetherling, prominent journalist and author, died January 18 from complications after heart surgery.  He helped establish the Los Angeles Times’ San Diego County edition in 1978, serving as editor until the publication folded in 1992.  He covered some of our region’s top stories and also became one of the first full-time environmental reporters in the U.S. Fetherling wrote many books including Getting to Angel Island and Comrades In Ink. He collaborated on other books, notably Mother Jones, the Miners Angel, which won an Award of merit from the Illinois Historical Society, and The Buckets of Money Retirement Solution.  A former naval officer, he served as a writing instructor at UCSD and other local institutions.  Writers Ink, where he also taught, summed up the literary luminary's talents this way: “Dale Fetherling could tell a fine story.”

Sean Fuchs and Kyl Fuchs:
 The brothers, ages 15 and 13, were killed June 21 at their Bonita home. Their father Thomas Jose Fuchs, shot both teens in the head before setting fire to the home, then killing himself.  The teens, described as good students in a 10 News report, attended High Tech High School and formerly attended Bonita Middle School. The father reportedly had undergone financial problems and faced potential loss of custody of his sons. The brutal crime prompted county officials to issue a plea for troubled parents to seek help instead of harming their children or other family members by calling 1-800-479-3339 or visiting

Rev. Michael Hendricks:  
Pastor at East Valley Christian Fellowship in El Cajon, Hendricks died in April at age 26 from a severe allergic reaction to a bee sting, leaving behind an infant daughter. Hendricks enjoyed relocating bee colonies as a hobby and was unaware that he had an allergy.  He is remembered by parishioners for his dedicated leadership in teen and youth programs.  Church member Dustin Rhodes praised Hendricks for connecting with others and having a “true heart.”

Jeremy Henwood
:  San Diego Police Officer Jeremy Henwood was shot and killed in the line of duty on August 6 and died August 7.  A captain in the Marine Reserves, he was a veteran of both the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars.  Henwood was shot in his patrol car by a suspect who had already shot a civilian victim earlier in the day outside an In 'N' Out Burger in El Cajon. Officer Henwood was on patrol duty when the suspect pulled up beside him, fired a shotgun and drove off. “We are saddened by this senseless and cowardly act that has taken away a true hero,” Brian Marvel, president of the San Diego Police Officers Association, said.

Shelly McClendon Hilliker
: A long-time community leader and active volunteer, Hilliker passed away on March 10 at age 51.  “Shelly was a beautiful, lighthearted person, who was loved by everyone she met as much as she loved them,” states an obituary submitted by the Lakeside River Park Conservancy, where Hilliker served as a Board member. “She has joined her late husband, Harold Hilliker, who passed on July 31, 2009. Their extensive volunteer work will be missed by the entire Lakeside community." Shelly Hilliker worked in the banking industry for many years and also in the accounting department for the 22nd District Agricultural Association. She could often be found helping out the Boys and Girls Clubs of East County, the Lakeside Chamber of Commerce, East County Ag Boosters and Lakeside's River Park Conservancy.

Daniel Alphonse Ignosci: 
A retired San Diego Fire Department Captain and long-time resident of Deerhorn Valley,Ignosci died January 7 at age 70.  All flags in the fire district flew at half-mast to honor his 35 years of firefighting service.  A former Army K-9 handler in Korea, he was remembered as a “true neighbor” known for his “honesty and honor,” according to Deerhorn Valley Antler editor Kim Hamilton.

S. Myron “Mike” Klarfeld:
Remembered as a champion of justice, Klarfeld died February 23 at age 83 after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.  An attorney for 54 years, Klarfeld was the husband of San Diego Councilwoman Marti Emerald.  They two met when Emerald, then a TV consumer affairs reporter, interviewed Klarfeld about his success suing retailers on behalf of consumers. A landmark suit filed by Klarfeld led to elimination of expiration dates on gift certificates.  He was also an avid pilot and motorcyclist.  “Mike never did anything halfway,” Emerald recalled.

Michelle Le:  A nursing student at San Diego State University, Le disappeared May 27 after walking out of Kaiser Permanente Hayward Medical Center in northern California toward her car.  Her body was found in September by a search dog taken to the Bay area by Carrie McGonigle, the mother of slain teen Amber Dubois of Escondido. Giselle Esteban, a former friend of Le, was arrested and charged with Le’s murder. Indicted by a grand jury, Esteban will face arraignment and enter a plea on January 20.

Sarah Lowery: 
Honored with a lifetime achievement award from the San Diego Democratic Party, Lowery died October 5 of congestive heart failure.  “She was a great patriot who believed so strongly in democracy that she wanted everyone to participate,” Congresswoman Susan Davis said of Lowery.  A former Assembly candidate, Lowery served on the San Diego County Democratic Central Committee for 30 years and on the California Democratic Party Executive Committee for 20 years. She also twice co-chaired Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign in San Diego County and founded the Jimmy Carter Democratic Club.
Frederica "Freddie" Sagor Maas: The pioneering woman screenwriter of silent movie fame made her final exit in a La Mesa nursing home on December 29, 2011 at age 111--the third oldest Californian and the 44th oldest person in the world.  Her scripts starred some of the leading Hollywood celebrities of the era, including Clara Bow and Greta Garbo. She left Hollywood in disgust after a serious work on women that she wrote was trivialized when produced, but went on to write a scathing tell-all book about the film industry at age 99.

Nelson Edward “Mac” MacWilliams:
 An aide to Congressman Duncan Hunter, MacWilliams handled military, veterans and law enforcement issues in the Congressman’s El Cajon office. He was killed December 20 in a rollover car accident in Lakeside.  “He will be missed, and my thoughts and prayers are with his family,” Rep. Hunter said of MacWilliams, a Navy veteran who resided in Ramona.

Judy Winter Meier: 
Editor of the Borrego Sun, Meier, 61, was murdered by her husband, Jim Meier, who also killed himself on October 10.  “There has not been an issue published in 30 years without her byline on it,” reporter Casey Jones told ECM.  Carlos Medina, a Sheriff’s deputy in Borrego Springs, called Meier “probably the most well-known person in town,” the Union-Tribune reported. “She’s going to be missed.”

Marty Nellis:
Former Santana High School baseball coach Martin “Marty” Nellis, 76, died of a heart attack on May 5.  Coach of both boys and girls sports at the junior high, senior high, and community college levels, he coached Santana to the 1984 CIF baseball championship.  Nellis also founded the Barona (now San Diego) Stars semi-pro baseball team. In addition, he spent time with the Oakland A’s minor league baseball team. In his later years, he spent time with ex-coaches, players and friends at the Lake Murray Café.  His last wish was for the group to continue meeting.  “Don’t mess with the lineup,” he urged.
Beverly Rakov and Rhilee Jean Collier:  The grandmother and her infant granddaughter were murdered August 21 by Kevin Collier, who also killed himself.  Collier had been married to Rakov’s daughter, Alyssa Collier, who had filed for divorce a few days before the tragic occurrences in El Cajon.  Collier shot his daughter in a vehicle before shooting Rakov in the family’s home, then setting fire to the residence, sparking a SWAT standoff.  He also shot and critically wounded El Cajon Police Officer Jarred Slocum in one of the most horrific crimes in recent memory in San Diego’s East County.

Sunil Sambhi and Devon Sambhi:  
The Alpine father and son died in separate tragedies on the same date, November 10. Devon Sambhi, 16, a Granite Hills High School student was ejected and killed in a roll-over accident. The crash also injured his mother, Natalia, who was driving Devon to school in El Cajon. The vehicle plummeted off I-8 and landed on Old Highway 80.  Later in the day, in what California Highway Patrol called a deliberate act, grief-stricken father Sunil Sambhi died after striking another vehicle head-on while traveling at a high speed in the wrong direction on I-8 near the same spot where his son was killed.  The tragedy reignited controversy over postponement of a high school for Alpine. “How many more children are going to have to die before we get a high school in Alpine?” former Grossmont Union High School District Board member Rose Urdahl asked.

Jerry Schad:
 Author of 16 books including Afoot and Afield, a guidebook to local hiking trails, Schad’s final journey ended on September 22 when he died of kidney cancer.  “There will surely be one more star in the heavens tonight,” Dennis Mammana, syndicated Stargazer columnist, said of Schad’s passing.  An avid outdoorsmanm  hiker, cyclist and astronomer, Schad also penned the “Roam-o-Rama” column for the Reader, inspiring thousands to hike the trails in East County’s backcountry and other Southern California destinations.

Leonard Smith:
Past president and charter member of the La Mesa Board of Realtors, Smith passed away in December after a 65-year career in real estate. He also founded Leonard Smith Realty.  “I am sure he was the oldest active broker in East County,” ECM real estate columnist Charlotte Reed said of the man known as the “dean” of La Mesa’s real estate community. 

Richard “Rick” Allen Smith:  
It’s hard to find a Lakeside elected office not held by Rick Smith, who died of cancer February 18. Smith served nearly 30 years on the Lakeside Community Planning Group, including eight years as Chair.  He also served nearly 20 years as a director of the Lakeside Fire Protection District including several years as President.  He also headed up the Fire Districts Association of California as its President and served as President of the Lakeside Chamber of Commerce, which presented him with the Harry J. Spence Citizen of the Year award in 1999.  A former Army veteran, he was memorialized at the Lakeside Rodeo grounds in a community-wide tribute.  “His dedication to the community of Lakeside will have a lasting affect for many years to come,” said his daughter-in-law, Michelle Dimsey.

Nick Venuto:
Poway resident Nick Venuto died June 2 after being struck by an SUV while bicycling on Highway 56 in Rancho Penasquitos. Venuto was the corporate controller of Sapphire Energy, a biotech company in Torrey Pines.  “Nick Venuto was a highly valued employee as controller for Sapphire Energy,” a prepared statement from the company read. “We all are deeply saddened by this sudden and tragic loss. Nick not only excelled in his contributions to help Sapphire grow, but he had an incredible passion and zest for life and was a loving father and husband.”

Donna Williams and Breanna “Bree” Williams:
 A 32-year veteran of the San Diego Police Department assigned to the child abuse unit, Donna Williams and her 18-year-old daughter, Bree, were found stabbed to death at their Rancho Penasquitos home.  Officer Williams worked on many high-profile cases, including the Danielle Van Damm murder.  Officer Williams’ son, Brian Williams, has been charged with the killings. 

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