Central Coast

Dignity Health awards $300K to five nonprofits

Five Central Coast nonprofits received close to $300,000 in grant money Tuesday from Dignity Health Central Coast to "help aid in the critical health and human services they provide."

The funds, awarded as part of Dignity's Community Grants Program, will help groups whose missions are to help "build healthier communities" by improving health and living conditions for Central Coast residents. Emphasis for this year's grant cycle was placed on programs that improve access to health care (including mental health), educate the community or work to address homelessness, cardiovascular disease and stroke or cancer.

20 Now Santa Maria — a collaborative effort involving the Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness (C3H), Santa Barbara County Behavioral Wellness and other direct service providers — was awarded a grant to help "identify, assess, and provide services to 20 chronically homeless individuals." Ten individuals will be moved to permanent supportive housing; all 20 will receive services with the goal of reducing emergency room usage by 50 percent.

The Good Samaritan Shelter and allied public health agencies were awarded a grant to support the Warm Hand Off Project, a case management and mental health program for homeless individuals and families. The project will span the Santa Maria and Five Cities areas and focus on assessing and treating for mild to moderate mental health issues in clients. 

Funding was also provided to the Food Bank of Santa Barbara County, which works to improve access to prediabetic and diabetic care for low-income residents in Santa Maria and Lompoc. The program will refer individuals to Marian Regional Medical Center's Diabetes Empowerment Education (DEEP) Program and provide biweekly food boxes to participating individuals for six months. The group hopes to help individuals improve their diabetic conditions.

Also awarded grants were projects that seek to expand access to cancer screening and primary care in northern San Luis Obispo County and a program to provide respite care to homeless individuals discharged from area hospitals.

The $295,971 was awarded to representatives during a breakfast. 

Santa Maria

Highley pleads not guilty for second time in San Juan homicide case

The man who reportedly shot and killed Anthony "Tony" San Juan last year pleaded not guilty for the second time Wednesday morning and will return to court March 7 to set potential trial dates. 

Earlier this month, Jonathan David Highley, facing murder and two gun enhancements for his alleged role in the fatal shooting of San Juan on March 4 at Elmer's Bar in Orcutt, was ordered to stand trial following a preliminary hearing. After a full day of testimony last month, Judge Gustavo Lavayen ruled there was enough evidence to hold Highley to answer to the charges. 

On Wednesday morning at the Santa Maria Superior Court, attorney Ronald Bobo, with the Public Defender's Office, stood in for his colleague Mark Owens and entered not guilty pleas for Highley and denied all special allegations during the re-arraignment on the information. The case comes back to court March 7 for a readiness and settlement conference.

Highley also entered a time waiver through the month of June for a speedy public jury trial. 

Deputy District Attorney Anne Nudson is prosecuting the case. 

Santa Maria

Preliminary hearing in Erwin homicide case to be set in March

The preliminary hearing may be set for this summer for a Lompoc man, who reportedly was lying in wait before fatally shooting his ex-girlfriend as she was leaving a friend's house in the early morning hours of Easter Sunday last year. 

Jorge Fernandez Tovar, 27, faces the death penalty or life in prison without possibility of parole in connection with the death of Elyse Erwin, 28, with whom he shared custody of their young daughter. The case is filed with a special circumstance -- commission of the murder by lying in wait. 

Tovar also faces a special weapons allegation. 

On Wednesday morning, Deputy District Attorney Fabiana Fede and Tovar's attorney, Jeremy I. Lessem, agreed to come back in two months to set a preliminary hearing, which at this time, has been tentatively scheduled for mid-June. 

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While Lessem said he didn't have an issue with setting a preliminary hearing date, he did note to Judge Gustavo Lavayen that the case "is still in its early stages of discovery" and that just last month alone he received 25 discs of evidence, a handful of which contained corrupt files that he couldn't access. 

"We still have more discs coming in," Lessem added.

Fede acknowledged the case was still awaiting additional reports, and all parties agreed to return to court March 21 to check the status of the matter. 

Santa Maria

St. Mary's sets annual Mardi Gras fundraiser

St. Mary of the Assumption School will hold its annual Mardi Gras fundraiser on Feb. 10 at 6 p.m. at the Santa Maria Radisson.

The event, which features food, dancing and a silent and live auction, serves as the school's primary fundraiser for the year. Organizers are calling on local businesses to donate items for their silent and live auction. All donations are tax deductible.

Proceeds will be used to improve school facilities, technology and community activities. The funds will also help keep the school affordable for area children.

St. Mary's School serves 250 students in grades pre-K through eight.

For more information on the event or how to make a donation, call Principal Michelle Cox at 925-6713.

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