SAN DIEGO – Like the year before it, 2021 passed in a blur for many San Diegans, and there’s a good chance there were some landmark events that already feel like a foggy memory.
Here’s a look back at some of the stories that defined the year in your community:
Jan. 6: A day like few others in American history: Pro-Trump rioters overwhelmed police to breach the U.S. Capitol building in a bid to disrupt the election certification process of then-President-elect Joe Biden. Killed in the mayhem was San Diegan Ashli Babbitt, shot to death by a police officer while climbing through the broken window of a barricaded door to the Speaker’s Lobby.
Jan. 9: The disappearance of Maya “May” Millete gripped the community in 2021. She was reported missing by sister Maricris Drouaillet amid growing concerns after days of no communication. What followed was a saga that’s included numerous community searches and prayer vigils, but she’s never been found. Maya’s husband, Larry, currently is on trial and accused in her murder. He denies the charges.
Feb. 1: The Cathedral Catholic community came together to mourn beloved instructor Mario Fierro after he was gunned down in the North Park neighborhood. Fierro, 37, had just gotten engaged to a fellow teacher and was remembered in a vigil by colleague Katie Wilson as “the best human being.” San Diego resident Jesse Alvarez later was arrested and charged in Fierro’s murder. He faces life in prison if convicted.
March 1: The impact was catastrophic. Thirteen people died when an SUV carrying 25 people collided with a semi-truck on state Route 115 north of Holtville. The rest of the people in the vehicle and the semi-truck driver survived. Border Patrol officials said the SUV came from Mexico, entering the U.S. through a hole cut in the Southern California border fence. A man later was arrested for allegedly coordinating a human smuggling operation.
March 15: The city’s homelessness issue took center stage when a suspected impaired driver veered onto a sidewalk near San Diego City College and hit nine people who were camped there, killing three of them: Rodney Diffendal, 40; Randy Ferris, 65; and Walter Jones, 61. Craig Martin Voss pleaded not guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter and was placed on house arrest. Mayor Todd Gloria spotlighted the crash as a chance to “provide more compassionate solutions for people experiencing homelessness.”
April 9: Joe Musgrove did the unthinkable. The El Cajon native, acquired by the Padres in an offseason trade, fired off the first no-hitter in team history in a 3-0 victory over the Texas Rangers. And from the start, it wasn’t purely a baseball story but one of a community rallying around their hometown hurler. Fans flocked to his family’s coffee shop in Alpine in the aftermath and it wasn’t long until his image was plastered onto his alma mater Grossmont High School courtesy of Ground Floor Murals. He caps his standout year next week in serving as honorary chair of the Holiday Bowl.
May 23: It’s an ugly scene. A passenger was caught on video throwing punches at a Southwest Airlines flight attendant after the airline said she “repeatedly ignored standard inflight instructions.” It comes amid a year of unruly behavior on planes, fueled in large part by objections to pandemic-era restrictions. The passenger, Vyvianna Quinonez, pleaded guilty in December to a federal count of interfering with flight crew members and attendants. She faces jail time, fines and a three-year commercial airline ban.
June 4: A fiery wrong-way collision on Interstate 5 in San Ysidro took the lives of Escondido residents Ryan Park, 32, and Jamie Huntley-Park, 33. The two San Diego police detectives, who married in 2016, were not on duty at the time of the crash and were following up on cases they were working on in a city-owned car. Also killed in the crash was the driver of the other vehicle, 58-year-old Sandra Daniels of Ramona. The couple was remembered by Chief David Nisleit as a pair of “rising stars” of the department.
June 15: A state rejoiced with the lifting of California’s stay-at-home order, ending capacity limits, mask requirements for fully vaccinated residents and physical distancing requirements for businesses. It was a long time coming, a sign the pandemic was trending in the right direction and that a return to normal life would soon be attainable. That hasn’t quite happened, however. The state has seen ebbs and flows with its virus cases and hospitalizations with state health officials recently taking steps to stem the tide.
Aug. 5: The video is harrowing: A San Diego County sheriff’s deputy is processing a bag of white powder from a vehicle he was searching when he suddenly stumbles and collapses to the ground unresponsive. The sheriff’s department released the video as evidence of the dangers of fentanyl exposure, but the PSA was highly controversial, after San Diego’s sheriff said he, not a doctor, diagnosed the case as an overdose. A medical expert told FOX 5 the deputy had likely had a high-stress response.
Sept. 14: Gov. Gavin Newsom defeated a recall attempt that was anything but ordinary: the off-cycle election had an unfamiliar format, bitter partisan in-fighting and even a live bear at a San Diego campaign trail stop. In the end, the sitting governor soundly defeated the recall in a contest that was short on suspense. In San Diego County, 57% of voters voted “no” on removing Newsom from office.
Sept. 25: San Diego Padres fans were stunned to hear a woman holding her young child fell an estimated six stories from the concourse dining area at Petco Park shortly before a game. Neither survived the fall. The mother was remembered as a beloved, longtime instructor at a virtual academy. The circumstances of the tragic fall remain disputed: a witness told FOX 5 the woman lost her balance after jumping on a bench with her son several times; a family lawyer blamed a lack of safeguards and pledged a wrongful death lawsuit.
Oct. 11: A twin-engine Cessna plummeted to the ground in Santee, killing the pilot — an Arizona cardiologist — and a beloved UPS driver whose truck was struck by the aircraft. The crash also leveled two houses, leaving one couple badly hurt and destroying another family’s recently purchased home. In the wake of the tragedy, stories of resilience and hope: Newlyweds found a missing wedding ring in the rubble and the community rallied to raise funds for those affected.
Oct. 19: Nine months of tireless searches and endless speculation about what happened to Maya Millete culminated in the arrest of her husband, Larry, on suspicion of her murder. Larry’s case remains in trial and Maya’s remains have not been recovered. But prosecutors have started laying out their case against Larry, saying he was an unbalanced and jealous husband who enlisted the help of online spellcasters to try to control his estranged wife. Larry has denied all charges and suggested Maya disappeared on her own accord.
Nov. 19: In just a few surreal minutes, drivers who saw cash blowing across the freeway in front of them got embroiled in a story that made national news and prompted an FBI investigation. Bags of cash fell from an armored vehicle and prompted a free-for-all, with drivers (some of whom recorded themselves) stopping traffic to scoop up money. Some thought better and returned the bills at threat of serious criminal charges.
Dec. 13: It feels somewhat fitting that San Diegans ended 2021 right back where they started with COVID-19 protocols, at least on the issue of face coverings. Despite significant progress getting people vaccinated and reducing the number of severely ill people, the rise of the omicron variant and concerns of a winter surge prompted California to reinstate its indoor mask mandate. Reaction from San Diego residents was mixed.