Lois Capps’ farewell. Will she ever come clean about the role of her office in the manslaughter hit-and-run death of Mallory Rae Dies?

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By Peter Lance Updated December 18th, 2016. Three years ago on December 5th, 2013, after representing his boss, then eight-term congresswoman Lois Capps, at The Holiday Bash — the annual party thrown by The Santa Barbara Independent –Raymond Victor Morua III got into his Dodge Caliber with a blood alcohol level of .17, more than twice the legal limit, and just after midnight, as he roared down Anacapa Street at 60 mph in a 25 mph zone, he struck 27-year-0ld Mallory Rae Dies, a UCSB graduate and double major then about to take the GRE to get her master’s degree.

At the point of impact her body rolled up on his hood and when he hit the brakes she was hurled more than 20 feet down the street, striking the pavement with back of her head, resulting in a traumatic brain injury that later proved fatal.

Then, shockingly, after stopping to gaze at her body, Mr. Morua took off and nearly got away with murder as he hid in a nearby container yard, only to be outed by a courageous young designated driver named Devin Ryan Shaw who chased him at speeds up to 80 mph before the Iraq war vet and congressional aide crashed into a palm tree on Cabrillo Boulevard, sending a final text to his fiancé that read “Baby I’m Done.”

THE COVER-UP

After moving into damage control mode, in which Mrs. Capps’ District Director Mollie Culver forged Mr. Morua’s name on two official VA forms to get him out of jail and into a VA-funded treatment facility, the Capps office did a radical 180 degree turn once Mallory was taken off life support four days later.

In fact Ms. Culver, the former political director of the state Democratic Party and one of 55 California Electoral College Members who voted for President Obama in 2012, went so far as to claim that Mr. Morua wasn’t working for the congresswoman that night, thus, initially denying the Dies family any hope of recovery for her wrongful death.

I wrote a five-part series documenting all of this in The Santa Barbara News-Press in mid April of 2014. My findings resulted in an FBI/DOJ  investigation and a parallel probe by the VA, all of which quickly ended as Mrs. Capps ramped up for the election to her 9th term. Then, three days before the vote, the Feds quietly settled with the Dies family for $2.5 million,  a fraction of what they deserved, considering that Mallory’s medical bills alone were reportedly upwards of $400,000.00

When asked to comment on the charges documented in my series, Mrs. Capps and her press spokesman Chris Meagher, a former Independent reporter, told The Indy in a story written by his former colleague Tyler Hayden that the series was “full of inaccuracies,” but they couldn’t elaborate pending the lawsuit.

Then, once it settled, I reached out to them for specifics. But they’ve stayed silent ever since.

THE UTTER FAILURE OF THE SANTA BARBARA INDEPENDENT TO COVER THE STORY HONESTLY

From a journalistic perspective what made this story doubly troubling was the fact that The Santa Barbara Independent, SB’s equivalent to “The Village Voice,” was utterly conflicted in this scandal. Since it hosted The Holiday Bash and ex-Indy staffers (then Capps’ staffers) like Chris Meagher witnessed Raymond Morua getting drunk, the question of whether the weekly itself might become a defendant in the wrongful death action was an open issue.

In several pieces I challenged The Indy to cover the scandal fairly and tell the truth, including a piece on June 11th 2014 when they finally cited the FBI/DOJ investigation, but quoted ex-reporter Meagher as urging the public to “move past the false allegations asserted in tabloid media coverage.”

In that June 11th piece I included a Memo I’d sent to The Independent on June 6th urging its editors & reporters to cover the story “fairly and honestly,” noting that “Meagher and Mrs. Capps have yet to offer any details to support their allegation that my series, which ran to 20,500 words, was ‘full of inaccuracies.’”

That memo cited Tyler Hayden (at left) who started at The Indy as an intern in 2009 while studying English at UCSB. In a face-to-face meeting outside court on April 15th following Morua’s guilty plea, I challenged Hayden to advance my findings and he assured me that he would.

But Hayden and The Independent never did.

In fact the weekly went on to endorse Mrs. Capps in November, 2014 for what became her final victory. However, as noted, three days before the election the Feds secretly settled the wrongful death suit, taking The Indy and the other ten potential “John Doe” defendants off the hook.

HYPOCRISY IN A FAREWELL MESSAGE 

Every single word you’ve just read is true. It will be published along with some new findings in a book I’m writing called City Under The Influence: Life & Death On The American Riviera.” That book will seek to answer some of the Unanswered Questions in the Capps/Culver/Morua scandal.

What is particularly hypocritical and a sign of how Mrs. Capps has somehow been able to compartmentalize her lack of judgment in hiring Raymond Morua, is this line from her Farewell Letter published yesterday by the SLO Tribune which you can read in full below:

“…we have improved services and support for our local veterans by developing ways for them to use their skills when they transition back to civilian service.”

What my investigation revealed was that at the time Mrs. Capps’s office hired him, Mr. Morua, who drove trucks for the Army in Iraq, was a virtual time bomb waiting to go off.

In 2012 he went on the government payroll after he’d worked for her office as an intern. Apparently the Capps office saw no need at the time to spend $50.00 for an online background check.

If they had it would have revealed Mr. Morua’s eight criminal convictions since 1999.

It would have revealed that he’d had back-to-back DUIs in 2006, a hit-and-run from another accident months later and a conviction in 2010 for grand theft embezzlement. He’d openly talked about his problems with alcohol and didn’t get his suspended driver’s license back until barely 10 months before the night he hit Ms. Dies.

THE WATSON MURDER 

In the hours leading up to the 2013 hit-and-run, Mr. Morua drank two  shots of Four Roses at dinner and another five gin & tonics at The Independent’s party where he spent time with his office colleague and ex-Indy reporter Chris Meagher, along with James Joyce, then the aide to Mrs. Capps’ close political friend and colleague, State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, whose husband Superior Court Judge George C. Eskin reached out to Mr. Morua just hours after the crash with a referral of legal help.

At that time the Capps’s office was still in “damage control” mode. But on the afternoon of December 10th, once Mallory was declared dead, given his DUI and hit-and-run-related priors, Raymond Morua was facing 25 years to life for what is known in California as a “Watson Murder.”

That term, with its quarter-century sentence, derived from People vs. Watson, a case that stands for the precedent that if a person who’s had multiple prior DUI arrests drives drunk, he’s held to a standard of criminal negligence closer on the culpability scale to intentional murder.

IRONY OF IRONIES

In a story pregnant with moral ambiguity and irony, Mrs. Capps first won her seat in 1998 after her husband Walter, a beloved anti (Vietnam) war activist and UCSB professor, died during his first term in Congress. But as reported by The San Francisco Chronicle his 1996 campaign was greatly advanced after he and his wife were struck by a drunk driver and his recovery from serious injuries attracted major “sympathy” and media attention.

Just before her first victory Mrs. Capps was quoted in The New York Times as saying that she “pledged to step down herself after six years in office.” Instead she ended up tripling her stay on Capitol Hill.

I voted for her myself six times and it was shocking to me, as a citizen first and then as a journalist, to witness the kind of bare-knuckle survival politics from her that one would expect from a Big District Pol back East, not an ex-nurse who was repeatedly voted the “nicest member of Congress.”

Extending the irony even more is the fact that the think tank set up in her husband’s honor at UCSB is called “The Walter H. Capps Center For the Study of Ethics, Religions and Public Life.”

THE DYNASTY ENDS

One consequence of the scandal and the investigation that followed, was that it cut short the Capps’ political dynasty on California’s Central Coast. That happened in May of 2015 after Mrs. Capps announced her retirement and her daughter Laura, a former staffer in the Clinton White House, married to political power broker Bill Burton, decided not to succeed her.

Laura recently ran unopposed for the Santa Barbara School Board, after putting together the kind of slick political ad you’d expect to see at the congressional level.

Since no one ran against her she was elected by default. 

In that light, the ad and Mrs. Capps-Burton’s Facebook page, might seem like overkill, but the School Board could be seen as a convenient place holder for what might well turn into a future run for her mother’s 24th District seat if the new winner Salud Carbajal shows any vulnerability after his first term.

WHY ANY OF THIS MATTERS?

If you’re the kind of American who expects to hold the conflict-ridden Trump administration to a higher standard of accountability as I do, I urge you to contact Mrs. Capps and ask her why she hasn’t come clean about her former aide who admitted fault, took responsibility for his actions and is now serving 20 years to life in state prison. Ask her why she hasn’t answered the questions raised in my series. This isn’t about the right or the left, it’s about the kind of honesty we deserve, particularly from career politicians.

The memory of Mallory Rae Dies deserves nothing less.

Contact her by email: 
 Santa Barbara Office: (805) 730-1710 San Luis Obispo Office: 805) 546-8348 Washington Office:(202) 225-3601 
What follows is her farewell letter just published in the SLO Tribune:

BY LOIS CAPPS

 Eighteen years ago, I was honored and humbled to be elected as your member of Congress. After spending my career as a nurse and in our public schools, I never expected to serve in Congress — but I was eager to answer the call to public service on behalf of our community. Like my husband Walter before me, my call to service has been guided by the principle of working to restore the bonds of trust between the people and their government.

As a community, we have worked hand-in-hand to accomplish many things over the past 18 years, and we can and should be proud of the progress we have made at both the local and national levels.

Together we have protected our environment — designating the Carrizo Plain National Monument, stopping repeated efforts to drill for oil off our coast and using the lessons learned from last year’s oil spill at Refugio State Beach to strengthen safety standards for pipelines nationwide.

We have improved public health by investing in prevention and medical research and passing the Affordable Care Act, which ensures that no one will go bankrupt due to a medical condition, improves access to dental and hearing health services, establishes school-based health centers to set kids up for healthier futures, invests in the health care workforce, and makes preventive care and wellness screenings — including birth control, cancer screenings and vaccines — free.

We have fostered groundbreaking innovation and research at our local universities to help lead the way in clean energy and technology while supporting local businesses right here on the Central Coast.

And we have improved services and supports for our local veterans by developing ways for them to use their skills when they transition back to civilian service, strengthening the GI Bill, improving health care for military moms and streamlining the process for military members to get the benefits and awards they earned.

While I am extremely proud of our work together, in the end, what has meant the most to me are the people: the constituents I encounter on a daily basis who share their stories and concerns for our country with me; the school children I have had the pleasure of greeting on the steps of the U.S. Capitol during their first visit to Washington; the hard working staffers and public servants who work every day to make our country just a little bit better; and the service members, veterans and their families who sacrifice so much for our country and often don’t get the recognition they deserve.

It is my belief that together, we have helped to move the Central Coast and our country in the right direction. But there is still much work to do. I know that our Congressman-elect, Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal, will build on our successes, work hard toward the goals we have yet to reach and protect the important progress we have made. Together we will support him to do just that.

Representing you in Congress has been the privilege of a lifetime and the best job I’ve ever had. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your support over the years and for all you do to make the Central Coast a place I am proud to call home.

Congresswoman Lois Capps retired this year after representing the 24th Congressional District since 1998. 

 

 

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