Top 10 stories of 2010: No. 1: Death of 15-year-old shocked San Luis Obispo County

The countdown for the Top 10 Stories of 2010 as selected by the Tribune editorial staff concludes today with the No. 1 story.

The image of a young, smiling girl with blond hair, her almond-shaped eyes glistening, will long haunt many in San Luis Obispo County as a reminder of a life cut short.

The charred body of Dystiny Myers was found dumped in a remote grass field near Santa Margarita in late September — a little more than a month after her 15th birthday.

Myers’ grisly fate left the community stunned. Mourning friends and family were left with more questions than answers.

The Santa Maria teenager has been eulogized as a vibrant girl who was considerate, welcoming, kind and loved her family. She was known for her heartfelt way of reaching out to those less fortunate and for comforting those in need.

More than 300 people — both friends and strangers — paid tribute to her at a memorial service in October. Her white casket, adorned with yellow, pink and lavender flowers, commanded the attention of those who packed the Pacific Christian Center in Santa Maria to say goodbye.

Friends of Myers said she had fallen into a bad crowd in the months before her death but said her kindness had never faded.

Those closest to her say they don’t know the suspects alleged to have killed her.

The investigation into her death started after firefighters, responding to a brush fire about 5 a.m., found Myers’ body off Parkhill Road in a remote area south of Highway 58 outside Santa Margarita.

That same day, teams of investigators, through interviews of potential witnesses and suspects, were able to trace a vehicle seen leaving the area to a home in the South County — leading them to four of the five suspects.

The fifth suspect was arrested the next day after he sought treatment for injuries detectives say he suffered at the site where Myers’ body was found.

The trial of the five suspects — a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 10 — will serve as the first real glance into what happened that September night and possibly reveal how she died.

As a sign of the case’s sensitivity, a gag order was imposed by San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Barry LaBarbera in October at the request of the District Attorney’s Office. It forbids anyone involved in the case to discuss it outside the courtroom.

The five defendants are Jason Adam Greenwell, 21; Frank Jacob York, 19, and Rhonda Maye Wisto, 47, all of Nipomo; Ty Michael Hill, 28, of Santa Maria; and Cody Lane Miller, 22, of Fresno. All have prior convictions that include drug possession or use, or stolen property crimes.

They each have pleaded not guilty to charges of premeditated murder with special circumstances of kidnapping, torture and aiding and abetting in the alleged crime. The death penalty is being considered by the prosecution.

The complete top 10

No. 10 — CHP officer killed in crash near Paso Robles

No. 9 — Oceano driver accused of killing two tourists

No. 8 — Nacimiento Water Project

No. 7 — Search for new Cal Poly president

No. 6 — David Weyrich’s businesses continue to collapse

No. 5 — Annie the dog’s saga captivates the county

No. 4 — Four samaritans die in a plane crash

No. 3 — A year of elections

No. 2 — Budget cuts

No. 1 — Dystiny Myers

County investigated six killings in 2010

The Sheriff’s Department investigated the following deaths in 2010 in addition to the case of Dystiny Myers:

February: The body of Pedro Gonzalez was found in Nipomo amid hundreds of acres of farmland about a half-mile from the nearest house. Three people have been arrested and charged with involvement in his death. The killing is suspected to be gang-related. A fourth person was arrested, but the charges were dropped.

June: A couple was found dead after an apparent murder-suicide in their home north of Paso Robles. It was later determined that Sharon Rodrigues, 64, was shot by her husband, Phillip Rodrigues, 73, before he took his own life. Some in the community said they thought it to be a mercy killing because she had long suffered from dementia.

December: An Atascadero man shot his former girlfriend, then shot himself near Santa Margarita. The bodies of Stephanie Rodriguez, 19, of Templeton and Hugo Enrique Serrantos Castillo, 22, of Atascadero were discovered Dec. 1 off Highway 58 near Red Hill Road.

December: The most recent killings to shock San Luis Obispo County were the gruesome slayings of two sisters from the Owens Valley in an apparently random act at Santa Margarita Ranch on Christmas Day.The Atascadero man accused of the crime is a schizophrenic who had stopped taking his medications, according to police. The two victims are Beverly Reilly, 64, and her sister, Kathy Yeager, 61.

Andrew Wesley Downs led authorities on a 10-hour manhunt that culminated in the alleged attack on a family friend whose house Downs fled to in Atascadero. On Dec. 29, Downs’ attorney entered a plea of not guilty while declaring doubt of his client’s mental competency to stand trial.

Two doctors will examine Downs’ psychological state before submitting their recommendations to a judge, who is expected to rule Jan. 27 on whether Downs is fit to stand trial.