The Peninsula’s top 10 stories of 2006

Highway 101 crash kills Tongan prince, princess and driver; Redwood City teenager to stand trial. Tongan Prince Tu’ipelehake and his wife, Princess Kaimana, were killed around 9 p.m. July 5 on U.S. Highway 101 in Menlo Park when, according to police, a white Mustang driven by 18-year-old Edith Delgado collided with their Ford Explorer.

Their driver and friend, East Palo Alto resident Vinisia Hefa, also died in the crash, allegedly caused by Delgado’s high-speed driving. Some witnesses said she was racing with a black Cadillac Escalade, a vehicle investigators have not yet located.

TheTongan royals visited the Peninsula once or twice a year. They were here in July to meet with local Tongans and discuss political reform back home, particularly the creation of democracy. During the weeks following their deaths, many Peninsula Tongans flew back to the islands to attend the funeral and participate in a traditional 10-day mourning period.

Delgado, a Redwood City resident, was arrested at the scene of the crash and has remained in custody since. Her bail, initially set at $3 million, was reduced to $1 million following an appeal by her attorney, Randy Moore, and an order from the state attorney general’s office. Her trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 13, 2007.

Caltrain fights back after 17 die on tracks, one of the deadliest years on record

The Caltrain corridor suffered a particularly deadly year in 2006, when 17 people lost their lives after being struck by the agency’s trains. The only years when as many or more people were killed on the tracks were 2000, with 17 deaths, and 1995, with 20.

Eight of the deaths were deemed accidents, four were deemed suicides and five had an undetermined cause, according to coroners in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. In one case, a Burlingame 13-year-old, Fatih Kuc, was killed while crossing the tracks after school.

Caltrain officials mobilized in response to the deaths. The railway launched a public-relations campaign, “Don’t Shortcut Life,” to encourage people to obey safety warnings and remain behind crossing arms when trains are approaching. In October, the rail authority announced it would spend $9 million to upgrade those crossing arms to make it impossible for people or cars to get around them.

Caltrain employees also walked in July’s “Out of the Darkness” overnight march in an effort to raise awareness about suicide. Officials hoped the gesture would encourage locals to seek help rather than ending their liveson the train tracks.

Cities, county toughen limits on smoking

This year was tough for Peninsula smokers, who found themselves shut out of a number of public locations, the target of new anti-smoking laws.

The San Mateo County Transit District led off the push by banning smoking in its bus shelters in January. That same month, Burlingame adopted an ordinance urging smokers to light up away from city parks and sports fields. San Carlos officials considered ways to crack down on downtown smokers who litter the sidewalks with their cigarette butts.

Belmont took a more severe stance, weighing new legislation that would ban smoking in all areas except single-family detached homes, including public sidewalks, after some of its residents — including those living in senior facilities and apartment buildings — complained that they often could not open their windows without breathing neighbors’ cigarette smoke.

Although the City Council had not yet signed off on the ordinance by the end of 2006, its efforts made national news as Belmont became one of a handful of cities nationwide to consider the move.

Elsewhere in the county, Pacifica banned smoking on its beaches on both environmental and health grounds, and county officials placed new limits on smoking in apartment buildings and public buildings.

Voters statewide struck back in November, voting against Proposition 86, an initiative that would have added an additional $2.60 in taxes to each pack of cigarettes.

Redwood City’s downtown revitalization off to a slow start

Redwood City planned to kick-start its downtown revitalization this summer with the grand opening of its 20-screen cinema complex and a bevy of shops and restaurants at the corner of Broadway and Middlefield Road.

But what was intended as a big bang was instead more of a trickle. Stores and eateries in the complex opened one by one after the theater launched July 28. By the end of the year, three of the four corner slots remained vacant.

Meanwhile, a city plaza in front of the 1910 courthouse, originally slated for completion in the summer, held its grand opening in October and crews continued to put the finishing touches on it into the winter.

Century Theatres, the company that opened the downtown cinema, kept its 25-year-old Century 12 site open east of U.S. Highway 101, and continued running blockbusters on its older screens until Cinemark, the company that purchased Century in 2006, took over. In early December, Redwood City officials announced publicly that they hope to lease the Century 12 property and replace the theater with retail and perhaps an auto dealership.

In 2007, Redwood City anticipates adopting its downtown precise plan, which gives developers a blueprint for further redevelopment of the city’s retail core. The document includes suggestions for improving retail and adding up to 3,600 new units of rental and for-sale housing.

Community shocked by grisly killings of couple, arrest of business partner

Millbrae was shocked in June when a pair of longtime residents, Fernand and Suzanne Wagner, were murdered in their Lomitaac Avenue home. When Suzanne didn’t show up to her job at a local hair salon, her co-workers called police.

Police found them on the floor of their home, and said later that both had sustained brutal beatings and were surrounded in blood. Suzanne was 68; Fernand was 78.

Burlingame resident and property manager Joseph Cua, 52, was arrested within a week of the couple’s deaths. Cua managed the property where the Wagners lived, but was apprehended in Southern California and booked into the Ventura County Jail.

Cua now remains in San Mateo County Jail awaiting trial. His case was delayed in October as county forensics investigators continued to examine evidence.

Two charged in Easter-weekend shootout that killed three

On April 15, the night before his 18th birthday, Humberto Calderon gathered with friends inside Headquarters, a bar on Redwood City’s Second Avenue, to celebrate. A gunfight broke out, leaving Calderon and two others — 28-year-old Jesus Hernandez, of Redwood City, and 38-year-old Hemerenciano Mendoza, of East Palo Alto — dead.

The deaths highlighted many residents’ concerns about the late hours and crowds that had dominated at Headquarters in recent years. Rumors circulated that the bar was known for allowing minors inside; in September, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control suspended the bar’s liquor license for 30 days after finding it broke the law for letting Calderon in the door.

Two men, 18-year-old Domingo Naranjo and 26-year-old Rolando Fernandez, were arrested in conjunction with the homicides and remain in custody without bail. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Beat L.A.? Niners will have the chance against Rams in NFC Championship Game

San Francisco has won six straight over their long-time rivals

The downturn persists: Examiner analysis reveals that S.F.’s economy has a long road to recovery

‘If you don’t keep downtown a vibrant place, it has cascading consequences on all the neighborhoods’