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Special Olympics torch passing through Central Coast

Flame heading to Summer Games in Long Beach

Special Olympics torch passing...

SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Traffic along Broadway in Santa Maria moved just a little bit slower for about an hour Tuesday from noon to 1 p.m. Drivers slowed down during the lunchtime commute to make way for the Law Enforcement Torch Run "Final Leg."

The annual event is part of the Special Olympics Southern California Summer Games Invitational, which is scheduled to begin this Saturday in Long Beach.

For several hours, law enforcement officers from San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties carried the torch as it makes it way south along the California coast.

At 12 p.m., the torch arrived at Santa Maria City Hall, where a brief ceremony was held to celebrate its arrival.

"It's amazing," said Special Olympian Taylor Stewart. "Life changing."

Stewart will soon compete in bocce during the Summer Games. Another local athlete heading to Long Beach is Landon Barnes, who will also participate in bocce.

"I'm very excited," said Barnes. "It's my first time going to Long Beach. First time I've ever got accepted to go and I absolutely love bocce."

During the ceremony, a check presentation revealed local law enforcement raised $40,000 for Special Olympics Northern Santa Barbara County.

"Without Law Enforcement Torch Run, we would essentially not have a program," said events coordinator Nick Chavez. "They have Tip-a-Cop dinner, we have a crab feed, we have VIP fundraiser and we have a Bull Canyon and they are literally the catalysts to our success in our program."

New Allan Hancock College police chief Paul Grohowski was making his local debut with the torch this year. However, the 21-year law enforcement veteran said he has participated in Special Olympics support events during his entire career.

"It's a great cause and it's a great community event to support persons with intellectual disabilities and allow them to have mainstream athletics and mainstream integration into society is a wonderful cause," said Grohowski. "Cops do good work all day long and this is one of the great examples of work that men and women in law enforcement do regularly for their communities."

Santa Maria police chief Ralph Martin, who is retiring later this month, was honored by Recreation and Parks director Alex Posada during the ceremony at City Hall. Posada thanked the chief for his support of local Special Olympics during his five years of service in Santa Maria and throughout his 40-year-plus law enforcement career.

After the torch left Santa Maria, it continued south to Vandenberg Air Force Base. After a stop there, it moved to the Allan Hancock College Law Enforcement Academy in Lompoc, where a ceremony was held at 4 p.m. A ceremony at the Lompoc Police Department was scheduled for 4:45 p.m. The torch will spend the night in Buellton.

On Wednesday, the torch continues south through Santa Barbara County. A ceremony at the UCSB Police Department Public Safety Building is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. before heading further south to Ventura.

The cauldron for the Summer Games will be lit at Long Beach State on Saturday, June 10.

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