This Just Shouldn't Happen

I saw this story originally over at and wanted to make a few comments on the incident before it was lost in the headlines of how Lindsay Lohan spent her weekend.

Last Sunday, two Oklahoma Highway Patrol officers were videotaped during a physical confrontation with a paramedic in the rural community of Boley, OK (having lived in Oklahoma for a number of years, I have to confess that I even have no idea where that town is).

One of the troopers had stopped the ambulance which was actively transporting a female patient (non-emergency) to a hospital in another nearby community. From the reports, the trooper made the action after the ambulance had failed to yield to his vehicle’s emergency equipment--as OHP units were racing to assist county deputies involved in a hot call.

The media story is here.

The EMT’s report of the incident is here.

This is the video of the confrontation as was filmed by a family member of the woman being transported:

Note: As usual with my commentary, I was not there and do not know all the details. As a result, I will try to make specific comments and relate them to professional practices in an unbiased manner.

 The argument over what happened prior to the videoed struggle (whether the EMT attacked the officer first) should be settled rather quickly by investigators and prosecutors as the OHP car’s video camera should have been running during the incident’s entirety.

Further, the positioning of the OHP car and the fact that the confrontation occurred at the back of the ambulance, would also allow for a full view of what happened from the second camera.

 Pulling over an ambulance during a patient transport is something done only in exigent circumstances—non emergency or not. If an officer did not know that the ambulance had a patient at the time of the stop, once that information was ascertained, the issue is best resolved later-—allowing the ambulance to take the patient to the medical facility (again outside of exigent circumstances).

Previously, I blogged on a similar situation involving an officer who stopped a doctor as the physician responded to an emergency call at a hospital.

 Running emergency for police and having drivers not yield to you is frustrating but simply par for the course. You search just about any of the police officer blogs online and you will see one or more posts on each of their sites about this issue. Despite the negative emotions that these non-yielding drivers (for whatever reason) elicit, an officer still has to remain professional and not appear as someone being driven simply by anger.

 In a number of agencies' use of force policies, choke holds/arterial restraints are considered deadly force-—a technique to be used against a person to save the officer’s life or the life of another.

 Stopping and detaining a patient’s transport is a significant liability for the officer’s department.

 It would be reasonable for an EMT not to stop for police while in active transport of a patient. One paramedic advised that he would contact the officer’s dispatch inform him/her of the hospital they were in route to and have supervisors of both agencies meet them there.

 In this matter, there seems to be plenty of witnesses. From the EMTs report, the trooper making the stop even had a female passenger with him.

The EMT's incident report (linked above) is descriptive. If just half of the information in the all of the reports is accurate, and the incident included obscene gestures, unprofessional radio transmissions, and wrestling matches in which no charges are filed, the only clear losers here are the emergency response agencies in Oklahoma (the police and paramedics).

The incident will cause a significant loss of public confidence—support that personnel from these two agencies desperately need to perform at the highest level of success.

This is certainly an unfortunate situation that should not happen.

Off the Beaten Path #9: Chips and Cheese

Note: For previous segments of Off the Beaten Path, I highlighted places that I have visited and recommend. With this post and for future travel stops, I am going to discuss places that seem interesting to me, but are spots that I either stopped at only as a young child or venues that I have never visited yet heard good things about.

In continuing with the contrarian theme of today’s travel post, I am not going to recommend a warm ocean stop, not a challenging corn maze, or even the world’s largest cave system. No, this travel destination is best visited September 4th and 5th of 2009 so that you can soak in all of the events taking place at Marion Park in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin.

What would attract me to the great state of Wisconsin in the fall—-well, manure of course!

Yes I said poop. In September, Prairie du Sac hosts the 34th annual Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw (not to be confused with the World Cow Chip Throw held in Beaver, OK).

Having competed in this type of athletic event (did I really just admit that?), all I can say is get your pitching arm stretched out, keep a close pin handy for your nose, and you may be able to bring home the gold trophy and bragging rights.

My one tip for interested competitors is to verify that your brown projectile is well-dried before gripping; trying to throw one that is fresh and/or soft is simply a huge mistake that you will regret.

The Wisconsin festival organizers left no one out when it comes to planned activities—you can let the kids compete in the “Children’s Chip Chuckin” contest as well that begins at 0900 on Saturday.

In addition to the fun with bovine dung, the festival includes their own Marti-Gras-style celebration named “Moo De Grass” where you can see Dennis DeYoung perform some classic 1970s and 80s Styx tunes. The festivities also feature a running race and an art fair.

Promoting crap in Wisconsin has a long history, but did you know that their state government is also serious about cow feces? In 1989 the Wisconsin State Legislature proclaimed the cow chip the Unofficial State Muffin. I wonder if that is printed on all state tourism brochures.

If you have any time and energy left after the festival, there are plenty of outdoor hiking and boating activities in the area, as well as places to watch for bald eagles. One more stop on your trip should be included include as a visit to Wisconsin would certainly not be complete without sampling some of the locally made cheese and touring a cheese manufacturing facility.

The Cedar Grove Cheese Factory in Plain, WI has an excellent reputation and a conveniently placed gift shop—so at least you’ll bring home something pleasant smelling to counteract the aroma of those souvenir cow patties that you purchased at the contest.

So, pack some extra anti-bacterial soap and Lysol, and I’ll see you in Wisconsin for some, well, dirty and smelly fun.

Note: pictures displayed were used from the fesitval's site and the area chamber's URL.

Just the Bus Driver

“Hey, step inside here and warm yourself,” the strong but elderly voice directed.

I climbed into the cramped school bus, glad to be temporarily shielded from the frigid wind, and the woman quickly shut the door.

I had been here before. Holding the infant twins with my front strap-on carriers had become second nature to me. The strong and less controllable boy’s spot was the two strap centered holder, while the wiry baby girl sat in what I called “the sidecar”—a small sitting shelf attached to a nylon belt looped around my waist.

“It’s going to be cold like this all week,” she remarked.

We continued making small talk about the area, the weather, and our families.

The strong odor of must encouraged me to reminiscence about my own long uncomfortable rides in the “yellow banana” so many years ago. On the seat behind the bus driver, hung a red athletic jacket—several shiny gold and silver pins placed near the collar.

One of the pins evidently had something to do with baseball, but I could not read the wording.

“Well, it will be warm enough for baseball soon,” she observed.

Oddly, our previous conversations had included baseball as well. Building on the baseball topic and squinting to see anything else about her collar, I fired several questions at her trying to find her connection to baseball. Had she always been a fan? Did she attend lots of games? Did she have grandchildren that played or maybe a son who coached? The woman cheerfully responded “no” to all of prompts.

“There are the school children. I better run—thanks again for allowing me to stand on your bus Salty.”

The woman leaned over, tickled the toes of the two twins, and wished us a good rest of the day.

On another afternoon in the same parking lot outside the school, I overheard one of the parents giggling and pointing to one of the school buses. There, was my driver friend, head slumped back and mouth open, nodding off for 40 winks—taking a brief respite before being surrounded by energetic school children ready to go home.

“Oh, to be JUST the bus driver,” the mom remarked dismissingly while still pointing at the slumbering woman.

Hmm, I thought. I never was one to be concerned with status. Perhaps, that is what made me feel positive about my decision to initially become law enforcement—officers work around and become friends with so many different folks that employment, wealth, and other social yardsticks, for the most part, are less relevant in the policing world as compared to other professions.

The thoughtless comment did remind me, that for some reason, I was interested in why this elderly woman driver was so interested in baseball, but had no favorite team, no relatives playing the sport, and seeming no connection to America’s pastime. It just did not make sense to me.

One common trait with my police friends is curiosity, and this usually results in lots of questions. Despite leaving the profession, that is one of the qualities that has stayed with me (or still haunts me)—I will bombard folks with questions. Actually, always needing to sit facing the door and constantly looking at street signs so I know where I am are annoying habits to others as well.

Curious and inspired to look into what connection my bus driver friend had to baseball, I started playing around on the computer and thinking. A few mornings later, I turned to Google and followed a hunch. I typed the following keywords: salty and baseball. On page two of the search records, I found this gem:

Sarah Jane "Salty" Ferguson, who played under her maiden name of Sands, is a young lady who unfortunately didn't reach the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) until 1953, its next-to-final season,

She played in both of the final two years, for the Rockford Peaches, the team depicted in "A League Of Their Own," although Salty played after the War. Standing 5'4" weighing but 120 she seemed small for a catcher, But she was a scrapper and in her second year made the reserve All Star team. Unfortunately the AAGPBL folded in 1954 and her pro career ended…
Scanning through the article, I almost jumped out of my office chair. She played catcher for the Rockford Peaches?

The same Peaches team made famous by actors Geena Davis, Madonna, and Tom Hanks in the movie A League of Their Own?

This bus driver was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988—the one in Cooperstown, NY?

After some more digging, I found some historical pictures of the ball player named Salty.

Yes, same woman.

A few days later, I saw my friend on her bus and confronted her with my evidence. I even pointed to the shiny pin on her coat that I now could clearly read that said “Cooperstown.”

She just smiled modestly, and replied, “Yes, that was a great time. Many people never get to do what they love and fulfill a dream. I have been very blessed.”

We laughed for a few minutes, and then she boarded her bus and went back to work--still scrappy in her 70s no matter what the assignment.

Daily, we meet people who we form opinions about. As much as I try to avoid it, negative and judgmental thoughts can creep into my evaluation of others. To counter this bad practice, I am glad to be reminded from time to time that each person has a story to tell.

This includes unique experiences that have shaped them as a person—tales that are often interesting and dramatic, and on occasion: wonderfully meaningful and historic.

My experience with Salty made me think: how many other people (and the great stories that are a part of them) have I overlooked and not engaged in conversation because of my perception of them? It was a lesson that I’ll never forget.

“…Just the bus driver” as the one parent flippantly remarked; well, that proved to be the understatement of the year.

Part VIII: Brianna Maitland Missing Person

This is the eighth post in my series on the Brianna Maitland missing person case. Maitland was last seen around 11:30 pm on March 19, 2004, after she had completed her shift at the Black Lantern Inn in Montgomery, Vermont. She left the restaurant in a 1985 Oldsmobile, which was later found abandoned on the property of an old vacant farm--about one mile from the restaurant. The vehicle appeared to have been involved in a traffic collision.

This week I’ll continue with my discussion of some of the criminal element that police encountered during their investigation of Brianna--Ramon Ryans, Ligia Rae Collins, Moses Robar, Ellen Ducharme, and Jorge Soto.

Ligia Rae Collins
On the Fourth of July, 2004, around midnight, Ligia Collins, disappeared from her Burlington, VT apartment. Ramon Ryans, according to several press reports at the time, was still living with Collins and was the person who first reported her missing.

After a month of investigating, detectives believed that Collins had been murdered during a drug transaction and identified Ellen Ducharme and her boyfriend Moses Robar as suspects. When Robar, operating a pickup truck, was approached by police, he shot himself committing suicide. Ducharme then confessed to killing Collins and stated that Robar and another local man with a criminal background, Timothy Crews, helped to dispose of the body in a remote area.

The remaining suspects were unable to lead police to the body’s location (forgotten), but it was found unburied with the help of a civilian search team led by a relative of Collins in the Green Mountain National Forest.

Ramon Ryans
As was discussed in the previous post, Ryans was arrested for drugs by police investigating a report that Brianna was being held against her will in a local house. The same Ryans bonded out and returned to Burlington where he reported Collins missing a few months later.

After the Collins investigation, Ryans was able to furtively relocate to NYC, where it took a listing on Vermont’s Most Wanted to encourage an associate to collect the reward money and provide the wanted man’s location to authorities.

Ryans was returned to Vermont to face the initial drug charges, but the defendant evidently was able to negotiate a favorable deal with prosecutors to provide assistance with the Maitland investigation. As a result, his felony charges were reduced to misdemeanors, and he was released with time served (no additional jail time added to the time he already had spent incarcerated).

The specific assistance that Ryans provided detectives is unclear, but media reports indicated that it included a polygraph examination. The Maitland family was displeased with the deal that Ryans made with authorities, and unfortunately, the “assistance” must not have aided Brianna’s investigation much anyway.

Jorge Soto
Police also acted on a lead that was generated by the Maitland’s family website—-that had been established to detail Brianna’s case.

According to tips, the Joker, who police have identified as Jorge E. Soto, 26, of Springfield, Mass., was an associate of Ryans, whose street name was "Streets", and Nathaniel Jackson, who went by the street handle "Low."

Soto, who sometimes lived in Richford, Vt., 13 miles from Montgomery, reportedly had been bragging he had killed Maitland. People in Richford said Soto was notorious in their town for having killed a puppy at a party with his bare hands because its barking got on his nerves and for bragging he was "untouchable" to local law enforcement.

When police questioned Soto about his boastings concerning Brianna, he told them his claims were only bravado made up to make him "appear big and mean" in the eyes of those to whom he dealt drugs and to those who owed him money. After police had questioned him, Soto reportedly continued to tell people that he killed Maitland and even told one group of teens he had buried her body in a St. Albans cornfield behind a house he occasionally occupied.
In sum, the police investigation into Brianna Maitland’s disappearance had produced a variety of dangerous characters, but no details to her case that could be substantiated. Oddly, the name Ramon Ryans would appear again as police searched for more information about the missing young woman.

Note: Most of the information in today's post (including the quote above) was sourced from this informative article.

Previous posts in this series can be accessed by clicking "Brianna Maitland" on the left margin of the home page.

Deviant Volunteers Needed—Suction Cups Not Provided

When I worked as a patrol officer, I remember handling my fair share of thefts of and from tractor trailers. Honestly though, I can say that I never investigated a theft from a commercial truck that was moving at the time of the crime:

They were daredevil highwaymen whose meticulously planned motorway heists combined precision driving with death-defying acrobatics.

On Friday Spanish police made a series of arrests in and around Madrid detaining 23 members of a gang who they say specialized in robbing moving trucks without the drivers noticing.

The Civil Guard believe the the gang crisscrossed the country and pulled off more than 50 thefts from trucks in a two-year crime spree that brought them millions of dollars.

With little apparent thought for their safety the thieves often targeted trucks at night on quiet stretches of motorway.

The gang used a car to overtake and then pull in front of a lorry, forcing it to slow down. Other gang members in following pick-up trucks would then draw up behind the truck.

A daring robber would walk down the bonnet of the pick-up and leap from it and on to the back of the moving truck.

Using a rope or a suction cup device to hang on, the thief then used either a battery-powered grinder or a crowbar to pry open the truck's rear doors.

Other members of the gang clambered across the bonnet of the pick-up truck and jumped into the back of the big rig.

They then passed back the loot, which was often computers, mobile phones, brand-name clothes, sunglasses or perfumes.

The stolen goods were immediately packed into waiting boxes in the back of the pick-up truck, ready to be sold on.

Once the thieves were satisfied, or the lorry emptied, the gang sped off. Sometimes several pick-ups would be filled from the back of a single moving truck…
I am sure the gang leaders selected the first guy to jump onto the back of the truck based on expendability rather than athletic prowess:

“Hey, we are going to try to hit that truck while its being driven on Highway 12 tonight. You tell Jr. to put down his Nintendo WII and practice more with those suction cups that we gave him—-I am really not convinced that this plan is going to work.”

Tuber of the Week #10: Memorial Day and Sacrifice, Part Two

Note: With Monday being a holiday, I am switching my usual missing person post to Wednesday so that I can discuss the Tuber of the Week feature to today. The following is the second of two posts (and includes the third of my selected Civil War stories) in honor of the veterans who gave their lives for freedom.


Soldiers are commonly asked why they serve their country. Why would you want to risk losing your life?

One of the most eloquent responses to this difficult question was penned by Sullivan Ballou, a major in the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers. In a moving letter to his wife Sarah more than 140 years ago, actor Paul Roebling reads Ballou’s words for this week’s highlighted video (this version was a student's college project):

The edited text of the letter is listed below:

July 14, 1861
Camp Clark, Washington

My very dear Sarah:
The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more …

I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans on the triumph of the Government and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and sufferings of the Revolution.

And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

Sarah my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me unresistibly on with all these chains to the battle field.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them for so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grown up to honorable manhood, around us.

I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me—perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar, that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed.

If I do not my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness…

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights… always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again...

Major Sullivan Ballou was killed a week later at the first Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861.
Though some folks might disagree with Ballou’s beliefs, I cannot imagine any rational individual who would not respect the major’s love for country and family.

The text of the full letter appears here.

Memorial Day and Sacrifice, Part One

Note: The following is the first of two posts in honor of the soldiers who gave their lives for my freedom.

Since Memorial Day was started in 1868 to honor those Union soldiers lost during the Civil War, I’ll focus on three inspirational stories (two in this post and one in a second) from the War Between the States:

First Lieutenant Bayard Wilkeson
On July 1, 1863, nineteen year old First Lieutenant Bayard Wilkeson was in command of Battery G, 4th US Artillery in the tiny hamlet of Gettysburg, PA. After marching 12 miles that morning, he was ordered to take a defensive position on a hill near the town known as Barlow’s Knoll.

Almost immediately Wilkeson and his troops became engaged in desperate fighting, and the Lt. suffered a severe wound to his right leg. Without concern for himself, he wrapped the upper part of his leg in a make-shift tourniquet, and removed the lower portion of his badly damaged leg himself with a pocket knife. He then was placed back onto his horse and continued to lead his men until losing consciousness.

During the Union retreat of the field, Wilkeson was carried to the rear of a farm building. Making a split second decision and with the Lieutenant’s blessing, his comrades decided to leave him behind—as his wound was considered fatal. It was reported that the Lt.’s last act was to give his only canteen to a retreating comrade.

Ironically, Wilkeson’s father, NY Times reporter Samuel Wilkeson arrived in Gettysburg later in the day to cover the news events. He immediately learned that his son had been badly injured, but was unable to locate Bayard until the next day—when the Lt. was found dead.

Sergeant Richard Kirkland

In December of 1862, twenty-nine year old Richard Kirkland was serving as a sergeant in Company G, 2nd South Carolina during the battle of Fredericksburg (VA). After participating in the devastating defeat of Union forces at Marye’s Heights, Kirkland and his comrades spent the night listening and watching thousands of wounded and dying Union soldiers lay on the open grass below their position.

Because the field was still contested, anything seen moving drew immediate gunfire from both sides. As a result, no one dared enter the middle ground to provide any relief to the sea of blue soldiers in varying states of agony.

The next morning, Kirkland asked permission from his direct superiors to go help some of the soldiers lying in the field. His request was denied multiple times—as commanders felt it was simply suicidal to leave their protective wall.

Unfazed, Sgt. Kirkland walked to his brigade commander’s headquarters, and met personally with General Joseph Kershaw requesting to be allowed to assist the enemy wounded (for those familiar with military/police protocols, jumping to the top of your chain of command for a request after it was denied is simply not a smart career move). After initially refusing as well, the General finally relented, offered his blessings, and granted the sergeant permission to enter the open field.

Kirkland gathered all the canteens he could carry, hopped the protective stone wall, and entered the deadly field to assist the fallen soldiers. The sergeant made numerous return trips into the killing field and worked for more than an hour-and-a-half distributing blankets, water, and comforting the fallen enemy soldiers. For many, Kirkland’s act of compassion was their last experience in this life.

Strangely, Union snipers quickly recognized what he was doing and not one shot was fired at the sergeant during his work. His heroic actions earned Richard Kirkland the nickname: “The Angel of Marye’s Heights.”


What was I doing at age 19: worried about term papers and deciding which flavor shake to order at the local Sonic? Would I have been brave enough to jump my chain of command and risk my own life to comfort another?

In dedication to Wilkeson and the deceased soldiers at Marye’s Heights, I am not able to offer any gifts that would equate to even a fraction of what Kirkland provided dying Union soldiers so many years ago, but instead offer a humble prayer of thanks for the sacrifices of veterans who have provided us with so much.

Guns in US National Parks

Note: No Off the Beaten Path segment this week--too many other stories that I wanted to make comments.

As a young police officer, I did lots of hiking at US National Parks. I always debated whether or not to violate gun bans at the parks and sneak my firearm onto federal property. Reluctantly and knowing my luck, I decided that I would be more likely to be found in violation of the law versus encountering a situation where I actually needed the gun. My colleagues thought I was nuts going unarmed, but fortunately nothing ever happened.

You may have seen this week that President Obama is prepared to sign legislation that would allow visitors to US National Parks to carry concealed firearms. These restrictions have been in place since the Reagan years, and as with anything gun-related, it has been hotly debated.

Conservative commentator S.E. Cupp had this to say about the issue:

…First, what the bill doesn’t do. It doesn’t make hunting in national parks legal, so everyone can stop worrying that Gomer and Bubba are going to single-handedly deplete the bighorn sheep population in Yosemite. Hunting in most national parks is already prohibited, but not by law.

Individual park superintendents determine hunting regulations, so those who’ve banned hunting in their parks will likely keep it that way.

It also doesn’t mean we can expect more violence at the Grand Canyon. The expansion of Right-to-Carry has historically had an overwhelmingly positive and vitiating effect on violence. As the number of Right-to-Carry states has increased – there are now 40 – the nation’s murder and violent crime rates have decreased.

And it doesn’t mean we should prepare for a rush on assault weapons. The bill doesn’t have anything to do with buying guns, nor does it make it easier to buy guns…

Now for what it does do. First, it corrects a significant restriction on 2nd Amendment rights, which shouldn’t apply everywhere except in our national parks. — The idea that I can protect myself from predators in suburban Florida but not in the wilderness is absurd.

Furthermore, it provides some much-needed uniformity to federal land restrictions, which are made unnecessarily complicated by patchwork regulations and conflicting bureaucratic rules. The Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service, for example, allows the carrying of firearms, but the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service do not…

It will also allow the hunter, on private land on the edge of the national park, to stalk his kill past the gates without getting arrested for unlawful possession.

And it will allow a couple hikers to legally defend themselves in the wild –- against the crazy escaped convict or the charging grizzly…
In my opinion, the most persuasive argument with the public concerning anti-gun laws is that they create an environment that no one will have firearms except authorities. Certainly, this idea is debatable, but the rationale for gun bans make even less sense at national parks in the US.

In many of these parks, visitors can quickly find themselves isolated—-with no police or even a method to contact someone else if the need arises. As a result, each individual has to rely on his/her own abilities to survive if danger is encountered--making guns illegal there offers affords less protection to visitors.

Allowing concealed weapons in a National Park simply allows those visitors who want to go armed one other reasonable option in a life and death situation.

If I had seen the horrific stories on hikers who had fatal encounters with bears at parks like Christine Courtney in British Columbia, as well as graduate mapping student Alyssa Heberton-Morimoto who was murdered by a felon in a Colorado national park, I may have changed my mind, went armed on my visits back then, and just risked being caught.

An Upcoming BYOB Opportunity

During a spontaneous road trip to pick-up some furniture this week, a hutch and headboard that I needed every millimeter of our vehicle to fit (I should have taken more physics classes), I noticed the following message written on a sign for a local business:

This Thursday 10 pm to 1 am BYOB!

The message immediately prompted me to place a cell call to the Mrs.:

Slamdunk: {{sound of dialed phone ringing and then being picked-up}} Hiya honey. I have got fantastic news.

The Mrs.: What…{{in an annoyed tone}}

Slamdunk: Clear your calendar Thursday night ‘cause I am taking you out.

The Mrs.: We already did that a few days ago, remember? You stopped and got Chinese food on the way home from the mall on Mother’s Day. Well technically, since you forgot your wallet and I had to pay, I treated on that date.

Slamdunk: We have the best quality time—-who cares who actually pays right? No, this is even better. I am taking you to the place where we held our wedding rehearsal dinner: the place where a kid, like me, can be a kid.

Mrs.: {{sighs}} Yes, Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza; you were the champ that night. I think your name is still listed as high score on the Galaga game machine.

Slamdunk: I’ll never forget that night of memories. I think that the dinner and video game entertainment were only topped by the next night at the ceremony--held at our local fire hall.

The Mrs.: Yes, too bad the event room at the fire hall was booked. I have to give those firefighters credit though, the garage was sparkly clean for us. Too bad your brother had that reaction to the exhaust fumes from the trucks—-poor guy was coughing so hard I thought we were going to have to give him oxygen.

Slamdunk: I think the real world air was good for him. Anyway, I knew you would be as pumped as I am about a late night at the Cheese. I am not sure we can get someone to watch the kids on this short notice, but heck, they go to bed before 10 pm anyway. We just lock all the doors, they’ll sleep, and we can stay at the business until 1 pm and help the employees close the door.

The Mrs.: I’m not so sure about that. Hopefully, no one we know will see us there.

Slamdunk: Ok, I’ll make a deal with you. If we see anyone we know, I’ll work it out with the management there that I can quickly suit up in the mouse outfit and entertain the customers.

The Mrs: {{gagging sound}} Yes, your dancing talents are legendary. I don’t think my street cred can get any closer to zero, but hanging around you is sure testing that theory.
Ok I confess, all of the preceding dialogue was fake (except for forgetting my wallet on Mother’s Day to pay for dinner) and this was my weak attempt at humor. The only truth to the story is that I did see the sign and did call the Mrs.

As I railed before on Chuck E. Cheese (for being caught selling alcohol to minors at a location near Chicago), they need to decide on what their brand is and stick with it. If they want to retain the family-friendly emphasis, complete with no violent or bad-language video games, then management should not be promoting a BYOB gathering for adults only--it simply dilutes their brand.

At least if gang members do hang-out at a Chuck E. Cheese—they could argue they are simply there for the adult beverages and Ms. Pacman tournaments that start at 11 pm.

If the owners of the Cheese want to host adult parties, then change the name and the sign on the door to something else or develop a new marketing pitch.

Tuber of the Week #9: Unique Baton Strike

A few months ago, I posted a video pertaining to an effective police defensive tactic that I was taught called the brachial plexus stun. This week’s video features an unusual baton technique that I had not seen used before.

Perhaps, you are familiar with this instruction:

You have to appreciate Hollywood’s interpretation of realistic police work--though Heather Locklear shows us an impressive low and away change-up.

Note: I originally saw this video posted to the Houston Police Department’s recruiting blog in January.

Why Did He Do That?

Dr. H. over at the General Blog of Crime posted some of her thoughts on the wanted now found dead Professor George Zinkhan case in Georgia:

…Then came news that the alleged shooter was not a student but a faculty member, George Zinkhan, and that one of the three victims was Zinkhan's wife -- and so the story unfolded as an all-too-familiar case of intimate partner homicide. But then Zinkhan disappeared, and a weeks-long manhunt turned up no trace of him until this past weekend when cadaver dogs discovered his body in a concealed grave he apparently dug for himself immediately before committing suicide.

And then, I think, it became clear that this story is quite unlike others we've heard:

Zinkhan's body was found in a small dugout area in the ground, covered with leaves and debris, and it was apparent that he took significant steps to try to conceal his body from being located," a statement from Athens police said.

Law enforcement officials determined that Zinkhan, 57, committed suicide after killing his wife, Marie Bruce, 47, Thomas Tanner, 40, and Ben Teague, 63, outside a theater in Athens on April 25.

I don't really have much commentary to add, other than to say that I'm puzzled about why he went to such lengths to conceal his body. While suicide is very often the final result of male-perpetrated domestic homicide, I can't quite make out why he would have wanted nobody to find his body.

A final act of cowardice? The consequence of a deeply disturbed mental state? Who knows? It certainly is unusual, though.
Why would the professor try to bury himself before committing suicide?

How about this guess as to motivation: he wanted to be remembered as someone who may have not been guilty.

If he was apprehended, the trial would have most likely produced a guilty verdict. If he was located after committing suicide, everyone also considers him guilty.

In contrast, if he is never found, he would have a somewhat of a legacy. The possibility that he was not guilty would always exist (perhaps he was thinking of this specifically with his kids)--keeping the focus of the story on him alluding authorities rather than taking the blame for the violent crime that he was believed to be responsible for.

Deciphering human behavior is certainly difficult work.

Part VII: Brianna Maitland Missing Person

This is the seventh post in my series on the Brianna Maitland missing person case.

Maitland was last seen around 11:30 pm on March 19, 2004, after she had completed her shift at the Black Lantern Inn in Montgomery, Vermont. She left the restaurant in a 1985 Oldsmobile, which was later found abandoned on the property of an old vacant farm--about one mile from the restaurant. The vehicle appeared to have been involved in a traffic collision.

This week I want to discuss three facets of the case that appear to be inconsistent with a voluntary disappearance—a theory that investigators initially favored.

First and in general, when a person chooses to run away from his/her present life, usually a trail is left behind. Money is withdrawn to support the decision. Close friends and family members are given obvious or subtle clues. Future plans and employment arrangements are canceled or modified.

I imagine investigators trying to locate Brianna Maitland expected to find clear indications that she wanted to leave. Unfortunately, as the search grew and the more of her friends and family that were interviewed, police found no evidence that she voluntarily left. To the contrary, Brianna had made plans to meet her mom prior to vanishing, was scheduled to work the next day, had evidently not mentioned leaving to anyone, and found inside her abandoned vehicle were uncashed paychecks.

In cases involving voluntary disappearances, the missing person’s vehicle or another mode of transportation is commonly identified as the means for leaving the area. In Brianna’s case, her car was left behind with seemingly no other automobile available for her to simply drive away and start life over again somewhere else.

Second, high publicity cases make it very difficult for missing persons to remain hidden. Brianna’s case was big news in the Northeastern US for several weeks, discussed regularly on multiple sites on the Internet, and covered nationally by Fox News and CNN special programming.

This attention is in addition to the wide publicity that her case received due to Vermont State Police and Federal Bureau of Investigation involvement—-as thousands of law enforcement and other agencies received her information.

Though it is not impossible to hide from the public eye as a high-profile missing or wanted person, some will contact police just because they can’t stand the attention anymore. Who can forget the Runaway Bride, Jennifer Wilbanks, in Georgia—the woman who called police in New Mexico with a fake abduction story (that was later retracted) after a media barrage had her picture on every newspaper and television screen in the nation for a time.

In the media blitz involving Brianna’s case, apparently only one possible sighting that was not quickly ruled out was released to the media--and that was two years after her disappearance. *

*Note: the sighting involved a woman who resembles Brianna in a New Jersey casino, but the report remains unsubstantiated (authorities were able to obtain several still photos of the woman). The Maitland family admitted that there is a strong resemblance, but they are convinced that it is not Brianna in the footage.

Finally, investigators talking to people about Brianna’s disappearance began wading through disturbing tips and comments that tried to connect Brianna’s case to several individuals with lengthy criminal activity backgrounds. Two of these discussions even led to talk about how Brianna was murdered--one even describing how her body was disposed at a local farm.

In a detailed article about the Maitland case, investigative reporters H.P. Albarelli Jr. & Jedd Kettler had this to say:

…One of the earliest leads that came in to the State Police, less than a month after Brianna's disappearance, concerned a confidential tip that Brianna was in the basement of a Reservoir Road farmhouse in Berkshire, against her will. Police investigators, accompanied by U.S. Border Patrol and Vermont Fish and Game agents, quickly raided the rented house, about 15 minutes away from the Black Lantern Inn.

When police entered the farmhouse on April 15, 2004 they discovered several people inside, but following a thorough search of the house and property, found no signs of Brianna. During the search, however, police did discover various amounts of marijuana, cocaine, handguns, and drug paraphernalia.

State police arrested the occupants of the house, Ramon L. Ryans, 28, of Queens, N.Y.; Nathaniel Charles Jackson of New York and North Carolina; Timothy Powell of Berkshire; and Stephanie A. Machia, reportedly 17, also of Berkshire.

At the time of the arrest, both Ryans and Jackson were fairly notorious among local residents in Richford and Enosburg for "hanging around public parks and school yards" and allegedly "selling crack cocaine." Some young teens and adults in the towns knew both men by their respective street names, "Street" and "Low." In addition to "Low," Jackson was also on occasion referred to as "Nasty."

All of those arrested at the Berkshire farmhouse admitted to knowing Brianna Maitland, but maintained they did not know where she was or what had happened to her.

After being arraigned and, pending trial without bond set, the four were released. Jackson reportedly returned to a Richford apartment that he shared with several other individuals, and Ryans left for Burlington, some 50 miles away, where he lived in an apartment he shared on occasion with a 25-year old single mother of two, Ligia Rae Collins…”
This was not the end of the story for Ryans and Collins as their names would reappear later as the Maitland investigation continued.

In sum, at the beginning of the investigation, detectives apparently expected to find evidence that Brianna had willingly left her life and started new somewhere else.

This prediction quickly seemed to lose its appeal when: 1) investigators found no trail of leaving—money, people, vehicle, etc.; 2) the immediate and national media attention brought no substantiated sightings of her; and 3) authorities heard more from others (especially those considered the criminal element about) how Brianna was a crime victim as opposed to someone who had left the area willingly.

In next week’s discussion, I’ll talk more about some of the names introduced in this post like Ryans and Collins, and discuss someone who allegedly had boasted about his role in a violent crime featuring Brianna as the victim.

Previous posts on this case are here: Post I, Post II, Post III, Post IV, Post V, and Post VI

A Witty and Humorous Group

In my observation, one specific group of society that is always humorous and worth listening to: police spouses. Cast into a peculiar culture (one that he/she may not have fully understood initially) that includes a heavy social stigma, these folks can truly have unique and enjoyable perspectives on the profession and life.

I have found many of the blogs of police spouses to be as I expected—downright funny.

Here are three bloggers that made me laugh:

This week, Erin at The Fierce Beagle blog defined “faffing” as a useful behavioral term. She then provided examples of how her officer husband exemplified the word with his style of accomplishing home improvements. The resulting post was simply hilarious—though a bit too close to home for me.

Mrs. Fuzz’s periodic updates on some of the characters in her husband’s police training class have been very funny. Her Friday post, describing a sound mathematical calculation that converts her husband’s meaning of time into real time was entertaining.

Meadowlark, over at Just Wandering through, always has something witty to say. She recently allowed readers a peek at her husband climbing a tall tree to trim back branches—when predictably, some of the falling wood hit a little too close to the Mrs.

Since this post is no longer available to the public, here is a video of her young son managing to crack the family up during the very serious and silence-demanding performance of the US Marine Silent Drill Team at 8th and Eye in Washington, DC.

Great posts from these writers—keep up the excellent blogging!

Part VIII: Off the Beaten Path

Note: This will be my last post in current format for the "Off the Beaten Path” series. I have covered all of the interesting and unique places that I have personally visited and wanted to discuss, but I still enjoy talking about US travel. As a result and for future posts, I’ll continue the series with a different perspective--I’ll talk about places that I have not yet visited, but that still interest me.

To date, my featured travel spots, with the exception of Hana, HI, are best visited in the spring and summer. In contrast, today’s destination would not be open(well, only the store would be) if you stopped by in June or July. This location is best visited in the fall—when football season is blossoming and there is just a hint of coolness in the air.

Our family, at least once per fall, will make the drive west of Lewisburg, PA (for those following the Ray Gricar Missing Person posts, Lewisburg is also the town where he was last seen and his car was recovered) for a visit to Ard’s Farm Market*. Year-round, the market is a nice place to buy locally grown produce. But in the fall, the location is transformed into a little-known adventure gem for all ages.

Every September, Ard’s opens its 5 acre corn maze and activities area. The maze has an annual theme, three different games to play while in it, and more than fifty markers to hunt for while wandering the seemingly endless corn rows (related to finding letters that decode words and phrases).

The oldest kid and I, now that he has much more walking energy, can just about finish the challenges in corn maze in one trip (a few hours in the corn) to Lewisburg. Usually though, we will miss one or two markers, and I let him make the call on whether we try to finish the course depending on how much his stomach is grumbling and how hot it is.

Here is a drawing of the 2008 maze:

As much as he likes to finish everything in one attempt, he really doesn’t mind hearing that we will have to make a return visit either to complete the maze challenges.

Not only is there a big maze, but also a smaller one for young children. The smaller maze challenges youngsters to locate four markers that are assigned different colors. Once all of the colored markers are located, the children can then return to the start and check there “fortune” by comparing the order the colors were found using a large results board. Our little ones did this maze three times, and were so excited to find what each future prediction revealed.

In addition to the traditional corn walks, there is a neat rope maze. This is set on about forty yards of land and can be tricky to solve—there is only one secret way to the cowbell for a winning celebration. If you keep missing the secret row, it can involve plenty of walking.

One of the more shockingly fun activities at Ard’s is the tube slide. Built using plenty of PVC pipe on a large hill on the property, the slide is 95 ft. long that includes a surprisingly steep vertical drop. I think my son was three years old the first time we rode the chute--and I am glad I was gripping him tightly as that drop snuck up on us. Fortunately, he was excited and not scared, and immediately asked to go again.

Other things to do on the farm include a corn cannon that shoots cobs high into the air, sand boxes filled with corn or beans, swings hooked to pulleys that allow the kids to hold on for a ride, a barn filled with educational activities, and lots of animals to feed (it is a farm of course).

The elevated goat pen that features a bucket and pulley system is a huge hit with the kids—being able to wheel a bucket of goat feed up about 25 feet into a food tray for the critters is lots of fun to watch.

I could not find a picture of Ard's goat structure, but here is one from a farm in California that looks very similar:

Fortunately after hours of playing with the kids, Ard’s has a great eatery that includes a variety of foods including sandwiches, chicken pot pie, and even beer-battered onion rings. It is wise to also save room for dessert as the ice cream flows freely here as well.

For us, the annual trek to the corn maze and other activities at Ard’s Farm Market is certainly the highlight of our fall season.

One additional thing: Maize Quest is the firm that designs these wonderful corn mazes likes Ard's—-you look to see if there is one closer to you by going here.

*Note: You would think Ard’s would update their website so that it is not still showing as December, considering all this free publicity that I am giving them.

Previous tour stops in this Off the Beaten Path Series are:

--Lynchburg, TN

--Centralia, PA

--Murfreesboro, AR

--Washington, DC

--Hana, HI

--Corolla, NC

--Mammoth Cave, KY

99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall…

The following is from a conversation between father and son heard a few years ago at the end of the first travel night of a two-day car trip. Son is seated in the back of our vehicle, holding a laptop computer, with headphones attached to his ears:

Slamdunk (Dad): Hey son we made it—got to the hotel before sundown. You traveled well. I haven’t heard a peep from you in the last 4 hours.

Bambino (the six year old son): (Long pause… Removes headphones) You say something dad?

Slamdunk: Yes, I said we are finally here.

Bambino: (Still watching DVD on computer screen) Cool. Umm, Where?

Slamdunk: Williamsburg. You remember; where the historic area looks like a colonial village.

Bambino: (Takes a half-hearted look out the rear window) All right. Can I just watch the end of this episode? This is the twelfth Sponge Bob Square Pants that I have watched in a row—and it is the karate one with Sandy the Squirrel. (Puts back on headphones and does not wait for a response from Dad).

Slamdunk: Unbelievable…
I could have driven another four hours and the little guy would have been just peachy.

I think I was just shocked at how easy it is for kids to travel now. They have computers, DVDs, handheld games, and we can even hook his TV video games up in the back of the van now for mobile use. It is like never leaving the house for the techie youngsters.

I think my “unbelievable” comment was in consideration of my childhood trips.

Thinking back, I can sum my travel experiences in two words: sheer boredom. A three-hour car ride was the equivalent of a full day in school—at least in my opinion. I bet that most trips featured fights between my brother and me no less than twenty minutes out of the driveway. The license plate game, I spy, and other creative pass-the- timers were only very temporary distractions for us lousy travelers.

“He crossed over into my space” or “he punched/kicked/elbowed/spit at me” were commonly heard phrases from the backseat. Mom would threaten. If that did not work, Dad would become involved and that usually meant discomfort for us, but trouble would soon start again.

Beyond the sibling grappling and the fingernails-to-a-chalkboard phrase “are we there yet” heard regularly from one of us, another thing that really annoyed my Dad the driver was the abundance of Stuckey’s food stops on our usual route to Arkansas.

Do you remember Stuckey’s—-home of the pecan log rolls and pecan sandies?

Owners of this food and gift store were one of the first entrepreneurs to figure out that people like familiarity. Travelers familiar with a restaurant or gift shop were more likely to stop as opposed to a place that they had never been before like Joe’s Diner or something. As a result, there were Stuckeys at seemingly every exit off the Interstate going through Oklahoma and Arkansas.

When passing one of these familiar yellow signs and billboards with the red font, a scream of delight could be heard from the backseat: “Mom, there is a Stuckey’s can we stop?” Often, my parents seeking the few minutes of respite that a stop would provide, would concede to the children’s demands and stop for a few minutes at the Stuckey’s.

If we were really fortunate, we could also talk them into a snow globe,

Wooly Willy:

or some of those invisible ink trivia books:

In reality, those were good times for us kids, but I am sure dad would have given just about anything to have a modern mobile DVD player or at least the 99 bottles of beer on the wall available for immediate consumption.

Tuber of the Week #8: Motivation

I believe there are several positive themes included in this week’s highlighted video. I want to focus on one thing that I struggle with on occasion: motivation. When looking for a reason to run or otherwise push myself, thinking of father and son running team Dick and Rick Hoyt is always an effective kick in the gluteus maximus motivator.

“Dad when I am running, it feels like my disability disappears.” --Rick Hoyt of Team Hoyt

After completing over 200 triathlons (triathlon distances very, but the Ironman Triathlon consists of a 2.4 mile or 3.86 km swim, a 112 mile or 180.25 km bike and a marathon of 26 miles 385 yards or 42.195 km) and 65 marathons together, the competitive fires still burn for this inspirational tandem.

I found the last two plus-minutes of the clip to be especially powerful.

Motivated now?

Note: Sorry, but I am still having comment problems when I embed YouTube Videos in posts--sometimes readers can see comments from the homepage and other times they are hidden. Anyone can still write a comment to this posting, you just may need to click on the title of the post before Blogger allows you to see the form.

Bad Twit

Working the overnight shift in patrol, you get your share of intoxicated person calls. Intoxicated drivers, fighters, streakers, sleepers, urinators, and related—you name an oddity and an officer on duty at 2 am has likely seen it multiple times.

More often than any officer wants to see, these intoxicated folks will become belligerent and combative as they are being placed under arrest. After getting the subject restrained, then the officer has the joy of a long drive to booking, perhaps a probably cause hearing (in some jurisdictions a 24-hour circus called Night Court), and a lengthy stop for processing. Maybe the arrest will even involve an escorted trip to the hospital for medical treatment.

Whichever of these actions are required for the prisoner, it always provides ample time for the officer to be called every name that these inebriated yet often creative folks can create.

Every once in awhile, maybe later, the arresting officer gets a brief moment of satisfaction at the expense of his belligerent and combative defendant-—as I am sure this officer did:

BELLEFONTE — Court lesson of the day: Watch where you tweet. Less than 140 characters can help land you in jail.

A Penn State student from New Jersey was sentenced Thursday to spend at least 33 days in jail after the police officer who arrested him for DUI and resisting arrest told President Judge David E. Grine he found the man had been posting to his Twitter account during his March trial.

Penn State police officer Matthew Massaro said Scott Ruzal, 20, wrote: “When all else fails, try ignorance. I watched four cops lie on a witness stand today and I didn’t say a word.”

That was at 1:35 p.m. March 16, the day a jury found him guilty of the charges.

Twitter is a networking Web site where users may post entries -- each entry is limited to 140 characters --that can be viewed by anyone on the Internet.

Ruzal, of Fort Lee, N.J., was charged in April 2008 after police spotted him driving erratically. He was found to have a blood alcohol level of .280 percent after refusing to voluntarily submit to a portable breathalyzer and a blood test.

Police say Ruzal was kicking and hitting police, refusing to cooperate and had to be restrained on the East Parking Deck on campus.

Thursday at his sentencing hearing, prosecutor Karen Kuebler asked Grine to sentence Ruzal to more than a month in jail for repeatedly disrespecting law enforcement.

She said Ruzal was intoxicated the night he fought with police officers and hospital personnel, but was sober in court and still exhibited no respect.

“I believe 30 days in jail will certainly give him the wake-up call that he needs,” Kuebler said.

Ruzal apologized for his actions last year, but defended his Twitter postings. “That wasn’t anything I said out of disrespect of the court,” Ruzal said. “It was just an expression of a particular sentiment that I was feeling at the time.” ...
Having an arrestee who fought with police and hospital staff, and then hacked-off the prosecutor and judge after his trial-—earning an extra month in the local house of detention--must have prompted the arresting officer to smile (even just for an instant).

Too bad Twitter was not around when my belligerent combative defendants were on trial.

Part XIII: Ray Gricar Missing Person

Note: Another story involving a missing man was in the news this week, and I wanted to comment on it with respect to the Ray Gricar missing person case. Subsequently, I’ll hold my next writing on the Brianna Maitland until the following Monday.

In summary of the Gricar case—-he was a district attorney in Central Pennsylvania, and disappeared in 2005. On the day he went missing, he told his girlfriend that he was taking a vacation day from work, and last spoke to her via cell phone while driving on a local highway. His car was found abandoned the next day in a town about an hour east of his home, and his laptop computer was later recovered submerged under a bridge near his parked vehicle.

In a previous post on the case’s three primary explanations, I discussed how it was possible that Mr. Gricar committed suicide. Though authorities stated that Gricar did not appear to have suicidal issues (according to this medical records), his brother had apparently taken his own life a few years earlier, friends had reported recent changes in his Gricar’s behavior, and he was nearing a substansial life landmark as an unmarried man with a grown daughter (who lives in another state)—that of retirement.

The Centre Daily Times’ (PA) Ray Gricar blogger, JJ from Phila, has also explored the suicide explanation and provides good insight into the details that support as well as detract from this theory—including how Gricar reportedly inquired about the process for erasing a computer hard drive. Both JJ and I rank suicide as a lesser explanation as compared to crime victim and voluntarily missing, but still acknowledge that it remains a possibility.

The most significant minus against a suicide theory in the Gricar case is: if it did happen, where is the body?

With respect to Gricar’s situation, three geographic aspects seemingly should have produced a body if suicide was the explanation: the river, the area, and hunters.

As has been discussed, the Susquehanna River is the largest non-navigable river in the world—meaning it is shallow (referring to if Gricar jumped from the bridge near where his laptop was found). Despite having spring high waters during the time Gricar disappeared, that particular river just does not seem to hide bodies. Since 2005, no unidentified bodies have been recovered from the river.

Also, Lewisburg, the town where Gricar’s car was recovered is not an urban area, but not particularly a typical rural area either. Home to Bucknell University, the town and surrounding communities are the work, school, and entertainment destination for thousands of folks daily—producing lots of people on foot and by car.

Further, as with most of Pennsylvania, hunting and fishing are very popular pastimes. Sportsmen traverse the woods and fields of Pennsylvania as well as any other hunting state and certainly find their share of unexpected things. Despite the passing now of several sporting seasons, no additional Gricar evidence has been located (not counting the laptop and hard drive recovered from the river).

Again, that leaves the question: if Gricar took his own life, why has no body been located?

Interestingly, two recent stories in the news feature apparent suicides where the bodies were not immediately found:

1) Fugitive murder suspect and University of Georgia professor George Zinkhan’s body was recently found by cadaver dogs in a heavily wooded area. The media reports indicate that he partially buried himself and likely committed suicide. His body was found approximately 1.3 miles from where his vehicle was recovered.

It will be interesting to learn more of the details on Zinkham’s body, as it could provide potential ideas as to what to look for in other people suspected of committing suicide who want to hide their remains.

2) In Germany a few months ago, the skeleton of a man was found hanging from a very tall tree. Authorities found a suicide note and believe he committed the act 30 years ago, but had been listed as missing all this time.

In both of these instances, persons committed suicide, but their remains were not recovered until much later. I think that if Zinkhan had not been considered to be such a danger to society that the intensive manhunt (lasting weeks) would have occurred—-certainly decreasing the chances of his hidden remains being found.

In the Gricar case, I was told that cadaver dogs were used in at least one area, but I believe it would have been different as compared to the dogs involved in searching for Zinkham. With Zinkham, authorities had an accident scene, most likely some type of scent indication leading away from the crash and into the woods, and that the professor was considered to be armed and dangerous. In sum, they had a strong belief that he was with guns and in the brush somewhere.

In contrast, Gricar’s scent reportedly stopped at the end of the parking lot where his car was recovered. This led investigators to believe that he got into another vehicle. Also, though authorities want to find Gricar, he had not been accused of killing several people and was not considered an immediate threat to society—-Gricar was just another missing man with an important job.

Could Ray Gricar have committed suicide and somehow managed to hide his body? In my mind, this is still a less likely scenario to explain his disappearance, but certainly at least more feasible in considering the Zinkham and German cases.

The three previous posts on the Gricar case are Part X, Part XI, and Part XII.

Happy Dog Stories and Confessions of a Junior Warden

Periodically, I’ll see a news story about a dog that saving a child or person, and I am immediately drawn to the newspaper or television. Having always been a dog enthusiast, it is nice to break-up the usual headlines of murder and mayhem with a happy pooch report.

This dog story was from a few months ago in December:

A toddler lost in the Virginia woods was back home safe Sunday thanks to two puppies who kept him warm through a harrowing night of freezing temperatures.

Jaylynn Thorpe, 3, wandered away from his baby-sitter at 4 p.m. Friday and was missing for 21 hours as hundreds of friends, family and law enforcement officials searched for him in the thick woods of Halifax County, fearing the worst.

"The only thing we wanted to do was just keep searching until we found him," Halifax County Sheriff Stanley Noblin told reporters.

Jaylynn's frantic family knew time was not on its side.

"We didn't forget the issue that 17 degrees was almost unbearable," said his father, James Thorpe.

"People all over the State of Virginia was down there looking for that child. For a while there, one time, I didn't know whether they would find him or not," said the child's grandmother and guardian, Katherine Elliot.

Officials said the lost little boy and the two family puppies wandered up to a mile in the dark, even across a highway, but it wasn't until Saturday afternoon that members of the search team found him sitting by a tree, the two puppies nestled against him.

The little boy didn't say anything, according to rescue team member Jerry Gentry, but instead "just opened his arms up like, 'I'm ready to go.'"

"When I first saw him, he was like, 'Momma, I got cold. I slept in the woods last night. The puppies kept me warm.' He told me that ... the dogs slept up against him. And I'm sure the body heat kept him warm," said his mother, Sarah Ingram.
Last year, our Houdini-like escape artist youngest son managed to break-out of our home detention facility and enjoy an eight-minute free run of the neighborhood. Even in his sock feet, he avoided the snow piles and was nabbed about a block away by an alert neighbor—the child was heard laughing loudly during the incident.

Realizing that he was gone and then looking for him was one of the worst feelings I have ever experienced. I certainly feel for parents who go throw similar situations.

The warden of our facility (aka the Mrs. as I am in the Junior Warden) was not amused by little one’s escape, and I was repeatedly scolded and nearly sentenced to home-confinement and probation. All of this was deserving of course, and I took my public shaming with grace.

I have to admit that the little runner’s timing was impeccable as several stars aligned for his successful escape out the front door (noise initially explained as expected company, front door was unlocked, expected visitor liked to sneak-up on the other kids, me fixing something, other kids playing in another room and did not notice, etc.).

Too bad our family dog has passed away a few months before or perhaps she would have alerted me instantly to the little one’s escape.

Twelve months later, the same Houdini kid no longer waits for the front door to exit (child knobs help deter this as well), as he has scaled and jumped the four foot high back fence and took off sprinting to freedom twice now on the warden Mrs.—-all before his third birthday. Happy Mother’s Day, right?

Sometimes this parenting thing represents a bit of a challenge…

Snopes is not the Gospel on Double-Naught Spies

Note: I'm taking the week off on the Off the Beaten Path segment. I'll have a new post on that topic next Friday.

Perhaps you have seen this apparent chain email in your Inbox:

...Juval Aviv was the Israeli Agent upon whom the movie ' Munich was based. He was Golda Meir's bodyguard -- she appointed him to track down and bring to justice the Palestinian terrorists who took the Israeli athletes hostage and killed them during the Munich Olympic Games.

In a lecture in New York City a few weeks ago, he shared information that EVERY American needs to know -- but that our government has not yet shared with us.

He predicted the London subway bombing on the Bill O'Reilly show on Fox News stating publicly that it would happen within a week. At the time, O'Reilly laughed and mocked him saying that in a week he wanted him back on the show. But, unfortunately, within a week the terrorist attack had occurred.

Juval Aviv gave intelligence (via what he had gathered in Israel and the Middle East ) to the Bush Administration about 9/11 a month before it occurred. His report specifically said they would use planes as bombs and target high profile buildings and monuments. Congress has since hired him as a security consultant.

Now for his future predictions. He predicts the next terrorist attack on the U.S. will occur within the next few months…
The document goes on to list several predictions by Aviv about future terrorist incidents in the US. If you search this topic on, the useful debunking site, you’ll find this post:

FALSE (Claim)

Juval Aviv is indeed the president of New York-based Interfor Inc. (a corporate investigations firm), he was reportedly the source for the 1984 book Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team (the basis for the 2005 Steven Spielberg filmMunich), he is the author of Staying Safe: The Complete Guide to Protecting Yourself, Your Family, and Your Business, and he has made predictions about imminent terrorist attacks on the United States (and the forms they might take) similar to the ones described above.

However, some critics have expressed skepticism about Aviv's background, claiming that he has grossly exaggerated his "spymaster" credentials, as the Guardian maintained in a 2006 article about the film Munich:

“Our investigations show that Aviv never served in Mossad, or any Israeli intelligence organization. He had failed basic training as an Israeli Defence Force commando, and his nearest approximation to spy work was as a lowly gate guard for the airline El Al in New York in the early 70s. The tale he had woven [in Vengeance] was apparently nothing more than a Walter Mitty fabrication.”
I use Snopes regularly and, in general, they do good work. It is important to remember that Snopes and other informative sites on the Internet are simply tools and not necessarily the gospel on a given subject.

In this light, I think the people from Snopes are actually misleading on the subject. Reading their response, it is clear to me that Aviv's past and predictions should be labeled as "Unsubstantiated" rather than "False."

Though there are indications that the guy's spy credentials are misrepresented, the information offered by Snopes as from "critics" is far from conclusive. Also, Snopes' inclusion of his failed future attack prediction is irrelevant regarding his past employment experiences.

The most humorous thing in the Snopes post (and a significant clue that the author is far removed from his/her comfort subject area) is featuring those critics who called Aviv a "gate guard" as opposed to an employee involved in sensitive espionage. I’ll let the author in on a little secret--if one reviewed the resume of a former CIA or Mossad agent, you can be assured to see a misleading job history. One should actually expect to see a person involved in that occupation with vanilla previous employment listings including technician, security guard, buyer, janitor, or whatever.

Using only the Guardian's article as a basis for determination, does the Snopes author really expect the resume to list: "Covert Operative" or maybe “Double-Naught Spy?”

If Snopes’ researchers found Aviv’s resume to include the line: "1980-1997: Mossad Secret Agent who regularly shot small caliber rounds through an apparatus disguised as an umbrella"-—now, that would be something impressive-sounding but easily labeled as “False.”

One Instance when Cleanliness Was Not Next to Godliness

Note: Unfortunately, the news article used in this post was only available in a password-protected website. As a result, I am unable to provide a full Internet link to the story.

I have been told that the more preparation invested in committing a crime, the less likely the perpetrators are to be apprehended by police. This common-sense thinking can also be inversely applied (meaning no preparation equals high risk of being caught) as was evidenced recently by these two Mensa member offenders:

…Tabitha Swafford and boyfriend Kip Roy Deitterick allegedly hatched the idea to fake the robbery during a series of phone calls.

The pair conspired to rob the new hotel while the newly hired Swafford, was on duty Wednesday night.

Deitterick planned to find a lift to the business, don an orange hunting mask, and rob Swafford, 21, when she was alone at the front desk.

Once there, he sent a text message to Swafford saying "he was in the parking lot and wanted to know what time he should come inside and she told him 'whenever.'"

Deitterick pulled the knit mask over his face, then went inside and told her, "Give me all your money."

Back outside, he took Swafford's car and drove away from the scene while she called police to report the robbery….

Swafford later called Deitterick when she knew police were on to her, authorities say.

He later told authorities that's when he tossed the $200 take and the mask out of the car near a local bridge and went home.
What made police suspicious that the clerk was involved in an inside-job robbery? Perhaps, it was this little detail:

…But after responding officers arrived and told Swafford not to touch anything, a video clip shows her walking to the front of the counter and wiping down the spot where the robber had just been standing…
Yes, that is correct, in full-view of the mounted security cameras, the clerk decided to provide some extra buffing to the front counter area where that silly robber remembered his mask, but forgot his gloves.

Score one for the authorities as both participants were arrested—-though I doubt any “Detective of the Year” honors will be awarded based on cracking this case of felonious buffoonery.

Tuber of the Week #7: Musical Talent

Browsing music videos on YouTube has reminded me of how many talented yet unknown musicians there are in the world. I have listened to and watched unbelievable vocalists. I have stared in amazement at guys and gals perform musical magic on pianos, guitars, and even cellos. I have been very impressed.

One challenge that wanna-be great guitar players will measure their abilities is by attempting to play Joe Satriani’s instrumental hit of the late 1980s entitled “Always with Me, Always with You.” When performing this song, the artist will have another performer(s) or a recording handle the rhythm guitar part, while he/she concentrates on the notes for the difficult lead.

In jaw-dropping amazement, a Spanish guitarist named Carlos Vamos wrote an adaptation that blends both parts of the Satriani tune into a one-guitar performance.

Here is Vamos’s version of Joe Satriani’s Always with Me, Always with You performed using an acoustic Gibson Hummingbird—rhythm and lead on one guitar.

And to think, I saw another video of Vamos performing on a busy street somewhere in the Netherlands or something with people strolling about their business. Occasionally, a dollar bill would be dropped into a hat adjacent to the performers. My only thought was “wow.”

What? Me, A Felon?

While trying to get an Internet connection outside a convenience store yesterday, I remembered reading this story from a couple of years ago:

A Michigan man has been fined $400 and given 40 hours of community service for accessing an open wireless Internet connection outside a coffee shop.

Under a little known state law against computer hackers, Sam Peterson II, of Cedar Springs, Mich., faced a felony charge after cops found him on March 27 sitting in front of the Re-Union Street Café in Sparta, Mich., surfing the Web from his brand-new laptop.

Last week, Peterson chose to pay the fine instead as part of a jail-diversion program.

"I think a lot of people should be shocked, because quite honestly, I still don't understand it myself," Peterson told "I do not understand how this is illegal."

His troubles began in March, a couple of weeks after he had bought his first laptop computer.

Peterson, a 39-year-old toolmaker, volunteer firefighter and secretary of a bagpipe band, wanted to use his 30-minute lunch hour to check e-mails for his bagpipe group.

He got on the Internet by tapping into the local coffee shop's wireless network, but instead of going inside the shop to use the free Wi-Fi offered to paying customers, he chose to remain in his car and piggyback off the network, which he said didn't require a password.

He used the system on his lunch breaks for more than a week, and then the police showed up.

"I was sitting there reading my e-mail and he came up and stuck his head inside my window and asked me who I was spying on," Peterson told

Someone from a nearby barbershop had called cops after seeing Peterson's car pull up every day and sit in front of the coffee shop without anybody getting out.

"I just curiously asked him, 'Where are you getting the Internet connection?', you know," Sparta Police Chief Andrew Milanowski said. "And he said, 'From the café.'"

Milanowski ruled out Peterson as a possible stalker of the attractive local hairdresser, but still felt that a law might have been broken.

"We came back and we looked up the laws and we figured if we found one and thought, 'Well, let's run it by the prosecutor's office and see what they want to do,'" Milanowski said.

A few weeks later Peterson said he received a letter from the Kent County prosecutor's office saying that he faced a felony charge of fraudulent access to computer networks and that a request had been made for an arrest warrant.

The law, introduced in 1979 to protect Internet and private-network users from hackers, and amended in 2000 to include wireless systems, makes piggybacking off of Wi-Fi networks, even those without a password, illegal.

"It wasn't anything we were looking for, and it wasn't anything that we frankly particularly wanted to get involved in, but it basically fell in our lap and it was a little hard to just look the other way when somebody handed it to us," said Lynn Hopkins, assistant prosecuting attorney for Kent County.

Under the statute, individuals who log on to a Wi-Fi network with the owner's permission, or who see a pop-up screen that says it's a public network, can assume they're authorized to use the network, Hopkins said.

If they don't, they could be subject to prosecution…
It sounds like Peterson was just about as unlucky as one person can get. But, charging him with a felony for checking his email when none of the shop owners wanted to prosecute seems odd to me.

I can understand how the defendant would just want to pay the fine and put the incident behind him, but from the details of the case and the untested law, I would have been tempted to fight that charge. Prosecutors have discretion in pursuing cases in all jurisdictions and I am not sure the interest in moving forward with that one—-even though a police officer brought the law to their attention.

Then again, I may be bias since I have used a convenience store’s Internet without running into the store to purchase something--being in a hurry between meetings.

I would have rather seen the officer examine Peterson’s story and if it checked-out, just give him a warning. Tell him something like, "Hey, go buy something in the coffee shop and sit in the nice air-conditioning to web surf."

With that, everyone wins: the defendant is informed of the law, the callers are relieved that no stalking is going on, and the coffee shop gets a new customer.

In contrast, deputies in Florida followed my advice and it just caused them more work later:

A 20-year-old man in Vancouver, Wash., was charged with theft of services for allegedly sitting in a coffee shop parking lot and using its wireless Internet service for months, according to a report.

The manager of the Brewed Awakenings coffee shop, Emily Pranger, said she noticed a man would come and sit in the business's parking lot for at least three months. She said for hours at a time, he would piggyback on the stores wireless service for free.

Sheriff's deputies told the man to go away at one point but apparently he returned.

The man, identified by KATU-TV as Alexander Eric Smith of Battle Ground, was charged with theft of services.

"It's a repetitive occurrence, and it's borderline creepy." Pranger said. "If he doesn't buy anything, it's not right for him to come and use (the service)."

After an investigation, police discovered that Smith was a level one sex offender.

The sheriff's office is reviewing the case.
So much for my suggestion--and maybe it is a good thing that I filled the gas tank prior to attaching to the store’s wireless Internet today…

Been Tagged

EPH recently tagged me as an inspirational blogger (thanks), and then challenged me to identify six talented writers of my own. The far-reaching goal of this endeavor seems to be strenghtening ties in the blogging community--sort of like a National Night Out Against Crime Barbecue or something.

He further stipulated that I can’t know any of the writers named, which I’ll interpret as blogs that I have not visited prior to the tagging.

In addition, I was requested to list 6 things that make me happy. Here goes:

• Solving a mystery (even just the small ones)
• Hiking with the family
• Playing football in the backyard like I am 6 years old again
• Smelling the grass on a baseball field
• Standing in spots made famous in American history
• Winning a foot pursuit

Due to time constraints, my list will likely be limited to less than six bloggers, but I’ll do some searching and see what I find. I’ll post an update soon.