Friday, April 28, 2006

Jack and the carjacker

This evening was looking to be a dull one. My agenda included printing out invoices, updating the subscription list, sending out renewal notices and folding inserts.

Then the scanner began chirping. Vehicle accident on the freeway. Fire and law enforcement dispatched.

I jumped in the car and arrived on scene. It was ugly. The car was a mangled mess and someone was trapped inside. Firefighters were cutting, and sawing and dismantling the car piece by piece to get the person out.

A young man stood nearby, sometimes holding his stomach, holding his head. Face pale.

I took photos.

All serious accidents involve human misery, but oddly enough there’s usually a positive vibe amongst the rescuers. There’s a certain camaraderie and sense of purpose, even amidst the horror. This often holds true for journalist covering the scene.

But not this time. It’s hard to describe, but there was a dark feeling. My job was done. I left.

On the way home I hoped that the person in the car wasn’t someone I know. This is a small town. It could happen.

Like last week. I woke up Tuesday morning and flipped through the faxes. There was a press release about a fatal ATV accident. I noticed that the victim was from McKinleyville. Then I read his age – almost the same as mine. Then his name. It was someone I knew. Someone I did business with. A man I once wrote an article about. Wait, I think I wrote several articles about him under several different circumstances.

Good guy. Always seems like you should be able to write a glowing tribute or some words of wisdom about people you know when they die. But it doesn’t work that way. Never has. I’m at a loss for words.

After this evening’s accident, I came home and resumed my boring agenda – so boring that the high point was using the three-hole punch. (Binders, people! The only way to keep organized is binders!)

Then I heard on the scanner that there was a high-speed chase in Eureka. Then it was in Arcata. Then it was in McKinleyville.

I live one house way from the freeway. I can only see a portion of an off-ramp. I looked out the kitchen window. I couldn’t see anything. I heard sirens and a strange metallic, grinding sound. What the ....?

The scanner crackled. A suspect was loose. Police dog in pursuit.

Back to the Batmobile.

I entered the freeway, but soon after cars began to back up. I inched forward. I was close to the scene. Sirens, lights. Getting closer.

Then I saw an amazing sight. Coming down an embankment were what looked like at least a dozen law enforcement officers, some holding M-16s, dragging a suspect down toward the freeway. A police dog ran along side.

It would have been an awesome photo; it was like a movie. But I was too far away. Fuck. I pulled the car onto the shoulder, punched the gas, and sped forward, passing cars as I did so. I hate when people do this. They look like assholes. Now I was the asshole. Oh well. I parked, jumped out and ran to the scene.

I should have done so earlier, but I didn’t know whether the suspect was apprehended. While I appreciate a good photo, I also like to keep in mind that I want to cover the story, not be part of it. And self-preservation is an under-rated quality. But, still, I would have loved to have taken that photo. Dammit!

By the time I dashed across the freeway and ran down the center divider, it was all over and the suspect was tucked into a squad car. His truck, or at least the vehicle he jacked, was in the center divider. Music with a strong techno-beat pulsed inside. The tire was missing from the right front wheel.

Turns out the fellow car jacked the truck at Richardson Grove. He ordered the occupants into the river, then took off. Details uncertain.

A high-speed pursuit quickly ensued. In Myers Flat, spike strips were utilized. The suspect lost the tire and was riding on a steel rim.

All three of us reporters on scene were in agreement: Riding on a steel rim for about 70 to 80 miles during a high-speed chase is impressive. Sparks must have been flying. I don’t think the suspect will get any awards for such an accomplishment, nor do I think he should. But it’s still impressive.

When he made it to McKinleyville, the officers used what they call a PIT. There was disagreement between them as to whether this stood for Pursuit Interruption Technique or Passive Interruption Technique.

Either way, they nudged the car and forced it to spin out of control. The suspect fled and jumped a fence. Cops and a dog were in pursuit. He gave up.

That’s good, because I noticed that if he kept running, he may have interrupted a McKinleyville Little League game that was taking place a distance away from the fence he jumped. The league has suffered enough with the recent rain. They don’t need a tweaked out meth-head car jacker.

The scene was the exact opposite of the earlier accident. Everyone was pumped up. The adrenaline was flowing. Everyone was smiling. (Except maybe the perp. I didn’t see him.)

You could tell that the officers had to contain themselves from high-fiving each other. The reporters were equally exuberant.

The perp was apprehended. Nobody was hurt. Mission accomplished. A job well-done. Interesting photos and a story for the media. Naturally sensational. Good material.

The techno-beat was thumping away in the car-jacked vehicle until an officer finally turned it off. The music was catchy – something you might listen to playing a marathon game of “Grand Theft Auto.”

A crowd gathered on a nearby overpass and watched. I knew some of them. And another reporter knew some of them.

People waved. People smiled. The cops were in high spirits. The reporters were in high spirits. The neighbors were excited.

A tow truck, carrying the mangled vehicle from the earlier accident, slowly drove by.

The CHP officer who instigated the pursuit asked me my name and shook my hand. More detailed information would be released soon, he said. At this point, they didn’t even know the suspect's name.

How nice. I much prefer shaking hands with the authorities and being friendly with them instead of fighting over stupid tickets.

But, hey, they’ve got their job, I’ve got mine.

Now, back to the subscription list....

Thursday, April 27, 2006

I fought the law...

...and I won! I just received a “Decision and Notice of Decision” for the “Trial by Written Declaration.” I was found NOT GUILTY of failing to stop and NOT GUILTY of having a broken stop lamp.

The bail I posted, $156, will be refunded to me within 60 days.

The form doesn’t provide any clues as to what argument, or what evidence, helped win the case. But who cares? I won.

Still, I wonder.

I filed for a “Trial by Written Declaration” on Tuesday, April 11. Based on everything I’ve read, the deputy making the allegation would then be notified that the ticket is being contested and would have an opportunity to submit his arguments. But only two weeks passed between the when I filed my case and when the judge decided the matter (Tuesday, April 25.) I can’t imagine they give an officer less than two weeks to respond.

There’s a strong possibility is that the Motion to Dismiss and Motion to Exclude Evidence, which I filed last week, resulted in my case being expedited. I was placed at the top of the stack and the judge decided to just quickly resolve the case and get it over with.

Sometimes being obsessive compulsive pays off, along with the legal training I received from watching “Law & Order.”

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Grab bag


Any day now, the new digital voice recorder I ordered from should arrive. It’s a low-end model, but supposedly records a couple hours of high-quality audio and is Mac compatible.

I plan on using it as I would any other tape recorder. But there’s something else I hope to do – beef up my weekly radio news report.

I currently write a script and record myself using “Garage Band,” a program on my computer. When I’m all done, I create an Mp3 file and email it to the station.

This works, but the downside is that my short news segment is just me yammering away. It would sound a lot better with sound bites, short interviews, etc.

I’m fully expecting that when the recorder arrives, there will be several technical obstacles to overcome.

Once I figure everything out, I might even produce some extended audio features. I don’t know if the radio station would be interested in running them, but if nothing else maybe there’s a way to post them on the website. (Isn’t that what they call podcasting? Beats me.)

For example, if I had this tape recorder earlier this year, I could have made a great extended news report on the Mad River and how its threatening some riverfront homes. I interviewed a lot of folks and was hanging out near the river for hours. I could have created something interesting with the recorder – something kind of “NPRish” with gurgling river sounds, background noise, people talking, interviews and narration.


After putting out the paper, I was flipping around the channels last night when I came across someone on the Sundance Channel riding a bicycle down the exact same road I had traveled earlier in the day.

That got my attention. Turned out I was watching a documentary called “Go Further” featuring Woody Harrelson. Woody and his friends smoke a lot of pot as they travel down the coast, sometimes on bicycles, and sometimes in a giant bio-diesel bus. Along the way they stop and preach to people about eating organic, protecting the environment, etc.

“Go Further,” of course, is a reference to Ken Kesey’s infamous bus adventure.

Before I render my verdict on this documentary, based on the portion I watched, keep in mind a couple things. First, I consider myself an environmentalist. Second, I have a dog named Kesey.

That said, “Go Further” is a self-righteous, pretentious, lame, simple-minded, idiotic pile of dog shit.

There’s something likeable about Harrelson, but when he talks about environmental issues he tosses out simple-minded sound bites.

Don’t drink milk, it’s full of blood and pus. Huh?

At one point, he confronts a security guard in Scotia and says “I’m against logging.”

Against logging? All logging? What about sustainable, eco-friendly logging? I mean, we all use toilet paper. Does he read newspapers?

At one point a fellow, who may have been Woody’s brother, hooks up with a woman. He seems to lay it on a bit thick. Then they flee the scene in a Jeep SUV, presumably to boink.

So while Woody and Co. are bragging about their biodiesel bus and bicycles, they’re actually part of a caravan with gas guzzling SUVs! Wow!

Maybe they should go “further” themselves.


I heard that this is Turn Off Your TV week, or something like that.

You’re supposed to unplug the TV, read a book and chat with family and friends.

Don’t do it. It’s bad advice. People don’t need less TV, they need more TV.

So relax. Grab a jumbo size bag of Doritos, plop yourself on the couch and starting watching TV.

There’s nothing on? Don’t worry about. Any programming will do. If all else fails, you can watch Hitler’s army being decimated on the History Channel.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Plot Thickens!

In my previous blog entry, I detailed how I went to the courthouse to submit my “Request for Trial by Written Declaration” with regard to the traffic ticket I’m contesting.

At first the clerk said my ticket wasn’t entered. Then, after about an hour, she “discovered” that the ticket had been entered into the system and a corrected ticket had been mailed to me.

The day I was at the courthouse was April 11. The corrected ticket, she said, was mailed to me on April 3. She showed me a copy of a “Proof of Service” which had my correct name and address on it.

I told her I never received it. She looked at me like I was a liar.

Today, April 18, I received in the mail A “Notice of Correction and Proof of Service.”

The “Proof of Service” portion states that the “Notice of Correction” was mailed to me on April 3. It also states “I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the State of California that the forgoing is true and correct.” It includes a woman’s signature.

But there’s a major problem. The envelope it came in, from the Humboldt County’s Sheriff’s Department, is postmarked April 14!!! That’s 11 days after the woman declared, under penalty of perjury, that the notice was mailed.

Making matters worse for the department is that the clerk used a postage meter. That means she can’t blame the “mistake” on the post office. The envelope wasn’t riding around in the back of a postal truck because it fell out of a bag – not prior to April 14.

In short, a representative of the department committed perjury, claiming to have mailed me the corrected ticket on April 3 when, in fact, it was mailed on April 14.

April 14 was two days after the deadline for me to contest the ticket.

In response, I wrote a brief. (It’s a brief brief – one page. If the weather was warmer, I’d probably write the brief brief in my briefs.)

I’ll submit the brief tomorrow. I titled it "Motion to Dismiss Case & Motion to Exclude Evidence" and I made it look like a legal document. Will they take it? Or will they hassle me? If the latter occurs, I consider it more material for my appeal if I lose this first round.

I’m asking that the case be dismissed because my right to receive a copy of notice pursuant to VC 40505 was violated. And, in the event that judge decides otherwise, I’m asking that, at the very least, the corrected ticket be excluded from evidence for the same reason cited above.

If all else fails, I’ll have my original arguments to fall back on – plus material for an appeal if I lose.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here (A visit to the county courthouse)

Today I dwelled in several of Dante’s circles of hell, which began shortly after crossing the river Styx and entering Eureka.

My destination: the dungeon in the county courthouse basement, traffic violation division.

As I entered, I imagined a sign on the wall – “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

There was a long line of deadbeats, scofflaws and assorted scoundrels before me. So I waited. And waited. Maybe this was the eighth circle of hell, steeped in excrement. Souls burned and fire rained down from above.

The guy in front of me was there to try to get back the marijuana an officer confiscated from him. He said it was for medical purposes and his case had been dismissed by a judge. He had previously gotten in line at a window located a mere eight feet over, but after waiting was informed that he was at the wrong window. So he got in the line for my window shortly before I arrived.

When it was finally his turn, he was informed he was in the wrong line. He needed to get back in the other line – the line for the window he had previously visited – a window which now had a really long line. He shuffled his way to the back of the line with a defeated look on his face. It was come sort of cruel hoax. Why were they fucking with this guy?

I don’t know what happened to the fellow, but I hope he got his weed back, and then some.

Fifteen minutes had passed since entering hell and now it was my turn. I handed over my “Request for trial by written declaration,” which had grown to three pages of arguments and five exhibits disputing the charges against me – an allegation that I ran a stop sign.

While I am not without vice or sin, I am innocent of these particular charges. But I was being punished anyway.

I assumed the clerk would take my court documents, take my check, and set me free.

Instead, she fumbled around for about five minutes looking through boxes of papers. Then she returned.

“We don’t have the ticket. It hasn’t been entered,” she said.

I told her it didn’t matter. I still wanted to turn in my legal papers.

“You can’t do that. The ticket has not been entered. Wait until you get a notice,” she said.

I told her she would need to put that in writing, being that my copy of the ticket said it needs to be contested no later than April 12.

Her face crinkled. “We’ll have to get someone to enter the ticket. Have a seat and we’ll call you to the window when we’re ready.”

I sat and watched ugly people enter and exit the dungeon. I could hear the wind howling outside. There was nothing to read, nothing to do.

Then suddenly the entire room lit up as an angel floated through the door. She was a towering, shapely brunette in a tight skirt and knee-high black leather boots with high heels. She looked to be 6 feet, 6 inches tall, maybe seven or eight feet tall. I imagined she was a lawyer by day, an exotic dancer by night.

She commanded everyone’s attention. Her beauty was infectious.
The men stopped slouching and sucked in their guts, and the few women on hand did the same as they fiddled with their hair. There were smiles and awkward glances. For a moment, everyone was happy. All was well in the world. The dungeon was not a bad place to be after all.

Then she left, the lights dimmed, the smiles disappeared. The feasting resumed, the flames returned.

I was called to the window.

“Your ticket has the wrong vehicle code violation on it. We’re going to have to get that fixed before we can do anything,” the clerk informed me.

My blood boiled. “I know that the officer put down the wrong vehicle code violation. That’s part of my defense!” I told her.

What the hell is this court clerk doing helping the “prosecution”?? The fact that I was accused of violating a non-existent vehicle code was the first line of my defense argument. Not the only line, but an important one.

I was told to sit down and wait. An hour and five minutes after I had entered the dungeon I was called to the window – my third time.

Suddenly, by some miracle, she had found paperwork indicating that the officer had sent in a corrected version of the ticket. I was suspicious. This took an hour. The Sheriff’s Department is located next door in the same building.

She then showed me a piece of paper that indicated the officer had mailed the corrected version to me last week – eight days ago to be exact. Mail takes a day or two to get delivered from Eureka to McKinleyville. I never received anything. I was even more suspicious. Then she showed me the hand-written address where that notice had been sent. The address was correct. But the handwriting looked rather... well... feminine. It looked different than the handwriting on my ticket.

That was odd, but there was nothing I could do about it. I made a note, in handwriting, in the margins of my defense arguments that I was only informed of the ticket correction upon handing in my written declaration. So much for all my neat paperwork.

She stamped everything, took a $156 check from me (refundable if I win) and then asked me “If you don’t win your case, will you be attending traffic school.”

My reply “No. I will appeal it.”

For some reason, she just starred at me. By the look in her eyes, it appeared my words weren’t registering.

“If I lose my case, I plan on appealing the decision,” I informed here.

OK. Now she understood and went about finishing the paperwork. “Would you like a receipt?” she asked. At first I said no. Then I changed my mind. This place is so screwed up, I would be foolish not to.

“Yes, I’ll take a receipt,” I said.

“Go to the next window,” she answered.

Even though I had given her the check and she was in possession of it, she couldn’t give me a receipt. So I got in line at another window. I waited for three or four minutes before it was my turn. It took the clerk about 6 minutes to prepare a receipt and print it out – a total of 10 minutes just to get a receipt!

I was done. I almost ran out the door. I was alive again. A verdict should be delivered in three weeks, give or take.

I think I’ll win. If not, I’m already planning my appeal.

So far, there are a couple lessons:

1. If you get a ticket and plan on fighting it, the first thing you should do is come home and write down every detail about what happened, no matter how trivial. CP told me to do this when I got home after getting the ticket. It was good advice and really helped. In reviewing those notes, I discovered a gross violation of basic traffic stop procedure, something which I was able to confirm with an internet search.

2. Revisit the “scene of the crime” and take notes.

3. Check EVERY item on the ticket. On mine, I found three mistakes. The officer apparently tried to cite me for running a stop sign, but wrote down the wrong vehicle code violation. He also wrote down the wrong speed limit for the street and wrote down that my right taillight was out, even though it was actually my left taillight.

4. Don’t wait to get a notice in the mail. I never received anything. I didn’t receive anything after getting my initial ticket, nor did I receive anything regarding the “corrected” ticket. Sometimes things get lost in the mail, but sometimes people don’t put things in the mail.

5. Don’t listen to the court clerks. Had I done so, I would have automatically lost my case. Not only that, but I probably would have received an arrest warrant and a higher fine for failure to appear. Assuming that the clerk today was telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth, my ticket had been “entered” into the system, despite her initial claim that it wasn’t. If I had done what she said and “waited until I got a notice,” I would have been royally screwed.

For better or worse, I’ll report the results of my case on this blog. Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

More rain? Say it ain't so

Wherever I go, people complain about the rain.

These aren’t the usual complaints that accompany bad weather. They’re more profound. There seems to be a deep funk setting in – the result on day after day of rain, 54.07 inches as of yesterday.

Gray. Wet. Mossy. Dreary. Wet. Green. Muddy.

Splish, splash. Slip, slop.

Spring has sprung, but the forecast through the end of the week calls for more of the same – rain, rain, rain.

Will there be more rain the week after? And the week after that? It’s not without precedent.

I usually revel in the rain. I look forward to it. The nastier, the better. I like when the weather wallops the coast so hard that I’m forced to step outside in the middle of the night and bare witness.

But this rain is more like Chinese water torture – drip, drip, drip, drip. It's not dramatic, just tedious.

Opening ceremonies for McKinleyville Little League were scheduled Saturday. I went out with a camera, and a raincoat. It was cancelled.

The coaches were trying to squeeze in a game between storms. One guy described the fields as being like mashed potatoes when you add too much milk. They seemed depressed.

As they walked out to the field to coach their teams, I drove away. Within two minutes, it was raining again and the windshield wipers were swaying from side to side.

I wonder if the weather was like this when Ulysses S. Grant was stationed at Fort Humboldt in the early 1950s?

At least noq we have electric lights, TV, radio and can move around in vehicles. I flip a switch and the house is warm.

Imagine being hunkered down in a tiny, damp, log fort with some old books you’ve already read, a couple dim candles and some moldy elk jerky?

Holy crap! Maybe I shouldn’t complain!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Hyper-Organization – Welcome to Crazy Town

With some exceptions, I avoid writing about my business on this blog. But not today.

I underwent a somewhat major staffing change this week. Nothing scandalous, mind you. Just an employee moving on to greener pastures.

The first question that came to mind was “Who are we going to get to fill the position?”

But then I began to ask some fundamental questions: What’s the best way to get the work done? Might it be better to change the entire way we do things? And, to some degree, why don’t we not only change how we do things, but also change what we actually do?

So cha-cha-cha-cha changes are underway. The deck is being shuffled. There’s some short-term pain, but some positive changes are taking place. I see it as a real opportunity.

Job duties are being altered, including mine.

The first step was to get organized in an anal-retentive, border-line obsessive-compulsive kind of way – binders, charts, to-do lists, etc. etc.

This is a change from how I did things previously. In the past I’ve tried two methods.

One failed method involved creating a list of things that needed to be done. The list would begin with five items, grow to ten, then 20, then 30. Pretty soon, it was a massive list – a blur of small print in no particular order. These were all tasks that needed to be completed in addition to the regular tasks. Eventually, the list became overwhelming. It was like someone handing me a phone book and saying “Call these people.”

So then I switched to having either no list, or a very small list. I would arrive at the office, make a few calls and visit a couple clients. Sometimes I would arrive at the office with the knowledge that I should call someone, but was never sure who to call. Should I look in the phonebook? Should I drop in at a business? Who should I see? When was the last time I talked to them? What was that person’s name? Productivity remained low.

The new method involves having a manageable list of tasks – a mix of quick and easy ones, and more difficult ones. If I have five minutes of spare time, there’s a task on the list that I can squeeze in. If I have 30 minutes of time, there’s a task to fit that time block.

I spend time each night making the lists and planning them. They’re updated and revised. Charts are altered. Notes are made. In some ways, I’m treating myself like a computer that runs off punch cards. I make those “punch cards” the night before so I can operate accordingly. All the information, including names, phone numbers and previous file information, is right there in the binder. I even print out their previous ads so I can whip them out and speed up the process.

It’s super organized and, frankly, it’s not my normal modus operandi – welcome to Crazy Town.

But so far, it’s working. Within a couple days I contacted more than a dozen potential advertisers. I sold several ads, including some to new clients. I did a mass mailing.

I also started a new column, contacted numerous news sources, took photos, etc.

When I get through my daily list, I give myself the option of calling it a day, rather than piling on more work.

This is how it should be. Hard work and productivity should not be rewarded with more work! What the hell is that about?

This is something I learned while working at another newspaper. Part of my job was laying out pages on a computer. I would arrive at around noon and start laying out pages and often work until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. So I got an idea – what if I learned to work faster? So I mastered the computer program, concentrated and became very efficient. I shaved about two hours off the job.

So when I finished my pages, I would walk into the editor’s office and inform him of the good news – my pages were done! Now I could go home.


His response was “That’s great. Now you can lay out some more pages!”

My reward for working hard and being efficient was more work. Being that I was a salaried employee, there was no upside to this.

Now I’m self employed. That means I’m my own boss. As my own boss, I have a rule – if I get my work done early, I can stop working.

Well, at least in theory. So far, it’s been work, work and more work.

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