Monday, October 11, 2010

Extra, extra: In Other News, online

Posted By on Mon, Oct 11, 2010 at 9:00 AM

In this week's installment: Crash taxes, faulty sirens and a terrible place for a shooting range.


Curses, Foiled Again
Army prosecutors said Pvt. Jonne T. Wegley, 19, wanted out of basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., so bad that he offered a fellow recruit $5,000 and a job to shoot him in the left leg so he could get out of the Army with a medical disability. He figured he’d still be able to use his right leg to drive. Instead of barely wounding Wegley, however, the bullet from the M-16 rifle mutilated his left leg. He needed 25 surgeries, a total reconstruction of his knee and multiple skin grafts, and he suffered nerve damage so severe that he has no control of his left foot. On top of that, a court martial sentenced him to four months’ confinement and a dishonorable discharge. Wegley’s attorney, Maj. John Calcagni, admitted his client’s scheme was unnecessary, explaining all he had to do to get kicked out of the Army was to tell his sergeant that he refused to train.

During one of his frequent visits to his ex-wife’s son in Washington County, Ore., Donald Wayne George, 64, shared some digital family photos with the man to copy to his own computer. He forgot they included images of the son’s 5-year-old daughter in sexual poses and having various sex acts with George. When the pornographic photos appeared on the screen, George shouted, “No, no, no,” according to Deputy District Attorney Paul Maloney, adding that the father erupted in anger, to which George responded flippantly, “Call the police, I’m going to jail.” George received 25 years in prison.

Never Mind
When warning sirens sounded in the region of Thailand where 5,398 people died in 2004 after a tsunami battered the Andaman coast, hundreds of people fled to higher ground, believing another wave was on the way. The government eventually explained that the sirens went off accidentally, during a drill as part of Thailand’s effort to develop an effective tsunami warning system. The false alarm was the latest in a series of problems, which include sirens not being loud enough for people to hear them and going off by accident. Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban apologized for causing panic but resisted calls to fire the officials in charge of disaster warning, instead blaming faulty equipment and calling the incident “not that serious.”

Kansas authorities blamed a phone glitch for mistakenly sounding tornado sirens that caused confusion and some panic in and around Hutchinson. The sirens are designed to be activated by emergency workers dialing discrete phone numbers. Officials said that a software glitch opened the phone lines to outside calls, and a resident who mistakenly dialed those numbers activated the sirens.

A Mighty Loophole Is Our God
Coffee-loving Jews observing Yom Kippur in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood managed to skirt restrictions on the intake of food by using caffeine suppositories. “It helps,” said Baruch Hersfeld, who owns a bike store in there. “You know, it’s hard to concentrate when you’re fasting and also addicted to caffeine.” Asked whether the rectally inserted pills are true to the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, Rabbi Simcha Weinstein advised against them. “We want to keep Jews in the synagogue,” he explained, “and not in the bathroom.”

Economy Going to the Dogs
To withstand a projected $440,000 budget shortfall, the city council of Jeannette, Pa., voted to lay off nine of the city’s 47 workers. Among those dismissed was Wando, the police department’s drug-sniffing dog. Also Wando’s handler, Officer Justin Scalzo. Police Chief Brad Shepler pointed out the loss of Wando came at a time when Jeanette is experiencing a “boom in drug trafficking.”

User Fees
More and more local governments are dealing with declining revenues by turning to “accident response fees,” also called “crash taxes,” which charge accident victims for municipal services that taxes already cover. Victims who receive aid from police, fire, ambulance or hazmat services responding to emergency calls, shortly after receive a bill. Usually, bills go to non-residents, but increasingly even tax-paying residents are being billed. More than 40 towns and cities just in California are considering adopting crash-tax measures, according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, and Mary Bonelli of the Ohio Insurance Institute said 33 other states have begun adopting or studying accident-response fees. Charges start as low as a flat $500, but in Florida, if a fire chief shows up at your accident, you’ll pay an extra $200 an hour. If you need a Jaws of Life rescue in Sacramento, Calif., add $1,875, and in Chico, Calif., a complex rescue can cost as much as $2,000 an hour. A Pennsylvania man recently complained after his bill for a motorcycle accident included additional charges for “mops and brooms” to clean up the scene.

When a fire started that threatened his house in Obion County, Tenn., Gene Cranick called the nearest firefighters, located in the city of South Fulton. The city charges county residents $75 to provide services to them. The emergency operator informed Cranick that he hadn’t paid the fee and so wasn’t entitled to fire protection. Cranick promised he would pay the firefighters as soon as the fire trucks arrived, whatever it cost, to stop the fire before it spread to his house. No dice. The fire burned for hours as Cranick fought to control it with garden hoses. Only when the fire spread to a neighbor’s field did firefighters arrive. The neighbor had paid the fee. Cranick asked the fire chief to make an exception to save his house, but the chief refused. Even an appeal to the mayor of South Fulton fell on deaf ears. Cranick’s house ultimately burned to the ground. “I thought they’d come out and put it out, even if you hadn’t paid your $75,” Cranick said, “but I was wrong.”

Second-Amendment Follies
Colorado’s Adams County, which is immediately east of Denver International Airport, announced its intention to build a $7.5 million public shooting range next to a planned airport runway. Airport planning manager Jeanette Stoufer noted that landing aircraft would overfly the shooting range by about 500 feet. Despite concerns by the Transportation Security Administration “regarding the use of automatic and large-caliber rifles at the public facility,” Adams County officials promised they’d take precautions to prevent stray bullets and inadvertent discharge of firearms that might endanger low-flying planes. Both the U.S. departments of Homeland and Justice agree that a public shooting range might pose a threat to airport security, but county officials insist the facility is needed to meet demand for a public range in the Denver metro area.

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