Saturday, June 30, 2007

Comfort Zone

I didn't want to go. It was Friday night and I'd worked 12 straight days on the Davis case. Still, I'd committed to being part of the presentation so I needed to live up to my word. The result touched me quite deeply.

The event was a rally for "Until the Violence Stops" at the Main Library Friday evening. I was asked to be one of about a dozen speakers to read monologues and short essays written by people who'd been victims of domestic violence and abuse. While my script was emailed to me a few weeks ago, I really didn't take a look at it until a few hours before the event. Let's just say I was a bit taken aback.

My monologue was called "Rescue" and was penned by a man who was recalling growing up in a fatherless home of women who'd been raped. The prose contained language I wouldn't feel comfortable saying in front of my mother, and come to think of it, probably your mother too. Still, the writing was raw and without boundaries -- certainly far more poignant than what I typically read on the evening news.

I tried to read the script aloud as I walked from our TV office to the library next door. A few folks who passed me in the parking deck figured I was having an 'episode' or something. Oh well, it gave them something to talk about later.

I got inside the library to discover I was one of only two men in the group. My colleague, Kim Wheeler, was also one of the participants so I had someone to chat with so that part was good, but I was still nervous about the reading. How would I pull off reading this guy's words? His pain? His journey to discovering that not all men were rapists even though the only men he saw in his life growing up were assaulting the women closest to him? "I must be nuts," I thought.

As the other women each read their monologues, I realized that this would be a night of all of us getting outside our comfort zones and recognizing that the world is not always filled with Swenson's cheeseburgers and Stricklands chocolate shakes. There's a lot of pain out there and much of it is kept behind closed doors.

I decided to just let the words take me where they would. I skipped the first "F" word (and the others too) in place of something more politically correct and tried to raise and lower the pitch and tone of my voice when appropriate. By the middle of the monologue, I began to realize what this writer must have been feeling putting his thoughts down on paper. It struck me hard and I paused for a moment. I looked up at an audience that seemed gripped by what conclusion this man was coming to -- that he'd been robbed of a true example of a "man" in his life and now he was paying the price. He realized that while the hole in his life would never be filled, he didn't have to life an un-whole life.

In the end, I received some nice applause and some nice words afterwords. One woman even told me that I had such a nice voice that, "you should really read the news for a living." That dropped the woman to the right of her to her knees in laughter. Since there was no program, there was no indication of who any of the readers were or what we did for a living. We all got a good laugh, but I was still consumed by the emotions of this young man.

How many other young men are in our community without a real father-figure and mentor and whose only interaction with women is one of problems and pain? What happens to those boys when they become men and can't maintain a healthy relationship?

I'm not sure I have any answers here, but I know that I'll never even have a suggestion to the problem without letting myself come out of my comfort zone.

Media On Hold

The Canton Muni courts have cleared their entire day's schedule for Monday's preliminary hearing for Bobby Cutts Jr. The whole day. Court TV is planning to be the pool camera, providing a video feed to all of the other media.

I've never seen this much attention for a preliminary hearing. I'm not a lawyer, but my experience with PHs is that they're part of a checks-and-balances to make sure police and prosecutors aren't dragging their feet once they lock someone up for a crime. It also forces the "good guys" to show at least some of the evidence they have against the "bad guys" to at least validate why the suspects have been labeled "bad" in the first place. It's actually a pretty good system in that regard. Not that this country would ever lock someone up for long periods of time without formal charges, hearings, or trials (sorry,did someone say Gitmo?).

What I expect on Monday is that Cutts Jr. will not be there in person, but his attorneys will be there to draw out as much information from police has possible. The info you hear Monday would probably have been shared in the discovery phase of the case, which comes later, but to hear it now should give insight into the case. Expect whatever nugget of info that falls into public view to be held up on the national newscasts like a block of gold.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday Levity

I was browsing the University of Akron’s website and found a unique job listing. This one closes tomorrow so there’s probably not time to apply, but here’s how it reads:

“DUTIES: Assumes required poses/models for life art classes according to specific instructions. Skilled in maintaining stationary poses for long periods of time. Ability to carry out verbal instructions. Select/assemble appropriate costuming when necessary. Ability to work undraped. Work within a flexible work schedule required. Qualifications: Requires a high school diploma or GED.”

OK .. so it’s a job being a model for serious artists. Doesn’t say you have to be in great shape or anything; just willing to hold a pose when told to do so and strip if necessary.

My question is, why does it require a high school diploma or GED? How smart do you really have to be to sit on a stool and hold still? I realize I couldn't keep my kids still with duct tape, super glue, and a set of metal chains, but shouldn't even dropouts or OGT failures be able to sit when told?

The job pays $9-$15 per hour in case you’re interested. Not sure if one is the GED rate and the other is for high school grads, but I'm sure you'll figure it out.

Mann's the Man

So prosecutors made it official today. Earl Mann is now accused of murder. He's the guy with the cigarette butt whose DNA cleared Clarence Elkins of a life sentence for killing his wife's (no ex-wife's) mother. For those of you keeping score at home, this is what I hinted about a few days ago.

Mann will be returned to Summit County from jail to be arraigned on the new charges. I haven't yet spoken to Clarence, but I'm wondering if he'll attend the proceedings. I'm wondering if he'll want to be there to look into the eyes of the man that changed his world forever. Wouldn't you want to be there? I think the two men locking eyes could be the bigger story of the court hearings.

Still, maybe Elkins has been robbed of so much of his life that he won't waste another second on crime. Maybe he's not ready to let this my-name-is-Earl create any more bad thoughts in his head.

Regardless, this story is headed for the big screen, or at least the small one. First, how a man can be convicted of a murder he didn't commit and then be sentenced to life in prison is beyond what my senses could truly process. Second, how that man can think clearly enough to do his own investigation and then seize evidence (a cigarette butt) from behind prison walls that eventually clears him. I don't think my words can truly describe how amazing that is.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Timeout already

I've been doing Google blog searches to see if there's any untold news floating around in the Jessie Davis case. I can't believe how many blogs I'm finding that are flat out racist in nature. I can't believe how many folks nationwide are looking at Jessie as someone who "got what she deserved." Have we fallen back to the stone age? She's not a monster, she's a mother. She's not a villain, she's a victim. She didn't deserve this, and we all should be appalled at that line of thinking.

I'm also just floored by the number of theories I'm seeing with folks talking about how Bobby Cutts made a major mistake by allegedly dumping the bodies in the Summit Metro Parks. Do people really sit up at night playing the mental game, "gee, if I were a killer I would ..."

How desensitized have we become as a society that so many people feel just fine putting their names and email addresses on these thoughts? Some of these folks are right here in Akron and Canton! I would provide a few web links so you could see for yourselves, but I hate to give any publicity at all to these folks.

Lisa of Akron sent me this email that really captures what I'm getting at: "I have a broken heart. I can't understand the events, or reasons for ANYONE to hurt someone, like they did Jessie. I was not a searcher, but I did pray for her many times daily.
What puzzles me the most is some people's reaction to the sad news. Kinda like they were sick of hearing about Jessie and now they can get on with THEIR lives. This worries me. I think this should effect us! What ever happened t 'do unto others--as you would have done to you?'"

Tomorrow, a community will come together to begin mourning this woman and her unborn daughter. The grieving will continue with her funeral and burial on Saturday. For those out there with an ounce of compassion, at least give this nonsense a rest for 48 hours.

Press Release De Jour

Press Release title that just came across my email: "Democratic Candidate Joe Finley To Have Opposition in Democratic Mayoral Primary September 11." That may be the funniest release I've seen in ages. As if there was any doubt that Don Plusquellic would file his petitions to run again.

Email of the day comes from a nice gentleman in East Akron with a pretty valid complaint about drivers who blare their music so loud that others can hear them a block or so away: "There IS an intimidation factor with these 'Boom Cars' due to the rise in gangs in Akron. A lot of these cars could be 'gang related' and that certainly puts 'fear' into your average law abiding and tax paying citizen like me. The sound and noise that these make has got so bad on and near my area that I am considering moving. I already know of several friends that have already done so specifically due or in part to this growing and ever present problem in Akron. But, I believe, that until it actually is a problem for someone of 'importance', like the Mayor or someone on City Council or any of the above mentioned, it is not even a consideration for them. And, even though I pay my taxes and am a very good citizen of Akron, I am certainly NOT considered an 'important person' ! I guess there are more important 'fish to fry.'"

This writer also took the time to get stats on how many times APD has cited drivers for loud music. 149 in 2005, 109 in 2006, and 15 through the first 100 days of this year. I'll bet this is the type of violation that picks up during the summer months. Anyone else having these type of problems in their neighborhoods?

You probably never noticed on the evening news, but there were several quick changes during our liveshots from Canton last week. The background is that reporter Chris Tye and I are each about 6'3" but reporter Maureen Kyle is barely 5'4". There were several nights that the three of us shared the same camera for our live broadcasts with very little time in between our reports. We kept a metal box right next to the camera for Maureen's shots and had to keep sliding it in and out so she could stand on it. The height of the on-air folks is one of those things you just can't tell from watching at home.

Can someone please tell TV5 where Akron is? Last night, they had reporter Bob Jones live at the House of the Lord with "Lake Township" on the screen. Tonight, Davis was standing with a nice Akron skyline behind him but "Stark County" for a graphic. Certainly TV3 isn't perfect. We once showed an Ohio map that had Akron where Toledo is.

From My Notebook

How's this for coincidence. Yesterday, we pulled the divorce filing by Kelly Cutts against Bobby Cutts Junior. No surprise there. What's odd is the name signed on the paperwork as Clerk of Courts: "Phil Giavasis." How small of a world is this anyway? And, if you hadn't seen it on the web, has linked Nikki Giavasis to Chris Benoit, the pro wrestler-turned-killer this week. Guess Ms. Nikki used to be a ring girl for the pro wrestling circuit .. Again, it's a big city around here .. but it's a small town.

I got this email from a friend of mine but let me just say up front that it echoes what others have told me:

"My sister and I participated in the search last Sunday (June 16th), and Bobby (Cutts) was in my group. I was the team leader. He did some odd things during the search that we advised the officers about. An example would be that he stated he lost his cell phone during the search. "

Seems many folks saw Cutts make a big, dramatic deal out of losing his cell phone during his brief step in front of the cameras as part of the original search for Jessie. Others tell me that Cutts looked like he was overacting from the very beginning. Almost like Scott Peterson.

Ever been to Bluffton, South Carolina? If you go and get a traffic ticket, don't' be surprised if you recognize the officer whose citing you. I guess APD has lost 3 -- count them THREE -- officers to the Bluffton force. Guess the lure of the nice weather and lack of big-city crime (plus a cruiser they can take home at night) is too much to turn down. Plus, the Bluffton PD recognizes Akron's academy as top-notch so these guys who fly south don't have to undergo much training when they get there. Ya know, there's something wrong with using our tax dollars to train someone who takes those skills to work somewhere else.

I got a nice email today from a lady named Betsy who says I remind her of a young Virgil Dominic. Wow. Of all the comparisons I've heard, that's certainly a new one. Not sure they get much better than that, but I can only hope to have a career as strong and as long as VD.

I was chatting in court with Phil Trexler (ABJ) last week, and we got on the subject of David Giffels. I really miss DG's column in the paper. I would have liked to have read his spin and insight on the Davis case as I'm sure he would have been drawn to it as he was in 2000 with the Andrews case in Ravenna. Anyway, Giffels remains on his one-year sabbatical to write a book about his home renovation and how his family has changed through the process. Phil told me that he's had a chance to get an early glimpse of DG's latest project and says it's fantastic. Phil says that David has really pushed his writing to take it "up a notch." Knowing David as one of the most down-to-earth, real-world guys on the planet, I'm sure it'll be solid. The book is due out in 2008 and I understand there was actually a bidding war from publishers. I just know that if David wrote it, it'll be worth every penny.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Cop Shop News

Akron FOP leaders apparently heard what a great many folks said following the May election: "had the city's proposed tax increase been just for police officers many of us would have voted for it. "

Tonight, FOP leaders sent out a release that they're pushing city council to go back on the ballot in November with a police levy. I'm told it could be a one-tenth of one percent request. The department is pushing to add officers and maintain salaries of those on the current force too. Not sure how the 12+1 will look at this, but they should give it strong consideration.

The previous issue was sold as a way to make Akron safer, but the economic development dollars attached to it just didn't resonate with voters, who shot it down by a 2-1 margin. I think the new measure would go a long way towards healing old wounds between city hall and the cop shop.

We're still weeks away from learning what will happen with APD's contract. The two sides reached a major impasse and now it's up to a conciliator. I'm told that you shouldn't be surprised to see the officers get much larger raises than city hall was offering, but there's still some other issues to iron out too .. so some of the gains could be evened out.

Regardless, I'll bet residents come out in support of the FOP's idea at council and beyond. And don't forget, there's still that little issue of residency bouncing around the courts. Other cities that have tried to challenge the law and keep their officers living within city limits have ended up losing in court, but Akron leaders still believe they have a good case based on "home rule." Stay tuned.

Services Set

More of a news note than anything, but Jessie and Chloe's remains have now been released to the family. Calling hours will be Friday from 2-8 p.m. at House of the Lord in West Akron. Funeral services are set for Saturday at 11 a.m. with burial at Greenlawn Cemetery. Hopefully this will be the start of some closure and peace for the family and a great many others.

Other news of note

As I dig myself out from the hundreds of emails and messages that have stacked up during my time in Canton this last week or so, I have a few "other news" items to pass along.

A credible source tells me that a big indictment is due out this week -- possibly today -- in a local murder case that's drawn national attention. The person being indicted won't be a surprise if you've followed the case, but the news will still spread quite quickly.

You know there's nothing I hate more than those who mispronounce and/or misspell the names of our local landmarks and cities. (If you didn't know that about me, just play along anyway). One of the ones that really irks me is when people put an "s" on the end of Tangier. I just cringe when I hear "Tangiers" as though there's more than one. Anyway, last week I got a press release with a headline all about a BIG event at "Tangiers" and guess who sent it? The PR agency representing Tangier! Now, if they can't even spell it right, I guess we're all doomed to a lifetime of MOW-ga-dore and COPE-lee.

Yesterday's arrest of a Cuyahoga Falls man who held police at bay with a gun hit home with me. The suspect, Michael Azar, is a high school classmate of mine. I was sorry to see him lose control but I'm glad it ended peacefully. It's not the first time I've read stories on the air about folks I know personally. I once read a story about another high school classmate given a life sentence for rape, and I also interviewed yet a third classmate whose mattress business was under investigation. For what it's worth, a number of other classmates have made the evening news for making positive contributions, but yesterday's standoff with Azar just drives home how Akron might be a big city, but it's a small town.

Anyone else still wondering why the Demetrus Vinson ruling still hasn't come down in Akron? Several sources told me the ink was dry on the police investigation portion of the teen's death more than a month ago. In fact, I've heard it's 28 pages, double-spaced and neatly put together. I know that prosecutors have been reviewing the case, which involved police officers opening fire on Vinson in his car before the medical examiner says Vinson killed himself. Still, even with some extra time for review and some additional interviews requested by prosecutors, shouldn't we have heard something by now? Maybe the NBA Finals and the Davis case took the spotlight off any pressure to deliver a quick ruling in the Vinson case, but I don't understand why we're approaching the 4th of July and still no conclusion. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

By the Grace of Journalism, you're WRONG!

It's 8:31 p.m. on Tuesday evening and CNN's Headline News is running a crawl right now during the Nancy Grace show that says: "Just in: Jessie Davis body to be released any minute. Funeral arrangements pending."

Where in the world do they get that information???? I just called the Summit County Medical Examiner's and asked them about the info. The male voice on the other end said, "No. No. No." I asked if there's any way the body is being released tonight and again he said, "No. No. No." I asked again about the autopsy and he repeated the same trio of denial. I asked him about the Headline News crawl and he just sighed in frustration with bad information.

This is the kind of intentionally misleading information that makes it so much more difficult for the rest of the press to tell the real story. It's the kind of crawl that makes Jessie's family members call each other and get all worked up at a time when they need peace the most. It's just plain wrong on so many levels.

OK, It's now 8:39 p.m. and someone must have heard me yell at the screen. The crawl has been changed to say: "Just in: Jessie Davis body to released any day?" So now CNN has changed "minute" to "day" and added a question mark so as to give themselves a way out.

The whole thing reminds me of a John Stewart bit on the Daily Show when he showed the ridiculous banners Cable News folks put on the bottom of the screen. Things like "Nuclear secrets lost?" or "Can we trust the Russians?" and even "End Times?" Stuff to drum up controversy without having to actually committ to the thought.

Next thing you know someone will go TV saying they know who committed a murder because a person they've never met just called out of the blue and told them so.

Behind Closed Doors

All of the TV newsrooms are struggling to deliver the level of new information in the Jessie Marie Davis case today that we had over the last nine days. After an exhausting and emotional 72 hour rush, investigators and prosecutors are now talking behind closed doors about how to proceed. If the case goes to a grand jury this week, next Monday's pre-trial will be a moot point. Still, the media continues to pursue those who know Bobby Cutts and Myisha Farrell and those who loved Jessie Davis. You'll find a lot of other 'sidebar' stories out there right now (what should happen to Blake, similar crimes, etc...) as a way to fill the void in the news cycle.

Unfortunately, there's still no funeral details to pass along. One of our reporters spoke with leaders at the House of the Lord today. They said that there won't be anything scheduled until the Medical Examiner is finished with tests on the body and that will still take some time. In the meantime, Jesse's family is left in limbo.

I've gotten tips from several sources of other 'persons of interest' in the case, but none that are solid enough to report yet. The Sheriff's Office tip-line is still active so investigators are still examining all leads in the case.

Ed Esposito of WAKR will be a panelist on Nancy Grace tonight. Ed will do great. He's one of the most solid reporters in town and knows this case quite well. I fear the questions of speculation that might fly from Nancy considering the lack of major developments today, but Ed will certainly hold his own.

Monday, June 25, 2007

143 seconds

Bobby Cutts was only in front of the glass for all of two minutes and 23 seconds. That's it. It was some of the most emotional silence I've ever seen with Patricia Porter, Jessica's mother, standing to stare at Cutts while he went through the process. I also never felt so bad for the family of a suspect as I did for Cuttts' relatives; they'd run the media gauntlet only to be shielded in court by print photographers who blocked their view.

A few observations of the media "crush" in downtown Canton today:

The Canton PD setup was an A+. Plenty of officers were on hand at every corner. From the secure parking setup for all of the satellite trucks to the spacing of media in the courtyard to the placement of senior officers (lieutenants and captains) in the courtrooms, you could tell there was an intentional plan. Each of the officers was alert to the crowd but never overreacted. Considering this was a day that the national media was using CPD as a punching bag because of a 'rogue' officer crossing the line, I thought their professionalism was top notch. Outside in the courtyard as the massive throng of media and on-lookers moved forward, I had a few Iraq flashbacks of anxiety. A few times, I looked up at the tops of the buildings, just to make sure no one would look at us as a target-rich environment. What I noticed was that the CPD officers were doing the same thing. They were really on the ball.

Inside the courthouse folks were well organized too. They moved all of the media who wished to attend the hearing into courtroom number one as a "holding" area or more like "on deck" in a baseball game. Then, they moved us single file through a side door into courtroom number two and told us to sit in the middle. Shortly before the hearing started, about five members of Jessie's family came in to reserved seats on the right side. Then about 10 members of Cutts' family came in to reserved seats on the left side. Again, well planned out with plenty of security. Unfortunately, Jessie's mother and sister couldn't see the glass where Cutts would appear, so Phil Trexler (ABJ) and I gave up our seats and moved back. Once in the back, I could see that the media photographers didn't have a good angle of Patricia or Jessie's sister, Whitney. When Cutts came in, all the cameras turned to take pictures of him, but none of the photographers could see Patricia stand up and stare. I took out my camera phone and took a quick snap shot that WKYC is now using on the website.

While Cutts' family didn't come outside to face the media mass, relatives did tell us that they will tell their side of the story when the right time comes. Most of them look so tired and so hurt by everything that's happened. I can't imagine the pain they must feel as well.

Jessie's mother and sister were quite strong talking outside. When Patricia Porter talked about having to help search crews go through a garbage dump while looking for evidence of her missing daughter, I thought I would break down. That family is quite strong and quite hurt.

My phone continued to ring today with offers to appear on the Glenn Beck Show and Nancy Grace. Neither appearance really worked with my schedule but fortunately, I didn't have to call them back to decline. Channel 3 did that for me to allow me space to keep reporting.

Thanks to those of you who've been emailing me over the last 5 days. I've been out of the office so much, I haven't had a great deal of time to read them, but I will get to them .. and I'll respond as soon as I can. Gotta get on the set for the 10 p.m. news. Eric

Monday Morning Reflections

The media crush has shifted from the Stark County Sheriff's Office to downtown Canton in anticipation of today's arraignments of Bobby Cutts Jr. and Myisha Ferrell. I was in Canton this morning and can tell you that Second Street is now a sea of satellite dishes. Most of the national morning shows are set up on the courtyard commons.

Canton Police Chief Dean McKimm arrived early to make the rounds beginning with the CBS Morning News. He's really quite a professional. He told me off-camera that he reminds his officers that they never take credit for the good job another officer does, so there's no reason to beat themselves up for the alleged crimes of a fellow officer either. That's a pretty strong way to deal with this. I'm hoping to sit down with the Chief later today or tomorrow to talk about the pain this has caused the department.

It was good to see peace amongst the morning show folks today. Last Friday, Jessie Davis' mother was late arriving for her scheduled interview with Good Morning America at the Greentown Fire Department. Patricia Porter had apparently overslept. Rushing across town, Porter did arrive in time for her second interview with the Today Show. Long story short, GMA folks felt she should still do their interview first but NBC folks felt that they'd locked in a time with Patricia and whatever she'd missed earlier wasn't their fault. I'm told the field producers from the two shows nearly came to blows right in front of Porter. I can understand the frustration of a guest being late when the competition is just a few feet away. Still, I can't fathom having that type of blowup right in front of a mother whose daughter and unborn grandchild have been kidnapped. No reason for that at all.

My cell phone rang Saturday night just before my 11 p.m. liveshot on Channel 3 about the discovery of the body. It was a local police officer who told me, "you're never going to believe whose sitting dead center at the 'Alive' concert in Canal Fulton -- Cynthia George!" On any other day, I would have had a million questions about a CG sighting and whether this means she's getting back to a normal public life. But while still coming to grips with Jessie's death, I couldn't process anything else.

I got to meet Todd Porter last night. He's the Canton Repository reporter who got the exclusive interview with Bobby Cutts Jr. last week. His reporting all week has been top-notch but he isn't one to take much credit. He kept championing the entire newsroom's effort. I'd like to find out how much the Rep's web traffic has increased since it posted the audio of Cutts' interview. Porter told me, "I'm just a sports reporter trying to help out" but I think his contributions this week will keep him in the News side of the house for a while.

I'm looking at a receipt in my wallet for $31 and trying to recall what I bought. Now I remember. When I got the tip call Saturday afternoon about Cutts' arrest and the search for the body, I jumped in my car and just started driving towards Canton while calling sources on my cell phone. Problem is, because it was Saturday and I wasn't scheduled to work, I hadn't shaved. I didn't realize it until I was a few miles from the Sheriff's Office. Being resourceful, I ran in to the Wal-Mart on Route 62 and snagged an electric razor, but unfortunately I didn't read the package label. I got out to my car and found that my $31 facial fixer didn't take batteries so I had to plug it in. I ran back inside the store, but there were no outlets in the men's' room (and you thought WM had everything right?). With time running out, I went out in front of the store and plugged in the razor at an outlet between the 7-Up machine and a electric device that spits out tattoos. For five minutes, I worked to clean up my mug as patrons walked past looking at me like I was out of my mind. I just kept waving and smiling and trying to not look like a complete nut. One lady stopped and said, "Hey, aren't you ..?" I quickly cut her off and said, "Paul Orlousky from Channel 19? Yep. That's me!" "I thought so," she said as she walked away. Paul, now we're even :)

Sunday, June 24, 2007


OK .. my phone just rang again. It's CNN asking me to be on with Larry King tonight at 9 p.m. Guess my leasurely Sunday won't be as leasurely as I'd first thought. I can only imagine how many more twists and turns this story will take today.

Tough Night ...

I'm just numb this morning. While the discovery and arrest was not a major surprise, the location of the crime scene caught all of us off guard. Hampton Hills? In Summit County? Never crossed any of our minds to say the least.

Here's a few random observations from yesterday:

The initial reports of Bobby Cutts' confession and the discovery of the body reached me just after 3 p.m. Later, police said they didn't find Jessie until 3:30 p.m. The discrepancy highlights how quickly the information was getting out. WAKR was the first to report the confession at 4:08 p.m. and others followed suit over the next hour. The tough part for all of us was how many sources we needed to feel confident to make the statement public. When 5 p.m. came and went and no one from the Sheriff's Office was calling to correct us, we knew we were right.

I'm told the Canton Repository posted a web story around 5 p.m. that placed Jessie at Meyers Lake in Stark County. At that same time, a source called me to say the body was on Firestone Road, near Middle Branch. While we dispatched our crews there, something inside said that didn't add up. The search crews had spent so much time there that day that some of the local folks would have had to have seen the discovery, and none did. At 5:30 p.m., my source called me back and said, "I've got it 100 percent this time. It's the metro parks near Bath." My jaw dropped. I made the call to the TV3 producers and we started our chopper and other crews that way and ended up finding the crime scene.

If you watched the afternoon press conference live, you may have heard a reporter ask investigators if we could call Cutts a "suspect" now. It drew some laughs. I thought it was completely inappropriate considering we were just now learning of the murder of a mother and her unborn child. While the "suspect" label had been debated all week long, the levity of it should have been saved for outside the sheriff's office amongst smaller groups. I felt bad for the Davis and Cutts family members who may have been watching at that moment.

I had a chance to speak off-camera to one of the officers who worked with Cutts on the days after Jessie disappeared. He said most officers were floored by the confession. That while they had their suspicions, Bobby was just "too much like himself" during those two days to make anyone suspect that he'd actually done this.

Investigators are ABSOLUTELY looking for an accomplice. There are reports that it's a woman, but none of my sources tell me that definitively. One Canton officer asked me if I'd heard that the suspected accomplice was ALSO a Canton Police officer. I asked him if that were true, would it be a surprise. He said .. not really. None of my sources tell me that another CPD officer is under suspicion, but it says a lot that members of the department might believe there is.

In the early evening, my cell phone was going nuts. FoxNews called (don't know how they got my phone #) wondering if I could help them find co-workers of Jessie's at Allstate in Hudson. I told them to use the Yellow Pages. Then the Today Show called wondering if I could help set up a few of the key players for the Sunday morning show. They also wanted me to meet with one of their producers on Sunday in Canton to work on a few longer pieces for Dateline NBC. Not sure I can be of as much help as they think I'll be, but the national media is doing all it can to get an "in." CNN called me at 9:30 p.m. to see if I could do a talk-back interview with Rick Sanchez at 10:15 p.m. I was able to get my evening story cut early so I agreed. I was struck by how off-the-cuff his questions were. Almost like he was over tired and punchy. The interview went fine, but I got the feeling he was trying to convince the audience that he knew more about the case than he actually did.

Monday's court appearance for Cutts will be a circus for the media. The arraignment court doesn't have the room to accommodate all of us. Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail when push comes to shove.

I met a family from Westlake this week. Really nice woman and her two daughters. I met them in front of Bobby Cutts house. They had driven down from Westlake just to "take a tour" of all the places they were seeing on the news. They thoughts it was "pretty cool" to see the real houses of a kidnapping and where a suspected kidnapper might be holed up. Dozens of other on-lookers drove by Cutts' and Davis' homes repeatedly on Thursday and Friday. I just find it odd that folks will drive two counties away for a peep show, but won't take the time to drive one more mile to join the search.

I keep thinking about little Blake Davis. He's lost both his mommy and now his daddy two. Maybe he'll be able to meet the daughters of the Hudson teacher , Marcia Gorospe, who was murdered by her husband earlier this year. An unfortunate similarity puts the little kids in a special situation of having lost mom to violence by dad. I pray that he gains peace and quiet with his family as they grieve.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The BIG story

Dear Jessie,

I have learned so much about you this week without us ever meeting face-to-face. In some ways, I feel like I know you though I’ve never heard your voice. Let me introduce myself. I’m just one of a slew of journalists whose been learning everything I can about you this week. I’ve asked your neighbors about you. I’ve met your co-workers. I’ve gotten to know you’re younger sister, Whitney, on a first-name basis. I’ve heard what a caring and devoted mother you are. I’ve watched your mother and others cry and talk about you daily. It’s obvious you are loved by so many.

Those you’ve never met, thousands of them, have stepped forward to help you. Many thousands more are praying for you. Dedicated police officers, some of them from as far away as Washington D.C., are working long hours in your name. Every hour, millions of strangers around the country are tuning in to radio and TV or surfing the web to get the latest on your life. You’re the talk of the town Jessie.

But to be totally honest, I wish you were still relatively unknown. I wish I didn’t know where you live or work or liked to eat. I wish I didn’t know that you were the oldest of seven kids and where you went to grade school. I just wish you were here to live your life and to be excited about the birth of your second child.

The more I think about you Jessie, the more I just simply wish we didn’t have bastards in this world who would take you away. Someone who would kidnap a pregnant mother in front of her own toddler. Someone who would do you harm in your own home. Someone whose making all of us double-check the locks on our doors every night and whose made my friend keep a worried eye on his daughter whose expecting the same week you are.

I guess I shouldn’t be complaining. This is big week for me. As a journalist, I’m supposed to be excited about cover the BIG story. As one of my colleagues said this week, “this is why you went to college and got into the TV business.” In reality, he’s right. My reports this week have aired on the local news in other cities and some of my work has been seen on national news. It’s all aimed at covering the tale of your life, and I get to be the storyteller. Strangers keep asking me for the “inside story” about what’s going on with you. It seems everyone in the Akron-Canton area can’t get enough of you Jessie, and that makes me a person in demand for information. My professional ego should be soaring, right?!?!

But right now Jessie, I wish I was covering a boring public meeting instead of the BIG story. I wish the woman with the great smile in your missing person photos was smiling at her home, playing with her son, and getting ready for the big day that a little sister arrives. I wish we were meeting for the first time at the park watching our kids play in the first weeks of summer instead of through police press conferences and searches in the woods.

Like I said, I hope you know how loved you are. I hope you know how much everyone wants you back where you belong. Above all, I hope you know that even reporters who salivate for the BIG story wish the last 10 days were about something other than you.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Breaking Point

Rather than put up the timeline of today’s events, let me just try to hit some high points of what happened behind-the-scenes on Thursday.

Let me just start by saying I’m not sure how much more Jessie Davis’ family can take. Tonight’s discovery – or lack thereof – was anything but a “let down” as one of our competitors characterized it on the late evening broadcasts. Believing that your loved one and her unborn child may be in a newly-discovered shallow grave in the woods only to find out hours later that it’s just pot is an emotional ride that few of us can ever finish standing up. Just think of what the last seven days have been like for the Davis clan. First, Jessie disappears and the evidence points to kidnapping. Then on Monday a baby is found near Wooster that raises the family’s anticipation that it might be Jamie’s but authorities later say they don’t believe the little girl is related. The next day (Tuesday), the family is left holding its breath when a rumor leaks that a body has been found on Mount Pleasant Road, not far from Jessie’s home. Later, the family is left speechless when the coroner says the death is actually a person who died of natural causes. Then, the next day (Wednesday), early-day rumors place the county dive team at the sewer plant looking for remains but later fire fighters tell us it’s only training. Now today (Thursday), the family endures the hours of uncertainty surround the shallow grave. How well would you be holding together right now?

I spent a good deal of my time today outside of Bobby Cutts’ home in Plain Township. I got the assignment because the FBI trashed Cutts’ place last night like it was the “Animal House” Fraternity. The chance that authorities might come back during the daylight to see Cutts or that Cutts himself my come out and make a statement forced us to camp out for the day on his street. Of course, a half dozen other media outlets were right there too.

Throughout the day, friends, relatives, and an attorney or two all stopped by to see Cutts. His three “private property, no trespassing” signs told me that I wasn’t welcome, but a select few folks were. None of those who came and went spoke to us, but their eyes told me “go away vultures” loud and clear. I couldn’t help but wonder if Cutts realized that most of us out there (OK, I guess I’m talking about me since I really can’t speak for the others) don’t mean him any harm. We really just want his side of the story. We really just want to know what he believes happened. What he has to say about his little boy who witnessed this awful sight of his mother taken away. What he wants to say about his unborn child and Jessie. Many folks make the assumption that because we’re the media, we’re must be there to crucify him. Without ever getting a chance to see him face-to-face, Cutts will only ever be guessing at my intentions.

At one point, a stranger from the neighborhood (he was wearing shorts that were ripped and showing most of his boxers; you had to be there to appreciate it) came up and asked me and the other reporters if we were with the FBI. He was frantic and really needed to find the authorities to tell them something big. The media throng was up front and honest that we weren’t police (I think the big TV cameras should have given us away anyway) and I gave him a phone number for the sheriff’s office. He left but returned an hour later to tell me his story off-camera. He saw a small car with a middle-aged white man come down a side street and then do a U-turn and leave when he saw the media. The stranger thought this guy in the car might be involved in the case somehow. I think his story is a bit far-fetched considering any large gathering of reporters and cameras usually scares most people regardless of whether they’re actually avoiding us.

I called Jessie’s sister, Whitney, around 1 p.m. just to check in on the family. I try to call only once a day since I know the media monster is overwhelming. Whitney told me that there wasn’t anything new to report and that she’d be available later in the day for comments. I asked her if there was any home video of Jessie that we might share on the air to give viewers a better idea of who Jessie is. She told me that the family really wishes it had some video of Jessie for personal viewing, but that none exists. Only shots of her from 20 years ago when she herself was a child. Having lost a brother of my own to violent crime, I could tell from that conversation how much Whitney really misses her big sister.

In the middle of the afternoon, a stranger in a nice suit with a young woman next to him showed up out of nowhere. They didn’t drive up like other relatives and friends; they simply walked down the sidewalk from the south. I asked the man if he was a friend of Cutts and he just smiled and kept going. He knocked on the door and was let in as though they were expecting him. I told the other reporters that my assumption was that he was a minister. About 10 minutes later, the man came back out of the house and started up the street. I decided to ask him again if he were a friend or relative. He told me his name was Ted Williams and smiled as he walked. The woman next to him said, “Ted. You don’t have to talk with them.” His pace increased as though he were fleeing a fire. Reporter Duane Pohlman then said, “Hey, how come you’re wearing a wireless microphone?” At that point, a small SUV backed up out of nowhere. Ted Williams and the woman jumped into the back of the vehicle for a quick get-away. In the front passenger seat, I locked eyes with a familiar face. She yells “Come On” and the car bolts away like the President’s limo during an assassination attempt. A few seconds later, I realize that that woman in the front seat was none other than Greta-Van-Whatshername from FoxNews. The local reporters on scene all began to look at one another wondering what had just happened. Had Ted Williams snuck a camera into the home? Had he gotten an interview with Bobby Cutts without Cutts’ knowledge? Why had the family let him in the home? Later, I watched Greta’s vaudeville show as she interviewed Williams live. He said that he knocked on the door cold and the family thought he was part of an expected prayer group so they didn’t think twice about letting him in. Williams says Cutts was lying on the floor looking completely distressed. Williams asked Cutts a few questions about his well-being and got short answers. Williams says that when the family realized he was from a cable TV show, they asked him to leave. The whole ordeal reeks of ethical landmines. Why didn’t Williams identify himself when the door was first opened? Did he record any audio or ever let the family know he was wearing a microphone? It’s stunts like that that make all of us in the media business look bad.

The one light moment of the day came around 2 p.m. The second that Duane Pohlman from TV5 showed up, a dark cloud swooped in with lightning, thunder, and rain. I couldn’t help but point it out to the rest of the media throng. Pohlman never missed a beat. He said, “Didn’t you know dark clouds are always following me?” We all had a good laugh.

After a nightside crew relieved me of my post outside Cutts’ home, my videographer, Larry Baker, decided we should swing by the search site on the way back to Akron just to poke around. We stumbled upon Captain Gary Shankle of the Sheriff’s Office telling reporters that pot had been found in that shallow hole that had been feared to be a possible gravesite. I was numb to the information but managed to reach producers to tell Tim White so he could add that info before our 7 p.m. newscast ended.

Inside, I was relieved because the discovered pot means that Jessie might still be alive. Whitney might get her sister back after all. Hoping for a miracle. There’s always hope.

Silence says a lot

When it comes to major stories like the disappearance of Jessie Davis, there are some days where it’s what’s NOT said that’s the biggest story. Wednesday was one of those days.

9 a.m. I arrive early at the Akron-Canton Newsroom to get a jump on the day. I tell the producers that I want to run down some sidebar stories on the Theresa Andrews case from 2000 just in case the Davis case ends up being more about the unborn baby. I talk to some folks in Portage County and then head east to run down a few smaller stories. In route, I make a call to Childrens Hospital. I’d like to get an interview with someone there about how they train medical folks to spot stolen or kidnapped kids. In the Andrews case, an alert hotline volunteer notified police after picking up vibes that the woman with Andrews’ baby was not the real mother. Childrens offers up a nursing supervisor for the early afternoon. I would eventually ask an intern from our Akron newsroom to get the interview for me.

9:15 a.m. I call the Clerk of Courts in Canton to see if any charges have been filed in the Davis case. They check the computers and tell me nothing so far. The clerk asks me why I keep calling them. “Won’t police tell you if they make an arrest?” the nice lady asks me. “Yes,” I tell her. “But they file the charges with you first.” I call her every 90 minutes throughout the day. I should probably put her on speed dial.

11 a.m. I learn from another reporter that divers are searching near the sewage plant in Stark County. Speculation is that they’re looking for a body. Another reporter is assigned to check it out, but the dive team folks tell us it’s just a training exercise. The more I think about it, the more I ask myself, “of all the places for divers to train, who the heck chooses the sewage plant?” I hold out my suspicions that they’re actually searching for evidence and told us it’s training to throw us off.

11:45 a.m. I speak with Whitney Davis, Jessie’s sister, by phone. Whitney tells me the family is exhausted from doing so many interviews and plans to hold their own press conference rather than doing one-on-one interviews all day long. At only 20, Whitney has become the family’s media go between. She’s poised and calm beyond her years, and I sense she’s the “rock” the other siblings are leaning on.

Noon We learn that Jessie’s employer, Allstate Insurance in Hudson, plans to hold a company-wide moment of silence in her honor. This sounds like a nice event to show our viewers so I tell the producers I’m heading to Hudson before continuing south to North Canton to follow the investigation. The PR folks at Allstate politely deny our request to come inside and cover the event, but they did let us talk to co-workers outside about how much they miss Jessie. I learn that Jessie’s sister, Jane, also works at the insurance company but she hasn’t been to work since the disappearance. I get a sense that co-workers are really shaken because they just can’t believe that someone they know has been kidnapped.

1 p.m. I learn the Sheriff’s Office plans a 3 p.m. press conference to update everyone on the investigation. My first thought is that this means there’s nothing new to report. If there was a break in the case, the press conference would probably be closer to evening news time. That way officers would have more time to get their information together.

2:45 p.m. I arrive in North Canton in time for the press conference with investigators. The family’s attorney tells me that Whitney and her mother will speak with reporters after the investigators are done.

3 p.m. During the daily stoning of Chief Deputy Rick Perez and the FBI’s Scott Wilson, I ask about the number of tips that have come in. Perez says that 450-500 tips have come in, most of them through the website. That’s a great deal more than the 75-100 he mentioned 22 hours earlier. I follow up and ask if any of the tips include sightings of Jessie. Perez pauses but then acknowledges that some of them did. What’s odd is that he doesn’t complete the answer by saying, “and we’re looking into to all of those tips to see if any of those sightings lead us to Jessie.” My experience is that when police don’t complete the thought the way a normal person would means that they’re not giving validity to the information. In other words, if they’re not putting time into tracking tips of sightings of Jessie can only be because they don’t think she’s alive. That’s my gut reaction. For several days, Perez and other investigators continue to echo how optimistic they are of a happy ending here, yet they don’t support that optimism in the subtle ways you’d expect. There is no mention of any new searches for Jessie. That says a lot.

3:15 p.m. The media assembles outside the Sheriff’s Office to speak with Whitney and her mother. The family is delayed inside as they meet with leaders of a volunteer search crew that’s come to town to help. 90 minutes later, Whitney finally comes outside but without other family members in tow. She agrees to take questions instead of making any statements. Her thoughts are guarded, tired, and well thought. Again, she declines to speak about Bobby Cutts Jr. Over the weekend, Jessie’s family had voiced support for Cutts, but now is remaining mum. Other reporters tell me that they think that the family’s lack of support for Cutts shows they see him as a suspect. That might be true. My gut tells me the family is exhausted and doesn’t see how pointing the finger of suspicion will accomplish anything. Remember, Cutts is the father of Jessie’s 2-year-old son, Blake. So if Jessie’s family points a finger of blame that turns up false, they’ll have a difficult time interacting with him for future years.

4:30 p.m. We learn the FBI is back at Cutts’ home going through everything he owns. Reporter Maureen Kyle heads there to cover the search. Meanwhile, Lydia Esparra heads to Jessie’s neighborhood on a hunch that a new player in the game has emerged. Stay tuned.

5:30 p.m. Anchor Tim White arrives. Tim, Chris Tye, Paul Thomas, and I each prepare our parts to the evening broadcasts. We fight the sun in our eyes and push through each of the shows without any major complications.

6:45 p.m. In a commercial, I grab a camera to get an interview with Tim Dimhoff, a security expert helping to analyze the case. He tells me that all evidence points to a love interest that killed Jessie in a crime of passion. He believes that she’s either “buried deep” or “in the water somewhere.” He can’t say for certain that Cutts will be the one arrested, but calls any other theories of abduction long shots. I walk away depressed. The optimist in me so wants to see a miracle.

7:35 p.m. Tye and I hit the road back to Akron, but each of us senses that we didn’t get the whole story today from investigators. We debate sticking around for the late evening broadcasts in case an arrest comes. We eventually decide that the best thing we can do is get sleep and get ready for whatever Thursday will bring.

11:01 p.m. I watch the top of the late news broadcasts to see carbon copy stories of the four-hour search of Cutts’ home. Bags and bags and more bags of items are taken from the house.

We are now seven days since Davis disappeared and the investigation is focusing on a suspect more than a victim. I’m wondering if anyone in law enforcement is still looking for Jessie? I mean, of course they’re “looking” for her, but did any of them actually use up some shoe leather Wednesday doing so? Or is the true story right in front of our eyes in where investigators are physically spending their time. It’s a hunt for clues to a killer. A hunt to connect a thread, a hair, or a drop of blood that leads to an arrest. What wasn’t said today tells me this is now a recovery operation instead of a rescue.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A day of reporting ... Jessie Davis

1:45 p.m. Producers tell me I’m out of the anchor chair until the Jessie Davis case is complete. They want me in the field to help with reporting and to help guide our larger coverage.

2:45 p.m. I head out the door to North Canton to hook up with our reporters in the field and gather details for the evening shows. There are no major leads so far, but the network crews are now in full “panic” mode and are pushing and shoving to interview the same folks we’ve been talking with since the beginning. I call a few old contacts from the Theresa Andrews case just to pick their brains. Eerie parallel.

3:10 p.m. I arrive at the Stark County Sheriff’s Office and compare notes with reporter Chris Tye. He tells me that we’ve just learned of a newborn baby dropped on the steps of a home in Apple Creek in Wayne County. Reporter Bill Safos was nearby on a separate story so he begins to track that part of the story. Chris and I start to put together a few different battle plans depending on how the afternoon develops.

3:15 p.m. Sheriff’s deputies tell us that a press conference is set for 5 p.m. Chris and I wonder if this means the new baby has become a major development. We don’t want to get our hopes up, but we realize that whatever comes out of the press conference might toss all our dayside work out the window. They wouldn’t be holding a press conference without a new element right? Maybe not. An FBI officer reportedly told a few reporters that he’d encouraged the deputies to hold daily briefings, regardless of whether there’s a break in the case.

4 p.m. A heavy storm rolls in, so I move inside the Sheriff’s office to stay dry and see what’s going on near the investigators. I run into Whitney Davis, Jessie’s sister, in the hallway and ask her for an interview. She grants me a few minutes and we had a nice chat. I asked her if she or her family have heard anything about the baby in Wayne County and she said that was news to her. I hated saying anything that might get her hopes up prematurely, but I’d also hate myself for holding back information that family members feel they need to know.

4:15 p.m. A producer friend with one of the networks shares a hot rumor that a woman named “Jessie Davis” has checked herself into the Wooster Hospital. Whitney is still a few feet away from me. Should I tell her the rumor? Would I be giving her false hope? I make some calls and keep Whitney in sight but decide there’s no way I’m going to share an unsubstantiated rumor with a relative and risk causing further damage. (Later at the press conference, police shoot the rumor down).

4:30 p.m. Whitney and I are both on cell phones a few feet apart in the lobby of the Sheriff’s office when a deputy approaches her. She had remained in the lobby waiting for her mother and other relatives to arrive. A deputy asks Whitney, “Did your mother bring the garage door opener? We need to get back in there and search some more.” Whitney replies, “I think so. She’ll be here in a second.” Another deputy realizes that I’m a reporter and quickly whisks Whitney behind closed doors to continue the discussion. I believe the deputy’s question means officers are headed back to the Davis’ home on Essex Street in North Canton. Reporter Dave Summers take the tip and runs with it. Sure enough, officers are at the scene going through the house again. Later, at the press conference, deputies deny that the house was searched again today. Not sure how they didn’t communicate on that one.

4:45 p.m. Deputies tell us the 5 p.m. press conference has been pushed back to 6 p.m. Now we know we’ll be carrying it live during the scheduled 6 p.m. newscast. Chris and I make a plan for each of us to deliver a short story at the top of the newscast to fill time until the press conference begins. Chris will talk about the latest on the investigation – including the search of Davis’ home – and I will share a soundbite from Whitney.

5:01 p.m. I sit nearby the row of reporters doing liveshots in their 5 p.m. broadcasts. I just wanted to see if the competition has anything we don’t know about. Fortunately, they don’t.

5:10 p.m. I chat with Phil Trexler of the Akron Beacon Journal and credit him on whipping everyone’s rear ends with his reports over the weekend. We debate whether the baby found in Wayne County will be connected to the case. Phil thinks it’s too coincidental for it not to be. I tell him that several radio stations are reporting that the Wayne County Sheriff is already saying there’s no connection. We both agree that we’ll have to wait and see for sure.

5:25 p.m. The Davis family lawyer appears but isn’t taking any questions. Reporters from TV5 tell him they’re waiting for Jessie’s mother, Patricia, to speak with them live at 5:30 p.m. She’d reportedly agreed to the interview, but she never comes out from behind closed doors with the detectives.

6 p.m. Chris does his live hit with Tim and Romona. They pitch to me just as the investigators walk in for the press conference. I stop talking and turn it over to the cops to see what’s new. After a short statement updating us on the search of Jessie’s boyfriend’s car, they agree to take questions. Rather than call on us as we raise our hands, the investigator lets us just fire away. It was like a stoning in Biblical times. Questions coming from every direction and about different topics. They tell us they’ve acquired Jessie’s cell phone call list but don’t say if it shows anything that’s useful. They also give us a photo from a security camera at a local grocery store. The photo is of Jessie and her 2-year-old son, Blake, about three hours before her last cell phone conversation.

6:12 p.m. The press conference ends and I jump up in front of the camera to talk with Tim and Romona about the photo and other info not covered in the press conference. After my liveshot, reporter Lydia Esparra and I talk about the evening coverage. She plans to head to Apple Creek to get more info on the baby.

6:30 p.m. Chris Tye and I do live hits with the Akron-Canton news and are then told we have to leave the Sheriff’s office and move outside. At 7 p.m., we duplicate those liveshots for Channel 3.

7:05 p.m. Lydia tells me that the plan is indeed for her to head to Apple Creek and that I should head back to the Akron office to put together a story on the press conference and my interview with Whitney for the 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts. I still worry that something major might happen at the Sheriff’s office while Lydia and I are out, but it’s a chance we have to take.

8:10 p.m. Toni Cicone from our news partners at WAKR has been doing a great job hawking this story on the radio side all day. She calls and tips me to a hot rumor that the Stark County Coroner is headed for Mount Pleasant Road on news that a body has been found there. MP Road isn’t too far away from Davis’ home so this could be a major development. Reporter Kristen Anderson was just pulling up to the Akron office when I hung up with Toni. I started Kristen towards the scene but called her back a few minutes later when Toni told me the rumor was a hoax. She’d tracked down the coroner’s office and there was no truth to it. It happens in these cases. Besides, inside I'm really glad it's not true. I really want to see Jessie show up unharmed.

8:50 p.m. Lydia checks in to say that she’s found the house where the infant was abandoned. Great "get" for the news. She’s heading back to the Sheriff’s office to get the video and interview fed via satellite by 11 p.m.

9:05 p.m. The 11 p.m. producer tells me that the NBC station in Dayton wants my story and to cut an outcue saying “2 News On Your Side”. Nothing new. When the Andrews case hit us in 2000, I was doing liveshots and stories for stations as far away as Seattle.

9:20 p.m. I take a quick look at relatives and “experts” discussing the case on Larry King. A source tells me that Good Morning America has a one-on-one for tomorrow morning with Chief Deputy Rick Perez. Guess the local press is now second fiddle.

10 p.m. We go on the air with the Akron-Canton News while keeping tabs on our 10 o’clock competition on 8 and 19. Turns out, they don’t have anything we don’t already know about. So far, so good. We learn there’s a hearing tomorrow in juvenile court about the baby, so we’ll have to be back on our game first thing in the morning.

10:40 p.m. I’m alone in the Akron newsroom, writing my blog. All I can think about is Jessie Davis. She’s become such a "topic" that I hope we’re not losing sight that first and foremost she’s a person. Where is she? What’s happened to her child? Is this baby from Wayne County Jessie’s newborn daughter? Oh God, what has happened here?

It’s almost 11 p.m. of the sixth night of this saga, and we don’t know if we’re any closer to solving this. And somewhere tonight there’s a two-year-old boy closing his eyes who still doesn’t know if he’ll ever see his mother again. I can’t think of any nightmare more devastating than that. Goodnight.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Somebody warn Ken!!!

A few notes from inside the newsroom today.

The National Media has descended upon North Canton as the search for Jessie Davis continues. Davis' mother and sister will be on Fox News live at 10 p.m. with Greta Van Whatever-Her-Name-Is. Reporter Vic Gideon says the other cable networks have been arriving by the hour and are setting up tents near the Stark County Sheriff's Office. Unfortunately, there's nothing new on the search for Davis or who might have taken her, but the crime scene folks are working overtime for sure. When I know, you'll know.

My eyes must be going around here. A while back, I was reading a health story on the 6:30 news about keeping your babies away from water but instead of "babies" I said "barbies." Like most public speakers, I usually read several words ahead of what's actually coming out of my mouth. By the time I realized what I'd said, I was already on to the second sentence about why they shouldn't get wet. Rather than fix it on the fly, I just kept going. As we headed on to the next story, the director and the producer each spoke into my ear simultaneously to ask, "what the heck did you just say?" Oh well. Think of barbies like gremlins; don't get em wet and don't feed em after midnight!! Wasn't long ago that I read "witness" as "waitress" for a different story. Hopefully I didn't make all the servers at Bob Evans worry for nothing.

Akron Police Scanner Traffic around 3:30 p.m. today: "All units be on the lookout for a man with brown hair, brown eyes, wearing a hospital gown, and just looking 'crazy'." Ya know, that's just one of those descriptions that I'd hope our officers would ALWAYS be looking for.

A stranger came to the newsroom a few weeks back and immediately took off his shoes. He stood on main street and told me all about how a local medical facility had given him poison and the poison was causing his feet to fall off. He kept pointing to the bottoms of his feet to make sure I could see where they were going to explode. Through the glass door, I suggested that he come back when one of the on-air people was around. He bought it and left. I quickly called APD to let them know there was a suspicious person ("signal 9" for all you APD scanner jockeys out there) in the area so in case they saw"Freddy Foot Factory" walking the beat.


A few recent emails that deserved attention:

Tony from Munroe Falls writes, “I recently read that, upon retiring, James McCarthy will receive 91 percent of his current salary AND health care benefits. I am curious to know what happens if he decides to run again for another office. Will he continue to get this extremely generous retirement benefit as well as the salary for the elected office, should he win? I suspect he will.”

Tony, I’m not sure, but my experience with public employees is that as long as he doesn’t take a job with a county agency, he’ll collect his pension from the county as scheduled. I’ve seen quite a few county employees retire and take municipal jobs and vice-versa. For example, Drew Alexander retired from Akron Police with a pension and then went to work as Sheriff. It’s my understanding that he and others in this same position get to ‘double-dip.’

Cindy tells me about yet another major obstacle in the state’s child support system. “My husband’s child support is deducted from his paycheck on the 15th and the 30th. They allow no time for the money to reach them at the end of the month. Therefore, if your payment isn’t there by the last day of the month, they send you a letter telling you that you are in arrears. If you get paid in this method, you will always be in arrears. I have a stack of these letters. I called and told them we are not behind, it’s their system, but they didn’t care. “

Cindy, thanks for the note. Since my series of child support stories began in February, I have received quite a few emails detailing problems with the system. Cindy, your dilemma amazes me. Thousands of people are paid twice per month (15th and 30th) so your husband can’t be the only one getting threatening letters about being behind on child support when it’s not his fault. If true, the folks running CSEA are wasting time, $$, and resources. Let me mention this issue to some folks in a few county offices and see where it goes.

Jennifer from Akron dropped me a line following our severe weather on June 8th. She was more-than-a-bit concerned that the City of Akron does not have a siren warning system and instead uses its fire truck sirens. Jennifer wrote, “MAY I ask WHAT!!!!!--- (Would you really be outside to listen for a fire truck...???) Number 2 WHAT IF Akron residents don’t live near by FIRE STATION?? Number 3 How safe is that to our Firemen and/ or Family members to be out in tornado like weather... Number 4 RESIDENTS who DON'T hear warnings THEY WOULD END UP INJURIED OR WORST CASE DEAD! LASTLY---- Every time during a nice size storm rolls in EVERYONE IS AKRON will hit the basement.”

Jennifer, I sent your concerns up the city hall food chain and latched on to the following email response from a senior Akron Fire Department officer: “According to AFD operational bulletin. Once a tornado watch is issued to all fire companies, they are to observe the storm front and notify dispatch if a tornado is sighted. The tornado watch now becomes a tornado warning. According to our dispatch center at no time were they ever notified about a sighting by anyone. (A dispatcher) did state that a warning was issued for he believes the Lodi area. Dispatch was watching the weather radar and listening to their weather radio in the center.” As for Akron’s warning system, the AFD officer wrote, “we pull our fire apparatus out on the apron of the station and sound the sirens at the highest pitch for 45 seconds and do this intermittently for 5 minutes…We would only activate our warning system if we received info from NAWAS or someone called and said a tornado was sighted.”

I still need to follow up with AFD, but I can’t understand how dispatchers wouldn’t have known Summit County was under a Tornado Warning that afternoon. All of the news outlets were doing wall-to-wall coverage until the warning expired. As for Akron’s choice to use the fire sirens in lieu of a tower system, we’ve covered that argument in the past. As I recall, city leaders found it difficult to install enough tower sirens that would cover the entire city. They felt the spacing of the fire stations would do the job. My issue with it all is that fire fighters aren’t told to activate their sirens until someone actually sees a tornado. That sounds risky. The suburbs tend to use their systems when a warning is issued that includes their cities. It’s a great subject for debate.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Catching Up

I didn’t mean to disappear for a full week, but I was out of town for a few days and had a few other obstacles that have kept me out of the office. Anyway, lots to chat about so here we go:

Well I went 1-for-2 on the University of Akron expansion. We all certainly knew that something more concrete needed to be laid out on the stadium deal considering the team is already telling recruits that they’ll kick off at the new place in September 2009. I didn’t see the Quaker Square deal in any crystal ball or wild dream. I do remember talking with owner Jay Nusbaum a year or so ago about the future of the operation. He told me that the coming years didn’t look bright and that a change was needed to survive. I just had no idea he meant to sell the place! I think city hall’s initial quiet, supportive response to the deal is a good sign. No reason to panic or paint yourself into a corner when the hotel will still be open for a year+. Still, we’d better find another Motel 6 or stable-with-a-view soon or future downtown events will be that much more difficult to schedule. Remember 10 years ago when Hollywood wanted to blow up one of the old Goodrich Buildings as part of an action movie? The deal fell through because we didn’t have enough hotel rooms. Would hate to see history repeat itself, unless of course we’re blowing up a parking deck.

This missing woman story in Stark County is really upsetting. I know I’ve posted on this in the past, but when people ask me about my most memorable story, I usually always respond with “Teresa Andrews.” The two weeks+ I spent living in Ravenna in the fall of 2000 from the day the expected mother disappeared to the day her body was discovered to the moment her baby was released from the hospital just overwhelmed my emotions. To this day I still get anxious and sad when thinking about speaking with Teresa’s husband and her parents. I pray this latest missing woman is alive, and while I realize the circumstances here are different, we’re still talking about a woman whose nine months pregnant. I doubt there’s ever a time that a woman feels more vulnerable.

I had my first chance recently to catch up with Carol Sullivan (formerly Chandler) as she returned to TV3. Carol left her post as morning anchor a year+ ago to follow her husband’s football coaching career. When her hubby got hired by the Browns as an assistant, Carol (a new mother as well) moved back to town and back to reporting two days a week in our Cleveland office. Our paths don’t cross much in the news operation, but it’s great to see Carol back in the game. She’s one of the sharpest journalists and story-tellers I know.

I keep hoping another candidate or two will emerge for the upcoming opening as Summit County Executive. It’s an important position that flies under the radar of a lot of media, but the impact is significant. I wonder if John Donofrio wouldn’t consider the opportunity. Maybe even one of the local state representatives. No one inspires me right now. I think that’s the problem.

A full school year is now over and there weren’t nearly as many complaints about Akron’s speed cameras as I’d anticipated. I think drivers learned to either avoid the school zones at all costs or got the message to just slow down. I’m still interested to see how the courts decide the legality of it all, but for now, I’m just surprised I didn’t get as many drivers showing up at the newsroom door with complaints that they’d been unjustly photographed by Big Brother.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Now THAT would be cool

I had a chance to chat with Jim Hutsman today. He’s the CEO of the All-American Soap Box Derby. He told me that the public really only got half of the story last week about the $$ the city put up to help the AASBD pay its bills.

Like most folks, I was under the impression that Akron City Council okayed giving $600K in royalties from a few gas wells to the derby because the leaders needed a bail out because the NASCAR sponsorship had fallen short. Like many, I took City Council to task (see my blog post below; Huntsman certainly did) because it seemed like a lot of $$ with very little time for debate. Huntsman tells me that those dollars were already headed to the derby and that AASBD leaders simply asked for an advance against the royalties they were already guaranteed. That’s a big difference from the original story. That means that the dollars aren’t being taken away from any other program, and this is really no different than a great many other business deals out there.

Huntsman also enlightened me to the cities out there that have silently made it known that they’d like to steal the AASBD for their communities. Indianapolis and Daytona to name a few (not that either of those places know anything about racing, ha!). Honestly, I can’t imagine the “gravity grand prix” (thanks for that one Joe) anywhere else but Akron. Still, when you consider the $3 million per year that comes to town with the 600 families who flood Akron on race week, you can see why other cities would love the deal.

My favorite part of my chat with Jim was his vision of adding a second track at Derby Downs for --- wait for it --- ADULT racing. He says there are special cars made overseas that would be great for a grown-up track here in Akron. He says the track would have special curves and be a big draw. As a derby dad, I know there are kids who reach 18 who would like to continue to live their glory days at Topside. Right now, it’s just an idea, but you gotta admit, adult soap box derby cars could be pretty cool.

A few other notes from today:

I met Kelly Albertoni of Hartville this morning. Actually, she’s only ‘from’ Hartville; she ‘lives’ in Hollywood (the city, not the Akron street). Odds are you’ve seen Kelly on TV without realizing it. She’s a regular on NBC’s “ER” as one of the staff nurses. She’s also a regular in the casinos of “Las Vegas” and has been seen in a lesser role on “Desperate Housewives” as Bree’s younger sister (once you see her red hair you’ll understand why she’s in demand). Kelly tells me that she’s hoping for a future in sports broadcasting and that one of the Cleveland stations will give her a shot. Anyway, keep your eyes open for her on a TV screen near you.

I’m still laughing about the car I saw early this morning driving around East Akron. It had “just married” written in some kind of paint on the side, but the wedding party didn’t stop there. The entire car was covered in playful, teasing, wedding speak. I don’t know which one I liked better. The back quarter panel that read “I hope this comes off” or the trunk that read “It’s to let to turn back now.” Nothing like a best man who can’t spell eh?

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Tears, tears, and more tears

It’s not often I’m speechless, but as I write this, I don’t know that I’ll truly be able to capture the moment. Today, my middle son, Jacob, finished second in the Akron Local Soap Box Derby. He actually made it all the way to the championship and split two races with the eventual winner, Tyler Shoff. This was Jacob’s first real derby race, and to see him keep winning heat after heat today literally had both of us in tears.

What makes it special isn’t the fact that he came within a millisecond of forcing another finale for a chance to represent Akron in the All-American Derby, but rather it’s the fact that we cried together for the first time since I returned from Iraq. My deployment with the Ohio Army National Guard in 2003-04 hit Jake very hard. He was only five years old when I got called up, and with an older brother already getting extra support in school and a younger brother who was a baby needing attention, Jacob had a pretty tough time and often felt alone. I know the year-plus separation hit him harder and deeper than many probably realized, and I knew Jacob would be the first one to run to me when I got off the plane on my return American soil.

Since I’m also the middle of three sons, Jake and I share a special bond and understanding of one another. As he and I cried with each major success at Derby Downs today, we shared some father-son moments that I pray others also get to have one day. That feeling of doing something together (in this case, many hours in the garage with tools and a derby car) and then seeing it all come together in a magical afternoon.

If you’re a father with a son, always know how important your time is together. You can buy him toys or even a real car when he’s old enough. You can tell him “good job” on his game or grades. You can even brag about how smart or talented he is. But never forget it’s the time we spend with our boys that really helps them to develop into men. It’s the mentoring we show them in the quiet moments and not just the cheers from the stands.

Even if Jacob had lost very early in the race today, I’d still feel the same way about our special time together. However, it was those tears that opened my eyes to the real joy today of how fortunate he and I are to have each other.

Friday, June 8, 2007

James And The Giant Rumor

So it’s 6/12 at 10:30 a.m. That’s the time that County Executive James McCarthy will announce his retirement. I’m told it’s effective June 30th. So the worst kept secret in town is finally out there. County Councilman Tim Crawford and Summit County Dems boss Russ Pry both say they’re “in-it-to-win-it.” County Council President Nick Kostandaras still wants consideration as well. Personally, I wish someone would ask Bob Otterman, but I’m not sure the former Akron-City-Councilman-turned-state-rep would see a future in the job as Executive.

I’m not sure which way the caucus will swing in choosing a successor on this one, but at least they’re finally moving forward. Rumors about the other “King James” have dragged on too long. I’m told that McCarthy wants to finish out the month to get his affairs and office in order. Considering all he’s done to steady the ship following the reign of Tim “I think I’ll go to Germany this week – again!” Davis, McCarthy should get well-deserved praise on the way out the door. Critics will point to allegations of nepotism, but McCarthy’s legacy of accomplishments will certainly outweigh the complaints.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Thursday Grab Bag

I had a chance to meet the young man with cerebral palsy who is being evicted by the University of Akron. Really nice guy. I hope he and the Zip leadership can find some middle ground on his health aid needs. It seems like initial reports made the U of A out to be tyrants but I’m finding that they’ve really gone the extra mile to make sure they’re not setting themselves up to provide a level of support for one student that they wouldn’t be able to duplicate for other special needs students.

I had a chance to chat with Marco Sommerville, President of Akron City Council yesterday. He told me that he thought Mayor Plusquellic took a few too many body shots during “News Night Akron” a few weeks ago. (For those of you not familiar with the program, NNA is a reporters’ roundtable discussion on Friday nights at 9 p.m. on PBS 45/49.) Back on May 11th, the panel discussed the failure of the income tax levy and whether the 2-1 vote margin was a shot at the Mayor as much as it was a defeat of the issue. Some of the panelists felt the parking lot debate fueled some of the “no” votes and some of those folks most certainly were casting anti-Don votes. I’m not sure that any of the panelists took too many rabbit punches as Plusquellic, but Marco and I had a good chat nonetheless.

There are hot rumors about a new tenant for Jillian’s downtown that involve pro athletes. That’s all I can say right now, but I’m looking to nail it all down.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

High Street Blues

There’s a storm brewing amongst our city government. Multiple sources tell me that there was a major blowup last week between Mayor Plusquellic and Police Chief Michael Matulavich. My own experience has been that the two have professional respect for one another but don’t share recipes if you know what I mean. I’m not sure what sparked this tiff, but during the heat of battle, the Mayor talked about replacing Matulavich and the Chief responded by telling the Mayor what to do with a resignation. I’m told that when the smoke cleared, Matulavich and Plusquellic were still standing but it wasn’t pretty. I recall the day Matulavich was named Chief and the Mayor included a comment that he was selecting Matulavich in part because he was the most senior Deputy Chief available. Later, I heard that Matulavich was really steamed about that remark. He believed that the Mayor should be choosing a Chief because he was the best cop for the job and not just the only available candidate. With the department already understaffed and under fire from residents and others, let’s hope these two can find a way to make peace.

I’m so tired of looking at the rusted, burned-out end of the Akron Air dock that I decided to find out why it wasn’t being fixed. If you’ve seen it lately, then you know how ugly it looks after the fire more than a year ago. A nice public relations lady from Lockheed Martin got back to me last night and says that the finances have finally been worked out and the repairs should be done by the end of the summer. She said the insurance company that backs the welder who sparked the fire is paying the bill. What’s sad is that means we’ll have to endure a second All-American Soap Box Derby with that mammoth eyesore. I hate to have hundreds of families from across the country come to our great town and then have to look at that mess for an entire week.

Julie from Akron emailed me about fears of a new parking lot the City of Akron plans for the intersection of Revere Road and Sand Run Parkway. It’s right at the top of the hill as you come out Sand Run. Julie tells me that the parking lot will include 30 spots and a restroom about 90 feet from residential homes. She’s concerned that it will become a hangout for gang activity. I’m not sure that that area jumps to mind when it comes to juvenile crime, but if those that live around there are concerned about it, I hope that City Council at least considers their fears.

Speaking of City Council, was anyone else surprised at the $600K in gas royalties that the baker’s dozen so quickly agreed to give to the All-American Soap Box Derby? I checked the agenda yesterday before the meeting and didn’t even see the item listed. Maybe I missed it, but I was surprised the 12+1 didn’t ask for any public input before agreeing to up the SBD’s allowance. I mean, 600K???? Did they even ask the folks with the Gravity Grand Prix to open their ledger and confirm how much is coming in and going out? If your son asks for some extra spending dough, don’t you ask him what he did with the money he already had before you give him more for the arcade? Again, I’m not saying the SBD folks don’t need this, and being a parent of derby racers, it’s a great activity that benefits so many. Still, just a few weeks ago, I heard that beginning this year, the champs would be asked to buy their own set of black racing wheels for the All-American Race when the wheels were typically a gift to each racer. That was a sign to me that the Derby was having some serious financial issues, and with the big race just seven weeks away, maybe there really wasn’t time to gauge public input. Still, I’m wondering what that $600K was originally designated to support and what programs or jobs will be lost because those dollars are rolling down Derby Downs.

Couldn't Believe My Ears

Dear Moron,

You’ve been on my mind all day, and I thought I could just let it go, but at this moment, I can’t. Somebody needs to tell you how wrong you are, and today that somebody is me.

I walked next to you on an Akron street this morning wearing an Army PT t-shirt and a black hat with “Army Veteran” on the front. At 6’3”, you couldn’t have missed me anyway, but you took the time to notice my apparel after I had just finished taking my son to school.

For whatever reason, and I’m hoping it was simply an absolute brain cramp on your part you knucklehead, you decided to say to me, “Army eh? (big laugh) You know, all those Army guys are dying right now, right? (bigger laughter)”. The reason I stopped for a few seconds and looked at you like you had three heads is because that’s how appalled I was at what you said. You spoke to me like I was wearing a Detroit Pistons t-shirt and you were teasing me because the Cavs “killed” them, except you were talking about American soldiers.

After saying nothing, I kept walking and chalked your thoughtlessness up to blatant ignorance. Having read today’s front-page story about 14 more U.S. troops killed over the weekend in Iraq, my mind and heart were already heavy with the pain of the war. But c’mon brain donor, what were you thinking?

Maybe you just didn’t know what to say to someone in the military. Maybe you recognized me from TV and just didn’t know what to say. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that you just don’t get it. You don’t understand what this country is going through. 3,400+ dead. 20,000+ wounded. Tens of thousands more with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Those are individual people that are losing their lives. There’s a family for each and every one. The most recent casualty was 21 years old from New Philadelphia – as in New Philadelphia, Ohio – as in just down I-77 – as in, HE WAS ONE OF US YOU DOLT!

The more I think about it, the more I’m glad you said those comments to me you soulless oxygen thief . I hasten to think what would have happened had those words been directed to Julie Barkey or Peggy Buryj or Larry Large or Wesley Emch or even my oldest son. He’s only 12. Yet, at age 8, he stood up to be the man of the house for 14 months while his father was in the middle of hell somewhere. He had to watch over two younger brothers while worried and scared every minute. He had to try and offer a shoulder to his crying mother, as she was terrified every time the phone rang you heartless dweeb. Tell him what you told me and I guarantee he’ll give you more than a few words to consider. He'll eat your lunch.

To say the least, your thoughtless utterance got under my skin today. I hate to even write the words that appear above, because I pride myself on being an officer and a gentleman. However, after another stranger took the time on Main Street today just to say, “welcome home,” I couldn’t help but tell you how hurtful your humor was this morning. Even my kindergartner has been told, “think before you speak.” I think you could learn a lot from a 5-year-old, but I'm not sure you're that smart.