Monday, December 29, 2008

Canton's McDaniels among leading candidates to replace Crennel

Ok .. so it looks like Bill Cower is definitely out of the running, but how cool would it be to have a local guy as the head coach of the Browns?

Owner Al Lerner confirms that Josh McDaniels is in the running to be the next head coach.

McDaniels played QB at Canton McKinley and rose quickly in the coaching ranks to his current role as Offensive Coordinator of the Patriots -- as in the New England Patriots with Tom Brady that went 16-0 in the regular season last year.

He's only in his mid-30's but is regarded as one of the best young offensive-minded coaches in the league.

And .. for what it's worth .. wouldn't it be nice to get an offensive coach, considering the offensive weapons (I use the word "weapons" loosely as dropped passes and motorcycle crashes have dampened some of the thunder there) the Browns have acquired the last few years?

His father, Thom, coached him in high school and recently stepped down as Jackson High's head coach, although he's quoted as saying that he'd like to continue as an assistant coach.

Still .. how cool would it be to see the team's new top dog be a guy who grew up watching the Browns on rabbit ears during the days that Modell blacked out games?

And to do it coming from the same area as Paul Brown?

Who knows! With Josh McDaniels in charge, maybe some of the folks in Tiger Town will stop rooting for the Bengals ..

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Focus: Teen runaways talk about why the flee to the streets

My latest long-term story focuses on a topic that thousands of families face yet is rarely covered on the evening news: runaways.

We rarely ever show a missing teen on the news, and as a newsroom protocol, it's usually only if police suspect foul play. The reason behind the rule is that if we show one, we need to show all of them to be fair.

It breaks my heart to tell a crying mother on the phone that "no, we can't show your missing daughter's picture on the news tonight."

Police deal with thousands of runaway teens every year. Some leave for an hour, while others leave for quite a while longer.

I wanted to find out why teens choose the streets versus their home, so I sat down with two girls, ages 13 and 17, who have often chosen to walk out the door when their emotions get the better of them.

Both girls are from Akron, and both had more good advice than I could fit into this story.

While some are already giving me grief on the standup, take a look .. and I'd appreciate your feedback on the content and how we might advance this topic for future broadcasts. Thanks .. Eric


Friday, December 26, 2008

Valley talk ... time to find a better way in and out

The tanker crash at the bottom of the Steels Corners hill has me turning to a mental Google earth to try and find a better way for trucks to get their products to the Merriman Valley area.

The truck crashed at the dead-end of Akron-Peninsula Road, and I've already heard folks calling talk radio saying that the driver shouldn't have come that direction with sulfuric acid bound for the water treatment plant.

But if not SC Road, then where? how?

Would you want to drive a truck down the Portage Path hill? or Portage Trail hill? Dare you attempt Smith Road? How about going farther north for a dive down State Route 303 -- from either direction. Merriman Road might be the softest grade, but that means driving your big rig through Akron to get there.

I've covered a great many truck crashes on those hills .. almost always because brakes fail.

There's just no easy way in or out of the Valley, yet the restaurants and businesses that operate there need their regular commodities.

Anyone got a better idea? I think today's fatality highlights a need for some new ideas.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Phony veteran admits guilt in Akron court, faces jail time

Benjamin Terril opted to take his chances with a judge rather than a jury of his peers. The former Buchtel Science teacher who was charged with pointing a loaded gun at another man's head admitted to the indictment today and now faces jail time.

According to a press release:

"Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh announced today that Benjamin Terril, 50, of Iona Avenue, Akron, pled guilty to Carrying a Concealed Weapon, a felony of the fourth degree; two counts of Possession of a Dangerous Ordinance, felonies of the fifth degree; Using Weapons While Intoxicated, a misdemeanor of the first degree; Drug Paraphernalia, a misdemeanor of the fourth degree; and possession of Marijuana, a minor misdemeanor. Sentencing is scheduled for January 28, 2009 at 10:30 a.m. in Judge Stormer’s court."

I don't think he can ask for probation since there are three felony convictions here, but I imagine he'll try. Several folks who knew him years ago have been telling me for weeks that he would never ever admit to these crimes. Guess he proved them wrong.

I'm not sure if Judge Stormer will mention our investigation that found that Terril lied about being a "war hero" in the 82nd Airborne to include wearing an Army uniform and tagging along with local recruiters talking about his military experience.

As I found out with a free public records request, Terril never served a single day in uniform. The Akron Public Schools later verified that same false resume and fired him.

Terril's lawyer filed a brief with the court asking that any mention of his military claims be kept out of his trial claiming that it didn't matter based on these charges. We'll never know if the jury would have heard that part now that he's plead guilty before going to trial. I do know that he told police during his arrest that the reason he had so many guns is because he had "military experience."

I'll be interested to see if any "real" veterans or Terril's former students or teachers come to his sentencing.

Friday, December 19, 2008

House cleaning at the Summit Co. Prosecutor's Office?

I'm hearing rumbles that a shakeup is underway in Sherri Bevan Walsh's office .... and that multiple prosecutors are out. Turns out it's true.

As with all county agencies, the PO was required to cut five percent to meet the economy problems and that meant jobs, including some front-line prosecutors and others behind the scenes.

The most notable name is Mike Carrol, who many will recall teamed with (now judge) Alison McCarty in prosecuting Doug Prade 10 years ago. Carrol is well-respected in the law community and I'm told was set to retire in 2009 anyway, but retired early to help with the finances of the office.

Most are getting the news as I write this ..

I haven't been able to talk with Sherri or any of her senior staff yet, but when I get more details, I'll have them here .. Eric

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Go ahead .. test Prade's DNA .. but that's not the test that needs done here.

Doug Prade's lawyers are hoping that an appeals court will give him new life from a cold jail cell. He wants to have his DNA tested and then compared to evidence from the 1997 murder of his ex-wife, Margo. That's the killing for which he was convicted.

Governor Strickland is recommending free post-conviction DNA screenings for 30 inmates who are maintaining their innocence, and Prade, a former Akron Police Captain, is one of them.

I'm not sure what testing Prade's DNA could do considering jurors didn't convict him on DNA. He was found guilty because of a bite mark on Margo's arm that an expert matched up to Doug's teeth, which included his jaw-dropping upper dentures that flew out during testimony.

The only DNA evidence I recall was a test done on skin cells found under Margo's fingernails and Doug was excluded from that pool. Investigators told me that they'd never be able to determine whose DNA was there because Margo had so many patients.

Yet .. after his conviction .. Doug Prade told me that he believes that the real killer's DNA is in there.

If there's a DNA test to be done here, wouldn't it make more sense to do new tests on those skin cells rather than getting Doug's DNA code for the umpteenth time?

There are people in town -- definitely not the majority of people who followed this case -- who still believe Prade is innocent, but I think even they would agree that the facts of the case don't hold much hope for a new trial just by getting a new look at Doug's X's and Y's under a microscope.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Myisha Ferrel's get-out-of-jail card better than most

Myisha Ferrell is out of jail, and by everything I understand from the courts, she should be out. That's the way her plea bargain was structured.

Still, the moral to her early release is "know when to make a deal."

I can remember watching from the back of the courtroom as her sentencing went forward. Her plea deal included a chance at early parole if she was a model prisoner and included an agreement that prosecutors would stand silent rather than oppose the sentence or early release.

At that time, Ferrell had leverage with investigators. She could testify to the disposing of Jessie Marie Davis' body. She could give a first-person account of Bobby Cutts' involvement. She had something to barter. Most importantly, she knew that Cutts was the prey and that she could provide the hunters with the arrows they needed .. if they fed her hunger for a reduced penalty first.

That's where the deal came in.

Of course, what the courts and investigators didn't know at the time was that Cutts would eventually admit to killing Davis during the murder trial. Now I'm not saying that Cutts' creative story-telling made Ferrell's plea-bargain testimony worthless, but prosecutors might not have agreed to a sweetheart plea deal for Myisha had they known Cutts was planning to spill the beans on the stand.

Now that I think of it, there's probably an argument to be made that Ferrell's testimony as part of the prosecution helped push Cutts to bear his violent soul once the defense took over.

Clearly Ferrell did not take part in the murder, but her involvement after-the-fact was criminal.

First, helping Cutts dispose of the body of Jessie and her unborn child and later helping Cutts clean up the crime scene.

She said she was afraid of Cutts, but why didn't she come forward after he let her go? Why did she sit in her apartment for days watching TV coverage of all the press conferences and watching thousands of people looking in the fields when Myisha knew where the body was? How could she watch Jessie's mom and sister cry day after day?

For an entire week, Ferrell held the key to the lock and yet refused to open it.

Usually that nets a person more than just a year in jail.

I can't imagine how Ferrell will live with knowing she took part in this horrific crime, but hopefully others will learn from her mistake: when an acquaintance suddenly needs your help because they did something wrong, you need to be strong enough to walk away.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Getting ready for Monday's debut

Sorry I've been absent the blogosphere so much the last 10 days .. I've been preparing for the transition to the Cleveland office for Monday's premier of the new 7 p.m. news broadcast. I'm very excited .. but I'm also trying re-sort my hours to find writing time.

In the meantime .. I thought I might give you a glimpse of my new partner, Carole Sullivan. We're both pretty excited to be a new team with a new focus on delivering the news.


video

Monday, December 8, 2008

Interim Police Chief makes sense

My post last Wednesday about the upcoming "Chief-less" Akron Police Force either timed out well .. or struck a nerve .. but APD is moving forward by naming Maj. Craig Gilbride as Interim Chief in the wake of Chief Michael Matulavich cashing in his vacation time early and leaving the office prior to his contract expiring at the end of the month.

Gilbride certainly knows his way around the cop shop .. with 30+ years on the force .. and his own sons in uniform with him. His resume includes supervising the Doug Prade homicide investigation in 1997-98 when he was Captain.

By rule .. it seems that even without being named the Interim Chief (IC), Gilbride would have been thrust in that position as the senior deputy chief and by the common sense of police chain of command. Still, it's good for the force to see city hall make it official -- as official as "interim" can be -- so that everyone knows where they stand when the ball drops New Year's Eve.

What isn't certain is when City Hall will fill the office .. and what criteria are most important to making a selection. I do know that Akron brass want to make the "right" selection more than a "quick" selection.

Still, what's right for the department in these trying times is open for debate. Should it be a by-the-book disciplinarian? or a hard-charging, lead-from-the-front street officer? Does it need to be a veteran with 30+ years of experience? Or could it be a 40-something, law-and-order badge with high-tech ideas?

So much to debate ..

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A new challenge -- anchoring in Cleveland

After nearly 15 years in Channel 3's Akron Bureau, it's time for a new challenge .. and that means a move up north to the Cleveland office.

I'm thrilled to be teamed with Carole Sullivan as the new co-anchors of Channel 3's Evening News at 7 p.m. beginning Dec. 15th. The announcement was made this afternoon in our newsroom.

It's a tremendous opportunity for me, and one that allows me to continue my first love -- reporting -- while contributing on the anchor desk with a dear friend and colleague. Carole and I go back 15+ years to "23 News" on WAKC, and I couldn't ask for a better partner. I like to call her the "TV sister I never knew I wanted" because I grew up with two brothers .. and never realized how great it can be to share laughs with a girl of all things. In all seriousness, we're both committed to making the new 7 p.m. newscast a top-notch broadcast; we've got some creative ideas so come along for the ride.

I still have a lot of stories from Summit County in the works, so I'll be visible on the streets during the day. I'm always hunting for the exclusive so keep the tips coming :) My email will stay the same: ericmansfield@wkyc.com so I'm still within reach. My on-line presence with this blog and also with Facebook will continue as well.

Just know how much I love this job .. and how much I plan to challenge myself and push my colleagues to bring you a newscast that delivers every night.

Akron's my home .. so I'm not moving either .. but the opportunity to cover more of Northeast Ohio is one I welcome. This truly is the best place in the world to live.

More to come on what it all means in the ever-changing TV News landscape .. but I wanted you to hear it directly from the source.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

That smoke you see downtown ...

Follow me here ...

The next big City of Akron fire is waiting to be lit .. and it involves Police Chief Michael Matulavich. I don't mean "fire" as in something that he's burning or doing wrong but rather, his contract ends at the end of the year ... and nothing's been made public yet as to what will happen when the ball drops at midnight.

City Council President Marco Sommerville said many months ago that he wanted Matulavich replaced, but Mayor Plusquellic said he was honoring the Chief's contract and would deal at the end of the year.

It's now Dec. 3rd ... and the end of the year is fast approaching.

Matulavich might be asked to stay on for a period of time .. or maybe another deal is pending. The issue is certainly on Mayor Plusquellic's radar with four weeks until New Year's.

Just know this ... with (former Chief) Larry Givens holding the fort as Deputy Mayor for Public Safety (specifically managing the police) and the Sheriff's Office and APD working together to develop more cohesion, don't be surprised if APD is officially "chief-less" on January 1.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Axe falling at the PD on Tuesday ... via Ma Bell

Reporters, editors and other newsroom staffers at the Plain Dealer will be glued to their phones tomorrow (Tuesday) morning .. and it's not for a call of breaking news.

The PD has given staffers these instructions:


  • Stay home Tuesday until you receive a phone call.
  • If you still have a job, you will be called and told to come in.

  • If you are being laid off, you will be called and told when to clean out your desk via a supervised entrance with security.

Think you could sleep tonight?

Don't think the union rules are going to help either .. as the contract -- as it was explained to me -- allows management to pick and choose who to keep.

While the PD has already gone through several rounds of cuts, this is the most drastic, at least when it comes to a method to the madness. A few dozen staffers have already agreed to a buyout, but it's not enough. A few dozen more still need to go.

As I watch the DOW drop 600+ points and erase last week's gains, I just wonder when it all will end.
Still .. to dump someone by phone when they've given you their hearts and souls for years is pretty tough to accept.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Joseph" gets extended run at Weathervane

Nothing like being part of a "hit"!

The 16 scheduled shows of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" at Weathervane Playhouse have all SOLD OUT so the theater is adding two additional shows.

Tickets for our newly-scheduled shows on Dec. 18 (7:30 p.m.) and Dec. 21 (7 p.m.) are now on sale at the Weathervane website or by calling 330-836-2626.

This is a talented group of young adults and teens .. so I'm not surprised at the rush to see these artists perform.

Can I just say I'm having the time of my life?

Friday, November 28, 2008

LeBron and the Barber Shop

As police continue to put together the info on Wednesday night's shooting at a West Akron barber shop, the media is starting to reference it as a LeBron James hangout. I was told that LeBron didn't really have a lot to do with the place, but now I'm seeing this video .. and you can see that LeBron did indeed find comfort in visiting the same shop where unfortunately, a deadly shooting took place.

I'm not sure if any of the people in the barber shop video are the same ones who were there Wednesday night. The alleged robber who fired the first shots has died, while three others are recovering from their wounds.


Black Friday -- I'm on it! Catching deals on the web

It's 5:55 a.m. and I'm on the web looking for deals. After all, while this is the biggest shopping day of the year, it's also the biggest shopping day on the Internet, at least according to an analyst on the Today Show.

5:59 .m. Ahhhh ... my first glitch ... many of the pages at walmart.com keeping sending me to a "scheduled maintenance" section. Hmmmmm .. has their system crashed already? or are they just now putting out the deals?

Yesterday .. I put a set of pajamas in my "cart" and then when I went to the "checkout", they were gone! So don't think people just steal from you in the aisles -- it's "game on" in cyberspace too.

6:18 a.m. Searching Target.com for kids' toys. How is it that when I click "boys gifts under $15" I get a bunch of shirts and ties? And a Steelers shirt. What kind of toys are those? Those won't fly under our tree as toys.

OK .. where are the deals? A lot of the main store sites look much like they did late yesterday, even though many promised better on-line deals when the cyber doors opened at 5 a.m.

Still searching ..

6:34 a.m. Target.com now wants me to take a pop up survey! Do they know what day it is? Why are they sending pop-ups when time is of the essence?

6:38 a.m. Samclub.com is running out of stock. Some of their good electronics deals -- digital picture frames and TVs -- are now showing "out of stock" instead of "available" as they were at 6 a.m. Guess I waited too long.

6:42 a.m. Quite a few websites pushing 42" HDTV sets for $699 so if you don't get one in the stores, don't fret. They're almost all the same size. K-mart had the best advertised deal with a 50" 1080i set for $799 but I'm guessing the "limited quantity" at the stores are not only gone, but already set up in someone's home .. hopefully tuned in to Channel 3.

6:44 a.m. Guitar Hero 3 for $74 is now showing "low stock" on samclub.com. First site that I've seen that has actually updated its items as they sell .. other than "unavailable."

6:45 a.m. Found a great deal on digital memory at Kmart.com. a 2GB memory card is going on-line for only $6.99. Clock here to get it.

6:47 a.m. My first big buy! Kmart.com has a 7-foot pool table for $249. The description says that it weighs 259 pounds .. so if this were a turkey, it's only 99 cents per pound!

6:54 a.m. Nevermind. The shipping is $219. When the shipping is nearly as much as the item, it's time to drive to the store.

6:59 a.m. JCPenny.com has "screenbusters" to counter all of the "doorbusters" out there. Clever. It has the best layout of all the sites I've visited so far, at least when it comes to navigating their deals.

7:04 a.m. KMart.com now offering 2-for-1 on jewlery. Getting two sets of earrings for my wife for under $10. Plus, if you spend at least $20 on jewlery, they give you a $20 card for coffee.

7:11 a.m. Been bouncing around .. not finding any can't-believe-it deals .. although a reporter at the Today Show just said that 42" HDTV sets are everywhere for $699. Wow, wonder where she read that? (see my blog post above)

7:21 a.m. Time to check out at K-Mart.com but I get free shipping if I buy $49 in merchandise, so I need to find at least one more item that i want to buy. Hmmmm

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Young veterans shouldn't be kept from wearing combat patches, regardless of cost

One of the benefits of being a retired military officer is the ability to speak my mind when it comes to the Army.

Here's my beef:

On Veterans Day, I was honored to be a guest speaker for the University of Akron's annual flag pole ceremony on campus. The ROTC cadets were sharp as always, and the service was great.

Later in the day, I interviewed a few of the cadets who had already served overseas in combat zones in an enlisted status before returning to college to join ROTC.

I wondered why these cadets -- new veterans entitled to the proper recognition -- weren't wearing the combat patch they earned on the right shoulder of their dress uniforms?

One of the cadets told me that regulations prohibited this.

That set me off. How could our troops who risked their lives at such a young age be prevented from wearing the badge that our government bestowed upon them?

I checked with Tim White, who earned his commission in the Air Force through ROTC, to see if he knew of such a regulation. Tim is a retired Brigadier General and veteran, but he too was stumped.

This just doesn't seem right. Heck with right, this just isn't fair!

I checked with the cadre at the University of Akron to see if they could help me understand the issue, and they clarified it.

Basically, if the cadet where's their own Class A uniform, they can wear the combat patch. If they accept a Class A uniform from the University of Akron, they cannot wear it. The reason is that the university's uniforms already have an ROTC patch on the right sleeve, so to add the combat patch would require an additional sewing cost to the university when that Class A uniform is turned back in.

OK .. so at least there's a reason behind it .. and it's not a discriminatory one.

Still .. I'll be there's a VFW or another group that would cover the cost for these new veterans so that they could wear that right shoulder patch. In fact, I wonder if there's not a local group that would just buy the Class A uniforms for these new veterans so that it's completely covered. There's really only a few that it affects.

ROTC is such a great program, and the University of Akron's program is top notch. I just wonder if this little tweak couldn't be made so some of these new veterans who have risked so much .. and who ask for so little .. and who are taking their experience to the next level by becoming officers.

See .. isn't it great to be retired so I can speak my mind?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wild day ... cops unsure of robber's story .. while city hall gets even more proactive with foreclosures.

In a span of five hours today, I:
  • sang like Elvis in front of 250 people
  • responded to a robbery-in-progress that may have included a kidnapped child
  • spoke with a local teen recovering slowly after being nearly killed by a suspected drunk driver
  • got exclusive details to break a story that Akron is requesting millions in new monies as part of a pilot program to save families in foreclosure

Now that I write all of that out .. it's no wonder I feel spent.

The first show at Weathervane went great. The cast was fired up to have a real audience, and I think we all brought that excitement to the stage. Channel 3 sent a camera so I'll link the video shortly once it's on-line.



I actually forgot a key piece of my Elvis costume because I was rushing to the stage after one of the teen girls in the program fell and hit her head during intermission. While I was tending to her, I ran out of time and forgot. Oh well .. no one corrects a "king" after all.

Just moments after getting myself out of this morning's production and on my way to work, I got the call of a robbery in progress in Bath Township. Seems a bad guy held up the credit union on Cleveland Massillon Road and may have a kidnapped a child. Racing to the scene, I chatted with Bath Police Chief Michael McNeely who told me that the bad guy handed the teller a note. The letter claimed that his child was being held captive by someone at the VA hospital in Brecksville and that someone was "watching" him .. as if he was being forced to rob the credit union.

It was a wild story ... and I could tell that McNeely and others were skeptical .. but after the pizza delivery saga in Erie, PA from a few years ago, no wild story can ever be discounted. As of this writing, there's still no sign of the guy .. nor any indication that there was actually a kidnapped child.

The robbery made me late for a scheduled interview with Mindy Cooper -- a 17-year-old junior from Southeast High School who was nearly killed after being struck by a suspected drunk driver on Halloween.

Considering Cooper suffered serious brain injury and a broken back just three-plus weeks ago, I was amazed at how far she has progressed. She's learning to walk again, and while she doesn't remember the accident, she can speak softly and recognizes her family and friends. I can't imagine how tough this must be for Mindy and her family, but her struggle really touched me. Her brother, Jon, tells me that classmates have been in to visit Mindy every day, and that the support she's receiving has been fabulous. I really wish we had more time to visit the other "Mindys" in our community, for I know there are others struggling to come back.

Stories like this just make me speechless to find the words when it comes to drunk drivers.

So back in the newsroom .. trying to put all of these stories together .. I finally break through on something I was bird dogging last week. The City of Akron is putting together a plan to use $8 million in HUD money to improve inner-city housing, but the additional piece is a request for another $23 million in federal bucks for a pilot program to help families nearly foreclosure.

I got my hands on the request letter that city leaders sent to Washington last week, and I reached Mayor Plusquellic who tells me that he'll discuss details of the proposal tomorrow.

In a nutshell, the city will now get directly involved with lenders that are moving forward to foreclose, and where possible, the city will help renegotiate the terms to help keep families in their homes instead of having to help them after they're out on the street. With Akron coping with 1,400 foreclosures in 2007 and another 1,200 so far this year, many will hope that this program is not only successful but also a model for other cities facing crisis.

I haven't had a bit of time to return phone calls or emails today .. and I have to shoot a story tomorrow morning to hold for the holidays .. plus turn a story Wednesday afternoon on the new foreclosure prevention initiative.

Of course, those are the knowns for Wednesday. As today proved, its the unknowns that make this job such a joy and a challenge.

Monday, November 24, 2008

"The King" and I

Well .. it's almost show time ... as I make my debut as "Pharaoh" in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Weathervane Playhouse.

If you're familiar with the show, you know that it's the Old Testament story of Joseph and his brothers .. and eventually Joseph is taken to Egypt where he becomes an advisor to Pharoah.

With constantly-changing musical genres, Joseph finds Pharaoh to be Elvis ... hence my get-up.

I can't tell you how much fun it's been to perform along side my son Jacob, 11, who plays "Benjamin," the youngest of the brothers. I hope he's cool with his dad dancing around in a white jump suit.

Anyway ... you only live once, right? So I'm hitting the stage for 16 performances (half are sold out already, yikes!) and a lot of fun. We open this week. You can get tickets on line or call 330-836-2626.
Would love to have you come visit .. and let me know if my alter ego lives up to the billing.
Either way, these talented young actors will definitely have you smiling .. it's a great show and you'll have a great time.
And no .. they don't let me take the costume home .... nor will WKYC let me wear it on air ... although, sweeps is approaching :)

Ellet seceding from Akron? Are we fighting separatists?

Actual post a few minutes ago on the Associated Press wires:


ELLET, Ohio (AP) -- Some postal workers in the Akron area will have their usual special delivery for people with no friends or family to join for Thanksgiving. Continuing a tradition that began 15 years ago, employees from the Ellet (EHL'-eht) post office will serve up a free turkey-day dinner for anyone in need of a place to go for the holiday. Thursday's meal will be offered from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Ellet Amateur Athletic Association building. The postal workers first provided a free Thanksgiving dinner in 1993 after they won a $250 on-the-job safety award. About 125 people showed up.
In recent years, more than 500 meals have been served.
Ellet is 5 miles east of Akron.


Now .. correct me if I'm wrong .. but when did Ellet secede from Akron? Did the Orangemen & Orangewomen go free agent and not tell us?

Somewhere ... someone at City Hall is laughing on the inside.

Somewhere else .. someone in Southeast Akron is not.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Death, violence, and deep voices .. that pretty much sums it up ..

Some days the news business brings joy .. and other days it's all about the crime.

Want my job? Consider this:

In just one hour's time .. I interviewed a local minister about a program to get guns off the streets of Akron, got video and interviews surrounding two masked gunmen who got busted by a motivated drive-thru patron, and then saw the body of a local man in the snow of a Triplett Boulevard backyard.

Meanwhile, I was monitoring police scanner traffic of two separate-yet-violent school attacks. A teacher apparently got hit in the face by a student at one Akron High School, while across town, students were in a melee at another Akron High School to the point of being pepper-sprayed. That was followed by the officer asking dispatch to "please send a supervisor out here to the school." That's usually a sign that things have gotten out of hand.

Was there a full moon today or something?

While we froze to get the video, the body didn't make the cut tonight at 6 because there's too much uncertainty surrounding the circumstances of the death. Also, with heavy snow up north and Brady Quinn's finger, we're running out of room on the newscasts.

Meanwhile, I also needed to get some man-on-the-street (MOS) interviews for Tom Beres as part of his weekly "Between The Lines" political show that airs on Sundays on Channel 3. He wanted to include Akron viewers weighing in on a former Akron Councilman who is trying to recall Mayor Plusquellic. Wouldn't you know it .. we got two interviews (one for and one against) and then the camera died in the cold weather outside the post office.

Back at the office it seems my phone was a magnet for my sources. Seems everyone who tips me off to things was calling me at once today.

Thanks for all the tips guys .. but I can't be in 12 places at once.

Oh . .and my email stopped working two hours ago so I don't know how many "reasons to vote against Issue 8" emails will still trickle in ... seems a great many of you like to forward them around town.

Ahhhh the joys of being a news reporter ... guns, bodies, violence and deep throat tips ... and snow of course. Always lots of snow.

Alive and Kicking

OK ... so it seems I've fallen off the Internet -- at least blog-wise.

My thanks to those of you who've been stopping by over the last six days, even though I haven't printed any new content.

The newsroom has been hopping, which is part of the issue. The other is how I've been spending my free hours.

Let's just say that the "King" and I have been getting quite close. Read here for more.

I promise that I'll post more about the show, including ticket info, and I'll put up a picture so you can see that I really am playing Elvis on stage. Although tiring, it's been a great experience, and an invaluable one as far as being part of something with my son, Jacob.

I've also got some new tidbits on fake veteran Ben Terril to pass along .. and some insight into what I'm hearing about the efforts to recall Mayor Plusquellic .. as well as other changes coming in city government.

And .. when I get caught up ... I've got a real bone to pick with the U.S. government for something that I learned about on Veterans Day. I'm guessing you will be upset too.

Plus .. I'm gearing up for some new stories .. including gaining special access to a secret military asset that is made in Akron and already being used in the war zones of Iraq.

Oh .. and lots of economy stories ... and Thanksgiving stuff .. anyone know a local family that has endured tough times and might let my camera crew and I show a bit of their holiday gathering on the evening news?

So much to catch up on .. so little time ... more to come ... and in the words of my alter ego, "Thank you much."

Friday, November 14, 2008

"Everything you always wanted to know about Akron women but were afraid to ask"

It's a topic I've long since wanted to banter around on NewsNight Akron -- women.

Between Hillary and Sarah, the role of women in America has been a topic for discussion like never before .. but how well are women succeeding in our area?

Tonight, I offer an entire panel of women -- something that's not been done in NNA's 10+ years on the air.

Do we have enough women as business leaders? Are we doing enough to educate and motivate young women to succeed? With women holding key political seats -- including more than half of our local judges -- have we already broken the glass ceiling? Are the local colleges preparing women enough for the key future obstacles?

And .. if we're falling short .. where are we doing so?

Jody Miller, M.L. Schultze, and Judge Alison McCarty will be my guests as we talk about "everything you ever wanted to know about Akron women but were afraid to ask."

Got a question for the panel? email me at ericmansfield@wkyc.com or post it here for all to see.

See ya at 9 p.m.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Akron school deficit is serious business

I can't remember the last time I used the phrase "$150 million" in a story, especially a local story.

But in tonight's story, I focused on the Akron Schools looking ahead to a financial forecast that just gets worse with every page. $37 million in debt by 2011. $89 million by 2012. $153 million by 2013.

That's serious money. That's real dollars.

Superintendent David James told me that while the money coming in is relative stable (or "flat") it's the expenditures that are driving up the deficit.



I know that closing a school here and there can be absorbed, but will the Akron Schools ever really be able to get the enrollment going up again? Will families move back to the city?

I had a chance to talk with former Akron Schools Deputy Superintendent Donna Loomis tonight, and she told me something very profound:

"Akron needs to stop beating itself up when it comes to education."

What she told me was that while families are scattering to the Akron suburbs, they're doing the same thing in all of the urban areas of Ohio. Sooooooooo ... Akron residents need to stop blaming the school board or district leaders when they hear about big deficits like this.

It's not the district's fault that so many families moved out of town ... or moved their kids to a charter school. Instead, she says, school leaders are left to pick up the pieces .. but sometimes get a bad rap when the budget info comes rolling out in stories like mine.

I think most in town will be supportive of David James having the foresight to look out at that projected deficit and say "we can't wait until it gets that bad; we have to fix this now."

But while the entire state waits for Governor Strickland's new education plan to save the day, districts like Akron need to make real decision on real money.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Happy Veterans Day to all who served

It was great to take part in today's Veterans Day ceremony at the University of Akron. There's no better feeling than to be surrounded by those who know what it means to sacrifice for our great country.

The University of Akron's ROTC program looks very sharp, as did the ROTC cadets from East High School.

If you have a veteran in your family or neighborhood .. make sure to say hello to them today .. and tell them "thanks" for their service.
I was honored to feature two University of Akron cadets on tonight's news. One already completed three tours in Iraq while the other completed tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Both of these guys are just 24. My guess is that most of their peers at the U of A can't fathom what these guys have endured.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

NewsNight Akron one-hour post-election special

Just when you thought you'd heard it all on the elections, we're expanding Friday night's NewsNight Akron broadcast to a full hour.

Just too much to cover in our regularly-scheduled 30 minutes.

Jody Miller, Steve Hoffman, and Ed Esposito will be along for the ride ... but we'll also hear from local political bloggers Ben Keeler and Kyle Kutuchief as well as Steve Brooks of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics.

So it will be my job to keep this expanded panel under control (wish me luck) .. and I'd love your help.

Got a question on Issue 8? An unresolved personal thought on gambling in Ohio? Wondering why a certain group of Ohioans voted a certain way?

Tell me what you'd like to know from this panel, and I'll ask as many as I can during the broadcast.

You can post your thought/question here .. or email me at ericmansfield@wkyc.com. While I allow anonymous posts here on my blog, please include a first name and a city on your idea so that I can reference it accordingly.
See ya at 9 p.m. Friday night on Western Reserve Public Media (Channels 45/49).

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Plusquellic says there's a "special place reserved in hell" for those who misled Akron voters on Issue 8

Well, I can't say that I'm surprised by what I heard a short time ago at the Issue 8 gathering at a downtown restaurant.

Mayor Don Plusquellic taking aim at the people he felt sunk the Sewers-For-Scholarships deal tonight by a 60-40 vote.



Plusquellic told the downtown crowd that there's a "special place reserved in hell" for those who misled Akron voters about the issue.

Seeing DP upset tonight reminded me of a few years ago when he championed an issue to create a county-wide sale tax that would have generated a pile of money for each of the county's school districts to use for improvements.

Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Robart, among others, didn't back the proposal and it ultimately failed.

Plusquellic didn't blame Robart or anyone individually (at least publicly) for that issue failing because it was simply a disagreement over school funding. I remember DP telling the crowd that night that "we were right" to put the issue out there. It was a sensitive moment, but not a personal one.

Tonight though .. this was very much indeed personal.

I'll be interested to talk to those who soundly defeated the issue. I'd like to find out whether folks were voting against it because of fears about the sewer system lease or whether it was the uncertainty of the educational part. I'm sure many will say it was both.

Still .. after talking to an elderly woman today who planned to vote against the issue while not even knowing that it involved an educational aspect for kids to go to college ... makes me believe that not everyone who voted on this issue truly understood its pros and cons.

I expect we'll have some good banter on this topic and the Mayor's response Friday night on NewsNight Akron.

Are we creating drama? or is it really there?

9:07 p.m.

Obama is starting to pull away .. at least by the numbers we're seeing on-line .. with leads in Ohio and Florida, even though the networks aren't calling either state yet. If he wins both, this looks to be a landslide night in electoral votes ... probably among the likes of Reagan over Mondale in 1984.

So are we (the media) creating a drama tonight that just isn't there? Some of the network folks sound more like cheerleaders for Obama than analysts.

Just thinking out loud .. but as a viewer, it's pretty amazing to watch the vote finally coming in.

More in a bit .. Eric

Not too many surprises in the early results

8:41 p.m.

A quick glance at the early results of the Summit County races and there's not much of a surprise in the absentee numbers, at least in regards to the Summit County races.

I see that Elinore Marsh Stormer (DEM) is leading Bill Spicer (REP) 37,755 (57%) to 28,391 (43%) in the race for Probate Court Judge. That one jumps out at me because the incumbent is losing. Both are well-respected on the bench.

Now I see that the lead is widening for the anti-Issue 8 movement .. almost 60-40 now ... it's going down with a quarter of the precincts in. Meanwhile, Issue 9 (City Charter change to force votes when a utility is up for grabs) is passing easily.

More in a bit .. still scanning numbers ..

Issue 8 flushing fast .. at least by absentees

8:25 p.m.

Some local early results are in .. and judging by the absentees, the Sewers-for-scholarships proposals is swirling at best.

Absentees:

AGAINST: 19,003 57%
FOR: 14,331 43%

Again, that's only absentees .. a long way to go .. and how great is it to see 33,000 absentees for Akron residents alone!?!??!

I'll be heading to the Issue 8 gathering downtown in a bit to get reaction, but I'm waiting a bit longer to see some more solid results.

Kudos to AkronNewsNow.com which is on top of a lot tonight. Reporters there were all over the power outages at polling places in Ellet and the need for flashlights until the power was restored. Keep it up guys.

Missing the Akron-Canton News ... but still busy on election night

7:05 p.m. Well, election night is off and running. This is usually the time when I'm watching local results and preparing the 10 p.m. report for the Akron-Canton area. Feels empty for the community not to have it tonight, although it's going to be such a heavy night with national results, that the loss may not be noticed by that many. I appreciate those of you who have taken the time to mention today how much you miss the ACN.

That said ..

I'll be going live outside the Akron newsroom in about 15 minutes with a look at how local college students are voting on this election day. I originally set up to go live at the Summit County Board of Elections, but as fate would have it, we had technical difficulties .. and after 45 minutes of standing in front of a camera with no one able to see me, we called "time of death" on our liveshot and returned to our studios at Main and Market.

A few stories I've heard today ..

Supporters and proponents of Issue 8 (Akron's Sewers for Scholarships program) have been doing nose-to-nose battle. I'm told that each had a vehicle out in the neighborhoods today blaring recorded messages to people on their front porches. At a polling place along Copley Road, some folks with the Save Our Sewers (S.O.S.) group had words with some folks who were handing out literature in favor of the issue.

I met a University of Akron student who showed up at the local poll with her absentee ballot -- from Lake County. She had forgotten to mail it back and wondered if she could drop it off locally. Nope. Not sure if she drove it north or not.

Didn't find any really big lines, but some folks tell me they stood for up to an hour, but most got in and out in just minutes.

OK ... gotta get in front of the camera .. more in a bit.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Early voting moms need help; polls could use some toys

A friend of mine who volunteers by offering rides to those who don't have a way to the polls told me quite a tale today.

We're all hearing about the long lines at Summit County's early voting center (at the Job Center on Tallmadge Avenue in North Hill) and the dedication of folks standing in line for up to two hours.

My friend tells me that she saw several moms in line who had no choice but to bring their young children with them. As you can imagine, standing in line for 30, 60, or 90 minutes is not something a toddler enjoys.

My friend says that some moms eventually gave up because their kids were melting down and they just couldn't stay any longer.

So my friend did something about it .. at least for one mom. She went to the front of the line and explained the situation to other voters, who allowed the mom and her kids to move to the front. My friend that also tried to help occupy the kids long enough for the mom -- once she was inside the Job Center -- to run the gauntlet and cast a ballot.

Still, other moms with kids in tow gave it their best shots .. but still had to give up.

My friend recommends that in the future, what harm would there be in setting up a small toddler, daycare zone with a few toys and some screened volunteers to staff it?

I don't pretend to know the legal issue surrounding setting up a temporary daycare, but with early voting on Tallmadge Avenue expected to top the 50,000 mark, you can bet there were quite a few parents with young kids who braved the lines .. and probably a great many others who stayed away knowing that their kids probably couldn't handle the wait.

I also know that parents have the option to request an absentee ballot by mail, so that's probably the best alternative for all involved.

Still .. what would it hurt to ask for daycare volunteers along with the poll workers?

Thoughts? Other ways to help this?

Channel 3 News Election Special tonight at 5 p.m.

I love election week. It's the most exciting week of the year when it comes to news.

So much going on. So much changing by the minute. So many people affected.

Oh yeah, I love it.

Channel 3 has added an hour at 5 p.m. for both tonight and tomorrow (Tuesday) to better dissect this year's election field. My assignment for tonight's special is to take another hard look at Issue 8 (Sewers for Scholarships) and the race for the 16th Congressional seat between Kirk Schuring and John Boccieri.

See ya at 5!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Goodyear blimp floats the vote

Who needs yard signs and commercials anyway?
Goodyear has announced that the Blimp will be used to encourage people to get out and vote. Read on:



AKRON, Ohio, Oct 30, 2008 /PRNewswire-FirstCall via COMTEX/ -- With the November elections less than a week away, get out the vote efforts are getting some air support - in addition to volunteers and footwork on the ground. The Goodyear blimp has taken to the air to remind voters that Nov. 4 is
just around the corner.
"The Goodyear blimp has a long and distinguished history of supporting public service campaigns," said Ed Ogden, public relations manager for the company's Akron-based Spirit of Goodyear blimp. "We wanted to help remind voters it's time to make their voice heard."
"The message, which reads: 'Don't forget to vote on Nov. 4,' says it all," said Ogden. "We think simple and to the point are best."
Goodyear blimps in California and Ohio are set to run the message through Nov. 4.
If you see the blimp up and about today, snap a photo with the voting message and send it along. We'll make a montage here on the web.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Akron-area union leaders boycott McDonald's!

As only Akron politics can be sometimes ... apparently Mayor Plusquellic's golden tones at the golden arches isn't sitting well with local union folks.

They'd don't like mingling Issue 8 with where they ate.

If you haven't heard by now, the local owner of eight Mickey D's is a big supporter of Issue 8 (Sewers for Scholarships) so he is playing a recording of Plusquellic pitching the issue via the drive-thru speakers followed by him asking for your order. It's actually very humorous, ala David Letterman.

Well ....... I just hung up with Tom Morneweck, who is President of AFSCME local 1229, and he definitely doesn't want fries with his order. In fact, he doesn't want to order any more at all.

He tells me that during a meeting last night with the leaders of 88 local unions -- 90 if you count two local FOP groups --- there was a unanimous vote to boycott the McDonald's restaurants that are involved.

Morneweck tells me that union leaders feel that the sewer lease proposal is too risky and they don't take kindly to a meal ticket -- one which isn't a union shop by the way -- allowing Big Don access to their Big Macs.

I asked Morneweck if any of the unions would picket, and he wasn't sure yet. However, union leaders are now emailing and calling their members telling them that it's not OK for McD's to play DP.

Again ... ain't Akron politics fun? More later .. Eric

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Rehabbing

All,
Just a note to say thanks for visiting even though I haven't posted in six days.
I was the passenger in a car that was hit on Main Street last week and I've been recovering at home for most of that time (I have a stack of letters from ambulance-chasing attorneys and health clinics to prove it). I'm sore but expecting to make a full recovery.
I'll have some new notes to pass along before long .. but being away from the newsroom, I haven't had the same time I usually have to dig, analyze, and then blog about what's happening in Akron.
Still .. I think we're all glad the election is now just one week away.
More soon .. Eric

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Location, position of McCain-Palin interview draws questions

Today's GOP rally in Green hit the notes most expected .. and provided NBC the added bonus of Brian Williams' sit-down interview with McCain and Palin ..and later, the broadcast of Nightly News live from Summit County.

I immediately got an email from a lady in Green who brings up an interesting point. Here's an excerpt:


As an Obama Supporter and Green Taxpayer I find this completely unacceptable. I had a conversation with Superintendent Wade Lucas to express my displeasure at the fact that he would allow the campaign to come onto the campus while school is in session. He assured me that the rally didn't represent an endorsement by Green Local Schools, and the McCain campaign was simply renting the stadium. This doesn't explain how and why they were allowed in the school. I would ask this question of Superintendent Lucas but I am sure the answer will be that this was a wonderful educational experience for the students in Green. I agree with that answer, but I don't think a wonderful educational experience should trump my rights as a taxpayer or the rights of the students of Green High School who may be supporting Senator Obama.

To his credit, Mr. Lucas did extend an invitation for the Obama campaign to come to Green Stadium and returned my call on 7:45 on Monday night when his work day should have long been over. I have passed that invitation on to the field staff. I assure you that this has nothing to do with my support of Senator Obama but instead my desire to see that our schools don't become a venue for partisan politics.


Now ... historically, candidates don't like to use a venue that their opponent visited. In other words, since Barack Obama had a rally at the Knight Center during the primary, I doubt McCain-Palin would use it should the GOP come to downtown Akron. So, her mention that Obama has been invited to Green H.S. probably won't be accepted as the campaigns never want to have their events compared on an apples-to-apples basis.

What do you think?

Oh .. and one other minor point .. anyone else find it interesting that in the NBC interview, Palin was sitting on the left side of the screen? If you've ever taken any kind of media communications class, you know that the left side is the power position. Military officers always walk with their subordinates to their left ... so anyone approaching them would see the senior member on the left (same as the left side of a TV screen) and know whom to salute. So I'm just wondering why McCain wasn't on the left with his Vice-Presidential nominee to his left? In the shots where we saw the two of them, she looked more powerful by position.




Ahhhhhh .. it's the little things we TV folks pick up on .. .thoughts?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

NBC, media cuts being felt locally and nationally

I had the pleasure of moderating a media debate for Leadership Akron Monday, and it wasn't surprising that during the Q & A portion, we got on to the topic of the ever-shrinking traditional media outlets.

While the Akron Beacon Journal has been put in the spin cycle several times in the last two years, our TV newsroom has condensed as well .. and other cost-saving moves are in the works in every local, regional and national newsroom.

Yesterday, NBC announced plans to cut $500 million from its budget. You can read the story here. I don't know how the network's cuts might impact a local NBC affiliate, but it won't help. Our own parent company, Gannett, announced in August that it planned to cut 1,000 jobs across the newspaper side of the house .. so you can imagine the belt-tightening that must come quickly on the broadcast side as well to stay afloat.

M.L. Schultze of WKSU said during the Leadership Akron debate that she thinks journalism will be a great draw 10 years from now for young, hungry reporters because by then the media business will have survived these tough economic times and re-invented itself.

For those of us hoping to ride out the storm until then, I hope she's right.

In the meantime, the focus we journalists must maintain is doing quality work and not as much on the bottom line. It's still the stories -- and not the story tellers -- that matter most.

Monday, October 20, 2008

McCain/Palin going Green

John McCain and Sarah Palin will be stopping in Green for a rally Wednesday afternoon. Knowing that Ohio is a key battleground state, it's not surprising. No word yet on Obama-Biden stops in the final two weeks, but I'd be surprised if both didn't make some type of appearance in Summit County.

And if you missed SNL Saturday night .. or turned it off after the opening skit .. you missed a classic.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Dear Barnes & Noble .. what were you thinking????

Dear Barnes & Noble Books in Montrose,

I can't tell you what a "unique" time my youngest son, age 7, and I had at your store a few weeks ago as we joined hundreds of other families in standing in line to meet Mary Pope Osborn, author of the popular Magic Tree House kids series.

While the staff members were courteous and the store crew certainly had an organized plan to get families through the long line in a reasonable amount of time, I have to ask you ... "what were you thinking?"

Follow me here ...

To reiterate .. my son is 7. As in seven years old. As in Tooth Fairy, Santa, and the Easter Bunny. He just lost one of this two front teeth and the other is hanging on for dear life.

Can I tell you how much fun it was to follow your store's flow chart to meet the author? I realize that weaving the line through the book shelves probably leads to additional sales, but did you give any thought to the titles of some of the books you put in front of my child?

For starters, I don't think my son was quite ready for the five minutes we spent in the aisle of teen books for girls. Seems nearly every young lady these days is either a virgin or a vixen. The titles and descriptions were a bit racy to say the least. Not appropriate for my 7-year-old. (I took this photo looking down from the second level as a way of distracting my son from the "teen queen" titles.)

I know the nice yellow Sex for Dummies wasn't quite what I wanted him to see either but there it was turned towards his eye level. My son got a kick out of looking at that one and then giggling.

How to take a Sensual Bath, complete with a provocative photo on the cover, certainly had me pointing my son to focus his eyes straight ahead as well.

Just way too many adult titles throughout the entire path.

Saw several books on accepting the identity of being a lesbian, improving my orgasm, and other prose on body parts that just aren't appropriate titles to show someone who was reading Go! Dog! Go! a short time ago.

Again, knowing that the line of young children would be weaving slowly through these aisles, why did you set it up this way? (Another shot from the second level of the line weaving its way through the aisles)

My son did have a blast with all of the Dummies books. Bible for Dummies. Middle East for Dummies. Organization for Dummies. I get it. My son's 7-year-old friend eventually said, "boy there sure are a lot of dummies in the world!" How right you are young grasshopper!

I did find great humor in some of the sex books being on the same shelf as Bill Clinton's My Life, and there was also great irony in a book about the secrets of anaesthesia on the same shelf with a book titled Am I Really Asleep?

In the Self Help section, my son and I saw a great many books on Depression and Stress Management just above the ones on Happiness. Guess solving the first two lets you move on to the next eh?

I accept that no one put a bookmark to my head forcing me to stay in line. It was my decision. Still, can I tell you how heart breaking it would have been to say "we're not staying" to a young child who had spent a week looking forward to meeting Osborn? All because there was too much eye candy at his eye line?

Just know that I love the store -- always have -- and I'll be back -- and for what it's worth, my son couldn't have been smiling more than when we finally met Osborn for the autograph. (Here's MPO signing my son's book) The journey was just a lot of work on my part to navigate the land mines in front of his eyes.

I realize that none of this was intentional .. I hope you can take this in the tongue-in-cheek manner in which its intended .. but all I ask is that the next time an author of youth books come to town, can you maybe re-work your flow chart so that parents aren't having to explain what Kama Sutra is to their second graders?

And by the way .. the ultimate irony was reaching the front of the line and seeing the mega-$$ author Osborn sitting directly in front of a poster of Death of a Salesman.


Footnote: My apologies for an early draft of this blog post that said "Borders" instead of "Barnes & Noble" .. sometimes I type faster than I proof-read.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Major news at TV3. Tim White, WKYC part ways

Tim White, my colleague and friend of the last 10 years, is leaving WKYC. The announcement was made to our staff a short time ago.

I haven't had a chance to talk with Tim yet, but as the announcement hits the press, I wanted you to see what we know in the newsroom .. so click here for our story.

Tim is top-notch ... and will certainly be missed.

More in the weeks ahead .. but this will be tough on our newsroom. Eric

Finding God in the death chamber

I say up front here .. that this is my blog .. and not a product of my employer, WKYC, so any reaction you have to what I'm about to write should be directed solely at me.

My experience Tuesday in Lucasville at the execution of Richard Cooey was unique to say the least. I was being paid to witness another person purposely put to death. This is the way it always works with the death penalty in Ohio. Media witnesses are chosen as third-person observers to ensure the process runs as it is intended to run and also to be the eyes and ears of the general public.

That was my role.

After Cooey had been put to death, several reporters compared notes to get an accurate count of how many people were in the death chamber. Phil Trexler of the ABJ reported that there were about 25 and I believe that to be correct.

Still .. I think .. make that I know .. there was one more. God was there Tuesday. Here's how I know:

I had prayed Monday night and again early Tuesday morning that God would give me the strength to get through the event, but I didn't have any idea how I would feel once I got there. Once I opened my eyes and my heart, I can firmly report that God was indeed there.

The morning began with the media huddled in a sterile, drab holding area in a building adjacent to the death house. We got regular briefings on "the process" that was about to take place -- information delivered with as little emotion as possible. Clearly the tone was professional, deliberate, and anything but revealing as to anyone's feelings. Everyone was here to do a job.

As the last two hours passed by, the media chatted and jointly whined (me included) about a lack of Internet connection and a lack of available coffee. To be honest, most of it was just a way to stay busy and distract ourselves from what lied ahead: a man was going to be put to death right before our eyes.

The only color in the entire media holding area was found in a few toddler tables and chairs. There were some kids books there too. Clearly this must be the place where family visits take place. I wonder how many kids have cried their eyes out on their father's shoulder at this very spot. How many dads had cried right back wishing they'd made better decisions. I wonder how many deals with God had been made at these tiny tables that an inmate would change if God would just grant a second chance.

About 30 minutes before the execution, I was trying to channel my nerves and gather my thoughts when I noticed a few Bibles sitting next to the childrens tables.

As I picked up one of the Bibles, I noticed that it had certainly been used quite a bit. Others had opened this same book looking for guidance. On this day though, I was looking for reassurance.

I blindly opened it to a page and then pointed just as blindly to a verse ... just to see if there was a message waiting for me. Here's what I found:


Nehemiah 1:6
"Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open. That thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the Children of Israel, thy servants, and confess the sins of the Children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee, both I and my father's house have sinned."


Now ... again, that's blindly opening the Bible to a random page and then choosing a random verse.

I clearly felt that God spoke to me saying "pay attention Eric and open your eyes" .. and "hear the prayer of thy servant" ... that "others are praying for me now" .. and that "both I and my father's house have sinned."

I felt the Word speaking directly to me as both a journalist and a Christian.

"Pay attention Eric!" "Take a look around and you'll see my presence!"

The calm I felt at that moment was certainly reassuring.

Most importantly, I took away from that one verse that while Richard Cooey was being punished with his life, he wouldn't be the only sinner in the death chamber. Each of us was bringing our own sins and mistakes with us; ours just aren't always on display for the public.

Don't misunderstand me here .. this has nothing to do with whether the death penalty is right or wrong .. or whether Richard Cooey's despicable and horrible acts were deserving of lethal injection. That's not where my mind and heart went at all.

Instead, this message I received had everything to do with letting me know that God was there Tuesday morning. He was surrounding and embracing the tearful families, and He was hurting for the prison workers who had to carry out the sentence. He was opening his arms to the journalists and others surrounding the death house too. He was there.

As we were led to the death house, we saw the black hearse already parked in the prison grass. Creepy to say the least to have a hearse ready to haul away the body of someone who at that moment was still alive.

As I took each step and thought about Richard Cooey, my mind shifted to the Apostle Paul, who according to the New Testament, was a killer of Christians and was someone who looked to persecute them at every turn. Even as a murderer, Paul was converted to Christianity and became a messenger of the Good News, writing a great many of the books of the New Testament.

I thought, "If God could use Paul for good, wouldn't Richard Cooey still have some value?" It's not an original thought as others have compared the world's worst killers to Paul, but it honestly was the thought that was whispered into my ear as I took each step.

I quietly asked for God to open my eyes as I entered the death chamber and took my place standing in an area behind the family of Dawn McCreery. I asked to see whatever God would have me see.

While I sensed that Dawn's family and Cooey's attorneys were saying silent prayers, I can't say definitively one way or the other whether they did or not. Still, it seemed as though the strength most were drawing to "keep it together" in the death house was coming directly from a higher power.

As the video screen came on showing Cooey in the back room receiving the shunts in his arms that would soon deliver a lethal dose of chemicals, I looked intently at Cooey's face and body language. He seemed agitated and defiant.

As has been reported, he yelled for his attorney but when told it was too late for that, Cooey leaned his head back and mumbled something quietly to himself for a few seconds. I couldn't tell what it was. Maybe it was more defiance. Maybe it was a Bible verse. I couldn't tell. The more I think about it, the more I doubt it was a Bible verse because of the way Cooey said it. Still, he had access to a Bible in his final holding cell and prison leaders tell us he did use it.

I wondered if he'd blindly found a verse of comfort and hope as well.

Watching Cooey die, my human side felt nothing for Cooey. His evil final thoughts and lack of remorse offered nothing worthy of compassion. His behavior since being incarcerated 22 years ago offered nothing to indicate that he was remorseful or had developed a relationship with God, although his final hours were spent with his "spiritual advisor". So in that regard, Cooey probably gets the benefit of the doubt that he was spending time with a man of God in his final hours.

Still, regardless of Cooey's actions and demeanor, I very much sensed God in the room with Cooey and the warden.

The same God that had spoken to me so clearly 30 minutes earlier when I opened that prison Bible was still speaking loudly through the silence of the impending death. I'll never know if Cooey felt it too, or if he allowed God to penetrate his exterior in the final minutes between his vulgar remarks and his heart stopping. Still, I felt strongly that the presence was there if he was willing to open his heart to it.

My heart and prayers will forever go out to Dawn and Wendy's families .. and certainly to Richard's as well. All three families have been changed forever. Everyone associated with this case -- from the detectives to the journalists -- has been touched by the explosiveness of the attack.

Still, regardless of your faith, each of us is serving a death sentence right now .. but unlike Richard Cooey, we don't know what day we're set to die.

We can, however, prepare ourselves for that moment .. so that we might make better use of a final statement than Cooey did. That we might think, "what would I say if given time to make a final statement?" Could you do it?

Again .. all of this is my work .. and not a product of our newsroom.

Still, if my role Tuesday was to be an official "witness" .. then I owed it to everyone else to bear "witness" to everything I saw .. and that included the presence of God.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Adam & Eve light up the Akron stage ...

It's my first project as a BPJ (Backpack Journalist) for wkyc.com. What better place to spend it than at Weathervane Community Playhouse?

If you liked "Wicked" -- and who in theater doesn't -- than "Children of Eden" should be right up your alley. Both were written and composed by Stephen Schwartz.

While this might be community theater, you'll be amazed at the talent level on stage for this production.

Anyway, I'm trying my hand at shooting and editing these days ... trying to broaden my horizons in this crazy broadcast world .. so check out my story and enjoy .. Eric




For the entire news story, click here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

My initial reaction ..

I'll have more to write later tonight and tomorrow as I collect my thoughts and check my notes, but here were my thoughts as I took the podium with the other media witnesses just moments after the execution.

video

One hour and counting for Cooey

9:06 a.m. We've had limited internet access inside the prison, but as of now, everything is set for the execution at 10 a.m., barring a last-minute court stoppage or the Governor's call.

There's about a dozen news organizations here, and we're all having Internet issues.

At 7:30 a.m., prison spokeswoman Andrea Carson said that Cooey slowly consumed his "special" meal until well past midnight. He watched limited local TV and attempted to make one phone call to a friend but the call failed. He was awake pacing and sitting quietly until falling asleep at 4:06 a.m. He awoke at 5:20 a.m. and showered but turned down a chance to eat breakfast. Right now, he's meeting with his attorney and a spiritual advisor.

Leaving my hotel around 7 a.m., I saw a handful of family members from Dawn McCreery in the lobby. They seemed upbeat and glad this day has arrived.

Coming in the prison at 7:15 a.m., I didn't see any demonstrators, but that doesn't mean they're not out there now.

As a media pool reporter, I've received a blank notebook, pen, and pencil that I make take with me to the execution but that's it. I can't take any of my own materials and certainly no cell phones or electronics.

It's an eerie quiet in the media room. We're all making light conversation that there's no coffee or danishes for the media, something that has traditionally been here in the media room. A prison PR officer told us that the food/coffee was removed because of budget cutbacks. Considering this is the first execution of 2008, how much money are they really saving?

In an odd irony, the one vending machine to which we've been given has "bear claws" prominently displayed on the middle shelf. Cooey of course asked for some "real" bear claws as part of his special meal.

I've been chatting with Phil Trexler of the ABJ about what to expect in the death chamber. He's a media witness today and he's done this several times before. He tells me that it's a surreal experience and that it's tough to know when to take notes and when to just observe -- because you don't want to miss anything. We're both wondering if Cooey will put up much resistance.

Ok .. it's 9:13 a.m. ... we're all clock watching and waiting for the call to get ready. They should be calling the media witnesses soon to put us in position.

More later .. Eric

There's always a moment ...

It's 6:08 a.m. and I've been up since about 3:45 a.m. Just couldn't sleep.

I'd like to say it was the Browns big win that kept me up, but it isn't.

I keep thinking about that day 22 years ago ... and I keep thinking that there must have been a moment .. probably a great many .. in which Richard Cooey and Clint Dickens had the opportunity to turn back .. or just stop .. or choose a million other paths than the one they ended up taking. I'm sure Cooey has replayed that moment a lot in the last 24 hours .. and it always ends the same.

I've tried to put myself in the roles of the two families -- Dawn McCreery's is here in mass to witness the execution while Wendy Offredo's has chosen not to attend and to accept today's actions in their own way.

I keep wondering what each person in the room will be thinking when Cooey appears for an entirely different moment. One each family will take away in their own way forever.

His three attorneys will be his witnesses. They've had a lot of time to get to know Cooey behind bars, and maybe they think they already know what's in his head and his heart. Maybe he's confided in them about when the moment hit him in the crime spree on Labor Day 1986. Maybe he's confided the emotions of that moment to his relatives, who must be enduring an entirely different hell today.

22 years locked up. That's 8,000 days and nights. That's a lot of time to prepare. A lot of moments alone for Cooey .. and for his victims' families.

I don't know the McCreerys or the Offredos, but I feel certain that both families have asked themselves a million times about the moments where Cooey could have taken an off ramp instead of plowing down the destructive highway that ensued.

Why couldn't it have ended at the robbery? Why did it have to get violent? Deadly? Why didn't one of these two young men use the moment to look at the other and decide they'd gone to far?

I only wish the McCreery's could get a few minutes to speak their minds to Cooey today insteda of just having to endure his final words, if he chooses to speak.

The Offredo family isn't here, but I know they'll be keeping tabs from afar as to how this day goes. I'll bet they're awake right now too. Unable to sleep with the day's activities just a few hours away. Asking themselves the same questions about the moment so long ago and why no one stepped in to protect their daughter in her time of need.

With our station planning to provide a live web stream from the media room, I can only assume that they'll be watching as the media witnesses emerge from the death chamber to talk about the moment that we've seen.

I hope I choose the right words in describing today's moment so that if the Offredo family and/or anyone else who knew the victims is watching that I say the right things. I know that the words I choose, the phrases and verbs .. and the demeanor in which reporters deliver this story, is a moment they'll remember forever.

That much I know. I can still remember the way my brother's murder was described on the radio and TV news. I can remember the anchors' voice inflection and the way they talked about it.

I always keep that in mind as I read stories on the air. While it may just be another crime story to our broadcasts, it's a once-in-a-lifetime moment for the real people mentioned in those stories.

I just looked over all of the media materials about death row. They gave all of the reporters a schematic of the death chamber to include details about how many steps it takes to get from the bunk to the table. There's lots of data on the three drugs administered to stop the inmate's life and also a list of those who will be present.

I didn't know until just now that the Sheriff of the County where the crime was committed has the right to attend. If Summit County Sheriff Drew Alexander will be here today, I wasn't aware.
As a reporter, I wish I could deliver the information the viewers really want to know today.

While I know that my story will be based on facts and observations, what viewers really want to know is what the hell happened in that moment 22 years ago that two men chose a route of pure evil and two women had to die like this?

I wish I had the answers to those questions .. for that would be a much better story worth telling.

I need to shower and get ready .. I'll be blogging from the media room, inside the prison, as soon as they let us get in and set up.

Wish me luck. Eric

Monday, October 13, 2008

Reporting from Lucasville .. surreal

I arrived here about an hour before the mandatory media briefing at the Lucasville prison, and it still feels like a dream that I'll be one of the media witnesses tomorrow to the death sentence of Richard Cooey.

It's not something I ever thought I would see, but with this case involving an Akron suspect and two University of Akron victims, it seems appropriate to be here.

With the U.S. Supreme Court denying Cooey's last appeal, it looks as though the execution will go forward as scheduled at 10 a.m.

I filed this report via our web around 6:30 p.m.



This afternoon's briefing with the five news organizations that attended -- WKYC, Akron Beacon Journal, Plain Dealer, WAKR-AM, and a print reporter from the Dayton Daily News -- lasted about 30 minutes.

Andrea Carson, the communications director for the state prisons, told us that Cooey was in "good spirits" when he arrived this morning from death row in Youngstown. He was granted his "special meal" -- a T-bone steak with A-1 sauce, hash browns, onion rings, french fries, four eggs over easy, a pint of Rocky Road ice cream, some "real" bear claws from a bakery, and a mountain dew -- around 4 p.m. and has the entire evening to eat it.

In the morning, he'll have the opportunity for a "last" meal if he'd like to have the prison breakfast. He'll also be given the opportunity to take a shower if he'd like.

Carson delivered all of the news in a professional and conversational manner.

It's not an easy topic for her, but this is the 25th execution she's managed. Cooey is the 27th inmate to be killed since Ohio started in 1999.

My role as a pool reporter is to observe the proceedings and then be willing to share with other reporters what I witnessed. I'm not permitted to take anything into the death chamber, but the prison staff will provide paper, pencils, and pens so that I can take notes.

I honestly don't know what to expect.

While Wendy Offredo's family is not attending, Dawn McCreery's family will have six family members, including her parents and brother, as witnesses.

Cooey has chosen his three attorneys as his witnesses and has already said goodbye to his family in Youngstown, Carson said.

We're not sure whether anyone will demonstrate, but the prison is prepared for a bus of demonstrators from Akron.

Cooey weighed in at 270 pounds, which supports his claim that he's too fat to be killed, but a visual assessment by the prison staff showed two accessible veins, one in each arm.

I honestly don't know how I will handle this .. and I'd be lying if I didn't say that my own brother's death is on my mind. He was shot and killed in Akron almost two years to the day prior to these killings. Labor day night of 1984. Offredo and McCreery were killed on Labor Day night 1986. My brother's killer served 19 years, while Cooey got the death penalty.

I never wanted the death penalty for my brother's killer, because I didn't think it solved anything.

Still, as a journalist, if I'm going to discuss Ohio's role in capital punishment, I need to be able to talk from a position of experience. That's one of the reasons I'm here.

Still, I honestly don't have the words tonight .. I'm struggling .. but I'm trying.