Saturday, July 26, 2008

WKYC videographer gets up close with Soap Box Derby

I've worked with videographer Larry Baker for 15 years .. and as a co-worker, there's no one better. He's not only an amazing photographer and editor, but he thinks like a reporter and when we team up, my job is very easy.

We were at Derby Downs Friday covering the "Super Kids Classic" race when Larry got the idea to give the story a first-person look. He wanted to ride down in one of the special cars.

Just understand that while the SK cars are built for two people (one special-needs competitor and one local derby driver to steer) the cars are not made for full-grown adults.

Larry was not to be denied.

With my son Jacob (age 11 and one of the local derby drivers who was steering for the day), Larry scrunched his entire body AND his camera into the car for a ride down the hill.

I had my handi-cam with me .. so I grabbed a good shot of Larry's ride. In the background, you'll hear former radio personality Mark Richards calling the play-by-play. For a short time, he thought I was the one driving, but eventually figured out it was Jacob.

Jacob told me that driving straight was easy, the hard part was getting the car to stop because the brake pad isn't designed for that much weight.

Anyway, Larry's video was top-notch and was a great part of the story-telling in our piece for Channel 3 News. I just wanted you to know what lengths someone had to go to to get that shot.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Special edition of "NewsNight Akron" to analyze Governor Strickland's Akron meeting

Governor Ted Strickland's "Conversation on Education" from Wednesday is a bit too much to digest in just a few minutes of tonight's regularly-scheduled edition of NewsNight Akron on PBS 45/49 at 9 p.m.

So we're adding a second round table discussion to air at 11 p.m. tonight

Jody Miller will host the special .. with ABJ education reporter Stephanie Warsmith, former Superintendent Joe Siegferth, and I offering analysis as panelists.

A condensed broadcast of the Governor's meeting will air at 10 p.m. and precede the special.

If you were like me and couldn't attend Wednesday, you can watch the entire discussion on-line by clicking here.

Widow's presence sends message in cop killer case

I wasn't at the hearing this morning .. but here's what I know:

The news reports say that Ashford Thompson sat quietly and at times yawned during this morning's arraignment -- his first since being indicted with death penalty specifications in the shooting of Twinsburg Police officer Joshua Miktarian.

Wire copy indicates that Miktarian's widow, Holly, was also in the courtroom to observe and was quickly whisked away when it was over.

Her presence tells me a lot.

I've seen murder cases where the victim's family never comes to court because it's just too difficult to be in the same room with a killer who took their loved one.

I've also seen murder cases where the family never misses a single update, no matter how slight, and is always there to send a message to the killer that they won't get a moment's peace until they're held accountable.

That's what Holly Miktarian's presence at today's procedural arraignment tells me.

I can't imagine what that must be like for her, and no one would have thought twice if she'd skipped today's hearing because it was just be too difficult.

Only in this case, Holly is both a widow and also a fellow police officer. I can only guess that maybe she feels she needs to be there. For her and for Josh.

Twenty years ago, I barely had the courage to attend one hearing for my brother's killer. At the same courthouse as this morning's hearing, I came in as a 16-year-old kid still devastated with a senseless shooting that claimed my older brother, Brian. Seeing the man who pulled the trigger in the flesh .. just feet away from me .. shook me up big time. I can't imagine putting myself in that position over and over again with every court hearing.

Yet, some relatives do.

Holly Miktarian did this morning.

And if I were Ashford Thompson, I wouldn't get too comfortable in those courthouse chairs, because that heat that's coming from the back of the courtroom will only get hotter.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Betsy Kling's baby

At 10:43 a.m. in Akron, Ohio .. I have NO NEWS on Betsy Kling's baby.

Many of you are emailing and calling wanting an update, and I just don't have one. When the blessed moment arrives, Betsy and her husband (and TV3 Reporter) Paul Thomas will share it with all of us at WKYC and then the viewers too.

But right now, I don't know any more than the rest of you. The only water breaking around here is coming from the leaky pipes on the second floor of our building.

I'm as excited as anyone around here because Betsy is truly a great colleague and friend.
Meantime, let's all pray for a healthy delivery and positive experience for all involved.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It's the $2,425,304 question

Q: What's six stories tall, very shiny, empty inside, and still costing Akron-area folks millions?

A: The Inventors Hall of Fame Museum.

The current debt is $2,425,304 to be exact (I'm assuming the price I got from city hall today is in even dollars .. although there could be some change tacked on at the end I suppose). That's a little more than $10 for every man, woman, and child in Akron.

The original price tag was around $38 million in city, county, and state money (gold coins maybe???) and some private donations as well.

But now, 13+ years after the building opened for business on Broadway Avenue, the National Hall of Fame is taking its busts of Albert Einstein and Eli Whitney and moving out. Their lease with the city is up Aug. 15th, and they're moving their jobs and other resources into office and supply space at Canal Place on Main Street.

I'm not sure who invented the moving van, but the HOF folks will be singing their praises as they peddle up the street.

Certainly Cleveland's Great Lakes Science Center didn't help .. stealing much of the same audience.

Truth is that the Inventor's Hall of Fame just didn't hold the same interest as other HOF's. My kids might enjoy seeing Terry Bradshaw or Paul Brown at the Pro Football HOF in Canton, but they just didn't get the same experience seeing Daryl Chapin, who invented the Silicon Solar Cell.
Mayor Plusquellic agreed.

"Going by and looking at the busts of old, dead men isn't like real exciting for anybody," he said at his Tuesday Press Conference. "What was the exciting part was the hands-on science museum."

Plusquellic sounded like Tom Hanks playing "Josh Baskin" in the classic movie Big. Hanks' character gets hired by a toy company that shows him a robot that transforms into a building. Everyone around him likes the idea, but Hanks says "what's fun about that?"

He's right. And he's not the only one.

Kids didn't really care for the busts of men and women they've never met .. or in many cases even heard of. They liked the hands-on make-it-and-take-it area where they could tear stuff apart and rebuild it. They just didn't like it enough to keep coming back and buying admission.

So now comes the new Akron Middle School ... which is being built adjacent to the Museum. The good news is that the school can literally have as much of the museum as it would like (in theory). The bad news is "what will they do with all of that space?" (here's a drawing of the school-museum combo from the Akron Schools website)

A community group of leaders from the City, University of Akron, and Akron Schools will now work to redevelop some kind of interactive program on the museum floor that can be of use to Akron School students while also being a draw for the community again.

At least the school is going in .. so that there's still some activity at the site.

But right now, this feels like we bought a bad car .... the kind that dies and you put it in the dumper while still owing a bunch of payments.

$2,425,304 to be exact.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Walsh gets both bump, pressure from Miktarian case

No one wants to put politics into the murder of Twinsburg Police Officer Joshua Miktarian, but the truth is that it's going to be a political issue whether we like it or not.

Sherri Bevan Walsh is up for re-election on the November ballot against challenger Nancy Mercurio Morrison.

As was the case with today's indictment announcement, Walsh gets the face time with the press because of her role in prosecuting suspected cop-killer Ashford Thompson. She also gets the hard questions that follow .. and the community scrutiny that goes with a high-profile case like this one.

Everyone is watching Walsh's every move on this one and will be for days to come.

While the trial is likely to take place well after the November 4th election, the case's court hearings and developments will each draw big media turnouts, beginning with this Friday's arraignment in Akron. Each time, Walsh most likely gets a mention and/or a quote or some face time.

Is it fair in an election year?

The media's coverage of Walsh's actions when it comes to the Thompson case does not necessarily trigger an argument that Morrison deserves equal media time. That's because Thompson's case is a genuine news event instead of a political one, so the fair time guidelines won't apply.

Still, if you're Morrison, how do you possibly hope to generate enough buzz for your campaign against an incumbent who's getting all the headlines and name recognition whether she wants them or not?

Ten years ago, local prosecutor Allison McCarty successfully prosecuted Doug Prade, and that courtroom victory has become a regular part of McCarty's campaign as a judge. You can bet that if McCarty had lost that case or plea bargained it .. that her future judicial opponents would have lit her up with criticism.

Walsh is now under the same magnifying glass. Get a death penalty conviction and she'll forever be able to say that she "got justice against a cop killer." Still, if she gets anything short of a death penalty, especially a plea bargain (not likely), and Walsh can expect that Morrison and/or others are waiting in the wings to criticize that "she let a cop killer off the hook."

Again, neither Walsh nor Morrison asked to be in this position, and today's press conference was in line with what I'd have expected from Walsh in a non-election year too. It's what comes with the case.

Still, when a case like this arrives just three-plus months before election day .. the political ramifications are hard to miss as they're unintentionally thrust out there.

Anyone else see the same thing? Got a different take on this?

Twinsburg cop killer indicted with death penalty

Details will emerge in the next few hours, but court records show that Ashford Thompson has been indicted for murder and will face the death penalty for shooting Twinsburg Police Officer Joshua Miktarian.

As I've been told, under the law, murder of a police officer carries a death penalty specification without having to prove some of the other elements of a DP case involving an everyday citizen.

The 23-year-old Thompson is sitting at the Summit County Jail and will be arraigned again at the Common Pleas Level in the next few days. His attorney got under quite a few collars last week after telling the media that Thompson planned to plead self-defense. Considering Thompson used his own gun to fire four head shots while Miktarian's gun was still in his holster is a tough sell, and to say it just 36 hours after the murder added salt to the wounds of a great many local police officers.

I'm headed out to a morning press conference and will have the details live on Channel 3 News at noon.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ed & Jody Who doesn't love a good street fight?

I've had a tough day in Twinsburg covering the funeral of Officer Joshua Miktarian. I was so impressed with the turnout on such a hot day by many who didn't know him yet felt compelled to take part. I saw quite a few scout units too. I've never seen more police units and also never seen such a well planned large funeral where the media is involved.

I get a short break and then it's on to Kent to tape tonight's episode of NewsNight Akron. Having both Jody Miller and Ed Esposito on together makes my job easy because they love to argue, and our research shows that viewers like it best when JM & EE take a few swings. Playing the part of peacemaker in the middle will be Phil Trexler of the Akron Beacon Journal.

See ya tonight .. Eric

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Random thoughts on a Thursday

I'm having a tough time keeping up this week .. after being gone from our Akron office for most of the last two weeks .. and now working as the only reporter here.

A few quick thoughts before I run out to Tallmadge to be live in the 6 p.m. news:

It was surreal to stand outside the Donovan Funeral Home in Tallmadge today as the calling hours for Twinsburg Officer Joshua Mikarian began. Just as the first few dozen mourners appeared to pay their respects, a hard downpour opened up in the sky. It lasted only about 10 minutes but seemed fitting as tears from an entire community.

I also couldn't report on a major funeral in Tallmadge and not be reminded of Nate Deyarmin and Luke Emch -- each gave their lives in Iraq and was mourned in a large Tallmadge gathering. I think the people of Tallmadge can only take so much.

The death of Fae Evans behind bars is a tough one to quantify. I remember covering her court case in 1993 after her 3-year-old daughter, Sheila Marie Evans, was beaten and raped by Fae's boyfriend, Ronald Phillips, until the little girl was dead. It was the first murder trial I ever covered as a reporter (at the old WAKC back then), and one of the most brutal even to this day.
The 41-year-old Evans died of cancer yesterday while awaiting a hearing that might have freed her to spend her final days with family.

I'm frustrated that our station wasn't able to cover Monday's march on Akron City Council as community members who are upset with the shooting death of Jeffrey Stephens came out seeking answers. Our station's nightside photographer was already committed that night to a candlelight vigil in Twinsburg and we couldn't be in two places at once. (I was on vacation, so I didn't know anything about it until I returned Tuesday).

I'm hopeful that our station will be able to cover next Monday's rally by the APD wives and FOP members asking that the community continue to support the force 100 percent. Still, if we get to that rally without having covered the first rally, it seems unfair. Again, it's not that we chose to ignore one over the other, but the result can look lopsided.

I'm still looking to get to know my new roommates. WKSU-FM and PBS 45/49 each have taken on a third of our Akron Newsroom at 1 S. Main Street. I cleaned off all of their desks and made sure we had shelf space and room for their equipment when their leases kicked in on July 1st but so far, neither media outlet has set up shop.

Guess all those "welcome to the neighborhood" cookies will just have to stay on my desk ;)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bullet count only part of the ringside story ..

I fired dozens of bullets yesterday .. or at least simulated bullets .. while testing just one scenario at Summit County's Fire Arms Training Simulator (a big computer called "FATS") for a story about how our local officers train for split-second decisions.

In that one scene, a man ran from his car .. then turned around and opened fire on me. I was amazed at how many shots I got off in milli-seconds. Computer or not, my heart got pumping as I was ducking (literally) and returning fire.

In another scenario, I reloaded several times and lost count of the number of shots I fired during a shootout. In a third scenario, a man raised a gun and I shot him before he could get off a round at me.

What's it all mean? I don't know. But it's stayed with me the last 24 hours.

With the shooting of Jeffrey Stephens still fresh in everyone's minds, I was trying to put myself in the shoes of the officers who shot him 22 times when Stephens didn't drop a gun near his home on Celina Avenue.

I tried to imagine how quickly these cops had to make a decision while responding to a call of "shots fired."

I tried to empathise with the pressure they were under to find a neighborhood gunman while not knowing if anyone had already been shot.

I tried to feel what they were feeling when they saw Stephens with a gun.

Guess what?

I failed.

I have no idea.

With all the second-guessing that everyone is doing right now, I'm convinced there's no way to know what the officers were thinking and feeling. There's no doubt they were responding to an active shooter call .. and confronted a man with a loaded gun. They claim he aimed it at them and they opened fire to stop the threat. They say they had no choice under the circumstances.

What would any of us have done? We just don't know.

Still 22 shots is a lot. A whole lot. A lot for a family and a community to accept. A lot even to report.

The only comparison that came to mind for me at the range yesterday was that of a boxing match.

Trade the guns for gloves for a second. You believe that your opponent is about to hit you, so do you swing once and then check to see if he's injured? Do you swing twice and see if he's knocked out? Or do you keep swinging as hard and as fast as you can until you can tell that he's no longer standing with gloves raised ready to take your head off?

Most boxers can't tell you how many jabs they threw and landed before knocking out their opponent. They just know that they were threatened in the ring and they followed their training to knock out the threat.

In a way, these officers did the same thing ... but no matter how many pairs I try on, I can't put myself in their shoes.

I just can't.

And I can't imagine how these officers and this family must be feeling.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Will home schooled and private school students benefit from Akron's sewer plan? Watch for yourself.

My first day back to work after a 10-day hiatus .. and thanks to those of you who emailed that you missed "Have I Got News For You". Nice to know my blog is well-received. I've missed writing.

My day consisted of a feature on the Firearms Computer Training program that the Sheriff's Office uses in its training bureau. It's a story that adds depth to how our local police officers train for life-and-death on the street. Since I last worked, we've had the APD shooting of a father-of-12 who was armed outside his home, and we've also had the killing of a Twinsburg officer during a traffic stop. (More on both shootings later this week)

At 1:30 p.m., our desk called to say that Mayor Plusquellic had called a 3 p.m. news conference for a major announcement. Now considering DP had already held one morning news conference, I couldn't understand the need for an encore -- so it was either a developing news story that couldn't wait or it was a topic that couldn't be discussed at the morning news get together.

Turned out to be the latter.

If you haven't yet heard, DP announced today that he intends to put the sewers-for-scholarships plan on the November ballot. The idea is to lease the city sewer system for $200-$400 million dollars that would then be used to pay the college bills of Akron high school grads to attend the U of Akron.

Got that much?

While the city is promising a full menu of details in the coming weeks, the two details DP promised today were as follows:

  1. The ballot language would include a clause that caps what the lessee could charge us for our sewer rates.
  2. The 100 or so employees whose jobs would be flushed would be offered jobs elsewhere within the city at a comparable pay rate.

Now .. there's a zillion questions that follow .. and you should know that the media hit DP with a lot of them ... to the tune of about an hour ... but none of the specifics were released today. Questions like: "what if my child only attends 10th-12th?" or "what if my son wants to take a year off and then begin the program?" still need to be addressed.

I had my handy-dandy mini-cam with me .. so I let it roll as I asked the Mayor about what the plan means to Home School kids .. and to Akron students who attend private high schools.

One media outlet has already reported that only Akron Public High School graduates can use the program .. which is incorrect. Here's what the Mayor actually said about it:

The grassroots group that submitted petitions looking for a charter amendment that requires voting on the sale/lease of any city utility is sure to respond to the proposal .. especially since DP called them "Scarerists" ... as in rhyming with "Terrorists" .. claiming that the group spreads misinformation and wants to scare folks away from the plan.

As a community, it's hard to react until we see the bullet points in the plan. How much will my sewer rate really go up compared to how much benefit we could see as a community? Are we really protected if this leasing company does a crappy job with our crap?

I have a lot of questions on this one .. and hopefully many will be answered in the next few weeks as the campaign strategy moves forward.

And while it may not be perfect, it's good to know that city hall is working "outside the bowl" to find a creative plan that addresses the high cost of education and may also bring more new families to town while creating a landscape to keep Akron's brightest living here for years to come.

So .. let's begin the discussion.

Friday, July 4, 2008

"Are we having an earthquake .. in the newsroom?"

If you were watching Channel 3 News at 7 tonight, then you already know what I'm about to write .. but I've got to tell you, it really freaked me out.

I'm anchoring in Cleveland again tonight with Monica Robins. Tonight's show was going along just fine, but just as Betsy Kling was beginning her forecast, the news set began to shake .. and the lights began to shake .. and the walls began to shake.

I thought it was an earthquake. I mean, I really thought for a second that we were having a 5.0 on the Richter scale.

Now, having breaking news during a newscast would be unique by itself .. and from a journalist's perspective, pretty cool :) but seriously, an earthquake?

Monica Robins leaned in and told me that it's the trains going by .. and that they always make the newsroom shake. (She and Betsy found it pretty cute that I was scared. It's the big sister in them coming out.)

I was relieved, but at the same time, it still got to me a bit. How could that little ol choo-choo shake this big majestic broadcast beast?
Click on the video on the upper right to watch it all play out.

Ahhhhhh .. the things you learn when you visit the Cleveland office.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Electric car story draws admirers, critics

My story Tuesday about two local men who've developed a system to take everyday gasoline-powered cars and convert them to electric has lit up my email and phones.

Seems quite a few people want a closer look at the technical travels of Larry Williams and James Weirick.

CNN called within a few hours of our story airing. They wanted not only our video but also a contact number for the men to do follow-up interviews. Others have called or emailed to get the contact info for themselves.

That includes skeptics.

One viewer e-mailed that the electrical wonders of W & W wouldn't last long because the additional weight of 21 batteries far surpassed the weight of the gas tank and engine that were removed. He didn't see how the cars would last long without significant structural problems.

What amazed me most about my conversation with the two men were their claims that smaller, stronger, and cheaper batteries already exist but the government prevents average grease monkeys from being able to buy them. The implication is that Uncle Sam is holding on to the technology so that a bigger company can come in and make a mint .. keeping the little guys from challenging the big three.


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Wednesday Webchat

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Monica and me

I had the pleasure of co-anchoring the news Monday night with Monica Robins. We've known each other for years having both come to TV3 in the mid-1990s.

Believe it or not, it's the first time we've anchored together.

We joked before the 6 p.m. broadcast that the reporters who were live in the field would struggle with saying our names together. We both figured out that "Monica and Eric" is easier to say than "Eric and Monica."

Sure enough, the first reporter who was live Monday night just combined our names and said "Erica" in the toss back. We both had to keep from laughing, but we knew it was coming eventually.

After the show, Monica, Meteorologist A.J. Colby and a few others all shared stories of previous flubs in the "name game" of live of TV.

A.J. said that an anchor once tossed to him calling him "O.J." on the air ....

I remember that a reporter once had a liveshot talking with anchors Judd Hambrick and Dawn Stensland .. and he pitched back to "Dudd and John" .. meaning to say "Judd and Dawn."

The best thing most of us can do is pretend like it didn't happen and hope the audience doesn't catch on.

And by the way .. working with Monica is a great experience. She's a real pro as a journalist and is as down-to-earth as you'll ever find in television news. She's also got a singing voice that's powerful enough to win American Idol.

The good news is that Monica and I will be teaming up again Thursday and Friday this week at the anchor desk.

That should give our reporting staff plenty of warning so they can stop calling us "Erica" :)