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.

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: 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.