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Friday, June 1, 2007

Crime beat

I'd been avoiding Michael Connelly's new book, Crime Beat, because I thought it would just make me miss the newsroom and feel bad about not being a real reporter anymore. But then I figured, well, even if I was a real reporter, I wouldn't be a real reporter RIGHT NOW, so why not read it? Besides, I got out just in time, people! Journalism is a sinking ship and, since I wasn't even the lead education reporter at the Herald, why should I go down with it? (Oh, I do miss it...)

Anyway, I worried for nothing -- it wasn't so great. But I did like some of the stuff in Michael Carlson's afterward, including this observation: "Too often in our world, journalists move from graduate schools into hermetically sealed newsrooms, protected by security passes and cut off from the real lives of the people about whom they are supposed to report."

So, with Connelly as my inspiration, it's time again for Pick the Real Story. Today's category is offbeat police reporting:

1) A sixth-grader is arrested for bringing a 2-inch Swiss Army pocketknife to school and recommended for expulsion under the school district's zero tolerance policies. His excuse? He had brought it to a Boy Scouts meeting the night before and forgot it was in his still in his jacket pocket. While we chat, his defense attorney gives him a Snickers bar and the little cutie gets chocolate all over his face and hands.

2) A woman calls the newsroom and says she has a huge story to tell -- with national implications! -- but will not discuss it over the phone. Hmm. Lunatic? Well, you be the judge: Inside her home, every window was darkened with tin foil, intended to stop the "rays" that the federal government was beaming into her house and, even more troubling, into her head. (Considering this was pre-Alberto, I vote for lunatic.)

3) A Fort Pierce high school student stabs her friend in the stomach over a boy. She is arrested, spends a few nights in jail, and is expelled. Not even a year later, a charter school hires her as their receptionist -- so that, in a strange twist, she starts getting paychecks from the very same school district that says she's too dangerous for gym class.

4) New Year's Eve, Riviera Beach. Best friends, one known as "Short Dog" and the other known as "Pork Chop," start fighting about God knows what, and Short Dog stabs and kills Pork Chop. When I show up at the bar, not 12 hours later, the party is still going on. A very helpful lady (read: drunk prostitute) shows me the pool table where she says Pork Chop staggered and fell and bled to death. Two men are playing 8-ball on it.

Answer to come!

Anyway, I think those are sort of funny, even though, yes, a man died in number four (or did he?? I'm not spoiling the game!) but I also, very occasionally, covered not so funny crime. Example: A triple murder on Thanksgiving Day. While I waited for the sergeant to talk, the relatives wrote good-bye notes in colored chalk on the sidewalk and a creepy TV reporter cornered one of the victim's father and said, "I know how you feel. I'm a Dad too!"

But the very worst story was this: Two brothers, around 10 and 12, I think, cut school on a clear South Florida day to pick saw-palmetto berries in the woods. They'd heard there were European pharmaceutical representatives in Vero Beach, paying like $50 a bucket for the berries to treat prostate problems. Anyway, their parents say okay, and their dad drops them off in the middle of nowhere, early in the morning. The older brother takes a shotgun, in case of snakes. Well, you can guess what happened, right?

They're jumping over ditches, one after the other, and the gun goes off. The bullet hits the younger boy in the head. He falls and dies. The older boy runs two miles back to the only road in these parts, waves down a passerby. The police are called. The report goes out on the scanner. I'm already in north county, reading the school superintendent's mail, so I'm sent over. I remember my friend Susannah Nesmith already was there -- she was a real cops reporter for the competition -- and she looked way tougher than me in her pantsuit and cigarettes. We all drove down a fire break to a clearing about 200 yards from the scene and stood around, waiting for the sheriff's deputies to do their work. It was hot. I wanted water. And then, after an hour or so, full of nothing, the father came back for his kids.

And what did he think? Sheriff's cars are everywhere. A TV truck has its satellite antenna up. His boys are nowhere to be seen. Did he know, right then, that something horrible had happened? Or did he just wonder -- what's this about... Right then, he had two sons. He got out of his white company pickup truck and a deputy rushed over. They talked. The father stared at the ground. Covered his face with his hands. Now he has one.


Anonymous Alain said...

I think you're not getting guesses to your pick-the-true-story because you've ended your post on such a not-funny note! [I'll guess anyway: the chocolate covered-expellee, because I think you would be less likely to make that up.]

How did you manage to cover so many incredible stories in just a few years? Maybe life is duller in New England.

June 5, 2007 at 7:40 PM  
Blogger Mary Ellen said...

It is a known fact that Florida news is weirder than any other news! Really. This time they're all true, except I didn't actually meet the foil woman. My old colleague, Ed Filo, who died earlier this year, went out to her house in his old purple pickup. I think it was his favorite story. (Ed was also a painter and chef and the owner of a cat who ate some weird leaves and could no longer meow.) Anyway, it was 10 years, which isn't such a short time...

June 6, 2007 at 3:27 AM  
Blogger Brunch Bird said...

Alain, typically reserves one of its headlines for some bizarre story: man impales self on 45 tuning forks and lives, man's pet tiger escapes and terrorizes neighborhood, etc. Nine times out of 10 the dateline is Somewhere, Fla.

June 8, 2007 at 6:22 PM  

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