On Jan. 28 I posted a question asking if any readers had been in accidents with uninsured drivers. I was blown away by the response.
By the next day, my inbox was clogged with over 50 emails about people who have suffered anger, loss, shock and, yes, even triumph after being in accidents with drivers who failed to carry insurance.
According to reports, it’s a growing problem in Oklahoma. The empirical evidence I have in my inbox puts a very real face to it.
One man recounted a string of unfortunate events that culminated in his car being totaled by an uninsured driver. In his nearly 2,000 word email, he told of the struggle and the lessons he’s taken away from the event.
“Without the wreck I would have never stayed at the job with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, I would have moved on to other areas within the energy industry, I would have never gone back to college. So while I am bitter that justice wasn’t served, I am happy that it happened. My future wouldn’t be what it is now without that wreck.”
But most people’s stories didn’t end optimistically.
Dozens of emails told similar stories. Accounts of drivers with no insurance costing insured motorists thousands of dollars in repairs, hospitalization and time off from work.
And sneaky drivers with no insurance who, after the wreck, pass off expired verifications or illegally flee the scene. One reader told of a woman who fled with her child. The police didn’t chase her because of the infant she had in tow.
Another story I found heartbreaking summed up the woman’s thoughts on what needs to be done to fix the problem:
“My husband broke nine ribs, lacerated his spleen, and punctured his lung. He’s lucky to be alive. Sadly, my husband had no medical insurance and his bills are out of this world. Due to this wreck, he is still unable to return to work. I wish the guidelines and penalties were stricter.”
One similarity shared by all of the stories was the theme of injustice — Law abiders who now bear the burden of the law breaker.
I promise to cover your stories and this terrible trend that is costing Oklahomans dearly. Thank you for all of your stories.
I got an interesting e-mail Thursday after writing a story about embezzlement allegations against a former Chickasha employee, who was not prosecuted after she agreed to pay restitution to the city.
A reader in Midwest City applauded the move as an alternative to throwing another person into Oklahoma’s crowded prison system, a result that likely would have made it difficult or impossible for the city to collect restitution.
An excerpt of David Hanson’s thoughts on the issue:
There must be some way for an individual to pay restitution and have a “non criminal” record that shows his/her desire to admit to a mistake and take responsibility for their actions. Maybe this could be accomplished by making restitution and signing a official document making this incident “legal evidence” in any future criminal activity. I know this strategy needs to be examined in detail, but maybe it is a start.
I hope someone will continue to pursue other ways to solve problems, not only in city government, but for our country as well.
Chickasha officials have decided the decision not to forward former court clerk Debbie Pool’s case to prosecutors was made in the city’s best interest, but directed CIty Manager Larry Shelton to notify the district attorney’s office if a municipal employee is suspected of a crime in the future.
What do you think? Did Chickasha officials handle things the right way or should they have allowed the criminal justice system to have the final say?
While researching this story, I quickly learned that there are many varied, valid and complex viewpoints to be considered. I also realized that Oklahoma isn’t the only state debating the topic. Alabama is discussing similar legislation that would repeal the state’s sales tax on groceries.
Like Oklahoma, much of the money collected from the tax goes toward public education. But there, like here, people are divided on how exactly to put the plan in action.
The Associated Press reported on Jan. 23 that the majority of legislators in that state favor one of two plans that would eliminate or phase out the grocery sales tax.
Arguments in Alabama are similar to those here. Many think reshuffling taxes is not a good idea during a stumbling economy while some argue that it is only fair to put money back in the hands of the people who need it most.
I also received many comments from readers here regarding this story. Here are a few:
A. Thomas from Chickasha touched on an issue that many others echoed in their emails: “I do not think people should pay taxes on utilities or food or the everyday essentials that are required to sustain life.”
Mark Roye of Wilburton said that he thinks eliminating the tax is long overdue. “It will have an immediate effect on everyone, not just the few,” he said.
James Warren of Oklahoma City thought that naysayers must be forgetting something: “Who wouldn’t benefit from a repeal of the sales tax on food? Are there Oklahomans who don’t eat?
Thank you to everyone who shared their opinions. This is exactly the discussion that needs to be had as we debate changes that could affect us all.
Take a look at what the Philadelphia Inquirer did on the problems that state’s Department of Human Services is having taking care of children. Sound familiar? Rest assured, the Wathdog Team at The Oklahoman will continue to monitor activities here. Contact us if you have a similar story.
Food safety advocates are pushing for increased testing at peanut processing plants in the wake of another salmonella outbreak linked to peanut butter, The Associated Press is reporting.
The latest outbreak has sickened more than 500 people, including two in Oklahoma.
As health officials scramble to limit the effects of the latest outbreak, food safety advocates have renewed calls for increased testing at peanut processing plants. It’s a costly and time-consuming proposition for an inspection process that, as an Associated Press review of state and federal procedures shows, already suffers from a lack of manpower and transparency, and from uncertainty over how much testing is enough.
Peanut butter had long been considered a relatively low risk for salmonella because roasting the peanuts properly kills the bacteria, and because peanut butter’s low moisture content makes it a less fertile breeding ground for the virus than other foods, such as poultry or lunch meats.
There is no federal law that mandates the number of inspections that must be carried out each year at peanut processing facilities. The Food and Drug Administration contracts with states to perform inspections but allows them broad discretion when it comes to how they do them. The agency asks the states to base the frequency and nature of inspections on how risky a food is considered, giving priority to high-risk foods.
The states, in turn, rely on the companies to police themselves between infrequent visits from state inspectors.
Do you think that’s enough to keep our food supply safe? What would you propose to prevent future outbreaks?
It’s hard to keep track of everything going on in our fair state, so most reporters build a network of sources and other contacts to help.
One of my favorite resources as a former criminal justice reporter is attorney Jim Hankins’ Web site, Oklahoma Criminal Defense Weekly.
Hankins, whom I first met many years ago while I was working, is well versed in criminal law as a trial lawyer and advocate for death row inmates.
He gave me one of his business cards after I moved to The Oklahoman in 2005. It included a link to his site, which has become a regular stop for me in my work-related Web surfing.
Hankins’ site includes a “Victories” section to publicize cases won by his peers and a “Hearsay” section for legal stories of interest.
I’ve gotten several stories ideas from the site, including this one.
We see a lot of these stories on the Watchdog desk, and the headline to Ann Kelley’s story drives the point home.
Whether it’s knowing what kind of crib you are buying for your infant or understanding the dosage instructions on a new prescription, taking control and being as knowledgeable as possible about the things you buy and put in your body is the best safeguard out there.
The AARP has wonderful guidelines on how to use medications safely. One of the best ways is to know your pharmacist and to ask questions. You can access their recommendations at http://www.aarp.org/health/rx_drugs/usingmeds/get_to_know_your_pharmacist.html.
More peanut butter products are being yanked off store shelves as health officials nationwide continue to delve into a salmonella outbreak that has sickened hundreds of people, including two in Oklahoma.
Not even your dog is safe.
Companies are pulling a wide range of products off the market over concerns they may contain peanut butter or peanut paste manufactured by the Peanut Corporation of America, whose Georgia plant has become the focus of the ongoing investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The full list of recalled products is available here.
The Peanut Corporation of America’s products are distributed to food manufacturers to be used as an ingredient in many commercially produced products including cakes, cookies, crackers, candies, cereal and ice cream, according to the FDA. PCA peanut butter also is distributed to and institutionally served in such settings as long-term care facilities and cafeterias.
Health officials in Oklahoma have not been able to determine how two young people in northeast Oklahoma came in contact with the outbreak strain of salmonella. Both had multiple peanut butter-related product exposures, officials said Tuesday afternoon.
The latest on the FDA investigation is available here.
I’ve never parked in a handicapped spot until recently. But I’ve seen so many able bodied folks use and abuse them. It always made me angry. For years I witnessed people in wheelchairs and wondered how they could do it. How devastating, not being able to walk, run, ski, climb that mountain.
In August 2007 I had a devastating spinal cord injury after a fishing accident. I tried to climb down a 30-foot embankment to get to the Glover River in McCurtain County. It didn’t work.
I’m now in a wheelchair and I use the handicapped parking so I can drop the lift on my van and roll out. I’ve not encountered many problems, but before Christmas at Penn Square Mall. I pulled into a handicapped spot, leaving ample room on the right in the “striped area.” This is where my ramp needs to drop and I get out. I need 8-feet of clearance.
A woman in a hurry roared in beside me and parked in the yellow striped area. I rolled the window and told her to move. She uttered a few obscenities and obliged.
Yes, I guess you can say I have an agenda now. I just want the disabled like me to have access to restaurants, games, shopping, etc., without feeling inadequate. For those of you able-bodied folks that use our spaces, come live a day in our life, look in a mirror at night and if you can sleep well, your soul is beyond reparation.
As my reporter pointed out in a recent article, if you see someone you think is illegally parked in a handicapped spot:
In Oklahoma City, call the Action Center at 297-2535 or the Handicap Parking Enforcement Specialist program at 316-4050.
• Outside of Oklahoma City, contact a local police department, action center or parking enforcement program.
Will Rogers once famously said, “Oklahomans will vote dry as long as they can stagger to the polls.”
We voted pretty much dry until 1959 when we repealed prohibition. Then, with the 28th amendment to the state’s constitution we created the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission.
If you have worked in a restaurant with a bar in Oklahoma, you know exactly what the ABLE Commission is.
It’s the state agency that takes $30 from you every two years so that you’re licensed to give booze to thirsty clientele (among other things).
I worked as a bartender for some time while I was in college, so I had some experience with the commission going into this story. Therefore, I was not surprised to see that nearly 50,000 of the approximately 56,000 active licenses in the state were held by employees of establishments selling alcohol.
That’s a lot of jobs and a lot of licenses.
Every single bartender or server with one of these licenses knows that you can’t 1) sell alcohol to customers without one and 2) it can be taken away from you or not issued for reasons including DUI convictions and selling alcohol to minors.
When your livelihood is dependent upon that ABLE Commission license, you do whatever you can to make sure it can’t get taken away. This includes cutting off intoxicated customers, making sure to check the ID of each person being served, and ratting out other restaurants or license holders who aren’t abiding by the law.
It’s not a slam dunk, but it’s something.
There won’t ever be enough police officers to catch every single crime, but the self-policing the licenses encourage makes them a valuable tool; one that could be extended even further to include alcohol training seminars for sellers and servers.
If we’re going to be wet, we might as well be as smart as possible about it.