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February 3, 2000


EPD releases officer's name

Science never sucks

Senior drug price discount

Strong retail, tight labor

EPD releases officer's name

As a result of a California Public Records Act request filed Jan. 24 by the North Coast Journal, Eureka Police Chief Arnie Millsap has released the name of the police officer who shot and killed a suspect the day after Christmas.

Mark Victors, a 7-year veteran officer, fatally wounded Harold Hans Johannsen Jr. Dec. 26 outside WinCo Foods in Eureka. Millsap said Victors had responded to a call from residents who reported someone was trying to force his way into their home.

Further details have not been released and a public coroner's inquest -- a rare public inquiry that has not been used since the early 1970s -- is scheduled to begin March 6. More than 22 persons, including three officers, witnessed the shooting and are expected to testify.

Millsap originally told the Journal that his office had received a serious and credible threat to the officer's life and he was withholding his name to protect him.

"At first we thought (the city) was exempt from disclosure because of a specific threat to an officer's safety. The chief has determined that it was not a threat to be taken seriously -- more of a threat in the normal course of police work," said City Attorney Brad Fuller.

Millsap said there were in fact several threats, one which originated from an inmate in San Quentin that was tape recorded.

"It was a prisoner who was involved in some stuff here," Millsap told the Journal Tuesday. "It was actually against me. I was the one named, but it appears it was nothing more than jailhouse talk."

Two other threats were reported and investigated, Millsap said, but were not found to be serious.

A five-member "shooting review board," made up of officers and other members of the police department, has been meeting and is expected to release its report later this week.

Victors was restricted to administrative duties following the shooting. On Jan. 21 when District Attorney Terry Farmer released his findings -- that the officer did not commit a crime when he shot Johannsen -- Victors was returned to full duty.

Science never sucks

Zane Junior High student Amanda Sewell had a case of celebrity stardom last week.

The 13-year-old eighth grade student had her letter read during the Jan. 28 National Public Radio's Morning Edition show hosted by Bob Edwards.

Sewell wrote the letter after one of the commentators had incorrectly stated that the Black Hole "sucks" things into it like a vacuum.

Sewell had learned early in the year in her science class taught by Kate Soriano, that nothing in science really sucks, but there are forces that can cause a pulling action.

"Our science teacher at Zane Junior High has pounded into our brains that science never sucks and even has a shirt that says that," Sewell wrote in her letter to NPR.

She also wrote that there are three types of forces, either a push, pull or twist, which is a combination of a push and pull force.

According to Soriano, the black hole is a massive star (larger than the sun), which has reached the end of its life cycle and has no fuel left to burn. The star collapses in on itself and that mass is compacted into the size no larger than an atom. Gravity results from the compaction which leads to the pulling action of the black hole.

Sewell came to Soriano after hearing the show and wanted to send the Morning Edition show a correction.

"She came to me one day and used my computer during lunch to send them an e-mail," Soriano said. "She did it all by herself and wrote a very eloquent and clear letter. She just nailed it."

Several teachers told Soriano and Sewell that they had heard the letter being read on the air, and shortly after, word spread around campus to the other students and teachers.

"I had no idea that they were going to read the letter," Soriano said. "Announcements were made in every class and Amanda had celebrity status for a day."

Senior drug price discount

When President Clinton gave his State of the Union speech Jan. 27, Pat Brown, a 72-year-old woman from Johnson City, Tenn., was among the guests sitting in the gallery with Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Brown, who pays $4,200 a year out of pocket for prescription drugs, was the symbol used by Clinton as he proposed changes to Medicare that would add the cost of prescription drugs to the program.

The state Legislature isn't waiting for the federal mandate, however. Beginning this week pharmacies are required to charge Medicare recipients the same discounted costs for prescriptions that MediCal recipients pay.

"This is California's temporary solution," said Sandi Fitzpatrick, executive director of the local Area Agency on Aging. "There are differences. The Clinton proposal would allow someone who is on Medicare to receive their prescription drugs as a benefit.

"Medicare patients now pay retail prices for their prescription medications. What this does is allow them to buy those medications at the lower MediCal rate," she said.

MediCal sets what is called a "maximum allowable charge" for every drug. The new law could mean savings of 10-14 percent on drug bills of many seniors.

"The program is especially beneficial for senior citizens or disabled persons on Medicare who do not have a supplemental Medicare insurance policy that covers prescriptions. They will be able to go into any pharmacy that takes MediCal and pay the MediCal reimbursed rate. The individual just needs to show their Medicare card when they go in. There is no paper work or sign-up required."

The change is welcome news for seniors living on a fixed income, but not for pharmacists.

"The government is doing something for older people, which is great," said Bob Lima, co-owner of Lima's Pharmacy in Eureka and McKinleyville. "But the bottom line is that the pharmacies are being asked to finance it. The money comes straight out of our pockets -- it's not government-subsidized."

Lima says he does not know exactly how many of his customers will fall under the new rules and he is not sure what the overall impact will be.

"They're telling us what we can charge people," he said. "For instance, one of the drugs that we carry is Prilosec for ulcers. We pay $99 for it and I should be charging $130 to get a 30 percent mark-up. But I only charge $120 to be competitive. We only get $102 from MediCal. That's a 2 percent mark-up.

"If all the drugs were like that I'd be out of business in a month. The $99 is just for the drug. It doesn't take into account the label, my employee's time, my light bill and everything else. It's great that the government is doing things for people, but as a businessman, I'm the one that's paying for it."

Prilosec is made by Merck and Co. Inc., one of the world's top drug companies. In its annual financial statement posted at, Merck reported sales for 1999 totaling over $32 billion with a net income after taxes of $5.89 billion.

In a recent speech, Merck & Co.'s CEO Raymond Gilmartin acknowledged the public's fears about drug companies.

"Today, insurers and health plans believe that pharmaceutical costs are out of control," he said. "The President has accused pharmaceutical companies of overcharging seniors. The media has portrayed the industry as profiting while seniors take buses to Canada to buy medicines. Congress and states like Massachusetts have talked about solving the problem with legislation and price controls."

Gilmartin said Merck's profits stem from a willingness to spend millions on research and development.

"Why do pharmaceutical companies make so much money? Let me say that U.S. pharmaceutical research and manufacturing is indeed a successful and high-growth industry. During the past two decades, U.S. companies discovered about one-half of the world's new medicines. The industry's profitability reflects this success."

Strong retail, tight labor

Humboldt County entered the 21st century with slow but steady economic growth, according to Humboldt State University Professor Steven Hackett's report for January.

Hackett, of the business and economics department, issues a monthly Index of Economic Activity for the county.

The study found strong retail sales activity and a tight labor market contributing to overall economic strength. Fair activity also was observed in the hospitality and manufacturing sectors. Overall, Hackett noted that the trend toward slowing growth is continuing.

The four leading indicators watched by Hackett are:

Number of help-wanted ads in the Times-Standard. They were down less than 1 percent in December but up more than 11 percent over December 1998.

Number of claims for unemployment insurance. Claims were down almost 12 percent in December over the previous month. The number is the smallest since Hackett started collecting this data in January 1994.

Manufacturing activity, chiefly lumber manufacture, was up 2.19 percent in December, but down 4.53 percent for the same month in 1998. The study reported a downward trend in manufacturing orders in almost all areas. The report warned that significant declines in orders could lead to declines in the number of jobs.

Number of building permits issued. The number in December was roughly where it was in January after peaking in February and April. Another statistic, median price of homes, showed the county at $130,000 had no change over 1998. Marin County, however, showed a 35.8 percent increase to $450,000. Riverside County showed a decrease of 4.4 percent to $135,750.


-- Reported by Judy Hodgson, Bob Doran Howard Seemann and Amanda Lang

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