May 25, 2006
EUREKA SOLDIER DIES: The release of an autopsy of a 21-year-old soldier from Humboldt County has shined a harsh light on the Army's treatment of injured service men and women stationed at a Physical Training and Rehabilitation Program (PTRP) at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, according to an article in The New York Times printed May 19.
Pfc. Mathew Scarano, of Eureka, died of a prescription drug overdose on the night of March 18-19 in his bunk. An autopsy provided to the Times from Scarano's family concluded that his death was an accident. At least one fellow soldier, however, reportedly warned Army physicians that Scarano was abusing his prescribed pain killer before he died. Scarano was on fentanyl, a drug far stronger than morphine, for a shoulder injury.
In the Times article, Scarano's mother, Christine Scarano-Baily of Eureka, says she believes her son's medical needs were neglected and that the Army is at fault for his death. The last time she saw him was during Christmas. In e-mails from Mathew Scarano to the father of a fellow soldier (which have been posted on michaelmoore.com) Scarano calls himself "a living symbol of the failure of the system." He goes on to talk about taking time to study psychology and literature in his free time. "Such pursuits are my only real escape from my dismal little reality, other than my medication. (I realize how the latter sounds but sadly it is true. It is my only real deliverance from the chronic, piercing and sometimes debilitating pain in my shoulder.)" According to his e-mail Scarano was at the rehabilitation program longer than most, spending just over a year there. He wrote that he had "no faith" in the Army medical system and that he wanted to have his shoulder operated upon by a civilian doctor.
The e-mail says that he was told that he would be disabled for life, but upon completing his own "rudimentary research" he believed that what he was told by Army doctors was not true. "I was lied to about surgery," he wrote, "as were many others, and it was brought to the attention of the Investigator-General that the medical community had been telling us that we face courts-martial or severe forms of non-judicial punishment if we declined the surgery suggested to us by the doctors here at Fort Sill." Scarano is the second soldier to die of an accidental overdose at Fort Sill's PTRP since 2004.
— Helen Sanderson
CLEAN IT UP: Larry Glass, owner of The Works record store in Old Town Eureka and spokesman for Citizens for Real Economic Growth, on Tuesday released results from a poll he instigated showing that 61 percent of Eureka voters don't think a big-box retail complex, as proposed by Rob and Cherie Arkley, is the best use of the contaminant-soaked, weed-bristling, former Union Pacific switching and maintenance yard known as the Balloon Track.
Glass says the telephone survey of "307 likely voters," conducted on May 10 and 11 by the firm Evans/McDonough, shows that voters "would much rather build an aquarium or a park with wetlands on the Balloon Track land." And, according to the poll, 58 percent of voters want the Balloon Track site "thoroughly cleaned up before anything is built on the property," as opposed to "containing the contaminants on the site by paving over it." Sixty percent of voters agreed that "stores like the Home Depot have a direct negative impact on local small businesses," says Glass.
Glass got the idea for the poll "around about Christmas-time," he says, following some discouraging waterfront development meetings, but it took him a while to gather money and find a firm to conduct it. "I realized this project was forever going to change the face of the waterfront and of the city," Glass says. "And yet, the city council was saying, `No, the city feels this way.' I really believed the council was mistaken."
But maybe not everyone in city government has been cheering on the Arkley proposal. On Monday, Eureka Mayor Peter La Vallee sent out a press statement heralding timely newspaper accounts of how Union Pacific is rolling in the dough. "The $35 BILLION railroad company ... has just released financial statements that show a net profit for the last quarter of $311 MILLION," shouted La Vallee. "That is more than $100 MILLION a month in profit, an increase of 143 [percent] over the same quarter last year! During the last three months, the value of their stock has also increased by 46 [percent] ... and the company added 5,000 new employees."
It is clear, said La Vallee, that the company suffers "no lack of money to implement a high level cleanup of toxic waste at the Balloon Track and it is clearly the responsibility of Union Pacific to do so." But, he said, the City of Eureka needs to hold U.P.'s feet to the fire, because he, too, has been hearing from the city's residents that they want a thorough cleanup of the site. And, judging by the figures, the cost of a cleanup "to the full extent of technical feasiblity" would constitute "a mere three days worth of earnings for the responsible party" — big bucks U.P.
So how about it, city? U.P.? Put those 5,000 new employees to work in Eureka?
— Heidi Walters
GREEN POWER: For the first time in recent memory, the election for seats on the local Green Party's steering committee has become a bitter and heated battle. County election officials cannot even remember the last time there was any competition between candidates, let alone one as divisive and emotional as the current race. The divide stems from conflicting opinions about where Humboldt's Green Party should stand on Measure T, which would forbid outside corporations from contributing to local political campaigns. The measure was put forward by Democracy Unlimited, a Eureka-based watchdog of corporate behavior that is often in step with Green Party ideals. But some members of the current steering committee feel the measure is unconstitutional and that it is against the values of the Green Party. Others are very supportive of Measure T and believe that most local Greens feel the same way. As June 6 approaches, committee consensus has hardly been reached.
Greg Allen, an incumbent on the steering committee who is running for re-election, has been vocal in his opposition to Measure T. He believes that the "slate of seven" committee candidates who support the measure have "chosen to divide the Green Party" and are trying "to get a monopoly on power in Humboldt County." He said that opposition to his views has turned into personal attacks and that other candidates are intolerant of dissent within the Green Party. "It started out with all sorts of defamatory statements, accusing me of having special interests, of being racist and against women suffrage the record is clear: These folks don't tolerate any sort of disagreement with their platform."
Hannah Clapsadle, who works for Democracy Unlimited and is also running for a seat on the Green steering committee, believes that Green Party members who oppose Measure T are "definitely" in the minority. She refutes the notion that she and the rest of the so-called slate of seven are trying to divide the party. "We need to be more accessible to the party as a whole," she said. "What I'm doing is the opposite of monopolizing power." She said a lack of participation and a weak infrastructure are the main issues dividing the party. "Just a few people have been doing most of the work and steering the party," she said. "They are not necessarily representing majority opinion."
Heidi Calton, another incumbent up for re-election is not among the slate of seven. But she agrees that party unity is in the best interest of everyone. "I hope whoever is elected will have people in mind, and not bring any personal issues into it," she said.
— Luke T. Johnson
story & photo by HEIDI WALTERS
The subject head on the e-mail that Brian Acord sent to Bigfoot Bicycle Club members on May 4, at 1:32 p.m., was chilling: "Truck ends my cycling days."
The day before, at 5:15 p.m., 36-year-old Acord, a wildlife graduate student who's researching the marbled murrelet, was riding his bicycle from Humboldt State University to meet up with his girlfriend, Krysta, who was riding her bike home from her job in McKinleyville. Acord and his girlfriend often bike (sometimes she runs) to work and school — and since it was May, Bike-to-Work Month, they were making an extra effort. They both had fairly recently gotten the "bike bug" and had been putting in 100- to 200-mile weeks. On April 30 they had ridden the Chico Wildflower Century for the first time, and they were planning to ride in the upcoming Tour of the Unknown Coast.
Left: Brian Acord shows where a catheter enters his belly to drain his bladder. A bike crash severed his urethra.
So Acord was riding north in the bike lane on Janes Road on his way to meet Krysta, and just as he was passing Mad River Hospital a big gold SUV ahead of him suddenly turned right into the hospital driveway, cutting him off. He swerved, barely avoiding getting hit, and slammed into a curb — the bike slammed into the soft tissue between his legs.
"I turned around and looked at the lady and what came next left me nearly speechless," Acord recalls. "She didn't ask if I was OK or anything. She said, `You should be more careful!'" and added: "`You shouldn't ride so fast!'"
Acord jimmied his bike into a gear that worked and rode the two miles home slowly, standing up because it hurt too much to sit. He figured he was just bruised — no biggie. At home he consoled himself with chips and salsa, trying to calm down, and worried about his busted-up bike. "After a few minutes I noticed my shorts were wet," he says. He went to the bathroom to change and "blood poured out all over the floor." He thought it was some minor cut, but once in the shower he discovered that the blood was coming from his penis — "a constant stream, not just a little bit of spotting." His girlfriend arrived and took him back to Mad River Hospital. There, after an injection and x-rays, a urologist told him his urethra had been severed.
"The ER doctors were shocked," he says. "They were all upset that the driver hadn't asked if I was OK. So they called the police." The police came, made a report. But nothing's come of it.
Acord spent the night in the hospital, then went home. Weeks later, he still sports the catheter the urologist inserted into a hole in his abdomen, just below his navel, to drain his bladder. It may be several weeks before he's relieved of it — or even more, if he has to have surgery to clear scar tissue from his urethra. On a sunny afternoon outside his green apartment off Alliance Road, the slight, dark-haired Acord lifted his loose white shirt to reveal the tube taped to the hole in his belly. With his untucked shirt down, he looks normal. But he wears his blue jeans unbuttoned — the tube's in the way, plus it hurts too much to have anything pressing against it. Ironically, he's wearing what he calls his "fat pants," which he grew too slim for months ago after he started riding his bike and lost nearly 30 pounds. The catheter is hooked to a tube that snakes down to a bag secured to his left thigh. His doctor warned him, he said, that he might never have another erection — but he's optimistic that won't be the case.
Acord's story triggered fury among fellow cyclists, as they recalled other recent car v. bicycle disasters: In November, 45-year-old cyclist John Dostal was T-boned by a car on Old Arcata Road near the Indianola Market. The car was at fault. Dostal suffered five broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a cut clear through the musculature to his collar bone from his shoulder getting caught on the roof of the car as he tumbled over it. "My collar bone isn't sitting well anymore," says Dostal. He suffers continual pain, and the $40,000-plus hospital and therapy bills — above and beyond the driver's minimum $15,000 coverage — have put a strain on his family. "It's been almost worse than the pain," he says.
In April, after already having been hit by a negligent car in Hawaii, local cyclist/bike commuter Ken House, 35, who averages 10,000 miles a year on his bike — usually without mishap — was struck by a car on Highway 101 as it pulled out from the Harper Ford dealership without noticing him. His rotator cuff was torn; the driver was at fault, and House is in a legal battle with him. (House recently rode 1,200 miles through New Zealand — there, he says, the only thing he was struck by was how extra-courteous motorists were toward cyclists.)
And just last Thursday, 26-year-old Kristin Kanaga, of Arcata, was riding her bicycle through the intersection of 9th and L streets at 5:54 p.m. when she was struck by a car driven by Carolyn Nelson, 31, of Arcata. Kanaga suffered moderate injuries, according to the Arcata Police Department. Nelson was arrested, charged with felony DUI and probation violation, and booked into Humboldt County jail.
Added to the usual rude beeps, crowding and yells from irate drivers, and the thousands of close calls every cyclist can recount, this was all too much. "Is it open season on cyclists now???" exclaimed one rider in an e-mail.
Well, that depends on where you're riding. According to the CHP, which compiles incident data from local law enforcement agencies, in 2004 there were 13 reported bike-car collisions in Arcata, and the car was at fault in eight of them. In 2005 (the data is not quite for a complete year), there were again 13 bike-car collisions; the car was at fault in nine of them. In Eureka, it's a different story. Of the 20 bike-car collisions in Eureka in 2004, 12 were the fault of the bicyclist. Of the 27 car-bike collisions in Eureka reported for most of 2005, 21 were the fault of the cyclist. And in unincorporated Humboldt County, of the 33 bike-car collisions in 2004 and 2005 combined, 22 were deemed bike-at-fault.
Inside Eureka police headquarters last Friday, Officer Wayne Cox asked, "You want to see some cool pictures?" He pointed to several disturbing photos pasted up in his office. In one, a man is folded upside down in a yoga-like position, legs over head, underneath a car that's been jacked up so rescuers can retrieve him. "He was riding the wrong way on a one-way street, on the sidewalk, and he ran into a car," said Cox. "He lived. He got cited, too."
Cox said he doesn't mean to imply that all cyclists are bad — heck, he rides a motorcycle for work every day, he knows what it's like out there, getting cut off by cars. "But just drive down to Old Town and you'll see swarms of transient-type people zig-zagging on bikes, back and forth, going the wrong way. The large percentage of the bicycling community here has no regard for the guidelines established in the California Vehicle Code."
Cyclists worry, however, that in the car-at-fault accidents, drivers are being let off easy. "We don't feel like we get the respect that we should for using a legitimate mode of transportation," says Scott Kelly, president of the Humboldt Bay Bicycle Commuters Association. He says that after Dostal's wreck on Old Arcata Road, his group invited District Attorney Paul Gallegos to one of its meetings. Gallegos obliged. "Gallegos, he was honest with us," Kelly says. "He told us, basically, unless he has a very strong case that he feels he can win in a jury trial, he won't prosecute." Most collisions result in citations for infractions. But Kelly says even a driver in a collision that killed a touring cyclist — an ex-cop — on Highway 101 near Fortuna a couple years ago wasn't charged.
Kelly says it would actually help if more citations were issued to cyclists blowing through stop signs and breaking other traffic laws — that, in turn, would improve cyclists' image. And raising public awareness — something the HBBCA has worked on for years — goes a long way, too.
Arcata Public Works Director Doby Class says the city is getting ready to launch a sign campaign, including ones warning cyclists not to ride against traffic. On hotspots like G Street, for instance, signs will tell wrong-way riders to head over to H Street. Signs on Bayside Road, where there's a pedestrian path, will make clear that cyclists have the right to use the full car lane. Also, planned widening of Old Arcata Road/Myrtle Avenue will improve that deadly stretch.
Acord, meanwhile, has been contacting cities with strong Share-the-Road campaigns: The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission has a good program (www.share-the-road.org). So does Marin County (www.malcomfoster.com). On Monday, Acord attended one of the Humboldt County Association of Governments' workshops on the county's draft regional transportation plan to suggest allocating money to a similar education campaign here, including public service announcements on TV and radio. His comments were well-received.
Even cyclists who've been banged up would not suggest people stop riding bicycles. Dostal's riding again, although he avoids Old Arcata Road now: "It's a great escape for me, and I like to be healthy," he says. Acord can't wait (but must) until he can use the new compact crank — good for steep hills — he'd ordered just an hour before his accident. House continues to lay down the miles, even though he says he realizes he's just "a seal in the ocean, and every day I'm surrounded by hundreds of great white sharks."
Bigfoot Bicycle Club member John Nagiecki, whose only bike accident was one in New York a couple decades ago that terminally scuffed his only good suit, says he hopes people will keep riding. Not only does it alleviate pain from high gasoline prices, it's good for you. "By and large, cyclists enjoy excellent health as long as someone doesn't knock them off the road," Nagiecki says.
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