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Archive for July, 2018

With recent developments, the number of pending criminal charges against David Jungerman has now thinned to the point that the only substantive case Missouri prosecutors have against him is the Thomas Pickert murder case.

At one time, it appeared the state had three strong felony cases against him:

— An attempted burglary in Nevada

— Shooting at or near a man he believed to have stolen pipe from him

— The Pickert case

Of course, the Pickert case is the big one, and all indications are that KCPD detectives presented Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker with an iron-clad case. Detectives gave Jungerman — who thinks he’s smart but is actually an idiot — a false sense of security by saying he wasn’t a suspect. Left to his own devices, Jungerman placed a noose around his neck by running his mouth, including into a running audio recorder.

Nevertheless, it’s disturbing to see the other two criminal cases against him slipping away.

First, in the spring, came the dismissal of the attempted burglary case. The Vernon County prosecutor gave no public reason for dismissing the case, but it dragged on for two years and was getting stale.

Then, last week the Jackson County prosecutor’s office dismissed two of three felony counts against Jungerman in connection with his March 8 confrontation of two people he believed had stolen pipe from his northeast Kansas City business. Jungerman chased the two in his truck and caught up with them at a metal recycling facility, where he pointed a handgun at both people — a man and a woman — and fired what he called a warning shot in the vicinity of the man.

The ironic part of that case is that Jungerman was on the phone with 911, reporting the theft and the confrontation, as it was unfolding…Like I said, he fancies himself smart.

As it turned out, the man Jungerman confronted is a longtime, petty thief and probably had stolen the pipe. He — “the victim” — is facing charges unrelated to the Jungerman case, and, as I understand it, the prosecutor’s office was unwilling to offer him any concessions in return for his prospective testimony against Jungerman.

Faced with an uncooperative lead witness, the prosecutor’s office dismissed two of the three felony charges against Jungerman, leaving just one felony charge of exhibiting a weapon and a misdemeanor assault charge.

As a result, where Jungerman once faced the prospect of up to 22 years in prison in that case, he now faces only two to four years on the remaining felony charge. In addition, the case, which had been scheduled to go to trial today, has been continued to next April.

…The way the stolen-pipe case is developing — maybe I should say collapsing — I fear it will ultimately go the way of the Nevada, MO, case.

The stolen-pipe case won’t really matter, provided that the murder case doesn’t start taking on water. Jungerman is still being held without bond, and there’s no prospect of him getting out on bond, as far as I can tell. (He’s worth up to $33 million, but all his millions and all his farm land are not helping him a bit now.)

Despite the fact that the murder case has shown no signs of cracking, I felt a lot better when Jungerman was boxed in by what appeared to be three strong felony cases. Now it’s down to one major felony case, and, as the Nevada and stolen-pipe cases have shown, you never know what’s going to happen with criminal cases.

All we can do — “we” who want to see justice served — is keep our fingers crossed that the state’s case will hold up and that Jungerman will be convicted of gunning down an innocent man in his front yard last October after walking his two young sons to school.

This is one “wise guy” who can never again be out on the streets.

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Another day and another tortured clarification/correction in The Star.

With good reason, The Star is promoting on its website its full coverage of last week’s “duck” disaster in Branson. As I said in my last post, The Star has done an excellent job on the story, throwing at least half of its metro staff at it. Today, however, it ran a clarification that can only be described as maddening.

For decades, The Star has had a stupid policy of not repeating, in corrections and clarifications, the original error or problematic wording.

What this does is leave readers scratching their heads and wondering exactly what the paper got wrong in the first place.

And maybe that’s what The Star wants: to plant seeds of confusion in order to airbrush the original sin.

…Let’s break this down by printing today’s clarification and then working backwards to the original sin.

Here goes…

“An article in the July 21 edition on a federal agency’s warnings about duck boats like the one that sank at Table Rock Lake should have clarified that Ripley Entertainment bought the Ride the Ducks operation in 2017.”

…Now, I’ll bet those of you who didn’t see this “clarification” earlier are wondering what impression the Saturday story left that warranted this.

Wouldn’t that be helpful to the reader?

And, hey, isn’t that part of what a newspaper is supposed to do — un-complicate things?

So, I went back to the Saturday story about warnings issued by the National Transportation Safety Board regarding duck boats, and I found the part that triggered the clarification. Here’s the key paragraph…

“Ride the Ducks would open in Philadelphia, and a year later, Herschend Family Entertainment would become Ride the Ducks’ sole owner. Herschend Family Entertainment was founded by Jack and Pete Herschend, the creators of Silver Dollar City in the Ozarks.”

The story does not mention Ripley.

Sooooo, what The Star is ostensibly clarifying today is the fact that Saturday’s story left the impression that Herschend Family Entertainment is the current owner of Ride the Ducks.

I guess it’s asking too much of The Star to clarify — really clarify — the point by simply saying…

“An article in the July 21 edition on a federal agency’s warnings about duck boats like the one that sank at Table Rock Lake left the impression that Herschend Family Entertainment owns the Ride the Ducks operation in Branson. However, another operator, Ripley Entertainment, bought the operation in 2017.”

Just like that, The Star could have explained the problem with the original story and, at the same time, set the record unequivocally straight. Instead, it chose, as it has for years, to tiptoe around the problem and, in the process, further cloud the skies.

This decades-old approach to clarifications and corrections is, simply, ridiculous. Common sense should dictate adopting a system that clarifies what needs to be clarified and corrects what needs to be corrected. All in all, the paper’s screwy policy seems, to me, to spring from the old adage, “If you can’t convince them, confuse them.”

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Once again The Star flexed its journalistic muscle — as only it can, locally — on a big, breaking story, throwing most of its metro reporting staff at the duck boat sinking at Table Rock Lake.

Today’s print edition contained four lengthy stories, each with multiple bylines and exploring different dimensions of the story. One story revolved around the storm warning that had been issued before the boat went out on the lake; another was devoted to the 17 victims who died; a third explored the sketchy history of duck boats; and the fourth featured interviews with people aboard the Showboat Branson Belle, which was docked near the scene of the sinking Thursday night.

On its website today, The Star has two new stories containing surprising information: First, no one on the boat was wearing a “safety device” (presumably a life jacket), and, second, the captain of the duck boat released the canopy from the boat as it was sinking, probably preventing more people from dying.

(I had no idea the canopies could be released.)

Of course, this was a national story, and several newspapers, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, sent reporters to the scene.

The Times’ decision to have a reporter, John Eligon, based in Kansas City, paid big dividends. He, with the assistance of several other reporters, had the single most descriptive story of any I read. (More about that in a bit.)

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch sent reporters to the scene and focused part of its coverage on a St. Louis County couple — the only victims from either the St. Louis or Kansas City areas — on the boat.

The closest relatively large city to the disaster, of course, was Springfield. The Springfield News-Leader, which is part of the Gannett chain — the largest newspaper chain in the country — sent reporters, but its coverage seemed choppy and disorganized, like a lot of Gannett news coverage.

For example, the lead headline on the News-Leader’s website this afternoon said, “List: Everyone on Branson duck boat that sank,” as if the story contains the identities of everyone on board. But the story only gives the genders, ages and states of residence for the 14 survivors.

One of the oddest things I noticed about the various newspapers’ coverage was that a staff reporter for the Tulsa World — Reece Ristau — wrote the Washington Post story that led that paper’s coverage earlier today. A tag line at the end of that story identified Ristau as a freelance journalist. Compounding that curiosity, Tulsa is only about three and a half hours away from Branson, but the Tulsa World did not do any firsthand coverage, relying primarily on the Associated Press for coverage.

Ristau

All I can deduce from the Reece Ristau shuffle — from Tulsa World to WaPo — is that his workday had concluded at the World and he then rushed over to Branson after being contacted by The Post…He’s doing more work for The Post on the story today, but The Post is no longer identifying him as a freelancer. In fact, they’re not identifying him at all.

**

Adler

The Star’s story about the Branson Belle passengers’ accounts was the most descriptive of The Star’s four stories in today’s printed edition. Veteran reporters Eric Adler and Laura Bauer spoke with people who gave graphic accounts of the disaster.

A 20-year-old man who witnessed the sinking told The Star, “People were swimming. You could see life vests floating around.” A 15-year-old girl was quoted as saying, “There was a lot of screaming.”

The only thing that was missing in that story was how far the Branson Belle was from the duck boat when it went down. It couldn’t have been very far because one witness told the reporters that the high wind “pushed bodies against the hull of the Belle.”

Leave it to The New York Times, however, to give the most dramatic account.

Eligon’s print-edition, which ran on the front page today, began like this:

“The image from Table Rock Lake that onlookers say they will never forget is the heads, one after another, bobbing in the wild, darkened water.

“One would pop up on the surface and then disappear. There were so many of them amid the pounding waves — there one moment, and then gone.”

The story concluded by centering on the pivotal issue of the life jackets — which were available on an overhead shelf but apparently ignored for the most part.

Eligon interviewed a 20-year-old man who helped pull people out of the water in the immediate aftermath. The man told Eligon not one of the victims he came in contact with was wearing a life jacket.

Eligon’s last sentence began with a quote from the rescuer and ended with a telling description of his demeanor.

“I don’t want to say 100 percent, but it’s really hard to drown with a life jacket” he said, pausing as he stared silently at the ground.

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I’ll tell you a story about “duck rides.”

Patty and I used to go to Hot Springs, Ark., for the horse racing at Oaklawn Park, and we continued going after our children, daughter Brooks and son Charlie, were born in 1988 and 1989.

There’s a lot to do in Hot Springs besides going to the track, including walking and hiking in the Ouachita Mountains and enjoying the many bars, restaurants and retail stores along gently-curving Central Avenue downtown.

Another popular attraction has been the “duck rides,” in the amphibious vehicles, like the one that went down yesterday in Branson, taking the lives of 17 people, ranging in age form 1 to 70.

I never was much interested in the duck rides, which start downtown, then dip down into nearby Lake Hamilton, cruise around and then return downtown. The duck rides were — and possibly still are — big business in Hot Springs. Back then, two or three companies offered rides, and they competed aggressively, with carnival-type barkers buttonholing passers-by and making their pitches.

For some reason, on one visit when the kids were about 7 or 8, I think, we decided to take a duck ride. I don’t remember what it cost (there’s something else I didn’t remember, and I’ll get to that in a minute), but my most vivid memory is that when we were nearing the water, the driver/captain casually announced that life jackets were available if anyone wanted one.

I’ve always been safety conscious, especially around water (got it from my father), and I went to the shelves where the life jackets were stacked up. It appeared to me that none of those jackets had been used in months. They were covered with dust and so tightly wedged together it was difficult to dislodge from their holding place.

I got four, dusted them off as best I could and distributed them to Patty, Brooks and Charlie. I think we all put them on. I know I did because I remember to this day being irritated because smudges from the dusty jackets got onto my pants.

At any rate, the boat proceeded into the lake, and we drove around on the lake for 15 to 20 minutes without incident, before getting back on land and returning downtown.

Two or three years later, I was shocked to hear and read about the first big duck-boat disaster. Thirteen passengers, including three children, drowned on May 1, 1999, when a duck boat named Miss Majestic went down in Lake Hamilton.

Miss Majestic, after being pulled out of Lake Hamilton, near Hot Springs, Ark., in May 1999

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the boat started to go under seven minutes after entering the water. One passenger escaped before the boat submerged. Everyone else was trapped under the vehicle’s canopy roof. Six of those who were trapped were able to escape and swim to the surface, and boaters came to the rescue.

Obviously, all four of us recoiled at hearing that account and felt a retrospective sense of great relief that the “duck” we had ridden a few years earlier had stayed afloat.

Needless to say, none of us has ever ridden a “duck” since — and never would.

**

Now to the other thing I had forgotten about that day in the mid- to late-1990s.

Brooks, now 30, sent me a text from her workplace this morning, saying: “I ALWAYS KNEW THOSE DUCK BOATS WERE  BAD NEWS…Remember when I tried to hide in the bathroom so you wouldn’t make me go on it!?!!!”

I told her I did not remember that but reminded her about breaking out the dust-covered life preservers.

She texted back, “I was so scared I almost threw up in the bathroom and tried to stay in there so that it would leave without me, and you guys would get off.”

It sure sounded like something Brooks would have done. She’s always been squeamish about amusement park rides and such. I recall a time at Silver Dollar City when Patty, Charlie and I got on a ride, and Brooks remained in a waiting area so she could avoid going on the ride. We went on without her and retrieved her afterwards.

I have two thoughts today: May God be with the families of those 17 people who died on Table Rock Lake yesterday and… it’s time to ban those damn duck boats.

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Rewind to Oct. 25, 2017, the day Kansas City lawyer Thomas Pickert was murdered while talking on his cell phone in his front yard.

That evening I wrote the first of many stories I have written about David Jungerman, the likely killer. I concluded that story by saying Jungerman was a “right-wing, fuckin’ nut job.”

Well, we might be finding out soon if the 80-year-old Jungerman actually has a mental disorder or if he’s just a “nut job” in the sense that he recognizes no societal norms or the rule of law.

Earlier this month, a Jackson County Circuit Court judge, acting on a request filed by defense attorneys and not opposed by the state, ordered a series of medical tests, including evaluating his “neurological and cognitive functioning.”

The results of those tests should be coming back early next month. Jungerman has claimed, among other things, that he suffered a brain injury when he fell and struck his head on a concrete floor late in 2016. During a civil trial last year — the one in which he lost a $3.75 million verdict to a man he had shot and Pickert was representing — he claimed to have impaired recollection and ability to communicate.

The judge in the case, Joel P. Fahnestock, retorted, “I’ve seen zero evidence of that.”

Jungerman, at a May court hearing

My own opinion is Jungerman suffers from delusions of grandeur but knew exactly what he was doing the morning of Oct. 25. I say he suffers from delusions of grandeur because it helps explain why he has shot several people over the last few decades and believes he was totally justified in each case. (He has admitted to shooting four people but has denied killing Pickert.)

I’ve covered a lot of criminal court proceedings over the years, and the chances of the judge in the murder case finding Jungerman mentally incompetent to stand trial are next to zero.

Oh, and you might be interested to know that Jungerman, a multi-millionaire, is picking up the tab for the tests; they’re not on us taxpayers.

**

I found out about the order for medical tests by going to the courthouse and poring over the most recent entries in the case file, which is a matter of public record. (The status of the case and major developments can be found on the Missouri courts website, but you have to go to the courthouse and have a clerk log you into the system if you want to see the orders and actual filings.)

Another interesting thing I found is that the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office has listed 57 possible witnesses, including a dozen of more detectives, officers and police technicians. The only names that really jumped out at me were Emily Riegel, Pickert’s wife, who came closest to actually witnessing the shooting, and a man named Leo Wynne, a longtime employee of Jungerman.

The state has Wynne boxed in. As we learned a couple of months ago, the state has a recording of Jungerman confessing to murdering “that son of a bitch.” When he said that, he was speaking with another man, who, I’m almost certain, is Wynne.

So, Wynne is in the position of admitting Jungerman told him he had killed Pickert or lying and then probably being charged with perjury.

Wynne, I believe, will wisely decide to save his own skin and agree to testify against his boss. He may already have agreed to do so.

Besides the Olympus audio recorder, other items detectives confiscated after getting a search warrant for Jungerman’s Raytown home and his northeast Kansas City business include:

— A handwritten note bearing the words “murder,” “threats,” and “10-25-17.”

— A handwritten piece of paper bearing the words “Inside the Brookside Murder”

— A manila folder, with material inside, labeled “The Pickert Murder Scandal.”

— A black mask; two khaki and navy-colored jackets; and 31 pairs of khaki pants.

Thirty-one pairs of khakis!

I guess when you’re a multimillionaire you can afford to have a different pair of khakis for every day of the longest months of the year.

…The case is scheduled to go to trial Feb. 25, 2019.

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What’s happening? A lot. Check it out…

**

:: From both a humanistic and community-image standpoint, the killing of UMKC student Sharath Koppu was the worst crime that has occurred in the Kansas City area since the February 2017 killing of Srinivas Kuchibhotla at Austins Bar & Grill in Olathe.

Not only were both men from India, they were, apparently, very smart, and at least one of them, Kuchibhotla, a Garmin engineeer, was further enriching our area by having chosen to live here.

Koppu

Kuchibhotla and his wife

On the other end of the guns, in both cases, were total losers — one a narrow-minded bigot, the other a 25-year-old import from Tulsa who seemingly had dedicated his life to violent crime. At least that turd is now dead.

To look at the contented and peaceful photos of those two victims breaks the heart. On the other hand, the photos of cold-eyed Marlin Mack, who killed Koppu, and vacant-eyed Adam Purinton, who killed Kuchibhotla, turns the stomach.

Mack

Purinton

What terrible losses we have incurred with those two deaths, not even counting the other innocents who have been gunned down on our mean streets between those murders.

And then there’s the image part. The headline on a Kansas City Star editorial last week told that part of the story in a few plain words: “Fatal shooting of UMKC student from India tells the world KC is dangerous”

What a reputation to try to live down…And there’s not much hope on the horizon, considering the level of violent crime we have lived with for decades.

**

The centerpiece story in today’s paper was about the hours’ long wait Johnson County residents have been enduring to get or renew drivers’ licenses.

The irony, to me, is this sort of thing isn’t supposed to be happening in La-La-Land. It’s supposed to be happening across the state line in Missouri, a state that a lot of those now having trouble getting licenses abandoned because they were either afraid they’d be killed over here (see preceding segment) or because they were looking for good public schooling for their children (understood).

The thing that most amazed me was that according to the story, written by the very talented and experienced Lynn Horsley, Johnson County has only two license bureaus — one in Mission and one in Olathe. I would have guessed there’d be several. Among them, Jackson, Clay and Platte counties have at least 15 motor vehicle and license offices. I don’t think I’ve ever had to wait more than an hour.

One of Kansas government’s main problems is that it seems to continuously change systems at many levels in the sole interest of saving money. My sister-in-law, a Kansas resident until recently, said the Revenue Department used to have an online check-in and text-alert system that was very efficient and allowed customers to go about their business until they got an alert that their time in line was approaching. Then, they could return to the license bureau or request more time.

Horsley addressed that issue in her story…She quoted Department of Revenue spokesperson Rachel Whitten as saying that system is no longer available. To quote Horsley: “She (Whitten) said a new wait management system was selected in February 2017, but the person who made that decision is no longer with the agency. No one currently with the agency knows why that change was made.”

Holy shit…Talk about paving paradise and putting up a parking lot!

My advice, then, to Johnson County residents whose children have completed their matriculation (like my sister-in-law) is: Move back to Missouri. It’s a better state, even with stain left by former Gov. Eric Greitens and the limited abilities of the current governor, “Farmer Mike” Parson.

If I were living in Kansas, Kris Kobach would be reason enough for me to pick up and leave. But to have to wait four hours to get your driver’s license renewed? That’s a deal breaker.

**

And now, sliding into my cape and donning my turban…here’s a “Carnac the Magnificent” nugget.

Answer: It loses big.

Question: What’s your prediction on the outcome of Missouri Proposition A on the Aug. 7 Missouri election ballot?

Oftentimes, you can tell from the number and placement of political yard signs if a candidate is going to win or lose, or if a ballot issue is going to pass or fail.

Proposition 7, the so-called “Right-to-Work” issue, is headed for defeat. Like me, I’m sure you’ve seen those black, red and white “Vote No on Prop A” signs.

What most impresses me is that there are large numbers of those signs in both the city and outlying areas. That tells me not only will almost all Democrats vote “No” but so will many conservatives who voted for Trump.

…I learned a lesson about yard signs in the Trump-Clinton election. Before I got tired of the drive, I used to go down to Pleasant Hill three or four days a week to play golf, and when on Missouri 291, I would see one Trump sign after another. At the time, I waved it off as mostly an aberration. But then, on election night, I saw bright red splashing across most of the United States and realized that what I’d seen on 291 was representative of rural areas throughout the country.

On Aug. 7, in Missouri, urban and rural voters will be going to the polls — maybe not arm in arm — to smack down Prop 7.

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In city politics, this is the season — less than a year before the next elections — when collegiality degenerates into crustiness and backscratching yields to backstabbing.

There’s plenty of friction among several council members these days, particularly between two of the five who are running for mayor — Councilman Scott Taylor and Councilman Scott Wagner.

You might have read that Taylor recently introduced a controversial “ethics ordinance.” Among other things, the ordinance would eliminate all but token gifts to council members; would extend from one to two years a “revolving door” regulation barring former city officials from doing business at City Hall; and would limit council travel to two trips per four-year term.

It also calls for the full council to approve all council members’ travel requests. As it is, the mayor pro tem — Wagner — approves council members’ travel requests. When Wagner wants to take a city-financed trip, he must get approval from the mayor’s office.

Within the past 10 months, Wagner has taken city-financed trips to China, Germany and Poland, which could make him vulnerable to charges of extravagant travel.

At last week’s council meeting, Taylor and Wagner engaged in a testy exchange, and afterwards The Star’s City Hall reporter, Bill Turque, requested travel records for every council member during the current term, which dates to 2015.

So, I think we can expect to see a substantive story on the subject in the coming days or weeks, and the result is likely to be that Wagner will have some explaining to do.

**

Taylor

Taylor, undoubtedly, introduced the ordinance with the goal of advancing his own political career while damaging the prospects of others. Taking it a step further, he may well have had Wagner in mind when he proposed the travel-related changes because he might view Wagner as the biggest threat to beating him out of a spot in the June 2019 general election.

The city primary election will be held next April, and, as I wrote last month, the vote is going to be widely dispersed if all nine candidates currently in the hunt remain in the race.

Everyone thinks the most recent entrant into the race, Jason Kander, will probably win the primary and that the second spot will be up for grabs. That’s the spot the other eight contestants are focusing on because once the race is down to two people, the media attention and fundraising will tend to even out.

Taylor is a strong contender for the second spot, based primarily on the fact that he has raised a lot of money. Wagner is also a strong contender for the second spot, based on the facts that he is the only Northland resident in the race and is very popular there. Among all nine candidates, he is positioned to win the biggest chunk of any particular, large geographic area.

So, it wouldn’t surprise me if Taylor had Wagner in mind when he drafted the travel-related proposals in his ordinance.

Wagner

Last week, I spoke with Wagner about this, and he acknowledged it could put him on the defensive. “I knew a story like this could come out,” he said.

When I asked him if he thought Taylor was directing the travel dimension of the ordinance at him, Wagner tried to brush it aside, saying, “You can get a headache that way” — that is, worrying about being targeted.

Taylor’s main motivation, he said, probably was trying to establish “some political separation” between himself and the other council members, particularly the other mayoral candidates on the council.

Wagner defended his relatively extensive travel record, saying, “If we are a global city, we’d better act like it; you can’t do it by phone. To create relationships, you have to do it one on one.”

**

While Wagner may be able to mount a strong rationale for his international travel (he told me the number of trips he has paid for out of his own pocket outstrips the number he has taken on taxpayer money), political travel has long been a sore spot with many voters, who tend to regard most trips as junkets.

“Junket” is a nasty word in politics, and when one politician can effectively stick it on a competitor, it can be very damaging. Before this is all over, Scott Wagner might wish he had spent more time in the Northland and less overseas.

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