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Posts Tagged ‘Zach Myers’

I know…’tis the season to be jolly. But it’s hard for me to be jolly when I see what my old employer, The Kansas City Star, is up to these days.

Or isn’t up to, to be more precise.

In recent days, two stories that The Star has chosen not to do have really surprised and disappointed me.

Take a look.

:: On Sunday, The Star ran a long obituary on former Jackson County politician Charles E. Curry, who died Dec. 13 in Key Largo, FL. He was 92.

I looked for a news story that day, but there was none. I wrote a blog on Curry that day and fully expected a news story in The Star on Monday. But nothing. Nothing again Tuesday, nothing Wednesday and nothing today, Thursday.

To me, the oversight (and slight) is inexcusable and reflects the poorest of news judgment.

Charles E. Curry

Charlie Curry was a giant in Jackson County politics. He, along with the two other administrative “judges” who ran Jackson County from 1962 to 1970, ushered in perhaps the greatest era in county history.

A $102-million bond issue that his court put to voters (and which voters approved in 1967) gave us the Truman Sports Complex, a modern Truman Medical Center, the Little Blue Valley Sewer District, upgraded juvenile facilities and expansion and improvement of the parks system, among other things.

Then, his court approved the creation of a Jackson County Charter Commission. The commission drew up a proposed home-rule charter, which voters approved in 1970, the last year Curry served.

The charter, which took effect Jan. 1, 1973, replaced the three-judge administrative court with a county executive and county legislature and instituted a merit system of employment. Since 1973, Jackson County has been much more professionally run, with less patronage and more accountability by elected officials.

Curry was a quiet but effective operator. His successor, on the other hand, George W. Lehr — the first “county executive” under the new system of government — was blessed with a big personality and the ability to fill reporters’ notebooks, and he quickly capitalized on the spotlight cast on the fledgling “charter” government.

He capitalized so well that was able to get himself elected state auditor in 1974, two years after becoming county executive. In about 1978, he left politics and took a cushy job as executive director of the Teamsters Central States Health and Welfare Fund in Chicago.

Why do I bring up Lehr, whom I covered during my seven years as county courthouse reporter, from 1971 to 1978?

Because when Lehr died of a brain tumor in March 1988, The Star gave him a front-page send-off. I remember it well because my first child, a daughter, had been born on March 17, and I was called in from paternity leave to write the story.

Spring forward to the present. Now, we have the death of Charlie Curry, who did immeasurably more for Jackson County than Lehr did, and what does The Star do? Nothing. Not a word, besides the family-paid-for obit.

On Tuesday, I sent an e-mail to Managing Editor Steve Shirk, saying:  “Have you decided, God forbid, that Charlie Curry’s death does not merit a news story?”

I haven’t received a response. Well, maybe Steve isn’t working this week. Maybe he’s ducking me. Maybe he’s afraid of an “anti-Star blogger,” as readers representative Derek Donovan has labeled me.

Or maybe he’s ashamed…I hope that’s it.

:: God knows, I’ve already stirred up enough dust reporting the Zach Myers story, but a bit more has to be said.

Zach was the 16-year-old Lenexa boy who died Dec. 2 as a result of injuries he received in a head-on collision a day earlier in Olathe. A police report released on Tuesday said the car in which he was riding was traveling at least 51 miles an hour when it collided with a car being driven by a 20-year-old woman.

The Star had one, and only story, about the wreck. It ran on Saturday, Dec. 4, and reported, essentially, that Zach was one of three boys in the car; that the crash took place shortly before 10:30 a.m. in the 600 block of Iowa Street; and that none of the other people involved in the crash was seriously injured.

The story did not attempt to explain:

–Why the boys were out of school on a Wednesday morning.
–Where they were going.
–Who was driving.
–If speed was involved.
–If Iowa is a residential street or major thoroughfare.
–If the boys or the woman were wearing seatbelts.
–Where the boys were seated in the car.
–What type of injuries Zach suffered.
–If toxicology tests were being conducted.

It didn’t even say that police were investigating. As feeble and vacant as the story was, The Star should have written a two- or three-paragraph brief and let it go at that, instead of writing a relatively long story, with a photo, that agitated reader interest but provided no answers. 

I have written four stories about the case (see blog entries for Dec. 6, 9, 15 and 21) and have given a complete account of the tragedy. I have also been the object of considerable criticism from people who think I imposed on the Myers family and that I went overboard on coverage.

To the critics, I say, fine. If you’re not interested in the case, don’t read about it. To those readers who wanted to know more and supported me in the reporting effort, I thank you. 

To The Star, I say: Shame on you for abdicating your responsibility to make any effort to report the circumstances of the wreck — circumstances that show how easily the tragedy could have been avoided and how important it is for parents to impress on their children the proper use of seatbelts and the inherent risks of speeding.

The many self-respecting reporters and editors at The Star should be embarrassed at their paper’s ineptitude on the Curry and Myers stories.

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The vehicle in which 16-year-old Zach Myers was riding when he suffered mortal injuries on North Iowa Street two weeks ago was a borrowed car, Olathe police said today.

Sgt. Johnny Roland, public information officer for the police department, said he had heard that the driver of the car — a classmate of Zach — did not own the car. Roland said he did not know that for sure, but he made no attempt to otherwise qualify his statement. 

Roland said he knew nothing more about the ownership of the car, but he said the official police report of the Dec. 1 crash would address the ownership, when the report is completed and made public.

On Dec. 6, a friend with inside information about the case, told me that people who had visited the Myers family while Zach was in the hospital had reported that the car had been borrowed. The friend also quoted friends of the Myerses as saying that the car had been exceeding the speed limit and that Zach might not have been wearing his seat belt properly.  

The fact that the car was borrowed could indicate nothing, or it could be pivotal. For example — and this is just my speculation — the driver might not have been familiar with the car, or the driver might have been less inclined to observe the 25 mph speed limit while driving someone else’s car.

Again, that’s just theorizing, but it’s a point worth considering, in my opinion, especially in the absence of an explanation from police.

The answers to what happened and how on Dec. 1 could help other people avoid similar circumstances in the future. It also could lead to many child-parent discussions about the importance of wearing seat belts properly and heeding speed limits.

Kathleen McElliott, an Iowa Street resident who got to the scene moments after the crash, said last week she believed that, based on the damage to the cars and the seriousness of Zach’s injuries, excessive speed was a factor in the head-on collision. While she did not witness the crash, she said she thought that at least one of the cars had to have been speeding. 

In addition, McElliott said that while blood was on the belt part of Zach’s seatbelt, there was no blood on the shoulder strap, indicating that the harness might not have been fastened around his torso.

Zach was seated behind the driver of the northbound vehicle, which McElliott described as a grey Hyundai Elantra. The third boy in the car was in the front passenger seat. The boys apparently were on their way that Wednesday morning to Olathe Northwest High School, having left the Millcreek Center career and technical school in downtown Olathe.

The driver of the southbound car, a small red vehicle, was a 20-year-old woman who is pregnant, police have said.

None of the other three people involved in the crash was seriously injured. The woman’s air bag deployed. McElliott said she did not notice whether the air bags deployed in the front seat of the car Zach was in.

McElliott said Zach was struggling to breathe when she got to the car. She learned later that he had suffered a severe, internal brain injury. She said she wanted to try to help him but followed instructions from a 911 operator to wait for emergency responders.

“I would really like to know the official cause of death,” McElliott said this afternoon. “I won’t feel satisfied until I see on paper that I couldn’t have done more.”

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Eight days have passed since the head-on car crash that resulted in the death of 16-year-old Zach Myers, a junior at Olathe Northwest High School.

And the public is still without an official explanation regarding the circumstances of the crash, which occurred on a narrow residential street about a mile north of a downtown trade school where Zach took some classes.

So, taking up where I left off on Monday — trying to get answers about this tragedy — I spent part of Wednesday surveying the crash scene and interviewing neighbors.

But first, here’s the latest from Sgt. Johnny Roland, public information officer for the Olathe Police Department. Roland said Wednesday afternoon that he did not expect the traffic unit’s report to be ready at least until next week, and perhaps later. (When it is finished, it will be a matter of public record.)

“There’s tons of data and information to gather,” Roland said, adding that it was “not uncommon” for a fatality investigation to take two or more weeks.

He said he did not know if toxicology tests were being conducted on any of the three survivors —  the two boys that Zach was with and the 20-year-old woman who was driving the other car. No one was seriously injured besides Zach, who suffered a head injury. 

The head-on collision occurred shortly before 10:30 a.m. Dec. 1 in the 600 block of North Iowa Street. Zach was in the back seat of what a neighbor said was a grey Hyundai Elantra, which was northbound, apparently headed from the technical school to Olathe Northwest on College Boulevard. 

The woman, southbound toward downtown, was driving a small red car, the neighbor said.

Everyone involved in the crash apparently was wearing a seatbelt, including Zach. 

The neighbor who described the cars, 35-year-old Kathleen McElliott, said she heard the crash and thought that her parked vehicle had been struck. She hurried outside, while her domestic partner was on the phone with a 911 operator. When McElliott looked inside the boys’ car, Zach was struggling to breathe. At that point, the belt was off Zach, she said, but she noticed that blood was on the lap part of the belt. “It looked like he was (had been) wearing at least the lap part of the seat belt,” she said.

She saw no blood on the shoulder harness, however, raising the possibility that that part of the belt was not around Zach’s torso at the time of the crash.

McElliott said she did not remember or notice if air bags deployed in the boys’ car but that the air bag in the woman’s car did deploy.  

Zach did not have an open head wound, McElliott said, adding that an emergency medical technician who was at the scene and visited her house a day or two later told her that his injuries were internal.

McElliott said she strongly suspected that excessive speed was a factor. The posted speed limit on that part of Iowa is 25 mph.

“It’s my opinion that at least one of them (the drivers) — I don’t know who — had to be speeding,” McElliott said. “There’s no way that a collision at 25 miles per hour would take a life.”

Like everyone else who has come in close contact with the case, McElliott said her heart went out to the Myers family. “I am deeply sorry for their loss,” she said. “Our kids to go school with them (the boys who were involved.)”

Wednesday, looking south on Iowa

The crash occurred on a section of Iowa that is two lanes, divided by intermittent yellow lines, and where Iowa curves and rises slightly. At the crash site, narrow gouges are visible in the street on both sides of the yellow line. The roadway had been cleaned with a solution that left a large, bleached-out-looking spot in the road.

McElliott said that on the morning of the crash, a large truck was parked on the west side of the street and that the woman who was southbound in the red car could have been trying to navigate around the truck. 

McElliott said a lot of drivers exceed the speed limit on Iowa. Indeed, as I was interviewing another neighbor, a car sped by at 45 miles an hour or more. “That’s part of the problem,” said the man I was talking to at his front door.

McElliott said that although she did not know Zach, she is haunted by the incident. “I wish I could have done something more,” she said.

The reason she didn’t, she said, is that the 911 operator had told her partner — who, in turn, had told McElliott — not to move him and to wait for emergency responders to arrive.

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Zach Myers’ soft, beckoning smile jumped out at readers from Page 8 of Saturday’s Kansas City Star.

The vitality of that smile — the glimmer in those happy eyes — stood in stark, awful contrast, however, to the news that accompanied the photo: Myers, a 16-year-old junior at Olathe Northwest High School, had died from injuries he suffered in a car crash last Wednesday.

Zach

The story, which did not bear a by-line, said Zach had been in a vehicle with two other boys; that a head-on collision had occurred on Iowa Street in Olathe about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 1; that neither of the other boys nor the woman driving the other vehicle suffered serious injuries 

The story said that Zach, in addition to being a student at Northwest High, attended the Millcreek Center, a career and technical school in Olathe. The story quoted a statement from the district that described Zach as a well-liked student “with a caring heart whose wit and charm touched many lives.”

As far as it went, the story was satisfactory. But it left so many questions unanswered. 

Not just unanswered, but, worse, apparently unasked.

As a former reporter, as a parent, as a curious human being, I wanted to know more. 

For example, were the boys in school that day? And, if so, why were they out driving on the street at 10:30 a.m.? Where, exactly, did the crash occur? Was speed a factor? Were drugs or alcohol involved? Did one of the vehicles cross over into the path of the other? Were the occupants of both vehicles wearing seatbelts?

The Star’s story addressed none of those questions. 

It’s not every day that the life of a beaming, 16-year-old student is snuffed out in the Kansas City area, and when it does happen, in my view, it deserves more than a cursory story from the area’s leading news-gathering force.

Readers should expect a lot more than what they got on Page 8 of Saturday’s paper.

So, I set out to expand the record and set it as straight as I could. Here’s what I did and what I found. 

:: I checked the school calendar, which indicated school was in session that day.

:: I called the school district public relations office to verify that school was in session and to try to find out why the boys might have been out on the streets. I was told that the district spokesperson was not in but that someone else would call me. That was about 9 a.m. I haven’t heard back.

:: I went to Mapquest and discovered that Iowa Street is a north-south street that runs from Santa Fe, near downtown Olathe, to just south of 119th Street, west of Woodland.

:: I called the police department and spoke with Sgt. Johnny Roland, police spokesman. 

Roland said he believed the boys were on their way from Millcreek Center, near downtown Olathe, to Northwest, which is about five miles from Millcreek, at College Boulevard and South Lone Elm. He said Iowa, a logical route for the trip north, was a two-lane street, where cars parked on either side.  

Roland said the crash was under investigation and that he had not seen a report. Knowing the street, he said he could understand how a head-on crash could happen there, but he said he didn’t know if either vehicle crossed over.

He also said he did not know what kind of car the boys were in; if Zach or the other boys — or the woman driving the other vehicle — were wearing seatbelts; and if excessive speed was a factor. When I asked him if drugs or alcohol were involved, he said, “I don’t believe so.”

:: I called the Myers’ home in Lenexa. At first, I spoke with Zach’s mother, Kimberly Myers. I explained to her who I was and what I was doing, extended my sympathy and asked her if she was willing to talk about the crash. Before turning the phone over to her husband, John, she told me that Zach had been in the back seat of the vehicle and that he had been wearing a seatbelt.

When John Myers, a 21-year- veteran of the Olathe Fire Department, got on the line, I again offered my sympathy and explained who I was and why I was calling. We talked — amicably, I thought — for about five minutes.

He said all three boys were wearing seatbelts and that the other two suffered only scrapes and bruises. Like Sgt. Roland, that he didn’t know what kind of vehicle the boys were in. The other boys were classmates, he said, but he didn’t believe Zach was particularly close friends with them. Myers said he had not spoken with family members of the other boys.

He said Zach customarily spent part of school-day mornings at Millcreek and then went to Northwest about 10:40 a.m. or 11. So, the timing of the crash, as well as the route they were taking, he said, would indicate they were on their way to Northwest. He said the crash occurred about a mile north of Millcreek. 

Myers said that Zach, whose survivors include an older brother, suffered a head injury, but Myers said he didn’t know how he struck his head or on what. I noted that it sounded rather flukish — that everyone else walked away from the wreck, while Zach, buckled in the back seat, suffered mortal injuries. 

Myers agreed, saying: “We’re curious as well. We’re at a loss as to how this could happen.”

He said that the family was eager to get answers to their questions, but, at the same time, he did not want the investigation to be rushed.

“Frankly, I want them to take their time,” Myers said. “I want them to investigate this thoroughly.”

So, the Myers family and other people who would like to know more about this tragedy must wait. I certainly hope The Star will follow up. The loss of what appears to be a fine, 16-year-old boy should not be allowed to drift out of public awareness without explanation.

*****

A post script is in order. 

As I said in the text, I thought my conversation with John Myers was amicable. He spoke with understandable sadness in his voice but never gave an indication he wanted to cut off the conversation. Before we signed off, I again expressed my sympathy and sorrow on his behalf.

About an hour afterwards, however, I got a call from Officer Michael Bussell of the Lenexa Police Department who told me to stop harassing the Myers family. I told him that John Myers had spoken freely and had given me no indication that he wanted to end the conversation.

Bussell took my “information” — name, address, d.o.b., telephone numbers, blog address — and said that if I attempted to contact the Myers family again, I could be charged with harassment.

…Such is the lot of a blogger who dusted off his reporter’s hat and tried to satisfy his curiosity — and perhaps the curiosity of members of the public –about a case that got short shrift from “the paper of record.”

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