Shattered Lives Radio: Victim Impact Statement Reverses Parole

 

 

 

Shattered Lives Radio

On a recent episode of Shattered Lives Radio, I was privileged to discuss yet another discrepancy in the Connecticut Pardon and Parole system. As you may remember, my own family’s experience with a parole hearing left us out in left field, scrambling at the last minute to insure that my father’s murderer stayed behind bars.

For the surviving family members of slain Plainville, CT police officer, Robert Holcomb, the incompetence and lack of communication from the Pardon and Parole Board, created the perfect storm and Holcomb’s murderer was granted parole in January, 2015.

Slain Plainville, CT police officer Robert Holcomb

Robert Holcomb

Family members of officer Holcomb were not notified of the upcoming parole hearing and therefore were not in attendance when it was granted. However, they immediately asked for another hearing, it was granted, and the parole was rescinded after hearing the statements of surviving family members.

One of the most influential aspects of the recission hearing was the victim impact statement read by Holcomb’s son, Mac, who was only 3 years old at the time of his father’s murder.  Mac Holcomb Victim Impact Statement (download pdf)

The Shattered Lives Radio episode speaks with Mac Holcomb, his cousin Maria Weinberger, and Plainville Chief of Police, Matt Catania who has become a valued family friend as well. We were able to bring to light many of the mistakes of the Pardon and Parole Board which has had negative influence on the Holcomb family, my family, and countless others we don’t even know about.

Shattered Lives Radio Points of Discussion

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  • You don’t know what you don’t know.  The fact that as a new crime victim they typically are not versed in criminal or judicial procedures.  They also are not familiar with how to navigate the bureaucracies of state agencies, their protocols or websites.
  • Who is a victim? Is it only immediate family vs. extended family?
  • The role of victim impact statements according to Mac Holcomb, nearly forty years later.
  • The police community and seeking justice according to Chief Matt Catania.
  • Creating a victim’s voice, what’s missing?  New beginnings for the future, i.e. legislative recommendations such as earlier notification for victims, examining the appointment and eligibility process of hearing officers, continuing education, etc.
  • Maria Weinberger offers a list of legislative recommendations to address Parole Board Reforms (download pdf)
  • Lessons to be learned for the future.  From a previous Shattered Lives Radio episode, Atty. Michelle Cruz offers several ideas from her experience as the CT State Victim Advocate.

In my opinion, one of the most important lessons learned from the Holcomb family experience, and my own, is the critical need for crime victims to be heard through preparing a victim impact statement. Often, it’s the only time their concerns are able to be voiced.

One way I feel I can help victims who are desperately trying to navigate the judicial system is by offering a Victim Impact Statement Assistance Service. If you are a crime victim, I invite you to learn more about my service by referring to my website for details.

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82 Years Young, If Only, a Tribute to My Father

 

astronomical-clock-226897_640Sign of the Zodiac

Being a Virgo born on August 26th, you often impress others with your discipline, trustworthiness and generosity. While you may not feel every aspect of life is important, you take great care in dealing with those you do find value in. Your discipline allows you to be methodical and organized, which explains why you rarely let a detail go unnoticed. Your friends and family admire your work ethic, but appreciate you more because of your generosity. You may fail to notice it, but there are many times when you are more concerned with the needs of your loved ones than your own physical or emotional needs.

Element

The Virgo’s paired element is Earth and in fact, you are the only zodiac sign with fixed relationship to the element. At times you are the perfect representation of “down to Earth.” You are practical and rational in your expectations and goals. You find great comfort in being grounded, which is why stability is one of your most important needs. Embracing these positive qualities of Earth will allow you to achieve what you have envisioned for yourself. 

Not so true (in my opinion…)

“Take care to avoid the negative qualities of Earth, which included becoming overly cautious and safe in all aspects of life.”

My Dad was a risk taker, a “seize the opportunity” kind of person in business and personally.

We can speculate that perhaps, the forces that came to bear, put him in the wrong place, at the wrong time with the wrong kind of people resulting in his murder.

Planetary Influence

Your sign’s planetary ruler is Mercury and as you were born in the first Decan, or part, of the sign, you are subject to a double dose of Mercury’s power. Mercury is primarily the planet of communication and is responsible for the clever, witty and intellectual workings of your mind. You often use your mental abilities to help others, as you can quickly notice when someone needs help. While you often use your mind for generous purposes, you can easily use the same dedication to solve any problem you face Interestingly enough, you may be such a disciplined worker that you may fail to see the big picture at times, but luckily this is not a prominent flaw. 

Beyond the Planetary Influences….

Don Gore

Don Gore, my father would be 82 years old today

How do you observe a birthday that will never be? In some ways, like tick marks on the wall to measure your ever-growing child, birthdays are innocuous, but there.  But, in the case of a loved one who abruptly left this earthly soil more than 34 years ago; it’s hard to conjure up what my Dad would be like at age 82. With his engaging nature, “a little rough around the edges” and workaholic nature, I’m sure he wouldn’t be sitting around.  I remember when once asked if he’s take up golf, he said he “didn’t see the sense in chasing after a little ball with a stick.” That makes me smile.

Rather, his claim to fame was his hard-driving, quick thinking involvement on the motorcycle scrambles circuit, in which he won many New England championships.

From the Homicide Anniversary –April 17, 2015

 

The passage of time fades all memories.  We remember good memories, but the most vivid regarding his murder stay with me as well. I ask myself, what would he think of the events of 2015? Hmmm… Our ability to “go with the flow” depends upon our unique personality, our upbringing and past experiences in life. If I were to guess, I would say, he would embrace those conveniences and conventions that were important to him, and cast aside everything else!

To say, “Dad you haven’t missed much” is a gross understatement regarding family and other accomplishments. To say we have fared well with a lot of trial and error and finding new niches would be true. However, I prefer to say, we still miss you, and I’ll see you again in 30+ years if I’m fortunate enough to continue my earthly missions until then!

The planets aligned my Mother and Father’s birthdays just 11 days apart! I wonder what that means?

Happy 82nd Birthday, Dad!

Additional References- http://www.famousbirthdays.com/horoscope/august26.html

San Diego’s Coronado Bridge: Suicide Prevention Measures Considered

 

San Diego's Coronado Bridge

San Diego’s Coronado Bridge

As of May, 2015, the City Council responsible for the Management of the Coronado Bridge in San Diego gave a unanimous vote to study the type of suicide prevention barrier that would be the most effective.

The Coronado Bridge Suicide Prevention Collaborative has initiated a project similar to that of San Francisco, for a barrier costing $75 million, consisting of a -20 foot wide steel net.

The numbers of completed suicides in San Diego in recent months appear to differ. Some local articles list 131 in the past 15 years. Other sources, drawing from such resources as the Coronado Police Department and the Medical Examiner and the California Highway Patrol report more than 150 people have jumped off the bridge to their deaths since the year 2000.

Even more devastating is the fact that since January 2015, police have responded to 41 additional attempts.

Homelessness in San Diego County – A Factor, January 2015

According to the San Diego Union Tribune April 2015 article,  the number of people living on the street or in shelters in San Diego County increased by 2.8 percent from last year, according to results of an annual count of homeless people. (This is an estimate.)

Volunteers in the annual count found 4,156 people living on the streets, a 4.3 increase from last year. Another 4,586 people were in shelters, a 1.4 percent increase from last year.

Of the 4,156 people on the street, about 70 percent were males and 15.4 percent were veterans. Almost 28 percent were believed to have either an addiction or severe mental illness, and more than 70 percent said they had been homeless a year or longer.

The WeAllCount Campaign, also known as the Point-in-Time Count, was held in the early morning hours on Jan. 23, 2015.  That’s over 8,700 homeless people!

Sand Diego's Coronado Bridge

Sand Diego’s Coronado Bridge

Suicide Then and Now:

As reported since my previous blog in July, 2011, San Diego’s Coronado Bridge and the City’s Recent Suicides, the signs along the bridge giving suicide prevention counseling information haven’t been working.

CalTrans, the company who oversees the maintenance of the Coronado Bridge seems to have taken their former callous attitude and snuffed it, in favor of a more compassionate stance to at least do a feasibility study.

According to public information officer, Edward Cartagena of CalTrans, many variables have to be considered. What works in San Francisco, may not work in Coronado. Although they have added technology in the event of earthquakes, added weight and wind currents need to be considered (in addition to cost).

Dr. Jennifer Lewis on the faculty of the Department of Social Work at the University of California – San Diego, wants a sense of urgency to be placed on this issue. In reality, a feasibility study can range from six months to two years to complete.  She is in favor of a barrier, saying “other places where they’ve gone in, they’ve been 100 percent effective.”

The Coronado Bridge Suicide Prevention Collaborative is serving as the watchdog.  From recent posts on their Facebook page, it appears they are doing what they can to build awareness and prevention. https://vimeo.com/132130635.

Witnessing of a Suicide

Dr. Lewis wants to protect the potential further witnessing of suicide that can be as traumatic as those who have lost a loved one. Not much is found on internet resources about this aspect. 

An anonymous writer wrote of this experience in 2008 – A haunting experience to witness the suicide of a stranger as a “good Samaritan.” (Some editing)

“Last week I was driving over the San Francisco Bay Bridge and watched someone get up on the railing and jump off. I found out later that he died and was picked up by the authorities.

I did all the things I was supposed to do – called 911, checked in with the authorities, let myself cry before driving a vehicle etc. I’ve been in touch with friends who are therapists and gotten plenty of hugs and loving people to support me.

The image of him getting up on the side of the bridge and the way his body looked as he jumped haunts me. I know it’s probably too early to expect that it go away. I’m just struggling with what meaning to find in it all and how to find people who won’t judge what I am experiencing.

I’ve looked for support sites online and have found a number of places that are for friends or family who have had someone they love commit suicide. However, I don’t even know this guy’s name. I wouldn’t want to be intruding on what is obviously a very sensitive time for someone who has a friend or family member die. 

This situation is challenging for me because I don’t know much about what happened, or why it happened. There is not much more information I can learn. I also have found that while some family or friends have tried to be helpful. They have had a tough time not assigning blame, being judgmental or putting their own issues about death and suicide onto my plate.  As a result of their attitudes, this experience feels even more confusing and alienating.”

I sincerely hope and pray that this person sought professional counselling and was able to focus in the land of the living.

Sand Diego's Coronado Bridge

Sand Diego’s Coronado Bridge

Putting the Pieces Together – One Woman’s Story

As reported in an San Francisco Chronicle in 2005, (some portions edited) investigators with the Coroner’s Office are a special breed of detectives.  Those who are elderly jumpers are few and far between.

Such was the case of Lois Anne Houston.  She was a heavy-set 75-year-old, who jumped from the San Francisco Bridge and apparently hit the water face first. The impact opened up her face from nose to chin, leaving a gaping red wound and a grotesque death mask.

The investigator, Darryl Harris stated, “There must be something pretty outrageous in her life that made her do this.” You just don’t see this occur – hardly ever.”   That would turn out to be true.

Lois chose a cloudy Sunday morning, April 24, in which to end her life. She drove north onto the bridge, in her blue Ford Taurus, put the emergency flashers on and climbed over the divider to the pedestrian walkway. A California Highway Patrol officer spotted the car and went to investigate. He saw that the vehicle was empty and then saw Houston on top of the bridge railing, according to the report.

Inspector Harris found Houston’s body in the familiar spot, on the long tray under a tarp on the dock. He pulled back the tarp and went through the routine of checking the body and looking for identification including her purse.

It was tough to see Houston on the pallet. The impact had shredded her clothing. Her black pants and floral print blouse were in tatters, barely clinging to her arms and legs. Her panties and bra were in pieces.

There was bruising everywhere, on her thighs, chest, back and face. She wore a gold watch and a ring on her finger. She wore black socks and was missing one shoe.

Her wallet had photos, but it was difficult to know with certainty, which was portrayed in the photos.

Lois‘ sister from Florida returned a call received from a police officer, Her sister stated that Lois “had no family out west.”  She had lived with another woman for 40 years, and her partner had died last summer.

In the interim, Lois was diagnosed with colon cancer. Lois recently had been told that her cancer had spread to her liver.  (I think Lois, still actively grieving, just wanted to be with her partner all the more after receiving the news and decided to “skip a prolonged, painful death“ as her choice.”)

The pathologist reported clinically and coldly that Lois “died of multiple blunt-force injuries, due to a “jump from height.”

 

Returning to the Trenches and the Effectiveness of Suicide Barriers

Whether stated in 2005, or 2015, Inspectors with the Coroner’s office have their own opinions.

At the time in 2005, Darryl Harris said “he didn’t have an opinion” on whether the bridge should have a suicide barrier. However, most of the jumpers he investigated had significant histories of suicidal behavior.  Harris’ comment,“I don’t know that a barrier would do much good, I think people will find other ways to kill themselves, and it might mean they do something that puts someone else in danger, like jumping off a building or intentionally driving their car into traffic.”  THAT, is an opinion.

Conclusion-

We cannot say whether a barrier will help in all instances. But, it may be a deterrent in some cases, as nothing is foolproof. As a friend likes to say… “Let’s get busy” (when it comes to suicide prevention).

Anti-Suicide Resources:

1) National Suicide Prevention Hotline Call 24/7 1-800-273-8255

2)Hotlines listed by State – http://www.suicide.org/suicide-hotlines.html

3) 917-65-1889- http://sisfi.org/suicidetours.html

 

References:

http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2015/may/06/coronado-adds-support-to-bridge-suicide-barrier/

http://www.coronadonewsca.com/opinion/you-can-help-with-suicide-prevention/article_d49062f8-033c-11e5-a232-0719767a57f5.html

http://ask.metafilter.com/108103/Witnessing-the-suicide-of-a-stranger

http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/LETHAL-BEAUTY-No-easy-death-Suicide-by-bridge-2562269.php

http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2015/apr/23/count-shows-homeless-numbers-up-in-county/

A “Fatal Mistake” by a Former First Lady

What do you think of when former First Ladies come to mind? Prim and proper, altruistic, party givers, hostesses with the mostessses, controversial, political pariahs? All of these and more could apply depending upon which First Lady about whom we are speaking. However, the term “criminal” certainly isn’t the adjective that would be on my list.

So, who is the criminal who happens to be a former First Lady? I am referring to the well liked and admired Laura Bush.

Laura Bush and Michael Douglas

Laura Welch and Michael Douglas

Seventeen year old Laura Welch killed a male friend who was driving another car on the night of November 6, 1963. This fact had been virtually kept under wraps for years.  The issue reared its ugly head when her husband, George Bush, was running for president and then told for the very first time with the publication of Laura’s Book, “Spoken from the Heart.

Certain crimes are considered crimes of passion, others are premeditated and some are accidents.  In this case, if we are using our moral compass, religious training or from the point of view from the victim’s family, indeed it was criminal.  Legally, there are felonies and misdemeanors.

State legislatures and Congress define what constitutes a felony and a misdemeanor, crimes that fit into each category may differ somewhat from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Both felonies and misdemeanors can be committed against people, property, or the state.

Felonies tend to involve prison sentences of at least a year, fines, or a combination of both. Misdemeanors involve prison sentences of less than a year, smaller fines, or a combination of both. Misdemeanors frequently result in alternative sentencing, such as community service or rehabilitation programs.

As an example, in my home State of Connecticut, it appears that the applicable Statutes split hairs and are confusing, even with an attorney’s opinion.

Negligent Homicide with a Motor Vehicle § 14-222a.  This offense imposes punishment on any person who, in consequence of the negligent operation of a motor vehicle, causes the death of another person. The state must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt.

  • Death occurred;
  • That the defendant operated a motor vehicle in a negligent manner,   
  • That the defendant’s negligent operation of the motor vehicle caused the death- was the proximate cause.

Definition – Proximate cause incorporates the principle that an accused may be charged with a criminal offense even though (his/her) acts were not the immediate cause of the (death /injuries).

Penalties – Maximum fine of $1,000 imprisonment of six months or both. http://www.ctcriminallawattorney.com

Misconduct with a Motor Vehicle § 53a-57. This statute appears to be very similar except that criminal negligence  is defined as  when the offender – fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk, that such result will occur or that such circumstance exists. The failure to perceive the risk must be a gross deviation from the standard of a reasonable person. 

Penalties: Class D Felony Punishable by 1 to 5 years in prison. http://www.ctcriminallawattorney.com

Other CT Statues involve Manslaughter in the 2nd Degree , A Class C Felony is applied when intoxicating liquor of a drug is involved or… Evasion of Responsibility with a Motor Vehicle such as Racing.    Neither of these would apply to Laura Bush.

The Story of the Crime:

Laura Welch Bush

Laura Welch Bush

Laura Welch (Bush) was driving her Chevrolet sedan with friend and passenger Judy Dykes on her way to a drive in movie. She failed to stop at a stop sign at an intersection in the middle of nowhere.  However, there are differing interpretations of the environment.

  • It was a clear night  occurring at roughly eight pm;
  • The road was dry;
  • Laura admitted that she was busy chatting with her friend, perhaps not with eyes on the road (Called distracted driving today?)
  • The view of the stop sign was unobstructed,
  • Laura stated:” I knew in my mind that somewhere ahead was a right turn for Big Spring Street, where the drive-in theater was, because the loop almost dead-ended at Big Spring. I knew there was a turn, but where that turn was seemed very far away… “Beyond the turn the asphalt stopped, and there was nothing more than a trail of unpaved dirt and dust.
  • Did Laura fail to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk?”
  • The posted speed limit was 55 MPH and she subjectively” I was going along, a little below the speed limit”
  • “Suddenly, off in the middle of a field, I glimpsed a stop sign with the corner beam of my headlights. At that moment, I heard Judy’s voice: “There’s a stop sign.” And I just couldn’t stop.”… All I heard was the horrible sound of metal colliding, the catastrophic boom that occurs when two hard pieces of steel make contact.
  • Positioning – The two cars traveling in the dark at right angles to each other, each going approximately 50 mph
  • Some accounts  say Laura admitted that her sight was not optimal;
  • Another account has a neighbor boy calling her driving wild and “two wheeling”
  • She claimed the stop sign “was too small” (and has since been enlarged.)
  • Let’s not forget this was a 17 year old with a brain that was not yet mature enough  to make challenging decisions, let alone  life and death decisions.
  • Michael Douglas, the victim, and was Laura’s good friend throughout high school. While he drove, he had no stop sign facing him, perhaps would have had no reason to slow his vehicle even if he had seen another car approaching the intersection.  It can  be assumed that he would have traveling at least 50 mph as well.
  • Mike’s Car – It was a small car, a Corvair Monza, Detroit’s version of a compact, economy car designed to compete with the Volkswagen Beetle. It was sporty and sleek and supposedly unsafe according to Ralph Nader.
  • The Aftermath- The impact of the collision hurled Douglas’ car some 50 feet off the road, instantly killing him. Laura and her passenger, schoolmate Judy Dykes, were both treated at the local hospital for their own bruises. It was there she learned that Douglas had died of a broken neck.

The Welches were described as partying people and not religious.  Laura’s personality was “average and someone who liked to party as friends described her.” However,  after  the crash, she stayed in the house for months. Apparently, She never spoke of it again, for years, nor was she ever encouraged to seek or receive therapy.  The Welches did not attend Mike Douglas’ funeral. Nor did Laura Welch reach out to the family. the two families severed all ties after Mike was killed.

The Police Report

The police report indicates no charges were filed. That section of the report was left blank. Although previous news accounts have reported Mr. Douglas was thrown from the car and broke his neck, those details were also not in the report. Reportedly, the written number as to the speed traveled by Laura was illegible.  There was also no formal investigation done.  Was there a cover up? Maybe, or it may have been just plain incompetence on the part of the police in a situation with limited knowledge and no resources.

Why was Laura not charged with anything?

Let’s face it, this was rural Texas in 1963.  According to Marty Boisvert, former law enforcement  inspector, Private Detective and currently, Senior Accident Reconstructionist from Crash Teams in Swansea, Massachusetts,  it is difficult to speculate. Tragically, this is a far too common occurrence. In the State of Massachusetts, if no intent is found, such incidents are misdemeanors. If there are aggravating factors, offenders may receive jail time for up to 2.5 years.   At most in the Texas 1963 crash, the State police may have been called, interviews and few photos taken. Today, with a wealth of technology including animation, special mapping techniques and a standard protocol for re-construction it is a whole different story.   If you would like to know more about this fascinating and difficult  profession, a previous podcast on the subject is featured on Shattered Lives Radio.

The Saddest Part of the Aftermath

These thoughts come to mind:

Laura Bush

Laura Bush

  • The loss of life of a promising young man and athlete;
  • The fact that a fatal mistake can plague a person and irrevocably change their life and  many others lives  like the domino effect;
  • The fact that Laura was whisked away to the ER ,and prevented  knowing the outcome, from saying goodbye to her friend in any manner, nor was she allowed or capable of reaching out to his family
  • The fact that no one was astute enough to see that Laura needed therapy for her depression, grief, loss and inability to cope
  • The fact that a smart woman held on to her pain and never let it out, never dealt with it for years
  • If Laura would have felt comfortable admitting this tragedy, she could have been a national advocate for causes surrounding this issue.

References: http://www.jud.ct.gov/ji/criminal/Part5/5.3-3.htm;

http://www.jud.ct.gov/ji/criminal/Part2/2.6-1.htm

http://www.jud.ct.gov/ji/criminal/Part2/2.3-5.htm

http://www.snopes.com/politics/bush/laura.asp

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2010/05/02/behind-laura-bushs-car-crash.html

http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/opinion/e1698.htm;