Safe and Found: Who Comes to Look for You?

Safe and Found Cover

        A Very Special Project – When children are missing, who comes to look for you?

How to reach children? How to teach children in the most effective way about the perils and the positives of the world?  In the past there have been a variety of programs such as “stranger danger,” “Just Say No” the DARE Program, “McGruff, Take a Bite Out of Crime Dog” and others.

However, when it comes to missing persons, children need to know that the boys in blue or those with the bright red fire truck don’t do it all.

Monica Caison, Founder of the Cue Center for the Missing based in Wilmington, NC, conceptualized an educational, illustrative activity book.  Safe and Found not only identifies what those who search and rescue do, but also teaches children about trust.

Monica Caison, CUE Center for Missing Persons, Donna R. Gore

Monica Caison

The easy to read book features word games and a quiz to test a child’s knowledge and topic suggestions for further discussion.  The 23 page book, Safe and Found is a treasure in that it has the potential to engage children from kindergarten through 5th grade and beyond in a variety of ways. It accomplishes this through reading, active listening, coloring, doing word games and stimulating discussion.

The content is presented in terms familiar to children, discussing getting lost, the feelings surrounding it, sights and sounds a child may hear in the process of rescue. Safe and Found explains search and rescue equipment, the vehicles used, search animals, and advice about getting lost in a crowd.  Most importantly, there are comforting reassurances for children on every page, up to the point where they are reunited with parents.

The section Tips on Trust helps children define a true stranger, the circumstances of trust, and using judgement and responsibility. A final section of Safe and Found contains information about “packing blue” as the magic colors for searchers, as well as safe berries and plants which are edible.

The language is conversational and familiar for young audiences, skillfully written by Anita Sullivan whose brother, Michael Austin Davis has been missing for several years. The illustrations are crisp, clear, animated and truly assist making the story of search and rescue come alive thanks to the artistry of illustrator John Santillo.

Safe and Found has the flexibility to be used in schools, church and civic groups, boys and girls clubs, family gatherings and more.  It also serves as an introduction to the Cue Center for Missing Persons, founded in 1994 and serving more than 9,000 missing persons to date.

To schedule a presentation of Safe and Found for your group with a Cue Center State Outreach Coordinator in your area, contact  CUE Center for Missing Persons, P.O. Box 12714, Wilmington, North Carolina 28404. Address requests as: Attention: Permission Presentations.

CUE Center for Missing Persons


All presentations are done by those who volunteer their time and services to the organization. Donations or honorariums are gratefully accepted which assist the organization to continue to search for those who are lost. Donations can be made securely online, at the CUE Center website, or mailed directly to the address above.

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.

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.


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 –

3) 917-65-1889-



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.

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.

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.


Closing Arguments and the Downfall of a Prosecutor

Freda Back During Peterson Trial

Freda Black during trial of Michael Peterson

If you are a survivor of crime, a fan of legal dramas or have read my former blog discussing closing arguments, you understand that the closing argument can be thought of in many ways. It can be the icing on the cake, the last nail in the coffin, the bow tying it all together,  the crescendo of the symphony,  or it can even contain the rare “gotcha” moment as in the Drew Peterson trial, for example.

The stakes are so very high for the defendant.  As accused murderer, Michael Petersen so aptly put it, no matter which side you’re on, “It’s all about winning, truth is lost.”

You will find attorneys who are very skilled at theater as that’s what the closing argument truly is. The quality of the argument surely is influenced by the evidence, or lack thereof, and the character of the defendant. Other crimes not relevant to the current case are typically not allowed to be part of the scenario.  Even when the evidence of the defendant’s guilt is unquestionable, as was the case in the murderer of my father, prosecutors still engage in character assassination of the victim.

This brings me to the fascinating closing argument of former assistant prosecutor, Freda Black, in the initial Michael Peterson trial. A hearing in November 2011 ruled that Michael Peterson was eligible for a new trial due to the lies and incompetent methods used in many cases by special agent Dwayne Deaver. I remain steadfast in my opinion that Michael Peterson is guilty, but can respect the intense, strategic and intelligent defense provided by David Rudolph.

As for Freda Black, she was an enigma, very complex and just plain bizarre. She reminded me of a real-life caricature of the cartoon character Cruella Deville. To truly capture her unique persona, one would need to view the full 384 minutes or 6.5 hours of The Staircase to truly capture her unique persona.

Her clothes and make up were very intense, her mannerisms, and interactions were out of the 1940s or something, combined with the speech pattern of a “true Southern lady.” And yet, you may know the theory of the case and the motives presented. It was NOT the prefect marriage at all, with the discovery by Kathleen Peterson of gay porn on Michael’s computer and his bi-sexuality with revealing e-mails the night of her killing in which an argument ensued.

Freda Black

Freda Black

Despite Freda Black’s uniqueness, the doubt about the true murder weapon and the other women killed from a fall down the stairs, Freda delivered her portion of the closing argument flawlessly, as only she could do, with Jim Hardin adding a little icing at the end.

It’s a bigger impact to see the closing arguments of Freda Black and Jim Hardin, and I encourage you to find a copy of The Staircase to be able to experience all the nuances she brings to the case.

From my personal copy I’ve transcribed the complete closing arguments so readers have the opportunity to know what she said, and how she said it.

Freda Black & Jim Hardin’s Closing Arguments (PDF)


NOT included in her closing argument was the infamous Owl Theory put forth by attorney Larry Pollard. In an interview from August 20, 2008 Freda Black discounts the the Owl Theory, explaining why she feels it’s not a legitimate theory.

The Next Chapters –

Freda Black, the sometimes villainous assistant prosecutor and southern lady extraordinaire, had a legal career spanning from 1991 to at least 2008 according to internet sources. Perhaps it is customary to be dismissed when you run for elective office against the head prosecutor, I don’t know.

Durham County Rocked by Scandal and Corruption- 

As reported in the Washington Post in March 2014, Michael Nifong was the assistant district attorney for Durham County. He would later be appointed, and then elected to district attorney. He was Freda’s boss.  He make national headlines in 2006 when he falsely charged three Duke University lacrosse players with sexually assaulting a stripper. In 2007 Nifong was disbarred for his handling of evidence in that case. He was also found in contempt for making false statements about the case in court and faced potential civil suits.

In 2010, a report from the North Carolina Attorney General’s office as a follow up to a prior local newspaper investigation, uncovered widespread corruption and malfeasance in the state’s crime lab. This included the infamous special agent Dwayne Deaver (associated with the Michael Peterson trial and many others.)   Fallout from that scandal contributed to the removal of Nifong’s successor, District Attorney Tracey Cline, in 2012. (Prosecutors are rarely ever removed from office for misconduct.)

Freda Black ran for the top prosecutor’s office in 2006 and 2008, but unfortunately lost both times.

In 2010, Freda Black and Kerry Sutton were among those who sought Judge Anne McKown’s 14th District Court seat in Durham, according to the State Board of Elections.   Doretta Walker wins the seat.

And Then Something Happened to this Legal Servant-

Let’s be clear. I would not be the fan club president for Ms. Black. However, it appears she was just doing her job to the best of her ability, coming out of a trail with more permutations and layers than one could imagine that continues today.  She ran for other offices and appeared to have support in a community tainted by scandal.


Freda Black

Freda Black


As reported:

One of the key figures in the Mike Peterson murder trial is now facing her own legal challenges.

Former Assistant District Attorney Freda Black is due in Durham County Court on Dec. 10 on drunken driving charges.

A former Durham County Assistant District Attorney was arrested Tuesday night in Orange County after police allege she was driving while impaired.

Freda Black, once a high-profile prosecutor in Durham, was arrested about 5:26 p.m. on the 200 block of East Corbin Street in Hillsborough, according to her arrest report.

This isn’t the first time Black has been accused of driving while impaired. In October 2012 she faced the same charge in Durham County. Black is due to appear in Orange County Court on Feb. 5. She was released from custody under a written promise to appear, according to arrest records.

It is unclear if Black is practicing law, but she is still an active member of the North Carolina State Bar.

According to Orange County Sheriff’s office arrest document Black’s current employer is Durham Cleaners. As Jim Hardin stated at the Peterson trial, “This picture speaks a thousand words”


Judge Jim Hardin

Judge Jim Hardin

I don’t disparage anyone working at a dry cleaning business if that’s all they can do, or if they really love it.  All of us age and frequently gain weight. All of us have problems and many turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain. I just wonder if the Michael Peterson trail and all of the Durham scandals, or simply a lonely life contributed to Ms. Black’s current situation. We may never know. It is very tragic when the full extent of the impact and the toll on lives is measured. I prefer to think of her when she was at her best closing argument ever!

PS. Jim Hardin has been on the bench as a practicing judge at least since 2011.



Additional References –