Saturday, Jun. 18, 2005

A Teacher Falls in Love, Over and Over

Recently, one of my seventh-grade world history students asked me how long I had been teaching. His question was not meant to be disrespectful; it was one of those spontaneous sparks that ignites in a 13-year-old mind and tumbles out before a self-censor can inhibit curiosity.

When I replied, “since 1969,” a collective gasp engulfed the classroom, and my students stared at me with a new sense of amazement, as if I were a wax figurine who had stepped out of a Civil War exhibit and was brought back to life for only daylight hours to teach fidgety teenagers. Another child, in shock, blurted, “Then why are you still teaching?” Another gasp.

“I am still teaching,” I replied without hesitation, “because how many people my age are lucky enough to spend every weekday with people your age? How many people my age are fortunate enough to talk to you about world issues and the latest music and discuss why you think many Chinese embraced Buddhism instead of Confucianism? How many people can say they laugh out loud every day at work? How many people can drive home every day and smile because a young person they know said something or did something wonderful?”

My students were uncharacteristically silent, but their smiles and their body language told me they understood.

There are many compelling and legitimate reasons to leave the teaching profession and, sadly, many of our best and brightest do. Veteran staff members are all too familiar with the often overwhelming difficulties facing new teachers. We are not surprised, even more sadly, when fewer than 50% remain longer than five years.

There is, nevertheless, the most important reason to stay: Every year you have a chance to fall in love again — with your students and with teaching. To remember why you decided that the classroom was where you belonged. To remember how much that one special teacher influenced your life. To remember the magic in your classroom when your students could do it without you.

Every day for a teacher is one of infinite challenge. No day is the same as the one before. No class is the same as the one that just left. You are not always a model of perfection and rarely everyone’s favorite teacher; however, you have the time and the opportunity to try to be one of the best.

I continue to teach because every August I still get butterflies thinking about that first day of school. I hope I will be a better teacher than the year before, and I hope I will remember how profoundly confusing it is to be 13. I also hope that each new teacher will be smitten and stay.

Friday, Jun. 17, 2005

Hero cop promoted before retirement

Two weeks from retiring after 38 years on the job, Officer Michael Gullace was working a desk shift inside a city station house, filling out a routine report about a missing juvenile when gunfire erupted around him.

A man about to be arrested for domestic violence Wednesday night had whipped out a gun and started firing wildly, shooting two police officers and continuing to squeeze off rounds.

Gullace ran from behind the desk, grabbed the gunman’s girlfriend and their two young children and threw his body over the trio, using himself as a human shield amid the flying lead. When a detective returning fire at the suspect ran out of bullets, Gullace tossed him his own weapon, enabling the officer to keep firing at the gunman, who eventually was hit by five to 10 shots.

Thursday afternoon, as one of the wounded officers was released from a hospital and the other continued to improve, police brass promoted Gullace to detective _ a parting gift that will sweeten the pension of an officer who had never had to draw his weapon in nearly four decades on the job.

“I thought I was going to go out quietly,” he said at a City Hall news conference Thursday. “You never know.”

Authorities on Wednesday night had been questioning Corey Harley, who was brought to the station house after police say his girlfriend accused him of hurting her. Both of the adults were making complaints against each other, alleging domestic violence, police Chief Robert Troy said. When an investigation that included evidence of past injuries to the woman convinced officers that Harley, 27, was to blame, they told him he was about to be placed under arrest.

At that point, Harley pulled out a .22-caliber handgun he had hidden in his clothes and began firing. Without hesitating, Gullace flung himself over the woman and children.

“I heard, ‘Bang! Bang! Bang!’ I was just thinking of protecting the innocent people that were there, just doing my job,” he said.

Gullace, who had pulled his own service weapon out of its holster, tossed it to Detective Jack Bennett, who had run out of bullets, and Bennett used it to continue firing.

The mother and children were unharmed. Their names and ages were not released by authorities.

Harley was in fair condition Thursday at Jersey City Medical Center. One of the officers he allegedly shot, Patrick Kirwin, was released Thursday afternoon. He had been wearing a bulletproof vest that almost certainly saved his life, police said.

“He’s got this big purple bulls-eye on his back, right on his spine,” said Sgt. Edgar Martinez. “If he hadn’t been wearing it, he would have been killed instantly.”

The second wounded officer, Sgt. Timothy Harmon, was shot in the stomach. He was in good condition Thursday.

“God wrapped his arms around the west district last night,” Troy said. “The right officers were in the right place. It’s not called the Wild West for nothing.”

Harley had not been formally charged Thursday, but police said he would face charges including attempted murder.

Troy and Mayor Jerramiah Healy said it would be impractical to place metal detectors at the entrances of police precinct buildings but said security procedures would be reviewed.

Gullace, 64, has three grown children of his own. His retirement will take effect July 1 but, with some personal days left to take, he only has to report for six or seven more shifts. He will spend those on modified duty, as is routine whenever an officer is involved in a shooting incident, police said.

His immediate plans included going straight home from Thursday’s news conference to spend time with his wife.

“Just relax,” he said. “Maybe have a few drinks.”

Thursday, Jun. 16, 2005

Hero Pilot Pans Landing

A pilot being hailed as a hero says an emergency landing he made “wasn’t one of my better ones,” even though the landing in a Florida neighborhood killed no one on board or on the ground, and avoided all houses and cars.

Charles Riggs was at the controls of a World War II-era cargo plane that had just taken off from a Fort Lauderdale airport Monday when one of the engines began leaking oil profusely, and failed.

From Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, he told The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm Wednesday, “We had to do something, you know, to try and stay up.”

Riggs says he quickly decided to try to set the plane down on 56th Street, rather than Commercial Avenue, a busy highway that was loaded with cars: “It was a less populated highway or road, and we went for it.”

Bush trees along the road helped cushion the plane, he explained: “It’s one of the things you study when you’re a pilot, and they absorb the shock.”

Then, despite the plane’s wide wingspan, Riggs lined it up with the road “and I guess inertia helped, maybe God as well. We stayed pretty much dead center.”

But, he says, it was “not one of my better landings.”

He was pulled from the wreckage just before it caught fire, and says he was dazed, but not unconscious.

His co-pilot and a passenger were injured, and Riggs hurt his knee.

Driver hailed as hero after brakes fail on garbage truck

The driver of a garbage truck is being called a hero for the way he handled his vehicle after its brakes failed on a steep central New York road.
Thirty-six-year-old John Renfer of Sullivan was driving a Blue Ribbon Sanitation truck on Route 173 in the Madison County village of Chittenango yesterday when the brakes failed.

As the truck barreled down the road, witnesses say he managed to swerve through an intersection and a single-lane construction zone without hitting the workers or any other vehicles.

Co-worker Ken Chase told the Syracuse Post-Standard he thought of jumping out but decided against it.

He says his partner steered the runaway truck for about a mile before crashing it into a building housing a hair salon and a restaurant. No one inside the businesses was hurt.

Renfer was trapped inside the truck for a time, but only suffered minor injuries.

Tuesday, Jun. 14, 2005

Teacher wins national award

Carla Clark, a teacher at Simmons Elementary School, is one of five teachers nationwide honored for exemplary involvement in agriculture literacy.

Clark received a plaque commemorating her award at the national Ag in the Classroom Conference last week in Indianapolis. The awards are given by the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture in cooperation with the American Farm Bureau Women’s Committee.

The five winners were selected from a group of 16 finalists. The main judging criteria were their innovative programs to teach students about the nation’s food and fiber system, how they expect to use what they learn at the AITC conference in their classrooms, and how they plan to share information with other teachers. The award included expenses, up to $1,000, for each teacher to attend the conference.

Other winners were from Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri and New York. The Ag in the Classroom program is coordinated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture with the goal of helping students gain a greater awareness of the role of agriculture in the economy and society.

Monday, Jun. 13, 2005

Science instructor achieves Teacher of Year award

Science, says Frank LaBanca, is for everyone.

“I can’t imagine any job that wouldn’t find science useful,” the 32-year-old biology teacher at Newtown High School said last week.

After a decade of teaching, LaBanca, who was inspired to pursue science during his own high school days, has been named Connecticut’s “Teacher of the Year” by the Meriden-based Teachers’ Insurance Plan.

LaBanca got $1,000 and the school received a check for $500. With the state award, LaBanca now qualifies for the company’s “National Teacher of the Year” title to be decided later this month.

Thomas Kuroski, chairman of the high school science department, nominated LaBanca for the award and said LaBanca had made “a significant impact” on the unit.

LaBanca joined the faculty at Newtown High School two years ago after teaching in Stamford for eight years.

“He has quickly become a model and mentor teacher for the department,” Kuroski said. “Mr. LaBanca’s students are regularly involved in hands-on laboratory activities. His laboratory is constantly abuzz with activity.”

LaBanca’s projects have included making local river water quality studies in partnership with the state Department of Environmental Protection. DEP officials have also visited the school to work with students on other classroom programs.

Kuroski said LaBanca had implemented a science research program at the school that provides students with opportunities to complete independent research.

“These students have conducted original, significant projects and have been extremely successful,” Kuroski said.

During the past year, students have competed in both the Connecticut State Science Fair and the Connecticut and National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium.

“I think it’s important for students to find creative ways of seeking independent solutions,” said LaBanca.

LaBanca, once named the RadioShack National Teacher for Excellence in Science, Math and Technology, has also been a finalist for both the Connecticut Education Association Teacher of the Year award and Connecticut’s Outstanding Biology Teacher Award.

“He’s a very outgoing guy,” said 17-year-old Bobby Grauer, who will graduate from Newtown this year and plans to study natural science at Lyndon State College, Md.

Grauer said LaBanca once mentored him in a study of shellfish in Long Island Sound.

“He’ll reach out and help you any time,” Grauer said. “All the students love him. He makes the work environment very relaxed.”

LaBanca, who lives in Newtown with his wife and two daughters, Ann 3, and Maggie, 1, said he had always been fascinated by the “logic” of science.

“I think it’s important to make students practicing scientists even if they never become scientists,” LaBanca said. “It will expose them to the logical way of recognizing problems and finding ways of resolving them.”

Sunday, Jun. 12, 2005

Speakers show kids how they save lives every day

Ashton Vinluan is 3. For Christmas, he was the lucky recipient of a toy fire truck.

Saturday morning at Tree of Life, Ashton was able to play on a real fire engine during Hero Day.

“I like to play in it,” Ashton said of the regulation size fire engine. “It has a bigger ladder (than the toy engine he has).”

During a morning that was about giving children the opportunity to meet real life heroes, Tree of Life brought in a Marion firefighter, a Marion police officer and a soldier to talk to young children about what it means to be hero, and what heroes do on a daily basis.

“These are some people who are heroes,” said Tina Janofski, special events coordinator at Tree of Life Bookstore and Cafe. “Heroes are people who protect us.”

Janofski continued to tell the children throughout her introduction that anyone can be a hero, even the small children in the audience.

“Heroes are not always doing something strong or miraculous,” Janofski said. “It is our actions, all the things that we do that make us heroes.”

After her introduction, she allowed the three hero guests to speak about what they do that makes them a hero.

“Sometimes there are bad guys who want to hurt us so we go over seas to protect people,” said Lt. Victor Vinluan, Ashton’s father.

Vinluan, who has spent the past 16 years in the National Reserve, told the audience that even as a hero he gets scared.

“I pray when I get scared,” Vinluan said.

After Vinluan spoke, Marion Police Department officer Ben Caudell, Gas City, spoke about what he does in his job.

“When people have problems or are in trouble they call me and I come and help,” said Caudell, a four-year veteran of the department.

Caudell as well expressed that he too has been scared several times during his career.

“I ask for help when I am scared,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

Marion firefighter Tony Fox was the final hero to speak, and he too spoke about what his job entails.

“I drive the truck and operate it to make sure it gets to the fire on time,” said Fox, an engineer, who has spent five years with the fire department.”

After each hero spoke, the children were able to sit in a police car and in the fire engine. They were also able to make the horns, sirens and flashing lights go off, which appeared to be the highlight of a very exciting morning.

“I love army guys,” said Kyle Swan, 4, Marion, who was dressed up as a pint-sized firefighter, complete with helmet.

Kyle like many of the other children expressed what they hoped to be when they grow up.

“I love firemen, I just like them,” Kyle said. “They get to go in fire trucks and rescue people.”

Added Ashton, “I want to be a fireman. When I grow up, I can drive like this,” he said as he pointed to the fire engine.

Saturday, Jun. 11, 2005

Heroes credited for helping save student

Heroes credit victim; “…she’s my hero”.

Police released a composite sketch Friday of the suspect in the attack on a Hackett Middle School student Thursday morning. The sketch is based on descriptions from the victim and witnesses.

Police say two of the witnesses who helped describe the man were working at the Stratton VA Hospital, just on the other side of a fence from where it happened. They say these two men played quite a role in saving this girl from being abducted or even killed.

“It was a big deal, but it was on her behalf it was, and she defended herself,” Perry Smith recalled.

Humble would be the best word to describe Smith and his buddy Curtis Frasier.

The two men work in the laundry room at the VA hospital.

But Thursday something unexpected went down only feet from where they take their normal break. Smith says he and Frasier went around the fence and saw a man attacking a young girl with a large butcher’s knife and what appeared to be a towel.

The men saw that the attacker was armed with a butcher knife and what appeared to be a towel.

“We were sitting out here having coffee and we heard her scream. It allowed us to go see what happened and he recognized us coming and let her go and he ran,” Smith said.

“He was all masked up. He knew what he was doing. He came out here with intentions to hurt somebody,” Smith said.

Smith says when it all comes down to it he and Frasier only did what anybody in their shoes would have done.

City officials have recognized the value of their presence, even if the two heroes refuse to admit it.

“They assisted in scaring off the assailant. So their role was critical. It probably prevented a very serious situation,” Assistant Police Chief Steve Reilly said Thursday.

Smith gives the victim credit for fighting off her attacker.

“She made the difference. Can’t change that. She made the difference,” he said. “She needs to know that she’s my hero. Simple as that. She’s the hero and I’m glad she’s alright.”

Firefighter of the Year meets woman whose life he saved in 1967

Thirty-eight years ago, Rochester firefighter Willie Johnson went into a burning apartment building on Bartlett Street and rescued an infant.

Friday night, during an emotional ceremony at the Riverside Convention Center, the two were reunited for the first time since that blaze.

The infant — formerly Dita Jackson, now Dita Powell — sang a song she wrote, “Miracle,” to Johnson, who was honored as the Rochester Fire Department’s Firefighter of the Year. The ceremony was part of the department’s fifth annual awards dinner.

The song was appropriate for the occasion, said Powell, an actress and singer.

“I don’t remember much from the fire, of course, but my uncle said my hair smelled like smoke for weeks. They always called me the miracle girl.”

The fire was in September 1967. Dita’s mother had left her and two siblings — a 5-year-old sister and a 4-year-old brother — alone in their apartment while she went to a store. A child in another apartment started a fire. That’s when the crew at Engine 7 on Genesee Street, including Johnson, got the call and headed to the scene.

Johnson went in and found Dita in a bed, her family’s apartment filled with smoke. Then he found her brother and sister, hiding in the apartment.

Johnson passed the children out a window to waiting firefighters, who administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Nevertheless, Dita’s siblings died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

But thanks to Johnson, Dita lived — and that was reason for celebration Friday night.

“If I had more time, I could have saved the other kids,” said Johnson, who retired in May after a 39-year career with the Rochester Fire Department. “It’s just by the grace of God I saw (Dita). It’s part of my job. It was the way I was trained.”

Johnson’s humility is typical, friends and family members said. But they weren’t about to let his accomplishments go without praise. The crowd of several hundred in the Lilac Ballroom rose as one, giving him a standing ovation.

“It was a dark day for us, we had two caskets of two children at one funeral,” said Pastor Eulah Nelson, Dita’s aunt, who was there the day of the deadly blaze. “But the great thing is, one was saved. Firefighter Johnson was our angel.”

Friday, Jun. 10, 2005

Man Rescues Family During Attempted Carjacking

A man broke out a window on his van at a gas station after another man jumped inside with his wife and two daughters, police said.

The Chattanooga’s Police Department’s Burglary and Robbery Division is investigating the attempted carjacking that occurred around 3:30 p.m. Thursday at the Conoco gas station at 5900 Shallowford Road.

Kenneth Leon told robbery detectives that a black male got into his 1999 Astro van with his wife and two daughters while he was parked at the gas pumps.

Mr. Leon said the store clerk informed him that a man was attempting to steal his van while he was inside the store.

Mr. Leon ran out of the store, broke out the driver’s side window, grabbed the steering wheel, and began to fight with the suspect.

He said another man came to his aid, helping him pull the suspect from the van and take him to the ground.

The suspect got up and fled on foot towards the rear of the store.

The store clerk told police the man had grabbed two 20 packs of Budweiser beer and walked out of the store without paying prior to attempting to carjack the Astro van.

The victim told police he would take himself to the hospital to get stitches for his hand that he cut when he broke out of the van’s driver’s side window.

The suspect’s description is a black male, 6 feet tall, with a nappy afro, green/white stripped polo shirt, baggy jean shorts, mustache and goatee, dark complexion, white/green tennis shoes with no shoe laces, 27 to 30 years of age and very rough looking.

DUI driver couldn’t stop ‘Miracle Boy’

Miracle Boy has a miracle tale, of course. It was 1993. Dave Mirra was 19 and had just begun to redefine the sport of BMX. But the drunken driver didn’t stop to check his bio.

She didn’t stop at all as Mirra walked across the street. She left him with a fractured skull, a blood clot on the brain, a dislocated shoulder and the toughest six months of his life.

After recovering, Mirra spent three more months deciding whether flying through the air on a bike was worth the risk anymore. He considered it a personal decision. He wasn’t cocky or imaginative enough to think his choice would have any effect on the mission to legitimize BMX and all action sports.

Mirra hopped back on his bike because he needed it for “just what it gave me.” The rush. The freedom. All that sentimental stuff. It was a good thing he needed it so much.

Now, at 31, Mirra is the most decorated athlete in BMX history. He’s on television more than Ryan Seacrest. He makes more money than Uncle Scrooge. Sports history will remember him as one of the influential athletes who allowed action sports to wade in the mainstream.

Action sports on the rise

Mirra, who earned the nickname “Miracle Boy” for his innovative stunts, is here participating in the Dew Action Sports Tour, which runs through Sunday. This new tour has him marveling again at how much action sports have grown.

He started competing at age 10 and can remember when contests were held in dirty warehouses.

“Now we’re in arenas with catered food and TV cameras and potential endorsements hanging out, watching the event and making heroes out of a lot of riders,” Mirra said. “That’s amazing.”

He says that word, amazing, quite a bit. Safe to say he’s amazed by the growth. Ask about how admirers praise him for helping with this progress, and Mirra nearly gushes.

“That’s an ultimate compliment right there,” he said.

Like most people, Mirra never set out to leave a legacy. He was just a child, exploring, doing something dangerous. Then he turned pro in 1992 and immediately became the best and most exciting freestyle rider.

After the driver hit him, he got over a fear of falling on his head and returned even better. He’s won a record 13 X-Games gold medals. MTV had him host “The Real World/Road Rules Challenge.” Whenever a great, young talent comes along, people wonder whether he’s the next Dave Mirra.

King of his sport

He’s the Michael Jordan of his sport because he’s dominated with flair, put BMX stars in a new financial stratosphere and left fans so hungry for more that they see a little of him in every great rider. He admits to feeling pressure.

“You feel like you have to prove yourself a little harder now,” Mirra said. “If I can’t ride as well as I want to ride, and I self-destruct, that bothers me a lot. I guess I’d say I’m a perfectionist. And most people in this sport are.”

Miracle Boy has come to enjoy the mental challenge of his sport. As he gets older and his body starts to wear, his mind continues to sharpen. He figures that will help him thrive.

“It’s really cool to go out and learn and push yourself, if you’re scared of something, and then overcome that fear,” Mirra said. “And then all of a sudden, you have something else that scares you, and you overcome that. It’s a big set of stairs, you know.”

He learned that lesson at 19 while in a hospital bed. Then he decided he wanted to climb a few more flights.

Now look at Mirra and his sport. They’re way up there, higher than ever.

Thursday, Jun. 9, 2005

TV cop to the rescue

A former star of TV’s cop drama serial Heartbeat returned to crime-fighting when he came to the rescue of a real-life PC who was being assaulted.

Jason Durr, who played dapper copper Mike Bradley in the hit ITV series, came to the rescue after seeing the constable struggling with an 18-year-old man in Claremont Road, Highgate, on Sunday evening.

Mr Durr, 38, who lives nearby and is due to start filming a new two-part drama, said: “I spotted one of the boys hiding in a bush nearby and grabbed him and held on to him.

“Then I saw the policeman struggling with another boy, and it looked like he was getting the better of him.

“The poor guy was on his own and was trying to be all things to all people. It was one against three and those odds aren’t good.

“So I handed the boy to some onlookers and said ‘Don’t let go of him’.

“The policeman was being turned over by this bloke, and I ran down the street and literally leapt on him and got him in a head lock. Then before I knew it, the cavalry had arrived.”I didn’t think about what I was doing, I just did it.”

But despite his heroic actions, Mr Durr said his experience as a 1950s rural copper in Heartbeat didn’t translate to real-life Crouch End crime in 2005.

“All the people in the street thought it was hilarious that my role had somehow stayed with me, but it didn’t really help me.

“I just did what I think anybody would have done in that situation.

“I think I would rather stick to pretending to be a policeman, that is much more fun.”

A teenager has been arrested and charged with two counts of assaulting a police officer, aggravated taking and driving of a car, dangerous driving, driving without insurance and drug offences relating to two outstanding arrest warrants.

A police spokesman said: “Although we obviously do not encourage the public to get involved in incidents that might present a risk to their safety, in this case we would like to extend our thanks to the member of the public who came to the officer’s aid.”

The incident began after a routine patrol spotted four youths in a stolen blue Volkswagen Polo in Middle Lane, Crouch End, at 7.30pm.

When the two officers stopped the car, one managed to apprehend the front passenger before the car sped off, and a chase ensued.

The Polo crashed into another car in Claremont Road, and the other three youths ran off.

Wednesday, Jun. 8, 2005

Disabled Man in ‘Single-Handed’ Round-Britain Sailing Bid

A disabled boatman embarked today on an attempt to sail around the British Isles “single handed” to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.

Keith White, 56, who only has the use of one arm, set off early this morning from Gillingham, Kent, on a 2,000-mile voyage in which he hopes to raise hundreds of pounds for charity.

The adventurer will travel anti-clockwise around Britain and Ireland in his boat Nephele, which has an 8ft picture of Admiral Lord Nelson – painted by Mr White – on one of its sails.

He hopes to arrive on the South Coast in time to join celebrations marking the anniversary, including the International Fleet Review on June 28, before he completes the circuit.

Mr White, from Eltham, south-east London, said he had drawn some inspiration from Nelson, who had his right arm amputated eight years before he died at Trafalgar in October 1805.

But he added: “There is a link there but I am not playing on it. I am doing it for a sense of self-achievement – there is not much else I can do in life now.”

The father of seven lost the use of his left arm following a motorway crash 15 years ago but continued sailing, a sport he first fell in love with around 40 years ago.

He said that he would attempt to sail the whole route and was only planning to use the engine to recharge the vessel’s batteries.

And he suggested that if he succeeded in his present voyage, he may become the first person to sail “single handed” – quite literally – around the British Isles.

“I don’t know that anyone has done it. I have sent the Guinness Book of Records an email but I haven’t received a reply,” he said.

Mr White hopes to raise money for several charities, including The Psoriasis Association, which aims to raise awareness of a skin condition which he himself suffers from.

A spokeswoman for Guinness World Records said the voyage was “too specialised” to be accepted as a record attempt but she added that the organisation wished him luck for the trip.

Guide dog Ziggy to receive special fire safety award

A Toronto guide dog named “Ziggy” will receive a special Fire Safety Award from the Fire Marshal’s Public Fire Safety Council at a ceremony on June 15, 2005 in Toronto. The annual Fire Safety Awards recognize outstanding contributions to fire protection and prevention in Ontario.

On February 23, a fire broke out in Ziggy’s owner Neena Saloiya’s high-rise apartment when an oven mitt caught fire while food was being retrieved from the oven. Her guide dog Ziggy immediately began yelping and jumping around the apartment before the smoke alarm activated, to alert her to the danger. Immediately, Neena called 911. Ziggy then led her down 20 flights of
stairs to safety.

Although the fire gutted the apartment and caused about $30,000 in
damage, the situation could have been much worse had it not been for Ziggy and
his will to lead Neena to safety.

“Neena was extremely fortunate that Ziggy was there to alert her to the danger and lead her to safety,” said Fire Marshal Bernard Moyle. “Without a doubt, Ziggy saved the day!”

Fire departments throughout the province nominated individuals, organizations-and Ziggy-for this year’s awards; 21 recipients were selected.

The Honourable Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Monte
Kwinter and Fire Marshal Moyle will present the awards at a luncheon ceremony
at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto.

Tuesday, Jun. 7, 2005

One-eyed umpire’s love of game impossible to miss

Love of the game means many things to many people, but more to Max McLeary than just about anybody else.

A man who clings to the lowest rung of pro baseball as an umpire for 35 years, logging six nights a week and 45,000 miles a year crisscrossing the Midwest to lay down the law, can’t be doing it for the money – $125 per game, plus expenses. It has to be the work.

But even that doesn’t explain McLeary’s devotion. Because for the last 25 of those years, he’s been doing it with one eye.

”I never, ever thought about quitting. Every night, just before the first pitch, I look up into the sky,” he said, ”and thank the good Lord for putting me back on a baseball field.”

McLeary was knocked out twice when baseballs shattered his facemask, and nearly left for dead the first time. That was in Chillicothe, Ohio, in 1998. The first official to reach him shone a flashlight into McLeary’s right eye and horrified by the lack of movement, screamed out, ”Somebody call 911. We’re losing him.”

”Fortunately,” McLeary said, ”some fans in the stands yelled, ‘Check the other eye.’ When I came to, the first thing I saw was a helicopter in center field. I thought we were in a war or something. …

”Then, two years later, same thing happens. But this time,” he chuckled, ”they knew enough not to shine the light in my right eye.”

At 56, McLeary has turned disability into performance art. He has yet to hear a catcall he couldn’t turn around. He shut one coach up by strolling over to the dugout late in the game, popping his plastic eye out of the socket and handing it to his tormentor. ”You want to umpire this game?” McLeary said. ”Here, be my guest.”

Once, he tapped his way to home plate to exchange lineup cards using a cane and wearing dark glasses. The stands shook with laughter. Another time, McLeary was downing postgame beers with a losing coach and longtime pal who had a revelation three hours too late.

”All of a sudden he sits up and says, ‘I threw a left-hander. You didn’t see a pitch the whole night!’ When I finally I quit laughing,” McLeary recalled, ”I told him, ‘Next time, use a righty.’ ”

The memories flow fast and free Sunday afternoon as McLeary growls into a cell phone from a Cincinnati ballpark where he’s organized an all-star game for high school seniors from across southwestern Ohio.

”Every now and then, I’m heading toward Kalamazoo or somewhere else, and I wonder why I’m still doing this,” McLeary said. ”Then I get to the ballpark and honest to God, I think no one experiences the feeling I still get every time.

”I’m not a wealthy man,” he paused, ”but I’m a rich one.”

Dealt McLeary’s hand, a lesser man might have folded. He was good enough to play baseball at Penn State, but smart enough to know his talent wouldn’t put food on the table. On advice from umpire Augie Donatelli, whom McLeary knew growing up, he got his certification and began working the New York-Penn League the summer after graduation.

But the gypsy life lost its allure soon enough. McLeary took a job coaching soccer at Ashland University in Ohio and assisting Bill Musselman with the basketball team there until 1972. He moved to Wright State in Dayton, opened an auto upholstery business and worked a few games. But it took a freak accident to remind him how much he was missing.

He and his wife-to-be were playing in the snow during a blizzard in 1977 when she slipped and began to fall. McLeary grabbed hold of one leg, but the other shot skyward. The pointed toe of her boot punctured his right eye. After seven hours of surgery, McLeary awoke to find the world would never quite look the same again.

Today, he considers that setback a blessing. While recovering, he built the customizing business into a decent living. But the freedom it afforded felt like a cruel joke. McLeary missed the smell of freshly clipped grass, the languid pauses and helter-skelter bursts of action, even the way sweat flowed freely beneath those layers of padding in the dog days of summer.

Soon, he found himself at the batting cages for hours on end, pumping quarters into the pitching machines and learning to track the flight of a baseball all over again. After a few months, he showed up at field houses where high school and college teams practiced indoors during the chilly spring weather, begging for a chance to call balls and strikes. One day, he decided to return to umpiring school and be re-certified, this time as a one-eyed umpire.

For 11 years now, McLeary has been behind home plate almost every night from the end of May until the middle of September in one or another of the dozen towns that make up the Frontier League.

He’s been the subject of one book already, ”It Always Happens in Chillicothe,” by Mike Shannon. Like some minor league ”King of the Road,” he’s in it for the here and now, to collect stories and tell them over cold beers. He knows which coaches, bus drivers, groundskeepers and tavern owners stay up late in every town.

That goes for the offseason, too.

Woman With MS Sets Sights on Seven Summits

One down, six to go! That’s what Wendy Booker said when she loaded her gear for Boston after becoming the first known woman living with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) to summit Mt. McKinley, the highest point in North America. This summer, she will journey to Africa to conquer another of the world’s seven summits, Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Booker, diagnosed in 1998, is on a mission to raise awareness for the disease she faces and to share with others living with multiple sclerosis (MS) about available therapy resources. For Booker, every step up the mountain is an accomplishment, and each summit she reaches is an acknowledgement of her hard work, dedication, family support, and daily drug therapy.

Now, Booker is preparing to take on the next step in her attempt to be the first known woman living with MS to conquer the Seven Summits.

“For me, climbing gives me an opportunity to inspire others and to challenge myself,” commented Booker. “Almost half of the people living with MS are not on one of the approved treatments, and I want to show them what I am able to accomplish with the help of a good diet, exercise, and COPAXONE®. While people respond differently to therapy, they need to work with their doctor to find out what will work for them and I’m living proof, therapy can work!”

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again

Booker began climbing in 2002 as part of the Climb for the Cause team. The team consisted of six climbers living with MS and one long-time climbing buddy of a team member. The team set out to be the first unguided group of MS climbers to reach the summit. Booker was a novice climber but an accomplished athlete having run three marathons and been a certified aerobics instructor for years. She set out to train with the team and learn the skills necessary to reach the summit of Mt. McKinley. At 20,320 feet, this was no simple task!

“Climbing Denali the first time opened my eyes to the extremes of mountaineering. The weather was great one day, then awful for the next three,” said Booker. “I learned to respect every aspect of the mountain and really fell in love with the sport, despite our lack of success the first time around.”

Booker and two other expedition members made it to 17,000 feet but were turned back due to extremely dangerous weather beyond 19,000 feet. As she descended, she thought, “I’ll be back.”

Peak Experience

And she was in 2004. With a new, guided team, Booker prepared for another attempt in 2004. She hired a personal trainer with specific knowledge of high altitude climbing. She gave up the treats, including gummi bears, and dropped 20 pounds. She opted not to run a marathon and focus specifically on Denali. She trained for nearly a year to be 100 percent ready. When she departed for Alaska in June, she knew she was ready, now as long as the weather would cooperate they would be fine.

The weather was sunny and warm, at first. Blizzards at 11,000 and again at 14,200 kept them in their tents for days. Then, the weather broke. The team ascended to the summit June 27, 2004. Booker raised her arms in a true Rocky pose as she took her turn at the top of the world!

“Reaching the summit was the most incredible experience for me,” exclaimed Booker. “Not only did I feel like I accomplished it, but it felt like every person living with MS pushed me on to the top! It was an awesome experience.”

The Next Challenge

Kilimanjaro is composed of three dormant volcanoes (Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira). It is the highest peak in Africa at 19,340 feet. Booker will climb with a guided group for seven days with hopes of reaching the summit. Unlike Denali, the group’s gear will be carried by porters, and all meals will be fixed for them. The climate from start to finish of the expedition will change from prairie to rain forest to snowcapped mountain and back to the grassland. It is sure to be an impressive adventure.

“Climbing Kilimanjaro will be exciting,” said Booker. “It is mostly a long hike up the mountain and I am looking forward to experiencing Africa and meeting a new team of people.”

Booker will depart for her next adventure June 11. She will update her Web site throughout the climb. Log on to follow her trip by going to www.msclimb.com .

Team COPAXONE® (glatiramer acetate injection)

Booker is not alone in her fight against MS and misconceptions surrounding the abilities of people with MS. She is part of Team COPAXONE®, a group of remarkable people, all living with RRMS, who refuse to sit idly by and allow MS to stand in the way of their goals. Its members are all working to change society’s perception of the abilities of those living with MS.

Turning to Science

The FDA has approved drugs for RRMS, such as COPAXONE®. Current data suggests COPAXONE® is a selective MHC class II modulator. COPAXONE® is indicated for the reduction of the frequency of relapses in relapsing- remitting multiple sclerosis.

The most common side effects of COPAXONE® are redness, pain, swelling, itching, or a lump at the site of injection, flushing, chest pain, weakness, infection, pain, nausea, joint pain, anxiety, and muscle stiffness. These reactions are usually mild and seldom require professional treatment. Patients should tell their doctor about any side effects.

Some patients report a short-term reaction right after injecting COPAXONE®. This reaction can involve flushing (feeling of warmth and/or redness), chest tightness or pain with heart palpitations, anxiety, and trouble breathing. These symptoms generally appear within minutes of an injection, last about 15 minutes, and go away by themselves without further problems.

After injecting COPAXONE®, patients should call their doctor right away if they develop hives, skin rash with irritation, dizziness, sweating, chest pain, trouble breathing, severe pain at the injection site or other uncomfortable changes in their general health. Patients should not give themselves any more injections until their doctor tells them to begin again.

Sunday, Jun. 5, 2005

Meet Ms. Mills: Miracle worker

Rose-Marie Mills wasn’t sure she wanted to be principal of Middle School 222 in the South Bronx when the job was offered to her in December 2003.

She had made anonymous visits to the school on Brook Ave. and was shocked by what was going on in its classrooms. “What I saw was an injustice to everyone in the building — kids were just running wild and it was out of control,” she told the Daily News.

But all that has changed — and parents and school officials credit Mills as the reason MS 222 has become one of the most successful turnarounds in the struggling school system.

“I like to call Ms. Mills the miracle worker,” said parent Shirline Little. “She came in with a plan and it worked.”

The results have been astounding.

Crime inside the school is down 92.3%, with only a single crime committed in this academic year compared with 13 during the 2003-2004 school year.

Teacher turnover also has slowed tremendously. Last year the school spent more than $100,000 to cover teacher absences. This year the cost has been cut to only $4,000.

To understand the significance of the changes Mills and her team of teachers and administrators have ushered in, one must understand just how bad the school was.

Eight principals had come and gone over five years. Good teachers often left for better schools, and MS 222 was such a miserable place to work that teacher absenteeism was sky high.

There were rarely any textbooks in the building, which also happened to be rat infested.

“It wasn’t like there was one or two things wrong here … everything was wrong,” Mills said.

She had been a part of resurrecting another failing school, MS 301 in the Bronx, but there she was an assistant principal.

Before joining MS 222 she fretted about whether it would be the right career move to try to do it again. “It was so bad that I figured it couldn’t get any worse,” Mills conceded.

She started as principal on Jan. 20, 2004, and right off the bat was in regular contact with Rose DePinto, an aide to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein who was tasked with helping Mills find ways to keep the school from self-destructing.

Only weeks before, MS 222 was named one of 12 Impact Schools by Mayor Bloomberg, who vowed to restore order to dangerous schools by flooding them with cops and exposing reasons behind the chaos.

MS 222 underwent a top-to-bottom security assessment with great input from police.

Mills examined everything — hallway lighting, dismissal procedures and whether the custodian was stocking paper towel dispensers in the bathrooms.

A new alarm system was installed, along with camera surveillance and student ID card systems — making it easier to monitor students.

“In the first few weeks, we made sure everyone knew what the rules were,” Mills said, noting that a code of conduct was posted throughout the building.

Proper attire was required, a student detention room was created and children were suspended for major infractions.

Instead of having all 1,100 students enter through the same door, students were told to enter through various, specific doors. Guidance counselors greeted them while safety agents made sure students were properly dressed. Ineffective teachers were removed, some being transferred and others fired — not an easy feat because of a tangle of union rules. Even a custodian was fired for not doing basic tasks.

The Education Department sent in new teachers who were certified in their subject areas.

“You had some people who wanted chaos, because in chaos they don’t have to get anything done,” Mills said. Much of the early work involved making sure all of the adults in the building were doing their jobs.

“If there is a problem with kids roaming the hallways, some adult is not in the right spot,” Mills said.

For the first time in years, teachers said, it feels like actual learning might take place there.

Turning around student performance still has a long way to go. Reading scores went up 2 percentage points this year, but still only 6% of eighth-graders are reading at grade level.

But school officials believe the scores will improve now that Mills has created order out of chaos.

“She had a mission and a vision to really shape up this school, and she has sustained it,” DePinto said.

Wednesday, Jun. 1, 2005

Police say thank you to 3 brave teenage rescuers

TEAMWORK was the key to a dramatic riverside rescue, which saw three West Cumbrians rewarded for their outstanding bravery.

Workington teenagers Darren Rooke and Dean Robinson were the star guests at a special awards ceremony yesterday, along with fellow rescuer Ann Robertson.

The drama dates back to May 10, 2004, when both Darren, 16, and Dean, only 13, were swimming in the River Derwent, near Barepot.

All of a sudden they saw a body of a pensioner float past them and without hesitation knew exactly what to do.

Darren immediately swam out into the current to save the elderly man, dragging him towards the shore.

Dean ran as fast as he could to get help and returned with Mrs Robinson, a nearby resident.

Together they helped the man out of the water and tended to him until paramedics arrived at the scene.

Ron Smith, chief superintendent for West Cumbria, said that without their quick thinking the man would almost certainly have died.

He presented the three heroes with framed certificates at Workington police headquarters yesterday and praised an outstanding team effort.

Darren and Dean also received certificates from the Royal Humane Society, after being nominated by West Cumbria police.

Supt Smith said: “It was very effective teamwork and I congratulate you all.

“You all played a very important part in this rescue.”

He added that this type of dedication to others is one of the area’s biggest gems.

“West Cumbria is alive with people like this.

“There are people in our communities who, when others need assistance, are only too willing to stop and help.

“That’s exactly what we were faced with on the day in question. If any of these people had not played their part the chances are that this person would not have lived.”

Darren and Dean, who were both pupils at Southfield Technology College at the time, said they were pleased to be receiving the awards.

They said that at first they thought it was a sheep.

After realising it was actually a body, they let instinct take over and it was only days later that their brave actions really started to sink in.

Mrs Robertson said she was amazed to see the two boys keep their cool in a situation many adults would have struggled to deal with.

Chief Constable Michael Baxter also added his own message of thanks, saying the three rescuers were a credit to the area.

Tuesday, May. 31, 2005

Beach rescue crew reluctant heroes

Rescue volunteers yesterday shrugged off hero status after helping two women trapped by a king tide against Anglesea cliffs.

Anglesea Surf Life Saving Club members Paul Lunny, Colin Brodie and Ingilby Dickson were at a meeting at club headquarters on Sunday when news broke that two walkers were stranded on nearby Grinders Beach.

They took new bathers off the club shop’s shelf, grabbed wet weather jackets and rushed to the stranded walkers’ aid.

Mr Lunny and Mr Brodie set out in a rescue boat and Mr Dickson raced along the shrinking shoreline.

“Heroes? Not at all,” Mr Lunny said yesterday.

“ . .We’ve got about 200 active members in our club and I suspect there’s no-one there who wouldn’t have got into the boat and done the same thing.

“We just happened to be there. I’m not trying to be flippant but it’s just part of the process.”

Mr Lunny and Mr Brodie, in the boat, defeated the heavy swell and picked up one woman who was waiting near Mr Dickson as the waves crashed into the cliff base. The other had clambered part-way up the cliff.

Rough conditions, which saw the boat crew tossed into the two metre swell during an attempted return to the second woman, hindered further efforts by boat and a police air-wing crew then winched her and Mr Dickson to the hovering helicopter.

Club president Peter Williams yesterday spoke of his pride in the trio’s actions. He reckoned they’d be reluctant to wear the tag “hero”.

He was right.

“They did a fantastic job. It (the rescue effort ) is what surf clubs are here for,” Mr Williams said.

Mr Lunny could manage a chuckle about the life-threatening rescue yesterday.

“I managed to score a new pair of bathers which I’ll have to pay the club for later,” the Bellbrae man said.

He talked of the “small window of opportunity” as he and his fellow club life member from Torquay nosed the craft into the shore on their first rescue attempt.

“There was a break in the surf and we went for it. We were all right,” he said.

Ingilby Dickson, of Brighton, had to swim through chest-deep water several times to reach the stranded women.

“The water was up to their knees but they were actually quite calm, unaware of the danger of their situation,” the scraped and bruised man said.

“I explained to them if they were on the beach in 30 minutes they’d be swimming.”

Mr Williams said Mr Dickson’s children thought it “pretty cool” their father had been winched into a helicopter.

“His only comment was they (the helicopter crew) told him not to put his arms up (during winching) and he said he had no intention of doing that,” Mr Williams said.

Volunteers from Torquay Marine Rescue, SES and CFA units and the surf life saving club took part in the rescue.

Sunday, May. 29, 2005

Faith, prayer: armless guitar player plays on

The first time people see songwriter and singer Tony Melendez they usually wonder how he can possibly play guitar. Melendez, a thalidomide baby born without arms, seems an unlikely musician.

But for Melendez, who began to write songs and play the guitar with his feet as a child, music was a necessity. It sustained him and gave him a way to express his faith.

”Music was a form of release,” Melendez says. “There is a strange power that you receive from the music itself, that you’re singing and praying, that have given me the strength to keep going. It’s a powerful form of prayer.”

The power of Melendez’ form of prayer was apparent in a surprise performance at the Billboard Latin Music Awards at the Miami Arena last month. After a glitzy parade of production numbers with Latin stars like Juanes, Marco Antonio Solis, and Juan Luis Guerra, Melendez, dwarfed by the enormous stage, performed a quiet ballad in tribute to deceased Pope John Paul II. Afterwards the audience stood and gave him the most enthusiastic applause of the night. From the celebrity-packed front rows to the back of the cavernous hall to the stagehands behind the scenes, people were weeping.

Melendez, 43, has never questioned whether he could do things, only how. His parents moved from their native Nicaragua to Los Angeles to get treatment for their youngest son. They always pushed him to do things for himself. When he was 10, Melendez abandoned his artificial arms, preferring to use his feet.

”I didn’t struggle like people think,” he says from his home in Branson, Mo. “ I knew I was different. I think it’s how strong you are as a person [that determines] if it’s gonna bother you that much.”

His disability is a result of his mother being given thalidomide while she was pregnant. The drug was used to treat morning sickness until it was discovered that it caused severe birth defects.

His older brother José, 46, who is his manager and agent, says Tony was always independent.

Even a series of seven operations to break and reform a club foot didn’t daunt Tony.

”That saved his life,” José says. “If he hadn’t had that he wouldn’t be able to play the guitar today.”

Their parents, especially their father, insisted that Tony be treated the same as his brother and two younger sisters. When José got into scuffles defending his brother, Tony would tell him “it doesn’t hurt me. Don’t fight because of me.”

A REJECTION

It wasn’t until high school that Tony’s lack of arms held him back. Devoutly faithful, he wanted to be a priest, and wrote to the Vatican two years in a row. Each time he was told no, that to be a priest you need a finger and thumb to administer the Eucharist.

”There was some pain and hurt there,” Melendez admits. “This is where the music began to grow.”

He’d inherited an ability to play by ear from his father and grandfather, and had already begun playing guitar with his feet and composing songs. He practiced for hours, using a special tuning method that allowed him to strum rather than pick the guitar strings.

He began to perform at Masses, funerals, weddings and church groups. “Wherever there was something spiritual, I was there side by side with the priest.”

His faith in music eventually found him a new spiritual role. In 1987 he was chosen by a church group to perform for Pope John Paul II during a visit to the United States, in front of an international television audience of millions. When the 25-year-old musician had finished, the pope left his platform, walked over to Melendez and embraced him. Then he told him “Tony, you are a courageous young man. You are giving hope to all of us. My wish to you is to continue giving this hope to all people.”

For Melendez, it was the mission he had been denied a decade before. ”That just opened the door to go on,” he says. “When the pope kissed me, he passed on responsibility. This world needs a lot of help, not just in Third World countries but right here in the U.S. I can’t sit around just because I don’t have arms, there’s too much to do.”

That attitude inspires almost everyone who hears him. ”Tony preaches through his music,” says Edwin De Jesus, a deacon at Blessed Trinity Catholic Church in Orlando and a close friend of Melendez. When the two met at a concert for the Archdiocese of Chicago 15 years ago, ‘I didn’t feel sorry for him, I felt sorry for me. Because I had both arms, and I used to complain a lot, `I can’t do this, I can’t do that.’ When I saw Tony my life changed.”

José remembers his brother transforming his attitude at 13, after he came home from a day at school where other kids were teasing him about his armless brother, and announced to his mother that he wanted ”a normal brother who could throw a Frisbee.” He turned around to see Tony listening.

The boys went outside, and José tossed a Frisbee to Tony, who picked it up between his toes and hurled it straight back at him. ”I stopped looking at him as a disabled person after that,” José says. “He had some challenges, but he just had to deal with them differently.”

Since his appearance before the pope, Melendez has dedicated himself to both his musical and spiritual mission. The pontiff’s notice led to a blitz of media attention and a recording career. He has made five albums in English and two in Spanish, and performs regularly for churches, schools, concert halls, and benefits for religious causes. He performed six more times for Pope John Paul, and received commendations from President Reagan, Very Special Arts, and the state of California.

Besides his musical career, he also leads missions to Central America. The morning of this interview, he is groggy after a week in Nicaragua, where he led a group of college students in rebuilding a church. He and his wife Lynn, who have two adopted children, Andres, 7, and Marisa, 10, live in Branson.

Just as he doesn’t entirely understand the strength that music gives him, Melendez doesn’t altogether understand why he has such a powerful effect on people. Instead, he attributes it to the music itself. ”It just becomes alive,” he says. ”I can walk into a public high school, and the kids at first are rolling their eyes “boring.” But by the second song they’re singing or swaying along, leaning forward in their seats going ”wow.” Music can do a lot.”

Everyday Heroes

Joan Clark

Volunteer with the Union County Chapter of the American Red Corss

MOTTO: “Thank the Lord for this day and send someone my way that I can help or that can help me.”

AGE: 56.

HOMETOWN: Monroe; has lived in Marshville for 18 years.

HER WORK: Has been volunteering at the Red Cross since 1999; handles data entry; involved with the Armed Forces Emergency Services program; responds to disasters with her husband Fred Clark, co-captain of a Red Cross disaster team; she and her mom Aleene Christenberry also help at blood drives and health fairs.

WHY SHE DOES IT: She got involved with the service group after her husband began volunteering there and says she enjoys working with the people and educating others about what the organization does. She also can relate to those who have suffered catastrophes such as fires. “We had a fire ourselves. When you go through that, you can relate to someone that has a disaster.”

WHAT OTHERS SAY: “Joan and Aleene epitomize the work of the Red Cross. Whether it’s helping a family burned out of their home, supporting our local troops … or helping at first aid stations, they truly know that together we can save lives in Union County.” Bette Wojcicki, director of the Preparedness Program.

Saturday, May. 28, 2005

Neighbor rescues mom & kids from inferno

A hero neighbor — who once dreamed of becoming a firefighter but was thwarted by his asthma — braved flames and smoke to rescue a mom and her three young kids from a burning apartment in The Bronx yesterday.

John Paul Malpica, 33, raced to the rescue of the family trapped a floor below him after he was woken just before 1 a.m. by a smoke alarm in the corridor of the Powell Street building.

“I’m going to burn! I’m going to burn!” one of the kids shrieked in Spanish, as mom Yomaris Marquez screamed, “Help me! Help me!” from their fourth-floor apartment, Malpica said.

“Get away from the door!” Malpica yelled, he recounted yesterday. “I asked God to give me the strength and the courage to help this family out. I had to go inside to get them.”

He kicked the dead-bolt-locked door open.

Unable to see through the smoke, Malpica braved the searing heat and dropped to his knees, feeling around the floor.

He found Marquez cradling her youngest, Roberto, 3, and sheltering her daughters, Michelle, 6, and Rayna, 8, who, neighbors said, suffered burns to her arms and face and was crying hysterically. Malpica dragged all four to safety.

“I saw the blaze flying out, but I was concentrating on pulling them out,” said Malpica, a maintenance worker at the Buckingham Hotel in Midtown.

Other neighbors helped the family to safety, while next-door neighbor Eric Luna rushed Rayna into his apartment to treat her.

“She was crying. She kept asking if her mother was OK,” said Luna, 22.

The family was rushed to Jacobi Hospital. Rayna was in critical condition, suffering from burns and smoke inhalation. Michelle and Roberto were in stable condition with smoke inhalation. Their mom was in critical condition with smoke inhalation.

But Marquez was still able to tell a friend how grateful she was for her neighbor. “If it wasn’t for the neighbor, we’d be dead,” Marquez said, according to the friend.

A Fire Department spokeswoman said the fire was electrical and accidental. Neighbors said a space heater in the living room had caught fire as the mom and the three kids slept in the bedroom.

Friday, May. 27, 2005

Taking another step closer to a cure

Joe Botto is part of a cause, a victim who hopes to ultimately benefit from the ongoing efforts of Spinal Cord Injuries (SCI) research.
However, Botto refuses to play the role of victim in the cause. In fact, he might even be giving back more to it than he’s rightfully receiving.
Botto has been paralyzed from the chest down and confined to a wheelchair since being involved in a serious car crash in 1998. Then 44, he was the victim of an accident caused by a hit-and-run drunk driver close to his then home in Plympton.

Now 50, Botto has in part had to move back to his original hometown of Rockland as a result of his accident. His life for the past six years has involved the expectedly long road of treatment and rehabilitation, which has been intensive and often painful. But for most of that time, Botto has also been able to help his own personal cause, working with the One Step Closer Foundation.
OSCF, an organization dedicated to the cause of SCI, raises money and awareness through various fund raising events, such as comedy shows, dinner dances and the annual benefit golf tournament. Much of Botto’s time these days is spent at his well-equipped desk in the kitchen of his Rockland home, helping to raise funds for OSCF and SCI research, either by selling tickets for and promoting Foundation-sponsored events or through his other independent work as a cash flow specialist, working with private individuals to liquidate their cash flows.
Botto’s latest project was promoting two Cape Cod-based benefit events last weekend, the first Comedy Show at the Courtyard Restaurant and Pub in Cataumet on Sunday evening, followed by the fourth annual Comedian & Celebrity Golf Tournament, at the Ballymeade Country Club in West Falmouth on Monday.
Botto offers his own unique way of describing his efforts to raise funds and get the word out.
“I’ve been going crazy, basically,” said Botto. “I’ve been running everything myself, buying materials like paper, ink and stamps and doing all the design work for flyers, press releases and golf sponsorship signs, plus gas for a lot of travelling back and forth that I need to do, and there’s faxes and phone calls to what seems like everybody under the sun.”

Botto’s fundraising and public relations work is committed to the overall cause of SCI research, but he has a personal stake in his efforts as well. Botto is hoping sometime in 2006 to make a trip to the Reeve-Irvine Institute in California for the major spinal cord operation, which is believed will enable him to begin walking again.
The operation, which would take place under the direction of Botto’s longtime physician, Dr. Hans Keirstead of the Reeve-Irvine Institute, involves the removal of blood tissue or DNA from the patient’s nose to be injected into the affected area of the spinal cord.
Botto grew up in Rockland and graduated from Rockland High School in 1972. As a youngster, he was active musically, learning to read music and playing saxophone in his high school band, later taking up guitar after high school.
Until his accident, Botto’s career was as a furniture builder and plasterer with his own independent company, Ace Plastering, which he said at its peak generated over a million dollars in business. He still has the company and these days subcontracts works and projects out.
Incredibly, Botto’s accident is just one of a series of personal tragedies that he’s lived through. His older brother, Steven, was killed by a drunk driver in 1987. His daughter, Julie, was murdered at age 27 while living in Arizona in 2000, and Botto has since been raising her daughter in Rockland. There was also a divorce from his wife only weeks after the accident occurred.
“I’ve found that a crippling accident like this usually either draws families closer together or pulls them further apart. It’s a very traumatic situation,” Botto said.
Describing his condition, Botto explained that though he needs “some assistance for everything,” with some ability to move his arms he still retains good upper body control.

“I’ve found that everybody with a spinal cord injury has a different personal situation, as far as the care each one has to go through. Essentially, your whole life changes, and you have to do everything different. Every shower needs just the right setup, all your doorways have to be wider, you basically have to remodel your whole house. And there’s always the pain and agony you have to go through,” Botto said.
“I’m very confident about the operation I’m going to have. I believe in it, and Dr. Keirstead has told me personally that it will work. Right now, it’s just a matter of getting the DEA to approve it,” Botto concluded on an optimistic note.

Sunday, May. 22, 2005

Nursing home residents celebrate their ‘heroes’

National Nursing Home Week was observed by the residents at Pigeon Forge Care and Rehab.

They celebrated throughout the week with Country Western Day, an ice cream social, a Hawaiian luau, and “Hero Day.”

On Hero Day, the residents and staff arrived in patriotic attire along with stars-and-stripes top hats and tiaras. The residents saluted their heroes in an unusual way. They chose staff members from each department and commented on what qualified them as their hero.

When roasting Madonna Baker, director of nursing, residents said, “Sometimes we think she is an angel because she moves so fast her white coat flies out and looks like angel wings when she goes by. Who does she think she is fooling?”

Baker, Alice Shook and Administrator Jack Milligan were among those who were deemed heroes for their dedication and work at the facility.

The resident council compiled a message dedicated to all staff members that was read by resident Thelma Helwig entitled “Home to Me”:

“The house we live in is a home in Pigeon Forge. The nurses, CNAs, dietary, laundry and housekeeping, maintenance, therapy, all the office workers, and all the other people we meet. The faces that we see each day, that’s home to me.

“The things we see about ourselves, the big things and the small, the laughter, the tears, the dreams of many a year. The home that I live in where many come to work, where my friends and family are.

“The ‘Hello, and how are you today?’ and the hugs. We have the feeling of being free, the right to speak our minds and tell you what we think. That’s home to me.

“What we have here is a revolution going on. That makes you workers soldiers. You are our heroes and some of you today will walk away as our hero. You all are our everyday heroes in a home full of love where we live. That’s home to me.”

Friday, May. 20, 2005

‘Absolute heroes’ – mum and baby pulled from burning car

A central Victorian couple have been hailed heroes after they pulled a mother and her baby from a burning car at Marong yesterday.

The quick-thinking actions of Darren and Kerry Southon may have saved the lives of Annette Johns and her infant son, David, after the car they were travelling in crashed into a tree and burst into flames.

The Southons were on their Wilsons Hill Road property when they saw the vehicle lose control on a deserted stretch of dirt road.

The couple rushed to the scene with fire extinguishers and rescued the mother and son from the burning car.

Nursing a burnt hand and visibly shaken, a humble Mr Southon told The Advertiser he had just done what any person would have in such a situation.

“We were in the paddock – I had just come home for dinner and was letting the dog out,” he said.

“I saw the car go past and then heard this awful bang.

“When we got there, the car was on fire – I just got the woman out of the front of the car and my wife got the baby out of the back.”

Mr Southon then called emergency services.

He and his wife waited with Ms Johnson until paramedics arrived, while the couple’s two daughters looked after David.

Ms Johnson suffered critical head injuries in the crash and was flown to The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, where she remained in a critical condition late last night.

David suffered shoulder bruising and was taken to the Bendigo Hospital for observation. He was later discharged.

Sergeant Peter Beaman, from the Bendigo Traffic Management Unit, was full of praise for the Southons’ heroic efforts.

“How do you put it into words, other than to say they are absolute heroes?” he said.

“The couple were about 400 yards away when they heard the bang.

“If it wasn’t for their quick thinking, it would have been a double fatality.”

CFA operations officer Tim Scott said the car was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived at the scene.

“If the Southons had not pulled the mother and baby out, they would be dead,” he said.

“It’s just so lucky they saw the crash.”

Tuesday, May. 17, 2005

LBPD honors recent heroes

Heroes who wear the badge, and those without, will be honored at the Long Beach Police Department’s 37th Annual Police Awards ceremony today.

The luncheon, held in the grand ballroom of the Long Beach Convention Center, brings together city dignitaries, community organizations, officers and police department staff, as well as regular citizens who stepped up to the challenge and served as heroes over the past year.

Among the many people to be honored at the fete will be Jay Glatman, who saved a motor patrol officer from far more serious injury last June when he came to the patrolman’s aid.

Glatman was driving when he saw a car make an unexpected U-turn and hit the motor patrol officer’s bike. Glatman used his car to block traffic, then gave the officer first aid and comforted him until paramedics arrived.

The event will begin with a reception at 11:15 a.m., followed by the luncheon and an awards ceremony at noon.

Davenport woman helping tsunami victims, one volunteer at a time

For three weeks, Michel Pontarelli spent her mornings braving 103-degree heat to clean up debris and trash from a shore in Sri Lanka. By the end of her trip, she had lost 10 pounds and had cleared two miles of coastline.

Pontarelli, director of the Office of Global Affairs at St. Ambrose University, Davenport, spent her April vacation assisting the tsunami-relief efforts in Sri Lanka. Her experience with the Sri Lankan government and fellow volunteers changed her view of volunteering.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Pontarelli said. “We need to do more because what we’ve done hasn’t reached them.”

Pontarelli, 49, said the Sri Lankan government has received millions in private donations from organizations. However, she said the results of aid efforts were barely visible in areas controlled by the Tamal Tigers, a rebel group that has been in conflict with the government for nearly two decades.

“In my opinion, no aid is getting to the people,” she said. “The government is just sitting on it.”

Pontarelli volunteered with i-to-i, a British organization that puts volunteers to work around the world. Because many non-governmental organizations focused their attention on the east coast, she spent her time in a refugee camp in Kalutara on the west coast, clearing debris from nearby shores and houses and working with children in the refugee camp.

Unfortunately, the Sri Lankan government did not make relief efforts any easier, she said.

“The government has declared that nobody can rebuild within 100 meters of the water,” she said. “Most are fishermen who live there. They have nowhere else to go.”

Cultural and psychological barriers also hampered relief efforts, she said.

“A lot of fishermen won’t go out because they’re afraid of the water,” she said. “Many won’t eat fish because they’re afraid the fish have been feeding off dead bodies.”

As a result, the price of fish — a main staple of the local diet — skyrocketed.

Despite the challenges, she was impressed with other volunteers and the efforts of local individuals. Pontarelli met a Sri Lankan native who had started his own recycling program. She also met four volunteers — three from the United States and one from Ireland — who laid the groundwork financially for relief efforts in Peraliya. These individuals made such a huge impact that she plans to donate directly to them in the future.

“It was a good lesson for me,” she said. “Find somebody who you know who is doing work on the ground and give directly to them.”

Carol Miller, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C., said aid often gets to disaster zones slowly because of the sheer number of organizations that are drawn in to do the work.

Matthew Perry, who traveled to Sri Lanka from Washington, D.C., as a team leader for the American Red Cross, said it is unusual for private donors to give money to governments.

“To be frank, they never asked us for money,” he added.

Although Pontarelli’s trip was not sponsored by St. Ambrose, she gave a presentation to an international economics class when she returned. Economics Professor Wayne Oberle said his students later spent about 45 minutes minutes discussing Pontarelli’s presentation.

“It was very real and very different from our primary focus on textbooks and newspapers; trying to figure out our national economy and how it affects our global situation,” Oberle said.

“We had a student make a comment, ‘Oh, my god, do we Americans ever take life for granted, because these people have trouble surviving,’ ” he said.

Pontarelli created a special account called QC Cares at Wells Fargo Bank locations in the Quad-Cities to accept donations for the volunteers and programs she discovered during her trip.

Friday, May. 13, 2005

Unsung Hero: Boston College volunteers clean up students’ rep

The Allston-Brighton Boston Healthy Coalition recognizes residents who quietly contribute to making Allston-Brighton safe and welcoming on a daily basis. The award declares them role models for their actions, teachers for their words and inspirations to us all.

The volunteers from Boston College are everywhere.
You can find them filling grocery bags for food bank recipients, playing street hockey with local kids at the YMCA and planting flowers at the local community gardens.
Even through the winter snowstorms, students organize about 15 service days to clean up the grounds of neighborhood schools and libraries.
Kristin Pineo of the West End House said students provide one-on-one tutoring for local kids.
“One volunteer did some improv comedy with students to bring the kids out,” Pineo said.
It is estimated that about one-third of the college’s students volunteer in the community. But BC employees also work to make a difference in Allston-Brighton.
Victoria Megias-Batista, principal of Garfield Elementary School in Brighton, said her students look forward to the arrival of faculty volunteers each week.
BC employees come into Garfield classrooms to read aloud to students every Tuesday on their lunch breaks.
“It’s an extra resource, other individuals that the kids can look up to,” said Megias-Batista, who said the Read Aloud Program has been at the school for at least the past seven years.
Read and more
BC student athletes also volunteer at the school by becoming pen pals to the elementary schoolers and through motivational speaking. Student athletes who join HEAR, or Help Educate through Athletic Responsibility, speak to the younger students about how to achieve their goals

For them, being around these huge guys and girls, it’s something that makes them feel special,” said Megias-Batista.
Students ask questions that range from the serious -“How do you avoid peer pressure?” -to silly – “How many teeth do hockey players have knocked out?” Moe Maloney, who runs the program out of the BC Neighborhood Center, said the award is long over due for the hardworking volunteers.
“I’m just a middle person. They do all the work,” said Maloney, a former BC baseball coach and BC grad.
Maloney said the volunteers’ work also extends outside of the neighborhood. Last year a group of 591 BC volunteers traveled to Appalachia during spring break to lend their services to the poor mountain region, said Maloney.
“They blow my mind. I can’t speak highly enough of them,” said Maloney. “Their hearts and their minds are so into helping others.”

Monday, May. 9, 2005

Duke of York to Honour Arctic Convoy Heroes

The Duke of York will join British veterans who braved Arctic conditions, ferocious seas and enemy attacks to deliver vital supplies to Russia during the Second World War, to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the conflict today.

Hundreds of merchant seamen who served on the convoys and Royal Navy sailors who escorted the ships through U-boat infested waters have returned to north Russia to commemorate their fallen comrades.

The Duke of York will attend a memorial and wreath-laying ceremony in Severomorsk before travelling to Murmansk to view a military parade where he is due to make a speech.

He will then have the opportunity to meet some of the veterans who helped deliver four millions tons of war equipment to Russia between 1941 and 1945.

The Duke will later visit Murmansk war memorial and the Northern Fleet Museum and tour an ice-breaker, a sturdy ship used to break a passage though icy water.

On August 31, 1941, the first convoy of six merchant ships, code-named Dervish, arrived at the port of Archangel with crucial supplies, including 15 Hurricane fighters.

Over the next four years, 40 convoys undertook the dangerous 1,500 to 2,000 mile run to Murmansk and Archangel, one of the deadliest convoy routes during the war.

Nearly 3,000 British sailors and merchant seamen lost their lives during attacks by U-boats and Luftwaffe bombers.

Nevertheless, 13,000 tanks, 22,000 aircraft and 417,000 motor vehicles were delivered to the Soviet Union so it could fight on the Eastern Front against Nazi Germany.

More than 350 British veterans, their families and carers, are taking part in the series of events in northern Russia to mark the 60th anniversary of VE Day, May 8, thanks to financial support from the National Lottery Hero’s Return Scheme.

Gordon Long, of the Royal Merchants Association, said: “We want to pay our respects to those who died in the Arctic Convoys by returning to Russia for this special trip of remembrance.

“It is also important to ensure that younger people in the UK and in Russia take notice of trips like this. As time passes we must make sure new generations remember the sacrifices made by those before them to secure their freedom.”

Another veteran, Arthur Birtles, 83, of Colwall, Worcester, added: “I am very grateful for this opportunity to return to Russia after 60 years.

“Many people don’t know about the importance of the Arctic Convoys and the conditions we had to suffer. It was freezing cold and we were under constant attack from U-boats.

“I want to honour those who were not lucky enough to return, and to march alongside my Russian comrades for the last time.”

On Tuesday the Duke of York is due to read a lesson at a religious service at the Second World War international cemetery in Murmansk before observing wreath-laying ceremonies there, and at Vaenga Cemetery in Severomorsk.

The Duke of Kent will lay a wreath at the Soviet War Memorial in central London today in memory of the 27 million soldiers and civilians from the Soviet Union who died in the Second World War.

Veterans of the Arctic Convoys, Russian veterans and those from RAF units based out there during the conflict, along with local MPs, will participate in the ceremony.

Hero bus driver modest of deed

The Fijian bus driver in California who saved 48 students, parents and teachers from a tragic accident is being modest about his heroic deed.

Sailasa Nailava said he was still being bombarded with letters and flowers of appreciation from students, parents, teachers and the Fullerton community leaders in Santa Ana.

Mr Nailava said he was grateful to all those who had commended his skillful driving and fast thinking to avoid an accident on the Santa Ana freeway.

“I was just doing my job and whatever happened that day was like a dream, it’s a miracle that we are alive and I believe it was God who saved us,” Mr Nailava said.

He believes in regularly reviewing evacuation procedures with children on every major excursion.

The trip to the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana was no exception. He told the children that if something happened to him, to pull the yellow emergency-brake lever, and he showed them where to find the first-aid box.

In a combination of quick thinking, high skills, a cool head gathered from experience, plus luck, Sailasa Nailava, 48, prevented a possibly horrific accident that could have killed everyone, police said.

If it was not for Mr Nailava’s quick thinking, the police sergeant said all 48 passengers of Fern Drive Elementary School would either have died or suffered serious injuries from the strong impact of the accident. Speaking from Santa Ana yesterday, Mr Nailava said he was returning from a fieldtrip and cruising along the northbound Freeway when the accident occurred. He said the accident happened suddenly. “One minute I was driving and the next I saw the wheel of a 220-pound tour-bus flying across the centre divider at approximately 100 mph towards the bus,” Mr Nailava said.

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