Friday, March 27, 2009

One of these days I'm gonna write a book

After almost 30 years in journalism I’ve come to realize certain truths about newspapers, stories and the people who read them and contribute to them.
One of the truths that I’m going to include in the journalism textbook I’m going to write someday is a little thing I call the “Expert Availability Anomaly.”
Here’s how it goes: when you’re looking for an expert to help you with a story, there are none to be found.
But as soon as your story hits the front page of the paper, it’s Katie bar the door.
The experts come out of the woodwork.
And most of them are convinced that you are a idiot for not printing their side of the story.

Sheriff's probe lands fiance at fashion show

Berks County, PA - Sheriff Eric J. Weaknecht paced nervously backstage at the Berks County Bridal Show in the Reading Crowne Hotel on Sunday.

He had enlisted several of his deputies to assist him in the final phase of a two-year investigation.

Somewhere out in the audience sat the subject of the probe.

His mind raced as he considered what might go wrong.

Could his prime suspect get away?

Weaknecht and his deputies had arranged to model tuxedos at the annual bridal event so they could blend.

Though only sheriff for a little over one year, Weaknecht has worked in the department nearly 25 years.

He started as a deputy and rose through the ranks. During that time he learned a lot about law enforcement.

Since taking office in January 2008 Weaknecht has started a K-9 unit, initiated traffic and tobacco enforcement, and opened up satellite offices for gun permits and dog licenses.

His favorite achievement is a special program that provides identification cards to children and enters their information into the Amber Alert system. If a child is abducted, his or her name, description and other vital information can be broadcast immediately as an Amber Alert.

Jessica D. Barrett said she could see Weaknecht pacing behind the curtain.

"I didn't think anything of Eric and his men volunteering to model," the sheriff's girlfriend said. "Eric is that kind of guy, wanting to help people out if he can."

She said she knew Weaknecht had his eye on her for about two years, but she admitted she had no idea she was the cause of his anxiety.

"Afterward, I remembered that he did seem really nervous," Barrett said. "But I attributed that to the fact he had never modeled."

The bridal show was a big success and the crowd of mostly women cheered wildly at the end as Weaknecht and his men went back on stage for an encore, dancing and twirling their vests to "I'm Too Sexy."

Barrett said she was applauding when, out of the blue, the emcee called her up on stage.

"Eric and the guys are always goofing around, so I thought I was prepared for anything," Barrett said. "But as I walked toward him I noticed his niece at the side of the stage with a camera."

Before she could react, the sheriff sprang his trap.

"I told you when I did this I was going to do it big," Weaknecht said. "Will you marry me?"

A fall wedding is planned.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Berks woman's leg injuries can't stop her running.

Janet Oberholtzer has spent the last five years of her life defying expectations.

Some of you may recall that she is the former Morgantown woman whose husband, Jerry, sold their garden center in 2004, rented a 39-foot RV and with their three sons, Joshua, Joseph and Jonathan, went on a cross-country trek that ended in a near fatal wreck.

Jerry and the boys came away with bumps and bruises but Janet's legs were pinned in the wreckage.

At first she was not expected to live.

Then doctors said she'd live but they didn't expect her to walk.

Then she walked and they said she'd never run again.

Well, guess what?

"I did recover a lot better than my doctors thought," Oberholtzer said. "I've had about 18 surgeries."

Jerry bought an older home in Mohnton and is fixing it up.

Joshua, 20 is in his second year at West Chester University, studying communications.

Joseph, 18, graduated from Twin Valley High School last year, and Jonathan, 16, is a 10th-grader at Gov. Mifflin.

All the while, Janet has been undergoing surgeries and physical therapy and after a long time wondering, she started getting up on a treadmill. She built up her strength so that she could walk comfortably, and always there in the back of her mind was the admonition that she'd never run again.

She always loved to run and missed it badly.

She started jogging on her treadmill and a few weeks ago went to Gring's Mill and took her first steps as a runner again on the dirt path along the Tulpehocken Creek.

To understand the kinds of injuries Janet suffered you need only look at her left calf.

"It almost looks like a prosthesis," Janet said. "But the doctors were able to save the sciatic nerve that goes from your spine down to your foot and gives you range of motion in your foot and ankle.

"I lost some of the veins and arteries, but the main ones were still there and that's what made the doctors determine they could save my leg in the first place," she said.

Janet said she pushed herself to adjust to what she calls the new normal.

"I used to think people should just get over things and move on and now I realize it's much more of a process."

Her next goal is to run in the Garden Spot Village Marathon relay on April 4.

Sounds like Janet has found her way through.

Then again, what did you expect?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Saved by a haircut: the Little Cliff story

The race of his life came down to the wire for Little Cliff.
In his short career, Little Cliff was a relatively successful thoroughbred racehorse.
The descendent of horse-racing royalty, he was trained by Nick Zito, a giant in the Sport of Kings, and the gelding ran with some of the best in his class.
Zito won the Kentucky Derby in 1991 with Strike the Gold and again in 1994 with Go for Gin. He won the Preakness in 1996 with Louis Quatorze.
The trainer and his wife, Kim, were taken with Little Cliff and before they parted when Zito finished training him, Kim placed a sticker on Little Cliff’s Jockey Club file that read: “If this horse needs a home when he retires, please call.”
But when he had run his last race, rather than being put out to pasture to meander away his golden years on the Zitos’ property near Louisville, Ky., he was put into a pen in late March at a Lancaster County animal brokerage, destined for someone’s dinner table in France, Japan or Belgium, or some other horse-eating country.
Little Cliff was about to be sold to a slaughterhouse operation that ships horses overseas, said Christy C. Sheidy, co-founder of Another Chance 4 Horses.
There Little Cliff would have been unceremoniously shot, butchered and eaten, she said.
Sheidy runs the all-volunteer, nonprofit equine rescue agency out of her North Heidelberg Township home.
“These horses are not going for dog food or glue but for human consumption abroad,” Sheidy said. “I call it America’s dirty little secret.
“Rich people in foreign countries like to eat American horses.”
In the broker’s pen, Sheidy said, Little Cliff caught a staph infection and was becoming emaciated.
To the untrained eye, Little Cliff resembled a worthless nag.
A spy in the horse-rescue network noticed how well Little Cliff was groomed, took a photo of the thoroughbred and e-mailed it to Sheidy.
“I could tell the way he was groomed that he had been well cared for by someone,” Sheidy said. “I didn’t know then who he was, but I could tell he was a thoroughbred.”
Sheidy contacted Diana Baker for help identifying Little Cliff. All thoroughbreds have a tattoo inside their upper lip.
“If you can read that tattoo, you can trace their ownership and race record,” Sheidy said.
Baker, a former director of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and head of the thoroughbred division of Another Chance 4 Horses, said many horses with royal racing breeding lines and who have undergone expensive training are quietly being sold for slaughter.
“People will take these horses to what are called direct-to-slaughter pens where they are sold for about $350 to $500 per horse,” said Baker of Casanova, Va.
Thoroughbred horses come with credentials and often the original breeder or a trainer will enter a notation in the file.
“They’ll say that when this horse is retired and no longer wanted to contact them and they’ll come and get the horse,” Baker said. “That’s what Kim Zito did in Little Cliff’s case.
“People want to get rid of these horses under the radar rather than getting involved in contacting people interested in giving the horse a place to retire.”
Kim Zito said she can’t understand the reasoning behind slaughtering such pedigreed horses.
“That’s the question of the year,” Zito said. “It’s not like Little Cliff was so broken down he couldn’t be saved.
“Little Cliff will make someone a fine riding horse for years to come. I don’t understand what’s behind these decisions.”
She said when she and her husband get Little Cliff back, they will either keep him themselves or give him to a worthy home.
“Millions of people have come forward offering to take him in,” Zito said.
Sheidy said all together that AC4H rounded up $680 to buy Little Cliff from the slaughterhouse and bring him to Berks County to recover.
After a 30-day quarantine period, Sheidy will make arrangements with the Zitos to send Little Cliff back to them.
“Our veterinarian will issue him papers saying he is fit to travel and he’ll go,” Sheidy said.
And when Little Cliff goes back to his old Kentucky home, Sheidy said, he’ll free up a stall for another thoroughbred at Another Chance 4 Horses.

Monday, March 2, 2009

If it's snowing in Laureldale, better shovel the grass

In most Berks County municipalities you must remove snow from your sidewalks 24 hours after the snow stops falling.
But in Laureldale, you now must also remove snow from your lawn.
Failure to do so will result in a $111 fine.
“It’s an existing ordinance and it’s pretty much boilerplate language,” said Osmer S. Deming, borough solicitor. “It’s just never been enforced.”
Ordinance 182 was adopted by borough council in 1962 and contains the 24-hour time limit to clear sidewalks. It also sets forth what constitutes a sidewalk, Deming said.
The ordinance says sidewalks “shall also mean any unimproved or ground surface area ... fronting on a street within the curbline. ...”
Deming said though the ordinance has been on the books for 47 years, it has not been enforced — until now.
Gary Lutz, 2300 Montrose Ave., said he was one of the first victims of the borough’s new lawn-shoveling police.
Lutz said he uses a snowblower to clear the sidewalk in front of his house.
On the south side of his property his lawn abuts a dead-end street. There is a curb but no sidewalk.
A strict interpretation of the ordinance requires Lutz to remove snow from the lawn that abuts the street.
“The ticket says ‘Resident failed to shovel grass,’ ” Lutz said.
Lutz said he was fined $50 plus $61 in costs.
“I honestly didn’t know what to think,” Lutz said. “I thought it was a little crazy.”
Lutz said he actually doesn’t have a problem running his snowblower across the lawn if the borough wants him to, but he can’t understand why.
“I don’t think they thought this through,” he said.
Lutz said he has appealed the citation and has a hearing scheduled this afternoon before District Judge Dean R. Patton of Muhlenberg Township.
“I’ve lived in this borough for 15 years and nobody ever told me I had to shovel my lawn,” Lutz said. “I think at the very least I deserved a warning.”
Lutz said he never had been cited before by the borough, considers himself a good neighbor and wants to clear his record.

Wing Bowl judging leaves bad taste with Birdsboro man

Mike Casciano of Birdsboro always knew he could eat a lot of food fast.
But he never imagined a Philadelphia radio station’s annual chicken wing-eating contest, the famous WIP Wing Bowl, could suddenly rocket him toward the zenith of amateur competitive eating.
“I heard they were having a Wing Off in West Chester, so I thought I could get some free wings and see how I do,” Casciano said of his first step toward the 2008 Wing Bowl.
The Wing Bowl, whose byword is boundless debauchery, is held in the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia the Friday before the Super Bowl. It was started as a consolation to Eagle fans whose team has never won a Super Bowl.
About 17,000 attended Wing Bowl 17 on Friday, Jan. 30.
Casciano went to a couple of preliminary Wing Offs — 10-minute competitions held at various eateries around the Delaware Valley to see how many wings can be devoured by semifinalists.
“I went to one in West Chester and ate 54 wings in 10 minutes and then went to a second Wing Off in New Jersey and qualified for the Wing Bowl,” Casciano said.
Competing at Wing Bowl is a national competitive eating distinction. It also means putting together an entourage and coming up with a persona.
One of Casciano’s teammates on the Kutztown University Golden Bears football team had dubbed him “Caveman.”
“I never shaved during football season and had the whole beard thing and sloppy look going on,” he said.
Casciano came in seventh in 2008 but 11th at this year’s Wing Bowl.
Casciano said he never thought he’d be contemplating retirement just two years into his amateur competitive eating career, especially just after gorging himself beside pros like Joey Chestnut, the Black Widow and Philadelphia’s own El Wingadore.
Make no bones about it, he loves the eating and the competition, but in a way he felt a little cheated this year.
He chewed through 75 wings in the first round. Then there was a technical snag.
“The judges didn’t count all my wings,” he said. “They said I didn’t eat 90 percent of the meat off of some of the bones. How do you tell what 90 percent is, anyway?
“Besides, I was still hungry.”
The incident left a bad taste in his mouth, Casciano said, but he still hasn’t made a final decision on retirement.
“I don’t want to do a Brett Favre and end up coming back,” Casciano said. “I know I can still do it, but I’m not sure my heart is in it.”
And, he’s graduating from college later this year.
“I’m going to have to live in the real world,” Casciano said. “I’m not sure where competitive eating fits in there.”
In Kelly’s Korner, Dan Kelly writes about the people and personalities that make Berks County special. Contact him 610-371-5040 or