Sunday, March 18, 2007

Blog Hooligans Making A Difference

On Friday, a thoughtful LieStoppers reader forwarded a note that he had received from a colleague. The note described an incident involving a rock thrown at a motorist traveling the Durham Freeway and suggested that this was one in a series of similar incidents that had yet to be reported by the Snooze Room and Durham Police.

"Below is a note I received from a colleague today. It is yet another instance of the local news media ignoring issues that reflect badly on Durham, yet would be of high interest to people living in the area. The "Snooze Room" and DPD are on the job again. Thought you would want to know."

"I just wanted to make everyone aware of something that is happening and has not been in the news. My daughter was going out of town lastnight and driving down the Durham Freeway and a big rock was thrown at their vehicle. Luckily they are ok it hit the dash when it came through. The cops told them this has been going on for ten days but we have seen nothing on the news about it. This is happening around the Alston Ave exit. In fact while the cops were with them writingthe report three more vehicles were hit within a quarter of a mile. Seven vehicles in all last night. Just wanted to make everyone aware so you can be very careful going that way."

Concerned for our local readers, we posted the notice from our kind reader at the LS Forum . An industrious Blog Hooligan, Onlyfactsmatter, forwarded the note to WRAL and WTVD to help further publicize the dangerous crime spree. Within minutes, WRAL’s Julia Lewis had made an inquiry with Durham Police and responded to the inquiry. Incredibly, the Durham Police spokesperson contacted by Ms. Lewis initially denied that any such incidents had occurred. Unwilling to accept the DPD denial, or perhaps trusting the report of a Blog Hooligan more, Ms. Lewis indicated that she would head to Durham to investigate further. By Friday evening, both WRAL and WTVD reported that, despite the initial denial of the Durham Police, the reported incidents had indeed occurred.

“Police in Durham are looking for the person who is dropping objects onto cars driving on the Durham Freeway.

“The latest incident happened Thursday night when someone dropped rocks off the old pedestrian bridge between Alston and Briggs Avenues.

“At Durham's 911 Call Center, four calls came in within 20 minutes as four cars were hit from above.

“Police say while no one was hurt in this latest incident, but they want the rock throwing to stop. So far police have made no arrest, but one officer told Eyewitness News that he's been chasing rock throwing teenagers off the overpass all month.

“Durham police are asking anyone who may have seen something suspicious to call them.

"We encourage you to call 911 regardless of where you are. Not just in Durham but any city. Especially if you're going in the opposite direction because a lot of times you'll be able to see them when they're lining up to catch cars coming under the bridge," Corp. David Addison said.” WTVD

Video of WTVD’s report can be viewed here: WTVD Video.

The recent rash of rock throwing appears to be a repeat of incidents that stretch back several years.

On January 27, 2003 WRAL reported that at least five similar crimes were being investigated.

“Durham police are investigating five incidents in which rocks were thrown off overpasses and caused damage to fast-moving vehicles on the interstate.

“The attacks happened at the Broad Street and Duke Street overpasses in the last week. Police believe someone is using rocks from a construction site as a dangerous weapon. Sunday night, rocks thrown off an overpass above I-85 damaged two vehicles and injured one person.

“A Triad woman was injured when a rock crashed through her window and cut her hand. She was a passenger in a car being driven by her husband.

“None of the other victims was seriously injured.

“The first two attacks in the last week happened on Broad Street, on the same night at the same time. The last two happened on Duke Street, again on the same night at the same time.

“Police say the suspects are probably juveniles playing a prank.

"If I had to give a professional opinion, I'd say it's kids being stupid," said Durham police Capt. C.D. Clark.

"But it can resuilt in a death, and there's nothing stupid about that. That's serious."

“Rocks also were thrown through the windows of a piece of construction equipment parked nearby in the 1700 block of N. Buchanan Blvd.

“It is not known if the same people are responsible for all the incidents.

“Witnesses reported seeing juveniles running from the overpass toward Ruby Street after two of the incidents.

“This is not the first rash of rock-throwing incidents on Durham overpasses. In 1999, a woman was killed when a boulder was dropped onto her car from an overpass.” WRAL

On March 14, 2001, WRAL reported that a man was injured in a rock-throwing incident while also noting a 1991 occurrence that left a Chapel Hill woman dead and a Cumberland County crime that left a teenager permanently disabled.

"Highway accidents happen all the time. You can try to be a safe driver by not tailgating or driving the speed limit, but sometimes there is nothing you can do when someone tries to cause an accident.

"Rakim Wynn was driving home from work late Tuesday night on Highway 70 East, about to cross under the Cheek Road overpass when someone heaved a rock over the side of the bridge.

"It crashed through the windshield, hitting Wynn's arm, the back seat and the roof before coming to a stop.

"I just heard this boom, and I saw a flash of light. At first, I didn't know what it was," he says. "I thought my tire had gone flat or something. I didn't even see the hole at first."

"Lt. Sarvis of the Durham Police Department says the rock probably came from a pile next to the overpass where construction is going on. He does not think this was child's play. Whoever did it will be charged with assault with a deadly weapon.

"We're very fortunate we're not investigating a murder here," he says. "No one's going to convince me they did not know the inherent danger of throwing a 40-pound rock that size off of a bridge."

"I guess God was with me that night. Basically, I didn't crash, and I didn't get killed. I just got a graze on the arm," Wynn says.

"Almost two years ago to the day, a rock changed a Canadian teenager's life forever. In March 1999, Michael Vytlingam suffered permanent brain damage when a rock crashed through the windshield of his SUV.

"Doctors say he can now walk and talk but will be disabled for life. Police arrested two teenagers almost a year later for throwing the rock from an I-95 overpass in Cumberland County.

"A Chapel Hill woman also died in 1991 when a 60-pound boulder was dropped from a Durham freeway overpass." WRAL

On March 25, 1999, WRAL reported on another series of Durham rock throwing incidents.

"Someone who likes to throw rocks at cars and trucks is targeting drivers in Durham. Six vehicles were hit in 45 minutes Friday night on the Durham Freeway.

"Windshields were damaged, but no one was injured.

"Most people probably do not think about it as they are driving along the highway. But, there is a chance that someone could throw a rock off of an overpass and hit a car.

"Boom! That's exactly what it sounded like, and it hit with a loud impact," said truck
driver Marvin McCaden.

"McCaden was driving along the Durham Freeway Thursday night. When he passed under the railroad crossing near Duke University Medical Center, a rock slammed into his passenger door. The damage does not look that bad, but it could have been much worse.

"About 12 inches higher. If it came through that window, that window doesn't shatter like a windshield. That window would actually just break like a house pane, and I'm sure I would have been hurt," said McCaden.

"Durham police think the situation is serious. They showed WRAL reports of six drivers, all hit in the same area, within 45 minutes, most likely with rocks like the ones that cover the railroad overpass.

"I really feel this is some young people who have too much time on their hands and, evidently, not enough supervision, and if they need to occupy their time, we'll occupy their time," said Cpl. Fran Borden.

"It's a serious situation and we need to get whoever is responsible out of the picture, because we don't need that kind of problem here in Durham," said McCaden.

Despite initially denying record of the rock throwing incidents, despite the WTVD and WRAL reports of multiple recent incidents, and despite a long-running history of similar crimes, the Durham Police would later admit to a single occurrence. Not surprisingly, the Snooze Room willingly passed along the apparent misinformation.

“Durham police are investigating rock-throwing incidents that damaged several vehicles on the Durham Freeway late Thursday, according to Durham police spokesman Cpl. David Addison.

“Three vehicles were struck by falling projectiles around 6:30 p.m. on N.C. 147 after traveling under the Briggs Avenue overpass. Only one of the three vehicles suffered damage serious enough to result in a documented police report, Addison said.

“The single reported rock-throwing incident was the first of its kind Addison could find in Durham police reports filed in the past week. Addison said there have been
rumors of a growing trend of similar incidents here.” Snooze Room Crime Log

It is difficult to understand why Durham Police would initially deny and then downplay the reports.

The dangerous rock throwing is not a circumstance unique to Durham. Similar reports can be found across the country. The most disturbing is a rash of 1992 incidents along a ten mile stretch of Jacksonville's I-295, described by Tom Brokaw as the "highway from hell." Starting in June of 1992, the rock throwing escalated into sniper and vehicle to vehicle shootings over the next few months. In total, the Florida incidents, which appear to remain unsolved, resulted in 36 confirmed crimes and 120 unverified incidents that left one person dead, another permanently disfigured, and at least two others injured.

While it is disappointing that Durham Police, rather than informing the public of the dangerous situation, initially denied the reports before eventually appearing to downplay the dangers, it is heartening to witness citizen journalists again making a difference.


Anonymous said...

It had been going on for days yet there was no police near the bridges? Yet another fine example of the great work of the Durham Police Department.

To quote the Joker from Batman...

This town needs a enema!

Anonymous said...

A similar incident occurred in the Bankhead area of Atlanta 1-2 years ago. Rocks had apparently been being thrown at vehicles for years, but one night they caused a tractor-trailer to crash. The gang throwing the rocks then beat up the driver and left him for dead.

Anonymous said...

This happen to my wife just recently (mid-June 2007), in the middle of a week-day, as she was driving on Cornwallis Drive in the 'rural' area between TW Alexander Drive and NC Highway 55. All of a sudden she heard a loud boom (crash) - as if someone threw a a large rock or a brick - and saw an adult black male running away in her rear-view mirror. When it was safe, she pulled over, and saw that the rear passenger door had been damaged. She called 911, and later a police officer took a report, but there's not much they could do (the police report proved vandalism so that our insurance would cover the repairs to our Toyota Avalon). People do die from these events - at high speeds, these projectiles are *LETHAL*!!