Houston Police and EMS personnel tend to someone ejected from a vehicle during a high speed police chase. (KTRK)
Yesterday, a Texas State Trooper shot the tires out on a vehicle whose driver led police on a 55 mile high speed chase. Houston Police have arrested a suspect who led them on a different wild car chase in the Clear Lake area Friday afternoon. The chase started around 4pm on Highway 45 near NASA Parkway. The vehicle police were pursuing is a red SUV without license plates. KTRK Eyewitness News captured one man fall out of the SUV after it lost control and smashed into a guardrail on Highway 45 near Fuqua. A police car following careened into the same ditch immediately after.
The driver kept driving, and got back onto the northbound lanes of the Gulf Freeway — even with the front passenger door open. The driver was driving eratically all over the highway, switching in and out of cars on the freeway. The driver then sideswiped another car on the middle lane of Highway 45 as it approached the Woodridge exit. He took that exit and turned into a side street that led into a residential area just south of downtown Houston. The suspect eventually jumped out of the SUV as it was still going on the residential side street and started running. However, officers immediately tackled him to the ground and handcuffed him.
KTRK reporter Miya Shay tried to talk the suspect as he was being searched for weapons by officers but he refused to answer questions and turned his head away from the camera. He appeared to be a little scraped up but otherwise OK. The condition of the man who fell out of the moving SUV wasn’t immediately known, but TranStar cameras showed emergency personnel tending to him while he was still lying on the ground. It also wasn’t immediately known why the suspect was being pursued. No other details were immediately available.
VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia — (DMN/CNN) – A Navy jet has crashed Friday into some apartments near Virginia Beach, Virginia, sending flames and thick black smoke into the air, a military spokesman and a witness said. At least two people were hurt Friday, a hospital spokeswoman said. The pilot and a person who was on the ground were being treated for injuries, but the nature and extent of those injuries were not immediately clear, the spokeswoman said. Two apartment buildings were on fire, CNN affiliate WTKR reported, citing witnesses.
The jet was from Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, the Federal Aviation Administration said. The crew of the two-seater F/A-18 safely ejected, but their condition wasn’t known, a Navy spokesman said. The plane is from a training squadron, the Navy said. George Pilkington, a witness to the crash, said he saw the plane flying low, with its nose up and tail down, ejecting fuel — which struck him as unusual. The engine was straining, he said. “It came over the top of my truck emptying fuel,” Pilkington said. “That it didn’t cause more damage to the apartment buildings was a blessing,” he said.
The plane crashed in an area of apartment complexes and homes a half-mile from the waterfront, Pilkington said. Black smoke and flames rose from the crash site. At least one building was damaged, according to video footage from CNN affiliate WTKR. A charred section of the jet wreckage was on the ground nearby. Fire trucks, ambulances and police cars filled the area as smoke drifted overhead. Another witness, Zack Zapatero, said the plane crashed into a building occupied by senior citizens. He took photographs of the crash scene. “There’s these large fire balls coming up,” Zapatero said. “I was told there was a bunch of senior citizens that live in that building, which worries me a lot. “Buildings were starting to collapse,” he said of the wreckage scene. “Through the smoke, you could see the end of the plane sitting in the courtyard” of the building, Zapatero said.
Shakara Robertson, Darryl Washington, and Marcus Smith just minutes before Judge Levario declared that they were actually innocent and wrongfully convicted of a 1994 robbery. (Innocence Project photo)
DALLAS, Texas — (DMN) – Texas State District Judge Lena Levario this morning exonerated three men wrongly prosecuted for the purse snatching turned aggravated robbery of an elderly woman nearly two decades ago. Levario declared Darryl Washington, Marcus Smith and Shakara Robertson innocent of the crime. This brings Dallas County’s total exonerations to 30 since 2001. “I’ve got butterflies in my stomach. I’m trying to keep everything together,” Washington said, smiling after the hearing. “It’s been a long time. Justice is finally served.”
Robertson was a man of few words, simply saying “I’m thankful” and said he was grateful to his attorneys and prosecutors who worked to clear their names. Washington and Robertson were not released because they are serving sentences for other crimes. But the judge allowed them to don suits for the occasion instead of appearing in striped jail uniforms. Smith has been free for years but said he, his wife and children have carried the “stain” of this case for years. “It’s rough for me to provide for them,” he said. “It’s looked on as shameful, and it should be for anybody who did it. “I had lost hope.”
Smith said that now, he hopes to remove “the stain of shame, condemnation and guilt” from his family. Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkis used the opportunity of the exonerations to talk about the need for a discussion about race and justice in this country. Too many exonerees, he said, look like him. Watkins is the first black man elected DA in Texas. Dallas County is in a great position to start that talk, he said. “We have our finger on the pulse of bring justice to this country,” he said. Levario told Watkins from the bench that she agreed. “The time for subtlety has come and gone,” she said.
Levario said that without Watkins as DA and the current judges who have defense backgrounds, many of the county’s exonerations — including today’s — would not have happened. Three of the men who really committed the crime will not be prosecuted because the statute of limitations has run out. A fourth was shot dead years ago in what has been described by police as a justifiable homicide.
So, once again, justice fails in Texas. Three men, wrongfully convicted while the actual perpetrators got away with the crime. For those who would argue that two of the three men are being held for other crimes, I will add…again…that focusing on freeing the wrongly convicted is only part of the argument. The other part, for the victims, is that the real perpetrators were not convicted. Texas two largest counties, Harris and Dallas have post conviction relief units in the District Attorney’s offices. Texas ranks #3 nationally in exonerations.
Indiana has a meth problem. That is, perhaps, an understatement. The Hoosier State is ground zero for home-style “meth labs” where “cooks” are blowing up their houses, garages and motel rooms to concoct what one doctor has described as a “dopamine pump in the brain,” “the strongest central nervous stimulant known to man.” Everyday police are arresting people for making the drug in every conceivable location. There are no limits.
As the number of methamphetamine labs grows in Indiana, fear of exposure to the drug’s byproducts is on the rise as well. The Brown County Gardening Club recently planned to include the high school Key Club in a roadside cleanup, but pulled the student volunteers after fears were raised about hazardous roadside materials, specifically meth trash. The fear is that anyone cleaning up litter could unknowingly encounter meth lab trash and pick it up, risking health problems from coming in contact with the chemicals involved. According to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s website, meth contaminants can cause respiratory problems, skin and eye irritation, headaches, nausea and dizziness.
Tom McGlasson, environmental compliance and safety director for the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District, said the issue of cleanup crews encountering meth trash hasn’t really presented itself in this county. The Monroe County Solid Waste Management District is in charge of working with volunteers for the Adopt-a-Road program.There haven’t been problems with hazardous materials being found by local cleanup crews, McGlasson said, but the meth trash is out there. “It’s on our mind, and we are aware of it,” he said, “but it’s not something we are very concerned about at this time.” Meth byproducts are being dumped on roadsides, McGlasson said, but it’s being done in areas that aren’t cleaned by volunteers.
A majority of the roads approved for cleanup are inside the city limits or not far from the city. People dumping meth trash stay on rural roads, away from populated areas, he said.”I think it’s important that the stuff is out there, and although it has not been reported to us, the potential is there,” McGlasson said. “We know it does exist in this county, but at this point it’s not in areas where we have roads adopted.” First Sgt. Niki Crawford, commander of the Indiana State Police Meth Suppression Section, said although the problem isn’t huge, there should be more education for communities.
The state police officers do find meth byproducts on roadsides, she said, but maybe only five times a year. What the state police have noticed, though, is an increase in one-pot meth labs, which are small mobile labs. Many of these labs produce the meth trash found on the sides of roads. “People are cooking more often and they have to get rid of their byproducts, many of them while driving down the road,” Crawford said. “With these one-pot labs people just have to throw the trash out the window.” She said the police try to educate the public on what kinds of suspicious items to look for.
McGlasson said Solid Waste Management is working on updating all educational materials. Any group volunteering to clean up the side of a road must watch a safety video that goes over all hazards, including meth trash, he said. “There isn’t any reason people should be worried about cleaning up the side of the road,” Crawford said. Really, people shouldn’t worry? Picking up trash has never been as dangerous. Meth labs leave a mess — an environmental hazard that, according to state law, must be cleaned up. And it takes a special process, certification and inspectors who scour the property in full-gear Hazmat suits and respirators to do the dirty work.
Welcome to the world of meth lab cleanup companies, a growing and profitable business, especially in Indiana, where certain pockets of the state are hotbeds for labs. The state, which ranks in the top five for meth production, has 22 companies certified by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to decontaminate properties. And business is, um, booming. “It’s such a growing epidemic,” said Donetta Held, CEO of Crisis Cleaning, a Bloomfield company that has been hired to clean up the Crawfordsville home. “It’s everywhere — from a high-dollar house in downtown Indianapolis to these rural counties.”
Held’s company has already done 25 meth cleanups this year, in less than three months. That’s already half as many as the company completed last year. “Some people say there is not as much meth or meth has gone down,” Held said. “Um, no. I don’t see that at all.” Neither do police, which have seen a steady growth in meth lab seizures in the past three years. In 2009, law enforcement shut down 1,364 labs. In 2010, 1,395 labs were seized. Last year, that number climbed to 1,437. That has meant lots of revenue for meth cleanup companies. Most companies charge about $2 to $3 per square foot to do a cleanup. Depending on the size of the property and how many rooms need to be decontaminated, the cost can range from $5,000 to $10,000.
Cooks using some pseudoephedrine, household chemicals and a plastic soda bottle can produce the drug. This “one-pot” method can blow holes through walls and often start fires. Police say that’s what happened at the Days Inn in Anderson, which marked the city’s 13th meth seizure of the year. “This thing exploded, and this thing burned,” said Joel Sandefur, a detective with the Anderson Police Department. “There were still contaminants that were there. And those could have a residual effect.” While specially trained law enforcement officers come in to conduct the initial cleanup, it’s up to the property owner to make sure the residual effects are removed.
Meth remains are toxic and can make inhabitants sick with serious respiratory illnesses if not cleaned. There can be continued headaches. It’s especially dangerous for children. Even dogs have been known to get sick. That’s why, once a meth lab is found, property owners are required to show proof the site is free of contaminants before anyone is allowed to move back in. At the Crawfordsville home, the owner turned to Held. According to the police report, there was a lithium/ammonia reaction, flammable solvents, water reactive metal (lithium), hydrochloric acid gas generator and corrosive acid.
Inspector Rick Held went in to begin testing, the first step in a meth lab cleanup to see where the so-called “hot spots” are. Most houses don’t need the entire residence decontaminated, just certain rooms or areas where levels of certain toxins exceed state law. After that, a cleanup plan is crafted, and the inspectors go back in. Any porous materials, such as carpet, must be removed. Decontaminant is applied. When the cleanup is completed, another test is conducted to make sure the levels are down. Once the property is down to acceptable levels, cleanup companies must give the property owner a “Certificate of Illegal Drug Cleanup.” It also must be given to the local health department, IDEM and the Indiana State Department of Health.
This document certifies to any new occupants that the meth lab contamination in the property has been cleaned up and it’s now safe to occupy. “It’s amazing. It’s booming right now,” said Steve Stringfield, owner of Enviro-Sense in Fishers, which was started in 2007. “The money is there to make.” Stringfield said he has already done three times the meth lab cleanups this year that he did in all of 2011. So it’s no wonder the state has so many companies specializing in the business. But it’s not something just anyone can do.
Indiana is a regulated state when it comes to meth lab cleanup. To be listed as a qualified inspector with IDEM, a company must complete an application and meet several requirements, including at least 40 hours of experience cleaning illegal drug labs or doing similar work. They must do several required trainings and pass an exam on illegal drug lab cleanup with a score of at least 80 percent. Even after qualifying, the company isn’t done. Each year, IDEM conducts a required refresher training for qualified inspectors for free, which includes the state’s illegal drug lab cleanup rules, sampling and lab analysis procedures, waste disposal requirements and a presentation by the Indiana State Police Meth Suppression Section on meth labs in Indiana.
When it comes to the law and the requirements on cleaning up meth labs, Indiana is a standout, said Joe Mazzuca, CEO of operations for Idaho-based American Meth Lab Cleanup, which operates nationwide. He even suggests to other states that they take a look at Indiana. On the other hand, he thinks this already thriving industry in the state could be thriving even more. “We know of properties all over Indiana that people are still living in,” he said. “Indiana has, according to the data, a serious problem of clandestine drug labs. Whether they all are being addressed or not is the question.” One reason: Many meth labs are tucked away in rural areas.
The Days Inn bust on a busy street in Anderson is a rarity, Sandefur said. “There is a reason they go to the rural areas. There are not as many law enforcement officers in those small rural communities,” he said. “They just don’t have the manpower to address that issue.” The top Indiana locations for meth lab busts are Bartholomew, Noble, Vanderburgh, Elkhart, Howard and Knox counties, according to the National Clandestine Laboratory Register, kept by the U.S. Department of Justice. Not surprisingly, you will find meth lab cleanup companies in out-of-the-way places such as Churubusco, Bloomfield, New Haven and Demotte. They aren’t big outfits. Some have just one inspector, others just a handful. “But we have a big job,” Held said.
You probably recall the story of Andrew Compton, the 18-year old Sullivan University student who went missing in the fall of 2010 in Louisville, Kentucky. In a criminal case the relies largely on DNA, forensics and the confession of his accused killer, Kentucky prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for 41-year old Gregory O’Bryan. The Commonwealth’s Attorney (which is the same thing as a prosecutor or district attorney) has asked a judge to order a competency evaluation for Gregory O’Bryan, who is charged with murder in the 2010 death of 18-year-old Sullivan University student Andrew Compton.
The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Van De Rostyne told Jefferson Circuit Judge Mitch Perry Thursday the request was prompted by a review of O’Bryan’s medical records and an interview with police in which O’Bryan indicated he had received psychiatric treatment. Strangely it isn’t clear if Perry granted the motion, as defense attorneys asked to approach the bench and the rest of the discussion — more than 20 minutes — was done in private. Perry then ordered the bench conference confidential and forbid either side from discussing it publicly.
Angela Compton (center) and John Compton (right) at a vigil held for their son Andrew in the fall of 2010. (Photo from WLKY CBS 32)
Another hearing has been set for mid-April. Compton has not been seen since Oct. 28, 2010. O’Bryan admitted the teen had died, saying it happened while the two had sex. He also admitted he had sex with Compton’s body after the teen died and then put the body in a garbage bin at Our Lady of Peace psychiatric hospital along Newburg Road. Police tracked the contents of the garbage bin to a landfill near Medora, Ind., and searched for the body for 10 days, but found nothing. O’Bryan is charged with murder, sodomy, two counts of tampering with physical evidence and three counts of abuse of a corpse. He has pleaded not guilty and could face the death penalty if convicted. His trial is set for November.
What bothers this journalist is on a human level. Andrew has not been found. O’Bryan told Louisville Police that he folded the body and placed it in a box, he said. However, a 10-day search of a southern Indiana landfill turned up no sign of Compton. O’Bryan will face the death penalty during his trial but not having a body poses a challenge for prosecutors. I have suggested that finding Andrew’s body should be a priority in this case…for the Compton family. O’Bryan has told the police that Compton died, possibly from a broken neck which he says happened during sex. I’m not buying it. Here’s why. Andrew had a heart condition and a police search of O’Bryan’s computers discovered that he had researched the date-rape drug GHB.
Suppose Andrew overdosed, accidentally, on GHB and died. To me, an admitted layman although one who has covered news for more than 30 years, this seems somewhat more plausible then a broken neck happening during sex. I don’t see how Kentucky will get a death penalty conviction without Andrew’s body so to not talk to O’Bryan, ask for some more details about what happened and offer to remove the death penalty from the equation if and only if he takes the police to Andrew’s body seems to make a lot of sense. Approaching O’Bryan on a human level may very well be the only hope for bringing Andrew home. The Compton’s, John and Angela, have not spoken publicly about the case and they were reprimanded by the judge for writing a letter to O’Bryan asking where Andrew was. It’s probably time…past time…for the prosecutor to get on board with bringing Andrew home and bringing this case to a realistic conclusion.