© St. Petersburg Times, published June 7, 2001
Re: Church behavior? editorial, May 26.
The message of your editorial is clear: that the state attorney shouldn't ever prosecute a crime committed against a Scientologist or by an attacker of the church, lest he submit himself to the Times' abuse.
As the Times is well aware, Sunshine Act documents revealed a 20-year pattern of having never prosecuted a single crime committed against the church. During that same time (and spurred on by the Times in every instance), the Clearwater Police Department obsessively investigated any allegation against the Church of Scientology in an effort to get them. This animus was confirmed in a precedent-setting decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals eight years ago.
The most recent concerned the prosecution of the Lisa McPherson case. Documents now revealed have confirmed every allegation made by the church regarding the improper manner in which that investigation was conducted, including the ignorance of overwhelming evidence disproving the allegations.
Since that time, we have merely tried to move forward. Both times the state attorney has prosecuted members of the Lisa McPherson Trust, the trial has become one on the church. The only "evidence" of a "set-up" was the silver-tongued words of a skilled criminal defense attorney trying to keep his client out of jail. The defense relied on a single "witness" who was another of Robert Minton's paid employees, kicked out of the church a decade ago. Now you have turned that innuendo into fact.
We appreciate the efforts of the state attorney. Cases of crimes and torts against the church in other jurisdictions tend to have a different result. Then again, they don't have the Times flanking the case in an attempt to prejudice jurors.
We don't believe anyone wants drug purveyors in town except their co-abusers and clients. Where does that leave the Times?
-- Mary Story, vice president, Church of Scientology, Flag Service Organization Inc., Tampa
Re: Church behavior? May 26.
Your editorial regarding the tactics used by the Church of Scientology in its defense of the civil lawsuit filed by the Lisa McPherson family should be directed to the defense law firm and not the Church of Scientology. The lawyers for the defendant, church et al, not only have an obligation to defend their clients zealously, but have an absolute duty to do so.
As a civil liability defense lawyer -- in no way affiliated with the Church of Scientology -- our firm has used, and will continue to use, every legal tactic available to us to adequately defend our clients. Finding damaging evidence against plaintiff's witnesses is the first order of business, both before and after the deposition.
It is imperative for any defense attorney worth his/her salt, to determine any ulterior motives witnesses may have in their involvement in a particular cause of action, or whether the witness has a criminal history that goes to truth and veracity, or anything else that would permit the defense or plaintiff, for that matter, to discredit an adverse witness.
You may not like the Church of Scientology or their beliefs, but they are protected by the same First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that protects this newspaper's ability to print want it wants.
-- Paul J. Marino, Clearwater
Re: Church behavior? May 26.
By innuendo, your editorial suggests that Scientology should be condemned because a private investigator was utilized to determine whether Jesse Prince was violating the law. As you must know, there is nothing illegal or immoral about that concept.
The Church of Scientology did not charge Prince with a crime. Had law enforcement found that the church was in the wrong, Prince would have never been arrested. Had the state attorney found that the church was guilty of wrongdoing, Prince would have never been taken to court. Your hate of Scientology causes you to criticize a religion for doing something that is done every day by private citizens across this country.
Mr. Prince was charged with a misdemeanor offense of possession of marijuana, not with the felony offense of cultivation as so wrongly reported by your editorial.
Unfortunately, it is pretty obvious that your hate of Scientology causes you to color the truth.
Across this country, correct thinking people have recognized for years that Scientology is, in fact, a religion. That finding, however, has stuck in your journalistic craw ever since the Internal Revenue Service found that Scientology was indeed a religion.
Shame on you.
-- Ronald K. Cacciatore, P.A., Tampa
Dying young at the wheel, the June 4 Times story, brings to mind things my wife and I did more than 30 years ago to impress our six children (five of the six are boys) on the dangers and responsibilities that come with the privilege of driving a vehicle.
First was a trip to an auto salvage yard to show how vulnerable humans are while in a moving automobile. The yard owners were always helpful and often pointed out the best examples of total wrecks that resulted in accident death(s).
Second, each child had to earn the cost of his or her first year of automobile insurance. If they were not issued a traffic ticket for a moving violation or didn't have a chargeable traffic accident, my wife and I would pay the future insurance costs. Otherwise, the child with the violation or accident would pay for his or her insurance.
With six children going through the 15-19 driving age, not one got a ticket for a moving violation nor did any have a chargeable accident. And we were delighted to take the time to visit the salvage yard and to pay all insurance costs.
-- Fred Garman, Sun City Center
Re: Dying young at the wheel.
I was saddened to read about the death rate among Florida teenage drivers. It is a terrible thing. But considering the manner in which the general teenage population operates motor vehicles in this state, I was surprised the statistics were not worse. Imagine what they would be if this were not flat territory and the teen drivers were negotiating mountain curves, or being subjected to ice and snow.
We raised two boys and a girl and so we went through three teenage drivers in succession. None ever received a traffic citation. The only accident any of them were involved in was when one son was struck from the rear while stopped in traffic.
There were several factors involved in this accomplishment. But the two primary reasons were house rules and parental control. The teens fully understood the consequences of any violation.
In their younger years, as each grew old enough, they were introduced to quail and pheasant hunting. They learned to handle guns safely and carefully. Some may see this as irrelevant, but it isn't. They were taught common sense and responsibility. These are lessons that cannot wait until a teenager gets a driver's license.
-- F. Darrell Thomas, Trinity
Why do teenage drivers crash so frequently? First because, like most other drivers, they do not know the "one-second rule." Under that rule, for every 5 miles per hour a vehicle travels it will cover 71/2 feet per second. At only 20 miles per hour a car will travel 30 feet in the time it takes to say "one thousand one." At 40 miles per hour that becomes 60 feet per second! A one-second distraction can result in a car meeting oncoming traffic in the left lane or coming up against a tree or pole off the right side of the road.
Second, the seat-belt rule. Seat belts have saved countless lives over the years. Only someone with no interest in continuing life would enter a car and not fasten the seat belt.
Third, momentum. Florida classes automobiles under the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine. That puts cars in the same class as loaded guns. A 2,000-pound car at 60 miles per hour is a projectile. There is no way in the world to stop it in an instant. Anyone who doubts can go to an open road and try.
Drivers keeping these thoughts in mind will be far safer drivers.
-- A. Edwin Shinholser, Clearwater
Re: Dying young at the wheel, June 4.
Upon viewing the touching front page photo of Kristen Bender paying tribute to her brother, I was eager to read an article describing the uplifting ceremony that was a celebration of Ross' life.
Instead, I read an article that treated Ross as a statistic and implied negligence and irresponsibility. Although, the crash rate associated with teenage driving is a critically important topic, I felt the use of this personal photo was insensitive to the family's emotions, which are most vulnerable this short time after the tragic loss of their precious son and brother.
-- Eyvonne Ryan, Clearwater
Re: Suspect dies, victim's kin mourn again, May 23.
Every day I drive past the memorial at the 22nd Avenue N exit of Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg and think about the grief the Hasbrouck family must feel. I read the words -- killed by a DRUNK driver -- and try to rationalize that if I were in their shoes, I would be angry, too. I see the red ribbons and understand the political statement being made by MADD.
Just as they mourn their loss, we mourn ours. Now when I pass the memorial, I will look at it as one family's and one organization's perspective of a multifaceted story. Now, after having attended the memorial service for Raymond Bahling, the drunk driver, I try to reconcile the label I pass every morning with the man I affectionately called Uncle Ray.
The Hasbrouck family has every right to make him a villain and call him a murderer. We have every right to remember him as a giving, bright and loving man who graced our lives. We have every right, as each family member of an alcoholic does, to learn to separate the person from the action.
Admittedly, a horrific action took place, but we cannot forget the incredibly kind man who did it. To not dispute the characterization of Raymond Bahling as a murderer is a disservice to his memory. The story that remains unpublished is his open admission of guilt to the DUI-manslaughter charges and the pain the charges of second-degree murder inflicted on his family and friends.
Almost a year has passed since the accident occurred. May both men rest in peace and may only loving memories live on in the hearts of their families.
-- Shannon O'Neill, St. Petersburg
It deeply saddens me that on a day when the theater world celebrated its annual Tony Awards by bestowing a record 12 on Mel Brooks' The Producers we watched 20 innocents being laid to rest in Israel.
Man's inhumanity to man continues unabated in these continuing atrocities. I am not sure what is wrong, or what can be made different. But these victims' remembrance should not be typified by that show's production number: "Springtime for Hitler" And, yes, I know Mel Brooks is Jewish. I just don't understand. And I am saddened by the hopelessness of it all.
-- Jim Morrison, Brooksville
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