Sound Off

Friday, Feb 28 2014 07:00 PM

SOUND OFF: Not enough detail in story of young boy's death

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    Robert Price is The Californian's executive editor. Email him at rprice@bakersfield.com.

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By ROBERT PRICE, Californian executive editor rprice@bakersfield.com

Jason Kotowski's story last month about the death of 4-year-old Gregorio Edward Leyva attracted a lot of attention, and not just because of the heart-wrenching nature of the incident. The boy had darted into the street near his home, in full sight of his mother, at a spot where she usually, well, jaywalks. "Cars usually stop," the boy's 21-year-old brother observed.

Many readers were outraged by the extent of the detail Kotowski included about the boy's living arrangements and the child-rearing practices of his mother, saying it was unnecessarily harsh.

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This feedback forum is designed to give readers a way to voice criticisms and compliments or ask questions about The Californian's news coverage. Your questions -- which may be edited for space -- are answered here each Saturday.

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This week we heard about another tragedy involving a young child, also reported by Kotowski, and, interestingly, a reader criticized the story from a near-opposite point of view.

Reader: Re: "Couple accused of binding, burning 5 year old girl," Feb. 27: I read your article ... regarding the abuse of the 5-year-old girl "belonging" to Jesse Joe Brown and Virginia Susanna Rodriguez who remains hospitalized as of this writing and I was compelled to write to you.

It appears that your newspaper should put warning labels on articles such as this so that the reader could decide whether or not they wish to allow this type of material in their brain for the remainder of their review of the writing. This article "haunts" me and I cannot remain silent about it for reasons beyond my understanding. Please continue to follow this story and provide the updates to the community as they evolve.

I would like to know how long the torment was practiced, whether there were neighbors who witnessed or heard the cries of the little one, why the officers were called to the residence in the first place, if the "parents" were on aid, or, if they worked, why Brown was charged with attempted murder and not the stepmother, Rodriguez, and why the child was transported to Madera?

It is written in your article that the couple's next court hearing is scheduled for March 10. Do you plan to follow the story and provide the details of the abuse as they were committed so that this little girl has a voice in her little life and hopefully her recovery?

Why is there not a picture of the "stepmother, Rodriguez"? You provided one of the father.

I guess what really bothers me about this article is that there is no mention of an advocate for the little girl. You also leave out volumes of information normally provided in the "basics" of a news story, the who what when where how and why, and leave the reader wondering if you will "follow through" on the outcome of the situation. Please do so for this little one. Too often I see headlines and not substance in the Californian. This little girl deserves to have her little story told. How often have we seen this type of story repeated over and over again with no real justice for the little "rag doll" children? Make this matter.

As of now, the father and stepmother are not malnourished, hurting with burns and aches and pains, lingering in a hospital, not knowing what will become of them, but rather getting three square meals a day and a roof over their heads with a chance of resuming their despicable existence once a defense is waged and won on their behalf. Please let Bakersfield know the progression of this story.

-- Molly Williams

Price: City Editor Christine Bedell responded to the reader:

"Hi, Molly. Thanks for your thoughtful note. We definitely will follow this case. It indeed is haunting. As for the details you're seeking, very little official information is available to us. Detailed police reports are not public record; often all we can go off of in the early stages of criminal cases are scaled-down, redacted versions of police reports that get filed in court to justify an arrest and charges. We often don't get more official detail until court proceedings like preliminary hearings to determine if there's enough evidence to go to trial.

"But we can -- and will -- knock on more doors in the neighborhood to see what more we can learn.

"There wasn't a photo of the woman because, our photographer said, her face was completely obscured by her hair in court and he just couldn't get a good shot of her face. As for the warning, it's food for thought, although one of my colleagues noted that the headline served as a pretty good warning.

"Thanks, again, for your feedback."

***

Price: One of our favorite critics, John Sweetser of Oildale, is back -- and with a vengeance. Sweetser's ability to point out errors and assorted narrative flaws knows no bounds. Those of us at The Californian who've been here for a while have long admired him -- and not just for his memos with microscopic printing, meticulously hand-lettered on Post-It-sized scraps of paper. Ever seen someone write on a grain of rice? Sweetser could do that.

Anyway, although our correspondent has graduated to email, his pithy scoldings ring with the same unvarnished disgust as ever. Space does not allow me to acknowledge each of his recent missives, but here are some of them.

Reader: (On Feb. 8, gardening columnist) Richard Shiell wrote of the recent windstorm: "In more than 20 years in Bakersfield, I've never known the wind to blow to the west, out of the Tehachapi mountains towards San Luis Obispo." If he's never noticed this before, Mr. Shiell must have been living in a cave or something.

Then he talks of seagulls:

"The coast has been storm-free judging by the lack of seagulls in town. In most winters, they avoid coastal storms by flying inland. In previous years, I've seen flocks of seagulls in fields and parking lots, waiting out the bad seaside weather."

... How would he really know that the gulls "fly inland" to "avoid coastal storms?" I doubt that there has been a program to band and track coastal gulls to see if they fly to the San Joaquin Valley to avoid a storm. While it's possible that some of the gulls in Bakersfield could have come from the coast, it is also possible that some came from surrounding agricultural areas or even from the Lake Isabella area. Many of the gulls could also be permanent resident-types, since gulls live in the Bakersfield area year-round.

Regarding the last sentence, how would a gull hanging out in a Bakersfield parking lot know when the "bad seaside weather" has cleared?

-- John Sweetser

Price: I considered researching the migratory practices and storm-aversion behavior of the gull myself, in all of its 57 species, but thought better of it.

Instead, I asked Harry Love of the Kern Audubon Society, who agreed that Shiell was mistaken. I also asked Roy Lowe of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who is based on the Oregon coast and is something of a gull expert. He, too, agreed with Sweetser:

"The species of gulls you are mostly likely to see at inland locations in the west are species that breed at inland locations and winter across the continent or across the west. ... Occurrence of some of these species inland could be the result of storms on the coast that push them inland, but that is conjecture."

Point, Sweetser.

Reader: The Feb. 27 "Kern's Past" had a report from 100 years ago that told of 1000 travelers on Southern Pacific and Santa Fe passenger trains being stranded in Bakersfield. You neglected to include information of WHY these 1000 travelers were stranded in Bakersfield (I can't imagine the original article or others that appeared at the same time would have left such information out; it's easy to imagine the present Californian leaving the information out).

-- Sweetser

Price: I wondered about the details of that mass-stranding myself. Here's what happened, from our archives: Three days of severe, unprecedented wind and rain hit hard, washing out roads and cutting off power and phone service (what little there was, anyway, I presume), across six Southern California counties. All railroad service in the region was halted and trains stalled.

But that background wasn't from the Feb. 27, 1914, article that you cite. It was in an earlier article, published Feb. 21. That means, Mr. Sweetser, The Californian has been failing to meet your expectations for 100 years! (I can't imagine a John Sweetser of that time not parsing the otherwise impeccably faultless Californian of yesteryear for perceived shortcomings, large and minute).

Reader: (From a Dec. 9 article) "Any snow was good news to Gine and Dickerson Correa of Delano, who ... spent Sunday morning sledding through the woods at the Mount Pinos turnoff on the Frazier Mountain Highway." There is no such road as "Frazier Mountain Highway."

-- Sweetser

Price: Not on any maps, there isn't, but that's the printed name on the road sign at the location in question. It's officially Frazier Park Mountain Road, but our reporter went with what was on the road sign. A Frazier Park resident on our staff adds this: "The signs in that area are pretty bad and inconsistent. A couple of them spell the first word of the town's name "Fraizer."

***

Reader: Thank you for including Mr. (Brik) McDill in your stable of columnists; he represents a rare few drops of rain in a cultural desert ("Break out the old thesaurus: McDill is in town," Sound Off, Feb. 22). As for the need for a thesaurus, I'm astonished the name is even familiar enough to be tossed about; however I fail to see the harm in a little more knowledge of the language which, perforce, we need in order to think.

Ah, there's the problem. Who in the world needs to think? Or read anything above 8th grade? I withdraw the question, but I will continue to enjoy thinker/writer McDill.

-- Beverly Stone

Price: Brik McDill raises points and suggests perspectives I've rarely seen elsewhere, and he's impossible to pigeonhole as liberal or conservative, which tells me he thinks for himself. His prose can be a bit dense, though, and he writes some of the longest sentences you'll find this side of "Ulysses." But he can change! Or so he claimed (kinda) in an email to me last week, commenting on Marilyn Brown's criticism of his verbosity: "Well deserved comment by reader (MB), and well taken. Not the first time I've heard it. Actually helpful. Wife says the same."

***

Price: Larry Dunn wrote back with evidence that for years now he has been hot on the case of Hägar the Horrible's unnecessary umlaut -- those two dots over the first "a" in the rotund, cartoon viking's first name. Dunn says the Germanic-language vowel modifier is, in Mr. Horrible's case, extraneous. Larry isn't sure if he's the guy who convinced us to drop the umlaut, but we did indeed drop it some time after he brought it to our attention a few years ago.

Reader: ... My point was that the (comic's titling) treatment needed to be consistent, day over day. The frame (around the comic), as with (Lynn) Johnston (of For Better or For Worse), varied (and she occasionally became "Johnson"). I have never noticed an umlaut within the (Hägar) comic itself, but only in the frame.

-- Larry Dunn

Price: I think we ought to bring back the umlaut whether it's linguistically correct or not. That's the way the strip's artists write it (www.hagardunor.net), and it's their creation, so we ought to honor that. But I think we're all sick of umlaut debates, so we'll move on. You are correct on your larger point, Larry: We must strive for consistency.

 

Executive Editor Robert Price and The Californian welcome your comments and suggestions. To offer your input by phone, please call 395-7649 and leave your comments in a voice-mail message or send an email to soundoff@bakersfield.com. Please include your name and phone number. Phone numbers and addresses won't be published.

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