CategoriesFitnessUncategorized

Local Media Finally Covers Death of Mountain Biker

The Arizona Republic followed the story I wrote about the second death this year at McDowell Mountain Regional Park.

I love this quote:

“We are not suspecting foul play,” sheriff’s spokesman Brandon Jones said. “We are not sure what caused it, but we are not done investigating.”

(Facepalm) Yes. Offing someone by staged bike accident is definitely a high-percentage tactic.

I hope the Republic at least has enough sense to be embarrassed that, if not for a guy freelancing in his spare time, its reporters wouldn’t know about two deaths in its market.

If you feel like reading it, here’s a link.

Make sure you note the publication dates.

CategoriesUncategorized

Save Phoenix Views: Now Serving Spam

Don't worry, Phoenix citizens! Save Phoenix Views will protect your view of this magnificent, er ... nice, um ... somewhat adequate skyline! (Photo courtesy of www.pdphoto.org)

People in Phoenix, Arizona, now have another busybody political group inundating their email accounts with unwanted spam messages. I received my first message from SavePhoenixViews.com on Jan. 20.

The group touts its mission to "protect views" and "pristine Phoenix neighborhoods." Its sworn enemy? Billboards. These slabs of advertising are apparently a threat to "unobstructed views of the skyline, mountains, sunrises and sunsets from your backyard." Yes, that world-renowned Phoenix skyline -- it’s the stuff of postcards and fine works of art. The group wants to ensure that such architectural wonders as the Chase Bank building aren’t hidden behind new billboards or electronic billboards.

I had never heard of this group of superheroes so intent on defending my way of life. I never signed up for its email newsletter. Since I also receive unsolicited emails from Phoenix City Council member Sal DiCiccio, I wondered if this is connected to his brand of small-time Phoenix politics. About a year ago, a group he backed also had me on its e-mail list. And wouldn’t you know, it only took 30 seconds of Google searching to discover a link between DiCiccio and Save Phoenix Views. Clearly, e-mail privacy is not one of his pet crusades. The best thing about my move to Scottsdale is that Sal DiCiccio is not on the Scottsdale City Council.

I’m embarrassed for the people behind Save Phoenix Views. Worries about billboards are the epitome of a "First World Problem." What’s really this group’s motivation? My bet is money. Someone stands to lose, so they’re organizing a "grassroots" campaign to stop the evil billboards (someone puh-leeze save us!). Anyone with an ounce of political knowledge will tell you: Behind every so-called grassroots neighborhood movement is money and hired PR guns dressing it up all folksy and down-home. I haven’t figured out the money trail yet, but it has to be there considering the efforts to the group has made and the money it has spent. It would be nice to see a full-time journalist with time and resources put Save Phoenix Views under the microscope (hint, hint – that’s my Bat Signal to The Arizona Republic).

The e-mail I received came to me "via politicalcommunicationsspecialists.com." Naturally, I went to the URL -- and got a white screen with the words "Could not locate requested resource".  

This means someone is hiding. Typical dirty Phoenix politics. So far, 15,000 people have signed a petition to get the group’s wad of "Whereas", "Notwithstanding" and "Therefore" on the ballot. It’s been nearly a decade since I was a news reporter – but I remember a Maricopa County official who told me every item on the ballot costs upward of $200,000. Does Phoenix have that kind of money to spend on non-problems?

The group also wrings its hands about higher accident rates from drivers being distracted by electronic billboards. I’ll swallow that line of BS only if every single person who signed the petition will look me in the eye and say "That’s right, I’ve never used my cell phone or texted/e-mailed while I drive." I’d bet a year’s pay that phone use distracts far more drivers and causes far more accidents than electronic billboards do.

Who could, in good conscience, put such energy into such a trifling cause? A few suggestions for more important matters: Address the many empty buildings, the waste of water, the unsustainable building, the tax handouts to big businesses.

I also sent an e-mail to the group asking to know how I wound up on its distribution list. Let’s see if anyone responds.

CategoriesUncategorized

10 Years Later, Still No Trace of Suspected Killer

I usually keep it light here. You get some nice stories about Arizona or travel or mountain biking stories. But now and then, something comes into my mind and I have to share it. So I’m taking us back nearly 10 years to April 10, 2001.

Back in those days, I’d roll into the Scottsdale bureau of the East Valley Tribune around 9 a.m. There, I’d cover a crime beat encompassing Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Fountain and bits of Phoenix.

Yeah, it was hardly East L.A. But we’d just had a freaky spate of violence. I was riding herd on investigations for an execution-style home-invasion murder and a murder-suicide. That’s in addition to the usual relatively goofy stuff.

That morning, I stepped outside my door and saw helicopters, swirling air beneath their main rotors, jockeying for the best shot of a scene. They weren’t far away. I don’t even remember whether I called the newsroom. Probably did, because "ya got art?" is the first question editors ask about breaking stories.

I drove my truck just about a mile away to the scene of a house blown to shreds. A sturdy 1960s tract home blasted into splinters, shattered block, smoldering metal. I started taking notes, tracking down neighbors who were willing to talk, working my way through a thicket of police and fire spokespeople.

The night before, Robert Fisher had lived there with his wife, Mary, and their children.

What I learned over the next few days is summarized (somewhat sloppily, but well enough) on Wikipedia:

On the morning of April 10, 2001, Mary Fisher was shot in the back of the head and her children’s throats were slashed from ear to ear in the hours before their home exploded.

Firefighters were immediately alerted due to a natural gas explosion and fire in a Scottsdale house. The explosion ripped through the ranch-style house in the 2000 block of North 74th Place at 8:42 a.m. The blast appeared to be centered in the living room, and the subsequent fire burned the house into rubble. The initial explosion was strong enough to collapse the front brick wall and rattle the frames of neighboring houses for a half-mile in all directions.

Rural/Metro Fire Department firefighters were on the scene within minutes and kept the 20-foot-high blaze from spreading to neighboring houses. A series of smaller secondary explosions, believed to be either rifle ammunition or paint cans going up, forced firefighters to keep their distance. One firefighter suffered minor injuries to his leg when he lost his balance and fell near the burning house.

Evidence of the homicide had allegedly been tried to be concealed by pulling out the gas line from the back of the home’s furnace. The accumulating gas was later ignited by an ignition source, possibly the pilot light on the water heater. Burned bodies of a woman and two children were found lying in bed in the remains of the house. The victims were identified as Mary Fisher (aged 38), and her two children, Brittney Fisher (aged 12) and Robert “Bobby” William Fisher, Jr. (aged 10). Investigators have considered that Robert Fisher murdered his family because he felt threatened with his wife’s intent to divorce. Despite their marital difficulties, he vowed that his marriage would never dissolve.

On April 20, the last physical evidence of Fisher’s whereabouts surfaced, when police found his Toyota 4Runner and dog “Blue” in Tonto National Forest, a hundred miles north of Scottsdale.

Fisher is considered armed and extremely dangerous and has ties to Florida and New Mexico. He has been speculated to have committed suicide or started a new life under an assumed identity. Fisher has been described as a loner and is thought to live alone in an isolated area.

Obviously, not a great guy. The Wikipedia story links to many articles from The Arizona Republic (The Tribune was even more stubborn and turgid in failing to harness the Internet than other newspapers, thus making its competitor the de facto paper-of-record. Today, it’s a shadow of its former scrappy self.). Read the entry and those links for a portrait of a truly vile person.

Every time I see a reference to a captured Arizona fugitive, I feel hope that it’s Robert Fisher – finally! But here we are 10 years later.

And still I’m waiting to see him get hauled in.

CategoriesUncategorized

Phoenix Councilman Supplies Info About Residents to Special-Interest Group

Sal DiCiccio, a member of the Phoenix city council, has convinced me of something – that he’s funnelling information about residents to an outside organization to further his political agenda. Here’s how he did it:

Back in August, something strange popped into my e-mail box: a newsletter from Councilman DiCiccio.

I never signed up for it. I don’t even live in his district. I chalked it up as an anomaly until I got a newsletter from nofee2hikeaz.com a few days later. I also didn’t sign up for its newsletter.

DiCiccio and nofee2hikeaz.com, it turns out, have a common goal – opposing the Phoenix Park Board plan to charge for parking at less than 20 percent of the city’s trailheads.

City Staff Members Look Into E-Mail Mystery

On Sept. 8, I decided to ask city officials about what was happening: I contacted David Urbinato, parks department spokesman. He passed my e-mail to Toni Maccarone, the city’s spokeswoman. Here’s what she wrote to me:

" -- we did quite a bit of research, and the answer that we came up with is what we thought.  We do not share our city news list with anyone.  We’re sorry, but we are not sure how you got on these other lists. When I asked Councilman DiCiccio’s Chief of Staff Hal DeKeyser about it, he said that you may have been added to the Councilman’s list in a number of different ways because they have a separate, outside list that they maintain, and they add people’s e-mails from a variety of different sources."

Maccarone suggested I talk to DeKeyser. I know him – he is a former Scottsdale Tribune editor. I joined the paper as a reporter just after DeKeyser was effectively exiled to the then even-more-bustling (if you count retirees in golf carts as bustling) West Valley. There, he served as publisher of a flock of chicken-dinner publications like the West Valley View.

I decided to let things unfold a bit before talking to him.

I’m pretty sure DiCiccio had access to my information since I signed up for the phoenixnews e-newsletter. I registered using a personal address, not the one posted here at WanderingJustin.com.

Slip-Up Reveals the Connection

On Sept. 17, I got the break I hoped for: I received a newsletter from both DiCiccio and nofee2hikeaz.com – and the content was exactly the same: every subject line, every sentence, every idea. Identical.

To me, this is a major sign – likely outright proof – that Diciccio or someone working for him provided my e-mail information to nofee2hikeaz.com.

Both parties were stupid, arrogant or a radioactive combination of both.

Local Media is Watching

A reporter at The Arizona Republic also confirmed that the paper is curious about ties between DiCiccio and nofee2hikeaz.com. The reporter said interview requests for the website were not answered – and that DeKeyser denied any ties to the organization. Someone is lying. And the reporter has no motive.

Since the curiously similar e-mail blasts, I’ve continued getting DiCiccio’s Glenn Beck-ish squawking for the entertainment value. In his alternate reality, he is the only guy looking out for the little people of the impovershed Arcadia and Ahwatukee neighborhoods (someone has to make sure families there can afford the payments on their fleet of SUVs). In that alternate reality, it’s also OK to sign people up for e-mail lists against their will and to funnel their information to outside organizations that are not accountable or even willing to be interviewed by media.

It doesn’t seem the city has a policy governing how it handles residents’ e-mail addresses. So DiCiccio will probably escape censure from city officials. But I’m hoping he’ll answer for this and every other act of ethical dyslexia at the ballot box.

So what do you think? Does it look like DiCiccio or one of his staff members provided e-mail to addresses to nofee2hikeaz.com? If so, do you find that dirty pool?

CategoriesUncategorized

Why Phoenix Councilman’s Stance on City Parks is Bogus

Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio has come out adamantly against a $2 a day parking fee for about 700 of 5,000 parking spaces at city trailhead parking lots. Here’s what he has to say in the latest newsletter he sent out (including to people like me who never signed up for it).

Let’s parse the massaged public relations quacking and uncover the truth, which will prove that DiCiccio’s stance is nothing more than a bush-league politician’s PR ploy:

1. The voice and presence of people who showed up, who contacted the council members, who passed out fliers and who talked with their friends and neighbors – that at least temporarily stopped the city from adding the $2 parking fee.

Right. So far, every single one of the opposition’s attempts to unite have been an abject failure. The NoFee2HikeAZ.com "protest hike" in August fizzled – according to its own Facebook photos, all of five people showed up. Its Twitter feed is followed by an avalanche of 12 people. And The Arizona Republic is reporting that "residents who spoke at the last parks board meeting Aug. 26 were 3-1 in favor of the fee."

2. First the Parks Board was convinced that if it didn’t produce revenue to kick into the general fund that pays normal city operating costs, cuts even harsher than the deep ones imposed in the current budget could be forthcoming. It considered a parking fee as high as $5 a day on hikers

Even at $5, the day fee is still less than the $6 day-use fees at Maricopa County Regional Parks. And I have yet to hear anyone who doesn’t consider that a bargain for excellent trail systems. Phoenix and its parks lag behind – they’re good, but they simply don’t equal the county’s offerings. A day-use fee for Phoenix might lessen the gap. Quality costs.

Continue reading