Readers of the Arkansas Blog (www.arktimes.com) already know this, but it bears repeating in print.
On two subsequent days last week, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnists opened fire on the Arkansas State Police, lambasting the state cops — and their head spokesman, Bill Sadler — for delays in releasing information about the May 29 incident on Interstate 630 in which police say a teen-ager dropped a piece of concrete from an overpass, killing motorist Carolyn Mirek, who was driving below.
First, Linda Caillouet’s page 1-B column laid into the lawmen, complaining that though Mirek had been injured at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, the State Police hadn’t issued a fatality crash summary by Tuesday afternoon. “That’s two and a half days of Mirek’s family still not knowing how or why she died,” Caillouet wrote, “and two and a half days of everyone else in Central Arkansas blithely going about their business, cruising back and forth along Interstate 630, unaware there very well might be someone lurking overhead capable of dropping a brick down on them.”
Inside, on the Voices page, columnist Meredith Oakley piled on as well. “At issue for me is whether the Arkansas State Police was too busy playing Click It or Ticket to launch an investigation during the extended Memorial Day Weekend.”
What the Arkansas Times has reported, however, was that even as Caillouet and Oakley were tossing stones at the ASP for tardiness and endangering the public by withholding information, they should have been lobbing a few back into their own newsroom.
As confirmed for the Arkansas Times by D-G deputy editor Frank Fellone, the Dem-Gaz had a photographer and a reporter on the scene of the I-630 tragedy, and knew the basic details, having contacted ASP spokesman Sadler a few hours afterward. During that conversation, the only information known to the State Police which was withheld was the victim’s name — a detail that would not have been released anyway, given that Mirek didn’t die until 5 a.m. the next morning.
With that, the D-G should have been able to alert the public by filing at least a brief for Sunday’s edition — a story that could have reported a driver was struck by an unknown object that fell or was thrown from an overpass; that the driver was transported to an area hospital and the State Police were investigating.
As it happened, however, Arkansas’s paper of record didn’t get details of the Saturday incident on the record until Tuesday’s paper.
Asked about the delay, Fellone said that a night editor didn’t feel the story was “complete and coherent” on Saturday night. Fellone said that on Sunday the D-G was “still unable to nail the story,” but on Monday “it all came together.”
“From my perspective, it fell through the cracks,” Fellone said. “In a better world — it’s easy for me to say in hindsight — maybe we should have run a picture, an incomplete brief.”
While readers of the Arkansas Blog got Fellone’s explanation Wednesday, writers for the D-G editorial page apparently didn’t.
On Thursday, June 2, an unsigned D-G editorial again tied the State Police and Sadler to the whipping post, taking them to task over tardiness in releasing information in the Mirek case.
“A lady was killed,” the editorial said, “but every driver, every commuter, every visitor passing through, every family on that interstate had reason to be concerned. And so do all of us who care about what happens to our neighbors. That’s why people need to be told, and told quickly, when terror strikes on the highway — not a day or three later.”
Pot to kettle: you might want to take a stroll over to the city desk. Sounds like this is a sermon they might want to hear.
Associate Editor Warwick Sabin contributed to this report.
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