Diary of a Mad County

Photo by Matt CokerTUESDAY, Jan. 22 The environmental group that 20 years ago helped expose toxic poisoning at Love Canal issues a report identifying 1,200 schools—including two in Orange County—built within a half-mile (2,640 feet!) of federal Superfund or state-identified contaminated sites. The result: the Child Proofing Our Communities Campaign says 600,000 pupils risk sickness every school day. There's just one problem with the list: the Superfund site that's within spitting distance of Westminster High School and nearby Willmore Elementary School has been clean since 1997. In the 1930s, what is now Sowell Street was a lot with four open pits a trucking company dumped used petroleum into. That didn't deter some enterprising soul from erecting single-family homes over the tainted land some years later. The stench got so bad that complaints came from as far as 1.5 miles away, and in 1992, Sowell Street was added to the Superfund list of the nation's worst hazardous-waste sites. After five years of work, the yearlong displacement of 17 families and $20 million, the federal government completed the teardown, cleanup and rebuilding of Sowell Street. Today, the larger, nicer homes there (your tax dollars at work!) seem out of place alongside others in the lower-middle-class tract, but any stink sickening schoolkids is more likely coming from the hot-lunch line. If Child Proofers need a nasty site near an Orange County school, might we suggest the Ascon-Nesi toxic-waste dump across the street from Edison High School in Huntington Beach?

Illustration by Bob Aul
WEDNESDAY, Jan. 23 The family of William Richardson McCrea, who died in Orange County Jail after suffering a skull fracture, says the Laguna Niguel man did not fall, as jailers claim, but was beaten by a deputy. Now they're suing the county. The fuzz say McCrea, 52, went limp during a lunchtime confrontation with an unidentified deputy and fell on his head. McCrea died on Feb. 9, 2001, in a hospital, and family members who had visited him there contend his wounds could not have come from a fall, describing his face as swollen beyond recognition. This is the latest in a string of brutality allegations against Orange County Jail that date back 20 years.

A couple of Clockworks ago, we described our shock at seeing Steve Allen's widow and son kibitzing with the Reverend Robert Schuller at Crystal Cathedral. We reported that the original Tonight Show host had written books and articles in support of atheism and against organized religion, including a piece in The Book Your Church Doesn't Want You to Read. That book's editor, Tim C. Leedom, catches our item and contacts us to say that this Schuller passage appears in the same pages: “We all pray to God. . . . We asked Him to tell us who our enemies are. . . . He said the atheists, secular humanists and sinners.” Hi, ho, Steverino!

THURSDAY, Jan. 24 Enron Corp. used lawyers and accounting loopholes to avoid paying federal income taxes for four of the past five years, but the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the now-bankrupt energy giant employed a stripped-down strategy to dodge California tax collectors: they simply didn't pay. Enron, which played this state like an electric fiddle during the “energy crisis” and reaped buttloads of cash, is nearly a year late in its $493,000 state corporate tax payment, according to the California Franchise Tax Board. Speaking of Enron, here's what Senate Democratic Majority Leader Tom Daschle said when reporters asked about the federal budget and dwindling surpluses: “I don't want to Enron the American people.” Daily Show host Jon Stewart did Daschle one better. In reference to Enron's recently resigned CEO Kenneth Lay, he said the company's ex-employees now wear T-shirts that read: “I Got Lay'd.” FRIDAY, Jan. 25 No foreign service experience? No chief exec experience? No shame over his role in the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history? No problem! The Senate confirms ex-Orange County Supervisor Gaddi Vasquez as director of the Peace Corps. He'll oversee 7,300 volunteers in 70 countries and manage a budget of $265 million—a quarter of what county officials defrauded from municipal-securities buyers, according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission report that cites Vasquez. SATURDAY, Jan. 26 DeWayne McKinney tells Tony Rackauckas, the man who wrongly convicted him of murder 20 years ago, that he supports the OC district attorney's bid for re-election on March 5—and damn if reporters don't just happen to be hanging around Tony's office on a Saturday to hear it. What a co-inkydink! Times Orange County columnist Dana Parsons characterizes the photo op of McKinney shaking hands with Rackauckas as the death blow to the campaign of challenger Wally Wade. After all, the endorsement of a guy Rackauckas wanted executed and who spent 19 years behind bars for a crime he didn't commit reinforces the DA's contention that McKinney's reversed conviction proves that the system works. But it was the system—Rackauckas' system—that wrongly convicted at least four other people, bullied suspects and witnesses, ignored contradictory evidence—hell, ignored the cases altogether until intense media pressure came from the Times and Weekly.And wrongful convictions aren't the only knocks against Rackauckas. He also faces allegations of political cronyism and ties to an alleged mobster. He personally thwarted his office's rock-solid fraud case against George Argyros, one of his major campaign contributors, as well as the initial probe of since-convicted Huntington Beach City Councilman Dave Garofalo. And then there are the ongoing investigations of his office by the county grand jury and the state attorney general. Better schedule more photo ops, Tony! SUNDAY, Jan. 27 Remember that National Football League team that used to stink up the Big A? (Hell, remember the Big A?) Well, the now-St. Louis Rams head to the Super Bowl for the second time in three years after defeating the Philadelphia Eagles 29-24. The Rams are overwhelming favorites in the big show. Which just goes to show you: rip the hearts out of longtime fans by moving halfway across the country, get your new city to build you a taxpayer-funded, state-of-the-art stadium, and acquire the fastest receivers and strongest arm in the NFL, and you, too, can have a pro-football dynasty. Our congratulations to Rams owner Georgia Frontiere. Bitch. MONDAY, Jan. 28 Embattled political-science professor Ken Hearlson returns to his classroom at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa. He came off a three-month suspension fueled by complaints that the professor likened Muslim students to terrorists. Hearlson, who has described himself as a Christian conservative, maintains he did nothing wrong, and OCC's own investigator concluded that the students exaggerated their allegations. Still, Hearlson maintains college president Margaret Gratton sent him a letter of reprimand. Gratton claims the letter, which admonishes Hearlson for his confrontational teaching style, is not a letter of reprimand. By the way, we're killing about 60 Afghanis per day.

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