Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Snow, skis, and a long drop

Here's a conversation I had this weekend, fifty feet up in the air.

Me: "I can't believe this chair lift doesn't have a safety bar. I just cannot believe it."
Juan: "You're gripping a little tight.  Scared?"
"Hell, yes. I'm scared of heights and here we are, fifty feet off the ground on a wooden bench in an arctic gale and an ice pack below us. And no bloody safety bar."
"First of all, it's a mild breeze. Second, it's snow beneath you."
"Yeah, fifty feet beneath me."
"Forty. At most."
"Whatever, man. This is 2013, they should have safety bars on chair lifts. On all of them."
"Fall off chairs a lot, do you?" 

I don't, actually.  But a fear of heights is not always logical. And guess what? I had a small boy, my favorite small boy in the world, next to me.

Think about that. An eight-year-old boy, whose thigh is maybe a foot long, which puts him twelve inches away from a drop that would do some serious damage. And it does get windy up there, it really does.  So imagine how terrified I was, holding on for dear life and then having my son perched on the edge of the precipice next to me. I managed to wedge my ski poles in front of him but I can't think they'd really do much but slow any descent, maybe serve only to stab him on the way down.

Yeah, I know, tough life when your biggest problem is with the ski lifts at Park City, Utah.

But it did make me wonder, because you have to agree we live in a pretty litigious society these days. Being a former civil lawyer, I can attest to that, people sue for anything and everything. It's like a sport.

So tell me if I'm nuts, but I genuinely couldn't understand why so many lifts there didn't have safety bars. Ironically, the resort requires kids to wear helmets before they let them have ski lessons.

"Put on your helmet, boy, now go jump off a cliff. You'll be fine."

I suppose I'm wondering whether I'm overreacting because of my own fear of heights, or whether other people think that all lifts should have safety bars. I know the resort owners don't wanna, it costs money, and I just found a wonderfully disingenuous article in the Seattle Times on the subject.

The story is about a four-year-old boy who fell off a lift, and is titled,

Another child falls from Utah chair lift

Which I'm glad I didn't see before I left, for obvious reasons.  Anyway, it starts this way:

"A young skier who fell from a Utah lift was riding a chair that had a safety bar, proving the device isn't fail-safe and may even have its drawbacks, ski resort executives said."

Which makes me an idiot, right? Yes, until you read on a little bit: "The boy was with a ski instructor and another young child near the top of the lift, getting ready to push off the chair when he slipped."

Which means the safety bar wasn't down. Duh.

If you're a skier, or if not, let me know if you have an opinion on this. I'll only add that, even if somehow safety bars aren't worth their weight, they make my experience so much more pleasurable. It's not fun to spend fifteen minutes thinking you and your wee laddie are about to go splat, it severely undermines the enjoyment of the ski experience. Believe it or not, for this reason alone I'd probably avoid going back to Park City. Is that silly?

I'll say one thing for the place, though, the pizza slices were as delicious as they were huge.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Your emergency is . . . what??

When a police officer responds to a 911 call, often the first he knows of it - and all he knows of it, is the 'call text' that appears on his laptop. It tells him where to go and the reason for the call.

On Thursday evening, our first call popped up on screen:

"Can't take it any more. . . wife keeps yelling at me. . . no wpns, no intox. . . "

So. Sober and unarmed, a man called the police because his wife was yelling at him.

But off we go. Because, you know, he called 911 and things aren't always as they seem.

Turns out they've been married 30 years, which I wasn't expecting. Low income people, living in close quarters in a studio apartment on the east side of town. The officer separates them and we talk to the caller outside on the landing. Within seconds it's clear that what they need is a marriage counselor, but the cop is polite, respectful, and takes the time to talk about the man's problems, reminding him there's two sides to every story and maybe calling 911 when voices get raised isn't a permanent solution.

The other side becomes clear when we talk to the wife. She tells us that despite having been married that long, he won't let her have a key to the apartment. She tells us, too, that earlier that day she was at the unemployment office for an hour longer than he'd expected, which made him mad. He never hit her, ever, she says, but it's clear that he basically controls and monitors her every move.

All's well when we leave thirty minutes later, but nonetheless we leave shaking heads. We don't even talk about it, really, I mean what can you say?

Maybe you just look at the bright side: no one was drunk and there were no weapons involved. And thirty years married is pretty impressive these days, don't you think?

Friday, February 1, 2013

A Tragedy in Kaufman, A Shock For Us All

By now, I expect you've read about the prosecutor gunned down as he was on his way to work. If not, read this. You'll know, too, that I don't often touch subjects that are fresh in the news or dwell on matters of great seriousness because this blog has always lived on the lighter side of life.

But I can't let this pass.

I didn't know Mark Hasse, though maybe our paths crossed at a conference somewhere. I'm shocked at his death nonetheless because by all accounts he was nothing but a white knight, looking out for the good people of Kaufman and putting away the bad guys. And I desperately hope that with the Texas Rangers, the FBI, and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on their trail, the bastards who shot Mark Hasse will be brought to justice.

There are prosecutors all over the country, I think, who will feel the reverberations of this crime and I was interested to read that it's already being talked about in the media: the fear that we all carry within us, the danger that is slight, never discussed, but lurks in the back of our minds.  Could it be me?

In my short career as a prosecutor, not even five years, I've been in three situations where I felt threatened, where I looked over my shoulder every night for two weeks. Trust me, it's no way to live. Only once did I truly believe someone might be angry (and stupid) enough to retaliate but of course how can you ever know?

Erik Nielsen, a former ADA here and now a trainer of prosecutors, wrote on his Facebook page: "we routinely deal with very dangerous people; people whose thoughts on life and violence are skewed or completely severed."  He said what I was thinking the moment I heard about this shooting: "Every prosecutor has this fear."  HuffPo quoted him today with an article entitled just that.

This hits home for me not just because I am a prosecutor (because of one of those threats I mentioned, I am now a gun owner) but because I ride out most weeks with the cops. I see the guns and tasers they carry, the vests they wear, I know about the hand-to-hand training they receive. For sure, the dangers they face are tenfold, a hundredfold, what we are likely to encounter but thinking about this incident makes me realize how defenseless and unready we prosecutors are for naked aggression.

But as Erik said and as the people who shot Mark Hasse need to know: you can't stop justice with a bullet. You can scare the good people who prosecute cases and you can even kill us. But guess what? The moment you do that others will step into our shoes, and you will lose that fight because there are more of us than there are you, there are more good people than bad.

I am confident that the cowards who did this will be caught, but I am absolutely certain that the wheels of justice will continue to turn. And the bad guys who stand there with guns drawn trying to slow or stop the good guys like Mark Hasse will never, ever prevail.

RIP Mark Hasse.