Sunday, August 14, 2011

Loss of a soldier touches all of us

News that a Bradenton native had just been killed in Afghanistan came via email early Friday. Publisher Bob Turner forwarded me the email, received from someone he didn't even know. It read, chillingly direct:

My nephew, Patrick Lay, was killed in action today in Afghanistan. Born and raised in Bradenton. Thank you for your time.

With little else to work from, reporter Lee Williams started some furious digging. He quickly tracked down -- via Facebook -- that it was painfully true.

As Williams and photographer Grant Jefferies began reaching out to the family, we were humbled by their response. Spc. 4 Lay's mom, Stefenie Hernandez, his fiancee Joann Steiff, his sister Nikki and countless other relatives and friends opened their door and their hearts to us -- out of deep respect, pain, loss and love of their lost soldier.

Grant's photo of Patrick's mom, above, lost in thought outside her home, speaks that proverbial thousands of words. We have been "lucky" in Manatee County for the past several years, as the war hasn't taken a direct hit in claiming the life of one of our own. This was a painful reminder of how much so many have given.

And it stirred fears and prayers in all who were touched by the news. We found an article and photos by Stars and Stripes, and wanted to share this one with our readers. The photo by Laura Rauch/Stars and Stripes shows Spc. Lay sitting on a vehicle as the sun sets over Combat Outpost Nalgham, Afghanistan on May 21. Editors there gave us permission to publish, in exchange for two copies of the Herald with the photograph. In sending Herald photographer Tiffany Tompkins-Condie the OK, administrator Jen Stepp wrote:
You’re so very welcome. As I was processing your request I just became so very sad that here we have a soldier doing his duty and his photo appearing in the paper just a couple months ago to him having been killed today. My most sincere condolences go out to his family and those he served with.

And when I sent Williams' story and Jefferies' photographs to McClatchy-Tribune News Services for national publication, the Washington editor replied:
He reminds me of my best friend’s nephew who's going to Afghanistan in January. I hope I don’t read anything like this about him.

Say a prayer for all our troops to return home, safe and alive.

Friday, August 12, 2011

In memory of Dr. Brian Murphy

Dr. Brian Murphy will be missed by our community. His death this week shocked almost everyone and, like me, left us wishing we could have one more conversation with him.

He always had a rye joke or a "hot tip" for me when we ran into each other, usually at the Eye Center where I'm a patient of Dr. Mike Mackie. One of the more memorable times was right after the 2002 elections, in which Dr. Murphy was defeated by Bill Galvano.

"I thought for sure I had the race sewn up when you guys didn't endorse me," Dr. Murphy cracked with a grin. (He was right, the Herald didn't -- but what a race it was, with these four candidates: Dr. Murphy, Galvano, Benjamin Milks and David Miner.)

Dr. Murphy went on to represent Manatee County in so many other ways. If you have memories to share, please sign the Legacy Guest Book created here.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Murphy's family.

Friday, August 5, 2011

'Manatee Featured Fugitives' leads to news

Each Sunday, we publish "Manatee's Featured Fugitives" in the Local section and online, sourced by Manatee County Crime Stoppers. The feature includes 11 mugs of the most-wanted fugitives from Manatee County, with their personal data and the charges against them.

It also includes a strike through any fugitive caught the week before, and new mugs to replace those. Det. Dan Hutto, special investigator with Manatee County Sheriffs and a Crime Stoppers coordinator, sends me an email with all this information every Friday.

This afternoon, Detective Dan's email came with word that three fugitives had been nailed this week. Thinking that's the most we've had in one week, I forwarded the email to our news desk, suggesting a story. I didn't even look at the names.

1A News Editor Kelly Lipp let out a holler: "That's the guy suspected of beating Sister Nora!"

Police reporter Paradise Afshar quickly confirmed it: Eliseo Ortiz, 51, was arrested Thursday by the Tarpon Springs Police Department.

The plight of Sister Nora touched us all, and we wrote a dozen stories or columns, including this blog.

When columnist Vin Mannix contacted Sister Nora this evening, she took the news in stride.
“I forgave him long ago. Forgiveness is the Christian thing to do. It’s the more healing thing than keeping a grudge,” she said. “I hope they won’t be too hard on him. ”

Watch for the full story in Saturday's editions.

Now this footnote:

Detective Dan also indicates each week whether any of the arrests were the result of a tip to their hotline (none of this week's were). But one of our favorites was just a couple weeks ago, when Trevor Christeson, wanted on charges of grand theft, came off the list.

Christeson turned himself in, Detective Dan informed us, after he saw his photo in the Herald.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

SCF watchdog reporting gets results

This just in:

Daily watchdog journalism gets results. Sometimes almost immediately, as was the case today with State College of Florida.

We published a story today by Herald reporter David Gulliver, outlining SCF's until-now unreported plans to buy a new $71,000 Cadillac sport-utility vehicle for its top officials to use on college business. And Gulliver found the perfect perspective: The news comes two months after the college raised students’ tuition and fees by 8 percent.

Less than an hour ago, Gulliver received a brief email from SCF, saying they were yanking their request seeking sealed bids for the price of a new “executive vehicle.” Gulliver quickly posted the news to

Almost immediately, one reader emailed me:
In reference to the SCF cadillac story!!!!!! Thanks for bringing it to light and I have a feeling that there were a lot of complaints. I, for one, was furious when I read that story. My son is one of the students who had to pay that 8% increase!!!!

Huge story? Not in the scope of the trillions of missing dollars swirling in Washington. But it got people's attention -- everywhere I went today, it was the proverbial water-cooler talker. And we think that made a difference.