Maybe it was the guilt over taking, and not giving, this holiday season. Or some last-minute remorse knowing that once the score goes down, you’re in big trouble.

It was the most unique part of a Thousand Oaks bank robbery this week: witness reports that the thief-at-large began crying as he made his escape.

Now, I don’t recall Robert De Niro getting all misty eyed following the big bank heist in “Heat,” but that’s Hollywood, and this is Ventura County.

And this is a thief who doesn’t sound, from police reports, like he’s a hardened professional who’s done this sort of thing before. In fact, according to officials, when he made his demands for cash, the man said he was a former employee that the bank owed money to.

“Sympathy for the Burglar” would be the criminals’ rights-endorsed Stones reworking as a theme song for this robber, who understandably has fallen on hard times. Unemployed, broke, no opportunities, maybe even starving for Thanksgiving, we’ve all heard of people turning to acts of crime in times of sheer desperation.

The man’s tears symbolize that feeling we’ve all had at one point or another of hitting the bottom with no apparent way out. The sensitive criminal, so to speak.

But in the same vein, if you apply a song like “Breaking the Law” to the situation — that mighty, metallic justification of a life of crime against a world that’s turned its back on someone — it becomes clearer that this man is like any other criminal … using force and the threat of violence to steal and get their way.

That’s why we shouldn’t be swayed into feeling sorry for anyone who makes excuses for why they turn to a life of crime, whether they cry crocodile tears or not. Let’s hope this guy’s guilt at the scene leads him to turn himself in.

Luckily, nobody was hurt during the incident. But imagine the stress and fear bank patrons were forced to endure, thinking they could be taken hostage, hurt, or worse.

I wouldn’t want to imagine a simple checking account deposit during my lunch break turning fatal because some foolhardy thief blew me away for my trouble.

It’s something for anyone else thinking about robbing any banks to reflect on this Thanksgiving.


Taking the easy way out

November 19, 2009

“Deadly Force” sounds like the title of the next Dirty Harry movie, with an 80-year-old Clint Eastwood wielding his familiar .44 Magnum against a gang of hoods littering the city streets.

Last week that scenario wasn’t too far from the real-life truth when a SWAT team shot and killed an armed gunman who refused to surrender after a standoff in a Ventura industrial complex.

There’s been an outrage online as people are battling each other on both sides of the issue. Did police use too much force? Or did the gunman, who had a history of violent outbursts, give the cops just cause?

Daniel Chilson, 34, was said to be a threatening person, served with restraining orders from his family, and combined with his troubled past, antagonized police with a pellet gun that looked damn real when compared side by side with a 9mm, as displayed in a police photo released yesterday.

Police had no way of knowing from several yards out that Chilson’s weapon wasn’t a real handgun, and that’s why some people believe that pumping 10 bullets into him, courtesy of three SWAT officers, was a bit too much firepower.

After all, three on one doesn’t exactly sound like a fair fight, even if Chilson was armed with a high-powered assault rifle.

Some may say that the cops, given their reputation in U.S. history for police brutality, took the easy way out. Shoot lots of rounds first, and ask questions later … that is, if your assailant is still breathing.

But if you ask me (and if you looks at the particulars of the story), Chilson was the one who took the easy way out. He had it coming, and he was asking for it.

Call it “suicide by cop.” Chilson not only egged police on, evading them for hours and taunting them by cell phone, but he threatened to kill himself and basically let police do it for him. There was no way he was going to surrender that day.

Given the fact that his BB gun wasn’t even capable of inflicting major harm, Chilson knew that if suicide was his goal, the only way to do it was to get himself shot.

And that’s exactly what he did when he spun around and began raising his weapon in the direction of police at the scene; officers who presumably have families, lives and personal safeties that they have to defend, too, responded in the only proper, procedural way they were trained.

Chilson killed himself … he just had somebody else do it for him.

It's not how you sign, but what you're signing for.

With Election Day now passed, we’ve had a few quiet weeks devoid of a boggling alphabet of ballot measures, a myriad of candidate speak, and an inundation of campaign literature enough to drive you crazy.

But just as quickly as one election season ends, another has begun, and it starts with petition takers you may see at grocery stores and other retail locations were foot traffic is likely to generate at least a few John Hancocks in favor of a certain cause.

I encountered such a petitioner this past weekend and thought I knew what I was signing for … and what I was getting myself into.

I was pretty sure after I left the polls two weeks ago that I had cast each of my votesĀ  carefully, without any errors. It’s the post-election OCD that commonly afflicts many a concerned voter: Did I vote for the right candidate? Oh no! I voted no when I meant yes, and now if the measure fails, it’s all my fault.

On Saturday, I didn’t exercise the same measured care with this petition I usually carry out at the ballot booth.

The sign at the table asked people to endorse a ballot measure legalizing marijuana. Informed by our paper’s recent and ongoing coverage of the issue, I decided to sign because it’s been proven that marijuana, in many forms, is medicinal and beneficial for many patients of serious and terminal illnesses. THC is not the evil drug despised by masses of the uninformed.

In our conservative-minded Ventura County, I noticed my signature was one of few — very few. Try 3 at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

Yet just as I’d dotted the ‘I’ in my last name, the page was flipped over to another page which I was asked to endorse … and another.

Mid-autograph, I stopped and hesitated to wonder, then to ask, “Are these all for medical marijuana?

No, the woman told me, and quickly rattled off that my additional two signatures were to endorse two separate, and completely unrelated, potential ballot measures. I think one was for auto insurance reform, I don’t remember. I may have even supported one or both of them had I been a student of the issues at hand.

But that’s besides the point. The point is that petitioners will try to take advantage of signers who endorse their first, major cause by quietly getting you to sign for other matters you may know nothing about … or even realize you’re blindly signing for.

So be careful when you go to vote or if you sign a petition that you have a good, working knowledge of the issues at hand. A poor grasp of some political matters have no doubt caused ballot measures to fail (or pass) at the polls when they shouldn’t have because people weren’t better acquainted with information.

And that goes for anything you may sign your name to: you could be getting ripped off.

I could have been signing over my soul to Satan, for all I knew.

Get out of your contract, you say? When hell freezes over.

I’m still reeling from the intensity of last week’s local DUI summit, and I wasn’t able to stay for the whole event, which was undoubtedly impactful and eye-opening to the dangers of drinking and driving.

The summit was held at the eve of a time of year when people are partying, drinking, and driving home from said parties, drunk.

Of course, as we all learned, not everyone who drives drunk dies.

So why is it that DUIs seem to have a more public stigma attached to them?

Case in point: our local daily paper published two auto accident stories within the last 24 hours.

In the first, a Thousand Oaks woman was arrested for driving under the influence after she crashed her car, seriously injuring herself.

In the second, 3 young Oxnard men were all killed in a brutal car accident. The driver of the car was also seriously injured. Alcohol is not being ruled as a factor in the crash at this point.

Considering the severity — and the number of fatalities — in the second crash, why is it that the paper has barred readers from submitting online their comments to the Thousand Oaks accident?

Rumors have circulated that the woman has indeed passed away since the story hit the WWW yesterday afternoon; yet nonetheless, locking the comments section on a free Web site indicates to me that this confirmed DUI story is being more … guarded by the powers that be.

It’s especially noteworthy because the story of the second crash relayed such a terrible vulnerability on part of the deceased: all in their late teens, and one a father who leaves behind a young family.

Shouldn’t both reports be open for public comment, for condolences and for discussion? Trolls will always abound on the ‘Net and insensitive comments will always be attempted, but that’s what Web moderators are for: to moderate the suitability of what should be published.

But by closing off that avenue of conversation for a drunk driving story, we do the opposite of raising awareness to the problem. It’s more akin to pushing the problem away than acknowledging it and discussing it.

We should have that freedom of speech just like we have the freedom to drink. But just as it’s against the law to drink and drive, it shouldn’t be prohibitive to talk about it before another fatality happens again.

A sobering summit

November 5, 2009


Sometimes, we don’t fully grasp the gravity of tragic situations until we learn about them in vivid detail from someone who’s experienced one firsthand … or until we experience it ourselves.

A drunk driving prevention summit today in Ventura was full of explicit detail, no doubt; but it was the kind that we don’t like to see or hear.

The event struck that middle ground — more like a chasm, actually — between what is enlightening and what is uncomfortable. If you can believe that can be achieved, after hearing the professionals and doctors speak at the summit, you would never, ever consider having a drink and starting that ignition again.

ER and trauma specialists often experience high burnout rates because of the pressures and severities, and maybe even the carnage, their job constitutes almost every day, according to Dr. Javier Romero.

We read about DUI fatalities all the time … and maybe we become a bit desensitized to the news. But hearing Drs. Romero and Kimbrell go into lucid detail about the inuries sustained to some of the drunk driving victims they’ve treated, makes one realize that cars truly are deadly weapons when we operate them under the influence of alcohol.

The damaging effects of alcohol are not just limited to roadway incidents, either. According to Dr. Romero, CDC data shows that fire deaths and drowning explain 30 percent of alcohol-related deaths, accidental falls 40 percent.

And they’re not accidents, either, he says … they’re preventable deaths.

But people need to be aware of the dangers of alcohol for injury and death to be prevented, especially now that we’re entering the holiday season, the season of parties when drinking is in abundance.

Because of that increase, Dr. Romero believes that the numbers he cited are, sadly, inaccurately *low* for this time of year.

Don’t drink and drive!