Thursday, March 29, 2007

Gutter: A new theatre of conflict?

I missed the news last night, so this story passed me by until this morning when I saw it online. Yesterday around 2:30 PM, a car on the Parkway East was hit by a wrench socket. The socket went through the windshield of the van, which was driven by Kenneth Gantt of Jeannette.

This story is available at the websites of the Post-Gazette, the Trib, and the TV stations: KDKA, WTAE, and WPXI.

The obvious first question: is this incident related to The Parkway West Rock Thrower and the subsequent copycat rock throwers? That’s certainly the first impulse that I had, and it’s not surprising that all of the news reports reference Jeffrey Angelo Ramous, aka The Parkway West Rock Thrower, who was arrested last Thursday and was scheduled for a preliminary hearing today.

With the mention of Ramous and the subsequent rock-throwers, the news outlets are making all the connections for us. For example, I just watched Keith Jones on the KDKA noon broadcast call the Parkway East incident “similar” to the Parkway West incidents.

I have to say, I’m not so sure about that.

Here’s what I’m thinking: for starters, yesterday’s incident happened at 2:30 PM, while Ramous’ attacks and the subsequent rock-throwing all took place at night, specifically between 8 PM and 3 AM. Also, as has been reported a number of times, Ramous and the subsequent rock-throwers all used bricks or large stones. And there’s also the little matter of geography: yesterday’s incident took place on the overpass near the Greensburg Pike exit off the Parkway East, while Ramous and the subsequent rock-throwers did their dastardly deeds on the Parkway West, reportedly from the Norfolk Southern Railroad trestle.

It just doesn’t seem to add up.

In fact, I can easily see how this could have happened by accident. It’s not hard to imagine a wrench socket falling out of a truck that is driving on the overpass. A few unfortunate bounces later and it’s flying through Gantt’s windshield. I think that’s a perfectly acceptable explanation for what happened, and I think that some of the news outlets agree, since the Post-Gazette, the Trib, and WPXI all stick to basic facts (a wrench socket struck a windshield, no one was hurt, police are investigating) without explicitly drawing any conclusions.

Not so for KDKA. I already mentioned that Keith Jones opened the segment on the incident by taking about Ramous and the Parkway West before proceeding to call yesterday’s accident “similar,” which is a leap of logic, since there are a fair amount of dissimilarities. In addition to that, if you read the write-up on the KDKA website and watch the video report, you’ll see that Channel 2 has already determined the nature of the accident.

For starters, Jones (here anchoring KDKA’s CW-based morning broadcast) flat-out says that “a piece of metal was thrown at a car on the Parkway East.” (Never mind that he says it happened “last week;” I’ll chalk that up to misspeaking). Bob Allen is the reporter for the story, and he repeats the assumption.

Transcribed (by me):

Kenneth Gantt of Jeannette was driving relatives to the airport when someone tossed a metal tool object through the windshield of his van.

Allen then draws a direct connection to the Parkway West incidents.

Transcribed (again, by me):

This is the latest incident since the weekend when someone threw rocks from an overpass through the windshields of two vehicles on the Parkway West between the Green Tree and Carnegie exits.

Allen goes on to claim that state police believe that the “latest incidents are the work of copycats.” Maybe the state police believe that the incidents over the weekend are the work of copycats, but I’m inclined to think that the police haven’t made that assumption about the Parkway East accident just quite yet.

In fact, Channel 4’s report, which actually appears to be the best report available, says that state police have NOT drawn the connection.

Police don’t know if the object was purposefully dropped or if it bounced out of a vehicle.

Why believe Channel 4 over Channel 2? Well, Channel 4 also got the police to identify the object as a socket “from a 5/8 inch Craftsman ratchet wrench,” while Channel 2 had to operate on the speculation of Gantt, the driver of the van:

Gantt believes the culprit threw a socket from a wrench.

So we get two pieces of information from that statement:

1. The item was a wrench socket.
2. Someone threw it.

And I’ll add a third piece of info from my own deduction:

3. Kenneth Gantt is now a police investigator.

”I don’t know what their sick mind is doing. They could obviously kill somebody like that,” [Gantt] said.

I’m not saying that this wasn’t a criminal incident, and I’m not saying that this wasn’t another rock-throwing copycat. If this turns out to be a purposeful attack, I will lead the charge in bringing the criminal to justice. I’m just saying that we need to be careful about spreading fear and creating panic if, in fact, it was just an accident.

The worst thing we can do is allow the rock-throwers to make us fear the worst every time we see an overpass. If that is their goal, then sensational stories with under-investigated reports serve the rock-throwers, not us, the law-abiding travelers.

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