Passing driver in North Hollywood comes to rescue of girl ready to jump from 170 Freeway overpass
by Dana Bartholomew
Passing driver comes to the rescue of girl ready to jump from freeway overpass
At first, Jay Schaefer saw a bicycle parked on a Hollywood Freeway overpass. Then a 16-year-old girl perched on an outside ledge. Then the rush of Friday afternoon traffic below.
The plumber whipped a U-turn, leaped from his truck and held onto the girl for dear life.
"It was definitely not the norm," said Schaefer, 42, of Sun Valley. "I asked her if she was OK. She said, No, she wanted to die.
"Then I said, Let me help you, I'll do anything to help you."
The plumber for Drain Router Plumbing of Canoga Park was the first good Samaritan to help prevent a suicide at Whitsett Avenue and the 170 Freeway in North Hollywood.
What followed was a highly coordinated rescue by other motorists, Los Angeles police, Los Angeles firefighters and the California Highway Patrol.
But if it wasn't for the fast response of the father of four daughters, officials say, the teen might have jumped to her death.
"This man is by every definition of the word a hero," said Brian Humphrey, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department. "And we don't use that term lightly."
It was at 2:40 p.m. that local agencies received a 911 call about a young girl preparing to jump from the bridge.
When Los Angeles police arrived, they say they saw Schaefer and other motorists clasping the teen from the other side of an overpass railing. The North Hollywood Division officers also wrapped their arms around the blue-jacketed girl.
When the California Highway Patrol closed all southbound lanes for 40 minutes, its officers saw the girl poised high above the slab.
About two dozen Los Angeles firefighters arrived, parked an apparatus beneath the Whittsett overpass, then extended a ladder over the stricken girl.
A firefighter then mounted the ladder, and hoisted the girl over the rail to safety from the freeway precipice.
She was then taken to a nearby hospital, police said.
"There was a citizen that had made contact, holding onto the teenage girl, standing on the bridge outside the safety tines," said police Sgt. Peter Gillies of North Hollywood Division. "Officers arrived ... to take over. The fire department ... lifted her up.
"All those things came to bear to pluck the young lady off the overpass. It was a very good coordinated effort."
For Schaefer, whose daughters range from 20 months to 16 years, it was the specter of a ruined New Year's: for the teen, her unborn child, and his family.
She told him she was 16, pregnant, with nowhere to live. "Nobody loves me," she told him.
"Look, you can't do this," he recalls shooting back. "I have a wife, a family, you'll destroy us, too."
When reached by the Daily News, he said he was still reeling from the event.
"I don't know what to say about it all," Schaefer said. "I hope she's all right. I'd like to see her pull through."
Urban meth is no urban myth as more labs showing up in cities, suburbs
by Jim Salter
ST. LOUIS - Methamphetamine lab seizures are on the rise in the nation's cities and suburbs, raising new concerns about a lethal drug that has long been the scourge of rural America.
Data and interviews from an investigation by The Associated Press found growing numbers of meth lab seizures in cities such as St. Louis, Kansas City, Mo., Nashville, Tenn., and Evansville, Ind. Authorities are also seeing evidence that inner-city gangs are becoming involved in meth production and distribution.
"No question about it - there are more labs in the urban areas," said Tom Farmer, coordinator of the Tennessee Methamphetamine and Pharmaceutical Task Force. "I'm seeing car fires from meth in urban areas now, more people getting burned."
The increase in labs is especially troubling because meth brought into the U.S. from Mexico also is becoming more pervasive in urban areas. The Associated Press reported in October that so-called Mexican "super labs" are upping production, making meth more pure and less expensive, and then using existing drug pipelines in big cities.
Data obtained by AP shows that homemade meth is on the rise in metropolitan areas, too.
St. Louis County had just 30 lab seizures in 2009, but 83 through July 31, putting it on pace for 142 in 2012. The city of St. Louis had eight in 2009 and is on pace for 50 this year.
Jackson County, Mo., (which includes Kansas City) had 21 seizures in 2009 and is on pace for 65 this year.
Meth lab seizures have tripled in the Nashville area over the past two years. In one case in late 2011, a man and his girlfriend were accused of recruiting more than three dozen people, including some who were homeless, to visit multiple pharmacies and purchase the legal limit of cold pills containing pseudoephedrine, a key meth ingredient. The couple and 37 others were indicted.
The Evansville, Ind., area has seen a more than 500 percent rise in meth seizures since 2010, with 82 in 2011.
Authorities cite numerous reasons for meth moving into cities, but chief among them is the rise in so-called "one-pot" or "shake-and-bake" meth.
In years past, meth was cooked in a makeshift lab. The strong ammonia-like smell carried over a wide area, so to avoid detection, meth had to be made in backwoods locations.
As laws limited the availability of pseudoephedrine, meth-makers adjusted with a faster process that creates smaller batches simply by combining ingredients - mixing cold pills with toxic substances such as battery acid or drain cleaner - in 2-liter soda bottles. Shake-and-bake meth can be made quickly with little odor in a home, apartment, hotel, even a car.
"Bad guys have figured it out," said Rusty Payne of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency. "You don't have to be as clandestine - you don't have to be in rural country to lay low."
Niki Crawford, who heads the meth suppression team in Indiana, said that with shake-and-bake labs, "the odors are not as strong. And they're just so portable. We find them in backpacks and gym bags."
And inside stores: A woman was arrested inside a St. Louis County Wal-Mart earlier this year with a meth-filled soda bottle in her coat pocket.
Another reason for the rise in urban meth is a process known among law enforcement as "smurfing" -the abundance of pharmacies in cities attracts meth-makers from surrounding rural areas, who can bring in friends to help purchase pseudoephedrine pills.
"We know the fuel for domestic labs is pseudoephedrine," Farmer said. "The source for that is pharmacies and the majority of pharmacies are in urban areas."
Farmer also has seen an increase in meth activity involving inner-city Tennessee gangs, which tend to be better-organized than rural cookers when it comes to marketing and selling the drug. For the most part, the gang members work as smurfers, though Farmer worries they'll eventually become involved in the manufacture and distribution of the drug. Sometimes, gang members and meth-makers first connect while in prison.
"They see there's a market there to make money off of pseudoephedrine," Farmer said. "Pseudoephedrine has become as good as currency."
Missouri State Highway Patrol statistics are indicative of the growing urban concern: All four of the top meth counties in Missouri were in the metropolitan St. Louis area - Jefferson, St. Charles, St. Louis and Franklin.
Ed Begley, a St. Louis County meth detective, said the drug is attracting users from all socio-economic levels.
"Lower class all the way up to upper middle class," Begley said. "We've even had retired folks who have become addicted. It's a brutal drug."
Tale of two cities: Homicides plummet in New York, leap in Chicago
by M. Alex Johnson
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was crowing.
"The number of murders this year will be lower than any time in recorded city history," Bloomberg said Friday in a statement announcing that homicides in the city this year had fallen to 414 — the fewest since it started keeping such statistics in 1963.
About the same time Friday, Chicago police were trying to get the message out that their city hadn't actually recorded its 500th homicide this year, as was being reported. A few hours later, they had to backtrack and acknowledge that, yes, in fact, "the city has seen its 500th homicide for 2012."
That's right: There were more homicides this year in Chicago than in New York, a city with three times the population. That means Chicagoans were proportionally 3.7 times more likely to be homicide victims than New Yorkers were in 2012:
"We've obviously seen, as a city, our shootings and our homicides going in a different direction," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said this month at a graduation ceremony for police recruits, vowing, "We will not rest" until that trend is reversed.
Meanwhile, in New York, "we're preventing crimes before someone is killed," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Friday.
New York didn't just reduce homicides — it reduced them by 19.6 percent. And Chicago didn't just have more homicides — it had 15.6 percent more.
Both figures are extraordinary. Last year, homicides fell by about 4 percent in New York, exactly in line with other U.S. cities with populations greater than 1 million, according to FBI figures. They fell in Chicago by just less than three-quarters of 1 percent.
While there's always the chance that the changes are just statistical flukes, two concrete factors appear to be at least partly responsible: money and priorities.
New York's police budget held steady in fiscal 2012, at about $4.6 billion.
Emanuel, facing a $300 million budget deficit, by contrast cut $67 million from the $1.3 billion police budget — a 5 percent reduction that was down from his original proposal to cut police funding by 15 percent.
While Emanuel and Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said the cuts would help the police department become more efficient, Jens Ludwig, a criminal justice expert at the University of Chicago, said you'd have to be a fool "to think that you could have budget cuts like these and have no impact on crime and other aspects of public life."
"I have been really surprised at how little attention the local and state budget situation has received in discussions about the Chicago violence problem," Ludwig told NBC News on Friday.
The other factor is commitment, Ludwig said.
"New York City seems to be exceptionally focused on getting illegal guns off the street," he said.
Ludwig drew an analogy to prosecution of drunken driving.
At one time, the official attitude was that "if the driver is lucky enough not to hurt anyone, it's no big deal," he said. "But (eventually) we started to realize drunk driving imposes probabilistic harm, and so we started to punish the risky behavior rather than focus on the luck of the draw about whether anyone happened to get hurt.
"New York City has taken that idea seriously for illegal gun carrying, recognizing that illegal guns on the street greatly increase the risk that an argument turns into a murder," he said.
Kelly, the New York police commissioner, stressed that point Friday, saying his officers had taken 8,000 weapons "out of the hands of people we stop, 800 of them illegal handguns."
"We're preventing crimes before someone is killed and before someone else has to go to prison for murder or other serious crimes," he said.
New York City homicides, shootings at modern record lows
Bloomberg made a similar point, singling out what he called the city's renewed commitment to Operation Impact, a 2003 state initiative that pairs new police recruits with veteran officers in specific high-crime areas. The city's participation "reflects our commitment to doing everything possible to stop gun violence," he said.
Left unmentioned was the city's controversial stop-and-frisk policy, which allows officers to search someone as he or she exits a private building if they have a "reasonable suspicion" that the person is likely to commit a crime.
"I think there is some empirical basis to think that all those hundreds and thousands of stops and searches for illegal guns helps keep guns off the street and contributes to a lower homicide rate," Ludwig said.
But the policy is under legal challenge from civil liberties groups, which contend that police use it as a pretext to stop and search people without cause — the great majority of them members of minority groups.
According to an analysis of raw arrest statistics by the nonprofit Center for Constitutional Rights, which opposes the policy, 84 percent of the 686,000 people stopped and searched in 2011 were African-American or Latino. Only 6 percent of the stops resulted in an arrest. And in only 2 percent of stops were illegal weapons or other contraband actually found.
Read the full report (.pdf)
Statistics like that make it worth asking "whether stop and frisk is worth the cost," Ludwig said. "All the stops come disproportionately to young, minority males."
A trial date is set for March. In the meantime, Bloomberg said Friday, New York remains "the safest big city in America."