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Friday, August 19, 2016

The Butt-Fired Bottle Rocket Case

     The fireworks began at one-thirty in the morning of May 1, 2011 at the Alpha Tau Omega (ATO) fraternity house not far from the campus of Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. During the house party, Travis Hughes launched, from the frat house deck, a bottle rocket (a fireworks product on the end of a stick) out of his ass. (If I had to guess, I'd peg this kid as a criminal justice or elementary education major.) The rocket man's startled fraternity brother, Louis Helmburg III, jumped back and fell off the frat house deck. According to Helmburg's account of the incident, he ended up lodged between the deck and an air conditioning unit. Both students had been drinking.

     Not long after the fireworks display, the injured student's attorney filed a personal injury lawsuit against the university, the fraternity, the Marshall University inter-fraternity council, the company that owns the fraternity property, and Travis Hughes, the human rocket launcher. The plaintiff asserts that the ATO fraternity was negligent in failing to install a deck railing. As for defendant Hughes, his consumption of alcohol had led to "stupid and dangerous activities." (Hey, don't blame the booze. How many drunks can fire rockets out of their butts? Someday this skill could become an Olympic sport. It certainly would be more exciting than the shot put and could take place at night.)

     In June 2013, a judge dismissed the suit against Marshall University on grounds the plaintiff failed to follow in-house procedures for bringing such an action. The rest of the case, however, stood.

     Given the humorous facts underlying this suit, it appeared frivolous. The outcome, however, would depend on whether or not the fraternity house deck, because it didn't have a railing, was unsafe. Assuming that it was safe, there was still the question of whether the frat boy's ass-launch made him civilly liable for the student's tumble off the platform.

     On November 4, 2013, the plaintiff, through Huntington attorney Thomas P. Rosinsky, a slip-and-fall lawyer who also handled dog bite, DUI, car repossession and drug cases, settled the case with the company that owned the fraternity house. The amount of the settlement was not disclosed. If Louis Helmberg III paid a price for winning his case, it was that he would become the butt of every butt joke known to man.

     Travis Hughes, the bottle rocket butt-launcher, now works for NASA. (Just kidding.)

     

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Emmanuel Rangel-Hernandez Murder Case

     In 2001, 5-year-old Mirjana Puhar and her family, in the midst of the Kosovo War, fled to the United States from their home in Stremska Mitrovica, Serbia. The family settled in Charlotte, North Carolina where Mr. Puhar worked as an electrician.

     Mirjana, in the middle of her sophomore year in high school, dropped out. She had been hanging around with the wrong crowd and had gotten involved with drugs.

     At eighteen, Mirjana started to turn her life around by enrolling in a GED program at Central Piedmont Community College. Around this time she became seriously interested in starting a modeling career. She acquired local modeling jobs and worked part time jobs at McDonald's. She also worked in several retail clothing stores as a sales clerk. In the fall of 2013, she earned her high school degree.

     Puhar's first big break in modeling came when she was selected as one of 14 contestants on the television reality show "America's Next Top Model" hosted by Tyra Banks. The 21st cycle of the show premiered on August 18, 2014. (It had been filmed in March and April of that year.)

     Before Mirjana Puhar was eliminated from the TV modeling contest on October 21, 2014, she had an on-screen romantic relationship with a fellow contestant named Denzel Wells. The show featured the fact she, at that time, had a boyfriend back home. That situation defined her character on the program. She finished eighth in the competition.

     On Tuesday February 24, 2015, in a one-story house on Norris Avenue in Charlotte, police officers discovered the bodies of three people who had been shot to death. Mirjana Puhar was one of the murder victims. The other corpses belonged to Jonathan Cosme Alvardado and Jusmar Isiah Gonzaga-Garcia. Investigators believed the triple murder was drug related.

     Police officers, on Friday February 27, 2015, arrested 19-year-old Emmanuel Jesus Rangel-Hernandez and booked him into the Mecklenburg County Jail on three counts of first-degree murder in the case. According to the authorities, Rangel-Hernandez was a known gang member with a history of violent crime.

     It also appeared that Rangel-Hernandez, as an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, had applied for and had been granted immunity in 2012 under President Obama's executive order-created program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Under this program, children brought to the U.S. by illegal alien parents can not be deported. Moreover, they are entitled to government benefits.

     The triple murder in Charlotte involving the aspiring model and the gang member who had been granted DACA status raised the obvious question of why this man, instead of gaining amnesty, hadn't been deported.

     On the day of the murder suspect's arrest, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter to the secretary of the Homeland Security Department asking for documents related to Rangel-Hernandez's immigration status and his application for DACA immunity from deportation.

     On April 28, 2015, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeb Johnson admitted to members of Senator Grassley's Homeland Security Committee that Rangel-Hernandez "should not have received DACA." The head of Homeland Security also said that notwithstanding this "tragic case," DACA was a good program. Pressed by Senator Grassley who wanted to know how Rangel-Hernandez acquired immunity under Obama's program, Secretary Johnson said, "the entire workforce that deals with these cases has been re-trained to make sure they identify trouble signs, such as suspected membership in criminal gangs."

     The Rangel-Hernandez case is yet another example of why most Americans no longer trust that government bureaucrats will protect them.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Where is Tiffany Michelle Whitton?

     On March 7, 2011, 25-year-old Tiffany Michelle Whitton, a resident of Marietta, Georgia within the Atlanta metropolitan region, showed up in Dalton, Georgia with two other women and a man named Matthew Stone. That night, Tiffany, Tracy Chambers, Casey Renee Cantrell, and Matthew Stone broke into a woman's house and terrorized her with a tire iron. The victim managed to lock herself into the bathroom and call 911. Before fleeing the dwelling, Tiffany and her crew stole the woman's purse that had been lying on the couch. It contained $60.

     When questioned by detectives, Tiffany claimed the owner of the purse owed her money. She and her friends had gone to the house to collect what was hers. Investigators suspected that the victim and the four intruders had been in a drug deal. Tiffany, a user of illicit drugs, had paid the woman for pills, and when the supplier didn't deliver the goods, Tiffany and her friends raided the house to get her money back.

     A prosecutor charged Tiffany and her accomplices with armed robbery, burglary, and possession and use of drug-related objects. Following her guilty plea, the judge gave Tiffany a probated sentence.

     Tiffany, a former Hooter's waitress in Kennesaw, a suburban community north of Atlanta, disappeared on September 13, 2013. The mother of a 6-year-old daughter was last seen at two in the morning in the parking lot of a Walmart store not far from her home in Marietta, Georgia. Since that night she has not made contact with family members or friends. She was last seen with her boyfriend, Ashley Caudle. (A few weeks after Tiffany Whitton's disappearance, police arrested Caudle in a meth raid at his mother's house where he lived.)

     The missing woman's mother created a Facebook page called "Find Tiffany Whitton."

     On February 20, 2014, Marietta police officer David Baldwin, in referring to the multi-tattooed, five-foot-two-inch, 100-pound Whitton, said, "What really worries us is that she literally vanished without a trace."

     In July 2014, detectives executed a search warrant at Caudle's mother's house in Marietta where workman dug up her back yard looking for Tiffany Whitton's remains. The searchers came up empty handed.

     So, what could have happened to Tiffany Whitton? She could have run off to start a new life. However, because of her daughter, that didn't seem likely. It was also unlikely that some abductor was holding her captive. If dead, she could have killed herself in some remote location, or accidentally overdosed on drugs. If none of these events took place, someone may have murdered her. As a drug abuser, Tiffany rubbed shoulders with unsavory and dangerous people. Did she fail to pay a drug dealer? Did her criminal associates come to believe that she was a snitch?

     If Tiffany Whitton was murdered, her case will not move forward until someone who knows something about her disappearance calls the police, or someone stumbles upon her body. Finding a person who is dead is a lot more difficult than finding someone who is alive. Moreover, where do you even begin to look for a corpse?

     As of August 2016, Whitton's whereabouts remain unknown. There have been no arrests in the case.