Monday, December 23, 2013

Police: NJ man on federal parole accused of lunchtime bank robbery spree using taxi

Posted: Friday, August 30, 2013

Luke Radick
The first time Luke Radick tried to rob a bank, he didn’t get far.
The specially designed double security doors prevented the then-21-year-old from getting beyond the vestibule of a Stroudsburg, Pa., bank in 2009.

Radick had a shotgun, but he simply turned and ran away, according to police, who caught him a short time later. He eventually pleaded guilty to robbery charges and served four years in federal prison.
This time, local and federal authorities say it took a littler longer to catch up with Radick, now 26 and living in Howell, N.J., after he allegedly attempted three bank robberies in Bucks County.
Charges related to those three robberies landed him in Bucks County prison late Thursday after District Judge Joseph Falcone set bail at 10 percent of $3 million.
Police said the suspect left some big clues in his robbery attempts: a demand note written on the back of a bail release form and a taxi driver who drove to him to all three banks.
But, he only made off with a “small amount” money from one of the banks robbed Thursday, police said.
Radick, who looks much younger than his 26 years, walked handcuffed into Falcone’s courtroom Thursday night.
When asked why he robbed the banks, Radick gave a blunt answer.
“Because I needed the money. Why the (expletive) do you think I did it? I’m not sorry I did it, I’m sorry I got caught,” he said.
Local and federal authorities say that shortly after noon Thursday, Radick tried to rob a Sovereign Bank in the 1400 block of Street Road in Bensalem. He allegedly presented a teller a demand note, but the tellers ran away from their stations. Radick ran off empty-handed.
At about 12:50 p.m., police say Radick tried to rob another Sovereign Bank on Main Street in Yardley. He presented a demand note and ordered tellers to raise their hands, police said. A teller handed him a “small amount” of cash before Radick ran away.
About an hour later, police say that Radick tried to rob the Wells Fargo in Morrisville, but again left empty-handed. He handed a demand note to tellers, ordering they put money into an envelope, police said. The teller moved away from her station and Radick ran away again, police said. This time Radick left behind a big clue: the taxi driver who had driven him to all three banks, sources said. Police say the cab driver realized what Radick was doing at the final robbery and has fully cooperated with police.
Morrisville Officer Justin Bickhart spotted the taxi and apprehended Radick on East Bridge Street in Morrisville, about 300 yards from the Wells Fargo bank.
“Justin spotted him and Bensalem officers were right behind him. We picked this guy up on Aug. 24, for allegedly doing drugs in a car at West Trenton Avenue and Plaza Boulevard,” said Lt. Tom Herron, adding his department turned Radick over to Lower Southampton police for unrelated offenses there.
He owed the taxi driver more than $100 for the fare, but ran away without paying, police said.
Radick was released from Bucks County prison Wednesday after his sister posted 10 percent of his $15,000 bail, which a county judge lowered the day before from $30,000, according to online court records. Radick was jailed Aug. 24 for allegedly passing a bad check at a Lower Southampton check cashing business.
Before the third robbery Thursday, Bensalem detectives contacted Lower Southampton police, who were able to provide Radick’s name and mug shot. Authorities say the mug shot matched surveillance video in the three robberies.
Thursday’s events are part of five Lower Bucks area bank robberies this week.
A Fulton Bank in the 2100 block and a TD Bank in the 2700 block of Street Road in Bensalem were robbed Tuesday. Bensalem police have arrested three people in connection with both robberies, which were unrelated. In those cases, the suspects also used demand notes and implied, but did not display, weapons.
The latest bank robberies make 35 in Bucks and Montgomery counties since October, according to the FBI. Five of the Bucks robberies have occurred in Bensalem.
Overall, bank robberies in the two counties have increased at least 9 percent since October 2010, according to FBI statistics, bucking a national trend of heists plummeting over the last decade.
If the pace continues at a moderate rate this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, the two counties will exceed the 39 bank robberies reported in fiscal year 2010, a Philadelphia FBI supervisor said.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email:; Twitter: @jociavaglia

Cops: Bandit hit same drug store 3 times

Posted: Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Middletown man accused of four gunpoint robberies in Falls and Lower Makefield faces new charges that he robbed the same Bristol pharmacy at gunpoint three times, getting away with more than $14,000 worth of prescription painkillers.
Bristol police developed 36-year-old Rowland “Woody” Woodward IV as a suspect after he was arrested Oct. 30 in connection with the armed robbery of a Lower Makefield convenience store. He was formally charged last week with the Bristol robberies. 
Roland "Woody" Woodward IV
The first robbery at the Rite-Aid pharmacy in the Bristol Commerce Center occurred Feb. 17, just before 11:30 a.m. Employees told police a man wearing a black-hooded sweatshirt and white sneakers entered the store, and headed straight for the pharmacy. The pharmacist said he approached the man when he entered an “employees only” area. The suspect pulled out a small handgun and ordered the pharmacist to remove oxycodone from the safe and put it in a bag, according to a probable cause affidavit.
He also demanded Adderall, a prescription stimulant used to treat attention deficit disorder, but the pharmacist said he didn’t have access to that drug. The gunman left the store with 20 bottles of prescription painkillers worth $4,000, police said.
The next robbery occurred in late May, according to police, who said the pharmacist identified the robber as the same man who robbed the store in February. The suspect ordered the pharmacist to turn over Adderall, Percocet and Dilaudid, both prescription painkillers, which he did.
On July 27, the same gunman, this time wearing a blue jacket and gloves, entered the Rite-Aid, approached the pharmacy counter, pointed a gun at an employee and ordered him to the ground. The suspect then ordered another employee to give him the money in the cash register. The suspect also took $10,700 worth of painkillers and amphetamines.
The robberies remained unsolved until October, when three drug stores in Falls and Lower Makefield were robbed at gunpoint by a man who displayed similar mannerisms and behaviors as the person wanted in the Bristol drug store robberies. The suspect was also seen getting into a similar car as one used in one of the Rite-Aid robberies, according to court documents.
After Woodward was arrested, a Lower Makefield detective learned that Morrisville police had stopped him in August and found eight pharmacy bottles in his possession, according to the affidavit. Woodward was arraigned on the new charges last Thursday. They included six counts of robbery, three counts of theft, receiving stolen property, terroristic threats, and simple assault. His bail was set at 10 percent of $500,000, but Woodward remains incarcerated in Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $250,000 bail set in the Lower Makefield robbery.

Felony charges dropped for woman who ran over sister

Posted: Wednesday, December 18, 2013

One of the last things that Redah Raza remembers about the accident that left her severely injured is jumping onto the hood of the vehicle her sister was driving.
The 20-year-old college student testified Wednesday about the events that took place as her older sister backed out of the driveway.
“She didn’t know you were going to jump on the car?” said defense attorney Michael Parlow, who represents Redah’s sister, Anum Raza, 24, also of Bensalem.
“Of course not,” Redah Raza replied, adding that the sisters “perfectly get along.”
Bensalem District Judge Joseph Falcone said the younger Raza’s testimony played a part in his decision to dismiss two felony aggravated assault charges against Anum, who is free after posting 10 percent of her $250,000 bail. He held her for trial on misdemeanor charges of simple assault and recklessly endangering another person.   
Anum Raza
“I do believe that it was foolhardy for her to jump on the hood of the car, and it was foolhardy for her to drive with her sister on the hood,” Falcone said. “I find it hard to believe this young lady wanted to kill her sister that day.”
But Bucks County prosecutor Matt Hoover argued that the evidence showed that Anum Raza’s actions against her sister on Aug. 22 were intentional, suggesting she held “bottled rage” against her.
Hoover said that Raza kept driving after her sister jumped on the hood of her Honda minivan, traveling nearly 500 feet at 30 mph before finally stopping. She also drove over her sister after she fell off the hood when the vehicle suddenly stopped.
“All (evidence) points to one thing, that this was intentional conduct,” Hoover said. “Once she was on the hood of the car, all decisions made by the driver are intentional.”
Bensalem police allege that Anum Raza, who has no prior criminal record, ran over her sister after an argument that began when Redah asked for a ride to the Neshaminy Mall. Anum refused because she was on her way to work and needed her sister to babysit, police said.
The sisters live with Anum’s husband, their son and the women’s parents in the 2800 block of Carter Road in Bensalem.
Police alleged that Redah had jumped on the hood in an attempt to stop her sister. But Anum kept driving before she braked about five or six houses down Carter Road and her sister fell off the car.
After Redah fell, Anum tried to put the van in park so she could get out and check on her sister, but accidentally stepped on the gas pedal and drove over her, police said.
The accident left Redah with life-threatening injuries. She was hospitalized for two months, unable to work for another month. She continues to receive occupational therapy twice a week.
On the witness stand, Redah Raza testified that she and her sister were “joking” just before she jumped on the hood of her sister’s car as it backed out of their driveway.
“I was just messing around,” she testified, adding she doesn’t remember much about the accident.
After the accident, Redah testified that she remembers hearing her sister calling her name, telling her that help was coming. “I know she said, ‘I’m here. You’re going to be fine, you’re going to be fine,’ ” Redah said, adding she also heard what sounded like a gearshift grinding.
While Redah admitted that she and her sister sometimes argue, she said they’ve never had a physical confrontation.
She added that while hospitalized she made a video telling the judge she wanted to see her older sister, who was initially barred from contact as part of her bail conditions.

Second suspect headed to trial in drug delivery death

Posted: Wednesday, December 18, 2013 

Rhiannon Radetzky allegedly told police that she bought the heroin believed to have killed her friend. But does it make her criminally responsible for his overdose death?
That was the central argument before Bensalem District Judge Joseph Falcone on Wednesday at the preliminary hearing for the 22-year-old Bensalem resident, one of the first local prosecutions under an enhanced law for drug delivery deaths.
Following witness testimony, Falcone sided with the prosecution, holding Radetzky for trial on all charges. She remains in Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $500,000 bail.
Rhiannon Radetzky
This is the second Bensalem case involving drug delivery resulting in death that will be heard in Bucks County Court. Nicole Marie Lavery, 39, is awaiting trial in connection with a separate heroin overdose death that also occurred Sept 1.
Bensalem police found Francisco Lopez, 23, dead on the master bedroom floor of Radetzky’s Allison Court home on Sept. 1. A subsequent police investigation revealed that Radetzky and Lopez had snorted heroin the night before.
Bensalem Detective Michael Moretti testified Radetzky admitted that the night before Lopez died, she bought four bags of heroin for $40 from her dealer in Philadelphia and shared the drug with her friend.
“She said she set up the drug deal,” Moretti testified.
Radetzky said that she and Lopez went to sleep about 2 a.m. and when she woke up shortly before 7:30 a.m. she found Lopez on his back, Moretti testified. Radetzky thought that Lopez “just had to sleep it off” so she put a blanket over him and a pillow under his head, he added.
Shortly after 10 a.m. Radetzky’s grandfather came to the house, found Lopez, and he called 911, police said.
The coroner’s autopsy report introduced into evidence Wednesday lists Lopez’s cause of death as adverse effect of drugs, but defense attorney Michael Parlow argued that the report was inconsistent since it also stated that drugs “may” have led to Lopez’s death.
In addition to heroin, the autopsy report said benzodiazepines were found in his system, Parlow said. The prescription drug is used to treat anxiety and insomnia; it is also used as a cutting agent in heroin.
“When someone says ‘may’ it could go one way or another,” Parlow said.
Parlow added that prosecutors failed to show that the two bags of heroin bought by Lopez were the ones that resulted in the fatal overdose, noting the coroner’s report didn’t provide a time of death.
“We just have the coroner saying a death occurred because of a drug overdose,” he added. “Where is the evidence that those two bags cause the death?”
Additionally Parlow argued his client should not be held responsible for Lopez’s death since he freely chose to participate in the drug deal — by driving Radetzky to Philadelphia — and then ingested the two bags of heroin she gave him.
The intention of the enhanced law was to target drug dealers, not users, Parlow added.
The July 2011 change in the state’s crime code increased the grading for drug delivery resulting in death from a third-degree to a first-degree felony. It also doubled the maximum prison sentence from 20 to 40 years and made it easier to prosecute cases.
Previously, the law required that prosecutors prove a defendant showed “malice” — meaning the person acted with extreme disregard for human life — to get a conviction on the charge. Now prosecutors have only to prove a defendant delivered the drug and that a death resulted from that drug.
But prosecutor Ryan Hyde countered that what happened the night of Lopez’s death was not a simple “puff, puff, pass” situation, but that Radetzky made a conscious choice to seek out her drug dealer and buy heroin.
“But for her actions, he wouldn’t have drugs that evening,” Hyde said.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

DA: "Actionable" info in '93 West Coast Video murders

Posted: Friday, November 29, 2013

On a long ago November morning, Janice Benson woke up to find her 20-year-old son Bryan wasn’t in his bed. That was strange, she thought.
“He never, ever, would stay out without letting me know where he was,” Benson said.
In another nearby Warminster home that morning, Bonnie Youngers found the untouched dinner she had left in the microwave the night before for her 20-year-old son, Seann Campbell. His bed hadn’t been slept in either.
Unlike Benson, Youngers was more annoyed than alarmed. Seann had done this before and she made a mental note to remind him — again — to call if he wasn’t coming home.
Both women got dressed and left for work.
Once there, Benson started calling Bryan’s friends looking for him. When she saw the police car pull up outside her office building, she knew something bad had happened.
Youngers said she had a bad feeling that morning, too, but in her case, she was worried she would be laid off. As she was led into a conference room, Youngers told her boss she understood. It was OK.
But it wasn’t OK. She saw her husband, their pastor and a police officer waiting for her in the room.
“I just knew it,” she said.
Bryan Benson (L) and Seann Campbell
November marked the 20th anniversary of what police and prosecutors describe as one of the most notorious unsolved cases in Bucks County history — the West Coast Video murders, a double homicide of two 20-year-old clerks in Warminster.
The case has long puzzled investigators. The victims had been repeatedly stabbed. There was no clear motive and virtually no obvious evidence left behind.
Though fresh clues have dried up in recent years, the case is once again “actively” under investigation, according to the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office. Chief of Prosecution Matt Weintraub declined to reveal specifics, but confirmed that police and the DA are pursuing “actionable information.”
“Where there is a lead, there is a chance to solve it,” Weintraub added.
The Courier Times was unsuccessful in reaching Warminster Police Detective John Bonargo, now assigned to the case, for comment. The DA’s investigators are assisting Warminster police, Weintraub said.
After two decades, this is what the public knows about the Nov. 10, 1993, murders of Bryan and Seann, who both worked part time at the West Coast Video store in the Rosemore Shopping Center on County Line Road:
Around 10 p.m., before the two locked the store for the evening, Bryan and Seann were attacked in the adult movie section of the store. The attackers (police believe there was more than one) used long-bladed knives, stabbing the men repeatedly in the back, neck and chest.
The two fought back. Both had stab wounds on their forearms described in the autopsy reports as defensive injuries.
Police found a wire to the store’s security camera had been cut. But the camera wasn’t working anyway; it didn’t activate until after the store was locked, police said.
There was $300 missing from the cash register, but several hundred dollars and both men’s wallets had been left behind.
There was no sign of forced entry. The front door was left unlocked and ajar. The murder weapon never has been found.
The next morning, the store owner found the bodies in the back room.
Eight Warminster police officers investigated, interviewing more than 300 people — including the 75 who had rented movies during the men’s 5-10 p.m. shift. No leads were developed.
Police and the DA’s Office explored possible connections with a similar murder a week later at a New Jersey video store, but determined the murders were unrelated.
Authorities dug into the lives of Bryan and Seann and found nothing extraordinary. They went to the same high school and had mutual friends. Both lived with their parents, within walking distance of the video store. Benson attended Bucks County Community College; Campbell worked full time at Sylvan Pools in Abington, according to the police and family members. Seann had worked at the video store for six years; Bryan had worked there for six months.
Her son wasn’t supposed to work the night of the murders, Benson said. He showed up thinking he was scheduled, and the manager asked if he’d mind staying. Bryan agreed.
“That was a typical Bryan thing,” she said. “He was so easygoing.”
Bryan’s dad was the last person to see the two alive. Gary Benson stopped by the video store around 9 p.m. to pick up movies. Everything seemed normal, so there was no reason for Gary to stick around, his wife said.
“That is what he has had to deal with for 20 years — why didn’t he stay there,” she said.
The murders shook the community to its core. Blue ribbons appeared on trees, doors, signs and clothes. Businesses and individuals contributed to a $52,000 reward fund that remains untouched, Janice Benson said.
Four months after the murder, then-Bucks County DA Alan Rubenstein, now a Common Pleas Court judge, announced a DNA sample had been obtained from what police and prosecutors still believe is the most promising piece of evidence — a half-inch fake diamond stud earring.
The earring, which had fresh tissue and blood on it, was found on the floor between the dead men. Police believe it may have been yanked out of an attacker’s ear during the struggle. No DNA match has ever been made.
Within months after the murders, the police investigation appeared to stall. The blue ribbons started disappearing.
Warminster moved on. But it never forgot.
News stories about the murders appeared in the newspaper occasionally, usually around a significant anniversary. For the families, the stories renewed the hope of jogging someone’s memory or conscience.
Two years after the murder, a jailhouse snitch named John Hall started calling Seann’s family from prison, claiming a fellow inmate serving a life sentence confessed to the murders, according to a 1997 news account. Investigators soon determined Hall had invented the story.
Also in 1997, Warminster police revamped the department’s five-person detective division and started looking at all the information that had been uncovered earlier by investigators.
That same year, a partially rusted knife was found behind the Rosemore Shopping Center. The police tested it, but it didn’t yield any evidence.
In 2003, on the 10th anniversary of the murders, Warminster police said they hadn’t had any new leads in at least a year.
Several days ago, Youngers said the last update she had from police was five years ago.
Youngers, who has since moved to Bedminster, remembers the last conversation she had with Seann a few days before the murder. They worked opposite shifts, so it wasn’t unusual for them to go days without seeing each other.
She reminded Seann she would leave his dinner in the microwave and that he should call home if he was going to be late, she said.
“I always ended my conversation with ‘I love you; be careful,’ ” she said.“And he’d say, ‘I love you, mom. You worry too much.’ ”
The Bensons, who have some theories about the murders, remain in Warminster.
“We’ve had 20 years to think about this,” Janice Benson said, declining to elaborate.
Youngers believes the murderer is already in prison, but that is all she’ll say. All these years later, she doesn’t want to risk compromising any facet of the murder investigation.
“If I never find out who did it, that is OK, because God knows who did it,” Youngers said. “Closure is when I put the lid down on the casket. That is the only closure I’ll get until I die.”
That the Bucks County District Attorney’s office has “actionable information” in the case has surprised Benson.
Over the years, the family contacted police with bits of information or pointed out similar crimes they read about. Warminster police never regularly updated the family on the investigation, she said. The family went to the police for updates, Benson said, adding that family members haven’t talked to the police in years.
“I guess we just got tired,” she said in a phone interview. “As time went by, it was like we weren’t getting anywhere.”
Like the community, both mothers said they’ve moved on and still have strong support from family, friends and coworkers. Neither woman is hopeful the murders will be solved.
In the days after the murder, Youngers said she had a sinking feeling, that she still can’t explain, that the murders would remain unsolved.
“It’s 20 years later and I’m not surprised in the least it has not been solved. Would I like to know? Yes, but do I torture myself over it? No,” she said. “You’ll make yourself crazy.”
Benson echoes those sentiments.
“If they haven’t found anything in 20 years, unless someone finally comes forward, I think we’ll just go to our grave not knowing who killed him,” she said. “But if they do solve it, it’s not going to bring Bryan back. The hurt and pain will always be there. There is no closure. I hate that word. You don’t close your son getting murdered.”

Police stun gun use growing in popularity, controversy

Posted: Saturday, November 30, 2013 

Some answers surrounding a Tullytown police officer’s use of a stun gun on a 14-year-old shoplifting suspect recently could be found inside the device itself.
An electronic stun gun has its own a version of a black box, which can provide a timeline of use, according to a spokesman for the manufacturer. The device design also allows users to determine how far away a subject was when it was fired and other information.
While U.S. law enforcement’s use of Tasers, generically called stun guns, remains controversial, recent studies found the devices are low risk and result in a low incidence of serious injuries.
Critics, though, contend cops use stun guns more frequently than necessary, and organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union have questions about safety.
Stun guns have grown in popularity in recent years, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. More than 15,000 law enforcement and military agencies use them, though they are associated with death and allegations of overuse and abuse.
Police used stun guns against protesters at the 2003 Miami Free Trade Area of the Americas demonstration and on rowdy fans at the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. At least a half dozen times this year cops have used stun guns on teens and children.
Taser International says “thousands” of school resources officers carry one and “hundreds” of examples can be found to show its use to break up school fights.
Controversy swirled recently when Tullytown police used a stun gun on a 14-year-old Bristol Township teen. His mom posted pictures of the boy on Facebook, his face bruised after he reportedly fell while fleeing officers. His mother contends police assaulted her son and fired the stun gun into his face after he ran while handcuffed following a shoplifting arrest Nov. 12.
The Bucks County District Attorney’s Office and the FBI are investigating the incident.
Days before that incident, police in Mansfield, Ohio, used a stun gun on one of five teens caught fleeing from a vacant home, according to online press accounts.
Last month, South Dakota police came under fire after using a Taser gun to subdue an 8-year-old girl who reportedly stabbed herself, threatened suicide and refused police orders to drop the knife. The girl’s mother said the child was playing with a small paring knife and believes police overreacted.
At least one death this year was attributed to the use of a stun gun. In August, an 18-year-old Miami man died of cardiac arrest after he was shot with a stun gun as he allegedly resisted arrest when caught spraying graffiti, according to online media. 
The Courier Times reached out to Lower Bucks police departments requesting information about policies or procedures for stun gun use. Only Middletown police responded.
Middletown’s policy states: Electronic control weapons are generally authorized to be used in circumstances during which grounds to arrest or detain are present and the subject’s actions cause a “reasonable” officer to believe physical force will be used by the subject to resist arrest or detention.
Middletown considers stun gun use an “intermediate significant” level of force when lower levels of force have been exhausted or, depending on the circumstances, deemed unreasonable.
Among the actions the department deems justifying the use of a stun gun: violent, threatening or “potentially” violent behavior, physically resisting, self destructive behavior and running away to avoid arrest or detention, according to the policy.
Most U.S. law enforcement agencies have a “use of-force continuum” covered in training, during which officers learn to use suitable force levels depending on circumstances up to the use of firearms, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
A 2011 Department of Justice report on police use of force, Tasers and other “less-lethal” weapons found most law enforcement agencies do not allow stun gun use against a subject who nonviolently refused to comply. But six in 10 agencies allow for the use against a subject who tenses and pulls when an officer tries to apply handcuffs, the report said.
The study’s most significant finding was that the use of pepper spray and stun guns can “significantly” reduce injuries to suspects and the use of stun guns can decrease injuries to cops. But the report acknowledged the results were not uniform.
A 2007 Wake Forest University study concluded that most people shocked by stun guns suffer minor injuries, and another study released last year found stun gun shots to the chest are no more dangerous than those delivered elsewhere on the body.
U.S. Department of Justice research concluded that while stun gun exposure isn’t risk-free, no hard medical evidence exists that indicates a high risk of serious injury or death from the direct effects of the shock.
Stun guns are designed with safety margins so when a child is hit, serious injury should not occur as a result of being shocked, Taser International spokesman Steve Tuttle said.
The device deploys two small barbed probes attached by insulated wire and can travel up to 25 feet. Both probes must hit the target to be effective and incapacitate the subject.
An automatic shut-off is triggered after five seconds, Tuttle said, though some models allow a second, five-second cycle to be activated. Once the cycle stops, the person recovers muscle control, he said.
Tasers can deliver 50,000 volts of electricity through 2 inches of clothing at a low current output. The current determines shock intensity, Tuttle said. A Taser is designed to deliver an average 0.0021 amps or 2.1 milliamps, Tuttle said.
Any amount of current over 10 milliamps (0.01 amp) is capable of producing pain to severe shock and muscle contractions; currents above 100 milliamps (0.1 amp) are deadly, according to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Injuries associated with stun guns typically occur as a result of falls, which can happen when muscles contract after normal electronic signals between the brain and the body are interrupted, Tuttle said. He said studies have suggested most people shocked with stun guns suffer minor injuries only, if any.
But stun gun features can hold law enforcement members accountable for how they use the device, Tuttle said.
Using calculations, the manufacturer can estimate where on the body the prongs land. That is because the top probe on the device fires where it’s aimed, and the bottom probe at an 8-degree downward angle, Tuttle said.
The angle leaves a 1-foot spread between the probes for every 7 feet of distance from a target. If a target is moving when the device is fired, though, calculating the spread is more difficult, Tuttle added.
A microchip also tracks each time the Taser is used, recording the time, date and duration of every use, Tuttle said. Newer so-called “smart” Tasers can track each pulse and whether contact was made with a human.
“That is the objective, neutral observer,” Tuttle added.
Some major organizations have questioned studies touting the safety of stun guns. An Amnesty International report released earlier this year called Taser deployment an “excessive use of force,” citing 540 Taser-connected deaths in the U.S. since 2001.
An American Heart Association study last year looked at eight U.S. cases involving people who went into cardiac arrest after being shocked by a Taser in the chest. Seven people died and one survived, leading the study to conclude that electricity delivered by a Taser can speed up the heart rate and sometimes result in cardiac arrest.
The U.S. Bureau of Justice found that, among people who had police contact in 2008, an estimated 1.4 percent had force used or threatened against them, a figure that has remained statistically stable since 2002.
Roughly three-quarters of those who had force used or threatened against them felt the police actions were excessive, the agency found. About 12 percent of those involved in a police-involved force incident reported they disobeyed or interfered with officers, according to the bureau.

Snake in a pickup? Pricey repair bill for man who lost pet

Posted: Thursday, December 5, 2013 
Price of a baby boa constrictor: $300. Service bill for dismantling the dashboard of a 2005 Ford F-150 to retrieve a baby boa constrictor: About $1,300 before discount.
The story about how a baby boa got stuck inside the dash of a pickup truck: Priceless.
In hindsight, maybe taking his 3-foot-long pet snake with him to the pet shop to pick up her dinner wasn’t a good idea.
Luke Stackhouse & Dabby
But 18-year-old Luke Stackhouse said he often takes Dabby, who is 6 months old, on short road trips. He turns on the defroster and she makes herself at home on the dashboard, Stackhouse said.
“She likes to curl up where the heat is,” the Langhorne teen explained.
Stackhouse said he never had any problems until Wednesday evening while he was driving to the pet store to pick up mice for Dabby.
“I looked down, and her head was missing, and I was like, where did her head go?” he recalled.
Then he noticed that half of her body also had disappeared. Somehow, Dabby managed to slither into an opening between the dashboard and the windshield, Stackhouse said. He still has no idea how that happened since the crack is so small he couldn’t fit his finger in it.
He grabbed hold of the tail end of Dabby’s body, jammed on the brakes and pulled over. For 20 minutes, Stackhouse held onto her, hoping she’d let herself be pulled back onto the dashboard. Eventually, he let go because he was worried he might seriously hurt or kill Dabby.
When he let go, Dabby headed straight behind the dashboard and into the depths of the pickup.
Now what?
After driving the pickup home, Stackhouse tried different ways to entice Dabby out of her hiding place.
First, he plugged in a heating pad, thinking Dabby would be attracted to the heat and wriggle out of her hiding place. Then, he tried a mouse snack. No go. The snake stayed put.
Stackhouse didn’t get much sleep that night. He set alarms every hour so he’d wake up and start the pickup engine, afraid Dabby would freeze to death otherwise.
Around 8 a.m., he decided to call in the professionals. He took his car to the John Kennedy Ford dealership in Lower Southampton, where he had bought it earlier this year.
Service manager Jim Mullen is used to more mundane work orders, like oil changes or state inspections. Removing a snake stuck inside a pickup’s cab — that was a groundbreaker.
While an employee initially quoted the service bill cost at $1,300,  Mullen said the dealership gave the teen a break, charging him a deep discount of $500.32. 
“I’ve never run across anything like that,” he added.
Service center mechanics had no idea where the snake was hiding inside the truck, so they had to dismantle and remove the dashboard. Stackhouse helped with the retrieval attempts, while other employees captured the rescue using cellphone cameras.
After three hours and several false alarms, Stackhouse managed to snag Dabby out of the driver’s side of the dismantled dash. Despite an anticipated repair bill, he said it was worth it.
“I’m so happy,” he said, as he slumped back in the driver’s seat with Dabby coiled around his forearm. “This is such a relief.”

Thursday, November 28, 2013

How 'person of interest' developed in murder-arson

Posted: Wednesday, November 27, 2013 

Editor's note: This story was based on information in search warrants filed against Marcel Johnson, 21, of Bristol Township and on autopsy reports. The Bucks County district attorney describes him as a "person of interest" in the double murder arson Monday of Ebony Talley and her daughter, R'Mani Rankins. Johnson has not been charged in the murders or arson.
When firefighters entered apartment 604 in the Avalon Court complex Monday afternoon, they found smoke so thick they couldn’t see anything.
As they moved toward a rear bedroom, they had to move a couch blocking their way.
Once they were inside the bedroom, firefighters found a bed piled with clothing that was on fire. As a firefighter quickly extinguished the fire, she knelt and her legs hit something unexpected.
After the fire was out, the firefighter learned what that was: Face down on the bedroom floor was a dead woman later identified as 22-year-old Ebony Talley.
Talley had what appeared to be stab wounds and possibly a gunshot wound, to her left shoulder and arm. She had a stab wound in her left side and two defensive wounds on her left forearm. Later police learned she was four months pregnant.
Family member reacts at murder scene
As other firefighters entered the apartment, they broke or opened windows in the living room to let the smoke escape. Once the air cleared, they found something equally disturbing.
A small child's foot was sticking out from beneath a second, overturned couch.
The girl was identified as R’Mani Rankins, Talley’s 4-year-old daughter. She had a stab wound on her upper chest and third-degree burns on her belly.
Firefighters put R’Mani in a waiting ambulance and rushed her to St. Mary Medical Center in Middletown. The girl was pronounced dead at the hospital shortly before 4:30 p.m. — less than an hour after authorities said the fire was set in the apartment.
Meanwhile, officials determined the fire was suspicious because it appeared to be focused on the bedding and clothing.
Suddenly, what started as an apartment fire had turned into a double murder and arson investigation. An autopsy found that mother and daughter were both stabbed to death.
R'Mani died of the single stab wound; her burns occurred after she died, according to the autopsy. Her mother died of multiple stab wounds. She had other trauma and significant burns that appear to have occurred before she died, the autopsy revealed.
At the scene, Bristol Township police learned that 10 minutes before the fire was discovered, another Avalon Court resident saw a newer maroon car pull out of a parking space close to Building 600. The driver pulled out fast and in reverse, hitting a parked car, the witness told police. The car sped out of the complex and onto Bristol-Oxford Valley Road.
The car, a 2003 Cadillac, was registered to the woman who held the lease for apartment 604, police learned. Earlier that day, witnesses said it had been parked at the complex. 
At 5:44 p.m., police spoke with a relative of Talley, who said she had just spoken with 21-year-old Marcel Johnson, who also lived in the Avalon Court complex. Johnson told the relative he was at a nearby apartment complex in the 3000 block of Ford Road.
A Bristol Township detective checked the tip and found the Cadillac, which had a Pennsylvania license plate that didn’t belong to the vehicle. Police watched the vehicle until shortly after 7 p.m., when Johnson got in and drove away. Police stopped the car and took Johnson into custody.
Police searched Johnson and arrested him after they found him in possession of a plastic bag with 11 clear baggies, which police described as the kind commonly used to package illegal drugs.
Scene of double murder & arson at Avalon Court 
About a half hour later, Johnson admitted to police he was at Apartment 604 earlier before the fire, and was with Talley and her daughter just before their deaths, according to the search warrant. The warrant said he admitted taking the 2003 Cadillac from the apartment complex parking lot, hitting a parked car and driving to the Ford Road complex.
But Johnson also gave police “conflicting accounts as to his possible involvement (in the murder and arson).” The warrants don't explain what that means. 
Police obtained and executed two search warrants against Johnson for the Cadillac, seeking clothing, DNA evidence, trace evidence including hairs and fibers, fingerprints and blood, firearm projectiles, knives, edged weapons, combustibles, ignition sources or other materials that could start a fire, cellphones, documents that belonged to the victim, plus a DNA sample, fingernail scrapings, photographs of Johnson’s body and other biological evidence and clothing from Johnson.
Johnson was arrested and arraigned Tuesday morning on a misdemeanor drug paraphernalia possession charge and sent to Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $50,000 bail.