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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Chapter Fifteen - Blood Money

***

(Editor's Note: Given that WMed took over as the de facto coroner for several counties in the region back in 2012, I've decided to turn over the pertinent public data to an out-of-state research specialist, who will crunch the numbers. If any discrepancies exist - with regard to the number of deaths deemed suspicious and/or any correlative cost increases - from before and after WMed's takeover, I'll let you know. I'm just waiting on the stats, is all, so that I can paint a complete picture of all the cash this nonprofit has been raking in... I would remind you that the National Football League, too, is a nonprofit. I'm in no hurry to get that part of the story written; they aren't going anywhere, and neither am I. But this isn't about that.)

***

Kalamazoo is famous for a good many things, most of them already described in this space. There's more than just our industrial and historical fables. Weird shit happens here, always has, since I was a kid. For instance, we had an Elvis sighting here in the 1980's. He made an appearance at a well-known fast food chain near the campus of WMU - the employees must've thought it was the Burger King himself.

Most recently, our humble city's name ambled across the bottom of all the cable TV news channels' screens, when a fellow named Jason Dalton came unwired and went on a shooting rampage. Amidst picking up fares, he struck like the devil in three different locations, including the Harold Zeigler car dealership on Stadium Drive (where Derek Jeter once worked) and the Cracker Barrel over by Kalamazoo Valley Community College.

For the national viewing audience, though, the media broke it down into less localized terms: It was the Uber Driver Shooter who shot up the Cracker Barrel. Simple as that.

***

Charlie's father, Dennis, is in some ways a lucky guy. I'm sure he would qualify that, since losing one's only son is bound to make anyone feel about as unfortunate as is humanly possible. The kind of luck he does have, though, is the kind that often makes you the 5th caller on the radio when they're giving away shwag and tickets. He's always listening, he always dials in, and he wins a lot.

On the night of the Uber Driver Shooting, it was his pair of tickets that my nephew Bryan and I used to get into the State Theater to see a night of live comedy featuring Chick McGee, Ralph Harris and the mighty Auggie Smith. Nobody in our family has had much to laugh about since the middle of last summer, so it was a welcome respite in many senses.

Plus, y'know, Bry is all grown up now. He and I can do grown-up stuff. We also took a trip to New York City together, compliments of so much generosity that I can't list it all here. It's what uncles and nephews should do. That evening, I showed him how to get free parking downtown when there's a packed show at the State Theater: You park at Papa Pete's.

The show was great, better than I expected, and part of the ticket package included a meet-and-greet with the talent before the show. We joked about Flint's lead-tainted water, it was great. They were all quite funny. The radio station gave us last-row seats, but that's okay - we were the first ones out of the venue.

***

Afterward, as we walked down Burdick street back to the car, Jason Dalton cruised through the main artery of Kalamazoo, just a half a mile from us. He was on his way to his next victims. At the dealership, a man and his teenage son were looking at cars under the parking lot lights. Dalton rolled up, got out of his vehicle, and emptied his magazine into both of them. The boy's girlfriend sat silently in the car, daring not to make a sound in response to the horror she had just witnessed.

Dalton then headed out Stadium toward the Cracker Barrel, where he finalized his gory pact with infamy, gunning down two cars full of people in the parking lot. Many of them were senior citizens. All in all, he killed six and gravely wounded two.

The six bodies were at WMed, the news reported, within hours for their obligatory autopsies.

Autopsies.

For people who had just been shot to death.

Autopsies that cost the county, at the bare minimum, $2,500 apiece (it has proven problematic, pinpointing precise price points, even with a FOIA request we have been unable to obtain the actual bill that the ME's office sent to Kalamazoo County for the utterly over-the-top work they did on Charlie).

For a little while there, it actually looked like there were seven victims of the Uber Driver Shooter. A 14-year old girl was also shot among the numerous poor souls at Cracker Barrel. She was, in fact, declared dead at the hospital. But that brave girl proved that miracles happen for some families. From the Other Side, she squeezed her mother's hand, and the heroic medical professionals - the ones who are trained to preserve life - brought her back.

She's going to make it, and will endure as a symbol of the kind of hope that seldom arises, but absolutely can and does, from such tragedies sometimes.

Based on my interactions with their bureaucrats et al, I can say I believe the coroner's office may have felt cheated by life out of that one. I can also say I think it's a good thing that girl squeezed her mother's hand... And not somebody else's.

pH 5.15.16

***

NEXT WEEK: Chapter Sixteen - "What Did the Cops Say?"

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