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City Reporter



Morgue Mystery

Bomber may have gone underground.

By John Branston

The lead investigator of the attack on Shelby County medical examiner Dr. O.C. Smith in June says it is one of the most bizarre cases he has seen in 30 years of police work.

Jim Cavanaugh, special agent in charge of the Smith investigation for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said there are no new leads five months after Smith was attacked outside his office, tied up with barbed wire, chained to a window grate in a "semi-crucified position," and had a bomb placed on his chest.

"We don't have oodles of evidence, but we have some," he said.

Cavanaugh said the attacker may have gone underground like the Unabomber, who was not caught until 17 years after his first attack. He still thinks the attacker is probably the same person who put three bombs in the morgue in March and wrote letters threatening Smith because of his testimony for the prosecution in the case of death-row inmate Philip Workman. But he isn't sure.

"I've been a cop too long to not think that there might be something else," he said. "I'm open to any angles."

Cavanaugh clarified conflicting details in reports the week after the attack on the night of June 1st.

A lone white male whom Smith described as "fleshy faced" and 30 to 40 years old threw something in his face, punched him in the stomach, threw more of the substance in his face, then pushed him to the ground and "kind of landed on him." He then wrapped Smith in barbed wire from feet to face and shackled him to a window grate using bicycle chains and padlocks and with his arms outstretched as if he were crucified.

"I guess you could say there is a lot of symbolism in this thing," said Cavanaugh.

The attacker "wasn't a chatterbox" but did say some things to Smith that investigators are keeping private. He wore gloves, did not carry a gun or knife, and completed the job in a few minutes.

"The doc thought he was adept at doing it," Cavanaugh said. "He knew what he was going to do."

Cavanaugh said it was the first time he has seen barbed wire used to restrain somebody in a bomb case. The attacker apparently spent considerable "waiting and stalking" time making preparations outside the building.

"This case is bizarre in every respect," he said. "I've been dealing with bombs for almost 30 years. You don't get many bombs strapped on a live person. I don't remember seeing it except for a couple of guys who strapped pipe bombs on themselves."

A policeman working security for the UT medical center found Smith and notified the bomb squad. Cavanaugh won't say if the bomb had a timer on it or malfunctioned. Nor would he discuss blood evidence or fingerprints.

"I would say I wouldn't have wanted to have been anywhere near that bomb," he said. "It could have killed the doctor and the bomb squad."

He is as baffled as anyone by the bomber's motive and methods.

"Why couldn't he just have killed him, shot him in the head, or stabbed him?" he said. "Why go through these elaborate histrionics? It's hard to say."

No notes were left at the Smith attack or the earlier bomb incident, and there have been no letters threatening Smith since the three that were mailed in the spring of 2001. Tips provided by the public since the attack, which was featured on America's Most Wanted, have not panned out.

"The public should be alert but not alarmed," Cavanaugh said. "They seem to be very channeled and focused attacks. They seem to be related to the death-penalty issue. There is no connection to the driver's-license testing case. We know all about that."

Back to the Drawing Board

DHS will hold another round of transportation hearings.

By Janel Davis

Represesentatives from the Department of Human Services (DHS) will return to Memphis this week to hear provider feedback on the second set of proposed modifications to child-care transportation rules.

Providers at last month's hearings, which saw a capacity crowd, disagreed with many of the proposed changes to transportation guidelines governing child-care centers, family child-care homes, and group child-care homes licensed by DHS.

The original recommendations were a result of Governor Don Sundquist's review panel appointed after the April accident involving Tippy Toes Learning Academy, which killed the van driver and four children and severely injured two other children.

During the first hearing, child-care providers and parents challenged many of the emergency-transportation rules instituted August 21st after the panel's review, even though modifications had been made to the initial recommendations. The rules involved driver's-license requirements and drug testing for all child-care drivers, signage requirements for center vehicles, and seat-belt requirements. Operators called some of rules "excessive" and "knee-jerk" actions taken by the governor and DHS.

As a result, the rules have again been amended. This time, the recommendations include requiring drivers to hold a Tennessee driver's license with an "F" ("for hire") endorsement, a less-stringent requirement than the more-difficult-to-obtain commercial driver's license initially recommended.

Beginning January 1, 2004, the modified rules call for drivers to obtain documentation that they have passed additional written or skills tests and to participate in the annual school-bus driver training offered by the Department of Safety. By January 2005, all transportation vehicles must comply with federal safety standards applicable to large or small school buses.

"That doesn't mean that 15-passenger vans can't be used," said Dana Keeton with DHS. "We're concerned about the structural integrity and center-of-gravity problems that some of the vans might have. But if they meet federal guidelines, they can be used."

Rules for screenings of agency employees will still apply. Beginning January 2003, drivers will be required to annually provide a health statement to DHS verifying their physical and mental ability to transport children. Drug screening will begin March 2003 for new child-care agency employees, and two random drug screenings will be required annually for all employees.

Questions that may arise from these modifications could concern the costs associated with the various testing and class requirements as well as vehicle modifications and whether DHS will offer financial assistance to any of the state's thousands of child-care agencies, including more than 700 in Shelby County. Keeton said DHS has already begun researching ways to absorb the costs associated with the changes. "We don't want people to think that with these modifications, the department has backed off its standards," she said. "We want rigorous guidelines for transporting children safely. That is our main concern."

The Shelby County public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, November 6th, at 6:30 p.m. in the county commission chambers at 160 N. Main Street.

Contest Confusion

Artists' group withdraws its financial support from Arts in the Park.

By Mary Cashiola

Sue Miller's artists' group has been forgotten during the Arts in the Park Festival awards ceremony in previous years. Usually, says the Artists' Link executive chair, she has to jump up on the stage at the last minute and announce the winner.

This year, the group wasn't just overlooked at the awards ceremony; it was left out of the juror selection process entirely. Miller said festival organizers seemed confused how the award worked.

"We're a small group," she said, "but it's important to us. This year, they didn't award it at all. The juror hadn't made a selection. I asked them to let him finish his job." She still isn't sure the status of the award. "If they awarded it, I don't know about it."

Artists' Link, a group of about 75 visual artists, meets weekly and puts up a $200 prize for the Arts in the Park festival. For fairness, the winner is picked by the festival's juror.

"We try to make a contribution to the community every year," said Miller. "We don't have a lot of money. We're just a club. ... The Artists' Link prize was our way of making that contribution."

Next year, said Miller, the club will be finding another way to make their community contribution. Though she doesn't think the oversight was intentional or malicious, she doesn't understand why no one from the Memphis Arts Festival, which sponsors the event, ever asked. "If they were confused about it, they could have called me," she said.

The Artists' Link award was not the only prize that was forgotten during the awards ceremony. Sara Good, one of the artists who entered work in the Special Projects category, waited all weekend for that category's award to be announced.

"Thursday night, I was a little bit emotional," Good said. "I was very disappointed. There was nothing stating that only juried awards were to be announced at the preview party."

Good said she was initially told by Memphis Arts Festival executive director Marisa Arezzi Stasz that special projects were part of Juried Art and would not be awarded separately. But as a veteran of the festival, Good didn't think that was how it was supposed to work.

Last spring, she went down to the Arts Festival office and the staff printed her a copy of the Special Projects specifications from the festival's Web site. The projects were supposed to "celebrate the park setting, the people, and the arts" and would be judged for three awards and $1,750 in prize money.

"I feel like if I hadn't said anything, nothing would've ever happened," says Good, an instructor at the University of Memphis and winner of Best of Special Projects in 1992. She pressed the issue and says she was finally told by Stasz that they would give out the awards for Special Projects at the end of the festival and that someone would come and get Good.

"At 10 'til 4 on Sunday, no one had come to get me and no one knew anything about it. I had a friend wondering about some other awards that were never announced either, and she went down to the main stage, but nothing was happening there," said Good.

The festival ended at 4 on Sunday. Good went to the office the next Monday and was told only one prize was being awarded in Special Projects.

"You don't change the rules in the middle of the game. If you say you're going to do something, then you have an obligation to hold up your end of the deal," said Good. "I just feel like artists don't come first here. The feeling I got was that this was being swept under the rug."

Despite repeated phone calls, Stasz could not be reached by press time.

Last year, Arts in the Park suffered a major blow when two pieces were stolen, despite the festival's security. n

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