Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Challenger Explosion

Remember 1986:

Published news story, May 2, 1985, Chabot College Spectator, Hayward, California. “Instructor May Ride The Shuttle,” by Lurene Helzer. A pretty brief story of only six paragraphs. Runs on page one of this small student newspaper alongside photo of instructor William Dillon authored by photographer Matt Santos.

The story would, at the next meeting of the Journalism Association of Community Colleges, be named the second-place news story for that academic period. Notable really for two reasons: First, that I won such a prize at all, given the number of students in California’s community colleges in 1985. This is the less-important reason compared to the other.

The other reason is this: national tragedy. Chabot Aeronautics Instructor Dillon, who the story is about, might have been on the space shuttle Challenger during its January 28, 1986 launch. Had he done so, he would have perished along with the space vehicle’s other occupants that day.

The shuttle disintegrated shortly after launch. There was a school teacher on board, Christa McAuliffe, chosen as finalist for the so-called Teacher in Space Project, but she died with all other occupants of the space vehicle. School children everywhere who were following the lift-off were shocked. Dillon was a finalist as McAuliffe had been.

After the disaster, the news traveled rapidly. It at least made people aware of danger of space exploration. It has always been a risky and demanding job.

Below, President Ronald Reagan's January 28, 1986 words to the nation after the

explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010



Published news story by Lurene Helzer for Bay City News, June 16, 2001, “BEARS IN CALIFORNIA INCREASINGLY DESPERATE, HUNGRY.” Story based on information that was put out that morning by California’s Department of Fish and Game. (Photos of bears from Wikipedia, Creative Commons, U.S. Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. First photo of cub in Lake Tahoe, CA. Second bear shown in California eating fish. Photo of Palm Springs region by Lurene, 2005.)

It regards murderous attacks on bee homes by starving bears.

Some of the attacks were highly unusual; rangers expect bear food sprees in Tahoe and Santa Cruz, but now they were getting reports from Palm Springs, which is a high-temperature desert area more feared – when feared -- for its population of terrifying, venomous snakes.

This 2001 story still interests me, because average temps in Palm Springs in June are a dry 102 degrees Fahrenheit:

Northern California beekeepers are increasingly struggling with black bear raids on hives, and say that electric fences, netting, alarms and hive-moving have been practically useless measures while confronting either hungry, or even skinny and starving bears

The California Department of Fish and Game released a Black Bear Management Plan in 1998 that estimated California’s bear population at between 17,000 and 23,000, which is about double the population of bears in the early 1980s. Meanwhile, decreased levels of rainfall and controlled fires for wildfire prevention have reduced the amount of food in bear territory, officials say.

According to an article in June’s AG Alert, an industry newspaper for the state’s agriculturalists, beekeepers are observing that the bears attacking hives and other livestock are not fat animals, but starving, Young bears who are increasingly crossing city/rural lines in search of food.

Fish and Game officials report bear trespasses in several spots throughout the state in the past few years, including the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Tahoe basin, areas around Lake Shasta, and even Palm Springs, an area previously assumed to be too high in temperature for bears.
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Published news story update by Lurene Helzer for Bay City News, June 21, 2001, “Two Dead after Union City Drag Race.”

This story stands out for me today because it reminds of routine suburban life in San Francisco’s East Bay. It’s not unusual to see young men competing with one another with their cars in the middle of the night, killing themselves and others in the process.

They often do this on main streets – Union City’s portion of Mission Boulevard in this case – and reach speeds of around 100 miles per hour.


Published news story by Lurene Helzer for Bay City News, June 19, 2001, “Richmond Boy in Critical Condition after Dog Attack.” (Photo of pit bull from Wikipedia, Creative Commons photo.)

The 11-year boy was out riding his bike in the high-violent crime city of Richmond when he was attacked by some number of pit bulls; possibly three, but at least one dog. People often say that pit bulls are friendly, but it’s hard for me to take this characterization seriously since I had to write several stories like this one as a reporter.

I could not help developing this feeling about the attack dogs because a follow-up brief I did a few weeks later [BCN5, July 6] reported that the boy remained in the hospital on a ventilator. The canines had ripped off the eleven-year old boy’s ears and inflicted dozens of puncture wounds to his upper body.

Today, in December of 2008, I wonder who paid the medical bills. Are owners of such dogs financially responsible? Original news brief follows:


Richmond Police spokesman Sgt. Enos Johnson said an 11-year-old boy who was riding his bicycle on the 300 block of Lucas Avenue early Monday evening was mauled by one or more pit bulls and is now in critical condition.

Johnson said two people are in custody, who may be owners of the dog or dogs involved. Only one dog is in custody so far, he said.

Police cannot yet confirm the number of dogs involved in the attack, but investigators have “reason to believe” another dog was involved, possibly three altogether, Johnson said.

The boy was riding his bike around 7:30 p.m. near Peres Elementary School, which is at 719 5th St. in Richmond near the site of the attack, he said.

Johnson said the unidentified boy is at Oakland’s Children’s Hospital in critical condition.

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Published news stories by Lurene Helzer for Bay City News, 2001, all brief. I list here the headlines of 11 items with the date we released: Fremont Bank Inside Grocery Store Robbed Friday, 6/23/01; Hiker Rescued after Fall into Arroyo Seco Gorge, 6/23/01; Big San Jose Winners Expected to Meet Media Today, 06/29/01; CORRECTION: Lottery Check Today for About $43 Million, 06/29/01; Drug Device Blown Up Early Tuesday in Mission Bay, 07/03/01; Fire at Dry Cleaning Shop in Hayward Sends Five to Hospitals, 07/03/01; Trading Halts in New York after Computer Glitch, 06/08/01; Crews Trying to Retrieve Body after Jump from Golden Gate [suicide], 06/14/01; UPDATE: Forest Fire 32 Percent Contained [near Lake Tahoe], 06/20/01; CORRECTION: Red-Legged Frog [Calaveras County, CA], 06/13/01; U.S. Postal Service Met Delivery Standards Last Quarter, 07/14/01.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

280. June 2001 Death Linked to Contaminated Medicine


Published news story by Lurene Helzer for Bay City News, June 13, 2001, “Second Death Linked to Contaminated Medication”. This is one of those stories you needed to move fast, although it’s not new information.

Wire services remain invaluable to news organizations/communities because they can, in seconds, get urgent news out to multiple media agencies within a region or network and get the immediate attention of editors. Now, the internet does this largely, but the information on the internet is too vast, overwhelming and unfiltered. When it comes to breaking news items for immediate broadcast, wire services like Bay City News and larger services still provide a crucial service.

At the same time, though, some news providers have essentially cheapened the meaning of “breaking” news. The assassination of a prominent world or local leader is a “breaking” news item in the minutes and hours following the murder, but the arrest of a new suspect in a two-month old story about the nightclub beating of a popular fashion model is not of the same gravity. Both are interesting stories, but only the first qualifies as breaking news.

For the record, stories are categorized by news agencies according to public importance. The highest priority, according to The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law, is a Flash. Those are extremely rare news items of global interest. It has to be something like, “FLASH; SPACE CENTER, HOUSTON – Man lands on the moon.”

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Classic photo of Dwight D. Eisenhower on D-Day


News story published by Lurene Kathleen Helzer in The Daily Review, page one, May 22, 1986, “Ex-Nuremberg Attorney Says Waldheim Small Fish.”

This story was surprising for readers back in 1986 because at the time, Kurt Waldheim was defending his political reputation. It had emerged that he was quite embedded with the Nazi party, and that he’d obviously concealed this through his post-war career in his native Austria and United Nations.

In this story, I was able to quote former Nuremberg Chief Prosecutor Benjamin B. Ferencz talking about the immensity of the crimes. The world would not be watching millions of Nazis waiting in line to be tried.

Total justice and genocide do not shake hands, if this analogy makes sense.

The world had to understand the impossibility of putting millions of Nazis on trial, or try to understand it.

Waldheim’s alleged acts of non-stop murder were not near the magnitude of the mass murders allegedly carried out by those who did stand trial at Nuremberg:

“It was never our intention, it was never our capacity to try all those who might have been engaged in some form or another of Nazi crimes,” said the former prosecutor, Benjamin B. Ferencz of New Rochelle, N.Y.

Those accused of killing only a few hundred people were not tried because prosecutors were too busy with cases such as that of a Nazi doctor who was “responsible for killing 73,000 within two hours,” Ferencz said.

“Two hundred people killed? We don’t waste time with that. Five hundred people killed? We don’t waste time with that,” he said.

Mr. Ferencz was saying this at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club on Market Street. I had to dress in business-formal attire because you usually had notable visitors at The Commonwealth Club, like Henry Kissinger, for example.

I was just 21 then. The Waldheim controversy was in full debate around the world, but especially in Europe and the United Nations. (Mr. Waldheim died at age of 88 in June, 2007.)

I reported what I could, given the text limits and felt I’d done a reasonable story.

Still, reporting for readers the old counselor's words about one of the most known participants/Fascists with the German Einsatzgruppen had me a bit nervous as well as focused. It was one of my first few published news stories. I could not trip and fall, so to speak.


Some time around 2004, I came across the story while digging through files and sent a copy to Mr. Ferencz. He accepted it, but disliked having to pick it up at the post office in New York where he lived. It was a small story, anyway. I forgot it.

But then, in March of 2008, I decided to write a better description to introduce the topic in my online library. I wondered if Mr. Ferencz was still active, still in good health. He had a fantastic website. I sent a note with a face shot to the email address listed. I was glum, though. He had to be about 87 by now, and I would be lucky if I got a reply.

But I did!! On March 18, 2008, the fair counselor wrote short email saying I was welcome to quote from his words online, and that he had nothing new to add to those materials.

Hearing from him changed my day. I was so pleased he was in good enough health to reply and to think clearly. I called my grandmother about this and she was just as uplifted in spirit.

I admit, the Nuremberg Trials are history class for most readers today. If you're in high school, you may not see it all as relevant. But there are important lessons for everyone about the importance of diplomacy and national defense in Ferencz's writings.

He’s a talented attorney. I like studying these materials sometimes, and go to his site at

From my original newspaper story:

SAN FRANCISCO --- Kurt Waldheim probably never would have made it to the Nuremberg war crimes trials for his involvement with the Nazi party after World War II, one of the trials’ prosecutors said Wednesday night.

“It was never our intention, it was never our capacity to try all those who might have been engaged in some form or another of Nazi crimes,” said the former prosecutor, Benjamin B. Ferencz of New Rochelle, N.Y.

Those accused of killing only a few hundred people were not tried because prosecutors were too busy with cases such as that of a Nazi doctor who was “responsible for killing 73,000 within two hours,” Ferencz said.

“Two hundred people killed? We don’t waste time with that. Five hundred people killed? We don’t waste time with that,” he said.

“What we were really trying to do was just to take a sampling, a brief sampling, of some of those who were involved and to lay bare the historical record.”

Ferencz, speaking at the Commonwealth Club, was the chief prosecutor for the trial in which Hitler’s extermination squads, called “Einsatzgruppen,” were tried. The squads killed thousands of people.

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Lurene Gisee
(360) 656-6838 desk
(360) 920-2896 cell
last edit August 17, 2016

13: Fish in San Francisco's Chinatown Wants to Catch Cable Car, Swim Back to Beach

California coast in April of 2007


Undated, unpublished satire, by Lurene Helzer, Probably sometime in mid 1990s, regards scene in San Francisco’s Chinatown at a small grocery. The scene involves a fish being loaded into a box. He falls to pavement. I ask where the fish thought he was going in life:

I was walking through The City a few days ago. I came into Chinatown. A couple of Chinese grocers were loading some fish from cardboard boxes into plastic containers. There must have been about 30 fish stacked up there. Fish are Fools! They have no idea they are going to be at any moment mere decoration in a Chinatown storefront, with their blue eyes staring at passing Chinese ladies with plastic shopping bags.

Anyway, two Chinese guys were slapping them from cardboard box to plastic box, cardboard box to plastic box, and so on. One of the guys had a cigarette hanging from his mouth. A fish, who had somehow managed to survive the journey from the ocean to the store, wriggled out of the man’s hand and slapped himself down to the pavement. There he was: gaFlop gaFlop gaFlop.

The merchant picked up the fish and threw him like a slimy washcloth into the plastic bin with the other fish.

The question struck me suddenly: “Where did that fish think he was going? Did he think he was going to catch a cable car back to the beach or something?”