Tag Archives: Missouri State Auditor

GROUNDHOG DAY: Missouri Health Department Official Tight-Lipped About Cancer Report Due for 2016 Release

“Bob, I am unable to speculate on any potential further updates at this time. As you may be aware, all information released for the department is available here. Thanks, Ryan.” When I read those words from Ryan Hobart, spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, in an email message Tuesday afternoon, I felt like I was in the middle of a serious remake of “Groundhog Day.”

Click on image above to visit page Ryan Hobart, spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services, suggested I visit in lieu of providing me with answers.

Click on image above to visit page Ryan Hobart, spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services, suggested I visit in lieu of providing me with answers.

I call it a “serious remake” of the 1993 Bill Murray film, but not because it has something to do with the public health dangers associated with the long-term storage of radioactive waste at a place known as the Weldon Spring Site, located in a once-rural area about 30 miles west of St. Louis. Instead, his message reminds me of “Groundhog Day” because it’s so similar to the correspondence I had received from Hobart’s predecessor two spokespersons removed, Jacqueline Lapine.

When I tried, during a nine-month period in 2011, to find out from Lapine when the long-overdue five-year update to the 2005 Weldon Spring Cancer Report would be released by officials at the state agency responsible for keeping citizens in the Show-Me State informed about monitoring efforts at Weldon Spring, she gave me nothing useful.

It wasn’t until shortly after 5 p.m. Dec. 29, 2011, that I finally received a copy of the 2011 report, known officially as the Analysis of Leukemia Incidence and Mortality Data for St. Charles County, Weldon Spring and Surrounding Areas December 2011 (Update to April 2005 Report) and unofficially as the “Weldon Spring Update” or “2011 Weldon Spring Cancer Inquiry Report.” It came as an attachment to an email message from Gena Terlizzi, the woman who replaced Lapine who, presumably, moved on to new challenges.

To fully understand the issues at Weldon Spring, read this article before continuing.

Read about my "Uphill Battle for Answers" at http://bobmccarty.com/?p=1949.

The investigation that led to my first article about Weldon Springs in January 2012 (see screenshot above) began with state health department officials being very tight-lipped about the 2011 Weldon Spring Cancer Report. Read about it at http://bobmccarty.com/?p=1949.

Now, back to Hobart’s message highlighted at the top of this piece. It wasn’t our first exchange.

Our online conversation dates back to the morning of Oct. 21 and an email message I sent to Hobart:

Dear Ryan:

Five years ago, I communicated with your predecessors, Jaqueline Lapine and Gena Terlizzi, regarding the Weldon Spring Site where radioactive waste is stored in St. Charles County, Mo.

Because I had read in your agency’s 2005 Weldon Spring Cancer Report that the authors recommended “the Cancer Inquiry Program should continue to monitor the cancer incidence and mortality rates in Weldon Spring and its surrounding areas,” I asked for — and eventually obtained — a copy of the 2011 Weldon Spring Cancer Inquiry Report.

Today, I’m repeating the process in hopes of obtaining an update about your agency’s forthcoming release of a 2016 Weldon Spring Cancer Report.

With several national news media outlets, including CBS Evening News and the The Los Angeles Times, reporting recently about the inherent dangers of radioactive waste in the St. Louis County neighborhoods along Coldwater Creek colliding with an underground fire at the nearby Westlake Landfill, it’s imperative that your agency be transparent when it comes to testing and monitoring at the Weldon Spring Site.

At your earliest opportunity, I would like you to provide answers to the following questions:

1. When do officials at the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services expect to release another five-year follow-up report (a.k.a., “2016 Weldon Spring Cancer Report”)? and

2. Who, within the agency, is in charge of producing the five-year follow-up report?

Please let me know ASAP if you have questions or anticipate any delay beyond 48 hours in responding to my questions. Thanks in advance for your prompt reply.

Sincerely,

Bob McCarty

After five days passed without an answer, I left a phone message with Hobart Monday morning and followed up by sending another email message: “Are you ignoring me on purpose? I’ve emailed — twice now — and I left a phone message three hours ago.”

“Sorry for the delay,” he replied two hours later. “I will be back in touch as soon as I have responsive information to share.”

Almost 24 hours later, I responded: “Ryan, As a long-time veteran of public affairs work, I must say that six days is an unacceptably-slow response time and that delaying the release of bad information — if that is, indeed, the reason for your delay — never works out well for the organization behind the delay.”

Two more days passed, and I received a mid-Tuesday afternoon message from Hobart: “Bob, I am unable to speculate on any potential further updates at this time. As you may be aware, all information released for the department is available here: http://health.mo.gov/living/healthcondiseases/chronic/cancerinquiry/reports.php#weldon. Thanks, Ryan.”

I responded two hours later: “Well, that’s a lame answer, because I’m not asking you to speculate. I’m asking you to tell me whether the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services will be releasing an update on the 2005 Weldon Spring Cancer Report and the 2011 Weldon Spring Update. If public funds are being spent on preparing such a report, it is your agency’s obligation to inform the public as to how that money is being spent and when they might expect to see any official update.”

I ended my message by asking Hobart a question and sounding something like a game show host: “Is this your final answer, because it is about to go national. I’ll give you one more chance — 24 hours, to come clean — before the gloves come off.”

At 9:24 a.m. today, I asked Hobart one last time if he was going to provide me with genuine answers. He didn’t reply, so the gloves are off.

Stay tuned for more developments.

For links to other articles of interest as well as photos and commentary, join me on Facebook and Twitter.  Please show your support by buying my books and encouraging your friends and loved ones to do the same.  To learn how to order signed copies, click here. Thanks in advance!

Click on image above to order Bob's books.

Click on image above to order Bob’s books.

Journalists Jump to Conclusions Re: Tom Schweich’s Death

Unlike so many who work as journalists, I refuse to label two recent and much-publicized deaths in the Show-Me State as suicides until those in charge of investigating those deaths make such declarations public.

Thomas A. "Tom" Schweich and Robert "Spence" Jackson

During the past four days, I’ve written and published three articles related to the tragic deaths of Tom Schweich, 54, a second-term Missouri state auditor and declared Republican candidate for governor Feb. 26, and his official spokesperson, Robert “Spence” Jackson, 44, only 30 days later. In the most recent article, I revealed two facts other media outlets have, thusfar, failed to share with their audiences.

First, I shared a statement received via email Monday from Dr. Mary E. Case, St. Louis County’s chief medical examiner. Among other things, she explained that the autopsy, including complete toxicology testing, is complete. She did not, however, say that the death had been ruled a suicide.

Second, I shared a statement received from Clayton (Mo.) Police Chief Kevin Murphy. In an email message about the investigation into Schweich’s death Monday, he wrote, “Currently, the investigation is not closed.” As was the case with Dr. Case, Chief Murphy did not say that the death had been ruled a suicide.

Many in the local, state and national news media, however, have been quick to gloss over the fact no one in any official capacity to make such a statement has said definitively that Schweich committed suicide. [FYI: I have yet to look into the matter of whether any such official statement has been issued regarding Jackson’s death.]

Click on image above to link to article.

Click on image above to link to article.

The most recent in-state example appeared in the Sedalia Democrat April 3. One didn’t have to read beyond the headline of a column by Bob Satnan to see that the editors at the central Missouri newspaper were comfortable publishing a statement not backed up by anyone authorized to confirm it:  Lessons to be learned from 2 suicides.

Click on image above to link to article.

Click on image above to link to article.

Virginia Young of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch waited until the seventh paragraph of her April 1 Political Fix column, but she still used the “S” word without its use substantiated by anyone in an official capacity.

Media outlets outside of the state have done the same thing.

The “S” word appeared in the headline and first paragraph of an April Fools Day piece, Two Suicides Rock Missouri Politics, in The Daily Beast. Notably, the piece was written by Missouri’s own Eli Yokely. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, he should have known better than to use the term without official confirmation.

The “S” word also appeared in the subhead of Luke Brinker‘s March 30 piece in Salon and in the first paragraph of Stacy Hatton‘s March 24 piece in The Huffington Post.

Perhaps things have changed inside journalism school classrooms during the 30-plus years since I received my degree in the subject. I do know, however, that I would have received a failing grade had I used the word, suicide, without verifying it by way of an official report and attributing that verification to the individual or agency that provided it. Until such verification is provided by someone authorized to offer it, I will use terms such as alleged, apparent, possible and suspect in front of the the word, suicide.

Stay tuned for more updates. To see previous articles on this topic, click here.

For links to other articles of interest as well as photos and commentary, join me on Facebook and Twitter.  Please show your support by buying my books and encouraging your friends and loved ones to do the same.  To learn how to order signed copies, click here. Thanks!

Click on image above to order Bob's books.

Click on image above to order Bob’s books.

Is Investigative Journalism Dead in Missouri?

Thirty-six days have passed and the findings of any autopsy performed on the body of the late Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich remain a mystery to the general public. On top of that, members of the St. Louis journalism community appear to have little or no interest in obtaining the autopsy findings. Is investigative journalism dead in Missouri?

Schweich_and_Jackson

To date, I’ve found no evidence that any government agency in the state of Missouri — not the Clayton Police Department whose officers responded to Schweich’s Clayton home after receiving a 911 call, not the St. Louis County Medical Examiner and not the Missouri State Highway Patrol — has released any findings from the Scweich autopsy. Likewise, I’ve found no evidence of any St. Louis-area news organizations expressing much interest in such findings.

Am I An Odd Duck? Maybe.

Maybe I’m an odd duck, but it strikes me that there is a compelling public interest in knowing whether or not Schweich, a hard-hitting state auditor who had recently launched his campaign for governor, actually took his own life at 54 or was assisted in that endeavor. And one would think that journalists in the same state as the University of Missouri School of Journalism, one of the nation’s premier training grounds for journalists, would pursue this subject aggressively. But they’re not.

Am I Callous and Inconsiderate?

Some who read this will accuse me of being callous and inconsiderate by trampling in an area where no one should go. I beg to differ.

For weeks after Schweich’s death, I resisted the urge to go there and decided to let the wheels of justice turn. I was certain the autopsy findings would be released. After all, according to a KOMU-TV report on the day of Schweich’s death, Clayton Police Chief Kevin Murphy said autopsy findings would be made available at 7:30 a.m. the next day. Instead, 30 days passed without any findings being made public, and tragedy struck again.

Sometime between Feb. 27 and Feb. 29, according to published reports like this one, Schweich spokesperson Spence Jackson, 44, allegedly used the same method as Schweich — a single gunshot wound to the head — to take his own life. Unlike Schweich, who some claim was distraught over an alleged “whisper campaign” about his faith, Jackson was reportedly distraught over the prospect of being unemployed again. As a man who’s had many different jobs over his lifetime, including managing back-to-back congressional campaigns, I find neither of the alleged reasons behind the alleged suicides plausible.

Let’s Play “What If?”

What if a certain someone(s) feared Schweich’s team of auditors might uncover evidence of serious wrongdoing? According to the Audits in Progress section of the Missouri State Auditor’s website, Schweich’s auditors were conducting audits on dozens of organizations, including the Missouri Governor’s Office, the Missouri State Lottery Commission, the Missouri Department of Revenue and the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s Use of State Data.

Today, I decided to start doing the job members of the St. Louis-area news media have thusfar failed to do. As Step One, I sent an email message to Clayton, Mo., Police Chief Kevin Murphy at 9:18 a.m. After identifying myself as an author and freelance investigative reporter, I got straight to the point with the man whose officers are in charge of the Schweich investigation:

According to this article, you were quoted as saying autopsy results on the body of the late Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich would be made available at 7:30 a.m. Friday (Feb. 27, 2015). Were the autopsy results ever released?

If so, I would like to obtain a copy of whatever information your agency released.

If not, why not?

I closed the message by thanking him in advance for his prompt reply. Now, I will give Chief Murphy a few days to get back to me. It is, after all, a holiday weekend.

Be sure to check back often as I will provide updates as they become available.

UPDATE 4/03/2015 at 12:07 p.m. Central:  At 11:59 a.m., I received a reply from Chief Murphy at the Clayton Police Department. He wrote:

Mr. McCarty,

An autopsy was conducted on the morning of the 27th, at 0730.  I didn’t say the results would be available then.  I believe we are waiting on the completed, written, autopsy report.  In any event, only the Medical Examiner’s Office can release an autopsy report.  We are not authorized to make a secondary release of the information.

The autopsy was conducted by the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s Office.  They can be contacted, as follows:

St Louis County Medical Examiner
Address:  6059 Helen Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63134
Phone:  (314) 615-0800

Sincerely,

Kevin R. Murphy
Chief of Police

Now, my next step will be to call the medical examiner’s office. Stay tuned!

UPDATE #2 4/03/2015 at 12:32 p.m. Central:  Moments ago, I used the CONTACT US tool to send the following request to the media folks at the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s Office:

In an email this morning, I asked Chief Kevin R. Murphy of the Clayton, MO., Police Department if he could provide me a copy of the autopsy report containing the findings from the autopsy performed on the body of the late Missouri State Auditor Thomas Schweich. In reply, he wrote the following:

“An autopsy was conducted on the morning of the 27th, at 0730.  I didn’t say the results would be available then.  I believe we are waiting on the completed, written, autopsy report.  In any event, only the Medical Examiner’s Office can release an autopsy report.  We are not authorized to make a secondary release of the information. The autopsy was conducted by the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s Office.”

Now, because of the immense public interest in Mr. Schweich’s death, I would like to request a copy of the report or a summary of the findings of that report.

Please advise ASAP as to whether you will be able to provide the information. Thanks!

Now, again, we wait. Stay tuned for the next update.

UPDATE #3 4/06/2015 at 1:35 p.m. Central:  Read the latest update in a new piece published moments ago.

UPDATE #4 4/6/2015 at 3:57 p.m. Central:  BREAKING NEWS! EXCLUSIVE! Medical Examiner Says Tom Schweich Autopsy ‘Complete’.

For links to other articles of interest as well as photos and commentary, join me on Facebook and Twitter.  Please show your support by buying my books and encouraging your friends and loved ones to do the same.  To learn how to order signed copies, click here. Thanks in advance!

Click on image above to order Bob's books.

Click on image above to order Bob’s books.