Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Shattered Dreams - 30 Jan. 2007

A simple break-in piece wouldn't be very interesting to our readers, so I wanted to explore what it was like owning a business while going to school. That angle came easily, and so did the awesome quotes from the husband and wife owners.


Joe Corn got the call in a hotel room. He and his wife Clara had rented the room because his home’s electricity did not work – a casualty of this month’s ice storm.

And if a week without power wasn’t enough, police were on the line.

A burglar had broken the 7 foot-by-6 foot storefront window of RPM Paintball with an apple-size rock.

By the time a patrol car had been dispatched, two paintball guns and the burglar were gone, leaving glass and debris on the redbrick sidewalk in front of his business.

“I was surprised, I wasn’t expecting it. I thought it was a prank call, actually,” said Joe, Tahlequah junior.

But when he arrived, reality set in.

“I was worried about what they took,” he said.

Luckily for the 1-year-old business, the burglar only took two cheap paintball guns, known by their trade name: markers.
His wife Clara, Tahlequah junior, was a little more upset about the Jan. 20 break-in.

“People should really think before they steal from someone,” she said. “When you steal from a small business, it hurts someone. When you first start out, your paying for it to be there.

“I just wish people would think more often.”

A few days after the incident, Joe purchased a security system and installed new locks on the doors.

A spokesman for Tahlequah Police said there are no strong leads in the case.

“We need a break on this one,” said Brad Robertson, public information officer. “We need someone to come forward.”

He said there have been no similar crimes in the area. Statistics show Tahlequah Police arrested and jailed 21 burglary suspects in 2006.

Few students run a full-time business while taking a full-time school load. The balance is stressful, said Joe, but his love of the sport helps.

“It is pretty stressful. You’re trying to organize and work with the schedule of the store,” he said. “On the other hand, I have my own life to take care of. School is what takes the most toll, so I put it in backseat a lot more.”

Playing paintball has exploded in Oklahoma, especially along the Arkansas state line, where the forest terrain supports “woodsball” weekends. Middle-class patrons fuel the sport’s commercial base, buying up markers, compressed air, paint, goggles and accessories at a fervent rate, sometimes building their own “hot-rod” setup.

And since a another business owner opened a paintball field near Tahlequah, those playing “speedball” run through paint and air about twenty times quicker with faster marker rigs.

But Joe seems to care less about the bottom line and more about enabling the love for a game, a love for the hobby he shares with his customers.

The burglary will not hurt his business too much, but if a suspect were caught, Joe said he would only ask for a monetary recoup of his losses.

“I just think they were being idiots. Everybody makes bad decisions,” he said.

And on the success of RPM Paintball, Joe takes a light-hearted approach.

“It was a chance on opening the business,” he said. “I’ve gone through my first year, which is always the roughest.

“Then I get broken into.”

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Storm blasts through campus - 17 Jan. 2007

There is usually a big lapse between semesters, so I had a while to get info on this story. Check out the other story I did, though, about the two students in a shelter.


The first big ice storm of 2007 hit Green Country with devastating force last week, immobilizing several communities and leaving a layer of thick ice on nearly everything.

University officials cancelled classes at all three branches scheduled for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Although the roads around Tahlequah were safe to drive Monday, conditions that commuters might face prompted the cancellations.

“A lot of folks don’t have electricity, no water,” said Neal Weaver, vice president of University Relations.

Administrative offices were open, however, including the essential services like campus police and food locations. The Muskogee and Broken Arrow campuses were operating on a “skeleton crew,” said Weaver, because of worse conditions in that part of the state.

“BA is not a safe campus,” he said.

Much of Muskogee faced power outages early this week, and by Tuesday that campus had minimal power resources.

Oklahoma Gas and Electric reported more than 9,000 customers without power in Muskogee, and as many as 24,000 across their system.

An automated message at Lake Region Electric Cooperative mentioned more than 9,000 without power in their system, and those with LREC might go without power until Wednesday night.

Residence halls still had electricity Tuesday, but Housing made plans in case the dorms lost power. Residents were encouraged to “evaluate other accommodations,” and the UC basement was set up as an emergency gathering point.

Emmanuel Griffin, Muskogee freshman, said he has a friend in town with an apartment, but he had planed to stay in the dorms and keep busy during the unexpected break.

“We’re gonna play spades - cards and some board games while the lights are still on,” he said. “We gotta make due with what we got.”
Several events scheduled for this week were cancelled, most notably the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. Organizers have not rescheduled a date yet. Also cancelled Monday was the Faculty Voice Recital.

Severe weather was not enough to keep away the Oklahoma Blood Institute or its donors - 38 showed up Monday - but the cancelled Battenfield-Carletti Distinguished Entrepreneur Lecture has not been rescheduled.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Families are first residents in new jail - 16 Jan. 2007

This is why I love being a journalist. The story about the ice storm was OK, but it needed more. I had heard about a temporary shelter being set up in a brand new jail - just one day before all the county prisoners were to be transfered there - and wanted to see if there were any NSU students taking refuge. And between arguing with the Red Cross and jail workers over whether I could interview the refugees, and despite a little objection from the subjects involved, I finally got to sit down with them.

The interviewees were non-traditional students, both in their 40s and toting kids and grandkids, were a little afraid of being interviewed. These were poor folks, trying to make their lives better by going to college, and both had a past that they were somewhat embarrased about. The reason this made me love my job: ingenuity worked, perserverance paid off and the story turned out great.


Families are first residents in new jail

Students Judy Vail and Roberta Gilliam and their families have felt the crush of last week’s ice storm more than most. Both fled to shelters Sunday after the lights and heat went dead, leaving their homes cold and dangerous.

A tree fell outside Gilliam’s house and pulled the electric cable from its mooring on the outside wall.

“The police told us we had to get out. We had no choice,” said Gilliam, Tahlequah junior.

The risk of fire was too much for her two daughters and grandson, so the family gathered up and moved into the Cherokee County Detention Center, a temporary shelter set up by the Red Cross and emergency management personnel.

“I don’t have to worry about this place catching fire and burning up,” said Gilliam.

Vail left a family shelter, Hope House, with her husband and soon after their home lost power.

“No power, no heat, no nothing. We froze,” said Vail, Tahlequah freshman.

She first tried a hotel, but the electricity failed there, too. Vail said staying in the Detention Center is a little awkward, and that moving from the family shelter was hard.

“We had to take what we could and leave. It was too cold,” she said.

The refugees, who numbered more than a dozen, slept in jail cells that will soon house county detainees. Gilliam said the conditions were comfortable, even thought the lights remained on throughout the night.

“We’ve had almost no sleep,” she said. “At least we’re warm and we get fed.”

Neither Vail nor Gilliam know when they can return home.

“[Hope House] is home to me. I really want to go back,” said Vail.

The Detention Center officially opens Thursday, so the shelter is being moved to the First Methodist Church. President Bush ordered federal emergency resources to the hardest hit areas of the state, but it is unclear whether any federal help will come to Tahlequah.

Until then, or until the lights come back on at home, Vail and Gilliam will weather what’s left of the storm. A local emergency management official said jailers volunteered to watch over the refugee families - the first residents of the 150-bed jail intended to alleviate the strain on the current, overcrowded 35-bed jail.