Monday, August 02, 2004

The Neosho Daily News reports that Edwin J. Meerwald, Jr. 49, Noel, the man charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the July 31 deaths of James Dodson, 69, of Neosho, and Dodson's granddaughter, Jessica Mann, 7, Joplin, has a history of drunk driving.
Quoting Jim Murray head of the local Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter and former Diamond police chief, the Daily says Meerwald told officers he had previously been arrested on DWI charges in Missouri, Oklahoma, New Jersey, and Virginia. If those claims pan out, the misdemeanor charge against Meerwald will be upgraded to a felony charge and the involuntary manslaughter charges will likely be upgraded to second degree murder.
Jasper County Circuit Court records on indicate that Meerwald pleaded guilty on Oct. 10, 2000, in Carthage to a charge of operating a motor vehicle in a careless and imprudent fashion. The charge is listed as criminal and C&I in an instance like this is generally shorthand for a plea agreement. His first hearing on the case was scheduled for Aug. 10, 2000. He failed to show. His second hearing was scheduled for Aug. 21. Court records indicate Meerwald again was a no-show. The third time wasn't the charm either as Meerwald didn't attend a hearing on Sept. 5. A warrant was issued for his arrest. He finally showed up for the fourth hearing. He wasn't sentenced to any jail time by Judge Joseph Schoeberl, according to He was fined $43.50.
If the charge in that case was initially drunk driving and at least one of the other charges in Missouri or one of the other states can be pinpointed, Meerwald could be looking at a long stint behind bars.
Since he is still being held in the Newton County Jail in lieu of $100,000, it appears that the Noel man will celebrate his 50th birthday in jail on Saturday.
Too many people are killed by drunk drivers in this country and it's amazing how many times the deaths can be traced to a judicial system that keeps on letting these people slip through the cracks. How in the world can an Edwin Meerwald be driving in Neosho if he has a history of drunk driving?
When I hear of a drunk driving case, I think back to a Friday afternoon in September 1998. I was standing outside Lamar Elementary School when a van pulled up, the side panel opened and a mother helped her wheelchair-bound little girl to the street.
Abby Phipps, 8 at the time, was outfitted in her prettiest dress that day and a football-shaped balloon was tied to the arm of the wheelchair. Three years earlier, Abby had lost any chance for a semblance of a normal life when a man named Neley Milner, thoroughly intoxicated rammed his car into the back of the Phipps vehicle near Carterville. Investigating officers determined that Milner was driving in excess of 100 miles per hour. Abby's older sister was killed, her father was permanently injured and suffered brain damage and so did Abby. Abby's mother was also injured, but to a lesser extent.
Milner eventually pleaded guilty but investigations conducted by both The Carthage Press and The Joplin Globe indicated that he had a long history of drunk-driving violations and just kept on driving after each conviction. He later appealed his conviction, saying he had ineffective counsel, that he hadn't been theone behind the wheel and that his friends from Alcoholics Anonymous could vouch for him. The appellate court judges didn't buy it. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison and hopefully, is still there.
Abby Phipps' mother, Connie, held a card shower for her in 1996 since she loved receiving cards and a Sunday school teacher from Seneca, Alvin Elbert, wrote a card to her and had the members of the class write, also. From that point, Elbert continued to correspond with the family and his cards brought a smile to Abby's face, her mother said.
That afternoon in September 1998 was the first time Alvin Elbert and Abby Phipps had met face to face. Elbert, a teacher and coach at Seneca High School, came to Lamar to prepare for a Big Eight football game But the first order of business for him was to finally meet Abby. I'll never forget him bending down and hugging her or the look of excitement on her face.
"Did you see that smile?" he asked me when I talked to him about it. I definitely did. But I also could see the tears welling up in that big man's eyes. That poor little girl would most likely never leave that wheelchair. Her father's life will never be the same. Connie Phipps has to take care of both of them. And Abby's sister, Julie, had her life end at age eight.
All of this could have been prevented if someone somewhere along the line had put an end to Neley Milner's game of Russian roulette. Unfortunately, in this case and in several others I could cite, the gun was pointed and fired at innocent people.
This blog entry is being written well after midnight, but the days of doing that are rapidly coming to an end. Teachers in the Joplin R-8 School District return to work Thursday, Aug. 12 and I made my first stop by my classroom Monday afternoon.
I didn't do much. I popped by about three o'clock (You're not going to get me anywhere in the morning until Aug. 12.) The first thing I noticed was that the green frog that Sarah McDonough drew for my Writers" Wall of Fame was still on the bulletin board. The hardwood floors were sparkling and hallelujah, my computer works and all of my lesson plans are still on file (they're backed up, but I can't remember where I put the disk). I may not be ready to start getting up at 5 a.m. again, but I am ready for my second year at South.
I also stopped by the Supercenter and picked up some school supplies, went to the Mall and got a haircut (trimming what little remains) and bought some shirts and pants at Sears. (And they say those Hollywood people have exciting lives.)
For those of you from Lamar who are checking in on this blog and wonder just what the big controversy is over Lamar native Mark Mayo's tenure as Diamond R-4 superintendent, check out the Diamond Daily and Archives pages on my Diamond school website, If Rod Serling were alive, he could use those stories for inspiration.
Today is election day. Anyone who used to read my columns at Carthage and Lamar knows I am not in favor of using gambling as a means of increasing state revenue, so I will be casting my ballot against the Rockaway Beach proposal. The people who want to establish casino gambling are making it sound like this will be a boon for education. Number one, the revenue will be earmarked for the worst schools (and none of those are in this area). Number two, let's remember how well past promises to put money into education from gambling sources have succeeded. Many people incorrectly believe that the state lottery proceeds were always supposed to go to education. That was never the case. That mistaken belief was fueled by misleading advertisements that showed an old yellow school bus crossing a rickety old bridge. Lottery money would help education, but in the fine print, it was only because that money was going into general revenue and some general revenue money goes to education.
Relying on gambling to balance the budget is a lose-lose proposition. Where you have casino gambling, you have increased crime, which means you have to pay more taxes for law enforcement. You have a rapidly increasing number of bankruptcies in areas in which gambling thrives.
And even if the coffers swell initially, and the money does go into education, once we educate our children, surely they will become too smart to consider throwing away all of their money gambling, then how are we going to pay for education?
Hopefully, by the time today ends, Bob Holden will become a lame duck governor. Yes, many of his problems were caused by the Republican legislature, but he was too stubborn to work with its members and made one wrong move after another, especially with his ill-advised withholding of education money, then all of a sudden discovering things were better and giving money to the schools, only a few days after many of them had approved either unnecessary tax increases or larger increases than were actually needed. If Matt Blunt is going to be beaten in November, it will have to be Claire McCaskill who does it. Blunt will rip Holden to shreds.
On a lighter note, today is also the 16th birthday of one of my former students, Alyssa Simpson. The first year that I was co-sponsor of the Diamond Middle School Student Council, Alyssa, a sixth grader, was on the council. She and her older sister, Sarah, the council president, worked hard and helped make that year a successful one for the council.
Our big project was the book drive for the new middle school library. Thanks to the hard work put in by Alyssa, Sarah, and the other council members, we eventually collected nearly 2,000 books for the library. Of course, many of them never made the shelves (that's another story entirely), but hundreds of them are there, excellent fiction and non-fiction works.
A wooden plaque is in the library that has the names of Alyssa Simpson and the other Student Council members who worked on that project. Alyssa was a special sixth grader. It's hard to believe she's 16 already.Happy Birthday, Alyssa!

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