Coverage may not be ‘positive,’ but it’s important

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Based on letters to the editor, as well as notes I have received, there are some readers — responding to the newspaper’s coverage of Austin Stoner’s overdose and funeral service — who would have preferred space be devoted to more “positive” news.
phjeffburkhead“What a waste of front page space on a druggie,” one woman wrote. “If people want to be so stupid as to use drugs, they deserve the results. This death is one more stupid individual who won’t contribute more stupidity to the gene pool. There is no cure for stupidity.”
While people have different opinions on the newspaper’s coverage, we can all hopefully agree on how sad Austin Stoner’s story is — an 18-year-old with his whole life ahead of him who made a mistake, and it turned out to be a fatal one.
Some may call it stupidity — and using drugs is a stupid thing to do — but how many of us have done stupid things?
I did some really stupid stuff when I was a teenager — a lot of us did. But I was lucky I didn’t seriously hurt myself or anyone else. Though there were sure times when situations I was in could have turned out dramatically different.
Austin Stoner’s family hopes his fatal mistake will be a lesson to others.
“I am hoping that it will be a wake-up call, not just to his crowd, but to all the teenage kids … that drugs and alcohol will kill you,” said Mike Stoner, Austin’s father.
People like Elaine Urie of Rangely are pushing for the community to step up its efforts to combat drug abuse. She, too, hopes Austin’s story — sad as it is — will serve as an attention-getter.
“Yes, it is hard to believe (what happened to Austin), but this is one of the wake-up calls that our community needs,” Urie said. “We’re going to keep working on it. I ain’t stoppin’.”
Whether people like to read about it or not, Rio Blanco County has a drug problem, which makes it no different from probably every other county in Colorado.
Take John Durfee’s story, for example. For 30 years, he had a lifestyle of alcohol and drugs, including methaphetamine. It takes a lot of courage for John and others to speak out about drugs and the damage they can do.
We’ll continue to publish stories about how the communities in the county are combatting the drug problem, whether it’s going through whatever hoops necessary to track down the public records of a drug arrest, or telling the story of someone who is trying to overcome addiction.
And we’ll publish the sad stories, like about what happened to Austin.
Generally speaking, I believe people expect their local newspaper to report the tough stories, as well, of course, as the “positive” ones.
How big of a drug problem Rio Blanco County has, is hard to say. But it’s here — there’s no denying it. Witness the recent arrest of a man in Rangely who was charged with distributing methamphetamine.
As communities, we can’t just wink and say kids will be kids, or turn a blind eye. Hopefully it won’t take any more Austin Stoners before people come to their senses and change their ways, and as communities we get serious about dealing with the problem.
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Toni Simmons (formerly Carroll) celebrated her first Mother’s Day — her daughter, Jaicee, is 10 months old — but the next day she was back to the harsh reality of dealing with cancer.
Toni left Monday for five days of chemotherapy treatment at a hospital in Denver. She has a rare form of cancer called Ewing’s sarcoma.
“It’s hard to believe it’s actually happening to me,” said Toni, who was diagnosed with cancer last month. “That I have cancer at such a young age.”
Toni, 21, is a lifelong Meeker resident. She was graduated from Meeker High School in 2006. Her husband, Brandon, graduated from MHS in 2004.
If her life hadn’t been interrupted, Toni would have been on schedule to graduate from the cosmetology program at Colorado Northwestern Community College. Instead, she had to put those plans on hold.
“I had to quit college because of it,” Toni said. “When it flared up, I couldn’t even stand, and I was going to beauty school, so I had to stand.”
Doctors found the tumor in April, and they diagnosed the cancer a week later.
“I was with her when they told her it was cancer, it was rough,” said Toni’s mom, Lynn Carroll. “It’s something no parent wants to hear. It doesn’t seem fair, but like Toni said, this is the hurdle she has. She has a pretty good outlook about it.”
Toni had her first round of chemotherapy about two weeks ago.
“It wasn’t good,” she said. “I was really sick.”
Her mom as well as her husband and her mother-in-law will accompany her to Denver, to look after Jaicee and provide moral support.
“I’m kind of dreading it,” Toni said of the next round of chemo.
At least celebrating Mother’s Day — her and Brandon played golf together — provided a momentary diversion.
“But it just doesn’t go away,” Toni said.
Friends are planning a benefit for Toni and Brandon, who don’t have health insurance. A fundraiser including a hog roast, bingo, auction and bake sale will be held from 4-9 p.m. Sunday at the Rio Blanco County Fairgrounds building. Proceeds will go toward Toni’s medical expenses.
“It’s amazing to me, the people here; it’s absolutely amazing this place we live,” Toni’s mom said.
The cost for the meal is $5 per person, and $10 for bingo.
For information, contact Kim Gould at 878-4520, or at Mountain Valley Bank, 878-0103. A fund has been established at MVB.
* * * * * *
I can always count on Sandy Shimko of the White River Museum to set me straight.
“I don’t know who told you Powell Park was named for a fur trapper, but that is certainly wrong,” Shimko said. “John Wesley Powell was the first man to explore the Colorado River in 1869. On the way to the Green River he camped through the winter with the Ute Indians in what is now named Powell Park and then went onward. The park was named for him. The Indians really liked him and they did not burn down his cabins when they burnt the White River Agency in 1879.”
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Some people who attended Austin Stoner’s funeral wore bandanas, in honor of Austin, who was fond of wearing them.
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While there are more than 40 reported cases of swine flu in Colorado, including four in Garfield County, there are none in Rio Blanco County.
Nick Goshe of Rangely District Hospital said, “We have had very little influenza testing, period, and have had no swine flu cases.”
And Margie Joy of Pioneers Medical Center in Meeker said, “So far, we’ve had no requests for someone to be tested. The best advice remains to wash your hands and if you feel like you have the flu, stay home.”
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Rio Blanco County’s lawsuit with ExxonMobil over the county’s application of the use tax went all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case. But it will be awhile before the supreme court actually hears both sides’ arguments.
“I am working on the county’s opening brief right now,” said Malcolm Murray, a Denver attorney for the county. “It will most likely be filed on May 20. ExxonMobil will have 30 days to file an answer brief, although they may take more time. The county will then have 15 days to file a reply. I would reasonably expect the briefing to be completed by the end of July.
“We can then expect oral arguments to be scheduled toward the end of the year and a decision early next year,” Murray said.
* * * * * *
Curiosity got the best of me, and I ended up having an X-ray taken of my dog, who had swallowed a good-sized rock.
I had wondered if she had passed the rock, or if it was still in her stomach.
I’m glad to report the X-ray showed no rock.
Now if I can just keep her from eating another one.
Since writing about my dog “eating” a rock, I’ve had lots of other people tell me about all kinds of things their dogs have consumed. My sister told me her dog ate a golf ball, and later pooped it out.
Talk about a mulligan.
* * * * * *
The town of Rangely recently stocked the Camper Park Pond with 500, 10-inch rainbow trout, Town Manager Peter Brixius reported. The Rifle Falls Hatchery, located 20 miles north of Rifle, conducted the stocking of the pond. The hatchery is the largest trout producer in Colorado. In addition, Brixius said, the Camper Park restrooms are in the midst of a remodeling, which will be completed soon by the Western Rio Blanco Metropolitan Parks and Recreation District, and partially financed through lottery funds received by the town.
* * * * * *
Despite wet conditions, the annual Tucker Memorial Golf Tournament went well, said Jo Tucker, widow of Bob Tucker, longtime Meeker teacher and coach.
“I think it went great, even in the rain,” Jo said. “We had a pretty good turnout for it being wet.”
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If you have your eyes on the skies, the National Weather Service is always looking for severe weather spotters.
“We have some (in Rio Blanco County), but not very many,” said Jim Pringle, warning coordination meteorologist in Grand Junction, who recently came through Meeker. “We can always use additional weather spotters. We’d love to have more in the more remote areas of Rio Blanco County. There’s a lot of room between here and Rangely.”
If interested, contact Pringle at (970) 243-7007, or
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Dee Weiss of Meeker recently showed me some copies of the Rangely Bull Sheet, which was published once a year in the 1960s, in conjunction with the Rangely Days Rodeo. The tabloid-sized newspaper, with its Playboy-like cartoons, was quite entertaining, to say the least. It must have created quite a stir in its day. I still have people ask me about it.
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Jason Brenton, 2005 Rangely High School grad, is now competing for Western State. Brenton, who still holds the state’s 2A triple jump record, just returned from the conference meet, where Mesa State took second. He was busy, placing second in the pole vault at 15-1.25, sixth in the triple jump at 49-8.5, seventh in the high jump at 6-6 and ninth in the javelin with a throw of 156-6.5.
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Gordon Byers of Rangely has been following the progress of the newly formed Western Slope Conservative Alliance, a follow up to the tax protest tea party on April 15.
“There are tentative plans to hold another rally on July 4 that I plan on attending, if it materializes,” Byers said. “There are also some plans in the works for some type of rally on Sept. 12. Other than the meeting (last week in Grand Junction) and plans for a meeting each month on the first Thursday, there is nothing that is cast in stone at this point, but I will keep you apprised of future events.”
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The Herald Times’ new look made its debut last week, along with a narrower page width, which hopefully readers will find easier to handle.
Those of us who do this for a living know it truly takes a team effort to put out the paper every week.
Deb Pettijohn keeps our office running smoothly and handles a myriad of details, while my eyes glaze over at such minutiae. And if you’re looking for something, chances are Deb knows right where it’s at. Tonya Morris keeps our computer system humming along, builds most of the ads for the newspaper and other projects we do, and tolerates my pickiness and technical questions, which she will tell you I have no mechanical aptitude. She’s also my pseudo-dating adviser.
We couldn’t do what we do at the paper without a host of other folks who make significant contributions: Niki and Caitlin Turner, Bobby Gutierrez, Sharon Spalding, Debbie Watson, Stephanie Stubert, Dolly Viscardi, Kandice Torno and Blake Smith. Thanks, too, to all of the contributing writers and photographers, including Dale Dunbar, Julia Davis, Ted Harper and all of the athletic coaches.
We literally wouldn’t get the paper out without the folks who join me every Thursday at 4 a.m. in what we affectionately call “the hole” — the basement of the Hugus Building — to insert the advertising supplements into the newspaper by hand. Those early risers are Joe Gutierrez, Steve Harman and Debbie Watson.
And copies of the Herald Times would never make it onto the street without the dependable work of Paula McGuire and Shayne Armstrong, who, in all kinds of weather, make sure the paper gets delivered every week.
Finally, Mitch Bettis and Kurt Gaston, who happen to be two of my best friends in the world, as well as longtime newspaper colleagues. Mitch, of course, is the owner/publisher of the paper, and is still very much involved in the day-to-day operation of the paper, even though he lives back in his home state of Arkansas. And Kurt is the person who designs the paper every week and is responsible for the new look. He lives in Missouri. The three of us worked together before in Kansas, and now we’re working together again, even though we live in three different states. You’ve gotta love technology.
My hat is off — and my heart is grateful — to each one of these people. I’m proud to work with all of you.

Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at

1 Comment

  1. I am terribly sad to hear some of the comments that people have said about Austin Stoner. Plainly, these people are ignorant at the very least. I grew up in Moab, UT where drugs were very common and very easy to come by. Meth was a very popular choice of drug among the youth. I personally never tried it but a lot of my very close friends did. There is way more going on with a person who uses. For the most part they use to forget about how they feel inside, I will call them emotional disturbances. I feel that is what Austin had and using made him feel better. I am so glad that you do print these stories. It is our job as parents to communicate to our children and get very involved with their life and hope and pray that they made good choices for themselves. I know that we can’t protect them from the world but we can give them the tools to survive in it.

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