Off Beat

Driven to Distraction

ALWAYS CONCERNED ABOUT traffic safety, Off Beat was pleased as punch last week when state officials announced a ten-day campaign targeting "distracted drivers"--those coffee-guzzling, lipstick-applying, cell-phone-squawking travelers whose inattention imperils our existence daily. But what happens when the distraction in question is someone standing on the corner, actually trying to get the attention of passing drivers? On August 14 St. Paul mayoral candidate Bob Long was standing on the corner of Fairview and St. Clair avenues, holding up a campaign sign and waving at northbound cars in an ongoing effort to enhance his name recognition. According to an accident report filed by the St. Paul Police Department, "Driver #1 said he was looking at Bob Long who was waving to traffic on the corner, when he looked at the traffic ahead of him he attempted to stop but was unable to avoid striking veh #2." Our curiosity piqued, Off Beat managed to track down a witness to the fender bender, one Dave Johnson, who was happy to flesh things out. Long and a campaign worker were holding up a campaign sign and waving at the busy traffic, recounts Johnson, who works as program director with Minnesota's Association for Nonsmokers, when a passing car slowed to pull into a nearby gas station and was rear-ended by a driver who seemed to have been distracted by Long's antics. "Bang!" Johnson says. "He just nailed him." Having ascertained that the accident didn't appear to be serious, Johnson turned his attention to Long's reaction. "What the hell do you do at that point?" he asks rhetorically. "Do you continue waving at people when there's been an accident? Or do you just slink off?" Johnson says Long did a little of both, waving for a few minutes, then walking away. Next we called Long, who recalls the incident but says he doesn't remember what he did afterward. Moreover, he doesn't believe he was at fault. "If I thought I was causing it, I wouldn't be doing it," the candidate declares. "All I do is stand on the street corner and wave at traffic." He has seen at least four similar mishaps in the course of his street-side campaigning, and countless close calls, Long divulges; in fact, driver and pedestrian safety have become a focus of his campaign. ("There's some really crazy drivers out there," he notes.) But while he's all for traffic safety, he's not sold on the state's idea of using billboards to admonish drivers to pay attention to the road. "It's far more distracting to look up on top of a building or up at a billboard," Long argues, "rather than look at a guy waving at you, standing straight ahead in the intersection."

Really Out of Gas

LAST MONTH, IN the wake of Burl Gilyard's story "Out of Gas" (July 11), officials at the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley fended off criticism from animal-rights activists over the agency's preferred mode of euthanasia, a carbon-monoxide gas chamber. Nationwide, most animal shelters have abandoned gas chambers in favor of lethal injections, which are considered to be more humane. A recent trip to Off Beat's mailbox, however, revealed that the humane society is changing its tune. With virtually no fanfare, the AHS has announced that sodium pentobarbital will soon replace the gas chamber as the primary method of euthanasia. Judy Dworkin, the society's director of public relations, says the change has been in the works for some time. The hold-up, she explains, was largely due to a long search for a new full-time vet who'd be willing to leave his or her practice and work for the humane society. Switching to injections also required approval of the AHS board, she says. "It was a hard thing for them to decide," says Dworkin. "As you might imagine, there was a lot of debate on the subject, because people don't agree. They knew we'd gotten a lot of calls and e-mails after the article that came out in City Pages. But to be honest, I don't know whether that influenced people's votes on this." Oddly, in his conversations with writer Burl Gilyard, AHS executive director Alan Stensrud failed to mention that a change might be imminent. Dworkin, meanwhile, continues to stand behind the AHS's use of carbon monoxide. "I would still defend our current practices. Despite what our critics have said, we don't use gas on young, old, or sick animals. For healthy animals, gas is a painless way to die. But you know, there's no pleasant way to talk about death. It's always going to upset people. I just wish people would stop viewing their animals as property that they can just get rid of when they don't want them anymore. Then we wouldn't have to be putting so many animals to death in the first place."

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