Mpozi Tolbert, gone 3 months today

Dateline: Tue 03 Oct 2006

And still no answers on any front -- Marion County coroner's office, Indiana Department of Labor's investigation, or CPR/AED training for the Star. The well-known, well-loved photographer and DJ died July 3 at Wishard Hospital after developing respiratory problems in the newsroom. He was 34 years old. He was a vegetarian who worked out,who took care of himself. He also was on assignment at the 9/11 NYC World Trade Center site to cover the attacks for the Star. He later told his mother he experienced respiratory problems after coming home and had to seek medical care. He told a reporter at the Star the same thing.

Rudy Tolbert, Mpozi's father, contacted me Friday of last week from his home in Philadelphia. He said he repeatedly had left phone messages, from Sept. 24-29, for the coroner, but he had not received return calls. (That same Friday, later in the day, deputy chief coroner Alfarena Ballew did call him, he said. But she couldn't seem to understand, he said, why he was calling).

"It looks like the only way you can get a thorough expert and timely autopsy (in Indianapolis) is if the subject dies of back pain," he said. That's a reference to the fact that only in Indiana can your coroner be your chiropractor. Coroner Ken Ackles has that expertise, as well as his political connections.

In his frustration, Tolbert also wrote to Rep. Julia Carson and City-County Council president Monroe Gray Jr., hoping they could shake up the coroner's office on behalf of his family's son. No replies.

By the same token, the Star has done nothing to add CPR training or AED access to its employees. Knowing they had a serious problem with the phone lines that night, HR did put up clarifying notices after Mpozi died that in the event of a medical emergency, employes should dial security at extension 2222. Big f----- deal. Damage already done.

In another post, I'll print the emails from both publisher Barbara Henry and executive editor Dennis Ryerson, sent to me July 11, promising that CPR was already in the works as a training class and would be offered for employees. Lies, lies and damned lies.

Has the Guild backed off its efforts to get these safety concerns addressed? Probably. People are more focused on keeping their jobs than raising a ruckus.

Is the Star asking any questions on behalf of Tolbert? Ha. If anything, the brass and those plagued by guilt that they couldn't help their colleague want to forget or lash out. Ryerson assured me a few weeks ago that the IOSHA investigation is "nothing."

Meanwhile, Mr. Tolbert said he had been told the Star had placed a big photo of Mpozi on the side of its building, advertising the photographer's work, now on display at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art. (He's right -- I saw it right next to INtake's cheesy ad for itself. Lovely placement).

Tolbert said he had thought of coming to the exhibit. "But I am pretty disgusted with Indianapolis right now."

Same here. So it's time to take this cause and this case to a new level with greater scrutiny and a wider audience. That is in the works.

And for those of you who are ready to blast me for giving a damn, get off your lazy, self-indulgent, self-pitying, self-rightous, corporate-kissing asses and do something. Ask questions. Demand answers. Challenge authority. Or did you lose your soul at Gannett, along with your life?

But do not, do not, take me to task for caring.



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