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Posts published by “Claire Kraemer”

A Courthouse Moment: ‘He’s not running.’

William McFadden, the Tech Lead for the Digital Forensics Unit at the Durham Police Department, takes the stand. He’s worked for 18 years for the police, 13 of which he’s spent on the digital forensics team. He wears a buzz cut and speaks into the microphone in front of him with ease.

It’s March 24, 2022, and Daniel Mohar is on trial for second-degree murder. On the night of June 5, 2019, a waitress at what was then called The Social Club in downtown Durham kicked a drunk Edward Tivan out of the bar. Tivan called her a tramp, prompting Mohar to shove him to the ground, where he hit his head on the pavement. Tivan died in the hospital two days later.

McFadden arrived at the scene of the fight on June 6, and investigators led him to the Solis Apartments (now Brightleaf on Main) to retrieve surveillance footage from the residence. Solis sits right next to The Social Club at 1005 W. Main St.

A prosecutor stands next to McFadden and dramatically holds up a shiny DVD for the entire room to see. It catches the light and almost twinkles. It is Exhibit 5A, a piece of the surveillance tape that McFadden retrieved.

Clips of “Law and Order” trials and “Judge Judy” rulings flash in our heads when we watch a moment like this. We assume that a trial, particularly a murder trial, will be full of the drama that we’ve seen on TV for years, and we even look to find it in places where it doesn’t lie. We look for it as the prosecutor slips the DVD into the video player.

A wall-sized screen drops from the ceiling on the right side of the room opposite the jury, as the lights dim. Two women, one younger and one older, rush out of the high-ceilinged courtroom. The heavy door echoes through the largely empty space.

Up until this point, the jury has appeared emotionally uninvolved. They might be watching the proceedings of a traffic citation, not a second-degree murder trial.

Until now. Now they are alert, one jury member even waking from his nap. Now this must be something hard to watch. Two women sitting right behind the defendant fall silent after non-stop whispering. Mohar fidgets in his slate-gray suit and tie. Even the deputies turn to face the screen.

The time is 10:08 p.m. on June 5, 2019.

All eyes are on the screen. It’s a video of the surveillance tape on an iPad. It’s a little shaky. The screen of the iPad is a bit smudged, and the actual surveillance footage is of low quality. There is no sound. The camera is pointing away from The Social Club, so you see people only as they enter and exit.

The street is lit from the parking garage of the Solis Apartments. Exhibit 5A plays. Across the street we can slightly see a man in salmon shorts and sneakers passing from right to left on the camera, but it’s difficult in the dark. William McFadden identifies him as the defendant.

The prosecution presents a second part of the surveillance tape, Exhibit 5B, taken from the Solis Apartments at 10:21 PM on June 5, 2019. Just thirteen minutes after the first video. Everyone’s eyes are still glued to the screen.

Now when the video plays we can clearly see Mohar walking away from the surveillance camera, away from The Social Club. He walks in and out of frame in the matter of seconds. The most dramatic movement he makes is putting a hand in his pocket. The video stops.

One woman sitting directly behind the defendant, with darker hair and a few white stripes mixed, turns to her friend and whispers “That wasn’t that bad.” After the video, the energy drains from the room. Jurors slump back into their seats. Others appear confused. Did we miss something? 

But in those 13 minutes, Mohar pushed Tivan onto the ground, where he suffered an injury that would eventually kill him.

After the video stops, defense attorney Emilia Beskind strides confidently towards the witness stand. She prefaces her cross-examination by saying she doesn’t plan on asking McFadden many questions.

“It is fair to say he is walking,” she begins.

“This is correct,” McFadden replies.

“He’s not running.”

“That is also correct.”

“He’s not power walking.”

“That is correct.”

“In fact, he’s walking the same way in this video as he does in [Exhibit A].”

“That is correct.”

“No further questions.”

Beskind turns and struts back to her chair, her shoulders back. Pleased to know her defendant didn’t rush from the scene, but coolly walked away after a fight that led to the death of another man.

McFadden steps down from the stand, and the two women who had escaped the room re-enter.

Mohar’s case closed just four days after opening statements. The case was downgraded from second-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter, and Mohar will only serve up to eight months.

 

 

Hot meals: where to dine outside without shivering

Punxsutawney Phil, the most famous groundhog in Pennsylvania, predicted six more weeks of winter earlier this month and if you believe that a rodent can act as a weatherman, you may be looking for ways to keep warm when venturing outside. With COVID case rates still high, you may also be looking for a way to avoid in-person contact when you eat out. Luckily, Durham restaurants are adapting to current needs with an increase in opportunities for heated, outdoor dining. But the question remains, where can you grab a bite outside and really stay warm? 

I wanted to find places around Durham where I could eat outdoors without freezing, and so I picked a plethora of options that represented a good mix of date spots, group destinations and places to grab a quick beverage. 

Local 22

First up is Local 22, where I enjoyed a spicy chicken sandwich and a flight of beers. I was one of the only people who chose to sit outside that night at a table next to a standing heater that kept me relatively warm.  Overhead heaters hung over a few of the tables, too, but unfortunately I didn’t get placed there. Music played over outdoor speakers made the occasion a little more lively. Nevertheless, I kept looking inside and yearning to be with those people.  If I hadn’t scored a seat right next to the standing heater, I would’ve complained more about the chilly air. Still, I would recommend stopping by, just with a thicker coat.

BoxCar

After Local 22, I went to BoxCar to check out their outdoor seating. Most of the allure of BoxCar is inside: There’s an arcade where you can blow your money on tokens and convince yourself you’re really good at shooting hoops and hunting imaginary animals. Because of this, people don’t generally sit outside, so if you head outdoors, you tend to find yourself yearning to be with the crowd. There are ping pong tables outside, which give groups the option of gathering outdoors with an activity. Also outside are picnic tables and an electric fire that a large group can comfortably crowd around. The electric flames don’t give off much heat, though, so I wouldn’t recommend this place if you want to gamble on staying warm throughout the night without a puffer jacket–unless you’re sweating from an intense ping pong match. 

Guglhupf

If you’re looking for a beautiful, lively spot to grab lunch outdoors, head to Guglhupf. Most people chose to sit outside anyways, so you don’t feel like you’re missing out on any action. It’s a mix of families, old couples and a smattering of hungover college kids. Under the surprisingly warm overhead heaters and some midday sun, you’ll feel incredibly comfortable people-watching and eating your eggs Benedict. 

Parizade

I chose to go to Parizade on one of the worst weather days I’ve ever seen in Durham. Rain, cold, the works. Normally, the outdoor courtyard has heaters, lights and the occasional live music performance by a man singing John Mayer songs and strumming his guitar. Unfortunately, because of the rain, the uncovered courtyard was out of commission the night I visited. Instead, I sat in the covered patio at the front of the restaurant, where the setup felt similar to the one at Parizade’s next-door neighbor, Local 22.  Despite some coverage from the wind,  the weather prevailed, making this a bit of a miserable dinner. 

Jack Tar

Jack Tar and the Colonel’s Daughter is situated in the heart of downtown Durham, right next to Pour and the Unscripted Hotel, so it doesn’t feel lonely to sit outside. I learned my lesson from my Parizade experience, so I  checked the weather beforehand and dressed properly for the occasion, with a scarf, puffer jacket, jeans and boots. The standing heaters next to the tables kept the group pretty toasty, but only for a short amount of time.  I would go here for an appetizer before heading out to explore more of downtown. 

JuJu

At JuJu, my request to sit outside in the cold was met with a shocked look. The reason quickly became clear once I went out on the patio. If you aren’t seated underneath the overhead heaters it is very difficult to stay warm around a fire that doesn’t emit much heat. It is not a popular option to eat outside here, especially at night as I did, but if you have a warm jacket and are stationed directly under the heaters, you can keep warm. You are not protected from the wind in these seats, which means you’ll end up being colder than at a place with wind barriers.

East Cut

East Cut doesn’t currently have indoor seating, but out back is a tent where you can enjoy a classic deli sandwich with friends. The tent doesn’t have heaters. It does properly protect you from a lot of the outside cold, though, which is why I included East Cut in this roundup. I recommend visiting during the day, since it is a lot easier to stay warm in the heat of the sun. In the tent, you can share a meal comfortably and casually on East Cut’s picnic tables. 

Ponysaurus Brewing

The last stop on my exploration across Durham landed me at the picnic tables outside of Ponysaurus Brewing, a place that was built to entertain customers outdoors. After grabbing a beverage, you can enter a lively space outfitted with real wood fires. There are also standing heaters next to the picnic tables to keep you comfortable. This doesn’t mean you should shed the jacket, but it does mean that your friends can cozy around and enjoy one another’s company.

Key Takeaways

  • Always check the weather before heading out to dine outside. Not only will this help you dress properly for the occasion, but it also might suggest when to throw in the towel and get takeout instead.
  • Restaurants with the right combination of standing heaters, overhead heaters, music and tents or screens to block the wind provide an environment that people really want to experience. The best combination of heaters are from standing and overhead options. A tent or a collection of fire pits can provide an element of coziness while still ensuring that you feel far away enough from others to feel COVID-safe. 
  • Most outdoor places are great for a drink or a quick bite. If you choose to settle in for three courses, though, the temperature often gets very chilly before the end of the meal, so I would keep this in mind as you plan your next outdoor outing in the Bull City.

If you’re looking for even more options to try out, check out Discover Durham’s complete list of eating and drinking spots with outdoor heating.

Above: Durhamites dine al fresco at local restaurants, with some help from outdoor heaters. Photos by Claire Kraemer, Milena Ozernova and Kulsoom Rizavi.

Wool E. Bull, ready to play

Wool E. Bull forgets his mask as he gallops out of Durham Bulls Athletic Park. He quickly realizes his mistake and returns with it looped over his furry ears. It is giant and looks more like a diaper strapped across his snout than a mask. It is adorned with baseballs. 

As his team prepares for a new season after being shut down for the pandemic, the 6-foot tall, furry bull – proclaimed to be “The Greatest Mascot in the World” – is making some adjustments as he gears up for Opening Day on May 11. The team says he has been vaccinated.

I learn this from talking with Emily Almond, the director of promotions for the Bulls and Wool E.’s translator. “I speak bull,” she explains. 

I feel a giddy nervousness in front of the fluffy bull that stands on two feet outside the ballpark. Even without a bull translator, I would’ve felt his excitement for the upcoming season. As we begin to talk, fans honk at him. He jokingly points to me, realizes the commotion is for him, and shrugs off the attention. A humble bull. 

The mask isn’t his only adjustment this season. In past years, Wool E. frolicked with players and fans alike. He danced in foul territory, stole hats from coaches, spun along the warning track in his go-cart, played tug of war with fans, or led the “running of the bulls,” when kids chased him and then tackled him before he reached safety.

This year, Wool E. will be banned from the field and will have to mix with fans in the stands. How close he gets will depend on the fans. Almond says, “We are comfortable with whatever our customers are comfortable with.” 

Wool E. Bull, Photo by Sho Hatakeyama – The 9th Street Journal

Fans can choose to hug Wool E, or stand at a distance of six feet. “You have to choose to go see him, rather than him interacting with you,” she says. 

The Bulls are working to make sure they follow the latest restrictions from the city, state and Major League Baseball. “It’s really about just working with the guidelines that we have right now, just trying to modify and still make it a great fan experience while still being safe,” she says.

She assures me that the pandemic hasn’t altered his personality. 

“We are still planning on having a whole bunch of Wool E. antics,” Almond explains, “Obviously he hasn’t changed much.” As she says this, we look over to find Wool E. crawling towards a camera, looking more like a cat than a bull.

With no games in the last year, Wool E. made virtual appearances at kids’ story-times and P.E. classes (since he can’t talk, no one on Zoom has to remind him to unmute himself) as well as private, in-person events. He also helped deliver meals to hospital workers.

With a job that requires energy and strength for constant dancing and hugging, Wool E. finds himself battling some of his lazier quarantine habits. “We don’t need an out of shape Wool E. for the season,” Almond says. But he appears fit.  Wool E. flexes his muscles for the camera as two fans walk by. Almond sighs, clearly used to this behavior and says, “C’mon now, don’t get too full of yourself.”

Wool E. is still planning on having his annual birthday celebration at the game May 23, an event when even the Tar Heel and Blue Devil set aside their differences. 

Almond and Wool E. are trying to come up with new gags that are appropriate for the unusual summer of transition. They have just come from a two and a half hour brainstorming session to dream up new ideas to entertain fans. They’re considering lots of different bits, although “within reason,” Almond assures, “He’s not allowed to eat the grass during the game.”

In photo at top:  After last year’s season was canceled, Wool E. Bull is ready for baseball – even though he’ll be confined to the stands. Photo by Sho Hatakeyama – The 9th Street Journal

Death of birds blamed on bird feeders and salmonellosis

Bird-watchers in North Carolina have gotten alarmed in the last few weeks as dead or dying birds began appearing in their backyards. 

Biologists and people in the birdseed business say the deaths are not unusual, but that people are just more aware of them because of an increase in backyard bird feeders. They say homeowners can take a few simple steps to reduce the spread of the disease that has been killing the birds – and now has begun to sicken people. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week that 19 people in eight states had become ill with salmonella linked to songbirds. Eight have been hospitalized. No people have been sickened in North Carolina, but bird lovers have been urged to be cautious. 

This kind of outbreak happens from time to time. 

“Well first, let me tell you that salmonellosis is a common disease,” said Jeanne Mauney, the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Durham. “This is not a sudden outbreak. It’s not a COVID event. This is normal Pine Siskin disease.”

Falyn Owens, a wildlife biologist from the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, says the salmonellosis that infects birds is commonly known as salmonella and “it’s the reason why we always clean chicken before we cook it and eat it.” 

Salmonellosis is passed by Pine Siskins, small songbirds. CDC photo

Salmonella is a common pathogen passed between Pine Siskins, a small songbird that migrates to the South from Canada every three to four years. This year, North Carolina has seen an influx in these kinds of finches because Canada did not have a sufficient amount of seed to feed their flocks, causing what Mauney calls “an irruptive year.”

Owens suspects at least some of the increase of seeing dead or dying birds is due to people buying bird feeders during quarantine. People were searching for new ways to entertain themselves and are now concerned when they see sick, fluffy birds in their yards. 

This also means that new bird feeder owners are unaware of the risks that run when interacting with wild animals, including the risk of pathogen transmission from bird to human.

One of the first steps to preventing the increase of dying birds is taking bird feeders down, although that can be an unpopular move within the bird-watching community. Feeders act as the perfect origin for a large outbreak. 

“It’s basically a feeding trough where multiple animals are eating off of, back to back,” said Owens, “You can imagine if you had a whole cafeteria worth of people without washing it in between, there’s a risk of contamination.”

Pine Siskins are also social birds. They travel in big flocks to bird feeders where there are more opportunities to spread pathogens to each other. 

After the initial break from bird feeders, Wild Birds Unlimited suggests more frequent cleaning with a bleach solution (1 part bleach, 9 parts water). While cleaning, it is necessary that people are extremely careful. Do not touch the feeders with your bare hands, and rinse your hands vigorously after cleaning. Transmission occurs when people touch their mouth after contact with the disease, whether directly with a bird, the seed, or a feeder. 

Mauney said to clean feeders often. “While normally we tell you to clean it monthly, we are saying to do it weekly.” 

Another option: plants instead of bird feeders. 

Native plants like black-eyed susans and purple coneflowers can be found at most nurseries and are a natural food source for songbirds. While the upfront cost is greater than purchasing a bird feeder, native plants require less upkeep and there are no subsequent purchases of bird seed to continue attracting birds. These plants allow for bird-watchers to continue observing from their homes, but limit the spread of salmonellosis.

“I think the best, most ecological decision,” Owens said, “is to switch away from bird feeders at all and move to a more natural way of attracting birds into your yard to watch them and to enjoy them and give them food and shelter is by providing food to them through native plants.”

Durham residents’ biggest gripe? Lousy streets

In 2020, a turbulent year of disease and conversations of racial equity and police violence, residents of Durham were most unhappy with the city streets. 

In the annual survey of city residents, road maintenance had the highest rating of dissatisfaction (45% were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied), higher than the public schools (34%) and police protection, which scored remarkably well, with 53% satisfied or very satisfied.    

Residents also chose city streets third to receive the “Most Emphasis from City and County Leaders over the Next Two Years,” behind police protection and public schools.

The city conducts the survey to get feedback on its services as well as those offered by the county and Durham Public Schools. The city’s news release about the survey was quite cheery (“Durham Satisfaction Survey Shows Residents Pleased with Employee Service During COVID-19 Pandemic”), but we decided to focus on the persistent grumpiness about the roads. 

“We get this every year,” Mayor Steve Schewel said about the road complaints. “It always amazes me.” 

Schewel noted that the roads that receive the most complaints aren’t ones that the city maintains.

He said key streets in Durham such as Hillsborough Road, Cameron Boulevard, and Fayetteville Street aren’t managed or maintained by the city itself. They are actually state-owned and maintained. 

One problem is money. He said that state maintenance relies on the state gas tax, but it can’t keep up with the changing fleet on the roads.

“People have been driving less, driving hybrid vehicles, and driving more fuel efficient cars,”  said Schewel, whose wife drives a Prius. “So gas tax collections have really gone down. The state has been strapped for cash for road maintenance.” 

City residents, probably unaware of nuances of road ownership and budgeting, just want better streets. When asked which government service should receive the more funding, 47% of survey recipients said street maintenance.

Schewel said it’s a constant challenge to balance the needs with available revenue. “Part of it is that we need to continue to spend local money on street paving,” he said, “but the state also needs to do its job on thoroughfares which they tend to own.”

But don’t be surprised if next year’s survey is very similar. Said Schewel, “We are never quite where we want to be on street paving.” 

In photo above: Drivers have to dodge large potholes on Erwin Road between Cameron Boulevard and Morreene Road. Photo by Sho Hatakeyama | The 9th Street Journal