Cedar Rapids


Tyler Toll

Tyler Toll was only 18 when he died in a car wreck on Tuesday. His passing has left those who knew him grief-stricken, with many memories of their times together.

The Facebook group Tyler Toll Memorial, started by a junior high student at Toll’s school, Cedar Valley Christian, is a monument to the young man’s influence and faith. More than 500 people have joined the group in support of his family and friends. I’d encourage you to check it out if you have a Facebook account. Many of the entries made me cry.

If you don’t have Facebook, here’s an excerpt:

From Ashley M. — i miss you sooo much even tho we havent talked much lately i feel like something is missing…ik ill see you again its just hard to wait. Im actually jealous of you, ur in such a better place now…no more worries, tears, pain…nothing but complete joyyy…you lucky duck! youve taught me so much…to just live life the way we are suppose to and do the things we want cuz its sooo short. I wanna be more like you…and just try and enjoy every lilttle thing. ill never forget you ever! && i cant wait to see you again…ull always be in my heart!
love youuuuu tylerrrr♥ ♥ ♥

I never like using the names of teenagers accused of sexually abusing young children because they are children themselves. Most likely, they were also abused. But the compassion and protectiveness one feels for such teens shouldn’t outweigh the safety of those around them — particularly before they are tried and sentenced, if they are found guilty.

This issue comes up every time I see teens charged with sexual abuse, and today it came up again. The story is pasted below because the online link has messed up in The Gazette’s database, but you can still see the firestorm of comments it generated:

The Gazette
CEDAR RAPIDS — Two Cedar Rapids teens have been charged in separate instances of second-degree sexual abuse, accused of committing sexual acts on children under the age of 12.
Hannah L. Hall, 15, of 1443 E. Bertram Rd. SE, is accused of performing a sex act on a 5 year-old child between Oct. 23, 2007, and July 24, according to court documents. She is also charged with indecent exposure, accused of exposing her genitals to the child.
Patrick W. Conlon III, 14, of 820 15th St. SE, is accused of performing a sex act on a 5year-old boy between Jan. 1, 2008 and Aug. 28, according to court documents.
Hall is set to go to trial on her charges Feb. 20 in Juvenile Court. Conlon’s Juvenile Court trial is set for March 19.

It is my job as public safety reporter to make sure my community has the information it needs to make informed decisions. We only publicize serious (mostly felony) charges against juveniles. It’s a common misconception that juvenile court records are confidential — once a petition has been filed against a juvenile in Iowa, the charges contained on it become public record unless it is sealed by a judge. Unlike “adult” court, very few petitions are dismissed from juvenile court after they are made public record because most of the work is done BEFORE charges are ever filed. That mechanism is there to protect children, and I keep that in mind every time I get access to these records.

I’m also aware that it is human nature to automatically demonize anyone who sexually abuses a child. In some instances the people who do it truly deserve to be scorned, but reserving judgment has never done me wrong. It affects me greatly to think some of these teens I write about may be hurting inside because of abuse that happened to them and are merely acting out those scenes on others. I was a victim of emotional abuse as a child, and from my own experience I can tell you patterns of unacceptable behavior carry through generations of family members. I ache for kids in much worse situations than mine.

Perhaps identifying these patterns of abuse will eventually lead to a better society through the treatment of these teens who are caught in the middle.

tammy-brandt1

I’ve had a few readers write in, asking whatever happened to Tammy Brandt, a former finance executive assistant at Mercy Medical Center accused last March of embezzling more than $200,000 from the hospital. Well, don’t worry, everyone — she hasn’t even gone to trial yet.

Brandt, 49, of 223 Stoney Point Rd. SW, pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree theft in April and was originally supposed to face a jury in July.  A motion to dismiss the charge was heard in November, and the trial postponed two more times. Now she’s set to go to trial March 2. We will update you as it progresses.

Brandt was arrested on a charge of first-degree theft after more than four months of investigation, said Cedar Rapids Lt. Kenneth Washburn. A 28-year employee in Mercy’s finance department, Brandt is accused of converting various checks she handled into cash through the hospital and taking the cash for personal use. Mercy officials discovered the thefts through a routine internal audit conducted in fall 2007, said spokeswoman Karen Vander Sanden. The audit revealed account irregularities in excess of $200,000 back to at least 2004. Mercy carries insurance that protects the institution from such losses, Vander Sanden said. A claim was filed with the insurance carrier.

P.S. — I called the garden center where I was told she was working now, but no one recognized her name.

I got an e-mail from a coworker, who got an e-mail from a friend, who got a bunch of e-mails from women who wanted everyone to know to be careful because people have tried to get in the passenger side of their cars.

I’ll leave you with a few of the tales (these weren’t reported to police, fyi), and just a reminder to stay alert to your surrounds. Also, lock your doors as soon as you get in your car. I’ve been saved a few times that way, myself:

Yes,  a couple weeks ago I stopped at the ATM machine by the Spring House off Center  Point Rd. (my new car automatically locks the doors when I get in and put it  into drive) Thanks goodness! A young African American male came up from the  apartment side of the driveway and tried to get into my passenger side of the  car. He pulled on the door and then banged on my window to let him  in. I was close enough to the ATM machine that I didn’t feel that he would come around to the other side  but I still panic a bit. SCARY!!!!

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I had just been in Kmart across from Lindale Mall,  and I just got into my car & started it. when this guy (a black  male, about 35 yrs old, about 5’8) ran up to my car & got right up against the passenger’s side door  & tried to get in! He was telling  me to open the door, and I couldn’t see if he was pulling on the door  handles, but I’m assuming he was. Luckily, my doors lock automatically  when I put it into gear, because when this happened, everything went into slow motion & I got really flustered & couldn’t find the lock… So anyway, I couldn’t drive forward, because I was blocked by cars, so he just stayed there trying to get in & trying to get me to open the door. Finally I got a break in cars, and moved forward & he followed me for a bit, but  then ran away. I was parked far out in the parking lot, that last car in the line, so that probably wasn’t a great idea, and something I’ll never do again when I’m shopping alone.

So- I have no idea if this guy wanted to rob me, ask me for money, ask for a ride, or if this was his weird way of trying to hit on me? No clue what this was, or what could have happened, if anything, but I’m just glad nothing happened and I’m glad it didn’t end up as a news story.

But, it was scary! I was really shaken up about it. It just left me feeling less safe. I’ve never really had something that bizarre happen to me in CR. So, I want all my girlfriends to be extra careful when they’re out shopping alone this Christmas season, or anytime! Because you just NEVER know!

I’m pretty sure it’s a bad idea, especially for people like Eugene Anderson. I watched KGAN’s story on Eugene tonight with interest, mainly because they probably got the idea from my coverage on sex offenders who are allowed to live in parking lots and under bridges, as well as the change of address listings I’ve started putting in our Police Log. But I’m also interested because I know the law that helped force him there needs to be changed.

Anderson was convicted of raping his stepdaughter while displaying a dangerous weapon in 1994 outside of Iowa. He was later released from jail, and he showed up in Cedar Rapids 10 years later. He registered his address as 531 12th St. SE and within 3 years was twice charged with failure to register his correct whereabouts with the Sheriff’s Office. After he served his jail time for the last charge, he registered his address as living underneath the Third Street bridge in mid-November. And, apparently, he’s keeping true to his word.

KGAN reporter Chris Jose went down there tonight to talk to Anderson, and he found him. He told Jose that he doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him, but that people should try living a week in his shoes. Basically, he wanders the streets of Cedar Rapids all day because he has nowhere else to go, then sleeps under a bridge. Sounds like a good plan for a guy convicted of violently raping his stepdaughter, no?

Here’s an idea — how about trying to make this guy’s life better instead of worse? He’s got no money, no house, no job, no family. He says he doesn’t break the law, but what’s he got to lose? Clearly, he hasn’t always been a good guy, but laws like Iowa’s 2,000-foot law haven’t made it any easier on him post-conviction. Don’t we  need to plan for the reintegration of ALL criminals into our communities once they’ve completed their sentences and try to help them become awesome, healthy tax-paying citizens such as ourselves? After all, the only difference between them and us is that they got caught doing something wrong.

So kudos to you, Chris Jose. I’ve been able to catch up with very few registered sex offenders in my time. Especially in the bitter cold.

Cedar Rapids Police Chief Greg Graham is masterminding a complete overhaul of the structure of our city’s police department. So far, he’s organized all of the divisions and aspects of the CRPD into six departments. The CRPD prepared a pretty good chart (shown below) on who is going to take care of what:

More changes are in the works, too. The department will be abandoning the old quadrant system of policing and creating three areas: East, Central, and West. I’ll keep you updated on the changes and let you all know when you will be given the opportunity to give your input.

crpd-new-depts

Cedar Rapids police Capt. Steve O’Konek didn’t actually let me drive the Avenger, the bullet-stopping, Hulkish armored tactical vehicle that the police department is borrowing. Which is probably a good thing. But at least I got to have my picture taken in it. If they had only let me wear some SWAT gear and pose with an AR-15 semiautomatic…

Seriously, though, photographer Cliff Jette and I took a spin in the thing with O’Konek at wheel, and I have to say it’s something that would be great to have if there is a use for it here, which is debatable. Anyway, the thing rides like a diesel truck and is just as easy to handle. O’Konek was able to back it into a parking space with only one hand on the wheel. It could easily run over small obstacles and get up to where it could rescue victims. And it could comfortably fit about half a police SWAT team inside it.

It left us this week. Sad. We never got to run over anything in it, either.

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