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August 14, 2011 - Ray Hall (Archive)
There was a time when I could go to any drug store and buy decongestants over the counter. Now, I must see a pharmacist, sign a book and show my driver’s license to satisfy the requirements of the Patriot Act and notify the FEDs that I purchased a box of Sudafed. That inconvenience occurs because one of the ingredients in popular decongestants, pseudoephendrine is used to “cook” methamphetamine, a highly addictive and dangerous stimulant that is commonly called the Poor Man’s Cocaine.

I do not need to be convinced that Crack, Ice, Crystal Meth, or Speed, methamphetamine by any other name, is bad for one’s health and doubly dangerous as a toxic substance and an explosive. Illegal meth labs have been know to blow up a house and kill its occupants. I’m all for treating meth addicts and arresting those who endanger the public by operating meth labs, but is making it inconvenient or illegal to purchase a decongestant at all meaningful?

On more than one occasion I have observed a dozen or more state police on Foot Avenue Extension checking to see if vehicle occupants are properly buckled up. This is not a criticism of our State Police, they are only following the mandates of the State Legislature and are probably using the opportunity to conduct a training exercise for new troopers.

Seat belts are a wise choice. A seat belt can save my life and as a driver I have the absolute right to insist that my passengers buckle up, but should the state punish me for not wearing a seat belt?

I’ve neither operated nor ridden as a passenger on a motorcycle, but if I did I would not hesitate for one second to wear a helmet. An avid motorcyclist was killed recently while riding without a helmet in protest of New York’s helmet law. He obviously knew and accepted the risks of riding without a helmet, but should he have been arrested sans helmet?

Unlike being distracted by using a cellphone that endangers others, driving without using a seat belt or riding a motorcycle without a helmet only endangers the operator. If I were of a suspicious nature I could suspect that New York’s seat belt and helmet law had as much to do with revenues as safety.

In the past I was administratively associated with our County Coroners who are charged with investigating accidental, unexplained or suspicious deaths. I don’t know how many deaths were investigated every year, but as I recall more than a few were suicides.

Most of us are saddened when we hear of a suicide whether we know the victim or not. Suicides leave a terrible scar on survivors and Coroners, along with other first responders, usually find suicides personally unsettling, even grim. However, experts in suicide prevention tell us that a person determined to commit suicide invariably uses the most lethal method available whether a gun or a leap from a bridge or tall building. That brings me to the Washington Street Bridge in Jamestown.

The former Washington Street Bridge was undoubtedly one of the ugliest bridges ever built. There was nothing esthetically pleasing about that structure, it was an eyesore. Thankfully, the new bridge is more stylish and streamlined, more pleasing to the eye than the old bridge. At least it was until a high fence was erected as a suicide barrier across the Chadakoin River.

Government can, and has, done better. Look at the majesty of the Hoover Dam, a magnificent piece of work. Observe the beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge or the stateliness of the Brooklyn Bridge, but closer to home, drive to Warren, Pennsylvania and cross the Allegheny River on the Hickory Street Bridge to the Warren General Hospital. Compare that bridge with the Washington Street Bridge. The Hickory Street Bridge is outfitted with pedestrian walkways and rest stations on both sides where one can sit and contemplate a captivating river. The bridge doesn’t have a suicide barrier.

I’m sure the thought behind removing Sudafed from the shelves, enactment of seat belt and helmet laws and erecting the “suicide” barrier was for all the best of reasons--to save lives. Regardless of how well intentioned we have taken the lowest common denominator and adopted it as a standard for the remainder of society to live by.


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Hickory Street Bridge, Warren, Pa Click to enlarge