Darts and laurels

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 2, 2007

Dart to a recent trend in automotive crime: theft of catalytic converters from parked vehicles. According to an Associated Press report, the usual modus operandi is for thieves to crawl under vehicles (often high-riding SUVs or pickups) and hack off the pollution-control devices using a small saw. They then convert the converters to cash by selling them to chop-shops or to recyclers that harvest the platinum inside. The thefts have been popping up around the country. In North Carolina, a rash of converter heists recently occurred in the Triangle area. Locally, converter thefts have been reported by both the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office and the Salisbury Police Department. Victims usually aren’t aware of the missing part until they start their vehicles and are greeted with a loud roar. They get another jolt at the repair shop: Replacing the converter and repairing damage to the exhaust system can total $1,000 or more.

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Laurels to changes Gov. Mike Easley will be pushing for during this session of the General Assembly to tighten laws concerning businesses that treat, store or dispose of hazardous materials. On the advice of a task force appointed after a chemical fire endangered Apex residents last October, Easley wants the state to require companies to pay the cost of cleanup after a release of hazardous materials into the environment and to have 24-hour, seven-day-a-week security on site to monitor conditions so such releases won’t occur. Other recommendations in the proposal aim at protecting nearby residents and providing rescue workers with the information they need. Different chemicals call for different responses, and a list of possible hazards does HAZMAT crews little good if it’s locked up in a burning building. The impact of the changes could be far-reaching, considering that nearly every industry uses or emits some kind of hazardous material. The errors made by the EQ Industrial Services at its Apex warehouse will wind up costing everyone, but they could also save lives and prevent costly disasters.

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Dart to the disconnect between former Sen. John Edwards’ advocacy for the poor and his family’s move to a new, $6 million estate outside Chapel Hill. No one expects a successful plaintiff’s attorney to live in a duplex or trailer like the working poor he talks about, but as an aspiring presidential candidate Edwards must recognize the excesses of a 29,000-square-foot home, complete with barn and racquetball court. Edwards grew up the son of textile workers, while wife Elizabeth moved around the world as her father’s military career dictated. They’re hardly the types to suffer from generations-old affluenza. They say the house is just spacious, not opulent. Maybe so. But no matter how sincere he may be, skeptical voters will have a hard time believing Edwards has a heart for the less fortunate when he appears to be living like a king.