Extra Extra : March 2008

Unnecessary transplants boon for clinics at great cost to patients

The three-day special report by Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporters Andrew Conte and Luis Fabregas found that hundreds of patients each year undergo unnecessary liver transplants. The story cites national data for transplants at 127 hospitals across the nation between 2002 and 2006. The reporters looked at MELD scores—a government-approved standard used to determine how urgently a patient needs a liver— to see how sick transplant patients were and how patients with the least urgent conditions fared post-surgery.

College athletic scholarships often shortchange expectation

A story by The New York Times' reporter Bill Pennington and data analyst Griffin Palmer uncovers the discrepancy between the expectations of families and the reality of college athletic scholarships. Analysis of previously undisclosed National Collegiate Athletic Association data showed that scholarships are rarely as lucrative as parents and student athletes assume. "Excluding the glamour sports of football and basketball, the average N.C.A.A. athletic scholarship is nowhere near a full ride, amounting to $8,707. In sports like baseball or track and field, the number is routinely as low as $2,000...Tuition and room and board ... Read more ...

"Free to Flee"

Fugitives can flee and don't have to hide, an investigation by Joe Mahr of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch showed. Mahr's three-day series reported that hundreds of thousands of felony arrest warrants from across the nation are not entered into the FBI national fugitive database, including warrants for violent crimes such as homicide, rape and robbery. He found that while all states check a national database to see whether an applicant for a drivers license or state ID has a suspended license, only six states check to see whether an applicant is wanted on a felony warrant. Other stories ... Read more ...

Nebraska fails to oversee death investigations

Karyn Spencer of the Omaha World-Herald discovered Nebraska has no state oversight and few standards to ensure quality death investigations by coroners or law enforcement. The lack of oversight and standards lead to murder cases remaining unsolved, coroners skipping autopsies to save money or guessing at the cause of death and bodies being exhumed to resolve questions from inadequate investigations. Throughout a two-week series, Spencer examined 15 cases that illustrated weaknesses in the system, including an in-depth look into the murder of Tara Russell.

Tactical Response Unit sued for use of excessive force

The San Antonio Express-News conducted a three-month study of the Tactical Response Unit of the San Antonio Police Department, a unit created to reduce violent crime. "The unit used force to subdue only three of almost 1,000 Anglo suspects it arrested. By comparison, officers struggled with nearly six times as many minorities per 1,000 arrests, a disparity that a police expert called concerning." Lomi Kriel and John Tedesco used a use-of-force database, arrest and court records, and material from numerous public records requests to tell the story.

Orlando officials talk "green," yet guzzle gas

Despite championing "green" firehouses and pledging to be more environmentally friendly, Orlando's city officials are driving some of the biggest gas-guzzling vehicles on the road. Dan Tracy and Mary Shanklin , of the Orlando Sentinel, requested records from about 90 local government agencies and found that Ford Expeditions and Explorers were the vehicles of choice for mayors, managers and executive directors. Law enforcement agencies had the most sedans but the fleets were filled with Ford Crown Victorias. Meanwhile, one executive director drove a hybrid.

Thousands of foreigners illegally attending US flight schools

ABC News' Brian Ross, working with producers Vic Walter and Eric Longabardi, reports that, despite laws passed after 9/11, thousands of foreign students have been able to enroll in and obtain pilot's licenses from US flight schools. "Under the new laws, American flight schools are only supposed to provide pilot training to foreign students who have been given a background check by the TSA and have a specific type of visa." Former FAA inspector Brian McNease said that, in 2005 alone, he found over 8,000 students in the FAA database who obtained their pilot's license without ... Read more ...

Psychiatric screening of military personel still lagging

The Hartford Courant's Lisa Chedekel and Matthew Kauffman continue their coverage of the U.S. military's mental health policies with a report revealing that fewer than 1 percent of deploying combat troops received mental-health evaluations in 2007 despite a congressional order to improve screening, as revealed in pre-deployment data for nearly 350,000 soldiers sent to war. Those numbers contrast with several military studies that have found mental-health problems in close to 10 percent of service members awaiting deployment. The Courant's latest story came days after the military released a report that found that repeat deployments are ... Read more ...

Probe finds trace pharmecueticals in US drinking water

A five-month probe by Jeff Donn, Martha Mendoza and Justin Pritchard, of the Associated Press, found traces of medications in the drinking water supplies of over 40 million Americans. While the testing found pharmaceuticals diluted to miniscule concentration levels, some scientists question the long-term effects of sustained exposure. The AP reports: "The situation is undoubtedly worse than suggested by the positive test results in the major population centers documented by the AP. The federal government doesn't require any testing and hasn't set safety limits for drugs in water. Of the 62 major water providers contacted, the drinking water ... Read more ...

Forced Out

A series by Debbie Cenziper and Sarah Cohen of The Washington Post looks at the condo boom in the District of Columbia. Tenants are being displaced as landlords convert apartments to condos using "vacancy exemptions" — sidestepping tenants' approval and avoiding conversion fees that would offset renters' relocation costs. Through the analysis of government documents, housing code complaints and assessor's records, Cenziper and Cohen found "landlords emptied more than 200 buildings from Columbia Heights to Southeast, most of them rent-controlled, thwarting the intent of one of the nation's toughest tenant rights laws with the approval of the city government ... Read more ...