Story Number One is about Hattie Carroll and William Zantzinger. If you recognize those names, you're probably as old as I am; the incident, which occurred in 1963, was immortalized a year later in Bob Dylan's song, "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll." The short version is that Carroll was a black waitress at a prestigious Baltimore restaurant, and Zantzinger, a wealthy local tobacco farmer, was a customer. He ordered a bourbon from Carroll, and when Carroll was slow to bring it, Zantzinger called her a "nigger" and a "black son of a bitch," and hit her on the shoulder and across the head with his cane. She started to pour the drink, but Zantzinger still was displeased with her promptness in serving him, so he hit her again. Carroll collapsed about ten minutes after that, and died eight hours later.
Zantzinger was initially charged with murder, but the charges were reduced to manslaughter. A three judge panel found him guilty, and imposed a sentence of six months and a fine of $500. The judges deferred the sentence for a couple of weeks to allow Zantzinger to harvest his tobacco crop.
Story Number Two is about Tyell Morton. He's 18 years old, and he did a dumb thing. As a joke, the 18-year-old Indiana high school senior put a blow-up doll in the girl's bathroom. Did I say dumb thing? Oh yeah; he didn't just stop by on the way to his next class and slip it inside the door, he entered the school wearing a hooded top and latex gloves. Well, when security saw somebody on the surveillance cameras in that getup sneaking into the school and slipping a box into a restroom, they got pretty excited. The school was evacuated, and the bomb squad was called.
The school didn't take it well. Sure, putting a blow-up doll in the girl's bathroom is the kind of prank that high school kids have been doing for years, but this is the post-Columbine world, so Morton was suspended for the rest of the school year, and won't be allowed to graduate with his class. He'd never been in any trouble before, but rules are rules, and so you can expect that the school would come down hard on him.
So did the authorities. Morton's also in jail, awaiting trial on charges of felony criminal mischief, which carries a maximum sentence of eight years in prison. If Morton had brought a gun to school, he'd be looking at three years max.
Story Number Three is about Ryan LeVin. Back in the early morning hours of February 13, 2009, he was driving his $120,000 Porsche 911 Turbo in Fort Lauderdale, drag racing with a friend in a BMW. LeVin lost control, and the car jumped the sidewalk and killed two British tourists who were walking back to their hotel. The good thing was that the victims didn't suffer; LeVin hit them going about 70 mph. The impact threw them over 100 feet.
LeVin didn't stop to see what had happened. He later switched cars with the friend in an effort to escape detection. He was arrested last year after a lengthy investigation.
LeVin's had prior problems with cars. In 2006, he ran over a Chicago police officer and led a high speed chase on the Kennedy Expressway. He got probation for that, but when he violated it by failing to attend drug counseling, the judge revoked it and sentenced him to two years in prison. He did a whole six months. But that was then, this is now: killing people is taken fairly seriously in this country. He pled guilty to hit and run and two counts of vehicular homicide, and was looking at 20 to 45 years in prison. Last week at his sentencing, the prosecutor asked for ten years.
As you might guess about somebody who's driving a $120,000 car, Levin's loaded. Rather, his family is; he's the son of Arthur and Shirley LeVin, founders of a direct sales jewelry empire. So his attorneys worked out a deal: he paid off an undisclosed sum for a settlement of the civil suit brought by the families of the two tourists, and last week the judge gave him two years of house arrest. The Broward County Public Defender expressed outrage over the sentence, noting that "our clients in similar situations, in every case, go to prison for substantial periods of time." In fact, the same day LeVin walked free, a 56-year-old Fort Lauderdale man who pleaded guilty to killing another man in a street race was sent to prison for nine years.
But LeVin's not out of trouble. He's being returned to Illinois to face a parole violation hearing for the 2006 offense; he wasn't supposed to be in Florida. It's expected that he'll do six months for that, including the time in jail awaiting the violation hearing. After that, he'll do his house arrest at one of his parents' two condos at the Point of Americas on Fort Lauderdale Beach. Like some other prisoners, he should be able to buff up; the condo center has three fitness rooms.
Here's the last verse of Dylan's song:
In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
To show that all's equal and that the courts are on the level
And that the strings in the books ain't pulled and persuaded
And that even the nobles get properly handled
Once that the cops have chased after and caught 'em
And that ladder of law has no top and no bottom
Stared at the person who killed for no reason
Who just happened to be feelin' that way without warnin'
And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance
William Zantzinger with a six-month sentence
Some things don't change.