If you haven’t read Friday’s Great Read yet, why don’t you jump to the bottom of this post now and give it a look? I can wait.
The narrative is striking, but the story does something even more remarkable: It reveals the community that has grown up around the L.A. Times’ Homicide Report.
In the comments sections of these posts – “a story for every victim” – people who knew the dead have a place to say goodbye, to talk about their friends and the choices made. I found the comments incredibly moving, and hope you’ll get a chance to explore them.
While editing the story, I listened to my Spotify playlist of the bleaker songs on Bruce Springsteen’s “The River.” (Yes, I created a playlist of grim Springsteen. Is that odd?)
It’s always seemed like a schizophrenic record, perhaps because it’s a slightly bloated two-album release. Half of the songs are your classic E Street rockers like “Sherry Darling” and “Crush on You,” the kind of songs Springsteen fills with “little darlins.”
I prefer the other half, some of the darkest of his career: “Point Blank,” “Fade Away,” “Stolen Car,” “The Price You Pay,” “Drive All Night,” “Wreck on the Highway” and, finally, one of his best songs, “The River.” (Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true/Or is it something worse?)
Like the Homicide Report, the songs are full of regret, of loss, of lives haunted by a moment you can never change or a time you can never bring back.
Anyway, in these roundups of the week gone by, I’d like to offer the first paragraphs of each Great Read (or, as they’re known in print, Column One) -- maybe they’ll buy your eye and you can settle in for a good weekend read. And you’ll also get the songs that inspired me while editing the stories, or reading them later if my fellow editor Millie Quan ushered them through. A story soundtrack!
Tender care and a painful goodbye to Kim Pham
Just after midnight, paramedics rolled a stretcher with a heavily bruised woman into the emergency room at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange. Aside from a credit card, she had no belongings. The only person accompanying her was a Santa Ana police detective.
She looked so young, so alone.
By the time Shannon Semler had finished the paperwork and admitted Kim Pham to the ICU on that January day, it was past 7 a.m. Questions darted through the nurse's mind. The patient was slight and — even with severe injuries to her head — strikingly pretty. Something very violent had happened.
“I knew by looking at her that she had been attacked,” Semler said. “But we're not a trauma center — what is she doing here?”
Although St. Joseph was no stranger to the critically ill and dying, most patients were older and arrived with detailed medical histories. Those with traumatic injuries were generally routed to UCI Medical Center in Orange or over to Western Medical Center in Santa Ana.
But it was a busy night, leading Pham to land at St. Joseph.
It would be hours before the story of the brawl outside a downtown Santa Ana nightclub would be picked up by the media. Even when details came spilling out, though, hospital staff tried to ignore what was going on outside.
“No one knew why she was here and that was fine,” said Soudi Bogert, a veteran ICU nurse. “We had our job to do.”
But it was more than a job with Pham. Over the days to come, nurses not assigned to her would check in on her, hugging one another in the hallways for support. A security guard prepared spreadsheets of all the visitors who made the somber pilgrimage to St. Joseph. Administrators put aside their visiting-hour rules, letting family members and friends stay days at a time.
They all wanted to take care of this broken 23-year-old who never opened her eyes or uttered a word. And they became part of a goodbye none of them will forget.
#soundtrack: “The Ones We Hurt the Most,” by Stornoway. A song about watching someone die, it gets me every time I listen to it.
He dreams of famed roller coaster's return
Larry Osterhoudt lives alone in the Downey house where he grew up, a neat, single-story that still wears the same faded pink and white lace curtains with a kind of quiet pride.
An elaborate Lionel train set takes up much of a bedroom-turned-office, and an old, poster-sized aerial photograph of Disneyland hangs above it on the wall.
A midnight blue '79 Pontiac Trans Am, the first brand-new car Osterhoudt bought at 22, sits idle in the garage.
“I always like to reminisce about my past,” the 57-year-old says. “People think I'm crazy about it sometimes. That I remember a little too much detail.”
Details are like a narcotic to Osterhoudt.
He doesn't just remember watching “Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color” when he was a kid — he knows it was on at 7:30 p.m., Sundays, Channel 4. He knows it was a Thursday in the summer of '68 when his family hit the road for a vacation in Yosemite, where the waterfalls that year were just a thin trickle.
And he knows it was a Saturday two summers earlier when his parents piled him and his three brothers and sisters into their powder-blue Buick and headed to the beachfront amusement park called the Pike.
It was a rare treat for the working-class family from Downey — the closest Osterhoudt had come to experiencing an amusement park was the dime-a-ride electric horse in front of the local supermarket.
He followed his father to the double Ferris wheel, which swung and swayed in dizzying loops over the water's edge. He clung to the safety bar, growing queasier by the minute.
Then his father pointed to the roller coaster. Osterhoudt peered at the whitewashed wooden facade towering 100 feet over him. The screams from the riders pierced the salty air. The Cyclone Racer, with its dual tracks, hairpin turns and skeletal frame dangling over the ocean, terrified the 9-year-old.
#soundtrack: “Roller Coaster Ride,” by Mates of State. This song is off a cover album by the band that has a pretty classic version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Second Hand News.”
In Israel, African immigrants find no refuge
This evening, like most recently, a crowd had massed in Tel Aviv's Lewinsky Park. Huddled under blankets, hundreds of immigrants milled across worn-down grass as speakers passed around a microphone, discussing upcoming demonstrations.
It was the second night of a “sleep-in” protest against the Israeli government's decision to issue detention orders to more than 4,000 African immigrants who have crossed illegally into Israel over the last several years.
Mutasim Ali, tall, with thin shoulders and a cellphone pressed to his ear, made his way through the park slowly. Every few steps, another person tapped his shoulder, shook his hand and asked for help.
One man wanted to know whether Ali could assist him in getting his detention summons delayed. Another had a question about how to file for refugee status. Ali's phone rang; it was a board member of the nonprofit group he leads. Another ring; this time it was a journalist.
Handsome, provocative and fluent in Hebrew, which he learned after fleeing Sudan four years ago, Ali is the public face of an estimated 55,000-strong population that some in Israel wish would quietly disappear. That, he figures, is why he was one of the first people issued a detention order.
But Ali, 27, is not one to go quietly. While other students were studying for their final exams in college, he was reading up on Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela and serving time in a Sudanese prison for protesting the government-backed genocide in Darfur. More recently, he has led headline-grabbing strikes in which tens of thousands of immigrants walked off their jobs to demand recognition as refugees in Israel.
#soundtrack: “I Can’t Find My Way Home,” by Teenage Fanclub. Another pure pop gem from one of my favorite Scottish bands. I could only find the video for the whole album, but you can’t go wrong listening to it. (If you want to hear just this song, it’s the second track.)
On the court, UCLA's Alford family is just coach, players
As the buzzer sounded on a big victory for the UCLA basketball team, there was no Hallmark moment — no hugs or group high-five — from the Alford family.
Coach Steve Alford proceeded to the far sideline to give a television interview about the Bruins winning their second game of the NCAA tournament.
His sons, both on the team, walked off the court separately. Kory, who played only a few seconds at the end, went first. Then Bryce left, looking tired and sweaty after a solid performance at backup point guard.
Not so much as a glance passed among them.
“It's pretty much all business,” Bryce said. “We'll enjoy this after the season's over.”
The Alfords know they have something special. A father coaching his boys. Brothers playing side-by-side. All of them headed toward a March Madness showdown against Florida in Memphis, Tenn., on Thursday.
But in the pressure cooker of major college basketball, family ties can be problematic.
Siblings tend to quarrel and parents have a way of getting under their kids' skin. Fans and teammates look for any hints of nepotism, so boundaries must be clearly drawn.
“There are challenges every day,” Alford said.
#soundtrack: “Family,” by Hanni El Khatib. Perfect garage rock, with the bonus of ’60s-style clapping!
She shot her husband, served her time, then things got tough
A woman with blond hair sat at a computer, her blue eyes scanning the comments on the Homicide Report about the killing of Charles “Chip” Burns.
Some came from people who had never met him but had an opinion about the simple entry, posted in August 2010. It described how Chip, who turned 46 on that day, had gotten into an altercation with his wife, Shannon Burns. At some point, investigators said, the 41-year-old armed herself with a gun. Authorities believe that Chip was shot and killed while trying to take the weapon away.
The woman at the computer tensed as she read some of the comments.
Once she picked up that gun it is her call, she shot him that is the end of the story she is a killer.
Aug. 26, 2010, at 11:21 p.m.
Other comments came from people who knew the couple, who met in an Alcoholics Anonymous group in 2003. On Halloween of that year, they had their first date at Olive Garden. Later that night, their bodies close, they swayed to Creed's “With Arms Wide Open” at a support group dance.
chip and Shannons love for each other was unmistakable. This was a tragic accident and nothing more.
Dec. 29, 2010, at 11:41 a.m.
The more the woman read, the more she wanted to speak out.
She wasn't just a reader. She was Chip's wife.
Shannon had an abusive past, and when she met Chip, she said, she felt like she had finally found someone who treated her with respect. Although some commenters sided with her, Shannon felt angry. I already have to live with this day by day, she thought. She wanted to defend Chip — and herself.
She began typing.
I am Chips wife and still his wife.. I have had the last 3 years in a lot of pain over this for what both families have gone through but most important CHIP, this loving and caring man meant the world to me.
Sept. 5, 2013, at 1:47 p.m
#soundtrack: “The Price You Pay,” by Bruce Springsteen.#
If you have ideas for story soundtracks of your own, tweet the title and artist to @karihow or @LATgreatreads with the hashtag #soundtrack.