Public Employees Learn Art of ‘No Comment’


To prepare for disaster--be it flood, a mass killing or even Y2K chaos--and to learn how to meet with the media on daily happenings, two dozen city and county employees went to “public information officer” school in Camarillo last week.

The school was hosted by Ventura County sheriff’s and fire officials.

It was the first time in more than three years such training had been offered in the county.

The classes were attended by cops, firefighters, emergency dispatchers and others who work in the health, legal and environmental fields.


“It’s important for us to establish good working relationships with the media, because we can help each other, and so the public can get accurate information,” said Sheriff’s Capt. Keith Parks.

The class participated in an exercise to prepare a news release about a homicide. They were then told how to talk to a reporter “on scene.”

This columnist was asked to conduct a mock interview with Glenda Jackson, a spokeswoman for the city of Ventura, who gave the “who, what, where, when, why and how” on a make-believe shooting of a business owner.

Jackson was quick to offer “no comment” on specific details, which Parks said is important during major incidents.

He explained that authorities need to know for certain what happened to avoid public panic.

But students were also told to listen carefully to reporters, who often get clues from witnesses before authorities do.


“We’ve dealt with El Nino and brush fires, but this helped put a different spin on things,” Jackson said after one class. “This was really interesting and will be extremely helpful when we are utilized on the next large incident.”


A Thousand Oaks man who was jailed after a crash in Los Angeles County that killed his friend won’t be charged in that case. But he remains behind bars for violating his probation on a drunk driving conviction in Ventura County, authorities said.

Joseph Romagnano, 28, was behind the wheel doing 65 mph last week when he lost control of his car and slammed into a power pole in Chatsworth. His passenger, Sean Lee Turpin, 26, of West Hills was killed.

Los Angeles officers arrested Romagnano on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter, believing he was under the influence of an illegal drug at the time, said LAPD Officer Walter Hogue.

Tests on Romagnano’s blood were not returned by the lab in time for prosecutors to file charges, authorities said. Hogue is still investigating and waiting for the test results. He may ask that charges be filed at a later date.

Meanwhile, Romagnano remains in custody in Los Angeles, awaiting his transfer to a Ventura County jail. He had already violated probation in a 1996 drunk driving conviction, police said, by skipping a court hearing to face allegations that he failed to pay a fine and attend drunk driving school.



Call it the case of being “bear” foot on the beach.

Recently, a Los Angeles couple were walking their dog on a southern Ventura County beach known as the “Salad Bowl”--so named after a lettuce truck spilled its load there in a crash years ago-- when they stumbled across a foot.

They kicked it a couple times to make sure it wasn’t some sort of funky sea urchin that had washed ashore, then examined it more closely. It was a big, fat foot with five digits that looked like toes.

Concerned they had a genuine mystery on their hands, the couple contacted authorities.

“I drove to the Salad Bowl kind of expecting to see a human foot after what I had been told,” said James Baroni, a deputy county corner. “It was a really wide foot, but I could see where the novice might have gone, ‘Oh, my God.’ ”

It even took Baroni a few minutes to figure out it wasn’t human. There was webbing on the sole and no footprint.

An examination done in the coroner’s lab confirmed that it was the left foot of a bear, likely chopped off by a hunter who had skinned the animal.

While such remains are not uncommon finds in the woods or desert, authorities said a bear foot on the beach is rare. Let’s hope so.


Holly J. Wolcott can be reached at (805) 653-7581 or by e-mail at