WDEL's Road Scholar: Prevention and preparation the keys to surviving roadside breakdowns

By Andrew Sgroi 1:41pm, October 6, 2015
Walt Brinker, author of "Roadside Survival: Low-Tech Solutions to Automobile Breakdowns", makes an emergency repair on Interstate 10 in Texas (Courtesy/ Walt Brinker)
Picture this: It's a wet December day with blustery, raw winds and daylight quickly diminishing. You're headed home from work on a back road in Christiana Hundred, because the traffic on southbound Route 141 near Greenville is far too jammed to bear. The "Check Engine" light has been displayed since the weekend and you just remembered you didn't call your mechanic earlier in the day. Suddenly, the car begins to sputter and you lose power steering. You struggle to get the car to the side of this two-lane road without a shoulder and now you're stranded just off a blind curve.

The scenario is easily a helpless and terrifying one. And one--according to Walt Brinker, author of "Roadside Survival: Low-Tech Solutions to Automobile Breakdowns"--that can be easily avoided.

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"Listen to your car when you drive. It'll tell you when it's about to fail," he recently reminded Road Scholar.

The retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel wrote the guide after years of aiding drivers on roadways he would travel. He revealed this assistance allowed him to develop a broad system of tools and techniques that could address nearly any kind of breakdown--information with which others should be equipped.

"I believe that people can, to a large degree, prevent breakdowns by taking precautionary measures ahead of time," Brinker offered, "and they can also bail themselves out if they do get in trouble."

Brinker's foray into cataloguing his roadside survival knowledge started with a column that would regularly appear in the Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer, called "Walt's Tips".

"I provide a vignette of an actual assist I've done," he recounted, "and the bottom line of the whole thing is how they could have prevented the whole thing in the first place."

Brinker advised that, of the 200 million licensed drivers in the United States, AAA receives nearly 30 million calls from them annually for assistance. That's just a fraction of the actual breakdowns, he suggested. And even these "commercial roadside assisters", as Brinker called them, have limitations--if only for where a stranded motorist can rely on them.

"(They're) good around the cities, where they have their main office," he explained, "but if you get out in the country--outside the perimeter of where that agency does business--they tend to subcontract it out to others that are not always that competent. And so, even if you have insurance like that, you're not always guaranteed of getting good, quality assistance out there."

Brinker submitted that about three-quarters of all the assists he's made have had some sort of tire-related issue.

"Blowouts, a tread came off, or otherwise have a flat tire."

He suggested consumers buy the right tires--with a free replacement warranty if damage should occur--and always ensure they're properly inflated.

"Tire inflation is critical," he reinforced. "Under-inflated tires are the single reason for blowouts because the side wall flexes excessively driving down the highway."

Brinker reminded that tires should be checked for cold pressure--before the tire has been driven or after it has been sitting for three hours. To aid more accurate readings and inflation, he suggested a 12-volt air compressor as one of those items every vehicle should stow in its roadside kit.

"Make sure the tires on your car that are rolling are in good shape."

But it's not just the wheels in motion that can prove faulty.

"Spare tires I found," Brinker revealed, "80 percent of them are flat or too low in air to be used."

(Courtesy/Walt Brinker)

Other scenarios for vehicle breakdowns which Brinker has encountered have been: running out of gas, overheating, electrical issues, and lockouts. Of course, some preventive measures for these common problems are quite simple--but nearly all of them require a level of preparation.

(Courtesy/Walt Brinker)

"I'm amazed at how many folks drive around without the complete kit of tools that came with their car."

For many other preventive steps, Brinker conceded, a professional mechanic might be required. But the first line of defense for the vehicle's diagnosis is its driver.

"You're job is to listen and notice things like wheel vibration, mushy handling, pulling to one side, funny odors, excess exhaust," he listed. "Anything unusual like that. And then take it to the mechanic and get it checked out so the breakdown gets prevented in the first place."

Brinker's book also covers a host of safety issues drivers must consider when they're in their lonesome predicament, especially where someone chooses to pull off.

"The most fundamental thing during a breakdown--if at all possible--get the vehicle out of the drive lane," he urged. "Onto a safe shoulder that's big enough, into a rest area, onto an exit. Anywhere off the highway because you're just a prime candidate for getting clobbered by somebody coming up behind you if you don't do that."

Short of equipping vehicles with all the tools Brinker recommends, you should--at the very least--add the guide to your glove box. Available on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble, it could prove to be a good read the next time you're waiting for that inevitable roadside assist.

"The website and the book are my best shot at reaching those 200 million drivers, so they can prevent breakdowns and bail themselves out."


Contact Andrew Sgroi with Road Scholar story ideas to andrew@dbcmedia.com or follow him on Twitter at @Cuse92.

Dead woman found near New Castle farmers market

By DJ McAneny 11:11am, October 6, 2015 - Updated 2:07pm, October 6, 2015
A photo of the scene where a woman's body was found/(Mike Phillips/WDEL)
New Castle City Police are investigating a dead woman found in the parking lot of Airport Plaza.

Police said the body was discovered in the parking lot between the farmer's market and BJ's Gas by an employee who was heading to work nearby at approximately 6 a.m.

"We don't even have a manner or cause yet," Lt. Adam Brams said. "Can't even rule it a homicide yet. We'll wait for the medical examiner's autopsy and work to ID her so we can get a better starting point for this investigation."

Brams said efforts include reviewing video surveillance from nearby businesses. The woman appears to be in her early 20s, police said.

Elsmere Police arrest 3 following month-long drug investigation

By DJ McAneny 5:33pm, October 6, 2015
From left to right, Barbar, Lofton, and Beatty
Elsmere Police announced Tuesday the arrest of three men on drug charges following a month-long investigation.

According to police, an investigation into the sale of heroin in the unit block of Rigdon Road led to the observation of a suspicious person identified as active home confinement probationer Randy Lofton, 20, in the area of a Wawa.

When officers approached Lofton, they said he led police on a foot pursuit through town. He was taken into custody a brief time later--after allegedly attempting to dump two bundles of heroin over a fence.

All the drugs Elsmere Police said they recovered during the bust

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A search warrant was then executed at Lofton's residence, where police said they discovered 300 bags of packaged heroin in his bedroom, a small container of raw heroin weighing 5.1 grams, and Joshua Beatty, 20, of the 1900 block of West 5th Street.

Beatty was arrested on three active warrants, police said.

Authorities also made contact with Lofton's friend, Aboudi Barbar, 20, of the unit block of Alvil Road. A search of his vehicle, found parked near Lofton's residence, turned up 38 grams of marijuana, police said.

Lofton was charged with drug dealing, possession of heroin-highest Tier, and resisting arrest. He was committed to the Howard R. Young Correctional Institution in lieu of $30,000 secured bond.

Beatty was released after arraignment on his three warrants.

Barbar was released after being charged with possession of marijuana.

Vehicle crashes into electrical junction boxes behind Middletown Diner

By DJ McAneny 5:44pm, October 6, 2015
A scene of the crash/Courtesy Middletown Police
An accident in the rear of the Middletown Diner Monday morning destroyed the electrical junction boxes for a number of businesses in the strip mall there.

According to Middeltown authorities, Dennis Martin, of Middletown, lost control of his vehicle in the rear of 5240 Summit Bridge Road at approximately 9 a.m.

The right front wheel struck a concrete barrier, deflating it, and sending the vehicle to the left, where is struck the junctions and became disabled.

A scene of the crash/Courtesy Middletown Police

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Martin was found conscious but incoherent, police said. He was evaluated and found to have no injuries from the crash, but transported to the Christiana Emergency Room for additional care.

A black Labrador puppy was found restrained by a dog safety belt, also uninjured.

EdWatch: Reading intervention pilot program launches in Colonial School District

By Amy Cherry 10:49pm, October 6, 2015
Reading Assist team members and AmeriCorps tutors. (Photo/Reading Assist)
A pilot program for students with reading deficiencies launched in New Castle County's Colonial School District with the hopes of providing a service otherwise inaccessible to students who most need it.

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Students struggling to read in the Colonial School District will be matched with AmeriCorps tutors for one-on-one coaching sessions during the school day.

"They are working on identifying letters and sounds and putting them together as words--those are the foundational skills of reading," said Vickie Innes, executive director of the Reading Assist Institute (RAI).

RAI administered 50 hours of intensive training in RAI's Orton-Gillingham principles and the mechanics of reading to 15 AmeriCorps tutors, who then go on to instill those principles in students.

Innes said attaining grade-level reading proficiency is key to a child's future success. She called third grade the turning point for students.

"Up to third grade, you are learning to read, and then--after third grade--it really switches that you are reading to learn," said Innes.

The Colonial School District is handpicking students with the greatest need for reading intervention through the program, which rolled out last week.

"It's hard for schools to have the resources--the actual manpower, the hands to do that," said Innes. "We're supplying this outside resource so these children will have an opportunity for 45 minutes of one-on-one intervention everyday that they might not get otherwise."

The program is funded by a $192,000 grant from the Governor's Commission on Community and Volunteer Service and private donations.

Innes hopes the model can replicated in other school districts in the future.


Contact Amy Cherry at acherry@wdel.com or follow her on Twitter at @acherry13.

AAA: Watch out for deer, other animals on the roads this fall

By Frank Gerace 10:19pm, October 6, 2015 - Updated 10:49pm, October 6, 2015
AAA Mid-Atlantic is reminding Delawareans that this time of year is the worst for collisions involving cars and deer.

The auto club Tuesday said October, November and December have the highest numbers of animal vs. car collisions, and last year, Delaware State Police recorded 1,227 such crashes--up 17 percent from 2013.

Fifty-four of those resulted in injuries to occupants of the cars involved, a 15 percent hike from 2013, and the number of damage-only crashes was 1,173, up 10 percent from 2013.

AAA reminds drivers that deer and many other animals are most active between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., and drivers who are out during those hours should keep their eyes wide open to spot signs of animal activity.

If there's no oncoming traffic, drivers are urged to use their high beams to more easily spot animals on or near the road.

If you see a deer, AAA Mid-Atlantic advises you to slow down--where there's one, there likely are others.

Give a long blast on your horn to scare the animals away, and if you can't avoid hitting a deer or other animal, don't swerve--apply your brakes to minimize the force of the crash as much as possible.

Don't go near an animal if it's wounded. The auto club said wounded animals are unpredictable and could attack and hurt you.

Williams: More drug sweeps and searches are needed

By Peter MacArthur 12:21pm, October 6, 2015
Wilmington mayor Dennis Williams would like to see more drug sweeps in his city, but personnel changes are making it a challenge to get all the pieces in place.

"We've had to move officers around," said Williams. "But we are looking at some other ways to go in and still do search warrants at some of these houses. When you start doing a lot of search warrants and you're hitting these houses, you shake things up in these areas, and we're going to start doing (that) in the very near future."

Williams added, before that happens, he will make appeals to law enforcement on other levels to help in any future drug sweep efforts.

Senior citizen grazed by bullet in Wilmington

By Andrew Sgroi 7:53am, October 6, 2015 - Updated 9:00am, October 6, 2015
An elderly man was struck by gunfire in Wilmington on Monday afternoon.

City police were investigating the shooting--on the 2700 of North Tatnall Street near North Brandywine Village--in which a 73-year-old man suffered a graze wound to his leg.

According to police, arriving officers initially found evidence of a shooting scene but no victim. The senior, police said, was located inside a home on that same block.

Van/car crash hospitalizes 2

By Frank Gerace 10:55pm, October 6, 2015
A woman and a baby boy were hospitalized after a van-versus-car crash in New Castle.

County Paramedics arrived at Lambson and Davidson Lanes around 7:35 Tuesday morning and found a 23-year-old woman with a possible chest injury.

She was treated at the scene and taken to Christiana Hospital, where she's in stable condition.

A 6-month-old boy didn't appear injured, but was taken to AI DuPont Children's Hospital for evaluation--he's also listed in stable condition.

State Police are investigating.

DC mayor announcing settlement in Exelon, Pepco merger

By Associted Press 4:42pm, October 6, 2015 - Updated 11:28pm, October 6, 2015
Steam escapes from Exelon Corp.'s nuclear plant in Byron, Ill. Regulators in the District of Columbia rejected the proposed merger of power companies Exelon and Pepco on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015 saying the deal would not benefit ratepayers./(Robert Ray/AP-F
Power companies Exelon and Pepco came to an agreement with District of Columbia regulators on a proposed merger Tuesday

The city had previously rejected the companies' proposed $6.8 billion merger. In late September, the city and companies said they were trying to reach a settlement agreement.

The companies had argued that the merger would stabilize electricity rates and enhance the reliability of electric and gas service. Opponents had argued the merger wouldn't benefit ratepayers and would harm the environment.

The city was the only jurisdiction to reject the proposed merger between Chicago-based Exelon and Washington-based Pepco. Maryland and Delaware regulators previously approved the deal.

Dover businessman sentenced to year-and-a-day in Wilmington Trust fraud case

By Randall Chase/Associated Press 4:32pm, October 6, 2015
A Dover businessman has been sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy in an ongoing criminal investigation into the lending practices and collapse of Wilmington Trust bank.

Salvatore Leone, 52, was sentenced Tuesday, two years after pleading guilty and agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors.

Leone faced up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine, but court filings indicated that prosecutors asked for a downward departure from sentencing guidelines.

Leone was a business partner of Michael Zimmerman, a prominent Dover developer who died in January while awaiting trial on charges of conspiracy, money laundering and making false statements to a financial institution.

Wilmington Trust's former president, Robert Harra Jr., and three other former top executives were indicted in August on fraud and conspiracy charges.

Corner Ketch crash sends 2 men to hospital

By Frank Gerace 11:28pm, October 6, 2015
County Paramedics said 3 people were hurt in a one-car crash between Newark and Pike Creek early Tuesday morning.

Crews arrived in the 900 block of Corner Ketch Road around 1:30 to find a car had run off the road, rolled over several times and hit a barn.

A 22-year-old man was treated at the scene for scratches and a possible hip injury, and taken to Christiana Hospital, where he's in stable condition.

A 21-year-old man was treated for back and abdominal pain, and a possible head injury--he's also in stable condition at Christiana.

A third occupant of the car was injured, but refused treatment.

Pumpkins available for Halloween but maybe not Thanksgiving

By Associated Press 10:58am, October 6, 2015
Pumpkins/(Courtesy the Library of Congress/Creative Commons)
Crop experts said there should be enough pumpkins for Halloween, but that supplies of canned pumpkin could be scarce by Thanksgiving.

Illinois is the country's top pumpkin-producing state. Mohammad Babadoost is a plant pathology professor at the University of Illinois. He said "we'll have a pumpkin for everybody" for Halloween, but cautions that canned pumpkin could run low by November 26th's Thanksgiving holiday. He said he'd "buy it whenever it comes to the store."

Meanwhile the large canned pumpkin manufacturer Libby said yields in Illinois appear to be less than anticipated this year.

Farmers are blaming record rainfall in June for washing out crops. Jane Moran owns Moran Orchard in Neoga. She said they replanted and it rained more so they're buying pumpkins at auction twice a week.

Mayor Williams' pay raise plan for non-union employees gets cold reception from Wilmington council members

By Tom Lehman 7:46am, October 6, 2015 - Updated 10:49pm, October 6, 2015
VIDEO: Councilman Bud Freel discusses the mayor's proposal.
Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams' administration asked council members to approve a 2-percent raise for non-union city workers, though the plan received a poor reception Monday night during a committee meeting.

The budget amendment, which would introduce a cost-of-living increase to the pay scales for 221 city employees, who are not unionized, cleared the Finance Committee and could be set for a vote next week. It would also pay those workers a one-time sum of $2,000 or $4,000, depending on when they were hired.

According to a fiscal note on the bill, the city would use more than $900,000 in unassigned funds for the one-time payments. The raises would cost the city more than $430,000 annually.

However, many council members questioned the timing of the plan, pointing to an issue of fairness while the city negotiates with labor unions and because it partially relies on a projected $2 million surplus for FY2016.

Councilman Charles "Bud" Freel (D-District 8), who heads the finance committee, said he worries that the surplus number may not be accurate, since it does not reflect the possible departure of the Chemours company from the city and its effect on wage tax revenue. He said it was also learned last year that the city posted an actual operating budget deficit of more than $500,000 in FY 2014.

"Do I hope we have a $2 million surplus at the end of the fiscal year? Sure I do, but I don't see how you can guarantee it…nine, 10 months ahead of the end of the fiscal year," he said.

Mayor Dennis Williams (D) defended the raises Tuesday morning during his weekly interview on WDEL, saying many city employees are working more than one job and that they haven't seen raises in nearly eight years. He said he was confident that the surplus would be available.

"I think we'll be fine," he said.

Others bluntly questioned during Monday's session whether the move was political, pointing to the fact that the proposal came the year before an election.

"Why now, with the rest of the year left, going into a high-profile political season?" asked Councilman Michael Brown (R-At Large).

Cleon Cauley, the mayor's chief of staff, defended the timing of the bill and said the cost of living increases haven't been adjusted since 2008 and that has made it more difficult to attract qualified candidates for some administrative jobs.

"I don't see it as a major strategic political move. Our employees deserve this," he said.

Councilwoman Loretta Walsh (D-At Large) said she wouldn't support the legislation in a final vote because it came at a time when labor negotiations were ongoing and many residents are unhappy with city services.

"Perception is everything and the perception with the taxpayers on our streets is not a good one," she said.

Angela LaManna, a staff representative with the AFSCME Council 81, questioned the timing of the raises, given ongoing union talks.

"I wish folks would be as candid about this money out there as they are with us," she said.


You can contact Tom Lehman at tlehman@wdel.com. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Baltimore nut factory fire triggers allergy warning

By Associated Press 2:35pm, October 6, 2015
Authorities are warning people with nut allergies to be cautious after a fire broke out in a Baltimore nut factory.

Officials said a fire broke out Tuesday morning in a peanut hopper at the Barcelona Nut Company, in the 500 block of South Fulton Avenue.

Fire officials said firefighters found smoke coming from the third floor and three people were taken to hospitals with injuries that aren't thought to be life-threatening. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

The Baltimore Office of Emergency Management tweeted a warning to people with nut allergies in the area, urging them to take extra precautions.

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