Strange Trial Analysis

October 29, 2009

Today, a divided jury rendered a unanimous verdict against Entercom Sacramento in the case of Jennifer Strange, a mother of three who died as a result of radio station KDND's water drinking contest in January 2007.  The jury of seven men and five women awarded Jennifer's family more than $16 million compensation.

For much of the past two months, I have been observing and live blogging the trial. ( .) There is much to process before I comment at length.  But in brief:

KDND 107.9 "the End's" Morning Rave ruled the airwaves in Sacramento's morning drive.    The on air personalities ruled the radio station, too, the proverbial inmates running the asylum. And they clearly knew a person could die from drinking too much water: just a month before the contest, the Morning Rave spent an entire show making fun of a local college kid who had died from water intoxication.   They made fun of Matthew Carrington's death , and they knew someone could die from drinking too much water.  

But the Morning Ravers never gave Jennifer or any other contestant that information when they sponsored the "Hold Your Wee to Win a Nintendo Wii" contest.  Instead, they encouraged contestants to drink first 48, then 96 ounces of water an hour in a party atmosphere, while at the same time they were joking on the air about the potential of someone dying from water poisoning.  Listeners were calling into the contest (nurses among them) to warn the on air crazies that someone could die from water intoxication, but Lukas and Trish and Maney laughed them off, saying contestants had signed release forms, so the station wasn't responsible if somebody died.  (Contestants couldn't hear any of the radio comments.)

The jury understood.  They rendered a very careful verdict. 

But the public doesn't get it.  They don’t get that the release form Jennifer signed was deemed worthless by the court; and that the radio station actually withheld information about danger from the contestants.  No, by a two to one margin on online polls, the public thinks that Jennifer Strange is responsible for her own death.  And the comments are vociferous.  

So a radio station, a broadcaster licensed to serve the public interest, sponsors a contest it knows is dangerous.  A woman dies as a result; and the public stands up for the corporation who was trying to profit from the stunt.

There's so much more to this story.     Later.

See video of the Broadcast Blues Jennifer Strange story ond hear audio from the contest at

Jennifer Strange Trial: Entercom Sacramento negligent

October 29, 2009

After nine days of intense deliberations, a jury of seven men and five women today rendered a verdict against a local Sacramento radio station in the civil trial of William A. Strange et al v. Entercom Sacramento LLC and Entercom Communications Inc. et al.  The trial was to determine accountability for the death of Jennifer Strange, who died as a result of a water drinking contest sponsored by Entercom Sacramento's radio station KDND.

By unanimous vote, the jury decided that Entercom Sacramento was negligent in Strange's death;  by unanimous vote, they also decided that the parent company, Entercom Communications of Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania was not responsible.  By a vote of ten to two, the jury decided that Jennifer Strange did not contribute to her own death.

Economic damages were assessed at $1,477,118.  Non-economic damages were assessed at $15,100,000.

Jurors said finding Entercom Sacramento negligent was a relatively simple decision, mostly because Entercom on-air employees ignored phone calls warning them of the dangers of the contest.  They said they believed it was the responsibility of Entercom Sacramento to vet the contest with the parent company's legal department, which employees failed to do.

However, jurors reported that they were sharply divided over other issues in the case. They said no one thought Jennifer was 100 percent responsible for her death, but that two jurors thought she shared some responsibility.  As only nine jurors had to agree to render a verdict, that issue was quickly decided.  Deciding non-economic damages proved much more difficult, and took days of deliberations.  According to juror LaTeshia Paggett, some jurors thought that criteria they'd been instructed to consider for compensation like love, companionship, and moral guidance were invaluable, and as such, the family should receive zero compensation for those areas.  She said other jurors disagreed sharply and felt the compensation should have been as high as $48 million dollars.  In the end, according to juror Tammy Elliott, the jury agreed to averaging the dollar amount each juror felt appropriate.  "Each juror's number was weighted equally," Elliott said.

According to Entercom's annual report, Entercom Communications reports a 2008 revenue of $439 million;  Sacramento is one of their more profitable markets.

The FCC is still investigating the incident.

See the Jennifer Strange story and hear actual contest audio in Public Interest Picture's Broadcast Blues.

Broadcast Blues in Hot Springs: "You've got a Hit!"

October 28, 2009

Audiences didn't just applaud at the end of Broadcast Blues, they cheered!!  And shouted "Thank you for making this film!" to filmmaker Sue Wilson. 

Former Hot Springs Mayor and film festival founder Melinda Baran said "You've got a Hit movie!"  Festival goers "rated it right up there with Food Inc. and Tapped," also playing at the festival.  There were Many thanks for "such an amazing and important film."

Audiences LOVE this film...  Distributors, where are you? 

Broadcast Blues Goes to Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival!

October 20, 2009

Vast Right Wing Media Conspiracy Revealed!

In the midst of the 1998 Clinton Impeachment, grassroots groups of citizens from across the country staged a protest against Ken Starr in Washington DC.   One of those groups was the Truth in America Project;  headed by journalist Sue Wilson, it focused on the vast right wing media conspiracy against President Clinton.

Years later, Wilson continues to expose right wing bias in the media with her new film, Public Interest Pictures'  Broadcast Blues.  She uses a series of vignettes to show how media policy changes stemming from the Reagan era have corrupted our news, information, and even public safety.  In a searing interview with former Right Wing "hit man" David Brock, she reveals the Conservative media's calculated misinformation campaign to bring down President Clinton, and shows its impact on politics and news today (including the recent Fox News' court ruling that news does not have to be true.)

Broadcast Blues is playing 5:30 PM October 22 at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. 

Information about the film is available online at and information about the film festival is at .

Jennifer Strange Trial: Determining Damages

October 18, 2009

The closing arguments in the case of William Strange et al vs Entercom not only summed up the case for the jury, but presented them with guidelines for determining compensation should they find Entercom liable for the water drinking death of Jennifer Strange stemming from the January 2007 "Hold Your Wee to Win a Nintendo Wii" radio contest.

Sacramento Bee reporter Andy Furillo and KOVR CBS 13 reporter David Begnaud reported that plaintiiff attorney Roger Dreyer is seeking more than $24 million, and plaintiff attorney Harvey Levine is seeking an additional $12 million.   They report that Defense attorney Don Carlson told the jury $4.5 million would be more appropriate compensation. 

But those broad numbers downplay the detailed instructions given to the jury by the court on how to determine the proper level of compensation.  Attorneys are not asking for punitive damages in this case, but rather for economic and non-economic damages for the 2.75 years since Jennifer died and the 51.75 years she would be expected to live in the future.

First, should the jury find Entercom liable, they must determine the direct economic impact of Jennifer's death on the family.  Jennifer was the bigger wage earner in her family, and the jury was given some rather straightforward instructions on determining how much money Jennifer would have contributed to her family's well being had she lived.

Second, the jury was given a much more complicated set of standards established by the court (not the attorneys) by which to determine non-economic compensation.  For each of the Plaintiffs, (husband Billy, daughter Jorie, 3, son Ryland, 6, and son Keegan, 13,) the jury must consider compensation for each of the following factors individually:  Love, Companionship, Comfort, Care, Assistance, Society, Moral Stewardship, Training, Guidance, and in the case of her husband, Physical Intimacy.

It is pretty simple to calculate how much money Jennifer would have earned had she lived.  But how do you put a number on the damage done to a little girl who will never know her mother's love?  How do you put a number on the damage done to a little boy who will never have his mother's moral stewardship?  Or to a teenager who will never again have his mother's guidance?  Or to a husband who will never again know his wife?   There are no easy answers to those questions, but those are the questions this jury will likely have to decide.  

Dreyer suggested that each of those areas should be compensated between $100,000 to $150,000;  Carlson suggested far less compensation for each area.

How much would each one be worth to you?

To be continued

October 15, 2009

Due to the death of my father, George C. (Bud) Wilson, I am unable to write about the closing arguments in the Jennifer Strange trial.  I will return Monday.

Dad lived to be 90, and with only an eighth grade education, rose to be General Manager of Schultz and Lindsay Construction, one of the largest highway contractors in North America.  He pioneered highway construction techniques which are still in use today, and set records in the industry which still stand.

I am very proud of him, and will always miss him. 

Jennifer Strange Trial Coverage: Who was Jennifer?

October 13, 2009

Roger Dreyer began the morning by reminding the jury what this trial is all about:  Jennifer Strange.

While I have focused heavily on the corporate aspects of the trial, I think it a good time to reflect on the woman at the core of this trial, Jennifer.

By all accounts, she was much loved and respected.  Here was a single mother, who gave birth to her elder son Keegan when she was just seventeen, who focused her life on that little boy.  She exhibited remarkable maturity for a girl her age, and she sheparded her son into the GATE program for gifted children.  She attended every parents teacher conference, she spearheaded activities at her son's school, and she became good friends with her son's teacher, who said that Keegan worshipped Jennifer.

So did her son Ryland, now aged 6;  daughter Jorie, now aged 3, unfortunately will not remember her.

At the same time, Jennifer worked her way up in the radiological lab where she worked up the ranks into a supervisory position.  At age 28, with no college education, she was earning nearly $60,000 a year, and her co-workers loved her.  They found her style of management uplifting and encouraging, and said she always would find a way to allow people learn in their own way. 

Jennifer was a stalwart friend.  She was someone who would always be there to help, be it with a wedding, a new baby, or help getting a new job.  And she was the kind of person who would help her friends without ever being asked.

Her children were the focus of her life;  her husband Billy even admitted so, but it didn't bother him.  Birthday parties, Halloween, Christmas, coloring Easter eggs, she would make a big deal of them all.

She was loving, in an overt way.  She would tell her children and husband and friends she loved them, she wasn't shy about it.

And they say that when Jennifer Strange entered the room, her smile preceded her.

A lot of people really miss Jennifer Strange.

Jennifer Strange Trial Coverage: The Final Witness

October 9, 2009

"Hold You Wee to Win a Nintendo Wii" contestant Aram Dermenjian took the stand Tuesday as the final witness for Entercom's defense team. 

He testified that from listening to KDND, he understood that the rules were contestants would be drinking a cup of water every fifteen minutes, and the last person that went to the bathroom would win.  He also said those rules were given to him by the female at the station who told him when to arrive, and that she said the last person to use the bathroom or vomit would win.

He told Entercom attorney Don Carlson that he was a UC Davis student at the time of the contest, and that he did know about the Chico water drinking death.  He said that he had heard the term water intoxication before the 2007 contest, but he thought this contest was different from the Chico hazing incident because the contest was voluntary, while the Matthew Carrington in Chico had been forced to drink large amounts of water.

Carlson:  Did you understand you could leave at any time?  Dermenjian: Yes.  Carlson:  Did you think you'd know what your limits were?  Dermenjian: I was a dancer, and had a decent understanding of what I could do.  Carlson:  Did you read the release form?  Dermenjian: I glanced it over.  Carlson:  Did you decide it was okay to sign?  Dermenjian: Yes.

Dermenjian said the contestants had discussed going from the eight ounce bottle of water to the larger 16.9 ounce bottles to speed up the contest.  Carlson asked whether the radio was playing during the contest, and Dermenjian said it was, but he only remembered music playing, not callers.  He said there was no discussion of the Chico incident by contestants during the contest.  Dermenjian was the first to leave the contest, as the first contestant to leave was given a chance to be interviewed on the radio.

Strange family Attorney Roger Dreyer established that Dermenjian was the president of his fraternity at UC Davis, and that he had heard of the Chico incident in a fraternity newsletter.  Dermenjian said he knew that Carrington had died of acute water intoxication.  Dreyer also established that Dermenjian had studied AP Chemistry in high school, and understood how sodium electrolite imbalance in the body worked.

Dreyer asked whether anyone at the radio station had given him information as to the hazards and dangers of the contest; Dermenjian said he didn't need it.  Dreyer asked about his signing the release form, he said it looked like a standard form.  Dreyer: You didn't think that radio station would ever put you into a contest that they knew could kill you?  Dermenjian: I didn't think they'd done research.

Dermenjian said that when he was told they would be drinking a cup of water every ten minutes instead of every fifteen minutes, he didn't know what six cups an hour would do, as he was used to four cups.  He left the contest before they switched to the larger bottles.

Dreyer:  You knew about Chico, about Chemistry, your experience as a dancer. Based on your knowledge, you kept that information in mind?  Dermenjian:  Yes.  Dreyer:  Did anyone from the radio station say we want to let you all know about water poisoning or dangers?  Dermenjian:  No.

He said no one from the radio station said they'd received a phone call from a pediatric nurse giving them notice of a potential hazard, and that he did not recall any contestants talking about the Chico State death.  He was in the contest for less than an hour, but stayed to himself, and did not tell any of the other contestants about his knowledge of Chico or of water poisoning. 

When he left the station, Dermenjian listened to the broadcast and heard the "Eva Brooks" call, which had warned the Morning Rave staff that people could die from water intoxication.  Dreyer:  When you heard that, was it consistent with your knowledge?  Dermenjian:  Yes . Did you call the radio station to let them know what you knew?  Dermenjian: No.  Dreyer:  You weren't running the contest, were you?  Dermenjian:  No.

On redirect, Carlson asked why he didn't tell anyone about Chico;  he said that most of the contestants seemed to be friends, and so he just sat in the corner by himself.  Carlson:  Did you assume others would know their own limits and know when to stop drinking?  Dermejian:  Yes.

Dreyer again:  You don't know what anyone else knew?  Dermejian:  True.  Dreyer:  You've met people who don't know the dangers of sodium imbalance?  Dermejian:  True.

This was the final witness in the case.  Closing arguments will begin 9:00 AM Tuesday, October 13.

To see the Broadcast Blues story about Jennifer Strange, including audio from the contest, please go to .

Jennifer Strange Trial Coverage: Defense Begins, Then Rests

October 6, 2009

Defense attorney Don Carlson, who represents Entercom Sacramento and Entercom Communications Inc., called his first witness to the stand this morning.  Stephany Fiore, Forensic Pathologist for the Sacramento County Coroner's office had conducted the autopsy on Jennifer Strange.

Fiore testified that while she had done a couple of autopsies with cases of hyponatremia, she had never done a case of acute water intoxication.  She testified that in her research, she discovered 18 cases of people who
died from water intoxication, and that 15 of those cases involved people who were severe psychotics; the other three were either marathon runners or military trainees.

Under questioning from Plaintiff attorney Roger Dreyer, Fiore said it would be "pretty easy to find information on water intoxication, you can google it."  When asked if water intoxication can produce euphoria, she said she had not read that, but that it could cause confusion, coma, seizure, and death.  She also said that more than one and a half liters of water could be very bad.  Dreyer established that 6 eight ounce bottles of water were about equivalent to 1 1/2 liters, and that 6 16 ounce bottles would have equaled 3 liters per hour.

In his questioning, Dreyer referenced the criminal investigation which had been launched, but then dropped, in the matter.  Defense attorney Carlson, outside the jury's presence, told the judge that motions had been made and approved that no mention be made of "criminal investigation, and that saying that in the presence of the jury was very prejudicial.  Carlson made a motion for mistrial.  Judge Phillips denied that motion, but agreed to give an admonition to the jury to disregard that statement.

Carlson next called Entercom Director of Engineering and IT manager Rick Rapalee.  Rapalee was instructed by Entercom immediately after the water drinking death to save all archives of the contest, including the Morning Rave shows the week before which promoted the Wii contest.

Carlson played several clips of the promotion:
1-08-07, 6:44 AM  "All of you will be drinking the same amount of water every fifteen minutes; the last person standing wins the Wii."
1-08-07  7:45 AM  "We're going to give them water everey fifteen minutes." 
1-09-07  7:33 AM  "If you qualify, every fifteen minutes, contestants will have to drink 8 ounce or 16 ounce glass of water, and keep drinking until the last person standing."
1-09-07  7:47 AM  Jennifer Strange calls the station to try to qualify for the contest.
1-10-07  7:10 AM  "Going to be drinking water every fifteen minutes, the last person standing without going wee wins."

Dreyer asked Rapalee whether he had listened to the entire broadcasts, he said no, he had been directed by the defense team to find out at what times those clips had played during the broadcasts.  He had not listened to what was said before or after each clip, nor had he been asked to go through the entire broadcasts to find every reference to the Wii contest.

Carlson next called Wii contestant Ronald Mendoza.  Mendoza was a regular listener of the Morning Rave, and had been in Entercom contests before.  Carlson asked Mendoza what he'd heard about the contest on the radio.  He said that the Wii would be the prize, that they'd be outside in light clothing, they'd be drinking water, and that the last person standing would win.  Carlson:  Quantities of water?  Mendoza : Yes.

He told Carlson that when he'd been qualified for the contest, a woman who he thought was Liz Diaz told him the rules over the phone: they'd be standing in the cold weather, wearing something thin, if you vomited,
something like that, you're put of the contest. Carlson:  So you knew before you got to the radio station if you urinated yourself or vomited you're out?  Mendoza: Correct. 

Carlson asked whether before this contest, Mendoza was aware of the Chico incident;  Mendoza said yes, but that he did not draw any similarites, because in Chico it was against his will, it was not voluntary.  Carlson
asked whether he understood he could leave the Wii contest at any time;  Mendoza said he did.

Carlson asked whether he's heard the radio playing during the contest; Mendoza said he had, but he had not heard any calls warning of problems with the contest.

Mendoza also said that there was a general consensus amongst the contestants to move to larger bottles to get the contest over quicker.  He also said he'd dropped out because other contestants seemed more determined to win the Wii, and he took movie tickets instead.

Plantiff attorney Dreyer asked him about the Chico incident;  Mendoza said he had heard of that death, but didn;t know the details.

Dreyer:  You trusted Entercom?  You never thought this radio station would ever run a contest that could have results like Chico?  Mendoza: True.  Dreyer: You trusted they would never expose you to danger?  Mendoza:  Yes.  Dreyer: You believed they would research this?  Mendoza:  True.

Carlson called one more contestant, then rested his case.  More on that testimony tomorrow.

For video of the Jennifer Strange story, and actual audio of the Wii contest, please go to
.  For full trial coverage,
go to .

Jennifer Strange Trial Coverage: Plaintiff Rests

October 6, 2009

Plaintiffs in the Jennifer Strange case rested this morning after the jury heard testimony from Strange's two youngest children, Ryland, 8, and Jorie, 3.   No questions were asked about their mother.

Jennifer Strange Trial Coverage: Billy Strange takes the stand

October 6, 2009

Billy Strange, widower of Jennifer, who died at a water drinking contest at KDND's 107.9 FM Morning Rave program, brought the most emotional testimony of the trial so far.

Very well spoken, Strange talked about meeting Jennifer when they'd both been on Mitchell Junior High's cross country team.  Jennifer was a year older, and out of his "league" socially, but he admired her.  "She stood out because she was very competitive.  She did not like to lose, so she would do anything she could to win."

He met her years later when he was printing flyers for his band at Kinkos;  Jennifer tapped him on his shoulder, and struck up a conversation about music.  The two soon were dating, and within six months, he asked her to marry him.  On the stand, he talked about how she cried when he asked her to be his bride;  Billy cried throughout this testimony, and the jurors could hardly look at him.

He talked about being a dad to her then five year old son Keegan, and how that experience made him feel more whole. 

He talked a bout a song he had written for her, how it started with a guitar riff that she liked, and how she wanted him to write lyrics for it.  One night, he woke up from a bad dream where Jennifer was "no longer
around."  He picked up the guitar and wrote the song; he recited the
first verse:
        Here I will sit to wait for you
        In these moments of memories
        'Cause all I wanted to do was be right there.

Regarding the contest, Billy said he had never heard of hyponatremia or water intoxication, and that Jennifer never indicated to him that she knew about it.

(Editors Note:  at this point, the jurors started taking notes.)

He talked about the phone conversation he'd had with Jennifer during the contest, how she sounded fine and was having fun, and had turned down tickets for a Justin Timberlake contest.  He talked with her again after
the contest, he thought as she was driving home, when she told him she didn't feel well, and was going home to lie down.  He was concerned to a degree, but only hoped she would not feel ill.  He told her he loved her.

That was the last conversation Billy would have with Jennifer.

Defense attorney Carlson asked whether Jennifer sounded normal when he spoke with her on the phone, and Billy said yes.  He established that the radio station was about 20 minutes from their residence. Carlson also asked whether Jennifer had taken a cruise to the Caribbean with girlfriends when baby Jorie was 9 months old.  Strange said that sounded right.  He asked whether Billy had taken care of the kids through the week, and Strange said he had.  Carlson also asked whether Billy played Playstation with Keegan, and whether thay owned a Playstation;  Strange said yes.

On redirect, Dreyer asked about the cruise;  Strange said Jennifer had won it through a raffle, and as he gets motion sickness, he choe not to go.  He said it was hard to take care of the three kids that week, but
since she was lucky enough to win a cruise, why shouldn't she go?

For video of the Jennifer Strange story and audio of the Wii contest,
please go to .

Jennifer Strange Trial Coverage: General Counsel Unaware of Safety Guidelines

October 5, 2009

Entercom Communications General Legal Counsel John Dunleavy, in a videotaped deposition of 4-29-08, went head to head with Plaintiff attorney Roger Dreyer's questions about the definitions in company contest guidleines as to "dangerous" and "bad taste."

Asked whether it is the Entercom's legals department's responsibility to train employees to run contests, Dunleavy said Legal helps develop training materials but that it is a collective effort, to be approved by upper management. He said the Power Point presentation was part of the training, the contest guidelines were another part, and that much more goes into it, but is privileged "back and forth" between the stations.  When asked whether the Power Point and the contest guidelines had the policies concerning stations, Dunleavy
responded, "They encompassed the written statements of policy, I believe."

Dreyer asked about the meaning of specific terms on the documents, including "unresonably dangerous," and extremely dangerous," and whether there were any documents to assist employees as to what that means.  "Not that I'm aware of," Dunleavy replied.

Dunleavy talked a lot about the process in place, where anything except a "simple contest," one which he sadi would involve a call in giveaway or something similar, would have to go through legal for approval.  But he said Entercom does not have any documentation that employees submit contests in writing.  He said people would call sometimes about contests, email at others.  When asked whether employees are trained to submit contests via email, he sadi they were not, and that they could do so verbally.  He also said there is no requirement that Legal respond in writing so there is any written record of requests.

Dreyer asked whether Dunleavy had helped create the Entercom Code of Ethics and Conduct manual.  Dunleavy thought he had probably reviewed it years earlier as it was a requirement for public companies.

Back to the contest guidelines, Dunleavy said there were some attachments that did not appear to be included. Dreyer then took him page by page through the document.  He asked whether there was anything that specifically said that contests must go to legal.  He said no, but that it was part of the verbal training given to employees.  Dreyer went to subsection IV and noted that this was the first place in the document that talks about reiew by legal.  It states stations must go to legal if the prize is more than $1,000 and involves more than a simple call in to win.  Dreyer emphasized that the word "and" was underlined.  The Entercom attorney said the "and" was perjorative, and the intent was otherwise.

They then went into the tasks assumed by Entercom's attorneys, and Masi's testimony that she worked 60 - 70 hours per week, and was in charge of dozens of legal responsibilties for dozens of radio stations.  Dunleavy agreed that contests are a small part of what they oversee.

Dreyer asked whether as General Counsel, Dunleavy's staff was reponsible for training in contests.  He said yes, and he thought that they had a good process.  As to who was responsible for program content, Dunleavy said it was not the Market Manager, and that the program director was involved, but not day to day, but more as a supervisor.  If there were problems with programming, he said, a consultant would likely be called in.

Dreyer asked whether personnel was responsible for the safety of visitors coming onto the station's property, and Dunleavy replied it was common sense.  When pressed as to whether he was aware of Entercom Corporate policy that employees are responsible for the safety of the visitors, Dunleavy said he didn't know that there was a specific policy.

Dreyer asked whose job it was to ensure compliance with Entercom's Contest Policies and Procedures. He said Masi's testimony was that it was not her job.  Dunleavy answered that it was not the job of any one
person, but there were a lot of people in the process:  Promotions, Legal, Management, and others.

Asked whether a promotions director, in their opinion, had a contest which was not dangerous, would they be required to go to legal, Dunleavy said it depends.  Dreyer asked whether 100% of the time, he could testify
that staff had been trained to always call legal on the issue of a contest being dangerous, and Dunleavy went back to the process in place at Entercom.

Asked whether attorney Masi had ever come to him saying she was overwhelmed, and too busy to manage the contest policies and procedures, Dunleavy said no, but that he was fortunate to have a hardworking group
of attorneys willing to work long hours.

For actual audio of the "Hold Your Wee for a Nintendo Wii" contest, see the story at .

Jennifer Strange Trial Coverage: Geary "No Longer Party" to Lawsuit

October 5, 2009

    After a sealed conversation inside Judge Lloyd Phillips' chambers,  the judge announced that Entercom Sacramento Market Manager John Geary is no longer a party to the lawsuit, and that he had been acting in the scope of his employment with Entercom. 
    The jury was instructed not to speculate why Geary is no longer a party.
     A relieved looking Geary remained in the courtroom, and his private attorney Douglas Sullivan also remained at the defense attorney's table.

Jennifer Strange Trial Coverage: Medical Personnel Always Present for Reality Shows

October 2, 2009

Psychologist Dr. Diana Everstine was hired as an expert witness by plaintiff's attorneys. 

She said that from a group dynamics standpoint, as there were fewer and fewer contestants, the ones left would be more determined to win, and may not be making sound decisions.  Their adrenaline would be up, the pressure would be high, and that was compounded by the water intoxication. 

She said that reality show contestants are very closely monitored, even when they are not subject to water intoxication.  She talked about reality shows such as "Survivor," and noted that contestants for such contests are screened carefully, that psychologists and medical personnel were always present, and contestants went through medical screening after the contests were completed. 

Defense attorney Carlson established that there is no direct research that has been conducted on contests.  He referred to a study cited by Everstine that dealt with students posing as prisoners and prison guards, and noted that in that study, people were physically locked up.  With regard to the Wii contest, Carlson said: "Anyone could leave if they wanted to?"  Everstine:  "Yes." 

Carlson asked about competitive natures, and again referred to Kevin Williams,  the contestant who first had gone on the radio and promised he would win, but later dropped out when he had had too much.  Everstine stated that "people who brag the most often do the least."   Carlson said that Williams listened to his body and quit, and that after he went to the bathroom, he came back and felt fine.  Everstine said that would indicate to her he was not impaired, but also noted that perhaps the other contestants were not able to listen to their bodies and were compromised.

Carlson discussed another study with Everstine, one out of Yale where adults were told they were participating in a study on the effect of punishment and learning, and were asked to apply increasingly greater shocks to a subject (actually an actor hired to act as though he'd been shocked.)  Carlson asked what role Jennifer would be playing in such a study, the one giving or getting a shock?  Everstine said she had no role.  The Radio staff?  Everstine said they played neither role.  

She did say that the frontal lobe of the brain enables people to understand consequences, and that that lobe is not fully developed until the early 20's; that's why teenagers don't well understand consequences.  She thought the frontal lobe would have been impaired by the contest and contestants would not have fully understood the consequences of their actions.

Carlson asked whether Jennifer was in a rational state of mind when she decided to take the Justin Timberlake tickets;  Everstine thought not.  Carlson pointed out that she had turned down the Timberlake tickets the first time they were offered.

On redirect, Everstine said the two studies cited were textbook stuff.  Dreyer asked whether in any of the studies about group dynamics anyone had been required to ingest anything;  Everstine said no.  She also said there is a big difference between being in sports and being in a contest.  She said atheletes train, and often will play with fractures without knowing about them until later.  She said contestants had no idea what they were getting into. 

Regarding Kevin Williams, Dreyer asked whether his awareness of what water intoxication was might have influenced his decision to leave the contest; Everstine said yes.

See video of the Jennifer Strange story at .

See September archives for earlier trial coverage and media commentary..

Jennifer Strange Trial Coverage: Jennifer Could Have Been Saved

October 2, 2009

     Dr. George Kaysen, MD was hired by plaintiff's attorney as a medical expert. Kaysen teaches at UC Davis; his expertise is in nephrologist, specializing in kidney disease, including electrolite abnormalities.

     He said that hyponatremia "happens quite commonly," especially with patients on diuretics. He spent a lot of time educationg the jury as to the technical meaning of hyponatremia; it came down to the dilution of the level of salt in the bloodstream balances with the level of salt in the cells, and that when the salt fell below a certain level, it would cause cell swelling, and brain swelling. Kaysen also said that no matter how much water a person drinks, the kidney can only process about one pint an hour; so anything ingested above that amount would not be urinated out, but would have to be absorbed by the body. He also said that the smaller the person, the greater the dilution. Jennifer was petite. Lucy Davidson, who won the contest, was much larger physically.
     Kaysen said a medical "water challenge" would involve drinking one quart of water, then waiting an hour and a half to urinate. He said that amount of water drinking would have been safe for a contest, but that any doctor or nurse would have known not to exceed that amount. He cited two studies, one with 15 women in a hospital setting, who had died from water intoxication. He also testified that such loss of salt would cause impaired mental status and impaired judgment similar to alcohol intoxication. He said it was not possible to determine exactly when contestants would have felt impairment from the water.
     When asked about some other contestants experience of headaches, lightheadedness, and nausea, he said that was to be expected with acute hyponatremia. Dreyer played the audio clip of Jennifer saying her head hurt, how she didn't feel well, and her belly distended, and Kaysen said those were classic symptoms of water intoxication. He said that Jennifer's judgment had been impaired, that she should not have driven herself home, and that, had she had medical attention when she left KDND at 9:40 AM, her life would have been saved.    
     Entercom Defense attorney Don Carlson established that water intoxication and alcohol intoxication had different effects. He aslo established that the Chico case was different from the Strange case in that the Matthew Carrington had been force fed water, whereas Strange had voluntarily drunk water. Kaysen admitted that while he has treated 200 cases of chronic hyponatremia, he had never treated an acute case. He also said he had never before seen anyone die from a water drinking contest. Carlson: "When I took your deposition in August of 2009, you were not aware of anyone dying from acute hyponatremia other than marathon runners or those who were severely psychiatric damaged; are you aware of anyone dying from voluntarily drinking too much water?" Kaysen: People don't generally volunteer to drink this kind of water." Carlson presses him for yes or no answer; Kaysen said no.
     Carlson asked about the study of the fifteen women, and confirmed that they had all been alert and talking until ten minutes before they had seizures. When asked about Kevin Williams, who had testified that he felt he could no longer go on with the contest, then urinated, and felt fine, Kaysen said that every person is different, and that women react worse to hyponatremia than men, and that men are generally larger.
     Carlson pointed out a picture of contestants Gina Sherrod and Lucy Davidson, and pointed out that Kayson had met with both contestants in Plaintiff attorney Dreyer's office.  He asked whether Kaysen had been told that Jennifer made several cell phone calls throughout the course of the contest, and that her close friend Worcester thought Jennifer sounded fine; Kaysen had not. When asked if she was too impaired to drive, Kaysen thought that she was.
     On redirect, Dreyer asked Kaysen whether the circumstances surrounding that study of the fifteen women was anyway near the circumstances the radio station had set up; Kaysen said it was not. He asked why he had never published a paper on hyponatremia, and Kaysen said it was unnecessary as it was "standard medical practice." Dreyer: "If someone approached you that this is what we're going to do, that 100% would suffer symptoms? Yes, with the exception of very large men."

For video of the Jennifer Strange story, go to .
For earlier coverage of the trial and other media commentary, see the September archives .

Jennifer Strange Trial Coverage: Market Managers are Like CEO's

October 2, 2009

In a videotaped deposition of Entercom Communications President and CEO David Fields, he talked about his rise to the Presidency of his father's company at the same time radio consolidation occured.  Fields said that they owned about a dozen radio stations in 1988, whereas by 2000, they owned roughly 100. (Today Entercom owns 300 according to their website.)  As a result of consolidation, they changed their business model to have three regional Vice Presidents who would oversee the market managers, who were each in charge of about six radio stations.    He said that his market managers acted like CEO's.

Fields said it was not the job of Sacramento Market Manager John Geary to be involved in any way with contests or day to day promotion of radio stations. He said they had established a different chain of command for contests, one that bypasses their general, or market managers.   The promotions director and the program (station) manager were to go directly to the legal department at Entercom Communications Inc. to vet any contests except "no brainers." 

Fields said that as CEO, he had to approve the contest guidelines drafted by his chief lawyer Jack Dunleavy.   But he admitted he had not reviewed the Power Point presentation before it went out, because he trusted Dunleavy's judgment on such things.  Asked if he were aware that Carmela Masi had drafted the guidelines, not Dunleavy, Fields said that he knew Masi was on Dunleavy's team, and didn't know how the lines were drawn.  He said he was not aware of the unwritten policy that any any contest including ingestion or physicality have on site medical personnel.

When asked if he had personal knowledge of Masi's schedule, Fields said he did not, or that Pechota would call Masi, and not get return calls.   He said it was company policy that there was no discretion given to the local level for anything beyond "simple contests,"  and he was unaware of any exception to that.  He said it was illegal for Legal to be giving stations that discretion.

NOTE:  Because of this reporter's travel schedule, I was unable to be in the courtroom for the Pechota or Masi testimony.   Other observers who were present told me that Pechota talked about the discretion she was given in deciding what was a "simple contest," and that in her testimony, Masi did talk about the discretion she gave to promotion managers.    Transcripts of the trial are not yet available, and although they are public records, will come at a cost of $1.00 a page.  (Federal courts require transcripts to be put online within 30 days, but this is a state court matter.) 

Fields was also asked about the Entercom Code and Conduct Manual, where it says any information supplied to customers should be accurate and complete to the best of your knowledge.  When asked whether that standard would apply to contestants, Field said he was not familiar with the document, although he had signed it.  

For video of the Jennifer Strange story, please go to

For earlier trial coverage and commentary about media issues, please see the September archives .

Jennifer Strange Trial Coverage: Wii Contest was Typical

October 1, 2009

In a videotaped deposition dated July 12, 2007, KDND station manager Steve Weed testified as to his forty plus year radio career.  His role at KDND was to coach on air talent with the goal of entertaining and getting listeners, helping performers improve their craft, and making musical decisions. Part of his job was to listen to the various programs to look for deficiencies and  help correct them.  He said he punched in and out of the morning Rave the day of the contest, but felt the contest was consistent with those they'd had for the six years of the Morning Rave program.

Although he supervised Pechota, Weed said his responsibility was to supervise on air talent, and Pechota's was to run contests.  He did not know who was monitoring the Wii contest, and did not ask as to the health or safety of contestants.  He said there he had been no training concerning the health of contestants nor had anyone at Entercom ever instructed him to conduct such training.

Weed said at his previous position at WDBD he had been required to review contests before and after they were conducted, as was customary.  At KDND he said he was not involved with contests after they had been planned.   He said he did not have a supervisor with regard to contests, and that he was left to his own discretion.  "There was no training from Corporate regarding contests,"  and there had never been a written report about contests for review.

Weed said his job was to make content more entertaining, but that there was no set criteria.  He felt he had license to do what he chose, and talked about the vicarious trend, as in Fear Factor or Survivor, to have contestants "go through" something to win a prize, and said he had participated in planning contestsbefore the Wii contest where contestants must "go through" something to win.

Weed said Entercom's legal department in Boston would delineate factors for safety, but when asked which factors, he said he didn't know.  He testified he had never seen anything in writing from Entercom Communications regarding safety, and that he had never been given any guidance on that.  There was "no criteria to consider whether this contest would pose a health or safety problem."

Weed testified that he did not check in on the contest to see how it was going because once a contest was going his job was done.  He did say he supposed he hoped they would be squirming as that would be a good "visual chord."

Weed testified that when he arrived at the station, Geary asked to see him right away with complaints about noise which was bothering the sales department.
Dreyer: "it was not necessary to do any research at all regarding safety?" Weed "Yes."  Dreyer:
 "That's the way you were trained?"  Weed: "Yes."

Weed said that although Entercom's Contest Limitations said not to do a dangerous contest, there was no definition of that.  He said things like skydiving had been talked about and were prohibited, but this was information "picked up along the way," not from formal correspondence.    He was asked whether Masi had said to contact their office so they could conduct medical research to determine if something is dangerous, and he could not recall a specific conversation about that.

Weed said although he was instructed by corporate not to do high risk contests, but it was for him to determne what "high risk" meant, and that he would decide what "dangerous" meant.  He said he had no idea what "borderline acceptable" meant, even though that was officially prohibited also.

Dreyer referred to the section in the rules Pechota had drafted for the Wii contest that said contestants understood the contest may be hazardous. and that they warrant they were physically able to undergo the contest.   Dreyer asked Weed about the release form given to the contestants, which did not include that language, but just generally said contestants absolved Entercom of any Personal Injury.  He asked whether the station manager considered giving the rules which spelled out hazards of the contest to the contestants.  Weed said no.  When asked whether there is anything in corporate training manuals concerning the contest rules, Weed said he didn't know.

Dreyer asked whether Weed had provided specific training to his staff as to what they should do if callers called into the station regarding danger risk or harm a contestant might incur; Weed said there was nothing specific, but that his employees knew they could call him at any time.   Asked is as a manager he had provided training as to what to do if a contestant became ill, Weed said he had never told them specifically, but there was an understanding they would call 911.  He agreed no training was provided by either him or John Geary.  Dreyer:  You had hundreds of meetings, and there was not one discussion what to do if a contestant became ill?  Weed: Correct.

When asked whether Weed remembered Geary's statement that there was a "culture of safety" at KDND.  Weed did not remember that specificall, but said it was understood they were not to put listeners at risk.

Weed talked about his role in developing the Morning Rave on-air team to create the sense of a family.  When asked if that meant fostering trust in the on air talents' believability and credibility, Weed said yes.

Back to the contest, Weed did not know whether the Wii contest had been vetted.  He said he did not know whether he'd had any coversation about vetting the contest.    When told that Pechota testified that they did have such a conversation and that they jointly decided not to vet the contest, Weed did not recall that, but said that as Pechota had ongoing relationship with Legal, she was in the best position to know what needed vetting and what did not.  When asked if he had ever trained Pechota as to whether a contest should go to Legal, he said he had not, and said he was unaware whether Pechota had been through any such training.

Part of Weed's job was to supervise Pechota.  When asked when a contest should be run by legal, Weed said if it were risky or dangerous, but it was ultimately Robin's decision, and he did not know what parameters she was working under.

Weed said he thought at the time the Wii contest was typical of the things they did at KDND, the "last man standing wins" was the kind of thing they did all the time.
Weed testified that he thought the Wii contest was a "simple giveaway," a "simple contest," and so did not need to be cleared with legal.

Weed said that it was Pechota's job to draft rules of the contest and they were supposed to be posted on the web, and material terms would be read on the air.  Material terms included the date, time, place of contest, how to enter and how to win.  he did not see the rules until after the contest, and Pechota's testimony was they had never been posted on the web.   She also said there was a grey area about what a "simple contest" meant.

Weed had been getting good ratings for the station, and agreed that he wanted on air confrontation, that good radio is drama.

Weed then was asked whether he thought it necessary to train staff how to protect contestants medically, he did not based on their other contests.    When asked if the Entercom Corporation Power Point had any discussion of safety, he said no.  He said it was true, to a degree, that it was left to he and Pechota to subjectively decide what was dangerous.

See video of the Jennifer Strange story at .

See September archives for earlier trial coverage.