Off Limits

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas: No, not because the City and County Building resembles a rancid birthday cake, its garish lights illuminating the world's most bizarre--but secular, and thus lawsuit-proof--nativity scene, with the Two Wise Snowmen flanking the stable holding Baby Jesus. And not because the dailies are competing to see who can put the cutest-kid-seeing-Santa pictures on their covers, or because Park Meadows shoppers are fighting over parking spaces as rabidly as they fought over Tickle Me Elmo dolls last year.

No, we know December 25 is fast approaching because JonBenet Ramsey, who died sometime late on Christmas last year, is all over the news again, as media outlets battle to be the first with their one-year retrospectives. The Globe, whose antics last January inspired the Rocky Mountain News to stop referring to itself as a "tabloid," is already out with its thirteen-page investigation on the "Death of an Angel" (complete with actual interviews, not just with Boulder District Attorney Alex Hunter, but also with former Santa Bill McReynolds, now in hiding at a new home in New England). And the New York Times jumped the gun (or garrote) last Friday with James Brooke's "Bungled JonBenet Case Bursts a City's Majesty." The Times piece inspired an instant response from Fleet White, the oilman-resident of the once-majestic city who's a former pal of John Ramsey. (White was with John Ramsey when he found JonBenet's body in the basement of the family's Boulder home on December 26.) "We request that Boulder be given the opportunity to enjoy this sacred season in peace," White and his wife wrote the Times, "without interruption from anyone who intends to erode our community's privacy and exploit our misfortunes for the purpose of profit or personal gain."

Fat chance. The media's already dreaming of a White Christmas--and excerpts of his letter wound up in Brooke's Saturday story, which led off with Friday's standing-room-only press conference at which Boulder police commander Mark Beckner, the new lead investigator on the Ramsey case, introduced his team and revealed that the Ramseys are still under the "umbrella of suspicion." If White really wants to be left alone, he'd better hope Beckner never makes an arrest. Wayne Wicks, who's been coordinating the media consortium at the Oklahoma City bombing trials, late last month polled news organizations to determine if they'd join a similar consortium should the Ramsey case ever go to trial--and the response was overwhelming. "Here we have 168 killed, and we have 74 news agencies," Wicks told the Times. "Here we have JonBenet, and in one week we have 160 agencies."

And plenty of stories. This week Boulder shut up Sergeant Larry Mason--who was booted off the case after ten days, allegedly because he'd leaked info to the media--with a $10,000 payment; in return, Mason won't sue Commander John Eller, who had led the Ramsey team until this fall, when Boulder police chief Tom "Next Question" Koby took him off the case. Eller has already announced that he'll be retiring from the Boulder force after the first of the year; he'll precede his chief out the door by several months, since Koby announced last month that he'll be leaving his position by the end of 1998. The day after that announcement, Koby's troops gave him his second no-confidence vote of the year.

Deep in the heart of Texas, Koby's mentor, former Houston police chief Lee P. Brown (whom Koby quoted at a press conference back when Koby was having press conferences), won a mayoral runoff Saturday. Could Koby have his eye on warmer, less majestic climes? Next question.

Give 'em enough hope: Robert "Smilin' Bob" Peiser, the "turnaround artist" who over the past year has taken Western Pacific Airlines into a financial nosedive, was a veritable Cheshire cat at last week's "fly or die" hearing at U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Peiser had good reason to wear a grin--it was obvious from the start of the eleven-hour hearing that U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Sidney Brooks had no interest in playing the part of the bad guy and pulling the plug on Smilin' Bob's cash-sucking carrier. As he has throughout the airline's tortured bankruptcy, Brooks repeatedly asked creditors' attorneys if they really thought it would be better for them if he turned down a dubious bail-out plan and "let everything collapse tomorrow." Then Brooks proceeded to give his blessing to an incredibly risky life-support plan that will keep the airline alive--barely--for at least a few more days.

That salvage plan calls for Smith Management Company of New York to dump $10 million into Westpac--cash that will disappear immediately to pay overdue aircraft leases and day-to-day operations costs like jet fuel and employee salaries. That'll give Westpac a few days to miraculously revive itself through Smith's and Peiser's financial wizardry. But even with the $10 million infusion from Smith, Westpac's own projections show the airline with negative cash flows by this coming Monday. And as local aviation consultant Mike Boyd points out, "Judging from the fact that Westpac's projections are about as reliable as Mexican election returns, they're probably going to run out of cash sometime before that."

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