law enforcement

KN, p. 316 “International Travel, Law Enforcement, and Wheelchairs”

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Sheila and I love great movies and books that include foreign destinations. But, after a recent trip I wondered what challenges an injured protagonist might face when he/she is alone overseas, can’t walk more than ten feet on his own, and must get back home to testify in an important case. I realized that it depends upon when the story is told.

Back in the late 70s, a wheelchair bound acquaintance of ours wanted to take a plane to visit family, but couldn’t find an airline willing to accommodate her needs. Not one, unless she chartered a private flight. Waayyyy too pricey for her budget. She had been a frequent flier for business until a debilitating disease sidelined her. She was stunned by the hurdles she now faced.

She began a concerted campaign targeting the airline industry to make it mandatory to have at least one seat accessible to the physically challenged on each and every flight if requested. Eventually, there were federal hearings and public interest, but it took years for the changes to be made.

In 1986, Congress passed the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), which guaranteed that people with disabilities would receive fair treatment when traveling by air. All domestic and foreign airlines doing business in the United States were covered by the provisions of the ACAA. The airlines did not advertise the changes, feeling they would be inundated with frivolous requests from able-bodied people taking advantage of the law. It took many more years before the airlines saw that it was good business to be kind to unlucky vacationers and wobbly grandmothers. Amendments to the law were passed (as recently as 2023 in its latest version), helping to fulfill its intent.

In this computerized age, special requests for assistance must be made in advance on the airline websites based on level of need, and are digitally carried along with the passenger information until he/she gets back home again. It seems to be first-come, first-served as to how many special needs passengers are on each flight, and those people must be self-sufficient (or have a traveling companion) once on board.

The flight attendants will help with stowing crutches, but are not caregivers. I watched a senior citizen with a broken ankle enter a plane bound from Europe to the USA. Escorts supported her on both sides to get her to that point, but the aisles were too narrow for them to continue to give assistance. Flight attendants were about to send her back to the airport, when the woman said she would hold onto the seatbacks and hop her way to her seat a few rows away. Someone not as strong/determined would have needed a traveling companion.

Each airport/airline has its own system of delivering wheelchair people to the planes. In its best version, once checked into the system, a transport person is assigned to stay with you in the airport until your flight leaves – including getting you to restaurants and bathrooms. One International airport has a central location for all the wheelchair travelers from all the airlines.

An App tracks everyone by name and flight, then makes sure the travelers are delivered to the right place at the right time. At the other end, an escort takes the passenger through customs and baggage claim, then delivers him/her to the ground transportation point.

After you check in at the airport, and have your boarding pass in hand, one USA domestic airport transport gets you through security (and to the gate) then leaves you at the gate on your own, no matter how long the layover.

My own experience: I traveled to Portugal during the holidays and temporarily hampered by a wonky knee that couldn’t support all the walking, I needed a wheelchair to get through the four airports (each way). I took a taxi, a wheelchair, a plane, a moving lift cart, a van, more wheelchairs, two more planes, another wheelchair, and another taxi to reach my destination. I repeated all that on the return.

My new knee has titanium in it and set off the security alarms repeatedly. Pat-downs were required at every security screening and I was told a doctor’s note would not have prevented the process. I boarded one of the planes early because of the wheelchair protocols and settled into my aisle seat. But, just when I thought it was safe to close my eyes, a late-arriving harried traveler tripped and dumped his shopping bags on my head, then elbowed my head as he tried to regain his balance, knocking my glasses askew. I was none-for-wear, and couldn’t have jumped out of the way in any case, but to his credit, reported his blunder to a flight attendant. Twice.

Help was spotty, depending on the airport. At an International airport, I was taken on a tour of the terminal, could have gone shopping if I chose, was delivered to the wheelchair bathroom, and was asked about snacks and meals. In a different airport, the transport people left me at the gate, then forgot to come at the appointed time to wheel me down the football-field-long jet bridge to the plane. The gate attendant helped out.

When it was time to head home, savvy traveler that I am, I gathered my grit and my crutch and entered the first taxi for the homeward bound trip. Four airports, three flights, wheelchairs, and taxis later, I collapsed into bed after 22 hours of travel. A few days later, the bills beckoned and I’m pretty sure I paid the correct people the correct amount of money. I made it through the jet lag and I didn’t see any bodies laying around. It’s all good.

Moral of the story? Make sure you take this essential travel companion: a sense of humor.

If the protagonist in your book has to fly to another continent, he/she shouldn’t be expected to make any good decisions for at least 24 hours, and certainly not be expected to testify in court right away. Why not? The usual culprits involve brain fog, extreme fatigue, irritability, headaches, sleeplessness, and I can go on.

Of course, when the brain goes dead after the flight, those decisions could be comical. Or wickedly deadly. I could have used my crutch to trip a few people who behaved badly while I sat  in my wheelchair, smiling innocently.


*The Kerrians are fictional characters, but all the events in this post actually happened. Promise.



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KN, p. 308 “Tax Fraud”

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In 1789, Benjamin Franklin said, “Nothing is certain except death and taxes.”

235 years later? It’s still true.

April 15th is tax day in the USA. By midnight that day, the bill must have been paid, either via mail date-stamped by the Post Office, or online. After that, if you owe money and don’t send it in, penalties began to add up.

Government at every level imposes taxes in order to pay its bills. Roads, schools, civil defense, water control, government employees, and more…all get a piece of the revenue pie.

So what happens if you don’t file taxes? It is a crime not to pay and a definite no-no not to file. Since this is about money and the government needs more of it to run the programs, there are fines if you forget (or don’t want to pay), even jail time in certain cases.


  • Not filing taxes: 5% of the tax owed for each month the return is past due.
  • More than 60 days late filing: A minimum fine of $435. Maximum fine is 25% of the total owed. (Plus the amount you owe)
  • Not paying at all: 0.5% of the unpaid taxes for each month the outstanding taxes aren’t paid, plus interest. Ouch.

The government can choose to play nice with people “who have never done this before” and there are extensions available. BUT, not everyone gets a pass and only in rare instances.

Your house burns down? Better call the tax people and get an extension in writing. Those taxes are still due and penalties still accrue, but there might be a bargain to be struck if the agent is having a good day. You might be able to negotiate a six-month extension, but you still owe the money.


True story: a former colleague hired a tax firm to do her taxes – fill out forms and assess the amount owed. The firm underestimated the debt and overestimated the deductions. The IRS conducts random audits and contacted her one year – after she had left the paperwork to the firm for about five years in a row. Short version: the firm had done a lousy job. She wound up paying back taxes and fines of over $20,000. Yup. Four zeros. She appealed. She was allowed to pay it back over time, but she still owed all the back money. The firm did little to help her, citing that they based their figures on the information she gave them. Hmmm.


How long can you avoid filing taxes?
The powers-that-be have “six years to charge you with criminal tax evasion.” It can take as long as it likes to collect the money owed. Don’t forget, there’s interest charged on top of the penalties and money owed. Jail time is possible if they get you for criminal tax evasion. It’s a felony, folks. PLUS, you’ll probably get audited for years afterward.


What’s the difference between evasion and avoidance?

  • Tax evasion is fraud and means that you have used illegal ways to conceal income, with fines, penalties, and possible jail time (maybe five years) if found guilty. You lied on the forms. They can even charge you for the cost of prosecution.
  • Tax avoidance uses legal ways to reduce income with tax credits and allowable deductions.

WAIT!  What counts as under-reporting?
Not reporting cash ‘under the table’ for legal or illegal activities. Whether child-care or gun-running, income is income, according to the IRS.

Cryptocurrency transactions are taxable, so if you thought there were no rules, think again.

There is a special IRS office that pays for information leading to the arrest (and conviction) of major tax fraud perpetrators. Big bucks are at stake if money is hidden in illegal overseas accounts. If it involves a criminal organization, witness protection might be part of what happens next.


My advice? Pay what you owe. There are legitimate tax planners out there who can possibly help reduce your tax bill, but to evade altogether? Seriously bad idea if you’re allergic to jail and big fines.

*information source: the IRS.


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KN, p. 309 “Ammo Casings”

Ammo for Rifle

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It was sort-the-photos week and instead of delete, delete, delete quickly, it took me hours to get through a few albums at a time. Memories and smiles popped up to slow the process. I had forgotten a few of the events, but one from two years ago became the basis of today’s post.

My cousin passed away two years ago next month. For a variety of reasons having to do with a donation his Estate made to a major charity, his possessions had to be inventoried, down to the quantity and types of boxes of bullets. His best friend (a firearms expert and my cousin’s shooting buddy) and I elected to inventory his gun paraphernalia ourselves, in order to expedite matters. In addition to the firearms and hunting gear, the lower level of the house contained equipment for making his own reloads (basically recycled shell casings to make new ammo). It was a hobby that fascinated him and helped reduce the cost of ammo he used at the gun range.

I took photos of everything for the lawyers. I discovered that he had boxes and boxes of shell casings waiting to be worked on, but they were not the same in color or size, since he had a variety of firearms he used in competitions.

This is what I learned: Ammunition casings can be made from five different materials and there are benefits and drawbacks to each.

  • Brass
  • Steel
  • Aluminum
  • Brass-plated or Nickel-plated Brass
Ammo for Handgun

Each casing material acts differently, so my cousin chose his ammo to fit his activity – practicing at the range, competition shooting, or hunting.

Brass Ammo Casings are known for their consistency in firing, but they are also the most expensive. They are easy to reload and resist corrosion.

Steel Ammo Casings are cheaper than brass and made in many calibers (diameter of the ammo)

Aluminum Ammo Casings are also cheaper than brass and are lighter in weight.

Plated Casings are ammo with a base metal which has been electroplated with nickel or brass. The nickel plating makes it corrosion resistant. Some competitors prefer this version because of its ease of use in a handgun at timed stand-and-shoot competitions.

As shown in the photo above, ammo casings are part of the cartridge – not the same as the bullet section of the cartridge. The shell casings separate from the bullet and are ejected from the firearm as the bullet propels forward to the target.

The casings are what law enforcement find on the ground (where a shooter was standing) after shots have been fired in a crime. Patrol Officers and detectives hope that fingerprints can be found on the casings, and that the shooter can be linked to the crime. Careful gun owners pick up their ‘brass’ so as not to litter a gun range, with easily a 100 rounds at a time for each session for each guy/gal. Snipers pick up their ‘brass’ so as not to leave a trace of their having been in that spot. Drug dealers or gun dealers may be involved in a shootout and don’t take time to search for the casings left lying around.

Since the 1990s, there has been a national data base devoted to shell casings: NIBIN – The National Integrated Ballistics Information Network. Run through ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) the information is available to most major metropolitan areas  in the USA.

Firearms techs enter shell casing evidence photos into the Ballistic ID System, which are then matched/integrated with the database. Local law enforcement is able to search for matches in the system throughout the country, looking for similar crimes, where the casings were found, fingerprints and other information connected with the casings. Over 1,400 law enforcement districts use the database and funding is expanding, as NIBIN continues to demonstrate its benefits.


*Photos of cartridges were taken at conferences.

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