About a month ago we told you that both the Florida State Fire Marshal’s Office and Tampa Fire Rescue officials had been pushing for felony charges after their investigations into the really stupid radio station turkey fryer stunt last fall that set fire to a van and left a firefighter injured. But Hillsborough State’s Attorney Mark Ober has decided not to file charges against the people involved with M.J. Morning Show on WFLZ.
Mark Ober announced that instead of facing misdemeanor charges, Todd Schnitt, host of the “The MJ Morning Show” on WFLZ, 93.3 FM, and two other members of his crew will have to enter a pre-trial diversion program for first-time offenders.
Schnitt, the two other employees and station owner Clear Channel Radio will donate at least $15,000 to Tampa Bay area charities that support fire and burn victims.
They also will engage in a four-week public service campaign to support those charities. The campaign will include five recorded announcements per day voiced by members of the show and a live broadcast from an event sponsored by or benefitting such a charity that would include interviews with victims, parents, volunteers and firefighters.
The station also will provide links to charities on its website.
Each member of the show also will have to perform 10 hours of community service at one of the charities.
Despite skating on these charges and being grateful, the attorney for the radio station went on the offensive questioning whether the Tampa firefighter was actually injured at the scene. The attorney cites conflicting reports about how the injury occurred. Maybe I don’t have enough insight into this, but I am not sure how slipping and falling and pulling a hose line are mutually exclusive. But according to WTSP-TV reporter Mike Deeson, the State’s Attorney report backs the claim from the lawyer. Deeson also says at the end of the video above that Tampa Fire Rescue officials who previously had gone public with their complaints about Ober’s handling of the case have now been “muzzled”. Here’s more:
While the WFLZ radio personalities were worried about being arrested for arson the morning of the fire, State Attorney Mark Ober says while these actions were irresponsible outrageous and offensive, it does not fit the legal definition of arson. However, Ober says it does violate the Hillsborough County Ordinance for open burning without a permit, which is a second degree misdemeanor.
We asked M.J.’s attorney, John Fitzgibbons, if this had been a John Doe, would the outcome be the same? He said, “Absolutely.”
And while internal memos show the program director of the radio station said people will either laugh or die, so it will be good on TV, Fitzgibbons and the Clear Channel attorney have been saying it was a waste of time to pursue criminal charges.
However, the State Fire Marshal’s Office disagrees. John Corbett points to the fact that a Tampa firefighter was injured in the incident. Corbett says it is not a waste of time to investigate any time a public safety official is injured.
But Fitzgibbons questions whether the firefighter was really injured. He says, in one report, the firefighter indicates he was injured while pulling out the hose. Another he indicates a different injury, which is inconsistent. In addition, Fitzgibbons says there is a video that exists that indicates the firefighter wasn’t injured. The State Attorney report agrees with Fitzgibbons.
And while the report does note a history of M.J. fire-related incidents since 2002, Fitzgibbons says his client and the station did nothing wrong. He says radio stations have been engaged in stunts for years and he maintains WFLZ took precautions, but something went wrong.