As O's fade, fans could seek price relief


Right after Christmas, when the Orioles raised ticket prices by 15 percent - they had raised them 19 percent the year before - the men in the front office rationalized that shameless exploitation of fan loyalty by declaring it the cost of fielding "a championship-quality team."

Well, gee, Beave'. Does that mean we'll be getting a little rebate soon? A little rollback? A damaged-freight sale? Slashing those prices! Just like they do at Bill's Carpet Warehouse?

Look what's going on in Florida. Marlins season-ticket holders are suing the goofy ownership there for breach of contract, arguing they are not getting the championship-quality team they were promised when they put up their money.

I don't know if the same challenge could be launched here in Baltimore, but it sounds intriguing, albeit ludicrous. Just the same, to determine the feasibility of legal action, fans should consult an attorney who's had some experience with class action lawsuits. Peter Angelos, someone like that.

Who turned out the lights?

It took a few days, but here it is: the first claim that the power outage at Pimlico on Preakness Day was an act of God.

Jane Weaver, "child of God" in Conowingo, says the Almighty was trying to tell us, as he has done through the prophets for ages, that gambling is bad for the soul. (Or maybe he was trying to tell us that Pimlico needs that multimillion-dollar renovation Joe De Francis has been after.)

And then there was David Menis, baritone player with the Baltimore Colts/Ravens Marching Band and a former resident of the former Soviet Union. Asked what he thought of his first Preakness, with its huge infield crowd, he remarked dryly: "When this many people in my country get together, we change governments."

Seen and overheard the other day by a TJI reader, along Ellwood Avenue, near Patterson Park: A woman stood on rowhouse steps and shouted at a boy climbing a tree across the street, "Bobby, if you fall out of that tree and break your leg, don't come running to me!"

Helping after fire

Remember Beulah Wilbur? She's the West Baltimore school-crossing guard who was burned out of her South Gilmor Street rowhouse nearly three years ago by a fire that started in an adjoining property. After the fire, scavengers stripped Beulah's house to its ribs - taking copper pipes, plumbing and electrical fixtures, the storm windows, appliances and furniture. It became a dark, dank shell.

Beulah, a widow with limited income, had no homeowner's insurance - the company had canceled the policy a few months before the fire because of chronic break-ins - and no way to pay for the restoration of her house.

Still, she was determined to move back. She and her late husband had purchased the place more than 35 years ago. Beulah had cared for her invalid mother there during the last five years of her life. Beulah wanted to go home.

But, easier said ...

Though a lot of nice folks - starting with those at her church, St. Benedict's on Wilkens Avenue - have tried to help her, Project Beulah has had a lot of stops and starts. A contractor put on a new roof. Some midshipmen from the Naval Academy came aboard to clean up the interior. Mike Maher's home-improvement company, Project Doctor Inc., signed on to be the general contractor, pro bono. But Maher did not have enough donated materials to do the job.

Providing legal help, pro bono, was attorney Ken Macleay, an insurance specialist. He pressed a negligence claim against the owner of the adjoining rowhouse, where the fire had started early one morning in August 1995. During a recent jury trial in Baltimore City Circuit Court, Macleay called a series of witnesses to show that the likely cause of the fire was a faulty light switch that the homeowner should have had repaired. On Beulah's behalf, he sought $117,000 in damages.

"We offered to take $60,000," Macleay says, adding that the trial judge, Ellen M. Heller, had asked the defendant's insurance company, Allstate, to consider the settlement. Allstate refused, says Macleay, who later pared his suggested settlement to $45,000, the amount needed to make Beulah's house habitable again. Allstate didn't go for that, either.

The jury didn't feel the homeowner was negligent. Beulah lost. Macleay felt terrible about it. He believed he'd made a strong case for negligence.

"He's a wonderful man," says Beulah of her attorney. "I can't say enough good things about him, the way he tried to help me and all."

What now?

Spaghetti suppers at St. Benedict's probably. Fund-raisers for Project Beulah. We'll keep you posted.

Headstone in place

Rita Fisher has a gravestone. It's clearly marked and has been in place since late April. Carol, the TJI reader who reported otherwise in this space Friday, had been given incorrect information by employees at Druid Ridge Cemetery in Pikesville when she went to visit Rita's grave on Mother's Day. Turns out, Fram Monument Co. donated a marker several months ago. It was installed at the cemetery April 28.

Informed of the mistake over the weekend, Carol returned to the cemetery Monday and, indeed, found the stone that marks the grave of the 9-year-old girl who'd been abused and murdered. "I moved the Beanie Baby and what was left of my flowers from the wrong spot to Rita's stone," she says. "There was another bouquet of dried flowers there. Sorry about the mistake."

Me, too. I've already received some money from readers who, despite my request for more time to look into the matter, sent donations toward a headstone for Rita. I'll either return the money or, in the case of anonymous donors, make a contribution to the library at Winand Elementary School, where Rita had been a third-grader. Her surviving sisters suggested that.

Pub Date: 5/20/98

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