Negative publicity is never good for the tourism industry on St. John – especially when that publicity is not accurate.
News about a recent crime on St. John was featured in a syndicated column titled World Watch in the Sunday, September 10, issue of the Chicago Tribune. The column, written by freelance writer Larry Habegger, reported on the brutal beating of a tourist from Chicago in early August — and the alleged hate crimes reported on St. John during the summer of 2005.
However, some statements made in the column are entirely false, and may cause tourists to think twice about vacationing on St. John.
Information Incorrectly Reproduced
“Youths are known to loiter in the area, near the Quiet Mon Pub in Cruz Bay, and two years ago another tourist was attacked there,” the column stated, in reference to the area where the tourist was attacked in early August.
Habegger got this information from a St. John Tradewinds article, the author said via e-mail.
“The reference to another crime in the same area two years ago came from your own story in the Tradewinds published August 21,” said Habegger.
Although the St. John Tradewinds story did not specify whether the victim in the 2002 incident, a local man, was a resident or tourist, the reference to that incident said the man was beaten in the area of the Texaco in a daylight attack.
Habegger was notified of the recent brutal beating of a tourist by a St. Thomas resident, he said in his e-mail response to questions from St. John Tradedwinds after the column was published.
“My track to this information began with a St. Thomas resident informing the Chicago Tribune about the incident,” said Habegger via e-mail. “I followed up and spoke to him and got information from him as well as going online and reading stories and letters to the editor in Tradewinds and onepaper.com.”
Habegger continues his column by discussing the racial tensions that have affected the island since alleged hate crimes occurred last summer.
“Trouble has been brewing on St. John for the past year since an alleged hate crime rape was reported,” Habegger wrote in his column. “The suspect and alleged victim, a local business owner and his neighbor, had been feuding for some time. Recently, the suspect was convicted of the crime based on the victim’s testimony, and the tensions in the community continue to simmer.”
Despite the inference of Habegger’s World Watch column, no one has ever been arrested for the alleged August 2005 kidnapping and rape of East End resident Esther Frett.
St. John businessman Bob Sells was recently convicted of aggravated assault and battery and racial intimidation after he was alleged to have “bumped into” Frett in June 2005.
Sells was sentenced in August to two years in prison with all but four months suspended and was given credit for 23 days served.
Sells was never identified as a suspect in the alleged rape of Frett.
Habegger likely misinterpreted reports, he said.
“I must have misinterpreted the reports on this because of the six-month sentence,” Habegger explained in his e-mail response — in an apparently inaccurate reference to the sentence Sells received.
Habegger has been writing World Watch since 1985, according to his e-mail. The column is self-syndicated and currently appears in four major U.S. newspapers and on the internet at www.worldtravelwatch.com, according to Habegger.
The column is geared toward helping travelers make smart decisions, according to Habegger.
“I wrote an item about the incident (on St. John) because it is the kind of thing that tourists planning trips there should know about,” he said in his e-mail. “Knowing the dangers and risks in a place makes for smarter, safer travelers, and that’s the idea behind my column.”