Fright Flight

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If only their heads had been in the sand.

The 1,600 or so ostriches on the Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch, about 35 miles northwest of Tucson, Ariz., spotted a hot air balloon looming in the distance in February 2002.

The flock panicked and stampeded, resulting in numerous deaths and injuries, as well as the disruption of breeding patterns. Along with the carnage, there was reportedly damage to about 7,000 feet of fence.

Ranch owner D.C. Cogburn sued the balloonists and testified that the incident cost him between $4 million and $7 million. But Pinal County jurors found in August that the balloon­ists had operated their craft within FAA regulations and were not at fault. Douglas Fitch, who represented the defendants, says Cogburn was offered $45,000 at a mediation session before trial but rejected it.

Fitch surmises that Cogburn lost the lawsuit because, although “jurors thought the balloonists had something to do with the stampede,” he says, “they also thought the balloonists acted reasonably.”

Louis Hollingsworth, who represented Cogburn, says via fax that disclosure and discovery deadlines pre­vented him from lining up available independent witnesses to counter testimony of defendants’ witnesses.

Cogburn, who claims to be deeply in debt because of attorney fees, decided against an appeal. He now gives tours of his ranch which is down to about 800 birds–and sells ostrich-related merchandise.

The Chopin Must Go On

Junior Pianist Balks at Beethoven, Pays Price After Performing Practiced Piece

Bryan O’Lone arrived at Carnegie Hall in June ready to play the 12-minute “Scherzo No. 2, opus 31,” by Frederic Chopin.

While warming up at the Young Pianist Competition of New Jersey according to a lawsuit filed in the Superior Court of Cumberland County, N.J.–he noted that the program had him performing Beethoven’s “Pa­thetique, 3rd Movement,” a much shorter piece. He spoke to a competition official and decided to play Chopin.

After O’Lone had played just a few notes, the visibly upset artistic director, Yelena Ivanov, reportedly walked onstage and scolded the youth, then lowered the keyboard cover to prevent him from playing.

The boy’s father was told afterward that his son would forfeit a cash prize from a previous competition, as well as a certificate stating he had played at Carnegie Hall. The family also was banned from a music festival in Italy for which they had already paid.

When the elder O’Lone protested, Ivanov’s daughter Lana, the exec­utive di­rector of the competition, reportedly replied, “Sue me.”

The family obliged and included her mother as a defendant in a lawsuit for defamation and breach of contract. Damages were unspecified.

Mario Iavicoli, the O’Lones’ attorney, says, “Bryan handled himself like an adult; the Ivanovs handled it like juveniles.”

Lana Ivanov, in a faxed statement, calls the lawsuit “irrespon­sible, frivolous and maliciously hurtful” and says the O’Lones’ festival expenses have been reimbursed.

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