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Finding a shared flood fury

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I'm feeling John McCusker's pain right now.

The name's not familiar?

Let me acquaint you.

McCusker is a photographer for the Times-Picayune of New Orleans, a newspaper caught in the eye last year of Hurricane Katrina. The paper and its staff were among the heroes of the vicious storm as they continued performing their essential task of disseminating information and telling powerful stories while the city was under the siege of its worst natural disaster.

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Among and at times above that incredible body of work was McCusker's art.

He was the only member of the Times-Pic's photo staff to travel throughout the city with the paper's top reporting team. The news group even stayed at McCusker's mother's house on occasion. Their work stands out as pure poetry in a time of such horror and human tragedy.

So what's that got to do with me?

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A couple weeks ago, McCusker apparently snapped.

On Aug. 8, New Orleans police reportedly saw McCusker driving erratically through the city and tried to pull him over. As they did, he allegedly hit several parked cars. He then rolled down the window and said several times, "Just kill me, get it over with, kill me," according to a police account.

Authorities later said they believe this was a case of suicide by cop, in which he was trying to end his life by having police do it for him.

The reason for McCusker's extreme angst, if you haven't already formulated a pretty good guess, was that he had just found out his insurance company was coming up short in helping him rebuild the home he owned that was devastated by Katrina. Co-workers said he had been distraught and recently taken a leave of absence while undergoing therapy. (McCusker is recovering after undergoing psychiatric evaluation).

Now before you get ready to call 911 don't get excited.

I'm not suicidal.

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And I'm not trying to equate the flood damage we in the Lehigh Valley and northwest New Jersey recently suffered with the plight of the Katrina victims.

But I do know where McCusker's coming from.

I know how it feels to turn to places you thought you could depend on for help only to get empty stares. I know how it feels to seek answers from insurance companies and mortgage brokers and the federal government and do-nothing local legislators only to get a one-way ticket to voice-mail hell.

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Jeff Cox is an award-winning freelance writer based near Easton, Pa. He has spent nearly 20 years in the news business, working as both a writer and an editor. His freelance work has appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, CNNMoney.com, (more...)

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