Monday, August 25, 2014

171.4 - Clown Award: John DeLeonardis, owner of the Delsea Drive-In in Vineland, NJ

Clown Award: John DeLeonardis, owner of the Delsea Drive-In in Vineland, NJ

Now it's time for one of our regular features, it's the Clown Award, given as always for acts of meritorious stupidity.

The winner of the Big Red Nose this week is John DeLeonardis, owner of the Delsea Drive-In theater in Vineland, New Jersey.

The incident involved occurred earlier in August, but the news is just getting out now so I figure this is still time-appropriate. So it was that a couple of weeks ago, 16-year-old Ben Weidner and a group of friends went with his parents to watch a movie at the drive-in.

Ben has Type 1 diabetes, often called juvenile-onset diabetes, celiac disease, also known as gluten intolerance, and various food allergies. As a result, he, as type 1 diabetics and sufferers of celiac disease often do, carries with him an emergency kit in case his blood sugar drops suddenly or he has an allergic reaction, either of which could be life-threatening. In this case, the kit contained insulin, an EpiPen, a juice box, and candy to eat.

The Delsea Drive-In wouldn't let him in. The theater allows no outside food or drink of any sort at any time, no way no how, even if it's to head off a potential health emergency. So Ben's emergency bag was declared "contraband."

Ben's father, Phil Weidner, argued with DeLeonardis, but the theater owner was unmoved. "No food. No drink. Bottom line," he said.

DeLeonardis later made the unsurprising but still-asinine claim that if he allowed emergency packs in, "They," that is, all people, "will abuse it." That is, suddenly everyone will claim to have diabetes and want to bring in their own food and drink - and, I would assume, their own insulin and EpiPens.

John DeLeonardis
He also insisted that revenue from the concession stand is what keeps the place open and that several diabetic- and celiac-friendly foods are available for sale there - which of course there was no way to know until after you got in the theater. That claim also ignores two salient facts: The food at a concession stand is harder to measure for safety or effectiveness in the event of need and more importantly, the kit is intended to head off an emergency, and with some reviews of the theater complaining of half-hour-long lines at the concession stand, relying on that doesn't seem a reasonable alternative.

Interestingly, a similar event occurred in April at the Lakewood Ranch Cinemas in Lakewood Ranch, Florida.

16-year-old Ryan Symens, newly-diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, was carrying his emergency kit, consisting of testing equipment, glucose tablets, insulin, an emergency injection called Glucagon, a pack of Kleenex, two 4-ounce juice boxes, and two protein bars.

He was stopped by a manager who refused him entry to the movie, claiming allowing him in would be "unfair" to the other customers. Exactly how it was unfair to them for Ryan to have diabetes remains unclear.

So it was a similar incident. Except this time, theater management later apologized and said they would revisit the policy for patrons with medical conditions, saying "Obviously a diabetic situation is a medical issue that needs specific handling." They chose to not be jerks about it.

In fact, it's possible that banning such emergency packs is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. For example, in 2003, the DOJ reached a consent agreement with Clear Channel wherein the company promised to not discriminate against diabetics who need to bring diabetic supplies and their own food into concerts run by a corporate subsidiary. (This actually meant they agreed to stop discriminating, but consent decrees do not require any admission of guilt, so it was phrased the way it was.)

Getting back to this week's clown, DeLeonardis says the theater is a private business and he has no plans to change his policy forbidding outside food.

In fact, is response to the appeals of Ben's father, DeLeonardis said "Sorry your kid has an affliction but what can I tell you?"

What you could tell him, John DeLeonardis, but I don't expect you to, is that you will stop being a clown.

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