Friday, 5/29, newsradio 770 Albuquerque, reports that New Mexico is on the alert for copkillers who have escaped from a Colorado town.
Saturday, 5/30, the assignment editor at ABC News wakes me. He is surprised that I am aware of the story, as if it just hit the wires. A quick check of the OAG flight guide tells me that I've missed the morning puddle-hopper. I decide to drive up with the camera crew, and phone them to arrange a rendezvous place, convenient to a McDonald's where I can get coffee and a breakfast burrito.
In my car, I phone the morning assignment editor at our affiliate KOAT-TV, to get a phone number for the police in Cortez, Colorado, to find out what KOAT has already covered, and where the satellite truck is located. I figure that by the time we get to Cortez, we'll only be able to make one or two shots before we feed our material to ABC Weekend News.
The morning editor explains that she will be pulling the SAT truck back to Albuquerque because the truck operator's girlfriend, who has come along for the ride, is the weekend anchor, and needs to return to the station. This is why the network pays me, I think to myself, as I offer her various options for getting the anchor back to New Mexico, while leaving the SAT truck in position.
I get as much information as I can from the police and the hospital in Four Corners. One police officer shot and killed, two sheriff's deputies in stable condition in the hospital, three suspects at large.
After four or five hours of driving, we arrive in Cortez, where we shoot an interview with Bill Ray, the city manager. "This guy just got out of his car and just hosed these people," he tells us. I feed his sound, KOAT’s footage of the crime scene, their aerials, and a photo of the fallen officer, to the network from the "Sat 7" truck on Gstar 4, 11 upper.
We pursue this story for 3 days, until the network has had enough. The six or seven satellite trucks from Albuquerque and Denver will stay in the Cortez area through the funeral, which is scheduled for Wednesday.
I return home to work on a BBC documentary in Santa Fe, as the local coordinator.
Clear of the documentary, I return to Colorado June 4, this time for America’s Most Wanted. AMW affiliates with Fox, but there is no Fox presence yet in the Four Corners area. Freelance cameraman Ron Zimmerman, from San Antonio Texas, forged an alliance with CBS affiliate KRQE. Ron helped them by providing footage of a news conference, and KRQE obliged by providing a helicopter. We have the access to law enforcement, and KRQE has the helicopter. So, we arrange to fly Ron into the search area with a sheriff and a cop. AMW is not happy with this unholy alliance, but they are happy with our footage.
"I've got $12 left in my budget," Cortez, CO, Chief of Police Roy Lane tells the press at the evening briefing, noting that 35 agencies, and 200 law enforcement people (later to grow to 500), are now in the manhunt. "Is that before, or since the magic markers were delivered to you today?" I wonder out loud.
5th of June, 1:40 MDT, "Officer down," we hear on the scanners. "One in custody, one dead," we also hear. (But, in fact there was no arrest.) Ron is back in the chopper with KRQE's Bob Martin, a guy who is a reporter, cameraman, pilot, balloonist, and technician. Earlier in the day, I watched Bob shoot his own live shot. "Could you check my framing?" he begs a member of the press corps, before going live.
I follow the crazy chase on the ground with Warren Benjamin and Randall Gann, the next AMW freelance crew in, from Albuquerque. I call the San Juan, Utah, Sheriff's office to confirm the shooting. A dispatcher, in tears, tells me where the sheriff has been taken. Someone at the medical center tells me the sheriff is alive, in critical condition, but will not release his name.
We rendezvous with the KRQE satellite truck at a police roadblock. They go live, with the roadblock in the background. During the shot, a driver is seen opening his trunk. He spends the next several minutes face down on the ground, as officers unload a large quantity of narcotics from his car. Wrong place, wrong time for that guy.
Finally, we convoy to Bluff, Utah, where we feed our material on Galaxy 3R, 23G. I break the Benjamin crew for some rest when they are relieved by the Sam Prigg crew, in from Salt Lake City.
That evening a Fox SAT truck arrives in Bluff. There are now 14 uplink trucks in SAT City. Five porta-potties now grace the media village, and an area is set up for news conferences conducted by San Juan County Sheriff Mike Lacy. Notable among the trucks are KOB-TV, Albuquerque, which is white and has no markings. Marty, the truck operator explains that the brand new truck was in the body shop, ready to be painted with the logo, and peacock, when they were called up to Four Corners. Marty had to peel off the masking tape, and drive. Another is the black longbed from Salt Lake known as "Death Star." It seems to have the crankiest staff aboard.
The long hours, and the competition make SAT City seem like a scene from the TV series "Quantum Leap," in which Scott Bakula finds himself in different times and places, and must adjust.
(LEAP!) "Who do I throw it to?" asks a reporter doing live shot after live shot for Fox News.
(LEAP!) "I was in harm's way, but I lucked out," declares Steve Wilcox, a social worker from Blanding, Utah. "I saw a man in fatigues, camouflage, he had a rifle pointed at my head. I heard a shot."
(LEAP!) "Our coordinates are T5, 11," the uplinker says.
(LEAP!) In the True Value Hardware, a field producer shops for a sweatshirt. On the next shelf is a bin of brightly colored ruffled underwear for women. "Ooh, date panties!" she tells her crew. A revelation reserved for those who've traveled long hours and many miles together.
(LEAP!) Sheriff Roy Lane, "I have no idea what the motive was," and, "They’re outdoor people, not bed & breakfast type guys."
(LEAP!) Art Hutchinson, Park Supervisor, "I got that sinking feeling, I was in trouble…. I heard, pow, pow, like the 4th of July. I was being shot at."
(LEAP!) In the rental car, there is a bag left by a reporter from the Farmington Daily News. Notable in the outside pockets are a pack of Camels and an unlikely combination of audio tapes--Eric Clapton and Leonard Cohen.
(LEAP!) "You want a what? A poached egg on that? And a chopped beef sandwich to go? Do you want it to come up with the rest of your order?" asks the waitress at the Old Tymer's Restaurant in Blanding.
(LEAP!) "I can get you up in the helicopter to see the infrared device tonight, and out to the Navajo trackers tomorrow," says Chris Kramer, who handles emergency management for the Utah Department of Public Safety.
(LEAP!) A freelance TV field producer returns to New Mexico, to work once more on the BBC documentary.
In Four Corners, Dale Claxton, Cortez PD,
is dead. Wounded are Jason Bishop and Todd Martin, Montezuma County, CO,
Sheriffs, and Kelley Bradford, San Juan County Sheriff. The fugitives are
identified as Alan "Monte" Pilon, of Dove Creek, Colorado, and Jason McVean,
of Durango, Colorado. Robert Mason, of Durango, is dead of a self-inflicted
gunshot wound. His body was found surrounded by pipe bombs.
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