Friday, July 26, 2013

First Time For Everything

I've been in the news business a long time. In almost 30 years of covering breaking news, I have never been completely denied access to a crash scene. I've spent countless hours waiting for access but today was the first time I was prevented from gathering video of a crash scene, even after the gathering of evidence at the scene was complete.

I've been to hundreds of fatal crash scenes. I've seen a grown man break down and sob like a baby upon learning his mother was dead. She had been trapped in the car for a long time. Firefighters tried so hard to free her while EMS worked to keep her alive. She was the victim of a drunk driver. That drunk driver was her son. She was a passenger in his car when he crashed.

More recently I gathered video on one side of a street as a witness told police two cars had been racing before the crash. Then I crossed the road to hear a young man swear to an officer he had no idea how the car he was driving crashed and ended up almost inside a nearby variety store.

I've spent countless hours waiting patiently in my vehicle as officers performed every detail of recreating a crash scene, piecing together every tiny aspect, photographing ever piece of scattered wreckage. I have waited for 5 or 6 hours and this is exactly how it should be. Police have an important job to do. People's lives and justice hangs in the balance. At the end of the day the job they do is much more important than the job I do.

Typically at some point after all the measurements have been taken, after all the positions have been mapped out and all the evidence tagged, the field work is done. It is usually at this point and this point only, that the media is granted access to gather video and photos before the vehicles are loaded on tow trucks and removed from the scene. This is not a right guaranteed under law. It's a sort of give and take, a partnership if you will, police working with the media to keep the public informed. 

We help them spread various safety messages like Don't Drink and Drive, Don't Text and Drive, Speed Kills,  Buckle Up and Live, to name a few. I've had officers reach into a vehicle and lift out an open bottle of liquor, placing it on top of the wreckage, a clear and vivid image that sticks with many in the community. The driver still has their day in court but sometimes it is so obvious that Media Relations Officers give interviews immediately following the crash to say they suspect drinking or excessive speed played a factor in the carnage. It's a message we all need to hear.

Of course behind every fatal collision lies a slew of devastated family members, those left behind with more questions than answers. Did someone cross the center line? Was alcohol a factor? Does the damage indicate extreme speed may have played a role? Was everyone buckled up? The pain they go through is something most of us cannot imagine. Sometimes the answers are not clear. The closure never comes. I am so sorry for your loss.

Friday's double fatal crash just outside of Hamilton was a first for me. I waited by a road block as darkness turned to daylight and officers continued to gather the necessary evidence at the crash scene. I wasn't alone. Four other media outlets also waited patiently for access. We were all very shocked when tow trucks arrived and the vehicles were loaded up, the road was swept and cleared of debris by the tow truck drivers and still no access was given the media. 

I was even more shocked when Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire arrived. He agreed to an interview and used that media appearance to appeal for witnesses. Please call if you saw anything at all that might help them. My first thought was this. Perhaps if media was allowed access for photos or video and then shared those with hundreds of thousands of viewers, it may jog someone's memory. They may come forward and say "I saw that vehicle down the road just before the crash and it was doing this or that." 

In closing I need to stress I have no information regarding the cause of this morning's fatal accident. Police have said they will be checking all possible causes. It is far too early to pin these things down. Officers will be working for weeks looking at all the evidence. I will be back on shift tonight at eleven. Please drive safely. Let's not meet by accident.

Note: This is not about photos or video of victims. We do not show those things on TV. All video I gather is vetted and approved before use. We typically do not show graphic images of victims.

UPDATED: A 17-year-old from Hamilton had been drinking with friends before he got behind the wheel and ended up in car accident that killed him and a 42-year-old father of three, the teen's friends say.