Sunday, June 25, 2017

Fools and Drunkards

One of the toughest things for a reporter to do is speak with a victim’s family.

During my five years as a police reporter in the Poconos, I had to interview—or attempt to interview—people who had lost their loved ones due to fires, crashes, or crime.

It was a grim business, obviously, since answering a stranger’s questions about a deceased or injured family member was the very last thing that people wanted to do.

I tried to be sensitive to their suffering, but I always felt like a rat for intruding on their grief during one of the worst moments of their lives.

Some people told me to go to Hell, hung up on me or ordered me off their property. But there were others who willingly answered my questions.

One man, whose father had committed suicide by burning their house down, shook my hand, and, with tears in his eyes, actually apologized for not being able to speak to me. I didn’t know what to say to him.

I got a little better at approaching people as the years went by, but it was never easy. And there was this one time when something totally unexpected happened.

It was a quiet Sunday afternoon in Stroudsburg, Pa. circa 1991. I was at the Pocono Record’s old Lenox Street building when the scanner went berserk, erupting with all kinds of signals for mayhem.

I listen to the windstorm of police and fire codes and realized that someone had either fallen or jumped nearby into McMichael Creek.

The dispatcher was calling the police, the fire department, and—most serious of all—a MedEvac helicopter for the flight down to Lehigh Valley Medical Center in Allentown. This was nasty.

I raced out the door fully expecting to meet up with Bob Allen, the county coroner, and get the lowdown on the victim.

The scene was so close to the paper that I’m not even sure if I took my car. But how ever I got there, I ran into the middle of all the confusion looking for eyewitnesses.

Man Overboard

And then I saw her.

There was a rather tough looking woman in her fifties standing near a police car and I immediately sensed that she knew the victim—wife or girlfriend, and she could give me some good material for my story.

I took a deep breath. There was a strong possibility that she’d blow up, call me all kinds of horrible names, and maybe even attack me. But I had to at least try to get an interview. So, I walked up to her.

“Excuse me, miss,” I said softly. “I’m sorry to bother, but I’m with the Pocono Record and I wanted to ask you about the man who fell into the creek—”


He’s an asshole!” she shrieked and then promptly stormed away.

I stood there in shook. People usually tell me how kind and considerate the victim had been. Was this any way to talk about the dearly and very recently departed?

And then I looked into the police car and saw a man, also in his fifties, soaking wet, handcuffed, and grinning like an idiot.

That was the guy, the one who had gone into the creek. But he wasn’t dead or even hurt in any way. He seemed to be the only one having a good time.

The cops said he and his lady friend had been drinking rather heavily at a nearby rat hole of a bar when for reasons unknown he threatened to jump into the creek.

She waved him off, though, so he promptly made good on his promise-diving into some rather deep and turbulent waters and earning himself a ride to the county jail in the process.

I went back and told me editor what had happened and he decided that we would give the story very little play—nothing more than a blotter item—to avoid inspiring copycatting nitwits.

I was a little concerned about suppressing the news, but I think he made the right call.

When I went to the local YMCA the next morning to work out, I mentioned the incident to some of the guys in the locker room and they all laughed.

“What a story!” one of them said.

For the record, that was a very stupid stunt that wasted time, money and energy, and potentially diverted the first responders from a real emergency.

But that was one hell of a quote.

8 comments:

Ron said...

Wow Rob, I was literally RIVETED to your every word of this post! I can't even imagine what it must have been like to have to ask questions during these moments in people's lives. I'm sure you were very sensitive to their grief, but at the same time trying to get the information you needed to report.

I bet you learned a lot during your time as a reporter.

Excellently written, buddy. I could so see you writing for a crime story series or even a movie!

Have a super week!

P.S. I alway enjoy the photographs you use in your posts!

Rob K said...

Hey, Ron, thanks so much! Those were some crazy times.

It was a tough job and an even tougher place to work, but despite all that I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.

As far as a crime series or a movie--from your mouth to God's ear!

Take care, buddy!

A Cuban In London said...

You really drew me into the story. Thanks. That was a lovely yarn. :-)

Greetings from London.

RECOMENZAR said...

Nice blog
A hug from Miami

Rob K said...

@ACIL--Thanks so much, my brother! My brain keeps churning out these old memories.

Rob K said...

@RECOMENZAR: Thank you@ And a big hug from Brooklyn!

CrystalChick said...

Sounds like a difficult job, but with a few funny situations in between. Great quote. I often think just that when reading some political news these days... he's an ... oh, never mind. hehe
Nice to be reading some of your writing again... I drift in and out of blog land too much, I know, but enjoying it again right now.

Rob K said...

Hey, Mary, how's it going? Great to hear from you!