Going to the Boston Marathon is like going to Disney. Everyone is smiling and laughing except maybe the runners till they cool down. I am not going to let the sad events surrounding the 117th running of the Boston Marathon take away from the wonderful memories I have of covering it since 1967.
At the Boston Record American it was huge. There were a lot of photographers assigned. In 1967 women were not allowed to run, nor was there a wheelchair-sanctioned race. The crowds and amount of runners paled to what it has become today.
We covered the beginning, the Wellesley College coeds at their water tables, Heartbreak Hill in Newton, the finish line and the medical tent. One photographer was assigned to the photographer’s truck, which was usually a beat up flat bed truck. At least once the photographers had to get off the truck and push it out of the way. Many runners complained about the fumes from the truck. I never got that assignment.
Back then the Prudential Insurance was the sponsor so the race ended on the strip in front of the Prudential Tower. As the race would come down Commonwealth Avenue the runners would take the right on Gloucester Street and the truck would go straight down Commonwealth Avenue. At the finish line there were several photographers. A Boston motorcycle cop, Gene Lee, a great athlete himself would be assigned to grab our film of the finish and race it to our office in downtown Boston. Page One would be a photo of the winner. I worked the lab for my first Marathon.
The wire services set up a darkroom in a school right near the start of the race, which always began at noon. They would have a photo on the wires within ten minutes for the afternoon papers. I worked the lab for my first race. Katherine Switzer a college student registered for the race as K.V. Switzer and got a number. When Jock Semple a BAA race official saw K.V. was a woman he jumped into the start of the race and tried to wrestle her out. Ms. Switzer had put her hair up to disguise herself. Other runners blocked Semple from throwing her out. Don Robinson of UPI was the only photographer to get the shots. That caused quite a bit of grief for our photographer who was on the truck. Back then we did it ourselves. It was not a good thing to see a credit, which read AP or UPI photo. It would be five more years before woman were sanctioned.
My first outside coverage was in 1968. I was assigned to the starting line. I was given a Polaroid Camera, a stepladder, one of the wire services portable transmitters and instructed to find someone who would let me use their home phone to transmit the start of the race. I would only have one chance to get the photo, as Polaroid’s were not fast. I did get it and it was Page One.
I also had to get some feature photos of runners and bring back some stories to go with the photos. It was a lot of fun. I helped people taking photos of each other sometimes grabbing their cameras to take the photos so both the shooter and subject could be together. One year I met this couple, both UMass Amherst students who were going to run the race together. They told me they were inseparable. Within a year of the race they would be killed in a car crash. Although they were not married they were buried together. Because of my photos we covered the story.
I covered the finish many times. There was no yellow tape and I could roam wherever I wanted. I was at the finish line when the first wheelchair race was sanctioned. I had a shot of two runners racing for the 3rd & 4th position with one of them falling before he crossed the line.
Patty Lyons Catalano, a local favorite who everyone thought would win the Boston Marathon in 1981 was beaten by Alison Roe. It was unexpected. I was at the finish line when Patty was greeted by her sisters and the disappointment of not winning the race.
In 1982 I went into TV. The Boston Marathon was a huge event back then. We arrived in Hopkinton around 6:am the Sunday before the Monday race with thousands of feet of cable. It was at least a 12-hour day with many cameras being set up. We would be live through the early morning show on Monday, then the start and throughout the race. The only time I got in front of the runners is when I rode shotgun while John Premack ran the camera for live coverage of the race from a small pickup truck.
There were some funny times. Bill Rodgers a local race favorite would win the race four times. I went to his Melrose home one race morning then followed him to Hopkinton. There was a crew from Japan doing the same thing. We were driving west on the Mass Pike when the Japanese crew decided to pull up along side the Rodgers’ car to get shots, only problem Rodger’s car got off the ramp at Route 495 and they ended up going further west missing the exit. It was a very funny moment.
Johnny Kelly the elder who won the race twice and finished second seven times ran his 61st and last race in 1992. I was almost home when the phone rang. Joe Roche on the assignment desk for Channel Five realized at 630:pm we had no one at the finish line for Johnny Kelly. I raced back and got Johnny finishing the race and collapsing into his wife’s arms.
After many years of coverage I got some seniority and took the April school vacation week off to spend time with my family. It meant not covering the race but being able to watch it. We went to Newton, at the beginning of Heart Break Hill where a very festive group was watching.
Forty six years after my first Marathon, April 15, 2013 it all changed. I was sitting at the South Bay Mall at 2:50pm when I heard a Boston Police Officer screaming for multiple ambulances to Boylston Street he had 40–50 people injured.
At first I thought he said 71 Boylston Street which is down by the Boston Common. I figured a moving vehicle hit the people. Then it changed to 671 Boylston Street and I knew it was something to do with the Marathon, but I still thought a vehicle had struck the people.
Then it happened, someone said on one of the channels I was listening to it was an explosion, a bomb went off. I was yelling into the two-way radio to the station and trying to get around traffic through the South End of Boston to the explosion area. I got lucky and got behind some fire command cars and police cruisers. I shut the radios off, as I only wanted to concentrate on getting there safely. I knew we had crews at the medical tent. I figured we would be all set where the explosion took place.
I tried to park where I could see the top of the Prudential Tower where one of our receive sites for microwave was anchored. I knew I might have to feed tape or go live with my vehicle. When I finally parked on the island in the middle of Huntington Avenue I was very excited. I opened the trunk area to get my equipment out, had to change mic batteries as I forgot to shut it off the last time I used it and continued to shake. I knew my daughter Hannah was in Boston, but I also knew she should not be in this area.
Then my cell phone rang, it was Hannah and I lost it. I screamed at her “get the fuck out of the City,” and I said it several times. I was so happy to hear her voice.
I got my shit together and started to shoot video. Many were crying, scared and wondering what to do as the police were urging them to keep moving and get out of the area. I talked to some eyewitnesses, got video of lots of people hugging and crying. I got a shot of one injured runner.
I was never able to get into the explosion area. The police shut it down very quickly. I stayed on Huntington Avenue till 8:pm. I heard a call the police were going to a high-rise apartment building two streets form Revere Beach. There were several police departments there including, FBI, ATF, MSP, Homeland Security. They were there because at the Brigham & Woman’s Hospital there was an injured man who became a person of interest. He lives in this building. Finally after 11:pm the investigators left and I got to go home. At 2:30am the phone rang and I was asked to go back to Revere. There were some Tweets the investigation was continuing. I drove back, looked around, nothing and went home. I got another hour of sleep and went back to work.
Two days after the blast, on Wednesday, Jack Harper and I interviewed one of the “heroes” of the blast Tracy Munroe. She tearfully told us how she and her family left the area right after the blast. Then she knew she had to go back to help and ran back. She saw the Richards’ family. Martin Richards an eight year old was dead at the scene. She picked up his six year old sister, Jane and held her in her arms. She asked her name, said comforting words and held her until medical people came to help her. Jane lost one of her legs and her mother has a severe brain injury from the blast.
As Jack and I listened we both became teary eyed. After the interview I told her she reminded me of the teacher from Newtown, Kaitlin Roid who told her students as she hid them and listened to the gunshots, “I need you to know that I love you all very much, I thought that was the last thing they were ever going to hear. I thought we were all going to die.” She said she did not want the last sounds they heard to be gunfire.
Thursday after the explosion was calm until after ten that night. I received a call saying a police officer had been shot near MIT. I called it in and tried to go back to sleep. Just after 1:am, Nancy Bent on the desk called to get me going yelling cops are being shot at, bombs are being thrown and one of the suspects was dead.
I raced to Watertown where I would spend the next 16 hours. There were thousands of cops racing around from one lead to the next. The area was pretty much shut down and with all the vehicles racing around I decided to pull over so I would not get hit by one of them.
Around 4:pm my eyes were starting to close and I went home. My wife Debbie woke me up when the announcement came the second suspect was trapped in a boat in someone’s backyard. We watched until the press conference and the official announcement he had been captured and transferred to the hospital.
As a professional newsperson I am disappointed I did not get any compelling video but happy to have been a part of the coverage. I sat out Newtown and the Blizzard of 2013, due to an injury. I am glad I got to cover this awful event.
I am proud to say I work for the best local television station in the Country, WCVB-TV. We have a great team who worked many days and long hours together during this tragic event. We shared our grief and anxiety. Only WBZ-TV continues to cover the Boston Marathon locally. Several years ago it was decided not to cover the race live. From a business stand point it did not work anymore. It will be interesting to see what the stations and networks do next year.
Here is a link to compelling audio of the first 20 minutes after the explosion. The commanding office Yankee C2 is Dan Linsky of the Boston Police Department. Notice how calm and organized he is.
Here is the link to Diane Sawyer’s interview with Kaitlin Roig a couple of months after Newtown.
Since the tragic yet fascinating story on the news November 21, 2010 about Delvonte Tinsdale a 16 year old who is believed to have stowed away in the wheel well of a plane from Charlotte, North Carolina and falling to his death over the down of Milton, Massachusetts I have been thinking about my experiences at Logan Airport.
As a kid growing up in Revere, the planes were on a landing path over our house. Sometimes we thought the plane was coming for dinner. There was also a small airport in Revere we visited as a family to watch the planes landing and taking off.
Once in a while when my friends had nothing to do we would get on the train and go to Logan to watch the big planes coming and going. In those days you could watch people getting on and off the planes on the tarmac from a roof top balcony. I was there with my good friend Peter Tegan many years ago when Elizabeth Taylor landed. It was just after she left Eddie Fisher for Richard Burton while filming “Cleopatra.” To say the least, most of the people watching were not complimentary to her when she walked the tarmac although I doubt she could hear what was being shouted from where we were.
The first plane crash at Logan I remember had to be in the early 60s. The plane went off the runway into Winthrop Harbor; that stretch of water between Logan and Winthrop. Gene Dixon, one of the great photographers I worked with, told the story of hearing the first call and following a Boston Police Cruiser through the Summer Tunnel (there was only one tunnel in those days and it was two-way coming and going from Boston to East Boston). The cruiser was not sure the best access and went up and down the inlet streets of Winthrop and ended up on Dix Street where former Governor Edward King lived. It was a good access point from that side of the tragedy and Gene took whatever photos he could make from that distance. In high school after the crash one of my teachers, Mr. Millerick, talked about the crash and complained how many rubber-neckers there were trying to get a glimpse of the incident. Truth be known even back then had I been able to get there I would have been there.
When the Boston Fire Department struck fire box 612 you knew it could be something as that was the fire box number for crashes at Logan. There was a crash in the late ‘70s when an airplane coming in for a landing in the fog hit the retaining wall on Runway 33 Left, breaking apart on impact and bursting into flames. The day that happened I was doing an interview in Newton at the home of a widow whose husband had been shot through one of their windows as he watched TV. I was with Ed Corsetti (best crime reporter of his era) and we had no idea about the crash. We left the interview and turned on the AM radio to hear about it. It happened just before noon.
Gene Dixon once again was on the incident and he told the story of being on the Boston Commons with other photographers and hearing the Boston Globe desk calling their photographer on their two-way radio telling him about the crash. Gene left immediately raced to Logan, got through the gate and took a couple of quick photos and left so he could make our evening paper’s noonish deadline. As he told it, he raced to the scene, took a few photos and raced back to the paper. As he was driving through the Dewey Square Tunnel (now the Liberty Tunnel) the transmission on his car gave out. He jumped out of his car and hoofed it the rest of the way, probably about a mile, but he got in on time to grab Page One of the paper. He got a hundred dollar bonus and it cost him about a thousand dollars for the repair. The money really did not matter as it gave him something to joke about on such an awful story.
There was one survivor; a soldier by the name of Leopold Chinard from the Portsmouth, New Hampshire area. He died several months later as he was burned over most of his body. Kevin Cole was also at the scene and had some great images of a terrible crash. I got stuck taking photos of families lining up outside the South End Morgue to view the bodies for identification.
The night the infamous World Airlines Plane skidded off the runaway after an ice storm Gene Dixon was once again the first one there, raced out on the runway and got a great Page One photo. I was home in Roslindale taking a nap about 6:30 PM with the radios blaring in the background and I must have been counting the box as I remember lying there and saying to myself 612 and jumped out of bed and started heading for Logan. It was very slippery going and when I came down the ramp to the Tunnel I skidded over a lane or two before I made my entrance. By the time I got there I only went to the gate the plane was assigned to. I photographed the passengers as they came back to the gate via a bus.
There are two incidents that I was personally involved in and one of them was a Saturday in the late ‘70s. It was about 11am and I had just walked out of the photo department office to go to the newsroom when Tom Sullivan, the City Editor came running down yelling “everyone out, everyone out there is a plane crash at Logan!” I took off running down the stairs and racing to the scene. I was really moving and almost missed the ramp to the Xway North to take me to the Tunnel and Logan. In those days all there was blocking us from the runways at the South Gate was a sign and a guard. My friend from Channel Seven, Richie Suskin, and I arrived at the same time after racing to the scene. We whizzed past him so fast we must have made his head spin.
FYI, if you did that now a days you would hit a barricade and if you made it through that someone would probably shoot you.
We raced out to where a cargo plane was burning, trying to keep up with the fire apparatus racing to the scene. No one was bothering us, as everyone was too busy trying to save lives. When we got there, I watched Richie go to one side of the crash, being pursued by a State Trooper who was at the scene. I took many photos as the access was great, then got back in my car and followed an ambulance out since I knew they were in contact with the tower making it safe to cross the runways. All the other photographers were eventually brought out there by a Mass Port bus.
There is one more runway experience I remember very well. It was a weekday and box 612 was struck. All the media raced to the south gate to wait for the Mass Port bus. The bus would take us out to where there was a plane on the end of the runway. A plane had an engine fire and had aborted take off.
I knew my good friend Billy Noonan, a Boston Firefighter, was working and since he was the photographer with the arson squad he would be going to the scene. I said to a couple of the photographers, “In a few minutes there will be a little red car with its red lights on coming to this gate and I will be getting in it.” They just laughed at me. Next thing they saw was me with my thumb out and the car stopping and taking me to the scene. I got a really good photo showing the Mass Port ladder up, the plane with the escape slides deployed and the city of Boston in the background. It was a great photo of the incident.
A while later the bus with the rest of the photographers showed up. Everyone started taking photos but by then the ladder had been taken down and it was just a plane on the runway. Dick Hurwitz the AP Chief Photographer saw me and thought I had come on the second bus and was gleeful to tell me how happy he was to have gotten there before me. I laughed and said to him “take a look at tomorrow’s paper and remember what you just said.” I kicked butt with my photo.
FYI, recently the family of Delvonte Tinsdale filed suit against Charlotte, Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and US Airways.
Rollie Oxton, Pulitzer Prize Winner, my hero, mentor, friend and I got to work with him at the old Record American where I started in this business. Rollie was the King of his era. He cruised the streets of Boston for parts of 3 decades, always there when it happened.
Recently I made contact with his son David, the head of the art department at the Governor Dummer School in Byfield, MA. We have exchanged emails and now I get a chance to display some of his great images and talk about my hero.
When I was a kid growing up outside of Boston (Revere) and newspapers were an important staple of our lives, I got to see Rollie’s photos all the time. I would look at newspaper and daydream about being able to stay up all night and chase policemen, firefighters and be where the action was, just like him. Once when I was with my father riding in downtown Boston I saw him cruising wearing his trademark hat. I was thrilled to have gotten a glimpse of him.
In 1966 I got to join the paper where Rollie worked. He was a God in the industry. If Danny Sheehan of the Globe was Captain Midnight, Rollie was King Midnight. Globe people might disagree with me but I think Rollie almost always had the best pictures. They were great work friends and great competitors. Everyone knew and liked him. He knew them all, police, firefighters, pimps, prostitutes and a lot of the street people. Sometimes when I got to work his overnight shift driving around in the marked company car people would yell out “where is Rollie?”
Most of the other news photographers were in awe of him and everyone had a Rollie story about his greatness. Ollie Noonan, Jr., another great Boston photographer who died in Vietnam in a helicopter crash while working for AP had a great Rollie story. Ollie was working the overnight shift for the Globe and responded to a building fire on Commonwealth Ave., in the Back Bay. There was fire showing and a woman was on a balcony waiting to be rescued. He looked around and no Rollie. Wow, he thought he was finally going to beat the Master. Then the fire department throws their ladder to rescue the woman and who is standing next to him, Rollie. It just did not happen unless Rollie was there.
When I began Rollie was using a Mamiflex 120mm film camera. A machine shop had set up an adapter on the side of his camera, which gave he a toothpick like handle to maneuver. This handle would snap into grooves on the adapter. Each groove was representative of focus feet for the lens as most of the photographers from the 4/5 era zoned focused never focusing through the viewfinder. It must have worked, as his images were sharp as a tack.
He took so many great news photos, and he could do anything there was to do with the camera but his best stuff was breaking news. The day after the terrible Sherry Biltmore Hotel fire in 1963 he had a wrap around photo on the cover of the paper showing multiple ladders up to the building and people being rescued while others had their hands out the windows hoping to be saved. The Sherry Biltmore Hotel was at 150 Mass Ave approximately where the Berklee College of Music now stands.
I haunted him, begging to be able to ride with him and like myself he would rather be by himself. I was relentless in my request and started showing up on Wednesday and Saturday nights hoping to ride with him. Sometimes he would let me in the car and other times he would say “not tonight.”
One Sunday morning we were cruising through the Back Bay near Hereford Street with me babbling and Rollie listening to the radios when he yells out Royce Road, Royce Road, I think it is in Brighton but please look it up.
We were there in about 8 minutes; Rollie jumps out of the car, circles the parameter as I am still trying to get a shot and says lets go. I did not think he took a good photo but next day there it is a great shot of the body in front of the police cruisers headlights.
In the late 50s or early 60s, Rollie was assigned to take some photos of the homeless and street people hanging around the Boston Common. He took a photo of a person supposedly drunk on a park bench with empty bottles of liquor around her. Albert “Dapper” O’Neil a local politician found out the photo might have been set up and took on the Record American. He set up at their Winthrop Square building in downtown Boston. Dapper had a car with signs and a megaphone standing in the middle of the Square shouting out nasty’s about the paper.
I worked the photo lab for many years on Saturday morning and brought him in a coffee every week. One Saturday I walked in around 730 and told him there was a big fire on Tremont Street, the C. Crawford Hollidge Department Store was fully involved. It was opposite the Boston Common, he cursed as he ran out knowing he had been by there shortly before he came to the office. He must have been at the fire ten minutes, took a couple of photos, came back and owned page one.
One night after some civil unrest in the City I was assigned to ride with him so he would not be alone. We were driving around the South End and someone made a derogatory remark to him. Rollie got out of the car and had a conversation with the man as I stayed in my seat thinking we were going to get shot or something. He feared nothing.
Later in the overnight there was a fire in Roxbury. We both went and my photos sucked. I was tired and shot nothing of any interest. He took a couple of his images and put my name on the caption sheet so I would not look foolish.
The morning after the Guilded Cage explosion January of 1966, on Boylston Street in Boston’s “Combat Zone” he came into the office at the end of his overnight shift and the editor, Sam Bornstein asked him if he had anything good and Rollie replied no. He printed one photo, an overall of the destruction; another wrap around and Sam could not believe Rollie said he did not have anything very good.
Rollie did not get excited over many of his photos but the one of Paul Stanley rescuing a woman from the Charles River really turned him on and another one where several Boston Cops captured a suspect with their guns drawn from the opposite side of a fence he enjoyed.
On another occasion he comes back from his shift and prints a photo of a car fire on the Xway but this time he had the car exploding and people including firefighters running from the wreckage. He left a short caption and went home. As soon as the editors saw it they were on the phone to him asking for more information, he was so humble about his skills.
In the late 60s there was a short-lived riot on Blue Hill Avenue in Roxbury. It began with the taking over of a couple of welfare offices and ended with a group of angry folks running down Blue Hill Ave from Grove Hall destroying many mom and pop business who never recovered. Rollie was asked to start his shift early incase something happened and of course it did not happen till he got there.
He also knew how to make nice feature photos and got many good sunrise photos around Castle Island of morning fishermen. He worked Sundays so he did many Easter Sunrise Services. Another beautiful photo he made was a pushcart person moving his equipment into place early one morning. He knew how to use whatever light there was or they wasn’t. He could do it all.
Rollie had made a picture of his oldest daughter Louise in front of the fireplace at Christmas time when she was very young. A beautifully lite photo with the Xmas stocking hanging and the fireplace going. The funny thing about this photo it resurfaced every dozen or so years with a different name around Christmas time and always got a great display.
After Rollie retired I would see him and his wife at the Dunkin Donut at Bell’s Circle in Revere. It was a real treat for me and I hope for him. He died in 1984. Rollie is buried in the cemetery opposite the Nahant Police Station. He must still be listening to police calls.
His son David added some history for this blog and many photos of which I hope are properly displayed, as he was the best.
My father served in the US Army during WWII and was in both Europe and Japan. He was a member of the photo corps. While in Japan, he had his own Jeep and it had the words Marion Louise written on the side (the first names of my mother and oldest sister). My father died in October 1984. He was 73. He was born and grew up in Chelsea. He only attended school until the 6th grade. His father died that year, and he went out to work to help support his mother.
Please visit David’s website and Rollie’s grandson Timothy’s websites.
Following are several more photos and memories of Rollie. This blog was written with wonderful thoughts and memories.
A couple of weeks ago on my way into Boston to begin my shift I received a call from a source telling me somewhere in the City there was cemetery vandalism. The source knew the names of two streets but he was not sure of which cemetery.
He gave me the names of Birch & Fairview Streets in Police District Five and since I used to live nearby just outside of Roslindale Square I thought it was going to be easy to find. Problem was I could not find any police looking around and the only cemetery I knew of was in the Peter’s Hill section of the Arnold Arboretum. It as an old cemetery not used anymore but I drove where I should not have and checked it out. There was nothing there and BPD Info Services had not gotten any paperwork on it so I moved on to other assignments.
Here is where things get funny in what I do. I was sent to the Readville section of Boston to cover a story about the unauthorized use of a City fire hydrant to fill a pool with water. I was with reporter Rhondella Richardson and we were not having much luck in advancing the story. As we were leaving the area I noticed a cemetery and the sign on it read “Fairview Cemetery.” BINGO, this must be the place I was looking for several hours earlier. We drove through the cemetery till I saw one of the maintenance men and I asked if there had been any vandalism. He pointed me up a hill and said you cannot miss it.
He was correct, there was a monument originally erected in 1908 to commemorate the local heroes of the Civil War. It was a beautiful piece of bronze, which the vandals had knocked off its pedestal. The story itself is common nowadays but either way it was a terrible abuse of an historical monument.
Then last week I was visiting the Market Basket in Chelsea, MA., a local supermarket and as I was leaving (with an unneeded desert) there was this young boy probably around three, going out the electronic doors almost getting into the parking lot traffic. I looked around, yelled out who belongs to this kid and got no response.
I really did not know what to do. I was afraid to go up and grab the kid thinking some parent would see me near him and you know what happens next. From about 15 feet I called the kid and told him to follow me. He obviously knew to stay away from strangers and I knew to stay away from him. I sort of coaxed him into the front of the store signaling for a front end attendant from the store to come over.
A very nice young man took the kid by the hand to take him to the courtesy desk. On the way there a worker looked around and was able to spot what appeared to be his grandmother who had realized after at least 5 minutes she was missing her grandson. All ended up okay as she grabbed him by the arm and pulled him to her. I think he got the message.
Then Friday, same week I went to Malden, MA on a call about multiple bee stings. I was thinking if multiple people were stung it could be a story. I got there about 20 minutes later. The Cataldo Ambulance was parked and I saw the two medical people from the ambulance walking around the forested park and I thought they were still looking for victims.
Then I noticed a young boy probably ten or so sitting on the grass near the ambulance, holding a dog and crying his eyes out. I thought he was just hurting from the stings. There was an adult watching over him and I asked him if he was alright and all he could say is his other dog was lost, begging us to please find his dog, between awful sobs. It brought tears to my eyes as I know what it is like to be missing a pet.
He described the dog to me, a medium sized brown and white dog sort of like the one he was holding onto but different color and a little bigger. I started driving around and when I got to the complete opposite side of the park I saw three people holding on to a brown and white dog. I was so excited, got out of the car and asked if they just found it.
The nicest woman told me she found the scared and bee stung dog, called the local PD and got no help. I told her the little boy who lost it was up the other end and I raced back to get him. They were so happy and I brought one of the brothers back with me to get the dog. In the meantime the boys’ mother showed up, very upset and when she realized all was well she just walked around thanking everyone who helped.
It was a nice ending to a story that could have ended very different. Crazy things when you are cruising around.
Growing up in Revere in the 50s and 60s I was friendly with a lot of cops. Most of them never had to unholster their weapon. Probably a good thing as regular target practice was not a regular practice.
It was a hot summer day, July 4th I think, around 1980, no traffic, sun shining, about 8 in the morning. I was driving down Columbia Road on the way to the office. Columbia Road separates Roxbury and Dorchester sometimes it can be a dicey area. I looked up the street to the corner of Columbia Road and Quincy Street and saw this group of 3 or 4 teenagers flipping what I thought was a football. I smiled to myself thinking, “what fun.”
Then I saw a distraught young woman standing outside of her car crying and screaming and I knew it wasn’t a football they were tossing. Yep, it was her pocketbook going from hand to hand. I put the pedal to the metal in my “Vet” (not really I had a 1975 Buick Skylark) and began the pursuit for the bad guys. I activated my siren burglar alarm so they might think I was a cop and went flying after them.
At one point I could have crushed one of the perps against one of the pillars from the railroad bridge we were going under, but thankfully I had the presence of mind not to. The group ran into a big park trying to get away.
I pulled up on the sidewalk jumped out of my car and assumed the position I saw cops do on TV, crouched down using my car as a shield. I was ready to make my capture but first I had to catch them. I reached onto my belt, grabbed my pager and made believe I had a gun. I yelled, “HALT OR I’ll SHOOT”!
My mind was racing and thinking what am I going to do if they do stop?
BANG, I mean BANG a gun went off! “WTF, was that?” I was shocked; I knew I did not shoot anything and I thought I must be in a movie and even looked at my fingers, wondering how this happened.
Did I have some mysterious powers? I was looking to see if there was smoke coming out of my fingers like watching an old cowboy movie where you could see the smoke coming out the barrel of a weapon just discharged.
Still mystified, I looked around and to my right was a tow truck with the driver out on the side of his truck and his 45-caliber pistol in the air, which he just fired. Then he runs after the kids, picks up a large rock and throws it at them, hitting one of them in the back.
I was still in shock wondering what would have happened had he struck the thieves? I have no idea if he fired at them or in the air to scare them. I looked at him, waved and left, still shaking. I would guess he returned the pocketbook to the woman after he retrieved it when they dropped it.
I continued to the office, told several people in the newsroom the story and had them laughing. Next day in the photo lab wall was a photo of the Cisco Kid, with his sombrero on, his bands of bullets hanging from his shoulders and a picture of me inserted instead of Cisco’s face. It was really funny.
But being there for gun arrests was very unusual back then. Cops did not pull guns out frequently. I can tell you there were many news photographers who never got pictures of a gun arrest. I have been very lucky that way.
My first gun arrest was a few blocks from the office when we were downtown. I got to the capture of a robbery suspect at the corner of Devonshire and Milk Streets and they had the suspect over a car. All of a sudden, one of the cops lifted the gun up and I got the shot. Could I have yelled show me the gun? I forget. Page one though.
I had a streak of about six-gun arrests in less than six months back then. It started in Peabody when reporter Bob Keeley and I were driving back to Boston and on the State Police radio I heard a BOLO about an armed robbery. Within a minute or two a cruiser spotted the truck about a mile in front of us.
We raced to the scene. The cop ordered the driver out by gunpoint and I took many photos. I had taken some really good photos and Bob ended up doing a story on the capture. Works out the suspect did not rob anyone and I don’t remember if any charges were filed. He reportedly mistakenly left a gas station without paying for gas.
During that streak I was cruising down Washington Street in what used to be called the combat zone (Washington and Beach Streets) when an incident happened and there I was taking photos of another gun arrest.
There was also the time there was a bolo for a person wanted for a stabbing or something like that as I was coming to work on my Friday morning midnight shift. All of a sudden the MDC police (now combined with State Police) spotted the wanted vehicle and chased it from the other side of Boston to about 100 feet of where I was parked.
As I was running over, the cop got out of his cruiser, gun drawn yelling for the perp to put his hands up. I ran over yelling “photographer, flash going off” as I did not want the cop to think it was a flash from a gun.
Another thing most news people don’t get to hear is the sound of gunfire and I have been at those incidents also. The scariest one was on Boston’s Fenway. I was in the Kenmore Square area when the call came in for an armed robbery on Jersey Street, near Fenway Park. It was at one of those mom and pop markets. Boston Police Office Gene O’Neil was shot at and the window of the store was blown out from the gunfire. He was not hit but it brought scores of cops and cruisers to the area.
The chase ended up on the Fenway and maybe 25 or more cops surrounded the area and there was one shot fired, then there was scores of “POP, POP, POP” sounds. It sounded like everyone with a gun was firing it. I hid behind a wall on the overpass next to a cop who stood behind his cruiser. I remember when his dispatchers called asking if he needed more help he told them “no” thinking any more cops there and who knows who will get shot.
The perp was not captured but in the spring a body of a man believed to be the suspect was found in the Muddy River where he had been chased and fired upon.
But sometimes I do use my common sense. I was working the overnight shift and there was a call for a suspect wanted for something in Brighton. BPD had him cornered in a backyard behind a building at the intersection of Commonwealth and Brighton Avenue, called Packard Square. I ran down the side of the building towards the backyard and all of a sudden a shot was fired in the backyard. I turned around and ran back to street and instead took the shot of the perp being put into the wagon. Common sense kicked it!
It all started for the cops around 5:30 pm when off duty Beverly Police Officer Jason Lantych was coming out of Starbucks and was confronted by an off duty Hamilton Sargent Kenneth Nagy. Hamilton is a neighboring town of Beverly. Sargent Nagy shot the Beverly Officer in the upper leg, described by some as the groin area, let your imagination run with that? Then the search was on.
If I was home I would have been maybe 3 minutes from the scene but my wife and I had just arrived at the Hale Street Tavern, on the other side of Beverly. We were meeting our friends Cindy and Paul Chasse for dinner. Before I got out of the car I decided to take my informational pager off my belt and leave it in the car. I figured I was on a personal day off and did not want to be bothered. What a mistake that was which I stated while we were having dinner when the calls kept coming in.
Then I got my first call as we were about to be seated. It was about a shooting at a Beverly Plaza, then another call, this time describing it as a bank robbery gone badly with a cop shooting the bad guy. Wrong information, except that a cop had done the shooting. One of the calls said it was a domestic between two cops. All of us at the table were letting our imagination run wild trying to figure out how it could be a domestic shooting between two male cops. Only the interest from everyone at the table because of the Beverly location sort of saved me from ruining dinner with my distractions.
The calls, texts, Nextel chirps kept coming in (thankfully for me) in spite of the looks my wife Debbie was giving me, I had to answer them. We find it rude when people are at a restaurant and talk on the phone, but this was about a cop shooting and at that time I did not know all the details.
For the next two hours I heard from several sources including the office calling several times. When one source told me it was cop on cop I really started wondering if I could just leave? I did that once before at a restaurant many years ago and there was no conversation in the house for a few days. That was also a cop shooting many years ago.
We did get to enjoy the meal and a great dessert as I kept wondering if I would be able to work the story after dinner. One call from Susan Griffin on the desk, after the suspect had been spotted in Beverly, wondered if I could just take Debbie and go?
It wasn’t over when we left and I left my wonderful wife off at home and sped to the scene. Once I was out and listening to the radios I kept thinking about some of the BOLOS on the suspect cop, one mentioning there was a suicide note. Would he return to the scene and do a suicide by cop? I had envisioned he would pull up, drive through the crime scene tape, get out of his car with his gun out and let it happen.
Reporter Sean Kelly told me he kept thinking the suspect would return as he was doing his live shot. Photographer Tim Devlin showed up with his bulletproof vest on, but he took it off as the night wore on. Our third photographer, David Buswell-Wible also thought he might return so we were unanimous in our thoughts.
Nothing was happening, no sightings just BOLOs on the car description and mentioning he was a cop, armed, dangerous and he had left a suicide note, which we could not confirm. Any cop who heard that must have thought he did not want to be the one to grant him his wish.
Then around 10:30 as all the TV crews had either done their ten o’clock live shots or were getting ready for their eleven, I heard a Beverly cop ask for the license plate again. After it was given he said, “he just pulled in behind the shooting scene, by the Garden City Pub!”
My adrenaline went wild I was in my car and moved it about 40 yards to where I should not have been which was about 40 feet from the car. Sean who got called by the office, said it was the fastest he ever jumped out of our NewStar Truck. He looked over and saw where my car was told the desk I might be in the cop’s lap.
I rolled down the car windows so when I got out hugging the car for protection I would be able to hear what the cops were saying from the radio traffic on my scanners. My phone rang several times from people listening to their scanners and I kept picking it up and hanging it up till I finally yelled, “leave me alone!” I had enough to do just trying to stay safe and be there for the finish.
It was chaotic as cops with their guns drawn circled the area and at first glance they did not see anyone in the car. More cops, more guns and cops screaming at me to get out from where I was. State Police had at Ieast ten heavily armed troopers in the back within seconds.
I got back in my car hoping no one would see me, shooting video through the window, as the perimeter got tighter. At one point he was thought to be on the railroad tracks, which backed up to where his car was. So they widened their search while I kept trying to keep up with everything going on. If there was to be a shootout I wanted it in my video.
I was so excited and yet tried to maintain some sort of calmness, keeping my camera running even when I was not shooting a specific scene. If there were gunshots going off I needed to hear them on my tape. I kept getting yelled at by cops and kept moving my position, thinking what am I nuts, I could be in the line of fire or worst yet in his line of fire. You know if he shot a cop, a newsman would be no problem!
Then it ended less than ten minutes later as someone took a closer look in the car. State Police said he was on a “Code Four,” which means dead. From the video I saw of the victim it appeared he put the driver’s seat back and pulled the trigger. Thankfully all we could see on Tim’s tape was his hands by his side sitting in the car as his upper torso was out of sight.
What a night and one I will not be forgetting anytime soon.
In the last 12 years I have covered the funeral of six Worcester Firefighters. Five of the six died at the Cold Storage Warehouse fire on December 6, 1999 and the sixth one was last week, just two days after the 12th anniversary of that awful fatal fire. Six firefighters died in the Cold Storage fire in 1999 and I would have covered all of them except one of the funerals was on Saturday. I was the pool for most or all of them due to my connections with the Boston Fire Department who helped set up their services in 1999. For this funeral they assisted and brought their ramp for placing the casket on top of a piece of apparatus and for the attendants to carry it into the church and the gravesite.
I am always reminded from a speech Boston Firefighters Local 718 President Neal Santangelo gave many years ago as he addressed the new firefighters at their swearing in. He said, “We will help you to be safe and in the end we will bury you.” I thought that day how scary for the new Jakes, who have not even been to a real fire and were already receiving notice of the reality of the job.
This funeral was no different than the many I have covered through the years, not just in Worcester but many of the cities and towns around our coverage area. Many memories of firefighter funerals stick out in my mind. In 1972, when the Vendome Hotel Collapsed killing 8 Boston Firefighters, I can remember covering the funeral with all the caskets lined up at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston’s South End. In Clinton, the wife of a firefighter killed in the line of duty, wearing her somber black dress, coming down the steps of the Church on that freezing cold day with her husband’s charred helmet in her hands. In Stoughton, the same thing, another helmet being clutched tightly in the hands of a firefighter.
Coming back to last week in Worcester, I watched the helmet of fallen firefighter Jon Davies being carried by his partner on the Rescue, Brain Carroll, who was also caught in the collapse. He escaped serious injury after being pulled from the rubble after being trapped for at least 45 minutes. He spent less than 48 hours in the hospital. How pained he must have been as he followed the fire truck with the casket of Davies being brought to his final resting place. He might have been wondering why Jon and not me and his eulogy certainly expressed the emotions he was going through.
The day of the incident reporter Kelly Tuthill and I set up at the Worcester Firefighter’s Memorial to watch and talk to people coming to pay their respects. We got a terrific interview from a high school friend of Davies who was in the area when he found out and stopped to say a prayer. The saddest one I saw was a woman who just hugged the memorial statue while crying. I had assumed it was someone from the families of the 1999 fire and her emotions had been stirred by the new death. I watched her for a few minutes not bringing my camera over, as I knew I could not tape the scene without putting the light on and upsetting her. I did go up and ask if I could help her and was told no thank you. Turns out she was the fiancée of the victim.
The wake itself was routine as the media set up across the street from the funeral home, shooting whatever was going on as folks walked into to give their condolences or maybe to say a prayer. Then the mood changed, at least for me. Deputy Chief Frank Diliddo came over right before our five o’clock live shot to tell us about an eleven-year-old boy, Jared Flanders who rode his bike to the wake to pay his respects. He was seen sitting in the third row and people were wondering who he was. He had come on his own, learned to put his tie on by reading instructions from a book, and said he wanted to be there because he really liked firefighters.
We interviewed the boy and strangely enough when reporters asked him if he wanted to be a firefighter he said it was third on his list, picking a lawyer first. He came to be the Worcester Fire Department’s goodwill person and the department treated him as well as would be expected. The police drove him home that night and next day he was a guest of the fire department, arriving in the scuba team truck to attend the services. The boy then got to march with the bagpipes band in the front row as the firefighters left the Church. There was saluting as the boy marched the route with them. It was a very uplifting moment in an otherwise very sad story.
My assignment was to cover the procession for Jack’s Harper’s pieces later in the show, as he was live during the church service. As usual, he did a great job during the live show, as I went up and down the streets trying to get video for him and stills for our website. I did very well; taking some good stills and getting some of the video, which was needed. Jack had a smorgasbord of video as our coverage was everywhere and he did a great job summarizing the service in his later pieces that day.
Jack alerted me the firefighter carrying the helmet was Firefighter Brian Carroll. I spent the next 20 minutes following the engine company with the casket on it looking for a clear shot of Carroll. I spotted the young boy marching, and then the apparatus and then Firefighter Carroll came into view holding the helmet.
At the end of firefighter services, a fire department member rings a very shiny bell. They ring 1–1, 1–1, then again 1–1, 1–1, the “all-out” signal to an alarm of fire. Sadly, on this day the “all-out” call was not to signify the end of a fire, but instead was a somber reminder that for Firefighter Jon Davies, the final “all-out” has been sounded.
Additional Information on the Worcester Six from December 6, 1999 from Robert Winston, Boston Fire District Chief, retired. A friend of mine from his BFD days.
Camaraderie Under Fire: A Remembrance of the Worcester Tragedy
It was December 3, 1999 when an abandoned cavernous warehouse was set afire by two homeless people who “lived” in the hulking structure. This was the Worcester Cold and Storage Warehouse that was located in the City of Worcester, Massachusetts. The scene of this fire was to become one of fiery collapse, death, heartache, heroism, and camaraderie under the most extreme firefighting conditions.
The homeless man made sexual advances to his girl friend and she had rebuffed his suggestions. He became angry and the two were arguing and throwing things. They were using candles for light and one of the lighted candles was knocked into a pile of debris that quickly ignited. The fire spread as the two squatters fled into the cold night air leaving the fire to grow into what would become one of the worst Line Of Duty (fire service) Deaths (LODD) in the history of the Worcester Fire Department.
Firefighters in many fire engines responded to the growing fire. More aid was called to the scene as it became obvious to the chief in charge that this was no routine fire-fight. Heavy smoke turned to visible flames as the fire ate through the nearly windowless ark of a structure. Inside were many firefighters straining to extinguish the flames. The interior was a maze of darkened rooms and corridors. Six floors of them! Debris was scattered everywhere adding to the difficulties of searching blindly to find the seat of the fire and being able to exit the building in a hurry if needed.
A number of Firefighters became disoriented in the smoke, heat and darkness. They radioed for help. Brother firefighters entered the burning building to try and rescue their now trapped comrades. Time after time these rugged firefighting veterans made dangerous and heroic attempts to find their colleagues. It was no use.
The fire had been eating away at the strength of the brick and wood edifice. It started to collapse. The fire chief in command ordered all firefighters to stop rescue attempts and to vacate the fire building. Six Worcester Firefighters would perish this night despite the Herculean efforts of a small army of firefighters. Recovery of their bodies would last for an arduous somber eight days and nights.
The call went out across the New England region for assistance to respond to Worcester. Many emergency and non-emergency personnel turned out to help. They came by the hundreds to stand with and work with their brother and sister firefighters until the difficult and honorable task of recovery was completed.
The City of Boston Fire Department immediately sent personnel and equipment to the tragic scene. I was one of the many that were sent. My role was one of the safety operational sector chiefs. Those of us that were assigned that task would check for safety issues, look for hazards and prevent any further injuries or deaths. Prior to our arrival at the warehouse fire tragedy, we were given a briefing that included specific instructions and alerted us that the Worcester Firefighters were under severe emotional stress. We were told that tempers may be short and to use tact and to be sensitive to the raw emotions being experienced by the Worcester Firefighters.
It was the second night of the eight nights of recovery operations. The warehouse roof, floors and two exterior walls had fallen and were now huge piles of smoldering debris. The danger of additional structural collapse and of firefighters falling through burned out floors haunted us. The safety officers were kept busy and were vigilant. Injury or worse was at every step.
As I was surveying a section of the building I noticed that a Worcester Fire Lieutenant was standing in a very dangerous location. Debris was loosely dangling above him. I approached the man to warn him of the situation. He was a tall lean guy. Much taller than I. His face was black with soot and his eyes were red and swollen. He looked very tired and tense. I tried to warn him, as delicately as I could, that he was in a dangerous spot. What we were cautioned about prior to our arrival at this fire was about to happen. The Lieutenant became angry with me and got in my face. He didn’t care what rank I was or that I was looking out for his safety. Angry emotion packed words were hurled at me. I tried to reason with him to no avail. A Worcester Chief Officer was standing nearby and saw and heard what was happening. He immediately positioned himself between the lieutenant and myself and defused what could have become an ugly situation. I explained the reason why I had tried to talk to his lieutenant and then I pointed upwards to the hanging debris. The chief understood, apologized to me and assured me that he’d talk to his lieutenant. We both knew and understood how tempers can flare under the unprecedented stressful circumstances that we were all caught up in.
Eight days had passed since the fire began. I had returned to the scene and was again assigned as a safety operational sector chief. The pile of smoldering debris that was once this old warehouse had been reduced in size and fully extinguished. Five of Worcester’s Bravest had been recovered. One was still buried somewhere in the remaining mounds of twisted steel, burned wood and bricks. As I surveyed the scene I noticed the lieutenant that I had the earlier encounter with. He was searching some rubble. I inquired about him and was told that he had been at the scene from the fire’s start and had refused to go home for eight days and nights.
The cold day turned into a very cold and windy December night as recovery operations continued for the last firefighter. Firefighter Paul Brotherton’s body was located under one of the many mounds of bricks and charred wood. His precise and somber removal from the debris will be a picture in my mind’s eye that I will never forget.
It was so cold and dark and quiet as Firefighter Brotherton’s body was taken away in an ambulance. The sad task of recovery was finally over that night. The healing could begin.
There was a large crowd of people standing quietly beyond the yellow safety tape that surrounded the ruins. Hundreds of firefighters formed two parallel lines leading from the destroyed building out to the crowd of onlookers. The Worcester Firefighters climbed down from the piles of debris and slowly walked between the two rows of firefighters who had come from other fire departments. As the Worcester Firefighters passed by us we saluted them, applauded them, shook their hands and some gave hugs. One by one they filed through the rows. A walk of honor and consolation.
I barely recognized the lieutenant whom I encountered days before. It was his height that caused me to look harder at him than at his brothers. His face was now gaunt, blackened and the eyes were red and sunken. We looked at each other. He recognized me and stopped walking. It was more like a slow shuffle. I shook his hand first. Then the lieutenant literally collapsed into my arms. We embraced each other as only firefighters can do at a time like this and he began to sob. Even through our heavy wet protective firefighter’s gear he felt frail and unsteady. Tears stained our faces as we looked at each other. Unbelievably this exhausted weary fire lieutenant apologized to me. I was sort of…stunned. I told him that it was okay, gave him my condolences for his losses and hugged the man again. I watched him as he walked away shoulder to shoulder with his comrades.
I never saw the man again. I have thought of him from time to time when the memory of the Worcester Tragedy comes back to me or when I see the word “camaraderie.”
Robert M. Winston
Boston District Fire Chief-Retired
After 45 years and hundreds of police confrontations I saw the slogan born in the 60s when the anti Vietnam War protests came to life, only reversed. It was Saturday morning at 5am when Boston Police moved in on the Occupy Boston protestors and the city took back the Dewey Square encampment.
I had gotten credible information Friday, that the police would be moving in and, along with the information the office received, the station covered what we thought was going to happen all night, Friday into Saturday morning.
Thursday the Judge’s order came down telling Mayor Menino and the City of Boston they could do what they wanted as far as removing the protestors from their camp. I stayed at the site till 2am Friday but nothing happened that morning.
I left my house at 2am Saturday morning to position myself at what was to be and spent the next couple of hours trying to stay awake. Sometimes I did but there were those five-minute dozes so I kept setting my alarm for 10 minutes away so I would not sleep through the action.
There was radio silence on the scanners except for two unusual calls around 4:30am. I had an additional advantage when a friend of mine chirped me around the same time to say he saw a group of cops forming at one of their locations. I was standing on the corner of Summer Street and Atlantic Avenue looking up Summer Street towards South Boston, I saw a Boston Cop down the next block appearing to be ready to direct traffic.
Then the lights started to come over the horizon, hundreds of lights and I did see one blue light, which was probably the error of whoever turned it on. There were more headlights and even more as the parade of vehicles just kept extending. I got on the phone with the office and spoke to Lawrence Crook on the assignment desk to tell him the police were coming. I heard Gerry Wardwell in the background telling whomever to launch the helicopter. It was exciting and of course, nerve wracking since the group was still a block or so away. I hoped I was correct.
When they arrived they were mostly in econo van type vehicles, scores of them. Nothing like I was used to from the 60s and 70s when the TPF (Tactical Police Force) would roll in with their blue lights blazing, sirens screaming, horses clipperty clopping and motorcycles roaring, plus they had a converted school bus painted BPD colors with a small sign in the window calling it the “War Wagon”.
This was well organized, cops getting out of their vehicles encircling the camp and the Special Operations team wearing their black fatigues. The only armor they had on them was multiple plastic ties, which would be used as handcuffs.
The Occupy protestors who were awake sounded the alarm, running through the encampment screaming “Get up, get up, they are fucking here, wake the fuck up!” It was the modern day version of Paul Revere and William Dawes’ ride to warn the Patriots the British were coming. I recorded it all and got myself in a position where I could escape the corralling of the media as most were kept in one place, which gave everyone some access and but also kept us out of the way of the operation.
The containing of the media was not to hide anything. They needed to able to keep us from roaming freely or we could have compromised the operation. I was able to escape the stockyard corral and wandered freely for the first few minutes. I followed the Special Operations group as they tipped over tents and sliced some of them up. Before each search and destroy mission the officers made sure there was no one in the tents, yelling and looking in to make sure they were empty before completing their final mission.
At the beginning of the operation I was inside the encampment as Captain Bernie O’Rourke, Superintendent William Evans and Superintendent Dan Linskey used bullhorns to tell all the protestors what was going to happen, giving them all time to leave. The protestors could pick up some of their belongings and not be arrested. The police were almost begging them to leave and being polite beyond belief. During the 60s, if you were in the way it did not matter if you were a protestor or a camera carrying media person, if you were in the way you had to go. Many times back then you either left within the first few minutes on your own or you left in the wagon, and the arrest process was anything but gentle.
When the police finally started making arrests we were all pushed back. The paddy wagons were used to transport the arrested and when they backed in we lost our view. I spoke to Jamie Keneally, one of the BPD spokesmen working with us, and asked about a pool photographer for the arrests. He spoke to Superintendent Linskey and the next thing I knew I was in amongst the cops and Occupy People as they were handcuffed and placed in the wagon.
When a few of the protestors locked arms the cops very gently pulled them apart. I watched Lt. Bob Merner (a cop who loves what he does) separate them and make sure no one was hurt. To the end they were giving a chance to leave and not be arrested. I heard both Linskey and Evans trying to convince some of them they could just walk away and not get cuffed and arrested. For the police it was like “making love not war.”
Wow, this whole operation was so exciting, I got to do three phone interviews during our morning show. Ed Harding, the anchor, asked me a couple of questions and let me talk about what I had seen. I have decided if there is ever an opening for “Nursing Home News” I will be a candidate. I’d be perfect; an older, overweight, practically bald, shrinking anchor. All they will have to do is find some clothes for me to wear besides the jeans and sweatshirts I own now.
After 45 years of chasing news professionally I realize I cannot be the first on the scene with a camera unless I am the first one on the scene. Everyone is ready to capture the moment happening in front of them.It started about midnight last night when in the background as I was sort of sleeping I heard someone on my scanners say, “fully involved.” I had not a clue who it was and as quickly as I turned over to see the scanner display, the channel changed and without my reading glasses on I could not have seen it anyway.
Seconds later my Nextel chirped from a scanner buffs call to tell me about a serious accident in Lynn MA. I was up getting dressed when I got my 2nd call this time on the home phone. There was also a voice mail from a friend who on sighted the accident. When I got to the scene of the horrific accident I noticed there was plenty of access visually to the two car accident with one car totaled including having been fully involved in fire and the other which had 5 people in it pretty much crushed from the impact. It was the car with the five people in it, which struck the first car. The car, which was struck, burst into flames, the driver got out of the car aglow with the fire engulfing him.
First thing I noticed was all the people with their cell phones working the scene. I knew right away to get what I could of the aftermath then start the search for someone who had some good visuals. I was across the street from the damaged cars when this young fellow found me and told me about his video, the car fully involved in flame and the driver running around on fire. I looked at the video and said my station would like to purchase it. He was all excited and the arrangements were made for him to email in the video. Usually the video or stills I find are “good enough” for use on websites and even to be broadcast on a news report.
The problem was and is as a long time news photographer I cannot beat the competition anymore. The competition is anyone who has a cell phone, smart phone or any other portable device, which takes stills or video. The other problem being practically everyone has the technology and knows what to do with it. Of course there is my brother in-law and uncle who have not a clue of how to work their phones other than to say hello. The current news person not only has to get to a scene, sum up what is needed to cover the story then search for the person with the best images they can get for their news organization or social media network.
This is the link to the images and video captured at the scene and aired by WCVB-TV by smart phone user Stephen Socci.
I do well on the search for the best stuff available as my station sort of allows me to make offers to the owner of these images with a financial reward. Not only do I try to get there first I have to be first in gathering other people’s stuff. The most important words in what we do with instant media is “right now” and I plan to be all over it.
Many years ago during a holiday dinner with a family friend the host, David Estes kept talking to me about how wonderful it was to be published. I had never given it any thought. I was published everyday and took it for granted. So the bottom line here is everyone is a news photographer whether they really are a news photographer. So if you are a “real” news photographer get to the incident, size it up and make sure you shoot the best aftermath, as that is all that is going to be left most times.
Back in the late 70s I covered an MIT Commencement where Lee Iacocca spoke and his last words were “graduates, start your engines.”
As the great news photographer Nat Whittemore once told me when I switched to TV, “dazzle them with your footwork.”
In the new world of news I say, “good enough video gets published and the professional news photographers must see what others don’t see and make theirs more compelling.”
FYI, when I asked my daughter Molly if she had read this blog her answer was “do you mean the one where you whine about people and their iPhone photos?”
Gasoline tankers, terrible danger, deafening explosions and many times tragic deaths. As I review the many I have covered, seven at today’s count. I know of two which resulted in a death or severe injury. The worst one being my first big story in 1966, a month after I began at the Record American (referenced in a another blog on this site “my first major tradgedy, 8 DOA”) and now this one on July 23, 2011.
My first call for the incident came from my friend Alan who is a freelance photographer for the Lynn Item. He is up all night listening to the scanners. While mine are running the problem is with our room air conditioner on and my hard of hearing ears I was having a problem hearing the radios which are running next to my side of the bed the extra help is needed. Thankfully I get it.
Alan said a tractor trailer flipped over in either Saugus or Revere as both police departments were yakking about it. He said they were saying Essex Street. I immediately knew in my dazed state of wakeup it was Essex Street in Saugus. I thought he meant a large tractor trailer and the saddle tanks had caught fire not realizing for a minute or two it was a gasoline tanker.
I got up slid down the pole (only kidding) got dressed quickly (my clothes and equipment are always ready) but at my age I have to make a pit stop before I get going and then I have this thing about brushing my teeth so that took another minute. Unless my destination is within a couple of minutes of my house and the extra minute or two is going to be too costly I stop for these chores.
I made great time getting there, no real traffic and knowing the area of Route One and listening to the radios I thought I could sneak around the road blocks through the Square One Mall parking lot and it worked. I also knew the police would not have all their resources in place to block off everything so soon. A few minutes later I might have had problems getting as close as I did.
So there it was, a tanker on its side, flames shooting 60 plus feet in the air and explosive thunder from the ignitions of the fuel taking place, great TV which was the only thing I was thinking about not knowing at this time a life has been lost and another person severely burned. That knowledge would put a damper on the excitement I was enjoying as I had kicked butt with my images.
I was standing in the southbound lane of Route One and the truck was less than 30–40 yards in front of me. I wished once again I had brought my tripod but carrying my still camera, a 22 pound plus video camera, two phones, extra batteries was enough. It was sweltering out there from the summer temperatures, with the humidity very high and add to that the heat from the fire; the tripod stays in the car. There was also the thought of additional explosions and having to run for cover. Less is better sometimes. Yes I am second guessing myself because the tripod would have meant steadier video but when the competition is far behind it doesn’t really matter. I envy those who can carry everything.
After spending a long time on the southbound side I ventured over to another angle closer to the tanker. I was concerned if I left where I was I might lose the great spot I had but I needed other angles. The funny part of this is I kept hearing explosions but the shots I was making of the burning fuel did not show any big blasts. I realized these explosions were taking place about 1500 to 2000 feet behind the fire well into the residential areas of Saugus where a house and other structures caught fire after the fuel floated down an adjacent stream.
After getting these shots I walked back to my original location saw a ranking trooper and asked if I could go north in the south and then go south in the north lanes as I needed to be on the other side. I was told “Stanley you have been around long enough, be careful and if you get stopped tell them I said it was okay.” I got to the other side and began trudging up and down the ramp complex to get what I needed. During all of this I was putting the video camera down and capturing great still images with my digital camera. I guess I don’t know how to use my IPhone camera as I could not get a really good shot of the fire with it or maybe the shutter of the IPhone is too slow to stop the action?
I did what I had to do, left the scene, drove to Revere where I could feed my video(I have a microwave transmitter in my company vehicle but I need line of site for a couple of receive sites in Boston and or Needham) for the Eye Opener show. In the meantime the office had sent a reporter, John Atwater, a satellite truck and two more photographers; it was like we struck a third alarm while the fire department struck 8 alarms. We kicked butt, live on the highway throughout our show and we had the video to back up the talk. We were walking the walk and talking the talk.
I reflected the rest of the day about the other tanker fires I have covered in my 45 years as a news photographer. The first one I covered was about 40 plus years earlier and less than a mile from where we were. It was also northbound on Route One and I remember the fire fighters chasing rolling streams of burning gasoline down the highway but I don’t remember any structures burning or injuries.
Another one was on route 93 northbound in the Reading area in 1978. I was wearing a walking cast after surgery for an Achilles tendon rupture. I had a plastic material boot on it to protect it from water and there I was on the highway dodging burning gasoline and water so my plaster cast would not melt.
In Methuen one weekend morning a tanker blew up at a neighborhood gas station but his time the gasoline was contained in a blown-up piece of the tanker burning as if it was in a barbeque pit. After the initial explosion it just burned straight up for a couple of hours. For the most part the fire department protected the exposures and let it burn itself out.
A couple of years ago I got a call on a Saturday morning from Matt Wilder the morning producer who heard the explosion outside of the Channel Five Studios in Needham, on Route 128/95. He looked out the window, saw the large loom up and called me. How frustrating it was as I knew no matter how fast I could get there it would not be fast enough as 40 miles can only be covered in no less than 30 plus minutes. As I was circling 128, watching the large funnel cloud of smoke and I knew when I got there it would be dissipated. When I did finally get there I was directed off the exit ramp. I walked down a parallel street, followed the hose lines and eventually talked my way onto the highway. It ended up being okay as I was the only one who was able to talk to the lucky uninjured driver about what happened.
I think the biggest story of a tanker rollover and explosion was the one in Everett a couple of winters ago. I was lying in bed wide awake around 3AM and heard a trooper call in saying a tanker had just exploded at the route 99 overpass/rotary in Everett. This location overlooked an elderly residential apartment building and houses.
I had to pass the scene I was at Saturday to get to this inferno. Down Route One straight up Route 99 wondering where the roadblocks would be hoping it was close enough to the scene to be able to do my job. I was able to work my way around several obstacles, ran through the snow covered streets. My video showed what a great job the cops and firefighters were doing to help residents evacuate their homes. There was one funny happening as Everett Police were helping the elderly from their residence, pushing wheelchairs and trying to keep everyone calm one woman said to me “this reminds me of the war years in London when I used to be taken to a shelter when the bombings started.” I asked her “when was the last time she had been up this late” and she smiled at me.
Below are links to great stories and photos done for my station WCVB-TV,