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Fires, accidents and shootings: One old newsman's take

Updated: Apr 29, 2021

It was the summer of 1986 - the days were long and hot. It hadn't rained in weeks. While many of my friends were hanging out at Expo 86 in Vancouver, I was working as an announcer/feature reporter at Mountain-FM in Squamish, more than an hour away. My great hope was to work in a newsroom. Any newsroom. The closest I could get to that was covering the odd story from time to time and registering for an upcoming political leadership convention in nearby Whistler.

During a late afternoon, I was hanging out at my then girlfriend's place just a few minutes away from the station. We heard ambulance sirens. One, then another and several more. I knew something major was up as that would have been every ambulance in town. That's when I hopped in the car (girlfriend coming with) and headed south on the Sea-to-Sky Highway. Eventually, we stopped at the end of a long line of cars. I borrowed someone's mountain bike and raced to 'the scene.' That's where I saw one of the most horrific things in my life - the burned shell of a tour bus and victims being taken out. In a time before ubiquitous, I made barely readable notes and raced back to the station's newsroom. Heart beating fast and breathing from the top portion of my lungs, I filed several local and national stories on what turned out to be the unfortunate case of a bus load of golfers coming back from Whistler - the bus had collided with a fuel tanker. Four people died immediately. It was also the start of my long career as a newsman.

Over the years and stations that followed, I've covered many bad crashes, huge forest and building fires and more than my share of deadly shootings. Yes - each story was terrible. Yes - those stories were always top news. And yes - I believe they need to be told. So the question that pops up why do I think such terrible things should be shared in the media? Do I care about friends and loved ones whose lives are torn apart in a single moment? For me, the answer is simple. No tragic story should be untold or left to a cold, formatted news release issued by police or other responding agencies. I believe such circumstances deserve more and by more I mean journaling the human impact of such things.

For these reasons, I made it a priority to cover what is often referred to as spot news. It's a genre of news that gets a bad reputation at times yet gets talked about by a community...with reason. In my experience, we learn about ourselves as people when hit by crisis. Often that's challenging but still - it's important to start conversations about the things that - to use an old expression - go bump in the night.

This massive fire destroyed several buildings, all new construction, in Langley, BC. Neighbours watched for hours and will likely remember for years. The intensity was massive enough to send pieces of debris into the sky, landing several kilometres away.

In a world now dominated by social media, it's important to have fair, balanced and informed witness accounts of such things. I believe reporters have a role in this - capturing the emotional aspects of such stories and inspiring others to lend help where needed and affect change and prevention. Often that means collecting the stories of those who want to reach out and be interviewed about their loss - something that should be done in a respectful way, lending an opportunity for victims or loved-ones to share what we should know.

Because photos are a powerful tool to convey connections between such things and daily life, I've included a few. These were shared from the scenes via Twitter and Instagram moments after being taken.

Photo 1) The gunman was witnessed running from this scene - a daylight shooting at a popular service station in a busy area in the Clayton Heights neighbourhood of Surrey, BC. This happened a few blocks from home.

Photo 2) While crews fight a forest fire on the hill next to Penticton, summer beachgoers carry on like life is almost normal.

Photo 3) Vancouver struggles with homelessness. This is the cart belonging to a man who was brutally attacked near Broadway and Cambie as officers search for those responsible.

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